Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 1: Home-ice is overrated unless it's 100 degrees

Pittsburgh's Cup defense off to rough start
Who says goal scoring drops when we get to the playoffs? Not if you get piss-poor goaltending like Marc-Andre Fleury's.

When Evgeni Malkin scores two power play goals and adds an assist, and Sidney Crosby notches three helpers, the Penguins win more often than not. But a couple lucky breaks and a performance from Fleury more like Game 5 of the 2009 final instead of Game 7 lifted Ottawa to a 5-4 victory in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

The Senators' stars were fairly quiet but they got contributions from a bunch of guys not normally relied on to produce. Three times they built a two-goal lead and managed to hold off Pittsburgh. After Malkin scored the first goal of the playoffs three minutes in, Peter Regin tied the score by converting a horrible rebound left by Fleury in the slot. Chris Neil gave Ottawa a lead it wouldn't lose when he was the first to find a puck that bounced high in the air, then beat Fleury top-shelf, another weak goal to give up.

A fluke bounce with Ottawa on the power play led to Chris Kelly's goal to make it 3-1. Goalies, correct me on this if I'm wrong, but if the puck is played along the glass, shouldn't you stay in the net? Fleury didn't, the puck hopped into the slot and Kelly was Johnny-on-the-spot.

Malkin's second goal of the game got the Penguins back into the game, but Chris Kunitz took a stupid charging penalty less than two minutes later to destroy the momentum that swung Pittsburgh's way. Erik Karlsson converted a rebound that is the lone goal I give Fleury a pass on.

Again, the Penguins didn't go away, and Craig Adams scored his first goal since the 2009 Eastern Conference final - and I mean playoffs OR regular season; dude didn't score at all this year - but Fleury once more gave up a bad goal, this one to former Penguin Jarkko Ruutu with 10 minutes left to give Ottawa a 5-3 advantage.

Alex Goligoski scored with 2:24 left to cut the deficit in half yet again, but it was too little too late for the Penguins, who had only one shot in the first period after Malkin's goal 3:03 into the game.

What goalie problem?
Who says Brian Boucher can't cut it in the playoffs?

Oh geez. I just now looked at the Philadelphia-New Jersey box score. Thank God I wasn't home to watch this one. Sheesh. The Flyers had 14 freaking shots? This game sounded ugly.

Anyway. Boucher lost his bid for a shutout with 2:43 to play on Travis Zajac's goal, Mike Richards had a goal and assist and the Flyers pulled off the night's second upset, 2-1 over second-seeded New Jersey. Frankly, I think that's all I'm going to say about this one. Oh, Boucher made 23 saves.

Here's the funny thing. Of the four teams playing Wednesday, Phoenix might have been voted "home team most likely to lose Game 1." That's not a knock on the Coyotes, just a compliment to how well Detroit's playing.

Instead, Phoenix was the only higher seed to take a 1-0 series lead, and the Coyotes did it with a power play that was ranked TWENTY-EIGHTH (28TH) - that's 2-8, twenty-eighth, 28 - in the regular season. Derek Morris scored Phoenix's third power play goal in three chances (it finished 3-for-4) to snap a 2-2 tie early in the third period and the Coyotes became the first home team to win a playoff game, 3-2 over Detroit.

One aspect that kept Phoenix in the game was its sixth-best penalty kill, fending off five of six Detroit chances. As the game wore on, particularly late, the Coyotes also showed no fear of the Detroit powerhouse and no nerves, impressively attacking the puck carrier, winning battles along the boards and keeping the Red Wings pinned in their zone.

Morris assisted on the other two Phoenix goals, by Keith Yandle and Wojtek Wolski. Tomas Holmstrom and Nicklas Lidstrom scored for the Red Wings.

Ilya Bryzgalov finished with 38 saves; after the first period, Detroit had a 20-7 shot advantage but the final tally was 40-35.

Stewart spoils OT, Sharks say "here we go again"
Frankly, Avalanche forward Chris Stewart can go to hell. We were less than a minute away from the first overtime game of the postseason, but he had to go ruin it by putting his team in the lead. What a jerk.

Stewart simply threw the puck at the San Jose cage, where it deflected off Rob Blake's skate and past Evgeni Nabokov to give Colorado a 2-1 lead with 50 seconds remaining, and the Avalanche hung on to take a 1-0 series lead against the West's top seed.

Colorado did an excellent job containing San Jose's offense, limiting the Sharks to three shots in the second period. The Sharks garnered more shots in the third period, but Craig Anderson (25 saves) stood tall, despite a couple scary sequences where on one occasion he simply fell down, and on another when the puck took a crazy bounce after he left the net before recovering to keep the puck out.

John-Michael Liles scored Colorado's first goal. Ryane Clowe had San Jose's.

Stat of the night
2 - Number of charging penalties called Wednesday. I don't think charging has actually been called in a regular season game since 2001, yet we got it twice on the first day of the playoffs. Both were absolutely legitimate and correct calls, and frankly, calls that should be made more often.

Quote of the night
"This was like Red Wings croquet."
Versus color commentator Daryl Reaugh, describing Lidstrom's power play goal that seemed to go through the legs of at least four people, maybe five

Thursday predictions
Buffalo 2, Boston 0
Washington 5, Montreal 2
Vancouver 4, Los Angeles 1

Why aren't there four games? Nashville-Chicago doesn't start until Friday. WTF?

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