Monday, April 19, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 5: Home ice restored but for bad Jersey and Boyle's blunder

Wow. Did everyone see how Sunday's hockey action ended? Unless you're a San Jose hater or Colorado supporter, you had to feel sick at that one. But we'll get to that later.

Two strikes in third period boost Phoenix back in front
I'm willing to bet not many people gave Phoenix much of a chance in its series against Detroit in general, and particularly the Coyotes' first game in Joe Louis Arena for a playoff game. I know I didn't.

Well, we're idiots. (Though I did give them a chance in the series; just thought the first game in Detroit would go badly.)

Petr Prucha and Radim Vrbata scored third period goals, sandwiched around a Johan Franzen strike for Detroit, and Phoenix doubled up the Red Wings, 4-2, in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.

Phoenix showed little fear playing in hostile territory and got exactly the start it needed, getting Sami Lepisto's first goal of the playoffs just 29 seconds into the contest. Valtteri Filppula - whose name I HATE; I always forget if it's two T's and one R or one T and two R's; I should just call him Val from now on - tied the game later in the first period.

The Coyotes were on their heels a little bit, being out-shot 13-7 after one, but turned up the pressure after that. They finished with a 33-31 shot advantage and Wojtek Wolski's goal off a rebound in the final minute of the second period gave Phoenix a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Prucha made it 3-1 with a nifty goal before Franzen cut the deficit in half, but Vrbata restored the two-goal cushion. He and Prucha each had assists, Martin Hanzal and Matthew Lombardi recorded two helpers each and Ilya Bryzgalov made 29 saves.

Maybe the regular season means something after all
Will the real New Jersey Devils please stand up?

Daniel Carcillo struck off a rebound that Martin Brodeur completely lost track of and Philadelphia stunned New Jersey, 3-2 in overtime, to take an improbable 2-1 series lead. Despite the Flyers winning five games against the Devils during the regular season, it's still improbable because New Jersey should be a better team, especially on the road where it plays a boring style to slow the game down.

Well, Philadelphia poured 34 shots on Brodeur while limiting the Devils to 19 shots. Basically, they out-New Jersey'd New Jersey. If not for two Brian Rolston power play goals, the Devils don't score.

Claude Giroux and Mike Richards also scored for the Flyers. Richards and Carcillo each had an assist.

Trade finally paying dividends for Pittsburgh
Shortly before the NHL trade deadline, the Penguins shipped one of their most promising - and nearly-NHL ready - prospects to Toronto for Alexei Ponikarovsky. He proceeded to score in his debut, then netted just one more the rest of the regular season and none through two playoff games.

Well, just 1:17 into Game 3, Ponikarovsky whistled a shot past Brian Elliott and Pittsburgh went on to a 4-2 victory over Ottawa to reclaim home ice advantage. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each scored in the same game for the seventh time in the playoffs. The Penguins are 7-0 when that happens.

Mike Fisher canceled Ponikarovsky's goal early in the second period before Malkin scored off a nice play by Max Talbot to lift Erik Karlsson's stick and center to Malkin, who had an empty net. Crosby's goal came on another nice individual effort, winning the puck in the corner from big Andy Sutton, skating through the slot, waiting out Elliott and firing the puck through him for a 3-1 lead.

Bill Guerin made it 4-1 on a breakaway before Matt Cullen scored with seven minutes left. Crosby and Guerin each had assists and Marc-Andre Fleury made 20 saves.

Elliott also stopped 20 shots, but Ottawa - which had a goal in the first period waived off because it was kicked in - might want to think about a goalie change. Elliott has not been good, and a change makes more sense than a goalie change for Montreal, as rumored.

What goaltending issue?
Chicago's biggest problem in the playoffs was going to be its goaltending, right? Well...

Antti freaking Niemi stopped all 23 shots he saw and Chicago got goals from Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane to earn a 2-0 victory over Nashville and tie the series at 1-1. Granted, Niemi gave up a bad goal that keyed the Predators' victory in Game 1, but he bounced back with a nice effort in this one.

It helps when you don't face a whole lot of shots, but that doesn't mean you can't or won't give up weak goals.

Boyle blunders; will Sharks recover?
Two jokes for this one. First, we all knew Dan Boyle had a lot of offensive talent. We just didn't know he could sneak a seeing-eye shot through his own goalie as well. Second: This is how bad Colorado can be at times. The Avalanche can't even score their own goals.

All kidding aside, there can't be many worse ways to lose a game. After out-shooting Colorado 50-16 in regulation, San Jose lost 1-0 in overtime when Boyle's attempted pass to Douglas Murray behind the Sharks cage went off-target and somehow squeaked past Evgeni Nabokov to give Colorado the victory and a 2-1 series lead.

The goal was credited to Ryan O'Reilly, who was given the second star of the game for doing, well, nothing. He might have nicked the pass just slightly. I couldn't tell on the replay, but both O'Reilly and Nabokov think so.

Regardless, the Sharks lost despite holding a 21-3 shots lead in the second period and 21-4 in the final frame. Craig Anderson was sensational in stopping all 51 shots. Now the questions become, what did Nabokov say afterward to Boyle? He looked in Boyle's direction after the goal, but impossible to tell what the expression was on his face. Disbelief, anger, shock? Next, how do Boyle and the Sharks bounce back from this one?

San Jose failed on six power play chances, including two in the third period. Paging Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau: The playoffs have begun, gentlemen.

Stat of the night
2 - Both game-winners for Colorado have come from San Jose defensemen. In Game 1, Chris Stewart's shot deflected off Rob Blake's skate and in. Then Boyle's errant pass. As bad as Nabokov has been at times, he's yet to give up a clean losing goal. But it doesn't matter if they're clean or dirty.

Quote of the night
"It's interesting how the perception from you people is we're supposed to just crush them. They're a good team, too."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who "bristled" as he said that to reporters

Monday predictions
I'm going to get one of these right one of these days. Maybe.

Buffalo 3, Boston 2
Washington 4, Montreal 1
Vancouver 5, Los Angeles 2

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