The team that set the NHL record for longest home winning streak is on the brink of being eliminated without winning a single home playoff game. The Detroit Red Wings dropped their second straight at the friendly confines of Joe Louis Arena, as the Nashville Predators got a 3-1 win that gave them a series lead of the same. Nashville’s win in the Joe leads up TheSportsNotebook’s rehash of Tuesday’s hockey action and preview of Wednesday’s…
Nashville 3 Detroit 1: This series was supposed to be out the big goaltending battle of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, two of the game’s best. I suppose it has been, but it’s been a one-sided affair with Rinne dominating, as Howard struggles. For the second straight game, the Red Wings dominated the flow of play, getting 41 shots to just 17 for Nashville. Rinne kept turning them back. The game was scoreless after two periods, and even though the Predators got just seven shots in the final period, three of them found the back of the net. Detroit not only controlled the flow of play, they had the power plays to their advantage—seven chances with the man advantage against only three for the Preds.
There’s a reason why every other position in sports—including NFL quarterback, NBA go-to player, MLB starting pitcher—pale in comparison to an NHL goalie in terms of importance and Rinne is one of three goalies in the Western Conference playoffs alone (we’ll check in on the other two further down) who are single-handedly transforming their series. And we also have to point out that Howard has been as mediocre as Rinne has been excellent. The Wings’ goalie had a 92% save rate during the regular season, but has seen that dip to 88% in these first four playoff games. To be below 90 percent for a full season is unacceptable, and certainly to do it in a playoff setting, will get you eliminated. That’s what Detroit is on the brink of as they had to Nashville, hoping to earn a second chance in front of the home fans.
Phoenix 3 Chicago 2 (OT): Phoenix continues to be dominated between the goals even worse than Nashville. And Coyote goaltender Mike Smith keeps answering the bell. This game wasn’t quite as bad as the first two, as Chicago was held under 40 shots, but it still took 35 saves from Smith to get this road win. Chicago scored the game’s first goal while Phoenix missed three power play chances in the first period. The tide slowly turned in the second period—not so much of what Phoenix did, but what Chicago didn’t do, and that’s take advantage of their own series of power play chances. It was still a tight 1-0 game with about twelve minutes to go when a sudden flurry of goals—Phoenix scoring twice sandwiched around one for Chicago—in the span of a minute-plus, left the game tied. Overtime went on for about 13 minutes when Phoenix’ Mikkel Boedker, who had an earlier assist, got the game-winner and Phoenix had its second OT win of the series.
Chicago is now faced with the loss of Marian Hossa, who was taken to the hospital after being leveled with a hit. Hossa has been released, but we don’t know his status for Game 4. He’s one of four quality offensive performers—along with Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane—and apparently Chicago’s going to need 45-50 shots a game to beat Smith, so they need all hands on deck.
Florida 4 New Jersey 3: In this space yesterday, I said I wanted to see New Jersey get off quick with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, and that settle into tough defense. It’s also been noted that in each of the first two games in this series, the winner jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then held on at the end. Amazingly, the former happened again, and this time the dam broke. Parise scored less than a minute into the game, fed by Kovalchuk. Parise later assisted on a power play goal and the Devils were up 3-0 six minutes into the game. Florida had them where they wanted them. The Panthers pulled goalie Jose Theodore, inserted Scott Clemmensen and went to work. Sean Bergenheim scored a power play goal, then assisted on another. For the night, Florida went 3-for-3 on power play chances, and would chase Martin Brodeur from the goal in favor of Jonah Hedberg after tying the game 3-3. Hedberg fared a little better than Brodeur, but it didn’t stop Florida from slipping the game-winner past him in the second period. A scoreless third period meant the Panthers had a 2-1 series lead.
Pittsburgh and Vancouver each put their seasons on the line in road games tonight, at Philly and Los Angeles respectively. LA’s Jonathan Quick is one of the three Western Conference goalies (along with Rinne and Smith) who have dominated their series, and Vancouver is talking about bringing back Daniel Sedin from his concussion to try and shift the balance. If either of these teams are going to come back, I’d give the Canucks the best chance—the Penguins’ problems on defense and in the goal aren’t going away magically and you won’t win four straight in the NHL playoffs unless you can count on a goalie to put you on his back for at least one or two of those games. Vancouver has gone to Cory Schneider in goal, the games have been much more competitive and Los Angeles is dependent on Quick. I’m not saying I think a comeback is going to happen—TheSportsNotebook was perhaps the only outlet on earth to actually predict a Kings win at the start of the series—but I’m not ready to call this one yet.
The third game tonight is merely the top-seeded team from New York, as the Rangers look to grab a 3-1 series lead in Ottawa. The Senators’ captain Daniel Alfreddsson is questionable for tonight with a concussion originally suffered in Game 2. New York has an opportunity to close this series out quickly.