I feel like I come here each morning to write about another great night in the NHL playoffs, so much so that I wonder if I’m not turning into Rick Sutcliffe and seeing impending greatness in every ordinary event. But last night saw the continued rise of the unknown goalie in Washington, Mikkel Boedker’s efforts to own the Windy City and the resurgence of Martin Brodeur, all in one fell swoop. So with that as the backdrop, TheSportsNotebook recaps Thursday’s four playoff games and looks ahead to two more on Friday night…
Phoenix 3 Chicago 2 (OT): The Blackhawks have to be kicking themselves over the first period. Phoenix had penalty problems, thanks to Paul Bissonnette spending 15 minutes of the period in the box, and Chicago got 11 shots, but the game was still scoreless. An uneventful second period led to a wild third. The Coyotes owned the first ten minutes, with Ray Whitney feeding veteran Shane Doan for the first of two goals. Then the Blackhawks came storming back and for the third time in this series tied a game with less than two minutes to go (actually the first two instances came with less than twenty seconds to go). Then it was Boedker’s time. For the second straight game in the Windy City, Boedker ended the game in overtime. It’s a frustrating outcome for Chicago for reasons beyond the obvious one that they’re down 3 games to 1, and have to go west for Game 5. Phoenix goalie Mike Smith looked human, saving “only” 30 of 32 shots and the Hawk defense held Phoenix to 19 attempts on goal. But once again, their own goalie Corey Crawford couldn’t get it down and two of Chicago’s key players, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane were non-factors.
St. Louis 2 San Jose 1: The Blues aren’t creating great storylines in this first round. They’re just playing solid defensive hockey, getting leads and winning games. The combination of Patrick Berglund and David Perron had assists in the first and third period and San Jose didn’t score until less than two minutes remained, the second time the Sharks have pulled to within a goal too late in the game. St. Louis is up 3 games to 1 and still looking like the best team of the first round.
Washington 2 Boston 1: I’ve said it already and I’m going to keep saying it—where did 22-year-old Braden Holtby come from and why has the mainstream media not picked up this storyline. This is a kid who was third-string in the last week of the regular season. Now he’s shutting down the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Bruins dominated the flow of play, getting 45 shots, but Holtby kept turning them back. Brooks Laich followed up a productive Game 3 with an early assist, and Alex Ovechkin showed his passing skills and feeding Alex Semin on a second-period power play for the deciding goal. Washington only got 21 shots, although four were from Ovechkin and when he gets his shots, the Caps tend not to need high volume in this area. Another positive for Washington—they won a clean game with penalties mostly a non-factor. Given Boston’s strong team performance in 5-on-5 action throughout the last two seasons, and given how many shots they took, you can fairly say that Washington stole a win that was there for Boston to take. The series is tied 2-2 and headed to Beantown.
New Jersey 4 Florida 0: In Game 3, Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur was sent to the bench. Last night he stepped it up with a shutout and threw in an assist on a big third-period goal that made the score 2-0. Jersey played exactly the way they need to if they’re going to win this series, now tied two games apiece. The key scorers, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk each lit the lamp—although Kovalchuk’s was an A-Rod kind of moment which took place well after the issue had been decided. And New Jersey played sound team defense. Brodeur faced a manageable 26 shots, and it’s worth noting that none of Florida’ frontline offensive players were able to get more than three, with defenseman Dmitry Kulikov leading the attack with five shots. If you not only limit opponents’ attempts, but keep the ones they do get out of the hands of the most potent players, that strikes me as a good formula for success.
Only two games go tonight, but both have the potential to send name teams home…
*Pittsburgh, the betting-line favorite to win the East and ultimately the Stanley Cup is back home and trailing Philadelphia 3-1 in games. How bad has the defense been in this series? It’s rare to see an Over/Under on a hockey game posted at higher than 5.5. Maybe you can get 6 if it’s offensive-minded teams. The Vegas total on tonight’s Pens-Flyers game is 7—for the record, a number that would still have been exceeded by at least one individual team in each of the first four games.
*Detroit, the Flaherty-line favorite to win the West and ultimately the Stanley Cup, has to go to Nashville needing three straight wins to move on. The bad news for the Wings is that Pekka Rinne is still in goal. The good news? Their own man, Jimmy Howard is capable of a much higher level of play than he showed in Games 3 & 4. If you’re Detroit, just win this one and make Nashville feel some pressure going back north for a potential Game 6.