The hyped Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series is turning out to be a nightmare for the Penguins, as their defense was again utterly destroyed. The non-hyped Vancouver-Los Angeles series is turning into a disaster for the Canucks, as they can’t get their offense in gear. Vancouver and Pittsburgh being pushed to the edge led up the action in yesterday’s NHL playoffs. TheSportsNotebook recaps the four games from Sunday and looks ahead to three more on Monday…
Philadelphia 8 Pittsburgh 4: Fans had their money’s worth after one period. It was 4-2 Flyers after twenty minutes of hockey. Only one of the day’s three other games even matched that score, and as we’ll see that took an empty-net goal with a second left. There were nine penalties apiece in the first period in Philly. The Penguins, for the third straight time, scored first, and then began to crumble. Philly scored shorthanded. They scored on a power play. They scored in straight 5-on-5 action. Two of the goals came from Danny Briere, whom the Penguin defense is making look like their own Mario Lemieux in this series, and Briere then capped off the period with an assist.
The Pens, as they’ve done all series, have kept fighting back. James Neal scored on an assist from Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby as the team’s three brightest stars teamed up to cut the lead to 4-3. It’s not as though Pittsburgh isn’t competing. But when you can’t stop the puck from hitting the back of your net, winning becomes impossible. And even though Neal fed Jordan Staal for the latter’s second goal of the game in the same period, the Flyers peppered the Pens with two power play goals and still led 6-4 at the second intermission. The third period was again racked with penalties, eight per side. Pittsburgh finally pulled Marc-Andre Fleury, but Philly still tacked on a couple of clinching goals. The best news for Pittsburgh is that they have two nights off before they have to come back and play Game 4 with their season already on the line.
Florida 4 New Jersey 2: Stephen Weiss got a power play goal in the first, as the Devils played a man short on three different occasions. New Jersey can’t get away with this. Martin Brodeur is too late in his career to carry the load and the Devils’ defense has to be built on a complete team concept. Weiss got another power play goal in the second and the Panthers had a 3-zip lead after two. Then the game got interesting as Jersey scored twice in the first two minutes of the third period. It was the reverse of Game 1 where the Devils had the 3-0 lead and Florida scored the next two with plenty of time remaining to tie the score. Though neither team is renowned for offense, perhaps this is turning into the series where no lead is safe. The game went down to the wire and the Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk got a shot at the net with eight seconds left, but it was blocked and Florida whipped it back down the other end for a empty-net goal as time expired.
Los Angeles 1 Vancouver 0: The Canucks did everything they needed to do for a road win. They benched Roberto Luongo in goal and Cory Schneider did the job. The defense in front of him did too, limiting the Kings to 20 shots. The offense generated 41 shots. But no Daniel Sedin taking any of those shots hurt, as he’s still out with the concussion problem, and if he didn’t play with his team trailing two games to none, I have to think he’s down for the count. And having to launch those 41 shots against Jonathan Quick hurt even more. It does need to be pointed out that Vancouver has no one to blame but themselves for being down 3-0 in games to the #8 seed—while a game like this is just one of those things that happen, the league’s best team clearly stuck with Luongo too long, especially in Game 2. The flip side is this—Vancouver started last year’s first round against Chicago by winning their first three before having to go to overtime in Game 7 to survive. They know a rally can happen. And they’ve got the right man in goal.
Nashville 3 Detroit 2: This series has been as competitive as expected. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne came off a lackluster showing in Game 2 with a sparkling effort at Joe Louis Arena, stopping 41 of 43 shots. His counterpart, Jimmy Howard, so strong in that second game, was beaten early by Shea Weber—the last person the Detroit crowd wanted to see set the tone after his cheap hit on Henrik Zetterberg at the end of Game 1—and Howard gave up the three goals in spite of only facing 22 shots. He needs to bounce back the same way Rinne did.
–The New York Rangers, top seed in the East, are feeling the pressure as they go to Ottawa with the series tied 1-1. The knock on goalie Henrik Lundvist is that he doesn’t elevate his game in the playoffs. Playing in front of a road crowd that’s feeling good after stealing a win at Madison Square Garden would be a good place to start.
–The Boston-Washington war heads to the nation’s capital with both teams wondering if they can put a goal past either the veteran Tim Thomas or the kid Braden Holtby.
–St. Louis bounced back from a mediocre Game 1 with a strong Game 2 win over San Jose and now looks to keep good overall team defense going as their series heads to the west coast.
Vancouver and Pittsburgh may be in big trouble, but every other series is up for grabs, with all of tonight’s matchups being Game 3s in 1-1 series.