Philly-New Jersey was the last of the NHL’s four conference semi-final series to swing into action on Sunday, but the Flyers and Devils made it worth the wait, going into overtime and requiring the puck to find the back of the net not once, but twice in the extra session. TheSportsNotebook recaps Sunday’s games and looks ahead to Monday…
Philadelphia 4 New Jersey 3 (OT): The Devils got off to a good start when two players that need to be involved teamed up on a goal, as Zach Parise took a pass from Patrick Elias. Incidentally, I have to know if I’m the only person, who, whenever I hear of an “Elias” in the Jersey/Big Apple area thinks of the fictional mob boss in Person Of Interest. There are more nuances in his story than there is in this series. Back on the hockey rink, Philly opened up in the second, including a goal by Danny Briere, and got out to a 2-1 lead. Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk then fed Travis Zajac to tie the game. Again, a positive for the New Jersey offense as more players that are critical to their attack are showing up ready to go.
What wasn’t a positive for the Devils, is that their team defense lost what’s going to be a great series-long battle with the Flyers’ offense. Philadelphia got 36 shots on goal, and including seven in less than five minutes of overtime play. Goalie Martin Brodeur will not stand up to that kind of heat, and eventually he broke here. Center Claude Giroux scored on a power play in the third period, although the Devils were able to tie it 3-3. The NJ offense wasn’t great, getting 26 shots, but that’s enough to get you three goals a game against mediocre Flyer goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. In the OT session, Briere scored what looked to be the game-winner, until replays showed he kicked it into the net. Undeterred, Briere calmly did it again minutes later and Philly had Game 1 in hand.
I picked New Jersey to win this series and if they continue to get this kind of offensive involvement from Parise, Kovalchuk, Elias and Zajac, I think they’ll figure their defense out. But the Flyer offense showed they won’t pull a Vancouver and slink quietly into the night.
Phoenix 5 Nashville 3: The Coyote coaches and players called this their best performance of the playoffs, and they are absolutely right. Playing against a very good defensive team and an even better goalie, Phoenix attacked the net, got 39 shots and was able to finish, overcoming an uncharacteristically mediocre showing from their own goalie Mike Smith. But at some point in these playoffs, the ‘Yotes were going to need a win that didn’t come on Smith’s back. Antoine Vermette scored an early goal, and then Phoenix broke open a 1-1 tie with three goals in the second period. Offensive key Radim Vrbata scored and had an assist, while veteran Shane Doan scored. Nashville got some offensive involvement from Ryan Suter, who scored in the second period to keep it close at 3-2 and scored again in the third to cut the lead to 4-3. But Doan—whose last name is pronounced “Don” and has been dubbed “Doan Of The Desert” by Grantland’s hockey writer Katie Baker, scored again and we had the 5-3 final. If this was. Nashville has played two lackluster hockey games to start the series. Perhaps a return home for Games 3 & 4 will alert them that their situation is getting dire in a hurry. This is the one series with two games in, and Phoenix is halfway home.
Tonight’s it’s Washington-NY Rangers and LA Kings-St. Louis. TheSportsNotebook has stressed offensive involvement from key players, even when they aren’t scoring and both the Caps, with Alex Ovechkin and the Rangers, with Marian Gaborik, have players who need to get active. The Kings-Blues is the more defensive-oriented series and I’m just looking for the favorite Blues to play more cohesive defense in a series where there is no margin for error.