Chicago and Pittsburgh are the heavy co-favorites for the Stanley Cup and each has responded differently in its first two games. The Blackhawks are in command, the Penguins are facing a challenge and both will be in the NBC spotlight on Sunday afternoon when the postseason’s sequence of Game 3s begins at noon EST. We’ll start with these two teams and then move through the other six NHL playoff matchups.
CHICAGO-MINNESOTA: In Game 1 the Blackhawks showed they could win a tough fight against an underdog. In Game 2 they showed they could unleash all their power and simply overwhelm them. Chicago took 48 shots at backup goalie Josh Harding and in the third period, the kid finally broke, with the Blackhawks pulling away to a 5-2 win. Little-known Michael Frolik scored two times early and the better-known duo of Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp combined for the assist and goal twice in the final period.
Minnesota may get regular goalie back Nicklas Backstrom back, but unless the Wild defense can limit the exposure, it’s not going to work for the series overall. Offensively, Minnesota did what they had to do in getting Zach Parise active. They could desperately use Jason Pominville, the forward who’s been out with a concussion and keeps getting listed as questionable.
PITTSBURGH-NY ISLANDERS: It looked like the Penguins were going to do the same as Chicago and it’s roll to a commanding Game 2 win. Pittsburgh did everything right for the first period. It wasn’t just the three goals, but the way they got them. Sidney Crosby returned to the lineup and scored twice. Evgeni Malkin, whose offensive aggressiveness on net has been questioned here, scored and took ten shots for the game, the highest of any player in these playoffs thus far.
But the Islanders matched the aggression. Even though they trailed 3-1, they took an amazing twenty shots in the first period alone and kept up the attack on Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins goalie isn’t one who can carry his team like that and the Isles broke through and won 4-3. I still like where Pittsburgh is at—it’s shaping up as expected, an offensive-oriented series and the Pens have more of it than the Isles do. But it won’t be easy.
THE REST OF THE EAST
MONTREAL-OTTAWA: The Canadiens finally wore down Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, getting him with a three-goal burst in the second period and Carey Price made it stand up for a 3-1 win that evened the series. Ottawa’s not getting any offensive activity, much less production, from anyone on the team. Unsurprisingly, it looks like Anderson will have to carry the load himself.
WASHINGTON-NY RANGERS: I could continue my extolling here of Braden Holtby, the kid goalie for Washington who seems to turn up his game when the spotlight is most intense. A 1-0 overtime win that put his team up two games to none is the latest display for the 23-year-old Holtby. But I’ve beat that to death in previous NHL analysis, and want to give some kudos to New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist here. He’s got the big reputation, and also come in for some criticism over playoff performance. Yesterday should not be one of those days. The New York defense was terrible, allowing 42 shots to an offense that isn’t known for its sustained assaults on a goalie. Lundqvist hung in and until finally the Caps broke through in overtime.
BOSTON-TORONTO: As a Boston fan I am absolutely disgusted with the Bruins’ 4-2 loss yesterday that evened up this series. Once Boston took a 1-0 lead early in the second period, Toronto brought an energy level that the B’s simply did not match. Yes, the Bruins won shots, 41-32, but that doesn’t tell the story of how much Toronto outskated Boston for the second and much of the third period, before making Maple Leafs goalie James Riemer survive one final attack. Toronto got better shots and won this game because they deserved to.
THE REST OF THE WEST
ANAHEIM-DETROIT: The troubles of Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard continue. This was a fairly pedestrian game, with neither team getting more than 30 shots. It turned into a Ducks runaway, as Howard did not hold up and a game that was 1-0 after two periods ended 4-zip. It’s the third straight mediocre game for the Detroit goalie, and Anaheim now leads this series two games to one.
SAN JOSE-VANCOUVER: I have no idea what’s going on with Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider. He was again out for Game 2 with an undefined ailment and again his team paid the price, as San Jose got a 3-2 win in overtime to take a two-nothing series lead back to Northern California. It was a wild third period, as Ryan Kesler scored twice for the Canucks to put them up 2-1, but San Jose’s Patrick Marleau got the game-tying goal with less than a minute to play.
Once again, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo did not close, and showed us why the team needs Schneider to play. Even the local media doesn’t seem to know. All anybody does know is that he’s traveling to San Jose. And I guess there’s one other thing we know—his team’s not winning this series without him.
LOS ANGELES-ST. LOUIS: It was a pretty dry game, with neither team getting a lot of shots, both goalies doing the job and Jonathan Quick making a second period goal stand up for a 1-0 win. The home team has held serve in each game of this series, and Los Angeles will try and make that continue in Game 4. The good news for the Kings is that after a mediocre regular season, Quick again looks like the goalie who took them to last year’s Stanley Cup. The bad news is that their offense, so dominant in last year’s playoffs, appears out to lunch.
The next two days will see all of the Game 3 action completed, with the LA-St. Louis and Anaheim-Detroit series playing Game 4, as they continue to be a step ahead of the pack. Here’s how Sunday and Monday look…
Pittsburgh-NY Rangers (Noon, NBC)
Chicago-Minnesota (3 PM ET, NBC)
Montreal-Ottawa (7 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Vancouver-San Jose (10 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Boston-Toronto (7 PM ET, NHL Network)
Washington-NY Rangers (7:30 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Anaheim-Detroit (8 PM ET, CNBC)
St. Louis-Los Angeles (10 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)