The Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings have served notice they won’t go quietly, nor passively accept their roles as sacrificial lambs for the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks. Each underdog got badly needed wins over the weekend, as TheSportsNotebook reviews all four second-round series…
Pittsburgh had come out smoking in Game 2 and looked ready to put the series away. Playing on their home ice, the Penguins outshot the Senators 42-22, with an 18-7 margin in the first period alone. It was the elite players—Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla taking a good chunk of the shots, and Crosby lit it up with two first period goals and then completed an early hat trick in the second period. When Pittsburgh hung on for the 4-3 win, there was little reason to think Ottawa could turn it around.
But turn it around is what the Senators did yesterday on home ice. Craig Anderson came up with a huge game in goal, saving 49 of 50 shots. This is an enormous, clutch-level performance under any circumstances, but even more so when a team with as much offensive talent as Pittsburgh is the one taking all those shots. Even so, Ottawa trailed 1-0 and was down to its final half-minute, when Daniel Alfreddson scored a shorthanded goal, the game went to double overtime where Ottawa finally won it.
If you’re a Pittsburgh fan, you still feel good about the fact that you’re up 2-1 for the series. And even though you lost Game 3, goaltender Tomas Vokoun got back into his hot streak. Vokoun’s strong play off the bench had been briefly interrupted in Game 2 when, in spite of the Pens only allowing twenty shots to a team with mediocre offensive talent, Vokoun allowed Ottawa to shoot their way back in the game.
But if you’re an Ottawa fan you know you stared a loss that would have been close to death in the face and lived to tell about it. You know the crowd is going to rock on Wednesday night when this series resumes. And you know that Anderson can lift you to a win against a team with vastly more talent at every other spot on the ice. It doesn’t take a lot to turn momentum in any sport, and Ottawa will at least have the wind at their back going into a big Game 4.
Chicago started Game 2 the same way they ended Game 1, when the Blackhawks took the opener with a three-goal flurry in the third period. Chicago was attacking early, had the momentum and Patrick Kane lit the lamp for a 1-0 lead at the first intermission. But if you want to talk about momentum, nothing shuts it down in any sport faster than defense and that’s what Detroit brought to the table on Saturday. Chicago only got twenty shots for the game and didn’t score again. The Red Wings got goals from four different players, with the common thread being the passing game of Henrik Zetterberg, who had two assists.
This series now goes back to Motown and what’s sure to be a noisy Joe Louis Arena, for games on Monday and Thursday. I won’t say this is Chicago’s nightmare scenario—losing one game on your home ice isn’t the end of the world. But Detroit’s being able to steal a win on the road does make this the first real test the Blackhawks have faced in the postseason. Furthermore, Corey Crawford showed the weakness in goal that I’ve been wondering about. Crawford was a liability in last year’s playoffs, before delivering a great regular season performance and then easily handling a non-test from the Minnesota Wild. The Red Wings beat him four times on Saturday with just thirty shots. For right now, I’m still giving Crawford the benefit of the doubt and saying it was just one bad game. But like his team, he’s going to feel some heat the next two games.
LOS ANGELES-SAN JOSE
I suppose we can add San Jose to the list of teams who won’t go quietly, although I don’t that the Sharks’ chances in this series were as lightly regarded as either Ottawa’s or Detroit’s. But San Jose was in a 2-0 series hole when they ground out a 2-1 overtime in win Game 3 to tighten the series back up.
San Jose used a formula that’s very difficult to execute, but can work—they simply outshot Los Angeles by a lot, 40-27. Antti Niemi, the Sharks goalie is pretty good, but he’s not in Jonathan Quick’s class. If the shots are even, both in terms of volume and the quality of the players taking them, there would be no reason to expect San Jose to win. But the Sharks not only got a lot of chances, it was good offensive threats like Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau taking their whacks at the net. Other than Jeff Carter, Los Angeles doesn’t have comparable answers on their own front line.
Maintaining this kind of short margin is difficult, but it’s not impossible—and if Niemi were truly terrible, it still wouldn’t be enough. But he’s not, he just needs some help going up against Quick. San Jose tries to even this series up in Game 4, and the teams are back in Los Angeles on Thursday for Game 5.
A theme of the first three series has been teams who won’t go quietly. An objective journalist would call the New York Rangers the exception to that rule and say that on Sunday afternoon in Boston Garden, they looked like the team that will go quietly, losing 5-2 and falling behind in the series two games to none. Except that the author of this particular piece is no objective journalist, but a raving Bruins’ fan who refuses to do anything that might be construed as a jinx, a reverse jinx or any of the nonsense that we fans talk ourselves into thinking affects the game.
On a more serious note though, New York looked awful. The 37-32 shot advantage enjoyed by the Rangers doesn’t tell the story of how bad goalie Henrik Lundqvist was, or how bad the New York power play was—not only did they blow five chances with the man advantage (while Boston had just one), the Rangers never looked remotely ready to score in these situations. They got goals from Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash on great individual one-on-one plays, but nothing that looked like it might be the result of good schematics.
Boston was able to win by doing what they do best—superior execution in the 5-on-5 game and superior balance. Five different players scored, with centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci each having two assists.
Both teams have been here before though—the Rangers were in a 2-0 series hole against Washington in the first round, and returned home to win two games and eventually the series. Boston had a 3-1 series lead on Toronto, before requiring a historic comeback to win Game 7. We’ll find out Tuesday night in MSG if this was just one exceptionally poor game for the Rangers, or a sign of something deeper.
The next portion of the playoff schedule will stretch out over four nights and get us to a point where each series will be through four games, and Los Angeles-San Jose having Game 5 under their belt. Here’s the sked…
Chicago-Detroit (7:30 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Boston-NY Rangers (7:30 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Los Angeles-San Jose (10 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Pittsburgh-Ottawa (7:30 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Boston-NY Rangers (7 PM ET, CNBC)
Chicago-Detroit (8 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
San Jose-Los Angeles (10:30 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis will come back on Friday to assess how each series looks. It’s possible that Los Angeles & Boston could be in the conference finals by then. Furthermore, our morning daily sports feature will summarize the TV schedule for each day and integrate these games into what your other options are in TV sports.
In the meantime, please also check out our MLB coverage—this week will be highlighted by an update on who should be leading each league’s All-Star race—and NBA commentary, as the conference finals have begun.