NHL East Battles: Lundqvist Stars; Thriller In The Capital

There might not have been overtime in any of the NHL playoff games last night, but Monday’s three games did give us a big-time goaltending performance and a great back-and-forth battle in the nation’s capital. TheSportsNotebook recaps the action and looks ahead to Tuesday…

NY Rangers 1 Ottawa 0—In this space yesterday, I wrote that Henrik Lundqvist needed a big-time game that showed he could elevate his play in the postseason. One great outing against Ottawa won’t answer the critics over the long haul, but Lundqvist absolutely answered the bell. The Senators hit him with 39 shots and every one was turned back, as the top-seeded Rangers fought to avoid going behind in the series.  Lundqvist and the New York defense killed three power plays in the first period, although the offense missed two chances of their own with the man advantage. Not until twelve minutes remained n the game did Brian Boyle break through with the game’s only goal.

Boston 4 Washington 3: After the first two games in Boston were dominated by the goalie storyline of veteran Tim Thomas and kid Braden Holtby, the offenses got some maneuvering room at the Verizon Center. Washington had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before Boston tied it. The Bruins led 3-2 before the Caps tied it. Not until Zdeno Chara’s goal with less than two minutes left was the issue finally settled. For Chara, the big goal was the topper on a game that saw him also dish two assists. Washington got a solid game from Brooks Laich, who delivered the assist on his team’s first two goals and then scored to tie the game 3-3 with six minutes left.

Even though the Caps lost, they do have to be pleased that Alex Ovechkin got on the board, with his first goal of the playoffs, a direct consequence of him finally getting free for some shots. After only getting four shots in the first two games combined, Ovechkin opened up for six in Game 3. You can’t give someone with his skills that many chances to beat you. But Boston’s strength has been its overall team game and the array of offensive contributions they got reclaimed home-ice advantage.

St. Louis 4 San Jose 3: The score is misleading, as this was the least exciting game of the night. The Blues led 4-1 by early in the third period and the Sharks didn’t get to within a goal until there were 17 seconds left. The fact the game wasn’t exciting for the neutral fan shouldn’t obscure just how impressive St. Louis was. Even without a great game from goaltender Brian Elliot, the Blues got a comprehensive team effort on the offensive end. Patrick Berglund scored a power play goal in the first and then turned around to feed Andy McDonald in the second. McDonald then fed Jason Arnott on a power plays core. Alexander Steen, who had an earlier assist, scored early in the third to all but ice the game at 4-1. Those that got involved in the St. Louis offense did so both passing and scoring and after a sluggish Game 1 loss, the Blues have systematically dismantled San Jose two straight times.


A pair of Game 3s and a Game 4 are on the docket tonight…

*Florida heads north to face New Jersey with the series tied 1-1. The first two games of this series have seen a team jump out to a 3-0 lead and then hold on for dear life. What I’m looking for here is for the Devils’ talented forwards, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise to help Jersey get a lead and then for their defense to sag back into impenetrable wall they’ve formed around Martin Brodeur all year.

*It’s Phoenix-Chicago in the Windy City as someone looks to take a 2-1 series lead. This series has played out according to form. The Blackhawks dominate every which way, Coyote goalie Mike Smith heroically keeps his team in it in spite of being battered with pucks from start to finish and the game comes down to a coin flip at the end. It’s the best Phoenix can hope for as they try and get a road win.

*I picked Detroit to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the postseason and the Red Wings are pretty close to a must-win spot tonight, trailing 2-1 to Nashville. The goalies have taken turns being hot in this game, so the pressure’s on Jimmy Howard to answer Pekka Rinne’s big Game 3. More important, is that the Wings must continue the complete offensive effort and pressure they applied to Rinne in Game 3 and make him by great. If the defenseman, led by Shea Weber, can contain the offense and limit shots, it makes Rinne’s job a little too easy. Pavel Datsyuk is the main player for the Detroit offense, but this is a team similar to Boston in that up-and-down depth makes the biggest difference.