NHL Playoffs: Boston & Chicago On The Ropes
Five of the eight first-round series of the NHL playoffs have two games under their belt. Last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, are a combined 0-3, and one of the most star-studded lineups in the league is all even. Here’s a rundown on the action since TheSportsNotebook’s last update on Friday morning…
ATLANTIC DIVISION BRACKET
Detroit 1 Boston 0: It was a defensive-oriented game, with both teams only getting 22 shots apiece and there were only a handful of consistent assaults on the net throughout the game. Detroit simply outskated Boston, using their speed to control the pace of play and control the puck most of the way.
The Red Wings have lacked offensive firepower throughout the year and that was evident in their repeated inability to get good shots, even as they controlled the puck. But the longer the game went on, the more they used their speed to keep clearing the puck and protect goalie Jimmy Howard, the more the game had the feel of one where a veteran scorer like Pavel Datsyuk could take over.
Sure enough, Datsyuk fired a laser slap shot past Boston goalie Tuuka Raask with 3:01 to play and the Red Wings had an upset win in a crisp, clean game. The Bruins have to figure out an answer to Red Wing quickness, or they’re going to be chasing this entire series.
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Montreal 4 Tampa Bay 1: After a scoreless first period, Montreal scored twice in the second period, both times on assists from star defensemen P.K. Subban. Rene Borque got one of those goals and Borque scored again in the third period as the Canadiens built a 4-0 lead. Tampa Bay got a cosmetic goal with less than two minutes to play.
This was another low-shot game, 27-26 for Tampa Bay. But the injury to Lightning goalie Ben Bishop is proving to be something Tampa can’t overcome. You can’t give up four goals to a team with mediocre offensive talent that only takes 26 shots. And given the edge Montreal has in net with Carey Price, the Lightning have to be attacking him much more consistently. Steven Stamkos was nowhere to be found after a productive Game 1, and someone might want to let Ryan Callahan know the playoffs have started.
The Canadiens now take a 2-0 series lead north of the border. I would say this one looks over, but I remember being at a game in Boston Garden in 2011 where Montreal had a 2-zip series lead on a Bruin team that looked similarly lifeless. The Canadiens lost four of the next five and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Things can change fast—dare I go with a bad joke and say they could still change Lightning fast? You’re right, better to have put that one in my back pocket.
METROPOLITAN DIVISION BRACKET
Columbus 4 Pittsburgh 3 (OT): Taking a 3-1 lead is proving to be deadly in this series. Columbus blew that lead in Game 1. Yesterday it was Pittsburgh’s turn to jump out to the early two-goal advantage only to watch the Blue Jackets rally.
Amidst all the offensive talent on the Penguins, it was no-name Brian Gibbons who scored two goals early in the game to get the crowd into it and keep the momentum for Game 1 going. Columbus, who had yet to win a playoff game in their history could have been forgiven if they’d have folded up. The Blue Jackets were back on their heels, outshot 15-4 in the first period.
But Columbus turned things around. A lot of this has to fall on Pittsburgh—how a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz can be outshot 41-27 in a period covering the second period into the second overtime is beyond me. It’s one thing to have a goalie stop you. It’s another not even to put him under pressure to begin with. Yesterday, that primarily fell on Kunitz, who had minimal impact on the game.
Matt Calvert scored a goal for the Blue Jackets to cut it to 3-2, and it would be Calvert that eventually scored the game-winner. I’ve often been tough on Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in this space, but this blown lead isn’t on him. You can’t put a goalie under the kind of sustained pressure Fleury faced and expect anything good to come out of it.
One cautionary note for the Blue Jackets though. I picked them to pull an upset here in seven games, but these games are still a bit too high scoring for Columbus to keep pace. They need to pull them back down into the 2-1 or 3-2 range.
NY Rangers-Philadelphia: No game since the last NHL playoffs update. The Rangers lead the series 1-0.
CENTRAL DIVISION BRACKET
Colorado 4 Minnesota 2: It was Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog that led the way for the Avalanche, as they took their second straight game to open the series. MacKinnon scored in the first period. Landeskog scored twice in the second, both times assisted by MacKinnon and Stastny. Those goals broke a 1-1 tie, and Colorado finished the job with an empty-net goal by Stastny to clinch it.
Minnesota got a stronger effort from Zach Parise, who took five shots on goal. Jason Pominville, who had been active in Game 1, was contained this time around. The Wild are playing with too narrow of a margin for error to have their best offensive players take turns in being active on offense. Minnesota needs both Pominville and Parise constantly on the attack.
If nothing else, the Wild made a goalie change. Ilya Bryzgalov was pulled after the team fell behind 3-1, and Darcy Kuemper saved all fourteen shots he saw. There’s nothing in Kuemper’s track record to suggest he’s a long-term solution, but we’ve seen changes like this produce a hot goalie for a week or two (see Braden Holtby for Washington in 2012 or Tomas Vokoun for Pittsburgh in 2013). That should be just enough to keep Avs fans a little on edge, as this series heads to the Twin Cities.
St. Louis 4 Chicago 3 (OT): The fact last year’s champions has lost two straight games to their archrival in overtime, both times blowing a third period lead, is enough to make this series extremely compelling. But even the way these games are playing out adds to the drama and nuance of it all.
The Blues grabbed a 2-0 lead early, but Chicago chipped away and led 3-2. The game was penalty-ridden, but coming into the final minute, St. Louis had missed on eight power play chances, while Chicago was 0-for-4 with the man advantage. The Blues’ last power play wasn’t a penalty, just the pulling of the goalie. But it finally broke through, with the game-tying goal.
Kevin Shattenkirk was the key man offensively for St. Louis, scoring one goal and assisting on the other two. Defensively, the Blues did a great job keeping all of Chicago’s best offensive talent off the puck. There are four extremely good offensive players for the Blackhawks—as in, good enough to be the #1 scorer on a championship team. Only Marian Hossa really got active, taking eight shots. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp were all quiet
When you see St. Louis win two games in overtime, you can say there’s luck involved, and I won’t dispute that. I will say that a part of creating your luck is playing more aggressively and for the second straight game, the Blues were the more aggressive side in the OT period. They took seven shots to the Blackhawks’ two. A similar advantage was enjoyed in Game 1’s triple-OT fest. It’s no surprise then, that St. Louis is the one getting the sudden-death wins.
PACIFIC DIVISION BRACKET
Anaheim 3 Dallas 2: The Ducks grab their second straight win to kick off the playoffs, and got great play from the stars. After an early Dallas goal, Ryan Getzlaff scored. Then Corey Perry followed suit. Getzlaff then assisted Andrew Cogliano and Anaheim held off the Stars’ charge the rest of the way.
A point of caution to Anaheim though—they lost shots 36-19. A big part of the differential came in the third period, when Dallas won shots 15-2. Given the Stars trailed by two goals most of the period, this is more a result of the game situation. What does concern me is that 19 shots is just very low no matter the circumstance.
Furthermore, both Getzlaff and Perry’s early goals were unassisted. These aren’t games I’m seeing live, just reviewing the box score, but I’m curious as to whether these numbers don’t indicate a lack of puck movement. We’ll find out going forward.
Speaking of moving forward, four games are on the docket for Easter Sunday. Here’s the agenda…
Philadelphia-NY Rangers (Noon ET, NBC)
Detroit-Boston (3 PM ET, NBC)
Tampa Bay-Montreal (7 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Los Angeles-San Jose (10 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
After tonight, Tampa-Montreal will have three games under their belt and every other series will have completed two games. TheSportsNotebook will return tomorrow for another update.