There was more overtime in the East and more unlikely domination in the West, and Los Angeles and New Jersey won last in the NHL playoffs. TheSportsNotebook looks back on both games and ahead to Friday night…
Los Angeles 4 St. Louis 2: The Kings have a 3-0 lead in games, as the complete disappearance of the St. Louis team that won the Central Division remains the biggest mystery of these playoffs. If you base the size of a surprise on the seed (say that real fast—then try and imitate Danny Kaye’s performance here in the Court Jester), then 8th-seeded LA’s win over Vancouver in the first round would be bigger. But St. Louis was much better suited to avoid a playoff upset, with great goaltending and sound defense. As it turns out, the goaltending has been lacking for three games. For a series with two teams built on defense, it’s appropriate that it was Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty who stepped up the biggest last night. He and center Anze Kopitar combined on an assist for the game’s first goal. St. Louis tied it on a goal from Chris Stewart in the second period, but the Kings countered with two more, including a Doughty/Kopitar assist. After Stewart scored his second goal to make the game close, Doughty finished it off with a goal at the 12-minute mark. To me, the benchmark of a better team playing inexplicably poor in a playoff series—not just having bad luck, but seeming so completely out of it—is the Oakland A’s in the 1990 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The Blues seemed determine to rival that, with Brian Elliot having forgotten how to stop a shot in the goal, with LA just needing 22 attempts to light the lamp four times.
New Jersey 4 Philadelphia 3 (OT): The Flyers scored first, with Danny Briere and Jaromir Jagr each briefly forgoing their scoring role to combine on an assist. But Ilya Kovalchuk first fed Patrik Elias to tie the game and then scored himself to give the Devils a 2-1 lead. Philadelphia tied it in the second period. Then Zach Parise scored on a feed from Elias, before Briere tied it up for the Flyers. The teams played over 17 minutes of overtime before Kovalchuk dished another assist, finding Alexi Ponikarovsky for the game-winner. I’m convinced the overriding theme of the series is that the New Jersey’s key offensive players are into the game. Between Parise, Kovalchuk and Elias you’re getting constant offensive activity, and if that continues to hold, the Devils can make up for the Flyers’ overall offensive talent edge. Elias has outplayed rival center Claude Giroux, who was not heard from last night and the Philly offense works best when Giroux, one of the best passers in the league is at the heart of it.
The sequence of Game 4s start tonight with Nashville hosting Phoenix and the home team looking to tie the series. Phoenix goalie Mike Smith had a poor game in Game 3 after what’s been an otherwise impeccable playoff run. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne broke a string of two bad games to start this series with a big performance in Game 3. I sense a great Smith-Rinne battle in the works tonight.