Of the 15 games played so far in this year’s NHL playoffs, seven of them have gone overtime. Saturday’s action made a big contribution to the total, with three of four going extra time and one hitting double OT. And all four games saw the Game 1 loser bounce back with a win. Enough excitement for you? TheSportsNotebook looks back on Saturday and ahead to four more on Sunday…
Ottawa 3 NY Rangers 2 (OT): The game started off like nothing had changed from New York’s not-as-close-as-it-sounds 4-2 win in Game 1. Artem Anislov picked up his third assist of the series and the Rangers took a 1-0 lead at Madison Square Garden. The penalty box had plenty of company early on. New York’s Brandon Dubinsky spent 12 minutes there, and Ottawa’s Matt Carkner managed to spend almost the entire period in timeout, compiling 17 penalty minutes. It’s worth noting that a heavily penalized period saw New York get more scoring opportunities with the man advantage than Ottawa, but they could not open the game up. Ottawa made them pay with they tied it on a power play goal by Erik Karlsson in the second, and then the teams traded goals in the third, with the Senators tying the game just under the five-minute mark and then quickly winning in overtime, not even two minutes in. It wasn’t a bad game for Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but given he only faced 29 shots it was not a championship effort, and an area Lundqvist is being criticized by the punditry is for not elevating his game in the postseason. He handed the critics ammunition on Saturday.
Washington 2 Boston 1 (2 OT): I won’t say TheSportsNotebook predicted the rise of Washington goalie Braden Holtby, the 22-year-old who started only five games before a combination of injuries and mediocrity to the Caps’ top two put him in the playoff spotlight. But if you read the series preview, you’ll note that it was said here that the underdog was better off taking a shot with Holtby. They did, and now the Bruins are better off not taking a shot at all. They’ve launched 64 at the kid over two games and had 62 stopped, including a breathtaking 43/44 performance in Boston Garden yesterday. Tim Thomas, whose Game 1 overtime shutout was more about good team defense in front, earned his money on Saturday too, stopping 37 of 39. Boston missed its best chances to win in the second period, while Washington had to be thwarted in the third.
Chicago 4 Phoenix 3 (OT): Phoenix must be trying to imitate the 1994 New York Rangers. In the ’94 playoffs, the Rangers surrendered game-tying goals in the last minute of regulation three different times and still won the Cup—imagine Mariano Rivera blowing three saves and the Yankees still winning the World Series. Phoenix has now let Chicago tie the game in the final seconds in both matchups of this series. The Coyotes turned it around and won Thursday, but the Blackhawks made them pay today. Patrick Sharps stuck in the game-tyer with six seconds left. Phoenix goalie Mike Smith continues to be a game, but he faced 50 shots on Saturday. I know Chicago is much better in the starting five than Phoenix, and Smith will have to carry this team, but is it too much to ask the Coyote defense to bring that number down to 40-42? Do that and the Blackhawks might not see the back of the net again.
St. Louis 3 San Jose 0: The Blues-Sharks didn’t give us an overtime game, although they made their contribution to the 7-of-15 stat back in Game 1. St. Louis methodically got a goal per period, with center T.J. Oshie being the assist man twice. St. Loo goalie Jaroslav Halak left with an undisclosed lower-body injury and was replaced by Brian Elliot, who was sitting down because of an undisclosed upper-body injury. The vagueness of these medical reports leads me to believe that Bill Belichick is secretly running the injury lists for each team. I’ve made no secret of my belief that the Blues are better off with Elliot in goal anyway. And even though this game didn’t give overtime, the fans still got plenty of fireworks at the 60-minute mark. A huge fight broke out—not a fake deal where the players circle each other like junior high kids on a playground waiting for a monitor to break it up, but an honest, glove strewn all over the ice, war. 14 players were charged with penalty minutes after the game was over. Those don’t roll over automatically, so unless the commissioner intervenes, it will mean nothing. But is it realistic to think Gary Bettman won’t step in? Given that Bettman’s failure to act against Nashville’s Shea Weber for a postgame cheap shot after Game 1 against Detroit meant a bigger battle in Game 2, I think it unlikely that Bettman will let this slide.
SUNDAY SHIFTS IN VENUE
Three of today’s series hit Game 3, and that means we move to the lower seeds home ice…
–The aforementioned Nashville-Detroit grudge match heads north to Joe Louis Arena with the series tied. The bad blood going here is obvious, and I’m sure retaliation will be on everyone’s mind, with the ball currently in the Predators’ court. But it’s so tough to score on goalies Jimmy Howard (Detroit) and Pekka Rinne (Nashville) at full strength, that I have to question the wisdom of continuing a war that puts your men in the penalty box. In yesterday’s recap of Game 2, I approvingly likened Detroit coach Mike Babcock to Vito Corleone in The Godfather for his taking revenge after Bettman refused to act. Today both teams would be better off imitating the Vito who sought peace amongst the Families after his eldest son was killed and giving the Barzinis the man advantage.
–Vancouver’s trailing 2-0 against Los Angeles and goes to the Staples Center. At this point normally I would say that if Roberto Luongo shows up between the pipes for the Canucks, the city of Vancouver should riot, but after last year’s Cup finals I’m afraid the city wouldn’t understand I don’t mean literally.
–Pittsburgh is also in a two-game hole and heading to Philadelphia, having given up 14 goals in two games—how is that possible?
–And the one series still in Game 2 is New Jersey-Florida, where the Devils look to take a second win in South Beach. If you believe in carryover momentum (I don’t , but reasonable people do buy it), then remember that the Panthers controlled play in the final two periods of Game 1, but were unable to dig out of the early 3-0 deficit.