NHL takeaways: Home isn’t always where the wins are

Minnesota right wing Nino Niederreiter celebrates his game winning overtime goal against Colorado with teammate Kyle Brodziak.

Jack Dempsey/Jack Dempsey/AP

The best series of the first round went to overtime, the Los Angeles Kings made history, and the New York Rangers got another clutch Game 7 performance from goalie Henrik Lundqvist as the first round went out in a blaze of do-or-die glory on Wednesday.

Wins by the Kings, Rangers and Minnesota Wild completed the menu for the conference semifinals. In the West, Chicago will host Minnesota in Game 1 on Friday and Anaheim will host L.A. in a SoCal series that begins Saturday.

In the East, Boston and Montreal drop the puck on the second round on Thursday at TD Garden, while Pittsburgh begins its series with the Rangers at home on Friday.

GAME OF THE DAY: Minnesota 5, Colorado 4 (OT): The road team finally broke through in the first-round’s best matchup, and the new playoff format produced its first wild-card winner. Appropriately, it was the Wild, who rallied from one-goal deficits four times before winning the game 5:02 into overtime.

PLAY OF THE DAY: Jonathan Quick’s filthy save on Patrick Marleau: If there is a play that epitomizes this entire series, this was it. Marleau, who had been so brilliant for the Sharks as they took a 3-0 series lead, had a chance at the far side of the net in the second period when Joe Pavelski’s rebound caromed to him with a yawning net awaiting. Marleau made a great play to bat the puck out of the air, but the L.A. goalie was greater, flashing his glove hand to snare the puck while doing a fully extended leg split. Quick was Quick again over the final four games of this series and that is the biggest reason L.A. is moving on.

THREE STARS

1. G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles: Quick turned aside 39 of 40 San Jose shots to help the Kings engineer the greatest comeback in Western Conference playoff history.

2. RW Nino Niederreiter, Minnesota: Niederreiter had a pair of ginormous goals, including the game-winner in overtime to silence a raucous Pepsi Center crowd and lead the Wild into the second round. Niederreiter also added an assist on Jared Spurgeon’s game-tying goal with 2:27 left in regulation.

3. LW Benoit Pouliot, New York: Pouliot had the game-winner and was an offensive force all night against the Flyers — the kind of force the Wild envisioned when Minnesota drafted him fourth overall in 2005.

RECAPS

New York Rangers 2, Philadelphia 1

Series: New York wins, 4-3

Key stat: The Rangers’ win was the 17th straight win for home teams in Game 7s. The streak ended later Wednesday when Minnesota won in Denver.

Key player: G Henrik Lundqvist, New York: He wasn’t tested through the first two periods, but he sure was in the third. He stopped Michael Raffl on the doorstep and he stopped Jason Akeson’s redirect late, turning aside 26 of 27 Flyers shots to push the Rangers into the second round for the third straight season. He’s played in five career Game 7s and has a 1.00 goals against average in them. That’s clutch.

What we learned: Getting home ice mattered in this series. Although each team won once in the other’s building, the Rangers have had the Flyers’ number in Madison Square Garden, winning 11 of the last 12 meetings. Philadelphia looked nearly lifeless through the first two periods Wednesday, with only the superlative play of goalie Steve Mason keeping this from turning into a rout. Two bad defensive breakdowns led to goals by Rangers Daniel Carcillo and Pouliot, but Mason made a half-dozen spectacular saves and showed well in his second career playoff series. The Flyers just couldn’t muster any offense to help him, scoring four goals in the three losses at MSG. With the third-highest payroll in the NHL, the Flyers were clearly a disappointment this season. They are also facing the potential retirement of top defenseman Kimo Timonen, which would free up some money, but rob an already suspect blue line of experience. For New York, the task now becomes beating Pittsburgh, a team with two of the league’s marquee players and some of the best special teams in the NHL. To do that, New York might want to spend some practice time on the power play, which hasn’t scored in its last 21 opportunities. New York has been terrific 5 on 5 with a 1.86 goals for/against ratio — the best mark in the playoffs.

Next game: Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Friday at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. EST

 

Minnesota 5, Colorado 4 (OT)

Series: Minnesota wins, 4-3

Key stat: The Wild won their first playoff series since 2003.

Key player: Niederreiter, Minnesota: Niederreiter looked like he was ready to break out so many times in this series, but he never could find the back of the net through the first six games. He did when it mattered most — twice.

What we learned: That late-season Wild surge was no fluke and it all started with a pivotal game in Glendale, Ariz., on March 29. The Coyotes were surging themselves after a five-point, three-game trip back east and the Wild were in free fall, having won just two of their previous eight games. But Minnesota scored three goals in the third period to rally for a 3-1 win. "We need to use this as a game that we can kind of springboard something off of," Wild coach Mike Yeo said at the time. They did, going 5-1-1 down the stretch with more responsible defense and balanced scoring. Minnesota made two key moves two seasons ago to try and climb into the upper echelon in the West, signing free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Both have paid dividends. Parise led the team in the first round with 10 points (tied for the NHL lead) and Suter was a rock, logging more than 29 minutes a game. The only concern — aside from facing the defending champs — is the health of goalie Darcy Kuemper, who left Game 7 in overtime with an apparent head injury. The Wild’s goaltending situation has been a revolving door all season due to injuries and illness. The loss of Kuemper would be a big blow heading into the Chicago series. Speaking of big blows, Colorado absorbed one: The best story of the season came within a goal of extending this rags-to-riches tale. Colorado finished 29th in the NHL standings in 2012-13, then won the Central Division this season with coach Patrick Roy bucking conventions at every turn. Colorado was a joy to watch with wide-open hockey and a depth of forward skill that only the Blackhawks can match. But things got a little too loose on Wednesday in Denver and now the Avs will have to settle for progress. "I have mixed feelings," Roy told the media. "There is a side of me that is disappointed. There’s also a side of me that’s extremely proud of our players." The first order of the offseason for Colorado will be to figure out what to do with impending free agent Paul Stastny, who is currently tied for the playoff scoring lead with 10 points and leads all goal scorers with five.

Next game: Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, Friday at Chicago, 9:30 p.m., EST

 

Los Angeles 5, San Jose 1

Series: L.A. wins, 4-3

Key stat: L.A. is the fourth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit and win a series. Toronto did it to Detroit in 1942; the New York Islanders did it to Pittsburgh in 1975; and Philadelphia did it to Boston in 2010.

Key player: Quick, Los Angeles: The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner added to his legend by rebounding from three poor games to win the last four, again shutting the door on the Sharks with 39 saves in Game 7.

What we learned: Change is coming in San Jose. It has to after this sort of collapse. The Sharks have been too close and too talented for too long to stand pat. They just re-signed forwards Joe Thornton and Marleau — two guys who always seem to disappear in the clutch — to long-term deals, so those two are not going anywhere. That could mean either coach Todd McLellan or GM Doug Wilson will be in the crosshairs for this latest failure. San Jose looked downright dominant in the first three games of this series, a team with a perfect mixture of skill, grit, size and goaltending that was ready to make a serious push at its first Cup. But L.A.’s experience and Quick’s brilliance slowly turned the tide. The Kings also got an MVP-type performance from center Anze Kopitar, who had four goals and 10 points to go along with his Selke Trophy-worthy defense. The Kings won the Cup in 2012 and this rally could ignite another deep run as they prepare to face the Ducks. L.A. was incredibly balanced in this series with 12 players scoring. That’s a scary stat for opponents because offense was the main issue with the Kings throughout the regular season. If they can produce 3.7 goals a game as they did in this series, they are a frighteningly dangerous team because of their experience and tight-checking style.

Next game: Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, Saturday at Anaheim, 8 p.m. EST

 

FINAL THOUGHT

The Chicago Blackhawks are sitting pretty. They were minutes away from facing a Colorado club that owned them this season — the one team that could match their skill and speed up front. Instead, the Central Division’s No. 3 seed will host Minnesota in the second round — and with a far more favorable travel schedule, to boot. The Wild will be a much more difficult out than last season when the Hawks dispatched them in five games, but Chicago will be an overwhelming favorite to win this series, which would put it one series away from its third Stanley Cup Finals in five years.

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