Sunday was probably the least memorable day of the playoffs thus far — unless you’re Brent Seabrook — but the Flyers, Bruins, Canadiens and Sharks aren’t complaining about the lack of drama.
GAME OF THE DAY: Montreal 3, Tampa Bay 2: Thomas Plekanec scored early in the third period and Montreal held off Tampa at raucous Bell Centre to grab a commanding 2-0 series lead. Canada’s only Cup hope is poised to become the first team to advance to the conference semifinals.
PLAY OF THE DAY: It’s not often you see a 3-on-0, and it almost never happens against the Los Angeles Kings, the league’s best defensive team. But that’s what San Jose produced off a poor Kings line change in the third period. Sharks forward Joe Pavelski made them pay, beating Jonathan Quick to the glove side in a laugher at the Shark Tank.
Key stat: The Flyers ended a nine-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden, winning there for the first time since they also won 4-2 on Feb. 20, 2011.
Key player: G Ray Emery, Philadelphia: Emery made 31 saves and stopped the final 29 shots he faced for his first playoff win in exactly three years (April, 20, 2011 at Nashville)
What we learned: This series will live up to expectations. The Rangers had a 2-0 lead just 8:22 in. They were one goal away from probably pushing this game and series too far out of reach. But Philadelphia dug deep, established a withering forecheck, won puck battles and scored four straight goals to send the series back to Philadelphia tied at 1. Jakub Voracek had a huge goal late in the first period to ease Philly’s jitters in the face of that lengthy MSG losing streak. Jason Akeson made up for that costly double-minor in Game 1 with a power play to tie it in the second period and Luke Schenn got the game-winner on another rebound. The Flyers didn’t fare any better than Game 1 at staying out of the penalty box, handing New York six more power plays on Sunday. But the Flyers cashed in on two of their own three power plays when Wayne Simmonds seemingly fought off the entire Rangers roster to muscle a puck into an empty net with 26 seconds left. Emery made a number of big saves. He stoned Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis on backdoor feeds, and he stopped Mats Zucarrello on the doorstep to preserve the lead.
Key stat: The Bruins snapped a four-game losing streak to Detroit.
Key player: G Tuukka Rask, Boston. Rask made 34 saves and has allowed two goals in two games.
What we learned: If Boston gets any offense against the Red Wings, it can regain control of this series in Hockeytown. The Red Wings pulled off the shocker of the first round when they beat Boston in Game 1 at TD Garden, where the Bruins were a league-best 31-7-3 this season. But lost in that storyline was that nothing changed about Boston’s superlative defensive game — or Rask. One brilliant Pavel Datsyuk rush was all the Red Wings had to show for their efforts and, four out of five times, that will be enough for Boston to do what it did as much as any team in the NHL this season: win. The missing ingredients in Game 1 were the net presence, power-play mechanics and forechecking the Bruins brought in Game 2 to counter Detroit’s speed and possession advantage. Boston had two power play goals in four chances Sunday. Now it’s time for Red Wings coach Mike Babcock to make his counter-adjustments. We’re guessing it won’t involve the above matchup that never materialized between Zdeno Chara and Brendan Smith, but Detroit has already shown the past two years it won’t back down from the biggest of obstacles. If the Wings can get the next one — and if goalie Jimmy Howard can avoid costly mistakes like the turnover that led to Boston’s first goal — this series cold go the distance.
Key stat: Montreal forward Rene Bourque’s goal 11 seconds into the game was the fastest playoff goal ever scored at Bell Centre.
Key player: D P.K. Subban, Montreal. Subban logged 28:03 of ice time and had two highlight-reel assists to spark the Canadiens’ offense. The first came on a stretch pass from deep in his own end that set up a streaking Bourque on the first goal of the game. The second came after he circled the Tampa net and slipped a pass across the slot to Brendan Gallagher for an easy tap-in and a 2-1 lead.
What we learned: Tampa has overcome enormous obstacles this season, including the trade of Martin St. Louis and star Steven Stamkos‘ broken leg. But the Lightning are done. The loss of goalie Ben Bishop before this series began was a devastating blow for a team that had relied so heavily on its goaltender both to steal games and to inject confidence into the players in front of him. His replacement, Anders Lindback, hasn’t played poorly, but he hasn’t been great, and Bourque’s early goal — one Lindback could have had — set the tone for Sunday’s last-ditch effort. Tampa is in a 3-0 hole, Bourque has three goals in his last two games and the Canadiens are about to advance to the second round for the first time since 2010. Most encouraging for Montreal is that goalie Carey Price has settled down after a shaky Game 1. The Canadiens will need him at the top of his game in a likely second-round matchup against the top-seeded Boston Bruins.
Key stat: The Sharks have 13 goals in two games against the regular season’s goals-against leader.
Key player: D Matt Greene, Los Angeles. Greene had a brutal night. He was on the ice for four of San Jose’s five goals.
What we learned: G Jonathan Quick is struggling and the Kings have no chance without him. We could start by noting that nothing about L.A.’s normally suffocating defense is in order right now. How else do you allow a 3-on-0 minutes after another odd-man rush goal? How else do you allow six and seven goals in your first two playoff games after not allowing six goals or more in a game the entire regular season? The Kings need elite defense and goaltending because they don’t score much (sixth-fewest goals in the NHL). They’re not getting either. They’re not getting anything. Selke Trophy candidate Anze Kopitar was a minus-3 on Sunday. L.A. had a 2-0 lead after one period. Given their normal M.O., the Kings were poised to take this series back to Staples Center tied at 1 game apiece. But despite those pre-game quotes from Willie Mitchell that they had learned their lesson in Game 1, L.A. imploded in the final two periods, allowing seven goals to post a season-high mark for goals against for the second straight game. The Kings are clearly capable of regrouping at home. This is a team that won the Cup in 2011. But they’ll need to be letter perfect against a Sharks club with a 2-0 series lead that is clicking on all cylinders — and with all four lines. Twelve players found the score sheet for San Jose, which has a score to settle with the Kings after last season’s seven-game loss in the conference semifinals.
Next game: Tuesday at Los Angeles, 10 p.m. ET
The NHL handed down its first suspension of the playoffs when it benched Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook for three games for his vicious charging penalty on St. Louis captain David Backes. In the video explanation of the suspension, the NHL notes that Seabrook struck Backes well beyond the time frame in which he was eligible to be hit, calling it both interference and a charge.
Responding to Seabrook’s assertion that he thought the puck was still there, the NHL said the onus is still on Seabrook not to hit an ineligible opponent, noting that Seabrook skated "some distance" to deliver the hit so he should have recognized the circumstances.
Oddly, the NHL never mentioned the hit to the head, which was the initial point of contact, but it did note that Seabrook has no suspension history. That was a mitigating factor in the length of the suspension, but three games is still a lengthy suspension for the playoffs, and it seems even longer when the NHL didn’t even have to mention the head shot to justify it because there were two other pieces of evidence that sufficed.
Even so, if Backes is out longer — and if Valdimir Sobotka misses time due to Bryan Bickell’s penalized but otherwise unpunished kneeing infraction — the Blackhawks could gain an undeserved upper hand as a result of this incident. Then again, the way the Hawks have been handing away leads, three games may be enough to ensure Seabrook never plays again this season.