NHL Takeaways: Finally, a boring day — not that these guys are complaining
The Penguins and Blackhawks grabbed the early lead â and saved the drama for another day. Are their convincing victories proof that the big boys are separating from the pack?
Was Sunday’s domination by the Penguins and Blackhawks an aberration, or sign of things to come?
By Craig Morgan
With so many frenetic finishes over the first two-plus weeks, the NHL playoffs took a break from high drama and blown leads on Sunday. The Blackhawks and Penguins finished what they started, taking leads and never relinquishing them.
While Chicago put Minnesota in a deep 2-0 hole, Pittsburgh avoided that fate with a suffocating defensive effort.
Let's get to the details.
GAME OF THE DAY: Pittsburgh 3, New York 0: The Penguins turned in their most complete game of these playoffs to even their series with the Rangers and hand goalie Marc-Andre Fleury his seventh career playoff shutout (a franchise record). Fleury made 22 saves but didn't have to work for many of them.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Chicago's game-clinching goal: Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa started the play with just under three minutes to play in regulation with a takeaway in his own zone. Hossa shrugged off the check of Zach Parise and used a burst of speed to create a 2-on-1 with Bryan Bickell. Hossa slipped a pass across the high slot to Bickell, who beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov high to the glove side with a perfectly placed shot just inside the elbow.
1. Bryan Bickell, LW, Chicago: A goal and two assists for Chicago's power forward, who is following last season's breakout postseason with another strong performance. Bickell has five goals and eight points in eight playoff games.
2. Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh: Letang is really rounding back into shape after missing 10 weeks following a stroke. He had a goal, two assists and spearheaded a sound Penguins defensive performance by logging 25:35 of ice time and making good decisions with the puck.
3. Marian Hossa, RW, Chicago: Aside from the three primary assists he posted, Hossa broke up at least two quality scoring chances with defensive positioning and good stick work, and he was a bull (as usual) when he had the puck, shrugging off checkers.
Chicago 4, Minnesota 1
Series: Chicago leads, 2-0
Key stat: The Blackhawks have won six straight playoff games overall and are 16-2 at home in the last two postseasons.
Key player: Hossa: He was the best player on the ice again, posting three assists, a plus-four rating and two key takeaways.
What we learned: If Chicago's two-year pattern of getting stronger as the playoffs progress continues, Minnesota will be booking tee times soon. The Hawks' possession game was superb for most of Sunday's game, holding Minnesota to a franchise-low two shots on goal in the first period. Chicago hasn't played that signature game yet in this series where it is clicking on all cylinders, and yet, it has the Wild gasping for air — needing to beat the defending champs in four of the next five games to win this series. The Wild were in the same position against Colorado in the first round, but the Hawks are not the inexperienced Avalanche. The core of this roster has won two Stanley Cups and has made a habit of euthanizing opponents once it gets an edge. The Wild’s best forwards on Sunday were bottom-six players like Nino Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine, Cody McCormick and Erik Haula. In seven playoff games against Chicago the last two seasons, Zach Parise has two points and is minus-10 and Mikko Koivu has zero points and is also minus-9. Trade-deadline acquisition Matt Moulson was a non-factor again and has just one goal in the playoffs. Chicago played this game without super pest Andrew Shaw, but the Hawks' skill made a difference again, with Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad all having big games while Wild-killer Bickell now has six goals in seven career playoff games against Minnesota.
Next game: Tuesday at Minnesota, 9 p.m., ET
* * * * * * * *
Pittsburgh 3, New York Rangers 0
Series: Tied, 1-1
Key stat: The Rangers haven't scored on their last 29 power play opportunities. We said two days ago it would come back to bite them. It did Sunday when New York went 0 for 4 with the man advantage.
Key player: Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh. A goal, an assist, five shots, four takeaways and a terrific defensive play to break up a scoring chance right in front of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
What we learned: Pittsburgh's persistence paid off. The Penguins were the better team for the final two periods of Game 1, but came away empty-handed. They were the better team again on Sunday, and they dominated possession. As we noted earlier, that normally translates into wins over the long run. Pittsburgh threw lots of rubber at Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was superb in turning away 32 of those shots. But Pittsburgh was so dominant with the puck that New York never generated any offense. Top-paid Ranger Rick Nash continues to struggle in the postseason. He was a minus-1 and had just three shots on Sunday. He hasn't scored a goal yet in the playoffs. On the flip side, Penguins center Sidney Crosby went an astounding 13th straight playoff game without a goal, and went pointless for the second straight game in this series. Crosby was good Sunday, throwing six shots on goal. As long as the Pens are getting balanced scoring, and as long as Crosby keeps creating those chances for others, all is good, but this has to end soon, right?
Next game: Monday at New York, 7:30 p.m. ET
Final thought: Montreal authorities are preparing for the worst after Game 3 of the Canadiens-Bruins series takes place Monday at Molson Centre, Anie Samson, the city council member in charge of public security, told the Associated Press. The city's fans have a reputation for unruly behavior. The Canadiens' most recent Stanley Cup wins in 1986 and 1993 spurred acts of hooliganism and rioting. In 2008, after the Canadiens' seventh-game playoff win against the rival Bruins, police cars were burned and downtown businesses were looted. At least 16 people were arrested and damage to police property was valued at $500,000. In May 2010, windows were smashed and clashes erupted between rioters and police on Ste-Catherine Street following a win over Pittsburgh in the second round. So here's a travel tip for Boston fans planning to make the five-hour drive: Best not to wear a Bruins jersey out on the town.