Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby began the playoffs on an offensive tear, racking up 14 points in his club's six-game opening round elimination of the Ottawa Senators to lead all playoff scorers by a wide margin. His torrid pace prompted some observers to suggest he could break Wayne Gretzky's single-season playoff record of 47 points. However, against the Canadiens, Crosby's found scoring chances difficult to come by, limited to only three assists heading into Game 6 in Montreal on Monday. He's slipped to third overall in playoff scoring and, should the Penguins advance to the conference final, it's a good bet their opponent in that round has taken notes on how the Canadiens contained him.
Can the Flyers fight back?
Only two teams in NHL history have ever rebounded from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. History seems to be against theFlyers, but they're hoping to buck the trend. They staged a dramatic overtime victory in Game 4 last Friday against the Bruins to stave off elimination and force a fifth game on Monday back in Boston. The Flyers got a significant lift from the return of veteran scorer Simon Gagne, who scored the overtime winner. Still facing elimination, they have no room for error in this series, but if they can win Monday to force a sixth game, this series could get very interesting.
Injury bug bites Bruins
Over the course of the regular season, injuries significantly hampered the Bruins' performance. But just as their lineup was getting healthier during the postseason, the injury bug's bitten them hard again. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has yet to play following forearm surgery, forwards Marco Sturm (knee) and David Krejci (wrist) are out for the playoffs and blueliner Adam McQuaid (lower body) is listed as day-to-day. The Bruins are currently poised to dispatch the Flyers and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they can't afford to lose many more key players and keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive.
Canucks need some self-discipline
After easily beating the Blackhawks in Game 1 of their Conference semifinal, the Vancouver Canucks suffered a significant breakdown in team discipline over the next three games. The Blackhawks succeeded in antagonizing the Canucks into taking dumb penalties while hulking Chicago forward Dustin Byfuglien screening tactics drove Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo to distraction. The Hawks' antics pushed the Canucks to the brink of elimination heading into Game 5, but a more disciplined, focused performance resulted in a 4-1 Canucks victory sending the series back to Vancouver for Game 6. If they can maintain their disciplined play, they'll have a fighting chance to push this to a seventh game.
Earlier in this year's playoffs, there was some criticism of the performance of Blackhawk captain Jonathan Toews, with one observer suggesting he wasn't getting involved enough. No one's suggesting that now, as Toews was a key factor in the Hawks' first-round elimination of the Predators and in pushing the Canucks to the brink of second-round elimination. He currently has 19 points in 11 games to lead all playoff scorers with two game-winning goals and four powerplay goals. "Toewser" has been the heartbeat of the Blackhawks this spring.
Lidstrom's last hurrah?
Following Detroit's elimination from the playoffs, speculation has sprung up suggesting Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom might retire. Lidstrom, 40, is an unrestricted free agent this summer. He struggled earlier this season, but had a strong second half and playoffs, suggesting he has enough left for perhaps another season. He told the Detroit media he had no immediate plans and would discuss his options with Wings management in a few weeks. If he returns, he might have to accept less than the $7.45 million he earned in 2009-10. But if he retires, it'll leave an irreplaceable hole in the Wings' defense corps.
Thornton and Marleau reborn
For the past several seasons, and into the first round of the 2010 playoffs, San Jose star forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were criticized for their inability to step up and provide postseason leadership and offense. But in three of the Sharks' four victories over the Red Wings, it was those two who led the way in their club's five-game series win. Advancing to the conference final was a significant step for the Sharks, and especially for Thornton and Marleau, in finally shaking the label of "playoff chokers."
Habs beaten at their own game?
Strong goaltending and solid shot-blocking have been the hallmarks of Montreal's improbable first-round upset of the Washington Capitals. But heading into Game 6 of their conference semifinal series against the Penguins, it appears they've met their match. In their previous three games leading up to Game 6, the Penguins held the Habs to only four goals, as Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury played very well while his defense has made life miserable for the Canadiens scorers. If the Habs can't find a way to thwart Pittsburgh's defensive blanket, they'll find themselves on the golf course by week's end.