The opening game of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Montreal Canadiens series was barely half over when both teams lost key players to serious injuries. Canadiens All-Star defenseman Andrei Markov suffered a "lower body injury" – code for "injured right knee" – after a clean hit from Penguins forward Matt Cooke (above), while Pittsburgh's Selke Trophy nominee Jordan Staal required surgery following Game 1 to repair a severed right-foot tendon after getting accidentally cut by one of the skates of Habs blueliner P.K. Subban. The two could be out for the series, a serious blow for both teams that could affect the outcome of this series.
Red Wings in a hole
It's unusual for the Detroit Red Wings to find themselves down 2-0 in a playoff series, but that's where they are as their series against the San Jose Sharks heads to Detroit for games 3 and 4. The Wings dropped the first two games by identical 4-3 scores and haven't been able to find that extra gear against a determined San Jose squad. The Wings at times looked fatigued, likely still worn down from their seven-game series against the Phoenix Coyotes. It would be foolish to write off a veteran-laden club that boasts Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, but they now face the possibility of failing to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2006.
The Joe Show
For the past four years, Joe Thornton has been relied upon to be the offensive engine of the San Jose Sharks. But in this year's postseason, another Joe has taken over that role. As Thornton and linemates Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley struggled offensively, the second line of Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Devon Setoguchi became the Sharks' most dangerous line with Pavelski the lynchpin. Having netted 9 goals and 14 points in 8 playoff games, the 5-11, 195-pound "Little Joe" not only leads San Jose in scoring, but also has more than double the points of the 6-4, 235-pound "Jumbo Joe."
As the Boston Bruins opened their conference semifinal series Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers, all eyes were on center Marc Savard, making his return for the first time since suffering a concussion courtesy of a cheap shot from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke in early March. Having shaken off post-concussion symptoms, Savard wasn't much of a factor for the Bruins in Game 1 during regulation play, but fittingly he scored the winning goal in overtime to give his team an early lead in the series. If Savard's play improves as the series progresses, he'll add a valuable play-making weapon to the Bruins' offensive arsenal.
The Philadelphia Flyers may have dropped Game 1 of their conference semifinal against the Boston Bruins, but they deserve a lot of credit for their tenacious work ethic and never-say-die attitude in overcoming a 4-2 Bruins lead to tie the game and force overtime. They can count on forwards Mike Richards, Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux for offense, but they are without scorers Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne plus gritty forward Ian Laperriere, who are sidelined by injuries and aren't expected back for this series. Facing what could be a long, grueling, physical series against the Bruins, the absence of Carter, Gagne and Laperriere could take its toll.
Blackhawks' goalie woes
As the Chicago Blackhawks entered the 2010 postseason, there were concerns about their goaltending, specifically that of young Antti Niemi, who had taken over the starter's role from a wavering Cristobal Huet late in the season. Following Niemi's steady performance in the Blackhawks' first-round series victory over the Nashville Predators, those concerns seemed alleviated, But after giving up five goals in his club's opening-game loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the worries about Niemi resurfaced. The Blackhawks will probably return with him between the pipes in Game 2, but if he stumbles again, they could be forced to turn to Huet and hope he has regained confidence, a scary thought for Blackhawks supporters whose faith in their team's goaltending has been shaken.
Heading into the Chicago Blackhawks-Vancouver Canucks series, there was considerable expectation the Canucks would seek revenge for their elimination by the Blackhawks in their 2009 conference semifinal series. Vancouver's players downplayed that talk, but if the first game of this series is any indication – a lopsided 5-1 victory for the Canucks – the Blackhawks are facing a more determined opponent this year. Goaltender Roberto Luongo was poised, the Sedins were dangerous offensively and the Canucks effectively neutralized Chicago's vaunted offense. But this series is far from over, and the Blackhawks are expected to bounce back. In spanking the Blackhawks in Game 1, however, the Canucks have served notice they intend to make amends for what happened a year ago.
The Montreal Canadiens were outplayed by the Washington Capitals in their conference quarterfinal matchup yet upset them thanks to Jaroslav Halak's superb goaltending, the robust shot-blocking of his defensemen and clutch goal-scoring. Those tactics were on display again in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After dropping Game 1, 6-3, the Habs rallied to tie the series 1-1. Despite the Penguins' dominance in Game 2, Halak rebounded from a shaky Game 1 performance, his blueliners were solid once again while Mike Cammalleri cashed in with two goals in the 3-1 victory. The Canadiens' "weather the storm" formula is a risky one but has paid dividends thus far, frustrating the Penguins as it did the Capitals.