NHL takeaways: Blackhawks-Blues best series after another OT thriller
Three times, a team has tied a game in the final minute of play in these playoffs. Three times, that team has won the game in extra time.
Colorado’s Paul Stastny did it at 19:46 in a Game 1 win over Minnesota. St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko did it at 19:53 of a Game 2 win over Chicago, and Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky did it at 19:36 of Wednesday’s Game 4 win over Pittsburgh.
Toss in another extended affair between the Blues and Blackhawks and you had another night of high drama in the incomparable NHL playoffs.
GAME OF THE DAY: Chicago 4, St. Louis 3 (OT). For the third time in four games, the Blackhawks and Blues needed extra time to decide it. But the best series of the first round is now squared at two games apiece heading back to St. Louis after Patrick Kane worked some overtime magic.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Fleury’s gaffe. With 30 seconds left in overtime and the Penguins leading 3-2, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wandered behind his net to play a dump-in. Instead, he mishandled the puck, Columbus forward R.J. Umberger centered it to Brandon Dubinsky in front of the net and Dubinsky buried it with 22.5 seconds left to force overtime, where the Jackets won it on another soft goal.
1. RW Patrick Kane, Chicago: Two goals and an assist. The game-winner came on a brilliant and subtle rush on which he created a little space with hesitation, drifted to the middle, then flicked the wrists as soon as Blues goalie Ryan Miller started to move to the center of the net.
2. D Alex Goligoski, Dallas: Goligoski logged a whopping 32:38 of ice time. He had four hits, four blocked shots, scored the team’s final goal and was a plus-2 in a win over Anaheim.
3. RW Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis: Started the Blues’ rally with a late second-period goal, then gave them a brief lead with a short-side bullet with 7:34 left in the third period.
Series: Tied 2-2.
Key stat: Since shutting out the New York Islanders in the 2013 playoff opener, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed at least three goals in eight straight playoff games.
Key player: The guy we mentioned above. Pittsburgh had this game and series in hand until Fleury ventured out of his net in the final minute with a 3-2 lead and gave Columbus life. Fleury has one more year left on a deal that averages $5 million per season. Can the Penguins really allow Sidney Crosby to play another year of his prime with this guy behind him?
What we learned: The same thing we mentioned at the start of this series: that Fleury is the only way the Penguins can lose this series. We hate to keep harping on it, but Fleury is in the midst of posting his fifth straight sub-.900 postseason save percentage. There has been plenty of drama in this series, including big blown leads in every game. The loser has blown a 3-1 lead in every game and Pittsburgh actually had a 3-0 bulge before Columbus rallied Wednesday. But the bottom line is that Pittsburgh is far more talented than the Jackets — everywhere but in net. Not only is Fleury overmatched, but the Pens also don’t have a reliable backup. Jeff Zatkoff had a .912 save percentage and a 2.61 goals against average in 20 games this season, but he still deserves the next start, right? There’s no way the Penguins have any confidence in Fleury now. Speaking of confidence, how much do the Jackets have after this rally and first-ever playoff win on home ice? Given the Penguins’ goaltending issues, if Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky can steal Game 5 in Pittsburgh, the Jackets have a real chance at a major upset.
Next game: Saturday at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. EST
Series: Tied 2-2
Key stat: Ducks star Teemu Selanne was a healthy scratch on Wednesday. He said the only other playoff game from which he’s been scratched was in 2004 with Colorado. It was a tough pill for the 23-year veteran to swallow, but it was even tougher on Selanne’s oldest son, Eemil, who took to Twitter to voice his disapproval of the Ducks coach in a tweet that has since been deleted: "ROSTER MOVE: Bruce Boudreau has been reassigned to Norfolk Admirals (AHL)."
Key player: C Vern Fiddler, Dallas. Freed from his usual job of defending Ryan Getzlaf (injured), Fiddler had a goal and an assist while blocking three shots and winning 58 percent of his faceoffs.
What we learned: The Ducks are an ordinary team without Getzlaf in the lineup. Getzlaf was a surprise scratch with an upper body injury on Wednesday. He flew home to get treatment in advance of Game 5. Despite an early two-goal lead, the Ducks could not weather the Stars’ rally. Dallas fired 16 shots at the Anaheim net in the second period to tie it, then Cody Eakin and Alex Goligoski scored 1:22 apart to even the series. Where does this leave Anaheim, which once had control of this series at 2-0? That depends on Getzlaf’s health and what coach Bruce Boudreau does in goal. Rookie Frederik Anderson was pulled in the third period and veteran Jonas Hiller could get the critical start in Game 5. Dallas center Tyler Seguin still hasn’t gotten on track in this series with a goal and two points, but linemate Jamie Benn has three goals and six points and the Stars are getting contributions elsewhere as they look to win their first playoff series since 2008.
Next game: Friday at Anaheim, 10:30 p.m. EST
Series: Tied 2-2.
Key stat: Patrick Kane tied Jeremy Roenick for the franchise record for playoff overtime winners with his third such goal.
Key player: RW Patrick Kane, Chicago. For the first time in these playoffs, Kane, who missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a lower body injury, looked like himself. He was dancing, he was dangling and he was determined to make an impact. He did, knotting this series with a three-point effort.
What we learned: The Blackhawks were 7:34 away from a 3-1 series deficit and likely elimination after St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko scored at that point in the third period to cap a rally from a 2-0 deficit. But just as the Hawks did when they extended Vancouver to seven games in 2011 despite the loss of more than 40 percent of the previous year’s Cup-winning roster, Chicago showed the will and smarts of a champion. Bryan Bickell’s deflection at 16:08 of the third period capped a terrific shift by his line that also includes Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Then Patrick Kane capped a brilliant night with his second goal and third point. Where does this series go from here? Who knows? There have been so many twists already it’s impossible to predict. Injured Blues captain David Backes could return for Game 5. The guy who put him out, Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook, will be back for Game 6, and this has all the makings of an epic series between two bitter, longtime rivals whose contradicting styles are serving as a proving ground for the hard, heavy vs. fast, skilled division that has materialized in the league. One word of caution. The Blues had better find a solution for Kane, who was the best player on the ice Wednesday. When he’s on, the Blackhawks are frightening to defend.
Next game: Friday at St. Louis, 8 p.m. EST
Final thought: The NHL lowered the boom on bad boy Matt Cooke, suspending him seven games for his kneeing infraction Monday that knocked Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie out of the playoffs for four to six weeks with a severe MCL sprain. Barrie’s injury and Cooke’s history (he’s been suspended five other times) played a role in the second-longest kneeing suspension in NHL history (Bryan Marchment received eight games for kneeing Kevin Dineen in 1998). The length was warranted but clearly the greater loss is Barrie, whom coach Patrick Roy called the team’s best offensive defenseman. His loss puts a damper on the Avs’ playoff hopes. Colorado already is playing without regular season leading scorer Matt Duchene.
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