NHL playoff takeaways: Goalies snatch spotlight back in high-scoring series
Monday night belonged to Finns and goalies.
Pittsburgh’s Jussi Jokinen and Minnesota’s Mikael Granlund scored game-winning goals for their respective teams while Finnish Olympic teammate Kari Lehtonen posted one of three shutouts to restore some order to what had been an unusually high-scoring postseason.
Entering Monday’s action, scoring was up by almost two goals per game, but Dallas’ Lehtonen, Minnesota’s Darcy Kuemper and Chicago’s Corey Crawford all blanked the opposition, while Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov came close in a 1-0 overtime loss.
GAME OF THE DAY: Minnesota 1, Colorado 0 (OT). Minnesota set a franchise single-game record when it threw its 44th shot at Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov in the third period. It took two more to finally get one past him in overtime and save the Wild’s season.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Mikael Granlund’s game-winning goal: The Minnesota forward looped behind the Colorado net and finally shed the check of Avs defenseman Jan Hejda on the far boards before splitting Marc-Andre Cliche and Erik Johnson. While falling to the ice, he pulled the puck around Varlamov’s outstretched leg and into the net.
1. G Corey Crawford, Chicago: The Blackhawks netminder bounced back from a couple shaky goals in St. Louis to get his team back in this series with a 34-save shutout.
2. G Semyon Varlamov, Colorado: Varlamov was brilliant and could have earned the No. 1 star with 45 saves had his team found a way to dent the net.
3. C Mikael Granlund, Minnesota: Had perhaps the best goal of the playoffs — and the only one in the game.
PITTSBURGH 4, COLUMBUS 3
Series: Pittsburgh leads 2-1
Key stat: Pittsburgh scored three goals in a 2:13 span of the third period to erase a 3-1 deficit. The Penguins franchise record for three fastest playoff goals was set in 1993 against the New York Islanders when they did it in 1:29.
Key player: LW Jussi Jokinen, Pittsburgh. Jokinen scored his second goal of the series and it was a huge one. His deflection of Olli Maatta’s shot from the point capped a three-goal rally for the Penguins in the third period.
What we learned: No two-goal lead is safe in this series. The winner in all three games has rallied from 3-1 deficits. This one may have been the most painful for the loser. Columbus jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of soft goals and Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who hasn’t posted a save percentage above .900 in his past four playoff years, looked rattled as he skated to the corner looking at the bench as if expecting to be pulled. Even when Pittsburgh pulled within one goal with two seconds remaining in the second period, the Blue Jackets shook it off with a big early goal in the third period in pursuit of the franchise’s first home playoff win. Then all hell broke loose on goals by Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jokinen — all of them at even strength. Columbus has overcome long odds and a talent shortage all year, but it’s hard to envision the Blue Jackets recovering from this psychological blow. As for the Penguins, their goaltending and defensive zone coverage have done nothing to dispel the notion that they are vulnerable as the playoffs progress and the opposition gets better.
Next game: Wednesday at Columbus, 7 p.m. EST
MINNESOTA 1, COLORADO 0 (OT)
Series: Colorado leads 2-1
Key stat: Minnesota set a franchise single-game record with 46 shots on goal.
Key player: G Semyon Varlamov, Colorado: The Avs had no business being in this one, but their Vezina Trophy candidate wouldn’t let them die. Varlamov stopped all 44 shots through regulation and had some old-timers thinking back to that playoff-record 70-save shutout Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek turned in in a quadruple-overtime win in 1994.
What we learned: The Avs had a genuine beef when Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin wasn’t called for delay of game after putting a puck directly into the stands from the defensive zone late in the game. But the bigger beef was with — and this will come as no shock — Minnesota left wing Matt Cooke, who was up to his old tricks. Cooke dropped Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie with a blatant and dangerous kneeing penalty. Barrie will miss four to six weeks with a severely sprained MCL. "The knee on Tyson Barrie is without a doubt the play of the game," Avs coach Patrick Roy said. "We lost our best offensive defenseman and I think it could have been a five-minute major. We believe that the league will make the right call." The NHL Department of Player Safety wasted little time announcing that Cooke had been offered an in-person hearing. The in-person element means Cooke is likely to receive a suspension exceeding five games. Boston fans will remember it was Cooke who essentially ended Bruins forward Marc Savard’s career with a vicious head shot in 2010. The Avs will no doubt remember this latest incident in Game 4 — as well as their inability to generate any offense after scoring nine goals in the first two games. Minnesota paid attention to all the defensive details and goalie Darcy Kuemper recorded the first playoff shutout in franchise history.
Next game: Thursday at Minnesota, 9:30 p.m. EST
CHICAGO 2, ST. LOUIS 0
Series: St. Louis leads 2-1.
Key stat: Chicago and St. Louis have combined for two goals in 30 power-play chances, one goal by each team.
Key player: G Corey Crawford, Chicago: On the off-day in Chicago, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said what everyone was thinking about Crawford after he allowed a soft, game-tying goal late in Game 1 and a soft overtime goal in Game 2: "He has to be better." You can’t get any better than a shutout.
What we learned: Chicago may have won the game but the Blues can’t feel too badly about Monday’s effort. They carried the play for much of the night. They just didn’t have any puck luck. The biggest concern for the Blues is: Will captain David Backes play any time soon after that head shot in Game 2 that earned Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook a three-game suspension? It’s pretty clear Backes has a concussion and if the team follows standard protocols, not to mention those recommended in every medical corner of the country, he should be out at least a week. Will the Blues still have momentum by then? Maybe. If not for a soft opening goal by Chicago’s Jonathan Toews on Blues goalie Ryan Miller, we could have watched a third straight overtime in this series. And the Hawks have been simply brutal in overtimes this season, losing both postseason OTs and 15 times during the regular season. If Chicago can’t get its power play cranked up, the Hawks are going to struggle because St. Louis is winning the battles 5-on-5. The Hawks look nothing like the team that dominated all comers last season and that is perplexing, even factoring in the offseason losses of Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg.
Next game: Wednesday at Chicago, 9:30 p.m., EST
STARS 3, DUCKS 0
Series: Anaheim leads 2-1
Key stat: Goalie Kari Lehtonen’s first career playoff win was a 37-save shutout — and it actually was easier than it sounds.
Key player: D Trevor Daley, Dallas. Daley logged 26:13 of ice time with an assist, a plus-1 rating, three hits, two blocked shots and a terrific defensive job against Anaheim’s skill.
What we learned: The Stars can lock it down when needed. Anaheim was the NHL’s second-highest scoring team this season, finishing one goal behind Chicago. Despite that gaudy 37-shot total, Anaheim didn’t get a lot of good looks at Lehtonen. Center Ryan Getzlaf was held to one shot with Stars Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt devoting much of their attention to getting under the Ducks captain’s skin. The top defensive pairing of Daley and Alex Goligoksi logged heavy minutes but answered the bell while Dallas got goals from three different lines. Dallas also dominated the faceoff circle by a 44-27 margin to help offset its season-long issues with possession. It’s hard to say how much the loss of popular defenseman Stephane Robidas with a broken leg impacted Anaheim’s psyche, but the sight of him writhing in pain on the ice could not have helped. The loss of their No. 2 defenseman will hurt more as the series moves along.
Next game: Wednesday at Dallas, 8 p.m., EST
Final thought: It was a tough night for Ducks defenseman Stephane Robidas, who suffered a fractured right leg in a spot just above where he suffered another horrific break against Chicago on Nov. 29, 2013 while playing for the Stars. The season-ending injury occurred when Stars agitator Ryan Garbutt crashed into him early in the second period. Robidas appeared to get his right leg caught underneath Garbutt. Robidas was acquired before the trade deadline to lend some stability to the Ducks’ blue line. He was the second key defenseman lost on Monday along with Colorado’s Tyson Barrie. The NHL playoffs have long been viewed as a war of attrition. The casualties are coming fast and furious in the first week of action.
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