NHL takeaways: Ducks’ captain gives fans reasons to roar in rout of Stars
Friday’s action was defined by returns, but only two of the three were happy.
GAME OF THE DAY: Chicago 3, St. Louis 2 (OT): For the fourth time in the five games of this series, St. Louis and Chicago needed overtime to settle the score. This matchup could just as well have been played in the Western Conference finals, but it sure is making the NHL’s new playoff format look good.
PLAY OF THE DAY: TJ Oshie’s Mikael Granlund impersonation. The St. Louis forward put a slick move on Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson at the top of the crease, but fell to his knees. Somehow, he managed to keep the puck on his stick and flip a backhand over goalie Corey Crawford to tie the game, 1-1, midway through the second period.
2. G Steve Mason, Philadelphia: Mason made 37 saves in his return to the lineup to keep Philadelphia’s season off life support.
3. C Jonathan Toews, Chicago: Scored the game-winner in overtime off a fortunate stretch pass to put the defending champs in the driver’s seat against St. Louis. It was Toews’ eighth playoff game-winning goal, tying him with Jeremy Roenick for the franchise record.
Series: Tied 2-2
Key stat: The last time Flyers goalie Steve Mason won a playoff game, he was a 19-year-old with the Kitchener Rangers in the 2008 Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
Key player: G Steve Mason, Philadelphia. This was Mason’s first start since April 12, when he sustained an upper-body injury against Pittsburgh. He stopped 37 of 38 New York shots. Through the first half of the game, it felt like he was on an island.
What we learned: Neither one of these teams has looked overly impressive in the first round, which is the same thing you could have said about both teams in the regular season. New York had a chance to put away the Flyers in this series and the Rangers had a decided shot advantage (38-25) in the game, but an age-old problem — finishing — bit New York again as it couldn’t solve Mason. Center Dominic Moore scored his first playoff goal since 2011, but Rangers star left wing Rick Nash hasn’t scored in this series.
Friday’s win made a psychic out of Flyers’ star Claude Giroux, who essentially guaranteed a victory. Philadelphia played most of the final two periods with five defensemen because of a lower-body injury sustained by Nicklas Grossmann. Grossmann needed the help of a trainer to get off the ice after his right knee and ankle crashed into the boards after losing an edge. Grossmann’s loss would be a blow for the Flyers but Oliver Lauridsen could be a fill-in and the Flyers do have some depth on their blue line. Philadelphia had lost nine straight games at Madison Square Garden before winning Game 2 there. They’ll get another shot in Game 5.
Next game: Sunday at New York, Noon EST
Series: Chicago leads 3-2
Key stat: The Blues have won one playoff series since 2002.
Key player: C Jonathan Toews, Chicago. Captain Serious was in the right place at the right time on the game-winner, but he also logged 20:36 of ice time, won 60 percent of his face-offs and blocked two shots while playing top-notch defense.
What we learned: Chicago does not go quietly when it is the underdog in a series. Following both Stanley Cup wins in the past four seasons, the Hawks entered the next season’s playoffs as a lower seed than their opponent. In 2010, they were the No. 8 seed playing Vancouver, yet rallied from a 3-0 series deficit before falling in overtime of Game 7. The Hawks lost the first two games of this series and lost No. 2 defenseman Brent Seabrook to a suspension, but Chicago has won three straight against the Blues — two in overtime — by returning to the tight defensive play and strong penalty killing that were the less-heralded hallmarks of its championship runs. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford doesn’t get much recognition, but he backstopped Chicago to the Cup last season and his .927 save percentage ranks fifth in the playoffs this year. If that keeps up, Chicago will be tough to beat. St. Louis thought it had a psychological edge when captain David Backes returned to the lineup after missing two games following Seabrook’s infamous hit, but the Blues looked sluggish early and failed to capitalize on some golden opportunities by Barrett Jackman and Vladimir Sobotka. St. Louis has five goals in the last three games as the series shifts back to Chicago for a possible close-out with Seabrook returning to the lineup.
Next game: Sunday at Chicago, 3 p.m., EST
Series: Anaheim leads 3-2
Key stat: Anaheim scored four power plays goals. The Ducks were 0 for 11 in the series with the man advantage entering Friday’s game.
Key player: RW Corey Perry, Anaheim: Perry had a goal and two assists. He also got a taste of his own medicine when Dallas tough guy Ryan Garbutt speared him in the groin, leading to a power play on which Anaheim scored. Perry delivered a similar blow to Dallas’ Jamie Benn in Game 2.
What we learned: Home ice is everything in this series. The home team is 5-0 and Anaheim blew open Game 5 with three goals early in the third period to rebound from a pair of one-sided losses in Dallas. Dallas forward Jamie Benn became the first Stars player to record points in his first five playoff games since Bobby Smith and Steve Payne did it for the North Stars in 1980 when he picked Ryan Getzlaf’s pass and scored shorthanded. But Dallas’ penalty killing unit was otherwise horrid on Friday, allowing four goals on five shots. Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen was a surprise starter after getting pulled in Game 4, but he stopped 34 of 36 shots while Kari Lehtonen got yanked at the other end after allowing five goals on 21 shots. Friday’s game was nasty with 119 penalty minutes. The Stars must avoid a repeat offense with their season on the line Sunday at home.
Next game: Sunday at Dallas, 8 p.m. EST
Final thought: David Backes is one tough hombre. Six days after sustaining a blow to the head from Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook, the St. Louis captain was back in the lineup for the Blues in their pivotal Game 5 against the Blackhawks. Backes had a game-high eight hits, but he also looked slow — a possible sign that the foot injury that sidelined him at the end of the season is just as big an impediment as that head injury he sustained in Game 2. Normally a superb defensive forward, Backes finished minus-2 in Chicago’s crucial 3-2, overtime win.
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