Half of the games on Day 2 of the NHL playoffs went to overtime. Ryan Miller and Semyon Varlamov are glad they did because Thursday was about redemption for the Blues’ and Avs’ respective goalies.
Miller allowed three goals in the first period to Chicago before shutting the door the rest of the way. Varlamov allowed four goals through two periods before saying nyet.
When the day was done, Miller had quieted critics of the Blues’ key trade deadline acquisition, Varlamov had returned to his Vezina-worthy form and the West’s higher seeds had all held serve at home. Meanwhile, back east, Madison Square Garden remained the Philadelphia Flyers’ house of pain.
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GAME OF THE DAY: Back when the St. Louis Blues had their mojo working earlier this season, they also had the defending Stanley Cup champ’s number, beating Chicago in the first three meetings with late or extra-time heroics. Despite myriad injuries late in the season, St. Louis may have rediscovered that chemistry that had many predicting postseason parades. The Blues tied Chicago late then won 4-3 in triple overtime on Alex Steen’s doorstep goal to earn a huge psychological edge on their Central Division rivals.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Trailing 4-3 in the third period, Colorado coach Patrick Roy pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov with about three minutes left.Somehow, the Wild never made him pay and Avs defenseman Erik Johnson was a big reason why. With 1:32 left, Johnson saved the game by diving toward an empty net and knocking away the puck, while dislodging the net and stopping play. The officials clearly felt Johnson’s momentum caused the net to come unmoored because they didn’t call a penalty, nor award a goal. The ensuing faceoff was oddly placed in the neutral zone instead of Colorado’s end and Wild coach Mike Yeo never got an explanation why. “[The officials] didn’t want to talk,” defenseman Ryan Suter told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune of the game-saving play. Eventually, Paul Stastny took advantage, netting the tying goal and the winner in OT for a 5-4 victory.
Key stat: The Rangers have won the past nine meetings with the Flyers at Madison Square Garden by a combined score of 35-10.
Key player: New York C Brad Richards. He knocked in a rebound of Martin St. Louis’ shot with 11:38 left in the third period, sent a sweet backdoor feed from the point to Derek Stepan for an easy tap-in at the left side of the net 47 seconds later, and added an assist on left wing Carl Hagelin’s late goal. Game, set, match.
What we learned: The Rangers looked impregnable on defense and dominated possession, outshooting the Flyers, 36-15. The game was tight until a season-long bugaboo came back to haunt Philadelphia. New York scored two goals on a four-minute power play midway through the third period to take a 3-1 lead. Flyers right wing Jason Akeson tried to check Hagelin along the boards at center ice, but Akeson didn’t control his stick, which clipped Hagelin in the mouth and drew blood. That, in turn, drew the double minor and the Rangers made the regular-season’s most penalized team (14.4 minutes per game) pay while icing the game. Philadelphia’s M.O. is a physical game so it will be hard for the Flyers to change their stripes. At times it works, like when Flyers left wing Scott Hartnell knocked defenseman Ryan McDonagh to the ice behind the Rangers net, stole the puck and fed defenseman Andrew MacDonald for the first goal of the game. But the Flyers gave the Rangers six power plays. That’s playing with fire, and a likely recipe for an early playoff exit.
Next game: Sunday at New York, Noon EST
St. Louis 4, Chicago 3 (3OT)
Key stat: Thursday’s game was the longest in Blues history. The previous longest game was April 7, 1984 against Detroit — a 4-3 victory on Mark Reeds’ goal at 17:07 of double OT.
Key player: St. Louis goalie Ryan Miller. He allowed three first-period goals on seven shots but didn’t allow another, stopping Chicago’s final 35, including a breakaway save on left wing Patrick Sharp with 2:40 left in the second overtime.
What we learned: The Blues aren’t as banged up as we thought. Six forwards sat out the season finale and center David Backes was in a walking boot. But Backes looked fluid on Thursday and only T.J. Oshie and Patrick Berglund missed Game 1. St. Louis wasn’t as tight defensively as it was earlier this season, but the Blues won the possession game and that is everything against a skill-based Blackhawks lineup that does not do well when it is forced to defend for long stretches. The Blackhawks have been an average defensive team this season and that simple truth came back to bite them again when they blew a late 3-2 lead. Shutdown defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson lost a puck battle along the wall and left wing Jaden Schwartz walked to the side of the net and slipped a backhand through goalie Corey Crawford with 1:45 left in regulation to force overtime. As eye-popping as Chicago’s offensive skill is, the Blackhawks won two Stanley Cups with elite defensive teams that allowed fewer goals and fewer chances than this season’s club. The Hawks will be hard-pressed to win their third Cup playing their current style.
Key stat: Colorado’s first playoff win of the series came almost exactly four years after its last one. The last victory came on April 18, 2010 in a 1-0, overtime victory over San Jose in Denver.
Key player: C Paul Stastny, Colorado: As noted above, he did the heavy lifting late in regulation and overtime with a pair of huge goals. Remember when he was on the trade block?
What we learned: More former goalies should coach. While the conventional wisdom holds that skaters make better coaches than goalies because they understand the majority of the positions better, Patrick Roy is proving that a goalie’s unique perspective can be an asset. Colorado allows a lot of shots and doesn’t overwhelm with possession, but the Avs played their unorthodox way to the Central Division title this season and their fiery coach eschewed tradition when he pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov with lots of time left to get the tying goal on Thursday. Varlamov will have to be better in Game 2, but Colorado confounded the critics again with another unlikely win. For Minnesota, a club that fell in five games to Chicago in last season’s first round, this was a gut-punch to progress. The Wild had a 4-2 lead after two periods but couldn’t close the door. Minnesota got nothing but a minus-2 from regular-season scoring leader Jason Pominville while center Kyle Brodziak was a minus-3 and had a critical, third-period turnover. Speaking of worrisome numbers, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov wasn’t bad but did nothing to dispel the notion that he’s not a playoff performer. Bryzgalov has allowed 83 goals in his past 23 playoff games, going 8-15.
Key stat: All four forward lines contributed on the score sheet for the Sharks.
Key player: G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles. The Kings scored the sixth-fewest goals (206) in the NHL this season — ahead of five non-playoff teams. L.A. has no chance if Quick isn’t at his game-stealing best and he was nowhere near it on Thursday, allowing five goals on 28 shots before getting pulled to start the third period.
What we learned: San Jose has a major axe to grind with L.A. after the Kings eliminated the Sharks in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals last season. The Sharks were flying early and got contributions from everyone, including stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and recently returned forwards Tomas Hertl and Raffi Torres. Torres played just 8:42 but still managed a goal and seven hits. The Sharks eased up in the third period and that will give coach Todd McLellan something to gripe about, but the home team still has won 21 of the past 23 games in this interstate series. The Kings won’t win any games if they can’t return to their normal lock-down style of defense. L.A. allowed the fewest goals in the league this season (174) and never surrendered as many as they did at the Shark Tank on Thursday. Star center Anze Kopitar was a non-factor with one assist while Norris Trophy candidate Drew Doughty finished minus-2. Combine that with Quick’s struggles and it was bitter-beer-face time for coach Darryl Sutter.
Next game: Sunday at San Jose, 7 p.m. EST
Final thought: The last of the NHL’s playoff series begins on Friday when the Cup favorite Boston Bruins host the miraculous Detroit Red Wings. Detroit lost the second most man games to injury this season — and they were mostly to key players — yet coach Mike Babcock, a hard-driving, master technician, still led them to their 23rd consecutive postseason appearance.