NHL playoff takeaways: Sharks look ready to join Canadiens in second round
One of the NHL’s erroneously named Original Six teams advanced to the second round of the playoffs, while two more took major steps in that direction with convincing road wins on Tuesday.
But as good as Montreal, Boston and the New York Rangers looked in victory, the hottest team on ice, San Jose, looked even better with a third straight offensive barrage that stole the show in the day’s final act.
GAME OF THE DAY: San Jose 4, Los Angeles 3 (OT). Patrick Marleau’s 60th career playoff goal gave the Sharks a commanding 3-0 series lead and the first road for a Western Conference team in the postseason.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Henrik Lundqvist’s unconventional save on Scott Hartnell. With the Rangers leading 3-1 midway through the second period, the New York goalie stopped Jakub Voracek from a bad angle, but the puck rebounded to Flyers forward Scott Hartnell, who batted it out of the air. Somehow, Lundqvist dove to his right and punched a dangerous puck out of harm’s way with his glove hand — just like goalie coach Benoit Allaire drew it up.
1. LW Patrick Marleau, San Jose: Scored the game-winner in overtime in Los Angeles and has a goal in each game of this series.
2. D Dan Girardi, New York: Girardi had a goal, an assist, blocked five shots and dished out three hits in a win over Philadelphia.
3. G Tuukka Rask, Boston: Rask wasn’t tested much by a struggling Detroit offense, but he stopped all 23 shots he faced.
Series: Montreal won 4-0.
Key stat: Montreal swept an opponent for the first time since sweeping the Buffalo Sabres in the 1993 Division Finals. That was also the last year the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.
Key player: LV Max Pacioretty, Montreal. The Canadiens’ regular-season leading scorer picked a great time to get off the playoff schneid. Pacioretty banged home a rebound with 43 seconds remaining for his first career playoff goal and a Montreal sweep.
What we learned: Tampa’s Ben Bishop took part in Tuesday morning’s skate but there was no chance the Lightning’s star goaltender could play with a lingering elbow injury. Without him, the Lightning had no chance in this series. His replacement, Anders Lindback, allowed a pair of soft goals on Tuesday before being pulled. In four games, Lindback finished with a 3.91 goals against average and an .881 save percentage. Bishop finished seventh in the NHL this season with a 2.23 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. His absence made things a whole lot easer on the Canadiens, who were the only Canadian team to make the playoffs this year for the first time since 1973. It’s difficult to evaluate how much of a threat Montreal will be in a likely second-round matchup with Boston, which leads Detroit 2-1 and has allowed just two goals. Montreal had one of the easiest matchups in the first round, but the Canadiens got goals from 10 different players in the four games and both the defense and goalie Carey Price were solid. Montreal went 3-1 against Boston this season, winning both games at TD Garden.
Next game: TBD. Montreal advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Tampa Bay was eliminated.
Series: Boston leads 2-1
Key stat: Detroit has scored a total of two goals in three games this series.
Key player: G Tuukka Rask, Boston: Rask stopped 23 shots for his fourth career playoff shutout.
What we learned: The Red Wings really miss Henrik Zetterberg. Detroit faced long odds against the NHL’s top seed anyway, but without one of their two superstars, the Wings simply can’t generate any offense against the airtight Bruins defense. Pavel Datsyuk and Luke Glendening are the only Wings with goals. Forwards Gustav Nyquist, Daniel Alfredsson and Johan Franzen all have been shut out, putting Detroit in a must-win situation on Thursday. Zetterberg left the 2014 Winter Olympics with a lingering back injury that required surgery, but he has been skating with the team. The hope was that he might be able to return later in the first round, but that was probably wishful thinking. "We were always shooting for Round 2," said Zetterberg, who had surgery Feb. 21. "If it’s just before that, I will be happy." Detroit may not be playing by then if it can’t find a way to score or shut down the Bruins. Boston carried the play from the outset Tuesday, getting first-period goals from a very active Dougie Hamilton and Jordan Caron to put a death-grip on the game. It goes without saying, but the Bruins lead the NHL playoffs in goals against average (0.67) and Rask has a .976 save percentage.
Next game: Thursday at Detroit, 8 p.m. EST
Series: New York leads 2-1.
Key stat: New York blocked a whopping 28 shots to regain control of this series.
Key player: G Henrik Lundqvist, New York. Lundqvist was superb, turning aside 31 of 32 shots including a sprawling save on Scott Hartnell’s rebound attempt.
What we learned: Goaltending is still the Flyers’ Achilles heel, as it has been since Ron Hextall manned the pipes in the 1990s. Ray Emery made his third straight start, coming off a strong effort in a 4-2 win on Saturday. But Emery was not sharp, allowing four goals on 20 shots before giving way to Steve Mason. Emery is stopping just 88.8 percent of the shots he’s faced in this postseason and sports a 3.49 goals against average. The Flyers need to go back to Mason in Game 4. The Rangers sleepwalked through the final two periods of Game 2 after grabbing a 2-0 lead, but New York is clearly deeper and better and the Rangers always can count on the Flyers taking their share of penalties to reduce the amount of time Philadelphia has to go on the offensive. Philadelphia has been shorthanded 16 times in this series, the second-worst total in the postseason. Forward Martin St. Louis leads the Rangers with five points in this series and has two goals in three playoff games after scoring just one goal in 19 regular season games with New York, but four Rangers are averaging at least a point a game against the Flyers.
Next game: Friday at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. EST
Series: San Jose leads 3-0
Key stat: The teams have combined for 312 hits in three games, an average of 104 per.
Key player: LW Patrick Marleau, San Jose. Remember when Marleau was criticized for his lack of clutch performances? He leads the Sharks with three goals and five assists, and he netted the game-winner on Tuesday.
What we learned: Home ice doesn’t matter any more. The Sharks are just a better team. Los Angeles had been 10-0-1 against San Jose in the past three years before Tuesday’s loss at Staples Center. Twice the Kings took a lead; twice the Sharks rallied to tie it before the first shot of overtime deflected its way past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick off teammate Slava Voynov’s stick. The Sharks are physical. The Sharks are deep. The Sharks are relentless and the Sharks appear hungry after years of playoff disappointment. San Jose has made a mockery of the regular season’s best defensive team with 17 goals and 10 different goal scorers in three games. Goalie Antti Niemi’s .917 save percentage is in the middle of the pack for playoff goalies, but like 2010 when he backstopped a stacked Chicago roster, Niemi hasn’t needed to be brilliant. The Kings? Jonathan Quick’s .824 save percentage is the second lowest in the playoffs and without that crutch, L.A. has no idea what to do. The Kings are not built to win high-scoring games but the Western Conference has become all about skill, with the Sharks, Ducks, Blackhawks and Avalanche all possessing a stable of talented forwards. L.A. is only two years removed from its first Stanley Cup. Given the tenor of this series, it feels like a hundred years ago.
Next game: Thursday at Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m. EST
Final thought: Legendary Quebec singer Ginette Reno mesmerized Bell Centre for a second straight game, belting out "O Canada" prior to the Montreal Canadiens’ series-clinching win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Reno also performed the anthem before Sunday’s win, marking her first performance since suffering a heart attack in January. Given the fire she fueled in Montreal, Reno may have ensured herself a regular gig for as long as the Canadiens play. Some media were even comparing her to the late Kate Smith, who sang "God Bless America" before Philadelphia Flyers games during the Broad Street Bullies’ Cup runs of the 1970s.
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