Sunday's best: Top goalies hit bottom; Canadiens in command
Best game, Montreal 2, Ottawa 1 (OT): Ottawa coach Dave Cameron took some heat for his decision to bench rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond in favor of Craig Anderson on Sunday. The Senators were already down 2-0 in the series and needed a win for any realistic hope at rallying. Why mess with the formula that had vaulted the Senators into an improbable playoff spot? Through three periods and nearly half of overtime, Anderson made his coach look like a genius, stopping 47 Montreal shots. But Canadiens forward Dale Weise scored his second goal of the game on a weak shot to the short side that Anderson should have had. The result? Montreal has a commanding 3-0 series lead, and the Senators' magical run is nearing an end. "It was just a perfect shot, off the post and in," Anderson told the Ottawa Citizen. "I can't really play it any different. Just a great shot. It sucks on me."
Best stat (or worst, depending on your perspective): Only four teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, as Ottawa must do against Montreal. The Los Angeles Kings did it last season in the first round against San Jose. They eventually won the Stanley Cup. In 2010, Philadelphia rallied from a 3-0 edge to defeat the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. The 1975 New York Islanders and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (Cup champs) also did the deed. Cinderella Ottawa may face longer odds than any of those teams.
Best at being worst: Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville. The list of goalies who are struggling early in the postseason is a who's-who of the guys who were at their best in the regular season. Chicago's Corey Crawford has an .809 save percentage and a seat on the bench. New York's Henrik Lundqvist is at .894, Minnesota savior Devan Dubnyk is at .894 and Tampa's Ben Bishop is at .895. When you consider the short resumes of all those goalies other than Lundqvist, who just returned to the lineup from a scary injury, Rinne may be the one you least expected to struggle. Yet, there it is: Rinne has allowed four goals in four of his last seven starts (including Sunday's 4-2 loss to Chicago) and his save percentage in this series is .898.
Best visual: Mike Ribeiro's punch. Chicago forward Andrew Shaw never met an altercation he didn't like. On Sunday, the Blackhawks' super pest grabbed hold of Nashville center Mike Ribeiro's gloves from the safety of the Chicago bench while Ribeiro battled for a loose puck along the boards with Jonathan Toews. When Ribeiro finally broke free, he threw a punch Shaw's way. No penalties were called, but the visual made highlight reels.
GIF here's the close up/replay of Ribeiro throwing a punch at Shaw's face because Shaw was holding his arm pic.twitter.com/0ktGl6cF5t— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 19, 2015
Best goalie switch: Chicago. Rotating goaltenders is normally a sign of trouble in the postseason, and that was the case with the Senators, Red Wings, Blackhawks and Capitals, who have all employed two goaltenders just three games into the postseason. For the Blackhawks, the case for Scott Darling's Game 3 start was the strongest. Corey Crawford had allowed nine goals in four periods; Darling hadn't allowed any in two, stopping all 42 shots he faced in Chicago's Game 1 rally. Darling got the nod on Sunday and delivered again, stopping 35 of 37 Nashville shots in Chicago's 4-2 win that gave it a 2-1 series lead. Darling's shutout streak of 83:03 is a franchise record to begin a playoff career. Coach Joel Quenneville said he hadn't decided on a Game 4 starter yet, but it would be madness to remove the goalie who has both your postseason wins and leads the playoffs -- albeit on a tiny sample size -- in goal against average (0.92) and save percentage (.975). There's no room for sentimentality in the playoffs.
Best rookie home debut: Sam Bennett, C, Calgary. The fourth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft was recalled from the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League on April 3. He had played in three games for the Flames and posted two assists prior to Sunday, but all of those games were on the road. Bennett saved his first NHL goal for a raucous Scotiabank Saddledome crowd when he knocked in a loose puck during a goal-mouth scramble early in the third period to give the Flames a two-goal cushion.
Best goal: Dale Weise, RW, Montreal. Weise's overtime goal was the more significant one in the game, but that was a soft goal on the short side that Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson should have stopped in an otherwise brilliant, 47-save performance. Weise's first goal came with 5:47 left in regulation to tie the game 1-1. Brandon Prust's initial attempt from the side of the net popped high into the air off a deflection. In one motion, Weise gloved the puck down onto his stick and slapped it into the open far side.
Best reason to be in your seat: John Tavares' OT goal. The Islanders may be saying goodbye to Nassau Coliseum after this season, but what's the rush? With his team in danger of falling behind 2-1 in the series, New York captain John Tavares snapped a rebound through Washington goalie Braden Holtby from an impossible angle just 15 seconds into overtime to lift New York to a 2-1 win. Tavares had a league-high four overtime game-winning goals in the regular season.
Best show of composure? When they met Sunday in Game 3, the Flames and Canucks didn't come close to matching Friday's brawl-filled game in which 166 minutes in penalties were doled out. But they still managed 18 penalties and 59 minutes in infractions. There's something about these intra-Canadian series that brings out the worst in teams, as Ottawa and Montreal can attest after P.K. Subban's infamous slash on Mark Stone.
Best quote, via the Chicago Sun-Times: "The guys on the team have made me feel like I belong. That's a huge thing for me, to not feel any different, not feel like it's a freak accident that I'm here. The guys treat me like I belong, and that's come through in my confidence and in my play." -- Chicago goaltender Scott Darling, who leads the postseason in goals-against average and save percentage.
Best thing to look forward to Monday: The Whiteout returns. Winnipeg hasn't hosted a playoff game in 19 years. The sense of anticipation and the subsequent release of emotions should be great theater at MTS Center, one of the most intimate and raucous rinks in the league. The city has already adopted a tagline for the event that is appearing on T-shirts, TV stations and newspaper headlines: "A Storm is Coming." If you don't happen to be in Manitoba on Monday -- with a ticket in hand -- you'll want to tune in for this one.