In the first game of the NHL Playoffs on Thursday night, the Boston Bruins skated into Madison Square Garden with the New York Rangers on the brink of elimination. Down 3-0, another loss would have sent the Rangers home for the off-season, and possibly signal the end of the road for coach John Tortorella. Keep in mind, Sabres fans, that Lindy Ruff is still unemployed. Prior to the game, Tortorella finally scratched $60 million dollar man Brad Richards, he of one point in 10 playoff games.
For the initial two periods, the Bruins controlled the game and the tempo. The Rangers came out seemingly uninterested, uninspired, and relegated to accepting their fate. New York fired a measly 4 shots on goal in the opening period, and relied on Henrik Lundqvist to pick up the pieces, making 12 saves in period one.
After power play goals by Nathan Horton and Torey Krug for Boston in the second stanza, it was clear that the Rangers were on the ropes. Then, Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask granted the gift of life, as he fell on his backside and watched as a weak backhand from Carl Hagelin trickled by in slow-motion, making the game 2-1 and giving the crowd some motivation.
In the 3rd period, a different Rangers team skated out. Derek Stepan picked slow-moving Zdeno Chara’s pockets behind the Bruins net, and stuffed a beautiful wrap-around behind Rask to knot the score, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Tyler Seguin worked to calm the momentum, grabbing his first goal of the playoffs with 12 minutes remaining. Yet, 2 minutes later, Brian Boyle had an answer, taking a perfect Stepan pass alone in the slot and firing it past Rask, giving the Rangers a much-needed power-play goal.
In overtime, the Bruins initially had a few great scoring chances, but Lundqvist was there to snuff them out. Entering the game, Lundqvist was only 4-10 lifetime in playoff overtime games, including 0-3 this season. Then, out of nowhere, Rick Nash sent a pass to a streaking Kreider, who deflected the puck into the top left corner past Rask, giving New York a 4-3 win, and a little life in this Round 2 matchup. Game 5 will take place on Saturday in Boston.
The Detroit Red Wings style is typically defined as full of finesse and flash. So far in this series, the Wings play can be summarized as feisty and physical. It seems to be something that the Chicago Blackhawks had not game-planned for, as they have seemed stymied and stunned throughout this series. The Hawks took to the ice in Detroit down 2 games to 1. Entering the game, Chicago had not lost 3 games in a row all season long.
The dirty, grinding play of the Red Wings continued in Game 4, and in conjunction it kept the Blackhawks and their captain Jonathan Toews looking confused and flustered. At one point, Toews took silly consecutive penalties in the second period, leading the Wings to the only goal that they would need. Jakub Kindl scored a power-play goal halfway through the second period, and from there, Detroit was able to hang on, eventually getting an empty net goal from Daniel Cleary to make it 2-0. Until the Kindl goal, the Hawks had been a perfect 30-for-30 on the penalty kill in these playoffs.
Chicago could never get their game going, as the redshirts always seemed to have 2 men on any Blackhawk carrying the puck. The top-seeded Blackhawks never seemed to be in sync, and their shot totals reflected their deterioration as the dogged determination of Detroit in this game wore on: 14 shots in the 1st, 8 shots in the 2nd, and 6 shots in the 3rd. Jimmy Howard continued his playoff brilliance, earning a well-deserved shutout with 28 saves.
Detroit will have a chance to close out the series in Game 5 Saturday in Chicago.
In a battle for hockey prominence in California, the San Jose Sharks skated into Los Angeles for a Game 5 matchup with the Kings. With the series stuck at 2-2, something would have to give. Coming into the game, the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings had won 12 straight games at home.
After a feel-each-other-out first period, play started to heat up in period 2. The animosity and aggression ascended until late in the period, when Anze Kopitar put a puck home in the midst of a wild scramble in the Sharks zone, for his first goal in his last 26 games. At the end of the period, the Sharks found themselves with only 11 shots on net in the game, not a savvy way to try and win a game.
Near the close of the 2nd, TJ Galiardi of the Sharks made the curiously idiotic decision of cross-checking Kings goalie Jonathan Quick from behind, which proved to be a costly choice for his team. Shortly after the third period began, Joe Thornton lost a faceoff in his own zone, and the puck went directly to the hot stick of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov. Voynov promptly rifled the puck beyond Sharks netminder Antti Niemi, giving Los Angeles a comfortable 2-0 lead. Voynov entered the game with 3 game-winning goals in the playoffs for the Kings.
With 10 minutes to go, Kopitar took a penalty, giving the Sharks a prime chance to climb back into the game. It was not to be, as Quick and the Kings penalty kill held strong. From there, Los Angeles remained resilient, with Jeff Carter adding an empty net goal, closing out the game 3-0 and taking a 3-2 lead in the series. Quick made 24 saves for the shutout. Thus far, the home team has won every game, as the series shifts back to San Jose for Game 6 on Sunday.
At this point, who do you think will win the Stanley Cup? Leave your comments below!