"One of the best games I've seen this year."It was that kind of game between two evenly matched Eastern teams battling for that second seed in Phillips Arena. Rarely will you ever see the Devils in a wide open affair that's back and forth like the one tonight which they fell 5-4 to the Thrashers to tie each team for that second spot with 66 points apiece. Six behind Buffalo, who finally snapped their season worst three-game skid with a 7-1 explosion over the hapless Bruins. It featured a hat trick by recent All Star MVP Daniel Briere and also the key return of top defender Henrik Tallinder. Want to know the key to Buffalo? They improved to 17-1-1 with Tallinder in their lineup.
I'll be honest. I'd love to see these teams meet in a playoff series because I feel it would be a potential classic. Sure, their styles are very different. While the Swamp Rats play an airtight system reliant on discipline, the Thrashers like to open it up and use their speed. Maybe the clash in styles is what makes their games so much fun to watch. You can't say either has an advantage at this point.
What can be concluded is that the Devils can thank their shutdown line for the point they got. Trailing 4-3 in the third thanks to a Glen Metropolit power play tally, it was a smart play by the underrated Sergei Brylin which setup the tying goal. Catching the Thrashers in a line change, he utilized his speed to find a vacated John Madden at the goalmouth for a nifty redirection which tied it.
If you thought the action stopped there, wrong! This was back and forth with each team getting quality chances to take the lead. But both goalies were up to form to get it to OT. In it, the wild pace continued as each pressed for the 'W.' But it was the Devils who controlled it. If it was Hart hopeful Martin Brodeur's two stops in the final minute of regulation which got it to this point, it was Kari Lehtonen's big saves in the 5:00 session which forced a shootout.
In it, it was the Thrashers' skill which was the difference. First, Slava Kozlov, who always seems to score in these, nudged a backhand off the pad of Brodeur and just over the line. We're still trying to figure out how it went in. Down one, the Devils went to shootout ace Brian Gionta to tie it. And he came through with his patented backhand deke where Lehtonen left way too much room for him to tuck it in. Then Marian Hossa flat out made Brodeur look silly. It's not often the future Hall of Famer looks this bad. If you recall, it was Hossa's lesser skilled younger brother Marcel who beat him upstairs over the stickside. Well, older bro basically used the same move except making it look even easier. Pumping his leg and waiting for Brodeur to go down, he ripped it upstairs to give Atlanta the 2-1 lead. Super soph Zach Parise nearly tied it but his forehand backhand forehand toe drag move was repelled by a sliding Lehtonen pad. As Doc Emrick would say, "A remarkable stop." After the Atlanta ice got the better of Ilya Kovalchuk during a weak attempt which Brodeur ate up, the Devils turned to Madden. He previously was a perfect three-for-three. But tonight, the tying goalscorer's luck would run out as he ran out of real estate on his backhand attempt to give Atlanta the victory.
We'll leave it to Steve to further comment on this game.
So, while I was typing this entry, I noticed that the Islanders managed to blow a 3-0 third period lead to Detroit and then lose in OT on a ridiculous no-look backhand pass setup by Norris wonder Nicklas Lidstrom. Looking like Brian Leetch, he went through three Isles and then dealt the feed to a streaking Henrik Zetterberg, who buried it into a wide open net for the crushing winner in Nassau Coliseum. I'm sure our cohost Gary Harding will be displeased tomorrow night during our NY Hockey Report show. I'll be calling in live from The Garden at the Leafs-Rangers game. It should be interesting.
The Pens won yet again to pull two points ahead of the Rangers thanks to a 3-0 blanking of Florida. And the Lightning drove Flyer fans crazy in NHL Siberia by tying it late and then predictably beating them in a shootout 2-0. How predictable was it? Let's just say that I called Brad Richards' goal which was a cardinal copy of the one he beat Brodeur on a couple of weeks prior. And naturally, Flyer team captain Peter Forsberg tried his backhand with no success once again. God. Can he get any lamer? And so the Lightning and Pens are both tied with 56 points for sixth in the conference while the Rangers are eighth two behind. With their win in Carolina, Toronto pulled within two of the Rangers making tomorrow's contest a must win.