Monday, April 30, 2012

Conference Semis Day 3

Tonight as noted in the previous post, the Rangers play host to the Capitals in Game Two- looking to hold serve. They posted a 3-1 win to take Game One of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Artem Anisimov, Chris Kreider and Brad Richards tallied and Henrik Lundqvist made 17 saves. Jason Chimera posted the lone Washington goal and Braden Holtby finished with 11 saves.

The Caps will be hoping for a bounce back from Holtby and more offense from Alex Ovechkin, who was held to one shot. Dale Hunter demoted Alex Semin to the fourth line during yesterday's practice due to two undisciplined penalties he took. So, Washington's lines might be different while the Rangers could get Brian Boyle back from a concussion. If he returns, he'd replace Steve Eminger, who played four and a half minutes as a forward.

The Rangers and Caps get going after 7:30 on NBC Network. Also in action are the Blues and Kings with CNBC having the call at 9 ET. Los Angeles defeated St. Louis in Game One 3-1. Following St. Louis' captain David Backes second of the postseason, the Kings scored three unanswered from unlikely sources Slava Voynov, Matt Greene and Dustin Penner.

Greene scored the big goal with his team shorthanded late in the second. With Dwight King off for boarding Alex Pietrangelo, the rugged defenseman followed up a Penner try, going upstairs on a sprawled Brian Elliott. Ex-Flyer Mike Richards set it up. Oddly enough, a banged up Pietrangelo was out for that shift on the power play but the Kings countered for the back breaker. It was Pietrangelo's last shift of the game. His status is uncertain for tonight. One of the game's emerging blueliners, Pietrangelo is strong overall logging big minutes and contributing offensively. He is St. Louis' best defenseman. If they're without him, it could be tough against Vezina hopeful Jon Quick, who continued his impressive play with 28 stops.

Penner also scored the empty netter. A big day for him. It's easy to forget that he was an integral part of Anaheim's Cup five years ago. The big man has been inconsistent since his Duck days with Edmonton basically dumping him to Hollywood for Ryan Smyth last summer. He's been a factor thus far during LA's run. With Jeff Carter not finishing and the Kings playing a similar style in front of Quick that the Rangers do with Lundqvist, Penner has been vital along with first round hero Jarret Stoll.

The Kings also are getting huge play from captain Dustin Brown, who's been a force. Already with a hat trick, the rugged leader paces them with four goals and six points, including a pair on the power play. His ferocious style is similar to Ranger captain Ryan Callahan, who he teamed with on Team USA. No surprise that each always delivers big hits and does whatever it takes in leading their respective clubs. Willie Mitchell has been underrated and Drew Doughty gives LA a threat. St. Louis must also account for Anze Kopitar, who had a good series versus Vancouver.

For the Blues if they're without Pietrangelo (4 assists), they'll need guys like T.J. Oshie and Alex Steen to step up along with Kevin Shattenkirk, who must anchor the attack. Vet Andy McDonald paced them with eight points in their first round triumph over San Jose. The power play is a key along with the big bodies of Backes, Oshie along with experienced vets Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. Pressure will be on Elliott to outperform Quick. But the Blues must get off to a good start or face the daunting prospect of going to Los Angeles down 0-2.

Yesterday, there were two exciting games with the Flyers edging the Devils in overtime 4-3 while the Coyotes bested the Predators 5-3. First, we'll start with a return to a classic rivalry down the Turnpike between Philadelphia and New Jersey.

The Devils were fresh off their thrilling double overtime series clincher over the Panthers with Adam Henrique playing the hero. The Flyers were more rested after taking out the Penguins in six. Rust showed for the hosts as the Devils controlled the first with 15 shots and the opening goal from captain Zach Parise. Pete DeBoer changed his lines, splitting up Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk who must be playing with something. He hasn't looked as explosive and registered no shots Sunday.

DeBoer's new combo paid early dividends with Patrik Elias setting up Parise for his third of the playoffs. However, they couldn't expand on it with Ilya Bryzgalov keeping the Flyers afloat following a dismal period that even saw customary boos from a Philly crowd. The Devils' inability to take advantage haunted them as the Flyers quickly responded with two consecutive goals in a better second. Danny Briere tied it on a breakaway and then James van Riemsdyk notched his first 37 seconds later.

Despite getting largely outplayed, New Jersey cashed in on a phantom hook that put Matt Carle in the box. Sometimes, it goes your way. In this case, they made the most of it with Travis Zajac continuing his impressive play by converting at the doorstep from Parise and Kovalchuk. They were outshot 8-3 in the middle stanza but tied.

The third was seesaw with the Flyers and Devils exchanging goals. Claude Giroux's power play blast from Kimmo Timonen was his seventh. Brodeur had absolutely zero chance. It was a rocket. Scott Hartnell drew the other assist. With little happening, New Jersey got a big contribution from former Cup hero Petr Sykora, who took a perfect David Clarkson pass and broke in down the left wing before faking and then going five-hole on Bryzgalov to knot it 3-3.

The Devils found themselves in overtime for a third straight game even though they only had 11 shots following the first. Brodeur gave them chances to steal it with a few big saves, including a flat out denial on Hartnell during a Flyer power play. Marek Zidlicky took a bad penalty for delay of game and the Flyers nearly ended it twice. First, Brodeur robbed Hartnell. Then, Briere had an apparent winner canceled out when they reversed the call, realizing it was kicked in. Good reversal.

But the Devils barely tested Bryzgalov, who turned aside all four shots from the perimeter before Briere continued his clutch play with a legit OT winner. He took a Jakub Voracek feed and ripped a low shot that went past a screened Brodeur, who had to deal with van Riemsdyk. Briere's second of the game and seventh of the 2012 playoffs ended it.

The Devils lost but had to come away knowing they can play with the Flyers. Parise had a huge game, which is needed moving forward. Brodeur gave his team a chance even though one puck gaffe resulted in van Riemsdyk tallying. They just shouldn't expect the Flyers to be as flat tomorrow in what shapes up to be a good series.

In the nightcap, the Coyotes continued their superlative play- scoring five times on Pekka Rinne in another wild shootout. This after winning a wild Game One in overtime 4-3 with Ray Whitney the hero off a faceoff. If Nashville was stunned by that cruel ending, they sure better get it in gear or my Cup pick will be kaput.

Frankly put, Mike Smith has outplayed Rinne. It's Smith who's coming up with the gems when his team needs it while Rinne has allowed a baffling nine goals in two consecutive games. Equally mystifying has been the Preds' defensive play. We're accustomed to seeing them limit opponents. However, even with our Norris pick Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Nashville is turning over the puck repeatedly. The uncharacteristic play is leading to Phoenix goals with the quick countering team exposing the Preds.

Everyone is stepping up for the always overlooked Dave Tippett, who again was passed up for the Adams along with Kevin Dineen. What is evident is that it's the Yotes who have the edge on D thanks to young duo Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Both are factors offensively with Yandle registering two assists while combining to go plus-six with his younger teammate. Along with vet Derek Morris, they're pinching at every opportunity and making life difficult on the Preds.

In yesterday's win, most impressive was their resiliency. Every time Nashville looked ready to get back in it, Phoenix responded. Whether it was Taylor Pyatt steering home a leaky rebound following a Patrik Hornqvist power play tally or captain Shane Doan making a great deflection of a Morris shot pass off a faceoff win by offensive leader Antoine Vermette, the Coyotes are doing all the little things right in this series.

They're winning the battles and taking the play to Nashville, who nearly stole Game One with a dominant third before The Wizard ended it. Weber was more aggressive, shooting from everywhere while setting up a goal. Partner Suter also tallied on the power play to cut it to 4-3 before Doan got position on him for the backbreaking goal. Nashville scored three times on Smith, which should be enough to win but lazy play from Alex Radulov and leader David Legwand allowed the Yotes to explode.

Simply put, the Preds need a return to their trademark in net and on the back end. Expect lower scoring games in Music City. If Weber and Suter control the tempo along with Mike Fisher and Martin Erat, Nashville is capable of getting back in the series. They also have a great crowd who will be into it. They've been in this spot before trailing Detroit 0-2 before winning the next two a few years prior. You know the fans are ready. The onus is on the Predators' best players to step up with Rinne needing a return to form that stifled the Red Wings last round. The pressure is on.

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