It seems like there is a new surprise each night in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Saturday night, we had one goal from 101 feet, and another bounce up onto the goalie’s helmet and back.
Several key players returned to their respective teams’ lineups: Evgeni Malkin (first since March 11), Tyler Seguin (March 17), Marian Gaborik (Feb. 12) and Henrik Lundqvist (missed two periods in Game 1).
Let’s get right to the recaps:
RANGERS 4, PENGUINS 2 (series 1-1)
— Dan Girardi is dealing with a “whole-body” injury. Now I’m not saying his absence from the lineup was the sole reason the Rangers looked like a new, rejuvenated team, but I’ll strongly hint at it. The Rangers’ defense, with rookies Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath, looked different, in a good way. Three pairings that can move the puck and skate.
— It also helps when you have Lundqvist (29 saves) in net to bail you out once in a while. After he took Marc Staal’s stick through his mask in Game 1 and missed the second and third periods, Lundqvist was brilliant in this game. The only goals to beat him came on Penguins power plays. He has a 2.22 GAA and .923 SV% in 113 career playoff games.
— Derick Brassard (goal, two assists) had a huge game; he also was a plus-four. Coach Alain Vigneault challenged his two centers, including Derek Stepan (four shots on goal) to raise their games. Brassard has elevated his game in the past, now with 18 goals and 44 points in 56 playoff games. The Rangers need more of that, especially with Malkin (assist) back.
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— Chris Kreider (goal) has also shown a tendency to step up in the playoffs. He has 19 goals and 32 points in 62 career playoff games. There’s something about a speed-and-size guy that really helps in a long series. Kreider was especially engaged in this one, getting a penalty and three shots.
— Mats Zuccarello (goal) and Keith Yandle (goal) rounded out the scoring for New York. Dating back to the regular season, Zuccarello has a point in four of his past five games. Yandle, meanwhile, logged 21:01 and needs to be treated like one of their best defensemen in order to win the rest of the way.
— Phil Kessel (two goals) scored both markers for the Penguins, who have looked slightly out of sync in their two games. Wessel also had game-high eight shots on net. His speed causes major problems for New York’s defense. Wessel has been a great playoff performer, now with 15 goals and 24 points in 24 games.
CAPITALS 4, FLYERS 1 (series 2-0 Caps)
— The Capitals do not win this game without Braden Holtby (41 saves). He was simply brilliant in this game, especially early when the Flyers outshot the Capitals 19-5 in the first period. The Flyers controlled the flow of the game at even strength, but their ineptitude on the power play (0-4) doomed them again. They had a 5-on-3 chance in the first period and could not cash in. Holtby is proving that he’s a big-game goalie; he has a 1.84 GAA and .938 SV% in the playoffs (36 games) in his career.
— Nicklas Backstrom (goal, two assists) had a strong game. His propensity to pass totally fooled Steve Mason (19 saves) when he scored. Backstrom strolled down the wing and opened up as if he was going to pass, instead wristing one past Mason. He has 19 goals and 55 points in 73 career playoff games.
— The turning point of this game was Jason Chimera’s goal. He deflected a pass from the center line that somehow snuck (dribbled) through Mason’s five-hole. This came after Mason made a stellar split save in which he seemed a bit shaken up. It’s not that Mason deserves to sit, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see coach Dave Hakstol turn to Michal Neuvirth on Monday.
— No playoff game seems to be complete without a goal from Alex Ovechkin. He scored on the power play. The Capitals captain has recorded 37 goals and 71 points in 74 career playoff games, with 344 shots. That’s remarkable. To think that games become more tight-checking and low-scoring. And that teams play even closer attention to him when the games matter most.
— Jakub Voracek (goal) was the lone goal scorer for the Flyers, who really need their top offensive players to play like them. Even though they trail 2-0, the Flyers have proven that they can hang with the Capitals. They need to find ways to get the puck in the net, though.
STARS 2, WILD 1 (series 2-0 Stars)
— When making my first-round predictions, I thought this was the most lopsided one on paper. The score really isn’t representative of how much the Stars dominated, yet again. They had a 64-36 score-adjusted shot-attempt advantage, according to hockeystats.ca. Though, it’s worth noting that the Wild had a 14-12 advantage in scoring chances. The point is, the Wild are not winning with offense, so this limiting of high-danger chances needs to continue.
— Antoine Roussel (goal) will always remember his first career NHL goal. It was one of the oddest you’ll ever see. Marco Scandella tried to clear the zone, but the puck hit Ales Hemsky’s skate and back toward Roussel, who was behind the net. Roussel tried to corral the puck with his skate, but it deflected and fluttered, hitting Devan Dubnyk’s (26 saves) had and rolling down his back. Dubnyk then crept back into the net to seal the puck, but to no avail as it went past the line. It was initially ruled no goal, but because a portion of the pegs were still inside the post and hole in the ice, it was ruled OK.
— Jamie Benn (goal) has two goals and four points in this series. He also had five shots on goal. In a small sample size, Benn has proven to be just as effect now than in the regular season, with six goals and nine points in eight games.
— The Stars are proving that the best defense is often the best offense. You have the puck, and that means the other team doesn’t. It has helped Kari Lehtonen (25 saves), who has stopped 47 of 48 shots in the series. He has given up more than two goals just once in his past eight games, dating back to the regular season.
— Marco Scandella (goal) is the only player who has lit the lamp against Lehtonen in this series. He had five goals and 21 points during the regular season. Suffice to say, the Wild need their forwards to produce more if they have a chance at winning.
— Seguin had a shot on goal in 15:28. Give him some time.
SHARKS 2, KINGS 1 (series 2-0 Sharks)
— Is it fair to say it looks like these Sharks are different (in a good way) from the Sharks teams of the past few seasons. The Kings are still feared because of all they’ve accomplished recently, but these Sharks have not backed down. Quite impressive, especially on the road where they’ve excelled: 28-10-3. The real question now: Can San Jose do it at home, a place where they were only 18-20-3?
— Major props continues to go to Joe Pavelski (goal, assist). He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but he’s a big-time scorer and big-game player. He has 29 goals and 60 points in 83 playoff games, with three goals and four points in this series. It almost seems like Pavelski, at 31, is getting better.
— Logan Couture (goal) got the game winner on the power play. There’s a different kind of depth on this team now, with Couture at 2C and Patrick Marleau centering the third line. Smart move by coach Peter DeBoer. Couture has 19 goals and 38 points in 58 career playoff contests.
— The big test now goes to Martin Jones (26 saves), who has excelled on the road but has struggled at home. Jones had a .925 SV% on the road this season. It dipped to .909 at home. The Sharks need to take at least one game of the next two.
— Vincent Lecavalier (goal) has 26 career playoff goals and 55 points. Since being acquired by the Kings, the 35-year-old has 11 goals and 18 points in 44 games. He has proven to be more useful than the Flyers portrayed.
— Jonathan Quick (21 saves) needs to be better. He has stopped 40 of 46 shots against in this series. The good news is that he posted a .926 SV% on the road this season. This series is far from over.
— Gaborik played 14:02 and had four shots on goal. He was one of the more engaged Kings players.