Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Suspensions in the Pool

The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without James Neal for their elimination game against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, as he was suspended for this game by the NHL Department of Player Safety for a couple of infractions in Game Three.  Neal was running around like a mad man in frustration and it has cost him his participation in the most important game for the Penguins in this series.

The explanation of the suspension has been included with the video below.

ImplicationsWell, the greater implications of this suspension is that Neal won't be able to help his Penguins' teammates stay alive in these playoffs, which will see a lot of players eliminated.  The short-term damage of this suspension will fall on only four teams in the pool that chose Neal as more of a depth player in Box 15.  Those four teams are likely going to miss Neal a lot, especially since this series has been high scoring for the first three games.

The Washington Capitals are down two games to one to the Boston Bruins and now they will be without one of their best players for Game Four, as Nicklas Backstrom has been suspended for one game, following a high-sticking incident with Rich Peverley at the end of Game Three.  Backstrom was assessed a match penalty on the play and that automatically warranted a review, which you can see below and get the result of the process.

ImplicationsThe Capitals were the least popular team in the pool this year, matching up against the reigning Cup champions and no one had actually taken Nicklas Backstrom, so there is no real immediate impact.  There are 20 selections for the Capitals this year, so there is a small trickle down effect, especially if the Capitals drop Game Four and find themselves behind the 8-ball.

The 8-Ball Returns with Two Teams Behind It

The series between the Panthers and the Devils is quickly turning into one of the most pleasant surprises in these playoffs.  It wasn't billed as one of the more exciting match-ups in either conference, but with enough goals, some quick leads and games where teams have to hold on for dear life, it is turning into a great series.

On Tuesday night, the two teams engaged in Game Three and it was a doozy.  The Devils stormed out to a 3-0 lead early in the 1st period and all was thought to be lost.  Much like the Penguins and Flyers series, the 3-0 lead was not very safe, even before the opening frame had concluded.  An unsportsmanlike call against Patrik Elias set the Panthers power play in motion and the game was on from there.  It was 3-2 by the end of one.  In the 2nd period, the Panthers kept pouring it on, with a couple more goals to take a 4-3 lead and then it was all holding on from there on in.

Panthers back-up goalie Scott Clemmensen earned the win, as starter Jose Theodore was pulled after the 3-0 goal, so 2 points disappeared from the pool there.  Brian Campbell ended up with the game-winner and an assist for a 3-point night, while Sean Bergenheim had a goal and an assist as well in the win.

On the Devils side of the ledger, Zach Parise had a goal and an assist in the game as well.

This series is now 2-1 for the Panthers and Game Four will go on Thursday night in New Jersey.

If there were some doubters out there for the Nashville Predators, they are on the verge of being silenced, as they now have a 3-1 series lead over their Central Division rival, the Red Wings, after a 3-1 win on Tuesday night.

The Predators have been able to display some very disciplined defensive hockey in front of Pekka Rinne and they have also been able to score timely markers, which has been one of the trademarks of their series rival through the years.  It now appears that the tables have been turned and we may be seeing a new age in Nashville.

After two periods without scoring, the Predators and Red Wings got busy in the 3rd period, with three quick goals in the first seven minutes of the period and Nashville had themselves a quick 2-1 lead to defend and defend they did.  Rinne made 12 stops in the final frame, 40 in total, and the Predators added a late David Legwand power play marker and they came away with the win.

Only two players of note for the pool in this one, as Kevin Klein scored his first game-winner of these playoffs, picking up a couple of points there, while Rinne got the 2 points for the win as well.  This series has not been great for points, but what can you do?

The series will shift back to Nashville for Game Five, which will go on Friday night.

It looks like Jordin Tootoo's time on the active roster was short-lived, but he does pose a threat, when is placed in the line-up, whenever that may be again.  I don't think there is any reason to get excited about him any more this Spring, which is disappointing for the five teams that have selected him in the hockey pool this year. Tootoo will likely figure back into the line-up when an injury occurs, but it is so hard to count on something like that at this point in the season.

The scene has shifted to Chicago for Game Three  in the series between the Coyotes and the Blackhawks and this series has added a little bit of intrigue to these playoffs as well.  A very tightly contested series to this point and it took overtime to end Game Three.

The Blackhawks scored a late marker in the 1st period to take an early lead, but with a hot goaltender, the Coyotes were able to keep it a 1-0 lead through two periods, not letting the late marker do anything for their confidence, going forward.  A pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties to Shane Doan and Niklas Hjalmarsson, early in the 3rd, forced the play into a little 4-on-4 action, which turned the whole game around.  The Coyotes struck first, matched 33 seconds later by the Blackhawks to re-take the lead and then 32 seconds later, the Coyotes tied the game up again.  That was all the scoring before the game went into overtime and it was Mikkel Boedker stealing another bonus point from the pool, as he scored the overtime winner for Phoenix, midway through the first extra frame and the Coyotes come away with a 2-1 series lead.

The scoring for Phoenix did not fall on the players that are in the pool this year, rather Mike Smith was the only pool player to pick up 2 points on the evening after making 35 saves for the win.  There were also no multiple-point players for Chicago.

Scaroy moment in the game last night, with Marian Hossa being stretchered off the ice, after a massive hit by Coyotes forward Raffi Torres in the 1st period.  Torres hit Hossa in the open ice, hitting an unsuspecting Hossa with a bit of a charge, launching up into Hossa's head.  Hossa was reportedly taken to hospital for further examination, but was released shortly thereafter and it is fair to assume that Torres will be getting a phone call or a face-to-face meeting with Brendan Shanahan about this one.  Of course, there is no word as to how long Hossa will be out for yet.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonTwo of the three game-winners were counters on Tuesday night and they were Brian Campbell's winner for the Panthers and Kevin Klein's marker for the Predators.  The other winner belonged to Mikkel Boedker of the Coyotes, but he wasn't up far enough on the depth chart to be selected for the pool this year.

Our pool leader to this point in the year is now Allan S., who has been collecting a few more winners as the playoffs have gone along, as he now sits with 5 bonus points to this point.  Allan has Brian Boyle the pool leader for GWGs, as well as Klein, Martin Havlat and Zdeno Chara.  There are also seven teams in the pool with 3 GWGs each, but they are now falling behind quickly.

Nine teams have not posted a bonus point thus far in the playoffs, which has really hurt their teams.  The highest ranking team without a bonus point is Grant S.'s team, which is in 16th place.

Tonight's Games

In the first game of the evening, the Rangers will look to take a commanding lead over the Senators in Ottawa, as they try to make a 3-1 lead in their series with a win.  The Senators, on the other hand, will try to get back to Madison Square Gardens with a tied up series.  There is no word as to whether or not Daniel Alfredsson will dress for the Senators, but it would seem unlikely now, as he has been linked with concussion problems, which would likely finish his participation in this series.

The first 8-ball game of the playoffs belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins series, as the Flyers have the ability to chase the Penguins from the playoffs with a win on Wednesday night.

The Flyers have a 3-0 series lead, thanks to the grinding ability of the top players, standing up to the stars on the other side, getting under their skin and still putting pucks in the back of the net.

The Penguins were huge favourites in this series, outnumbering the selections in the playoff pool, 97-32, which means there are going to be a lot of disappointed teams in the pool that will go without players, if and when Pittsburgh bites the bullet.

Expect Ilya Bryzgalov and Marc-Andre Fleury to match up against each other for Game Four, the same as the first three games and it will be interesting to see what kind of resistance that the Penguins put up in this one.  I would expect the Flyers to come with the same game, trying to push the stars' buttons and get into some fisticuffs before the end of the night.  This will be a great game.

The first 8-ball game will closely be followed by the second 8-ball game of these playoffs, as another favourite is poised to fall out of these playoffs.

The Los Angeles Kings have the Vancouver Canucks on the ropes with a 3-0 series lead and they are in California to try and finish this series off. The Kings have been able to disrupt an already disrupted Canucks team with some strong forechecking and fantastic goaltending from Jonathan Quick.

The Canucks were also huge favourites in their series, 101-21 in selections, so there are going to be a lot of playoff pool teams that will take a hit and with two huge favourites on the verge of being eliminated, the final point totals in the pool may hurt terribly, when it is all said and done.

I don't believe the Canucks starting goalie has been announced for Game Four and both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider can lay equal claim to the spot, with good appearances in their losses.  You will know that Quick will be back in the net for the Kings, as he has been strong thus far.  The likelihood of Daniel Sedin returning for the Canucks looks promising, but we won't know for sure until the mid-afternoon.

This has the potential to be an excellent game, even if it is a sweep elimination game.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Abrupt Update from Monday Night

This may be a little bit of an abbreviated version of the review, so hopefully it works.

Where would the New York Rangers be without Henrik Lundqvist?  The most popular goalie in the Eastern Conference, with 20 selections, is now tied for the lead in points in Box 24 with 6 points after shutting out the Ottawa Senators in Game Three of their series, making 35 saves in the 1-0 victory.  The Rangers and Senators went two periods without scoring and then it was Brian Boyle, scoring his 2nd game-winner of these playoffs, midway through the 3rd period and the Blueshirts held on for the win in the end.

The Rangers now have a 2-1 series lead over the Senators and Game Four will go on Wednesday night.

I was able to catch the madness, which was the 3rd period of the Bruins and Capitals game last night and it was sure an exciting finish.

Instead of some offense-free hockey, the two teams finally decided to score some goals.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a good picture of Zdeno Chara, who ended up with the winning goal and 2 assists for a 4-point night for the Bruins.  Chara won the game with a goal, less than two minutes remaining in the 3rd period and the Bruins hung on with the Capitals pulling the goalie for an extra attacker.  Tim Thomas was the only other Bruins player to pick up multiple points with 2 points for the win.

On the Capitals side, Brooks Laich had a goal and 2 assists, while Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist.  Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom has been pegged for a hearing with the NHL for his cross-check on Rich Peverley, so we're now waiting on the decision there, if he is going to have any more discipline handed down to him.

Game Four of this series does not go until Thursday night, so they get a couple nights off from action.

In San Jose, there was another game where a 3-goal lead had to be carefully defended in the lat stages of a game, this time between the Blues and the Sharks.

This one wasn't as physical as the previous matches between the two sides and the penalty minutes didn't hit ridiculous totals, but the goal totals were quite nice, as the Blues took Game Three by a 4-3 scoreline.

Andy McDonald had a goal and 3 assists for the Blues, while Carlo Colaiacovo had 3 assists.  Jaroslav Halak was not dressed for this one, as the lower-body injury that he suffered in Game Two was enough to keep him from dressing at all, which meant Brian Elliott got the win for St. Louis, taking 2 points away from the pool.  Halak is listed as out day-to-day for the time being.

For the Sharks, Joe Thornton had 3 assists and Logan Couture had a goal and an assist in the game, gaining mentions in the blog today.

The Blues now lead this series 2-1 and Game Four will go in San Jose on Thursday night as well.

Tonight's Games

Game Three between the Panthers and Devils goes in New Jersey tonight, with the series tied at one game a piece.  The Predators look to take the home-ice advantage away from the Red Wings, as they go into Game Four with a 2-1 series lead.  Game Three between the Coyotes and Blackhawks is set to go in Chicago, this series is also tied at one game a piece.

Monday, April 16, 2012

More Fisticuffs, A 2012 Playoffs Special

It seems like almost every series has had its fair share of fisticuffs and bruhahas on the ice and on Sunday afternoon/evening, it really didn't look like anything was going to change.  There is just so much hate between the teams that are taking the ice and for those series that haven't boiled over, there has been little bits of nastiness that add some flavour to the joy of the playoffs.

With the NHL coming down on Rangers forward Carl Hagelin for three games and one game for Senators defenseman Matt Carkner, the league is showing that they are watching for those certain offenders with the same mentality in mind as what they had in the regular season, although some would like to debate that they are not.

Nevertheless, it looks as though the Stanley Cup has never been worth more than it is now and teams are scrapping and clawing, just to get a chance to play for it in June.

Game Three in Detroit between the Red Wings and Predators was generally about the road team on Sunday afternoon, as Nashville really came out with a big head of steam and put the gears on their hosts and had some finish to their game as well.

The Predators were able to close off the Red Wings at every turn, making life difficult for their superstars and they were also able to find ways through the Detroit defense for some quality scoring chances and fast breaks to the net.  Nashville took an early 1-0 lead in the 1st period, added an early goal in the 2nd and never really looked back, surviving a late Detroit push for a 3-2 win in the end.

In the pool, defenseman Kevin Klein had a goal and an assist, Sergei Kostitsyn scored the winning goal and Pekka Rinne made 33 saves for the win.  On the other side, Pavel Datsyuk made the post with a goal and an assist of his own.

Nashville will now carry a 2-1 series lead into Tuesday night, Game Four, back in Detroit.

In the line-up, the Predators finally inserted Box 7 forward Jordin Tootoo for a little extra spunk on the road, but the grinding forward was only limited to just over six minutes worth of ice-time in the game.  Tootoo has now become a real fourth-liner on the team, almost a fringe player, with all the healthy scratches he has had to sit through down the stretch.  He doesn't have a great deal of value to the pool this year.

How entertaining was the Flyers and Penguins game on Sunday afternoon?  This game had just about everything that you could have ever wanted from this series... 12 goals, 158 minutes in penalties, superstars throwing punches, plenty of barking, poor sportsmanship and some great post-game interviews.

In the end, the Flyers are in full control of this series, after thumping the Penguins, 8-4.  The 3-0 series lead now puts Pittsburgh behind the 8-ball, with no signs of hope or life on the bench.  Even in Game Three, the Penguins lost the desire to skate very hard, as the Flyers continued to pump goals behind back-up goaltender Brent Johnson in the 3rd period, after Marc-Andre Fleury got yanked.  Still the name of the game was all the post-whistle gatherings and dust-ups, to which there were many.  If the Penguins are going to go down in flames, it looks like they may try to take some of these Flyers down with them.

In an 8-4 drubbing, there were far more points to be had and for the most part, a lot of them were collected by the pool.  For Philadelphia, Matt Read scored a pair of goals, including the winner, for a 3-point afternoon to lead the way, along with Daniel Briere, who had 2 goals and an assist and Jaromir Jagr, who had 3 assists.  Braydon Coburn, Wayne Simmonds, Max Talbot, Claude Giroux and Ilya Bryzgalov all had 2 points each in this game as well, so you could have done really well, if you had the right combination of Flyers in this one.  For the Penguins, James Neal had 2 goals and an assist, while Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin each had a pair of points as well in the game.

With all of that in the books, the Flyers can close out the series as early as Wednesday night, as Game Four will go at the Wells Fargo Center, in front of their own home crowd.  It's hard to believe that a sweep was really possible in this series, as most were definitely hoping that it would go seven games, but I suppose there is always a chance of a major push back from the Penguins.

In Florida, the Panthers and Devils were only playing in Game Two of their series, one that isn't gaining much steam in the conversation forums, but after watching the 3rd period of this one, there is actually some life in these two teams and they may be able to provide an adequate finale to the first round of the playoffs, if it does go the distance.

Game Two played out a lot like Game One, but with the teams and their fortunes reversed for the most part.  The Panthers got out to 3-0 lead by the end of the 2nd period, but the Devils made a bit of a push back in the 3rd period, scoring two quick goals in less than three minutes early in the 3rd and made the Panthers sweat out the remaining portion of the final frame.  The Panthers added an empty-netter to finish the game with a 4-2 result and the series is now tied at one game a piece.

As for pool scoring, Stephen Weiss scored his first 2 career playoff goals, while Jose Theodore made 22 stops for the win, each picking up 2 points on the evening.  Neither Weiss or Theodore were picked in the pool this year, so this ends up being rather moot.

In a series where it may have been thought that the Devils would roll over the Panthers quite handily, it turns out that there could be a real contest in here yet.

Well, other than the large number of critics that are out there for the Canucks, who would say just about anything, including the Kings were going to sweep Vancouver, there didn't seem to be a real consensus about the actual possibility of a sweep, especially since the Canucks were one of the Cup favourites going into the Spring Dance.  Well, the Kings, in front of their superstar keeper, Jonathan Quick, are now on the verge of eliminating the President's Trophy winner and this series could be done as early as Wednesday night.

The Kings weathered a much better effort from the Canucks on Sunday night, as the visitors were far more disciplined (for the most part) and the efforts were stronger in front of Cory Schneider, who got the start instead of Roberto Luongo.  In the end, it was quite the goaltending battle, as there was no score into the 3rd period, but just after the 6-minute mark of the 3rd, the Kings pounced on a rebound that came out from Schneider and one goal was all the Kings needed in front of Quick.

Quick was perfect, making 34 stops on Sunday night, where the shots were of mixed quality, some of which were of reasonable difficulty, while the Kings kept the Canucks out to the perimeter and the lanes were open for their goaltender to see them.  This was a solid 4-point effort for Quick, to which three teams in the pool cashed in on in the end.  Dustin Brown was the only goal scorer in the game, picking up the bonus point for the pool.

The Canucks are now stuck behind the 8-ball in this series, with a huge hole to climb out of, if they can at all.  The likelihood is very improbable and should not be counted upon to actually happen.  Game Four will go in Los Angeles on Wednesday night as well, as it turns out the middle of the week looks like the best time to start eliminating teams in these 2012 playoffs and the Canucks could very well be the first or second team to go this year.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonThere really hasn't been much of a race in the bonus points side of things in this pool this year.  Sergei Kostitsyn of the Predators, Matt Read of the Flyers and Dustin Brown of the Kings registered all the winners in the pool on Sunday night, while Marcel Goc of the Panthers got credit for the winner for the Panthers, taking a point away from the pool.  Still teams with 2 GWGs in the scoring summary, but instead of five teams with two winners, like there were two mornings ago, there are now six teams.  

Incredibly, at this point last year, teams had upwards of 6 bonus points, which is all kinds of crazy.  The bonus points have not been applied with such regularity this year and I think scoring is down across the board.

Individually, we now have 13 players that have scored a game-winner in the pool, but no one wants to take the lead for themselves just yet.

Tonight's Games

Three games will go on Monday night, all Game Threes in series that are all tied at one a piece.

The Senators might have Daniel Alfredsson back right away after leaving Saturday's game with an upper-body injury after taking a Carl Hagelin elbow to the head.  Alfredsson is reportedly going to be a game-time decision after taking the morning skate on Monday.  Both Hagelin and Matt Carkner will not be in their line-ups, due to suspensions from Game Two.

The Bruins and Capitals will continue their low-scoring series in Washington on Monday night and there do not appear to be many line-up changes, if any, that would relate to the pool.  Both teams are playing some real tight hockey and they are keeping the shenanigans to a minimum, but I wonder how long that will really last, with a Bruins team, likely itching to get their gloves off.

Finally, in the late game, the huge dust-up at the end of the Blues and Sharks game on Saturday provides the perfect backdrop for some intrigue going into Game Three in San Jose.  There were over 80 minutes in penalties handed out at the final buzzer and if there is any meaning to it all, it may just carry over at puck drop on Monday night... or so we can hope.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tying Up Series is Most Fun

Well, if you were looking for proper representation of what the last couple days of playoff action has been like, you might get a good idea from this picture taken from the Blues and Sharks game last night. It has been a low-down, gritty bunch of series already this year and there doesn't look to be any sign of that changing.

Line brawls, fights, high hits and impending suspensions are all in the name of the game in the 2012 playoffs and personally, I don't seem to mind much.  I think the argument for it all is showing how much these opening round series now mean to these teams that make it into the playoffs, as teams have adapted a little into the Boston Bruins mode of winning... by any means possible.  Sticking up for your teammates and throwing down the gloves is all part of this team sport and it's the teams that stick together that win it all.

Just thought I would throw that in there, just for the sake of some interest.  Now, let's see what the story is from Saturday.

In the early game, the Bruins and Capitals went toe-to-toe again and these two teams are not about giving up goals in regulation time, if at all, which is really hurting the playoff pool a little bit.  These two have some good offensive weapons on their side, but their goaltenders and defense are seemingly stealing the show.

In Game One, these two teams were scoreless into overtime, which the Bruins had taken, but the Capitals struck first blood in regulation in Game Two, gave up the equalizer in the 3rd period and they were sent back to overtime.  It took time in the second overtime period to end the game, but it was Nicklas Backstrom who snuck a great wrist shot on the short (blocker) side on Tim Thomas to pick up the game-winner and tie up the series at one.

Since Michal Neuvirth is also injured, Braden Holtby got his first playoff win on Saturday, taking 2 points away from the pool again, leaving Backstrom as the only player in this game to pick up multiple points.

So far, this series has done quite well to stay healthy as well.  That is all well and good, but if this series doesn't pick up the goal scoring, it will be considered one hell of a disappointment.

The Senators and Rangers set off some fireworks early in Game Two on Saturday and that really set the tone for the rest of the series. Huge melees in the 1st period, resulting in some ejections, majors and other various penalties and the goals hadn't even started to be scored yet.

Ottawa had a lot to prove in Game Two, as they had buckled in Game One under the pressure that is the Rangers physicality, so they went out and proved it with some physical play of their own and it got the entire team motivated.  In the end, the Senators came out of Game Two with a tied series at one game a piece, thanks to a 3-2 overtime victory, which included a tying goal with under five minutes to go in the 3rd period, digging deep for that winner.

Only two players of note for the pool, as Chris Neil, the Sens X-factor player in Box 19 scored the winner and Craig Anderson recorded his first win of the playoffs, so they each came away with 2 points in this game.  Unfortunately, Neil was only taken once and Anderson wasn't taken at all, so there wasn't much for points infused into the standings.

There is an injury to speak of, as Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators' Box 15 player (and captain) left the game in the 2nd period after taking an elbow to the head from the Rangers' Carl Hagelin. There was no immediate word on Alfredsson, but Hagelin will have a hearing with the NHL to determine any supplemental discipline, which there would be a good case for at least a couple of games in this instance.  If Alfredsson is to miss some time, that would be a huge loss for the Senators and for three teams in the playoff pool.  If the dreaded concussion word comes around, which it might, that could end his participation in this series.

This series will head back to Ottawa all tied up and with a lot more questions about health and more fireworks to come.

You want to talk about an ugly game, let's talk about the Blues and Sharks game.  It was already foreshadowed at the top of this post, but it may not have done the whole scope of the game much justice, as 132 minutes in penalties were handed out in that one, with over 80 of them coming at the final buzzer.  This game was ugly from start to finish, a style that we knew the Blues could play coming in, but really shouldn't be surprised to see the Sharks in, knowing how desperate they have to be to get some playoff success this year.

Since the ugly, physical style of play is a staple in the St. Louis game, they were ready and willing to play this game and it suited them much more than it did the Sharks, hence the 3-0 scoreline in the game for the home side.  The Blues were on the board early, due to a Marc-Eduoard Vlasic miscue in his own crease and that stood up to be the eventual winner in this game.

A lot of the ugly stuff kicked off in the 2nd period, where a couple of fighting majors were dropped, but all of that nastiness just exploded at the end of the game, where five misconducts were given out, not to mention a few fighting majors and there is going to be a lot of talk surrounding all that nastiness.

In the pool, T.J. Oshie recorded a pair of assists and Jaroslav Halak did record the win, but was injured mid-way through the game, so he had to split the shutout with teammate Brian Elliott, so this doesn't count as a shutout for either goaltender.  Halak only comes away with 2 points, but the injury concern is much greater, which I'll get into right away.

The early word on Halak is that he is going to make the trip to San Jose and get re-evaluated there, but just in case, the Blues have called up Jake Allen from Peoria of the AHL, just in case they need someone to back up Elliott on Monday.  I would imagine we would know more when the team announces the starting goalie for the game, after practice on Monday morning.

Another injury to consider, Dominic Moore, the Sharks' Box 7 X-factor player, suffered a broken nose from a Vladimir Sobotka sucker-punch in that end-of-game melee, so his status for Game Three may be up in the air.  A game out of the line-up would not be uncalled for, just to make sure he can breathe just fine and get adjusted to a face shield, but that should be about it.  No one took Moore in the pool, but he will be key to the Sharks success down the line.

In the late game, there wasn't quite as much of that ugly stuff, as line brawls and fights go, but there was some questionable occurrences of its own in the game between the Blackhawks and the Coyotes in Phoenix.

These two teams may suffer a bit from not having much of a relationship against each other, as the four games a year in the regular season hasn't really translated into a great deal on the ice in the playoffs, which may have lessened the tenacity and hatred between the two sides.  Nevertheless, each team is using their systems to find ways to win and that's all you can really ask.

The Coyotes, for the most part, dominated the game, the play and really took it to the Blackhawks.  Unfortunately for the home side, they could never really see all this solid play translate into tallies on the scoreboard, nursing 1-goal leads late in the 3rd period, which now in back-to-back games, Chicago has scored late to force overtime.

The only difference between Game One and Two was the winning team, as the Blackhawks got the best of the Coyotes in the second affair, tying up this series as well and sending it back to Chicago all even.

The Game Two hero for the Blackhawks was Brian Bickell, the Box 7 X-factor player for Chicago, who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, giving him 3 points on the night, leading the way for a tied up series.  Also picking up a pair of points was goalie Corey Crawford, who made 23 saves for the win.

On the Coyotes' side of the ledger, Antoine Vermette scored a pair of goals and Keith Yandle had a pair of assists.

Tonight's Games

Well, today is the first day where the 8-ball starts to loom on a couple of teams, which will make things much more interesting in the games on Sunday.

Already under way at the time of this post, the Predators and Red Wings are in Detroit for Game Three of their series, which is all locked up at one game a piece.  This has been a pretty good series, to this point and there is no stopping it now.  It doesn't look like Nashville is intimidated at all by the experience of the Red Wings, so that answers one question about this series.

The Pittsburgh Penguins could be put behind the 8-ball on Sunday, if they lose today in Philadelphia.  Already down 2-0 to the Flyers after losing both games at home is going to hurt, but this hole that they are in isn't too bad, but one more loss should pretty well end any hope for the Penguins and their Cup aspirations.

New Jersey and Florida will only play their second game of their series on Sunday evening, with the Devils already up 1-0 and poised to take home-ice advantage for themselves with another win.  Florida will have to step up and be a lot better for 60 minutes, if they want to stay in these playoffs.

In the late game, much like the Penguins, the Canucks are in the same boat, having lost both home games to the Kings and heading to Los Angeles for Game Three.  Everything that was said about the Penguins, applies to the Canucks... plain and simple.