Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friday Night's Playoff Review

The New Jersey Devils and the Florida Panthers were a little bit late to the playoff party, not having their first game scheduled until Friday night, but that will only extend the fun of the first round, if this playoff series goes long. The Panthers come into this series as the higher seed, but the Devils were the better team in the standings, so the only thing left to decide the favourite is the pool selections and the Devils did very well, taking 77 of a possible 120 picks to the Panthers' 21.  Not too many people banking on the seeding upset and rightfully so.

The Devils, led by their veteran goalie Martin Brodeur, got out to a 3-0 1st intermission lead and they held on to take Game One of this series 3-2.  The Panthers put on a 2nd period charge, where they scored their two goals, but at the end of the night, Brodeur finished off the match with 18 saves, in a low-shooting affair, and the win.  Brodeur also picked up an assist in the game, but unfortunately for the pool, all 3 points that he collected in the game went for naught, as no one had picked the future Hall of Famer.

The only other Devils player to record more than 1 point was Dainius Zubrus, who is in Box 16 and he was taken once in the pool.  Zubrus had the 2-0 goal for the Devils and he added an assist in the game.  On the Panthers side, Mikael Samuelsson had a pair of assists and the Box 17 forward was taken four times, a popular pick among those teams that chose Florida in this series.

Through the regular season, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson was a regular feature for the club, but some scratches down the stretch may have lessened the confidence that coaching staff has in their valuable youngster. The Box 23 defenseman was one of the more popular Devils, likely for the fact that pool teams see them out of the first round, but really no further than that. For those teams who have taken him, here is some hope that he draws in sooner, rather than later.

For those who thought that the Flyers comeback from being down 3-0 in Game One was one of those miracles that happen once every so often, were not going to believe the madness that occurred in Game Two of this series.  The Penguins, who are the favourites in this series, found themselves with another 3-1 lead after one period of play, but the Flyers were able to rally back again in this series.  In the 2nd period, the Flyers won the frame with a score of 3-1, having the game go into the 3rd in a 4-4 tie.  Well, it's becoming more about winning periods (and decisively, to boot), and the Flyers came out and won the final frame, 4-1.  Final score... Flyers 8, Penguins 5.

With 13 goals in the game, there was a lot of points to be had in this one, so let's go over the multiple-point players in the pool.  Claude Giroux led the way with 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points, which has to make the seven teams that picked him up very happy.  Jaromir Jagr scored the winner, Max Talbot had a goal and an assist and Ilya Bryzgalov picked up the win for 2 points each to round out pool scoring for the Flyers.  On the other side, Chris Kunitz had a pair of goals, Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, while James Neal and Evgeni Malkin each had a pair of assists.  Some of the other big players in the game, were not included on the sheet, which is kind of disappointing, but a matter of depth on either side.

This has quickly turned into a series that is devoid of any major goaltending.  It will be about making the big saves, rather than the quantity, as the team goes back to Philadelphia in Game Three.

As expected, Box 22 defenseman Pavel Kubina did return to the Flyers line-up with the injury to Marc-Andre Bourdon.  Kubina was taken three times in the pool this season and his returned proved to be profitable, as he did pick up an assist on one of the eight goals scored by the Flyers.  Since his acquisition, Kubina hasn't been too popular with a lack of scoring to his name, but a healthy scratch in Game One may turn that around for him and his confidence.

I don't think anyone would debate against the series between the Red Wings and Predators being anything but close and Detroit came out with a bit more of a mission, trying to make sure that Nashville doesn't take full advantage of their home-ice.  With only a fine given to Shea Weber for his actions on Henrik Zetterberg at the end of Game One, there was going to be some bulletin board material for the visitors right away in this series.

Sure enough, the Red Wings were a more determined club in Game Two, working a little bit harder, blocking a few more shots and withstanding the push that the Predators came with.  With that being said, the Wings came away with a 3-2 regulation win to tie up the series at one, as they head back to Detroit for a Sunday match-up.

Jimmy Howard made 17 saves for the win and the 2 points, while Johan Franzen ended up getting credit for the game-winning goal and the bonus point.  Those were the only two players in this game that were able to pick up more than 1 point in the game, which says a lot about how each team will have to spread out the scoring to be successful, as defense plays a huge role in this series.

A lower-body injury to the Predators' Hal Gill kept the hulking defender out of the line-up for Nashville in Game Two and it arguably had an effect on the team, who had one of the top players in front of the opposition's net score the winner on Friday night.  Gill known more for his defense than offense, was included on the sheet in Box 11, much like Colin White is listed for the Sharks, in that playoff experienced role, which could play as its own X-factor down the stretch.  Gill was taken twice in the pool, so he will be missed if he misses any more time.

In the late game on Friday night, the Los Angeles Kings are showing that they are all about working hard and playing solidly in front of one of the league's elite goaltenders.  The Kings outworked the Canucks at every turn again in Game Two and in their frustration, Vancouver abandoned their attempt at being more disciplined and the game was pretty well lost for them early on.

It was a monster night for Dustin Brown of the Kings, who scored a pair of shorthanded goals and added an assist for a 3-point evening to lead the way.  Jarret Stoll ended up picking up the game-winning goal to add him to the list of players with multiple points on the night, while Jonathan Quick was outstanding, making 46 saves for the victory on the night.

Brown, the Kings' Box 5 forward, was only taken twice in the pool this year, which helps that little bit to teams that may not be getting some big poitns from more popular players.  The 3-point effort gives Brown 5 points in the first two games of the series and a commanding lead in the box.

Now the series will shift back to Los Angeles, who now have full home-ice advantage on the Canucks and they will go again on Sunday night in the only late game.

Injury news will be guarded quite tightly, but it was expected that Kings forward Kyle Clifford was going to be out after taking that huge hit from Byron Bitz, which cost Bitz a couple of games. The Kings will not say what the injury exactly is, but he is listed as out day-to-day with an upper-body injury.  It should still be considered fair to assume that Clifford is out indefinitely with a concussion, which isn't good news for the Kings, but he wasn't taken at all in the pool, so there won't be any effect to the standings directly here.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonAnother four games, another four winners... or so we hope!  In the Devils win, it was non-pool forward Ryan Carter that scored the goal, stealing another bonus point away.  For the Flyers win, it was Jaromir Jagr keeping one in the pool, but no one picked Jagr, so the point goes into playoff pool oblivion.  For the Red Wings, Johan Franzen ended up with the bonus point, much to the delight of his six pool owners this year.  Finally, in the late game, Jarret Stoll picked up the winner, but there was no love for him in the pool, having no owners of his own.

After three nights of action, five teams have 2 bonus points to their name, four of which are in the top 10 of the standings, while John R.'s second team is down in 27th and among the leaders in the category.  Out of the five teams with 2 bonus points, most of them have Franzen and Brian Boyle, while Martin Havlat and Max Talbot show up among the leaders.

Tonight's Games

The afternoon game on CBC belongs to Game Two of the Washington/Boston series, which may not exacerbate the goaltending competition, as afternoon games do tend to see some real scoring.  That game gets going right as this post is getting published.

Ottawa will look to tie up the series in Game Two in New York, which starts at 5pm on CBC as well.

San Jose will try to take the second game in St. Louis, starting at 5:30pm on TSN.

The late game will see Chicago in Phoenix for Game Two of their series, which has an 8pm start on TSN as well.

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