The Metropolitan Division Final took off with a bang, as the Rangers invaded the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, where the host Penguins were ready to play some 2014 playoff hockey. I think it should be noted that 2014 playoff hockey does seem to be about giving/taking away leads and then playing some overtime, since that's what everyone else has been doing.
The Rangers were the ones who got off to a blinding start in this one, as they found the back of the net twice in the opening 20 minutes, giving themselves a 2-0 cushion at the break. The 2nd period, however, belonged to the Penguins, as they happened to get the game back to square with a couple of markers of their own. The 3rd period solved nothing, as the deadlock continued into the extra frame, but it was only three minutes of bonus hockey, before Derrick Brassard found the back of the net, only seconds before Benoit Pouliot thought that he scored the winner, thanks to a missed call on the ice and the correct call upon review. Thank goodness too, as the bonus point would have landed in limbo, if Pouliot got credit for it.
The Rangers steal Game One in Pittsburgh, thus ending home-ice advantage for the Penguins and Game Two will then go on Sunday evening.
Derrick Brassard, taken four times in the pool, popped home the bonus point for a 2-point night, while Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves for the win. Defenseman Dan Girardi, taken six times, also chimed in with a couple of assists. The underdogs as notable players in the pool will mean that only a few teams get to move up by leaps and bounds, keeping everything interesting.
Much to the delight of the 10 teams that picked him, Brandon Sutter was able to go on Friday night in Game one against the Rangers, after leaving Game Six against the Jackets with a lower-body injury. Sutter was probable/questionable for Game One and did impress those with his return. Unfortunately, he was held pointless in 16 minutes worth of ice-time in the game.
For those wondering, there is still no word on the status of defenseman Brooks Orpik, which may not mean good things going forward.
In the late game, the Central Division match-up began, under a cloud of questions, more so about the underdog Minnesota Wild than the hosts, Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild, who narrowly squeaked out of the opening round, had some crease questions going into Game One and a plus for the pool, as Ilya Bryzgalov, the Box 12 player for Minnesota, was named the starter. This coming at the expense of an upper-body injury to Darcy Kuemper, which may keep him out of the line-up for a couple more games, at least.
If there was anything that could be said about the Wild, it was that their resiliency to stay in games was off the charts. Going into the 3rd period, down two goals (one in the 1st and one in the 2nd for Chicago), the Wild were able to stage a comeback in the early part of the 3rd period, making the game more interesting. Just before the 7-minute mark, Kyle Brodziak, a non-pool player, tied the game up at two and it was a whole new ball game. Nobody told the Wild it was a brand new game, because they didn't show up after the tying goal, as 1:26 later, the wheels began to fall off, as Patrick Kane broke the tie right away and the Blackhawks were able to add two more goals before the final buzzer, beating the Wild, 5-2, to take Game One of the series.
For the Blackhawks, it was solid to get the first win under their belts at home, even if it was somewhat expected. For the Wild, they can hang their hat on the fact that they were in it for most of this game, even down a couple of goals. Game Two goes Sunday afternoon and each team will get to display what they learned from Game One.
Kane was the hero of the game, scoring two in the 3rd period, including the game-winner, for a 3-point night in the pool. Marian Hossa also had a 3-point night, scoring a goal and adding a couple helpers. Bryan Bickell had a pair of goals, while Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook each had a couple of assists. Oh yes, and let's not forget Corey Crawford, who made 30 saves for the win. In a number of combinations, a pool team could have come away with 8 points from the Blackhawks last night, which would have been a good score!
Box 6 forward for the Blackhawks, Kris Versteeg, was a healthy scratch for a second straight game on Friday night, missing out on Game Six against the Blues in the opening round as well. Versteeg, taken seven times in the pool this year, may find himself back in the line-up for Game Two, as Andrew Shaw, a non-pool player, did suffer an injury in Game One, which may leave an open roster spot for the veteran forward.
Don D. was able to pad his lead to 12 points with Friday night's results, while Brady J., Chris J. and Seward F. continue to square dance around the rest of the money spots.
Corey M. continues to lead the second round in scoring, now having picked up 18 points through two nights worth of action, followed closely by Brooke J. and Amy & Kristy, with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Two games on Saturday, as the Habs & Bruins go toe-to-toe in the morning, while the Kings & Ducks will be the evening game, as they get their series going. This pool is far from over!