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THN.com Playoff Blog: Special teams play big role in two early upsets by Senators, Flyers

Mike Richards, Brian Boucher and the Flyers stole Game 1 from New Jersey 2-1. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Mike Richards, Brian Boucher and the Flyers stole Game 1 from New Jersey 2-1. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Sloppy play and nerves characterized the opening frames in both early games as the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs kicked off Wednesday night. But things settled down relatively quickly and, as is often the case in the playoffs, special teams became the story of the night. Special teams and upsets.

Actually, special teams, upsets and encouraging performances by two players under the gun.

In Pittsburgh, four of the nine goals scored in a 5-4 Ottawa victory came on the power play. In New Jersey, what looked like it would stand up as the game-winner for Philadelphia was scored with the man advantage, until Travis Zajac made it 2-1 with less than three minutes to play.

The Senators got power play markers by Chris Kelly and Erik Karlsson (Evgeni Malkin had two goals with the man advantage for the Pens). Chris Pronger’s extra-man opening marker from the slot led the Philadelphia Flyers past the Devils 2-1.

Philadelphia’s power play goal was no surprise considering the Flyers had the league’s No. 3 extra-man attack this season and the Devils finished a middling 13th killing penalties. Philly was 1-for-3 with the man advantage on the night.

In Pittsburgh, however, the Pens’ 19th-ranked power play managed a 2-for-6 night against Ottawa’s eighth-ranked penalty kill, while the Sens, with the 21st- best power play, went 2-for-4 versus the Pens’ No. 9 penalty kill.

Philly goaltender Brian Boucher was great under the gun. He hasn’t answered all the questions surrounding the Flyers’ goaltending, but he undoubtedly answered the bell. In the first period he held his team in the game as New Jersey fired nine shots at the Flyers net, many of them dangerous. And he was solid during a Devils 4:00 man advantage in the third period, shutting the door again. Only one of 24 shots beat Boucher and that was a Zajac deflection late in the game.

Philadelphia’s penalty kill during the regular season was 11th overall, the same position as the Devils’ power play. But if Boucher can continue to look as unflappable and play a solid game, the difference will skew in Philly’s favor. He played the biggest role in the Flyers killing off all four of its man disadvantages.

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In Pittsburgh, who would have expected a score line favoring the Sens when nine goals were counted? Well, that’s what happened. And rookie Karlsson played a big role in the outcome.

The 19-year-old ascended as a top-four blueliner and a power play staple this seasona and in Game 1 he proved he can handle those roles: Karlsson had a goal and an assist on the power play, helping his squad to a 2-for-4 night in that department. He was calm, cool and collected all game; a couple of botched passes, yes, but effective all night nonetheless.

If those trends continue and it comes down to special teams being the difference in these two series, Philly’s Boucher and Ottawa’s Karlsson will each have a lot to do in the decisions. If Boucher’s Flyers are to upset the Devils, he will have to continue frustrating the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, who looked flustered.

While if the Sens are destined to upset the defending champion Pens, Karlsson will have to continue playing beyond his years with the man advantage and without.

THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

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John Grigg is a copy editor and writer with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog appearing Tuesdays and the Wednesday Top 10.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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