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Why the Sharks are a playoff team; Capitals fate in Holtby's hands; inexplicable Coyotes

Martin Havlat scored in the second overtime period to give the Sharks a win in Game 1 over the Blues. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

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Martin Havlat scored in the second overtime period to give the Sharks a win in Game 1 over the Blues. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

The NHL Playoff Recap gives you THN's take of what happened in each game of the night and what the consequences will be for the rest of the series.

We also provide our Three Stars of the night, which will be tabulated after each round. First Star is three points, Second Star is two points and Third Star is one point. Be sure to vote on who you think the first star was as well.

Of course there's the other side of the coin: The Black Hole is a piece of the lineup that just couldn't get it going on a given night and contributed to a difficult evening for the team.

SENATORS/RANGERS, GAME 1: RANGERS 4, SENATORS 2 (RANGERS LEAD SERIES 1-0)

THN's Take: It was never in doubt. From the drop of the puck; through the opening period with the Senators nervous start; through the (first three-quarters of the) middle stanza when Ottawa was actually the better team; and, especially, through the third frame when the Rangers dominated, Game 1 was always going to the home team.

Aside from the late blown coverages that handed Ottawa its two goals, New York's game plan was executed to a 'T.' The men in blue banged early, closed off the speed and space of Erik Karlsson (and, absurdly, even got away with turning him into a Daniel Sedin-esque punching bag with Brian Boyle playing the role of Brad Marchand), and, most importantly, through their hustle and sacrifice, made this statement: there's a "1" beside us in the bracket and an "8" beside you for a reason.

As much as the score suggests this wasn't a one-sided affair, the question leading up to Game 2 (Saturday night at 7 p.m.) will be whether the Senators can find some push-back and be the team that was the surprise of the regular season. Otherwise you need only to look back at the Blue Jackets of 2009 or the Thrashers of 2007 to see what the outcome will be.

Three Stars
1. Ryan Callahan - The Rangers captain set the tone by hitting any Senator he could reach and picked up the opening goal.

2. Brad Richards - When New York backed up the bank truck in the summer, they had exactly this in mind. 'B-Rich' played a contest similar to that of Callahan, playing physical and creating offense, just the way he did when he won the Conn Smythe while leading Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup in 2004.

3. Henrik Lundqvist - It was only a pair of lapses in front of him that prevented 'King Henrik' from pitching a shutout. When the Sens were buzzing early in the second period, Lundqvist made several key saves.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Jason Spezza. He was invisible. Only Karlsson controls the Senators fortunes more than Spezza and he'll need to do a lot more in coming games.
- Edward Fraser

CAPITALS/BRUINS, GAME 1: BRUINS 1, CAPITALS 0 (OT) (BRUINS LEAD SERIES 1-0)


THN’s Take: We’ve all seen a goalie throw his team over his shoulder and almost singlehandedly carry his teammates to victory in the NHL playoffs, right? Jaroslav Halak did so for a stretch as a Montreal Canadien in 2010 and Dwayne Roloson played the role for a longer stretch while playing for Tampa Bay last post-season.

So it should come as little surprise to see relatively unknown Capitals netminder Braden Holtby attempt the same routine. The youngster, making his NHL playoff debut, ultimately fell short of stealing a victory as Boston eked out a 1-0 overtime win over Washington in Game 1 of their first-round series, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

For the first two periods, the Capitals were hopelessly outmatched: the Bruins had outshot them by nearly a 4:1 ratio (26 to 7, including only two shots for the Caps in the second period) demonstrating why Boston was a prohibitive favorite to continue on to the second round. Washington needed Holtby – a 22-year-old who’d played just seven regular season NHL games late this season after appearing in 14 last year – to weather the fairly relentless Bruins storm.

Thomas wasn’t nearly as busy, thanks in large part to Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara’s stellar work shadowing Caps star Alex Ovechkin. Washington’s top offensive threat didn’t get a shot on goal through 40 minutes and was on the ice for only one shift during that span when Chara wasn’t out there along with him. When the third period started, the Caps reversed the momentum, holding Boston to one shot in the first 14 minutes. But although they had a few decent chances on Thomas, the visitors failed to produce prolonged pressure and overtime ended on Chris Kelly’s goal.

The Capitals almost stole home ice advantage, but make no mistake – they’ll need Holtby to keep up the magic show just to have an outside chance against a Bruins team that in most other regards is clearly superior.

Three Stars
1. Braden Holtby
2. Zdeno Chara
3. Dennis Seidenberg

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
Boston didn’t score through regulation time, but for that entire span, it still felt like Washington winger Alex Semin deserved a minus; he had just one shot and although he was feisty (at least, for him), the Caps aren’t paying him to be feisty. Lo and behold, Semin eventually got his minus-1 by being on the ice for Kelly’s overtime goal. Washington needs offense from wherever it can get it, but it would be nice to get it for the $6.7 million they’re paying Semin this year.
- Adam Proteau

SHARKS/BLUES, GAME 1: SHARKS 3, BLUES 2 (2OT) (SHARKS LEAD SERIES 1-0)

THN’s Take: The Sharks aren’t used to being the underdog. They’re used to being the powerhouse stoned by expectations. But against the Blues, the Sharks are almost an after-thought, something San Jose Mercury News writer Mark Purdy believes will benefit the teal team.

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But how much of an underdog is San Jose? They’ve been unable to shake the perception of a team that isn’t suited to post-season play, despite the fact they’ve made it to back-to-back Western Conference finals. They’ve been in the mix and they’ve played through some big games, going 8-4 in overtime games in the 2010 and 2011 playoffs. They are now 1-0 in extra time in 2012. Call San Jose a playoff flop at your own peril.

Martin Havlat, your overtime goal-scorer, is another trying to shake the notion he goes up in smoke this time of year. Like San Jose, Havlat’s playoff disappointments came a long time ago and he’s grown from his early days as an Ottawa Senator. With 28 points in his past 26 playoff games heading into Game 1, it should have been no surprise Havlat was a presence. When he’s been in the lineup the Sharks have been a much better team this season (24-13-3), so his continued production is key and shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

But make no mistake, this tight-checking game was only the start of what will be a long, grueling war of attrition, in which the Sharks will continue to try and prove themselves a playoff team, while the Blues continue to try and prove themselves – though neither should have to.

Three Stars
1. Martin Havlat – Scored the all-important first goal and the most-important overtime-winner. Dany Heatley struggled this time of year for San Jose; this is where Havlat makes the difference.

2. Patrik Berglund – His two big goals put the Blues in the lead and he logged a ton of ice time. His big body is a storyline in this series.

3. Antti Niemi – Speaking of trying to change perceptions, Niemi is still regarded as a second-tier goalie despite a 25-15 post-season record. His 40 saves got this playoff season off on the right foot.

The Black Hole:
Though he’s on the winning team, Joe Thornton needs to force himself into this series. David Backes was showing why many consider him a favorite for the Selke award, but Thornton is a premiere offensive player and in seven-game series, those guys make or break teams.
- Rory Boylen

BLACKHAWKS/COYOTES, GAME 1: COYOTES 3, BLACKHAWKS 2 (OT) (COYOTES LEAD SERIES 1-0)


THN’s TAKE: Without taking anything away from another miraculous season for the Phoenix Coyotes, one look at their first round matchup with Chicago and a sigh of pity was sure to follow. For the third year in a row the feel-good story of the league drew an unlucky matchup after having to face the Red Wings the first two times.

Conventional wisdom dictates that, as good as the Coyotes were this year, the Blackhawks’ star power would be the difference in a seven-game series. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and even Jonathan Toews, back from a concussion with determination, would tip the scales against a bump and grind team.

But, then again, the Coyotes aren’t a logical bunch.

Nothing about this team makes sense. Phoenix bonds together to win and, much the same way the Nashville Predators used to be, the real reason for their success is inexplicable – it’s why we never see them coming. There’s some unknown ingredient coach Dave Tippett puts into the recipe that makes Mike Smith superhuman and Radim Vrbata tie for the league lead in regular season game-winners. Even when Vrbata was lost early in Game 1, the Coyotes didn’t miss a beat, hounding the Hawks in every zone.

How else to explain why Mike Smith went from an .899 save percentage with the Lightning, to a Vezina caliber netminder? Or why Ray Whitney went out of his way to hit 77 points and become the oldest player to break 1,000 points in a career? Or why Oliver Ekman-Larsson is arriving as a big-game defenseman at an incredible pace? Or even why they beat and outplayed the favored Blackhawks in Game 1?

Because we can’t explain how and why this team wins on paper, they’ll cruelly continue to be considered as fodder until they win four of seven. One down...and a long way to go.

Three Stars
1. Mike Smith – The Coyotes are generally thought of as a defense-first team, but consider they gave up the third-most shots-against this season and you’ll understand Smith’s Game 1 performance was just another day at the office.

2. Martin Hanzal – Played a physical game and made the Hawks aware he’s ready to go. The overtime-winner was the cherry on top of a great game.

3. Andrew Shaw – His hit took Vrbata out of the game, but Shaw was a worker bee all night long. Though he didn’t get any points, he was noticeable, doing all the sandpaper work and even earning a spot on the ice for Chicago’s last regulation push that lead to a goal.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Duncan Keith needs to have more of a presence for a guy who logged 29:49 of ice. He didn't get any points, shots or hits, so Brent Seabrook was the stalwart on the back end. Keith is of Norris caliber and needs a better showing than this for the Hawks to bounce back.
- Rory Boylen

 

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