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Senators show heart in New York circus; Braden Holtby giving Bruins nightmares

Braden Holtby stood on his head in Games 1 and 2 in Boston and Washington heads home with the series tied because of him. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Braden Holtby stood on his head in Games 1 and 2 in Boston and Washington heads home with the series tied because of him. (Photo by Elsa/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.

CAPITALS/BRUINS, GAME 2: CAPITALS 2, BRUINS 1 (2 OT) (SERIES TIED 1-1)

THN’s Take: For a team that had the second-highest goal total in the NHL this season, the defending Stanley Cup-champion Bruins sure are having difficulty scoring against Capitals rookie goalie Braden Holtby. And because of that problem, Boston has lost home ice advantage after Washington eked out a 2-1 double-overtime win Saturday afternoon.

Although the game started much more evenly than the one-sided affair Game 1 was in Boston’s favor, by the second period, the Bruins were beginning to push again, outshooting the Caps 12-7 – they’ve now outshot Washington by a combined 29-9 total in the two middle frames – and keeping the visitors from getting more than a handful of genuine scoring opportunities. And despite Benoit Pouliot's first career playoff goal that sent the game to extra time, Holtby held strong, stopping 43 of 44 Bruins shots until Nicklas Backstrom scored to even the series.

The Bruins flirted with danger in Game 1, before Chris Kelly’s overtime goal bailed them out. And while the Game 2 win wasn’t solely Holtby’s doing – the Caps blocked 27 shots, while Boston blocked only eight - as long as Washington continues to maintain its composure and the goaltending continues to come through, this series will be tighter than many NHL observers thought it would.

Three Stars
1. Braden Holtby – Once again, Holtby was the main reason the Caps stayed in the game as long as they did. The 22-year-old miscalculated on a poke-check for the game-tying goal, but never buckled as the pressure increased.

2. Tim Thomas – He hasn’t been put through the wringer as Holtby has, but after facing just 17 shots in Game 1, Thomas had to be solid to keep the Bruins from losing in regulation. He's keeping up his end of the bargain.

3. Mike Green - Say what you will about Green's offensive struggles this year, but though he didn't have any points in Game 2, he played a team-best 33:28 and was a plus-2. Coach Dale Hunter will take that more risk-averse game every time.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
Simply for their utter inability to score a regulation-time goal, you could pick any Bruins forward and call them a Black (and Gold) hole. Be it Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron or Rich Peverley, someone has to step up on offense - and soon.
- Adam Proteau

SENATORS/RANGERS, GAME 2: SENATORS 3, RANGERS 2 (OT) (SERIES TIED 1-1)

THN's Take: Depending on your point of view, Game 2 was either an exhilarating return to old-time hockey or an embarrassing regression. What took place on the ice at MSG was as much UFC as it was hockey. They said it best on the broadcast: The circus is in town, but it’s not Barnum and Bailey.

It’s been a long time we’ve witnessed a game as out of control as the one that took place Saturday night, when hits were thrown with the sole intent to injure from the time the puck was dropped. Right or wrong, this is exactly what happens when the players are left to police themselves.

The Senators came in with revenge on their minds for Brian Boyle’s punching-bag treatment of Erik Karlsson in the series opener and seemed interested in a “if we can’t beat ‘em on the ice, we’ll beat ‘em in the alley” style of game. The results of that tact are up for interpretation, but what isn’t is the fact this series is heading back to Canada with Ottawa having taken home-ice advantage away from the Eastern Conference champs.

With all due respect to the plucky Sens, who showed a lot a heart after getting somewhat embarrassed in Game 1, the Rangers beat themselves as much as their opponents. New York sat back, nursing a one-goal lead, far too much and far too long. “Safe is death” used to be John Tortorella’s motto. The Rangers could have used a lot more of that in the third.

(A final thought: There’s no word yet, but after Daniel Alfredsson left in the second period after taking an elbow from Carl Hagelin, one can’t help but wonder if this is the last we’ll see of the 39-year-old Ottawa captain. If he’s shelved with a concussion and retires in the off-season, it’ll be an unfitting end for a true class act.)

Three Stars
1. Erik Karlsson - The Rangers did a great job of shutting him down in Game 1, but couldn’t contain him Saturday. With his speed and his shot Karlsson was easily Ottawa’s more potent weapon. If they’re wise, the Rangers will focus a lot more on containing him in the coming games.

2. Craig Anderson - He stopped 27 of 29 shots and bounced back from an early ugly goal. Anderson came up with several big saves when a 2-0 or 3-1 Rangers’ tally would have been deflating and almost certainly resulted in a loss.

3. Ruslan Fedotenko – It was a beige game for the Blueshirt forwards, but Fedotenko stood out by buzzing in all three zones and setting up his team’s second goal.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
Jason Spezza - Again. After a regular season that merited MVP talk, Spezza has been MIA through two games. He’s overcomplicating what’s become a basic series. He needs to stop trying to dance through Rangers, get the puck deep and use his mates to get chances.
- Edward Fraser

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BLACKHAWKS/COYOTES, GAME 2: BLACKHAWKS 4, COYOTES 3 (OT) (SERIES TIED 1-1)

THN’s Take: Brent Seabrook tied Game 1 in the dying seconds and Patrick Sharp did the same off a Seabrook shot in Game 2. Twice the Coyotes let the Hawks back in it. Twice the Hawks’ stars got it done when needed. Twice the game was extended when it should have been over.

And the last thing the Coyotes wanted was to extended Game 2, considering unheralded Lauri Korpikoski and the team’s described “best forward,” Martin Hanzal, were lost during regulation. Now, instead of heading to the Madhouse on Madison with a 2-0 lead and putting a must-win game on the table for Chicago, the Coyotes no longer hold home-ice advantage.

The fact is, each time Phoenix lets this series extend in any way, it benefits the Hawks. The more games played, the more likely Chicago’s big-ticket players will impose their will and make the big moments happen. Not only did the Coyotes set the table for the Hawks in Game 2, they provided them with all the momentum Chicago needs.

Speaking of momentum, Corey Crawford seemed to pick up a wealth of confidence, holding off a late Coyotes attack in regulation. He was pumping his fists and standing tall. The one outright advantage Phoenix had coming into this series was in net, but for as good as Mike Smith has been, Crawford has steadied Chicago’s crease and erased that edge.

Three Stars
1. Bryan Bickell – Mr. Right Place, Right Time for the OT winner, he tied Patrick Sharp with seven hits for the team lead.

2. Mike Smith – Really didn’t deserve to lose this game, making 46 saves and keeping a steady hand after being run by Andrew Shaw. If Shaw isn’t suspended, he’ll have to answer for that in Game 3.

3. Brent Seabrook – Five hits and five shots, one of which led directly to the game-tying goal. Seabrook has been a beast in both games and he’s only getting better.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: If this game ended in regulation, Antoine Vermette would have been one of the three stars. And while he did play a good game overall, my goodness, what was he thinking on the last play of the game? With Chicago changing, Vermette had all the time in the world to advance the puck, but lolly-gagged and played it back instead. Adrian Aucion’s clearing attempt took a wild bounce, but it was Vermette’s laziness that caused a nothing situation to turn into a game-ending play.
- Rory Boylen

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

THN’s Take: The bad news for St. Louis Blues fans is starting goalie Jaroslav Halak left Game 2 early in the second period with an apparent concussion after getting steamrolled by teammate Barret Jackman. The good news is the Blues just happen have a backup goalie who set a modern-day NHL record this season for the lowest goals-against average (1.56) and highest save percentage (.940).

Such are the benefits of having two proven goalies in coach Ken Hitchcock's defense-first system. The Blues are in capable hands with either playoff-tested Halak or Elliott, the revelation. Halak stopped all 12 shots he faced and Elliott the 17 directed his way as the Blues even the series.

Calling Hitchcock's blueprint in St. Louis a defense-first approach is a simplistic disservice used by too many media-types. More accurately, the Blues are easily one of the top few hardest working teams in the league. In a pre-game interview, Hitchcock said he had no doubts his troops would come out and work hard enough to give them a chance to even the series. Hitchcock also had no qualms about changing his parts if he feels there's a broken spoke. Chris Stewart, Ryan Reaves and Kent Huskins were scratched after Game 1 and replaced by B.J. Crombeen, Matt D'Agostini and Carlo Colaiacovo.

A few nasty scraps at the end of the game sets things up nicely for an emotional battle in San Jose for Game 3. And the Sharks again have a lot to prove.

Three Stars
1. Barret Jackman – It should be no secret the stay-at-home veteran is one of the game's most savvy players in his own end. Yet game after game, Jackman quietly does an A-1 job and still flies under the radar. He blocked shots, tied up Sharks forwards and was on the ice for most of the third period.

2. David Backes – The leader of the upstart Blues led by example and put the game out of reach -- hey, a two-goal lead is virtually insurmountable when Elliott's guarding the twine -- with a one-timer midway through the second period.

3. T.J. Oshie – He was a craftsman setting up Backes for the insurance goal, then sealed things by scoring the third goal. His playmaking is something the Sharks wish they were getting from Joe Thornton.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Though he’s one of the league's top shutdown defensemen, Marc-Eduard Vlasic's fatal flaw just 91 seconds into the game put the Sharks in a hole they never got out of. Vladimir Sobotka's blast from the left circle was mostly stopped by Antti Niemi, but as it dropped into the crease behind him, 'Pickles' tried to bat it into the corner, but instead bladed it into the open net for an embarrassing own goal.
- Brian Costello

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