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NHL's most clutch player gives Flyers Game 1 win; Phoenix forwards figure out Nashville

It was Danny Briere's day in Game 1 as he scored twice including the overtime winner over the Devils. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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It was Danny Briere's day in Game 1 as he scored twice including the overtime winner over the Devils. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/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.


DEVILS-FLYERS, GAME 1: FLYERS 4, DEVILS 3 (FLYERS LEAD SERIES 1-0)

THN’s Take: Even though the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, I thought Danny Briere should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Still do. The Blackhawks won with everyone pulling on the same end of the rope, but the Philadelphia Flyers got to the final in large part because of Briere.

And he’s clearly up to it again. Every time Briere scores a goal of consequence, he immediately drops to one knee to celebrate. So far Briere has taken a knee seven times in the playoffs, including Sunday afternoon when he powered the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 of the Flyers second-round series against the New Jersey Devils.

(Briere also provided one of the more amusing points in the afternoon. While being interviewed after the game by Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada, Briere pleaded ignorance when asked about his kicked-in goal that was called back just minutes before his overtime heroics. But when presented with the video evidence, he had no choice be to ‘fess up. “Yeah, I guess I did kick it in,” he said sheepishly.)

It really wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Flyers win this series in four or five very close games. As long as Ilya Bryzgalov is in the Philadelphia net, you know it’s going to be a close game and Sunday was no exception. With the Flyers badly outplaying and outshooting the Devils through the final two periods of regulation time and holding onto a 3-2 lead, Bryzgalov, who was otherwise quite solid, had to once again inject his own sense of drama into the proceedings by allowing a between-the-wickets goal to Petr Sykora that had a distinct odor to it. And it’s difficult to dominate your opponents when you come out for the first period looking as though you’re skating in mud.

In four of the five Flyer wins in these playoffs, they’ve been down at least 1-0 by the four-minute mark of the first period. Just to make it interesting, the Flyers were trailing 11-0 in shots at one point and recorded their first shot of the game, a blooper from just inside the blueline at 10:06.

But as long as the Flyers can continue to dominate the Devils with their speed and keep on winning key puck battles and faceoffs, they’ll be in control of the series. It’s difficult to fathom either of the teams in this series has goaltending even close to good enough to lead it to a Stanley Cup, particularly given the goalies in the Western Conference, but at least they’re making things interesting.

Three Stars
Danny Briere: The little big man usually does his best work in-tight, but his first one was scored off the rush and the second on a blast from just inside the blueline. There is not a better clutch performer in the NHL today. He also pretty much owned Devils rookie Adam Henrique in the faceoff circle, winning 11 of 17 draws.

Zach Parise: Whether it was at even strength or on the penalty kill, Parise was dangerous and industrious all game long. The Devils simply have to find a way to keep this guy before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Jakub Voracek: Not that he was terrible in Columbus, but this is the kind of player the Blue Jackets hoped they were getting when they drafted him. Voracek was a beast, providing key assists on both Briere’s goals, causing havoc with his forecheck and winning puck battles all over the ice.

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Who do you think was the first star?

THE BLACK HOLE:
Ilya Kovalchuk was one of my top three choices for the Hart Trophy because I thought he had more of an impact on his team’s success than almost any other player in the league. It’s time for him to do it in the playoffs. Going minus-2 and recording no shots simply doesn’t cut it.
- Ken Campbell

PREDATORS/COYOTES, GAME 2: COYOTES 5, PREDATORS 3 (COYOTES LEAD SERIES 2-0)

THN’s Take: In Game 1, the Cardiac Coyotes got their fourth overtime win of the 2012 playoffs, but were outplayed by a Nashville team that outshot them 25-7 in the third period and extra frame. Phoenix thus approached Game 2 as if it lost Game 1, looking like an entirely different team from the opening puck drop.

The Coyote forwards will never be mistaken for the league’s most intimidating group, but they were absolutely relentless on the forecheck in Game 2 and the main reason Phoenix outshot Nashville 39-33. They never stopped skating and never gave the Predators defense time to breathe. That led to constant breakdowns in the Preds zone and seemed to get normally unflappable goaltender Pekka Rinne off his game. The 6-foot-5 Finn looked unsure of himself when handling the puck and coughed up more rebounds than usual.

Even with goals from Andrei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist, the Preds’ top two lines were invisible much of the night, partially because Nashville spent too much time pinned in its own end, but also because the compete level just wasn’t there. David Legwand, Gabriel Bourque and a visibly frustrated Alexander Radulov were particularly bad as a unit.

For the first time in these playoffs, Nashville isn’t the team with the upper hand strategically. Coach Barry Trotz and the Preds had Detroit completely figured out, constantly forcing their attackers to the outside – but the Desert Dogs are doing everything the Wings couldn’t do. If the Preds don’t learn how to contain Phoenix’s speed and generate more chances of their own, they’ll be on the ropes after Game 3.

Three Stars
1. Antoine Vermette – The two-way center did it all, scoring the opening goal, adding an assist and winning 65 percent of his faceoffs, including a crucial one when Nashville iced six attackers during the final minute.  

2. Shane Doan – He was everything a captain should be. He registered six shots, three hits and his two points included a beautiful redirection on a Derek Morris point shot to restore Phoenix’s two-goal lead just a few minutes after Nashville made things interesting in the third.

3. Martin Hanzal – Radim Vrbata and Mikkel Boedker were impressive, too – every Coyote forward was – but Hanzal made an impact at both ends of the rink. He struggled on draws (38 percent), but consistently and calmly dug the puck out of his own zone when Nashville threatened and chipped in a goal to boot. 

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Performances don’t come much worse than David Legwand’s in Game 2. He made an epic blunder to cause Phoenix’s third goal when he threw the puck in front of the net and onto Vrbata’s stick. Sure, Legwand thought the play was dead, but it’s not his job to blow the whistle. He was also a minus-3 and won 44 percent of his draws. Yowza.
– Matt Larkin

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