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Predators size pushes Wings to brink; top-heavy Devils disregard Panthers; Hawks-Yotes in tug-of-war

The Predators surprisingly took both games in Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

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The Predators surprisingly took both games in Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via 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.

RED WINGS/PREDATORS, GAME 4: PREDATORS 3, RED WINGS 1 (PREDATORS LEAD SERIES 3-1)

THN’s Take: For the third time in four games, the ice tilted in Detroit’s favor and, for the third time in four games, Nashville won. Wings fans likely wanted to throw tantrums after looking at the box score, as their team outshot the Predators 41-17 and had possession of the puck all night long. But it’s fair to start wondering if this is a case of a well-coached Preds team executing a game plan instead of the Wings being horribly unlucky.

Of Detroit’s 41 shots in Game 4 – how many were high-percentage chances? All night long, the Wings tried point shots, hoped for tips (they did get one from Jiri Hudler), shot through defensemen and lobbed pucks from the corners. They simply couldn’t penetrate the big, strong Nashville defense long enough and often enough to get clean, close, straight shots on massive Pekka Rinne. Meanwhile, Nashville was opportunistic, counterattacking to make its few chances count and beating an understandably cold Jimmy Howard three times.

Just as we saw the past two seasons when San Jose ousted them, the Wings are being bullied by a bigger, stronger team. They do an outstanding job controlling the puck, but they look like a basketball team with no big men, forced to shoot three-pointers from the perimeter all game long.

Three Stars
1. Kevin Klein – The stay-at-home blueliner had four goals in the regular season, yet has two in his past two playoff games. However, he doesn’t just earn the first star for his game-winner, as Martin Erat gift-wrapped it for him. Klein did an excellent job blocking shots, battling in front of the net and clearing pucks away from Rinne. 

2. Pekka Rinne – Whereas Rinne stood on his head at times in Game 3, he didn’t have to make as many tough saves in Game 4. Still, with the Wings shooting from odd angles and through screens all night, Rinne managed to find and stop all but one puck. 

3. Jiri Hudler – He had Detroit’s lone goal and it’s no wonder, as he was practically the only Red Wing setting up shop in the slot in Game 4. That Hudler, generously listed at 5-foot-10, was Detroit’s feistiest forward highlights the Wings’ big problem as they head to Music City down 3-1 in the series. 

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen are Detroit’s lone hope, the Wings’ only two forwards with right combination of size and skill to penetrate Nashville’s bruising ‘D’ corps. But the power forwards were scoreless tonight and have combined for one goal in the series. Not good enough. 
- Matt Larkin

PANTHERS/DEVILS, GAME 3: PANTHERS 4, DEVILS 3 (PANTHERS LEAD SERIES 2-1)

THN's Take: It's about time the New Jersey Devils take the Florida Panthers seriously. Sure, chasing Jose Theodore from the net with a little more than six minutes gone on the clock can provide a false sense of security, but the Devils took their foot off the gas for way too long and when they woke up, the Cats were a different team. Franchise history means nothing right now.

One thing abundantly clear in this series is how top-heavy New Jersey has become. The Devs have some elite forwards and a legendary (albeit aging) goalie, but a very one-dimensional blueline, especially with puck-moving rookie Adam Larsson up in the press box. It was a damning indictment of the team's makeup that only one defenseman - Marek Zidlicky, who had two goals this season - was out on the ice for the final empty-net push to tie the game. On the other side, Florida received goals from three different blueliners and gets a lot of jump from the rushing of Brian Campbell and the bomb-shot of Jason Garrison. Can the Devils win this series playing three skill players against four or five per shift?

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Three Stars
1. Scott Clemmensen – The former Devil came in with his new team down by three and barred the door the rest of the way, helping the Panthers take control of the series. Clemmensen was particularly good under pressure, excelling on the penalty kill and in more than a minute of empty-net madness at the end of the game.

2. Sean Bergenheim – Once again, the Finn came to play in the post-season. His speed and skill resulted in Florida's first two goals (he buried one, set up the other) and got the Cats back on the right path. His 'Macho Man' Randy Savage elbow drop on Anton Volchenkov wasn't too smart, though.

3. Ilya Kovalchuk – When the Devils were in control (seems like a different game now), it was Kovy driving the bus, using speed and physical dominance to get New Jersey a seemingly insurmountable lead. He also led all skaters with 26:19 of ice time.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Despite scoring New Jersey's third goal, it was a dumb penalty by Patrik Elias that opened the door for Florida's comeback. The veteran's pointless dumping of Erik Gudbranson behind the Panthers net led to Florida's first of three power play goals. Elias finished minus-1 on the night.
- Ryan Kennedy

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

THN's Take: Wow. Not because the overtime-winner was overly-impressive, but because the Phoenix Coyotes stole a game in Chicago and now hold a series advantage on the Blackhawks.

This game had a few different feels to it, so the Coyotes’ win required all sorts of emotion management and adaptation – characteristics of a well-coached team. The first phase of the game was tight defensively, but quick and transitional. Not a lot of offensive chances came out of it, but it was a thrilling start.

And then came the hit that will unfortunately be the only topic of conversation to come out of this marvellous game. Raffi Torres’ high shot on Marian Hossa, which will undoubtedly result in a substantial suspension, calmed the rushing on-ice flow and quieted the raucous crowd...until another frustrating dying-seconds goal was scored by the home team.

After the second slowed to a grind (in a good way), the third provided a glimpse into what playoff hockey might look like if it was played 4-on-4. In a matter of 65 seconds the two teams exchanged three frantic goals like they were on the river. As the game was tied in the final seconds of regulation you couldn’t help but wonder if Chicago would burn Mike Smith with another buzzer beater. But, instead, this one went to overtime for the third straight game.

That period again slowed as the respectful opponents chose to play for the mistake instead of the win. And, eventually, Chicago’s weakness coming into the series showed itself when Corey Crawford let in a deflating, sharp-angle, Hail Mary.

Will Martin Hanzal, Lauri Korpikoski, Raffi Torres or Marian Hossa be back for Game 4? This best-of-seven, as happened in this game, can still go in a lot of different directions. We may be talking about the hit on Wednesday, but this series is quietly the best contested and least predictable match in the first round.

Three Stars
1. Ray Whitney - What a beauty of a goal to tie the game at two. Whitney recorded a game-high nine shots and logged the most ice time among Coyotes forwards.

2. Mike Smith - Phoenix’s success begins and ends with Smith. He made 35 saves and continues to boggle minds.

3. Mikkel Boedker – Earned an assist on the first goal and was Phoenix’s latest hero by scoring the over-time winner on a nothing shot.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: As much as big hits and fights can bring a rise to the crowd, the Raffi Torres infraction showed the other side of that coin. His obvious, uncalled charge on Marian Hossa knocked the Slovak superstar out of the game on a stretcher and sucked the life out of the building. I wouldn’t say Torres went in trying to decapitate Hossa, but it was a brutal hit anyway you cut it. The incident will unfortunately distract from the overall exciting action on the ice.
- Rory Boylen

 

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