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Holtby staring down Bruins; Brodeur shows Hall of Fame form; Western powerhouses on the brink

Braden Holtby turned aside 44 shots in a Game 4 win. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Braden Holtby turned aside 44 shots in a Game 4 win. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/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.

CAPITALS/BRUINS, GAME 4: CAPITALS 2, BRUINS 1 (SERIES TIED 2-2)

THN’s Take: Great execution, poor finish. That sums up Game 4 for Boston after dominating Washington yet again. The Capitals, however, buoyed by another superhuman game from Braden Holtby, stayed afloat with their hold-on-for-dear-life defense and made good on two of their few chances to score.

Bruins coach Claude Julien had to be pleased with how his players carried out the game plan – push the Caps to the outside, keep the gap tight on their stars, blitzkrieg Holtby with shots – just not with how they closed it out. A lot of that has to do with the phalanx Washington surrounds Holtby with whenever it goes into panic mode in its own zone. Not pretty, but thus far effective – the Capitals have held Boston’s big dogs Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Tyler Seguin to no goals and just one assist in four games.

The only stretch in which the Capitals were able to truly take the play to the Bruins was a run in the second period when they outshot Boston 11-1. Aside from that, the shots favored the Bruins 44-10. But just as the Senators are tied 2-2 in their series with the Rangers despite never holding a lead, Washington is now even with Boston thanks to timely goals, even though it has only led for 60:48 out of more than 240 minutes of play.

Three Stars
1. Braden Holtby - great again, flashing a lightning quick glove hand in making many outstanding saves, including one at the final buzzer. He’s without a doubt in the Bruins’ heads.

2. John Carlson - logged the second-most minutes of any Capital, looking fearless in the face of a relentless Boston attack.

3. Rich Peverley - scored a goal and was a force at both ends of the ice – dishing out hits, blocking shots and creating several scoring chances for the B’s.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
Brad Marchand. The agitator needs to find someone to make him mad, or he’ll remain a non-factor. Zero points, minus-1 and just two PIM so far in the series.
- Ronnie Shuker

DEVILS/PANTHERS, GAME 4: DEVILS 4, PANTHERS 0 (SERIES TIED 2-2)

THN's Take: Some old time Devils hockey slowed down the pace enough in the opening period to give New Jersey a chance to take over Game 4 and hell hath no fury like a Marty scorned. After getting yanked in Game 3, Martin Brodeur was back to his legendary self, while his former backup, Scott Clemmensen, played second fiddle in the Florida net.

The big question for Game 5 revolves around the Panthers' crease: Does coach Kevin Dineen go back to original starter Jose Theodore, who brings a higher upside in his playoff goaltending? Keep in mind the quick strikes orchestrated by New Jersey in Games 1 and 3 were not so much about Theodore's play, but of those around him.

The Cats must look at their defense now, too. Jason Garrison missed the contest with a lower body injury and his replacement, Keaton Ellerby, was hurt during the game, limiting the youngster to less than nine minutes of ice time. Garrison's presence was certainly missed on the power play, which for once did Florida no favors. This series just got re-set.

Three Stars
1. Martin Brodeur – Breakaway saves on Marcel Goc and Dmitry Kulikov were just part of the resume. Brodeur made huge saves when needed and even outpointed the Panthers thanks to his assist on Steve Bernier's goal. Once again his puckhandling became another weapon in deflecting the opponent's attack, too.

2. Travis Zajac – The top-line center registered a goal and an assist and gave the Devils great scoring depth throughout the lineup. With Zajac back on all cylinders, this team is much more difficult to defend against.

3. Ilya Kovalchuk – The Russian maestro ran the point on New Jersey's successful power play and neutralized Cats top-liner Stephen Weiss for the length of the contest. 'Kovy' got his own goal with the man advantage to truly salt the game away.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: No one on the Cats looked particularly bad; the Devils just scored some nice goals and put the game out of reach quickly. But Florida's once-mighty power play went 0-for-6 and that's Brian Campbell's forte. The veteran was also a minus-1 on the night.
- Ryan Kennedy

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

THN’s Take: Four straight games in one series going into overtime? It happened once 60 years ago. In April, 1952 Montreal and Toronto racked up OT play in four consecutive post-season games. It happened again between the pesky Phoenix Coyotes and the snakebitten Chicago Blackhawks.

And who would have predicted Mikkel Boedker, the author of just 11 goals in 82 games this season, would have back-to-back OT winners to give the Coyotes a commanding 3-1 lead in the series? And who would have predicted this tidbit of reality: that 2010-11 Western Conference powerhouses Vancouver, Detroit, Chicago and San Jose are on the brink of elimination and one of four projected pre-season lesser-lights - Nashville, St. Louis, Los Angeles or Phoenix will in all likelihood represent the West in the Stanley Cup final?

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It's not all over for the the Blackhawks. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit against Vancouver last spring before losing in overtime of Game 7. But they're sure looking worn out. They played more than 100 games in 2009-10 when they won the Cup and exhausted themselves in the first-round loss to Vancouver. And now? Well, they've played six consecutive overtime playoff games dating back to last year and the wheels aren't turning smoothly.

Someone has to ask the question. How badly do the Hawks miss Marian Hossa? Would he have made a difference in the back half and overtime of Game 3? How about closely-contested Game 4? We'll never know for sure, but we do know they miss him more than the Phoenix Coyotes miss Raffi Torres.

Chicago's attack - and especially its power play - has been dreadful and as a result the Coyotes are well in control heading back to the desert. It's a long road back for a tired Chicago team.

Three Stars
1. Shane Doan – The grizzled veteran's hustle chasing down a casual Johnny Oduya seven minutes into the third period led to the game's opening goal. The playoffs is all about hard work and who better to set a perfect example with the Coyotes than the 35-year-old captain.

2. Mike Smith – Might as well make this name part of the boilerplate in the Three Stars section of this series. Smith's positioning in the crease is outstanding and his nerves are unflappable. In 11 games going back to the regular season, Smith has allowed just 10 goals and posted a save percentage north of .950.

3. David Bolland – Just call him Mr. April. Chicago's No. 3 center again showed an innate ability to raise the level of his game when it matters most. Come playoffs, the Hawks lean on Bolland both offensively and in a shutdown role. He didn't disappoint, making a nice stickhandle move on Michael Frolik's tying goal with the clock winding down in the third period.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Paul Bissonnette was too busy thinking about the pretty girls in Chicago (read Biznasty's recent Twitter history), that he forgot to attach his fight strap prior to the game. So when his sweater came loose during a first-period scrap with Brandon Bollig, Biznasty was tossed. It hardly would have mattered, but at least it gave social media wags something to laugh about.
- Brian Costello

BLUES/SHARKS GAME 4: BLUES 2, SHARKS 1 (BLUES LEAD SERIES 3-1)

THN’s Take: The fourth game of this series told us a lot about both teams involved: one is heading one way, the other in the opposite direction.

For the Blues, all reviews are excellent. Their defense was stifling and sucked all life out of the big Sharks attack. Most rushes were stuffed, most shots to the outside. And just when you thought St. Louis was doing as responsible a job as possible, the team allowed only three shots – one from outside the blueline – after taking a two-goal lead with eight minutes left in regulation.

And Andy McDonald was again brilliant, picking up the game-winning goal and logging seven shots. Whenever there was a good chance on offense – and there wasn’t too much of that – McDonald was in the vicinity playing an integral role in the opportunity.

For the Sharks, well, this game showed something is finally broken. Despite the one-goal differential, it never felt like San Jose was in this game and the players weren’t putting up the desperate playoff fight a team down two-games-to-one at home has to. You had to be in awe of the way St. Louis completely choked off San Jose’s offense and applaud Ken Hitchcock for the job he’s done. It’s incredible what a coach can do for a team.

The shot totals for both teams were low, but that’s by St. Louis’ design. The Sharks rely on their offense and it already looks defeated after three losses.

Three Stars
1. Andy McDonald – The secret offensive weapon, McDonald is like an annoying mosquito buzzing in San Jose’s ear. He’s the offensive leader on a defensive-leaning team and holds the part well.

2. Brian Elliott – Few rebounds and a steady hand behind the impenetrable wall in front of him.

3. Patrik Berglund – Big body matches up well with San Jose’s attackers. Added two more assists in a little less than 20 minutes of ice time on the spread-out St. Louis attack.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: At risk of sounding like a broken record, Patrick Marleau needs to do more. He still hasn’t scored a point this series, so it’s amazing he’s still getting more than 20 minutes of ice time. In the third period, as the Sharks were putting pressure on the Blues on the power play, Marleau took a dumb interference (or boarding) penalty that killed the man advantage and led to McDonald’s game-winner.
- Rory Boylen

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