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Thomas' play has Bruins on brink; Devils own deeds their undoing; Anderson doing Lundqvist impression; Sharks window closes

Troy Brouwer scored the winner late for the Washington Capitals in their Game 5 win over the Boston Bruins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Troy Brouwer scored the winner late for the Washington Capitals in their Game 5 win over the Boston Bruins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/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 5: CAPITALS 4, BRUINS 3 (CAPITALS LEAD SERIES 3-2)

THN’s Take: Although Tim Thomas has endured his share of off-ice controversy, he had comported himself excellently on the ice through the second half of the season and in the first four games of Boston’s opening round playoff series against Washington. Unfortunately, in Game 5, Thomas’ gaffes in the net resulted in the Bruins losing 4-3 to the Capitals and he’s now squarely in the spotlight as the defending Stanley Cup champions face elimination on the road.

Thomas was far from the player who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP last season, stopping just 28 of 32 Caps shots for an .875 save percentage. Most disheartening was when he let in his softest goal of the day – a high, short-side wrister from Troy Brouwer with only 1:27 left in the third period that proved to be the game-winner and totally deflated a Bruins team that had fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to put themselves in position for what would have been the third overtime game of the series.

That didn’t happen, and now the Capitals, a serious underdog before the playoffs began, have the champs on the ropes and will be playing before a raucous home crowd Sunday afternoon. Should the Cup champs not get Thomas’ best effort - and given that, in the past three games, his save percentage is just .894, there’s not a lot of cause for optimism - we could see the heavily favored B’s sent home long before most imagined.

Three Stars
Braden Holtby – Once again, the rookie goalie responded well to playoff pressure, stopping 34 of 37 Bruins shots, including 12 of 13 in the third. He now has a .946 save percentage this series, third-best of any NHL playoff goalie.

John Carlson – Washington’s most-utilized player (he logged a team-high 25:05), Carlson had an assist, three blocks and four shots. All of the Caps defenders did a solid job, helping their side out-block the Bruins 19-11, but Carlson was the steadiest of the bunch.

Dennis Seidenberg – No player on either team was on the ice for more even-strength time than Seidenberg (23:14), who scored his first goal of the playoffs and added an assist in Boston’s losing effort. The veteran - who is averaging 10 seconds more per game than teammate Zdeno Chara - now has the best plus/minus (plus-2) of any post-season player in the Top 10 in time on ice average.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
Yet again, Tyler Seguin was a non-factor for the Bruins, going pointless in more than 19 minutes on the ice (including 2:33 of power play time). The sophomore, who had three goals and seven points in 13 games of Boston’s championship run last year, is still looking for his first point of the series. Without the injured Nathan Horton - and possibly without Patrice Bergeron, whose health was in question after he took a tremendous hit from Alex Ovechkin and played just 12:55 and - the Bruins need Seguin more than ever.
- Adam Proteau

DEVILS/PANTHERS, GAME 5: PANTHERS 3, DEVILS 0 (PANTHERS LEAD SERIES 3-2)

THN's Take: Florida gave the Devils very little and New Jersey did itself no favors by taking a spate of minor penalties to erase any offensive momentum the team could muster in the crucial Game 5 victory by the Cats.

The second period was really New Jersey's downfall in a game that was there to be taken. Ten minutes of minor penalties helped get Florida on the board and prevented the Devils from mounting much of a counterattack. In a series where New Jersey had dominated 5-on-5 play, this was not the way to go. On top of that, Florida was once again missing power play catalyst Jason Garrison (lower body injury), so giving the Cats six chances on the man advantage gave the opponent ample practice for Game 6.

Special teams will decide this series and New Jersey's lack of capable offensive defenseman was once again a factor as Ilya Kovalchuk (a forward playing the point) was beaten on the final shorthanded tally into an empty net.

Three Stars
Kris Versteeg – His rocket from a sharp angle opened the scoring on the power play, but it was his speed and grit that created the insurance marker. Versteeg outraced Bryce Salvador and goalie Martin Brodeur to a puck behind the Devils' net, giving Scottie Upshall a yawning cage and no one to protect it.

Jose Theodore – Good when he had to be, Theodore made 30 saves for the shutout. The veteran netminder's best work came during crunch time when New Jersey pulled the goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage after a late Erik Gudbranson penalty for roughing.

Dmitry Kulikov – The young defenseman set the tone for Florida early, wrecking David Clarkson on a splashy open-ice hit and playing with speed throughout the match. Kulikov rushed the puck with poise and blocked a couple shots for good measure.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: This could be a series-long achievement award for defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who has experience some wretched luck against the Panthers. On the opening power play goal, the Russian blueliner broke his stick, but he then left Versteeg wide open even though winger Zach Parise had lent the D-man his twig. The set-up pass came from Parise's man, but without a stick he was unable to do anything about it.

SENATORS/RANGERS GAME 5: SENATORS 2, RANGERS 0 (SENATORS LEAD SERIES 3-2)

THN's Take: A game-stealing 41-save shutout performance would not have been a surprise in this series...if it came from Henrik Lundqvist. Game 5, however, had Craig Anderson playing the starring role.

The 30-year-old journeyman was brilliant between the pipes, turning away a Rangers team that failed to create much traffic in front of him, but still produced a plethora of quality opportunities.

Not as though Lundqvist was a slouch at the other end. Though the King wasn't tested nearly as often - one goal against on 29 shots - as he had been in Games 2, 3 and 4, he was still strong outside of being surprised on Jason Spezza’s quick shot. You'd have to assume he's starting to fret over the fact the men in front of him haven’t scored since the first period of Game 4 and have nine goals in the series. (Marian Gaborik where art thou?)

While Jason Spezza continued to improve after being MIA in the first three games and is dragging Milan Michalek along with him, there’s still room for improvement for the pair. Though that could be viewed as an overall positive for the Sens considering they head home with a 3-2 series lead having not needed to be buoyed by their forward stars.

If there is one concern for Ottawa fans it’s the play of Erik Karlsson. The league’s premier offensive blueliner was missing his highest gear Saturday and played just a touch more than 22 minutes, by far the least this series. He’s been a physical target all series. Is he being worn down? A nagging injury?

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(And anyone who's complaining about the fact scoring is down from pre-lockout levels should be forced to watch this game Clockwork Orange-style. A low-scoring game like the one played in New York tonight is every bit, and maybe more, enthralling as a high-scoring tilt. Goals alone does not intrigue make.)

Three Stars
1. Craig Anderson – See above. Only Braden Holtby in Washington (.946) sports a better save percent than Anderson’s .944 among keepers who’ve played five games.

2. Jason Spezza – Had both tallies and is finally finding his legs and learning this is a north-south type of series.

3. Zenon Konopka – Some love for the tough guy. Won 10 of 12 draws and did yeoman’s work on the penalty kill.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: ‘Gabbo’ continues to frustrate, but let’s tab Mike Rupp instead. In an effort to provide a spark he took an over-zealous charging penalty. The chest-thumping stage of this series is over. The Rangers need goals, not muscle. Rupp doesn’t see a lot of ice. What little time he gets should be spent trying to generate a mucky goal, not putting an opponent’s face through the boards.

BLUES/SHARKS GAME 5: BLUES 3, SHARKS 1 (BLUES WIN SERIES 4-1)

THN’s Take: In watching the quick demise of the San Jose Sharks from this year’s playoffs you got the sense the window for this group to win has officially closed.

Don't get me wrong – the Sharks as they stand will continue to be a strong team in the Western Conference, but their time as one of the top tier challengers for the Cup has passed. Long criticized for not having playoff leaders at their key superstar positions, San Jose nonetheless made it to back-to-back conference finals. However, their combined one win in two tries distorts the fact that they weren’t that close to winning it all. They’ve been so good for so long, but have nothing to show for it and with centers Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton entering their mid-30s and Dan Boyle on the back nine, their prime years have been written.

Martin Havlat isn’t a go-to scorer, but he’s signed for three more years at $5 million, which won't help with change. Goalie Antti Niemi wasn’t bad, but has a penchant for suddenly fading out of position and letting in a bad goal, as was the case on the first St. Louis score of Game 5. He is also signed for three more years at a $3.8 million cap hit.

Changes must be in the midst. It's been said so many times before about the Sharks, though prematurely. Now, the age of their top players is starting to become a factor in all this, as is the fact the team's pipeline is meek. The fact a new team on the block whipped them out so forcefully drives the point home that it’s time to move on from this group.

Three Stars
1. Alex Pietrangelo – The last time the Blues made it to Round 2 they had Chris Pronger. This time they have Pientrangelo as their game-controlling defender. Pientrangelo had a game-high 25:24 of ice time, two assists, six shots and a whole whack of blocked shots.

2. Brian Elliot – He wasn’t tested much early on, but San Jose went through a phase of putting on pressure and Elliott snuffed out their opportunities by limiting rebounds to almost zero.

3. Joe Thornton – He will undoubtedly be the goat in the eyes of some, but Big Joe wasn’t the problem. He played a good, patient game and scored the all-important first goal of the game…problem was, this was the only game it wasn’t all-important.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Martin Havlat was good at times this series, but he wasn’t effective at all in the decisive game. He took San Jose’s only two penalties and though the Blues didn’t convert, neither was worth putting St. Louis’ hot man advantage on the ice. Havlat must be a scorer and come through in games like these; he only took two shots, neither particularly threatening.
- Rory Boylen

BLACKHAWKS/COYOTES, GAME 5: BLACKHAWKS 2, COYOTES 1 (OT) (COYOTES LEAD SERIES 3-2)

THN’s Take: Every time this series gets extended, the more chance Chicago’s stars will shine through. It may be taking forever to happen, but will Chicago’s stars finally wake up, in the wake of the latest overtime win? Or is Phoenix hockey history just on delay?

Coming into this game, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa (who left during Game 3) had combined for only two goals in the series. Their overtime hero was Bryan Bickell and, until tonight, their big players weren’t their big players. But when Toews’ beautiful shot ended this series’ fifth-straight overtime game, it took the matchup in an interesting direction.

Chicago is a team that flourishes with its back against the wall. Remember, they battled back from a 3-0 series deficit to the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks last season, before losing Game 7 in overtime. It’s not unreasonable to ponder a comeback from 3-1 in this series – there’s no way Chicago would lose three in a row at home, is there?

Phoenix’s lack of an offensive leader showed itself in Game 5 and the reality of Mike Smith’s importance to this team was never more evident. An early Chicago goal in Game 6 would be huge. The flood gates could be breached at any moment against a team like Chicago, so Phoenix needs to create as much as it can in retaliation by shooting the puck more frequently. Corey Crawford has allowed his share of bad goals this series.

One-hundred percent of the shots you don't take don't go in.

Three Stars
1. Mike Smith – Even though he lost, Smith was the best player on the ice in Game 5. He even tried to make a save after his glove had fallen off (how Nick Leddy missed the net there I’ll never know). Only shots that beat him were a deflection and a perfect top-shelfer.

2. Jonathan Toews – The Hawks needed someone to take charge and Toews did it…with authority. This guy is ready for a comeback.

3. Bryan Bickell – He’s been an effective player all series and continues to be a distraction at even strength and on the power play. Ray Whitney appeared to be irritated with Bickell, a trade-off Chicago would take any day.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: For the longest time Antoine Vermette and Viktor Stalberg were volleying this “honor” back and forth, but in the end, Shane Doan gets stuck with it for getting quality scoring chances without taking a shot late in regulation. Toews won it by getting the puck and firing it - Doan has to put it on net. 
- Rory Boylen

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