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Line-matching key in frustrating Rangers-Capitals series; Kings serious Cup contenders

Henrik Lundqvist only faced 18 shots in Game 1 against Washington. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Henrik Lundqvist only faced 18 shots in Game 1 against Washington. (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.


RANGERS-CAPITALS, GAME 1: RANGERS 3, CAPITALS 1 (RANGERS LEAD SERIES 1-0)

THN's Take: The Rangers played a perfect road game in the series opener – funny thing was, they did it at home. Unless Washington reverts back to its offensive juggernaut form from two seasons ago, this series will be decided by two things: line-matching and goaltending.

In the opener, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh drew the Alex Ovechkin assignment and early on it was clear that Caps coach Dale Hunter would attempt to keep Ovie away from the duo. The question becomes, does the game of cat-and-mouse adversely affect the Caps or Blueshirts more? Early in the game, Ovechkin was jumping off and on the ice and though he had some decent chances in the game, he was far from dominant. But if Girardi and McDonagh log big minutes after a gruelling seven-gamer against Ottawa, fatigue may be a long-term concern.

In net, Braden Holtby had to make a big adjustment from the Boston series and the results were mixed. The young Washington netminder went from busy to bored and those long stretches without action against New York may have left him rusty on the two quick-strike goals in the third period. Henrik Lundqvist knows what it's like to face only a trickling of shots, so advantage Rangers early on.

Three Stars
1. Chris Kreider – The rookie used his speed and size to keep the Caps on their heels all game and his game-winning goal was the best shot of the afternoon (though there were few competitors in the category). Kreider was also trusted with last-minute duty when Washington pulled its goalie for an extended period.

2. Ruslan Fedotenko – A Stanley Cup veteran several times over, Fedotenko was a key penalty-killer for New York, especially on a Washington 5-on-3 that was killed off wholesale. He also set up the opening goal, doing most of the dirty work on Artem Anisimov's wraparound.

3. Ryan McDonagh – He had three of the Rangers' four shots in the first period and played a solid all-around game. Like Fedotenko, he was an excellent penalty-killer for the Blueshirts.

The Black Hole: Alexander Semin took two minor penalties and contributed nothing else to the scoresheet. He must be smarter from here on out, because this will be a frustrating series. Mike Green was also burned on the opening goal by both Fedotenko and Anisimov, whom he should have gained position on, but Semin's offense – not his petulance – will keep Washington alive.
- Ryan Kennedy

KINGS/BLUES, GAME 1: KINGS 3, BLUES 1 (KINGS LEAD SERIES 1-0)

THN’s Take: In winning Game 1 of their first round upset of the first-place, top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, the Los Angeles Kings showed they deserved to be in the playoffs. And in winning Game 1 of their second-round showdown with the powerhouse Blues – beating St. Louis 3-1 at their own defense-obsessed game – California’s sole remaining team showed they deserved to be seen as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup.

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The Kings surrendered the first goal of the night (a deflected shot no goalie could have stopped), but L.A. netminder Jonathan Quick continued performing with ice in his veins in the face of big-time pressure, turning aside the Blues’ 28 other shots with athleticism and confidence that was reflected in his teammates’ play. That belief allowed the Kings to storm back with three straight (including an empty-netter from Dustin Penner) and more than equaled the strong showing by Blues counterpart Brian Elliott, who stopped 26 of 28 shots.

Beside the empty net goal, Los Angeles got its offense not from cornerstones Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty or Jeff Carter, but from defensemen Slava Voynov and Matt Greene. That’s both troubling and inspiring for the Kings; they’ll definitely need their stars contributing on the scoresheet to win four games against the smart Blues, but receiving help from role players such as Greene and Voynov is one of the telltale signs of a team with a capability of moving far beyond the second round.

The Blues out-blocked the Kings 23-12, but because Quick outblocked Elliott, the Kings emerged victorious and stole home ice advantage. But before you go counting out St. Louis, remember they lost their first game of their first-round series against San Jose before winning the next four to eliminate them. That could happen here, but the only relatively sure thing is that the goalies will continue to be prominent.

Three Stars
1. Jonathan Quick – One of the first round’s hottest performers did not simmer down in the least in Game 1 against St. Louis, as Quick posted a .966 save percentage and improved his overall post-season SP to .955. If the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP were awarded today, Quick would win handily.

2. Dustin Brown – The Kings captain continued his hot post-season play, recording an assist on the game-winning, shorthanded goal; playing more shifts (27) than any other L.A. forward; and recording four-hits, second only to teammate Jarret Stoll. He is doing what the Kings are paying Richards much more to do.

3. Willie Mitchell – The L.A. blueliner played in all situations, was a game-high plus-2 in 24:02 of ice time and blocked more shots (three) than any of his teammates. The 35-year-old is playing like he knows there may not be too many more opportunities at a Cup and the Kings are reaping the rewards.

The Black Hole: Alex Steen wasn’t the only one of the Blues you could make a case for in this category. However, his pointless night on offense, combined with a minus-2 rating, was not the kind of line St. Louis needed from a guy who led the team with a plus-24 in the regular season. If the Blues aren’t to head back to L.A. down 2-0 in the series, the 28-year-old Steen – along with teammates Patrik Berglund, Andy McDonald and Kevin Shattenkirk – will need to do more in more than one aspect of the game.
- Adam Proteau

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