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Joel Ward penalty costs Capitals series advantage; Mike Smith levels up to Round 3

The Rangers went ahead 3-2 in their series with Washington after Marc Staal's Game 5 overtime winner. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The Rangers went ahead 3-2 in their series with Washington after Marc Staal's Game 5 overtime winner. (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 5: RANGERS 3, CAPITALS 2 (OT) (RANGERS LEAD SERIES 3-2)

THN’s Take: Why is it so easy, for the objective, unbiased hockey fan, to cheer against a team coached by John Tortorella and favor a squad guided by Dale Hunter instead?

Could be because Tortorella is one of the crustiest, ill-mannered individuals to come down the pike since Ebenezer Scrooge. And it could be because Hunter, a working-class coach, is getting his skilled Washington lineup to buy into a system that knocked off the defending Cup champion Bruins and was threatening to move ahead 3-2 against the top seed in the East New York Rangers.

All that changed in the final minute of regulation time in Game 5 when a Joel Ward double-minor led to New York scoring the tying goal with seven seconds remaining and the winner 95 seconds into overtime. So what was looking like another playoff upset, in a spring full of upsets, is now a commanding series lead for the odds-on statistical favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

The Capitals deserved a better fate Monday night. Yes, they were outplayed by a wide margin in the first period, but they held it together thanks to goalie Braden Holtby and eked out a couple of goals. Question now is, do they have the fortitude to rally from a heart-breaking setback to win Game 6 in Washington and force a deciding game back at Madison Square Garden?

The magic has been on Hunter's side so far. This will be his biggest challenge to date.

Three Stars
1. Braden Holtby – Washington's third-string goalie when the season began continued his exceptional post-season play in relief of Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun. He made a ton of key saves early when the Rangers came out of the gate firing on all cylinders holding a 17-4 shot lead after the first period. The nice thing about Holtby's sterling performance is that we didn't have to watch an isolation camera replay of his stressed parents after every key save.

2. Brad Richards – With just seconds left in Game 5 and the Rangers trailing, Richards forced a shot under the glove of Holtby and under the arm of John Carlson on the power play to tie the score and sent the game into overtime. His leadership and never-say-die attitude is exactly what the Rangers were hoping for when they made him last summer's marquee free agent signing. Richards also dominated the faceoff circle in Game 5 going 12-6 and led all forwards with 23 minutes of playing time.

3. Dan Girardi – It's too easy to give a game star to the guy who scores the overtime winner. And yes, sure, Marc Staal wouldn't look out of place in this slot, but it's Girardi who is the lifeblood of the New York defense, whether it be blocking shots, delivering hits or facing Washington's top snipers. Girardi led all players with more than 25 minutes time on ice.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Joel Ward's skate of shame out of the penalty box at the end of the third period and again after overtime must be one of the loneliest moments in all of sport. The fourth-line winger was on the ice in the final minute helping nurse a one-goal lead. Instead, he took a double minor for high-sticking and watched as the Rangers took control of the series with a pair of power play goals.
- Brian Costello

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PREDATORS/COYOTES, GAME 5: COYOTES 2, PREDATORS 1 (COYOTES WIN SERIES 4-1)

THN’s Take: Less than two months ago neither the Los Angeles Kings, nor the Phoenix Coyotes were in the West’s top eight. And now here we are, with perhaps the most unlikely conference final imaginable.

The good story train kept delivering to Coyotes fans all day. Hours after the announcement Greg Jamison has a tentative agreement in place to take over ownership in Glendale, Phoenix advanced to its first third round. You could say the curse of the Jets has been lifted since this magic happened the same year Winnipeg got its NHL team back. But not even Winnipeg accomplished this in the NHL.

Celebration in Phoenix contrasts deprivation in Nashville. This was supposed to be the year where it all came together. Nashville had lined itself up to prove they were second to none and back up strong words from high in management. This run was going to have a major impact on the futures of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, if not by convincing competitiveness, then by earning finances.

But offense made it all crash down for the Predators. Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn created a sideshow and didn’t contribute their strengths in the last game. Weber and Suter failed to play backup to the forwards in creating goals. Pekka Rinne was excellent, but Nashville went out with a whimper. For all their efforts, nothing changed this year – and that’s a shame.

Phoenix will surely go in as the underdog to Los Angeles, but when analyzing the stat sheets on both teams a warning should read “objects on paper are closer than they appear.”

Mike Smith makes any series closer for Phoenix and their snakebite offense is paralyzing at first strike. The way Smith is proving doubters wrong makes this whole Phoenix run feel like a video game with progressively more difficult bosses. With one Vezina finalist down, Smith moves on to Jonathan Quick. And if all goes as Nintendo intended, a showdown with Vezina and Hart finalist Henrik Lundqvist would be the final task.

It’s fun to think about anyway.

Three Stars
1. Mike Smith – Who else? Nothing more can be said about this guy’s play than has already been said, so: 32 saves. The only hiccup was an attempt to score in an empty net goal, which turned into an icing and one last chance for Nashville.

2. Derek Morris – Has been a rock on Phoenix’s defense. His goal was the first of the game, which is always a huge development for the Yotes. He also logged the most minutes on his team and was a major reason Nashville’s power play was useless.

3. Oliver Ekman-Larsson – The kid is earning quality penalty kill time. He does everything quietly, but efficiently, which makes him as effective mentally as someone nearly twice his age.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
Whether or not Shea Weber was injured will quickly be figured out now that Nashville is done. The question has to be asked because he was so ineffective against Phoenix. He logged a ton of minutes, but didn’t kick start the team in any of them. He can’t be happy having to sit on this all summer.
- Rory Boylen

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