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NHL Playoff Game Day 7: Maple Leafs-Bruins; Rangers-Capitals; Red Wings-Ducks; Kings-Blues

The Bruins spoiled the party in Toronto, with a 5-2 win to take a 2-1 series lead. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

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The Bruins spoiled the party in Toronto, with a 5-2 win to take a 2-1 series lead. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

GAME 3: BOSTON 5, TORONTO 2 - BRUINS LEAD 2-1

Why Boston won: The Bruins took a 2-1 series lead not because they were the better team in each period. Indeed, as the game went on, the Leafs had Boston increasingly on their heels and the Bruins wound up being outshot 19-6 in the third period and 48-38 on the night. However, goalie Tuukka Rask only was beaten twice by Toronto scorers, which allowed Bruins scorers to pounce when the Leafs made a slew of second-period mistakes. Boston would score five times in total, but their three goals in the middle frame ultimately was all they needed.

Why Toronto lost: The Leafs defense corps was a mess yet again and every Leaf who saw the ice other than Colton Orr was a minus player. Yes, Toronto needs to generate more offense – and an early third-period goal by Phil Kessel was a positive sign in that regard for Game 4 Wednesday – but the Leafs gave up 32 shots in the first two periods and you can’t give up four goals to the Bruins and expect to win. Had the Leafs played the entire game in the manner they played the third, the result might have been very different. But they didn’t and it wasn’t.

Play of the game: A mere 50 seconds after Toronto cut Boston’s 2-0 lead in half on a Jake Gardiner goal, a glaring turnover by Ryan O’Byrne led to Nathan Horton’s third goal in as many playoff games. And a miscue by Mark Fraser two minutes later gave the Bruins an insurmountable 4-1 lead after 40 minutes. Toronto’s comparatively strong third period couldn’t undo the damage the Bruins did in the last six minutes of the second.



Three stars

1. Tuukka Rask: He hasn’t been the focal point of the series, but Rask will be soon enough if he continues his outstanding play. The Finn improved his playoff save percentage to .929 and his 46 saves were a career high.

2. Zdeno Chara: Boston’s captain played the most minutes (27:31) of any skater and was tied with teammate Johnny Boychuk for most hits (seven). That he did so without a single turnover – by contrast, Dennis Seidenberg had five giveaways in 26:02 – only underscores how stable Chara is night in and night out.

3. David Krecji: Czech center had a goal and three points and now leads all playoff performers in points (seven) and plus/minus (plus-5).

What's Next: It’s only the fourth game of the series, but it might as well be a do or die for the Leafs, who would have a foot-and-a-half in the grave if the Bruins go up 3-1 in the series heading back to Boston for Game 5 Friday. Toronto simply cannot afford any type of prolonged mental lapse, as the Bruins clearly are capable of capitalizing whenever they do. – Adam Proteau

GAME 3: NY RANGERS 4, WASHINGTON 3 - CAPITALS LEAD 2-1

Why New York won: A combination of brute force and wanting it more. One reason I liked the Rangers as a playoff sleeper team: their big, deep, physical group of forwards. They don’t always generate a ton of goals but their bruising style, when deployed right, is tailor-made for playoff hockey. Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and company bludgeoned the Capitals on the forecheck all night long and their skill players like Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard won battle after battle in the corners. The Rangers fed off the raucous Madison Square Garden crowd and outhit Washington 33-22.

Why Washington lost: Though the Caps were impressive erasing a Ranger lead twice in Game 3, they couldn’t match the Rangers’ compete level. Not one of their forwards stood out and that’s a problem when your team boasts Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro. They took too many bad penalties and while they killed five of six infractions, all the time in the box kept Ovechkin off the ice and out of his rhythm.

Play of the game: Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh didn’t get an assist on Derek Stepan’s winner in the third period, but the goal wouldn’t have happened without him. He showed outstanding hands and poise keeping the puck in Washington’s zone, straddling the line and deking out Ovechkin of all people to get the puck deep, setting up a Zuccarello-to-Nash-to-Stepan tic-tac-toe.



Three Stars
1. Derick Brassard: Tallied a goal and two assists, plus five hits. Shows more fight in the trenches than he gets credit for. Including the regular season, now has 14 points in 16 games as a Ranger.

2. Brian Boyle:  Finding his game after an awful regular season. A goal and an assist, 14-7 on faceoffs, played 20-plus minutes.

3. Ryan McDonagh: Steady as always and made the crucial play to set up Stepan’s go-ahead goal.

What’s next: The Rangers showed they aren’t ready to roll over and die by any means and their physical style can wear down an opponent and shift the advantage in their favor as a series progresses. The Caps must make some adjustments if they don’t want to head back to D.C. tied at two games apiece. It was open season on goalie Braden Holtby in Game 3. The big Blueshirt forwards buzzed the net. Washington’s defense must do a better job clearing the crease. More importantly, the Caps have to get Ovechkin going again. He had no points and just two shots in Game 3 and the Caps tried to force the puck onto his stick during a crucial late power play almost to make up for lost time. They need their best player(s) involved for a full 60 minutes next time.  – Matt Larkin

GAME 4: DETROIT 3, ANAHEIM 2 (OT) - SERIES TIED 2-2

Why Detroit won: The Red Wings had a step on the Ducks all night and, as is often the case, sweat beats skills. Pavel Datsyuk was his usual brilliant self throughout and the Detroit D-corps, led by Niklas Kronwall, stood tall and won the majority of the battles in front and in the corners. This was a full-team effort from the Wings, where no one other than Datsyuk really stood out – and that’s a good thing.
 
Why Anaheim lost: You can only rely on your goalie for so long before it goes pear shaped. The Ducks were outplayed badly for most of the night and it was only Jonas Hiller’s play that kept this from being a one-sided affair decided long before extra time. If the Ducks lose this series, they’ll look back on this game and wonder why they didn’t play with more fire when they had the Wings on the ropes.
 
Play of the game: There's six weeks of playoff hockey to go, but you won't see a better shot than the one unleashed by Datsyuk to tie the game at 2-2. It's was a perfectly placed laser, not in the corner where a puck can be flagged down by the trapper, but right in the dead space between the glove and shoulder. Popping the water bottle was the icing on the cake.


 
Three Stars
1. Pavel Datsyuk: Generated several scoring chances beyond the tying goal and set the tone physically, something the Wings need more of from players not named Kronwall or Cleary (or Abdelkader when he’s in the lineup).
 
2. Jonas Hiller: 46 saves, many in the how-did-that-stay-out?! vein.
 
3. Emerson Etem: Stood out for his speed, which almost potted him the go-ahead goal on a sweet in-tight forehand/backhand move on a semi-breakaway before his play down low help created the 2-1 tally.
 
What's next: Just when it looked like the Red Wings lack of depth would be their undoing they get goals from Damien Brunner, who’d scored just twice in the final 25 games of the regular season, and Brendan Smith, he of one goal in 51 games prior. The Ducks are getting production from up and down the lineup with 10 different players having found the back of the net. If Detroit can find the same balance, they’ll pull the upset. - Edward Fraser

GAME 4: LOS ANGELES 4, ST. LOUIS 3 – SERIES TIED 2-2

Why Los Angeles won: Their stubbornness at Staples that helped the Kings to the league’s best home record is what willed them to a narrow Game 4 win. There was a notable dip in intensity in this match as fatigue caught up to the two teams. But instead of the lull working to St. Louis’ advantage, the Kings showed off an ability to battle in the face of adversity – something they never had to do on their Stanley Cup run. Great sign.

Why St. Louis lost: While the Blues had to hold their heads high after Game 3’s tough loss in a great game, this one has to bite. While neither team was at its best, the Blues jumped out to a 2-0 and, in a series that has been very low scoring to date, shouldn’t have allowed Los Angeles back. But that’s just what they did 10 minutes later. St. Louis didn’t finish strong enough, failing to register a shot in the first 10 minutes of the final frame and not coming close to setting up an opportunity with Brian Elliott pulled.

Play of the game: With the Kings trailing 3-2 in the third, Dustin Brown showed off all his tools. After using his brute strength to move from behind the net to control the puck along the boards, he made a quick pivot, took one look and whipped a beautiful pass right onto the stick of the incoming Anze Kopitar for a tip-in. With that goal, the Kings tied the game for the second time, but didn’t look back on this one.



Three stars
1. Justin Williams: Scored his second huge goal of the series. After potting the last-minute game-tying goal that sent Game 1 to OT, Williams connected on a tip-in for the winner in Game 4.

2. Mike Richards: The wily vet wasn’t great on the draw, winning 44 percent, but his two assists were huge. Both times he jumped on loose pucks – one was a solid pass, the other was a redirected shot.

3. T.J. Oshie: The little fireball got on the board with two goals in the prime real estate areas. His first was a tipped shot and his second was a rebound off the rush. This is a great example of why plus-minus is a useless stat for figuring a player’s value, since Oshie was a minus-3.

What’s next: You can bet Game 5 in St. Louis will be back to the high tempo workout we saw in Games 1, 2 and 3. Every game has been decided be one goal between these teams so far and now it’s down to a best-of-three series. It’s up to the Blues to hold home ice with a win the next time out, because if it goes the other way, Los Angeles will go back to its favorite place to play looking for the knockout punch. It’s too tight to predict this one, but bet on it being close to the bitter end with a weird bounce or bad penalty playing a decisive factor. The series has been too close for many shenanigans, but if one of these next games becomes a blowout it could get nasty. – Rory Boylen

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