NHL Playoff Game Day 8: Penguins-Islanders; Canadiens-Senators; Blackhawks-Wild; Canucks-Sharks
The Islanders took advantage of a weak game from Marc-Andre Fleury and evened up their series with the heavily favored Pens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NHL Playoff Game Day 8: Penguins-Islanders; Canadiens-Senators; Blackhawks-Wild; Canucks-Sharks
Why New York won: Speed kills and the Islanders are killing it. For all the Penguins skills, New York is putting them back on their heels by playing a north-south game while not getting caught up chasing the puck around in their own end. The edict has been bang the body and chip it out. And Simple is proving very effective with the Isles forwards winning the puck races. Of course, facing a goalie who’s letting in one in every four shots helps, too.
Why Pittsburgh lost: All the concerns about Marc-Andre Fleury heading into the playoffs are coming to pass and all the defensive deficiencies that sprung up against the Flyers in last year Round 1 are rearing up again. Whether it’s the fact this squad hadn’t played much together as a full unit due to injuries or the fear of another playoff failure is creeping in and causing hesitation, the Pens are having a heck of a time getting out of their own zone and transitioning to the offensive end.
Play of the game: John Tavares’ drag move to the front of the net then staying with it to bang in his own rebound was the goal of the game. It just happens the best marker of the contest was also the game-winner.
1. John Tavares: The game-winner was his second goal of the series. And ‘JT’ isn’t just a force offensively - he’s been responsible defensively and even held his own physically (thanks in large part to some walk-the-line stickwork).
2. Casey Cizikas: His late insurance goal was a Fleury muck-up, but he deserves credit for getting to that spot and for his entire body of work both in generating offense – as evidenced by his two assists – and in getting under the skin of his opponents.
3. Kyle Okposo: His goal was also a result of a Fleury mishap, but there’s not a forward, other than Tavares, that Pittsburgh’s ‘D’ is struggling more with trying to contain. This series has been Okposo’s coming out party.
What's next: Did someone order a goalie controversy? The Penguins brought in Tomas Vokoun as an insurance policy and if ever there was a time to call upon him, it’s now. Pittsburgh can’t afford another egg in net and must make a move to solidify the crease. Vokoun doesn’t have the ability to steal a game the way Fleury does, but the Pens don’t need someone to win the game for them, just someone who won’t lose it. Vokoun is their better bet in that regard at this point. - Edward Fraser
Why Ottawa won: The Senators just didn’t quit. They were outplayed for two periods by a Montreal team that attacked up the middle and looked swifter and more disciplined than it did in the wild Game 3. In the third, however, Ottawa dominated, outshooting the Canadiens 13-4 and scoring two goals in the latter half of that frame to force overtime. The Sens threw 61 hits – 10 from Chris Neil – to Montreal’s 46 and beat their opponent into submission.
Why Montreal lost: This team has run out of gas, plain and simple. You can’t fault Montreal’s game plan tonight. Michel Therrien’s group didn’t get too carried away with chippy play and it won most of the foot races in the first two periods, largely thanks to an inspired effort from the Brandon Prust-Jeff Halpern-Alex Galchenyuk line. In the third, Montreal looked exhausted as it sat back on a 2-0 lead and held on for dear life. Prust was in visible agony after appearing to aggravate a shoulder injury and on the last play of regulation, Price went down with an undisclosed injury. That forced a cold Peter Budaj into duty and while Kyle Turris’ shot did bounce off Raphael Diaz’s arm, it didn’t help that Budaj’s reflexes were largely untested 2:32 into overtime.
Play of the game: Turris’ winner was rather fluky, so let’s give a props to a great pass by Daniel Alfredsson on the tying goal with 23 seconds left in regulation. Circling the net, the predictable play was to wheel to the wide side and make a centering pass. Instead, the wily ‘Alfie’ reversed the puck to his short side, catching the Habs napping and causing a scramble that led to Cory Conacher’s equalizer.
1. Kyle Turris: Ugly winner rewarded an already strong game. He finished with a goal and an assist, threw six hits and won 15 of 23 faceoffs.
2. Daniel Alfredsson: Second straight good game for the 40-year-old, who clearly has some fight left in him.
3. Alex Galchenyuk: Put the Habs up 2-0 early in the second with a laser of a wrist shot and skated hard all night.
What’s next: What a difference one period makes. It appeared Montreal would tie the series after playing a smart game and have a chance to take a stranglehold at the Bell Centre. Now, a defeated, banged up team will fight for its life. It’s possible Price and Prust won’t suit up for Game 5. I’ve said time and again that Montreal is the better team on paper. I still believe that, but the Habs are not a physical team as a whole and because they got too caught up in the early-series carnage, they are paying for it now. This team is worn out and hanging by a thread. – Matt Larkin
Why Chicago Won: The Hawks learned from Game 3, matching Minnesota's aggressive and fast play early and setting the Wild back a pace by scoring first. Of course, Chicago spent the last half of the game playing a lot safer after Minnesota starter Josh Harding was felled by a lower-body injury. His replacement was rookie and third-stringer Darcy Kuemper, who let the first shot he faced in.
Why Minnesota Lost: Don't blame the goaltending. Though the Wild started off well, this team still has yet to score on the power play, despite numerous opportunities on the night and the return of Jason Pominville, who manned the point on the first unit alongside Ryan Suter. Minnesota showed flashes of the devil-may-care play that won them Game 3, but not enough.
Play of the Game: It's not a heroic sequence, but when Jonathan Toews crashed into Harding, it may have been the beginning of the end for Minnesota's season.
1. Patrick Sharp: The slick-shooting speedster was a load for Minnesota to handle and the Wild just couldn't slow him down. He opened up the scoring on a tip, then welcomed Kuemper to the playoffs with a wire that the kid couldn't handle.
2. Corey Crawford: Perhaps ignored at the other end of the ice, Crawford was great in net for Chicago, stopping all 25 shots but more importantly, shutting down the Wild on two consecutive third-period power plays.
3. Darcy Kuemper: Other than the first shot from Sharp, the rookie more than held his own (and won't even get tagged with the loss). Under trying circumstances, he didn't wilt.
What's Next: Does anybody have a phone number for Manny Fernandez? It may come to that if the Wild goalies can't get well. Niklas Backstrom did sit on the bench in the third period, but was it for anything other than show? Harding didn't look too good when he left and Kuemper can't be expected to stave off elimination for the Wild next game. This series may already be over unless Backstrom or Harding completely heal – and quick. - Ryan Kennedy
Why San Jose won: The Sharks were able to weather Vancouver’s desperate effort that went up a notch in the third period by taking advantage of the power play, scoring three man-advantage goals. Joe Pavelski continued to be a menace and was the difference between overtime and this series going back to Vancouver.
Why Vancouver lost: Complain about refereeing all you want, but the best teams kill off big penalties and dig deep. Heck, the best teams don’t fall behind 3-0 in a series in the first place. The Canucks didn’t really start going all out and showing any gumption until the third period of Game 4, but that left them little room for error. They erred. They lost. C’est la vie.
Play of the game: “A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently.” That is the rulebook wording of the boarding penalty. Tommy Wingels is defenseless facing the boards at that distance, so if you hit him towards the boards, you run the risk of getting the boarding penalty. Daniel Sedin’s hit caused a violent impact, which sent the Sharks to the power play in OT, where they ended the game and Vancouver’s season. Debate the call if you must, but it’s neither egregious enough to get upset over, nor the reason Vancouver is out.
1. Alex Burrows: Even though they lost, the Canucks put up their best effort yet and Burrows was buzzing all game. He got an assist and a pretty go-ahead goal that looked like it would stand up as the winner.
2. Joe Pavelski: He was a bee in Vancouver’s bonnet all series and stung them once more by killing their momentum with the game-tying goal. He also scored San Jose’s second goal of the game that gave them their second lead of the first period.
3. Patrick Marleau: The OT hero scored some big goals this series. He scored the insurance marker in Game 1, the last minute tying goal in Game 2, the dagger goal in Game 3 and the series-clincher in Game 4.
What’s next: San Jose looks ahead with tons of confidence and optimism after this sweep that included a couple clutch wins. This is the first time San Jose has swept anybody and it was earned; it showed a lot of “umph” to finish this game. This question is messier for the Canucks though. Surely a final decision will have to be made on their goalies, but what else? How much of this team do you rearrange, when you consider it’s still in control of its division? If one thing is for sure, this is probably the last time Alain Vigneault will be the head man on Vancouver's bench. – Rory Boylen