NHL Playoffs 2012: Three Stars from Thursday Night's Games

Tim MackayCorrespondent IApril 13, 2012

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 12: Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals stops a shot in the third period against the Boston Bruins  in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 12, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

For hockey fans, what could have possibly been better than Thursday night's 2012 NHL Playoff games?

Three of the four match-ups went to overtime. To steal a baseball phrase, "free hockey" is always entertaining and it's even more fun in the playoffs. 

Of course, with great hockey comes great individual performances. In an absolutely spectacular night of hockey, here's a look at the best from Thursday night in the NHL:


Third Star: Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

For a goalie playing in his first NHL playoff game, it was almost perfect for Braden Holtby. 

Officially, he recorded a shutout and that alone should earn him some props. For sixty minutes, Holtby turned away all 29 Bruins shots and did everything the Capitals asked of him. He made 26 of those saves in the first two periods and was the main reason the Caps made it to overtime. 

Unfortunately—and unfairly—for Holtby, he couldn't stop everything, letting a Chris Kelly slapshot elude him just 1:18 into the extra frame. 

On a night where his teammates were practically invisible, Holtby stepped up and gave his team a chance to win.

It's a good sign for the Capitals going into game two. 


Second Star: Ryan Callahan, RW, New York Rangers

Thursday night's second star didn't exactly tear up the score-sheet. 

Callahan did open the scoring for the New York Rangers against the Ottawa Senators, sliding a forehand past Craig Anderson that seemed to set the tone for a solid Rangers victory. But it wasn't so much what Callahan did as to how he did it. 

For example, his goal saw him, a 190-pound forward, shake off Filip Kuba, a 230-pound defenseman. 

The Rangers' captain was all over the ice. He had seven hits, killed penalties, blocked shots and proved that he is clearly the straw that stirs the drink in New York.

He's a playoff hero waiting to happen. 


First Star: Mike Smith, G, Phoenix Coyotes

The surprise player of the regular season might end up being the surprise player of the post-season. 

Mike Smith faced an absolute barrage from the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, stopping 43 of their 45 shots including 18 in the third period. While he bent slightly on Brent Seabrook's late game-tying goal, Smith never broke.

He was dominant, consistent and the best player in the NHL Thursday night.  

For a team like the Coyotes, who are often overlooked, establishing themselves amongst the best teams in the Western Conference will come only after a series win over the Blackhawks. 

And thanks to Smith, the Coyotes are on their way. 


Honorable Mentions: Martin Havlat, RW, San Jose Sharks; Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks; Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers; Chris Kelly, C, Boston Bruins