Wild First Weekend for the NHL
During the long, extensive and brutal months of the 113-day National Hockey League work stoppage, fans, repeatedly, had a sense of optimism only to be fooled and left in the dark by the greedy owners.
Fear no more.
During the wee morning hours of Wednesday, Jan. 6 and after a 16-hour bargaining session in New York, the NHL and the Players Association came to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The deal ended the ongoing madness and most importantly, put hockey back in business.
With a shortened 48-game regular season schedule that features only divisional and conference games, the puck finally dropped last weekend.
And what a weekend it turned out to be with an entire slate of non-stop hockey, which began with numerous marquee divisional rivalries.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers
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In case you missed it, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers–two heavyweights that can’t stand one another–went toe-to-toe in one of the fiercest, dirtiest, exciting and entertaining playoff series the NHL has ever seen last spring.
The Penguins and Flyers went after one another on the ice, literally. The two clubs racked up 312 combined penalty minutes in the six-game series, with the Flyers knocking out the Penguins in the sixth round with a 4-2 series win to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
So, last Saturday’s game proved to be quite the encore between the two teams, nonetheless.
This time however, the battle wasn’t nearly as tenacious as last spring’s playoff series. Rather, it featured a pair of highly skilled teams, who appeared to keep their first in their pockets, and play hockey.
And what a game it turned out to be.
Less than five minutes into the contest, the Penguins got on the board via the power play. Defenseman Paul Martin fired a slap shot that deflected in mid-air into the back of the net.
The goal gave the visitors an early 1-0 advantage in the wake of loud boos chiming down from the 19,994 on hand inside Wells Fargo Arena.
The Penguins didn’t let off the gas. Just minutes later, the Penguins won an offensive zone faceoff and left-winger James Neal fired a snap shot passed Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to make it a 2-0 contest less than 10 minutes in.
The Flyers responded just 0:23 seconds into the second stanza when Claude Giroux received a nifty saucer pass from Scott Hartnell and buried the puck passed Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to cut the deficit to 2-1.
It remained a one-goal affair down to the final minute of regulation with the Flyers on the penalty kill, but left-winger Chris Kunitz found the puck on his stick and tapped it into the empty net to seal the victory for the Penguins.
Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings
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The unveiling of the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup championship banner combined with the dishing out of their rings was a moment that will forever be cemented in the history of the organization.
The Kings set an NHL record by leading all four playoff series 3-0 and won 10 road games. Their journey to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup saw them never even face a slight prospect of elimination, while trailing just 184 minutes during their championship run.
The Kings were celebrating their first ever championship. Perhaps the defending champions were too awestruck by the pre-game festivities, because the Chicago Blackhawks arrived inside Staples Center and spoiled the hometown party in front of 18,545.
Less than four minutes into the contest, the Blackhawks found themselves with a 5-on-3 advantage. Patrick Kane had the puck and circled near the blue line in the offensive zone before dishing it to Marian Hossa. Hossa then fed the puck back to Kane who one-timed it passed Kings net-minder Jonathan Quick.
Up 1-0 and still in the first period, Hossa darted down the right lane into the offensive zone. Hossa centered the puck to the front of the net and it deflected into the net to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
Michael Frolik added another score, giving the Blackhawks a commanding 3-0 edge at the first intermission.
Just over a minute into the second period, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews fired a wrist shot passed Quick to extend the lead to 4-0.
The Kings answered with their first goal of the contest, but by then the deficit proved to be too large, as the Blackhawks skated to a 5-2 victory.
Detroit Red Wings at St. Louis Blues
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On a night that saw the unfortunate passing of the greatest Cardinal to ever play the game of baseball – Stan Musial – the Blues defended their home ice against their bitter rivals of Detroit.
Rookie sensation Valdimir Tarasenko netted his first-career goal in the first period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead over the veteran Red Wings.
Forward Chris Stewart, who received a one-year contract this season to further prove that he’s worth a contract extension, fired a shot passed Detroit’s Jimmy Howard for a power play goal – the first of four occurrences for the Blues.
Tarasenko added another goal to his already impressive night in the second period, making it a 3-0 contest.
By then, the route was on. The Red Wings simply couldn’t match the Blues dominance both offensively and defensively.
Shorthanded, the Blues’ T.J. Oshie launched a wrist shot passed Howard for a 4-0 lead. And the third period saw Stewart and fellow forward Andy McDonald score, capping the 6-0 blowout over the Red Wings.
On a night where No. 6 passed away, it was fitting to see the Blues score six goals.
New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
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After the Rangers held on to win the Atlantic division with 109 points and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, they entered 2013 with a chip on their shoulders.
Reaching the conference finals appeared to be a great accomplishment, but the celebration quickly evaporated into thin air as the New Jersey Devils disposed of the Rangers in six games.
But it was the hometown Bruins who proved their dominance in this game.
Nearly 15 minutes into the first period, the Rangers were caught in a line change.
Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference feathered an outlet pass to David Krejci, who powered a slap shot off the pads of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and onto the stick of Milan Lucic, who buried the puck in the back of the net to give the Bruins 1-0 lead.
Boston’s Daniel Paille notched his first goal of the season on a tip-in and the Bruins looked like they were in complete control.
But the Rangers responded when Brad Richards fired a shot passed Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, narrowing the deficit to 2-1.
But the Bruins capped the victory when Johnny Boychuk netted his first goal of the season to give the Bruins the 3-1 victory.
Phoenix Coyotes at Dallas Stars
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Phoenix's stellar postseason run last spring would surely give them momentum heading into 2013. Or would it?
Phoenix deflated Chicago in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, winning the series 4-2 before making quick work of Nashville in five games to reach the conference finals.
Newly signed winger and long-time NHL player Jaromir Jagr proved his game is still up to par by firing a wrist shot passed Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith with less than two minutes remaining in the first period to give the Stars a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
Unlike the first period, the second and third frames featured a bundle of offensive firepower from both clubs.
Phoenix’s Lauri Korpikoski nodded the game at 1-1 with a power play goal in the second period. The Coyotes gained their first lead of the game on another power play goal off the stick of Radim Vrbata.
But the Stars fought back to even the contest at 2-2 thanks to Jagr’s second score of the game.
The seesaw battle continued into the final 20 minutes. Dallas took a 3-2 lead with Ray Whitney’s first goal of the season on the power play. The Coyotes nodded the game once more when Vrbata added his second goal of the contest.
Tied 3-3 and over 13-minutes into the third period, Dallas forward Loui Eriksson wristed a shot passed Smith to give the Stars a 4-3 advantage and the victory.