For the American puckhead, Sunday afternoon and evening was the Fourth of July in February. The NHL’s joint television abode of NBC and the NBC Sports Network delivered nine periods of action over nine continuous hours of game coverage for Hockey Day in America.
All three contests would be decided by a single goal with the three victors logging a cumulative nine lit lamps. The Pittsburgh Penguins led off with a 4-3 triumph at Buffalo, the Chicago Blackhawks warded off the Los Angeles Kings in a 3-2 decision and the New York Rangers nipped Washington, 2-1.
In keeping with the numerical motif, here are nine noteworthy highlights from Sunday’s nationally televised action, evenly split to include three from each game.
The Sabres perked up after falling behind, 2-0, with less than 90 seconds off the clock, and spaced two unanswered strikes over the first two periods. A subsequent flurry of five unanswered shots culminated in Steve Ott’s wrister from the slot to give Buffalo a 3-2 advantage.
Pascal Dupuis retorted on Pittsburgh’s behalf less than two minutes after Ott’s go-ahead goal, setting up a 12-minute, 54-second mini-game with a 3-3 deadlock at hand.
The 3-3 knot would stay intact for the next 10 minutes and 50 seconds of game action. In the interim, contesting goaltenders Ryan Miller and Marc-Andre Fleury combined for 12 saves.
While the better part of those dozen shots (eight) were directed at Fleury, the home stopper won the visual contest when he gloved James Neal’s salsa-laden biscuit to stop play with 3:08 remaining.
The din from invasive Penguins fans at the First Niagara Center for Paul Martin all but matched the decibels of the applauding Buffalo masses for Miller moments prior. Martin’s straightaway slapper eluded a forest of screening bodies and beat Miller for the deciding strike with 2:04 left in regulation.
The Pens and Sabres would trade but one more shot on each other’s goals afterward with Fleury repelling a wrister from Christian Ehrhoff to preserve the 4-3 win.
Even elite talents cannot always get by solely on pure, unadulterated skill.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews demonstrated an exemplary and rewarding understanding of that fact when his team went on the power play with a chance to augment their 1-0 lead. He crashed the Kings net to import a spot-on pass from point patroller Duncan Keith and then lunged after his own rebound to shovel home the conversion at 10:32 of the first period.
Jonathan Toews’ goal, the first of three unanswered by the Blackhawks, stood as the prospective decider until he was cited for high-sticking Drew Doughty with 8:02 to spare in regulation.
That infraction gave Mike Richards and the rest of the Kings’ power-play brigade a chance for an encore on their icebreaker from the 56-second mark. As it happened, the team that is buried among the NHL’s bottom 10 in man-advantage success reaped a little more cooking from Richards’ acetylene stick at the expense of one of the top three penalty-killing clubs.
With 7:10 left, Richards gave Toews a premature, unwanted bailout whilst whittling his team’s deficit down to 3-2 with a homeward-bound 50-foot slapper.
The uncharacteristic special teams successes on each end could only bend, not break the Blackhawks. Their third PK segment came in the climactic phases of the contest, and in six-on-four form with Johnny Oduya boxed for slashing, Jonathan Quick was benched in favor of an extra attacker with 64 seconds left.
When it mattered most, the Kings would not pester Chicago goaltender Ray Emery this time, failing to reach the net on three attempted shot. The last recorded play was the aforementioned Keith’s block on a Justin Williams' bid with five seconds on the clock.
The timing of the final horn, which sounded at 5:59 Eastern (4:59 local), made for a seamless transition for all channel surfers going from NBC to the NBC Sports Network, which carried the day’s finale in Manhattan.
On that note…
It is hard to find any netminder who had a more commendable period in Sunday’s action than the Capitals’ Braden Holtby in the opening stanza of his visit to the Rangers. That is, perhaps, other than Quick, who turned away 20 out of 21 Blackhawks bids in his second stanza, though his one blunder there turned out to be the winning goal.
Returning to the site where his surprise rookie run to the halfway mark of the 2012 playoffs ended nine months ago, Holtby repelled each of the 20 New York shots to freeze a 1-0 advantage through the first intermission.
Five of those saves were spaced over two of Washington’s first three penalty kills, including a pair in the final minute of play, as well as three short-handed stabs by the Rangers.
Leads were in mind-boggling peril at NHL mansions on both sides of New York State Sunday. The third lead change of the day, on top of the two in Buffalo, occurred early in the final period at Madison Square Garden after the Rangers had drawn a 1-1 knot the previous frame.
On a power play in the fifth minute, Brad Richards found an open Michael Del Zotto, who had ventured down from his point perch on the far side. Del Zotto returned the biscuit in the other direction, although further south where Derek Stepan was raring to rake it into the backdoor.
While it was not quite as dramatic as the Johnny Oduya penalty kill in Chicago, Rick Nash forced the Rangers penalty killers to safeguard their one-goal edge, short-handed in the latter half of the third period.
After drawing the tripping infraction with 6:56 remaining, Alexander Ovechkin charged up Washington’s only two shots on the ensuing five-on-four advantage. Henrik Lundqvist turned both away, assuring Nash his originally scheduled jailbreak and would successfully deal with only two more bids during a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled.