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Biggest Takeaways from Friday's NHL Playoff Action

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IMay 4, 2013

Biggest Takeaways from Friday's NHL Playoff Action

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    The fourth night of the 2013 NHL playoffs featured the return of Sidney Crosby to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup after he missed 13 games with a jaw injury.

    Even though he played well, Crosby was unable to help the Penguins take a 2-0 series lead. The New York Islanders were able to even the series with an impressive 4-3 victory.

    The Montreal Canadiens also avoided a 2-0 series deficit with a bounce-back game from star goaltender Carey Price, who stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced.

    In the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks both took 2-0 leads in their respective series with impressive performances.

    Let's look at the biggest takeaways from Friday night's playoff action, but first, here's a recap of the scores from the four games:

    • Montreal 3, Ottawa 1 (Series tied 1-1)
    • New York 4, Pittsburgh 3 (Series tied 1-1)
    • Chicago 5, Minnesota 2 (Blackhawks lead 2-0)
    • San Jose 3, Vancouver 2 (Sharks lead 2-0)

Marc-Andre Fleury Plays Poorly; Will Goalie Controversy Begin?

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    Marc-Andre Fleury was fantastic in the Penguins' Game 1 victory over the Islanders on Wednesday, but he was the team's most disappointing player in Friday's 4-3 Game 2 loss.

    Pittsburgh's starting goaltender allowed two soft goals that allowed the Islanders to even the series after the Penguins jumped out to a 3-1 first-period lead.

    With a little under 10 minutes left in the second period, Matt Martin pounced on a loose puck that caromed off the end boards for a goal to cut the Penguins lead to 3-2 (video here). Fleury was unable to retreat back to his post and prevent Martin from scoring an important, confidence-boosting goal for New York.

    On the Islanders' winning goal (video here) with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining in regulation, Fleury couldn't handle a bouncing puck off the end boards and ended up putting it into his own net. For a goaltender of his quality, these kinds of goals just cannot happen during the playoffs.

    For the Penguins to not only win this series but also have a strong chance to win the Stanley Cup, Fleury has to play like a legitimate No. 1 goaltender.

    If he continues to disappoint, Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma will have to consider starting veteran backup Tomas Vokoun. He went 13-4 with a .919 save percentage during the regular season.

Islanders Tie Series with Penguins After Confidence-Boosting Win

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    Just like in Game 1, the Islanders did not play well in the first period of Friday's matchup against the Penguins. They quickly fell behind 2-0 before going into the first intermission down 3-1.

    Facing a possible 2-0 series deficit, this young Islanders team raised their performance and dominated the Penguins in the second period to score two goals and tie the game heading into the final 20 minutes.

    When Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was unable to handle a shot off the boards, New York protected its 4-3 lead with impressive defense and determination in the last 10 minutes of regulation.

    This was a huge win for an inexperienced team that will be full of confidence heading into Game 3 at the Nassau Coliseum on Sunday. The Islanders showed a lot of poise and composure in the second period, which is when they seized momentum of the game and created more scoring opportunities than the Penguins.

    Not only did they outshoot (42-33) and outwork the Penguins in the last 40 minutes of this game, the Islanders also limited their mistakes and did not crumble under the playoff pressure.

    For the Islanders to have any chance of pulling off a historic upset of the Penguins, they needed to win at least one game on the road to prove to themselves that Pittsburgh is a beatable team.

    Even though they are still the favorites, all of the pressure is on Crosby and the Penguins as the series shifts to Long Island for Game 3.

Canadiens' Role Players Step Up with Top-6 Forwards out of the Lineup

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    With Brian Gionta, Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller out of the lineup in Game 2 because of injuries, the Montreal Canadiens needed their role players to step up and produce offensively.

    These players accepted the challenge and played a major role in Montreal's 3-1 victory to even its series with the Ottawa Senators.

    After a goalless first period, depth forward Ryan White opened the scoring for the Canadiens just 3:20 into the second period. Then 53 seconds later, rookie winger Brendan Gallagher scored his second goal in as many games to give Montreal a 2-0 advantage.

    Toward the end of the second period, Michael Ryder scored his first goal of the series to increase the Canadiens' lead to 3-1. They would protect it for the rest of the game.

    Veteran winger Travis Moen also played a larger role in the offense with a season-high 17:00 of ice time.

    Since the Senators play great defense (ranked second in GAA during regular season), kill penalties very well (had top-ranked PK in regular season) and have a hot goaltender in Craig Anderson, all four of the Canadiens lines have to generate scoring chances. Without a dominant offensive player, Montreal needs a collective effort.

    The Canadiens ranked fourth in goals scored this season because of their impressive scoring depth. They will need it to win this series if Pacioretty and Gionta miss any more games.

Terrible Second Periods Are Forcing Senators to Play Catch-Up in Final Period

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    Catch-up hockey is losing hockey, and this is the situation that the Senators are putting themselves in by playing terribly in the second periods of both games at the Bell Centre this week.

    The Canadiens have outscored their Northeast Division rivals 5-1 in the second period this series. That has put a lot of pressure on Senators goaltender Craig Anderson to be perfect in the third period.

    Ottawa was able to stage a remarkable comeback with three third-period goals and great goaltending from Anderson in Game 1, but the team was unable to give a similar performance on Friday.

    For a club that scored the fewest goals of any playoff team during the regular season, the Senators don't have the offensive firepower to consistently score multiple times in the third period against an elite goaltender like Carey Price.

    Making matters worse is the fact that Ottawa's power play is 0-of-6 in this series.

    The Senators were 3-10-1 during the regular season when trailing after two periods, which helps show how important it is for this team to play well in the second period and not allow Montreal to enter the final 20 minutes with a lead.

Secondary Scoring Key to Blackhawks' Early Success

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    Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa have combined for just one goal through the first two games of the Chicago Blackhawks' first-round series with the Minnesota Wild. But luckily for the Blackhawks, they will take a 2-0 series lead to Minnesota because of their secondary scoring.

    After depth forward Bryan Bickell scored the Game 1 winner in overtime, fourth-line winger Michael Frolik scored twice in Game 2 to help Chicago earn a 5-2 victory. Frolik's scoring came at the perfect time because Toews, Hossa and Kane did not create many scoring chances in the first two periods of Friday's game.

    One of the advantages that Chicago had over Minnesota coming into this series was its scoring depth on the third and fourth lines.

    Viktor Stalberg, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Bickell and Frolik have outplayed the Wild's bottom-six forwards in this series. That has allowed the Blackhawks to win the first two games without their top three scorers from the regular season putting the puck in the net consistently.

Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu Have Disappointed

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    When the Minnesota Wild spent $98 million to sign Zach Parise as a free agent last summer, they envisioned him being a productive player in the playoffs.

    After all, Parise captained the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils on an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final last season with eight goals and seven assists in 24 games.

    After failing to tally a point with just two shots on goal in Game 1, Parise didn't make much more of an impact offensively in Game 2. He did have seven shots, but the star winger once again failed to find the back of the net. He also had a plus/minus rating of minus-three.

    The Wild have only scored two goals in this series. With top-six wingers Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley out of the lineup because of injuries, Parise has to play at a much higher level and generate more offense with his goal-scoring ability, playmaking skills and speed.

    For Parise to start scoring goals, he needs a little help from his center, Mikko Koivu. The Wild captain has just four shots, zero points and eight PIM through the first two games of this series. He's been a non-factor offensively and has failed to create much offense against the Blackhawks' top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

    Both of these star players have to improve in Game 3 or Minnesota will not return to Chicago for a Game 5.

Canucks' Playoff Scoring Must Improve

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    Even though goaltending dominates the conversations among hockey fans in Vancouver, the Canucks' biggest problem in the playoffs since Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final has been their inability to score goals consistently.

    Over their last eight playoff games, the Canucks have scored an average of 1.37 goals per game. It doesn't matter how well goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider perform when the team's top-six forwards cannot put the puck in the net.

    After the first two games of its first-round series with the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver has scored just three goals through six periods plus five minutes of overtime. As a result, the Canucks have gone 0-2 at home in the first round for the second consecutive season.

    For Vancouver to create enough quality scoring chances to have success against a top-tier goaltender like Antti Niemi, Henrik and Daniel Sedin must play better in the attacking zone.

    Henrik and Daniel ranked first and second on the team in scoring, respectively, during the regular season. But they have combined for zero goals, just two assists (both on the power play) and 10 shots on goal in the first two games of this series.

    They did pick up assists on the first of Ryan Kesler's two goals in the third period of Game 2, but the Sedins must be more productive offensively in Games 3 and 4 for the Canucks to beat San Jose at the HP Pavilion, where the Sharks are 17-2-5 this season.

Sharks Win Both Games in Vancouver Despite Power-Play Struggles

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    The Sharks expected to have a huge advantage on the power play in their first-round series with the Canucks. But after two games in Vancouver, finding ways to create more quality scoring opportunities with the man advantage will be one of the team's goals in practice before Sunday's Game 3.

    San Jose finished seventh in power-play percentage and scored nine times with the man advantage in the team's 14 regular-season games in April. It also had five players with 10 or more power-play points (Joe Thornton led the team with 21 PP points).

    After converting on just one of their four power-play opportunities in a 3-1 Game 1 victory, the Sharks failed on all five of their attempts in Game 2. Luckily for San Jose, its lack of success on the power play did not cost the team in Game 2, as Raffi Torres scored in overtime to secure a 3-2 victory.

    Against a team like the Canucks who have strong goaltending and a good penalty killing unit, the Sharks need to be more effective on the power play by moving the puck quicker in the attacking zone and being more aggressive by putting more shots on net.

    Without a strong power play, the Sharks are a much easier team to beat because they are the second-lowest scoring team at even strength in the playoffs (77 goals at ES during regular season).

    The best way for San Jose to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on Sunday is to find some success on the power play and force a Canucks team that is struggling offensively to win a high-scoring game.

     

    Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston.

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