Winners and Losers of the NHL Playoff Weekend
There are still many miles to go in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the first round is beginning to get some definition.
As all 16 teams battle for position, we have learned that the No. 8 seeds New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild are going to have plenty of life and are not going to just roll over for the highly favored Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.
The Los Angeles Kings proved in 2012 that playing winning postseason hockey is about getting hot at the right time. The Washington Capitals are trying to show that they have learned that lesson.
As the playoffs move into their second week, here are the winners and losers from this weekend's action.
Winner: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
He's wearing a football-type facemask that looks somewhat strange, but Sidney Crosby is back in the lineup for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Crosby returned Friday night for Game 2 of the Penguins' series vs. the New York Islanders after missing more than a month with a broken jaw and significant damage to his mouth.
Crosby wasted no time in making his presence felt. He scored two goals in the first period, and it was clear that he was back on his game.
While the Penguins lost that game, Crosby had three assists in the third game of the series and set Chris Kunitz up with the winner in overtime.
Crosby's the best player in the NHL and he's back to being his usual productive self for the Penguins.
Loser: Montreal Canadiens
After splitting the first two games in Montreal, the Canadiens hoped to assert themselves as they went to Ottawa to face the Senators in the third game of their playoff series.
Montreal thought its superior skating and offensive talent would give them the edge, even if they were playing on the road.
However, the Senators outworked, outhit and outplayed the Canadiens and took a 2-1 lead into the final period. When Senators rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored an early goal for the Senators to give them a two-goal lead, the Canadiens fell apart.
They got blitzed 4-0 in the third period as Carey Price continued to have late-season problems. Additionally, the Canadiens lost their cool and engaged in hooliganism that is no longer frequently seen in the NHL.
When the Canadiens needed leadership, head coach Michel Therien seemed to encourage his team to act in a childish manner.
The Canadiens trail by a slim 2-1 margin in the series, but they have miles to go to recapture their focus and poise.
Winner: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks have dreams of winning the Western Conference and playing for the Stanley Cup.
Even though they finished second in the conference to the Chicago Blackhawks, they have been largely overlooked as the playoffs have gotten underway.
Few think they can survive the gauntlet that is the Western Conference playoffs, but they have already shown character in taking a 2-1 lead over the Detroit Red Wings in their first-round playoff series.
Nobody has been more instrumental in their excellent play than center Ryan Getzlaf. He has asserted himself with two goals and two assists in the first three games of the season. He scored a shorthanded goal in Game 3 at Detroit that was a backbreaker for the Red Wings.
Getzlaf may be the best player on a very talented Ducks team. He is playing with speed and explosiveness and he is ready to carry the Ducks on his back.
Loser: Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Corey Crawford has had a stellar year for the Chicago Blackhawks.
He has played solid hockey in the first three games of the playoffs, and top-seeded Chicago has a 2-1 lead in its playoff series with the Minnesota Wild.
What makes Crawford a loser this weekend? Take a look at the overtime goal he gave up to Minnesota's Jason Zucker in the third game of the series.
Zucker fired a hard shot from a bad angle that got by Crawford at 2:15 of the extra session to end the game and give the Wild their first victory of the series in front of their home fans.
If that sounds familiar, it's because Crawford gave up three overtime goals last year in the Blackhawks' first-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Two of those goals were of the "soft" variety.
While Zucker whistled his shot by Crawford, if Crawford had been positioned properly he could have stopped the puck.
Self-doubt may start to creep in for Crawford until he can lead the Blackhawks out of this series. Otherwise, the Blackhawks may turn to Ray Emery.
Winner: Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been punching bags for the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins have won nine of their last 10 regular-season games against the Leafs and pounded the Leafs 4-1 in the first game of their playoff series.
The Bruins dominated physically, maintained puck possession and made the Leafs look as if they didn't know what they were doing.
However, head coach Randy Carlyle did not panic and rallied his team. The Leafs used their speed and they stopped playing giveaway. The Leafs rebounded with a 4-2 win in Boston and shocked the Bruins.
Toronto had a 2-1 lead after two periods, and Phil Kessel extended the lead to two goals when he took a breakaway pass from Nazem Kadri and beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask with a wicked wrist shot.
Kessel, who has been nearly whitewashed when playing against his former team, jumped for joy with the goal that allowed the Leafs to take charge and even the series.
Loser: New York Rangers
The New York Rangers were playing solid hockey at the end of the regular season. They won seven of their last 10 games to finish as the sixth seed in the East, and the smart money said they were going to upset the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rangers were going to depend on their black-and-blue playing style and hustle to combat the explosive Capitals. However, the Rangers don't seem to have much offense on the roster. Rick Nash is an explosive scorer and Brad Richards can also put the puck in the net, but Marian Gaborik was shipped to Columbus at the trade deadline.
The Rangers scored one goal in their first two games against the Capitals and lost them both. In Game 2, the Rangers were blanked 1-0 in overtime and did not even register a shot on goal in the extra session before Mike Green won the game for the Caps with a blazing shot that eluded Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
If the Rangers are going to get back in this series, they will need to find a way to put the puck in the net consistently.
Winner: NBC Sports
The NBC family of networks is getting it done for diehard hockey fans in the United States.
While Canadian hockey fans are used to seeing every playoff game, American fans are not. However, for the second year in a row, the peacock network, along with the NBC Sports Network and CNBC, are making sure that all games are covered.
In the event that there are more than three games going at the same time, the NHL Network is also providing coverage.
In Sunday's action, NBC provided the fans with four hockey games shown one after another. The Penguins and Islanders started the action with an overtime game and the Blackhawks and Wild followed with another game that was decided in extra time.
The night action included the Ottawa Senators overpowering the Montreal Canadiens and the San Jose Sharks doing the same to the desperate Vancouver Canucks.
It was nirvana for diehard hockey fans.
Kudos to NBC.
Loser: Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks came into the playoffs wanting to make another run at the Stanley Cup.
However, after dropping the first two games of the series at home, the Canucks decided to put Cory Schneider back in the net in Game 3 in San Jose. The effort was there but the Canucks came up short by a 5-2 margin and are down 3-0 in the series.
The Canucks have been slumping badly in the postseason since taking a 3-2 lead over the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
They lost the final two games of that series as the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Last year, the Canucks were beaten 4-1 in the first round by the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings. The 3-0 deficit to the Sharks means they have dropped nine of their last 10 playoff games.
They have also lost their last six home playoff games.