Biggest Takeaways from Monday's NHL Playoff Action
The second week of the 2013 NHL playoffs began on Monday with several teams looking to make a statement in their respective series.
After losing Game 2 at home, the Boston Bruins bounced back with an impressive 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first postseason game played at the Air Canada Centre in nine years. Boston now leads the series 2-1, and a win on Wednesday would send the series back to the TD Garden with the Bruins having an opportunity to clinch a spot in the second round.
In the other Eastern Conference matchup, the New York Rangers came up big in a must-win situation with a 4-3 victory in Game 3 of their series with the Washington Capitals. The Blueshirts trail 2-1 in the series, but they will be very confident going into Wednesday's Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.
Out West, the Detroit Red Wings beat the Anaheim Ducks in overtime for the second time in four games with a winning goal from rookie forward Damien Brunner. That series is now tied 2-2 with each team winning once at home and on the road.
Monday's late game was another exciting battle between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. After three low-scoring matchups, the Kings offense finally woke up in Game 4 to earn a 4-3 victory to tie the series at 2-2.
Let's look at the biggest takeaways from an exciting night of playoff hockey, but first, here's a recap of Monday's scores:
- Boston 5, Toronto 2 (Bruins lead series 2-1)
- New York 4, Washington 3 (Capitals lead series 2-1)
- Detroit 3, Anaheim 2 OT (Series tied 2-2)
- Los Angeles 4, St. Louis 3 (Series tied 2-2)
Bruins 4th Line Giving Them Important Depth
The Bruins are one of the few four-line teams in the NHL playoffs, and this kind of depth makes them very difficult to beat.
In its first-round playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston's fourth line (which includes Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton) has made a tremendous impact at both ends of the ice.
This trio has combined for three points, a plus/minus rating of three, 26 hits (most of any Bruins line), two blocked shots, four takeaways, a 65.4 faceoff percentage and over nine minutes of ice time per game.
In Monday's Game 3 win at the Air Canada Centre, Paille gave the Bruins a much-needed insurance goal when he made a tremendous play on the penalty kill to create a short-handed breakaway chance. Paille has enjoyed the best season of his NHL career in 2013 and plays his role perfectly.
For Boston to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons, it needs the fourth line to play a physical game, excel defensively and contribute to the penalty kill. Through three games, the Paille-Campbell-Thornton line has been one of the best trios in this first-round series.
James Reimer Has to Play Better for Leafs to Even Series in Game 4
The Toronto Maple Leafs need starting goaltender James Reimer to be their MVP to have any chance of upsetting the Boston Bruins and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, Reimer has failed to play at the level expected of him thus far. He has allowed 10 goals through the first three games of this series, which has resulted in Toronto being down 2-1 going into a must-win Game 4 at the ACC on Wednesday night.
After an abysmal Game 1 performance, Reimer was a little better in Game 2, but he did not give his team much of a chance in Saturday's contest.
He gave up too many rebounds and just didn't look comfortable in net. Boston's second goal, scored by Rich Peverley, was one that Reimer should have stopped. Daniel Paille's short-handed goal on a breakaway to give the Bruins a 4-1 second-period lead was also a shot that Reimer should have saved.
If the Leafs are going to win Game 4 and avoid traveling to Boston facing elimination, Reimer must play better and not allow the Bruins to carry a lead into the third period (Bruins are 17-4-4 when leading after two periods, including playoffs).
The goaltending matchup is one that Toronto must win, but Tuukka Rask has outplayed Reimer thus far.
Rangers Offense Finally Heats Up in Huge Game 3 Win
The New York Rangers scored just one goal in the two games in Washington to start their first-round series. In Game 2, they wasted a phenomenal performance from starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 37 saves but lost the game when the Capitals scored on the power play in overtime to break a scoreless tie.
The Blueshirts offense finally woke up in Game 3 with four goals, including one on the power play, which has been one of the team's biggest weaknesses in this series (1-of-13 through three games).
Top-line center Derek Stepan, who led the team in scoring during the regular season but failed to tally a single point in the first two games in Washington, scored the winning goal in Game 3. If he starts to heat up offensively, New York's offense will be much improved. Stepan is capable of scoring goals in bunches and setting up chances for linemates such as Rick Nash with his impressive playmaking skills.
One of the Rangers' weaknesses for most of the season was a lack of scoring depth, specifically from the bottom-six forward group. They got some much-needed bottom-six scoring in Game 3 from Arron Asham, Brian Boyle and Derick Brassard, who combined for three goals and three assists.
When the Rangers get this amount of offensive production from role players, it's tough to beat them, because Lundqvist will give the team a chance to win every game with consistently strong goaltending.
Importance of Capitals Power Play Evident in Game 3
For the first time in their first-round matchup with the Rangers, the Washington Capitals failed to convert on the power play, and it resulted in the team's first defeat of the series.
When the Rangers don't allow a power-play goal, they are 18-4-2 this season, which is why the Capitals must take advantage of their opportunities with the man advantage.
In the final 1:54 of regulation in Monday's game trailing 4-3, Washington failed to register a single shot on goal during its power play. Mike Ribeiro was playing at the half boards to the left of Lundqvist, and he passed on a lot of shooting opportunities by passing the puck to Mike Green at the point instead of being aggressive.
It was a rare power play from the Capitals in which they failed to generate some quality scoring chances.
Since the Rangers allowed the fewest goals at even strength of any team during the regular season, it is vitally important that the Capitals use their No. 1-ranked power play to score goals. If Washington has to beat New York five-on-five for most of this series, the Rangers will have a better chance of reaching the second round.
Corey Perry Struggling Offensively for Ducks
Corey Perry finished second on the Anaheim Ducks in scoring this year with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists), but he has not been a factor offensively in his team's first-round series with the Detroit Red Wings.
Perry signed an eight-year, $69 million contract during the regular season, which raised expectations of him in this year's playoffs. Unfortunately for the Ducks, he has not performed like a superstar in the postseason thus far.
The 27-year-old winger has zero goals, one assist and an average of just 2.75 shots per game. In Anaheim's two losses, the star forward has no points, five total shots and a plus/minus rating of minus-one. He's one of the best goal scorers in the NHL (189 goals in the last six seasons), but the Peterborough native has found the back of the net twice in his last 10 playoff games.
For Anaheim to take control of this series and avoid an upset against an experienced Detroit team, Perry has to be more productive offensively and capitalize on the scoring chances his teammate create for him.
Perry is too talented to have one point through four games of a playoff series in which he's averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game.
Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist Providing Much-Needed Depth Scoring
To beat an Anaheim Ducks team with tremendous scoring depth, the Detroit Red Wings need some of their role players to make a strong impact offensively in the first round.
Through the first four games of the playoffs, the Red Wings offense has been bolstered by the production from rookie forwards Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist.
Each of these forwards have scored overtime winners in this series (Nyquist in Game 2, Brunner in Game 4), and their scoring has lessened the pressure on star players such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to carry the team offensively.
With four points (two goals, two assists), Brunner leads Detroit in playoff scoring, while Nyquist is one of eight Red Wings players with at least two points through four games.
As the chart below shows, when these two forwards play well and generate scoring chances, the Red Wings are a much more difficult team to beat. When they fail to contribute offensively, Detroit is far less successful.
|In Wins||In Losses|
|Brunner||2G, 2A||0G, 0A|
|Nyquist||1G, 1A||0G, 0A|
In the Red Wings' 4-3 overtime victory on Monday, Brunner scored the game-winner off a rebound that was created by a breakaway chance from Nyquist (watch here). They combined for two points on the night.
If Brunner and Nyquist are able to provide some much-needed depth scoring for the rest of this series, the Red Wings will have a strong chance to pull of an upset and reach the second round.
Brunner is also an unrestricted free agent this summer, so you can bet that he's highly motivated to impress general managers during the playoffs in order to maximize his value during the offseason.
Kings Show Championship Mettle in Game 4 Victory
The Los Angeles Kings showed the heart of a champion on Monday with an impressive comeback victory to tie their first-round series with the St. Louis Blues at two games apiece.
After going into the third period down 3-2, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams each scored goals to give Los Angeles a 4-3 lead, which it would protect for the rest of the game.
This was the first time in a while that the Kings had battled adversity in the playoffs. Even though they won the Stanley Cup last season, the Kings did not face elimination in any of the four rounds. One of their series was a sweep, two were five-game victories and the other was in six games.
Facing a possible 3-1 deficit going back to St. Louis for Game 5, the Kings used their championship experience and poise under pressure to earn a huge victory to put the pressure back on the Blues.
Los Angeles outplayed St. Louis in the third period by winning the physical battles in all three zones, creating more turnovers and playing fundamentally strong defense. The Kings understood the importance of Monday's game and gave a stronger effort in the final 20 minutes.
The defending champions are not going to be defeated easily, and if they can win Game 5 on the road, you have to like their chances of closing out the series in Game 6 at the Staples Center.
Troubles in Los Angeles Make Game 5 a Must-Win for St. Louis
The St. Louis Blues have not enjoyed a lot of success at the Staples Center in Los Angeles over the last year. They have lost five straight games, including their last four playoff matchups in Los Angeles, which makes Game 5 in St. Louis a must-win for Ken Hitchcock's team.
If the Blues are unable to win at home on Wednesday, avoiding elimination in Game 6 at the Staples Center (where the Kings are 21-4-1 this season, including the playoffs) would be a difficult challenge for this young team.
In its three matchups on the road against the Kings this season, St. Louis has allowed an average of 3.6 goals, which is far above its yearly average of 2.4 goals per game (which was good for seventh best in NHL).
The Kings won 11 games away from home en route to a Stanley Cup championship last year, so they have plenty of experience winning important road games in the playoffs.
The Blues have the home-ice advantage in what has become a best-of-three series, but a loss at the Scottrade Center in Game 5 would significantly lessen their chances of reaching the second round.
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.