Biggest Takeaways from Thursday's NHL Playoff Action
Thursday night's NHL playoff action featured three hard-fought games. Fans were treated to great action from start to finish and a couple of unexpected results.
At Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers overcame a 2-0 deficit in their pivotal Game 4 to grab a 4-3 overtime win and secure the first victory of their series against the Boston Bruins.
Over in the Western Conference, strong goaltending was the theme of the day. The Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings each got shutouts from their netminders on their way to grabbing the third win of their respective series.
Here's a closer look at the big storylines and takeaways from Thursday's action.
Bruins' Stumbles Crack the Door Open
The Boston Bruins have had control of their playoff series against the New York Rangers. After three wins, here's where the situation starts to get interesting.
The Bruins are just 7-13 under Claude Julien in playoff games where they can close out a series. Most recently, after leading 3-1, they handed the Toronto Maple Leafs two wins—and almost a third—before winning their Eastern Conference quarterfinal. Back in 2010, Boston suffered an epic collapse in Round 2 against Philadelphia, going up 3-0 before losing the series 4-3.
The specter of those past performances loomed over Thursday's Game 4, and it looked like the Bruins felt the pressure. After grabbing a 2-0 lead in the game, an uncharacteristic miscue by Tuukka Rask put the puck directly on Carl Hagelin's stick for an easy goal.
Derek Stepan tied the game early in the third with a sneaky steal off Zdeno Chara's stick behind the net, quickly tucking the puck into the open side of the net. Finally, Chris Kreider undressed reliable rookie Dougie Hamilton in overtime to pot the winner and keep the Rangers alive.
One could argue that the Bruins beat themselves—again—in Game 4. Will they bring their top game to the TD Garden on Saturday and close out the Rangers in five?
Newbury for Richards Did Not Help the Rangers
John Tortorella took a lot of heat when he made Brad Richards a healthy scratch in Game 4.
Kris Newbury took Richards' spot in the lineup, but he did not turn out to be an upgrade.
Newbury played just 10 shifts, but he took an overly aggressive goaltender interference penalty in the second period. The Bruins scored their first goal of the night on the ensuing power play.
After the win, Tortorella spent some time during his postgame press conference explaining why he chose to scratch Richards. He also defended him as a person and a player. As Dan Rosen at NHL.com quotes Tortorella:
It's not blaming Richards. I've already heard enough of that [stuff] already as far as this is concerned. He's a hell of a hockey player that's having a hell of a time. I need to make decisions for what I feel is right for the team to win tonight's game, and that's why I made that decision.
Tortorella did not tip his hand about whether he'd get Richards back into the lineup for Game 5.
Chicago's Penalty Kill Is Not Bulletproof
After eight perfect in playoff games and 30 penalty kills, the Chicago Blackhawks' penalty-killing streak was snapped by Detroit on Thursday night.
Jakub Kindl fired what turned out to be the winning goal past Corey Crawford at 12:20 of the second period, with Jonathan Toews off for high-sticking Valtteri Filppula.
That was the third of Toews' three minors in the period, the only man-advantages that Chicago surrendered in the game. "Captain Serious" looked seriously frustrated as he hacked and whacked his way through the Red Wings lineup.
Toews was more disciplined in the third period, but the Hawks couldn't get back into the game. The Hawks captain will need to channel his energies in a more productive fashion if Chicago hopes to stave off elimination on Saturday at the United Center.
Jimmy Howard Posts Second Career Postseason Shutout
Top to bottom, the Detroit Red Wings have played superbly as a team in their three wins over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jimmy Howard's contribution must not be overlooked. In the Wings' three wins, Howard has allowed just two goals against an offensive powerhouse that was second only to Pittsburgh in goals scored during the regular season.
Chicago took 14 shots in the first period on Thursday, and Howard stopped them all, including quality chances by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. After a somewhat shaky start by the Wings, Howard's play allowed his team to regroup and eventually take advantage of an uncharacteristic Hawks meltdown in the second period.
Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune explains that Howard's game plan is to keep things simple. "I'm just being calm," Howard said. "I'm not trying to overdo anything out there. It sounds pretty basic, but that's what we work on every single day."
Home Ice Still Dominates out West
The Battle of California has turned out to be a battle of home ice.
The San Jose Sharks are unbeaten at home so far in the 2013 playoffs. But so are the Los Angeles Kings—and they hold the home-ice advantage in this series.
The Kings took full advantage of their friendly confines on Thursday, dominating play from the first to the last whistle while putting together a 3-0 win against the Sharks. The first goal didn't come until 18:08 of the second period, off the stick of Anze Kopitar, after San Jose's Antti Niemi had made several uncanny stops to keep his team in the game.
The Sharks went into a defensive shell in the late stages of their Game 4 win in San Jose and didn't really emerge in Game 5. They managed just six shots on net in the entire first period, even with an early gift of a power play.
Momentum has swung like a pendulum in this series. The Sharks will hope the same holds true as they head back to the Bay Area for Sunday's must-win Game 6.
Kings vs. Sharks: Big Celebrities, Big Beards
When Wayne Gretzky landed in Los Angeles in the late-'80s, his star power attracted Hollywood celebrities to Kings games like never before.
Tom Cruise channeled the Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell era with an appearance at the Staples Center on Thursday night, while the New York Rangers had to make do with John McEnroe over at Madison Square Garden.
In addition to their on-ice win, the Kings also grab "biggest celebrity" for May 23.
The Los Angeles/San Jose series also boasts some of the best beards of this year's playoffs so far. The Sharks' Brent Burns and Joe Thornton, as well as Dustin Penner of the Kings, all have full mountain-man growth in play after just over three weeks of playoff action.
It's hard not to look forward and imagine what might be if they advance another round or two.
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