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Round 2
Round 3
Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 7:23 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Doan: We'll go as far as Smith takes us

It's a hockey cliché that you win or lose as a team. But for Phoenix captain Shane Doan, one Coyote has become indispensable to the team's success.

Goaltender Mike Smith was an unheralded free-agent signing last summer who led the Coyotes to the first division title in franchise history and has backstopped the team into the conference finals for the first time since it joined the NHL in 1979. To Doan, he's the guy they can't do without.

"He's as valuable to our team as there is a player in the League," Doan said during a conference call with the media on Thursday. "Obviously he's proven himself, but last series he got to go against Pekka Rinne who is nominated for the Vezina. And this series he gets to go against Jonathan Quick. Another guy nominated for the Vezina.

"We're going to go as far as Smitty can carry us."

In the eyes of Doan, perhaps the most impressive thing about Smith is his competitive nature.

"I don't think you could ever beat his competitiveness out of him," Doan said. "It's not like you could get four goals on him, and he's like, 'oh, man. I've had a bad game. I'm going to [quit], this isn't my game.' It's like, 'well, there is no way you're getting that fifth one.'

"That is kind of what I get from him. He's so competitive."

The Coyotes signed Smith last summer after trading free agent-to-be Ilya Bryzgalov partly because coach Dave Tippett knew him from their time together in Dallas. Tippett also felt that Smith, a big goaltender at 6-foot-3, would work well with Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke, who was among the NHL's tallest goaltenders during his playing days.

"I had history with Mike in Dallas, and I thought he was a player that if he got the opportunity could really flourish," Tippett said. "I thought the relationship between him and Sean Burke would be a very good one. Both of them are similar kinds of goalies and have gone through similar issues in their career. Mike came in, was looking for an opportunity. We had an opportunity to give. And the work he and Sean have done together has given us a very, very good player."

"I really believe through this year he's evolved into one of the elite goaltenders in the League, and certainly that's been on display in the playoffs."

Tippett said one reason for the Coyotes' springtime success is the fact that he's confident in his own play -- and that his teammates share that confidence.

"We always talk about confidence is earned," Tippett said. "If you look at the year he's had and the work he's put in, he's earned that confidence. I would second that in the fact not only is he confident in his own play, he's earned the trust and the confidence of the players in front of him. So when a goaltender can do that, it leads to a very competitive team."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 6:35 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Brown's more than a hitter now

Dustin Brown has been one of the NHL's most prolific hitters since entering the NHL eight years ago. He's still one of the League's top thumpers -- his 293 hits during the regular season were second to Matt Martin of the New York Islanders -- but he says his style of play has evolved.

"I think my game has changed a lot from when I first came up," the Los Angeles Kings' captain said during a media conference call Thursday. "I'm a little more even keel."

Unlike a lot of big hitters whose usefulness is largely limited to their physical play, Brown has been a productive offensive force -- he's scored at least 22 goals in each of the last five seasons. Brown also leads the Kings in playoff scoring with 11 points, including six goals, and is tops among all players with a plus-9 rating.

"I still get my hits," he said, "but the flip side is that I'm in better position to get scoring chances. It's a matter of balance."

Like the rest of his teammates, Brown has been waiting since Sunday to see when the Kings would start the Western Conference Finals -- they've been off since completing a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues this past Sunday. The Kings learned Thursday that they'll begin their series against the Phoenix Coyotes Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.

Brown conceded that he understood that arena factors and other considerations are responsible for the long break -- but to say he's ready to go now would be putting it mildly.

"Does it bug me that we have to wait until Sunday to play?" he said. "Yes. I'd rather play today, but that's the way the schedule works."
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 11:21 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Capitals don't let OT losses get them down

Braden Holtby
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 7-6
GAA: 1.95 | SVP: 0.935
The Washington Capitals are nothing if not resilient.

The Caps have lost four times in overtime during this year's playoffs, including a pair of excruciating losses to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals -- a triple-OT loss in Game 3 and a 3-2 loss in Game 5 in which they were 6.6 seconds away from winning.

But the Caps have refused to feel sorry for themselves. They rebounded from each of the first three overtime losses with victories, then did it again on Wednesday by beating the Rangers 2-1 in Game 6 -- sending the series to the limit and becoming the first team in NHL history to won four straight times after an overtime loss in a single playoff year.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 05.08.2012 / 11:13 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Scoring first not a winning formula for Flyers

He who scores first usually scores most -- unless one of the team is the Philadelphia Flyers in this year's playoffs.

Ilya Bryzgalov
Goalie - PHI
RECORD: 5-6
GAA: 3.46 | SVP: 0.887
In a League where the team that gets the first goal won more than two-thirds of the time during the regular season, the Flyers managed to lose six times in seven tries this spring after they opened the scoring. That includes all four of its losses to New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Semifinals -- the Flyers scored first again on Tuesday but saw their season end with a 3-1 loss in Game 5.

In all, the team that scored first in the Flyers' 11 postseason games won just once -- Philadelphia scored first and beat Pittsburgh in Game 6 to close out their first-round series. The Flyers were 4-0 when they allowed the first goal this spring, but became the first team ever to score first in all four of its losses in one series.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 05.05.2012 / 4:53 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Holtby getting plenty of help

Washington goaltender Braden Holtby had to face only 20 shots in the Capitals' 3-2 win in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon. For that, he can thank the other 18 guys in the red sweaters.

While the Rangers managed to get just 20 shots on goal, Holtby's teammates blocked 26 others -- exactly half of New York's total of 52 attempted shots. The Caps did a better job of getting their shots through to the net; Washington attempted just 40 shots, but 26 of them got to Henrik Lundqvist -- and three of them went into the net.

The Rangers blocked just seven shots on Saturday after getting in front of 41 during Game 3. They had blocked 14 in each of the first two games.
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POSTED ON Friday, 05.04.2012 / 11:17 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Preds turn into 'gang that couldn't shoot straight'

If the Nashville Predators don't get past the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Semifinals, their inability to capitalize on Grade-A chances in Game 4 will be a big reason.

Mike Smith
Goalie - PHX
RECORD: 7-3
GAA: 1.85 | SVP: 0.946
Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was flawless in stopping all 25 Nashville shots that were on net in Friday night's 1-0 win. But the Predators hurt themselves even more by firing shots that were off-target -- Nashville missed the net on 14 shots, including a handful of excellent scoring chances in the second period when the Predators carried the play but couldn't cash in.

No player symbolized Nashville's off-target shooting more than Patrik Hornqvist, who ended the second period having taken eight shots at goal -- and getting none on target. He had three blocked and missed the net on the other five, including three glorious chances that saw him hit a post, fire a shot over the crossbar and push a pass from David Legwand wide of the right post.

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POSTED ON Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:49 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Brodeur enjoying overtime success this spring

Success in overtime during the playoffs has been one of the few things that has eluded Martin Brodeur during his career -- he entered this year's playoffs with a record of 12 wins and 21 losses. But as he prepares to turn 40 on Sunday, Brodeur is having the most successful overtime spring of his career.

Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 6-3
GAA: 2.16 | SVP: 0.917
Brodeur got the win Thursday night when Alexei Ponikarovsky's goal gave the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers and a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. It was the fourth time in their last five games that the Devils have gone to OT -- and the third victory, all with Brodeur in goal.

The three overtime wins are the most Brodeur has ever had in a single playoff year. Thursday's win was also Brodeur's first in four playoff overtime games against the Flyers, who beat him in 1995 and 2010 before doing it again in a 4-3 victory on Sunday.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 1:34 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Rangers end OT drought in dramatic style

Maybe what the New York Rangers needed to end their overtime drought was a game for the ages.

Marian Gaborik
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 23 | +/-: -1
Overtime has never been the New York Rangers' forte -- they entered Wednesday night having won just 31 of 70 playoff games that had gone past regulation and had dropped seven in a row, including two in the first round this year. One more loss would have tied the NHL for consecutive OT losses.

Instead, the Rangers ended their drought with the second-longest victory in franchise history -- no mean feat for a team that began play in 1926. Marian Gaborik's goal at 14:41 of the third overtime gave the Rangers a 2-1 win at Washington in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 10:55 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Flyers defy 'score first and win' trend

Scoring first is usually the best way to win an NHL game. Someone has failed to get the message to the Philadelphia Flyers and their opponents during this year's playoffs.

For the seventh time in the Flyers' eight games, the team that scored first lost. Unfortunately for the Flyers, they opened the scoring against New Jersey on Tuesday, but went home with a 4-1 loss in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

The team that scored first lost all five games in the Flyers' first-round series against Pittsburgh before Philadelphia closed out the Penguins after scoring the first two goals of Game 6. The Devils scored first in the series-opener on Sunday, a 4-3 overtime loss, but dominated the Flyers in Game 2 after rookie Matt Read's early goal put the Flyers ahead.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 11:11 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Kreider is the toast of the town

Three weeks after leading Boston College to the NCAA championship, Chris Kreider is the toast of New York.

Kreider signed with the Rangers after BC's title game victory on April 7, and he's one of the big reasons New York beat Ottawa in the first round and leads Washington 1-0 in the second. In his six games as a pro, Kreider has a pair of game-winning goals -- including the winner in Saturday's 3-1 victory against the Caps -- making him the first Rangers rookie to get more than one in the same year since Mike Allison in 1981 to get more than one.

Kreider, the first player since John Byce in 1990 to go directly from winning an NCAA championship into the playoffs, had the winning goal and an assist in the Rangers' 3-2 win in Game 6 against Ottawa, then did the same thing on Saturday against the Caps. The 20-year-old is the youngest Ranger to score a playoff goal since Niklas Sundstrom in 1996; he's just the third player ever to score a playoff goal for New York before playing in a regular-season game for the Rangers.
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Playing for my favorite team growing up, I've probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway. It feels good to actually do it in real life.

— Dale Weise, who grew up a Canadiens fan, on scoring the overtime winner in Montreal's 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in Game 1