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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 10:55 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - 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.
Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 11:11 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - 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.
Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:45 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Parade of overtime games continues

We've moved past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the deluge of overtime games shows no signs of abating.

After 16 of the 48 games in the conference quarterfinals went past regulation, the conference semis started out the same way, with Phoenix needing an extra 14:04 to beat Nashville 4-3 on Friday night in the opener of their Western Conference Semifinal series.

It was the first OT game of the playoffs for Nashville, the only team to make it to the second round without playing one. The Coyotes more than made up for it -- Phoenix tied a playoff record by going into overtime in each of its first five games against Chicago and set a Stanley Cup record by going past regulation for the sixth time in their seven games.
Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:53 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils enjoy first series win since 2007

Five years without winning a playoff series is a long time for a franchise that's as accustomed to success as the New Jersey Devils. That's why they hope ending their postseason drought with a first-round win against Florida is a harbinger of good things to come.

The Devils got past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007 by outlasting Florida 3-2 in double overtime on Thursday night to win Game 7 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Now it's on to Philadelphia and a rematch with the team that wiped them out in five games in the opening round two years ago.

"Winning a playoff series goes a long way," said goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 43 saves and is now 6-4 in 10 career Game 7 starts. "I think for people it's just a confidence and sometimes you need adversity. …The first round, I think when you haven't been in the playoffs, especially the year before and it's been struggling getting out of the first round, when you get through that it feels good for a day and then after that we've got to face the Flyers."

By the time the game ended at 12:17 a.m. ET, Thursday night had turned into Friday morning -- marking the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first NHL playoff game, on April 27, 1992 against the Rangers.

The win means that the NHL's winningest regular-season goaltender will get to spend his 40th birthday doing what he does best -- the Devils will host Philadelphia in Game 4 a week from Sunday.

With 43 saves, including a handful of series-savers, Brodeur looked as sharp as ever.

"He was outstanding, especially in the first overtime and late in the third period," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "He was our best player tonight and he had to be or we don't win."

Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 1:58 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

No place like home for Rangers

If the New York Rangers have to play a Game 7, there's nowhere else they'd rather play it than Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers rode the benefits of playing in front of their home fans to a 2-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Playing the deciding game at MSG was their reward for finishing first in the Eastern Conference -- and they'll have the same reward for as far as they go in the playoffs.

The Rangers are now 4-5 all-time in Game 7s -- 4-0 at the Garden and 0-5 on the road. The victory against the Senators was their first in a Game 7 since they held off Vancouver to win the 1994 Final. The other two Game 7 wins both came against New Jersey -- they won 8-4 in the opening round in 1992 and 2-1 in double overtime in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final.

Ottawa has yet to find a way to win Game 7. The Senators have gone to a seventh game five times but have yet to win one -- in fact, they've scored just six goals in the five games.

Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 4-2-0
GAA: 2.06 | SVP: 0.922
Marty comes through -- Playoff overtime has never been Martin Brodeur's strong suit, but he came through in back-to-back games when the New Jersey Devils needed him most.

Brodeur made 43 saves before Adam Henrique's goal 3:47 into the second overtime gave New Jersey a 3-2 win at Florida in Game 7 on Thursday night. Brodeur and the Devils also won Game 6 in OT, giving him overtime wins in back-to-back games for the first time beating Toronto in Games 2 and 3 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Despite the two wins against Florida, Brodeur is still just 14-21 in overtime during the playoffs.

The winningest regular-season goaltender in NHL history now has won six of his 10 decisions in Game 7 -- he's 3-2 on the road and at home. Brodeur has split the two Game 7s that went into overtime; he lost to the New York Rangers in double overtime in the Eastern Conference Finals 18 years ago.

The Game 7 win against Florida came about 20 minutes after Thursday night turned into Friday morning -- and April 27 is the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first Stanley Cup Playoff game, an 8-5 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their first-round series in 1992.

Fitting conclusion
-- It was appropriate that the first round of the playoffs ended with the longest game of the record 16 contests to go into overtime.

Adam Henrique
Center - NJD
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 10 | +/-: 1
Henrique's goal at 23:47 of overtime concluded an opening round that saw exactly one-third of the 48 games played go past regulation. It's the most OT games ever in the opening round -- and puts the NHL on track to break the record of 28 overtime games in a single playoff year, set in 1993.

Of the eight series in the conference quarterfinals, only one -- Detroit-Nashville -- didn't have at least one overtime game. Phoenix and Chicago tied a record when they went to extra time in each of the first five games, and the Washington-Boston series had four OT contests.

That the visiting Devils won Thursday night shouldn't have come as a surprise. Road teams won 12 of the 16 overtime games -- and all three that went into a second extra period.

20 and counting -- The departure of the Senators means that the Stanley Cup will be staying south of the 49th parallel again. Not since the Montreal Canadiens beat Los Angeles in 1993 has a Canadian-based team taken home the Cup. This is the first year since 1996 that the final eight in the playoffs don't include a Canadian team.

Ottawa's loss also kept another streak intact. Since the current playoff format was adopted for the 1993-94 season, we haven't had both No. 8 seeds win. Los Angeles became the 12th No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed by eliminating Vancouver, but the Senators came up a goal short in their effort to oust the Rangers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

First-round review -- No sweeps. Three seven-game series. Domination by visiting teams. Such was the first round of this year's playoffs.

For the second time in three years, all eight conference quarterfinals went more than four games. Three -- all in the West -- were decided in five games. Two others went six games and three Eastern Conference series went to the limit, the second time that's happened in as many years.

The Vancouver Canucks became the 10th top seed in a conference to fail to get out of the first round when Los Angeles beat them in five games. Boston became the second straight defending champ to be knocked out in the first round when it lost to Washington.

The trend of road teams dominating the opening round continued -- the guys in the white sweaters won 30 of the 48 games, the third year in a row visiting teams have won more than they've lost in the first round. None of the eight winning teams was perfect at home.
Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 10:26 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes will be rested for Game 1

Not only did the Phoenix Coyotes win their first playoff series since 1987 when they eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night, they earned themselves some much-needed rest.

After beating the Hawks in a grueling six-game series that saw the first five go into overtime, Phoenix got a welcome three-day break before the Nashville Predators come to the desert to open their Western Conference Semifinal series on Friday night.

Instead of practicing on Wednesday, the Coyotes held a team meeting instead. A few players took the ice while others received treatment or worked out. Coach Dave Tippett put his team through a practice on Thursday in preparation for the series opener on Friday night. He anticipates having everyone available for Game 1 except suspended forward Raffi Torres.

The four remaining teams in the West have a combined total of four appearances in the Stanley Cup Final -- three by St. Louis from 1968-70 and one by Los Angeles in 1993. Neither the Coyotes nor the Predators have gotten past the second round.

But both Phoenix and Nashville are here after eliminating Original Six teams -- Chicago and Detroit. The Predators have been off since beating the Wings in five games last Friday.

"It helps the grassroots. You get excitement," Tippett said of the turnover on top of the conference. "New blood in there, the more teams we can get to that element, I think that's great for the League."

Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 11:33 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Caps and Bruins finish off a series to remember

It will go down as the tightest series in NHL history -- and for the Boston Bruins, one of the most disappointing.

Braden Holtby
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 4-3-0
GAA: 2.00 | SVP: 0.940
Boston's reign as Stanley Cup champs came to a stunning end Wednesday night when Joel Ward scored 2:57 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory in Game 7, sending the Caps onto the second round and the Bruins home for the summer.

It's the first seven-game series in Stanley Cup history in which every game was decided by a single goal -- no other series had had more than five one-goal games. For all but a 2:54 span late in the second period of Game 5, neither team led by more than one goal at any point in the seven games -- meaning that for 427:34 of the 430:28 played in the series, the teams were tied or separated by one goal. 
Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 11:59 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Plenty of overtime again this spring

If playoff overtime is your thing, this year's opening round has been a moveable feast.

New Jersey's 3-2 victory against Florida on Tuesday marked the 14th time in 45 games so far during this spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs that the teams were unable to decide matters in the regulation 60 minutes. That equals the number of first-round overtime games a year ago, which ended with 22 of the 89 games being decided in OT. It's also the same number of first-round overtimes as 1993, which ended with a record 28 games going into OT.

Extra time has not been kind to home teams this spring. The Devils became only the fourth home team in the 14 OT games to win when Travis Zajac scored at 5:39 of the first overtime. 
Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 12:43 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Penguins one step closer to making history

The Pittsburgh Penguins had never won a Game 5 in a series when they trailed 3-0 until they beat Philadelphia 3-2 on Friday night. They're hoping for some more firsts in the next few days.

Sidney Crosby
Center - PIT
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 8
SOG: 10 | +/-: 0
Now that they've won two games after losing the first three games of a series, they'll try to pull even on Sunday (noon ET; NBC, CBC). If they do, they'll get a chance to become only the fourth team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-0.

Including Pittsburgh and Vancouver this year, 170 teams have lost the first three games in a best-of-seven series. The Penguins are just the 15th to get as far as a sixth game -- Vancouver will try to do it against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 1:51 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Another line in the record book for Brodeur

Martin Brodeur took over another line in the NHL record book on Thursday night.

The NHL's all-time regular-season leader in wins and shutouts added the record for most Stanley Cup shutouts to his Hall of Fame resume by stopping all 26 Florida shots in New Jersey's 4-0 victory in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Shutout No. 24 broke a tie with Patrick Roy that had existed since Brodeur blanked Carolina 1-0 on April 23, 2009. It was just his fourth in the last nine years since a 3-0 victory against Anaheim in Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. That shutout was the last of seven he had while leading the Devils to their third championship in nine years.
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Quote of the Day

It's cool when you think about how many great American players have played the game and the two players that were at that 18-game point streak and what they've done in their careers. It's pretty cool right now, but it was kind of overshadowed by the loss.

— Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after breaking the record for longest point streak by an American-born player with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Kings
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