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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 1:28 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Penguins-Flyers series a goaltender's nightmare

Conventional wisdom is that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about tight checking and great goaltending. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers obviously didn't get the message.

After a season in which the average NHL game saw a combined total of roughly 5.3 (non-shootout) goals, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have shattered the record for the most goals scored in the first four games of a series. The Penguins' 10-3 win on Wednesday brought the total to 45 -- one more than the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks scored in the first four games of the 1985 Campbell Conference Finals.

But the Oilers and Hawks played run-and-gun in a free-scoring era -- the average regular-season game in 1984-85 featured nearly 7.8 goals per game, nearly 50 percent more than this season's average. To have two teams averaging nearly double the number of goals scored in the regular season in such a tight-checking era is nearly incomprehensible.
Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 10:00 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Road warriors having their way in playoffs

After a one-night interruption, the road-ice advantage in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs was back in evidence on Monday night.

Home teams won three of four games on Sunday. But the guys in the white sweaters were in charge again on Monday, winning all three games to give visitors 14 wins in the 22 games played so far. Home teams have won exactly one game in each of the eight series.

Contrast that to the regular season, when home teams were 687-399-144, a winning percentage of .551.

Road teams appear to be on their way to winning more than half of the first-round games for the third year in a row. Home teams haven't been over .500 in the first round since going 24-20 in 2008-09.
Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 2:26 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Home ice no edge thus far in playoffs

Remember the home-ice advantage? The thing everyone is so desperate for in the playoffs? Four days into this year's postseason, home ice has been anything but an advantage.

With 15 games in the books, home teams have won all of five contests. None of the eight teams that opened with two games at home won both of them -- and two visiting teams, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, swept both games.

For all the effort teams put into getting the home-ice advantage, it hasn't been much of an edge in the opening round in the last couple of seasons. Home teams went just 22-27 in the first round last spring and were just 23-26 in 2009-10. The last time home teams were above .500 in the opening round was 2008-09, when they won 24 of the 44 games played.
Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 12:07 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Flyers' comebacks have them in control

Maybe the Philadelphia Flyers ought to let the Pittsburgh Penguins just start the game with a couple of goals to get the preliminaries out of the way.

Friday night marked the fourth time in less than four weeks that the Penguins jumped to a multiple-goal lead against the Flyers -- and lost. On Wednesday, they led 3-0 and lost 4-3 in overtime; on Friday, they led 2-0 and 3-1, only to be beaten 8-5.

Three of the Flyers' four comebacks have come in Pittsburgh, where the Flyers are 7-1-0 at the two-year-old Consol Energy Center.
Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 10:51 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

It only took 77 years ...

Halley's Comet comes around every 76 years -- or almost as often as the Boston Bruins win a playoff game 1-0 in overtime.

The Bruins did just that in their playoff opener on Thursday, beating the Washington Capitals on Chris Kelly's goal 1:18 into overtime after the teams battled through 60 scoreless minutes of regulation. The last time Boston won 1-0 in overtime in a playoff game was 77 years ago -- March 25, 1935, when Dit Clapper scored 3:26 into the second extra period.

It was the first 1-0 overtime game involving the Bruins since they lost 1-0 to New Jersey in the first round in 1995 -- and the first one ever for the Caps.

One reason for the Bruins' victory was their continuing ability to shut down Alex Ovechkin, who entered Thursday with the fourth-highest points-per-game average in playoff history. Ovi led the Caps with seven hits but had only one shot on goal and has now managed just one goal in his last nine games against Boston since the start of the 2010-11 season.

Tim Terrific -- Tim Thomas started the 2012 postseason the way he ended the playoffs last year -- perfect.

Thomas wasn't severely tested in the Bruins' win against Washington, but he was flawless in stopping all 17 shots he faced before Chris Kelly's game-winner 1:18 into overtime. It was the sixth playoff shutout of his career and his second in a row -- he ended last season by putting up a zero in Boston's 4-0 win at Vancouver in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Thomas, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner this past spring, has stopped the last 58 shots he's faced in a span of 123 minutes and 44 seconds since Vancouver's Maxim Lapierre scored with 2:26 remaining in Game 6.
Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 10:52 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Flyers' rally should come as no surprise

Turnabout was fair play for the Philadelphia Flyers.

The last time the Flyers played the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, on April 25, 2009, they led 3-0 in Game 6 and were less than 40 minutes away from forcing a seventh and deciding game -- only to have the Penguins score five unanswered goals for a series-ending 5-3 win.

The Pennsylvania rivals hadn't met in the playoffs since that afternoon -- until the Flyers exacted some revenge in the opener of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Wednesday. This time, it was the Flyers who overcame a 3-0 deficit -- rookie Brayden Schenn's third-period power-play goal forced overtime and Jakub Voracek's goal 2:23 into OT gave Philadelphia a 4-3 win.

On one hand, the comeback shouldn't have come as a surprise -- Philadelphia was the only team to win three regular-season games after trailing by three goals (there were only 17 other games in which it happened this season) -- and this was the third time in four meetings with the Penguins since March 18 that the Penguins saw a multiple-goal lead against Philadelphia turn into a loss.
The three-goal comeback was the sixth in Stanley Cup play by the Flyers -- and the first since their historic rally from a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 of the 2010 conference semifinals against Boston, a game they came back to win 4-3 to cap a comeback after losing the first three games of the series.

But the loss had to be a shock for the Penguins and their fans. Pittsburgh had won 28 of the last 29 playoff games it led after two periods and was 32-0-3 during the regular season when taking a lead into the third period, as well as 29-0-0 when leading by three goals at any point in the game. The last time the Penguins led after two periods in a playoff game and didn't win was May 6, 2010, when they took a 2-1 lead into the third period of Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at Montreal and allowed two quick goals in a 3-2 loss.

Preds get the jump
-- For the first time, the Nashville Predators actually lead the Detroit Red Wings in a playoff series.

The Wings ended Nashville's season by beating the Predators in the first round in 2004 (the first time Nashville qualified for the postseason) and again in 2008. In both series, the Wings never trailed.

But both of those series began in Detroit -- this year's Western Conference Quarterfinal series began at Bridgestone Arena, where the Predators got two goals by rookie Gabriel Bourque and held off the Wings 3-2 to take their first-ever series lead on Detroit.

The Predators have won Game 1 in four of the eight playoff series since entering the NHL 12 years ago. The Wings, playing in their 116th postseason series, fell to 63-52 1 in Game 1s.

If history is any guide, one thing not to expect in this series is a sweep -- Nashville has never been involved in a series that went less than five games. Nor have the Predators ever played a seven-game series; they've had two five-game series and six that have gone six games.

Two of Detroit's top stars reached individual milestones. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom joined Hall of Famer Larry Robinson as the only players to take part in the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons when he stepped onto the ice for his first shift -- the Wings have never missed the playoffs since Lidstrom joined them in 1991. It was his 260th playoff game, six short of Chris Chelios' all-time record. Forward Henrik Zetterberg's second-period goal was his 50th in Stanley Cup play, as well as his 100th point; he's the 53rd player to score 50 playoff goals and the 80th to hit triple figures in points.

First time's the charm
-- Wednesday marked the start of the fifth playoff series between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks -- and for the first time, the Kings will go into Game 2 with a lead in the series.

Though the teams had split their first four series, the Canucks had won the opener in all four until late goals by Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown gave the Kings a 4-2 win at Rogers Arena on Wednesday.

It's hard to say which was more unusual, Los Angeles winning a series opener or Vancouver losing one.
For the Kings, it was the first Game 1 victory since they beat Colorado 4-3 in the opener of their second-round series in 2001. To find the last time the Kings won a series-opener in regulation, you have to go back to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, when they beat Montreal 4-1 at the Forum.

The Canucks, in contrast, had won their last eight series openers -- all four last year and a pair in both 2009 and 2010 (including their first-round series against L.A.). Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo was 9-1 in series openers as a Canuck before the loss.

Vancouver hopes it can turn history on its head in Game 2 the way the Kings did in Game 1 -- while the Canucks had won the four previous series-openers against L.A., the Kings have won Game 2 in all four series against Vancouver.
Posted On Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 3:40 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Boucher philosophical about realignment

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- After having a chance to digest the realignment setup agreed to at the NHL Board of Governors meeting on Monday, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher was philosophical.

"I woke up and thought, 'Let's just build a practice rink in Vermont. That's a good solution,'" he said with a smile during a Tuesday media scrum.

Under the new setup, the Lightning and Florida Panthers are grouped with Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. The demise of the Southeast Division will mean fewer trips to Carolina and Washington and plenty of time in New England, Western New York and Eastern Canada.

"It's difficult to understand why Carolina, which is an hour away, is not in our conference," he said, "We've built a rivalry with Washington and they're gone too. 

"Let's not kid ourselves -- we're going to have more travel, and we're going to have to deal with it."

But Boucher also said he realizes that trying to juggle an alignment that would make all 30 teams happy was going to be impossible.

"I'm sure the League worked extremely hard trying to do something that makes sense -- and it's difficult to make sense of 'not enough teams for here and there,' and you're stuck," he said. "I can see how difficult it must have been for them to make something that made sense, to keep the rivalries.

"You look at Boston -- they're pretty close to the other teams and could have been in the other division, but they've got rivalries with Buffalo and Montreal, the old Adams Division. Do you want to separate Pittsburgh and Philly? I think it was very difficult for them to decide what to do."

One thing Boucher said is sure to continue is that his team will be a popular destination for teams to bring their fathers along on road trips.

"We'll see that all year long," he said. "Everyone's got their 'Father's Trip' in Tampa."

Posted On Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 2:46 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Bolts' scoring woes not for lack of chances

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning bring a four-game losing streak to the Nassau Coliseum for tonight's game against the New York Islanders. They've scored just seven goals in those games, including two each in 4-2 losses to the New York Rangers at home on Saturday and at Ottawa on Monday.

But coach Guy Boucher feels his team is doing a lot of things right -- except for putting the puck in the net.

"At the beginning of the year, on the road, we were horrible," Boucher said. "Plain and simple -- all over the place. The work ethic wasn't there. The relentlessness wasn't there, the physicality wasn't there. We were getting some chances, but not like now. Now, it's ridiculous -- our games could be 5-1 after two periods. That's frustrating -- to miss those goals.

“During the game, it's frustrating -- and when I look at the video it's really frustrating. You can't believe the goals that we've missed; it's unreal. We've had more scoring chances than even last year -- just ridiculous."

It's not that the Lightning lack firepower -- Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are three of the best offensive players in the NHL. But for whatever reason, the pucks haven't been going in.

"I don't remember coaching a team that has misfired that much," Boucher said. "Look at Stammer -- he was wide-open, the puck on his stick, the goalie wasn't even there, but something happens and it trickles. That's just one of them.

"We're missing these goals, and that comes with swagger and swagger comes with results. It's a vicious circle. But one thing's for sure: We're playing great. If we keep at it and stick to it and continue working at the small details, we'll be a much better team, because once the (puck) goes in and we correct these little things … we can hope for good things."

The Lightning led 2-1 in the third period of the games against the Rangers and Senators, but allowed three goals each time and went home empty-handed -- dropping them to 11-13-2 and 13th place in the Eastern Conference.

"If we want to win games, we have to make sure we check in those moments," Boucher said. "Both those games -- one with three minutes left, one with four minutes left -- you go into overtime and lose, it's still a point and a point, like winning one of the two games, and those points are big."

After former Islander Dwayne Roloson played in Ottawa on Monday, Mathieu Garon will start in goal for the Lightning, who again will be without defenseman Pavel Kubina, out with a lower-body injury. Tampa Bay recalled Evan Oberg from the AHL Norfolk Admirals for the game -- they acquired Oberg just four days ago in a four-player swap with Florida.

Forward Adam Hall, a scratch in the last two games, is likely to dress -- "there's a big chance he plays," Boucher said. "Big, big chance."

Posted On Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 11:36 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Moulson still savoring four-goal night

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Three days after the biggest game of his NHL career, New York Islanders forward Matt Moulson was still all smiles.

"It was a lot of fun -- one of those games where everything seemed to bounce my way," Moulson said after Tuesday's morning skate before the Islanders' game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. "My linemates obviously made some unbelievable plays as well."

Moulson became the first player this season to score four in a game when he did it Saturday night in Dallas, helping the Islanders beat the Stars 5-4. Linemates John Tavares and PA Parenteau each had three assists.

The 28-year-old said he had a sense after his second goal in the first period that Saturday could be a special night.

"After the second one -- I'm still trying to figure out how it bounced like it did, right to me for the open net," he said. "After that, I said 'maybe things are bouncing my way tonight.'"

The big night gave Moulson six goals in three games, earning him the NHL's First Star of the Week -- and giving him bragging rights over his brother-in-law, Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick, who earned the Third Star.

"I told him bronze is all right," Moulson said with a laugh.

On a more serious note, he said the honor was a testament to his linemates.

"They've been playing great," he said. "All the goals I got during the week were a result of some pretty great plays by them."

Said Tavares: "It's a pretty great honor. He deserves it. [In Dallas] Mollie was right in the right spots, finding those loose pucks -- and he's not going to miss those too often."



Posted On Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 11:24 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Isles juggle combinations as injury bug bites

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Al Montoya will be back in goal for the New York Islanders on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. But the injuries that came home with the Islanders along with three wins and a shootout loss on their four-game road trip will force some shuffling in front of him.

Forwards Michael Grabner (groin) and Nino Niederreiter (concussion), both of whom were injured in Saturday's 5-4 win at Dallas, are out tonight. So is defenseman Andrew MacDonald, whose injured leg kept him out of games at Chicago and Dallas and will sideline him for at least another two weeks.

Rookie goaltender Kevin Poulin is up from AHL Bridgeport to back up Montoya after Rick DiPietro left Saturday’s game after two periods with a groin injury. The Isles' third veteran goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, is still recovering from a groin injury sustained on Nov. 17. He has resumed skating, and Isles coach Jack Capuano said the team will know more tomorrow.

"Andrew will be out an extended period, and Nino is still going through all the phases with the concussion," Capuano said after the optional morning skate. "Grabs is definitely out. He's day-to-day. He didn't skate this morning."

Capuano isn't sure exactly who will play with whom.

"We're throwing it around a little bit," he said. "We'll probably move [Brian] Rolston up to start the game with Kyle [Okposo] and Frans [Nielsen]."

The Islanders called up forward Tim Wallace from Bridgeport. He'll dress along with center Michael Haley, a healthy scratch for the past three games. Defenseman Dylan Reese, called up to replace McDonald over the weekend, will also play.

The Islanders are back at the Nassau Coliseum after going 3-0-1 on a four-game trip that included wins in New Jersey, Buffalo and Dallas plus a shootout loss in Chicago.

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