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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 Wednesday, 04.18.2012 / 2:01 AM

By Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Three straight overtimes for Coyotes, Blackhawks

When it comes to the Western Conference Quarterfinal between the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks, 60 minutes just haven't been enough.

Mikkel Boedker
Right Wing - PHX
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 9 | +/-: 2
After a wild third period, the clubs played overtime for a third straight game Tuesday night before Mikkel Boedker gave the Coyotes a 2-1 series lead when he beat Corey Crawford from a sharp angle at 13:15 in a 3-2 win at the United Center.

Overtime was needed again after the teams traded three goals during a 65-second span in the third period. Michael Frolik gave Chicago a 2-1 lead almost immediately after Rostislav Klesla had tied it for Phoenix, but Ray Whitney evened things up again for the Coyotes just 32 seconds later.

The victory has Phoenix halfway towards its first postseason series victory in 25 years. In 1987, the Winnipeg Jets ousted the Calgary Flames in six games.
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 Monday, 04.16.2012 / 10:00 AM

By Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Can Kings complete improbable sweep?

It's happened only eight times in 19 years, but the Los Angeles Kings are a solid 60-minute effort away from becoming No. 9.

Thanks to a 41-save performance from Jonathan Quick and another tremendous effort from team captain Dustin Brown, the Kings -- who haven't won a playoff series since 2001 -- took a 3-0 lead on the Vancouver Canucks in their Western Conference Quarterfinal with a 1-0 win at the Staples Center on Sunday night.

Jonathan Quick
Goalie - LAK
RECORD: 3-0-0
GAA: 1.33 | SVP: 0.965
Only eight teams that finished eighth in the conference have managed to knock off a No. 1 seed since the National Hockey League adopted the format in 1993. But the Kings, who didn't even know they were playing the Canucks until the final night of the regular season, can eliminate the Canucks with another victory in Game 4 on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Vancouver's special teams have struggled in this series, as the Canucks clearly miss injured winger Daniel Sedin. Vancouver went 0-for-4 on the power play Sunday night and is now 0-for-14 in the series.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, treated its fans to something they hadn't seen in quite some time -- a playoff victory on home ice. With Sunday's win, the Kings snapped a five-game playoff skid at Staples Center.

A long time coming -- Fifteen years since their last playoff victory, the Florida Panthers had reason to celebrate after Sunday's 4-2 win against the New Jersey Devils in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at the BankAtlantic Center.

When Tomas Fleischmann scored an empty-net goal in the game's final second, it sealed Florida's first postseason win since a 3-0 triumph against the New York Rangers on April 17, 1997 -- a span of 5,478 days.

Sunday's win didn't come easily for the Panthers. The club held a 3-0 lead, but the Devils scored twice in the third period and nearly tied it with just under 10 seconds to go before Fleischmann's tally helped Florida even the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.

It's probably a good thing Florida won Sunday, too -- New Jersey is 10-0 all-time when it wins the first two games of a playoff series.

Fleury of goals
-- What's happened to Marc-Andre Fleury?

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
RECORD: 0-3-0
GAA: 6.34 | SVP: 0.798
Easily one of the top goaltenders in the League during the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins' netminder has struggled mightily against the Philadelphia Flyers and was pulled after allowing six goals on 28 shots in the first two periods of Sunday's 8-4 loss at Wells Fargo Center.

Fleury won 42 games during the regular season while boasting a 2.36 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. But, in three appearances in the playoffs, he has a 6.34 GAA and .798 save percentage.

Seventh time's a charm -- The Nashville Predators finally won a playoff game at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday.

After going winless in their first six postseason games in Detroit, the Predators squeaked out a 3-2 victory against the Red Wings in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Nashville now has a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series, with Game 4 to be played in Motown on Tuesday.

The Preds also finally experienced some success on the power play against the Wings. Nashville was 0-for-12 with the man advantage in the series before captain Shea Weber found the back of the net 2:48 into Sunday's contest.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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 Monday, 04.09.2012 / 5:33 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Dan Rosen gives his first-round picks

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Quote of the Day

It's an incredible feeling just to see it go in and see the Joe go pretty crazy.  Ever since the introduction there, I was kind of feeling the nerves, and to put that one home, I started to feel comfortable and I thought my play started to pick up.

— Nineteen-year-old Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin after scoring a goal in his NHL debut
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