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Sweep caps sad spring in Montreal

Friday, 04.24.2009 / 2:01 PM / 2009 Playoffs Conference Quarterfinals

By John Kreiser - Columnist

Suffice it to say that this was not the ending the Montreal Canadiens or their fans had envisioned for the franchise's centennial season.

Struggling down the stretch, barely making the playoffs and losing in the first round were all bad enough. Being swept in a best-of-7 series for only the fifth time in franchise history was even worse. But having to line up and shake hands after the archrival Boston Bruins celebrated a Game 4 victory at the Bell Centre had to be galling for anyone who bleeds bleu, blanc et rouge.

Of all the endings to all of the Canadiens' 91 NHL seasons, this one might be the hardest to swallow.

Not only did the Canadiens not win a game against Boston, they were outscored 17-6 and lost all four by two goals or more (the Bruins hit an empty net in Games 1 and 3). It was also the first time since the NHL began using the best-of-7 format in 1939 that the Canadiens made the playoffs but were knocked out without winning a game -- the other four sweeps all came after Montreal had won its first-round series.

The Canadiens, who dropped the last four games in last year's second-round series to Philadelphia after beating Boston in seven games in the opening round, have now lost eight consecutive playoff games -- a franchise record. The sweep by the Bruins was only their second against Montreal in the Habs' 107 best-of-7 series (the Canadiens have four against Boston), and the first in which they were outscored by two or more goals in all four game. It also marked only the fifth time the Bruins had won the first three games of a series against the Habs.

All in all, this is not a springtime the Canadiens or their fans will remember fondly.

Sweep dreams -- This has been a big first round for sweeps, something that hasn't been true for the last few years.

Detroit's 6-5 win against Columbus on Thursday night wrapped up the third first-round sweep this year, following Boston beating Montreal and Vancouver sweeping St. Louis. In contrast, there was just one last year -- Pittsburgh's 4-0 blitz of the Ottawa Senators.

In fact, entering this year, there had been just three first-round sweeps since 2002, with no more than one in any year. That was a turnabout from the previous three seasons -- from 1999 to 2001, there were seven first-round sweeps, three in 1999 and two each in 2000 and 2001.

In all, there have now been 18 sweeps in the 120 first-round series (including this year) since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994.

Good omen? -- Before last Saturday, it had been 69 years between 1-0 playoff victories for the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts blanked Washington 1-0 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series behind a 35-save performance by Henrik Lundqvist. It was the Rangers' first 1-0 win in postseason since they did it in back-to-back games in the 1940 semifinals against Boston. Dave Kerr was in goal for a 1-0 win in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden and a repeat performance in Game 5 at Boston Garden. He did allow a goal in Game 6, but the Rangers wrapped up the series with a 4-1 victory.

The good omen: The Rangers went on to win the Cup in 1940 -- something that's happened only once since then.

Ready, aim, fire -- The Capitals have spent the first four games against the Rangers firing away -- they've taken 149 shots (37.3 per game) at Lundqvist, while New York has managed just 99 (24.8 per game) at Jose Theodore (Game 1) and Simeon Varlamov (Games 2-4).

But the disparity is more apparent if you examine shots at goal, which includes attempts that missed the target or were blocked. The Capitals have been credited with 298 attempted shots (149 on goal, 79 blocked by the Rangers, 70 that missed the net), an average of 74.5 per game. New York has taken just 199 shots (99 on goal, 43 blocked by the Caps, 57 that missed), an average of 49.8.

In other words, the Caps have averaged nearly 25 more shot attempts per game -- making it all the more amazing that the Rangers take a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 on Friday night.

Beat the clock -- Jussi Jokinen now holds a playoff record that's almost certain never to be broken. The Carolina Hurricanes' forward deflected Dennis Seidenberg's shot into the net with :00.2 seconds remaining on Tuesday, giving the 'Canes a 4-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

It was the first time in playoff history that a game-winning goal has been scored in the final second of regulation. The previous record for the latest game-winner was set in 1964, when Toronto's Bob Pulford scored at 19:58 to give the Leafs a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The latest game-winning goal in the 2008-09 regular season came on Oct. 11, when Edmonton's Dustin Penner scored at 19:54 to give the Oilers a 3-2 victory Three players -- Scott Niedermayer, David Backes and Alex Ovechkin -- scored in the final second of regulation to force overtime. All three of those teams lost in a shootout.

The Closer -- Detroit's Johan Franzen is the man you want on the ice when a playoff game and series are there for the taking.

Franzen was the right man in the right place Thursday night, when his power-play goal with 46.6 seconds left in regulation gave the Wings a 6-5 victory against Columbus. Not only was it Franzen's eighth game-winner in 45 postseason appearances, it was his third series-winner.

Franzen's eight game-winners -- one-third the number of record-holders Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull -- have come on 19 goals in only 45 games in his four NHL postseasons. He's pretty good in the regular season, too -- Franzen has 20 game-winners among his 83 goals in 292 career games.

Quote of the Day

Life's about opportunity and how you respond to that opportunity, and obviously he must have some swagger about him, some confidence about him, because he was solid. He made some good saves. He was 6-foot-3 on every shot, which is a good thing for a goalie. He played well. We got a win.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock on rookie goaltender Garret Sparks, who made 24 saves in his first NHL start, a 3-0 win vs. Oilers
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