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Ward's playoff resume is impressive

Friday, 05.15.2009 / 12:10 PM / 2009 Playoffs Conference Finals

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Cam Ward's name isn't the first one that comes trippingly to the tongue when the subject turns to clutch goaltenders in the playoffs. Maybe it should.

It's hard to be much better in the clutch than Ward, who has led the Carolina Hurricanes into the Eastern Conference Finals this spring with a pair of seven-game victories -- including a 3-2 overtime win at Boston in Game 7 Thursday.

Amazingly, Ward has yet to lose a playoff series. He's won all six in which he's played -- four in 2006, when he led the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and two more this year. His last four series have gone to the limit, meaning that Ward is 4-0 in Game 7s, including a 3-1 win against Edmonton in the 2006 Cup Final.

Ward has also been excellent in overtime -- he's 3-1 this year and 7-4 lifetime. All in all, that's a pretty clutch playoff resume, especially for someone who's only 25.

Springtime bonanza -- If you like playoff hockey, this has been a second round to remember.

Thursday's two Game 7s capped a round that saw 27 of a possible 28 games played -- matching the record set in 1986 and setting a mark for the most games played under the current playoff format, which was adopted in 1994. It's the first time since 2001 that three conference semifinal series have gone to a seventh game.

Carolina's 3-2 win against Boston in the 27th and last second-round game marked the 31st time a seventh game has gone to overtime. And while home teams have dominated Game 7s overall, road teams now have won 16 of the 31 that have gone to overtime -- including the last seven. It was the longest Game 7 since May 16, 1996, when Detroit beat St. Louis 1-0 on Steve Yzerman's goal 1:15 into the second overtime.

Nightmare revisited -- As exciting as their series with Pittsburgh was, you'll have to forgive the Washington Capitals if they don't want to see the Penguins in next spring's playoffs.

Washington's Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh marked the third time the Caps have lost a series to the Pens after winning the first two games -- a big number when you consider that it's only been done 39 times (in 299 occasions). The Caps also blew 2-0 series leads to the Penguins in 1992 and 1996 -- and this year's loss made them the first team to be beaten by the same team three times after winning the first two games.

Pittsburgh also beat Washington in 1995 after losing three of the first four games -- making the Penguins the only team to beat the same opponent four times after trailing by two wins at any point in the series.

Overall, the Penguins have overcome four 0-2 deficits to win playoff series, the most of any non-Original Six team. Montreal and Detroit have done it five times; Chicago and Toronto have done so four times.

The Caps, who also lost to Tampa Bay in 2003 after winning the first two games, have dropped four series when leading 2-0 -- tying them with Montreal. Only Detroit and Boston (6) have lost more.

Coming back to earth -- Washington goaltender Simeon Varlamov will never forget the spring he turned 21, though there are parts of it he probably won't remember fondly.

Through eight games, Varlamov looked like the Russian version of Ken Dryden -- a rookie who carried the 1971 Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup. He was 6-2 with a 1.64 goals-against average, a .942 save percentage and two shutouts while helping the Caps rally from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the New York Rangers in the opening round, then win Games 1 and 2 against Pittsburgh.

But the bloom came off the rose for Varlamov in the final five games against Pittsburgh. He won just once, had a GAA of 4.27 and a save percentage of just .883.

 
Still, Varlamov did win each of his first four career starts when his team was facing elimination -- something that no goaltender had done since 1975, when Glenn Resch of the Islanders won his first seven. He also won Game 6 against Pittsburgh in overtime, ending Washington's OT losing streak at seven, one shy of the NHL record held by Philadelphia (1996-2000) and Calgary (1991-2004)

Penalty-killing problems -- One reason the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings had to go to the limit against the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks was that their regular-season penalty-killing problems have carried over to the playoffs.

Anaheim scored at least once with the man advantage in all seven games of the series. That extended the Wings' streak of allowing at least one power-play goal in the postseason to nine games -- breaking the franchise mark for the longest such streak within one playoff year. The Wings allowed power-play goals in eight consecutive playoff games in 1988 and 1998.

The Wings had better find a way to kill penalties in the next round: Their opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks, were 15-for-51 in the first two rounds, a League-leading 29.4 percent success rate.

Saving the best for last -- It was no accident that Detroit got the game-winner in Game 7 against Anaheim in the third period. Throughout the series, the Wings did their best work in the final period.

Detroit outscored Anaheim 8-2 in the seven third periods during the series, including late game-winners in Games 1 and 7. But had it not been for the goaltending of Jonas Hiller, those numbers would have been a lot worse. Detroit outshot Anaheim in all seven third periods, and with the exception of a 9-6 count in Game 4, the margins were large. Detroit had 15 shots in Games 1, 3 and 6 -- and 18 in Games 2, 5 and 7. Anaheim had no more than seven shots in any third period.

The final margin was 108-42 -- and that doesn't count overtime, in which Detroit outshot the Ducks 29-17. Overall, the Wings had 302 shots in the series to 193 for Anaheim.

Scoring when it counts -- Darren Helm will score his first regular-season goal some day. Forgive him if he doesn't go nuts about it.

Helm didn't score a goal in seven regular-season games last season and 16 more this season for the Detroit Red Wings -- he has just one assist in those 23 games. But he now has four playoff goals after getting one in the Wings' 4-3 victory against Anaheim in Game 7 on Thursday. He scored twice last year and has 2 goals in 11 games this spring.


Quote of the Day

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible.

— Capitals defenseman Mike Green on teammate Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal against the Devils on Saturday