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Trending: Favorites struggle, Brown stars, rats fly

Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 10:56 AM / NHL.Countdown

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Trending: Favorites struggle, Brown stars, rats fly
A pair of favorites on the brink, Dustin Brown's star turn, flying rats and a red-hot Ranger are among the top stories this week.

A pair of unpredictable deficits, the predictable Blues, the Kings' terrific captain, the Flyers' predicament, flying rats, a red-hot Ranger, and some tidbits on the competitive Bruins-Caps series is all in the second playoff edition of Trending this Week:

#FavoritesOnTheBrink

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks were the popular picks to reach the Stanley Cup Final. They both may bow out of the playoffs without winning a game.

This is a stunning development in the first week of the playoffs, but it's not happening by accident.

The Penguins have struggled with their composure and discipline, not to mention their defense and goaltending, through three games against the Flyers. They've given up 20 goals in three games and have gotten absolutely blasted on special teams.

The Flyers have nine special-teams goals; the Penguins are 3-for-13 on the power play, but those goals have been negated by the Flyers' three shorthanded goals.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been ineffective to the tune of a 6.34 goals-against average and .798 save percentage, but the Penguins haven't exactly done much to help him. They have holes all over their defense and continue to give away the puck in the defensive zone.

The Canucks haven't been worse than the Penguins, but that would be quite an achievement if they were. However, they're in a 0-3 hole against the Kings because they haven't generated enough quality scoring chances and their power play has totally abandoned them.

The latter has been a major problem since even before Daniel Sedin left the lineup with a concussion, but the 0-for-14 in this series is far more damaging than the 9-for-73 (12.3 percent) output over the final 23 games of the regular season. They're averaging just over one shot on goal per power play in the first three playoff games. Meanwhile, they've given up 20 power-play opportunities, more than enough for the Kings to keep momentum regardless if they score.

Considering Daniel Sedin was cleared for contact and will practice Tuesday, it's possible he returns to the lineup for Game 4 Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

#BluesCruise

After a slow initiation back into the playoffs in a Game 1 overtime loss, the Blues are rolling now. They dominated the Sharks all over the ice until the final minutes in Game 3 on Monday and were able to win it 4-3 and take a 2-1 lead in the series. San Jose scored twice in the last 3:02 to make it interesting.

With a two-day break between Games 3 and 4, it's a good time to dissect the reasons why the Blues have been so good in the last two games. They're not all that different from the reasons why they were so good in the regular season -- goaltending, defense, timely offense, a strong penalty kill and a potent power play.

Brian Elliott
Brian Elliott
Goalie - STL
RECORD: 1-0-0
GAA: 1.82 | SVP: 0.935
Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott both have played against the Sharks and picked up right where they left off in the regular season, combining to allow just six goals over more than 203 minutes.

The Blues actually are giving up four more shots on goal per game through three games in the playoffs than they did over 82 games in the regular season, but they're countering that by taking three more shots on goal per game and scoring 0.50 more goals per game as a result. That's a tradeoff they don't mind making.

Their penalty kill has been good, if only a few percentage points off its regular-season mark, but their power play, especially in Game 3, has been way better (38.5 percent) -- another positive tradeoff. The Blues used the man-advantage to stick the dagger in the Sharks on Monday; they scored on their first three power plays, and now are 5-for-13 in the series.

The Sharks' fears came true Monday as the Blues got up early in the second, built on the lead, and added some insurance early in the third so they could go into cruise control. San Jose finally got through with its pressure late in the game, but if the Blues score three goals they usually win. Nothing has changed in the playoffs.

#RoyalFlush

The eighth-seeded Kings are going for the sweep Wednesday in large part because captain Dustin Brown has been everything he's supposed to be.

Brown has four goals and an assist to lead all scorers in the series. He is shooting, scoring, passing, hitting -- just dominating all around. The Canucks have had no answer for Brown, who -- if you can believe it -- actually was considered potential trade bait earlier this season.

The Kings were slumping as the trade deadline was approaching, and Brown's name was floating around in a lot of rumors. General manager Dean Lombardi wisely kept his captain, added another scorer in Jeff Carter, and slowly the Kings started to get better.

Now it's all coming together against what appears to be an overmatched Canucks team.

#FlyingHigh

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette didn't want to talk about it after Game 3 -- and why would he, really -- but the Flyers in 2010 were in the same 0-3 hole the Penguins are in now, and those Flyers fought back to become the third team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games.

For Laviolette, he looks at it like this: His team, the one he's currently coaching, never has been down 0-3. It's a different team now then it was then, and he's right, because only six players from that Flyers team in 2010 are wearing the orange and black now.

But those six -- Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle -- are playing huge roles and are main members of Philadelphia's core.

There's a reason why these particular Flyers are all saying "the fourth one is always the hardest to win." They've all been on the other side of it, so they understand the desperation the Penguins absolutely have to bring into Game 4.

#RatAttack

The ice at BankAtlantic Center at the end of Game 2 Sunday looked like a lab experiment gone bad. Thousands of fans threw fake rats (at least we hope they were all fake) onto the ice to celebrate the Panthers' first home playoff win in 15 years, a 4-2 victory against the Devils.

The rat tossing started during the 1995-96 season and became a craze during the playoffs, when the Panthers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. It's back with a vengeance now.

So, too, are the Panthers, who looked completely disoriented in the first period of Game 1 this past Friday. The Devils jumped to a 3-0 lead and had a 26-9 advantage in shots on goal. The 26 shots, by the way, were more than New Jersey had Sunday in all of Game 2.

Since that shelling in the first period of Game 1, the Panthers have outscored New Jersey 6-2, and have outshot them 41-37. The series is tied heading back to New Jersey for Game 3 Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).

#BoyleingPoint

Rangers forward Brian Boyle did it again Monday, securing his position as public enemy No. 1 in Ottawa. He scored a goal for the third straight game against the Senators, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist made it stand with a phenomenal performance, especially late, for a 39-save shutout and 1-0 victory.

Brian Boyle
Brian Boyle
Center - NYR
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 3
SOG: 12 | +/-: 2
Boyle, of course, became a target for the Senators and their fans after he connected with several quick punches to Erik Karlsson's head in Game 1. Matt Carkner went after Boyle in Game 2 and got a game misconduct and a one-game suspension for it.

In Game 3, it only was about Boyle's offense, which has become huge for the Rangers. He has eight goals in his last 12 games after scoring only six goals in his first 73 this season. Boyle had 21 goals last season, and it appears he's finally found his scoring touch again.

Boyle also nearly scored on a shorthanded opportunity late in the third period Monday, and used a pristine stretch pass to spring Ryan Callahan for a breakaway at the 15-minute mark of the third. Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson made an outstanding glove save to preserve the 1-0 deficit.

Rangers coach John Tortorella was so impressed with Boyle that he used him basically every second shift over the final eight minutes of the game. Boyle took and won several defensive-zone faceoffs. He was on the ice during the frantic six-on-five Ottawa advantage over the last 1:15, getting in shooting and passing lanes in the defensive zone and forechecking hard on the other end before he finally came off with 15 seconds left.

#CapsBruins

Despite the overwhelming amount of people in the hockey media picking Boston to beat Washington (not one of the seven NHL.com writers that did predictions prior to the playoffs selected the Caps to win the series), we probably all should have seen these close games coming in this first-round series. After all, the Capitals did win three out of the four games in the regular season against the Bruins, including twice by a single goal in March.

The Bruins lead the series 2-1 after winning in Game 3 Monday night in Washington 4-3 thanks to Zdeno Chara's goal off Roman Hamrlik's stick with 1:53 left in regulation. Games 1 and 2 were decided in overtime, with Boston winning the first and the Capitals taking the second.

There have been a combined 11 goals in the series -- six for the Bruins, five for the Capitals. By comparison, the Penguins and Flyers have combined for 25 in the last two games of their series.

The goaltending duel between Boston's Tim Thomas and Washington rookie Braden Holtby has been excellent and could turn epic if this series goes the distance. Not many people saw that coming because of what appears to be an overwhelming advantage in Boston's net with the veteran Thomas, but Holtby is known for having confidence and a swagger befitting a veteran with Thomas' resume.

Neither team has found much room in even-strength situations; there have been only seven goals scored when the teams are skating at full strength. There were three four-on-four goals in Game 3.

The special teams have been almost even, with the Caps owning the lone power-play goal. The Bruins are 0-for-11; the Capitals are 1-for-9.

The Capitals, though, could be facing the prospect of not having Nicklas Backstrom for Game 4 and possibly beyond. He was assessed a match penalty at the 20-minute mark of the third period Monday for a high cross-check on Rich Peverley. The match penalty carries an automatic suspension pending further review by the Department of Player Safety.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Quote of the Day

(The tribute) was great, brought back a lot of memories. I felt I wanted to give them the thank you they deserved. I understand the booing and it was expected. They are great fans.

— Martin St. Louis after playing his first game in Tampa Bay since being traded to the Rangers last season
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