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Eight highlights as playoffs reach midway point

by Dan Rosen

Four teams left, eight wins to go, but before we go in that direction let's take a look back at the Conference Semifinals.

Here are eight highlights that help define why the Devils, Rangers, Kings and Coyotes have made it to the NHL's final four:

Classic Garden Moments

Madison Square Garden has seen its share of amazing sports moments. The end of Game 5 of the Rangers-Capitals series is now among them.

The Rangers won it 3-2 in overtime, but the astonishing part was how.

With 21.3 seconds left in regulation and the Capitals leading 2-1, Joel Ward got his stick up on Carl Hagelin and drew blood. To the box he went for a four-minute double-minor. To the power play the Rangers went with nary a second to waste.

The Rangers were 0-for-3 with zero shots on goal on the power play in Game 5 before Ward slashed Hagelin. They wound up 2-for-5 with four shots on goal in a winning effort.

How did they do it? It started in the faceoff circle.

Brad Richards won the initial draw after Ward's penalty. The Rangers got the puck to the net. Ryan Callahan had two attempts that Braden Holtby stopped with his pad. As Holtby tried to cover the puck near the left post, Richards quickly swiped it past both the goalie and defenseman John Carlson, who was also in the blue paint.


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The Rangers had the game-tying goal with 6.6 seconds left (it was later changed to 7.6 seconds left).

Then, just 1:30 into overtime, with the Rangers still on the power play and Ward still in the box, John Mitchell won a faceoff from Matt Hendricks in the right circle. He used his body as a shield and moved the puck back to Marc Staal at the right point. Staal moved to his left, used a quick, short backswing and rifled a shot that hit off both Brooks Laich and Matt Hendricks before sailing past a blind Holtby and into the net.

The Rangers had the winning goal 1:35 into overtime and a 3-2 lead in the series that wound up going seven games.

Captains collide, the King comes out on top

Kings captain Dustin Brown and Blues captain David Backes came together 5:45 into the second period of Game 3 at Staples Center. It's amazing the building didn't shake with the force with which they collided.

Judging by how the series went, it should come as no surprise that Brown wound up getting the better of Backes just as he and the Kings got the better of the Blues over four games.

It started in the neutral zone with Backes carrying the puck from left to right. Brown skated hard right at him, but Backes delivered a left shoulder blow that made the Kings' captain bounce off him and fall to the ice.

Brown popped up, followed Backes and the puck to the wall in front of the Blues' bench and proceeded to hit the Blues captain so hard that he went head over skates into the bench.

The Kings led 2-1 at the time of the collisions. Five minutes later it was 3-1. The final score was 4-2 in favor of L.A. Brown scored twice in Game 4 to lead the Kings to a 3-1 win and a sweep.

It's too easy to say Brown dumping Backes into the bench was the moment the Kings won the series. After all, they already had a 2-0 lead in the series and a one-goal lead in Game 3 when it happened.

But it was the defining moment of the series, as it showed Brown dominating the Blues' fearless, imposing captain just the way the Kings dominated the Western Conference's second-seeded team.

Happy Birthday, Marty

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur discovered the best way for any hockey player to celebrate his 40th birthday.

He won a playoff game and even earned an assist while becoming the first goalie in League history to appear in a postseason game both as a teenager and a 40-year-old.

Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 8-3-1
GAA: 2.05 | SVP: 0.920
Brodeur dipped his toes into the fountain of youth in the Devils' five-game series victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, but perhaps no performance was more vintage Marty than the one he delivered on May 6, his 40th birthday. Brodeur backstopped the Devils to the third of their four straight victories against the Flyers with 20 saves in a 4-2 win.

As was the case in so many of his 107 playoff victories, the Devils limited the shots against, but Brodeur was still so good, so confident, so calm even after giving up a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal in the game's first 13:40. He watched the Devils come back to tie the game before the first intermission, then shut the door by making 15 saves over the final 40 minutes.

Just for good measure, he added an assist on Dainius Zubrus' empty-net goal with 45 seconds left in the third.

Two nights later, Brodeur made 27 saves in a 3-1 series-clinching victory. He allowed only seven goals in the final four games of the series as the Devils made quick work of the favored Flyers after losing Game 1 in overtime.

Phoenix's defining period

The Coyotes did not score a goal in the second period of Game 4 at Nashville. They won only four of 18 faceoffs. They managed 10 shots on goal, though the bulk of the chances were all that golden or glorious.

But Phoenix already had a 1-0 lead in the game and did not give it away despite Nashville's obvious push and consistent pressure.

Mike Smith made 10 saves and the Predators missed a handful of other great scoring chances, including when Patric Hornqivst hit the post and sent a shot over the crossbar after Smith gave the puck right to him.

The Predators had 24 shot attempts in the second period -- but no goals. They wouldn't score in the third period either, as Smith's 25 saves and Shane Doan's first-period goal were enough for a 1-0 win and a 3-1 series lead.

Nashville scored only one more goal in the series, and it wasn't until the Coyotes had two in Game 5.

Game 6 was not necessary.

Triple-OT thriller

The clock struck midnight in D.C., and yet the Capitals and Rangers were still going at it, still trying to score the winning goal in Game 3.

That goal finally came off the stick of Marian Gaborik 54:41 into overtime; the Rangers won 2-1 to take a 2-1 series lead. It was Gaborik's first goal in nine games, but really almost 10 considering the Rangers and Capitals nearly played a doubleheader at Verizon Center.

Some of the statistics on the final scoresheet were mind-boggling.

Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh played a game-high 53:17 over 60 shifts. Fellow Rangers defenseman Marc Staal logged 63 shifts totaling 49:34. Ryan Callahan led all of New York's forwards with 41:48 of ice time. That was actually more than any of the Capitals, as Dennis Wideman led the hard-luck losing team with 40:42.

Then there was Rangers defenseman Stu Bickel, who was stapled to the bench in overtime and played only three shifts totaling 3:24 in the entire game.

The teams combined for 81 blocked shots, with McDonagh's eight leading the way. Gaborik, Wideman and Alex Ovechkin each attempted 14 shots on goal -- Gaborik's seventh shot on goal was the difference.

Matt Hendricks had a game-high 11 hits.

There were 96 faceoffs.

Quick's reflexes and Kopitar's quick stick

The Kings held a 2-1 lead with just under 10 minutes left in Game 4 when Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick teamed up to make the save of the series to preserve the advantage and the opportunity to sweep the St. Louis Blues.

Andy McDonald brought the puck into the zone and crossed into the right circle before moving the puck to Kris Russell, who was cutting down the middle of the zone. Russell fired on net with David Perron in front and Alex Pietrangelo crashing from the right side.

Quick made the initial save on Russell's high shot, but Perron got a good piece of the rebound on a turnaround play. However, this is where Kopitar comes into the play. Perron's shot actually got past Quick's outstretched left arm, but Kopitar got his stick in before Pietrangelo's and shoved the puck back underneath Quick's left armpit.

If Kopitar didn't get his stick in, Pietrangelo would have been able to knock the puck into the wide-open net to tie the game and perhaps change the way the series ended, or at least how quickly it ended.

Talk about teamwork and helping out your goaltender.

Devils flip the switch, never look back

The Devils were down a game and a goal heading into the third period of Game 2 in Philadelphia. They had to turn it around right then and there or they likely would have become the fodder that everyone anticipated they would be in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Four goals in a matter of 14:06 did the trick.

The Devils' rout of the Flyers started with 19-year-old rookie Adam Larsson, who was playing his first career playoff game, firing a wrist shot from the right circle past Ilya Bryzgalov 3:08 into the third period to tie Game 2 at 1-1. David Clarkson scored just over eight minutes later and Travis Zajac quickly followed with a goal of his own.

With Bryzgalov out of the net early, Bryce Salvador capped the scoring with an empty-net goal at 17:09.

New Jersey still had to win Game 3 in overtime to take a series lead, but that dominating third period in Game 2 stole the momentum.

Hanzal grows up

There are only a few players in the NHL as big as 6-foot-6, 240-pound Phoenix center Martin Hanzal. Similarly, there are only a few players still alive in this postseason that are playing as big as the Coyotes' towering pivot.

Hanzal came alive against Nashville in the same way that teammate Mikkel Boedker did against Chicago. He finished with four points, none bigger than his game-winning and series-clinching goal in Game 5 at Arena.

Hanzal blazed into the zone, received a pass off the right-wing wall from Kyle Chipchura, took a step and fired a wrist shot that beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne to give the Coyotes a 2-0 lead with 4:51 to play in the second period.

Nashville got one back with Colin Wilson's goal late in the third period, but couldn't get the equalizer to Hanzal's second goal of the series and third of the playoffs in order to stave off elimination.

Hanzal also won the right-circle faceoff that directly led to Ray Whitney's overtime winner in Game 1, and he had a goal and an assist in the Coyotes' 5-3 win in Game 2.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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