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Failure on power play dims offenses in playoffs

by John Kreiser

Someone has turned off the power in the conference finals in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through two rounds and 71 games, teams were converting on exactly 18 percent of their power-play chances, helping to keep the average goals per game over five (5.26 through 48 games in the first round, 5.08 through round two).

But the four teams battling for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final have done next to nothing with the extra man so far.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have combined to go scoreless in 22 power-play chances. That's especially damaging for the Penguins, who during the regular season ranked second in the League with the man advantage and led all playoff teams in power-play goals and percentage coming into this round.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings haven't done a whole lot better in the Western Conference. They combined to go 0-for-7 in Chicago's 3-2 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night and are 2-for-27 in the series -- meaning that the four best teams in the NHL this season have combined to go 2-for-49 (4.1 percent) through the first seven games of the conference finals.

Not surprisingly, the power-play struggles have dampened the overall offensive numbers this spring. Through the first seven games in this round, there have been 30 goals scored, an average of 4.29 per game that's nearly one goal per contest less than the opening round. That has dropped the overall average to 5.01 goals per game through 78 games.

David Krejci
David Krejci
Center - BOS
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 21
SOG: 40 | +/-: 13
Surprising snipers -- Despite the offensive struggles, two players have stood out this spring.

Boston center David Krejci had the first goal in Wednesday night's 2-1 double-overtime victory against the Penguins, giving him the lead among all players this spring in both goals (nine) and points (21). Both of those totals are more than any player amassed last spring.

However, Krejci has a history of being an effective offensive player. The same can't be said for Chicago forward Bryan Bickell, whose offensive heroics have the Blackhawks within one victory of their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three years. The 27-year-old forward scored nine goals in each of the past two seasons and had four goals in 15 playoff games before this spring. But Bickell has suddenly turned into an offensive force for Chicago, having scored goals in three consecutive games. He's also tied with teammate Patrick Sharp for second in playoff goals with eight, one behind Krejci.

The birds who couldn't shoot straight -- The Pittsburgh Penguins own two of the three 50-shot games in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. The only problem is that they haven't won either of them.

The Penguins put 54 shots on Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask Wednesday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final only to see Patrice Bergeron score at 15:19 of the second overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory and a 3-0 series lead. The 54 shots and 53 saves were highs for this year's playoffs and marked the second time this spring the Penguins have reached the 50-shot mark. They also fired 50 shots against the Ottawa Senators in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, which they also lost, 2-1, in double overtime.

The most frustrated Penguin Wednesday night must have been Evgeni Malkin, who tested Rask 10 times without beating him. Malkin had 21 of Pittsburgh's 101 shot attempts (his most in any game this season) but wound up with nothing to show for it. To add insult to injury, he was on the ice for both of Boston's goals.

Patrice Bergeron
Patrice Bergeron
Center - BOS
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 10
SOG: 48 | +/-: 4
Quick on the draw -- One reason the Penguins were able to get off all those shots in Game 3 was their surprising success in the faceoff circle.

Boston led the NHL in faceoff percentage during the regular season, is No. 1 in the playoffs and had won 61 of 105 draws (58.1 percent) in the first two games against the Penguins. But Pittsburgh turned the tables in Game 3 as Boston won just 38 of 89 faceoffs (42.7 percent). Most surprising was the Penguins' dominance over Patrice Bergeron, who won only 13 of 35 faceoffs and saw his success rate during the playoffs decline from 63.6 to 60.7, dropping him behind teammate Chris Kelly (61.1 percent) for the League lead.

Peaceful, easy feeling -- If there's one way in which the Stanley Cup Playoffs have changed from a generation or two ago, it's the absence of fighting.

There have been only 14 fights (28 majors) assessed in this year's playoffs, and half of those were in one first-round game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens. All 14 fights have taken place within the Eastern Conference and there has not been a single fighting major called in the 38 Western Conference playoff games.

First time for everything -- There's always something new in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and this year will be no different if the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks close out their respective conference final series.

One more victory for each team will set up the first meeting in the Final between the franchises, both of which entered the NHL in the 1920s (Boston in 1924; Chicago in '26). Blackhawks-Bruins and Blackhawks-Rangers are the only Original Six combinations that have not met in the Final.

The teams haven't met in the postseason since Boston swept a quarterfinal series in 1978, the Bruins' fifth series win in six tries against Chicago.

It would also be the first all-Original Six Final since 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers in five games, and would assure that an Original Six team will win the Cup for the fourth time in six years.

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