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Hitchcock: It's easier now to rally in playoffs

by John McGourty
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are just entering the second round and already we've had four teams score three-straight goals to tie or win games. It's the most such games in one playoff year since 1994, when there were six.

The Carolina Hurricanes had a 3-0 lead in Game 4 of their opening-round series when the New Jersey Devils got three-straight goals from Brian Gionta, Brendan Shanahan and David Clarkson. Finally, with :00.2 seconds remaining, Carolina's Jussi Jokinen tipped Dennis Seidenberg's screened shot past Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur to even that series, which Carolina eventually won.

The next night, again in a Game 4, Chicago scored first, but Calgary scored four-straight goals. Trailing by three, the Blackhawks got goals from Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker and Sammy Pahlsson to tie the game before the end of the second period. Eric Nystrom put Calgary ahead and Jarome Iginla added an empty-net goal, allowing Calgary to tie the series that Chicago eventually won.

Facing elimination, Philadelphia led Pittsburgh 3-0 in Game 6 at home on April 25 before the Penguins scored five-straight times on goals by Ruslan Fedotenko, Mark Eaton, Sidney Crosby and Sergei Gonchar before Crosby potted an empty-netter to send the Flyers and their fans into next season.

The very first game of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs produced the next such dramatic comeback. The Vancouver Canucks led 3-0 after two periods on goals by Pavol Demitra, Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler before Patrick Kane scored twice and Dave Bolland added another to tie the game with 5:29 remaining. However, Vancouver's Sami Salo scored with 1:13 remaining and Ryan Johnson got an empty-netter to get the Canucks off on the right foot in that series.

Sometimes there are reasons for things happening -- and sometimes the answer is "stuff happens."

"It's not 'stuff happens,'" Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There's a reason -- and it's because it's difficult to get a game shut down since the rules changes and changes in standard of enforcement four years ago. Teams can get in on the forecheck harder now, and there's less risk in doing that than before. You can't hold up (interfere with) the forechecker anymore.

"As a result, the losing team doesn't get as frustrated. In the past, losing teams would struggle to rally, couldn't, and they'd get frustrated. Now teams come in on the forecheck like they couldn't before, and so they're not dealing with that level of frustration.

"You can't get a game locked down anymore because you can't hold up the opposition coming into your defensive zone. Detroit is good at it because they can play at such a fast tempo that's hard to compete against, but there aren't many Detroits.

Hitchcock also feels that parity plays a role

"The competition space is smaller," he said. "It's not like in the past where we had two or three good teams and then a big gap. You can play a lot better if you have the confidence that you are just as good as they are, even if you're losing by a few goals. They got goals, we can get goals."

Hitchcock said Pittsburgh's comeback against Philadelphia is a good example.

"In that game, Pittsburgh took 17-straight shots. Philadelphia was outshot 20-9 in that second period. You get confidence from all those shots. If one goes in, your confidence goes up that much more -- and their confidence goes down. If you can get a goal, you put the other team on its heels and it's hard to get off your heels, no matter what the score."

Hitchcock said Vancouver's winning response after blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 1 will likely determine the outcome of that series.

"If Vancouver doesn't score there, who knows what happens?" Hitchcock said. "They almost gave up the winning goal on a 4-on-2, and instead turned it around into a scoring 4-on-1. They lose, they're looking at a different series because playing in Chicago is no day at the beach anymore."

The Stanley Cup Playoffs record comeback is the "Miracle on Manchester," the Los Angeles Kings' 6-5 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on April 10, 1982, in Game 3 of their first-round series. The teams split the first two games in Edmonton, then the Oilers went up 5-0 by the end of the second period in Game 3.

Jay Wells scored early in the third and was followed by goals from Doug Smith, Charlie Simmer, Mark Hardy and Steve Bozek, the final goal coming with five seconds to play. The Kings' Daryl Evans scored in overtime. The Oilers won Game 4 in Los Angeles and the Kings won the fifth and deciding game in Edmonton.

Two teams have rallied from four-goal deficits. The 1971 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens lost Game 1 in Boston and were down 5-1 in Game 2 on April 8, 1971, when Henri Richard scored late in the second period. Then the line of Jean Beliveau, John Ferguson and Yvan Cournoyer went nuts in the third, posting eight points. Fergie and the Roadrunner assisted on Beliveau's two goals early in third; Jacques Lemaire scored unassisted; Ferguson scored on an assist from Beliveau; and the “Big M,” Frank Mahovlich, scored on an assist from Phil Roberto. Canadiens, 7-5. The stunned Bruins, one of the best regular-season teams in NHL history, won the next two games, but lost the final pair, including Game 7 on home ice.

With his Chicago Blackhawks up 3 games to 1, Denis Savard had two goals and an assist and Steve Larmer scored at 9:08 of the second period to give the Hawks a 4-0 lead in Game 5 of the their Norris Division Final series on April 28, 1985. Minnesota's Tony McKegney, now the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone Initiative ambassador, got the North Stars' first goal and then Brian Bellows and Dino Ciccarelli scored before McKegney got the tying goal. Dennis Maruk scored in overtime to complete the comeback. But it was for naught; the Blackhawks won the next game and the series.

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