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Late rallies have added spice to early playoff results

by Mike G. Morreale

Thanks to Owen Nolan's game-winning goal, the Flames beat the Sharks in a 4-3 comeback victory. Nolan's winning goal
Patience has certainly been a virtue for several teams in the conference quarterfinal round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. Sure, jumping out to an early lead might energize the home crowd, but it doesn't always guarantee victory.

After five days of postseason action in the eight opening-round conference matchups, eight of the 19 games played had teams either rallying from behind or breaking a deadlock in the third period.

Here's a recap:

Western Conference

The most improbable of comebacks occurred Sunday night at Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary when the Flames rallied from a 3-0 deficit to earn a 4-3 decision and take a 2-1 lead in the series. Calgary spotted the League's best road team this season a three-goal lead just four minutes into the game before scoring four unanswered goals. In the third, defenseman Dion Phaneuf connected at 1:18 and Owen Nolan, who had spent eight seasons in San Jose, scored the eventual winner at 16:15.

The Detroit Red Wings received a pair of goals by Henrik Zetterberg in the final period to score a 3-1 decision against Nashville in Game 1 of their series. The Presidents' Trophy winner leads the series, 2-0.

The Minnesota Wild outscored the Colorado Avalanche, 2-1, in the third period to send Game 2 into overtime before Keith Carney's tally 1:14 into the extra period gave the host Wild a 3-2 triumph to even the series, 1-1.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks dropped Game 2 of their series with the visiting Dallas Stars after yielding third-period goals to Mike Modano, Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson in a 5-2 setback. Dallas holds a 2-0 lead in the series, which resumes Tuesday in Texas.

Eastern Conference

The Pittsburgh Penguins took a 2-0 lead in their series with Ottawa after receiving a pair of goals by Ryan Malone late in the third to earn a 5-3 victory in Game 2.

In Washington, 22-year-old Russian Alex Ovechkin, who set a NHL record for goals by a left wing this season with 65, capped a three-goal third period for the Caps when he scored his first of these playoffs with 4:32 left in a 5-4 decision against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1. The series, which shifts Tuesday to Philly, is tied 1-1.

The New York Rangers did their finest Muhammad Ali impersonation in their opening two games against the New Jersey Devils by playing rope-a-dope for two periods before unleashing a third-period assault against their Hudson River rival to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

In Game 1 of the Devils-Rangers series, goals by Ryan Callahan, Sean Avery and Nigel Dawes (empty net) in the final 20 minutes of regulation gave the Rangers a 4-1 victory. The Rangers scripted a similar conclusion in Game 2 when Jaromir Jagr and Avery each scored third-period goals in a span of 23 seconds in a 2-1 triumph. In Game 3, the Rangers scored the only goal of the third to force an overtime period that was decided on a goal by New Jersey's John Madden. The series stands 2-1 in New York's favor.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has stopped 81 of 87 shots in this series, feels his team's third-period magic is a result of confidence.

John Madden's fluke OT goal has kept the Devils' from being swept in their series against the Rangers.
"I don't know if it's so much about (the Devils) then it is about us,'' Lundqvist said after the two wins. "We have a lot of confidence heading into the third period. A lot of games for us this year have been tight heading into the third and we all feel good knowing we have a lot of good players who can step up and score that big goal.''

The Rangers, in fact, earned 20 of their 42 regular-season wins in games in which they scored three or fewer goals.

"I think its nice knowing we have a lot of guys who can step up when needed, especially in the third,'' Lundqvist says. "It's easy to slip away from your game plan because you want to win so badly when things are on the line. Sometimes you want to try and win it on your own, but when you stick to your game plan, like we've done, it pays off in the end and you gain more confidence.''

The Rangers almost did it again on Sunday when an early third-period goal by Brandon Dubinsky pulled the Blueshirts into a 3-3 tie. But Madden banked a shot off the skate of Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and past Lundqvist 6:01 into overtime to give New Jersey its first victory of the series.

The goal was yet another example of patience, which is something the Devils have exhibited all season. New Jersey's .250 winning percentage when trailing after two periods ranked second in the NHL behind Detroit (.273) this campaign. Devils coach Brent Sutter, a member of the New York Islanders Stanley Cup Championship runs in 1982 and 1983, knows good teams create their own breaks in tight situations.

"We were down, 2-0, in the series and coming into an opposing building (in Madison Square Garden) where it is tough to play,'' Sutter said. "We needed to play well to give ourselves a chance and I feel we did just that. You make your breaks and we did a lot of good things and were rewarded for it. History shows that overtime goals aren't always going to be pretty, but it just goes to show the importance of directing the puck toward the net.''

The Devils' 4-3 overtime victory cut their series deficit with New York to 2-1 with Game 3 on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

"It's important to realize that when we need goals, we can get them,'' Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "At the end of the day, we have to work hard to generate offense and score goals against (the Devils). Confidence is a big part, individually and as a team and there's a collective momentum that comes from that. Naturally, we don't want to put ourselves in a position of coming from behind too often.''

Contact Mike Morreale at

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