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Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1

Just over a week old, the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs have already seen some surprises. One team have already been knocked out, and another is making a spirited, and surprising comeback against the league’s best team. Let’s delve a little deeper.

Vancouver v Chicago

The Canucks opened their Playoff campaign against last-gasp qualifiers, Chicago. The starting game, saw the Canucks race into a 2-0 lead in the first period, and despite the Blackhawks throwing 25 shots on net over the next 2 periods, Luongo stood tall and denied all comers, shutting out Chicago.

Game 2 was a slightly different affair, with the Hawks obviously regrouping and learning from their mistake the first time round. A much more even affair saw the Canucks come out just on top of a 4-3 game, with both teams trying to grasp control in the final period, and providing a great game of hockey for a neutral fan.

The third game, with the series now in Chicago, saw the Hawks again unlucky to lose out, this time of the wrong end of a 3-2 game. The teams were tied, with Vancouver taking multiple penalties, and giving up 2 goals on the Penalty Kill, before Samuelsson slotted the puck away with just 6 minutes remaining in the game. Chicago also lost heavily-relied upon defenceman Brent Seabrook to a hit from Vancouver’s Raffi Torres.

Finally, the Blackhawks took their chances with game 4, and after a 1st period tied at 1-1, Chicago blasted away the Canucks with 4 goals in the 2nd, and a further 2 more in the 3rd. Top goalie Luongo was chased after giving up 6 goals on 28 shots, and despite a couple of melees in the final period, Chicago stave off elimination for another few days at least.

Current status: Vancouver lead 3-1

Upcoming games (if required):

@ Vancouver, Thursday 21st April 2011

@ Chicago, Sunday 24th April 2011

@ Vancouver, Tuesday 26th April 2011

San Jose v Los Angeles

The Sharks managed to wrestle 2nd place in the conference from the Red Wings with just a game or two to spare, matching them with the 7th place Kings. The opening game was a very tense affair, with San Jose making the majority of the play, but LA goalie Jonathan Quick denying nearly everything that came his way. After the score was tied 2-2, then, the overtime period was nearly 15 minutes old when Sharks forward Joe Pavelski sealed the win for San Jose.

The second game was an entirely different sight, as the Sharks went down 4-0, despite heavily outshooting the Kings. Quick was again the man to thanks, and Drew Doughty came up big with 2 goals and 2 assists to level the series.

Game 3 became the stuff of history when the Kings raced into a 4-0 lead early in the second, chasing often-reliable goalie Antti Niemi. San Jose countered in the same period, with 3 of their own before the Kings tallied again, making it 5-3. The Sharks fought back with 2 goals in a minute to tie the game 5-5 by the end of the 2nd. The 3rd period was primarily neither team wanting to leave themselves open at the back. As the game entered OT, Marleau forged forward and got his pass across the Setoguchi who hit a one-timer and won the game for the Sharks, 6-5 in OT.

Current status: San Jose lead 2-1

Upcoming games (if required):

@ LA, Thursday 21st April 2011

@ San Jose, Saturday 23th April 2011

@ LA, Monday 25th April 2011

@ San Jose, Wednesday 27th April 2011

Detroit v Phoenix

Detroit faced Phoenix in the first round for the 2nd year straight. In the previous series meeting, Detroit had prevailed after a game 7 blowout victory in Arizona, but this year, they set out with a steely determination. An opening game 4-2 win was certainly going to help their cause, despite a messy facial injury to post-season talisman, Johan Franzen. Phoenix’s Kyle Turris actually took the lead before the Wings scored 4 (Datsyuk, Franzen, Rafalski and Hudler), before allowing a well-worked goal from Radim Vrbata.

Game 2 saw Detroit race out to a 4-0 lead before being pegged back to 4-3 by the third. Despite the Coyotes very best efforts, Jimmy Howard held off the attacks, and Detroit hung on to claim back-to-back victories. The main talking point of this game though, was Pavel Datsyuk’s stickhandling to set up Darren Helm’s goal, with the Russian forward playing the stick between his legs before firing a shot at Bryzgalov. The rebound was easily slotted by Helm and the Wings led the series 2-0.

The third matchup needed Phoenix to step up to the plate, but despite a huge raucous crowd, the Coyotes didn’t make home advantage count. Detroit scored twice early in the game, and then again at the start of the 2nd to set up a 4-2 victory, placing Phoenix on the brink of being swept.

Finally, before the fourth game, Coyotes coach Dave Tippet stated he needed Bryzgalov to come up big to halt the Red Wings domination, but it was not to be. Having already scored 12 in 3 games, Detroit dismantled the Phoenix defence, scoring 6 in the final game, to run out 6-2 winners, and sweeping the Coyotes. With the game tied 3-3 at the end of the 2nd, both teams quickly tried to gain

momentum, but it was Danny Cleary’s goal after 13 minutes into the 3rd, and Detroit went on to grasp control.

Current status: Detroit win series 4-0.

Upcoming games (if required):

N/A

Anaheim v Nashville

With both teams having always been there or thereabouts for the last few years, both are out to prove a point. Nashville always seem to be a playoff certainty, but never seem to really fulfil their potential, whilst Anaheim had a terrible start to the season, and should be grateful to have made the post-season at all. Their first matchup saw the Preds take a commanding lead, and by the middle of the third, they were 4-0 up, had chased Ducks goalie Dan Ellis, and were cruising to a shutout victory. Unfortunately, Teemu Selanne decided he didn’t like shutouts and scored on Pekka Rinne to finish the game 4-1 to Nashville.

By the end of the 2nd period in game 2, Anaheim were 4-1 up this time. Nashville’s attempts to get back into the game nearly worked, as Hornqvist and Ward scored to pull the score back to 4-3. Pulling their goalie for the extra man, they were caught out by Bobby Ryan, who scored an empty netter, to finish the game 5-3 to the Ducks.

Game 3 saw the Predators swing advantage their way in a topsy-turvy game, as they took a 2-0 lead on goals from Tootoo and Erat, before Selanne potted twice in a volatile and aggressive 2nd period. The 3rd saw Legwand take the lead for the Predators, Belesky equalise for the Ducks, and then Fisher win 4-3 for Nashville.

The 4th game showed how evenly matched these teams are, as a 3-3 tie at the end of the first (including Selanne’s 5th goal of the playoffs) was broken in the 3rd by Corey Perry’s shorthanded goal. This ruined the Nashville momentum and the Ducks went on to score twice more, winning 6-3 to tie the series.

Current status: Series tied 2-2

Upcoming games (if required):

@ Anaheim, Friday 22nd April 2011

@ Nashville, Sunday 24th April 2011

@ Anaheim, Tuesday 26th April 2011

Washington v New York Rangers

The Capitals topped the Eastern Conference this year once again, and kicked off their playoffs with a series against the New York Rangers. A rather tepid start to game 1 was soon forgotten about, as both teams scored in the 3rd period to set up a 1-1 tie and overtime. The Capitals turned up the juice in OT and Jason Arnott was able to set up Alexander Semin for the OT winner and give Washington the edge after the first game.

A couple of days later and the same could be said of matchup number 2. A relatively low number of shots were fired at both goalies, but Washington made theirs count with 2 goals in the second period, from Chimera and Arnott, and put the Caps 2-0 up in the series.

Back in New York for the third game and the series finally caught a spark. Neuvirth was the busier of the goalies, facing over 30 shots for the first time in the series, but he was unable to stop them all. After a 2-2 tie in the third, Dubinsky was able to notch the game winner with just over 1.30 left in the period.

The fourth match found the Capitals in no mood for allowing the Rangers an easy game, and despite the Rangers 3-0 lead at the end of the second, Washington fought back with three of their own in the third. Into overtime they went, with the first 20 minutes also scoreless, despite Washington’s onslaught of the Rangers’ goal. 12 minutes in the 2nd OT period, Chimera tipped in to give the Caps a 3-1 series lead, and heading back to Washington knowing only one more is needed to progress.

Current status: Washington lead 3-1

Upcoming games (if required):

@ Washington, Saturday 23rd April 2011

@ New York, Monday 25th April 2011

@ Washington, Wednesday 27th April 2011

Philadelphia v Buffalo

Last year’s beaten finalists met Buffalo in the opening games of the series, and didn’t get off to a great start. The first period was scoreless, before Philly piled on large amounts of pressure in the second. Buffalo held firm though, and were able to weather the storm before Patrick Kaleta snatched a goal in the third and stole the game for the Sabres, despite being heavily outshot.

Game two was a much more scoring affair. An aggressive game saw a 3-3 tie after just the 1st period, and also a combined 30 minutes of penalties. The Flyers capitalised on a further 12 minutes worth of penalties against Buffalo, and took a 5-3 lead, as Leino and Briere made the Sabres pay for their lack of discipline. Despite McCormick’s tally in the 3rd, the Sabres lost out 5-4 to leave the series tied.

The third game started out with a Powerplay goal each and a 1-1 tie after the first. Philly took the lead in the second with 2 goals, but the Sabres were not yet done, and Gerbe scored late in the 2nd to set up a close finish. Despite outshooting Philly 11-5 in the third, Boucher was not budging, and the Sabres pulled their goalie, only to give up an empty netter for Timonen in the final minute.

Matchup 4 was back to the Buffalo style they enjoy. The Sabres took an early lead inside 10 minutes of the first, courtesy of Jason Pominville, and held on for the 1-0 win, despite the onslaught of Philly shots in the 2nd and 3rd periods. Miller was up to the task, and shut out the Flyers for the second time in 4 games.

Current status: Series tied 2-2

Upcoming games (if required):

@ Philadelphia, Friday 22nd April 2011

@ Buffalo, Sunday 24th April 2011

@ Philadelphia, Tuesday 26th April 2011

Boston v Montreal

In what was supposed to be battle of the top goalies, Montreal headed to Boston to take on the Bruins, knowing Tim Thomas held the league’s top GAA and save percentage for the entire season. Unfortunately for the Bruins, Brian Gionta doesn’t care much for reputations, and managed a goal in both the 1st and 3rd periods, giving the Canadiens a 2-0 win on the road. Carey Price, who the media claims is having the season where he fulfils his potential, kept a 31-save shutout to deny Boston any joy on home ice.

The same was to be said of game two, where Montreal were again able to best the Bruins with 2 quick goals in the first, and despite Bergeron putting away an answering goal in the second, the lead was maintained when Yannick Weber was able to backhand past Thomas, and seal a 3-1 win for the Habs. Despite a torrent of shots against him, especially in the third, Price was able to handle the pressure, and left the ice knowing that in 120 minutes of hockey, he’d allowed just one goal.

Boston were not going to allow a sweep and set out into game 3 with determination. By the second period, they had already established a 2-0 lead, when a soft throw into the offensive end was cleared by Price, right into the path of Rich Peverley, who being a matter of 2 yards from net, could not really miss. Montreal fought back well and put away 2 goals to bring the game to a tense end, before Chris Kelly’s empty net goal killed any hope of comeback.

Current status: Montreal lead 2-1

Upcoming games (if required):

@ Montreal, Thursday 21st April 2011

@ Boston, Saturday 23rd April 2011

@ Montreal, Tuesday 26th April 2011

@ Boston, Wednesday 27th April 2011

Pittsburgh v Tampa Bay

Lacking star forward Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins know that they have a harder job than most. Their 2nd and 3rd line players will really have to step up if the Pens are to go deep into the playoffs, and there’s easier teams to face early on that Steve Stamkos and the Tamp Bay Lightning. All eyes were on Stamkos as he entered his first playoffs, after a 91-point season. All those eyes soon saw Brooks Orpik crush Stamkos with a huge hit behind the net, and the Lightning forward was knocked off his game for the duration of the 60 minutes. After two scoreless periods, the Penguins put 2 goals away in 20 seconds during the third, and then Chris Kunitz was able to grab an empty netter at the end to seal a 3-0 victory.

Game 2 could not have been more different, with Tampa Bay racing out the blocks and into a 3-0 lead after the first period. Despite a Craig Adams goal, the Penguins had no reply, and Martin St Louis’ powerplay goal late in the second sealed Pittsburgh’s fate. Roloson was also playing very well, saving 34 of 35 shots. Matthias Ohlund managed to capitalise on an ‘all-or-nothing’ play from the Penguins, scoring a shorthanded goal into an empty net, late in the third to finish with the Lightning winning 5-1.

After convincing wins for each team, game 3 then seemed to level off. Early in the third, St Louis scored his second of the night to level the score at 2-2, before Kennedy scored for the Penguins only a minute later with a wicked wrist shot to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 win and the lead in the series overall.

Game 4 was all about pressure and counter. The Penguins provided the pressure and got the rewards from it, scoring twice through Kennedy and Asham. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay played the part of the counter, and came back to grab two goals of their own through St Louis (his 4th of the post-season) and Bergenheim. At 2-2 by the end of the third period, the game headed into OT. After the third period, Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson had already face 40 shots, and headed into OT, where he faced 11 more. After 20 minutes, there was still no victor, but shortly after the start of the 2nd OT, James Neal fired from an almost impossible angle, over by the boards, and managed to whip the puck by Roloson, for the OT win, and a 3-1 series lead.

Current status: Pittsburgh lead 3-1

Upcoming games (if required):

@ Pittsburgh, Saturday 23rd April 2011

@ Tampa Bay, Monday 25th April 2011

@ Pittsburgh, Wednesday 27th April 2011

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