NHL Playoffs – Last Night’s Action.
There were four games in the NHL last night and in keeping with the thrilling postseason so far, they were packed full of excitement, controversy and goals.
In the East, the playoffs returned to Toronto for the first time in nine years as both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins sought to edge ahead with their series tied at 1-1. At Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers looked to avoid falling into a 0-3 series hole against the dynamic Washington Capitals, who had dominated the previous two encounters.
In the Western Conference, the Detroit Red Wings were desperate to even up the series by winning game four against the Anaheim Ducks, who led 2-1 after a victory at the Joe Louis Arena on Saturday. A similar story in game four in Los Angeles, where the defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings looked to even the series at 2-2 after losing their opening two games against the St Louis Blues and stealing game three at Staples Centre.
Boston Bruins 5 – 2 Toronto Maple Leafs
This series has been a curious one so far, the Boston Bruins were dominant in game one at TD Garden, despite conceding an early goal from James Van Reimsdyk, they consistently pinned Toronto in their defensive zone and were clinical on offence, earning a deserved 4-1 victory. Maple Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle then made a distinct change in style for game two, his team were quicker to dump the puck from their zone and more physical on the forecheck. With stars such as Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul stepping up with crucial points, Toronto were full value for their 4-2 win. Last night’s game three was yet another shift in the dynamic. The solid goaltending of former Leaf Tukka Rask, wonderful play from veteran Jaromir Jagr and awful giveaways from Toronto were the catalyst for a 5-2 Bruins triumph. Rask made 45 saves with a .957 S% and was peppered with shots at various stages, the home side enthused with the energy from a packed arena and thousands watching on the big screens in Maple Leaf Square. Jagr who had looked under the weather in the first two games, only posted the single assist but was a constant threat whenever he stepped on the ice, showing there’s plenty of life in the old-timer yet. The Bruins got goals from Adam McQuaid, Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille, Nathan Horton and David Krejci, who also had two assists. Jake Gardiner and Phil Kessel replied for Toronto but the Maple Leafs will need to deny the Bruins the grade-A scoring chances they gifted them last night if they want to get anything from game four on Wednesday.
Washington Capitals 3 – 4 New York Rangers
After a 3-1 defeat to an Alexander Ovechkin inspired Washington Capitals in game one and then losing 1-0 to a Mike Green Overtime winner in game two, the New York Rangers desperately needed a win to keep this series alive. They needed their offence to wake up, having scored only once in 128 minutes and gone 0-for-7 on the power play and they needed their stellar goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (who in my opinion, is the best in the NHL) to come up big. They got both. Goals from Derek Stepan, Arron Asham, Derrick Brassard and Brian Boyle were enough for a 4-3 win in which Lundqvist made 28 saves, many from point-blank range. Ryan McDonagh was also exceptional on the penalty kill for the Rangers, and who along with Stepan is having a wonderful campaign this season. The Capitals who got goals from Mike Green, Jay Beagle and Niklas Backstrom will feel that with a little more luck going their way the series could be 3-0 instead of 2-1. Though their power play should have been better last night, they have a goaltender performing at an astonishing level in Braden Holtby, stars getting hot at the right time and will rightly believe, despite this setback, that they can win in game four on Wednesday.
Anaheim Ducks 2 – 3 Detroit Red Wings (OT)
As some predicted, this has been one of the most explosive series of the 2013 playoffs, the already established postseason rivalry being added to with every pulsating match-up. Some also predicted that this series would be far more about ‘depth’ scoring than points from star performers and they were correct, game four was no different. Damien Brunner, whose horrendous error in game three allowed Ryan Getzlaf to put the game to bed, scored a crucial OT winner for the Detroit Red Wings which ties the series at 2-2. Despite the outcome, the Anaheim Ducks will see this game, having led twice through Matt Beleskey and David Steckel, as an opportunity missed to take a firm grip on the outcome of the whole series. Brendan Smith and the unbelievably gifted Pavel Datsyuk scored for the Wings, whilst Jimmy Howard made 31 saves. The relentless speed of Anaheim caused problems for Detroit throughout the opening two periods, the likes of Emerson Etem and Nick Bonino continuing to look dangerous on the breakaway. The Red Wings weathered the furious storm however, beginning to dominate puck possession throughout the third and into overtime. Though this series is becoming more impossible to predict by the minute, the Ducks will hope to take control with a win in game five on Wednesday, when the series returns to Anaheim.
St Louis Blues 3 – 4 Los Angeles Kings
Last night, for the first time since the postseason started, the Los Angeles Kings actually looked like the team that lifted the cup last season. In the opening two games of the series, the well-rounded St Louis Blues had outplayed, out-thought and out-worked a Kings team unused to trailing during the playoffs. With Jonathan Quick producing an oustanding performance on Saturday in a 1-0 victory that was perhaps a little unfair on the Blues, last night was about their attacking stars shining bright to even the series at 2-2. L.A got goals from Jeff Carter, Dustin Penner, Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar, who snapped a career-high nineteen game scoring drought. T.J Oshie and David Backes scored for St Louis, who didn’t take advantage of the opportunities they were given but did take an early 2-0 lead in the first period. This was quickly wiped out by the Kings before the first intermission and the defending champions showed a calm resilience to clinch the victory. With the series now perfectly balanced heading back for a fifth installment in St Louis on Wednesday, the Blues, who are superb at home, will probably face a far more dangerous L.A Kings than they’ve faced so far.