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Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 14

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 2

Montréal redeemed itself in in Game 2 by beating the Rangers 4-3 in overtime at the Bell Centre to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at a game apiece.

And none of it would have been possible if not for Third Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec‘s (First Star Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk) miracle goal with 18 ticks remaining on the clock in regulation. Carey Price had vacated his crease for the extra attacker, but the real advantage occurred when Shea Weber knocked Michael Grabner down along the blue line. That freed up the Galchenyuk to find Radulov in the far corner, who then set up Plekanec on the far post for a quick tip-in.

In similar fashion as far as the clock was concerned, the Canadiens waited to strike until the end of the overtime period was near. Radulov (Max Pacioretty and Weber) earned the first playoff game-winning goal of his career in the scrappiest of ways. Though the Habs captain had fired the initial shot, Second Star Henrik Lundqvist was able to keep that attempt out of his net. He was unable to contain that shot however, leaving the rebound in front of his crease ready for the taking by Radulov, who buried a wrister five hole for the victory.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he stood tall though he faced adversity all night. He knew he was in for a tough game when his stick snapped early in the first period. He was without that important piece of equipment for almost a minute, and Jeff Petry (Phillip Danault and Radulov) was able to take advantage for the opening goal of the game.

In all, the Rangers netminder saved an incredible 54-of-58 shots faced (93.1%). By comparison, Price saved 35-of-38 (92.1%) in his win.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 2

Thanks in large part to another stellar performance by Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins earned a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena to claim a two-game advantage in their Eastern Quarterfinals matchup.

Mike Sullivan is going to have quite the decision on his hands when Matthew Murray is cleared to resume play. Though last year’s Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was expected to command the Pens’ crease throughout the postseason, longtime starter Fleury has saved a combined 70 of 72 shots faced (97.2%) for two-straight victories.

Offensively, no one on the ice was finer than First Star Sidney Crosby. He posted a three-point effort on the night, including the lone tally of the first period.

It was an excellent play that started with Conor Sheary ripping the puck away from Sergei Bobrovsky behind the goaltender’s net. After Bobrovsky had given up on the play to return to his goal line, Sheary passed to Third Star Jake Guentzel (who took credit for the game-winner in the second period), who was waiting on the near side of the crease. Bobrovsky committed to saving a Guentzel shot, so the rookie dished across the crease to Crosby, who powered home an easy wrist shot.

 

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 2

It may not be what many predicted, but the Blues emerged from two games at the Xcel Energy Center with a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup against Minnesota thanks to a 2-1 victory.

Both clubs’ defenses were the true stars of this game. Neither Jake Allen (21 saves, 95.5%) nor Devan Dubnyk (22 saves, 91.7%) faced more than 24 shots, and a combined 27 shot blocks were earned between the two teams. The brightest blueliners were Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, as both rejected three shots apiece from reaching Allen’s crease.

Another blueliner that earned his pay was Joel Edmundson, who seems to be taking over Kevin Shattenkirk‘s former position of two-way defenseman. Assisted by Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi, he fired a slap shot from the blueline to give the Notes an early lead in the second period.

Zach Parise (Eric Staal and Ryan Suter) made sure St. Louis would not escape the frame with the lead, though. Taking advantage of Alex Steen and Scottie Upshall sitting in the penalty box, Staal collected his own rebound and slid a pass between Allen and a sprawled Bouwmeester to Parise waiting at the top of the crease. The wing elevated his wrist shot bar-down over Allen to level the game at one-all.

With 2:27 remaining in regulation, Jaden Schwartz (Alex Pietrangelo and Kyle Brodziak) provided St. Louis its second tally of the night. The Blues’ captain dished to Schwartz from the red line, who entered the offensive zone slow enough to allow David Perron to screen Dubnyk. Schwartz did not simply use that screen, he used Perron. He fired his wrister five hole… on Perron… to find the back of the net before the Minnesota netminder even knew a shot was fired.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 2

With a 2-0 victory over the Sharks at Rogers Place, Edmonton pulled even at one game apiece in its Western Conference Quarterfinal and earned the celebration it had been waiting 11 years for.

The Oilers scored only four shorthanded goals during the regular season, but both tallies they registered in the victory were on the penalty kill. One of those – the opening goal of the game – belonged to First Star of the Game Zack Kassian. He was the best player on the ice all night, sticking his nose in every play and throwing six hits – including two bone-rattling blows on Logan Couture and Brenden Dillon.

His shorty was a direct result of a Joe Pavelski fumbled puck early in the second period (It was that kind of night for the Sharks. They managed only 16 shots on goal). The wing collected the puck at the Sharks’ blueline, but Pavelski tried to steal it right back.

Unfortunatly for San Jose, his steal landed right on Mark Letestu‘s stick, who returned the puck to the streaking wing for a one-on-one showdown against Martin Jones. Kassian elected to fire a snap shot from between the face-off dots, beating the netminder low for the winner.

The usual star of the Oilers would not be outdone. Just like Kassian, Third Star Connor McDavid registered the first goal of his playoff career in a shorthanded situation. Assisted by Darnell Nurse and Second Star Cam Talbot, he fired a snapper from the far face-off dot after screaming up the boards to beat Jones low.

Dallas at St. Louis – Game 3 – Steen headlines St. Louis’ 6-1 victory

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Three goals in the second period proved to be too much for the Stars, as St. Louis won 6-1 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

Until approximately the 2:15 mark, the beginning of the game took place almost entirely in the neutral zone before the Blues finally registered a shot on net.  Any momentum they tried getting off those attempts ended though, but it wasn’t due to anything the Stars did – the same pane of glass damaged in Game 7 of the Chicago series proved to be an issue.

In fact, that delay in play actually benefited Dallas, who quickly fired two quick shots following the return to play.  Soon after, they scored the first goal of Game 3 – a Colton Sceviour wrister at the 4:44 mark.  His second tally of the postseason was assisted by Jason Spezza (his sixth helper of the playoffs) and Johnny Oduya.

Fifty-seven seconds later, First Star of the Game Alexander Steen leveled with a wrister of his own, assisted by Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer.

Scottie Upshall committed the first penalty of the night when he hi-sticked Oduya in front of Antti Niemi’s net with 6:52 remaining in the period.  Dallas entered the night 0 for seven on the power play in the Western Semifinals, and once again the Blues completed the kill.

Thirty-seven seconds after completing the kill, Vernon Fiddler and the Stars returned the favor by committing a slashing penalty against Jaden Schwartz, which St. Louis converted not even half a minute later when Third Star David Backes connected on a tip-in to give the Blues a 2-1 lead, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk and Second Star Vladimir Tarasenko.

The Stars almost tied the game again with 1:19 remaining in the period when Jason Demers collected the rebound of an Elliott save, but the puck hit the crossbar and did not cross the red line, leaving the Blues with the one-goal differential going into the dressing room.

Not only did St. Louis end the frame with the lead on the scoreboard, but they were also winning the dot (58%), blocked shots (eight to four), takeaways (three to two) and, most importantly for their game, hits (19 to eight).

2:34 after returning to the ice for the second period, Brouwer scored his third goal of these playoffs on a wrister, assisted by Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo (his sixth helper of the postseason).  That tally is the one that chased Niemi, who was replaced by Kari Lehtonen for the remainder of the game.

St. Louis continued the onslaught 1:16 later when Tarasenko scored a wrister assisted by Patrik Berglund and Robby Fabbri (his seventh helper of the playoffs).

Jamie Benn began taking his frustrations out Blues skaters, and was sent to the box after tripping Bouwmeester at the 4:47 mark.  The ensuing power play did not go St. Louis‘ way, so the score remained at 4-1 when Benn returned to the ice.

The Blues returned to the power play at the 8:47 mark when two Stars (Demers and Fiddler) were sent to the box, but it was a five-on-four due to Ryan Reaves also earning two minutes in the sin bin for responding with a roughing penalty of his own against Fiddler.  St. Louis‘ power play fell to one for three in the game as they were unable to score with the advantage.

Those penalties are just one example of how Fiddler and the Stars have been trying to get under Reaves’ skin since he has entered the series.  Known for being an aggressive enforcer, When he entered play, an opposing physical Dallas skater was usually quick to follow, and almost every stoppage was followed by a skirmish along the boards.  Even when Fiddler wasn’t on the ice, Reaves was still a focus for the Stars, hoping for any attempt to get their first power play goal of the series.

Antoine Roussel made his fourth trip to the penalty box in the last two games for a delay of game penalty, and the Blues made sure to make him pay.  Only 10 seconds after the infraction at the 17:53 mark, Steen scored his second goal of the night with a power play wrister to set the score at 5-1, assisted by Tarasenko and Schwartz.

Bouwmeester earned himself a break with 63 seconds remaining in the second period when he tripped Spezza in the corner, but the period ended with the Blues leading 5-1.

After two periods, the Blues still led on shots (26-19), as well as face-offs (59%), blocks (12 to five), takeaways (seven to four) and hits (28-17).

St. Louis killed the remaining 57 seconds of the power play at the beginning of the third period to continue their streak of penalty kills at eight straight over the Stars.

Benn committed the first penalty of the final period at the 9:07 mark when he cross checked Pietrangelo, and the Blues followed suit 3:35 later when Colton Parayko was caught roughing Radek Faksa.  Dallas ended their power play 41 seconds early when Cody Eakin hooked Shattenkirk.  After all of that, neither team altered the 5-1 score.

Reaves finally got tired of the Stars late in the third and scrapped with Curtis McKenzie with three minutes to go.  After his bout, he blew a kiss to the Dallas bench before heading to the dressing room, probably not making many friends in the process.

Backes’ fifth goal of the playoffs and second of the game was a shorthanded wrister, due to a Brouwer slash against Faksa, with 1:54 remaining in the game to seal the deal at 6-1.  He was assisted by Carl Gunnarsson.

Elliott earns the win after saving 25 of the 26 shots he faced (96.2%), while Niemi takes the loss, saving nine of 12 (75%).  The goaltending questions continue for Dallas, as Niemi’s replacement saved 24 of 27 (88.9%) for no decision.

After taking a 2-1 lead in the series, the Blues will once again host the Stars Thursday at 8 p.m. eastern.  That contest can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

St. Louis at Dallas – Game 2 – Backes and the Blues make it a five game series

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The St. Louis Blues may have only managed 25 shots on goal, but they were able to level their series against the Dallas Stars by beating them 4-3 in overtime, thanks to Captain David Backes.

Only 3:36 into Game 2, Cody Eakin collected a puck along the near boards and passed to Second Star of the Game Jamie Benn, who was positioned behind Brian Elliott’s net.  He set up a centering pass towards the left face-off dot for Alex Goligoski, who top shelfed his slap shot into the back of the net.

The Blues took offense to that, and 35 seconds later Third Star Backes carried the puck into the neutral zone before passing to Patrik Berglund, who completed the advance into the attacking zone before passing off to Robby Fabbri.  Fabbri dumped back to the attacking Berguland, who scored a slap shot past Kari Lehtonen’s glove hand to level the game at a goal apiece.

At the 7:02 mark, First Star Troy Brouwer and Scottie Upshall connected with Joel Edmundson to give him his first goal of the playoffs, and more importantly, a St. Louis lead.

With 80 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Brouwer scored the Blues‘ final goal of regulation on a power play wrister, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk and Fabbri.

At the beginning of the second period, it was not Lehtonen in Dallas‘ net, but instead Antti Niemi, who did not yield a goal on 10 shots faced in his opening 20 minutes of work.  Similarly, Elliott saved all six shots he faced, holding the score at 3-1 going into the final frame.

The fifth goal of the game wasn’t scored until the 4:35 mark of the final frame, courtesy of Mattias Janmark, his first of the playoffs.  His wrister was assisted by Eakin and Colton Sceviour.  Eakin dumped the puck out of the defensive zone to Janmark, who had only one Blue to beat on his way to the crease before sneaking the puck past Elliott’s left skate.

Dallas‘ offensive push was certainly made evident 13 seconds later, when a Dallas power play shot was fired so hard it broke Elliott’s mask, but he made the save to maintain the one-goal differential.

With 2:36 remaining in regulation, Benn scored a wrister to level the game, assisted by Eakin and Kris Russell.  Eakin won the face-off from the far dot, which he sent back to the blue line for Russell to collect and fire on net.  Elliott made the save, but Benn collected the rebound to slide the puck past the sprawling goaltender’s glove hand.

Neither team was able to break the draw before the clock struck zeroes, so the game required 10:58 of overtime before Backes’ power play wrister proved to be the winner.  After providing the screen on Alexander Steen’s initial shot and literally jumping over the puck, he collected the rebound and scored behind Niemi’s left skate.

Elliott earns the win after saving 31 of 34 shots faced (91.2%), while Niemi takes the overtime loss, saving 19 of 20 (95%).  Lehtonen takes credit for the poor first period, where he saved only two of five (40%).

Now a best-of-five series, the locale shifts to Scottrade Arena in St. Louis, MO.  Game 3 will occur on a busy Tuesday, May 3 at 9:30 p.m. eastern and can be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.