Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Two on the brink, Two back in the hunt

It was a mixed bag Wednesday night in the NHL playoffs.

The New York Rangers took one more step towards the golf course as they once again could not respond to the New Jersey assault and dropped a 3-0 decision to the Devils as Martin Brodeur collected his 21st career playoff shutout. Brodeur turned aside all 25 Ranger shots on the way to the win as the Devils continued their mastery over the Blue shirts.

The night got off to a rough start for New York as Patrick Elias scored just over a minute into the game to set the scene for what would be the Rangers third consecutive loss in the first round series against the Devils.

The return of Jaromir Jagr to the Rangers line up didn’t seem to have the desired effect as the Rangers continued to have problems understanding the Devils plan off attack and offering up some counter measures to get themselves back in the series.

The Devils can put the Rangers away on Friday night when game four takes place at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers already appear to be a beaten club, all that remains is to post the score on Friday and shake hands.

Colorado dodged a bullet in their series with Dallas, taking an Overtime win away from the Stars who showed more life on Wednesday than they showed all series long. Alex Tanguay scored the winner just over a minute into the first overtime as he fired off a centering pass that deflected off of Dallas defender Willie Mitchell and in behind Marty Turco for the winning goal and a strangle hold of three games to none in the best of seven series. It made for an unfair ending for Turco, who had performed quite nicely in this game three, keeping his Stars in the hunt until the very end.

The Stars held the lead 3-2 going into the third period but couldn’t put the Avs away as they battled back with an Andrew Burnett goal with 56 seconds left in the third to force overtime, setting up Tanguay’s heroics and the 4-3 victory.

With Dallas on the brink of elimination, game four should be akin to a stand at the Alamo for the Stars. They were the favourites going into this series, many observers suggesting that they would dominate the Avs in all categories of the game, but it’s been the Avs which have been taking control of the play for the most part.

Friday could see the first upset of this playoff season, an upset to everyone but the guys wearing the Avalanche uniform, they’ve been playing this series like they should have been the Stanley Cup favourites, one more win and people might start thinking of them that way again!

St. Christobal finally lost one, as the Montreal goaltender faced disappointment and a loss for the first time in this playoff year. Though the blame for the loss can’t be placed at his skates, Huet was once again magnificent as he faced 36 shots from a Carolina attack that seemed to recapture some of the jump from the early season.

Realizing that they were on the brink of a big hole, the Hurricanes refused to go down on Wednesday night, depending on rookie goaltender Cam Ward to hold off the Habs a huge task, but he was up to it as he kept his team alive long enough to score the winner in OT, a 2-1 decision in a low scoring affair.

Eric Staal netted the goal that gives the Hurricanes a bit of life, with a bullet drive from the point as the Habs played a man short due to Tomas Plekanacs’ hooking penalty. It was the second game in a row that Montreal surrendered a lead in the third period, something that Bob Gainey will no doubt address at the next practice session for Montreal.

Game Four goes Friday night at the Bell Centre, Montreal has the chance to put the Hurricanes into deep trouble, but may find the job a little harder to do, depending on the status of Captain Saku Koivu. He was clipped by an errant high stick and suffered a cut near his eye, taken from the ice holding a towel to his eye area, he was sent to Hospital for observation over the cut. Losing his services would be a huge blow to the Habs who had been looking to be giant killers in the first round with their success over the gang from Carolina. Friday gives them the opportunity to regain the energy and leave the Hurricanes pondering a one game and go home scenario for a game five.

We can put away the funeral rites for the Flyers for one night at least, spurred on by Peter Forsberg the Flyers entertained the home side with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, a bit of breathing room for a team that had seen some dark days in northern New York state.
Forsberg put the Flyers into the lead in the second period and then gave them a two goal cushion just past midway in the same period, as he began to show why he’s considered one of the most dominant players in the game today. It took a couple of lucky bounces here and there, but the Flyers atoned for their embarrassing loss two nights ago in Buffalo.

The Sabres didn’t seem to have the same jump they had on Monday, letting Philadelphia carry a lot of the play. They also ran into another stellar night for Robert Esche, who looked more like the Game One goaltender than the fellow we saw in Game Two.

Esche, benefited from a much more effective Flyer defensive corps, they played a tighter game in their own end, moving bodies out of the way, giving Esche more vision to see the Buffalo shooters. It was a recipe that proved to be successful by the end of the night and the 4-2 victory.

The Flyers pulled out all the superstitious stops prior to this one, an appearance from Flyer legend Bernie Parent, some hard rockin’ tunes by AC/DC to set the mood and then the ultimate weapon, a tape presentation of God Bless America featuring Kate Smith.

It worked for Game Three, so expect Kate to get a reprise Friday when Game Four gets underway.

Buffalo needs to get back to their style of hockey, a faster paced attack, lots of fore checking deep in the Flyer zone and bodies in front of the net to take advantage of the increased number of shots that should be directed towards the net.

Buffalo has a chance to put the choke hold on the Flyers with a win, give the Flyers a chance to even the series and suddenly you’re playing with fire. The Sabres had best come out leaving nothing behind on Friday, a 3-1 lead looks a lot more secure than a series tied at 2-2.

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