As I’m sure you are all aware, this past Wednesday opened the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We have some great match ups in the conference quarterfinals, so allow me to recap the events from the opening night.
Detroit vs. Phoenix – Phoenix grabbed an early lead on the Wings as Kyle Turris sniped home a shot from the right circle just over two minutes into the game. Things looked bad for Detroit throughout the first period as they spent most of it in the penalty box, including a 90 second two man advantage for the Coyotes. After one period, the score still favored the Coyotes, but momentum swung to Detroit’s side as they killed off every penalty.
The energy was clearly all on Detroit’s side in the second period as Pavel Datsyuk scored seven and a half minutes in to tie the game at one. A few minutes later, the roof was blowing off the Joe as Todd Bertuzzi dropped the gloves with Rostislav Klesla. What may have appeared to be a short meaningless fight really brought the crowd to life, as they replaced the familiar “Let’s Go Red Wings” chant with “Todd Ber-tu-zzi.” The rest of the second was all Red Wings as Johan Franzen continued his playoff point streak and sniped a wicked shot past Bryzgalov. Brian Rafalski then closed out the period with a power play goal to give the wings a 3-1 lead.
Early in the third the dominance continued for the Red Wings as Jiri Hudler sniped a ridiculous shot over the shoulder of Bryzgalov. Hudler’s tally proved he is ready to be counted on as a playoff contributor. Radim Vrbata tallied a goal at 7:38 of the third period, but momentum stuck with the Wings as they were able to close out the game 4-2. Note: Danny Cleary had a chance to really seal the game with an empty netter, but rang his shot off the crossbar after an unselfish one-time feed from Pavel Datsyuk. Red Wings lead the series 1-0.
Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay – This appeared to be a goaltenders duel up until the third period as the first two remained scoreless. Dwayne Roloson played outstanding for the Lightning as he made 37 saves, but he didn’t receive quite enough support up front. Steve Stamkos had a sub par playoff debut, and really needs to regain his scoring touch if the Lightning are to advance to the next round.
Marc-Andre Fluery was stellar in making 32 saves for the Penguins as he earned a shutout. Alex Kovalev opened the scoring at 6:05 of the third period. What had been a tight matchup was quickly opened wide as Arron Asham put the puck home just 18 seconds later to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead. That was all they would need to seal the deal, but Chris Kunitz added the empty netter with just under a minute to play. The Penguins jump out to an early, and crucial 1-0 series lead as they wait for good news on their captain Sidney Crosby.
Washington vs. New York – Another goaltender battle in this series as Neuvirth and Lundqvist played to a scoreless first two periods. You can bet both teams really wanted the first goal in this game, as they figured it would be a crucial one, and wishes came true as Matt Gilroy buried a shot early in the third period. For much of the third, it looked like the Rangers would be able to seal the deal with a 1-0 victory.
Shutting out the Capitals is going to prove to be quite the task though as Alexander Ovechkin banged away at a lose puck to send it across the line at 13:44 of the third period. The play immediately went to review in order to determine if the puck crossed the line before the whistle, or even if the ref “intended” to blow the whistle before it crossed the line. No dice for Rangers fans, however, and the game was knotted at one. Both teams exchanged chances in the third, but after outstanding play from the goalies, this match would be headed to overtime.
Payday came in overtime for the Washington Capitals in the name of Alexander Semin. Semin, who was rarely seen on the scoresheet in last years playoffs, made his rocket slapshot count as he nailed a one-timer off a feed from Jason Arnott. The Capitals made good on a turnover by Marc Staal and that sealed the deal for game 1, Caps now lead the series 1-0.
Chicago vs. Vancouver – Chicago comes in to the playoffs this year as an eight seed, but are playing much more confident than that. Unfortunately, they came up on the losing end of this battle. The Blackhawks did their best to neutralize the potent offense of the Canucks, and did so by holding the Sedin twins off the scoresheet. Unfortunately, Ryan Kesler showed up as he picked up the second assist on the Christopher Higgins goal just seven minutes into the game. Three minutes later, it was Jannik Hansen who gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead in the first. Clearly the secondary scoring from the Canucks played a huge role in this game.
The final two periods saw a lot good chances for both teams, and a lot of better saves, especially by Roberto Luongo. His confidence has surely skyrocketed after a tremendous shutout victory, as Vancouver sealed the deal 2-0 to take a series lead, 1-0.
Anaheim vs. Nashville – Another game which I thought would turn out to be low scoring only did so on one side. Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators absolutely squished what had been a pretty potent offense of Corey Perry and the Anaheim Ducks. Shea Weber got things going early in the first period with a power play goal. It wasn’t until late in the second, however, that the game really broke loose. First, Steve Sullivan potted one to give the Preds a 2-0 lead. Then, less than three minutes later, Mike Fisher adds another one to take a 3-0 lead.
Not even a minute into the third period, it was Fisher, again, who tallied to take a 4-0 lead. Things were looking rough for the Ducks, and remained that way throughout. A late power-play goal by Teemu Selanne was borderline meaningless as the Predators stole the show.
The Ducks were an aggressive team in this matchup though, compiling 46 penalty minutes to only 14 by the Predators. They might want to focus more on their power-play and capitalizing on offensive chances, however, if they’re going to beat the Predators. Pekka Rinne picks up 27 saves in the win, and the Preds take a 1-0 series lead.