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Clutch Kovalchuk leading quick Devils; Brian Elliott falling apart

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The NHL Playoff Recap gives you THN's take of what happened in each game of the night and what the consequences will be for the rest of the series.

We also provide our Three Stars of the night, which will be tabulated after each round. First Star is three points, Second Star is two points and Third Star is one point. Be sure to vote on who you think the first star was as well.

Of course there's the other side of the coin: The Black Hole is a piece of the lineup that just couldn't get it going on a given night and contributed to a difficult evening for the team.


THN’s Take: Nobody was a better clutch player in the NHL during the regular season than Ilya Kovalchuk. Nobody else was even close. And if the New Jersey Devils cash-for-life lottery winner can continue to do it with any degree of consistency during these playoffs, it might just be one of those crazy years when the Devils sneak through and win another Stanley Cup.

It’s certainly starting to smell like that, isn’t it?

When you consider that Kovalchuk missed Game 2 of the Devils second-round series with what was believed to be a lower back injury, it’s surprising he was able to put his team on his back just one game later when the Devils seized a lead in the series with a 4-3 overtime win.

Unlike previous successful playoffs for the Devils when they trapped their opponents to death and choked any sense of excitement out of the game in the process, these Devils under Peter DeBoer are doing it with an abundance of speed and energy, which leads to a deadly forecheck and terrific penalty killing.

With Kovalchuk and fellow Devils star Zach Parise leading the way, one thing is certain. The Devils have a spring in their step that the Flyers simply cannot match at this point in the series. In fact, in comparison to the Devils, the Flyers look downright lethargic. And in one of the most bizarre turn of events in these playoffs, it seems the better Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov plays, the worse the Flyers do as a team.

To be sure, the Devils are giving the Flyers’ power play all sorts of problems. How many times do you see a team get two power play opportunities in one overtime period in today’s NHL? Well, that’s exactly what the Flyers received and they mustered all of one shot on goal. That is simply not acceptable and the most prominent reason why it’s happening is the Devils are beating the Flyers to almost every loose puck.

The Flyers are finding that the Devils are a far more determined, disciplined and hard-working team than the one they rolled over in the first round of the playoffs. And with the exception of Daniel Briere and a few select others, the Flyers simply are not making the commitment they need to go deep in the playoffs. Unless they start using their heads and not make terrible line changes such as the one that led to the overtime winner, they’ll be another high seed on the outside looking in.

Three Stars

1. Ilya Kovalchuk - With a goal and two assists in the game, Kovalchuk was an almost unstoppable force. His presence of mind, poise and ability to control the play on the overtime goal was something to behold.

2. Zach Parise - The Devils captain was always destined to become a very rich man this summer, but his play in these playoffs in general and in Game 3 in particular should have his accountant doing cartwheels. No player on either team played with the energy and level of compete Parise did.

3. Daniel Briere - Continuing his uncanny penchant for producing in big games, Briere sent the game into overtime by pouncing on a rebound. He was also a demon in the faceoff circle, winning 11 of 16 draws.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: It might not be entirely fair to slag Claude Giroux of the Flyers after one (really) bad game, but the reality is he is going to have to be much better if the Flyers hope to win this series. He looked as though he was playing in a fog for much of the game.

- Ken Campbell


THN’s Take: It’s become abundantly clear the St. Louis Blues drew the worst possible matchup they could have in Round 2. You have to think the St. Louis system would have stood up better next to Nashville’s or Phoenix’s. At least with them St. Louis would share an overall lack of playoff experience. But against the Kings, they face a whole lot of size and know-how.

There’s a reason some think Mike Richards is destined to become captain of the Kings. Whether exchanging Dustin Brown for Richards is a good idea is a debate for another day, but the former Flyer continues to impact big games the way a leader does. His fight was a great igniter and the Gordie Howe hat trick only strengthens his resume as a true playoff performer. The Kings are clearly the more hardened team and are exploiting St. Louis’ youth.

Of course, the real difference in this game was the struggle of Brian Elliott. The Blues would certainly turn to Jaroslav Halak if he were available and are left with little choice but to hope Elliott can find his grove again quickly. The Blues did get outplayed, but Elliott let in too many soft goals, while Jonathan Quick made all the timely saves he needed to.

Three Stars

1. Drew Doughty – Another proven winner (on the international stage with Canada), Doughty has really had a good series, but this was his best performance yet. Only Alex Pietrangelo and Willie Mitchell logged more ice time and Doughty scored a goal and three points.

2. Mike Richards – His power play goal was a backbreaker. Richards just makes things happen and improves the team around him in big games.

3. Anze Kopitar – Between the Richards/Brown captaincy debate, focus on Jeff Carter’s contributions and Quick’s tremendous play, Kopitar can get lost in the shuffle. He continued a very underrated playoff in posting two assists, while playing more than 20:00 of ice in every situation.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: After his record setting season, it’s difficult to see the feel-good story of Elliott shrivel up. Los Angeles only recorded 22 shots, but Elliot allowed four goals. He didn’t look comfortable or sure of himself and the pressure is about to get a lot heavier.

- Rory Boylen


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