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Flyers' 'Plan B' players shine; Kings happy to hang on to Dustin Brown

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:
The Flyers head home for Game 3 in a position very few predicted they’d be in – winners of both games in Pittsburgh – primarily because the young players Philly GM Paul Holmgren banked on during an off-season housecleaning came through and then some during a wild, back-and-forth, 8-5 win.

Flyers star Claude Giroux had three goals and as many assists, while Sean Couturier added a hat trick and four points in the win, which shocked Pens fans even more than Philadelphia’s similar comeback win in Game 1. Indeed, just as took place in the opening showdown of the first-round series, Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby opened the scoring (this time at the 15 second mark). But even after the Penguins went up 2-0 in Game 2, there was no quit in the Flyers the rest of the way. Every time the home side appeared ready to rebound and even up the series, the visitors showed they wanted it more.

If it wasn’t Giroux and Couturier doing the damage for Philly, it was two other wise off-season acquisitions, Jaromir Jagr (who scored the game-winner midway through the third) and Max Talbot (who scored the Flyers’ first goal of the night and added an assist) helping to lead the way.

In sum, at least for one night, all the upside Holmgren envisioned in the new core he created last summer became a reality. And because of it, the Penguins suddenly face a must-win Game 3 Sunday, or an elimination game immediately thereafter.

Three Stars

1. Claude Giroux – Philadelphia’s most valuable player this season, who went pointless in Game 1, put on a clinic in Game 2. He was brilliant as a creator (three assists), one of his three goals came shorthanded and he had a game-best 10 shots on net when the next-best player in that regard (Pittsburgh’s James Neal) had five. Hard to imagine a more complete performance than the one the 24-year-old had Friday.

2. Sean Couturier – Like Giroux, the 19-year-old Couturier (acquired as a draft pick from Columbus last summer in the Jeff Carter trade) didn’t register a goal nor an assist in Game 1. But he posted a plus-4 and played nearly two minutes on the penalty kill. He’s got the trust of coach Peter Laviolette and is making the most of it.

3. Max Talbot – The voracious, tenacious defensive center was exactly what his former Penguins teammates were missing – a relentless buzz-saw who had a game-high plus-five despite 14:55 of even-strength time, 2:44 on the penalty kill and not a single second on the power play. Sometimes role players play a bigger role than first glimpse might suggest.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: While it’s tempting to assign the goat horns to Chris Kunitz (who had two goals, but was a game-worst minus-5), once again, Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin was barely a blip on the radar. After going without a point in Game 1, Malkin had two assists Friday, yet was a minus-4 on the night and is a minus-5 thus far in the series. Flyers youngsters Brayden Schenn (who had three points in Game 1) and Couturier have had more of an impact on the series than Malkin, a most valuable player candidate in the regular season who is now a frontrunner to be named the least valuable player in the playoffs.

- Adam Proteau


THN's Take: Though the Devils were favored by many in this series thanks to the divisional supremacy of the Atlantic over the Panthers' Southeast, these teams bring two different kinds of playoff experience to the table and are closer than many think. New Jersey brings old post-season heroes – Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora won the bulk of their Stanley Cups long ago (though Sykora did win with Pittsburgh in 2009), while the Cats counter with newer playoff warriors such as Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky (plus classic Devil John Madden).

Old won over new in Game 1, but the Panthers' collective experience can't be ignored. The fact Florida clawed its way back (no pun intended) after a disastrous first period shows what the Cats know about competing for 60 minutes.

Of course, Brodeur is a pretty intimidating customer in any playoff series and Florida must get huge netminding from Jose Theodore if the Panthers are to have a chance. Theodore did all he could early on in Game 1, but there is no margin for error with a future Hall of Famer in the other crease.

Three Stars

1. Dainius Zubrus – One of those elder Devils had the most impact early, notching a goal and an assist as New Jersey built a lead it would not surrender. More importantly, it was Zubrus' line with Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora that would provide the “settle down” shifts for coach Pete DeBoer when they were needed later in the game.

2. Martin Brodeur – The legendary netminder had to be good early, even though his Florida counterpart had more work. Brodeur was sharp when needed and his puckhandling was huge, killing Florida dump-ins and even earning him an assist on the second Devs goal.

3. Sean Bergenheim – The fast Finn continued his playoff success, chipping in the Cats' first goal of the night. But he also used his speed and physicality to cause havoc amongst the Devils' defense when the game was still in its infancy.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: The Panthers started off in a hole thanks to some poor line changes and blown defensive assignments. Ed Jovanovski was burned on New Jersey's second and third goals and the mountain became too big to climb after Ryan Carter's unassisted effort that left the veteran blueliner in his wake.

- Ryan Kennedy


THN’s Take: In no other series does the first goal mean so much. When the Predators open the scoring, as they did in Game 1, it lets them play their smothering, shutdown style and punish the smaller Detroit players with their superior physical power. But when the Red Wings get the opening goal, it forces Nashville to open up and allows Detroit to play its puck-possession game, control the flow and manage the pace, even on defense. That’s what happened in Game 2.

It could’ve easily gone the other way, however, if not for Jimmy Howard. Nashville was all over the Wings early, pounding Detroit down low and getting several quality chances in the opening five minutes. But Howard held the Preds back and Detroit capitalized on a giveaway in transition for its first goal and another later in the opening frame for its second. (The timing of Todd Bertuzzi’s fight with Shea Weber just 1:36 into the game was important, too – it was the pushback Detroit needed with Nashville hitting hard and often to start the game.) The 2-0 lead didn’t reflect the game at that point, but by the middle of the second period the Wings started to manage the puck and hold the play, even though they remained in defensive mode over the final 40 minutes.

The differences in the game were in goal and on special teams. Howard bested Pekka Rinne, who simply couldn’t match Howard big save for big save. And Nashville’s power play (0-for-6) was again stuffed by Detroit’s penalty-kill, even without Nicklas Lidstrom who can’t play the PK and risk getting hit with a Shea Weber or Ryan Suter point shot due to his bruised right ankle.

Three Stars

1. Jimmy Howard - made several huge saves, especially early in the second period when Detroit took three consecutive penalties.

2. Brad Stuart - his huge penalty-kill minutes (7:21), blocked shots and physical play were invaluable with Lidstrom noticeably laboring.

3. Shea Weber - answered the bell against Bertuzzi and was his usual dominant self with a goal and a game-high five shots after a tentative start to the game.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
Mike Fisher. A stellar start in which he dished out several solid hits was erased by his disappearance the rest of the way. He finished minus-2.

- Ronnie Shuker


THN's Take: The rise of the Los Angeles Kings under GM Dean Lombardi has been gradual, to say the least. Lombardi’s name has been the subject line of many message board threads calling for his firing over that time, but by staying the course, his Kings are now a deep squad and a tough out.

Which is why rumors of a Dustin Brown trade on deadline day in February always seemed hasty and out-of-character for Lombardi. Brown’s been a rock and the captain of an emerging team since 2008, so to suddenly ditch him just as that team was making a push seemed to be regressive.

After ex-Flyers captain Mike Richards’ incredible Game 1 performance, it was only fitting the Kings ‘C’-bearer echoed the effort, scoring two shorthanded goals and an assist. There are certain ingredients every successful playoff player has: a hunger to hit, a habit to hustle and the gift of goal-scoring. Brown has them all and used each of his tools in Game 2. It’s hard to imagine anything the Kings could have got in return that would improve on Brown’s presence.

And by keeping Brown, the Kings have depth that is laying the trump card in front of the Canucks. Richards, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and, yes, even Dustin Penner are imposing themselves on Vancouver and breaking a team already cracked without Daniel Sedin.

Heading to Los Angeles for Game 3, much talk will center around the Canucks’ goaltending. Should the team start Cory Schneider? Luongo’s superb effort was again undermined by the coverage in front of him and he's been Vancouver’s best player so far. Schneider has potential, but this should be Luongo’s series.

Until the players in front of him get it together, it won’t matter who’s in net anyway.

Three Stars

1. Dustin Brown – Simply awesome, Brown’s two shorthanded tallies were buried with confidence and a sense of purpose. Brown, together with Richards, make a fearsome duo for any team.

2. Jonathan Quick – Withstood a flurry of action against him in the third period with his down-low, lightning style. A major argument in favor of his Vezina campaign was the lack of goal scoring in front of him – but the Kings have since solved that shortcoming.

3. Ryan Kesler – We would be remiss to not mention Kesler, who kept the shenanigans to a minimum and was leading a push-back from Vancouver. His minus-1 rating is only another example of how that stat can be misleading.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
The awful Canucks power play, running at only 9.3 percent in its past 11 games, went 0-for-5 and allowed two shorties in another horrific night. But for the sake of focusing on one player, Alex Edler, the Canucks leader in PP time, has to shoulder the blame. His lazy giveaway to Kopitar set up Brown’s first goal; Edler has to play as the No. 1 defenseman he’s capable of being.

- Rory Boylen


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