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Goalies hold key to any miracle Penguins comeback; Predators win a changing of guard?

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: For the first four games of their series against Philadelphia, the Penguins looked nothing like the team that gave up the Eastern Conference’s fourth-fewest amount of goals. After another shaky start, however, Sidney Crosby & Co. rediscovered their ability to protect a lead and pulled off a 3-2 win that kept Pittsburgh’s playoff pulse beating.

For the fifth straight game, the team that scored first went on to lose, thanks in large part to a huge bounce-back game from Marc-Andre Fleury. The Pens goalie had an .817 save percentage heading into Game 5, but with better play from the defensemen in front of him – including defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, who combined for 10 blocked shots – Fleury turned aside 24 of 26 shots, including a third-period onslaught of 14 Flyers shots.

The Penguins out-blocked Philly 18-10 on the night, but still gave the Flyers five power play chances and needed Fleury to bail them out repeatedly when the visitors applied the pressure late in the game. They also got a scare when their two superstars accidentally collided and Evgeni Malkin hit Crosby as hard as he’s been hit since he returned to action from post-concussion symptoms.

But so long as they can continue to get solid play out of the defense and Fleury – and so long as goalie Ilya Bryzgalov can’t step up and steal a game for the Flyers – the Pens aren’t out of this series as it shifts back to Philadelphia for Game 6 Sunday.

Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury – The critics were out for Fleury after he continued to disappoint through Game 4, but he chirped back with a performance that, while far from perfect, was solid enough to give his teammates confidence they’ve got a shot at winning Game 6 on the road. Fleury doesn’t have to be exemplary against Bryzgalov, he just has to be one goal better. For one game, at least, he was.

2. Brooks Orpik – The veteran Pens defenseman tied for the game high in blocks (five), led all his teammates in time on ice (26:08), including on the penalty kill, where he saw a game-best 7:03 of action. When the team took too many penalties, Orpik and Fleury were there to bail them out.

3. Jordan Staal – The Penguins’ No. 2 playoff point-getter (with seven) and leading goal-scorer (with five) entering Game 5, Staal scored his team’s first goal of the night and added an assist to continue his hot streak. With neither Crosby nor Malkin filling up the scoresheet, Staal has been a godsend and one of the few reasons the Pens haven’t been eliminated.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole:
He wasn’t 100 percent responsible for the loss, but once again Ilya Bryzgalov was far from the savior he was signed to be last summer. An .870 save percentage (allowing three goals on 23 shots) will only increase Flyers fans’ worst fears as the pressure mounts to win at home and not have to travel back to Pittsburgh for a Game 7 Tuesday. If Bryzgalov crumbles under that pressure and Philly blows a 3-0 series lead to their archrival, there’s no telling what consequences lay ahead for the Russian goalie. There’s no doubt they won’t be good.

- Adam Proteau


THN’s Take: Did we just witness a changing of the guard for the Detroit Red Wings, the most successful NHL franchise of the last two decades? For years, the Wings calmly went about their business, winning and winning and winning thanks to GM Ken Holland’s trademark formula: develop from within with diamond-in-the-rough draft picks, don’t spend extravagantly in free agency and change little at the trade deadline.

But tonight, they were ousted by a bigger, meaner team for the third straight season. It’s fair to wonder if what was once prudence and patience has become stubborn complacency. Detroit looked old and tired over its five-game loss to the Preds. And with Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the greatest blueliners ever to play the sport, possibly suiting up for the final time, it’s fair to wonder if, for first time in ages, big changes are on the horizon in Hockeytown.

We also watched the Nashville Predators mature before our eyes. In the third period, it was the Preds, not the Wings, who came out with the urgency and hustle of a veteran team. Their first playoff series win, over Anaheim, last season was nice, but beating the Wings, the bitter division rival they once feared, proved they’re ready to be taken extremely seriously as Cup contenders.

Three Stars

1. David Legwand - Fitting the franchise’s all-time leader in every major offensive category scored the clincher in the team’s biggest win yet. Not only did he beat Jimmy Howard 13 seconds into the third, he won 75 percent of his faceoffs.

2. Alexander Radulov - On a dynamite line with Legwand and rookie Gabriel Bourque, Radulov ran the Detroit blueline ragged. He skated hard, attacked the net aggressively and scored a goal in easily his best game of the series.

3. Shea Weber - He dominates every aspect of the game. Five hits and a team-high four blocked shots, plus he did an outstanding job knowing when to pinch in the offensive zone, as he has all series. He’s so much more than a big point shot.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Detroit’s exhausted defense corps gets group scapegoat status for its inability to avoid breakdowns. Over Nashville’s three straight wins to end the series, so many important goals came on blown defensive assignments by the Wings that left Predator players all alone with Howard, like Kevin Klein’s tallies in Games 3 and 4 and Radulov’s tonight. Lidstrom and Ian White were not 100 percent healthy and it showed.

– Matt Larkin



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