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Cullen: Halak steals the show, pushing Caps to Game Seven

Scott Cullen
4/27/2010 8:01:42 AM
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Jaroslav Halak's sensational goaltending performance was the story of the night, even when two teams advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

HALAK UNBEATABLE
Jaroslav Halak had a goaltending performance for the ages, turning back 53 of 54 shots to send the series to Game Seven.  With the win, Halak is now 12-0-1 this season when stopping at least 35 shots in a game and Game Six was his season-high.

At the other end of the rink, Montreal got a pair of goals and an assist from Mike Cammalleri, last summer's big free agent signing, who has been on the scoresheet every game in the series on his way to an impressive ten points.  Considering Cammalleri finished the regular season with three points (no goals) in his last 11 games, the Habs have to be impressed.

Washington, which boasted the league's best power play in the regular season by a significant margin (25.2% to second-place Montreal's 21.8%), has been unable to muster anything with the man advantage.  After going 0-for-6 in Game Six, the Caps PP is now 1-for-30 (3.3%) in the series.

It might be natural to credit Montreal's penalty-killing, and I have at times in this series, considering the Capitals had 18 shots on their six power plays in Game Six, credit goes to Jaroslav Halak.  The way he played to keep the Canadiens' season alive, he deserves the praise.

To Game Seven they go, even though the Capitals have averaged a playoff-best 41.3 shots per game on the Montreal goal, while Montreal has averaged a more modest 29.5  shots on goal per game.

BOSTON POPS
Boston finished off their upset of Buffalo in six games.  Like Washington, Buffalo's power play just wasn't able to find the mark, going 0-for-19 in the series. 

That means full marks for the Bruins penalty killers (Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Matt Hunwick and Dennis Wideman on defence; ex-Sabre Daniel Paille, Steve Begin, David Krejci and Marco Sturm on the top forward units).  Boychuk also led the Bruins in ice time in Game Six, playing 27:49.

Krejci had a strong game for the Bruins in the clincher, scoring two goals and adding an assist, giving him five points in the series, tied with Patrice Bergeron for the team lead. 

Oh, a couple of other guys had five points for the Bruins -- Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan.  Amazing.

The Sabres were undone by a lack of production from their forwards.   Thomas Vanek missed three games with injury (though he scored three points in the three games he played), but Derek Roy and Tim Connolly will come under the most scrutiny.  The Sabres' top two centres had no goals and three assists between them and that's not going to win a playoff series.

Then factor in the injury to Jochen Hecht, Drew Stafford's ineffectiveness coming back from a concussion and Buffalo's most dangerous forward could well have been rookie Tyler Ennis, who had four points and a team-high 20 shots on goal.  While that's promising for the future, having Ennis lead the way wasn't the ideal plan for the Sabres right now.

BRING ON THE CANUCKS
It didn't come easily, which was to be expected, but the Chicago Blackhawks finished off the Nashville Predators, in a Game Six that opened with a frenetic pace, with seven goals in a 13-minute span in the first period and then the scoring stopped until John Madden iced the series with an empty-netter.

At home, with their season on the line, the Predators only 13 generated shots on goal through two periods, before desperation kicked in and they outshot Chicago 15-2 in third.

Jason Arnott scored his first points of the series, sniping two goals in the losing effort, including Nashville's first power play goal of the series, while Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews each had three points for the Blackhawks.

The Predators weren't expected to have much firepower and, with Arnott struggling and Patric Hornqvist limited to two games in the series, they didn't.   David Legwand rose to the occasion with seven points and Martin Erat added five to lead the Preds.  Ryan Suter was the most prominent Predator held off the scoresheet for all six games.

Toews and Sharp paced the Blackhawks with eight and seven points, respectively, but the Blackhawks have depth and Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa each added seven points as well. 

Though not a scorer, defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson's role continues to grow on the Chicago blueline and he had three points and a team-best plus-6 in the series, while playing nearly 22 minutes per game.

Coming through that hard-fought win, the Blackhawks will face the Vancouver Canucks, in a re-match from last year's playoffs. 

Both  Vancouver and Chicago generally controlled territorial play in the first-round, with the Canucks outshooting the Kings 185-166, while the Blackhawks outshot the Predators 179-164. 

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.




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