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Cullen: Briere, Schenn, Bourque, Richards come up big

Scott Cullen
4/12/2012 12:47:13 AM
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The Penguins get stunned on home ice by Flyers young and old, the Predators get production from their depth forwards and ex-Flyers lead the Kings to a road win. Here is Scott Cullen's take on the first night of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

FLYERS COMEBACK
Losing 3-1 into the third, the Flyers outshot the Penguins 11-5 in the third period, scoring twice to force overtime and it only took 2:23 for Jakub Voracek to poke in a rebound behind Marc-Andre Fleury, giving Philadelphia a 4-3 comeback win in overtime of Game One.

Pittsburgh jumped out to an early lead, with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis each picking up a goal and an assist in the first period. Crosby has registered multi-point games in five of the last six, while Dupuis continued his late-season run. Dupuis scored a point in each of the last 17 regular season games to finish with a career-high 25 goals and 59 points.

Philadelphia turned the game around in the second period, with Daniel Briere, playing his first game since suffering an upper back injury in an April 1st game against Pittsburgh. I noted on Twitter Wednesday that Briere was one of nine players since the lockout to have played at least 40 playoff games while recording at least .90 points per game. Briere now has 95 points in 92 playoff games since the lockout.

Not only did Briere score on a breakaway (taking a pass when he was clearly offside) to give the Flyers some life, but he and linemates Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds frequently matched up head-to-head against Crosby, Dupuis and Steve Sullivan after the first period.

Schenn, a rookie who had 18 points in 54 regular season games, played a season-high 21:19 in the regular season finale against Pittsburgh, recording a goal and an assist, somewhat of a precursor to Game One, when Schenn assisted on Briere's two goals and notched the tying goal himself on a power play setup by Scott Hartnell.

As the series is expected to be a physical affair between the Pennsylvania rivals, the Flyers know that they will need Hartnell and Simmonds to play rambunctious roles and they combined for 15 hits in Game One.

Pittsburgh welcomed D Ben Lovejoy back into the lineup for the first time since March 25, yet he played only 9:23, leaving loads of ice for Kris Letang, who skated 28:18, a total he surpassed only once after the first week of November this season.

The Penguins' line of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz combined for 14 shots on goal, but they came up empty on the scoresheet, spending much of the night matched up against rookies Sean Couturier, Matt Read and former Penguin Maxime Talbot (per www.timeonice.com).

NASHVILLE'S DEPTH MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
Rookie winger Gabriel Bourque scored a pair of goals to help the Nashville Predators to a 3-2 win at home against Detroit in Game One.

After being outshot 13-5 in the first period, and falling behind, the Red Wings outshot Nashville 32-13 the rest of the way, but that's not going to come as a surprise -- Detroit had the second-best (plus-5.2) shot differential per game this season while the Predators ranked 26th (minus-3.2) in that category.

Bourque played a meagre 9:49, but was plus-2, playing primarily with Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist and continuing his productive work as a role player for the Predators. After scoring two goals and 16 points in 25 AHL games with Milwaukee, the 2009 fifth-round pick had seven goals and 19 points in 43 games for Nashville during the regular season.

Nashville's first goal was the result of a fortuitous bounce, as Paul Gaustad banked one in off Red Wings D Brad Stuart. Gaustad also won a couple of defensive zone face-offs in the final 30 seconds against Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk, so it was a solid night for the big checking centre, who ended the game pushing and shoving with Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi.

Detroit's depth didn't fare so well in Game One. C Darren Helm returned to the lineup for the first time since March 17, but then left the game when he suffered a lacerated forearm. If Helm misses time, expect Gustav Nyquist to find his way into the lineup.

In addition to Helm's game ending prematurely, Red Wings C Cory Emmerton was played sporadically, accumulating only 2:52 of ice time over the entire game, so that forced the Red Wings to juggle their lines, leaving Justin Abdelkader to centre Dan Cleary and Drew Miller. Trying to come back, after falling behind midway through the game, the Red Wings leaned on Henrik Zetterberg, who played 25:48, his most ice time in a game since a triple-OT loss to Anaheim in May, 2009.

While Zetterberg scored a goal and had other chances, one reason that the Red Wings couldn't produce more is that the Predators' top defence pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber was effective against the line of Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi, which combined for nine shots on goal, but couldn't light the lamp.

That matchup could change in Game Two, however, as Nashville D Shea Weber could face supplemental discipline from the league for his end-of-game assault on Zetterberg. Weber drove Zetterberg's head into the glass and if that earns a suspension (early indications are that it won't), Nashville would obviously be hard-pressed to fill the 27:27 that Weber played in Game One.

KINGS EARN GAME ONE WIN
There are few players in the league that would get the label "enigmatic" ahead of Kings winger Dustin Penner and he was the surprise hero for Los Angeles in their 4-2 Game One win at Vancouver.

Penner, a four-time 20-goal scorer, managed a grand total of seven goals in 65 games during the regular season, but he was in the right place at the right time for the Kings. Out with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for a rare shift, Penner was the recipient of a nifty skate pass by Carter after Richards picked off an Alexander Edler clearing attempt inside the Vancouver blueline. Penner buried the puck in the gaping cage to break a 2-2 tie with 3:14 seconds left in the third period.

Being on the ice with Carter and Richards counted as the right place at the right time on this night as the pair of ex-Flyers combined for five points and both were plus-2.

There is a fascinating head-to-head battle going between Canucks C Ryan Kesler and Richards, two feisty two-way pivots. Kesler had two points and played 23:08 while Richards had three points, logging 22:25.

Discipline was a problem for the Canucks, as they took 27 minutes in penalties, giving the Kings six power plays, including a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities in the first period and then a five-minute major penalty to Byron Bitz (for charging Kyle Clifford) in the second period and those power plays contributed to Los Angeles outshooting Vancouver 29-14 through two periods and 39-26 overall. The 13-shot deficit equaled the third-largest at home for the Canucks this season. 

Kings D Willie Mitchell capitalized near the tail-end of that five-minute power play. Mitchell has been known for his ability as a shutdown defenceman throughout his career, but tied a career-high with 23 points this season, including six points in six games to end the regular season.

With Daniel Sedin still sidelined by a concussion, the Canucks inserted Mason Raymond onto the top line with Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows. Though Sedin's ice time was limited because of all the Vancouver penalties, they did get what would seem to be favourable matchups, facing the Kings' third line -- Penner, Trevor Lewis and Jarret Stoll -- regularly (www.timeonice.com).

The Sedin line combined for nine shots on goal, with Burrows scoring Vancouver's first goal, though that marker came while playing with Kesler. Daniel Sedin's absence makes this series much more balanced than one might expect from a typical first seed versus eighth seed series.

 

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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