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Cullen: Penguins, Canucks alive; Senators even up

Scott Cullen
4/19/2012 1:50:44 AM
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The Penguins and Canucks got off the mat and the Senators rallied to even their series with the Rangers.

Scott Cullen takes a look at a crazy game in Philadelphia, Cory Schneider doing the job for Vancouver and Kyle Turris playing hero for Ottawa.

NOT DONE YET
With their season on the line, the Pittsburgh Penguins rose to the challenge and delivered a 10-3 win in Philadelphia, pushing the series back to Pittsburgh for Game Five.

It's not as though it came easily for the Penguins, however, as they fell behind 3-2 with 4:08 left in the first period, but Sidney Crosby scored 27 seconds later and the Penguins were off to the races, scoring eight consecutive goals to finish the game.

The game featured seven power play goals, one off the all-time record of eight set by St. Louis and Minnesota (North Stars!) in 1991.

On point night for the Penguins, Jordan Staal had the hat trick, giving him five in the last two games and seven points in the series.

Evgeni Malkin contributed two goals and an assist, with a game-high plus-4 rating. Sidney Crosby and Sullivan both added a goal and two assists.

Their are lofty point totals in this series (Claude Giroux - 10 points; Crosby - 8 points; Malkin - 7 points; Staal - 7 points) and it's no wonder, the 45 goals scored in the first four games sets an NHL record for most goals in the first four games of a playoff series.

On the other hand, the goaltending has been horrific. Marc-Andre Fleury was shaky early, but once the Penguins took the lead late in the first period of Game Four, Fleury stopped all 14 shots he faced in the second and third periods. Still, his .817 save percentage in the series leaves much room for improvement.

Among goaltenders to have played at least four games in a playoff year, only two had a save percentage lower than .817: Jeff Reese for Toronto and Mike Vernon for Calgary, both in 1993.

The Flyers goaltending tandem of Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovksy shared their Game Four victimization equally, each allowing five goals on 18 shots. This performance lowered Bryzgalov's save percentage to .844. It's Bryzgalov's own struggles that offers the Penguins some sliver of hope to come back from a three games to none deficit. Add in the fact that Flyers D Nicklas Grossman left Wednesday's game with a suspected concussion and the Flyers may be even more vulnerable on the back end.

Now that the series is 3-1 and going back to Pittsburgh, there remains the possibility that Bryzgalov could continue to struggle and even passable or mediocre goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury might swing the momentum back in the Penguins' favour. They staved off elimination in Game Four; if they can do it again in Game Five then, against the odds, this might be a series after all.

CANUCKS HEADING HOME FOR GAME FIVE
With their season on the line, the Vancouver Canucks turned to Cory Schneider in goal, setting off many questions about the future of Roberto Luongo in a Canucks uniform. Those are questions for the offseason and, after their 3-1 win, the Canucks aren't yet ready to start their offseason.

Through two periods, the Kings were outshooting the Canucks 31-16 (final shots: 44 for Los Angeles, 30 for Vancouver), yet the Kings were losing 2-1 after two periods.

With the game still 2-1, Kings captain Dustin Brown was awarded a penalty shot, a golden opportunity to tie the game, but he was thwarted by Schneider, the kind of big save that gave the Canucks reason to believe they could win. 22 seconds after Brown was stopped on the penalty shot, Henrik Sedin scored on the power play, giving the Canucks some breathing room into the finish line.

Vancouver's first two goals came from defencemen Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, who led all Canucks with 25:24 of ice time and six shots on goal, contributed two assists. The Canucks are supposed to have plenty of scoring options up front, but when they aren't getting enough from their forwards, it sure helps to get points from the blueline.

Playing his first game since March 21, Daniel Sedin had one assist and played 19:33 for the Canucks. Sedin's absence from the lineup significantly leveled the playing field, giving the Kings every opportunity to jump into the series lead. Now that he's back, the Canucks have a better chance to come back but, like Pittsburgh, they need to build on their Game Four win with a Game Five win at home before there is any reason to get too excited about the prospects of a comeback from three games to none.

The Kings have held an advantage in goal for the first three games of the series, but Cory Schneider got the better of Jonathan Quick in Game Four, a matchup that the Canucks obviously need to keep winning if they are going to have a chance to take the series. 

SENATORS RALLY
Ottawa rallied to come back from a 2-0 deficit against the Rangers, capping the comeback with Kyle Turris' goal in overtime to even the series at two games apiece.

Turris' December arrival in Ottawa coincided with the Senators surge up the standings into playoff position and he was effective in his role as Ottawa's second-line centre and, as evidenced by his top-shelf shot to beat Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist, Turris adds a dimension of skill to the Senators' forward ranks.

Among those adding muscle for the Senators, Chris Neil continued to play a significant role, registering a game-high eight hits and chipping in an assist.

Veteran D Sergei Gonchar had a goal and an assist for Ottawa, after leading the team in ice time in Game Three, though his 21:41 of ice time was his lowest in the series. 

The Rangers' high-priced pair of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik got on the board early with two power play assists apiece in the first period, but they were split up later in the game, with Richards joining Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, while Gaborik skated with Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov. It was to no avail, however, as the Rangers couldn't muster anything more than the pair of power play markers they put up in the first 6:10 of the game.

Chris Kreider, playing in his second NHL game, was limited to spot duty on the fourth line, playing just 3:29, least among the Rangers.

A pair of Rangers took minus-2 ratings on the night: D Marc Staal and C Brian Boyle. It was the first game in the series that Boyle didn't score, but he did play a season-high 20:54.

The series swings back to Manhattan, all even, and it's not as if one team is dominating but not getting the breaks. It's been a closely-fought series and if the Senators keep getting strong goaltending from Craig Anderson, they're going to have a chance at the upset.

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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