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Cullen: Notes from opening night of the NHL playoffs

Scott Cullen
4/17/2014 9:43:06 AM
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Scott Cullen breaks down the opening night of the NHL playoffs, including Daniel Briere looking good for the Habs, the supporting cast coming through for the Penguins and the Stars' comeback coming up short in Anaheim.

WEISE THE HABS' OT HERO

A game that went back-and-forth on the scoreboard, though was controlled territorially by Montreal, ended in overtime when Dale Weise buried a pass from Daniel Briere at 18:08 of overtime, giving the Canadiens a 5-4 overtime win in Game One.

The goal was Weise's fourth in 18 games for the Canadiens since he was acquired from Vancouver, after scoring 10 goals in 135 career games prior. Let's not go changing expectations for Dale Weise the goal-scorer, however; he's still not generating many shots (0.71 per game with Montreal in the regular season), but when it comes to overtime winners, always take 'em where you can get 'em.

Perhaps more interesting for Montreal is that Daniel Briere had a strong game for Montreal, playing a season-high 18:48 (in a 78-minute game), recording strong possession stats (65.4% Corsi) and, of course, setting up the winning goal. That assist gave Briere 110 points in 109 career playoff games, and his acquisition was touted for his playoff productivity, but it took a lot of patience as he struggled his way to 25 points in 69 regular-season games. If Briere can be a quality contributor in the playoffs, that will add a new dimension to the Canadiens' attack.

The game featured shoddy defensive play both ways, with Montreal outshooting Tampa Bay 44-25 (67-47 5-on-5 attempts), an unusual development considering that Tampa Bay had decidedly better possession numbers during the regular season.

The line doing the most damage, in terms of controlling play, was the number one unit of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Thomas Vanek and they did it while matched most frequently against Tampa Bay's top line of Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, with Victor Hedman and Sami Salo on defence. Desharnais was 3-for-17 (17.6%) on face-offs.

Tampa's top line took a hit early in the third period when LW Ondrej Palat left the game with an upper-body injury. Palat was hit hard by Columbus D Jack Johnson Friday, and was forced to leave the game, so he's hurting. If Palat isn't ready for Game Two, Killorn should continue in that spot, while a veteran like Tom Pyatt might make sense as an addition lower on the depth chart.

There had been some talk, prior to the playoffs, that Lightning RW Steven Stamkos hadn't been in top form as he had missed nearly four months with a broken tibia, but he played a season-high 27:18 in Game One, scoring a pair of goals. Killorn, the second-year forward out of Harvard, had a goal and an assist for the Lightning.

Montreal's multi-point efforts came from unusual sources. C Lars Eller had a goal and an assist; he finished the regular season with three points in the last two games, but had a horrible run of three points in the 33 games before that, so if the Habs are going to get offence from him now, that's a bonus. D Alexei Emelin recorded a pair of assists, while he and Andrei Markov spent most of their night matched up against Stamkos and Johnson. Emelin previously had three multi-point games in 164 career games.

That Montreal put five past Lightning G Anders Lindback isn't a huge surprise, but it was slightly more concerning that Canadiens G Carey Price surrendered four goals on 25 shots. They weren't all Price's fault, to be sure, but a goaltender in the midst of a big playoff game might stop at least one that managed to get by Price in Game One. The good news for Montreal is that they earned a series-opening win without needing Price to carry them.

PENS GET IT DONE

Penguins C Brandon Sutter scored the game-winner in the third period, and Pittsburgh escaped with a 4-3 win over Columbus in Game One.

While the game wasn't Pittsburgh's best, they could take some positives because on a night that Sidney Crosby was held to one assist, and a minus-2 rating, the Penguins got contributions from the supporting cast. RW Beau Bennett and D Matt Niskanen each had a goal and an assist while C Evgeni Malkin had two assists as did defencemen Paul Martin.

The Blue Jackets can also take some positives, in that they were competitive on the road against the Penguins and the game was winnable if G Sergei Bobrovsky (28 saves on 32 shots) had been at his best. In their attempt to neutralize Crosby, the Blue Jackets kept Brandon Dubinsky matched up on No. 87 as often as possible. Dubinsky had a game-high nine hits, a highlight-reel assist and led Blue Jackets forwards with 20:29 time on ice.

The Crosby line also shuffled during the game, with Brian Gibbons replacing Bennett on right wing. Given the number of guys that have rolled through that spot since Pascal Dupuis was injured this year, it should come as no surprise that the revolving door continues.

Columbus D Jack Johnson contributed a goal and an assist. For all the criticism lobbed at Johnson, and he and partner Fedor Tyutin didn't fare well in the possession game in Game One, Johnson now has 14 points in 13 career playoff games.

What's troubling for Columbus, even if they were competitive with the Penguins, is that they lost a game in which they limited Crosby's contribution and it was the Penguins' supporting cast that came through. If a team is going to pull off an upset, it would help matters to win in the games that they manage to be reasonably effective against Crosby.

FIRST QUACK

After racing out to a 4-0 lead by the midway point of the game, the Anaheim Ducks held on for a 4-3 win against the Dallas Stars in Game One.

The rally for the Stars started with a second-period 5-on-3 power play goal and then Tyler Seguin's third-period goal made for an interesting finish, but it wasn't enough, and despite a situation in which score-effects could have easily led to Dallas getting more shots in the third period, the Ducks outshot Dallas 13-8 in the final frame.

Anaheim had contributions throughout the lineup, but the line of Teemu Selanne, Mathieu Perreault and Patrick Maroon was ridicuously dominant in terms of puck possession. Perreault was on for 13 shot attempts for and one against in 5-on-5 play.

The most effective Ducks line, in terms of scoring, was their No. 1 line of Ryan Getzlaf, Matt Beleskey and Corey Perry. Both Getzlaf and Beleskey had a goal and an assist, and both left the game with injuries. Beleskey suffered a lower-body injury and didn't play after the midpoint of the third period, then Getzlaf took a Tyler Seguin slapshot in the mouth in the final minute. Early indications on Getzlaf are that he should be okay to play, but if Beleskey happens to be out, there will be an opportunity for someone -- perhaps Kyle Palmieri, who scored the first goal in Game One -- to move up the depth chart.

The Stars' top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin was effective in the possession game and spent the night matched against Getzlaf's line in a head-to-head situation.

At the other end of the spectrum, Stars veterans Ray Whitney, Shawn Horcoff and Erik Cole struggled, as did defencemen Sergei Gonchar, who took a couple of penalties in limited (11:28) ice time, and Aaron Rome. If the Stars can get D Brenden Dillon back from a lower body injury soon, Rome or Gonchar could easily be bumped from the lineup.

Up front, Nichushkin was replaced, for a few shifts, by RW Colton Sceviour, who finished the game with a goal and an assist to lead the Stars.

While coming up short on a comeback attempt doesn't do the Stars all that much good, they were more competitive than the score showed early, and a close finish has to be preferable to getting blown out in Game One -- that was looking entirely possible at the midway point.

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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