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Cullen: Notes on MacKinnon, Calvert, Blackhawks, more

Scott Cullen
4/20/2014 1:34:42 AM
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 Scott Cullen looks at Saturday's playoff action, including tough times for the undisciplined Chicago Blackhawks, Matt Calvert lifting the Blue Jackets to their first playoff win, and Nathan MacKinnon putting on a show as Colorado takes a 2-0 series lead over Minnesota.

 HEAVY HOCKEY

The Chicago Blackhawks are within two minutes of having a 2-0 series lead, surrendering tying goals late in the third period (1:45 remaining in Game One, six seconds left in Game Two) of the first two games in St. Louis, leading to 4-3 overtime defeats in both games.

Being that close doesn't amount to much now, though, as Chicago is facing a 2-0 series deficit along with the possibility that a top pair defenceman, Brent Seabrook, could be suspended for a crushing hit on Blues C David Backes, whose status has to be questionable in the immediate aftermath.

Seabrook had a goal and an assist in Game Two, before taking a major penalty for his hit on Backes wit 4:51 remaining in the third period. If Seabrook is suspended, Sheldon Brookbank could move into the Chicago lineup, but Backes' potential absence also causes issues for the Blues. Even though the St. Louis lineup was bolstered by the return of RW T.J. Oshie, their top three healthy centres after Backes in Game Two were Vladimir Sobotka, Maxim Lapierre and Derek Roy. If Backes is out (and Patrik Berglund is already out), then St. Louis may have to shuffle Steve Ott to the middle and add a winger, Dimitrij Jaskin or Brenden Morrow, to the lineup.

Leading the way for St. Louis in Game Two was D Kevin Shattenkirk, who had a goal and two assists, and also happened to be break-even in Corsi%, which was rare on a Blues team that was easily handled by Chicago at even strength.

The problem for the Blackhawks, however, was an appalling lack of discipline, as Chicago was shorthanded nine times, including 11 minutes of shorthanded time in the final 15 minutes of the game.

A positive for the Blackhawks was the performance of RW Marian Hossa, who matched his season high with eight shots on goal in Game Two. Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews, who was on the ice for both the tying and game-winning goals against, had a dominant possession game (85% Corsi%), getting the better of a strength-on-strength matchup against the Blues' top line of Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie. Returning to the lineup for the first time since a late-season concussion, Oshie's Corsi% for the game was 13.0%.

The results through the first two games could have gone either way, so it's not as if Chicago is out of the running as they head home for Game Three. However, their margin for error is gone. They need to get on the board with a win if they are going to make a series out of this.

JACKETS EVEN UP

Matt Calvert's second goal of the game, 1:10 into double overtime, earned the Columbus Blue Jackets the first playoff win in the franchise's history.

Calvert, who was favourably included in my piece on which fighters can handle more playing time, played a career-high 22:26 in the double-overtime affair, having possession success with linemates Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky.

Blue Jackets D Jack Johnson led all skaters with 38:21 of ice time and scored the game-tying goal with 6:01 remaining in the third period. Johnson now has 15 points in 14 career playoff games. Among defencemen with at least a dozen career playoff games, Johnson's 1.07 points per game in the postseason ranks second, behind only Bobby Orr.

Blue Jackets C Ryan Johansen added a goal and an assist, while D David Savard contributed two assists to the winning effort.

On the Penguins side, RW Brian Gibbons scored a pair of goals, and Sidney Crosby had a couple of assists, but no other Penguins forwards got on the scoresheet. D Paul Martin had two assists while Matt Niskanen added a goal and an assist.

Perhaps the most troubling issue for Pittsburgh in Game Two was the play of D Kris Letang, who was stomped (32.5% Corsi%) in possession terms. His minus-14 Corsi was his lowest of the season. Even so, his 27:40 of ice time was behind only Paul Martin (34:07) and Brooks Orpik (28:02) on the Penguins' blueline.

Columbus D Fedor Tyutin left the game with a presumed upper-body injury after taking a couple of hard hits and playing just 6:55. If Tyutin is out, Dalton Prout or Nick Schultz are available to join the Columbus lineup, but Savard is the one who moves up the depth chart. He played 33:46 in Game Two.

Earning the Game Two win ought to give the Blue Jackets some feeling of belonging in the postseason. They can compete with the Penguins, play them close enough that G Sergei Bobrovsky (who stopped 39 of 42 shots in Game Two) has a chance to make a difference.

MACKINNON'S COMING OUT PARTY

18-year-old Avalanche rookie RW Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and three assists in Colorado's 4-2 Game Two win over the Minnesota Wild, giving the Avs a 2-0 lead in the series, and MacKinnon seven points through two games.

There is a good chance that MacKinnon is on his way to the best playoff scoring for an 18-year-old in league history, as Jaromir Jagr holds the current mark with 13 playoff points in 1991.

The line of MacKinnon, LW Gabriel Landeskog (two goals) and C Paul Stastny (one goal, three assists) carried the day for the Avalanche, with MacKinnon's speed and playmaking ability creating huge difficulty for the Wild, even though Minnesota frequently had their top defence pairing of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin matched up against them.

Though he wasn't particularly to blame for Colorado's first three goals, Wild G Ilya Bryzgalov was pulled with 8:01 remaining in the second period, replaced by Darcy Kuemper, the rookie who last played March 27. Kuemper stopped all 14 shots he faced.

That Colorado has high-end skill up front comes as no surprise, nor is it shocking that G Semyon Varlamov has been the better of the goaltenders in the series but, coming home for Game Three, the Wild need their own top forwards to answer the bell and hope that whomever they go with in net, Kuemper or Bryzgalov, will give them a chance to get back in the 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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