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Cullen: Lesser knowns rise to the spotlight in NHL playoffs

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Scott Cullen
4/19/2011 9:33:35 AM
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On previous nights, star performers have carried their teams to victory, but Monday night was an evening for lesser knowns to rise to the spotlight, from Brian Boucher to Arron Asham to Rich Peverley to Drew Miller and others, helping all four road teams emerge victorious.

PHILADLEPHIA-BUFFALO
Brian Boucher stepped in between the pipes and stopped 35 of 37 Buffalo shots for the victory.  Boucher stopped at least 35 shots twice in 29 starts during the regular season.

Flyers winger Nikolay Zherdev scored the game-winner, apparently deemed worthy of playing after sitting out the first two games of the series.  He wasn't deemed too worthy, however, as Zherdev played just 8:14, the second-lowest total among all Flyers.

Flyers defencemen Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen, who each logged more than 23 minutes, were plus-3 on the game.  They were primarily matched up against the line of Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek and that trio managed a total of just four shots in the game.

Tim Connolly played 22:10, the only other time this year he's played more than 22 minutes?  Game Two.

Sabres defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani assisted on both Buffalo goals and played a team-high 23:51.  Gragnani, who played in the AHL for most of the season, leads the Sabres with four points in the series.

Buffalo's down in the series, but with the Flyers turning to Boucher, there does seem to be a vulnerability in net that should give the Sabres hope.  They need to capitalize on that hope if they are going to even the series before heading back to Philly.

PITTSBURGH-TAMPA BAY
There are a lot of grinders in the Penguins lineup and Monday's goal-scorers -- Max Talbot, Arron Asham and Tyler Kennedy -- speak to the kind of team effort required by the Penguins now.

Asham, the only Penguins player with two goals so far in the series, played just 7:44 -- second-lowest ice time on the team.  With three points in the series, Asham is tied with star defenceman Kris Letang and crash-and-bang defenceman Brooks Orpik with three points

With Ben Lovejoy playing only 8:52 thanks to getting run by Lightning winger Steve Downie, Penguins blueliner Zbynek Michalek led the Penguins in ice time with 27:27, a total he surpassed three times all season (though all three occurrences have been since mid-February).

Downie and Penguins winger Chris Kunitz will be called on the carpet for hits.  Kunitz threw a blatant elbow at Lightning winger Simon Gagne.  Both figure to get suspended, but it's increasingly difficult to guess how these matters will be punished. 

While the grinders were getting the job done for the Penguins, Martin St. Louis scored both goals for the Lightning.  Steven Stamkos, who saw a lot of Michalek, is still seeking his first goal of the series.

The Penguins have been relying on the veteran savvy of a team that has played a lot of playoff games in recent seasons; so far, it seems to be working.

BOSTON-MONTREAL
Montreal had an opportunity to put the hammer down on the Bruins and take a 3-0 series lead, but let the Bruins off the mat.

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who has played so well, was a little too casual on a clearing attempt and it ended up on the stick of Rich Peverley, who scored what turned out to be the winning goal into an empty net.

At the other end of the rink, Tim Thomas finally gave the Bruins the kind of goaltending that they've come to expect this season, stopping 34 of 36 shots, including 14 of 15 in the third period as the Habs pressed for the equalizer.

Back in the lineup after missing Game Two due to a virus, Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara played 26:20 and recorded an assist.  He doesn't appear to be any the worse for wear, so the Bruins will need hm to be an impact performer if they are going to come back in the series.

Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron is gradually seeing his ice time go up, to 17:15 in Game Three.  It still seems low for a player who was Boston's best forward, with two assists and a plus-3 rating in the win.

Mike Cammalleri assisted on both of Montreal's goals, giving him a team-best four points through the first three games.

Game Four, in Montreal, is critical as Montreal would naturally hope to avoid going back to Boston even. 

DETROIT-PHOENIX
The supporting cast came through.  After Pavel Datsyuk put on a show on Saturday, the Wings got points from Ruslan Salei, Darren Helm, Drew Miller and Jonathan Ericsson on their way to a 4-2 win and a commanding 3-0 series lead.

Niklas Kronwall was a difference-maker for the Wings, with two assists and a plus-3 rating in a team-high 23:24.  Nicklas Lidstrom played only 18:03, a time on ice total that he came in under just once all season (Game 77 against St. Louis, when Lidstrom was minus-3 in a 10-3 defeat). 

Phoenix score both their goals on the power play, making them 5-for-10 in the last two games with the man advantage.  With the Wings up three games to none, it doesn't appear that the penalty killing will be a serious issue in this series, but may need to be tightened up in future rounds.

Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov allowed four goals on 34 shots and, while it's not terrible, it's just not good enough for a Coyotes team that is looking to pull off a series upset. 

Through three three games, Bryzgalov has an .881 save percentage, which is well below his previous playoff norms.  Last year against Detroit, for example, his save percentage was .906 and while that doesn't seem drastically different, in a series this close, an extra two or three stops would likely put the outcome in doubt.  It's not in doubt now.

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.

Drew Miller (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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