NHL

Cullen: Sens, Blackhawks advance; Penguins take lead

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Scott Cullen
5/10/2013 1:32:44 AM
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The Senators and Blackhawks are moving to Round Two after blowout wins while the Penguins take the series lead over the Islanders. Scott Cullen has stats and notes from Thursday's NHL action.

SENS SEND CANADIENS INTO SUMMER
Even though they were at home, the Montreal Canadiens were fighting an uphill battle in Game Five. With strong goaltending and timely scoring, the Ottawa Senators took a 6-1 decision, winning the series four games to one.

Coming into the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens were facing a tough task if the Ottawa Senators continued to get the kind of goaltending that they had received all season. As it turned out, Craig Anderson was every bit as good as his league-leading performance in the regular season. After stopping 33 of 34 shots in the Game Five clincher, Anderson had a .950 save percentage in the series.

As usual, the Senators got contributions throughout their lineup in Game Five. Cory Conacher potted two goals and linemates Matt Kassian and Jean-Gabriel Pageau each had two assists. Erik Condra led the way with a goal and two assists.

For the series, the offensively-challenged Sens seemed to do just fine. Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson led the way with six points in five games while Pageau, Kyle Turris and Marc Methot each had a point per game.

Down three games to one, the Canadiens were left to mount a series comeback, starting in Game Five, with Peter Budaj in goal after Carey Price suffered a leg injury late in Game Four. It was the first career playoff start for the 30-year-old and he struggled, stopping just 23 of 29 shots.

On a night when the Canadiens had a bunch of early chances, but couldn't solve Anderson, they most definitely couldn't afford a subpar goaltending performance in their own net, so the lopsided result came with a sense of inevitability when it appeared that Budaj wasn't going to be matching Anderson, his former teammate in Colorado.

Defenceman P.K. Subban was Montreal's most dangerous player in the series and he and Tomas Plekanec tied for the team lead with four points in the series. Playing with a separated shoulder, LW Max Pacioretty was held off the scoresheet, David Desharnais and Andrei Markov managed one point apiece. Rookie RW Brendan Gallagher was a team-worst minus-7, yet also led the Habs with 22 shots on goal in five games.

It's not as though Montreal didn't have their chances, they outshot the Senators by an average margin of 5.2 shots per game, but couldn't come close to matching the Senators' goaltending. It's been a strong suit for Ottawa all year and it made the series more lopsided than the territorial play between the teams would suggest.

PENGUINS PULL AHEAD OF ISLANDERS
Returning home with the series tied at two, the Pittsburgh Penguins turned to Tomas Vokoun in net, replacing Marc-Andre Fleury, and Vokoun responded with a 31-save shutout in Pittsburgh's 4-0 win.

Vokoun wasn't the only insert into the Pittsburgh lineup. RW Tyler Kennedy played his first game of the playoffs and scored the first goal of the game.

Sidney Crosby and and Kris Letang led the Penguins' attack with a goal and an assist each; Crosby's goal a highlight effort, splitting the Islanders' defence before finding the back of the net with a snapshot.

Islanders C John Tavares had a team-high six shots, but was also 5-for-18 (27.8%) on faceoffs. Penguins C Joe Vitale was 9-for-10 on draws.

Even though Game Five was a healthy margin of victory for the Penguins, the Islanders still have a chance to extend the series. For all the skill that the Penguins have, the Islanders have been carrying their share of the play. The challenge facing them now, however, is that they need to try to get justly rewarded when they carry the play. It happened when Marc-Andre Fleury was tending the Penguins' net; it hasn't yet happened with Vokoun between the pipes.

BLACKHAWKS BOUNCE WILD
The Chicago Blackhawks made short work of the Minnesota Wild, coasting to a 5-1 win in Game Five and taking the series four games to one.

Marian Hossa led the Blackhawks with two goals and an assist. Marcus Kruger brought the complementary offence with a goal and an assist, while Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith each had a pair of assists.

Wild LW Zach Parise was held without a shot for the first time since November 6, 2009; he spent the night matched up against the defence tandem of Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, along with the Blackhawks' top line of Toews, Hossa and rookie Brandon Saad. Those five Blackhawks were dominant possession-wise, leaving few opportunities for Minnesota's top line of Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle.

While Toews' two assists in Game Five were his first points of the series, Chicago's other big guns produced. Patrick Sharp had five goals and an assist in five games, Hossa had six points, Keith had five and Patrick Kane had five points in the five-game series.

Scoring was much more difficult for the Wild. Veteran C Matt Cullen had three assists in five games to lead the Wild in scoring. Parise had one assist (and was minus-7), Mikko Koivu had no points (and was minus-6), an injured Jason Pominville only played two games; it's asking a lot for the Minnesota supporting cast to pick up the slack when the top guys aren't producing at all.

Ryan Suter played 31:37 per game, but didn't record a point and was minus-5. He spent much of the series trying to cover both of Chicago's scoring lines, a tall order.

If the Wild were going to have any shot at upsetting the Blackhawks, they needed Chicago's goaltending to get shaky, but it didn't happen. Corey Crawford allowed seven goals on 139 shots in five games, leaving him with a 1.40 goals against average and .950 save percentage. Tough to beat a team that gets that kind of goaltending.

Josh Harding had a difficult job, filling in for an injured Niklas Backstrom right from the start of the series, but he played well. His .911 save percentage was respectable, but the Wild were always going to need more than respectable performances if they were going to overachieve.

In the end, the result of the Chicago-Minnesota series was as expected. A Stanley Cup favourite taking care of business against a team that barely squeaked into the postseason.

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.

Craig Anderson (Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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