NHL

Cullen: Flyers, Kings put favourites down 2-0

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Scott Cullen
4/14/2012 1:16:37 AM
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Giroux, Couturier shine in epic Flyers win, Dustin Brown lead the Kings, the Red Wings even the score and the Devils' quick start is enough to get the job done.

Scott Cullen looks at Friday night's NHL playoff action.

EPIC BATTLE OF PENNSYLVANIA
While playoff hockey in all venues is played at a level of intensity that is far and away superior to regular season action, the Flyers-Penguins series is another level higher -- more intense than garden variety playoff hockey, which is already great, and the constant changes in momentum make this series as entertaining as one could want.

The Penguins, who now trail the series 2-0 after losing 8-5 at home in Game Two, may not be entertained, particuarly since they've blown leads (3-0 after one in Game One; 3-1 after one in Game Two) in each of the first two games.

Philadelphia's comeback was paced by a six-point night for Claude Giroux, the league's third-leading scorer who had three goals and three assists.  He combined with former Penguin Maxime Talbot for a pair of shorthanded goals, with Giroux and Talbot each notching one, assisted by the other. Talbot finished the game a plus-5, the best single game mark of his career. In 536 regular season and playoff games before Friday night, Talbot twice registered a plus-3 rating.

Talbot wasn't the only ex-Penguin that was a factor, either, as Jaromir Jagr scored what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Providing additional support for Giroux's epic performance was rookie Sean Couturier, who had three goals and an assist. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Couturier has impressed, right out of the gate, with a mature defensive game that has allowed Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to match Couturier up against other teams' top scorers.

To wit, Couturier has spent the bulk of his time in this series going up against the line of Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal (per www.timeoneice.com) and, in Game Two, it was no contest. Not only did Couturier put up four points, but that Penguins line combined to finish at minus-13 despite recording six points.

Just as in Game One, Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis each contributed a pair of first period points to the Penguins' cause, but they coulnd't muster any offence after that as the Flyers stormed back to take the lead. Crosby and Giroux each took 29 face-offs in the game and both won 15 and lost 14.

Given the back-and-forth nature of Game Two, it's not surprising that the goalie numbers aren't very good. Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury isn't to blame for all goals against, but he has to be better than stopping 45 of 56 shots (.804 SV%) if the Penguins are going to have any chance of getting back in the series.

Flyers trade deadline acquisition D Nicklas Grossmann led the team with five blocked shots and four hits.

One of the Flyers' Game One heroes, C Danny Briere found the going tougher in Game Two, failing to register a shot on goal and finishing minus-2.

With two comeback wins in Pittsburgh, the Flyers are in good shape going home to Philadelphia for Game Three, even if the Flyers had a slightly better road record this season.

EVENING THE SCORE
In 82 regular season games, the Detroit Red Wings were held under 20 shots on goal once (a March 9 win over Los Angeles), but they managed to win Game Two against Nashville with only 17 shots on goal.

Their low shot total wasn't the only rarity on the night, as the Red Wings, a team with 15 fights on the season, had a scrap involving Todd Bertuzzi and Predators captain Shea Weber. After Weber's turnbuckle move on Henrik Zetterberg at the end of Game One, it's not altogether surprising that the Wings might seek out some measure of revenge.

Weber more than held his own in the bout, just 1:36 into the contest, led Nashville with five shots on goal and then scored late in the third period to get the Predators within 3-2, which was ultimately the final score.

While depth players paced the Predators in Game One, the Red Wings got some contributions  from the bottom six too. C Cory Emmerton scored a goal and was plus-2, making the most of his 5:17 of ice time, the lowest time on ice for anyone in the game.

At the other end of the ice time spectrum for the Red Wings, D Jonathan Ericsson played a team-high 24:50 and finished plus-2. Ericsson played more than 24 minutes just once in the entire regular season (26:34 in an April 4 game vs. St. Louis that went to the shootout) and he's making the most of an opportunity to pair with veteran Nicklas Lidstrom.

By evening the series, the Red Wings head home in good position, but the battle for space in a close series only figures to continue at Joe Louis Arena.

WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
Kings captain Dustin Brown notched a pair of shorthanded goals to lead Los Angeles to a Game Two win (and 2-0 series lead) in Vancouver. Brown led the Kings with six shots on goal, while D Willie Mitchell led the team with six blocked shots and checking centre Colin Fraser paced the physical game with six hits in only 8:46 of ice time.

Los Angeles came into the series with a presumed advantage in goal, thanks to Jonathan Quick's exceptional season, and Quick backstopped the Kings in Game Two, stopping 46 of 48 shots for the win.

Without Daniel Sedin, the Canucks appear at a loss offensively. Even with a season-high 48 shots on goal, the Canucks didn't have a lot of sustained offence and, when they did, Quick was up to the task.

LW Mason Raymond, demoted from the first line, led the Canucks with seven shots on goal, playing primarily with Samuel Pahlsson and Maxim Lapierre (who was still a pest, leading the Canucks with six hits and picking up a 10-minute misconduct shortly after the Kings' fourth goal).

Going to Los Angeles, down 2-0 in the series, the Canucks may have to consider going to backup G Cory Schneider. It's not as though Roberto Luongo played poorly, but the Canucks need something new and if they don't get Daniel Sedin back in the lineup, then a new goaltender is a conceivable option.

DEVILS HANG ON
After a first period in which the New Jersey Devils outshot the home-team Florida Panthers 26-9, outscoring them 3-0, it looked like the Devils were well on their way to sweeping the Panthers away.

However, the Panthers managed a couple of second period goals and outshot the Devils 17-12 after the first period, making a game out of what appeared to be an inevitable blowout.

Despite playing a game-high 27:16, Devils RW Ilya Kovalchuk was held to two shots on goal and finished minus-1, but Dainius Zubrus picked up the slack, putting up a goal and an assist with a team-leading seven hits.

The game-winning goal, as it turned out, was scored by former Panther Ryan Carter, whose 6:56 of ice time ranked ahead of only recent call-up Stephen Gionta, who logged 6:50.

Sean Bergenheim, who scored nine goals in 16 playoff games with Tampa Bay last season, scored the Panthers' first goal and veteran Mikael Samuelsson added two assists. Samuelsson has had double-digit playoff point totals in four of the last five seasons.

If the Panthers can play at least somewhat like they did in the second and third periods, when they weren't completely overmatched, then they might have a shot at a split before the series goes to New Jersey. 

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.

Talbot and Giroux (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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