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Cullen: Saturday night's all right for fighting

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Scott Cullen
4/15/2012 1:21:29 AM
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Teams are starting to get their hate on. Apparently Saturday night is alright for fighting, the Capitals, Senators, Blues and Blackhawks all get even in Game Two.

BOILING OVER
The Ottawa Senators opened Game Two against the New York Rangers with a mission and that was to make Rangers C Brian Boyle pay for taking liberties with Senators D Erik Karlsson in Game One. Better late than never and Senators tough guy D Matt Carkner attacked Boyle early in the first period, raining punches down on the 6-foot-7 Ranger, even after he had gone to the ice after a couple on the button from Carkner. This resulted in every skater on the ice piling into the boards, trying to get Carkner off.

Bizarrely, officials decided to throw Rangers C Brandon Dubinsky out of the game, as the "third man in", though considering Boyle a participant in an altercation because he was getting punched (he didn't get any penalty on the play) is hardly a fair application of the rule. No self-respecting hockey player would allow a fallen teammate to keep taking punches, particularly when linesmen weren't in position to pull Carkner off of Boyle, so it's no surprise that Rangers coach John Tortorella appreciated Dubinsky's decision to get involved, even if the punishment cost the Rangers a solid two-way forward for the night.

That incident merely set the tone for the game, as both teams were playing the body at every opportunity and Boyle remained in the middle of it. Six minutes after he was attacked by Carkner, Boyle was challenged by Senators RW Chris Neil and Boyle didn't shy away from the fisticuffs, throwing his gloves to the ice with authority before tangling with Neil. It's worth noting that Boyle also scored a goal in the third period. It was Boyle's second goal of the playoffs and seventh in the last 11 games, counting the last nine games of the regular season -- a veritable offensive explosion from a checker who posted 11 goals in 82 games this season.

Neil was the overtime hero, falling into Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist and then banging a loose puck past Lundqvist, who had lost his stick.

The nastiness continued when Rangers rookie LW Carl Hagelin took a major penalty for elbowing Senators RW Daniel Alfredsson. Hagelin had 24 penalty minutes in 64 regular season games for the Rangers, so it's not like he's a thug, but he did finish the hit high and is slated to have a hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. If Alfredsson is sidelined by a concussion, it is easy to see how Hagelin could get suspended as a result.

Senators D Erik Karlsson, fired 10 shots on goal and scored once, banking a pass in off the skate of Rangers D Michael Del Zotto, while leading the Senators with five hits.

The Rangers' first goal was scored by D Anton Stralman who led the Blueshirts with five shots in just 13:55 of ice time. Also worth noting that Rangers RW Marian Gaborik had no shots and was minus-1 in 20:14.

While Game Two may have been an ugly affair, the Senators get to head home with a split in the series, though it's possible that they may not have Daniel Alfredsson in the lineup.

RIVALRY BUILDING
Animosity picked up in the Sharks-Blues series as well, with a number of contentious plays marking a strong bounceback game from the Blues.

While St. Louis' first goal was put into the net by Sharks D Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a whole lot of luck, Blues RW T.J. Oshie led the way, who had a terrific individual effort, beating three Sharks, before he set up David Backes for St. Louis' second goal and played a part in the third goal of the night.

But, as much as what happened on the scoreboard, there were several incidents that indicated this series is generating a certain amount of hate for the opposition. Sharks D Brent Burns sent a blatant elbow at the back of the head of Blues C Scott Nichol; Sharks LW T.J. Galiardi left his feet to crunch Blues LW Andy McDonald against the boards; McDonald followed up by slew-footing Sharks C Logan Couture; Blues C Vladimir Sobotka and Sharks C Dominic Moore battled all night, punctuated by and end-of-game scrap in which Sobotka took an extra swing once he had Moore down on the ice.

That list doesn't even cover everything that happened in the game to raise the temperature, but that list alone indicates that there will be more scores to be settled before all is said and done.

That list of transgressions doesn't even cover the Blues losing G Jaroslav Halak to injury early in the second period. That injury occurred when Blues D Barret Jackman collided with Halak after an aggressive backchecking sequence. Fortunately, the Blues could turn to Brian Elliott and he finished off the shutout effort for St. Louis.

As I noted on Twitter, what stood out to me from the end-of-game pugilism was that Blues D Roman Polak looked like he was as strong as an ox and a little scary in his destruction of Sharks D Justin Braun. To be fair, it's not like Braun is going to be confused with a heavyweight, but Polak was in beast mode.

Heading to San Jose for Game Three, this series has become more interesting because of the heat being generated between these clubs.

CAPITALS GRIND OUT A WIN
Goaltending has been at the forefront of this series and while it's not surprising with Tim Thomas manning the cage for Boston, Braden Holtby is really rising to the occasion for the Capitals, stopping 43 of 44 Boston shots to give Washington a chance to win, and win they did, 2-1 in Double-OT. Through two games, Holtby has stopped 72 of 74 (97.3%) Bruins shots on goal.

Washington's winning goal Saturday was scored by Nicklas Backstrom, off a nice feed from Marcus Johansson following a face-off in the Boston zone. Backstrom led all Capitals forwards with 30:03 in ice time in his sixth game back in the lineup after missing nearly half the season with a concussion.

Checking C Jay Beagle led the Capitals with six shots on goal, the most he's ever recorded in an NHL game. 

Mind-the-store D Karl Alzner had five blocked shots and five hits for the Capitals, spending most of his time matched up against the line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Rich Peverley, a trio that recorded eight shots on goal in Game Two. Alzner wasn't the only one blocking shots for the Capitals, though, as Washington blocked 27 Bruins shots, compared to the Bruins blocking just eight Capitals shots -- and indication that the Capitals are paying the price, but also that they don't have the puck in the offensive zone as much as the Bruins and that should be a matter of some concern.

Boston's leader in shots on goal in Game Two was enforcer Shawn Thornton, who had five shots on goal in a mere 8:02 of ice time. Since the 40th game of the season this year, Thornton had recorded five shots on goal once.

RW Troy Brouwer scored Washington's first goal and led the Capitals with six hits.

The battle for the Bruins is just beginning. If they can't make life more difficult for Holtby and get more production from their top lines, they run the risk of being upset because the Capitals are even in the series and heading home, even though Alexander Ovechkin has managed one assist through two games.

DOWN TO THE WIRE
Chicago held a decided territorial advantage, outshooting the Coyotes 48-33, yet they needed to score with the goaltender pulled for the second time in two games, allowing LW Bryan Bickell to play the role of overtime hero as the Blackhawks evened the series.

Bickell had a modest 24 points during the regular season, but he's returned to a more significant role in the second half of the year and he put up a pair of goals, including the OT winner, in Game Two.

It was no secret that, coming into the series, Phoenix's best chance to win was to have G Mike Smith perform at a higher level than Blackhawks G Corey Crawford, as he had generally throughout the 2011-2012 season.

Blackhawks rookie RW Andrew Shaw took a five-minute major for charging Smith, who remained down for quite some time after taking Shaw's shoulder to the head as he played the puck behind the Phoenix net, but Smith remained in the game and Phoenix took advantage, with Antoine Vermette scoring on the ensuing power play to take a 3-2 lead.

Vermette scored a pair of power play goals for the Coyotes, giving him three goals in two games in the series, a sudden playoff contributor after he scored three goals in the first 42 playoff games of his career.

Just as it appeared Chicago's hopes were fading once again, Brent Seabrook fired a shot from the point that was deflected in by Patrick Sharp with six seconds remaining in the third period. Seabrook continued his stellar play, registering five shots on goal in 31:32 of ice time.

The margin of victory has been awfully thin through the first two games, but the Blackhawks have been getting a lot of shots on the Phoenix goal, an advantage that would figure to work in their favour over the long run.

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.

Henrik Lundqvist, Nick Foligno (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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