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Cullen: Boyle, Chara stand tall; Blues PP makes a difference

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Scott Cullen
4/17/2012 1:12:19 PM
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The Rangers have an unlikely leader, Chara puts the Bruins on his back and the Blues' power play clicks as those teams all take 2-1 series leads.

Scott Cullen examines Monday night's NHL playoff action.

BOYLE, LUNDQVIST LEAD RANGERS
After being a prominent figure in the first two games of the series, Rangers C Brian Boyle raised the stakes in Game Three, scoring the game's only goal to give the Rangers the lead in the series.

In Game One, Boyle drew the wrath of the Senators by bullying Senators star D Erik Karlsson and while revenge wasn't immediately forthcoming, early in Game Two, Ottawa's Matt Carkner punched Boyle in the face multiple times, even though Boyle had his gloves on and was still holding his stick. Carkner was handed a meagre one-game suspension, but delivered a message for his team. That message wasn't enough, however, so Boyle then fought Chris Neil, which should put the matter to rest and it's good for Boyle because, truth is, he's playing his best hockey lately.

Boyle, a 6-foot-7 centre, played all 82 games during the regular season, scoring 11 goals and 26 points, yet he's scored a goal in each of the first three games of this series, registering a dozen shots on goal in the process.

Including the first three games of the playoffs, Boyle has eight goals and two assists in his last dozen games and played 18:55 Monday, tops among Rangers forwards and was matched for much of the game against Jason Spezza's line.

While Boyle might be an unexpected contributor, it's not so surprising that Henrik Lundqvist has been at the top of his game and his 39-save shutout Monday was punctuated by a last-minute point-blank stop on Kyle Turris who was left alone in front of the Rangers' net. Through three games, Lundqvist has stopped 98 of 103 Ottawa shots, good for a .951 save percentage.

There were a couple of players inserted into the lineups last night. For the Rangers, they replaced suspended winger Carl Hagelin with Chris Kreider, a rookie who just won the National Championship with Boston College. Kreider played 11:11, skating alongside Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards on the Blueshirts' top line, and managed one shot and one hit in his pro debut.

Ottawa, missing Daniel Alfredsson (suffered a concussion from the Hagelin elbow), added Bobby Butler to the mix and Butler tied for the team lead with five shots on goal while skating in Alfredsson's usual spot with Turris and Nick Foligno.

Though Ottawa is now trailing in the series, they can't be too down after outshooting the Rangers 39-23. The Rangers were outshot by at least 15 shots five times this season, going 4-1 in those games, but it's no secret that they lean heavily on Lundqvist and the Senators will have to find a way to finish their shooting opportunities more efficiently if they are going to get back to even in the series.

CLOSE FINISH, AGAIN
Washington is giving the Bruins all they can handle in this series, but the Bruins managed to pull out a 4-3 victory in the final two minutes when D Zdeno Chara's slapshot deflected off the stick of Capitals defenceman Roman Hamrlik on its way to the net.

Chara finished the game with three points and seven hits, making his presence felt throughout the contest.

Boston's third goal was scored by Brian Rolston, the 39-year-old who has been re-born for the Bruins (15 points in 21 games and now three points in three playoff games) after a mere nine points in 49 games for the Islanders.

The Capitals tied the game with six minutes to go when Brooks Laich scored, capping Laich's three-point night as he centered a line with Alexander Ovechkin (two points, six shots on goal, five hits) and Jason Chimera.

The margin of victory in this series has been so narrow (two OT games and this one decided in the last two minutes) that the Capitals have to be holding their breath as C Nicklas Backstrom is set for a disciplinary hearing after he cross-checked Bruins RW Rich Peverley in the head at the end of Game Three. Backstrom received a match penalty and if he is suspended, the Capitals will undoubtedly miss him.

With Backstrom in the lineup, the Capitals were 24-16-2 (.595). Without him, the Capitals were 18-16-6 (.525), certainly enough to notice his absence, so the Capitals had better hope that when the league spins its judiciary wheel, that Backstrom isn't punished too severely, or that could be the deciding factor in what has been an extremely close series to this point.

TAKE THE POWER BACK
St. Louis allowed a couple of goals in the last four minutes to make the final result closer than the game truly indicated, as their 4-3 win felt much more convincing.

The Blues' power play came alive, scoring three times in four opportunities, a feat they hadn't accomplished all season. The success with the man advantage meant productive nights for LW Andy McDonald, (one goal, two assists), D Carlo Colaiacovo (three assists), C Jason Arnott, LW Alexander Steen and C Patrik Berglund (the latter three all with one goal and one assist).

With Colaiacovo having a big game, he logged 20:12 of ice time, the fifth time in his last 22 games that Colaiacovo has played more than 20 minutes. In a related story, Blues D Kevin Shattenkirk played just 16:53 in Game Three, his lowest single-game total since playing 16:48 on December 23, 2011.

In a losing effort, Sharks C Joe Thornton finished with three assists and a plus-2 rating. Sharks C Tommy Wingels was a physical presence, registering eight hits in 11:40 of ice time. He only played 33 games during the regular season, but led the Sharks with 3.1 hits per game when he did play.

St. Louis earned their 2-1 lead in the series but there's another game in San Jose for the Sharks to do what they can to balance the scales. Any kind of production from Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski -- both scoreless through three games -- would go a long way.

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.

Brian Boyle (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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