NHL

Cullen: Goaltending dominated Thursday games

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Scott Cullen
4/20/2012 11:21:25 AM
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Goaltending was the story on Thursday, from rookie Braden Holtby to future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, with two of this season's best individual stories -- Mike Smith and Brian Elliott -- thrown in for good measure.

Scott Cullen looks at the Capitals and Devils tying their respective series while the Coyotes and Blues move to 3-1 leads.

HOLTBY STONES BRUINS
Capitals rookie G Braden Holtby saved the day for the Capitals, turning aside 44 of the Bruins shots he faced to preserve Washington's 2-1 win, which tied the series at two games apiece.

It's the second time in this series that Holtby has stopped more than 40 shots in a game, accounting for both Capitals wins.

Bruins D Zdeno Chara and RW Tyler Seguin led the way with six shots, but RW Rich Peverley was the only one that managed to get one past Holtby. Bruins C David Krejci somehow managed to not record a shot on goal.

Washington played the game without C Nicklas Backstrom, who was serving a one-game suspenion for cross-checking Peverley, leaving a more significant role for Mathieu Perreault, who moved up form the fourth line to centre a line with Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin. Semin scored the game-winning goal on a power play late in the second period.

The Capitals did get strong efforts from bottom six forwards. C Jay Beagle led all Capitals with five blocked shots and LW Matt Hendricks led the team with seven hits.

The Capitals were clinging to a one-goal lead, so a defensive focus was understandable, but LW Alexander Ovechkin played just 1:58 in the third period. If Ovechkin wasn't hurt, that's not exactly a vote of confidence from head coach Dale Hunter.

The long-term success of the Capitals will require production from Ovechkin and, now that he's due to return form his suspension, Backstrom and Washington now heads to Boston all even, not a bad place to be as a seventh seed.

DEAL WITH THE DEVILS
If the Capitals have a young up-and-comer making noise between the pipes, the Devils go the other way, with 39-year-old Martin Brodeur stopping all 26 Florida shots for the shutout in New Jersey's 4-0 win, evening the series. Brodeur notched his record-setting 24th career playoff shutout.

Florida decided to go with Scott Clemmensen in goal. Clemmensen, a 34-year-old former Devil, had never started an NHL playoff game before, but recorded his first playoff win for his relief win on Tuesday. After four goals against on 27 shots, there is now further uncertainty. Do the Panthers go back to starter Jose Theodore?

Further complicating matters for Florida, they were missing D Jason Garrison, who was sidelined by a lower body injury. Not only did Garrison put up 16 goals during the regular season, but he plays 22-23 minutes per game and that isn't easy to fill. Dmitry Kulikov saw his role increase Thursday and he led the Panthers with five shots on goal in 24:13 of ice time.

New Jersey's attack was led by C Travis Zajac who had a goal and an assist, giving him a team-high four points in the series. Having missed most of the season due to an Achilles injury, Zajac's ability to contribute in a top-six role for the playoffs makes a world of difference for the Devils.

Devils D Bryce Salvador recorded his first two-assist game since October 16, 2009, playing 25:18 to lead all Devils in ice time.

New Jersey hasn't been able to gain an advantage in the series, despite strong production from their fourth line -- Steve Bernier scored in Game Four, Stephen Gionta in Game Three -- but that has bought them some time and now that Brodeur is coming off a strong game and Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are getting on the board, the Devils should be a little more optimistic about their chances in the remaining best-of-three in this series.

BACK-TO-BACK BOEDKER
For the fourth time in four games, the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks went to overtime and, for the second straight game, Coyotes winger Mikkel Boedker scored the winner, used great speed to get past Nick Leddy in neutral ice, but barely got a shot off under pressure as he reached the Blackhawks goal and it somehow trickled through Corey Crawford's legs.

As well as Crawford played in Game Four, it was the second straight game in which the overtime winner was of questionable quality.

Chicago forced overtime when Michael Frolik knocked in a rebound off a David Bolland backhand with 1:26 remaining in the third period. It was the second straight game in which Frolik had scored -- a bit of a resurrection for a winger who had been a healthy scratch until Andrew Shaw got suspended.

The Blackhawks dominated the game territorially, outshooting Phoenix 23-10 through two periods, but then couldn't mount an attack early in the third period, with the Coyotes scoring twice while registering the first eight shots of the period.

In a fit of desperation, then, Chicago recorded the final nine shots on goal of regulation time, getting goals from Frolik and Brendan Morrison, the veteran inserted into the lineup in place of Jamal Mayers.

The other addition to the Blackhawks lineup was Brandon Saad, the 19-year-old winger who played two games in Chicago at the start of the season before returning to Saginaw of the OHL, where he scored 76 points in 44 regular season games then added 17 points in 12 playoff games. Saad played 13:11, primarily with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Brunette.

The way Chicago has cominated play when they need to score late, it shows how talented they are as a team, but the fact that they have put themselves in a position to need those late goals suggest that they don't apply that talent as consistently as they need to in order to create some separation from the Coyotes.

Mike Smith was solid in the Phoenix net in Game Four, stopping 30 of 32 shots but, at some point, the Blackhawks have to figure out how to beat Smith rather than as the obstacle that will prevent them from reaching the second round because, down 3-1, that's the path they are heading down at this point in the series.

BLUES IN CONTROL
Continuing the theme of Thursday night -- and why not, it's playoff hockey -- Blues G Brian Elliott stopped 24 of 25 San Jose shots to backstop the Blues to a 2-1 win, giving them a 3-1 series lead.

Patrik Berglund and David Perron each had two assists for the Blues. They were Perron's first points of the series, while Berglund now has six points in four games, leaving him one behind Andy McDonald, who scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal and also recorded seven shots on goal.

There was much concern about the Blues' ability to score goals this year, considering that they ranked 21st in the league with 2.51 goals per game, but that number is misleading because of all the time missed by McDonald, Perron and Alex Steen (the trio combined to miss 121 games) and now that the Blues are relatively healthy, McDonald is pacing the offence and they've managed to score enough to take a 3-1 series lead.

Blues RW Chris Stewart, who was a healthy scratch in Game Two, continues to play a limited role, but he did record five shots on goal in just 7:25 of ice time against the Sharks in Game Four.

Sharks D Dan Boyle continues to play big minutes, skating 30:29 in Game Four, a time on ice total that he last surpassed in a regulation game in November 27, 2010.

While Joe Thornton got the Sharks on the board, and leads the team with four points in four games, the Sharks are going to be hard-pressed to mount a comeback without production from Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, both of whom are still seeking their first points in the series.

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.

Braden Holtby  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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