NHL

Cullen: Coyotes advance, Rangers-Sens not done yet

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Scott Cullen
4/24/2012 2:14:35 AM
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The Rangers and Senators are going to a seventh game while -- stop the presses! -- the Coyotes are going to the second round.

Scott Cullen breaks down Monday night's NHL playoff action.

GOING SEVEN
The New York Rangers forced a Game Seven in their opening round series with the Ottawa Senators, winning 3-2 in Ottawa in Game Six.

Rangers C Derek Stepan, who had been held off the scoresheet for the first five games of the series, put up a goal and two assists, contributing on each of New York's goals.

Brad Richards added two points for the Rangers and now leads the team with five points in the series.

It's been an unusual series in the respect that each team has been able to insert prospects into the lineup. The Senators added junior scoring star Mark Stone to the lineup last game, only to replace him with Swedish scoring sensation Jakob Silfverberg in Game Six. Silfverberg started on the wing with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, but ended up playing just 9:02, taking a boarding penalty midway through the second period.

For the Rangers, they have been spotting in Chris Kreider, the Boston College standout coming off a national championship, and though he played just 10:46, Kreider's goal ended up as the game-winner.

Daniel Alfredsson returned to the Ottawa lineup and, aside from three shots and three blocked shots, couldn't muster anything on the scoresheet in 18:21 of playing time and there were several instances in which he was visibly upset on the Senators' bench. For the usually-composed Alfredsson, the reaction stood out.

Senators C Jason Spezza continued to produce, credited with the Senators' second goal on a play that appeared to involve goaltender interference by Senators RW Chris Neil.

Neil had an eventful night. He scored a goal and won a first-period fight with Brandon Prust, but was flattened by a Michael Del Zotto hit late in the game. Whether the intent was there or not (Del Zotto isn't a prototypical bruiser), the Rangers probably didn't mind taking Neil down a peg after he injured Rangers C Brian Boyle with a hit in Game Five.

This series has been evenly matched, so it deserves a seventh game to settle the result and, heading home, the advantage would seem to be with the Rangers, but with the likelihood of a close, low-scoring game, both goaltenders will have a chance to win the game for their team.

NO ORDINARY SMITH
Coyotes G Mike Smith recorded a 39-save shutout in a 4-0 win to clinch the first-round series for Phoenix in six games. Smith finished the series with a 1.81 goals against average and a .950 save percentage, giving Phoenix a chance to win even when territorial play dictated that as an unlikely possibility.

Consider how frustrating it must have been for Chicago, fighting for their playoff lives and outshooting Phoenix 28-8 through two periods of Game Six and yet they were trailing 1-0 on the scoreboard.

Antoine Vermette led the Coyotes with four goals in the series, a welcome contribution from a player that scored four goals in 42 career playoff games entering this  postseason. Vermette tied with D Keith Yandle for the team lead in points with five.

As the Coyotes pulled away in the third period, their fourth line chipped in a couple of goals, with Gilbert Brule and Kyle Chipchura each putting up a goal and an assist. This was the first playoff series for Brule and Chipchura and the only point they had recorded between them, prior to Game Six, was Brule's goal in Game Five.

While the Coyotes forwards rose to the challenge, scoring enough even when 35-goal RW Radim Vrbata was held without a goal in the series, the Coyotes could really count on their ace defencemen. Yandle had five points and was plus-5 in six games while Oliver Ekman-Larsson had a goal and an assist in the clinching game and led the Coyotes in ice time with 26:31 per game.

Going forward, Phoenix can be encouraged by the fact that C Martin Hanzal returned to the lineup. Even if his Game Six was uneventful, Hanzal played 18:21, a good indication that he's healthy enough to play in the future.

Since the first five games of the series went to overtime, it's not as though the Blackhawks could be faulted for their effort, but they allowed a couple of questionable game-winners in OT and Corey Crawford posted an .894 save percentage over the six games. That's not horrendous, but it's a far cry from the goaltending that Smith was providing for the Coyotes.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane led Chicago with four points in the series, but Kane didn't register a goal and, given how close the games were, even one additional marker from Kane could have tilted the balance. Kane wasn't the only Blackhawk having trouble turning on the red light. Patrick Sharp had one goal (no assists) and before getting knocked out by Raffi Torres, Marian Hossa had no points in three games. (Toews was 15-4 on draws in Game Six, making him 29-8 over the last two games.)

Generally, it's tough to be too critical of the Blackhawks' effort in the series. They outshot Phoenix by an average of 13.7 shots per game, but couldn't get enough past Mike Smith, while Corey Crawford probably allowed a few that he would like back. Considering how close and competitive the series was, the goaltending played more than a small role in deciding the outcome.

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.

Mike Smith (Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
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