NHL

Cullen: A night of shutouts in the NHL playoffs

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Scott Cullen
4/22/2014 3:23:03 AM
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 Scott Cullen looks at a night of shutouts in the NHL playoffs, with notes on Beau Bennett, Paul Martin, Brandon Dubinsky, Tyson Barrie, Vladimir Tarasenko, the goalies and more.  

PENGUINS RALLY

Things were looking pretty good for the Columbus Blue Jackets, leading 3-1 just over a minute into the third period, but then the Pittsburgh Penguins mounted their comeback, scoring three unanswered goals, to escape with a 4-3 win and take a 2-1 lead in the series.

There were a couple facets of the Penguins' comeback that were interesting. First off, Pittsburgh outshot Columbus 15-5 in the third period, 14-1 over the first 12:06 the period, and while score effects account for a change in possession numbers, the Penguins controlled play the exact way that a team should when attempting to mount a comeback.

Over a span of 2:13 in the third period, the Penguins scored three goals on three shots, with Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jussi Jokinen getting credit for the goals. With Brooks Orpik scoring the first goal for Pittsburgh, they managed to earn a 4-3 win despite no goals from any of their top four goal scorers (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz) during the regular season. to be fair, the Penguins' big guns dominated possession, with Crosby, Kunitz, Malkin, Neal and Jokinen all finishing with a Corsi% of at least 69.7%.

Pittsburgh's supporting cast has been playing big roles in this series. Winger Beau Bennett added a couple of assists and now has four points (1 G, 3 A) in three games and was one of three Penguins forwards to play less than 10 minutes. D Paul Martin recorded two assists for the third straight game, while playing a game-high 28:34.

Blue Jackets C Brandon Dubinsky had a strong game for Columbus, picking up a couple of assists and nearly tied the game in the final seconds with a slick toe drag move around Martin followed by a strong drive to the net.

The third period was exactly what the Blue Jackets should fear from the Penguins. When Pittsburgh turns up the heat, they can play at a higher level than the Blue Jackets and that puts a lot of pressure on G Sergei Bobrovsky if Columbus isn't at least competitive in terms of possession.

GREAT GRANLUND

The Minnesota Wild dominated Game Three territorially, but still needed overtime to emerge victorious against the Colorado Avalanche, taking a 1-0 win in Game Three and cutting Colorado's series lead to two games to one.

The winning goal, and the game's only goal, was a brilliant effort from Wild C Mikael Granlund, who eluded Avalanche D Jan Hejda on the right wing boards, drove to the net, past C Mark-Andre Cliche, and tucked the puck around Avalanche G Semyon Varlamov. Granlund has been a strong performer, with a 54.3% Corsi% in the series, but his goal was his first point in the three games.

Avalanche G Semyon Varlamov was spectacular, stopping 45 of 46 shots and nearly stealing the game for Colorado. Coming into the series, Varlamov was the one advantage that the Avalanche could lean on, but it's asking a lot for a goaltender to make the difference for a team that gets outshot 46-22.

Darcy Kuemper, taking over for Ilya Bryzgalov in the Minnesota net, stopped all 22 shots for the win; pretty surethat ought to earn him another start.

Wild LW Matt Cooke is due for another suspension after delivering a blatant knee-on-knee hit to Avalanche D Tyson Barrie and the Avalanche already know that they are going to be missing Barrie for the next 4-6 weeks. With Barrie out, Nick Holden played a career-high 28:04 for the Avalanche, and he may be asked to handle more minutes in Barrie's absence. Stefan Elliott may be next in line to join the Avalanche defence for Game Four, as Cory Sarich is still dealing with back spasms and Ryan Wilson has played sporadically, especially in the second half of the season.

With Cooke expected to be out, Kyle Brodziak or Stephane Veilleux could return to the lineup.

Given how thoroughly the Wild dominated play in Game Three, and the significance of the Tyson Barrie injury, this series is far from over.

BLACKHAWKS ON THE BOARD

Blackhawks G Corey Crawford stopped all 34 shots he faced, outdueling Blues G Ryan Miller in a 2-0 Chicago win that cut St. Louis' series lead to two games to one.

Chicago scored an empty-netter with 20 seconds remaining in the third period, so the only shot that beat Miller was a wrist shot by Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews 4:10 into the game.

With Blackhawks D Brent Seabrook suspended, Sheldon Brookbank stepped into the Chicago lineup, playing 14:32 and paired frequently with Duncan Keith, but his 38.5% Corsi% was the lowest among Chicago defencemen.

For the Blues, C Patrik Berglund returned to the lineup, but the top line adjusted to David Backes' absence by moving Alexander Steen to centre and then bumping Steve Ott to left wing. Ott played 20:05 and was one of six Blues to have at least two-thirds of possession at 5-on-5.

Blues RW Vladimir Tarasenko was outstanding, a plus-16 Corsi (20 for, 4 against) for the game, while the Blues were a net plus-1 (32 for, 31 against) Corsi when Tarasenko was off the ice.

Chicago needed to win Game Three to have a chance in the series, and while they might not count on Crawford to win the goaltending battle too often, he did it Monday night.

STARS BLANK DUCKS

Returning home down two games to none, the Dallas Stars faced a must-win situation in Game Three, and G Kari Lehtonen backstopped them to a 3-0 victory, stopping 37 shots.

If there was one clear area in which the Stars might hold an advantage in this series, it is that Lehtonen has more of a track record than Ducks rookie Frederik Andersen.

Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin and Ryan Garbutt scored for the Stars, with Garbutt leading the Stars with six shots on goal. The Ducks got the better part of the possession game, ultimately, led by C Mathieu Perreault, who was plus-15 (19 for, 4 against) for a Ducks team that ended up as plus-9 in terms of Corsi.

Ducks winger Devante Smith-Pelly, skating with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line, had 10 hits and a 62.5% Corsi%.

The big issue for the Ducks coming out of this game was the loss of D Stephane Robidas, who had played more than 20 minutes a game for the Ducks since he was acquired from Dallas, but suffered a leg fracture that will end his season. Robidas had fractured the leg on November 29 and returned to action March 18. His absence creates an opening for either Luca Sbisa or Mark Fistric.

This is another series in which the underdog has a chance, but needed the Game Three win to even harbour hopes. Now, the Stars have hope and Anaheim losing a top-four defenceman doesn't diminish the odds of the Stars making a comeback.

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.

Corey Crawford (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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