Cullen: Coyotes, Predators, Panthers all have series leads

Scott Cullen

4/18/2012 9:43:47 AM

Unexpected sources contributed offensively Tuesday night, from Rostislav Klesla to Kevin Klein (again) to Mike Weaver, the unheralded defencemen of the world are doing their part.

Scott Cullen looks at a night in which Phoenix and Florida captured 2-1 series leads and Nashville moved to a 3-1 advantage.

As expected, the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes went to overtime in Game Three -- just as they did in the first two games of the series -- and while the Blackhawks outshot the Coyotes again, the margin was only 37-34 and Phoenix prevailed on the scoreboard 3-2.

The winning goal was ugly from the Blackhawks' perspective. Patrick Kane turned the puck over in the high slot, allowing the Coyotes to get out of their own end, then Niklas Hjalmarsson raced back into the Blackhawks end of the rink and poked the puck up the boards as he tried to avoid the oncoming forecheck of Coyotes winger Taylor Pyatt. The only problem was that no Blackhawks were in that location, leaving Mikkel Boedker to pick up the puck, which still shouldn't have been a problem because he was at such a sharp angle, almost down to the goal line, but his shot somehow found a hole in Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. An ugly ending for the Blackhawks.

The ugliest scene of the game, however, came when Coyotes winger Raffi Torres exploded into Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa, who didn't have the puck, knocking out Chicago's star winger. It won't be a surprise if a concussion keeps Hossa out of the lineup for a lengthy period, given the impact of the hit, and this will provide yet another case of supplemental discipline for Brendan Shanahan. Given Torres' history and the league's position on head shots, there is the potential for a significant suspension. Adding insult to injury, there was no penalty given to Torres by the on-ice officials. In fact, as Blackhawks winger Brandon Bollig immediately sought revenge for the hit, Chicago ended up shorthanded as a result.

While we're on suspensions, the Blackhawks are without rookie winger Andrew Shaw, who got three games for his hit on Coyotes G Mike Smith in Game Two. That could be a big loss for Chicago, since Shaw added energy and a bit of offence when he played in the regular season. Shaw's replacement in the lineup, Michael Frolik, scored a third-period goal for the Blackhawks, a shocking occurrence for a winger that last scored on December 14th. Frolik also played 19:26, ice time that he last surpassed in October.

With Shaw and now likely Hossa out, the Blackhawks will have to look to another forward to fill in. Junior prospect Brandon Saad is one option, though he just finished his OHL playoffs, so it might be too quick to thrust him into NHL playoff action, which could mean that towering winger jimmy Hayes or veteran Brendan Morrison would be under consideration for Game Four.

The Coyotes' offensive effort was led by Ray Whitney, who scored the tying goal in the third period and paced all shooters with nine shots on goal, leading Coyotes forwards with 23:38 of ice time.

D Rostislav Klesla had points on all three Phoenix goals, though the winner should have been unassisted and Klesla's goal was helped in by a deflection off the stick of Chicago D Johnny Oduya. Nonetheless, Klesla has generally been a solid contributor for the Coyotes and this was his first three-point game in the NHL since January 28, 2006.

Based on their respective shot differentials this season, it's not remotely surprising that the Detroit Red Wings are outshooting the Nashville Predators, but Predators G Pekka Rinne has been up to the job, helping Nashville steal back-to-back wins in Detroit to take a 3-1 series lead.

In Game Four, Rinne stopped 40 of 41 shots on goal, giving him 81 saves in the last two games, during which the Wings have outshot the Predators 84-39, yet Nashville took both games in The D.

By comparison, Red Wings G Jimmy Howard surrendered three goals on only 17 shots in Game Four, dropping his save percentage in the series to .879 (stoppign 80 of 91 shots).

Not only are the Predators getting exceptional goaltending, but they are getting goals from unlikely sources.

D Kevin Klein, who got some love in this space for his efforts in Game Three, scored the game-winning goal.

LW Gabriel Bourque tallied his third goal of the series, despite playing just 9:42 in Game Four. He's played under 12 minutes in all four games.

Detroit had seven power plays in the game, compared to three for Nashville, and that disparity limited the ice time for Predators RW Alexander Radulov, who played 13:39, his lowest single-game ice time since returning to the league. He still contributed, setting up Bourque for the first goal of the game.

On the other hand, the Predators' top defencemen were eating up ice time. Ryan Suter (30:41) and Shea Weber (31:20) were both over 30 minutes, a threshold crossed by Suter four times and Weber twice during the regular season.

The Red Wings can't feel terribly ddown when they are carrying the play as much as they have in this series, but they are left without any margin for error if they are going to rally to take this series. It's all well and good to acknowledge that Pekka Rinne has been the primary reason for Nashville winning, but the Wings have to find a way to get Rinne off his game and start finishing their chances, or Detroit will just be finished in this series.

It wasn't a banner night for the starting goaltenders as both Martin Brodeur and Jose Theodore were gone early. Theodore lasted just 6:16, allowing three goals on six shots, before giving way to Scott Clemmensen, the former Devil, who stopped all 19 shots he faced, which was vital to the Panthers' comeback efforts.

Martin Brodeur didn't fare much better, getting yanked 2:16 into the second period, after allowing three goals on a dozen shots. Johan Hedberg played well in relief, but did allow Brian Campbell's power play goal that allowed the Panthers to cap their rally from a three-goal deficit.

Florida's power play was successful on all three opportunities and three of their four goals were scored by defencemen -- Campbell, Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver. Weaver didn't score a goal in the regular season, despite playing all 82 games, so any offensive contribution on his end counts as a bonus.

28-year-old Stephen Gionta scored his first career playoff goal for the Devils. The younger brother of Canadiens captain (and former Devil) Brian Gionta, Stephen has one goal in 13 career regular season games and had 16 points in 56 AHL games this season.

As in the case of Weaver, Gionta's offensive production is a bonus, one that should have been enough to help New Jersey to victory, but it wasn't to be, so now the Devils have to hope they can at least earn the split at home and guarantee that they will return later in the series.

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