A rivalry is building in the Northeast, the eight-seeded Islanders and Wild aren't going away quietly, but the Canucks are a team in turmoil, falling behind three games to none against San Jose. Scott Cullen has stats, notes and observations from Sunday's NHL action.
IT'S GETTING HOT IN OTTAWA
In a game that deteriorated rapidly in the third period, the Ottawa Senators throttled the Montreal Canadiens 6-1 to take a 2-1 lead in a series that has generated significant animosity in a short period of time.
20-year-old rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who scored two goals in 11 games after being called up from the AHL (where he had seven goals and 29 points in 69 games), notched a hat trick to lead the Senators. Pageau was plus-3, had a team-high five shots on goal and won 12 of 17 (70.6%) face-offs. A tremendous performance for Ottawa's largely-unknown third-line centre.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson had a goal and two assists, and even ended up playing some defence as both benches were shortened after the game went off the rails in the third period.
After Kyle Turris scored to make it 4-1 for Ottawa, there was a line brawl following the ensuing faceoff. Canadiens D P.K. Subban instigated a fight with Senators C Kyle Turris a minute-and-a-half later; Canadiens wingers Rene Bourque and Brandon Prust both elbowed Senators rookie Cory Conacher in the head, then Conacher was thrust into a fight with Canadiens rookie Brendan Gallagher.
Goaltending remains a hot issue in this series. Canadiens G Carey Price, who was excellent in Game Two, stopped just 24 of 30 shots and at least a couple of Ottawa's goals were of the variety that a top-tier goaltender should be expected to stop.
Speaking of top-tier goaltenders, Craig Anderson stopped 33 of 34 shots. In 26 starts this year (regular season plus playoffs), Anderson has allowed one or zero goals in 12.
Senators RW Chris Neil, in addition to his contribution to the line brawl, had six hits in 6:25 of ice time. Senators rookie C Mika Zibanejad also had six hits, but played 20:25, second-most among Ottawa forwards. Jakob Silfverberg led with 21:09 time on ice.
After the Canadiens rallied to tie the series, despite being undermanned, in Game Two, they suffered a meltdown in Game Three even though LW Max Pacioretty, their top scorer, and RW Brian Gionta, their captain, returned to the lineup.
Frustration obviously boiled over for Montreal, so when Senators coach Paul MacLean called a timeout with 17.8 seconds left in a 6-1 game, the Canadiens were understandably unimpressed, leading to Montreal D Josh Gorges firing a slap shot that appeared to be aimed at Turris in neutral ice. MacLean might have been earnest in his decision, using the time to set his players' strategy to be safe for one last draw but, in any sport, it's not well received when a team that is winning a blowout calls a timeout when the game is long since decided.
Coming on the heels of MacLean referring to Montreal D Raphael Diaz by his number in the aftermath of Game One, the Canadiens seem convinced that the Senators coach is disrespecting them. There may be something to it, or it may be one of the oldest motivational tools in existence, used as a way to rally the troops ("They were callin' us names!"). It worked for Montreal in Game Two. We'll see how the Habs respond in Game Four.
FIGHT THE POWER
Despite an impressive showing by the New York Islanders Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Penguins prevailed in overtime, with a 5-4 win giving them a 2-1 series lead.
Kunitz scored 22 goals in 48 games this season, his 0.46 goals per game the best scoring rate of his career, but he scored 20 goals in 36 games (0.56 per game) when Sidney Crosby was in the lineup, compared to two goals in 12 games (0.17 per game) without No. 87. Kunitz had also been kept under wraps for the first two games of the series, not scoring any points and managing just one shot on goal.
Islanders RW Kyle Okposo had a strong game (1 G, 1 A, team-high 5 shots on goal) and his line, with Frans Nielsen and Matt Moulson was tops in the possession game, spending most of the day matched against Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow.
While Kunitz and Crosby had big days, some of that production came as part of Pittsburgh's three power play goals. The defence tandem matched up against them, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald, had some success. MacDonald was a plus-3 and Hamonic had five hits and five blocked shots as both had pretty fair possession numbers, especially given their quality of competition.
While the Islanders had to earn a measure of respect by rallying from a 4-2 deficit to force overtime, there is something disheartening about controlling play to the extent that the Islanders did, outshooting the Penguins 36-25, only to fall short on the scoreboard.
It's not some massive fluke that the Islanders are winning the possession game against Pittsburgh either. During the regular season, the Islanders ranked ninth in shot differential (+2.70) while the Penguins were 13th (+0.80). For advanced statheads, the Islanders were 11th in Fenwick close, while the Penguins were 15th.
What those stats indicate is that the Islanders can hold their own against Pittsburgh, in terms of territorial play; the challenge is limiting the impact of Pittsburgh's power play. Through the first three games of the series, the Islanders' power play is 1-for-11 (9.1%) while the Penguins are 6-for-13 (46.2%), a massive difference, and one that has to be overcome if the Islanders are going to upset the top seed in the East.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Returning home to Minnesota brought a much better performance from the Minnesota Wild and an overtime goal from rookie Jason Zucker gave them a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, cutting Chicago's series lead to two games to one.
Minnesota was full value for the win, outshooting Chicago 37-27, while also outhitting the Blackhawks 34-13. It's one thing to have more hits when you're getting dominated in puck possession, but it's a different story when the Wild had more than an even share of puck possession.
Zucker is a 21-year-old rookie who was a productive player for two years at the University of Denver (91 points in 78 games) after he was a second-round pick in 2010. He had four goals in 20 regular season games this year, but had some success on the second line, skating with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi, and that's where he's found himself for the postseason. That Wild line had some success matched up against Chciago's third line of Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg.
For Chicago, RW Patrick Kane remains a creative force. He set up both Blackhawks goals Sunday, giving him five assists in three games for the series.
If the Wild can deliver a similar performance in Game Four, at home again, they could put some pressure on the top-seeded Blackhawks and as long as G Josh Harding continues to play well -- he has a .928 save percentage through the first three games -- there is going to be a chance for the Wild if they are otherwise competitive with the Blackhawks.
Down 2-0 in the series and heading to San Jose, the Vancouver Canucks decided to start Cory Schneider in goal, his first start in nearly two weeks (since beating Chicago April 22) and the decision didn't pay off, as San Jose pulled away in the third period on their way to a 5-2 win.
A competitive game for the first two periods, the Sharks were leading 2-1 and outshooting the Canucks 23-21 after forty minutes, turned in San Jose favour early in the third period when Logan Couture's harmless-looking snap shot beat Schneider. It should have been stopped and things only got worse for the Canucks when Patrick Marleau scored nine seconds later.
Couture paced the Sharks' attack, scoring two goals and adding two assists. He was also 15-for-18 (83.3%) in the faceoff circle.
There's not much positive to take from this game for Vancouver. They're on the brink of elimination, not scoring enough and their goaltending is, once again, a hot-button issue. Getting swept in the first round of the playoffs could end up costing some people their jobs because expectations, in some places, were still very high for the Canucks and when expectations aren't met, that instigates change.
As a side note, the Canucks' decision to play rookie D Frank Corrado for the third game of the playoffs, in addition to three games at the end of the regular season, burns the first year of Corrado's entry-level deal. Maybe it's not a big deal and maybe it was necessary to keep Keith Ballard healthy for an offseason compliance buyout, but it was a decision of some consequence.