A top seed is on the ropes, Canada is back in a big way and NHL Player Safety still has no clue.
Welcome to Day 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, where the Nashville Predators moved closer to one of the biggest upsets in recent NHL history with a complete mastery of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 of their first-round Western Conference series.
Here are Saturday’s bests and worsts.
Best game: Ottawa 4, Boston 3 — We know, you were expecting Toronto-Washington, but the Senators’ rally from a 3-1, third-period deficit was gutsy, Erik Karlsson’s set-up on Derick Brassard’s game-tying goal was mesmerizing and Dion Phaneuf’s laser from the left point in OT was glorious. We can have two best games if you want…
As I’ve admitted before, I find Dion Phaneuf exceedingly easy to cheer for. Nice to see him score such a huge goal.
Best other game: Toronto 4, Washington 3 (2OT) — We’ve said all along that the Maple Leafs are playing with house money in their first-round series against the NHL’s best team, the Washington Capitals. The Leafs stayed loose, Kasperi Kapanen scored a pair of giant goals and this series is about to ratchet up another notch in intensity as it shifts back to success-starved Toronto for Games 3 and 4. Hoo-boy!
Best individual performance: Pekka Rinne, Nashville — Rinne has faced 59 Chicago shots through the first two games of the series. He has stopped them all. The Preds goalie was tested far more on Saturday in Chicago, but he was strong early when Chicago was buzzing, and he was strong late when Chicago was desperate. Now the Hawks are even more desperate.
Best unexpected performance: Phaneuf — It’s early, but guess which defenseman leads all NHL blueliners in points? This guy, after a one-goal, two assist performance in a win over Boston.
Best rally: Canada — After going 0 for 5 in Game 1 of their respective series, Canada’s teams rebounded by going 4 for 5 in Game 2. Calgary was the lone holdout, but Canada’s rebirth was punctuated by Toronto’s double overtime win over Washington at Verizon Center.
Best bounce: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim — The Ducks captain potted the game-winner on a late, third-period power play when his cross-ice pass bounced off the skate of Calgary’s Lance Bouma and floated over goalie Brian Elliott’s shoulder. It was the Ducks’ 29th straight win over Calgary at Honda Center.
Best decision: Columbus Dispatch — The newspaper had originally planned to distribute masks of Penguins star Sidney Crosby crying in Sunday’s paper, before Game 3 of the Blue Jackets’ series with Pittsburgh, but it apparently thought better of that classless act. We doubt it would have had any impact on Crosby’s motivation level. The MVP candidate is way past worrying about what opposing fan bases think of him, but this was a patently stupid decision by a marketing department. We’re not sure who killed the idea, but we’re certain it was someone with a little more wisdom than the yahoos that concocted it.
Worst decision: NHL Player Safety — How the league decided one game was enough for Matt Calvert’s on-ice mugging of Tom Kuhnhackl is beyond us. In its explanation, the league said that cross-checking is a penalty, but a fairly common occurrence. In the same analysis, it noted this was not a hockey play. Calvert was frustrated and tried to injure another player not once, but twice, the second time while Kuhnhackl was in a vulnerable position. When will the NHL learn it has to take plays like this out of the game by levying proper punishment?
Worst impersonation of a top seed: Chicago Blackhawks — The Blackhawks coasted through their last handful of regular season games after clinching the Western Conference’s top seed. They forgot to stop coasting when the playoffs began. Chicago has no goals, repeat, no goals through two playoff games against the Predators, and is in danger of dropping out in the first round for the second straight season as it heads back to Nashville in a 2-0 series hole. Since 2010, Chicago has never been eliminated from a series in fewer than six games, and that has only happened once (Phoenix, 2012) — its three other playoff series losses went seven games. This one has the makings of Chicago’s earliest spring since a 4-1 series loss to Detroit in 2009.
Worst break: Roman Polak — Figuratively and perhaps literally. The Maple Leafs defenseman suffered a season-ending lower-body injury on this hit from Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik. The pain on Polak’s face was evident the moment he went down. Toronto has another hurdle in its way
Best quote: Chicago coach Joel Quenneville — “Be angry.”
Best thing to look forward to Sunday: Edmonton at San Jose, Game 3. The Sharks came away with a split in Edmonton despite playing without center Joe Thornton (and playing with limited center Logan Couture). Thornton’s return would have a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup, and certainly on that minus-1 power play…