Stanley Cup Playoff Recap: The Goaltenders Are Taking Over

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby leads all playoff puck stoppers with a .984 save percentage. (Photo: Capitals.NHL.com)

Two patterns are beginning to emerge from the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs 1) physical hockey (a.k.a heavy hockey) has returned and, 2) the goaltenders are taking center stage.

New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Saturday, the Rangers entered Game 2 of this series looking to win their first game of the postseason and came out with a collective chip on their shoulders. New York dished out 57 hits and scored three times in a span of 4:14 in the second period on their way to a 4-1 win over the Penguins.

In his postgame comments, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist spoke about his team emphasizing the physical part of the game.

It’s so important that you play a physical game and make it hard, especially on their top guys,” said Lundqvist, who made 29 saves in the win. “It should not be easy for them to create anything. I think part of that is being physical. We have a lot of guys who can do it, but we need everyone and I think everyone stepped up today and tried to play that physical game.”

After falling behind 1-0 on a goal by Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel 3:21 into the second period, New York answered with goals by Keith Yandle, Derik Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello. Forward J. T. Miller assisted on all three lamplighters.

Chris Kreider, who since 2012 leads the Eastern Conference with 19 playoff goals, scored the Rangers’ fourth goal just 39 seconds into the third period.

Kessel would register his second goal of the game 5:42 into the third period. Both of his goals came on the power play.

The victory was the 55th playoff win of Lundqvist’s career which saw him pass Hall of Fame goaltender Terry Sawchuk for 15th all-time.

The series shifts to New York City’s Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Tuesday, April 19th at 7:00 pm (USA, ROOT, MSG, SN. TVA Sports).

Philadelphia Flyers vs Washington Capitals

The Capitals took a 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win over the Flyers.

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby turned aside 41 shots, some of the stellar nature, to backstop the victory.

Up front, Nicklas Backstrom paced Washington with a goal and two assists. Defenseman John Carlson scored a goal and assisted on another. Marcus Johansson contributed two assists and Alex Ovechkin scored once.

After the game, Johansson spoke of Holtby’s performance.

He’s unbelievable,” Johansson said. “He’s making saves all over the place, and sometimes you’re just shocked when he gets to stop the puck. He’s so good. He’s such an unbelievable goalie for us, and he wins games every week and he’s done it all year. He was a huge part in this one.”

Holtby has allowed no more than one goal in 15 of his 18 career postseason starts.

This year, in two games playoff games, Holtby holds a mind-boggling .984 save percentage.

Jakub Voracek netted Philadelphia’s only goal in the second period. Brayden Schenn and Shayne Gostisbehere garnered the assists. The assist was Gostisbehere’s first career playoff point.

The teams combined for 74 hits, perhaps setting the tone for the remainder of the series.

The clubs return to the ice Monday, April 18th at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center at 7:00 pm. (NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC, CSN-PH).

Minnesota Wild vs Dallas Stars

After posting a shutout (4-0) in Game 1 of the series, the Dallas Stars employed another strong defensive effort in Game 2 to defeat Minnesota 2-1 and take a 2-0 series lead.

The Stars opened the scoring on a play you will not see every day.

Antoine Roussel was behind the Wild net when a bouncing puck came his way. The Stars forward turned his skate toward the back of the net in an effort to settle the puck but instead of doing that, the puck hit Roussel’s skate, bounced up and over the net, hit Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk on his back and nestled in the goal, which had been removed from its moorings when Dubnyk backed into it. The play went to review and the Situation Room in Toronto ruled the goal, a good one.

During the game, the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department issued a statement explaining their review of the goal.

“At 3:54 of the second period in the Wild/Stars game, the Situation Room initiated a video review to further examine a play at the Minnesota net. Video review determined that the puck crossed the Minnesota goal line in a legal fashion prior to the net being displaced. According to Rule 78.4 “The goal frame shall be considered in its proper position when at least a portion of the flexible peg(s) are still inside both the goal post and the hole in the ice”. Good goal Dallas.”

“I wasn’t sure it crossed the line,” Roussel said concerning his goal. “I was so happy. That was a big goal for us.”

Jamie Benn scored his second goal of the playoffs at 10:23 of the third period to put his club in front 2-0.

The Wild responded with a goal by Marco Scandella 2:19 after the Benn goal but it was too little, too late.

In two contests, Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen has registered a .979 save percentage and 0.50 goals against average.

Game 3 will take place at Minnesota’s Excel Energy Center on Monday, April 18th at 8:30 pm ET (CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, FS-SW, FS-N, FS-WI).

San Jose Sharks vs Los Angeles Kings

If you live east of the Mississippi and you haven’t seen these two clubs square off in playoff action, do yourself a favor and stay up late or, at the very least, set your DVR because this is a series that has everything you could want in a playoff match up.

This has been “big boy hockey” from the opening faceoff with large men throwing large hits, jaw-dropping play-making and spectacular goaltending.

It also has many a pundit scratching his/her head because San Jose holds a 2-0 lead in games over the Kings, which is something very few saw coming.

Game 2 saw a total of 87 hits dished out. Los Angeles held the edge 47-40 but it could not hold an edge on the scoreboard.

“It was a hard-fought game, a man’s game out there,” said San Jose coach Peter DeBoer. “A lot of physical contact, a lot of battles, two teams fully invested and I thought our guys really did a good job of showing up and playing that type of game.”

Joe Pavelski opened the scoring 3:37 into the first period with his 29th career playoff goal.

Logan Couture scored what would be the game-winning goal with the Sharks on a 5 on 3 power play at the 8:44 mark of the second period.

Kings forward Vincent Lecavalier cut San Jose’s lead in half 14:59 into the third period but Los Angeles mustered just one more shot for the remainder of the game.

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones recorded 26 saves in the win and owns a .922 save percentage going into Game 3.

The series shifts to San Jose for Games 3 and 4.

Game 3 is scheduled for San Jose’s SAP Center on Monday, April 18th at 10:30 pm ET (NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, PRIME, CSN-CA).

There have been two key factors contributing to Los Angeles trailing in the series. The first has been the Kings inability to score in five on five situations. They have managed just one goal in two games with both teams at even strength. The other factor is giveaways. In two games, LA has committed a total of 37 giveaways. Not exactly a recipe for winning.

Going into Sunday’s action, three teams (Tampa Bay, Washington, San Jose) hold 2-0 leads in games, per Elias Sports Bureau, 86.1 percent (298-48) of teams that have opened a best of seven series with a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the series.

Follow ESPN New Hampshire NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.

 

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