Centers and D are the Keys

Thursday night’s Stanley Cup playoff contests serve as a reminder of lessons well known in these parts. Centers and defensemen can have enormous effects upon propelling a team to the playoffs, and they can also mean the difference once you get to the playoffs. Pivots and blueliners were difference-makers in each of the four playoff games around the league on Thursday.

Detroit downed Calgary, 4-1 in Game 1 of the opening round series between the two teams on Thursday night. Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk, recently inked to a seven-year contract extension and perhaps looking to set aside the “playoff no-show” label paved the way with a goal and an assist. Detroit defenseman Mathieu Schneider, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, also registered a goal and a helper. Team captain and perennial Norris Trophy candidate Nicklas Lidstrom had, you guessed it, a goal and an assist. There were your three stars right there.

Miikka Kiprusoff outsaved Detroit’s Dominik Hasek by 42-19. Detroit routinely limits shots; it allowed a league-low average of 24.6 per game during the regular season. This one was never a contest.

In New Jersey, soon-to-be free agent defenseman Brian Rafalski netted a goal and added an assist, both on the power play, lifting the Devils to a 5-3 Game 1 win over the Lightning. Tampa Bay center Vinny Lecavalier had two goals in a losing cause for Tampa Bay. There were two of your three stars.

Oh and by the way … pending unrestricted free agent center Scott Gomez recorded three assists, all of the primary variety, helping to account for the New Jersey win.

The Lightning’s power play managed to convert just one of its six chances, more chances than the Devils generally give on a night. The Devils clicked on two of their own three chances, exposing the terrible Tampa Bay penalty killing outfit.

Four different Lightning forwards played more than 24 minutes in a regulation game. On the other side of the ledger, the Tampa Bay trio of wingers Andre Roy and Nick Tarnasky and center Andreas Karlsson sat glued to the bench for the entire first period. That threesome skated three times in the third, and all three came in the last 11 minutes of what was a one-goal game at the time.

Ex-Cap draftee John Oduya made a couple key defensive plays late in the third with the Devils nursing a one-goal lead.

The Lightning had some third period chances. Martin St. Louis had the tying goal on his stick courtesy a feed from Lecavalier, but he couldn’t pull the trigger quickly enough. His hesitation enabled the quick Martin Broduer to slide across and make a shoulder save that looked relatively easy.

Tarnasky drew a penalty late in the third on one of his rare shifts, and St. Louis nearly converted a tip-in bid. Down a goal with just over three minutes remaining, the Tarnasky trio was again on the ice for the Lightning.

Just over a minute later, the Devils delivered the death blow. New Jersey’s Brian Gionta doused the Lightning’s hopes by converting Gomez’s finishing feed on a perfect tic-tac-toe play. It was, to say the least, a deflating goal.

This occasion led to the Soprano-esque call of the night from Devils TV color analyst Chico Resch.

“You wanna detroy a goaltender? You get a goal like this.”

Great line, and very true. The destroyed goaltender in question is Tampa Bay’s Johan Holmqvist, who tried to put a puck back in play after making a save. But he put it right to the Devils’ Patrik Elias instead, and two crisp passes later it was in the net.

Resch and Mike Emrick are among the best in the biz and they both shone on this night.

The New York Rangers recorded the night’s only road win. They took an early lead and skated off with a 4-3 decision, never trailing. Ramgers’ center Michael Nylander had a goal (the game-winner) and two assists, earning a third star designation. He was also a plus-3 and led the Rangers with nine wins on 14 face-offs (64%).

The two ex-Red Wings (Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery) combined for more than a quarter (11 of 38) of New York’s shots on goal.

In Buffalo, the Sabres let the Islanders hang around for a while, then swatted them aside 4-1 as a cat would a mouse. Top Buffalo blueliner Bryan Campbell was the game’s No. 1 star with two goals and an assist. Co-captain, center and pending unrestricted free agent center Chris Drury scored two goals, including the game-winner. He was the second star.

The Isles had but one shot on goal in the first period. Aaron Asham scored New York’s only goal from Jason Blake in the second period. The tally came after New York converted a Buffalo turnover in the offensive zone, quickly and precisely moving the puck in transition to make it 1-1 with 13 minutes left in the second.

About four minutes later, the Sabres took the lead for good. With the Isles’ Brendan Witt off for delay of the game, Campbell drilled a blast on goal. Islanders goaltender Wade Dubielewicz made the stop but Drury banged home the rebound. It was one of those goals where you could see the guy popping the rebound in even before the original shot was launched. Buffalo had half-circle of three forwards skirting the blue paint, and they all had position on the two Islanders who were in front.

Just over a minute into the third, Drury gave the Sabres a two-goal lead. Dainius Zubrus set him up with a perfect cross-ice feed, his second helper of the evening. A bit later, Drury went one-on-one against Isle vet Sean Hill. He managed to get off a backhand bid for the hat trick, but Dubielewicz sets it aside.

The Isles two best chances to climb back into the contest both come on delayed power plays. New York maintained control of the puck for 30 seconds or more on both occasions with the extra attacker, but couldn’t cut into the lead. It couldn’t do so on the ensuing power plays, either.

Campbell killed off New York with his second goal at 16:35. Zubrus collected his third assist of the night on the play.

The Isles’ attack started to wake up in the latter stages of the game, sometimes finding it easier to gain the opposing line when they attacked with speed.

Friday brings three more games, each of which follows a one-goal Game 1 contest. Nashville and Dallas both erased two-goal deficits in the third of their series openers, only to lose in lengthy overtime sessions. Neither can afford to suffer any lingering after-affects, particularly Nashville, which opens at home.

With the exception of Calgary and Detroit, each of Thursday night’s combatants resumes its respective series on Saturday. The Flames and Red Wings will face-off for their Game 2 on Sunday afternoon in Detroit.

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3 Comments on “Centers and D are the Keys”

  1. timbers Says:

    great coverage, keep it coming

  2. longdog Says:

    Would love Drury in a Caps shirt. Great you mentioned Oduya, SO WHY DIDNT WE SIGN HIM. Much thanks for the coverage.

  3. capsfan Says:

    yea that would be nice to see. I wish we had Zubrus still…..and Witt

    Danius gets traded and is prob. gonna win the cup. he does not deserve to be there

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