Five things we learned from Thursday
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Here are five things on our radar after Thursday night:
1. There are a lot of questions in New Jersey now with the Devils taking the playoff high dive in the first round for the third straight postseason. Was Jacques Lemaire the right choice to replace Bent Sutter behind the bench? How did Lemaire's apparently strained relationship with captain Jamie Langenbrunner affect the team in their brief five-game stint against the injury-plagued Philadelphia Flyers? Langenbrunner had no goals and one assist. What will become of Paul Martin, the team's best defenseman and a potential unrestricted free agent this July? Will he look for a team that may give him a better chance of getting out of the first round?
And what of Ilya Kovalchuk, the late-season addition who guaranteed victory in Game 5? He played well in the series, leading the Devils with six points, but his body of work now includes nine postseason games in total and just one victory. Those numbers will be hard for agent Jay Grossman to get around come July 1, when Kovalchuk becomes an unrestricted free agent and is looking for impact player money. All of a sudden, those deals left on the table in Atlanta must not be looking too bad.
2. Speaking of the Philadelphia Flyers, anyone looking for an illustration of how the seventh seed handled the Devils with such ease need look no further than the swollen, bloody face of forward Ian Laperriere. The gritty forward blocked a Paul Martin slap shot with his face with the Flyers leading 3-0. Reports out of New Jersey indicate he needed between 60-70 stitches, yet he told reporters after the game he expects to be ready for whomever the Flyers play in the second round. Already missing top forwards Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter, both of whom are out with foot injuries after they blocked shots, the Flyers didn't miss a beat. And with players like Laperriere putting it all on the line, Philly cannot be taken lightly regardless of who it plays.
3. Pretty good time for Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire to deliver the goods, wasn't it? After languishing on the bench -- and even taking a puck to the noggin for his troubles along the way -- Leclaire was pressed into service in a must-win situation against the defending champions in Pittsburgh and turned in a spectacular 56-save performance in a classic 4-3 triple-overtime win. Leclaire, acquired from Columbus at the 2009 trade deadline in the hopes he could fill a large goaltending void in Ottawa, was especially sharp in the second period, when the Penguins outshot Ottawa 19-5. One game does not erase the stain of a regular season that saw Leclaire unseated as the starter by unheralded Brian Elliott, but two might. The Sens will try to force Pittsburgh to a seventh game on Saturday in Ottawa.
4. Let's be clear, there are plenty of good hockey fans in Nashville, but it is beyond embarrassing for the franchise to not sell out its first playoff game after missing the playoffs last season. Doesn't matter if it was only a few hundred -- which was the case for Game 3 -- but not selling out instantly reinforces the notion this is a market on the fringe of the sport. The Predators did announce a sellout in Thursday's 3-0 loss to Chicago, and their fans get another chance to show they actually get it Monday, when they'll host Game 6.
Unless Nashville produces more offense, Game 6 could be it. In the two games they've won, the Preds lit up Antti Niemi for four goals each; in the two they've lost, they've been shut out.
5. Every coach in the NHL whose team goes up 3-0 or 3-1 in a series is bombarded with questions about the need to close out a team early and get rest, the assumption being the quicker you win a series, the better your chances of winning the Cup. But our good friend, Sun newspapers national columnist Chris Stevenson, came up with these telling stats. He looked at the last 13 Stanley Cup champions and discovered that playing fewer games didn't necessarily translate to success. The team playing the most games when the dust cleared won eight of the past 13 Cups.
Since the lockout, Carolina, Anaheim, Detroit and Pittsburgh have all ended up playing more games than their opponents. Those four teams also won the Stanley Cup. Only twice in 13 postseasons has the team playing fewer games won it all. So, what's the deal? Maybe the rest is overrated and the adrenaline of playing longer series is enough to make up for a lack of rest.