Mondays: Double OT playoff hockey, Heat/Pacers predictions

Every Monday at SN we delve into the weekend that was, or look ahead to the week that will be. Who knows, well, we know. 

Stayin’ alive, Senators Style

Down 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Penguins, the Senators found themselves down again, this time 1-0 late – like 19 minutes into the third period – late in game three. Oh by the way did we mention that they were not only down 1-0, but facing the prospect of a 3-0 series deficit? Oh, and they were shorthanded, ouch.

But then, like every great superhero, Sens longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson cut toward the net, took a perfect pass from Milan Michalek, and buried the game-tying goal with just 28 seconds left in regulation.

#BucciOverTimeChallenge

In the first overtime, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin nearly ended the party early with a dazzling set of moves through the Ottawa defense, but was robbed by goalie Craig Anderson (who was fantastic in this one by the way). Through the first extra 20 minutes, the Penguins carried play and seemed to force the Senators into turnovers, but were unable to cash in. Anderson played a big part in holding the Pens off the board, too, registering 14 saves in the first OT session alone.

In the second overtime, Sens veteran Chris Phillips took a holding penalty and sent the powerful Penguin powerplay to the ice. Despite looking dangerous and moving the puck well, the Pens were unable to get one by Anderson and the Sens survived OT’s first extra man chance. Soon, though, it would be the Pens’ turn to go on the penalty kill, as defenseman Matt Niskanen pulled down Michalek on a broken play just past the blue line on a rush. Ottawa never threatened with the man advantage, but was able to use the momentum to create a chance deep in the Penguin zone a few minutes later.

While holding possesion in the Penguin zone, Sens defenseman Andre Benoit snuck down from his post on the blue line and took a cross-ice feed from Eric Condra. Benoit walked in and offered a shot on Tomas Vokoun, who made the initial save. The puck pinballed behind the net and found Condra, who rifled a pass back across to Benoit. The defenseman again got the puck to the net (always a good idea in OT) and Vokoun spit out a rebound out in front of the crease that was cashed in by a charging Colin Greening for the game-winner.

The goal gives the Senators life in the series against the heavily favored Penguins, and gives them a chance to even up the series at 2-2 at home in game four on Wednesday. It what wasn’t their best performance to date, it shows that the Sens are still capable of beating the Pens when not playing their “A” game so-to-speak. While it wasn’t the best hockey we’ve seen from the Penguins, either, it was far more important of a win for the Sens than a loss for the Pens.

Overall it wasn’t the most exciting double overtime playoff hockey you’ll ever see, but both goalies were fantastic (50 saves for Anderson; 48 for Vokoun) and there were plenty of chances for both teams in both extra frames.

First Star: Craig Anderson, goalie, Ottawa. Normally, a 50-save performance is just worthy enough on it’s own. But for Anderson, who played soo poorly in the first two games in Pittsburgh, it was a spectacular bounce-back game that both he and the team needed. If Anderson can get hot, the Sens can take this series the distance and really put a scare in the Pens.

Raggin’ it

The Rangers were downed in game one by the Bruins in a hard-fought overtime affair. In game two, the Rangers were embarrassed in their 5-2 loss to fall behind 0-2 in their best-of-seven series with Boston.

“You’re not in trouble until you lose a game at home.”

Even with this important playoff hockey saying, the Rangers have just looked downright bad in two games so far. They got to OT in game one behind the play of all-world goaltender Hank Lundqvist, but not even he was able to save them in game two. The Rangers were sloppy with the puck, lost too many battles along the wall and showed no fight in game two. The powerplay was non-existant again, going 0 for 5 while generating just seven shots.

The physical Bruins look to have worn down the Rangers by about midway through the second period. Boston scored the final three goals after Rick Nash’s first goal of the playoff tied the game, 2-2 at the 3:20 mark of the second. From the moment on, the Bruins poured it on the Rangers, resulting in a 2-0 series lead heading to New York for games three and four. If the Rangers can’t find some offense (or anything on the powerplay), they’ll have a hard time getting the series back to New York for a game six.

And while I haven’t been encouraged or impressed by New York at all in two games so far, I wasn’t with Ottawa either (even in game three) and they managed to find a win. So for now we’ll assume they’ll be ready to play game three, and make this a series, because it’s not right now.

First Star: Torey Krug, defense, Boston. For the second-straight game, Krug has scored and added some offense from the backend for the Bruins. Not a bad way to start your playoff career.

Pacers vs. Heat: the rematch

Last year, the Heat received a championship scare from the Pacers in round two, falling behind 2-1 before winning three-straight to take the series on their way to an NBA title. This year, the team will meet again, this time with a berth in the NBA Finals on the line. For the Pacers, they’re eager to prove they can take the “next step” and the Heat are out to prove that they are in a class by themselves in not only the East, but the whole league.

Indiana coach Frank Vogel has already began the war or words this time around by calling the Heat “just another team,” while LeBron James begs to differ. We get the approach of the Pacers, but wouldn’t have phrased it that way in public. Miami has no interest in bulletin board material, but one can bet that the Heat won’t mind rubbing it in should they race out ahead of the Pacers in the series, which they should.

What is interesting, though, is how many games it will take the Heat to take down the feisty Pacers. Indiana can D it up with the best of them – much like Memphis out West – but are they ready to take down a beast like Miami? Do they have enough scoring to keep up with James, Wade and Bosh in a seven-game series? I don’t think so, but they’re defense should at least be able to win them a couple games and make Miami sweat it out.

In any other year, without Miami, we’d pick the Pacers to head to the Finals, but it is Miami’s year. It’s just their time, and we’re all passerby’s right now.

*******

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