Darren Eliot
Monday April 20th, 2009

My Three Stars from Sunday's action:

1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia: His team needed a spark after the Penguins had tied the game 2-2, so the rookie forward scored a goal and set up a short-handed score by Simon Gagne with a beautiful cross-crease feed to restore the Flyers' two-goal lead. Giroux also threw down with the Pens' Tyler Kennedy in the first -- even though the refs gave the pair only roughing minors. That meant Giroux didn't officially register a Gordie Howe hat trick-- a goal, an assist and a fight -- but he was instrumental in getting the Flyers back into the series.

2. Zach Parise, Devils: His linemate, team captain Jamie Langenbrunner, was out with a lower body injury and the Devils needed a win in Raleigh -- where they'd lost seven straight playoff games. Parise responded by scoring a goal and making a thrilling individual rush that led to Travis Zajac's overtime game-winner. Parise's play exuded leadership and oozed confidence, traits he has exhibited all season long. On this night, he made a difference in a critical situation.

3. Special Teams, Canucks: With the Blues down 2-0 in the series, but hosting their first playoff game since 2004, this pivotal Game 3 promised emotion. The teams delivered, as emotions boiled over at times, making it a special teams affair. Given that the Blues had the third-best penalty killing efficiency and the eighth-ranked power play during the regular season, they had to like their chances. Instead, the Canucks counted all three of their goals on the power play and held the Blues scoreless in six opportunities -- including two 5-on-3 chances totaling 2:29 minutes. The Canucks' special teams performers won this game and have been brilliant throughout the series.

1. The surprise in the east is the seventh-seeded Rangers up 2-0 over the Southeast Division-winning Capitals. With Game Three at Madison Square Garden tonight, the Rangers can put themselves in prime position to pull off the upset. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau changed goalies after veteran Jose Theodore's subpar performance in a 4-3 Game One loss. His replacement: 20-year old Simeon Varlamov, a fine prospect now thrust into the spotlight.

Playing at the Garden in the playoffs will test Varlamov's mettle, but the move also emboldens the Rangers. A second seed making a radical move like that after only one game? It signals that the Caps aren't as cohesive behind the scenes as their outwardly abundant confidence would have you think. And with the Rangers getting superlative goaltending from Henrik Lundquist, they have the Capitals right where they want them.

From SI.com's Sarah Kwak: Make room on the bulletin board. At Monday's morning skate at Madison Square Garden, Alex Ovechkin sauntered out and watched the New York Rangers while they went through their morning practice. Shortly thereafter, the Rangers had the Capitals superstar removed from the rinkside area.

Ovechkin, who hasn't scored in his two playoff games this postseason, wasn't scouting his foes for Game 3. No, he was watching because he thought it would "piss off" New York head coach John Tortorella. Why does Ovechkin think the Rangers wanted him to leave?

"Because they're afraid of me," Ovechkin said with a smile. Tortorella, meanwhile, said after practice that he didn't notice the sniper's presence, but maybe that's because Ovie was watching from the bench. Because let's be honest: Everyone takes notice when A.O. is on the ice.

2. The surprise out west has the 1-8 matchup in favor of the lower seeded Ducks over the NHL's best regular season team, the Sharks, two games to none. The Ducks' head home having swept the opening pair in San Jose, where the Sharks were the best team at home all season.

Still, the Ducks had 22 road wins this season and were the only playoff team with a better away record than at home. Plus, they have their veteran core of players who are just two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, and rookie sensation Bobby Ryan augmenting an attack led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

So, maybe we shouldn't be all that surprised. At the very least, the Ducks are as tough a first round draw as any Presidents' Trophy-winning team could ever imagine. With the Sharks faithful clamoring for playoff success after years of almosts, there is no rationalizing a first-round exit. But, if Joe Thornton doesn't find a way to be a factor -- he of no goals in his last eight playoff games -- then the Ducks will likely move on and the Sharks will be left wondering what happened. Again.

3. The top seed in the East, the Bruins, did exactly what their counterpart in the west failed to do: assert themselves and protect home ice. Granted, the Bruins' opponent, the Canadiens, are far feebler than the dastardly Ducks, but still, the Bruins have been impressive in their dominance.

Saturday night's 5-1 trouncing of the Habs was as complete a hockey game as a team can play. The Bruins were physical yet disciplined, creative without cockiness and committed to supporting one another on both sides of the puck.

For Game 3 in Montreal, the Bruins will have to endure the one-game suspension of hulking winger Milan Lucic. When Max Lapierre rushed towards him during a late game skirmish, Lucic offered up the shaft of his hockey stick, catching Lapierre on the left side of his head. That's a big loss for the Bruins and, coupled with the Habs heading home, could be just enough to give them the edge tonight. If so, this becomes a series where up to this point, there hasn't been one.

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