Tuesday April 21st, 2009

1. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals: There wasn't much he didn't do. In a pivotal stretch toward the end of the first period, Backstrom somehow willed a Rangers shot to the post, and on the subsequent rush, made a terrific play, protecting the puck and nailing Ryan Callahan in the process. He shoved a one-armed pass to Alex Ovechkin, who set up Alexander Semin for his second goal of the game. Backstrom is lethal on the power play but also kills penalties, and he makes a healthy living setting up big goals in impressive fashion. Take his no-look, spin-o-rama cross-ice feed to Tom Poti for the Capitals' fourth goal. And believe it or not, Backstrom led Washington forwards in ice time. That, in and of itself, is worth noting.

2. David Moss, Flames: In just about 11 minutes of ice time, the winger converted two goals on five shots, including the eventual game-winner. Talk about efficient and effective hockey. Honorable mention goes to Olli Jokinen, whose size and smart defensive plays helped quiet Jonathan Toews, at least slightly.

3. Dennis Wideman, Bruins: Not only did the defenseman give the offense a bit of a spark, assisting on two goals in the Bruins' 4-2 win, he played a big part in keeping Montreal at bay in the third period. Guarding a one-goal lead, the Bruins allowed the Canadiens just five shots in the final 20 minutes of the game.

1. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau gave Simeon Varlamov the nod for the second straight game, making it more or less official: Jose Theodore has lost No. 1 goaltending duties to the 20-year-old rookie. Varlamov's earned them, pitching a shutout in his second NHL playoff game and eighth overall. He isn't your typical rook, with plenty of experience in big game situations. Varlamov played for Russia in the 2007 World Juniors and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL Final. And perhaps because he isn't familiar with English, he doesn't fully comprehend the pressure that's on him. Boudreau asked Ovechkin to relay the simple message: "Tell him he's playing." Nothing more.

2. Speaking of rookie goalies, Jonas Hiller of the Ducks has been outstanding. Much like Varlamov, however, this shouldn't be a huge surprise given his international experience. A member of three championship teams in the Swiss A League, where he played with Joe Thornton and Rick Nash during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Hiller, 27, isn't exactly a kid. He's had experience in big games -- he played for Switzerland at the 2006 and 20007 World Championships -- and is proving to be best in the clutch. He earned a shutout in his first playoff game and has the Ducks holding a 2-0 series lead against the Sharks.

3. Sean Avery is up to some of his old antics again. Toward the end of Monday night's game, the pesky winger, who had been fighting for space in front of Varlamov all night, decided to step up and start chirping at the goalie. Too bad Varlamov doesn't understand enough English to appreciate whatever Avery was saying. The refs understood, though, and slammed Avery with a minor and a 10 minute misconduct. It was the winger's fourth infraction on the night, not the kind of discipline he needs to demonstrate to be effective. The crowd at MSG seemed to disapprove of the officiating. They chanted "These refs suck" for a full 20 seconds at the end of the second period. But Rangers coach John Tortorella wasn't going to make that argument. He had bigger things to worry about with his team. "I'm not going to whine about penalties," he said. "We stunk. Simple."

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