Saturday April 17th, 2010

Points to ponder heading into Day Four of the Stanley Cup playoffs ...

• Much of the angst after Washington's Game 1 loss to the Habs was focused on the ineffective play of Alexander Ovechkin. A reasonable response considering he's been held without a goal by the Canadiens in four of five meetings this season, but after Bruce Boudreau proclaimed the winger's health to be 100 percent, it's a good bet that he'll return with a big bag of knuckles and a chip on his shoulder in Game 2.

The bigger concern has to be the brain cramps that led directly to all three Montreal goals. The Caps briefly discovered their inner Rod Langway after the Olympic break, but the slippage in their defensive intensity over the final weeks carried into Game 1. The Canadiens can't match Washington's firepower under normal circumstances, but they know how to capitalize on mistakes. If Tom Poti's going to double-clutch deep in the zone on the penalty kill or if Mike Green's going to allow Scott Gomez a clear path to the net, the Habs can make this a very interesting series.

• With one win in the bank, the underdog Canadiens come into Game 2 playing with house money. But if they hope to extend their lead, they'll have to come out with the intensity they lacked for the first 30 minutes of the opener. "We were very fortunate to be in the game," said coach Jacques Martin. "We were fortunate that our goaltender made some big saves. It took us a while to find our game, and that's one thing we have to correct moving forward." The key then is to get their legs moving early. That not only takes some pressure off Jaroslav Halak -- who cannot be expected to stop 45 of 47 every night -- but should create more than the three power-play opportunities earned in Game 1. With the Caps' special teams in a funk, the Habs have an opportunity to make 'em sweat.

• You'd need to borrow a hand to have enough fingers to point at Bruins who simply aren't getting the job done offensively. But while much of the attention has focused on Michael Ryder, Miroslav Satan, Blake Wheeler, Marco Sturm and other wingers, the team's coldest player might be center Patrice Bergeron, who hasn't scored in his last 17 playoff games. No argument that Bergeron, a gold medalist with Team Canada at the Olympics, finds other ways to contribute; but when you get as much ice as he does (18:26 in the opener), that's a brutal stretch to go without lighting the lamp. Someone needs to step up, and he's long overdue.

• The key for the Sabres? Get the puck to Tomas Vanek. The Austrian winger saw his goal total dwindle to 28 this season, as he battled a number of nagging injuries, but he looks to have rediscovered his old form since returning to action on April 10. He has six goals in that three-game span, including Buffalo's opening tally in Thursday's 2-1 win over Boston. That was the only successful bid of his five shots, but he was dangerous throughout the game, stick handling with style and routinely crashing the net. The only true sniper in the series, this roll suggests he'll be the difference-maker.

• Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and Pavol Demitra's gotta disappear in the playoffs. The enigmatic Slovak has always been a dog in the postseason, but expectations in Vancouver were cautiously elevated after he led the Olympics in scoring. Fair? Maybe not. Going by his performance in Game 1, it looks as though he's willing to remain the top migraine-inducer among Canucks' fans. If Alain Vigneault can push the buttons to get Demitra to match that Olympic intensity, it'll go down as a masterful bit of coaching. "I'm hoping to see that player come playoff time," Vigneault said, before trying to feed the winger a dose of reality. "Pavol is getting older and the opportunity to compete for the Cup ... there might not be that many left for him."

• There's no secret to what the Kings need if they hope to gain a split in Vancouver: Something -- anything -- out of their first line. The unit was widely outplayed by the Sedins in Game 1 and generated maybe two quality chances on the night. That's not enough, especially from leading scorer Anze Kopitar, who's been a cypher against the Canucks all season. "This is the time ... when players have to find a way to get things done," said Kings coach Terry Murray when asked what Kopitar has to do. "Create some space, create some scoring opportunities. Don't get too cute, [get] more pucks to the net on a consistent basis. That will maybe open some other things up later on in the game. It is the playoffs, so the goals that are scored in the playoffs are sometimes very ugly. The shot mentality might open it up for you."

No need to translate that. Kopitar's hot start to the season was built on a willingness to drive the net that he seemed to gain by osmosis from linemate Ryan Smyth. If that player shows up again, the Kings have a fighting chance.

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