Darren Eliot
Wednesday April 21st, 2010

OTTAWA -- Playoff platitudes like Dan Bylsma's "getting to our game" surely make for good group rallying cries and T-shirt slogans. The reality is that, at some stage of a playoff series, comparing the point production, effort and level of engagement of the two teams' best players is valid and revealing.

Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault called out the Sedin twins, Art Ross Trophy-winner Henrik and his linemate Daniel, after their team fell behind the Kings two games to one on Monday night. Vigneault said that L.A.'s Michal Handzus line had been the better trio for the last couple of games and he cited the single shot by the Sedin line in Game 3 as opposed to the 10 on goal generated by Handzus, Fredrik Modin and Brad Richardson, who have been keeping Vancouver's top line in check. That's no small accomplishment considering that the Sedins and linemate Alex Burrows produced a combined 93 goals and 264 points this season.

Vigneault is just trying to get his team going for Game 4, knowing full well that any comeback will start with his top players, not his grinders. Here's how the Sedin's numbers stack up with the Handzus line's heading into Wednesday night's game in Los Angeles (PREVIEW):

Coaches always talk about the importance of the team game in the playoffs, but a collective consistency is easier to achieve when a team's best players are leading the way, first in effort, then in willingness to win battles. Production usually follows. And that theory isn't just in this series.

In the beleagured Ottawa Senators dressing room, coach Cory Clouston keeps referring to "a collective effort" and insisting on "our team game needing to carry us" against Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That's especially true given that Cloustons two stars, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, have been so dim through the first four games as Ottawa was pushed to the brink of the golf course. Crosby and Malkin have been -- how to put this mildly -- brutalizing Spezza and Alfredsson.

Crosby in particular continued to dominate this series, putting up a four-point effort in the Penguins' 7-4 win on Tuesday night that secured a 3-1 series lead heading back home. Malkin proved his worth all over the ice as well, getting the proceedings underway with an all-important first goal of the game on the power play.

Spezza and Alfredsson both scored their first goals of the series, but Spezza also made a terrible no-look pass just inside the offensive blueline -- right on the tape of Pens' defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Spezza proceeded to meander back through the neutral zone on the backcheck while Crosby motored toward the net without the puck. Of course, the puck eventually got there right on time for the hustling Crosby and much too soon for Spezza to do anything but watch.

Meanwhile, Mike Richards (team-leading six points) and defenseman Chris Pronger (5) have been carrying much of the load for the Flyers in their series with the Devils, but Jeff Carter finally broke out with his first three postseason points, in Game 4. New Jersey's Zach Parise (one goal, three assists) and Ilya Kovalchuk (two goals, four assists) are having a hard time at even strength. The Devils, now on the brink of elimination from the first round for the third straight year, surely caught a break for Game 5 at home on Thursday, as Carter and Simon Gagne will be sidelined by foot injuries. Yet the Devils will still need solid production from their best offensive players because of a journeyman Brian Boucher's surprisingly strong play in goal for the Flyers. He's allowed no sloppy goals while outdueling future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.

Perhaps the Sharks will prove the "best players having to be the best players" axiom moot. If they prevail over Colorado without the Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Dany Heatley line scoring -- which they've yet to do thus far -- the Sharks' tees (as in shirts, not golf equipment) may read, "Any Joe will do." (Joe Pavelski scored in OT for the Sharks in Game 4 after providing the heroics in Game 2 with a late game-tying goal.) I doubt it will be enough, though, if San Jose's big line doesn't break out after heading home for Game 5.

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