Boyle, Chara, McDonald comprise Monday's Three Stars
Boyle, no worse for wear after Matt Carkner's Game 2 retaliatory assault, delivered a dominant physical performance capped by the lone tally in New York's valiant 1-0 win over the Senators.
While his teammates struggled at times to match the home team's level, Boyle extracted full value from his hulking 6-foot-7, 245-pound frame. The winger was relentless in pursuit and immovable down low, lodging himself in Craig Anderson's grill like a fistful of overcooked spinach. Among his team-high five shots was the crafty backhand that he lifted over Anderson from in tight midway through the third, a deft bit of stickwork and positioning that sucked the wind out of an Ottawa side that had just been buzzing at the other end of the ice.
He was equally effective in his own zone, blocking two shots and clogging the lanes. His efforts weren't lost on teammates, who awarded him the Broadway Hat, or on coach John Tortorella.
"He is playing the right way and a lot of guys on this team are following his lead," he said of Boyle, who now has a goal in each game of the series. "That's what he's doing right now. He's leading."
With Boston leading 3-2 midway through the third and Nicklas Backstrom keying a Washington breakout, Chara cheated toward the Capitals' primary weapon, Alex Ovechkin. Problem was that he lost track of Backstrom's actual target, Brooks Laich. Trapped 20 feet away, Chara could only watch as Laich danced in untouched and beat Tim Thomas to knot the game at three and seize momentum back for the home side.
But here's the thing about great players: they find ways to put moments like that behind them. Four minutes later, with the sides playing four-on-four, Patrice Bergeron loaded the cannon for Chara, who got all of his legendary mass into a point blast.
The rest of his night was what you'd expect of the presumptive Norris Trophy winner: more than 26 minutes of ice time, three shots, seven hits, two blocks and a pair of assists. All of that would have been forgotten if the Caps carried out the comeback. Instead, Chara's bomb deflected off the stick of Roman Hamrlik and sailed over the shoulder of a helpless Braden Holtby, sealing a 4-3 win.
Perfection? Nah ... but Chara delivered when it mattered. And that's what everyone will remember.
"This time of year there's only one payback, win the hockey game," Hitchcock said. "There's no retribution other than play to win."
It probably took some time for that measured approach to sink in with a clearly incensed McDonald, but by the time Game 3 rolled around Monday night, the Blues' alternate captain had landed on the same page as his coach. Sixty minutes later, he'd exacted his revenge with a goal and two assists, leading St. Louis to a 4-3 win.
McDonald stuck it to the Sharks early in the second period when he slithered behind Brent Burns and into some open ice to the right of Antti Niemi to redirect a Carlo Colaiacovo rebound into the gaping cage and give the Blues a 2-1 lead. He later helped stretch the margin with primary helpers on power play goals by Jason Arnott in the second, and Alexander Steen in the third.
"Our power play has been a threat now for almost 40 days," Hitchcock said. "We've done good things."
McDonald's play has been a big part of that success. Unless the Sharks figure out how to handle him on the half wall, the series is unlikely to come back to San Jose.