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Cullen: Habs, Isles even series; Blackhawks, Sharks up 2-0

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Scott Cullen
5/4/2013 2:20:59 AM
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Scott Cullen looks at stats, notes and observations from Friday night's NHL action, as the shorthanded Canadiens bounced back, the Islanders rallied from an early hole, the Blackhawks are who we thought they were and the Sharks escape Vancouver with a 2-0 series lead.

UNDERMANNED CANADIENS BOUNCE BACK
Coming into Game Two of their series against the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens looked to be fighting uphill, heading into the game without forwards Lars Eller, Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta, due to injuries. Nevertheless, Montreal found a way to win 3-1, evening up the series.

So, how did they get on the board? With Ryan White intercepting a risky pass by Senators D Erik Karlsson and directing it between Craig Anderson's legs. White had one goal in 26 regular season games.

Getting some offence from an unexpected source was nice. How about from the rookies? I had asked on Twitter Friday afternoon, once the lineup changes were known, whether it was time to take the training wheels off Alex Galchenyuk, who entered the game with 13 points in his last 14 games, all while playing under 12 minutes per.

Galchenyuk did play more than 15 minutes in Game Two, the second time in the last 26 games that he's played more than 15 minutes, and made a nifty pass to set up fellow freshman Brendan Gallagher for the Habs' second goal.

P.K. Subban was a major presence for the Canadiens too, tying for the team lead with five shots on goal and five blocked shots. It was no surprise that Josh Gorges was the one to tie Subban for the team lead in blocked shots, it was a little more unusual for Jeff Halpern to register five shots on goal. Halpern last had five shots on goal in a game on November 25, 2009.

Montreal blocked 32 shots in the game, while Ottawa blocked 12, so there was a lot of sacrifice necessary for the Canadiens to win this game.

Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust led the Canadiens with six hits, as both played more than usual. Prust played 18:22, one second less than his season high and Armstrong played 16:14, a total he surpassed twice all season.

While blocking shots was part of the Canadiens' success, they needed to neutralize Karlsson and were effective in that regard. He had two shots on goal and was minus-1 in 29:38 of ice time.

Another area that the Canadiens to improve upon from the first game was goaltending and Carey Price was up to the challenge, stopping 29 of 30 shots. Craig Anderson wasn't bad in the Senators' net, stopping 31 of 34 shots, but if Price performs at a level similar to Anderson (there was a monstrous gap in regular season save percentage -- .941 to .905 in favour of Anderson), that gives the Canadiens a much better chance to win the series.

It's not surprising that, even shorthanded, the Canadiens had a strong emotional response to their loss in Game One of the series. There is some bad blood between the teams, stemming from Eric Gryba's hit on Lars Eller, and we're only two games in. Expect the temperature to remain high as the series shifts to Ottawa.

ISLES UPSET PENGUINS IN CROSBY'S RETURN
Sidney Crosby returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup and scored two goals in the first 7:22 of the game as Pittsburgh jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead, but the New York Islanders were resilient, took control of the game and rallied to win 4-3, evening the series.

In his first game since suffering a broken jaw DATE, Crosby scored those two goals, registered a season-high eight shots on net and played 23:21, a total he surpassed eight times in 36 regular season games. Even if it was his first game in more than a month, he was getting used like a superstar in an important playoff game.

Penguins RW Jarome Iginla registered a pair of assists, but was torched possession-wise, playing mostly with Evgeni Malkin and Beau Bennett then Jussi Jokinen on the left side.

Malkin, for his part, had a goal and an assist, with a season-high 10 shots on goal.

After being held without a shot in Game One of the series, the first time it has happened all season, Islanders C John Tavares got loose for six shots on goal, but Tavares was merely part of the overall team effort, contributing an assist, but the Islanders outshot the Penguins 42-33, earning their comeback every step of the way.

Islanders D Mark Streit had a pair of assists and was among the Islanders along with Lubomir Visnovsky, Keith Aucoin and Colin McDonald with the best possession numbers.

Islanders LW Matt Moulson had a goal and an assist.

Islanders LW Bailey played 20:19, a total he surpassed once all season. Bailey's emergence in the second half has really improved the Islanders' offensive depth.

After delivering a hit in Game One that kept Penguins LW James Neal out of the lineup for Game Two, Islanders D Travis Hamonic led his team with six hits and was getting in Malkin's face late in the game. If the Islanders are going to un-nerve the top seed in the East, having a physical blueliner like Hamonic wreak havoc with Pittsburgh's skilled forwards is a good way to start.

While the Islanders deserve much credit for their comeback road win, it does need to be said that the winning goal was a shot wide of the net that bounced off the end boards, off Marc-Andre Fleury and into the Penguins' net. He stopped 38 of 42 shots, and was excellent early in the game, but if Fleury's performance gets shaky, that's going to give the Islanders a better chance to pull off the upset.

After Game One, it didn't look very promising for the Islanders -- and Crosby returning to the Penguins' lineup wouldn't figure to improve their odds -- but after a road win in Game Two, the Islanders return home with hope that they didn't have a couple days ago.

BLACKHAWKS CRUISING
Chicago is so relentless, that even though Wild G Josh Harding was excellent, stopping 43 of 47 shots, it wasn't enough to handle the Blackhawks, who won 5-2 in Game Two. Chicago attempted 77 shots, compared to Minnesota's 44, so it's clear which team was controlling play.

Michael Frolik and Patrick Sharp each scored a pair of goals for the Blackhawks. There was a time, early in his career, that it looked like Frolik could become a big scorer, tallying 21 goals in each of his first two seasons, but his production has declined since and he managed just three goals in 45 games this season. The Blackhawks have so much talent that it's almost unfair when they start getting multi-goal games from the likes of Frolik.

Sharp, who has been a big scorer for the Blackhawks, missed 20 games during the regular season with injuries and scored just six goals. Playing with Patrick Kane and Michal Handzus, Sharp was a force, scoring a couple of goals while getting eight shots on goal, the second into a wide open net on a ridiculous spinning pass from Kane. Blackhawks LW Brandon Saad had seven shots on goal, but didn't find the scoresheet.

Blackhawks LW Bryan Bickell, who scored the empty-netter to ice the game, tied LW Brandon Bollig with six hits, most on the team. Bollig had his six hits in 7:13 of ice time.

The Wild are trying to contain the Blackhawks by matching Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin against the Blackhawks' top two lines as much as possible. It didn't quite work out Friday, however, as the Wild's top defence pair were both minus-2. No. 1 C Mikko Koivu was minus-3, a rating that, prior to Game Two, he has had twice in the last three seasons. Zach Parise was also minus-3, and he had also been minus-3 twice in the last three seasons.

One positive for the Wild; veteran C Matt Cullen had a couple of assists and was plus-1 in the losing effort.

Minnesota is going to head home, down 2-0, and has to hope they can find a way to slow down the Blackhawks' attack. Right now, it's not looking very promising.

SHARKS STORM BACK ON CANUCKS
Despite a strong game from Roberto Luongo and monster effort from C Ryan Kesler, the Vancouver Canucks lost 3-2 in overtime to San Jose, falling behind two games to none.

Kesler scored both Vancouver goals, won 19 of 29 (65.5%) face-offs, and led Canucks forwards with 23:16 time on ice and seven hits, though his line didn't fare nearly as well as the Sedins and Alex Burrows in terms of puck possession.

When Kesler scored his second of the game, with just under 13 minutes remaining in the third period, it was looking bleak for the Sharks but, with G Antti Niemi pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute, veteran LW Patrick Marleau found a loose puck behind Roberto Luongo and knocked it into the net to tie the game. Marleau had one goal in the last 16 regular season games and now has a goal in each of the first two games of this series.

Like Marleau, Sharks C Joe Thornton has been criticized for postseason performance throughout his career, but Thornton scored the Sharks' first goal and was plus-3 in Game Two. He also blocked three shots to tie for the team lead.

The winning goal, in overtime, was set up by RW Brent Burns, who blocked an Alex Edler shot from the point and found LW Raffi Torres to finish a 2-on-1 rush. It was Burns' second assist of the game and it's hard to imagine him returning to defence at this point -- he's just too good up front.

It's not like the Canucks haven't had their opportunities in this series but, now down 2-0 and struggling to score, they are going to need a much better performance on the road in Game Three. Their playoff lives depend on it.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Carey Price (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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