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Cullen: Grinding out wins in first night of NHL playoffs

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Scott Cullen
5/1/2013 4:55:41 PM
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The first night of the NHL playoffs didn't provide a lot of goals, but there were some strong performances. Josh Harding, Jonathan Quick, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen and Anaheim's checkers were among those with notable performances on opening night. Scott Cullen digs into the stats.

HARD ROAD
When Minnesota Wild G Niklas Backstrom suffered a lower body injury in warmup prior to Game One against the Chicago Blackhawks, it forced the Wild to turn to Josh Harding, their backup who had played only five games this season (due in part to suffering from MS) and, even though he had a 24-save shutout in his first start of the year, Harding struggled, posting an .863 save percentage in 185 minutes of play.

In Game 1 against Chicago, however, Harding was in fine form, stopping 35 of 37 shots. Even though it was ultimately in a 2-1 overtime loss, there were positives to be taken from the effort. If Backstrom is going to miss more time, Harding is a capable alternative.

While the Blackhawks held a clear territorial advantage in the game -- they outshot the Wild 37-27 and generally controlled the game -- they couldn't put Minnesota away until the extra frame, when LW Bryan Bickell converted a two-one-one with Viktor Stalberg 16:35 into overtime.

Minnesota's defence was under additional pressure because Clayton Stoner played only 8:18, that left workhorse Ryan Suter to play a franchise-record 41:08, while rookie Jonas Brodin had the second-most ice time of all skaters in the game at 34:20. According to www.timeonice.com, Suter played the most against Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews and RW Patrick Kane, who were on separate scoring lines for the Blackhawks.

Wild D Jared Spurgeon led the way with seven blocked shots while veteran banger Mike Rupp had six hits. Chicago's leading hitter was checking C Andrew Shaw, with seven. Ranking second on the Blackhawks with six hits, D Michal Rozsival led Blackhawks D in ice time at 27:11, his high-water mark for the season.

While the Wild could take some solace in pushing the Blackhawks to OT, moral victories aren't going to go very far and if the Blackhawks can ratchet up the pressure even more than they did in Game One, Minnesota is going to have a hard time keeping pace.

SUPER STEEN
Blues LW Alexander Steen scored both St. Louis goals in a 2-1 win, including the shorthanded winner in overtime to salvage a game that the Blues almost let get away.

After dominating for much of regulation, outshooting the Kings 36-19 through three periods, St. Louis gave up a game-tying goal to Kings RW Justin Williams with 31.9 seconds remaining in the third.

That seemed to set the Blues back on their heels as the Kings started to gain a territorial edge in overtime but, with the Kings on a power play, G Jonathan Quick coughed up the puck behind the net to a forechecking Steen and Steen buried it in the empty net.

That Quick was the goat on the final play shouldn't obscure the fact that he was terrific in Game 1, stopping 40 of 41 shots before that costly turnover. Getting a strong performance from Quick was vital for the Kings, and not altogether predictable. He won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP last season, but Quick's .902 save percentage during the regular season this year was lowest among starting goaltenders that qualified for the postseason this year.

Making a statement for the Blues, rookie RW Jaden Schwartz led the team with six shots on goal, had the best possession numbers on the team, performing effectively alongside Steen and David Backes on the Blues' top line. Schwartz played a career-high 19:36 in the overtime game.

Schwartz wasn't the only lesser-known to show up with a big performance in Game One. St. Louis' fourth line of Adam Cracknell, Ryan Reaves and Chris Porter provided energy and tended to get the best of their matchups. Reaves led all skaters with nine hits in 9:20 of ice time.

Considering how stifling they were defensively, the Blues deserved to come out on the right side of the ledger and it could have been a crushing defeat to have lost the lead in the final minute after outplaying the Kings for virtually the entire game.

DUCKS GET IT DONE
The Ducks decided to go with veteran Jonas Hiller in net and while he wasn't tested too much, facing 22 shots, Hiller was there when he needed to be, turning away 21 in Anaheim's 3-1 win.

As Detroit struggled to get anything past Hiller, aside from one Dan Cleary power play goal, Justin Abdelkader led the Red Wings with four shots on goal (and six hits) while skating with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the Wings' top line. Credit the Ducks' checking unit of Daniel Winnik, Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano for handling that matchup. D Francois Beauchemin, who scored the empty-netter to ice the game, also played a game-high 25:38, facing the Wings' top line for much of the night.

The Ducks got their first two goals on the power play, with second-liners Nick Bonino and Teemu Selanne connecting. The Ducks' power play was ranked fourth in the regular season, scoring on 21.5% of their opportunities.

Ducks LW Matt Beleskey led Anaheim's physical game, recording six hits in 9:08 of ice time. He also assisted on Selanne's game-winning goal.

All in all, a solid opening to the playoffs for the Ducks. Maybe they won't get a couple power play goals every night, but those goals proved to be the difference in Game 1.

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.

Josh Harding (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Game 3: Avalanche at Wild (TSN)

Monday at 7pm et/4pm pt

Game 3: Ducks at Stars (TSN)

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Western Conference

(1) COL 2, (WC) MIN 0 (1) ANA 2, (WC) DAL 0
(2) STL 2, (3) CHI 0 (2) SJ 2, (3) LA 0


Eastern Conference

(1) BOS 1, (WC) DET 1 (1) PIT 1, (WC) CLB 1
(2) TAM 0, (3) MON 3 (2) NYR 1, (3) PHI 1


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