Shutouts are the story of tonight's big games

niemi.jpgAll three of the games I targeted as “the best games of the night” ended up in some hard-fought shutouts. Two of them came from Finnish goalies and all of them came from guys who may have been expected to be backups (but are looking likely to usurp their “superiors”) this season.

  • For the Chicago Blackhawks, the shutout showed that the Western Conference may indeed have a true favorite. They pulled a point ahead of San Jose (who finally broke their dry spell against Minnesota tonight) and temporarily deflated Phoenix’s Cinderella run. Antti Niemi hasn’t put up amazing stats (at least from a save percentage standpoint) but it’s hard to argue with his 19-5-3 mark in Chicago. Could Niemi be the Blackhawks’ answer in net right now?
  • If you ask me, the other Finnish once-expected backup (Tuukka Rask in Boston) is the answer for the Bruins. He earned a goose egg for the team as they dominated ninth-seed Atlanta 4-0 tonight. The Bruins have won two huge games against the two most likely threats to their playoff lives and Rask has allowed one goal on 51 shots in the last two games. Might want to wait until next year to revive your career, Tim Thomas.
  • Ottawa affirmed their status as a rugged playoff team after a contentious game against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. It was a brutal bout at times, with Anton Volcenkov figuring into much of the violence. Brian Elliott was supposed to backup the more expensive (but free-falling) Pascal Leclaire, but he’s often been the more stable goalie of the two.

The Bruins and Senators lack the breathing room to “test the water” to see which goalie they prefer but it might be true that the Blackhawks should also go with the “hot hand” in net. Either way, all three teams won some big games while keeping their opponents off the scoreboard. We’ll have more on the playoff implications of these wins tomorrow.

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    Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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    Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

    (Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

    You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

    Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

    Letang told his side of the story:

    The Capitals disagree:

    While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

    No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

    Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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    If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

    The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

    (Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

    Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

    A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

    First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

    Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

    Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

    In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

    This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

    Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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    It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

    (You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

    There are a few things we do know already.

    For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

    Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

    In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

    There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

    Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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    Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

    ***

    As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

    Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

    Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

    Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

    Things could get ugly in Game 3:

    One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

    Also, lateness of the check:

    The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

    Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

    Read reactions to the check here.