NHL Playoffs, Blackhawks v. Sharks, Game 3: Sharks strike first, Hawks tie it up

Hawks5.jpgEastern Conference Finals, Game 3, 2nd Intermission

Chicago Blackhawks 1, San Jose Sharks 1

Blackhawks lead series 2-0

The San Jose Sharks have been able to score on Antti Niemi so far this series, but they have yet to truly exert their offensive force on the Blackhawks. While we always expected great defensive play from the Blackhawks, the inspired play of Niemi in the Conference finals was something that surprised nearly everyone, including the Sharks.

In Game 3 in Chicago, a critical contest for the Sharks as they try to avoid the nearly insurmountable 0-3 series deficit, the Sharks have played much more aggressive and much more confident and it finally paid off in the second period. The Blackhawks put their share of pressure on the Sharks in the first 20 minutes, but Evgeni Nabokov was able to do what he couldn’t in the first two games: makes the big saves when his team needed it the most.

His big saves gave the Sharks the chance they needed, and they responded with heavy pressure to open the second and forced the Blackhawks to take two penalties, giving the Sharks a lengthy 5-on-3 chance. It looked as if the Sharks would come away incredibly frustrated as Niemi turned away several prime chances until Patrick Marleau was able to finally sneak a puck past Niemi’s glove to give the Sharks a much needed 1-0 lead.

With the way the Sharks have been endlessly frustrated by the Hawks and Niemi despite some actual decent play in two games, you would have thought the Sharks would have been invigorated by getting the lead. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks proved once again just how strong a team they are and tied it up just three minutes later on a power play goal of their own.

Once again showing that he is the early Conn Smythe favorite, Jonathan Toews completed a brilliant no-look, cross-crease pass to Patrick Sharp for a slam dunk goal on Evgeni Nabokov. The Hawks used the goal to wake from a bit of an early stupor and responded with some heavy pressure of their own the rest of the period, and only a couple of sprawling saves by Nabokov kept the Hawks from taking what would have been a demoralizing lead over the Sharks.

Heading into an incredibly important third period, the Sharks have a great chance to at least build on a solid 40 minutes and hope to steal an important win in Chicago. Somehow they’ll have to find a way to solve Antti Niemi, who continues to play at a much higher level than I ever thought he would the deeper the Blackhawks moved into the playoffs.

Fortunately for the Hawks, Evgeni Nabokov has finally been able to do his part.

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    Keep an eye on Oilers’ Slepyshev (the Ducks certainly should)

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    The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.

    Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.

    In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)

    Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:

    Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.

    With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/postsanother theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.

    And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:

    The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.

    Jake Allen takes blame for Predators’ game-winner vs. Blues

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    Let’s be honest: the St. Louis Blues owe a lot to Jake Allen‘s work against the Minnesota Wild in that first-round series.

    He probably bought himself a significant amount of goodwill for that outstanding work, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. He admitted that “a little mistake by me cost” the Blues the 4-3 decision against the Predators, leaving St. Louis down 1-0 to Nashville.

    The goal in question was Vernon Fiddler‘s unlikely 4-3 tally, which came after an unsuccessful poke check attempt by Allen:

    Now, to be fair, that wasn’t even the only failed poke check that turned into a goal, as Pekka Rinne also got beat after making such an attempt:

    Then again, Allen is wise to score points with teammates for taking the blame. As far as his team, head coach Mike Yeo believes that it was the second period that really made the difference.

    Regardless, Allen and the Blues hope to carry over the momentum from their third-period dominance in Game 1 to Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.

    That contest airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)

    Predators survive Blues’ big late push to win Game 1

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    The Nashville Predators’ 4-3 Game 1 win against the St. Louis Blues makes it difficult to use “perfect.”

    You could get away with using that word, mind you, as the Predators followed up their surprising sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks by going up 1-0 against the Blues in St. Louis. Still, the ride was so bumpy in the third period, it’s probably wiser to focus on the fact that Nashville is unbeaten.

    Because, yikes, that third period was a roller coaster for Nashville.

    via Natural Stat Trick

    P.K. Subban scored a goal and two assists in the first 40 minutes to help the Predators bring a 3-1 lead into the final frame. The Blues absolutely dominated play in the third, however, briefly tying the game as they put immense pressure on Pekka Rinne & Co.

    Ultimately, the Predators received a game-winner from an unlikely source in Vernon Fiddler, gaining a 1-0 series edge.

    Even so, few will talk about “mystique” after that shaky finish.

    For one thing, both Rinne and Jake Allen allowed goals that they’d like to forget. Also, both squads experienced lopsided periods; Nashville dominated shots in the second (15-8) while the Blues almost doubled-up the Preds in the third (11-6).

    Nashville also seems likely to play without rising rookie Kevin Fiala, who was hospitalized after an absolutely horrifying crash into the boards.

    It was a weird and often wild – sometimes nasty – contest, with the Predators ultimately coming out on top. There’s plenty of intrigue heading into Game 2, which airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)

    WATCH LIVE: Second round begins with Predators – Blues, Oilers – Ducks

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    Update: With both games likely to run simultaneously, note that Ducks fans can watch on NBCSN in the Anaheim market while the game is also available via streaming links below.

    In addition to that, Ducks – Oilers is slated to begin on NHL Network.

    This tweet explains it in additional detail.

    ***

    The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

    We start with a battle of the hottest goalies in the postseason so far as Jake Allen and the Blues host Pekka Rinne and the Predators. The duo of Game 1’s wraps up when Connor McDavid and the Oilers take on Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks.

    Here’s what you need to know:

    Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

    Time: 8 p.m. ET

    Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

    Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

    Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

    Network: NBCSN (Stream online)