2011 Playoffs: Bruins and Coyotes fight to stay relevant; Four Game 3’s overall tonight

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Sunday represented the first Game 3’s of the 2011 playoffs, contests that are the first great pivot of any seven-game series. The league’s parity was on decent display, as the Vancouver Canucks rank as the only team with a 3-0 series lead so far. Can two other teams put their opponents on the brink of elimination? Which two teams will break 1-1 ties? We’ll have our answers tonight.

As always, start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

Philadelphia @ Buffalo – 7 p.m. (Versus); Series tied 1-1

The Flyers are the headline-makers in this series, even with the home ice shifting to Buffalo. Philly must try to earn a one-game lead without Chris Pronger and with Brian Boucher in net. What does that mean? They’ll likely need to win another high-scoring game against the Sabres, but you never know with the NHL playoffs.

Then again, scoring several goals against Ryan Miller two games in a row isn’t the safest bet.

Boston @ Montreal – 7:30 p.m.; Canadiens lead series 2-0

If Zdeno Chara ends up playing tonight, surely Habs fans will oblige the dehydrated giant. Unfortunately, that would come in the form of spit and maybe beer thrown from the stands, so Chara should probably stick to water and Gatorade on the bench.

The burning question of this game really is: will Carey Price continue to outshine likely Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas? If he does, there might be some people out there who feel the need to file the Bruins under the “chokers” category …

Pittsburgh @ Tampa Bay – 7:30 p.m.; Series tied at 1-1

Am I the only person who finds this series a little bit lacking in personality (or at least “sizzle”)? The Penguins managed to grind out a Game 1 shutout while the Lightning basically put Game 2 away in the first period. Chances are, if this one’s going to get interesting, it’ll start to move in that direction tonight.

Bolts fans should certainly be jazzed up since this is their first home playoff game since 2007 …

Detroit @ Phoenix – 10:30 p.m. (Versus); Red Wings lead series 2-0

The Red Wings took care of business at home, but the Coyotes can carry a kernel or two of confidence into what could be their final games in Arizona. The team is holding a logical white-out tonight to show that the people in the stands aren’t there as Detroit transplants. With their crowd behind them, can the ‘Yotes make things interesting?

Capitals’ Schmidt hurt by Leafs’ Komarov; Record 18th playoff game to OT

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Now, players are known to at least try to return to games after injuries, sometimes ultimately demeaning such efforts unsuccessful.

So, it’s possible that the Washington Capitals should still be concerned about defenseman Nate Schmidt. The solid depth blueliner was helped off the ice after a hit by Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the good news is that he was at least able to make his way back for a spin later on in the same third period.

Does that mean he’ll be OK? We’ll see. The game is entering OT – the 18th of this round, a new NHL record – so a possible Schmidt injury could put Washington at a disadvantage during “free hockey.”

It makes sense that Toronto and Washington made it a new record, as this is the fifth time in six games that they beyond regulation in this series. Wow.

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.