Brandon Sutter, James Reimer, Dion Phaneuf

Leafs, Habs cough up leads; Tavares taunts Flames

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Thursday, Dec. 29 won’t go down as a great night for a trio of Canadian NHL teams. Let’s take a look at the follies of the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.

Habs can’t hold onto 3-1 lead

It’s easy to feel bad for Randy Cunneyworth, but that compassion extends beyond linguistic and cultural concerns. Jacques Martin’s system wasn’t sexy, but it squeezed every drop of quality out of a mediocre roster with stingy defense.

With that in mind, Montreal fans probably haven’t seen their team cough up too many 3-1 leads, as they did tonight. The Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t even polite enough to give the Habs a charity point:

Maple Leafs botch a 3-1 lead of their own

The Toronto Maple Leafs had to feel pretty good about their chances when Joffrey Lupul staked his team to a 3-1 lead 9:08 into the third period. That seemed to awaken Eric Staal from his near-full season slumber, however, as he scored a goal 40 seconds later, assisted on the tying goal and then hammered home the OT-winner.

So, what’s worse: giving up a 3-1 lead in the second period and getting zero points or failing to hold onto a two-goal lead during the last 11 minutes of a game and settling for a charity point? (I’d go for the latter, even if it might be a little more embarrassing, but feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.)

Tavares torments the Flames

The Calgary Flames probably don’t feel anywhere near the same amount of shame as Montreal or Toronto for their 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders. Still, it was another blown lead (this time just 1-0) and is worth mentioning merely to show this John Tavares highlight:

(Miikka Kiprusoff must feel really alone sometimes, right?)

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It wasn’t all-bad for Canada on Thursday, though. The Canadian WJC team humiliated Denmark 10-1, the Vancouver Canucks are currently pounding the Anaheim Ducks 4-0 and the Winnipeg Jets gutted out a 1-0 OT win against the Los Angeles Kings. Still, the Flames, Leafs and Canadiens might look back at nights like tonight if they fall short of the playoffs this season.

Backes scores OT goal on his birthday, Blues even up series with Stars

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The St. Louis Blues won’t be thrilled with the way they played in the third period, but in the end, they did just enough to come away with a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2. The Blues’ win means that the series will head to St. Louis tied 1-1.

The Stars opened the scoring in the first period, but the Blues responded by scoring three unanswered goals (Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson, Troy Brouwer) on five shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had seen enough from starter Kari Lehtonen at that point. He yanked Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi at the start of the second period.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, but things got crazy in the third.

With his team still trailing 3-1, Mattias Janmark split Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko before scoring a great goal.

Moments after Janmark’s goal, Brian Elliott took a Jason Spezza blast off the mask. Elliott was shaken up on the play (he even lost one of his contact lenses), but he did stay in the game.

Stars captain Jamie Benn (surprise, surprise) leveled the score by burying a goal by Brian Elliott with under three minutes in regulation.

Like they did during their first round series against Chicago, the Blues took some time to regroup before finding a way to get the job done.

The Blues’ power play went back to work after Antoine Roussel took his third penalty of the game. That’s when the birthday boy, David Backes, came through.

That’s a nice way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.

Game 3 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis.

 

Jamie Benn’s late goal sends Game 2 to overtime

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This definitely wasn’t the way the St. Louis Blues drew it up.

The Blues entered the third period of Game 2 with a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to shut the game down on the road.

St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1 after 20 minutes before Dallas decided to pull Kari Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi. The move didn’t provide any results in the middle frame, but something certainly sparked the Stars in the third period.

Mattias Janmark cut the deficit to 3-2 with this beauty (notice how he split Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo).

With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Stars captain Jamie Benn tied it up (top).

It’s safe to say this wasn’t a memorable third period for the Blues.

Video: Brian Elliott takes a blast off the mask, stays in the game

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A bit of a scary moment in the third period of Game 2 between the Stars and Blues.

Less than five minutes into the third period, Jason Spezza took a shot that caught Blues goalie Brian Elliott square in the mask. Play was halted as Elliott remained down. It appears as though the shot to the mask also made Elliott lose one of his contacts.

Thankfully, Elliott wasn’t seriously injured on the play. After being examined by the team doctor, he was allowed to stay into the game. He did need a new mask though (he got his original one back a few minutes later).

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page.

The Blues currently lead 3-2 late in the third period.

Here’s some Twitter reaction:

 

Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

Lehtonen
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Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.