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Devils finally get first win, Sabres sink some more

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The New Jersey Devils finally won their first game of the 2013-14 season on Saturday, pounding the also-slumping New York Rangers 4-0. In the process, New Jersey leapfrogged some of the other grim-looking East teams with five points, including those Rangers (four points) and maybe the bleakest of all: the Buffalo Sabres (three points).

Somber Sabres

Buffalo hosted a team that’s going in a very different direction – the Colorado Avalanche – and lost a game that was arguably more lopsided than the 4-2 score indicates. The Avalanche collected a 4-1 score and 22-14 shot advantage through two periods, then took their feet off the accelerator in the third (Buffalo fired 16 shots to Colorado’s four and brought it to 4-2).

While the Sabres have so little to look forward to that the best news of the night seemed to be that Thomas Vanek probably avoided an injury, the Devils might be able to build some momentum.

Devils see some light

It might be faint praise to say that the Devils are middle-of-the-pack in certain fancy stats, but when you narrow things down to the lowly East, they may be one of the better puck possession teams in the conference. That 4-0 win came against a morbid Rangers squad, but it could also be a sign that the bounces are starting to go in New Jersey’s favor (instead of against the Devils).

Passing the torch

If New Jersey wants to make the playoffs, they might need to make a painful decision to give the majority of the starts to Cory Schneider instead of Martin Brodeur, though.

The numbers are dramatically different so far this season (.927 save percentage for Schneider, .865 save percentage for Brodeur), but most importantly, Schneider has drastically outplayed his colleague the past three seasons:

Schneider
2010-11: 16-4-2, .929 save percentage
2011-12: 20-8-1, .937 save percentage
2012-13: 17-9-4, .927 save percentage

Brodeur
2010-11: 23-26-3, .903 save percentage
2011-12: 32-21-4, .908 save percentage
2012-13: 13-9-7, .901 save percentage

There are plenty excuses you can roll out to explain that away, yet the magnitude of the disparity is pretty tough to deny.

The clock’s ticking

There’s no doubt the Devils owe Brodeur, 41, a lot of gratitude, but are they really going to choose loyalty over what seems to be a better chance at making the playoffs? The plan is clearly to pass the torch to the 27-year-old battling with Brodeur, so why not bite the bullet and do it now?

Making that choice sooner rather than later might just mean the difference between New Jersey making or missing the postseason in a laughably bad division and a weak conference.

Hey, even the Sabres are going with the right guy in net (unless they trade him) …

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.