Five things we learned from weekend

May, 17, 2010

1. Here's what we love about Montreal coach Jacques Martin, apart from his rapier-like wit: He has no compunctions about yanking netminder Jaroslav Halak the moment things go sideways. Some will view this as some sort of punishment, or a statement about the state of Halak's game. But Martin has proved to be an astute manipulator of his netminders this spring, and uses these situations to allow Halak to hook himself up to some secret restorative power device hidden in the Habs' dressing room.

After giving Halak the hook in Game 3 against Washington when he allowed three goals on four shots, Martin kept him out for Game 4, another Habs loss, and then reinserted the Slovak, who went on to stonewall the Caps in three straight games.

Against the Penguins, Halak was again pulled, this time in Game 1, when the Penguins poured four power-play goals past Halak. Not really the goalie's fault, but Martin was already looking down the road.

Halak seems to be invigorated by those rests. Who can say why, but he has responded in yeoman-like fashion each time he has returned to the nets. In the two games after being pulled, Halak is 2-0 and has stopped 73 of 75 shots.

He will need to replicate that kind of performance Tuesday night. If history tells us anything, it's not to read too much into the sight of Halak taking a seat on the end of the Canadiens' bench.

2. How hot are the Flyers right now? Going back to Game 7 against Boston, the Flyers have now scored 10 unanswered goals (four against the Bruins, six against the Canadiens in Game 1 on Sunday). According to our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the longest streak of its kind in a single postseason since 1987, when the Flyers scored 11 straight goals over a three-game period against the New York Rangers and Islanders. Philly went on to lose to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup finals.

Among the hottest Flyers right now is Danny Briere, who added a goal and an assist Sunday and now has 17 points in 13 games. Briere has one of the top points-per-game numbers in Flyers history. He is producing 1.03 points per game in the playoffs, third all-time behind Ken Linseman (1.29) and Eric Lindros (1.14).

3. The Chicago Blackhawks have been dominant on the road this spring, riding a six-game winning streak into Tuesday's Game 2 of the Western Conference finals in San Jose. As ESPN stats guru Vincent Masi points out, history suggests it would be a very good thing for the Hawks to run that streak to seven games. It would tie a single-season road winning streak at seven. Teams that have previously achieved such road superiority -- the 1999 Colorado Avalanche, the 1995 New Jersey Devils and the 1982 and 1980 New York Islanders -- all went on to win the Stanley Cup.

During this streak, the Hawks have outscored their opponents 27-11 and allowed just four power-play goals on 30 chances.

4. Tell us again how Antti Niemi is supposed to be the chink in the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup armor? Remember all the boo-hooing about how the Blackhawks had all the components to bring home the team's first chalice since 1961 except for the goaltending?

Niemi continues to be a surprise story in a postseason chock-full of surprises and unsuspecting heroes.

The first-year NHLer (too old to qualify for rookie of the year consideration under NHL rules) stopped 44 of 45 shots in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals and now boasts an impressive .918 save percentage. That number trails only Ed Belfour, who produced higher save percentages -- .929 in 1996, .923 in 1995 and .921 in 1994 -- over the past 25 years.

5. Another indication of the kind of playoff baggage the San Jose Sharks are lugging around this spring as they try to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history? The horrors of home.

The Sharks have never won a home game in the conference finals. In their only other appearance (against the Calgary Flames in 2004), they managed to lose all three home games. With their Game 1 loss Sunday against Chicago, the streak now stands at four.

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer




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