Five things we learned from Sunday

April, 19, 2010

1. There's no better place to start than with the San Jose Sharks. First, they were without sniper Dany Heatley for Game 3 on Sunday after he looked to have sustained some sort of leg injury earlier in the series. Then, after the Sharks outshot the Colorado Avalanche 56-17, including 42-7 through the final two periods, San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle somehow managed to shoot the puck into his own net in the first minute of overtime to give the Avs an improbable 1-0 win and an equally improbable 2-1 series lead. It was truly an unbelievable play and leads us to conclude only one thing: The Sharks are cursed. Don't know whether it's a goat or a witch or a stolen puck that's at the heart of it, but there has to be a hex on the Western Conference's No. 1 seed. Oh, by the way, guess Colorado netminder Craig Anderson isn't tired after all.

2. We often invoke the notion of the "hockey gods" bringing some sort of vengeance on players or coaches or GMs for doing something that runs contrary to hockey's moral code, however ambiguous that might be. But after watching Daniel Carcillo score the overtime winner for the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night, we're not so sure about the hockey gods anymore.

Earlier in the game, Carcillo, supposedly one of the toughest guys in the game, pretended to be hit in the face by Mike Mottau's stick. Replays showed it wasn't even close, even though Carcillo jerked his head back as if he'd been bitten by a mamba. No penalty was called -- indeed, it was a rare moment the undisciplined Flyers weren't whistled for an infraction Sunday, as they took eight minors through the first two periods -- which is perhaps the only reason the hockey gods, if they exist, allowed Carcillo his moment of joy 3:35 into the first overtime period.

Still, it's the kind of play, especially for a tough guy, that is the hockey equivalent of knocking down an old lady for her purse. The shame. Still, with the Flyers, Jeff Carter has now gone eight straight games without a goal. We know he rushed back from a foot injury, but it's not a good trend for a player who has developed a reputation of not answering the bell when it matters. Carter has managed one goal and zero assists in his past seven postseason games (dating back to last season).

3. We know some people get tired hearing about Sidney Crosby's exploits. In fact, we had an NHL scout call us Sunday night and say, basically, "I'm tired of hearing all about Crosby." But you've got to hand it to the young man; he sure has a nose for the dramatic. After saving a goal and then setting up the game-winner in Game 2 (likely saving the series for the Penguins in the process), he was at it again Sunday.

With the Penguins leading 2-1 late in the second period in a close, intensely physical game, Crosby delivered the death blow by somehow carrying the puck from one corner of the Senators' zone across the slot and in front of the crease before flipping the puck over Sens netminder Brian Elliott for a 3-1 lead. Crosby now has seven points in three games. And, oh yeah, that guy named Evgeni Malkin looks as though he's broken out of his up-and-down, season-long funk as he scored his third goal of the series in Game 3. He has four points in total. With both Malkin and Crosby going, it will be tough for the injury-plagued Senators to stay close, even if people are tired of hearing that same old storyline.

4. Another early playoff theme is the resolve of the Phoenix Coyotes. With Vernon Fiddler out thanks to a high stick in the face in Game 2 and Shane Doan knocked out of Game 3 after falling awkwardly into the end boards, the Coyotes could have easily been pushed off the page by the talented, experienced Detroit Red Wings. But following a well-worn path, the Coyotes simply went about their business at Joe Louis Arena, scoring twice in the third to hold off the Red Wings 4-2 and take a 2-1 series lead.

Ilya Bryzgalov got over his Game 2 wobbles, stopped 29 of 31 shots, and got the better of rookie Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard for the second time this series. Howard gave up a goal to Sami Lepisto (a defenseman who had just one NHL goal to his credit before Sunday) just 29 seconds into the contest, and the Wings never led in their first home game of the playoffs. No word yet on whether Doan will return for Game 4 Tuesday, but Fiddler expects to play.

5. If it's the playoffs, it must be time to quibble about the officiating. After it appeared that the too-many-men-on-the-ice call against Vancouver in overtime in Game 2 might not have been exactly as the rule book suggests, it was a bit disheartening to watch Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom play the puck while he was still on the bench during a player change in Sunday's game. That, given our understanding of the rule book, isn't kosher, but no call was made. Wouldn't it be nice if all the calls were perfect -- we refer to the perfect non-call on Carcillo above -- but they aren't. Live with it.

We laugh at the suggestions from some quarters that somehow there is a directive from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's throne that certain teams are supposed to succeed for the good of the league. We're pretty sure Bettman doesn't have a giant playoff grid in his office which shows all the "important" markets, like Los Angeles and Chicago, or his most "important" players, Alex Ovechkin and Crosby, facing off in dramatic series while lesser markets or players are railroaded out of the competition. Are officials infallible? No. Does anyone honestly think the league's machinery is sophisticated enough to put such a plan in place to ensure certain matchups? If you do, please call Oliver Stone at once … he has a script for you to read.

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer



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