The Montreal Canadiens and the Anaheim Ducks already have their first chance to finish up the first round.
These two clubs on opposite ends of the continent walked similar paths to get their respective 3-0 series advantages heading into tonight’s games.
Both Montreal and Anaheim were regular-season powers that finished atop their divisions, but both were deemed vulnerable by many hockey pundits headed into playoff matchups against surging opponents.
Ottawa and Winnipeg were fashionable choices for surprise advancement, yet neither upstart has even managed to win a game.
Montreal has two straight overtime victories heading into Game 4, while Anaheim survived the withering blast of fan excitement in Winnipeg’s first playoff game in 19 years to swipe a third straight comeback victory.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau realizes their huge lead isn’t a reflection of the series at all. Anaheim rallied from third-period deficits to win all three games.
“Let’s not forget that we haven’t held the lead for more than 10 minutes all series, and we’re up 3-0,” Boudreau said. “This could very easily be the other way, and then you guys would be saying, ‘I told you that Anaheim team wasn’t that good.'”
The stakes are only slightly smaller for St. Louis and Pittsburgh, which must win to avoid 3-1 series deficits.
Rangers at Penguins, New York leads 2-1, Game 4, 7 p.m., NBCSN
BEST BEHAVIOR: New York has been whistled for only seven penalties through three games while Pittsburgh has sent 14 men to the box. The Penguins are doing their best to downplay the disparity, but the Rangers know one of the keys to fending off an upset bid by the Penguins is keeping Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin from playing with the man advantage. “I think we were disciplined, didn’t take any stupid penalties, and at the same time I think we played hard and finished our checks and definitely battled hard all game,” forward Carl Hagelin said.
SLOW STARTS: The Rangers have dominated every first period in the series, outscoring Pittsburgh 4-0 and outshooting the Penguins 23-13. Pittsburgh needed 15 minutes to get anything near Henrik Lundqvist in New York’s 2-1 win in Game 3. Considering the Penguins haven’t won a game while trailing after two periods all season, a better start is probably required. “You have to find that level of desperation for the entire game,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said.
Blues at Wild, Minnesota leads 2-1, Game 4, 9:30 p.m., NBCSN
STUMBLING BLUES: The Blues have struggled to put together a consistent attack against Minnesota’s tight defense. Vladimir Tarasenko had a hat trick in Game 2, but didn’t get a single shot on goal in either of the other two games. T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Paul Stastny haven’t registered a point. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said there’s a possibility of lineup changes for Game 4 against the Wild.
OILERS OF OLD: Asked what attributes he thought the team would need on the ice, Hitchcock smiled.
“Messier. Gretzky. I’ll take an Anderson. Kurri’s fine,” the coach said, referring to the star scorers of the Edmonton Oilers teams that dominated the 1980s in his hometown.
Then he turned serious: “What we’ve got, we’ve got enough to play. Let’s play our game and let’s play our best game, the way we can play, and then we’ll get a better judgment. We’ve had stretches of it where we’ve been excellent, and then we’ve had stretches where it’s been very impatient and it’s forced us into areas that are not our strength.”
Ducks at Jets, Anaheim leads 3-0, Game 4, 9:30 p.m., USA Network
SILFVERBERG IS GOLD: The most compelling aspect of Anaheim’s past month has been the emergence of Jakob Silfverberg, who has four points in three games against Winnipeg. The Swedish forward has a solid two-way game, but has been phenomenal against the Jets, scoring the winning goal in Game 2 and getting three points in Game 3.
“It’s been unbelievable for him to play the way he’s playing right now,” linemate Ryan Kesler said. “He’s been one of the leaders on this team. He has definitely raised his game.”
Silfverberg’s excellence is even more entertaining when contrasted with the scoring struggles of Bobby Ryan, who was traded to Ottawa two years ago in a salary-shedding deal that brought Silfverberg and elite prospects Stefan Noesen and Nick Ritchie to the Ducks.
Canadiens at Senators, Montreal leads 3-0, Game 4, 7 p.m., USA Network
NOT FINISHED: After their 23-4-4 finish to the regular season to swipe a playoff berth, the Senators don’t appear worried by their enormous deficit in the first round, particularly after taking Montreal to overtime twice. Two teams have rallied from an 0-3 deficit in the past six seasons.
BEAULIEU OUT: Montreal defenseman Nathan Beaulieu won’t play again in the series due to an upper-body injury, the Habs said. Beaulieu had one assist in three playoff games, averaging the least ice time among Montreal’s six defensemen.
AP Sports Writers Will Graves in Pittsburgh and Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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