DETROIT (AP) — Everybody knows how a hot goalie can alter a playoff series. What’s tricky is figuring out who might fit that description in a given postseason.
Detroit’s Petr Mrazek shut out Tampa Bay on Tuesday night — but he was pulled during the previous game with the Red Wings losing handily. Chicago, meanwhile, has taken a 3-1 series lead over Nashville thanks to backup Scott Darling, who has stopped 127 of 131 shots in three appearances.
Both those goalies will be in action tonight, hoping their recent success is a sign of things to come.
“You’ve got to play good every night,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s how you get to be a starting goalie in the National Hockey League. We expect him to play good every night.”
With goaltending performance seemingly so fickle, coaches can be forgiven if they have little patience for a struggling netminder at this time of year.
Babcock decided to start Mrazek before this series, choosing the 23-year-old with no playoff experience over an inconsistent Jimmy Howard. Mrazek made 44 saves in a Game 1 win, but he was pulled during a 5-1 loss in Game 2.
Darling, meanwhile, came on in relief of Corey Crawford in Game 1 and stopped all 42 shots he faced as Chicago rallied for a double-overtime win. After Crawford lost Game 2, Darling started Games 3 and 4 and the Blackhawks won both.
Darling made 50 saves in Game 4, when the 26-year-old rookie helped Chicago win 3-2 in triple OT.
Vancouver hasn’t said who will start in goal in Game 5 on Thursday night, with the Canucks facing elimination against Calgary.
Eddie Lack played the first four games of the series, but allowed three goals on seven shots in Game 4 and was replaced by Ryan Miller, who stopped all 15 shots he faced.
Ottawa lost the first two games against Montreal and replaced Andrew Hammond with Craig Anderson.
Anderson made 47 saves in his series debut in Game 3 in Ottawa’s 2-1 overtime, then stopped 28 shots Wednesday night in a 1-0 victory.
“I think it’s just a matter of willpower,” Anderson said. “That’s what it comes down to, just sheer determination to go out there and do the job. I had a lot to prove after sitting out for so long and being out with injury. You just want to come back and do your best and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Lightning at Red Wings, Detroit leads 2-1, Game 4, 7 p.m., NBCSN
SHUT DOWN: Tampa Bay’s shot total has been declining, from 46 in Game 1 to 30 in Game 2 and then 22 in a 3-0 loss in Game 3.
That third game was what the Red Wings want — to draw the high-scoring Lightning into a tightly contested game in which scoring chances are limited.
“I think it was just us,” Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos said. “We didn’t give up that much, we haven’t given up many chances in the first three games. We have to find a way to duplicate that, the quality chances we got in the first two games.”
Islanders at Capitals, tied 2-2, Game 5, 7 p.m., CNBC
PENALTY-KILLING: For all the talk about their prolific power play, it’s been the Capitals’ penalty killing that has been crucial in this series. Washington has killed off all 10 of New York’s power-play chances, including four in a 2-1 overtime win in Game 4. Nicklas Backstrom, who scored the winner 11:09 into the extra frame, gave full credit to special teams for giving the team a chance to win. “I actually thought we won the game there,” said Backstrom, who has a team-best six points (three goals, three assists). Washington’s penalty killers struggled to close the regular season, allowing five power-play goals on 16 chances in the final five games. The unit finished 14th in the NHL.
LINEUP SHUFFLE?: Already faced with the possibility of being without injured defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, Islanders coach Jack Capuano isn’t ruling out making other changes to his lineup Thursday. “We’re going to make some changes, there’s no question with some of our line combinations and maybe personnel,” Capuano said. Visnovsky’s status is uncertain after he was hit by Capitals forward Tom Wilson on Tuesday. That means Matt Donovan or Griffin Reinhart are possibilities to make their playoff debuts. Capuano said it’s also possible that forward Mikhail Grabovski could return. Grabovski has been out since missing the final 23 games of the regular season with an upper-body injury.
Blackhawks at Predators, Chicago leads 3-1, Game 5, 9:30 p.m., NBCSN
RINNE’S BACK: The most promising part of Tuesday’s triple-overtime loss for Nashville might have been the play of goalie Pekka Rinne. His play had dipped considerably in the past few weeks from the level he was at in January, which he drew praises as not just a likely Vezina Trophy winner but also a possible Hart Trophy candidate.
Rinne had 45 saves in Game 4, the longest game in Nashville’s history.
“You’ve got to win four games to win a series,” Predators forward James Neal said. “Momentum changes really quickly. Chicago coming into our rink knows how hard it’s going to be to close out a series. We’ve got lots of fight left in us, and we’ll take it one period at a time, one game at a time and get back to Chicago.”
Flames at Canucks, Calgary leads 3-1, Game 5, 10 p.m., CNBC
TIGHT DEFENSE: Calgary’s forechecking and defensive control of the middle has kept Vancouver’s offense, including star forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin, at bay. Each has two points in four games.
“You’re trying to keep everything to the outside and clog up the middle as much as possible,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “Obviously the best chance of scoring is in the slot and that’s something we’ve been working on all year, to try and limit those chances.”
AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.
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