Heading into Game 4 of the Northern Conference playoffs, there are some anxious nerves in the dressing rooms, with a couple of potential upsets brewing. The league’s best team, the Copenhagen Tridents, find themselves trailing 2 games to 1, with another game on foreign soil set for today at 5:30. Vincent Lecavalier has been the biggest thorn in the Tridents’ side, single-handedly beating them with 3 goals and 2 assists in Game 2, and then getting the tying goal and then an assist on Carl Hagelin’s overtime winner Saturday. Roberto Luongo has allowed 5 goals in each of the last two games, while his ancient counterpart in Gothenburg, Martin Brodeur, has been better. Gothenburg must know they are heavy underdogs, though, and are probably nervously wondering if their aging leaders can help them hold off the full-frontal assault that will surely come from Copenhagen.
Another possible upset lurks in the Helsinki-St.Petersburg series. The favored Red Stars breezed to a 5-0 win in the opener, and then were unlucky in Game 2, outshooting the Jokerit 39-20 but ending up on the wrong side of a 3-2 score. Brent Burns was St. Petersburg’s best player, scoring two power play goals, but after Daniel Fernholm put Helsinki in front, Burns flipped the puck over the glass and received a delay of game penalty to derail St. Petersburg’s final attempt to tie the game. And in Game 3, the home crowd in Finland helped the Jokerit record a decisive 4-2 win. Zach Smith played 8 minutes and scored 2 goals to be named the first star.
The conference’s third seed, Moscow, won 6-2 Friday as they attempt to dig their way out of a hole they created by losing the first two games to Oslo by scores of 6-4 and 4-3. Outlaw Daniel Briere’s goal in overtime of Game 2 is the biggest goal so far in a series which has not seen a home team victory yet.
In the conference’s other series, Dublin leads Edinburgh 2-1 in a battle of 4 and 5 seeds. John Tavares’ overtime goal in Game 2, his first of the series, may have kept the Capitals from being on the brink of elimination today. In that game, Tavares set up James Neal for a goal with 3 seconds left to send it into overtime. The series has been marked by its aggressiveness. In game 1, Edinburgh took 10 penalties to Dublin’s 1. Game 2 saw the Fighting Irish get called for 12 penalties to Edinburgh’s 1, and in game 3, the losing Caps took 7 penalties to the Irish’s 4.
Through 3 games, Lecavalier is the Northern Conference’s top scorer with 7 points, while Tavares, Dublin’s Milan Michalek and Oslo’s Pavel Datsyuk all have 6 points. Henrik Lundqvist, of Helsinki, has been the busiest goalie, making 108 saves in the playoffs. His save percentage is 92.3 percent.
In the Southern Conference, the top seed Paris is up 3-0 over Milan, hoping to do away with the Guerriero in Italy in the morning. Les Rouges Eiffels have scored 18 goals on Milan’s Antti Niemi, the biggest goal of them all coming in overtime of Game 3 off the stick blade of Alexander Semin. In that game David Perron scored a hat trick for Paris. Another highlight of the series was the turnaround in period 2 of Game 2, when Paris started a 6-goal come back to erase the 4-0 lead Milan established in the first period.
The Munich Fox won both home games fairly convincingly against Bern, but the Swiss team made it a closer series by taking Game 3 3-2 thanks to a Derek Dorsett tally with just 22 seconds left.
Bratislava fell behind in its series with Geneva, losing Game 1, but the Eagles have put together two 2-goal victories to take the lead. Jonathan Toews scored 4 goals in those two games.
The biggest individual performance of the playoffs thus far came in Game 2 of the Athens-Zurich series, when T.J. Oshie and Vadim Shipachyov teamed up for 4 Oshie goals. Oshie also assisted on a Johnny Boychuk goal. That game gave Athens a 2-0 lead in the series as it moved to Switzerland for Game 3. At home, Zurich superstars Patrick Kane and Ilya Kovalchuk finally broke the Greek defense, each scoring their first goals of the series with power play tallies. Zurich held off Athens to win 2-1 and they hope to even the series on home ice in the morning.
Oshie is the league’s leading scorer in the playoffs with 6 goals and 3 assists in 3 games. His linemate Shipachyov and Perron of Paris each have 7 points, while Toews of Bratislava has 6.
Jonathan Quick is the main reason Munich is in front in their series with Bern. He has been nearly unbeatable with a 95 save percentage and 1.33 goals against average.
Even if Milan is able to avoid elimination for all of the next four games against Paris, they will have to do it without Henrik Sedin. The star Swede scored 2 goals and added an assist Sunday morning, but is now sidelined with a back injury. Gerhard Unterluggauer, Milan’s hard-hitting rookie defenseman, may return to the lineup after a three-week absence due to injury.
Patrik Elias, Munich’s second-leading scorer is still out after being injured in Game 1 of the series against Bern.
Tobias Enstrom, one of Bern’s top defensemen, missed Game 3 with what is believed to be a hand injury and is not expected to play anytime soon.
Zurich will be without Joni Pitkanen on its top defense pair. The talented Finn seemed to jar his shoulder while making an open-ice check on Athens’ Michael Ryder in Game 3 of their series. Pitkanen’s fellow Finn teammate Janne Niskala was also shaken up but remained in the game. Either rookie Micki Dupont or veteran Rostislav Klesla will be called up to replace Pitkanen. Dupont has good puck skills but was whistled for 100 penalty minutes in 75 regular season games. Klesla saw no action on the big club this season.
Big Chris Stewart of Edinburgh is out with an upper body injury and will be missed in the bruising series with Dublin.