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Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, warms up before Game 4 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/AP)
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, warms up before Game 4 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/AP)

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THEY SAID IT

“Sometimes you think it’s [the]right decision. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you want to laugh.”

Alex Ovechkin ~ The Washington Capitals captain reacts to the one-game suspension handed teammate Nicklas Backstrom for crosschecking Rich Peverley in the face.

“I didn’t like having two days between these last two and I don’t like having three now.”

More related to this story

Darryl Sutter ~ The Los Angeles Kings coach is unhappy about the lengthy breaks between games in his series against the Vancouver Canucks, delays caused by basketball conflicts at Staples Centre and a pair of Coldplay concerts in Vancouver.



BY THE NUMBERS

9

Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994, the number of times an eighth-seeded team has eliminated a No. 1 seed in the NHL’s opening playoff round. Leading its series 3-1, Los Angeles gets a chance to be the 10th if it can win one of the next three games against Vancouver.

69

Most goals in a single playoff series, scored during a 1985 Stanley Cup semi-final between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks. Four games into their series, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers (45 goals) were on pace to challenge the record, Ilya Bryzgalov and Marc-André Fleury willing.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

“The box scores on this Pitt/Phi series look more like Eagles/Steelers games.”

@BBell09

Brendan Bell presumably had the Penguins by a touchdown in Wednesday’s 10-3 victory over the Flyers.

DETROIT’S BIG FALL

The Detroit Red Wings tied for sixth in overall NHL goal-scoring this season, but had a perplexing drop off down the stretch that has spilled over into the playoffs – and is the primary reason they were down 3-1 to the Nashville Predators heading into a possible elimination game Friday night. The Red Wings had eight goals in the first four playoff games, after scoring just 11 in the final six games of the regular season, or a 1.9 goals-a-game average over 10 games. Their two best offensive players, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, are far better playmakers than they are scorers. Johan Franzen led them in scoring in each of the past two years – 29 this year, 28 last year – which is telling. It’s not even that they don’t have a 50-goal scorer. They don’t even have a 30-goal scorer. They’ve been getting by with scoring by committee, but that can only carry you so far, and the past two years, it’s one of the big reasons they’ve lost in the second round. Recharging the offence, through free agency, will likely be the biggest off-season challenge for the Red Wings, unless Nicklas Lidstrom decides to retire, in which case the first priority would be filling a massive hole on defence. Lidstrom, who turns 42 next Saturday, is still averaging 23 minutes 27 seconds of playing time a night in these playoffs, after playing 23:46 in the regular season. Coach Mike Babcock is managing his ice time closely, something that began at the start of the 2010-11 season, when the Wings started cutting his minutes back. In his prime years, Lidstrom averaged between 27 and 29 minutes in the regular season, and that would be ramped up in playoffs (partly because of OT) to anywhere between 29 and 33. (In the 2002 playoffs, when he won the Conn Smythe, Lidstrom averaged 31:10 a game for 23 games).

PAUCITY OF POWERHOUSES

You’ve heard the argument from Maple Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke for as long as he’s been running the show in Toronto – that organizationally, his aspirations go far beyond just putting a team on the ice that scrapes into the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed and then becomes cannon fodder for an elite team. It’s a commendable goal, but in this age of parity, there’s a flaw in the argument. For one thing, the odds of developing such a powerhouse (and then retaining all the personnel) are slim. One Detroit comes along generationally. If 30 teams think they can duplicate that success, then 29 are in for a lot of grief and disappointment. For another, even if you develop teams with a bedrock-like foundation (Pittsburgh, with all of its strength down the middle; or Vancouver, with its goaltending depth and skill throughout the lineup), you can still get bounced in the opening round. So many variables affect playoff performance, including injuries, suspensions, goalies running hot, goalies running cold that even the longest of shots – the Florida Panthers, the Los Angeles Kings etc. – can win a round, and then who knows what can happen? Even the Nashville Predators, who were about the eighth betting choice going into playoffs by most odds-makers, might be considered the favourites in the West now, 10 days into the playoffs. In the year (1982) when a 63-point Kings team was taking out a 111-point Oilers team in the opening round, okay, that was a miracle. If the 95-point Kings take out the 111-point Canucks, that qualifies as a moderate upset, nothing more.

DEFINING THE VIOLENCE LINE

The long view of NHL hockey is usually best articulated by its handful of 40-something players, or in the case of the Phoenix Coyotes’ Ray Whitney, a 39-year-old who hopes to still be playing on his 40th birthday, which falls on May 8, and would require his team to knock off the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round. The Coyotes were, en masse, defending the indefensible this week – Raffi Torres’s dangerous hit on the Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa. But within the context of all that amateur Perry Mason-ing, Whitney made a salient, intelligent point about the nature of the pro game. “We’re playing a contact sport,” Whitney said to reporters in Chicago this past week. “It’s a high-paced, contact sport. If you don’t want to get hit, if you don’t want to get hurt, there are other sports you can play. Yes, we don’t want to injure people. But if you don’t finish your checks and you don’t play hard, you’re probably not going to play. You’re going to watch the game from the press box.” It doesn’t excuse what Torres did, leaving his feet and finishing up with contact to Hossa’s head, but it does define where the line should be. It’s up to NHL players to find it and when they don’t – or can’t – then the supplementary discipline process can provide the necessary assist. Whitney has 1,200 regular-season and another 90 playoff games under his belt (and won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006), acknowledged that: “There’s a fine line. Nobody said winning the Stanley Cup was ever going to be easy. It’s not like we’re out there trying to hurt each other. But we are out there trying to hit as hard as we can and play as hard as we can.”

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