Wild and Crazy NHL Playoff Weekend: Hawks, Flames rally to advance, Wild and Habs into Round 2

The first round is almost complete. This weekend, four more series concluded. Two Saturday night in remarkable fashion with the Blackhawks and Flames rallying back to advance. Two more today with the Wild and Canadiens joining the second round party. All that’s left is tomorrow’s slate featuring Game 6 between the Lightning and Red Wings and Game 7 between the Islanders and Capitals.

Saturday night was unbelievable. You had both the Hawks and Flames falling behind in home Game 6’s. In each case, they switched goalies and came back. Chicago dug out of 2-0 and 3-1 first period deficits to eliminate the Predators 4-3. Two early James Neal goals gave Nashville the early lead before Patrick Sharp cut it in half only for Matt Cullen to restore a two-goal lead chasing Scott Darling. Corey Crawford relieved him.

Jonathan Toews scored on a power play and then Patrick Kane tied the game with six seconds remaining off a Brad Richards faceoff win. There was no scoring in the second. The third was all Hawks. They pressed the action and forced Pekka Rinne into some difficult stops. They spent a ton in the Nashville zone. An extended shift finally resulted in Duncan Keith’s game-winner with 3:48 left. The former Norris winner put on a skating exhibition faking shot three times before sneaking one past Seth Jones and Rinne. Chicago will meet Minnesota in Round 2.

The Wild advanced this afternoon by posting a 4-1 home win to oust the Blues. The story is a familiar one for St. Louis who again exits early. After winning Game 4 to even the series, they were outscored 8-2 in the final two games. Goaltending was an issue with rookie Jake Allen faltering. After allowing a bad goal to Zach Parise, he gave up the worst goal of the postseason letting a Justin Fontaine roller to go five-hole. Curiously, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told NBC’s Brian Engblom that he was sticking with Allen. Twenty-eight seconds later, he flip flopped replacing Allen with vet Brian Elliott. Another Parise goal in the third and a Nino Niederreiter empty netter finished off the Blues who could be making a coaching change. If Hitchcock’s out, will Devils GM Lou Lamoriello come calling?

There was an even better game last night with the Flames rallying back from a 3-0 hole to stun the Canucks 7-4 at The Saddledome. They’ll be talking about it for a few days before they meet the Ducks in the Western Semis. Facing elimination for a second straight game, the Canucks got off to a blazing start. After Brandon McMillan scored his first career postseason goal, Jannik Hansen and Radim Vrbata scored 2:10 apart to chase Flames starter Jonas Hiller. Calgary coach Bob Hartley went to Karri Ramo.

Spark plug Michael Ferland got the comeback started cutting it to 3-1 with 2:58 left in the first. Sean Monahan beat Ryan Miller 1:02 into the second to pull the Flames within one. Calder front runner Johnny Gaudreau tipped in a Jiri Hudler feed tying it. Vancouver’s Luca Sbisa put his team back up. But the Flames were relentless in the third storming past the Canucks. Hudler tied it with a power play goal. With the game up for grabs, Matt Stajan scored with 4:17 left in regulation. Eerily similar to the Hawks, the Flames got the winner late. Hudler and Ferland added empties for the final margin.

The Canadiens finally moved on thanks to Carey Price, who made 43 saves to shutout the Senators 2-0 in Game 6. Price, who’s been the best player was in Vezina and Hart form stopping the Sens in their tracks. After losing two straight, the Habs didn’t want any part of a Game 7. Especially against a rival. Boosted by Craig Anderson, the Sens were thinking 0-3 comeback. But Price and his team defense wouldn’t allow it. All it took was a great Brendan Gallagher redirection at 13:26 of the first for them to prevail. Price did the rest. His best stop came in the first when he got just the shaft of his stick on Kyle Turris’ bid to tie it in the first.

The game wasn’t without controversy. A quick whistle midway through the second prevented a Sens equalizer. Price never had the puck and the rebound was put in. Unfortunately, the refs erred costing Ottawa. It was a horrible call and bad luck for the Sens, who outshot the Habs 16-3 in the second and 14-4 in the third. Montreal sat back and defended. However, they had better chances with Tomas Plekanec pushing a shorthanded chance over the net and P.A. Parenteau fanning on a gimme. Price came up big in the final minute denying Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mike Hoffman. Pacioretty’s empty netter with a tick left wrapped it up.

The Canadiens are still waiting for their second round opponent. It can either be the Red Wings or Lightning. Led by Petr Mrazek, Detroit leads Tampa 3-2 with a chance to close it out Monday. Mrazek has two shutouts and has allowed 10 goals. Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Nikita Kucherov have been blanked. Stamkos has been very disappointing with just two assists and 17 shots. Tyler Johnson has four of the Bolts’ 10. Mrazek has outplayed Ben Bishop. Pavel Datsyuk has been vintage leading the Red Wings with three goals and four points. Young guns Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan have been x-factors each with identical lines (2-1-3). Can Detroit pull it off under coaching free agent Mike Babcock? If they do, it just goes to show how important a great coach can be. Will Tampa go quietly after such a great regular season? They’ll face off at 7 PM.

The Islanders and Capitals starts at 7:30 PM at Verizon Center. The Isles are trying to advance to the second round for the first time since 1993. They are hoping to play more hockey at Nassau Coliseum following a emotional Game 6 win staving off elimination. John Tavares scored and set up the winner with Nikolay Kulemin finishing off Nick Leddy’s feed. Alex Ovechkin went for the big hit and it cost his team. Which star player will lead their team to victory? Are the Caps going to fail again in a Game 7? Can the Isles finally conquer their demons and set up a Battle Of New York? Find out tomorrow night!

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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