Saturday's Three Stars
1. Braden Holtby, Washington -- It's probably bad form to question the integrity of a fellow star selector, so I'll just suggest that whoever tabbed the official Three Stars today in Boston missed a heck of a game. Nothing against Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner or Benoit Pouliot -- all three made their presence felt at some point or another in Washington's series-evening 2-1 victory Saturday, but this contest offered two obvious choices. How about Nicklas Backstrom, the guy who wisely turned the other cheek after taking a blocker in the mush from Tim Thomas, the guy who won all seven draws against David Krejci and 11-of-19 on the day and the guy who, you know, evened the series with his double-OT game winner? Don't like him, fine...but pretty tough to ignore another stunning performance from Holtby, the rookie netminder who pretty much has kept Washington in this series. Granted, his lack of rebound control challenged a defense corps that already was paying a bruising price (19 blocks) to make his life easier, but Holtby dazzled with substance rather than style. Today that meant stopping 43 of the 44 shots Boston managed to get through to the net, and personally ensuring Brad Marchand grinds his teeth through what should be a miserable night. Holtby now has allowed just two goals over his first 144 minutes of playoff hockey for a .973 save percentage. Not bad, rook.
2. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis -- A tip o' the cap to Brian Elliott, who stopped all 17 shots he faced after coming in cold to replace an injured Jaroslav Halak, but the player I would have paid to watch was Oshie, who spent the evening befuddling the Sharks with his grit and panache. A pair of assists might not jump off the stat sheet, but these were a couple of beauties. The first was a real dazzler: Oshie roared down the right boards, ducked under an attempted check from Jason Demers, then spun both Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski to their knees before making a nifty, cross-crease backhand pass that was buried by David Backes for St. Louis' second goal. He followed that up with a fearless stand in front of Antti Niemi late in the third where he pounced on a rebound and fired three shots at the fallen netminder. The final attempt bounced high off Niemi's pad before being batted in by David Perron. Not too many players bring that combination of flash and grease.
3. Bryan Bickell, Chicago -- Poor Antoine Vermette. Another 5.5 seconds and he's basking in the glory of his Third Star recognition (oh, and a 2-0 series lead for his Coyotes). Then Patrick Sharp's tying goal sends the game to OT where Vermette is given another moment to seize...but he fails to nudge home a puck lying tantalizingly loose in the crease. Ah, what could have been. Instead, the laurels go to Bickell, the gritty third liner who opened the scoring by batting a mid-air backhander past Mike Smith just three minutes into the first, then crushed the spirits of the desert dwellers at 10:36 of OT. Bickell had just jumped on the ice and headed into the Phoenix zone when Viktor Stalberg picked off a weak clearing pass from an exhausted Adrian Aucoin and found his linemate chugging into the slot. A big goal in terms of the game, obviously, but it could end up being even bigger in the grand scheme of this series. Can the Coyotes--a franchise that's forever found a way to lose in the postseason--rebound from this gut punch? We'll see.
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