Apparenty the trick for the Calgary Flames is to fall behind early and avoid taking a lead into the dressing room after 20 minutes.
Calgary had great starts in Chicago during the first two games of this very entertaining series, but couldn't sustain the initial energy level against the explosive young Blackhawks and ended up coming home with a pair of losses and in dire straits. This time they changed things up, getting into quick penalty trouble and finding themselves trailing two minutes into the game.
But instead of it being a setback, the questionable start seemed to serve as a wakeup call and perhaps a message to the Blackhawks not to get too far ahead of themselves. Chicago dominated Calgary this season, winning all four regular season meetings and coming to win the first two in this series, but the Flames are big, physical and experienced team and they are desperate to avoid the humiliation of a fourth consecutive first round playoff exit.
It didn't hurt them that Chicago's high scoring Patrick Kane was out with the flu, although the Blackhawks did manage to generate enough offense to win with 38 shots and shut down Calgary's big guns Jarome Iginla and Mike Cammalleri. But the Stars don't alway come out at night in the playoffs, so teams have to rely on lesser lights to contribute in order to have success, and Calgary got more of what it needed on this night from secondary scorers David Moss, Rene Bourque and Eric Nystrom and most important, from goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
So the stage has been set for what could be a very long series. And a pretty nasty one too if the 74 combined penalties the teams picked up in the third period is any indication of what lies ahead.
Earlier, it was a night for firsts in New York -- first career shutout for rookie Simeon Varlemov, first playoff goal for veteran Tom Poti and most important, the first win for the Washington Capitals in their series with the Rangers.
The Capitals played with the kind of edge that made them look a foot taller than they did losing the first two games at home and had the Rangers reeling from the get go. Washington started in overdrive and seemed to own the puck all night, controlling the walls and creating the space necessary to use its speed and come at Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in waves.
Lundqvist was as sharp as he was in Washington, but he was overwhelmed by the high pressure attack of the Capitals, who avoided trying to put on the finesse show they did at home and instead created chances and traffic by driving hard to the net. And Lundqvist was overshadowed by Varlemov, who was the star of the night with 33 saves including several brilliant ones when the outcome was still in doubt.
Not surprisingly, Washington's win was triggered by a monster effort from Alex Ovechkin even though he failed to score for the third consecutive game. But Ovechkin was force offensively and defensively ans assisted on two first period goals by Alex Semin that set the tone and sent a clear message about how dominant the Caps can be when firing on all cylinders.
The question now for and about the Rangers is whether they can handle it.
Meanwhile the Bruins showed they can handle anything the Canadiens have to throw at them as they steamrolled over Montreal and moved a step closer to a berth in the conference semifinals with a decisive 4-2 win. Boston withstood an early onslaught by the home team and a gift their goalie Tim Thomas gave Chris Higgins when Montreal opened the scoring, capitalizing on several mistakes by the Canadiens to grab a 3-0 series lead.
Boston changed the momentum when Phil Kessel scored the equalizer late in the first period after a bad defensive zone giveaway by Mike Komisarek, and then started taking control when Byron Bitz, playing for the suspended Milan Lucic, drove Yannick Weber off the puck behind the Canadiens net and set up Shawn Thornton for the go ahead goal.
Weber redeemed himself less than two minutes later by scoring from the point, but it was the last hurrah for the Canadiens in this game and possibly in this season because Boston dominated from that point on. Former Hab Michael Ryder scored what proved to be the winner after the Canadiens got sloppy in their zone late in the period, and then the Bruins went into lockdown mode for the final 20 minutes until David Krejci sealed the deal with an empty netter.