Pregame Skate: Three tie-breakers in East, two close-outs in West

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

3 ET, Washington at Boston, Game 5 (NBC)

The series returns to Boston the way it began; all tied up. What was a best-of-7 series is now a best-of-3 and two of those are going to be played within 24 hours of each other, starting with Saturday's matinee in Boston, followed by a Sunday matinee back in Washington.

The series to this point has been a little lower-scoring than we all might have anticipated considering the Bruins' regular-season success in scoring and the Capitals' still lingering reputation. But the games haven't seen much scoring at all, particularly the games in Boston which were 1-0 and 2-1 finals, both in overtime.

One thing this series hasn't been lacking, however, is excitement. At no point through the first four games of this series has either team had a two-goal lead. It has always either been a tie game or a lead of one, meaning any play at any time either forges or breaks a tie. That kind of excitement is hard to replicate.

By now you know the biggest reason for the tight games and that has been the goaltending, particularly Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. In Game 4 he made numerous glove saves with some pizazz, something his counterpart apparently didn't miss. Wonder if this won't light a few fires under rears, assuming the Caps got word of it.

6:30 ET, New Jersey at Florida, Game 5 (NHL Network)

Whereas the Capitals and Bruins haven't seen a two-goal lead once in the series, the Panthers and Devils have seen at least a three-goal lead in every game. And all but one of those has been an exciting finish. The only exception to that was the last one, Game 4, which the Devils built a 3-0 lead, pushed it to 4-0 and held it there. Now we have a 2-2 series.

Game 4 could prove to be the game that swung the balance of the series. That's because Devils goalie Martin Brodeur seemed to erase and questions and or doubts about him and his game with a shutout of the Panthers, which really did include some excellent saves. He had to work for it.

At the same time it put a ding in the armor that was becoming Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen, who had been very hot to close out the season and was in relief in Game 3, too. It looks like the Panthers will be returning to starter Jose Theodore for Game 5. That kind of uncertainty in net doesn't bode well.

What's more that's not favoring Florida, the Panthers are dealing with some injuries at a bad time on the blue line. Jason Garrison missed Game 4 with a lower-body injury and is questionable to play in Game 5. His replacement in Game 4 was Keaton Ellerby, the seventh defenseman for the team who spent most of the season in the press box. Well he was injured in Game 4 and is out for Game 5, so the Panthers had to recall Tyson Strachan to be there in case Garrison can't go.

7 ET, Ottawa at Rangers, Game 5 (NBC Sports Network)

Here is another series in the East that's tied 2-2 with another interesting quirk about how it's gone. The Senators have won two games, obviously, but have not held a lead in this series, not even for one second. The only times they had the better score was once the overtime winner went in.

The flip side to that is it means the Rangers are building leads that they aren't holding, not exactly a characteristic of the Rangers under John Tortorella and Henrik Lundqvist. Particularly this season when the Rangers were so good from start to finish. They've already blown as many two-goal leads in this series as they did all season.

There is obviously no backing down from this Senators team against the Rangers, a matchup that after Game 1 didn't seem to be all that competitive. It really looked like a 1 vs. 8 matchup. Since that strong Rangers spurt in that Game 1, though, it's been a 4 vs. 5 in appearance.

Things I didn't expect to say before the series: Craig Anderson has been every bit as good or maybe even better than Lundqvist. And that's not ragging on Lundqvist. His .940 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in this series are more than good. Anderson's numbers aren't as solid but he's been huge when the Sens have needed him to be.

7:30 ET, San Jose at St. Louis, Game 5 (CNBC)

This series might be the least competitive one out there in the first round, and I'm sure you won't hear any complaints out of St. Louis about that. The Blues, since dropping Game 1 at home, have been in complete control of this series.

The two games in San Jose the Blues defense was especially stifling, keeping the Sharks out of the game until the latter stages of the third period. In each instance the Sharks drew to within one goal, but it was always a case of too little too late.

As was the case all season it doesn't matter whether it's Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak in goal, the difference is hardly distinguishable for the Blues. Both have been in on this series, both have been nearly unbeatable. And we all know what good goaltending -- and good defense in this case -- gets you in the postseason.

You wonder how much life and belief the Sharks have left in the tank. St. Louis is one of those teams that seems to be able to just suck it out of you with how little they give up. It's certainly possible but at this point it doesn't seem all that probably that the series makes it back to San Jose.

10 ET, Chicago at Phoenix, Game 5 (NBC Sports Network)

Now this is one of the most competitive and entertaining 3-1 series you'll fine. In none of the previous four games has 60 minutes been enough to settle matters. That's guaranteed excitement here.

The Coyotes ... it's hard to believe I'm typing this ... have the chance to wrap up this series on Saturday night, at home no less. The franchise hasn't won a playoff series since the 1986-87 postseason when they were obviously still the Jets 1.0. That puts the Panthers' drought of 15 years between playoff series wins to shame.

If the Blackhawks want to win and get this series back to Chicago for a Game 6 they have to find an answer for Mike Smith, something they haven't had yet. Not even Andrew Shaw running into Smith behind the net seemed to do much. They need to do a better job of creating better scoring chances, making it difficult for Smith to find the puck.

We knew coming in that defense and goaltending isn't Chicago's strength, but scoring shouldn't be that big of a problem, particularly with Jonathan Toews back. But this is the postseason, where defense always seems to take over (sans Pitt-Philly).

Daily miscellany

  • Best of Friday
  • Gary Bettman talked a little Islanders on Friday and while he remains optimistic, it's easy to feel less than about the team staying anywhere on Long Island. (Newsday)
  • Markham, Ontario could be the next city with an NHL-ready arena as the early explorations have begun. (TSN)
  • What does it look like when the Predators win a playoff series? Well it includes some Lionel Richie, not honkytonk.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
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