April 23, 2012
Neil the quintessential superpest
By DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
Those wanting to make a living as an agitator in the NHL need only look at the example set by Chris Neil.
The Ottawa Senators winger has made an art of getting under the opponents’ skin.
Neil was already in the New York Rangers’ bad books for having knocked out Brian Boyle with a hit that was eerily similar to the one Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty was suspended three games for earlier in the year.
Monday, Neil twisted the screw, lining up beside Carl Hagelin, giving the Rangers rookie an earful in his first game back from his three-game suspension for a flying elbow on Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Later in the period, Neil turned down an invitation from Brandon Prust to throw down. Instead, Neil waited to square off against the Rangers tough guy on his own terms, which he did a few shifts later.
Neil also took a run at Brad Richards as payback after Prust hammered Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson.
Adding salt to the wound was Neil scoring the game’s opening goal as teammate Sergei Gonchar’s point shot on the power play bounced off Neil's skate past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto did get some revenge, running over Neil behind the net in the third period.
INTO THE FIRE
I’m not sure what the intensity is like in the Swedish Elite League playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine things being as ferocious as they are in the NHL.
Senators rookie Jakob Silfverberg got an up close comparison, making his debut for the club having come over from Sweden earlier in the week.
Silfverberg, 21, was selected by the Senators in the second round –- 39th overall -– of the 2009 NHL draft.
The native of Gavle, Sweden helped his club team, Brynas, win the Swedish title before heading to Ottawa to join the Senators for their playoff run.
Silfverberg was name both the Swedish league’s regular season and playoffs' most valuable player.
He was eligible to join the Senators because he is under contract with the club.
Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith got back at Andrew Shaw the best way he could Monday, making an incredible save on the Chicago Blackhawks winger.
Smith was able to slide across and get in front of Shaw’s effort off a feed from Patrick Kane on a two-on-one rush.
Shaw was making his return to the lineup after serving a three-game suspension for running over Smith behind the net in Game 2 of their series.
The Senators have figured out it’s tough for any goaltender to stop pucks they can’t see.
Therefore, instead of putting just one player in front of the net on the power play to create a screen on Lundqvist, the Senators put two.
The move paid off, as with Neil and fellow forward Zack Smith parked in front of the net, the Rangers goaltender had no chance on the Senators' opening goal.
Gonchar’s point shot hit Neil’s skate on the way past Lundqvist, who also had Rangers defenceman Marc Staal to look through on the play.
When you have a reputation for ‘accidentally’ falling over goaltenders, it’s unlikely you’re going to get the benefit of the doubt.
Nick Foligno’s goaltender interference penalty Monday proved costly for the Senators as the Rangers went on to score on the ensuing power play en route to a 3-2 win.
Foligno had six goaltender interference penalties this season and took another one after falling over on Lundqvist in the second period.
Foligno was pushed into the Rangers goaltender, but not in the direction that he fell on Lundqvist, which prompted the call.
The Coyotes must have gotten the start time for Game 6 confused, because outside of Smith no one showed up in the first period.
The Blackhawks were all over the Coyotes in the opening frame, out-shooting the visitors 16-2.
However, the Blackhawks were unable to get a shot past Smith who was outstanding for the Coyotes.
Smith continued to frustrate the Blackhawks in the second, making his best save on Brendan Morrison, sliding across to get a pad on a back door attempt.
ALMOST LOSING AN EYE
Rostislav Klesla had a rough start to Game 6 in Chicago.
The Coyotes defenceman was caught under the eye with the butt end of Morrison’s stick early in the first period.
The incident occurred when Morrison was hit from behind at the side of the Coyotes net and had the blade of his stick get caught in the mesh, which lifted the other end of the stick into Klesla’s face.
Klesla left the game and returned to the bench wearing a full facemask and hit the ice again in the second.
FINALLY, 'YOTES WIN
The Coyotes are heading into unchartered waters after advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
Since relocating to Glendale, Ariz., in 1996, the franchise has never won a playoff series, until now.
The Coyotes have their goaltender to thank for getting them over the hump this year, defeating the Blackhawks in six games.
Smith was outstanding in the series and especially in the clincher Monday, turning away 39 shots and keeping his team in the contest on their way to a 4-0 victory.
It was Smith's first career playoff shutout.
The last time the franchise moved on to the second round was in 1987 when they were the Winnipeg Jets.