No. 1 star: Brad Richards, Dallas Stars
All it took was a Joe Pavelski blown tire to pump some life into what had been a pretty ordinary game for Richards. Held without a shot through two periods, Richards had a scoring chance gift-wrapped for him when the young San Jose forward slipped and lost control of the puck. He capitalized by beating Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov with a wrist shot that tied the game 2-2. San Jose unraveled from there. Richards, who struggled late in the regular season after joining Dallas in a deadline deal, nearly doubled his postseason scoring total in the third period alone, factoring in on all four Stars goals. He finished the evening with one goal and three assists to up his totals to nine points in eight games for the hard-charging Stars.
No. 2 star: Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins
Staal did his normal work on the Penguins penalty kill, playing a forward-high 5:48 while shorthanded as Pittsburgh killed all six Rangers power plays in Game 2. Offensively, Staal potted the game-winner, taking a pass from Evgeni Malkin and shifting the puck from his backhand to his forehand before elevating it over a sprawling Henrik Lundqvist. Staal and his linemates were clogging shooting lanes all day as the Rangers struggled to get pucks on Marc-Andre Fleury, particularly in those final minutes of desperation.
No. 3 star: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make any mistakes Sunday. For that he gets a win, a share of the postseason lead in shutouts (two) and a two-disc set of Mike Lange's greatest goal calls. For his efforts, Lundqvist gets the third star and a must-win date with the Pens on Tuesday in New York. This game was there for the Rangers to steal until Adam Hall's empty-netter with 17 ticks remaining. The reason the only thing between the Rangers and overtime was an early whistle was the play of Lundqvist. He stopped 14 first-period shots, including all five on an early Pittsburgh power-play and everything he faced during a rare and dangerous 4-on-3 Pens advantage.
Major penalty: The Game 2 theme for the New York Rangers was tightening up the defense. That's fine. Something had to be done after blowing a three-goal lead in the series opener. But did the Rangers retreat too far a defensive shell Sunday? Fleury was rarely pressured in Game 2. Pittsburgh's 32-26 advantage in shots was rather modest, but while Lundqvist was facing traffic and odd-man rushes, the Blueshirts seemed to be attacking from the perimeter all afternoon. When it came time to dial it up in the final minutes, there was no response. Handed four minutes in penalties in the final six minutes of regulation, the Rangers mustered only a single shot. With Lundqvist pulled for a 6-on-4 advantage, New York failed to get any pucks on Fleury or generate anything resembling a scoring chance.
Minor penalty: The San Jose Sabercats hung 70 points on the Los Angeles Avengers on Saturday. The San Jose Stealth also fattened up Saturday, beating Colorado 11-6 to capture the NNL West title. The hockey tie-in? Both games were played at the San Jose arena Saturday. Couple that activity with 80-plus degree temperatures at game time Sunday and you're facing an uphill battle trying to maintain a playable sheet of ice. Gotta pay the bills, of course, but you also have to wonder if Pavelski loses that edge if it Game 2 was in, say, Edmonton.
Conn Smythe watch (Based on playoff performance to date and likelihood of deep playoff run.)