Monday, April 23, 2018
Morning Playoff Notes (Apr 23)
Catching up on the weekend's action, we'll start with Saturday afternoon's elimination of the New Jersey Devils, who put up a reasonable effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it just wasn't to be for the Cinderella team from the Metropolitan Division.
The Lightning put together a pretty good playoff effort, scoring early in the 1st period and making that lead stand with a huge stand in the 2nd period, only allowing four shots on goal. Nikita Kucherov added a goal midway in the 2nd period to help pad the lead, but things did get a bit interesting, when the Devils pulled their goalie, where they were able to pull one back, but end up giving up an empty-netter and the game finished at 3-1, the series ending at 4-1.
Kucherov's goal then stood up as the game-winner, his 3rd of these playoffs, making him the only notable skater in the game, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 26 saves for the win, giving him 8 points through the opening round.
The Devils were not among the popular teams, having only five selections to their name, as some pool teams were certainly hedging their bets, possibly thinking that an upset was possible in this series, but most didn't think so. Rookie defenseman Will Butcher was taken twice, the most popular Devils player, who has now been eliminated.
The Lightning are now waiting on the winner of the Maple Leafs/Bruins series.
As expected, the series between the Blue Jackets and Capitals, albeit home-ice disadvantage going into Game 5, was not necessarily going to be the same, especially with the Capitals were going with Braden Holtby in this game. The Blue Jackets were certainly inclined to make it close, forcing a 4th overtime in this series, with an early 3rd period goal, but it was the Capitals that came up big in the overtime, as Nicklas Backstrom redirected a shot from the point, beating Sergei Bobrovsky and getting his team to a 3-2 series lead.
Holtby had to be huge, making 39 saves to get the win in the end, and he could certainly be the difference in this series, as he has been in the last three games. Backstrom's winner was part of a 4-point effort in this game and Dmitry Orlov also had a pair of assists to be the other notable Washington player.
The Jackets got a boost to their lineup, Alexander Wennberg came back from his upper-body injury, picking up a point in his return, but he couldn't lift his team into the win column.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were on the brink of elimination and they showed a little bit of resiliency, using their speed and some of that natural skill to good use, giving the Boston Bruins all they could handle. The Maple Leafs pushed hard and got themselves up to a 4-1 lead and they needed each and every goal of that 3-goal lead, as the Bruins pushed back, including a late 2nd period goal and an early 3rd period goal, but the young Leafs were able to hold on and force a Game 6 with a 4-3 victory.
James Van Riemsdyk got credit with the eventual winner, also adding an assist for a 3-point game. Tyler Bozak also had a goal and an assist, while Frederik Andersen stopped 42 shots to keep his team alive for at least one more game.
The Leafs finally got Nazem Kadri from his 3-game suspension, while the Bruins saw Patrice Bergeron returned from a 1-game injury absence as well. Kadri was a big help, picking up an assist in the win, while Bergeron couldn't quite find the scoresheet, but registering six shots on goal.
Just when the Philadelphia Flyers thought they had a line on Game 7 in the bag, Jake Guentzel and the Pittsburgh Penguins opted to not just break their hearts, they shattered them and stomped on the pieces.
A 4-2 lead, midway through the 2nd period, just wasn't enough to put fear into the Penguins, as the Flyers fell apart and allowed five straight goals, not only giving away that lead, but the Penguins built an insurmountable lead and took the air from right from their lungs.
Guentzel led the way with 4 goals, including the winner, and added an assist for a 6-point effort. Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang each posted 3-point afternoons, while Phil Kessel also had a couple of assists in the win. Matt Murray had a rough start to the game, but bounced back well, making 21 saves for the the series clinching win.
Evgeni Malkin sat out Game 6 with an apparent leg injury and is currently listed as day-to-day, I'm sure he would have liked to be in this game, given all the points. The six pool teams that took him probably are thinking the same. Hornqvist, as you could see earlier, returned from his upper-body injury and made an impact.
The Flyers were not a popular team among the 23 pool teams, as there were only eight selections among the Flyers, three of them were Ivan Provorov in Box 21. No one had the top Flyers player, Sean Couturier, who finished with 12 points, heads and shoulders above anyone else on the team. They won't really be missed going forward in the playoffs.
The Penguins will now face the winner of the Columbus/Washington series.
We have to give the Colorado Avalanche plenty of credit for sticking in their series with the Nashville Predators, as going to Game 6 was probably a lot further than most people would have expected. Game 6, however, was a dominant effort, right off the hop, as the Predators really put the boot to the Avalanche, scoring a pair in the 1st, scoring another pair in the 2nd and an early goal in the 3rd period, keeping puck possession and really limited the chances for the Avs.
Pekka Rinne only had ot make 22 saves for his first shutout of these playoffs and it brought his point total is 10 points, which was good news for the 10 teams that picked him up this year. Mattias Ekholm scored the opening goal of the game, which stood up as the winner, making him into the most notable skater in this game on the pool sheet, as everyone else was a single point player, if they got points at all.
The Avalanche were the least picked team in the hockey pool, with only three selections and they all came from one team in the pool, Sheldon's side. He took a long shot gamble and that didn't pay off for him. Go big or go home, right?
The Western Conference match-ups are now set with this result, as the Nashville Predators will get the Winnipeg Jets and the San Jose Sharks will get the Vegas Golden Knights. More on that in the next day or two.