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Saturday, April 13, 2019

NHL playoff notes and observations

NHL playoff notes and observations

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the big story so far early in the playoffs winning their first two games on the road against the heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning.  The most stunning development was the Lightning going up 3-0 after the 1st period in game 1 and Columbus coming all the way back to win 4-3.  How have they done it?  Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky after the 1st period of Game 1 has given up a total of 1 goal in his last 5 periods and they have stayed out of the penalty box giving up only 5 power plays chances and shutting out the top power play unit in the regular season.  Conversely the Blue Jackets have scored three power play goals and a shorthanded goal in the series and after having struggled in the regular season after the trade to the Blue Jackets Steve Duchene came up big in game 2 with a goal and three assists.  For the Lightning the favorite for the MVP Nikita Kucherov has been held scoreless and is now suspended for game 3 after receiving a misconduct penalty.  I thought the NHL could have easily given Kucherov 2-3 games so the Lightning are lucky it was only for 1 game.  The Blue Jackets were in the same exact spot last year winning the first 2 games on the road against the Washington Capitols before losing the next 4 to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.  John Tortorella has done a masterful job of getting his team prepared for this series playing disciplined hockey and not being intimidated by the more talented Lightning.  

The NY Islanders have taken advantage of a fired up and raucous Nassau Coliseum home crowd winning the first two games of the series. In a back and forth game 1 the Islanders scored the OT winner from Josh Bailey on a rebound after a fantastic move into the crease by Mathew Barzal.  And in game 2 the Islanders employed their regular season winning formula with tight checking and solid goaltending in a game two 3-1 win.  Goaltender Robin Lehner has carried his solid play into the post season saving 73 of 77 shots through the first two games and Sidney Crosby is so far scoreless in the series.  Also the Islander power play which struggled through much of the regular season has scored in each game of the series.  

The Toronto Maples Leafs took advantage of some Boston Bruins defensive mistakes in game 1 and got a huge 4-1 road win to start the series.  Michael Marner scored 2 goals for the Leafs including the rare penalty shot (correct call by the referee) and William Nylander scoring on another breakaway goal to break the game open.  Frederik Andersen who struggled mightily at the end of the regular season bounced back with a big game 1 saving 37 of 38 shots.  The Bruins flipped the script in game 2 making the necessary defensive adjustments and winning tonight 4-1 in a very chippy physical game. Leafs forward Nazem Kadri took a knee to knee hit from David Krejci with no penalty being called and had to leave the game but Kadri came back later and got some payback cross checking Jake DeBrusk and receiving a 5 minute major penalty and 10 minute misconduct so the hate factor in this series is in full force.  

The Washington Capitols took a 2-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes with a 4-3 OT win today with Brooks Orpik scoring the game winner.  The Hurricanes have shown a lot of fight in the this series falling behind 3-0 in game 1 before losing 3-2 and today battled back to tie the game 3-3 on a Jordan Staal goal with 5 minutes left in regulation before losing in OT.  The Caps have not dominated this series but have made the key plays when necessary. 

The St Louis Blues have carried their fantastic second half of the regular season into the playoffs winning their first two games on the road against the Winnipeg Jets.  In game 1 David Perron and Tyler Bozak scored 3rd period goals and goaltender Jordan Binnington, in his playoff debut, stopped 24 of 25 shots including a scintillating last minute save to preserve the victory.  In game 2 Oscar Sundqvist scored 2 goals and Ryan O'Reilly scored the game winner on a top shelf wrister beating Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck early in the 3rd period to give the Blues the 4-3 win.  Not a big difference between these two teams but Binnington has come up with the big saves and has not allowed a goal in the 3rd period of this series while Hellebuyck has given up three.  

In a series that was predicted to be tight and low scoring the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators have lived up to those predictions with Dallas winning game 1 in Nashville 3-2 and Nashville winning in OT today 2-1.  The Stars in game 1 scored three straight goals including one from Mats Zuccarello and Ben Bishop stopped 30 of 32 shots to get a huge road win to start the series. Zuccarrello was the big acquisition by the Stars near the trade deadline from the NY Rangers and unfortunately for him got injured almost immediately after he joined the Stars only playing in 2 regular season games.  He could be a huge difference maker for the Stars in such a tight series.  Another heroic effort by Bishop today stopping 40 of 42 shots but Craig Smith scored the OT winner to even up the series.  You have to think this series has a good shot of going the distance with multiple overtime games.

The San Jose Sharks showed their firepower in game 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights with a 5-2 victory.  Brent Burns was the MVP of this game with a goal and an assist along with 4 blocked shots on the defensive side.  Vegas was uncharacteristically sloppy in the defensive end with numerous turnovers including a goal by Evander Kane on a Golden Knights turnover in their own end at the very end of the 2nd period that pretty much iced the game.  Unfortunately for the Sharks goaltender Martin Jones and their defense fell behind 3-0 and eventually ended up losing game two 5-3.  Jones who was the only playoff goaltender with a save percentage under .900 during the regular season didn't even last one period getting yanked after giving up his 3rd goal.  The Sharks did battle back quickly scoring 3 unanswered goals in a wild 1st period to tie up the game but Vegas goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury shut out the Sharks the rest of the way.  A good sign for Vegas is that Max Pacioretty who has had his playoff struggles is off to a good start with a goal and 3 assists and Mark Stone already has 3 goals in the series.

The Calgary Flames, led by 37 year old goaltender Mike Smith, shut out the Colorado Avalanche 4-0 in game 1 of the series.  Smith stopped all 26 shots he faced and made numerous spectacular saves to preserve the victory.  It looked like Smith was going to carry the Flames to a game 2 victory but J.T. Compher scored a late 3rd period goal to tie the game up at 2-2 and Nathan MacKinnon scored the game winner at the 8:27 mark of OT to tie the series at 1-1.   The Avalanche have done a good job in going toe to toe with the top seeded Flames and this has the makings of a long series that could go either way.  

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