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Saturday, April 20, 2019

NHL playoff notes

Wishing all of our readers a Happy Easter!

How crazy and unpredictable are the NHL playoffs?  The top seeds in both conferences were eliminated in the first round and if you combine the wins for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, and Pittsburgh Penguins it was a grand total of 1.  Here is a breakdown of each series as we get closer to the 2nd round. 

The NY Islanders surprised a lot of the pundits not by only winning the series but sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins led for only about a total of 5+ minutes for the entire series and their high powered offense scored only 6 goals in the series with Sidney Crosby recording only 1 assist in the 4 games.  The same formula that worked in the regular season has worked in the playoffs with their tight checking defensive style and the stellar goaltending of Robin Lehner who saved 130 of the 136 shots he faced. Offensively they have gotten huge contributions from Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey who combined for 10 goals.  The only negatives heading into the next round is the injury on the defensive side to Johnny Boychuk who will miss the next series, having to move from a major home ice advantage the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island to the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, and possibly the effects of a long layoff between their next series against the Carolina-Washington winner which could be up to 10+ days.

A rarity so far in the NHL playoffs is that the home team has won every game in the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitols series.  A great job of the Hurricanes holding serve at home by shutting down the Caps in games 3 & 4 giving up only 1 goal winning 5-0 and 2-1.  Goaltender Petr Mrazek saved 48 of 49 shots in the 2 wins.  Tonight in game 5 it was all Washington routing the Hurricanes 6-0 as they scored 3 power play goals and goaltender Braden Holtby pitched the shutout with 30 saves. Two side notes to this series was the absolute obliteration that Alex Ovechkin gave to young Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov in an early 1st period fight in game 3.  Svechnikov suffered upper body injuries and a concussion and probably won't return for the rest of the series.  For Washington T.J. Oshie suffered a serious upper body injury in game 4 after being knocked down from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and will likely miss the rest of the playoffs. 

The Columbus Blue Jackets finished off the stunning sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning winning game 4 at home with an emphatic 7-3 win.  The Matt Duchene trade paid huge dividends in the playoffs with Duchene scoring 3 goals with 4 assists.  Two former Portland Winter Hawks Seth Jones and Oliver Bjorkstrand were huge contributors in the series.  Jones scored the game winning goal in game 1 and had 2 goals and 2 assists in the series while Bjorkstrand's tiebreaking goal late in the 2nd period of game 4 ended up being the clincher. Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky continued his hot play and came up big in the playoffs stopping 109 of the 117 shots he faced.  Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for the Lightning combined for only 1 goal and 3 assists while goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy got bombed out giving up 15 goals in the 4 games with an .856 save percentage.  This was the first playoff series win in Blue Jackets history and they await the winner of the Toronto-Boston series.

The Toronto Maple Leafs can exorcise some major playoff demons if they can close out the Boston Bruins at home Sunday afternoon in game 6.  After splitting the first two games in the series the Leafs came up big on the road winning game 5 2-1 scoring both goals in the 3rd period.  Auston Matthews broke the scoreless tie at the 11:33 mark and Kasperi Kapanen added the insurance goal at the 13:45 mark. There was controversy for the Matthews goal per it looked like possible goalie interference on Zach Hyman who made contact with Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask when the puck was released but the play was reviewed and the goal allowed.  The announcers on the NBC television broadcast did not think the goal would count and it was a very debatable call.  If Bruin NESN homer announcer Jack Edwards was doing the broadcast he would have been 100% sure it was not a goal and probably cried that it should have been a game misconduct on Hyman.

The St Louis Blues closed out the Winnipeg Jets tonight winning game 6 at home 3-2. Jaden Schwartz was the hero again tonight recording the hat trick after scoring the game winning goal in game 5.  The Blues held a 3-0 lead heading into the 3rd period and the Jets got within a goal with 38 seconds left in the game but the Blues held on and will face the winner of the Dallas-Nashville series.  The obvious turning point of the series was the remarkable game 5 comeback for the Blues.  Trailing 2-0 going into the 3rd period the Blues got an early Ryan O'Reilly power play goal and tied it up with a Brayden Schenn goal at the 13:52 mark.  It looked like the game was heading to overtime but with only 15 seconds left in the game Schwartz delivered the gut punch to all Jets fans with the game winning goal after a great pass from Tyler Bozak to set him up. The big mistake was by Jets defender Jacob Trouba who tried freezing the puck in his own end to kill the clock but Alexander Steen poked it away, fed it to Bozak who whipped a pass in the crease and Schwartz beat goaltender Connor Hellebuyck for the game winner.  Schwartz scored only 11 regular season goals but has now scored 4 goals in the playoffs. 

The Colorado Avalanche closed out the top seeded Calgary Flames with a dominating 5-1 game 5 win in Calgary.  If you watched this series you had to be impressed by the overall speed of the Avalanche and they were easily the better team outscoring the Flames in the last 4 games of the series 17-7.  The Avalanche top scoring line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog dominated the series with Rantanen scoring 5 goals with 4 assists, MacKinnon with 3 goals and 5 assists, and Landeskog with 1 goal and 3 assists.  The amazing statistic from this series was during the regular season the Calgary Flames were the #1 team in the NHL in giving up the least number of shots against per game at 28.1 but during this playoff series they averaged giving up 41 shots against per game!.  Flames veteran goaltender Mike Smith actually played a decent series pitching the shutout in game 1 and getting games 2 and 4 into overtime making many spectacular saves.  In the game 3 6-2 loss Smith faced 56 shots and made 50 saves.  If you watched that game the Avalanche could have easily scored 10+ goals if it wasn't for Smith.  Besides the defensive breakdowns the Flames top scorers Johnny Gaudreau, Shane Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk combined for only 3 goals after combining to score 104 goals during the regular season. Avalanche goaltender Phillip Grubauer continued his outstanding play giving up only 10 goals in the series and stopping 153 of the 163 shots he faced. 

The Vegas Golden Knights can close out the San Jose Sharks at home by winning game 6 at home Sunday night. The Sharks held off elimination by winning game 5 at home 5-2.  The big story of this playoff series has been the continued struggles in net for Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.  Jones was pulled in games 2 & 4, has given up 15 goals, and has a save percentage of .866.  He did have a solid effort in game 5 stopping 30 of 32 shots and will have to come up big in game 6 for the Sharks to have any chance to extend the series. Jones coming into the playoffs was the only playoff goaltender with a save percentage below .900 during the regular season.  The big story for the Golden Knights has been the scoring onslaught from Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny who have combined for 12 goals and 16 assists so far in the series.  Give credit to Golden Knights GM George McPhee who acquired Pacioretty and Stastny in the off season and added Stone during the trade deadline.

The Dallas Stars can close out the Nashville Predators Monday night after a huge game 5 road win in Nashville this afternoon.  Alexander Radulov and Jason Dickinson scored 2 goals apiece and Stars goaltender Ben Bishop stopped 30 of 33 shots to preserve the win.  Going into this series the big question for the Stars was their scoring depth but the second line of Roope Hintz, Jason Dickinson, and Mats Zuccarello have combined for 7 goals matching the 7 goals that their top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov have scored.  Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has not been sharp in his last 2 games giving up 4 goals in game 4 while getting pulled in the 1st period and giving up 5 goals today.  However all the blame can't go to Rinne in game 5 today as the Predators defensively have been awful in their own end leading to Stars goals.  Ben Bishop after giving up 2 questionable goals in game 3 has bounced back nicely and has been the better goaltender in this playoff matchup. 

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