Cam Talbot calls out NHL inconsistency

If you’ve been following the first round of the NHL Playoffs, then you are as confused and frustrated as many hockey fans. Nobody seems to know what constitutes goaltender interference anymore.

In the Bruins game against the Maple Leafs at TD Garden, such a controversial ruling helped decide Toronto’s 2-1 victory in Game Five earlier on Good Friday.

Auston Matthews scored his fourth goal of the series to break a scoreless tie with 8:27 left in regulation. The play was immediately challenged by Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy for goalie interference. On Matthews’ goal, Leafs forward Zach Hyman made contact with Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask in the crease. The NBCSN replays seemed to indicate to most observers including Doc Emrick and Mike Milbury that the call on the ice would get overturned.

Instead, following a lengthy review, they ruled that the call on the ice stood to make it a good goal for Matthews. The goaltender interference review has been an issue all season. In one case, they ruled in favor of the goalscorer with a very candid Matthews acknowledging that he got lucky after the win. That indicates how controversial this rule is.

If you have players like Talbot voicing their opinion, that is a pretty good indication of how confusing the league reviews have become. You have refs who are now afraid to make calls even when the old incidental contact explanation would’ve wiped out the goal from Matthews.

It’s a good thing Kasperi Kapanen scored to make it 2-0. Otherwise, who knows what could’ve happened? Boston got a David Krejci goal with just over 44 seconds left to cut it to 2-1. The Leafs protected the lead by getting one final save by Freddie Andersen on Brad Marchand to preserve the win.

Toronto will take a three games to two lead back home where they’ll try to close out the Bruins.

For Boston, they didn’t play well enough to win. However, there will still be wonder on the league explanation on why the Matthews goal was upheld. There was not enough conclusive evidence to overturn it. Sure.

Every decision they make is different, causing more befuddlement from the hockey community. Nobody knows what the heck is going on. Given all the technology they have in Toronto, you would think they can get it right without puzzling reasons that leave more questions than answers.

With Calgary about to go out in five games to another eight seed in the ultra talented Avalanche, it’ll become NHL history. For the first time ever, both top seeds will be eliminated in the first round. The Lightning won 62 games and piled up 128 points only to get swept by “eight seed” Columbus.

I like upsets as much as anyone. This isn’t good for hockey. But parity, parity, parity Gary Bettman will say. It’s growing tiresome. Not as exhausting as the confusing rulings on coaches challenges for goalie interference.

When will it end? Enough is enough already.

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Video of Day: Kevin Hayes’ Nightmare

Despite scoring a goal, it was a sleepless night for Kevin Hayes in a crushing Winnipeg 3-2 loss to the Blues in a bizarre Game Five. AP Photo via Getty Images.

When Kevin Hayes was acquired by the Winnipeg Jets from the Rangers, he was supposed to make a difference for them in the postseason. A good player who can score and set up goals, the soon to be unrestricted free agent center hasn’t helped himself this Spring.

After not even attempting a shot in the first two games of their tough first round series against the St. Louis Blues, Hayes has two goals in five games for the Jets. The sad aspect is in order to get him going, coach Paul Maurice had him on the fourth line. Hardly ideal for a player they gave up a first round pick and Brendan Lemieux for.

In last night’s crushing 3-2 home loss during Game Five, he was their most effective player. Following an early goal from Adam Lowry, Hayes scored on a power move with a forehand deke to beat Jordan Binnington for a 2-0 Winnipeg lead in the first period.

But in a game they controlled for most of the first two periods, Hayes could’ve had more. In a bizarre sequence, he actually stopped himself from scoring what would’ve amounted to a big goal. Off sustained pressure, Hayes was on the verge of putting the game out of reach when the unthinkable happened. With a loose puck that seemed to be headed in, his poke attempt actually prevented a sure goal. Here is how it looked:

Astonishingly, his stick prevented a second goal that would’ve put Winnipeg up 3-0. St. Louis defenseman Colton Parayko battled Hayes in front to help prevent the goal. It’s still amazing how Hayes didn’t score. A goal that would’ve put his team up three instead wasn’t. It left NBCSN analyst Jeremy Roenick speechless. He’d never seen anything like it. Here’s how it sounded as called by an equally stunned Ray Ferraro:

You can see Hayes’ stick position altered by the battle with Parayko, whose back check is why he didn’t score. Something Roenick pointed out during the second intermission and following the Jets’ shocking loss. The Blues used third period goals from Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, whose game decider came with 15 seconds left to leave Winnipeg in disbelief.

The Schenn tying goal that was confusing for viewers due to his backhand headed into the net as Dustin Byfuglien shoved Oskar Sundqvist into the Winnipeg net. It sure looked like it came off its pegs prior to the puck entering. Regardless, it counted with the officials conferring with Toronto to rule that Byfuglien’s shove was why Sundqvist crashed into the net. Then came the coup de grat.

The call by Blues broadcaster John Kelly describes the utter shock at Schwartz’s amazing winner. An emotional play by play man who sometimes goes over the top like his Avalanche days, he nailed it with a dramatic call that had veteran analyst Darren Pang nearly losing his mind at what he saw.

There was nothing happening behind the Winnipeg net. It was a puck battle. Then, Schwartz freed the puck up to get the winning play in motion. As he wisely cut to the front of the net, the puck came to Tyler Bozak. Always a crafty playmaker, he sent an elevated pass towards Schwartz that he was able to get his stick on and beat a shocked Connor Hellebuyck. There wasn’t much room with Schwartz just able to position himself for the one-timer with Jacob Trouba on him. It was Trouba who lost the puck to Schwartz behind the net.

That’s hockey. You never know what will happen. It was a bang bang play. The Jets never recovered from Schenn’s game-tying goal with 5:08 left. I think psychologically, they were shell shocked. It was a strange turn of events. Hayes had 3-0 on his stick. He also was stoned by Binnington on a similar break in. He tried the same forehand deke, but the puck rolled just enough to allow Binnington to slide across and get a pad on it.

Hayes could’ve had a hat trick in the 9:39 he played. Instead, the missed opportunities came back to haunt him. I doubt he got much sleep last night. The thing is Winnipeg blew a four-minute power play halfway through the contest. They had another chance with a two-minute power play following O’Reilly getting St. Louis back in it on a rebound for a St. Louis power play goal with Trouba in the box for a ill advised roughing minor on Vladimir Tarasenko at 19:39 of the second.

Had the Jets converted on either of those power plays, we’re not talking about Hayes. It’s a game they should’ve won. Instead, they head to St. Louis facing elimination this holiday weekend. The road team has won all five games. Can Winnipeg again beat the Blues to force a deciding Game Seven at home?

It’s gonna be interesting.

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AV meets Gritty, The crazy first round continues

AV Meets Gritty: Gritty presents Alain Vigneault with a whistle and Flyers jersey. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Flyers.

Okay. So, Alain Vigneault and the Flyers are a strange fit. It’s gonna be interesting to follow for Ranger fans. The good thing for us is it’s from a distance.

That makes it easier. We don’t have to concern ourselves with how AV stunted the growth of some young players anymore. Now, we can enjoy current Rangers coach David Quinn as he enters his second year. He’s very hands on and will get to work with more young talent. Whether it’s Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes, one of the top prospects will be here along with top Russian prospects Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin next training camp.

Anyway, here Vigneault played along with Gritty after meeting the popular Flyers mascot. He was presented with a present. I got a kick out of it.

For now, we can at least try to enjoy the unpredictable NHL Playoffs. Is Calgary about to bow out too like Tampa? Both top seeds could only wind up with one combined victory unless the Flames respond at home in a do-or-die Game 5.

The Blues stunned Winnipeg by rallying from a two goal deficit to score three unanswered in a stunning 3-2 reversal that included Brayden Schenn’s controversial tying goal and Jaden Schwartz’s even more startling game-winner with 15 seconds left. The road team has won all five games in the very closely fought Central Division Semifinal. Nothing would surprise me when it shifts back to St. Louis for Game Six.

You have the Sharks forcing a Game Six with a resilient 5-2 win over the Golden Knights at the Shark Tank. Tomas Hertl scored twice and Martin Jones made a huge save on Reilly Smith to prevent the tying goal. Now, the pressure shifts to Vegas when they return home.

There are those pesky Hurricanes holding serve by taking both Games 3 and 4 in Raleigh to level the Metropolitan Division Semifinal with the defending champs. They did it by getting key stops from Petr Mrazek to edge the Capitals 2-1 in Game Four.

They made goals from Warren Foegle and Teuvo Teravainen stand up. I feel for T.J. Oshie, who was shoved hard from behind by Foegle into the boards, injuring the key Washington Cap. I felt it should’ve been a five-minute major instead of a two-minute minor for roughing. He will miss significant time. That’s a big loss. Will the Department of Player Safety suspend Foegle? I’m not sure.

So, you have the unpredictability of the first round. Where the Lightning have already cleaned out their lockers following a record season that included 62 wins and 128 points.

I saw both Theo Fleury and Martin St. Louis drive home a point I’ve made before on analytics. While we use Corsica to measure a team’s success, all the statistics in the world don’t measure a team’s heart at this time of year. It’s will over skill that wins in the playoffs.

More Fleury on why the Blue Jackets won in four straight over the Lightning.

The same exact thing happened to Pittsburgh. The Islanders were hungrier. To paraphrase what Evgeni Malkin said, ‘They wanted it more.’

That is an indictment on the Pens. They didn’t measure up to the execution, grit and determination of Barry Trotz’s Islanders. Bret Hart would be proud.

One more comment on the controversial hits. You always notice a sharp contrast between the two sides on such tough calls. Todd Reirden thought it was a dangerous hit by Foegle while Rod Brind’Amour countered that it was a light shove. Sure it was.

Later today, you’ll have a classic double header. A pivotal Game Five between the Maple Leafs and Bruins with the best-of-seven series all even following Boston’s wild and crazy 6-4 win at Toronto.

In the night cap, it’s the Flames trying to stave off elimination at The Saddle Dome. They’ve dropped three in a row to the faster and more skilled Avalanche, who took Game 3 and 5 on sudden death goals from stars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

Can Calgary summon the energy to support veteran netminder Mike Smith? They’ve gotten nothing from Johnny Gaudreau, who’s been held to one assist in the series. He, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm need to step up along with Matthew Tkachuk and captain Mark Giordano. It’s now or never.

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Two unpredictable sweeps

Not even a week in and two Eastern Conference teams have been sent packing in shocking fashion. Both the President’s Trophy winning Lightning and championship proven Penguins were swept in stirring first round series nobody could have predicted.

Making sense out of it is impossible. Unlike playoff basketball, the NHL Playoffs is unpredictable. Upsets do occur. But it’s rare that you ever see a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning bow out in epic fashion. That’s because it’s never happened before. Never has a top overall seed lost in four straight during Round One. This is unchartered territory for hockey.

Sure. We’ve seen first seeds get bounced out in the first round. It happened to the Blues two decades ago and the Sharks more recently. It’s crazy to think that the Lightning won 62 games and racked up 128 points over 82 games. Now, they’re done. They didn’t even win one game against the Blue Jackets, who made a bit if history of their own by finally reaching the second round. Congrats to John Tortorella’s team. They sure deserve it.

So, what went wrong for Tampa? For starters, they didn’t match the work ethic or grit of the Blue Jackets. In the postseason, you can’t just depend on speed and skill. It doesn’t translate. There has to be some extra effort required. Columbus won the battles in the trenches. They were harder on the puck and stronger defensively. They won most of the loose pucks in the corners. Those 50/50 battles usually are a key determining factor. Torts’ guys were hungrier.

By the time the Lightning showed the kind of urgency they should’ve had at the start, it was too late. They never led after blowing a three goal lead in a costly Game One. The Blue Jackets were the better team, outscoring the Bolts 19-5 after trailing 3-0 in the first period of the series. After holding off Tampa 3-1 the other night, they wrapped it up by taking Game Four 7-3 before a wild environment at home.

Columbus came out on fire by scoring twice in the game’s first four minutes. Rookie Alexandre Texier and Pierre-Luc Dubois tallied 1:22 apart to put the Bolts behind two right away. They were once again chasing the game.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos finally got his first of the series on a strong move around Seth Jones to go forehand top shelf on Sergei Bobrovsky. Nikita Kucherov set up the goal from Anthony Cirelli. Kucherov was back after serving his one game suspension in Game Three. The Art Ross winner who put up a record 128 points by a Russian player, never scored in the four games. He might take home some hardware at the NHL Awards in June. But it will be bittersweet.

The Blue Jackets could’ve been up more if not for some outstanding work from Andrei Vasilevskiy. He made some remarkable saves to keep his team alive the first two periods. He also got a break when Tampa coach Jon Copper successfully challenged an apparent Blue Jackets power play goal that was offside. Zach Werenski was unable to keep the puck in. That gave the Bolts some life.

Even with Tampa more competitive, they still had trouble getting to Bobrovsky. He was excellent throughout and outplayed his countryman to win his first playoff series.

Jones scored a big goal to put the Jackets back ahead by two. Off some sustained pressure, Matt Duchene made a backhand pass for Cam Atkinson in front. Rather than shoot, he passed for a wide open Jones, who fired a perfect shot top shelf past a screened Vasilevskiy for a 3-1 lead 6:28 into the second.

With the Blue Jackets applying tons of pressure, they went for the knockout. But a sharp Vasilevskiy gave the Lightning every chance to come back. Still trailing by two in the period, they finally got another one past Bobrovsky. Off a Jan Rutta forecheck, Braydon Coburn had his shot redirected by Cedric Paquette off the goalpost and in to cut the deficit to one.

Once again alive, Tampa took advantage of a Werenski cross-check on Kucherov to draw even. Another star player finally broke through. Brayden Point connected on the power play when he took a Stamkos pass in front and scored on a nice backhand short side. Kucherov added his second helper.

But just when it looked like the momentum had shifted, Mathieu Joseph took a bad offensive zone penalty behind the Columbus net. Able to get Bobrovsky off for an extra skater, the Blue Jackets worked the puck around until Dubois found an open Scott Harrington. He was able to pass across for a wide open Bjorkstrand for a rare goal on a delayed penalty. The back breaking goal came with just 1:14 left in the second. Less than a minute after the Bolts had worked hard to tie it.

That’s the kind of series it was. The third period was all about Bobrovsky. A desperate Lightning applied pressure in search of the equalizer. They were thwarted time and time again by Bobrovsky, whose best save came on a redirection that he smothered. He stopped all 13 Tampa shots en route to 30 saves.

Columbus may not have attacked as much. However, they checked well and did a good job clearing the front of the net. That was one of the biggest differences in the series. Their attention to detail resulted in holding Stamkos to a goal and assist, Kucherov to two assists, Point to a goal, and Tyler Johnson to one assist.

Former Ranger Ryan McDonagh had a rough series finishing without a point with a minus-six rating, including a nightmarish minus-four last night. He couldn’t pick up the load for injured star defenseman Victor Hedman. Tampa was also without Anton Stralman for all four games. That didn’t help.

The Blue Jackets methodically defended the Lightning until the bitter end. Artemi Panarin scored an empty netter with 1:53 left to set off the cannon. Nick Foligno mobbed him. Panarin had five points in the series. Duchene led the Jackets with seven points including a third empty netter following Texier’s second of the game.

It all worked for Tortorella’s club, who shook hands with a disappointed opponent that never saw this coming. The best part of the traditional handshake was seeing Bobrovsky and Vasilevskiy meet and have a nice chat before leaving the ice. I’m pretty sure Vasilevskiy told Bobrovsky, ‘Great job. You deserve it.’

Now, Columbus awaits the winner between Boston and Toronto. Depending on what happens in tonight’s Game Four, that series could be very long or surprisingly short. The Leafs lead it two games to one.

The other sweep involved the Islanders taking out the Penguins in convincing fashion. They closed them out by winning Game Four 3-1 at a more quiet PPG Paints Arena.

Pittsburgh finally got some production from superstar Sidney Crosby and top finisher Jake Guentzel. On the opening shift, Crosby set up Guentzel at 35 seconds for a 1-0 Pens lead. It were the only points they had in the stunning sweep.

Much like how it played out, it didn’t take long for the Isles to respond. Jordan Eberle scored his series best fourth from Mat Barzal and Scott Mayfield only 1:34 later. Eberle scored a goal in every game. He finished with six points in the series while playing with Barzal (5 assists) and Anthony Beauvillier (goal/assist). Barzal outplayed his idol in his first taste of the postseason.

As for Eberle, he was acquired from Edmonton prior to ’17-18 for Ryan Strome. The same Strome the Oilers gave up on this past season by dealing him to the Rangers for Ryan Spooner. Oops. Eberle had never had any success in his last NHL postseason with Edmonton. They dumped him. Poetic justice. He’s a unrestricted free agent this summer along with Brock Nelson and Islanders captain Anders Lee. Eberle has made himself some money so far.

Speaking of which, Nelson has continued to deliver clutch goals. On a strong cycle from former Pen Tom Kuhnackl behind the Pittsburgh net, he moved the puck to Bailey, who centered for a Nelson finish in front with 1:54 left in the first. It was Nelson’s third of the series.

That was enough to win. Even on a night the Pens showed more urgency by outshooting the Isles 33-25, they once again had trouble beating Robin Lehner. For the series, Lehner only allowed six goals. He stopped 130 of 136 shots. The big Swede who once was highly thought of in Ottawa and Buffalo, came through for the Islanders. When he wasn’t leaving the Pens shaking their heads, the goalpost was. The Pens hit two posts including Crosby on a wide open rebound. But he sent his backhand off the near post.

Frustration creeped in with Patric Hornqvist finally going after Lehner in the blue paint. He and Lehner nearly came to blows. But it was broken up. They gave Hornqvist the extra two for roughing. The Isles were unable to score on the power play with Matt Murray making some key stops to keep it close.

Barry Trotz’s club continued to defend tightly in front of Lehner. Their grinding style definitely won out in the first round series. The Pens were unable to match their work ethic. When it was over, Pens coach Mike Sullivan talked about how his team struggled to defend. That was true. Even his best defenseman, Kris Letang had a bad series. The scrappier Isles won all the battles and took advantage of every Penguin mistake.

Bailey put it away when off a simple face-off win from Valtteri Filppula, he turned around, wheeled and fired down the ice from 190 feet into a vacated net with 38 seconds remaining. It was fitting that the Game One overtime hero finished off Pittsburgh. He also had a good series winding up with three goals and an assist.

The Islanders’ best players were better than the Penguins’. Evgeni Malkin was invisible the final two games. Phil Kessel couldn’t get anything to go. That included a point blank opportunity he had to tie the game. But a diving Mayfield blocked his shot to save a goal.

From top to bottom, the Isles were the superior team. Even though the popular fourth line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck didn’t score a goal in the series, they were good throughout. They were effective on the forecheck, created chances and defended well while adding the physical element.

The shutdown pair of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock neutralized Crosby and Guentzel. Rookie Devon Toews had a good series. Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk and Mayfield all were steady. Everything worked. Now, they will wait to see what happens between the Capitals and Hurricanes. With Carolina responding extremely well by posting a lopsided 5-0 shutout at home in Game Three, that series is 2-1 Washington. Game Four isn’t until Thursday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the ugly knockout Alexander Ovechkin had on 19-year old rookie Andrei Svechnikov in the first period the other night. They had been going at it throughout the first two-plus games. Unfortunately, Svechnikov made a bad decision challenging Ovechkin to a rare fight. It predictably didn’t end well for the ultra talented Russian. He had to be helped off the ice.

Svechnikov is in concussion protocol. I doubt we’ll get to see him again this postseason. It sucks. I don’t blame Ovechkin. Both agreed to fight. That’s part of The Code. I wish the kid hadn’t done it. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery and doesn’t have any after effects.

In the other two series out West, the Golden Knights continue to punish the defenseless and goalie less Sharks. They shut them out 5-0 in Game Four to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Martin Jones has been a nightmare. He was pulled for the second time, giving way to backup Aaron Dell.

Joe Thornton served a one game suspension for his illegal check to the head on Tomas Nosek. San Jose couldn’t get anything past Marc-Andre Fleury, who posted his 15th career postseason shutout. He’s in the top six all-time.

Max Pacioretty had two goals and two assists for Vegas. Mark Stone passed his point total to 10 in the first round. Shea Theodore had a highlight reel goal in which he undressed two Sharks including Brendan Dillon. Erik Karlsson continues to look bad. He’s been on for a lot of goals at five-on-five. I wonder if he’ll ever be the same defenseman. He played on one foot in 2017, nearly carrying Ottawa to the Stanley Cup. He isn’t 100 percent.

On the goal scored by Alex Tuch, he abused Brent Burns and then turned Karlsson around before firing past Dell. Evander Kane lost his brain with a cross check and deliberate punch earning him a misconduct for 14 penalty minutes.

Are the Sharks dead? Game Five is at home. But unless they play better defensively and get improved goaltending, they might not live to see Vegas again for Game Six. I know how this will sound. If he ever changed his mind, Henrik Lundqvist would look pretty good in teal.

In what’s been the best series, Winnipeg got a Kyle Connor goal in sudden death to beat the Blues 2-1 in St. Louis. The road team has won all four games.

Neither team scored in the first two periods. In the third, Vladimir Tarasenko broke the ice with a dart past Connor Hellebuyck for a 1-0 Blues lead. However, Mark Scheifele countered on a Connor rush by redirecting his pass by rookie Jordan Binnington.

The skating and goaltending was superb. It’s been a tightly fought series that’s included some heavy hits. Tarasenko delivered a big one on Blake Wheeler during overtime. But he got up and started a rush in the opposite direction that resulted in Connor getting the OT winner from Scheifele. Scheifele had his shot turned aside by Binnington, but he got to the rebound and centered for Connor in front for a tap in.

A pivotal Game Five takes place in Winnipeg on Thursday night at 8:30 PM. That one will be worth watching. It’s too bad it’s a first round series. Only one team will advance.

With Calgary getting shellacked by the Nathan MacKinnon led Avalanche, the Western top seed is in trouble. They desperately need a much better performance in Game Four tonight. Otherwise, both one seeds could go belly up in the first round. So much for my playoff prediction.

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Flyers hire Alain Vigneault

In news that isn’t shocking based on the rumors, the Flyers decided to hire Alain Vigneault as their new head coach today.

It’ll be interesting to see how Vigneault does in a very unforgiving city like Philadelphia. Judging from how they treated the 76ers booing them as early as the second quarter in a Game One loss to the Nets, this will be interesting to follow.

As we know, Vigneault is a good coach who prefers a high tempo offensive style. He certainly will have some excellent weapons at his disposal. Barring any major changes, the veteran coach should have captain Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konceny, Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. There’s also promising young netminder Carter Hart.

So, there’s a good nucleus for Vigneault to coach. I wonder if his style will mesh with a historically tough franchise known for pushing around opponents. Though that era is dying, they still have guys like Radko Gudas around. AV is a coach who prefers his teams play whistle to whistle and not get involved in the rough stuff we see a lot of during this time of year.

After initial success on Broadway guiding the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in ’14 and within a period of repeating as Eastern Conference champs in a year they won the President’s Trophy, the luster came off the AV Era slowly. Some could argue the awfully disappointing home shutouts in Games 5 and 7 in a bizarre series loss to the Lightning was the beginning of the end. Granted, four of their six defensemen played hurt.

It didn’t explain the lack of offense under a creative coach, who preached scoring off the rush and emphasized the stretch pass. It still is mystifying why he underutilized Keith Yandle and misused Eric Staal. But then again, communication wasn’t a strong suit. Just ask Pavel Buchnevich or Kevin Hayes about it. Neither were some of the questionable lineup decisions or lack of in game adjustments that proved costly against the Kings, Lightning and Senators.

How will Vigneault handle former 2017 second overall pick Patrick, who’s yet to reach his full potential? He will need to be better in this area if the Flyers are to have success under him.

What about a defense that has talent in Provorov, Gostisbehere and Travis Sanheim? Their offensive numbers should improve, but what about their defense? I don’t know. They can’t just leave Hart out to dry the way Henrik Lundqvist was way too often in the final frantic two seasons under Vigneault. I think that aged him.

Hart is much younger. It’ll be interesting to see if bringing in a proven coach, who has some obvious flaws, will work in the City of Brotherly Love. Either they’ll have good success right away or it’ll blow up in their faces.

Vigneault will make a reported $25 million over five years. Oh my. I don’t say this often. Good luck to the Flyers and their fans.

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Blue Jackets put Lightning on brink, Islanders own Crosby Pens, Stone’s hat trick leads Golden Knights

Day Five had a couple of shockers along with a big road win and a remarkable performance. Two teams were put on the brink in the East. One heavy favorite and one proven winner.

The Islanders continued their Pens mastery with a convincing 4-1 win in Game Three to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. I only watched the first period. That was enough for me. Sometimes, you can just tell.

Following mere mortal Garrett Wilson scoring to give the Pens a rare lead, Jordan Eberle tied it on the next shift by beating Matt Murray from a tough angle 28 seconds later. He took a Ryan Pulock feed and sniped a high shot short side on Murray to silence the Pittsburgh crowd. Mat Barzal drew the secondary assist.

Just over a minute later, Brock Nelson flew into the Pens zone and beat Murray for the game-winner. Tom Kuhnackl forced Justin Schultz into a turnover at his blueline, passing for Nelson who did the rest. The costly miscue summarized the series up to that point. The harder checking Islanders take advantage of Pittsburgh mistakes while defending their front net much better.

I turned the game off after that period because it wasn’t gonna change. Sidney Crosby continues to be locked up by the Adam Pelech/Pulock tandem. He didn’t even get any dangerous chances in the first. Jake Guentzel missed from the slot. Kris Letang continues to be a non factor. Evgeni Malkin looks flustered. Phil Kessel isn’t finishing.

Robin Lehner has made the timely saves. Yesterday, he stopped 25 of 26. He is definitely the clear-cut Isles starter. The Pens have only beaten him five times.

Leo Komarov and Anders Lee added goals in the third. The Islanders are one win away from sweeping the Pens. Who would’ve thought that possible? Barry Trotz has outcoached Mike Sullivan. Game Four is tomorrow.

In a bigger stunner, the Lightning are one loss away from being swept after winning the President’s Trophy by AA whopping 21 points. Things have fallen apart for them since blowing the 3-0 lead they had in the first period of Game One.

Since that point, the Blue Jackets have outscored the NHL’s best regular season team 12-2. They took Game One 4-3, Game Two 5-1 and Game Three 3-1 before a very loud home crowd in Columbus. The Jackets have never advanced out of the first round in franchise history. It’s advisable to get it done tomorrow night.

They’re winning due to being the better coached team. John Tortorella has done a masterful job so far against a near speechless Jon Cooper. It doesn’t help that he was without suspended top scorer Nikita Kucherov and injured top defenseman Victor Hedman on Sunday.

However, it doesn’t explain the disappearance of captain Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. Neither have done anything unless you count Stamkos’ cheap shot on Columbus captain Nick Foligno during a scrum. What’s more? Many Bolts received more ice time than Stamkos in Game Three. That included J.T. Miller and Anthony Cirelli.

Matt Duchene continues to be the best player in the series. He scored his second goal on a backhand off a rebound. He’s boosted his value this summer.

The biggest surprise is the CBJ power play, which is a scorching 4-for-8. That’s absurd. A bad penalty by Ryan Callahan resulted in Seth Jones making a perfect fake shot and pass across for an Oliver Bjorkstrand power play goal for a 2-0 lead. It was a terrific play.

Tampa continues to have issues solving Sergei Bobrovsky. It took a very good play by Ondrej Palat to finally score early in the third. His initial redirect was stopped, but he stayed with it to put home the rebound. Suddenly, the Bolts had life. They attacked with vigor. In search of the tying goal, it never came.

Tyler Johnson had a shot blocked by David Savard. Johnson has had chances in this series, but hasn’t had any luck. If the Lightning are to get back in the series, he’ll probably be a factor. His speed and ability to get inside a tough Columbus defense has been rare. You don’t see it from Stamkos, who has hit a couple of posts.

The best chance the Lightning at tying was created by Miller, who skated around to set up Erik Cernak for a good point shot. But Bobrovsky ate it up. He wasn’t screened. If you don’t make it tough on a hot goalie who’s seeing the puck extremely well, you have no chance. It’s nice to see the two-time Vezina winner locked in.

I thought after a six minute stretch of all Lightning, the Blue Jackets settled down and played better in the final part of the game. They defended well and won key draws including big contributions from Duchene and old friend Brandon Dubinsky. Speaking of which, he’s played well after a tough season. So have Torts’ very physical line of Foligno, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson.

Cam Atkinson scored an empty netter that sent Nationwide Arena into a frenzy complete with the thunderous cannon. The bottom line is the Blue Jackets have gotten big performances from their best players while the Lightning haven’t. That includes Bobrovsky, who’s outplayed Andrei Vasilevskiy. It wouldn’t have been close the first two periods without Vasilevskiy.

If any team is capable of coming back from a 3-0 deficit, it’s the Bolts. Especially if they play with the same urgency as yesterday’s third period. They will get Kucherov back tomorrow. As for Hedman, he remains questionable. It’ll be up to Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to lead them if that’s the case. How ironic.

The best performance came from Mark Stone, who did whatever he wanted in a 6-3 Golden Knights victory over the defenseless Sharks at T-Mobile Arena. They lead the series 2-1.

Stone was unbelievable recording the first hat trick by a Golden Knight. He also had two assists including a beautiful shot pass that set up a Paul Stastny redirection for a power play goal that made it 4-1. Stastny also had five points. Max Pacioretty had a goal and assist.

It’s the Vegas top guns that have starred in this series. Led by Stone’s six goals, they have taken apart Martin Jones, who can’t stop a beach ball right now. I always believed Stone was a better overall player than soon to be Columbus UFA Artemi Panarin. No disrespect to the supremely skilled Russian. But Stone took less money after being acquired from Ottawa. Panarin will command around $11 million per year this summer. Maybe even more if he factors in taxes from say NYC.

The Sharks got goals from Logan Couture and Timo Meier to make it 5-3. But then, Stone skated through the neutral zone untouched past Brendan Dillon and in for his hat trick that made it 6-3, raining hats. Dillon’s partner Erik Karlsson could only watch as he did on the game’s first goal scored by Stone on a backhand 16 seconds in. Karlsson is still an extremely skilled offensive defenseman. But his defense is getting worse. He finished minus-three. Whoever signs him in July, beware. That includes San Jose if they so choose to bring him back.

This game had a lot of edge to it. Joe Thornton had a bad hit that was appropriately called an illegal check to the head. It was only a minor penalty. He has a phone hearing coming up. Jumbo Joe has one of the cleanest reputations throughout his illustrious career. The hit to Tomas Nosek was avoidable.

The main event came when Evander Kane had the guts to fight undisputed heavyweight champ Ryan Reaves. These two do not like each other. But to see Kane actually stand in there and absorb some big blows while getting his hands free to land some glancing blows, was pretty cool. He cares. It showed character.

How will San Jose respond in an all important Game Four? They definitely missed Marc-Edouard Vlasic. If he can’t return, it’ll be a tough hill to climb. They can score with the best of them. But unless the D tightens up and Jones raises his level, they can’t win. Marc-Andre Fleury can make the key save when it’s needed for Vegas. That’s the difference.

Winnipeg got a badly needed road win in Game Three over St. Louis by a count of 6-3. Patrik Laine continues to finish, notching his third in three games. Kyle Connor got going with a pair and Kevin Hayes got out of Paul Maurice’s doghouse with a big goal. Dustin Byfuglien pulled off a intentional bank shot off Jordan Binnington’s mask as the Jets finally solved the first-year goalie by scoring six times on 29 shots.

St. Louis got goals from David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen. But for most of the game, they were dominated by an aggressive Winnipeg forecheck that created excellent scoring opportunities they converted. Following a Tarasenko power play goal that cut the deficit to 3-2 in the third, the Jets responded on goals from Brandon Tanev and Byfuglien to put it out of reach.

The road team has prevailed in all three games so far. The Blues still lead the series 2-1. Game Four is tomorrow.

Tonight, Boston and Toronto renew their unique Original Six rivalry. How will the Maple Leafs respond to life without Nazem Kadri? William Nylander will shift to center the third line. They need more from Auston Matthews, who has never been a good playoff performer. He can’t remain stuck without a goal or point. He’s too talented. Who takes the series lead?

Why both the Bruins/Leafs and Caps/Canes are scheduled at the same time (7 PM) is confusing. Ask NBC. I’ll mostly be locked in on Boston at Toronto while periodically checking to see if Carolina can get back in their series versus the defending champs.

Nashville is at Dallas a half hour before Calgary visits Colorado. Both Western series are tied. That’s good.

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Cheap shots, Suspensions and Overtime

Day Four of the NHL Playoffs was chaotic. You had three Game Two’s go to overtime. You also had cheap shots and suspensions. One was handed out to Nikita Kucherov for his idiocy. He will serve a one game ban tonight in a critical Game Three for the Lightning at Columbus.

The other suspension is gonna be a lengthy one for Nazem Kadri. For a second consecutive year, he lost his discipline against the Bruins. He was involved all night with Jake DeBrusk. They went at each other early on in Game Two and had some run ins during a heated contest won by Boston 4-1 to square the first round series headed back to Toronto.

During the second period, a hustling Kadri came out of the penalty box to deny a Bruins chance. At the same moment, DeBrusk checked Kadri with his leg colliding with the Leafs center’s. Even though it was knee on knee, there didn’t look like any intent. Both players were traveling at good speed. Debrusk came in a straight line and didn’t stick his leg out. There was no penalty despite Kadri leaving the ice. He would return.

It was in the third with under 10 minutes left that things got hectic. With Toronto finally playing better due to a Kadri goal on a nice deflection, they were only down 3-1. But this play involving a DeBrusk cheap hit on veteran Patrick Marleau close to the stanchion drew the ire of Kadri. His response was a deliberate cross-check to DeBrusk’s head.

For his poor reaction, he was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct. I understand why he went after DeBrusk. That hit is one you don’t like to see. It’s too close to an area where a defenseless player can get hurt. I feel that the officials should’ve given DeBrusk a penalty on the play. But before they did anything, Kadri made a bee line for DeBrusk and cost himself the rest of the series. He will have a in person meeting today, which means at least five games. Last year, he got three games against the same opponent. Yikes.

Boston got goals from Charlie Coyle, Brad Marchand, Danton Heinen and Patrice Bergeron. Marchand had a goal and assist to earn the game’s number one star. Tuukka Rask made 30 saves while Freddie Andersen had 37 to keep the Leafs in it. Boston could’ve had eight. David Backes returned and had an assist with seven hits.

For the Leafs, Auston Matthews remains quiet without a point. That’ll need to change starting in Game Three. Losing Kadri is a big hit for Toronto. They nearly overcame it last year before losing in seven in the same round.

The early game saw the Capitals edge the Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime. Carolina rallied back to tie it twice from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits. Alexander Ovechkin made a great play drawing two Canes to open up a seam for a superb pass on Tom Wilson’s go-ahead tally that made it 3-2. But with Washington shorthanded, Jordan Staal deflected a Dougie Hamilton point shot to force sudden death.

It nearly didn’t reach that point. Petr Mrazek bailed out his team with some great saves on dangerous chances. That included stoning John Carlson point blank at the buzzer. He finished with 29 saves.

A bad break cost Carolina. Brett Pesce lost his stick on a long defensive shift. Even after getting a stick, he never recovered. Evgeny Kuznetsov waited behind the net before setting up Brooks Orpik for the game-winner at 1:48 of sudden death. Orpik does his best work in the playoffs. The defensive defenseman once beat the Islanders a few years ago.

That’s the playoffs in a nutshell. Where unlikely heroes emerge. In a tightly played Game Two, Craig Smith won the game for the Predators to even the series against the Stars. Nashville prevailed 2-1 to get a much needed win with the series headed to Dallas. Both Been Bishop and Pekka Rinne played well. It looks like that could be a long series.

In the night cap, the Avalanche fought hard to come back and beat the Flames 3-2 in OT. After Matt Nieto and Rasmus Andersson exchanged goals in the second, Sean Monahan put the Flames on top 2-1. But with Phillip Grubauer pulled, J.T. Compher tied the game at 17:21 on a broken play off a face-off.

I thought Sam Bennett would win it for Calgary. He was their best forward, picking up two assists including the primary on both Andersson’s and Monahan’s goals. But following a clutch stop from Grubauer, Nathan MacKinnon took a perfect pass from Mikko Rantanen in stride and pulled away from Mark Giordano before rifling a laser past Mike Smith’s glove to finally break through at 8:27 of overtime.

It was an outstanding play by a great player. Now, the series is tied with the next two in Colorado. There wouldn’t have been overtime without Grubauer, who made 35 saves. Smith was excellent too stopping 36 of 39. It’s been much different than expected so far.

It’ll be interesting to see how many games Kadri receives. I like him as a player. He’s a solid two-way center, who plays on the edge. However, he simply cannot take that penalty. It could cost Toronto again. Now, he’ll be unavailable for the rest of the first round. He should’ve challenged DeBrusk to a fight.

Instead, Kadri will be watching from the press box hoping his team can prevail without him.

The Islanders look to go up 3-0 the Penguins at high noon on NBC during Master’s Sunday. Can Tiger win his fifth green jacket? Sidney Crosby will be looking to get untracked in a must win Game Three at home.

What about the Lightning? Can they get back in their series visiting Columbus? Without Kucherov, it’s up to Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh to deliver in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s at 7 PM.

Winnipeg faces a similar situation at St. Louis. After dropping the first two at home, do they have what it takes to get Game Three and make it a series?

San Jose is banking on Martin Jones to be better than his disappointing Game Two in Vegas. Two teams that hate each other renew acquaintances in Sin City with the series tied.

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Umm Lightning?!?! The Trotz Isles and awful officiating

Logan Couture was called for goalie interference on Marc-Andre Fleury. A terrible call that hurt the Sharks in a 5-3 loss to Vegas. AP Photo via Getty Images.

Night Three is in the books. It could be one to remember for a couple of reasons. Let’s highlight why.

A.The Lightning were blown out 5-1 by a more determined Blue Jackets in a shocking Game Two. They’re in trouble.

B.The Islanders outplayed the Penguins to hold serve at home with a 3-1 victory in Game Two at a raucous Nassau Coliseum. For the first time since 1983, the Isles lead a best-of-seven series 2-0. Is Pittsburgh done? We’ll see how they respond at home.

C.Awful officiating marred a wild Game Two won by the Golden Knights 5-3 over the Sharks to even that series. A good wipe out of a Sharks goal was followed by a horrid goaltender interference call on Logan Couture. Of course, Vegas got the winner. But it was San Jose’s lousy special teams that allowed two shorthanded goals that cost them.

D.The Blues put the Winnipeg Jets on notice by repeating a strong third period to go up two games with a 4-3 win. Jordan Binnington outplayed Connor Hellebuyck, who allowed a bad Ryan O’Reilly goal for the winner. Kevin Hayes saw one shift in the third. Uh oh. St. Louis heads home in the driver’s seat. Are the Jets finished? Game Three will determine it.

So, what’s going on with the Lightning? For starters, they are out of sorts by trying to go hit for hit with the Blue Jackets. That’s not how Tampa piled up so many points. They are more talented, faster and can impose their will.

Columbus is frustrating them by playing the familiar grinding style coach John Tortorella is known for. By letting Sergei Bobrovsky see most of the shots and clearing the crease, they’re winning the series. When lethal finisher Brayden Point goes out of his way to fight Zach Werenski, that takes him off the ice for five minutes. A trade Torts will take.

It’s not just that either. It’s the Jackets’ stars who are outperforming the Bolts’ big names. Matt Duchene erupted for a four point game (1-3-4) that included a gritty rebound on a power play for his first career postseason goal. He also made a gorgeous feed to set up Artemi Panarin for an easy putaway. Torts rearranged his lines in Game One by putting Duchene and Panarin together with Oliver Bjorkstrand. It’s working.

Cam Atkinson also scored very early on a rebound by beating Ryan McDonagh to the spot. Interestingly, Duchene scored similarly by outworking Victor Hedman. The Lightning are supposed to have an edge there with those two defensemen. Not so far. Werenski (Gordie Howe hat trick), Seth Jones and David Savard have all been better.

Columbus has even connected three times in two games on the power play. They’re executing to perfection. Perhaps former Tampa Stanley Cup hero Martin St. Louis has something to do with it. He is on Torts’ staff working with that power play. He certainly knows the Lightning and coach Jon Cooper well.

Even depth player Riley Nash scored a big goal that answered Mikhail Sergachev’s tally that made it 3-1. Bobrovsky is seeing everything. Ever since his shaky first period where he gave up three goals, he’s only let in one and that was the Sergachev goal off his own defenseman. Bobrovsky made two gigantic saves on a Tampa power play prior to Nash making it 4-1. He’s outplayed Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Bolts were so animated that they lost their cool. Leading scorer Nikita Kucherov took an ill advised cheap shot at a defenseless Markus Nutivaara with the game out of reach. He was appropriately assessed a five minute boarding major and game misconduct. News spread quickly that he will have a phone hearing for the idiotic play. A very selfish action by the Hart front-runner that could cost him Game Three. What was he thinking?

So far, Kucherov and Steven Stamkos have been shutout in the first two games. Factoring in Point, Hedman, McDonagh and Tyler Johnson, none of their best players have even registered a point. That’s insane. No way that can continue when the series shifts to Columbus. When J.T. Miller has two more points on assists, that’s a bad sign. No disrespect to JT. But he’s never been a playoff performer. The Lightning top guns better get it in gear.

The big question is this. Do the Bolts have it in them? They’re very capable of turning it around like the Caps did to the Jackets last year. Something an angry Hedman reminded Nash, who wasn’t even on them. Ha. The better question might be does Columbus have the killer instinct to put away the Lightning. They’re a better team than the Caps, who only wound up turning it all around thanks to taking Game Three in sudden death. They reeled off four straight to oust CBJ. Then, went all the way by beating the Pens, Bolts and Golden Knights in succession.

What a storyline NBC now has. Not that they’re too pleased. Game Three is a must watch for any pucker.

I gotta give credit to the Islanders. I didn’t think they’d win this series against the more proven Pens. But I did predict seven games, figuring the scrappy Isles grinding style under Barry Trotz would frustrate the Pens. I have been proven right. I just didn’t see Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel having no points in the first two games.

The Isles top pair of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock have done a masterful job of taking away time and space from Crosby. He’s only the game’s best player. When he has gotten chances, Robin Lehner has come through like the early stop he made on a tricky Crosby backhand.

Lehner is a remarkable story. He should win the Masterton Trophy. He could even be nominated for the Vezina despite splitting duty with Thomas Greiss. They’ll probably vote for Vasilevskiy over Marc-Andre Fleury, and either Bobrovsky or Frederik Andersen. All worthy candidates along with Carey Price. It should be an interesting breakdown.

The Isles are up two games because their best players are outplaying the Pens’ elite that includes Crosby, Guentzel, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel and a very ornery Evgeni Malkin. Mathew Barzal had two assists in Game Two, following up his huge primary helper on Josh Bailey’s OT winner. Bailey scored a huge insurance goal on the power play, giving him two goals in the series.

Jordan Eberle has goals in two straight. He also had a helper in last night’s win to give the former Oiler four points. Wow. His backhand winner at 7:54 of the third broke a 1-1 tie. Then, Bailey put home a Anders Lee rebound to make the Pens finally pay for all the undisciplined penalties they took. They went 1-for-6, making the final one work after taking the collar in five previous opportunities, including an abbreviated 5-on-3.

Malkin looked ready to explode. He took two minor penalties and mixed it up at the end with Scott Mayfield, who was happy to oblige before Wes McCauley pulled Malkin away.

The interesting part for the Pens is Matt Murray hasn’t been the problem. He made plenty of good saves to give his team a chance. It’s been the lousy coverage by Pittsburgh that’s doomed them. Following a rare goal from Erik Gudbranson, they allowed Anthony Beauvillier to get to a loose puck and tie the game less than three minutes later. It was a Isles rush well executed by Eberle and a speedy Barzal, who forced Murray into a difficult stop that led to Beauvillier notching his first postseason goal.

Look how easy it was for Eberle to come out and whistle this backhand past Murray for the game decider:

That should never happen. That sums up the first two for Pittsburgh. Checking is permitted. We’ll see if their D stiffens in front of their home crowd Sunday afternoon.

Vegas deserved its two goal victory over San Jose. They scored the game’s first three goals to chase an ineffective Martin Jones. But did blow it in crazy fashion with the Sharks putting together a three goal barrage in only a 2:09 span to tie the game.

The Golden Knights didn’t panic. But they got the benefit of a lousy call on Logan Couture. Here is how it looked:

Jen is one of my closest friends. She doesn’t complain unless it’s very bad. It wasn’t so much that her team had a goal waved off due to Couture making contact with Fleury, who couldn’t play the shot. It was the fact he accidentally bumped into Fleury, who was outside the crease. That’s not goalie interference. It’s incidental contact.

Instead, the Knights cashed in on a gift power play with Mark Stone scoring the crucial go-ahead tally. The Sharks never recovered. Oh. They sure had their chances. Vegas kept handing them power plays. Even if the last one on Tomas Nosek was another bad call, you cannot go 1-for-8 on home ice while allowing your opponent to score two shorthanded goals. Wild Bill Karlsson finished them off with a beauty on a breakaway going backhand on Aaron Dell.

LMAO can you blame her? You won’t win games at this time of year going minus-one on your own power play. Tampa led 3-0 on Columbus in Game One, but gave up two shorthanded goals to Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson. It swung the game.

Considering how much the Knights and Sharks love each other, we should be in for a real treat when the series shifts to Vegas.

Regarding the Blues repeating the same script as Game One over Winnipeg to silence the Whiteout, they have proven they can match the Jets’ firepower. I knew that would be a tough series to call. I didn’t expect Oskar Sundqvist to be a big hero. He scored twice last night. That’s what makes the NHL Playoffs great. Players you least expect step up.

How can you not be moved by Pat Maroon getting one for his granddad? That’s storybook.

Grandpa is proud.

There was also this remarkable shot block from Alex Pietrangelo on a wicked Patrik Laine one-timer with Hellebuyck pulled. Wowza.

That is the very definition of playoff hockey. Fire up more big games today starting at 3 in Washington on NBC. How will both Nashville and Boston respond? Plus the Canes and Avalanche look to steal home ice.

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Jagr’s Legend Grows and more Zucc

Somewhere in the Czech Republic, a long haired and gray bearded hockey legend continues to amaze the hockey universe who watch him. Of course, that would be the legendary Jaromir Jagr.

Number 68 still plays the game he loves for his hometown in Kladno where they worship him. I mean most passionate hockey fans do. But just imagine what it must be like for his countrymen to finally be able to cheer him after a vintage Jagr goal like this.

The beard is a little grayer. The hair is still the same with the classic long mullet. The rush by the 47-year old (really!) is beautiful to see. Sure. He abused defensemen who can’t be too good before going to a deke and sweet backhand finish to score.

All I can think of is all the jaw dropping moves he made and scored on while starring for the Pens, Caps, Rangers, Flyers, Stars, Bruins, Devils and Panthers. Sure. It didn’t end well in Calgary. But sometimes, that’s how it is in sports.

I wish Jagr could play one final NHL game. But I guess I’ll have to settle for that golden video in the Czech Republic. That’s perfectly fine.

As far as another more recent former Ranger, Mats Zuccarello seems to be fitting in just fine with the Stars. He had the game-winner in their Game One win over the Predators. A game he felt he didn’t play well in. Ever so modest. He’s been hurt a lot too.

The beauty of Zucc is his candid responses to reporters. In this interview, he discusses playing with linemate Roope Hintz and jokes about Dallas life. Watch the final two minutes. It’s classic.

My takeaway is Zucc’s a simple man who doesn’t need more than a pair of pants and a shirt from his hotel to get to the rink. It’s too bad he no longer plays here. Good luck to him and the Stars in Game Two. It’s tomorrow at Nashville.

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Marner leaves Rask and Bruins in dust

It’s funny. But I find myself intrigued by the NHL Playoffs so far. Even though I swore I wouldn’t do it, here I am caving in. I guess it’s the passionate hockey fan in me.

What caught my eye on Day Two? Only the game’s brightest young star doing in the Bruins. Mitch Marner is a special talent who can beat you with his creativity, speed and skill. He was instrumental in helping the Maple Leafs steal home ice away from the Bruins in a convincing 4-1 win that silenced TD Garden. Marner tallied twice including this wonderful shorthanded goal on a penalty shot that left Tuukka Rask in the dust.

Wow. He’s only the second Leaf to ever score on a penalty shot in the postseason, and became just the fifth player in playoff history to convert shorthanded in such a unique situation. Pretty cool stuff for a tremendous young player, who as Mike Milbury deadpanned looks like he’s 14. How much money will Toronto pay him this summer? Right now, they’re only concern is overcoming the Bruins and getting out of the first round.

Boston started the scoring on a Patrice Bergeron power play goal. He was set up by Brad Marchand early. But the Leafs used their game breaking speed to turn the game around. It was Marner, who rebounded home his own redirection to tie the score. He then scored the beautiful penalty shot on the very patient, forehand deke that left Rask searching for his jockstrap.

I was impressed with how the Leafs checked. Hard to believe. But they did a good job in front of Frederik Andersen. Boston was sloppy throughout. They let William Nylander get behind them for a back breaking insurance goal on a breakaway through Rask’s five-hole. Nazem Kadri made the stretch pass and Nylander did the rest. Then, Zdeno Chara fumbled a puck causing more problems. David Pastrnak also turned a puck over and was bailed out by Rask, who stoned John Tavares.

One surprise was Mike Babcock matching Auston Matthews against Bergeron. Matthews’ line did a solid job stifling the Bruins big line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak at five-on-five. Bergeron was the most dangerous. He was denied by Andersen on a rebound at a crucial moment. Jake Gardiner also played well for Toronto. He will help that blueline.

Tavares added a empty netter for his first postseason goal as a Maple Leaf. If I’m Boston, I’m displeased with how we played. They were careless and outskated by Toronto. The Leafs possess superior speed. The Bruins have to grind them down low to be most effective. Game Two should be interesting.

In the other early game, the defending champion Capitals held off the pesky Hurricanes 4-2 in Game One. They used a three goal first period barrage to their advantage. The best player was Nicklas Backstrom, who beat Petr Mrazek from distance early, and then converted on the power play in front. He always gets overlooked due to Alexander Ovechkin, who added a second power play goal for the Caps to make it 3-0.

Despite trailing by three, I never got the sense Carolina was out of it. They sure carried the play in the second period by allowing just four shots. The problem was Braden Holtby wasn’t cooperating. He made some key saves to keep it 3-zip after two.

To their credit, the Canes didn’t go away. Rookie Andrei Svechnikov scored his first two postseason goals. After taking a hit from Ovechkin, he came back and made it 3-1 on a great rush and finish. The teenager wasn’t done. On a great feed from Lucas Wallmark, Svechnikov blasted a one-timer by Holtby to cut it to 3-2.

A T.J. Oshie hi-sticking minor handed the Canes a golden opportunity to tie it with three and a half minutes left. But the Washington penalty kill was splendid. Having already shutdown one Carolina power play, they made it difficult on the Canes to find the seams. In particular, Backstrom blocked two shots. He can really do it all. A Jordan Staal turnover at the Washington blueline allowed Lars Eller to score the empty netter for a 4-2 finish.

My takeaway from this game is that the Canes have enough speed and skating to play with the more experienced champs. At one point, the shots were 29-17 Carolina. Holtby was the difference along with the stingy Washington checking late. It was enough to squeeze out a win. I think this will be a closely fought series.

In the biggest shock thus far, Mike Smith stopped all 26 shots to post a shutout for the Flames, highlighting a 4-0 home win over the Avalanche at the sea of red in Alberta. The 37-year old veteran struggled most of the season, even losing his job to unknown backup David Rittich. But Calgary coach Bill Peters showed faith in the veteran for Game One.

Smith turned the jeers to cheers. They chanted, “Smitty, Smitty,” throughout. He deserved it. His glove was on fire 🔥 robbing Derick Brassard, Tyson Barrie and superstar Nathan MacKinnon. He had them shaking their heads in disbelief. It was a great performance.

There was no scoring until Andrew Mangiapane made a strong move and backhand finish to make it 1-0 with 5:35 left in the second period. Then, Matthew Tkachuk went to work in front by deflecting home a Mark Giordano shot past Philipp Grubauer for a power play goal. Colorado challenged for goaltender interference. But it was unsuccessful with replay confirming that Tkachuk didn’t interfere with Grubauer on his first career postseason goal.

Why the video review took so long is puzzling. That is the problem. Even the Islanders had to wait before celebrating Josh Bailey’s overtime winner due to a play that was not even close to offside. It’s sad that this is what technology has done to sports. You can’t even get excited anymore.

Mikael Backlund added a power play goal in the third on a good Sam Bennett screen. Speaking of Bennett, he should change his name to Lonnie. His mustache is a classic tribute to former Calgary Flames great Lanny MacDonald.

Tkachuk added a empty netter for the final nail in the coffin. Then, it got interesting. Matt Calvert went at it with Travis Hamonic. Words were exchanged between a few other players. Finally, some truculence.

Friday’s schedule has four games on tap. Game Two between the Pens and Isles is the headliner at Nassau Coliseum. I’m curious to see how Pittsburgh comes out following such a lackadaisical Game One. The Lightning face some early adversity after blowing a three goal lead in a deflating 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets.

Out West, you have Winnipeg facing a similar situation against the Blues. They don’t want to go down 2-0 with the next two at St. Louis. The late game is the Golden Knights in San Jose. The Sharks are looking to go up 2-zip while Vegas is hoping to bounce back.

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