Why We Love The NHL Playoffs

We’re only into Day 4 of the 2017 NHL Playoffs and already we’re seeing why we love postseason hockey. What makes it great is the unpredictability.

In just four days, we’ve gotten plenty of overtime puck. A day after the Canadiens beat the Rangers in sudden death, two more games needed it. The total is already up to six. First, the Senators had a hell of a comeback in a pressure situation to stun the Bruins. They came from two back to force OT and then took Game 2 on a Dion Phaneuf goal 1:59 into extras to even the first round series headed back to Boston.

For a second straight game, heavy underdog Toronto took big favorite Washington to sudden death. Unlike Game 1 when they blew a two-goal lead losing 3-2 on fourth liner Tom Wilson’s first career postseason goal, the young Leafs relied on their experienced veterans to tie the series. Even though they had the better of the play, the Caps needed a tying goal from top center Nicklas Backstrom on a extended shift where Dmitri Orlov was able to find him with a nice pass through traffic to tie it with 7:21 left in regulation.

Unfazed, the Leafs counted on former Ducks number one goalie Frederik Andersen to make the big saves. At critical moments, he stood on his head. That included a huge stop on Alex Ovechkin, who came out of the penalty box with 46 seconds remaining in the first overtime. With back pressure from rookie Mitch Marner, Andersen was able to get just enough of Ovechkin’s point blank shot to keep it out.  He then stopped him a second time forcing the first double overtime of this exciting playoffs.

As OT went on, the Leafs started to get momentum. They were able to generate some quality chances on a power play with Braden Holtby stopping Calder front runner Auston Matthews and denying William Nylander. It was in an evenly played second OT that the Leafs’ fourth line stepped up. Having been dangerous throughout with Matt Martin and Brian Boyle setting up rookie Kasperi Kapanen for his first career postseason goal, it was again the ex-Islander and the former Ranger who made Kapanen’s emotional game-winner happen.

Off a good cycle from Martin to Boyle behind the net, the always clutch ex-Blueshirt went to work. He had the presence to carry the puck as if going around but then sent a no look backhand feed to a wide open Kapanen for the put away at 11:53 of double overtime. How good was it? It reminded true Blueshirt fans of Boyle’s heroics in Game 6 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. A look at Boyle’s unreal pass that wrong footed every Cap including Holtby, who got caught leaning:

Boyle making that play and incredible pass for the Kapanen winner is beyond belief. That is a very skilled play by the veteran big man. Sure. He’s been a key playoff performer before doing it at MSG in deep runs for the Rangers in 2012 and 2014 while also reaching the Stanley Cup Final at our expense with the Lightning in 2015. But even I was stunned by the pass. He’s a hardworking gritty fourth line high energy guy who shows up in big moments. Whether it’s a huge cycle and set up such as this pass to Dominic Moore clinching the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years:

Or it’s a big penalty kill where Brian Boyle lays out and sacrifices to block a shot, he can be counted on in crunch time. He can also win big draws. No surprise that he went 11-and-6 while tallying two assists with a plus-two rating in 29 shifts-16:34.

The playoffs are where unlikely heroes are born. Look at the Rangers’ 2-0 win in Game 1 at Montreal. The game-winning goal didn’t come from any of their top scorers. But rather 12th forward Tanner Glass. Yes. The same Glass who has been hotly debated on social media and forums by divided fans. Some asked why is he playing on the fourth line over Pavel Buchnevich. And they weren’t wrong to question it.

Quite frankly, Glass’ physicality and grinding style is a better fit with Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. So, is it a shock that the fourth line has been the Rangers’ best in the first two games? Not with how these games are being played. It doesn’t mean coach Alain Vigneault shouldn’t consider inserting the skilled Buchnevich for say an ineffective Kevin Hayes. That largely depends on what Hayes gives them in tonight’s pivotal Game 3. Why change the one line that’s working.

There’s also this:

Amazingly enough, it’s true. The Chicago Blackhawks are in deep trouble against the Nashville Predators. They lost the first two games at home without scoring a single goal in six periods against Pekka Rinne. Not even Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Artemi Panarin could figure him out. The same Rinne who was at times inconsistent this season. So, the top seeded Blackhawks are down 2-0 headed to Music City for the next two. Their season is on the line. Ditto for the Wild against the Blues, who will host a huge Game 3 in St. Louis on Sunday.

That is the playoffs in a nutshell. Only two of eight series have seen the home team sweep the first two games. The Penguins are two up on the Blue Jackets and the Ducks just completed yet another home win over the hexed Flames at The Pond to go up 2-0. The remaining six series are tied 1-1. It speaks to the parity there is in the league.

And if you’re looking for unlikely heroes from playoffs past, here you go:

I don’t watch this often. It’s a reminder of the past. But hell. Who knew Stephane Matteau would be so crucial to one of the greatest Conference Finals ever played? He was a throw in with Brian Noonan for Tony Amonte. Credit Mike Keenan even if they won in spite of him.

One last reminder. How about this guy for Calgary during their amazing run in 2004?

Martin Gelinas also eliminated the Canucks in the first round in Game 7. One I still remember because I took him in an office pool winning money. 😉

When games go to sudden death, anything’s possible. Mark Messier never scored in overtime. That man Boyle has done it twice. You need those types to win at this time of year. It’s what makes the NHL Playoffs fun and unpredictable.

Oh by the way. Guess who scored the clutch tying goal for the Senators in the third on a brilliant pass from Erik Karlsson. None other than Derick Brassard. Big Game Brass is at it again adding to his moniker. He also had an assist in the Sens’ big 4-3 OT win over the B’s.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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