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.

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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