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.