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.

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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