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.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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