HARD HITS: Another One Bites The Dust


The Winnipeg Jets shake hands with the St. Louis Blues after becoming the latest higher seed to fall victim in the 2019 NHL Playoffs. AP Photo via Getty Images.

Another One Bites The Dust. Much like the classic Queen hit, higher seeds continue to go by the wayside in an unpredictable 2019 NHL Playoffs.

The Winnipeg Jets became the latest victim in a first round that’s seen both top seeds, the Lightning and Flames conquered. If you took the underdog Blue Jackets or the Avalanche, you won big. Over 48 percent of the participants in the NHL Bracket Challenge lost by taking the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. Due to the big Columbus upset, the league is allowing fans to resubmit their bracket before the second round.

No. I’m not partaking. I’ve already made too many awful predictions for one postseason. With the Blues eliminating the Jets in a very competitive six games, I’m now 0-for-4. If the Maple Leafs can win later today at home over the Bruins, you can make it 0-for-5. Also a Golden Knights victory on home ice in Game Six would make me 0-for-6. A Stars win over the disappointing Predators tomorrow and well…You get the hint. 😂

There’s no end in sight to what’s going on. At least the defending champion Capitals responded yesterday in impressive fashion by dominating the Hurricanes 6-0 in Game Five to take a 3-2 series lead. That’s been a rare series where home ice has mattered. The home team has never trailed and won every game so far. What will Game Six bring in Raleigh? Hopefully, a do or die Game Seven in a first round that’s lacked high drama.

No. I don’t consider what Columbus did to a vanilla Lightning too dramatic. Even if you love upsets, it’s become the Bizarro World in your hockey playoffs. Where anything is possible.

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. There are examples. The loathsome Kings if you live in New York or New Jersey. The Mighty Ducks. Heck. Even the Coyotes made a run to the Conference Finals in Mike Smith’s prime when he was up for the Vezina. You know. The same year Henrik Lundqvist won it.

Upsets do happen. It isn’t the NBA Playoffs where you don’t even need to be a diehard basketball fan to figure out what the Conference Finals will look like. My take on upsets is I like them to a point. But not when they become the norm. There’s no shock value anymore surrounding these playoffs. So, if NBC winds up with the Islanders and Blues for the Cup, so be it.

I want to stress that by definition, the Islanders defeating the Penguins isn’t a true upset. They were the higher seed who had the home ice advantage. And what a decided edge it was playing those two games at Nassau Coliseum. That’s what today’s buildings should sound like. Not the library between 33rd and 7th.

What made what the Isles did so impressive was that they swept the Pens. It wasn’t a fluke. Following Josh Bailey scoring in sudden death to win Game One, they dominated a team that features superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel. Throw in Jake Guentzel too and proven Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray.

None of that mattered. Barry Trotz coached a perfect series against a fundamentally flawed Pittsburgh roster that lacked the excellence of execution that’s required at this time of year. Another Bret “Hitman” Hart reference. I’m sensing a theme.

If you don’t have a full commitment from all 18 skaters, you cannot win in the Stanley Cup Tournament. I watched some truly pathetic defending by the Predators in a blowout loss to the Stars at home where the fans are loud. A team that once prided itself on defense and checking to make the 2017 Stanley Cup Final lacked it in a big Game Five. It was embarrassing. That doesn’t mean the series is over just yet. But Dallas is gonna be extremely raucous for a potential close out game with a chance to advance to a second round meeting with St. Louis.

If you can skate, score timely goals, defend well, win battles and get good goaltending, you can advance. There’s a lot of sacrifice. If Alexander Ovechkin didn’t become a more complete player under Trotz, the Caps would not have won last year. He buys in and knows what it takes.

What the postseason is proving is that you don’t need the game’s biggest stars to win. That btw includes the goalie where Blues rookie Jordan Binnington has become a folk hero. It no longer makes sense to spend to the max on a goalie in the salary cap era. The Rangers are paying the price for that.

What if I told you the Isles could win with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss? Lehner now is a Vezina candidate in addition to the favorite to win the Masterton Trophy for overcoming serious off ice issues. He deserves all the accolades he receives. Any NHL team could’ve had him last July. He earns $1.5 million.

That doesn’t mean more proven netminders can’t get it done. Golden Knights’ ace Marc-Andre Fleury has won three Cups. All coming with the Pens including the last two as a backup in ’16 and ’17. Don’t forget that Fleury came through when Murray couldn’t go. He’ll make an average of $7 million per year after signing an extension last summer that’ll keep him in Vegas through ’21-22. He’s 34 and has more good years left. His current salary is a bargain at $5.75 million AAV.

The future Hall of Famer has 439 career wins, including 35 in ’18-19 for a team that relies heavily on him. I believe he got shafted for the Vezina. No disrespect to Lehner or the other two candidates Ben Bishop and heavy favorite Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Pekka Rinne has the pedigree. The ’17-18 Vezina winner took the Predators to their greatest heights before losing to the Pens. The 36-year old veteran currently earns $7 million AAV. Saturday wasn’t his fault. There are many culprits underperforming for Nashville. Paging P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg.

As much as we saw it with the 128-point Lightning, who got very little from certain Hart winner Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Ryan McDonagh, it also happened to the Flames against Colorado. While Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog beasted and feasted on the Calgary defense, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm couldn’t do anything with the Avalanche or Philipp Grubauer. The former Washington backup, who evolved into the Colorado starter is 27 with a cap hit of $3.3 million. He will go up against either Fleury or Martin Jones next round. And yes, they’ll be a underdog again.

The thing about being the underdog is there’s far less pressure. As favorite coach John Tortorella put it during his team’s successful first round against the stormy Lightning, he wants his players to have fun. Being too business like can sometimes be a disadvantage. Go out and play.

I can’t predict what else will happen. That’s probably a good thing for the teams who are left standing when this chaotic round ends.

BODY CHECKS

-What if Alexandar Georgiev continues to prove he belongs in the conversation for the future of the Rangers’ net? Unlike some of the whacky suggestions that have been thrown around, he’s not tradable. The 23-year old concluded a good rookie season winning more games than he lost by NHL standards. He posted better numbers than Henrik Lundqvist. No. I’m not throwing them out. Georgie isn’t proven enough and doesn’t possess the value that former NYR backups Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta had.

-As a follow-up, there’s nothing bad about having both 23-year olds Georgiev and recently signed top prospect Igor Shesterkin in training camp. They’re both cheap and should receive strong consideration as the future starter on Broadway. It promises to be an exciting chapter that’ll also include 2018 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov and either Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes. I listed it in the order I expect it to go for the Rangers. Meaning expect the Devils to select Hughes first overall.

-Lundqvist will compete for Sweden at the World Championship next month. That’s good. He can use the extra work following a less than ideal season that saw him more of a backup than starter the final nine weeks. Maybe it’ll reenergize him. This rebuild and losing thing isn’t easy for him.

-Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei will represent Team USA. So, the Rangers will be well represented. I know Cory Schneider is going to play too. Like Lundqvist, the Devils netminder can use the extra work with Mackenzie Blackwood having a good rookie season.

-I’m most excited for Quinn Hughes to be part of the American roster. The Canucks 2018 first rounder impressed with three assists in five NHL games at the end of the season. Vancouver is going to improve over the long-term. Especially once Michael DiPietro and Tyler Madden join Hughes, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and next captain Bo Horvat. Thatcher Demko will also have a chance to share the net with Jacob Markstrom.

-Matt Duchene boosted his value with a big first round by posting seven points (3-4-7) in helping the Blue Jackets finally advance to the second round.

-Kevin Hayes didn’t. He still went 2-1-3 in a undefined role for Winnipeg. The way he was handled by veteran coach Paul Maurice was puzzling.

-If Vegas advances to Round Two, expect Mark Stone to have something to do with it. He has six goals and four assists while playing with Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. The Knights don’t want to go back to San Jose for a seventh game. But it sure would add drama.

-I’ve rather enjoyed the intense rivalry between Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves. They hate each other and it shows when they’re out during shifts. I especially loved Kane referring to Reaves as “Muffin Man,” following their fight. Reaves one upped him on Twitter.

-Ryan O’Reilly continues to perform at a high level for the Blues. Following a career best season of 77 points (28-49-77) that included a plus-22 rating and 21 even strength goals, he was nominated for the Selke for the first time. He also won over 56 percent of face-offs. O’Reilly had two goals and two helpers in the first round.

-The Sabres dealt O’Reilly last year for a package that included a 2019 first round pick, a second round pick in 2021, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson, who they wanted over Robert Thomas. A homesick Berglund went home and absolved Buffalo of his salary. Sobotka had a mere total of 13 points while Thompson struggled mightily with seven goals in 65 games before getting sent down. Oops. Does Buffalo want a do over? They better draft well with whatever number pick they wind up with from St. Louis.

-Watching them review everything from goals to coaches challenges hasn’t been pretty. Especially when NHL players think they’re wrong. Enter former Leaf Carlo Colaiacovo for the latest controversial call the lame brains in Toronto reviewed and approved as a good goal for Boston.

Case closed.

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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