So far, three first round series are all even through two games. They include the Bruins/Capitals, Islanders/Penguins and Wild/Golden Knights. These could go long. Especially based on how hard fought they’ve been.
In a pivotal Game Two that saw the Caps very close to taking a 2-0 series lead on the strength of Garnet Hathaway’s second goal, the Bruins got a jolt from Taylor Hall. The deadline addition had a big shift to set up a shot and then steer in the rebound past veteran Craig Anderson to force overtime. His late heroics allowed Brad Marchand to set a new Bruins record for quickest overtime goal when he finished off a Matt Grzelcyk pass 39 second into sudden death to send the best-of-seven series back to Boston all tied. That clutch OT winner was a second faster than Bruins legend Bobby Orr’s memorable Stanley Cup winner. Game Three is Wednesday night.
On Monday night, there were three games played. The first one saw the Pens play with more urgency in edging the Isles 2-1 to even the first round rematch from 2019. They’re hoping for a better result than that disappointing sweep. The pesky Pens rode two first period goals from Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter on a rusty Semyon Varlamov to pull out a one-goal win on home ice. Rust surprised Varlamov with a floater that he flat out missed with his glove. Carter was able to put away a feed in front after both Kasperi Kapanen and Jared McCann took some punishment behind the net. The Islanders made it interesting on a filthy backhand top shelf from Josh Bailey in the second. However, Tristan Jarry played much better. He made 37 saves on 38 shots to earn the victory. Even a late closing the hand on the puck minor from Rust didn’t cost them. The hard work of the third line featuring Brandon Tanev was evident in stifling the Isles. After a split, one of the NHL’s best home teams will bank on Nassau Coliseum when the series shifts to Long Island for the next two games.
The second game between interstate rivals was much calmer. Unlike the fireworks and wild finish where Brayden Point broke Florida hearts, the Lightning were more methodical in a 3-1 win to take Game Two. They got the game’s first two goals including Steven Stamkos banking one in off Anton Stralman past a helpless Chris Driedger on a two-on-one. The second goal of the first was put home by Ondrej Palat following a strong Point power move around MacKenzie Weegar in which his shot banked off the crossbar right to Palat, who followed it up. Even though Mason Marchment got one back in the second, Tampa played tighter defense in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made 32 saves on 33 shots. That included a few key ones when it was needed. Driedger performed well for the Cats in making 26 of 28 stops. However, it wasn’t enough with top Panthers Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau held in check. Florida missed Sam Bennett, who served a questionable one game suspension. Why wasn’t Ryan McDonagh suspended? Department of Injustice. Yanni Gourde sealed it with an empty netter. Now, the Bolts are in the driver’s seat with the next two at home. Does Florida have an answer?
In the night cap, it took the Golden Knights five periods and part of an overtime to finally get to Cam Talbot. Following a Matt Dumba goal through a good screen from Marcus Foligno that Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t pick up, Vegas answered quickly. Jonathan Marchessault beat Talbot with a perfect wrist shot high glove off the goalpost only 18 seconds later from Reilly Smith and William Karlsson at 12:25 of the second period to swing the momentum. Less than five minutes later, Alex Tuch benefited from an Alex Pietrangelo dump in that took a funny bounce right to Mattias Janmark, who found Tuch in front for the put away with 2:41 left in the second. That gave the Knights their first lead of the series. Fleury continued his magnificent goaltending. He finished with 34 saves on 35 shots including denying 17 Wild offerings in a busy first. Fleury has stopped 63 of 65 shots in the low scoring and surprisingly tight checking series. He was particularly good against the Minnesota second line of Foligno, Joel Eriksson-Ek and Jordan Greenway. Kirill Kaprizov had a quiet game, taking a tripping minor with 90 seconds left in regulation. Instead of sitting on the puck, Vegas finished off the Wild 3-1 on another Tuch goal on the power play from Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Even without key power forward Max Pacioretty, they are tied with the Wild going back to St. Paul.
As for the other series, the Avalanche sent a strong message to the Blues in a convincing 4-1 home win on Sunday. Nathan MacKinnon beasted and feasted by outplaying Ryan O’Reilly with a super three point performance. He scored twice and set up another goal as Colorado scored three unanswered to take a 1-0 lead on St. Louis. Captain Gabriel Landeskog threw down early with Brayden Schenn winning decisively. It definitely seemed like the message was sent. Cale Makar scored on the power play and hustled back to break up a Blues’ chance. It was all systems go for the Avalanche, who got a great redirection from Landeskog for a big goal from MacKinnon. If they play that way, they’ll advance. We’ll see if the physical Blues have a response later tonight.
The Hurricanes took care of the Predators in Game One by pulling away in the third for a 5-2 win before very loud fans. It was packed. Even with the crowd masked up, they made a lot of noise in support of their team. Jordan Staal scored twice including a big goal that made it 4-2. Nino Niederreiter also tallied as Carolina took a 1-0 series lead behind rookie goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who made 22 saves on 24 shots to earn his first postseason win. It’ll be interesting to see how he does. Petr Mrazek is the backup.
The North Division First Round starts on Thursday following the conclusion of Game 56 for Calgary and Vancouver. The Maple Leafs host the rival Canadiens for Game One. It looks like Montreal should have both Brendan Gallagher and Carey Price back. Both played in tune-ups for the AHL affiliate. Somewhat astonishingly, it looks like rookie Cole Caufield will not be in the lineup along with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and defenseman Alexander Romanov. It makes no sense. What on earth are they doing? Habs fans are incensed. Eric Staal will also play despite being ineffective. Yikes.