These playoffs have been electric. It is only the first round yet there are so many cool storylines. From the magnificent playoff debut of 20-year old Spencer Knight to backstop the Cats to a 4-1 win in Game Five to stave off elimination against the defending champion Lightning. To the brilliance of Ilya Sorokin in turning away the Penguins in a stirring Islanders’ 3-2 win in sudden death on Josh Bailey’s goal in double overtime. To the astonishing concentration of Cam Talbot in turning away the relentless Golden Knights in ridiculous fashion to keep the Wild alive in an unlikely 4-2 win.
It’s all there in this somewhat unpredictable first round. You also have Kyle Connor scoring off the rush to finally end the longest game of these playoffs in triple overtime, eliminating the McDavid/Draisaitl Oilers in a stirring Jets’ sweep. One that Draisaitl in particular will be thinking about for a while given all the pointblank chances he had in sudden death to extend the series. Edmonton lost three games in overtime including the third period collapse in Game Three which really finished them. It’s back to the drawing board for the Oilers with the dynamic duo of Draisaitl and McDavid to ponder what went so wrong. Not even some clutch stops from veteran Mike Smith could prevent another bitter disappointment for the game’s rating best players. At least McDavid will have the hardware, but what’s the point if you don’t have postseason success. The Oilers will look drastically different the next time they play. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be gone along with mismatched offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie. Will James Neal join them via buyout or some trade to Seattle involving draft picks? Leave that to Ken Holland.
Then there are the Islanders, who somehow pulled out a come from behind win to put the Pens on the brink for the second time in three years. A game they owe Sorokin a steak dinner with the best wine and dessert. Sensational is what the calm Russian was. Jordan Eberle evened the score in the third period. When he did, you just knew. It was that sickening feeling. Cue up Whitesnake, “Here We Go Again”, channeling David Coverdale. Hard to believe Tawny Kitaen recently passed. A horrible Tristan Jarry misplay allowed Bailey the early Father’s Day Gift. A gimme that he accepted to set up a chance at the second round. Game Six is tomorrow night at Nassau Coliseum. Win and the Isles advance. Lose and it could be the final game ever played at the barn off the Meadowbrook. We’ll see if Crosby and Malkin have something to say about it. What was that Pen thinking with that awful back pass that was nowhere close to Malkin at the Isles’ blue line? That set up the Jarry gaffe.
Maybe under the radar was Jack Campbell turning aside 15 Habs’ shots in a busy third to backstop the Maple Leafs to a well earned 2-1 road win over arch rival Montreal at Bell Centre. He’s quietly gotten it done for Toronto while captain John Tavares recovers from the concussion he suffered on the accidental Corey Perry knee in just a scary collision. The encouraging news is he is home and not as bad as previously thought. Perry was contrite over it. He still was asked to fight by Nick Foligno in Game One. They got it over with. For anyone who doesn’t understand why, go watch another sport. For the time being, the Leafs have responded well with two consecutive wins. The goal scorers last night were William Nylander and Morgan Rielly. The Canadiens got one from Nick Suzuki, who evened it before the Rielly winner during the three goal second. Cole Caufield made his Habs’ playoff debut. He had three shots on goal and also a good opportunity with under six seconds left in regulation. But his shot was blocked harmlessly away. Game Four is a quick turnaround tonight. We’ll see if Carey Price and Les Habitants can draw even.
How about Spencer Knight making 36 straight saves after allowing a goal in the first minute of the Panthers’ 4-1 home win to force Game Six at Tampa. The WJC gold medal American hero was unbelievable. He made 21 of 22 stops in a busy first. Ross Colton scored on the first shot. That was it. Poised beyond his youth. He denied Nikita Kucherov with a lightning quick pad across that invoked memories of his stupendous performance in stoning Canada in January. The Cats clawed their way back with Aleksander Barkov setting up Mason Marchment, who’s become something of a folk hero. Patric Hornqvist also scored on the power play. Jonathan Huberdeau tallied two assists giving him 10 points in the series. What a player. Florida is still alive due to Knight. Do they have nine lives?
What of Talbot and his 38 saves in a lopsided game that defied logic. He faced a Vegas onslaught in the second period. The Knights outshot the Wild 22-1. But someone forgot to tell Talbot. He was a miracle worker for Minnesota, who thanks to goals from Kirill Kaprizov and Zach Parise, are headed home with a chance to force Game Seven. They only had 13 shots, but put three past Marc-Andre Fleury. Madness. Mark Stone scored for a third straight game for Vegas. You know he wants to close it out. It gives us something to watch.
If Monday provided hockey fans with a bit of everything including a rare raucous atmosphere in Florida where over 11,000 loud fans cheered on their Panthers, what to expect Tuesday from the Hurricanes who now have the pressure on them to hold serve in a huge Game Five following two Predators’ double overtime wins. They can thank Matt Duchene, Luke Kunin and Juuse Saros. Can Carolina ramp it up with some home cooking? They’ll need to.
You will have the Leafs and Habs doing battle again in a back-to-back. There hasn’t been a lot of edge to this series. At some point, it has to pick up. Maybe Game Four is where it intensifies. Look at the chaos Pat Maroon caused by going after Noel Acciari with over 10 seconds left? Was that necessary. No. It made the Bolts look bad. Will there be carryover? These interstate rivals don’t like one another. The hate is real. It should make for a compelling Game Six.
With the schedule not as hectic, there won’t be as much channel flipping. That actually is good. What isn’t is Edmonton becoming the third team to bow out and second to be swept. The Blues were too banged around to match the Avalanche firepower. I was dead wrong on that one and underestimated the coaching of Paul Maurice along with key secondary players such as Andrew Copp, Mason Appleton and Adam Lowry. That grind and grit gave the Jets the edge. Josh Morrissey was superb too as well as dead exhausted in that third overtime. He’s an underrated defenseman who deserves more credit. How about former Blueshirt Neal Pionk forcing McDavid into a turnover that led directly to Connor beating Smith upstairs. It caught Edmonton in a change. Those small details are essential in these pressure packed games. McDavid messed up. His team was eliminated.
It’s still strange to see former Rangers like Ryan McDonagh playing for the Lightning while Anthony Duclair skates for the Panthers. He sure has been well traveled. What’s that? His sixth team. I’ll give it a shot without checking. Rangers. Coyotes. Blackhawks. Blue Jackets. Senators. Panthers. I’ll know later on if I got the order correct.
Anton Stralman and Keith Yandle also play for Florida. Joel Quenneville has used both in and out of the lineup. Yandle might see his Iron Man streak come to an end next season. It looks like Florida will dump his contract. He’s still a good offensive D, but struggles in his end. Stralman is still around. A credit to his work ethic. I kind of miss seeing Brian Boyle play. I hope the Rangers consider hiring him as a face-off coach. They need help. Wouldn’t that be a good hire? That’s for Chris Drury to decide along with who is the next coach. The off-season will be interesting. Sandpaper is needed. You notice what most of these teams have. They work very hard. Tenacity is something that’s needed.
And you got Talbot trying to carry the Wild back against heavy favorite Vegas. He’s played for both Edmonton and Calgary. Now Minnesota where he’s the guy with Kaapo Kahkonen waiting in the wings. Mats Zuccarello also is playing there with Kaprizov. The ex-Rangers. You could probably put a team together consisting of former players taking part. Even Nick Holden is playing for the Golden Knights. He even picked up two helpers in a win. Go figure. Jesper Fast and Brady Skjei trying to help the Hurricanes advance. Both key parts of that team. Carl Hagelin is hitting the links.
Rangers Trivia: Who was the compensation for the Rangers signing Adam Graves?
It’s like taking a time machine Back To The Future. You arrive in 1991 and things are so different. The Rangers were before Neil Smith pulled the trigger on Mark Messier while also acquiring Jeff Beukeboom. Suddenly, you had three former Oilers including heart and soul Graves an integral part of the Blueshirts. The rest is history.
Trivia Answer: Troy Mallette