Islanders dominate miserable Flyers to advance to Conference Finals

If last night was a Game Seven for a chance to make the Final Four of this long Stanley Cup tournament, someone forgot to tell the Flyers. Following consecutive wins in overtime including the Game Six victory in double overtime, they were miserable from start to finish.

The Islanders took full advantage of their opponent to post an easy 4-0 win in Game Seven to advance to the Conference Finals. It’ll be their first appearance since 1993. An era without internet, Wi-Fi, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even blogs like this one. You get the picture.

How bad were the Flyers? After starting out okay by getting four of the game’s first five shots, they only had five more for a two period total of nine. I know conventional wisdom will say that Alain Vigneault didn’t have his team prepared. That’s a bunch of crap.

While the former Rangers coach has been critiqued in this space and in others, the fault lies with the players. They were awful. I can count on one hand who showed up. Kevin Hayes was among them. He must’ve felt like it was the 2015 nightmare all over again. I am not going to say anymore.

All the Isles had to do was start forechecking the Flyers defense. They folded. The fact that world beaters Scott Mayfield and Andy Greene were left so wide open for easy goals in the first period speaks volumes. It was pathetic. After Mayfield had all night to shoot, he was able to beat Carter Hart far post with a perfect shot. Then Derick Brassard continued his turnaround by passing for Greene, who put home his second of the series into an open net with Hart out of position.

It was clearly obvious to everyone how lethargic the Flyers looked. If there is one thing Vigneault could’ve done to slow down the Isles’ momentum, maybe he should have taken his timeout. I know it was early. AV doesn’t like to do it. He prefers to save it due to the game situation for the latter stages. He looked like he considered it. I don’t know if it would’ve mattered.

Vigneault’s team could do nothing against Barry Trotz’s club. They didn’t panic after blowing a 3-1 series lead. Why would they? They controlled much of the play in the first six games. If not for losing three games in sudden death, this would’ve ended much sooner. The Islanders were the superior team at even strength, power play and discipline. They won most of the battles.

Trotz opted for Thomas Greiss as was suggested in this space. He had such a good Game Four that it wasn’t surprising. Especially after Semyon Varlamov was inconsistent the previous two starts. Greiss didn’t have to do much. It was probably the easiest shutout he’ll ever get. He made 16 saves (seriously).

Michael Dal Colle was also inserted for Leo Komarov. I didn’t get the move. But what do I know. If Trotz wanted his players’ attention, he got it. They played extremely well in front of Greiss. There were no breakdowns. Not any carryover from Game Six.

Even with Vigneault having Sean Couturier available to return and center the top line, it had no impact. Not to say it was his fault. Who knows how healthy he was? But he was back between Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, who was a no show the entire series. He really stunk. At least Giroux showed up in Games 5-6. I don’t know how they can justify Voracek’s salary. What a disappointment. I could care less what he produces during the season.

Travis Konecny never scored one goal in the postseason. He couldn’t do anything last night. Every time Hayes have him the puck, he handled it like a grenade. For a leading scorer who usually is so active, Konecny was hideous throughout. Aside from Hayes, it was the secondary guys like Game Five hero Scott Laughton, Tyler Pitlick and Nate Thompson who showed up.

Not one Flyers defenseman did anything. Ivan Provorov was miserable. Philippe Myers might actually be their best D. He was a lot more noticeable on both sides of the puck. They gave Hart no support. It was embarrassing.

Once Brock Nelson converted on a odd man rush early in the third, I turned the game off for the equally as lousy Yankees. Talk about underachievers. They might not make the extended playoffs.

I know Vigneault pulled Hart with 6:55 left in regulation. Anthony Beauvillier got the empty netter. I just chuckled. It didn’t matter. His team provided nothing. So, why was that the case? Was it the Isles grinding style which can frustrate opponents into sloppy mistakes? I think so. I don’t think they matched up. I took the Isles for that reason.

Interestingly, none of the three teams that trailed 3-1 were able to complete the comeback. Two teams (Canucks, Flyers) had little left. They were each shutout and barely registered any shots. Strange. At least the Avalanche put up a fight before falling to the Stars in OT. And they had a few key guys out and were down to their third string goalie, Michael Hutchinson.

Nothing about these playoffs makes much sense. You can’t tell me the Islanders didn’t benefit from all the extra time off. When the season paused on March 12, they had lost seven in a row and were out of the playoffs. That grinding style can wear down a team. I’m not sure they would’ve made it if it was a full 82 games. They’re definitely fresh and have executed the game plan well under Trotz, who avenged that tough second round defeat to the Vigneault coached Rangers when he was the Capitals bench boss.

So, your Final Four is set.

Western Conference Final

(3) Dallas Stars versus (1) Vegas Golden Knights

Eastern Conference Final

(6) New York Islanders versus (2) Tampa Bay Lightning

Each series along with the Stanley Cup will be played in Edmonton. The Western match-up gets going later tonight at 8 PM. The Islanders and Lightning start up on Labor Day at 8 PM.

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Islanders run into Double Trouble as Flyers force Game Seven in sudden death

It isn’t easy to close out a series. The Islanders have now twice learned that lesson by blowing two chances to advance to their first Eastern Conference Final in 27 years. Now, if they want to face the Lightning next round, they’ll have to get the fourth game in a do or die Game Seven.

After working overtime to extend the series, the Flyers worked double overtime to force a deciding game on Saturday night. In a wild and strange game that saw the Islanders hold a huge edge in shots and attempts, it was the opportunistic Flyers who needed a game-tying Scott Laughton goal and an Ivan Provorov OT winner to pull out Game Six 5-4.

Maybe someone likes the Flyers up there. They were badly outplayed for a good margin of last night’s game by the Islanders. Playing with more urgency, Barry Trotz’ club looked like they were on their way to eliminating the Flyers. After giving up the first two goals to Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk 1:36 apart on a pair of breakdowns, they responded by scoring the next three goals.

Following the expiration of a power play, Devon Toews found Derick Brassard in front for a great tip in that made it 2-1 with 3:27 left in the first period. It was his second consecutive game with a goal. Brassard has two goals and an assist in the last two games.

The strange part was the Flyers still led despite being outshot 10-5. This was a theme throughout Thursday night. They would run into trouble at the start of the second. On a good feed from Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin tied it up early in the period. Flyers coach Alain Vigneault unsuccessfully challenged the goal for goalie interference. It was correctly upheld due to it being a Flyer responsible for a collision with Carter Hart.

That mistake quickly became a double whammy for Vigneault because it handed the Isles a power play. On it, captain Anders Lee put them ahead thanks to a pass from Mat Barzal. He was cleared to play after missing the remainder of the third and overtime in Game Five due to getting cut by the eye from a follow-through. He showed no signs of slowing down and was the Islanders’ best player.

As they continued to pile up the shots on Hart, who gave his team a chance with 49 saves including 38 in regulation, the Flyers somehow made the most of their first scoring chance in the second. On some good work from Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who skated around until he found enough room to fire a low shot on Semyon Varlamov, Michael Raffl rebounded the puck home to tie the score at three.

Despite the Islanders leading in shots by a significant margin, they were tied. They continued to apply the pressure late. Some sloppy defensive play from Philly allowed Brassard to find Barzal open at the left circle. The center sent a perfect wrist high glove past Hart at 19:30 to give the Isles a 4-3 lead at intermission.

Despite getting outshot 28-13, the Flyers still only trailed by one. They didn’t generate a lot of offense, but made the most of their opportunities. Even crazier, they only could muster four shots in the third. However, one of the four went in. None of the 14 the Islanders took got by Hart. He was the difference in this elimination game. Brilliant would be one way to describe his performance. He never buckled.

Nearly midway through the period, Claude Giroux sent Laughton on a clean breakaway. He didn’t make any mistake. Going to a beautiful forehand deke, Laughton tucked home his fifth of the postseason to knot the score at four with 10:07 remaining. He once again centered the first line in place of injured top pivot Sean Couturier. His status remains unknown for the third of three Game Seven’s on Labor Day Weekend.

The other two are tonight. All three second round series have seen teams dig out of 3-1 deficits to force a deciding game. Later, it’s the Avalanche looking to complete the comeback against the Stars. Then, the Canucks try to pull off a miracle against the Golden Knights thanks to Thatcher Demko (91 saves on 92 shots in place of injured Jacob Markstrom). That’s a back-to-back. So, it’ll be interesting to see what Demko and Vancouver have left.

The Islanders had a chance to put away the Flyers late in regulation. With Justin Braun off for tripping Martin, their power play couldn’t quite get it done against the stingy Hart. He had help from the penalty kill led by Hayes, who was again a factor. The former Ranger leads the team in scoring this playoffs. His line with Travis Konecny and whoever Vigneault sees fit have been their most effective versus the Isles.

It was also a special night with Oskar Lindblom returning from bone cancer. He played on the second line. Maybe his return helped inspire the Flyers to keep coming back. Who knows. They are Oskar Strong.

In spite of getting outshot 42-17 in regulation, the Flyers were much better in overtime. They played the Islanders even in sudden death. Both teams got their chances. Jordan Eberle couldn’t quite beat Hart with his backhand going over the net. Barzal had a rebound opportunity go by the wayside due to a key block from Matt Niskanen while on the power play.

The Flyers wasted two power plays in the first overtime. After not registering a shot on one, they had exactly two minutes left with Eberle off for delay of game. However, a bad pinch from Travis Sanheim forced him to hook Casey Cizikas from behind at center ice to even it up. On the four-on-four, the Isles surprisingly waited too long to attack with both Barzal and interesting Trotz choice Jean-Gabriel Pageau out.

After the remainder of the Isles five-on-four expired, their offense dried up. In fact, they only were able to get two shots on Hart in the second OT. Things tightened up. It was a battle for every square inch.

When it looked like Scott Mayfield had a chance to shoot, his stick broke. That allowed the Flyers to escape trouble and quickly transition the opposite way. It was the strong skating and vision of Hayes that created the winner. Able to carry the puck deep, he had the presence of mind to send a back pass to an open Provorov. With Mayfield scrambling to get a new twig, it was enough time for Provorov to send a good wrist shot through a maze of players that snuck through Varlamov for the winner at 15:03 of double overtime.

The result was a nice celebration at the Flyers bench with even Vigneault letting out a grin while jumping in the air. Why not? He’s been in this position before, doing it twice with the Rangers in the same round. Can he pull it off again with a different team? We’ll see.

Give the Flyers credit for showing a lot of character. They are very much alive with Saturday’s start at 7:30 PM following the rescheduled Kentucky Derby on NBC. It certainly should attract some fans.

You have to wonder what the Islanders are thinking. The three games they’ve won have all come in regulation. The three they’ve lost all went to overtime. They haven’t been able to finish off the Flyers despite looking like the better team.

Don’t forget in 2015, a Vigneault coached team came back from a 3-1 deficit to stun a Trotz coached team. The Rangers over the Flyers with also sudden death a factor in Games Five and Seven. Will history repeat itself?

It’ll also be interesting to see if Trotz sticks with Varlamov. He gave up five goals on 31 shots. He should’ve had the van Riemsdyk goal. I don’t think he is to blame. But remember how well Thomas Greiss played in his only start during Game Four. We’ll see what he decides.

In a very weird year, hockey fans are about to have the best theater to conclude three second round series. Game Seven. It doesn’t get any better. Can any of the three teams complete a 3-1 comeback? The game is the true winner. The Lightning await Saturday’s winner.

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Flyers stay alive on Laughton overtime winner to force Game Six against Islanders

Even if they tried their best to hand back a game they played well enough in, the Flyers survived a brutal conclusion to the third period to stay alive against the Islanders. Despite allowing the Isles to score twice in the last four plus minutes, they were saved by Scott Laughton, who redirected a Ivan Provorov shot to win Game Five in overtime 4-3.

It never should’ve gotten there. For much of regulation, the Flyers outplayed the Islanders, who were seeking a first trip to the Conference Finals since 1993. Following a scoreless first period they controlled, Philadelphia fell behind early in the second due to a weird Islander power play goal from Mat Barzal.

After Barzal was shoved into Carter Hart, Josh Bailey centered the puck in front. It took a funny carom off a Flyer and Barzal to go in. Of course, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault challenged it unsuccessfully. The play was a continuation due to Barzal being shoved from behind. It wasn’t good usage of a challenge which handed the Isles a golden opportunity. Instead, the Flyers killed off the second straight Islanders power play.

Finally beginning to create a forecheck and find space, the Flyers turned the tables on their opponent by scoring the period’s final two goals. Ironically, the first one came from Flyer captain Claude Giroux. The much critiqued star forward was finally able to get one when he neatly deflected a Phillipe Myers point shot past Semyon Varlamov to tie the score. It was his first of the postseason. More importantly, it gave him confidence. He also assisted on another goal and was one of the game’s three stars.

Philadelphia number one center Sean Couturier following a collision. He was in pain due to a leg injury. It could be a knee or something else. Vigneault didn’t provide an update on his status for tomorrow. Considering what happened, it’s doubtful he’ll play in Game Six.

Without Couturier, the Flyers showed some life. Another player who had struggled also hit the score sheet. James van Riemsdyk took advantage of a rare Isles breakdown to snap a wrist shot past Varlamov for a 2-1 lead. Travis Konecny picked up an assist. He had a good game registering two helpers. He’s still without a goal despite generating chances.

Vigneault didn’t change much, but made one line adjustment that worked by moving van Riemsdyk up to the second line with Konecny and Kevin Hayes. They were good. Rookie Joel Farabee slid down to the third line with Laughton and Tyler Pitlick. Eventually, Laughton was moved up to the top line once Couturier didn’t return. Another move that worked.

Prior to last night’s game, the Flyers had struggled to score at five-on-five due to the Islanders stingy defense. They were much more effective. Leading by one in the third, they continued to press the attack. Some sustained pressure resulted in Hayes and Konecny combining to set up Matt Niskanen for a rocket by Varlamov. The defenseman went high to the far post to make it 3-1 with 15:28 remaining.

At that point, the shots were in favor of the Flyers, 25-14. However, they opted to sit back. Like they had in Game Two when a 3-0 lead wasn’t enough to prevent an Isles comeback, Philly started backing up. Rather than continue attacking, they let the more desperate Islanders regain momentum. A resilient team that is used to coming back, they clawed their way back late.

While the Flyers shot total stayed at 26 for the longest time, the Islanders kept coming. They had 11 of the next 12 shots. Eventually, one went in to make things interesting. On a good play through the neutral zone started by Scott Mayfield, Bailey worked his way into the Philly zone and fed an open Brock Nelson, who quickly let go of a long one-timer that surprised Hart to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 4:14 left.

At that point, you knew it was only a matter of time before the Isles tied it. You cannot sit back. The Flyers ceded the blueline and gave the Islanders too much room. They got burned by Cal Clutterbuck, who made a nice backhand pass across for a Derick Brassard goal with 2:41 to go. It was only Brassard’s third shift of the period. He made the most of it.

The Isles came back without Barzal, who left the contest due to a Giroux high stick that cut his face on a follow-through. It was close to the eye. Barry Trotz didn’t provide an update. They’ll know more on the top center by Thursday. He didn’t return for overtime, forcing Trotz to double shift the effective Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He centered the top line with Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee.

Even though they were far from their best which Trotz called the worst game of the playoffs, the Isles forced sudden death. Similar to Game Two, they were unable to complete the comeback.

Both teams came out looking to end it. It made for exciting hockey. The Islanders fired shots on Hart from everywhere. At one point, they held a 7-1 edge. However, the scoring chances were even.

The Flyers got two early with Hayes all set up for the winner in front until a sliding Varlamov got across to deny him. Off a face-off win, they hit the goalpost on a tip try.

Then, it was the Isles turn. They had two great chances to end the series. One came on a clean breakaway for Nelson, who was robbed by Hart pointblank. He also made a great save on a two-on-one by closing up the pads despite looking behind him.

Finally, Giroux came out with the puck and found Provorov up top. He wisely waited for an Islander to go down before moving around and letting go of a good wrist shot that Laughton perfectly tipped in for the overtime winner at 12:20. The NHL did check to make sure it was legal. Replays were conclusive and the Flyers celebrated.

Game Six is tomorrow night.

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Vitali Kravtsov signs for one year with Traktor

In prospect news, Rangers former 2018 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov has signed with Chelyabinsk Traktor of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for one year. The deal doesn’t include a recall clause.

It’s understandable why Kravtsov opted to play the 2020-21 season in Russia. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hockey won’t be restarting until the winter. With the NHL still in the second round of the playoffs, there won’t be a Stanley Cup winner until late September at the soonest. For a young player like Kravtsov, it makes sense to further develop with a team he’s familiar with at home.

Both Steve Vogel and Russian insider Gillian Kemmerer had more on the 20-year old deciding to return to Traktor. It’s for the best. He probably wasn’t gonna to make the roster.

As much as we want to see him here, the situation is complex. If it were a normal year, the NHL Postseason would have wrapped up a couple of months ago along with the off-season which includes the NHL Draft and free agency. Instead, we have to wait until October 9 for the Rangers to make it official with prize prospect Alexis Lafreniere as the top pick. Don’t forget they have the Carolina first as well.

Considering that Europe can start earlier, it’s good for younger players such as Kravtsov and Lauri Pajunemi. That goes for most European prospects.

Adam Ruska is an 18-year old forward from the Czech Republic who is draft eligible this autumn. He played on the same team as Lafreniere for Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. Not to be confused with 23-year old Rangers goalie prospect Adam Huska, who will likely share goalie duties in the AHL for Hartford with freshly signed Tyler Wall.

Don’t forget that any player who completes their season overseas can be recalled by the Rangers. Who knows. You might see Kravtsov by next Spring. Let’s hope so.

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The Trotz Islanders getting it done against the Vigneault Flyers

The last time the Islanders were in this position, the year was 1993. I was a junior in high school during that run. That team was still coached by Hall of Fame legend Al Arbour.

They put the underdog approach to good use thanks to headliners Pierre Turgeon, Ray Ferraro, David Volek, Steve Thomas, Pat Flatley, Benoit Hogue, Derek King, Glenn Heavy and Uwe Krupp. There also were two young defensemen in Darius Kasparaitis and Vladimir Malakhov, who made a difference.

Those Islanders were good enough to defeat the Capitals and stun the two-time defending champion Penguins on a Volek goal in overtime of Game Seven at the Igloo. Their luck ran out versus the similar in style counter attacking Canadiens, who were led by Patrick Roy. They were unbeatable in sudden death and broke Long Island hearts in five before doing the same to the hockey world that rooted for the Gretzky Kings. The Marty McSorley illegal stick be damned.

So, here we are some 27 years later in a strange year that’s gone on for too long for all the wrong reasons. The Isles are now an extension of their head coach Barry Trotz. A proud 58-year old established coach who runs the bench the way it should be. He once turned the expansion Predators into a competitive playoff team from scratch. Then eventually got the Alex Ovechkin Caps over the hump to finally bring a Stanley Cup to Washington, DC.

Now he’s in his second year with the Isles. A once proud franchise that set a NHL record by winning 19 consecutive playoff series between 1980 to 1984, they haven’t had much success since that run in ’93 when they lost to Montreal in the Wales Conference Final. After getting swept by Carolina in the second round last year, here they are two wins away from their first trip to the Conference Finals since those classic 90’s. A time when EA Sports came out with NHL ’93 which preceded the legendary game NHL ’94.

Under Trotz, these Isles do it with grit by outworking and outhustling opponents. They grind them down. Just ask the Panthers and Caps. Trotz’ former team was no match for them, falling in five. They at least made it interesting by winning Game Four and taking the Isles to overtime before Mat Barzal scored a beautiful series winner on a breakaway. That ended former assistant Todd Reirden’s two years as Washington coach. Trotz knew it. Just re-watch the handshake.

Now, these scrappy New York Islanders lead the Philadelphia Flyers two games to one thanks to a 3-1 win on Saturday night. They overcame a strong Flyers start by scoring the last three goals in the final two periods.

Game Three was played in the trenches. There were plenty of board battles and defensive minded hockey in a tight game that lacked room. Tyler Pitlick struck first on a good shift from the Philly third line. He used a screen to beat Semyon Varlamov for the only goal of the first period.

After that, it was the resilient Isles who responded by picking up their play. They outshot the Flyers 11-1 after the goal. The momentum swung on two strong shifts late in the first. The relentless pressure forced Carter Hart to make some saves.

Eventually, the harder working Islanders’ tenacious style took over. They consistently hounded the Flyers in a lopsided second. It was total domination. As the Islanders forecheck kept coming, their shot total increased while Philadelphia barely tested Varlamov. He deserves credit for staying focused. He made a couple of key saves when the Flyers tested him.

The unique aspect about the Trotz Islanders is they are a T-E-A-M. He rolls four lines and trusts all three pairs. The additions of Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Andy Greene have made them deeper. They’re hard to play against. Pageau continues to score big goals while winning key draws. Greene has replaced Johnny Boychuk in the lineup and supplied the grit and determination Trotz prefers.

When you look at their roster, no one blows you away. Not even the skilled Barzal, who used his speed to set up Matt Martin for the tying goal during the second. Barzal was on with Martin, which typifies how Trotz coaches. He had his top center with a solid fourth liner who normally plays with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.

As his team ran out of steam, not once did Alain Vigneault change his lines or alter the strategy. A very successful coach whose resume speaks for itself, the former bench boss of the Canucks and Rangers, who guided them to Stanley Cup Final appearances, emphasizes more of an aggressive offensive system. While he continues to do a good job, there remains some doubt if he’ll make the necessary adjustments to turn the series around. Game Four is tonight.

On both Islander goals in the middle stanza, sloppy Flyers turnovers were the reason for their demise. With time winding down in the period, they somehow allowed Derick Brassard to find Leo Komarov for the game-winner with five and a half seconds left. Brassard outhustled both Matt Niskanen and Travis Sanheim behind the Flyers net.

Trotz reinserted Brassard and was rewarded. A very good player for the Blueshirts who produced in the postseason and earned the nickname Big Game Brass, the center isn’t as consistent now. So, he was a healthy scratch for the first two games of the series with Trotz going with physical specimen Ross Johnston. It’s no surprise Brassard played an inspired game. Players respond to Trotz.

When Anders Lee was able to fool Hart with a backhand for a power play goal early in the third, that was it. The Islander captain delivered the knockout blow.

Even though the Flyers were allowed to attack more with Trotz opting to protect the two goal lead, they never could get the one goal needed to make things interesting. Instead, players complained to the refs about not receiving calls. They didn’t earn it. It wasn’t until Lee was penalized late that Vigneault pulled his goalie for a six-on-four.

The Flyers held a 12-4 edge in shots. But nothing got past Varlamov, whose best stop was a reflex leg save with his left pad to rob Joel Farabee. He got across and read the play perfectly. Kevin Hayes had the rookie set up only to see him denied. He couldn’t quite elevate the puck.

It is interesting to note that the top line that includes a clearly struggling Claude Giroux remained intact. The proud Flyers captain isn’t the same player. Yet Vigneault kept him with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. They were ineffective. In the quick turnaround later, he might want to reconsider flipping Giroux with leading scorer Travis Konecny or Farabee, who gets his nose dirty for a first-year player.

The third line of Pitlick, Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk remained effective. They were the Flyers’ most consistent due to working below the dots and generating a heavy forecheck. Vigneault should’ve played them more. Instead, he didn’t deviate from the game plan.

That’s the one issue I had with the classy coach here. He didn’t always change it up when it was needed. It cost the Rangers in a couple of series. Has he learned from past mistakes, or is this the same coach whose teams came up short for the Cup? We’ll have a better answer this evening.

While you wonder if Vigneault can get his team to adjust their style to match the Isles’ willingness to get dirty, you know Trotz will continue to emphasize that gritty style that makes his team easy to respect. A hard thing to admit as a rival fan.

The Islanders get contributions from everyone. If the trainer played, he’d contribute. That’s why Trotz is so easy to like. He gets the most out of his players. They might not blow you away, but get it done. Even if it’s ugly, you can’t help but admire their commitment.

By no means is this series over. However, the Flyers better get Game Four. If not, I can’t see them winning three straight against this team. Ditto for the Bruins, who are in all kinds of trouble against a very determined Lightning.

We’ll see where things go.

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Hockey acted accordingly during social justice crisis

Let me start off by saying that the point of this blog is to post about the sport of hockey. When we moved on from the Battle of New York to Battle of Hudson, it was originally with the idea of a unique rivalry between the Rangers and Devils. The Big Apple versus The Garden State. The bright lights and big city against the little brother in Newark.

Unfortunately, these are hard times for everyone. Personally, I don’t believe in tying together sports and politics. I’ve always felt that sports should be enjoyed by fans as a nice distraction from our everyday lives. However, we are where we are.

As a society, we can do much better. No matter what side you’re on, or if you’re like me in the middle. I believe that we all are entitled to express our opinions. That’s our freedom of speech as written under the First Amendment. Somehow, that’s been lost on some people. I am not here to take sides. Only to voice my opinion on a polarizing subject.

What took place in Kenosha, Wisconsin the other night shouldn’t have happened. It could’ve and should’ve been avoided. Jacob Blake was the latest black person to be shot by the police. Having read up on it, two mistakes were made. One by each side. Law enforcement have a tough job. I can’t put myself in their shoes. I’ll echo the same for any black male or female. They experience miscarriages of justice and endure a lot.

Here’s where I stand. If the cops arrest you, you comply. Don’t resist. Even if they’re wrong, please cooperate. If more people listened, many of these awful tragedies wouldn’t occur. In the complex circumstances surrounding those who resist, the police should do everything in their power to avoid shooting a victim unless justified. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable. What can’t happen is a victim becoming another statistic. There are too many recent examples. I’ll list three. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Rayshard Brooks.

Having also researched on Jacob Blake, he did have a criminal record. There was an arrest warrant out. It isn’t known if the four cops involved knew about it. This was over Blake attempting to break up a domestic dispute. Not what he did previously. There’s no justification for seven gunshots being fired into his back. He’s now paralyzed from the waist down. At least he’s still alive.

Did Jacob Blake resist? Yes. Did he reach for a knife while wrestling with the police? Apparently. Nothing good comes out of defying an order from a cop. They have a badge for a reason. Whenever guns are involved, bad things can happen. I don’t believe he needed to be shot that many times. However, we must still wait for all the facts to come out. Something nobody does today.

I’ve repeatedly said that racism shouldn’t exist. We live in a imperfect world. Not all people are good. The biggest issue with social justice is the lack of communication and understanding between both sides. It’s become the ugliness of identity politics that’s continuing to destroy society. There’s too much divide. It shouldn’t be that way.

Place the blame on the people we elect. All they do is fight like children and create more problems. They don’t care. Ditto for the mainstream media, who are vultures that negatively influence viewers. It’s time to tune them out. I don’t watch any news channel. I hardly watch television. I can pick up a game online or listen to the radio. I follow shows on Netflix and catch music videos on YouTube. Plus I write.

As hard as it is these days to enjoy anything due to the ridiculousness of 2020, I still love hockey and baseball. Tennis as well. Even with a global pandemic limiting some of my favorite players from participating, I’m looking forward to the US Open that starts on Monday. Hopefully, it goes well.

I’ve continued to follow the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even as September approaches with the Conference Finals likely not before Labor Day Weekend, I’m still excited to see what happens. Of course, there’s one team I don’t want to see win. The second one is who Hasan would hate to see succeed.

When the NBA decided to postpone their slate of second round games on Wednesday followed by MLB teams, WNBA and MLS, it was only a matter of time before the NHL followed suit. They were getting a lot of criticism from people. However, the time frame prior to the Lightning playing the Bruins wasn’t ideal. So, they went ahead as did the Avalanche and Stars later that night.

The thing about jumping to conclusions and judging people before getting the chance to know them is that it’s wrong to assume anything. Anyone with common sense knew the NHL would address the important issue on Thursday. The NHLPA led by African American players Ryan Reaves, Matt Dumba and Evander Kane of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, all spoke out about Jacob Blake due to racial injustice. They came to an agreement with the league on postponing games last night and today. A silent protest in support of equality. An appropriate action.

Even if I feel there are better ways to accomplish the goal everyone wants, I understand why they sat out. As did the Mets and Marlins after taking the field only to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson with 42 seconds before placing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt on home plate before leaving. My suggestion is that if the athletes who get paid a lot of money to play a sport want to make a difference, then be active in communities. Play games. Auction off jerseys with proceeds going to charities. Donate to good causes to bring more attention to the issue of social justice. Actions speak louder than words.

My one gripe with some of these players (particularly NBA) is we never hear anything from them when a kid is killed for no reason. I won’t get into specifics except to say there seems to be a double standard. Where is all the crying over Cannon Hinant, Davell Gardner or Brandon Hendricks? Crime is way up in the city and continues to be a huge problem in Chicago. We never hear anything from the social justice warriors who are so outspoken.

I get it. Systematic racism is unacceptable. Stand up for your right is a powerful message delivered by Bob Marley in one of my favorite songs, “Get Up, Stand Up.”

Nobody wants to have the discussion about hardened criminals who commit heinous acts. It’s as if that problem doesn’t exist in America. Who’s going to change it? Not the violent protestors who take things too far by destroying public property. Definitely not any progressives who want to defund the police and put our lives more at risk. I can list more.

The worst part is when you have so-called leaders encouraging irrational behavior. I’m proud of Staten Island for having organized protests that didn’t cross the line. They were peaceful and unified with police.

Is there a place for social justice in sports? As long as they are directly involved, yes. I wish there were more black hockey players. However, the cost of the sport remains challenging for the poor community. The league needs to continue expanding programs such as Hockey In Harlem so more minorities can play at a young age. Diversity is always talked about.

If Hockey Is For Everyone, then do something about it. There’s a unique opportunity here for the sport to increase its growth and popularity. They can attract new fans with the unconventional postseason being played in the summer and fall. With the Stanley Cup awarded in late September or early October along with the NHL Draft featuring Alexis Lafreniere in a strong class, the NHL has a chance to gain from all of this.

With strong leadership at the top, I remain optimistic about the future of the sport. Enjoy the rest of the playoffs.

Derek can be followed on Twitter.

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An Islanders Summer?

As exciting as the Rangers winning the NHL Draft Lottery is with top rated prospect Alexis Lafreniere on tap this October 9, Blueshirt fans now have another concern. One which we don’t want to think about.

Picture the bitter blood rival New York Islanders celebrating a Stanley Cup victory in the Edmonton bubble. It’s something I’d rather not see. Right now, the way they are playing, it’s possible that the Islanders could be playing in the Conference Finals for a chance at the Stanley Cup Final.

On a hot 90 degree late August day in the NYC area, it’s the last thing any Rangers fan wants to see. The reality is the Barry Trotz Isles are on a roll. They have continued to execute their disciplined system and tenacious checking to perfection. Having ousted the Panthers in four and taking care of a listless Capitals in five which lead to Todd Reirden losing his job, here they are fresh off a convincing 4-0 shutout of the ‘top seeded’ Flyers in Game One last night.

They’re four lines deep, six defensemen who all are getting the job done, and starting goalie Semyon Varlamov became the first Islander in franchise history to pitch back-to-back shutouts. Even if it spanned the conclusion of the Stanley Cup first round and beginning of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the fact is Varlamov is making their fans forget about current Vegas number one goalie Robin Lehner. He is making all the key saves with the Flyers second period exemplifying the steady play from the Russian veteran.

When one looks at this Isles run from the outside, it’s easy to see why they’re having success. They don’t rely on one line or only star center Mat Barzal. They’re a T-E-A-M in every sense that’s been well constructed by GM Lou Lamoriello and coached by the detail oriented Trotz. Everyone laughed after they lost John Tavares and replaced him with Matt Martin, who was reacquired from the Leafs to reform the effective fourth line that features Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.

It’s the Islanders fans who are getting the last laugh. Go ahead and mock their arena or whatever lame jokes you have. The bottom line is they’re well run by a Hall of Fame executive and boast the best coach in the game who guided the Caps to the Cup in 2018. They couldn’t wait to get rid of him. No wonder Washington is a shadow of itself with consecutive first round eliminations despite featuring Alex Ovechkin.

Meanwhile, Lamoriello quietly made two smart deals to improve the Isles at the trade deadline by acquiring the pesky Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa and picking up former Devils captain Andy Greene for a bargain. He knew Pageau could help the team by bolstering the middle. A perfect fit for the Trotz system, the tenacious Pageau continues to score clutch goals like the one he finished early in the third period with the Islanders nursing a one goal lead. Who scored that goal? The defensive minded Greene in the first on a well executed play off a Flyers turnover.

Sometimes, it’s the role players who step to the forefront in the NHL Playoffs. It can’t always be the stars. Hockey is different from the NBA in that way. It’s more about the team. The Islanders are similar to how Lamoriello built the Devils. The only difference is there are no superstars or future Hall of Famers. That makes it more impressive.

They know they can rely on anyone in that lineup to deliver a big hit, key block, good pass or clutch goal. It was Ross Johnston and Leo Komarov who took the Flyers off the puck behind Carter Hart’s net. Then Komarov made a good centering feed for a open Pageau, who did what he usually does in these big games. Finished off his fifth of the postseason. At least we as heartbroken Ranger fans can take solace knowing Pageau isn’t just a Ranger killer. He’s the epitome of a good player, who does it through hard work. The center wins face-offs and board battles while knowing where to go for the dirty goals.

That was a great move by Lou. He knew Greene obviously from the Devils. Greene is the kind of savvy vet who sacrifices the body for the cause. It’s usually a diving block or big clear that he’s known for. His last goal in the postseason came in 2010. It was a nice reward for a dedicated player.

When Barzal isn’t faking out Braden Holtby to end his time in DC, he’s setting up goals like the one Anders Lee scored to put the Isles up 3-0 on Monday night. He’s quietly having a good playoffs. But he knows he doesn’t have to carry the load.

Perhaps the Isles best line is centered by the consistent Brock Nelson, who can play in any situation while delivering strong play that leads to offense. Anthony Beauvillier continues to score with his six goals pacing the team. Nelson, Beauvillier and Josh Bailey are a very effective second line that plays both sides of the puck and forces turnovers like the baker’s dozen the Flyers had in an uninspired performance.

How else would you explain that dismal first that saw them dominated in every facet? The Isles outshot the Flyers 15-4. Only the brilliance of Hart kept the Flyers in it with his unreal glove save on Nelson one for the highlight reel. The young netminder is the backbone of Alain Vigneault’s team which suddenly isn’t scoring goals. Top scorers Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny remain with donuts next to their name. Only Konecny, Kevin Hayes and Joel Farabee played well. They’ll need to be much better for tonight’s Game Two tomorrow night.

Why did Vigneault pull Hart with under eight minutes left? I get they trailed by three, but that was one of the worst decisions ever. Especially for a good coach who’s had success. Devon Toews banked in a clear almost right away to put a stamp on it.

So, can these Islanders win this thing? Why not. We’ve seen stranger things happen already. They’re fully committed under Trotz, who knows what it takes. He can put Johnston in for Derick Brassard and it pays off in a hard check that leads to a big insurance goal from Pageau 2:54 into the third.

They got 15 saves from a busier Varlamov in the second when the Flyers remembered that there was a game. He didn’t have to be great, but made some big stops when called upon. He finished with 29 altogether to earn the game’s First Star.

A reminder that it’s only 1-0 Isles. Don’t push the panic button yet. However, it sure looks like the Islanders match-up. They improved to 4-0 on the season against the Flyers. They have a mental edge. Similar to what the Stars are doing to the Avalanche, who have injury issues as well after falling behind 2-0 in their second round series.

As excited as I am to see the Rangers select Lafreniere out of Rimouski Oceanic on October 9, I’m concerned about the Islanders. If you’re not, you better be.

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Feisty Habs not ready to bid adieu, Canucks put Blues on brink

The first round of these Stanley Cup Playoffs have been fascinating to follow. Even for heavy favorites such as the Golden Knights, Lightning ang Bruins, who all advanced in five games, they were tested.

Only the high powered Avalanche weren’t as they dismantled the Coyotes the final two games thanks to an onslaught from Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen. After losing Game Three 4-2 thanks to Darcy Kuemper, they destroyed Arizona by taking the last two games by identical 7-1 scores.

Scary stuff. Colorado could very well be awaiting the winner between the Blues and Canucks. In the best series of this round, the road team has won every single game. Even if neither is technically home due to the bubble in Edmonton, they each get the last change when classified as the home team. It hasn’t mattered.

In a compelling series that has featured consecutive overtime games which a star center won for each side, the hockey has been excellent. Perhaps the biggest surprise was St. Louis coach Craig Berube gambling by going to Jake Allen over Jordan Binnington for Games 3-5. Following Bo Horvat’s overtime winner in Game Two, it was Allen who made the key saves in Game Three. Brayden Schenn won it in sudden death on a breakaway going top shelf on Jacob Markstrom.

The Blues followed up that big win by taking Game Four in regulation. Ryan O’Reilly dominated with two goals and an assist in the 3-1 win to even the series. Alex Pietrangelo had a power play goal and helper while pest David Perron notched two assists. Allen made 22 saves.

In another entertaining fifth game, it was Allen against Markstrom. This one saw more goals scored. The Canucks used a three goal barrage during the second period to overcome a 3-1 deficit and pull out a hard fought 4-3 win over the Blues last night.

JT Miller continued his playoff renaissance by tallying his fifth of the postseason to get the comeback started with over eight minutes left. With Vancouver coach Travis Green tweaking his lines due to an ineffective Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen benefited when his sharp angle shot surprised an unsuspecting Allen, who was caught napping. His goal tied the game with 3:52 remaining after some nifty skating from Elias Pettersson with Miller setting up the goal.

That bad goal allowed the Canucks to gain momentum. With under two minutes left in the period, Tyler Motte took advantage of a St. Louis defensive mistake to cruise into the slot and blow his second of the game by Allen for the game-winner. He started the scoring with a shorthanded goal. A player you don’t expect to come through did in a big way to give the Canucks a 3-2 series lead.

The Blues went from up two goals including another from clutch performer Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford to a disappointing result. They didn’t push until there were five minutes left in the third. By that point, Jacob Markstrom wouldn’t allow it. He made a few huge saves and had a close call at the buzzer.

The Blues thought they’d forced overtime with David Perron indicating a loose puck went in before time expired. However, conclusive replays showed the refs got it right. The puck bounced off a Canucks skate and the time showed zero before it potentially crossed the goal line. I say that because Markstrom might’ve saved it anyway. It was on the line, but hard to tell if it fully crossed. It didn’t matter. The game was over.

What a crazy ending to a great game. This series has been the best of the First round. I felt it would go seven and it just might. I took the Blues due to their experience and heavy forecheck. They’ll have to keep the trend going as a road team to force Game Seven. Look for Binnington to return to net for that crucial elimination game.

In the East, two series remain. While the Bruins used a last second Patrice Bergeron power play goal in the second to eliminate the Hurricanes for a second consecutive year, the Lightning rallied from a two-goal deficit with under 10 minutes left in regulation to beat the Blue Jackets 5-4 in overtime. Goals from Kevin Shattenkirk and Anthony Cirelli forced sudden death. On both key plays, Brayden Point set them up along with Nikita Kucherov.

The definition of a clutch performer, Point has been the Bolts’ best player. Without captain Steven Stamkos, he’s assumed the role of number one center while continuing to produce in key moments. Having already scored in that quintuple overtime marathon to set the tone in Game One, it was his pass in traffic that banked in off the skate of Cirelli to force OT with 1:38 left in regulation.

Columbus paid the price for opting to sit back and protect a two-goal lead. They also got caught with the second defense pair out on those two goals against with an unfavorable match-up. Tampa coach Jon Cooper took advantage of the last change to outsmart John Tortorella. In sudden death, a turnover behind the Columbus net lead directly to Kucherov feeding a wide open Point in front for the series clincher. A perfect deke and backhand past Joonas Korpisalo coming at 5:12 of overtime.

The play was made possible due to a hard reverse pass from David Savard that partner Vladislav Gavrikov couldn’t handle. They were victimized quite a bit in this series. Gavrikov is a young player who should improve while Savard is a veteran who is what he is.

Tampa deserves a lot of credit for showing plenty of character to rally back and finish off Columbus. They didn’t want to play a Game Six. But Tortorella gets blame for sitting back. He didn’t want to take to reporters following the loss. Sometimes, he can be so stubborn. Just childish not to give the media anything. You lost.

In another potential elimination game, the Canadiens weren’t ready to go home just yet. They showed a lot of heart to win a wild Game Five 5-3 over the Flyers in Toronto. This one is still being discussed due to two incidents. The first one saw Jesperi Kotkaniemi hit Travis Sanheim from behind and be assessed a five minute boarding major and game misconduct. At first live, it looked like the right call. However, replays showed that the hit wasn’t as bad as it seemed. It didn’t merit five minutes. It should’ve been four.

Instead, with the Flyers trailing 1-0 on a shorthanded goal from Joel Armia in a strong first period by the Habs, they took full advantage of the gift by scoring twice on the major. Jake Voracek scored both. First, he had a one-timer deflect off Ben Chiarot at 2:35 off a good feed from Claude Giroux. Then, after Nick Suzuki failed to clear the zone, Voracek threw a puck that went off Chiarot and past Carey Price at 6:37.

Those two goals incensed Habs fans. Many criticized the call with ref Chris Lee coming under fire. I don’t know why he’s given these games. He’s always been inconsistent. You could insert other colorful names here. I won’t.

To their credit, Montreal responded. In what had been a low scoring series with goals tough to come by due to goalies Carey Price and Carter Hart, this was the antithesis. After Price had given up two straight, Hart let in a soft one from Armia, whose shot from a bad angle snuck in with Suzuki in front to tie the score. It was Armia’s second of the game. He plays hard and was everywhere.

Just 1:18 later, a brilliant play between Suzuki and Gallagher turned into a great goal. Suzuki made an elevated pass down low for a wide open Gallagher, who batted it out of midair to beat Hart on the power play. Philippe Myers was off for a hi-sticking double minor. Despite everything, Montreal took a 3-2 lead to the locker room after two.

The third was even more intense. The Flyers came out hard. They applied heavy pressure on the Canadiens, who looked a bit sluggish. That resulted in penalty trouble and more work for Price. His best save came on Kevin Hayes when he got the glove up on a breakaway to deny him. Hayes would get another chance at it when he got behind the Habs defense. Jeff Petry was able to trip him up from behind without it being a penalty shot. It was close.

The Flyers did all their damage on the power play. It only took them 14 seconds to tie it back up. This time, Sean Couturier and Voracek worked a perfect timing play to a open Joel Farabee in the slot. He was able to redirect the Voracek pass over Price for his third of the postseason with 9:23 left. A well executed play.

But before the Flyers could settle in, Suzuki absolutely killed them. On a quick feed from Jonathan Drouin, Suzuki faked and then tucked in a forehand into an open net for a 4-3 lead 22 seconds later. It was a remarkable play for a very talented rookie, who has star written all over him. He was the key part of the trade that sent former captain Max Pacioretty to Vegas that also brought back Tomas Tatar. Suzuki is the kind of center the Canadiens haven’t had since Saku Koivu. He’s probably got a higher ceiling. That’s saying something.

This game had it all. It had a potential Suzuki goal earlier in the second that went through Hart that would’ve ended his night if not for a successful challenge by Alain Vigneault for offside. Had that counted, it would’ve been 4-2 with Hart replaced by vet Brian Elliott. Instead, he got a reprieve and stayed in the game which Farabee later tied.

It also had controversy. Matt Niskanen somehow got away with a dangerous crosscheck on Gallagher. It was right to the noggin. Montreal was up in arms over the missed call which could’ve been a major. The NHL is reviewing the play in question. Vigneault called it a “hockey play” that was unfortunate due to Gallagher being smaller. That hasn’t sat well with furious Habs fans.

The ironic part is Gallagher was chirping the Flyers bench at the end. Especially Voracek. Of course, once Phillip Danault sealed it with an empty net goal, all hell broke loose. The Flyers acted like babies once it was 5-3 with 18 seconds left. Sean Couturier cross-checked Artturi Lehkonen. Shea Weber didn’t take kindly and got into it with Voracek. Each were given a misconduct.

It was the usual comedy you get with the Flyers when they lose. At the buzzer, the well traveled Nate Thompson searched for a dance partner, but no one obliged. The refs finally did their job and the two teams separated.

The teams combined for 67 penalty minutes. It sets up a huge Game Six tomorrow. That is one I’m looking forward to. Will the Flyers have Niskanen available? We shall see.

Tonight, there are a pair of games. The Islanders look to eliminate the Capitals for a second straight game. Washington rallied from two down to win Game Four 3-2. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with the Caps captain getting two including the winner. The former champs finally showed up. It says here the Isles need to get this done later.

The Stars can finish off Calgary in the late game. They’ve taken the last two and are getting key contributions from John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen. The Flames have missed Matthew Tkachuk. Anton Khudobin outdueled Cam Talbot the other day. It’ll be interesting to see if the Flames have anything left.

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Corey Crawford stands on head for Blackhawks

Yesterday, there were five games in the latest installment of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bubble in Edmonton and Toronto was quite busy. You had a lot of hockey to pick and choose from.

Three of the five games went to overtime. That included the Islanders and Capitals with Mat Barzal beating Braden Holtby on a breakaway with a nifty backhand deke into a open net to give the Isles a 3-0 stranglehold on the lifeless Caps. They continue to dominate the Caps at five-on-five.

Then, you had the Stars coming from behind to beat the Flames 5-4 in sudden death to even their series. After a Jason Dickinson goal was wiped out by incidental contact, Joe Pavelski came to the rescue by putting home a rebound with a dozen seconds left for a hat trick. Calgary was that close to going up 3-1. Instead, a John Klingberg shot banked off Alex Radulov for the OT winner to tie the series at two.

In the third game, the Flyers used an early Jake Voracek odd tip in goal over Carey Price to defeat the Canadiens 1-0 in Game Three. In a strange game of few shots and fewer chances, the lone goal came off a face-off with Claude Giroux shooting a innocent shot off Voracek’s stick for a weird deflection that sailed over Price and in. That was enough for Carter Hart to pitch a shutout thanks to his best friend the goalpost. Montreal hit the post four times including Nate Thompson late. Philly leads the series two games to one.

The fourth game was the best one. The Blackhawks avoided a sweep against the Golden Knights thanks to a stupendous performance from Corey Crawford. The two time Stanley Cup champion was unbelievable against Vegas last night. He was in a zone stopping nearly everything sent his way in a 3-1 Chicago victory in Game Four. How under siege was he? Try following goals from Drake Caggliua and Matthew Highmore, Crawford had the lead cut to one by impressive Vegas top defenseman Shea Theodore.

Afterwards, it was a shooting gallery. The Golden Knights had 20 shots in the first period and another 16 in the second. The Hawks couldn’t get out of their zone. But Crawford wouldn’t allow them to lose. He made 48 saves in a jaw dropping performance. In fact, Vegas out-attempted Chicago 96-45. The Hawks couldn’t mount anything against former goalie Robin Lehner. He could’ve been at the beach in a lounge chair catching waves. As Crawford continued to stand on his head, his best two saves came when he somehow masked away a pointblank Golden Knights chance and then made a great glove save on a shot labeled for the top part of the net. The way he grabbed the puck out of midair was amazing.

Crawford wouldn’t let them lose. He improved to 15-6 in elimination games. That’s no small feat. For a good goalie who’s been written off by most due to concussion history and injuries that affected his play, don’t forget he’s a winner. He proved it to the Golden Knights, who threw the kitchen sink at him yesterday. Alex DeBrincat finally scored his first postseason goal into a open net to seal the 3-1 win. Crawford deserved Lobster and steak with his choice of wine. Game Four is tomorrow.

In the fifth and final game of the night, the Blues are still alive thanks to Brayden Schenn, who scored on a clean breakaway to beat Jacob Markstrom and the Canucks in an exciting 3-2 overtime win. It was a great game. After a scoreless first period, the teams combined for four goals in a topsy turvy second. JT Miller scored on a beautiful wrist shot top shelf in transition to put the Canucks ahead. Then, the Blues responded with goals from Justin Faulk and David Perron to take the lead. But before they could get comfortable, Elias Pettersson picked a tight spot on St. Louis starter Jake Allen by going high stick side off the inside of the crossbar and in to tie the game at two. It was a great shot by a skilled player.

The third was good with each team looking for the go-ahead tally. It never came as both goalies played well. In particular, Markstrom was outstanding. In a losing effort, he finished with 46 saves. The overtime was just as exciting with each team exchanging chances. Allen came up big by making a huge glove save to deny Miller. Finally, Ryan O’Reilly made a great play. With pressure on him in his zone, he made a good backhand outlet for an open Schenn at the Canucks blueline. Schenn took off and picked high glove on Markstrom to give the defending champs a huge victory. They had to have it. They trail the series 2-1.

Today, four games are on the slate including a back-to-back with the Blues looking to even their series versus the Canucks. Does Allen start again or will Craig Berube go back to Jordan Binnington? Columbus battles Tampa Bay this afternoon. They’ll need another big game from Joonas Korpisalo to even that series. Boston looks to go up 3-1 on Carolina, who are without Andrei Svechnikov following Zdeno Chara’s dirty slew foot that caused a knee injury. Rod Brind’Amour doesn’t expect to have the young star back. James Reimer is expected to start versus Jaro Halak. It’s been a very good series. The Coyotes look to draw even with the Avalanche. Darcy Kuemper has quite busy in their 4-2 win the other day. Will he need another clutch performance against the ultra talented Avalanche featuring Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog? Probably.

I’ll have more later on Hard Hits Live. Tune in at 10 PM for a two-hour show mostly on the first round series. Link below.

https://www.blogtalkradio.com/hardhits21/2020/08/18/hard-hits-live-yankeesdead-sox-playoff-hockey-bruinscanes-bluescanucks

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Video Of Day: Barzal with a beauty in overtime gives Isles 3-0 lead on Caps

Today’s Video Of Day comes courtesy of Mat Barzal in a game that was just completed in Toronto.

With the Caps needing a win in Game Three to get back in their first round series versus the Barry Trotz Islanders, they only could muster one goal and not enough shots on opposing goalie Semyon Varlamov. Ironically, he started his career in Washington and is now a win away from eliminating the Caps.

That’s because Barzal’s overtime heroics finished off the Capitals in a 2-1 Islanders win to take a commanding 3-0 series lead in the first round.

The clutch OT winner which was a beauty that Picasso or Renoir could be proud of came following Varlamov’s two biggest saves of the game. He denied Jakub Vrana twice on a breakaway including a rebound opportunity.

What followed was a good Islanders transition. Barzal received a nice pass from Jordan Eberle, stayed onside and then turned on the jets to go by Brenden Dillon and toast John Carlson before faking and deking Braden Holtby to tuck in a backhand for a great goal that ended it.

It was that simple. Barzal might not be the greatest two-way player despite Trotz coaching him. But he’s still a game breaker and easily the most talented Islander. In terms of skill level, the third-year center is helping his case for a contract extension after his rookie deal expires. He’s been good in the three games.

Brock Nelson has probably been the most consistent Islander this season. He scores and sets up key goals while playing a responsible two-way game as a number two center. Adding the gritty and hard working J.G. Pageau was a stroke of genius by GM Lou Lamoriello. A hard nosed player who uses his speed and determination to outwork opponents. Pageau seems to always be involved whether it’s winning key draws or scoring timely goals.

It’s not surprising that the Isles are on the verge of eliminating the Caps, who have been without Nicklas Backstrom since a Anders Lee hit early in Game One. That loss sure didn’t help a team that looks lost under second-year coach Todd Reirden, who makes no in game adjustments and questionable lineup decisions. His job could be on the line if they get swept.

The Islanders have been quicker to the puck, gotten more shots through and done much better at five-on-five. The Capitals rely heavily on the power play. Alex Ovechkin has two goals which both came in a Game Two loss. He was held without a shot for just the fourth time in his postseason career.

That speaks to the fine attention to detail Trotz has his Isles playing in a very stingy system that emphasizes tight checking and blocked shots. These were areas the Caps succeeded at when they won the Stanley Cup in 2018 under Trotz. That work ethic is gone and so too seems to be their window.

Holtby did the best he could making a lot of big saves to give the Caps a chance. But it wasn’t enough. Holtby could be playing his final game as a Cap this week. He’s a unrestricted free agent this October. Given that he’s regressed in terms of consistency after being an elite goalie who won a Vezina and Cup, he’ll likely leave and get a short term deal from a team like the Sabres or Red Wings, who can use a veteran netminder.

Washington will move on with Ilya Samsonov, who’s injured and unavailable for the series. He had a good rookie year and is clearly the future of the Caps in net.

As for the Isles, they’ll continue to outwork and out-grind the Capitals and advance to the second round. Don’t forget they qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs by taking the Play In series over the one dimensional Panthers in four. At least Florida got a game.

It looks like the Caps will suffer the same fate as the Pens last year. Barzal all but guaranteed it.

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