Maple Leafs force Game 7 after emotional win

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The City of Toronto has all our love after the tragic event on Monday.

For the first time since that game in 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will face each other in a Game 7 thanks to Toronto’s 3-1 victory on home ice in Game 6.

Frederik Andersen made 32 saves on 33 shots faced for a .970 save percentage as the Air Canada Centre crowd backed up their goaltender with enthusiasm all night. Boston’s Tuukka Rask turned aside 27 out of 29 shots against for a .931 SV% in the loss.

Both teams had great scoring chances in the first period— Brad Marchand even beat Andersen through the five-hole, but the puck deflected wide of the goal after catching some leg pad on its way through— but none of them changed the scoreboard from zeros.

Jake DeBrusk attempted to clear the puck out of the defensive zone around the halfway point of the opening period, but he got a little too much under the puck and sent it over the glass for an automatic delay of game penalty. The Maple Leafs were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Later in the period, Andersen made an acrobatic save while the puck was mid-air, having swatted it like a fly with the paddle of his stick to kill Boston’s chances at a rebound goal.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were outshooting Toronto, 17-10, and led in hits (11-8), as well as takeaways (4-1). The Leafs led in giveaways (3-2) and were 0/1 on the power play. Both teams had five blocked shots in the first period.

DeBrusk (3) got the Bruins on the board first with his third goal of the postseason 1:02 into the second period. David Krejci (3) picked up the only assist after winning a faceoff in the offensive zone after Toronto iced the puck. Krejci won the draw, got it back to DeBrusk at the top of the faceoff circle, who then promptly fired the puck through traffic and past Andersen.

Just 35 seconds later, Maple Leafs forward, William Nylander (1), tied the game, 1-1.

Nikita Zaitsev (1) and Jake Gardiner (2) were credited with the assists on Nylander’s goal at 1:37 of the second period after the Leafs beat the Bruins once again by virtue of the stretch pass.

Toronto thought they had the first lead change of the series when it appeared they had scored again moments later, but Zach Hyman had skated through the crease, taking Rask’s stick with him as the Bruins netminder was attempting to make a poke check.

The call on the ice was a goal, but Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, used his coach’s challenge, asking for the play to be reviewed for goaltender interference.

Upon video review, the officials concluded that Hyman had reached the crease before the puck and interfered with Rask, thereby reversing the original call on the ice and reverting the score to a tie, 1-1.

Mitch Marner (2) would give the Maple Leafs the first official lead change of the series on a backhand goal at 13:25 of the second period. The goal did not come without controversy, however, as it appears Tomas Plekanec may have been offside entering the zone. Nonetheless, there was no review and the score remained, 2-1, for Toronto.

Plekanec (2) and Ron Hainsey (1) notched the assists on the goal.

Shortly thereafter, Kevan Miller, picked up a roughing minor against Kasperi Kapanen and the Maple Leafs went on their second power play of the night at 14:19 of the second period. Boston effectively killed the penalty and resumed even strength play.

Nazem Kadri slashed Riley Nash with about 10 seconds left in the second period, so the Bruins wound up with about 1:50 of their ensuing power play carrying over into the third period.

After 40 minutes of play, Toronto led, 2-1, on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Boston led in shots on goal (26-22) and faceoff win percentage (64-36). The Leafs led in blocked shots (12-5), hits (19-16) and giveaways (11-10) entering the second intermission. The B’s were 0/1 on the man advantage and the Maple Leafs were 0/2.

Roman Polak and David Backes mixed things up a bit early in the third period as Backes was attempting to deflect the puck past Andersen. Backes caught Andersen with an elbow to the mask, but only matching roughing minor penalties were handed out to Polak and the Bruins forward at 1:53 of the third period.

Toronto ended up with a rare 4-on-3 power play after Charlie McAvoy served a minor penalty for tripping Kadri. The Leafs were not able to convert on the two-man advantage.

The Bruins ended up on their final power play of the night at 14:17 of the third period after Marner sent the puck over the glass and out of play for a delay of game penalty. Boston did not convert on their special teams opportunity and gave up a couple of tremendous shorthanded scoring chances for the Maple Leafs.

Auston Matthews moved in on Rask in the midst of a two-on-one, but was denied by a vintage-looking poke check whereby Rask slid across the crease on his stomach.

Cassidy pulled his netminder with 80 seconds remaining in regulation for an extra attacker, but things went sour fast.

Four seconds after Rask vacated the goal, Plekanec (2) forced a turnover while Patrick Marleau delivered a check to Backes behind the play. Plekanec pocketed the empty net goal that sealed the deal, 3-1, for Toronto. Marner (6) and Zaitsev (2) were credited with the assists on the empty net goal at 18:46 of the third period.

The Bruins pulled their goaltender for an extra skater again with around a minute remaining in regulation, but could not muster any legitimate scoring opportunities.

After the final horn had sounded, the Maple Leafs celebrated their Game 6 victory, while Boston lamented outshooting Toronto, 33-30, but trailing in blocked shots (23-6). Hits were even (23-23), as were giveaways (11-11), but the Bruins also led in faceoff win percentage (63-37), despite losing.

Neither team scored a power play goal as Boston finished 0/2 and Toronto went 0/3 on the night.

For the first time in the series, the team that scored the first goal of the game did not win.

Game 7 is scheduled for Wednesday night at TD Garden in Boston. Puck drop is set for a little after 7:30 p.m. ET and viewers can tune in on NBCSN in the United States, as well as CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

In 2013, it was the Bruins overcoming a 4-1 deficit in the third period for a 5-4 victory in overtime of a Game 7 less than a month after the 2013 Boston Marathon— and having led the series 3-1 before losing Games 5 and 6.

In 2018, it’s the Maple Leafs on the verge of making what could become a deep playoff run after a horrific event took place in their city before Game 6. Once again, Boston had a 3-1 series lead entering Game 5.

For the last series remaining in the First Round— and only one to go seven games— it’s anybody’s game. And Wednesday night, it’s game on.

The Washington Capitals break Tortorella’s promise

Led by Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal game, the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 by the score of 6-3. The Capitals closed out the first round series 4-2, winning four-straight games after losing the first two at home.

The first period was pretty even. The Blue Jackets saw a lot of the puck and seemed to get into the Caps’ zone, but couldn’t get many clear-cut chances. It was a full-team effort for Columbus, as even the Jackets’ defensemen were getting deep into the zone, looking to get the attack going. However, Braden Holtby was having none of that early.

As a result, the Caps were forced counter Columbus’ lengthy possessions with fast outbreaks until they grew into the match and got their own cycle game up and running. Unfair to the game, Washington got the contest’s opening goal with Dmitry Orlov getting to the slot and beating Sergei Bobrovsky with 7:48 remaining in the frame.

The second period saw Columbus find an answer as they tied the game at one just before the halfway point of the period. Nick Foligno beat Holtby with a nice wrister to the far post, with Ryan Murray and Ian Cole picking up the assists on the fast rush.

The tie didn’t last long though, as four minutes later Ovechkin took over.

His first goal came in the slot off a rebound. He collected the puck and scored backhanded to restore the Capitals’ one-goal lead.

He wasn’t done there though. After a bad holding penalty on Seth Jones (against Ovechkin, no less), Ovi doubled the lead and his goal total in the game with a power play goal from his usual spot in the left face-off circle. This time, it was John Carlson who set him up for his patented one-timer bomb past Bob.

After the second intermission, the 3-1 score lasted only 2:25 into the third period as Columbus came out on a mission to live up to John Tortorella’s promise of a Game 7. Pierre-Luc Dubois takes credit for the goal that cut the Caps’ lead to 3-2.

Washington had an answer though, as Devante Smith-Pelly sniped one past Bob for his second marker in the playoffs. The Capitals continued to bury the Blue Jackets as Chandler Stephenson scored a shorthanded breakaway just a minute and a half later, giving Washington a 5-2 advantage.

The Jackets didn’t give up though, most notably at the 8:22 mark when Foligno was in the right place at the right time to deflect a pass from Boone Jenner into the net for his second on the night.

And Foligno’s goal wasn’t the last offering Columbus tried either. The Jackets kept right on firing, but Holtby stayed strong. The Capitals also had some vital penalty kills during the third period that saw players blocking big shots at the right time.

Finally, with only 14 seconds left in the game, Lars Eller put the final nail in Columbus’ coffin by sealing the game at 6-3 with a long-range empty-netter.

For the third-consecutive year, the Capitals will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dates, times and broadcast information have yet to be determined for any of those contests, but Washington’s third-straight Metropolitan Division title has earned it home ice for the series.

Preds beat Avs, 5-0, win series, 4-2

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Nick Bonino and the Nashville Predators reached the top of the mountain in their series with the Colorado Avalanche, defeating their opponent, 5-0, in Game 6 and, 4-2, in the series to advance to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Predators goaltender, Pekka Rinne, stopped all 22 shots he faced for a shutout in the win, while Colorado netminder, Andrew Hammond, made 32 saves on 37 shots against for an .865 save percentage in the loss.

For the second game in a row in the series, the Predators got on the scoreboard first. Even after they thought they had scored, but it was waved off.

With a little over 13 minutes remaining in the first period, Nashville thought they had made it, 1-0, after a puck got past Hammond. But in the eyes of the officials, Kyle Turris was guilty of having interfered with Hammond’s ability to get back and make a save— even though Hammond was outside of the crease and Turris was nudged by Colorado blueliner, Samuel Girard.

The call on the ice was confirmed after review. No goal. No penalty. No harm, no foul. Except for the loss of a timeout for the Predators, since it was technically a coach’s challenge on behalf of Peter Laviolette.

Nonetheless, Nashville didn’t back down.

Just 16 seconds later, Mattias Ekholm (1) fired a slap shot past Hammond and gave the Predators their first legitimate 1-0 lead of the night. Ekholm’s goal was the first by a Preds defender in the series and came as Austin Watson was screening Hammond.

Colton Sissons (3) and Nick Bonino (2) notched the assists on the goal after Sissons found Ekholm in open ice for the shot.

A few minutes later, the Sissons-Bonino-Watson line was making waves again for the road team.

Hammond challenged Sissons and dove to poke check the puck away, but the Avalanche netminder’s futile efforts resulted in Sissons easily wrapping himself around the outstretched goalie with a wide open net to aim for.

Sissons hit the post, but Watson (4) buried the rebound and Nashville went up, 2-0. Sissons (4) and Bonino (3) each picked up their second assists of the night on the goal at 10:19 of the first period.

Late in the period, Colorado captain, Gabriel Landeskog was guilty of slashing Predators defender, P.K. Subban. Nashville went on their first power play of the night that would last into the second period, given the official assessment of the penalty at 18:07 of the first period.

After one period, the Predators led, 2-0. Nashville also led in shots on goal (14-7), blocked shots (8-3) and faceoff win percentage (58-42). Colorado finished the first period leading in takeaways (2-1) and had yet to see any time on the power play. The Preds were 0/1 on the man advantage through 20 minutes played.

Colorado successfully killed off the minor penalty to Landeskog seven seconds into the second period, but then allowed Filip Forsberg and the Predators to enter the offensive zone on a two-on-one.

Forsberg (4) sent a laser of a shot past Hammond for his fourth goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 38 seconds into the second period. Nashville went ahead, 3-0, as a result of Forsberg’s unassisted goal.

Shortly thereafter, Nikita Zadorov was penalized for interfering with Nashville forward, Viktor Arvidsson. Sven Andrighetto swiftly cross checked Arvidsson after the whistle and Arvidsson received a minor penalty for embellishment. Zadorov’s penalty was questionable, considering the timing and where the puck was relevant to Arvidsson, but Andrighetto’s cross check was rather balatant.

All three penalties were assessed at 6:13 of the second period and the Predators ended up with a power play as a result. Nashville failed to convert on the man advantage.

Bonino (2) wired one into the twine 13 seconds after the power play concluded for the Preds and gave Nashville a four-goal lead. Calle Jarnkrok (1) and Ryan Ellis (3) had the assists on the goal that made it, 4-0, Predators at 8:26 of the second period.

Zadorov thought he scored with a little over two minutes remaining in the period, but Carl Soderberg had entered the crease well ahead of the puck and the goal was waved off immediately.

Avalanche head coach, Jared Bednar, used his coach’s challenge, but the call on the ice was confirmed after review. No goal, no penalty. Colorado lost their timeout. Rinne’s ongoing shutout remained in tact.

Ellis tripped Mikko Rantanen in a leg-on-leg collision with 29 seconds left in the second period and was promptly jumped by Zadorov after the whistle. In addition to a roughing minor, Zadorov received a ten-minute misconduct at 19:31 of the second period.

Instead of being on the power play, Colorado ended up on the penalty kill.

After 40 minutes of play, the Predators led, 4-0, on the scoreboard. Nashville also led in shots on goal (25-16), blocked shots (11-9), hits (28-26), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (3-1) and faceoff win percentage (68-32). The Avs had not been on the man advantage through two periods and the Preds were 0/2.

Arvidsson (2) caught an aerial pass from Subban at center ice and drove to the net, scoring a highlight reel goal, given his low placement of his hands on the stick (as though it were a mini-stick game in someone’s basement). Subban (3) picked up the only assist on the goal that made it 5-0 Nashville at 2:36 of the third period.

Colorado’s Mark Barberio interfered with Predators forward, Craig Smith, around the halfway point of the third period. Nashville failed to convert on the ensuing power play.

At the final horn, the Predators had won the game, 5-0, and led in shots on goal, 37-22. Blocked shots were even at 13 blocked shots apiece. Meanwhile, Nashville finished the night leading in hits (36-30) and faceoff win percentage (63-37). Neither team was successful on their respective special teams play after 60 minutes (Colorado finished 0/1 on the power play and Nashville went 0/3).

With the First Round series win, the Nashville Predators will play host to the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hat tricks abound, but Guentzel’s leads Pens to Second Round

 

Philadelphia Flyers fans will argue (with some validity) that it was with some help from the officials, but the Pittsburgh Penguins successfully punched their ticket into the Second Round with an 8-5 victory at Wells Fargo Center in Game 6.

This was a wild back-and-forth affair that wasted no time in getting started, as Second Star of the Game C Sean Couturier needed only 2:15 of action to give Philadelphia an early lead. When D Jamie Oleksiak failed to collect W Bryan Rust‘s pass along the boards, Couturier pounced to beat D Chad Ruhwedel to the corner to G Matt Murray‘s left and took possession.

Couturier backhanded a centering pass towards Murray that he blocked into the center of the zone. That ended up being a very poor decision, as W Wayne Simmonds was able to continue applying the pressure with a wrist shot from right in front of the crease. Murray slowed the puck, but it ended up sitting loose in the blue paint, allowing Couturier to force it home with a wrister.

In all, the Flyers absolutely dominated play for the opening 6:26 of action, as they out-shot Pittsburgh seven-to-two.

That all changed after the first TV timeout though, as Third Star C Sidney Crosby (D Kris Letang and D Brian Dumoulin) cleaned up Letang’s slap shot from the blue line to level the game at the 6:30 mark. G Michal Neuvirth was able to make the initial save, but the Penguins’ set play was designed to give Crosby a rebound opportunity in case the netminder yielded one to his glove side.

Only 47 seconds after Crosby tied the game for the Pens, LW Carl Hagelin (RW Phil Kessel and C Riley Sheahan) took a quick pass from Kessel to give Pittsburgh the advantage. The Flyers defense was largely to blame for this play, as there were two players crashing on Kessel inside the trapezoid to leave the center of the zone wide open for Hagelin. Waiting at the left corner of the crease for Kessel’s pass, Hagelin took advantage of the open shot to beat Neuvirth to the far post.

But the Flyers were far from ready to give up that easily, as they were able to level the game at 2-2 4:12 before the intermission courtesy of D Andrew MacDonald‘s (D Ivan Provorov and Couturier) clapper from the point. MacDonald had the luxury of Simmonds and Oleksiak screening Murray, allowing him to beat the netminder glove side with ease.

Only one penalty was charged in the first period, and it is there where Philadelphians’ critiques of the zebras will begin. It was a wild play around the 17:30 mark of the frame that started with a W Conor Sheary snap shot. With the help of the near post, Neuvirth was able to make the save, and the resulting scrum in front of his crease quickly became a dog-pile of all players Pennsylvanian.

Somehow, only C Scott Laughton was charged with an infraction (interference against C Derick Brassard) with 1:25 remaining in the period, but fortunately for the Flyers it did not cost them their third goal against.

Riding the positive energy from completing the kill in the second period (35 seconds carried across the intermission), Philadelphia reclaimed the lead at the 40 second mark when Couturier (W Matt Read) scored his second of the game. Similar to the first, he had to grind this tally out, as Murray initially appeared to survive the center’s patient pull across his crease. However, Couturier’s backhanded shot eventually squeaked under the netminder and into the back of the net.

In a game filled with goals, the fact that there was 11:34 between Couturier’s tally and Laughton’s (Couturier) long-range snapper was unbelievable. However, the Flyers weren’t complaining one bit, as they earned the first two-goal game of the lead.

Of course, we all know what is said about two-goal leads, so it didn’t take long for the Penguins to begin storming back. RW Patric Hornqvist (First Star F Jake Guentzel and Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within one goal 1:21 after the horn stopped blaring for Laughton by completing some stellar passing with a wrister. Hornqvist had the luxury of a gaping cage due in large part to Guentzel’s well-earned reputation for clutch playoff performances (a point he’d further cement in the third period), as Neuvirth fully committed to stopping any shot the sophomore could attempt on his blocker side.

Speaking of Guentzel’s playoff scoring abilities, he (D Olli Maatta and Hornqvist) was the one responsible for tying the game at 4-4 with 54 seconds remaining in the second period.

Also in that category, Guentzel scored Pittsburgh’s fifth (assist from Kessel at the 30 second mark), sixth (assists from Crosby and Letang at the 12:48 mark) for his second-ever hat trick (both in the playoffs) and seventh goals of the game (assists from Hornqvist and Letang at the 12:58 mark).

It was the game-winning goal where officiating started to look a little fishy. Having already been sent to the penalty box for cross checking Couturier with 9:23 remaining in regulation (then setting up 1:28 of four-on-three play for the Flyers), it seemed like Letang was guilty of a fairly obvious tripping penalty against Couturier along the boards in Philadelphia’s defensive zone. However, play was allowed to continue, allowing Guentzel to bury his slap shot from between the face-off circles past Neuvirth’s glove.

Let the boo birds begin their song.

Surely mad at not getting the call he thought he deserved, Couturier (F Claude Giroux) set the score at 7-5 with 2:53 remaining in regulation to complete his hat trick. Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan challenged for goaltender interference, but it was ruled that Murray was able to play his position after the slight contact from the eventual goalscorer.

Couturier scored with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, and – with his club facing elimination – Head Coach Dave Hakstol employed that strategy once again for any glimmer of hope that his team could score two more goals.

They would not be able to pull that off, but one goal was left to be scored: an empty netter by Rust with 31 seconds remaining in regulation.

Of course, this being the Battle of Pennsylvania, even this simple play could not go off without some gritty play. However, it was Maatta’s blatant cross check against a Flyer at center ice immediately before Rust’s goal that once again drew the ire of the Philly crowd.

Similar to Letang’s, this infraction went “unnoticed” by the officials and the orange-clad fans let them know about – not only with a chorus of boos, but also with rally towels and beer cans of various volumes.

While it is unwise to condone such behavior from fans, it’s hard to argue with their judgement. This was a built-up frustration stemming from the missed Letang penalty (at minimum) that truly could have influenced the outcome of this game, and it boiled over when Maatta’s penalty also went uncalled.

With one rivalry behind them, the Penguins now await the winner of the Columbus-Washington series for Round Two in their quest for a three-peat. The Capitals own a 3-2 advantage going into Game 6, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. Pens fans should tune their televisions to CNBC, SN or TVAS2 to find out which capital their club will square off against next: Ohio’s or the nation’s.

Is Player Usage Costing Jackets a Playoff Series?

Most of the focus in analyzing the playoff performance seems to focus on Sergei Bobrovsky.  This is understandable given Bobrovsky’s history of giving up three or more goals in playoff games, but it ignores another reason that the Jackets may be struggling against the Capitals as their series has progressed and that is player usage.

The Jackets played 82 games prior to the playoffs and that data tells us a lot about which players were making positive contributions to the team and which players weren’t.  Yet, John Tortorella’s player usage in this series suggests that some old school thoughts about playoff hockey may be leading to the Jackets deploying players in a sub-optimal manner.  In a series defined by close games and, more importantly, overtime games, choices in player deployment can be the difference between being up 3-2 and being down 3-2.

Let’s take the case of Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Bjorkstrand finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% of 51.64 percent and was fifth on the team with 40 points.  Furthermore, Bjorkstrand had become a very solid player at both ends at the ice, something that Tortorella had him focused on at the start of the season.  Yet, through five games of this series, the only players with less time-on-ice than Bjorkstrand were Alexander Wennberg (who has only played in two games due to injury), Mark Letestu, and Sonny Milano (a healthy scratch for Game 5).  After scoring a goal in Game 5, Torts finally started playing Bjorkstrand more in the rest of the game and the result was a number of solid shifts where the puck was held in the Caps zone–something the Jackets have struggled with in this series. Bjorkstrand’s line had two of the best opportunities in the overtime period of Game 5.

One of the players getting less ice time than Bjorkstrand is Milano, who was a healthy scratch for Game 5, but played little to no minutes in the prior four games.  Like Bjorkstrand, Milano had a positive 5-on-5 CF% of 50.91 percent.  He put up 14 goals in only 55 games and his return to the lineup was one of the things that helped the Jackets down the stretch.  In fact, Milano was paired with Bjorkstrand on a line centered by Nick Foligno that provided a scoring threat when the top line wasn’t on the ice during a part of March.  That line was scuttled by Foligno’s injury.

So, who has been getting ice time over Milano and Bjorkstrand?  Thomas Vanek, for one.  While Vanek had positive possession numbers in 19 games for the Jackets, his possession numbers in Vancouver were less than stellar with a 45.01 percent 5-on-5 CF%. Seven goals and eight assists in 19 games was also probably not a sustainable pace for the 34 year-old Vanek.

You have to wonder how much of the decision to play Vanek more than Bjorkstrand and Milano comes down to an antiquated view of “playoff hockey.”  Neither Milano nor Bjorkstrand are known for a gritty or grinding style.  They aren’t veterans.  And, while Bjorkstrand is solid in his own end, Milano is still a work-in-progress in this respect.  However, none of this changes the fact that the team is better off with them in the lineup and playing.  The fact is that Milano is a dangerous player in both good ways and bad and the good still outweighs the bad based on what the advanced stats tell us.  Given Vanek’s own unforced-errors in Game 4, it hardly seems like playing him more has solved anything and it has, arguably, taken a more skilled player off the ice and certainly taken a quicker skater off the ice.

With Wennberg back in the lineup, one of Brandon Dubinsky or Letestu should be out of the lineup to make room for Milano.  The sole reason this apparently hasn’t happened would seem to be face-offs.  Wennberg is clearly being sheltered from this part of his duties, while Boone Jenner is actually being put in for spot face-off duty.

I’m not sure this is good enough justification to keep them both in.  Jenner has been strong enough in the face-off dot, as has Foligno.  Letestu been so-so this series and Dubinsky has been strong, though Dubinsky has taken three penalties while Letestu has taken none.  Flip a coin, but one of these two should sit instead of dividing minutes and taking a roster spot that could be held by a better player.  If you want to see how smart coaches can make dumb decisions about players based on overemphasizing face-offs, take a look at Jay Beagle‘s possession stats sometime.  Woof.

That’s another thing, here.  The Caps have dog crap for depth.  They had six forwards who played regularly who finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% above 50 percent.  One of them–Burakovsky–is out for the series.  How many regular forwards did Columbus have above that mark?  Eight, all of whom who are available to play in this series.  That means the Jackets are one line deeper than Washington.  Josh Anderson is playing bottom-six minutes for the Jackets.  I’ve got no problem with that as long as (1) the right people are getting more minutes than him and (2) the Jackets more evenly divide the minutes.

Why should the minutes be divided more evenly?  Because the Caps have dog crap for depth AND these games are going into overtime.  The Jackets should be taking more advantage of their depth by spreading minutes more evenly.  Keep the legs fresh.  This isn’t the old days.  Penalties are called regularly in the playoffs now and the old grind and hold game doesn’t work.  The team with fresh legs is best prepared to capitalize on mistakes in overtime.  You look at the last shift yesterday and the Jackets’ top line was gassed and the Caps took advantage on the cycle.  Divide minutes more evenly and the story might end differently.  The Jackets can afford to do it because the skill difference between their third and second lines isn’t as pronounced as it is for Washington.

If the Jackets want to take it to Washington tomorrow, John Tortorella needs to face his fears and embrace the fact that speed and skill is what wins games in hockey in 2018, even in the playoffs.  Yes, Milano will make mistakes, but so have the guys who have played in place of him.  Show faith in your young players.  They are the future of this team and they didn’t let you down for the 82 games that preceded this series.  Don’t abandon them now because of fear, embrace them as your hope.  Depth is your advantage, press your advantage.  Divide playing time more equally not just because you expect these games to go to overtime, but because it is to your advantage even over 60 minutes of hockey.  Torts needs to think about his own motto in a new way.  When it comes to coaching playoff games in 2018, Safe Is Death.

Maple Leafs hold on, 4-3, to force Game 6

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The Toronto Maple Leafs had another 4-1 lead and… …this time they didn’t blow it.

Yes, Toronto forced a Game 6 back at Air Canada Centre after defeating the Boston Bruins, 4-3, on Saturday night at TD Garden in Game 5.

Frederik Andersen made 42 saves on 45 shots faced for a .933 save percentage in the win for the Maple Leafs, while Anton Khudobin stopped all eight shots he faced in relief for Boston’s Tuukka Rask.

Rask made nine saves on 13 shots against for a .692 SV% in 31:55 time on ice for the loss.

Facing elimination, Mike Babcock looked to shake things up alongside his brightest star in Toronto. William Nylander had played alongside Auston Matthews until Game 5 when Babcock switched Nylander with Connor Brown.

It paid off in just a little over six-and-a-half minutes.

Matthews wrapped around the goal and sent a quick saucer to Brown (1) who whacked the rubber biscuit out of the air and into the back of the twine behind Boston’s netminder. Matthews (1) and Zach Hyman (3) notched the assists on Brown’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and Toronto got out front on the scoreboard, 1-0, at 6:36 of the first period.

The Bruins were pulled apart on stretch passes almost four minutes later, when Jake Gardiner connected on a pass up the ice to Nazem Kadri who then kept things moving by sending it up to Andreas Johnsson on a “create-your-own-breakaway” style play.

Johnsson (1) beat Rask and gave the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead at 10:12 of the first period. Kadri (1) picked up his first point in his first game back since being suspended and Gardiner (1) recorded the secondary assist on Johnsson’s goal.

Bruce Cassidy started the night mismatching Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy with the Leafs lineup. He ended the first period by putting his best defensive pair on the ice every time the Matthews line was out there.

Tyler Bozak took a penalty for slashing Rick Nash at 13:54 of the first period— giving Boston their first power play of the night.

Yet, after David Pastrnak loudly rang the post, the Bruins were not able to convert on the power play and Toronto remained ahead, 2-0.

After one period, Boston outshot Toronto (15-6), led in hits (12-8) and won 63% of the faceoffs in the first. The Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (5-3), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (7-1) and more importantly, 2-0 on the scoreboard. Toronto had yet to see a power play and the Bruins were 0/1 on the man advantage.

Penalty time keepers got their money’s worth in the second period as Mitch Marner opened things up with a tripping penalty against Pastrnak, putting the Bruins on a power play at 9:28 of the second period.

Shortly thereafter, David Backes (2) collected the garbage and piled it home to cut the Maple Leafs lead in half and make it 2-1 with a power play goal. Jake DeBrusk (2) and Torey Krug (6) had the assists on Backes’s goal at 9:45.

Just as the TD Garden faithful were getting back into it, Bozak (2) sent one past Rask on another goal that all started because of Toronto’s stretch passes. Morgan Rielly (5) and James van Riemsdyk (1) notched the assists on Bozak’s goal and it was 3-1 Toronto just past the halfway point in the second period.

Then Matt Grzelcyk tripped Johnsson at 11:24 and the floodgates opened.

First, van Riemsdyk (3) roofed a goal from the side of the net, beating Rask’s short side blocker after the Bruins goaltender dropped to the butterfly stance. Toronto’s power play goal gave them a three-goal lead and suddenly it was, 4-1, thanks to van Riemsdyk’s goal at 11:55 of the second period.

Marner (5) and Bozak (2) had the assists on the goal that ended up chasing Boston’s starting goaltender from the crease as Cassidy replaced Rask with his backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin.

With the relief effort, Khudobin made his first career appearance in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Hyman, Gardiner and Backes roughed each other up after a stoppage in play and all three players were assessed minor penalties. Toronto’s Hyman and Gardiner each received two-minutes for roughing, while Boston’s David Backes got two, two-minute minor penalties for roughing (totaling four minutes). All of the penalties came at 12:51 of the second period.

Then Bozak took a penalty for interference at 13:18 and gave the Bruins a power play that quickly became a 5-on-3 power play for Boston when Roman Polak slashed Rick Nash almost 30 seconds later.

Boston had a two-man advantage for 1:34, but they did not convert on the opportunity.

Late in the second period, Grzelcyk worked the puck down low, pinching behind the net, then pulling the puck along the wall to free himself and send a pass across to Sean Kuraly in the low slot.

Kuraly (2) scored while falling on a one-time and the Bruins trailed by two goals, 4-2. Grzelcyk (1) and Noel Acciari (1) were credited with the assists on the goal at 17:18 of the second period.

Johnsson ended the period’s final penalty call after hooking Pastrnak at 18:33.

After 40 minutes of play, the Maple Leafs led on the scoreboard, 4-2, while the Bruins led in shots on goal, 25-16. Boston also led in hits (19-17), takeaways (8-6) and faceoff win percentage (59-42). The Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (15-7) and giveaways (10-3) through two periods. Toronto was 1/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/5 entering the second intermission.

Early in the third period, Maple Leafs defender, Travis Dermott, was penalized for holding Bruins forward, Noel Acciari.

Despite their best efforts, the Bruins power play was powerless and Toronto made yet another kill.

Acciari (1) took it upon himself, however, to strike back on the scoreboard, bringing Boston to within one at 5:56 of the third period after he crashed the net and cashed in on a puck that rebounded off the side of the goal.

The Bruins fourth liner slipped the puck past Andersen’s right leg pad as the Maple Leafs netminder was moving left to right desperately trying to plug up the net.

Tim Schaller (2) and Krug (7) had the assists on Acciari’s goal and Toronto held onto a 4-3 lead.

Short of the kitchen sink, Boston continued to pressure Toronto for the remainder of the third period to no avail.

Cassidy pulled Khudobin for an extra skater with about 1:13 remaining in regulation and called a timeout after a stoppage in play with 32.8 seconds to go, but the Bruins were unable to set up the perfect play to tie the game and force an overtime.

After 60 minutes of hockey, Toronto had won, 4-3.

Boston led in shots on goal (45-21) and faceoff win percentage (53-47), but the Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (22-8) and the final result. Toronto finished the night 1/1 on the power play and the Bruins went 1/6.

Game 6 is scheduled for Monday night in Toronto, where the Bruins will have a chance to win the series on the road (as they now lead the series, 3-2) or come back home to a Game 7 (in which whoever wins would advance). Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune into NBCSN for coverage. Canadian fans looking to get their fill can follow the action on CBC or TVAS.

Caps OT Win Puts Jackets On Brink

With an overtime-winning goal from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps became the first team to win a game on home ice in this series as they moved within a win of the second round.  The Jackets have now lost three straight after starting the series with a 2-0 advantage.

The Jackets had played a solid first period, but the Caps got a power play that felt like it could shift momentum.  Instead, Matt Calvert scored a short-handed goal to give the Jackets their first 1-0 lead of the series off of some nice board work by Seth Jones.  The lead wouldn’t last long as Backstrom got a lucky break on a shot that went off of David Savard‘s skate, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s mask and into the goal.

As the second period started, it felt like the Caps were the hungrier team.  Dmitry Orlov sent a long stretch pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov that he buried to give the Caps their first lead of the game at 2-1.  It was one of several poor line changes by Columbus and Washington took advantage.  Despite continued pressure from the Caps, the Jackets would even it up when Calvert got his second of the game on a breakaway after initially whiffing on a shot and then making a spin move to put it in the net.  With 3:18 left in the 2nd period T.J. Oshie redirected a point shot from John Carlson to put the Caps ahead 3-2. Once again, it felt like maybe the Caps were going to take control of the game.

However, Oliver Bjorkstrand had other thoughts.  Ian Cole took a shot from the point that Bjorkstrand tipped to knot the game at three early in the third period.  Bjorkstrand had seen little time throughout the game (and the series), but he seemed to gain confidence in this game and John Tortorella rewarded him with additional time in the third period and overtime.  All of the momentum was with Columbus in the third period, but they couldn’t solve Braden Holtby.  The Caps were outshot 16-1 in the final frame of regulation.

Once again, the long change seemed to cause problems for the Jackets as momentum again shifted to the Caps in overtime.  The Jackets have struggled with the long change throughout the season and this trend seems to have carried into the playoffs.  The Jackets best chance in overtime was with Bjorkstrand and Jenner on the ice together.  It is a pairing that work at times in the early part of the season and which made some sense here given the game Bjorkstrand had played to that point and the series that Jenner has had.  But it wasn’t to be and the game-winning goal came on a shift in which the Caps managed to sustain pressure and, again, re-direct a point shot past Bobrovsky.

There were some encouraging signs for the Blue Jackets and John Tortorella was emphatic in the press conference that his team would be ready for Game 6 and that they would force a Game 7, but they are running out of chances and now they have their backs against the wall.  Getting Bjorkstrand involved in the game is definitely a positive as the Jackets have been over-relying on their top line.  Cam Atkinson finished the game with 28:25 time on ice and Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois weren’t far behind.

There are also some things to be concerned about.  Bobrovsky’s subpar save percentage in this game is probably not as big of a concern given that more than one of those goals was off a redirection.  What is more of a concern is that Panarin seemed less dynamic than usual after a slash to his knee.  While his 80 percent is still better than most players at 100 percent, his line has also been a big driver in this series and, as noted above, spends a lot of time on the ice.  The Jackets also need to make a decision about Brandon Dubinsky with Alexander Wennberg back on the ice.  Dubinsky’s struggles have been a story line this season, sometimes to the point of being tabloid material.  His struggles as this series have progressed are real and time on ice of just 7:28 (despite getting time on penalty kill) suggests the coaching staff is well aware of the issue.  Mark Letestu looked to be the better option as this game progressed.

The Caps will have the chance to finish the series off in Columbus on Monday and will have confidence having beaten the Jackets twice on the road.  Should they lose, however, the old doubts might start to creep back in, so the series still isn’t over yet and could have some surprises in store.

Lightning win, 3-1, eliminate Devils in five games

Unknown-3New Jersey Devils Logo

 

 

 

 

Gifted goal-scorer, Nikita Kucherov, and the rest of the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New Jersey Devils, 3-1 on Saturday afternoon to win their best-of-seven game series, 4-1, and advance to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Lightning goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, made 26 saves on 27 shots on goal for a .963 save percentage in the win and Devils netminder, Cory Schneider, stopped 35 out of 37 shots faced for a .946 SV% in the loss.

Both teams swapped plenty of chances in the first period, but only one goal was scored in the first 20 minutes of Game 5.

Anthony Cirelli worked the puck behind the net and mustered a pass to the point where Mikhail Sergachev was waiting to wind up. Sergachev (1) shot the puck through a maze of traffic in front of the net and beat Schneider high glove side. Cirelli (1) had the only assist on the goal at 8:07 of the first period and the Lightning led, 1-0.

Through one period, Tampa led on the scoreboard, 1-0, but trailed New Jersey in shots on goal, 11-10. The Bolts led in blocked shots (5-2), hits (11-9) and takeaways (3-2), while the Devils led in giveaways (5-2). Neither team had seen any action on the power play entering the first intermission.

New Jersey went on a string of taking penalties in the second period, as the Devils took the game’s first five penalties. First, Pavel Zacha was guilty of holding at 5:05 of the second period.

Tampa was not able to capitalize on their first power play of the afternoon and only had one shot on goal on that man advantage while they gave up three quality shorthanded scoring chances to New Jersey.

Five seconds after killing off their first penalty of the afternoon, the Devils were guilty of too many men on the ice. Taylor Hall served the bench minor from the penalty box as John Hynes was searching for a way to jumpstart his offense from yet another penalty kill in hopes of tying the game.

Not long after, Kyle Palmieri had to serve a penalty for tripping Cirelli and the Bolts went back on the power play for the third time in the afternoon. Tampa’s scoring chances on the power play increased, but still they couldn’t buy a goal as Schneider made save after save for New Jersey.

New Jersey’s Damon Severson served a minor for holding Tampa’s Brayden Point at 13:26 of the second period. The Lightning did not convert on the ensuing power play.

As the second period wrapped up, Devils captain, Andy Greene, delivered a cross check to Lightning defender, Victor Hedman. Greene was assessed a minor penalty and New Jersey would start the third period shorthanded.

After 40 minutes of play in Game 5, the Lightning led 1-0 on the scoreboard and were outshooting the Devils, 28-15. Tampa also led in blocked shots (7-5), hits (18-14), takeaways (4-3) and faceoff win percentage (54-46) after two periods. New Jersey had yet to see any time on the power play, while the Bolts were 0/4.

Tampa started the third period on the power play, but for the fifth time on Saturday afternoon, the Lightning could not score a power play goal.

Almost five minutes into the third period, the Devils eclipsed more than 10 minutes without a shot on goal between the second and third periods (excluding intermission, of course).

At 9:02 of the third, the Lightning were guilty of their first penalty of the game. Cirelli was sent to the box with a high-sticking minor penalty against Blake Coleman and New Jersey went on their first power play. They did not convert on the man advantage.

Instead, Kucherov and the Bolts went up 2-0 a little more than a minute after killing Cirelli’s penalty.

Anton Stralman worked the puck to Kucherov (5) who fired a shot through traffic and gave the Lightning their first two-goal lead of the day. Stralman (1) and Steven Stamkos (5) notched the assists on the goal at 12:27 of the third period.

With 3:32 remaining in regulation, Hynes pulled his goaltender for an extra skater.

About a half-a-minute later, it paid off.

Kyle Palmieri (2) received a pass from Will Butcher and fired a low shot that cleared traffic in front of the goal and beat Vasilevskiy’s five-hole to cut the Lightning’s lead in half. Butcher (3) and Hall (5) had the assists on the goal that made it 2-1 and the Devils were pressing for a comeback.

Having a net front presence played into all the goals on Saturday as both Vasilevskiy and Schneider were on top of their games— truly living up to the old standard of “if a goalie can see it, a goalie will save it”.

Schneider went back into the crease only to come out with about two minutes remaining in the game and then back in-and-out again around the final minute of regulation thanks to a couple of close faceoffs to New Jersey’s defensive zone.

Hall pick-pocketed Cirelli in the closing seconds of the game, but couldn’t generate a scoring opportunity for the Devils as Ryan Callahan came away with the puck through the neutral zone.

With time ticking down into the single digits left on the clock, Callahan (1) made sure he was within striking distance of the vacant net and scored an empty net goal with 1.7 seconds remaining on the game clock.

The goal was Callahan’s first of the postseason and put the Lightning back up by two. Ryan McDonagh (4) had the only assist.

At the final horn Tampa had secured the victory in Game 5 by a score of 3-1 and in the series, 4-1.

The Bolts finished the game outshooting the Devils, 38-27, and led in blocked shots (13-8), hits (28-22) and faceoff win percentage (60-40). New Jersey finished the afternoon 0/1 on the power play and Tampa went 0/5.

Kucherov’s 5-5—10 totals in this series set a franchise record for the Lightning, surpassing Tyler Johnson’s 4-5—9 totals in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers.

Tampa will face the winner of the Boston Bruins/Toronto Maple Leafs series in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No quit, Avalanche beat Predators, 2-1, force Game 6

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Andrew Hammond, Gabriel Landeskog, Sven Andrighetto and the rest of the Colorado Avalanche stole Game 5 from the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. Hammond was making just his first Stanley Cup Playoff start since he did so in 2015 with the Ottawa Senators.

Oh, and by the way, Hammond was part of November’s Matt Duchene trade. Advantage, Joe Sakic.

Hammond made 44 saves on 45 shots against for a .978 save percentage in his first NHL win in two years, while Nashville’s netminder, Pekka Rinne, made 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the loss.

Early in the first period, Nashville’s Kevin Fiala tripped up Colorado’s Alex Kerfoot and gave the Avalanche the first power play of the night. Colorado was not able to convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Both teams swapped chances back and forth, but neither side was able to put a goal on the scoreboard as the first period ended, 0-0.

J.T. Compher picked up a minor penalty for holding Craig Smith at 20:00 of the first period after the Avalanche failed to touch the puck between when the incident occurred and when time expired. The Predators would begin the second period on their first power play of the night.

After one period, Nashville led in shots on goal (11-8), blocked shots (10-3), takeaways (4-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). Meanwhile, Colorado was 0/1 on the man advantage. Both teams had nine hits aside and four giveaways entering the first intermission.

Much like the first period, there wasn’t a lot happening in the second period.

Nashville started the second frame of the game on the power play, but didn’t convert on the man advantage. Both teams then continued to swap chances until things got uneasy towards the end of the period.

With about three minutes remaining in the second period, Hammond went to play the puck— except he mishandled it. The Predators were not able to capitalize on the Avalanche netminder’s error, but they did sustain the pressure in the offensive zone and got a couple of tremendous rebound opportunities.

The Preds even had a clear sightline to the puck while Hammond was down, but nobody could get it to hit the twine.

Finally, at 17:47 of the second period, Nikita Zadorov slashed Predators captain, Roman Josi, and the crowd at Bridgestone Arena went from already elevated (based on the last few minutes of frantic play) to berserk.

Colorado’s penalty kill, however, was too much to handle for Nashville’s special teams and the score remained, 0-0.

After 40 minutes of play, Nashville led in shots on goal (25-17), blocked shots (15-8), hits (14-13), takeaways (6-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). For the lack of a better word, the Predators were dominating in every possible way, except for on the scoreboard. Both teams had ten giveaways each and neither team had yet to convert on the power play (Colorado was 0/1 and Nashville was 0/2 through two periods).

Fiala was again guilty of a minor penalty early in the third period— this time for holding Colorado forward, Blake Comeau at 1:39.

The Avalanche bungled a line change in the midst of their ensuing power play and were penalized for too many men on the ice. Colin Wilson served the bench minor in the box for Jared Bednar’s Colorado crew.

There would be 20 seconds of 4-on-4 action until the Predators would then see an abbreviated power play. But Nashville’s special teams were to no avail as Hammond stood tall.

Just past the halfway mark of the third period, Mattias Ekholm sent a shot on Hammond that appeared to rebound right into the pathway of an oncoming Predators forward who looked like he kicked the puck into the open goal.

That Predators forward was Nick Bonino (1) who was crashing the net on what was not exactly a rebound, but rather a deflection to the open space to the side of the net— though not a good one— by Hammond.

Bonino’s goal was immediately waved off and reviewed.

Fans inside Bridgestone Arena began singing “Let It Be” by The Beatles in unison while the refs reviewed the play, which, in hindsight, could’ve been bad if the home fans had any influence on officiating. Maybe don’t sing “Let It Be” if you actually want the call on the ice to be the exact opposite (unless Preds fans were implying the refs to “let [the leg motion] be [called a goal on the ice]”).

Upon replay, everyone in attendance and watching from home, could see Bonino shifted his leg into a prime redirection motion and kept skating into the puck. Or at least, that might be a loose explanation for something that many fans assumed wouldn’t be reversed given the track record of NHL officiating and review this season.

But that didn’t happen.

The call on the ice was reversed and Bonino had scored his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the assists credited to Ekholm (5) and Austin Watson (3). Nashville was in command of a 1-0 lead at 10:18 of the third period.

Colorado didn’t let the party in Nashville last too long, though.

Nathan MacKinnon held onto the puck in the offensive zone for just long enough to get Rinne to overcommit and bump into his own defender, failing helplessly to the ice, while MacKinnon slid a loose puck over to Gabriel Landeskog.

Landeskog (4) pocketed the loosed puck on the doorstep of the crease into the gapping goal into front of him to tie the game, 1-1, at 15:49. The Avalanche bulldozed Nashville’s momentum.

MacKinnon (3) and Mikko Rantanen (4) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal and Colorado kept trucking.

Less than three minutes later— on a similar play— Sven Andrighetto (1) found a rebound and Rinne out of position to score on what was otherwise an empty net and give the Avalanche their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 18:32 of the third period.

Compher (3) and Tyson Barrie (4) had the assists on Andrighetto’s first goal of the series and suddenly the Predators were facing a loss on home ice in an elimination game.

Peter Laviolette pulled his goaltender with about a minute remaining in regulation after calling a timeout to instruct his Predators roster what to do as time ticked down.

It did not matter. Colorado held off elimination for at least one more night.

At the final horn, the Avalanche had won Game 5 by a score of 2-1 despite being outshot (45-27). Nashville led in blocked shots (18-14), giveaways (14-13) and faceoff win percentage (61-39), but never got as physical as they have in previous games in the series. In fact, Colorado led in hits (17-16) after 60 minutes.

The Avalanche finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Predators went 0/3 on the man advantage.

For the first time since Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators lost a postseason game at home. Not just to anyone, but to the Colorado Avalanche— last year’s worst team in the league that only amassed 48 points on an 82-game regular season.

But this year’s Avalanche team is different. They had a 47-point increase in standings between last season and this season (tied for 4th best in NHL history) and they’re looking to play spoiler.

The Predators take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on the road Sunday night at Pepsi Center. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN. Meanwhile, fans interested in watching the game in Canada can do so on Sportsnet or TVAS.

Dating back to their days as the Québec Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche are 0-3 lifetime in a series where they have trailed 3-1.

Whiteout Whitewashing: Jets take the series with Game 5 shutout victory

 

For the first time since the birth of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise 19 years ago, the team will see the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the city of Winnipeg, a 31-year wait has ended with thunderous applause.

For Minnesota, however, an arduous struggle has ended in back-to-back blankings at the hands of a Jets squad that far outclassed them. The Wild fought as best they could, but with the absence of Ryan Suter on defense, and the loss of Zach Parise after Game 3, the tools for them to compete with a stacked Winnipeg roster just weren’t there. Pile on some notably lackluster performances from key players like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle (all held scoreless in the series) and there was really no hope to overcome the juggernaut Jets.

The Wild knew to have any shot at surviving Game 5 they’d need to play the perfect road game and try to keep the Jets from building momentum and getting the raucous crowd involved. This strategy lasted all of 31 seconds.

A strong opening shift was capped off when Jacob Trouba received a cross-ice pass from Mark Scheifele at the top of the right circle, took a few strides towards the net and ripped a wrist shot past Devan Dubnyk to ignite Bell MTS Place in the first minute.

A Winnipeg penalty shortly after the goal threatened to kill the energy, but strong work on the PK kept the tide in the Jets’ favor, and shortly after the conclusion of the penalty Trouba (who had himself a game) nearly scored on an odd-man rush, before nearly tipping home a follow-up shot right after. Dubnyk was trying desperately to keep his team alive and settle things down.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota netminder, his efforts were for nothing, as on the following faceoff Dustin Byfuglien let go a wrist shot from the right point that Bryan Little redirected beautifully past an unsuspecting Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead, still just 5:42 into the game.

Still the Jets kept coming, and the Wild had no answer. A Brandon Tanev shot nearly went in off the skate of Dubnyk after bouncing off of the end boards. Then Niederreiter tried to create a scoring opportunity by dancing around one Winnipeg defender only to get blown up by Big Buff as he attempted to let the shot go. Then Tanev, apparently upset at his previous failure, stripped a fumbling Jonas Brodin of the puck at his defensive blueline and fired a quick turnaround wrister through Dubnyk before he had time to react, Winnipeg taking a 3-0 lead with 8:50 to play. Tanev’s first career playoff goal.

Just 49 seconds later things went from calamity to catastrophe when an initial attempt from Andrew Copp rebounded out high to a locked and loaded Byfuglien, who proceeded to unload a bomb that redirected off of Joel Armia (his first playoff goal, just to stick with the theme) and into the net.

It was now 4-0 with 8:01 to play in the first period, and a mercy pulling was in order. Bruce Boudreau sent Alex Stalock in to relieve Dubnyk of his nightmare, and he returned to the bench to a standing reception from his teammates. Captain Mikko Koivu walked down to the end of the bench after Dubnyk sat down, seemingly to say “We’re sorry, this is on us.” to his visibly emotional goaltender.

Winnipeg fans, however, did not share in Koivu’s sympathies, as a chant of “We Want Dubnyk” rang out not long after the resumption of play. Apparently even after a long, cold winter, Winnipeg still has plenty of salt to go around.

The period ended with the Jets outshooting Minnesota 13-7, but the play was even more lopsided than that would indicate.

Early in the second Minnesota got their proverbial “This one just isn’t going to go your way” sign from the hockey gods, as a Mikael Granlund rush drew Connor Hellebuyck out of his net, giving Granlund an open cage to tuck a wraparound into, only to see the puck sail across the crease along the goal line and bounce off of multiple Winnipeg skates just inches from paydirt, only to be cleared away.

Minnesota did finally gain some offensive traction to their credit, though the second notable opportunity was a Niederreiter rush that was met with a shot block and subsequent leveling hit by Trouba. Ironically even though they controlled a lot of the play early in the second, the Wild would not record a shot for nearly eight minutes of play.

The game’s only real notable save came from the left pad of Stalock who denied a seemingly sure-thing one-timer right on the doorstep at the bottom of the left circle from Scheifele just past the game’s halfway mark.

A Wild power play around the 11:00 mark brought some more offensive traction to the visitors, who had a few quality chances on the power play followed up by a Niederreiter breakaway all turned aside. Jason Zucker found iron on a later power play, but Hellebucyk simply couldn’t be solved.

The Jets put a stamp on the game just 32 seconds into the third with a beautiful high-low-high passing sequence from Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny, and Scheifele capped off by a beautiful one-time rip from #55 into the net from the low slot.

Sensing victory was now firmly in hand, the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd started to take over the third period. Multiple renditions of Bananarama’s ‘Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye’ were belted out in perfect harmony at numerous points in the frame, starting with the initial performance just after the puck had dropped following the 5-0 goal.

When Hellebucyk made a great stop on Matt Cullen off of a Marcus Foligno rebound, the crowd responded with the wave, then some more Bananarama.

Blake Wheeler nearly made it 6-0 on a beautiful backhand tip of a Scheifele centering pass, but the hockey gods had decided enough was enough, so it found the crossbar and vacated the goal crease without further incident.

‘We Want Nashville!’ is now the chant. Bold, Winnipeg. Bold.

Later in the period a fan took a deflected puck to the face, only to be tossed a towel by Matt Hendricks (making his series debut) and signal to everyone in attendance that they were still very much alive, drawing a rousing round of applause.

The standing ovation started with 2:30 to play, and was only interrupted by an obligatory singalong to ‘Sweet Caroline’ at 2:10. The final minute of play was basically just one long explosion of noise as the city erupted into a party that I assume will still be occurring when the sun rises. On Monday.

In the end, Connor Hellebucyk posted his second-consecutive shutout to seal the series, and the Parise-less Wild fail to score a single goal. It’s hard for Minnesota to argue that injuries were the only reason they couldn’t climb this mountain, as Winnipeg faced games without Tyler Myers, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey among others, and played the entire series without Toby Enstrom. It just speaks to their incredible depth that even when missing key contributors they could still trounce Minnesota with relative ease.

Now with a long rest ahead of them to get healthy before a likely (at least as of this writing) Second Round matchup for the ages with Nashville, the Jets have a little time to celebrate before looking towards what lay ahead.

Special shoutout to 20-year veteran and three-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Cullen, who may have just played the final game of a fantastic career.

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