Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 20

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

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New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens— Game 5

By: Connor Keith

With the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime victory against Montréal at the Bell Centre Thursday, they are only one victory away from advancing to the next round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the first frame didn’t end scoreless, the battle between two high-caliber goaltenders was immediately apparent. Montréal fired 15 shots at Third Star of the Game Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price faced 10 from the Blueshirts, but only three got past: Montréal exited the first period leading 2-1 thanks to a Artturi Lehkonen (Nathan Beaulieu and Alex Galchenyuk) wrap-around and a power play wrist shot by Second Star Brendan Gallagher (Andrei Markov and Lehkonen).

The Rangers haven’t been able to convert a single man-advantage all series against Price, so it only makes sense that they then leveled the game at one-all with 4:04 remaining in the first period while short-handed courtesy of Jesper Fast (First Star Mika Zibanejad). The Swedish center advanced the puck along the far boards through the neutral zone and across the blue line before splitting Beaulieu and Jeff Petry with a centering pass to his countryman for a wrister from the slot. The tied game lasted only 25 seconds before Gallagher buried his wrister, but the fact that it was the Canadiens’ last tally of the game came to haunt them.

It seemed Fast’s shorthanded effort at the end of the period took all the energy out of the Rangers, as they played terribly for most of the second period. They played defense for most of the frame – including killing two penalties (Ryan McDonagh for slashing and Mats Zuccarello for hi-sticking) – and gave the puck away twice as often as the Habs. To top it off, they were also out-hit by a wide margin, led by Steve Ott’s game-total of eight blows.

That’s what makes it so unbelievable that they exited the frame tied two-all with Montréal. Alain Vigneault inspired his squad to give him three good minutes at the end of the second period, and it yielded Brady Skjei’s (Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey) wrister from the slot, New York’s second game-tying goal of the contest.

A goal can do a lot for a club, made evident by the Rangers holding the Habs without a shot on goal until 9:49 remained in the third period. Only five shots per team could be managed in that back-and-forth frame, and Lundqvist and Price kept all of them from crossing their goal lines to force the second-straight overtime match at the Bell Centre.

If Claude Julien did nothing else during the intermission following regulation, he should have reminded his squad that the Rangers know how to play on the road. Away from Madison Square Garden, New York was an impressive 27-12-2 during the regular season and it notched another victory thanks to Zibanejad’s (Chris Kreider) wrister with 5:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

Kreider took control of the puck at the near point of his defensive zone and quickly advanced up the boards into the attacking third. He didn’t have to do anything special with his pass, but it ended up being one of the best centering passes of the series with just the right pace to allow Zibanejad to one-touch the puck past Price’s glove for the Blueshirts’ third victory of the playoffs.

The Rangers’ first chance to clinch a spot in the Eastern Semifinals will come about Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern time on home ice at Madison Square Garden. United States residents can watch the game on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC and TVAS.

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Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins— Game 5

The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 5-2 victory and eliminated Columbus on home ice at PPG Paints Arena in five games. Marc-Andre Fleury made 49 saves out of 51 shots against for a .961 save percentage in the win, while Blue Jackets goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped just 27 out of 32 shots faced for an .844 SV% in the loss.

Phil Kessel (2) kicked off scoring in Game 5 with a power play goal almost halfway into the 1st period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Kessel’s spectacular wrist shot beat Bobrovsky high on the short side.

Bryan Rust (4) made it a 2-0 game just 67 seconds into the 2nd period scoring on a rebound with the backhand past Bobrovsky. Kessel (6) and Evgeni Malkin (9) picked up the assists on the goal.

Almost three minutes later, Rust (5) added his second goal of the night. Ron Hainsey (2) had the only assist on the goal at 3:50 of the 2nd period.

Just like that the Penguins were up 3-0 and it seemed like they were in the clear, until Columbus’s William Karlsson (2) put the Blue Jackets on the scoreboard and made the game just a little bit closer. Karlsson’s goal cut the lead to two and was assisted by Sam Gagner (2) at 9:30 of the 2nd period.

Boone Jenner (2) swatted the puck out of mid air and past Fleury on a power play to make it a one goal game at 12:24 of the 2nd period. Seth Jones (2) and Cam Atkinson (1) notched the assists on Jenner’s goal and Columbus trailed the Penguins 3-2 heading into the 2nd intermission.

After Alexander Wennberg was sent to the penalty box for goaltender interference, Pittsburgh’s superstar center, Sidney Crosby (2) made Columbus pay with a power play goal that made it 4-2 Pittsburgh at 5:31 of the 3rd period. Malkin (10) notched his 2nd assist of the night and Kessel (7) picked up his third point of the game (one goal, two assists) on Crosby’s insurance goal.

Scott Wilson (1) followed suit with a goal of his own to make it a three-goal game on a no look shot off a rebound about a minute after Crosby’s goal. Trevor Daley (1) and Conor Sheary (2) amassed the assists on Wilson’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Wilson’s goal made it 5-2 in favor of the Penguins at 6:22 of the 3rd.

As the seconds counted down in Pittsburgh, so did the lifespan of the ice in Columbus. With the 5-2 victory firmly sealed after the final horn, the Pittsburgh Penguins had eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games, winning the series 4-1.

The Penguins are the 2nd team to advance to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the winner of the Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs series.

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Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators— Game 4

For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators have swept a Stanley Cup Playoff series, having defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-1, in Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night.

Chicago hadn’t been swept since their 1993 Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup with the St. Louis Blues, which, interestingly enough was also the last time a team with the best record in their conference was swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Predators goalie, Pekka Rinne stopped 30 out of the 31 shots he faced for a .968 save percentage in the win, while Blackhawks goaltender, Corey Crawford made 22 saves on 25 shots against for an .880 SV% in the loss.

Roman Josi (1) scored the game’s first goal (and his first of the postseason) 9:41 into the 2nd period. Ryan Ellis (2) and Ryan Johansen (5) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Nashville.

Colton Sissons (2) scored what would become the game winning goal almost halfway into the 3rd period. Viktor Arvidsson (2) and Ellis (3) tabbed the assists on the goal.

Less than two minutes later, Josi (2) scored his 2nd goal of the game on a pass from Sissons (1) and made it a 3-0 game for the Predators. Austin Watson (1) had the secondary assist on Josi’s goal.

The Blackhawks finally answered with a goal of their own on a power play as Jonathan Toews (1) collected his 40th career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and first of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Artemi Panarin (1) and Patrick Kane (1) were credited with the assists on the goal that cut the lead to 3-1. Yet it was too little, too late for Chicago.

With Crawford on the bench and an extra skater on the ice for the Blackhawks, P.K. Subban freed the puck from his own zone and sent it to Filip Forsberg. Forsberg found Arvidsson in the clear and with a direct shot at the empty net.

Arvidsson (2) tacked on the empty net goal for Nashville at 18:12 of the 3rd period. Forsberg (3) and Subban (2) collected the assists as the Predators went on to win 4-1.

Nashville advances to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they await to face the winner of the Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues series. The Predators are just the third team to punch their ticket to Round Two (and second team to do so on Thursday night, as the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier in the evening).

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San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers— Game 5

It only took almost a full overtime period and nearly 15 shots on goal within that time span, but David Desharnais found the back of the net for the Edmonton Oilers who completed a comeback and defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on home ice at Rexall Place on Thursday night.

Oilers goaltender, Cam Talbot, made 27 saves on 30 shots faced for a .900 save percentage in the win, while San Jose goalie, Martin Jones stopped 44 out of 48 shots against for a .917 SV% in the loss.

Patrick Maroon (1) struck first for the Oilers on a rebound to make it 1-0 Edmonton 5:28 into the opening frame. Matt Benning (1) had the only assist on the goal.

Mikkel Boedker (1) fired a shot past Talbot just past halfway in the 1st period to tie the game, 1-1. Chris Tierney (1) and Marcus Sorensen (1) had the assists on the tic-tac-goal setup.

After Joe Thornton’s shot initially broke through Edmonton’s goaltender, Cam Talbot, Patrick Marleau (2) finished the job by crashing the net and sending the loose puck home to the back of the twine to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead. Thornton (2) and Brendan Dillon (1) were given the assists on Marleau’s 2nd of the series.

David Schlemko (2) found the back of the net for the second consecutive game in the series to put San Jose up 3-1 on a long range wrist shot. The assists went to Boedker (1) and Joel Ward (3) on Schlemko’s goal at 8:38 of the 2nd period.

Not to be outdone, Edmonton blue liner, Mark Letestu (1) snuck in from the point on a power play opportunity to receive a pass from Leon Draisaitl and buried the puck behind Jones. Letestu’s goal cut the lead to one at 18:33 of the 2nd period and was assisted by Draisaitl (1) and Connor McDavid (2).

Entering the 3rd period, 3-2, the Oilers were hungry for more, while the Sharks were hoping to hold on and steal another game on the road.

Oscar Klefbom (2) received a pass from Desharnais and wired a slap shot past Jones with 2:46 to go in regulation to tie the game, 3-3. Desharnais (1) and Benning (2) were credited with the assists on the game-tying goal.

After 60 minutes the Oilers were outshooting the Sharks 34-28, outhitting the Sharks 30-15 and were 1/3 on the power play, compared to San Jose’s 0/1 on the man advantage. But 60 minutes were not enough for there to be a regulation winner in Game 5, and thus sudden death overtime was necessary.

Three colossal saves on three separate rushes by the Oilers were made by Jones before the 10-minute mark in overtime. Jones denied excellent rushes from Edmonton’s best in Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid in a span of minutes.

While the action was tilted on one end of the ice, Thornton recorded the first shot on goal in overtime for San Jose with a wrist shot at 9:37 of the overtime period. Edmonton had already amassed 10 shots on net by then.

With less than two minutes to go in overtime, David Desharnais (1) tipped a shot past Jones to complete the comeback and for his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Draisaitl (2) and Andrej Sekera (1) had the assists on the game-winning overtime goal at 18:15.

The Edmonton Oilers took Game 5 by a score of 4-3 and now lead the series 3-2. Edmonton looks to close things out on the road in San Jose on Saturday in Game 6. American viewers can tune in to NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET and Canadian fans can watch on Sportsnet or TVA Sports.

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