Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 22

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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St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 5

By: Connor Keith

Thanks to an unlikely scorer, the Blues beat Minnesota 4-3 in overtime at the Xcel Energy Center to earn a spot in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Nashville Predators.

Of all the sources for an overtime winner, most would not have selected former first-rounder-turned-First Star of the Game Magnus Paajarvi. Following his 80-game rookie season, Paajarvi has not played more than 55 contests in any of his six other NHL seasons. This year, the third liner made only 32 appearances, notching a lowly eight goals in the process.

But the postseason doesn’t care about experience; it cares only about goals – and Paajarvi notched the first postseason marker of his career Saturday. The play started with Vladimir Sobotka fighting with Martin Hanzal for possession along the far boards after Devan Dubnyk had tried to clear from behind his net. The comeback kid eventually came away with the puck and drove to Dubnyk’s crease through the face-off circle. His attack drew Jared Spurgeon off Paajarvi, leaving the left wing wide open in the slot. Sobotka took notice and centered a pass for the Czech, who top-shelfed his wrist shot over Dubnyk’s stick shoulder for the series victory. Jori Lehtera also provided an assist on the play.

Speaking of first playoff goals, that’s sort of how the game started. Waiting until 7:16 into the last game of the first round, Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz) finally scored his first postseason goal since his two-tally performance against the Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Finals a year ago.

It was a St. Louis explosion to start the game, as Alex Steen (Colton Parayko) followed up Tarasenko’s wrister with one of his own only 3:15 later, putting Minnesota in an early 2-0 hole that loomed especially large since the Notes have not lost this postseason when scoring first.

The Notes’ final regulation tally was struck 7:23 into the third period, courtesy of Paul Stastny (Schwartz and Jori Lehtera) who was playing his first game since March 21.

Ryan Suter (Jared Spurgeon) did find the back of the net on a power play slap shot with 89 seconds remaining in the opening frame (Scottie Upshall is the guilty party for the Blues with his boneheaded cross-check), meaning Stastny’s tally set the score at 3-1 with 12:37 remaining in regulation. It proved to be a very important marker.

Just like the match was dominated early by the Blues, regulation ended at Minnesota’s discretion. First it was Third Star Mikko Koivu (Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund) pulling the State of Hockey back within a tally on a wrister with 9:22 remaining in regulation, thanks in large part to a man-advantage caused by Jay Bouwmeester’s hold on Granlund.

Though St. Louis was completely focused on its defensive efforts – the Blues fired only five shots in the third period – Second Star Jason Zucker (Erik Haula and Jonas Brodin) was still able to level the game with Minnesota’s lone five-on-five goal of the contest. Brodin advanced the puck through his defensive zone before connecting with Haula at the near point with a blue line-to-blue line pass. Haula one-touched a dish to Zucker, who completed the advance on Allen’s net through the near face-off circle. Firing from the slot, he squeezed his shot between the netminders’ skate and the far post to level the game at three-all and force the second overtime contest of the series.

Speaking of Allen, he was at the center of attention for much of the contest – though not always for his 34 saves. The first of two major events in his crease occurred with 5:36 remaining in the first frame when Granlund earned two minutes in the box for a goaltender interference penalty that looked to be a little bit more. Simply driving on Allen’s crease and making contact with the goaltender doesn’t sound like anything egregious, but that ignores the fact that the goalie is pulled to the ice by Granlund’s stick across his neck.

Allen was unharmed by the play, making the event with 6:13 remaining in the second period far scarier. Eric Staal started at his own blue line and possessed the puck all the way to the crease. He initially fired a shot from between the face-off circles that Allen saved, but did not contain. Though surrounded by Carl Gunnarsson and Parayko, Staal looked like he was going to be the first to the loose puck to fire a second shot.

Allen threw his right leg out to defend the far post in preparation, but the shot never came: Parayko managed to snag the puck just before Staal could try to score again. However, that didn’t stop Staal’s momentum, which carried him into Allen’s leg. Staal lost his balance and stumbled head-first into the boards, lying motionless on the ice while clutching his head through for almost two minutes before being helped off the ice. He was later released from the hospital Saturday night.

Conference semifinal action is slated to begin on April 28, but a date and time for Game 1 between the Predators and Blues at Scottrade Center has yet to be determined.

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Montréal Canadiens at New York Rangers – Game 6

By: Connor Keith

With its 3-1 victory at Madison Square Garden Saturday, New York has eliminated the Canadiens from the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs and will advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

What makes it that much sweeter for the Rangers is the fact that it is their second-straight come-from-behind victory to clinch the series’ fifth and sixth games. It looked like the Habs were well on their way in the first period, as they led the Blueshirts in shots 11-6 and on the scoreboard thanks to Alexei Emelin’s (Third Star of the Game Alexander Radulov and Artturi Lehkonen) snap shot that found the back of Second Star Henrik Lundqvist’s net only 6:19 into the contest.

Alain Vigneault must have some serious speeches during the first intermission, as his club quickly pounced on Montréal when it returned to the ice. Aided by Jordie Benn holding Pavel Buchnevich 90 seconds into the frame, First Star Mats Zuccarello (Mika Zibanejad and Ryan McDonagh) leveled the contest at one-all at the 2:26 mark of the period.

But that’s not all Zuccarello had up his sleeve. With 6:29 remaining in the second period, he managed to find the game-winner on his stick. The secondary assist belonged to J.T. Miller, who collected the puck behind Carey Price’s net after it was dumped there in an effort to maintain possession in the offensive zone. After winning the puck from Brandon Davidson, he passed to Kevin Hayes at the far face-off circle. Hayes seemed to know exactly where Zuccarello was without looking, as his pass to the scorer was right to him at the near corner of the crease. Price had already committed to saving a shot from a wide open Hayes, so the entire cage was open for Zuccarello to bury an easy snapper.

Losing is a tough pill to swallow for the Canadiens, but New York played excellently in the second and third frames. Montréal could not manage more than nine shots in either period (thanks in large part to Nick Holden’s five shot blocks), and Lundqvist was more than able to save them all.

If the Canadiens are going to blame anyone for their Quarterfinals exit, it has to be their captain. Max Pacioretty could not find the back of the net on any of his 28 shots over the course of the six-game series, and managed only a lone assist in Game 1. Though he did try to inspire his club by scrapping with Jimmy Vesey early in the game, he would have done far better by getting the Canadiens on the scoreboard, especially since one of his teammates is the notorious troublemaker Steve Ott. In the words of South Park, “when your leading goal scorer – who tied for the eighth-most goals in the NHL’s regular season – doesn’t find the back of the net in a playoff series, you’re going to have a bad time.”

Now that they’ve defeated Montréal, the Rangers await the victors of the Bruins-Senators series. Ottawa currently leads three games to two, but Game 6 will be played in Boston at the TD Garden Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Americans can view that contest on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by both SN and TVAS.

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Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks – Game 6

For the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers are moving on to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, fresh off a 3-1 victory in San Jose on Saturday night. Yes, the Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games to meet up with that other California team in the playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks.

Of note, Edmonton defeated San Jose and Anaheim en route to their 2006 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Oilers goaltender, Cam Talbot, made 27 saves on 28 shots faced for a .964 save percentage in the win, while Sharks goalie, Martin Jones stopped 18 of the 20 shots he faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

Leon Draisaitl (1) kicked off scoring for Edmonton just 54 seconds into the 2nd period, really quieting down the San Jose crowd after a pretty evenly matched 1st period. Adam Larsson (1) and Oscar Klefbom (1) had the assists on Draisaitl’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal.

After Chris Tierney failed to connect on a pass to Paul Martin in the San Jose offensive zone, Anton Slepyshev (1) scored the game winning goal on a breakaway 56 seconds after Draisaitl scored to make it a 2-0 game for the Oilers. Slepyshev’s goal was unassisted.

At 12:12 of the 3rd period, Mr. Shark himself, Patrick Marleau (3) made it a one-goal game with plenty of time left for the Sharks to tie the game. Logan Couture (1) and Joonas Donskoi (2) were credited with the assists that made it a 2-1 game.

With the goaltender pulled and a last ditch effort in full force for San Jose, Connor McDavid (2) picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone before flip dumping it towards the vacated net and falling to his knees. At 19:59 of the 3rd period, McDavid pocketed the empty net goal and sealed the series for Edmonton. Andrej Sekera (2) had the only assist on the goal.

Upon winning the game, the Edmonton Oilers advanced to the Second Round to take on the Anaheim Ducks, while the San Jose Sharks and their fans were sent home to find something else to do until October rolls around again.

Both Western Conference matchups in the Second Round have now been set and await the announcement for when the next round begins, upon conclusion of the Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins series and Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs series.

Anaheim has home ice in the next round against Edmonton, having won the regular season Pacific Division title.

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