My take on the playoffs to date
The playoffs to date have been for the most part a dud. The main story to date have the hearings with the Department of Player Safety, and more precisely, the hits that should have resulted in a hearing but did not. Beyond that, the matchups have left a lot to be desired with the second most compelling story, Las Vegas’ sweep of Los Angeles. Little juice has existed this post season with even the close series not that interesting.
Tampa Bay-New Jersey
A pretty chippy series so far with the defining moment Nikita Kucherov’s unpenalized and not suspended high hit on Sami Vatanen, which will sideline the defenseman for Game 5. New Jersey, despite being down 3-1, has given Tampa Bay all they can handle this series.
Keith Kinkaid, so good down the stretch to get the Devils into the playoffs, was exposed the first two games of the series. New Jersey will ride Cory Schneider for as far as he can take them. Taylor Hall has carried the offense but he is getting little help beyond his line mates. The Lightning have many more offensive options, which has been a difference maker in the series while Andrei Vasilevskiy has looked like the goalie he was the first part of the season. I would be shocked if Tampa doesn’t wrap this series up in five games.
The Maple Leafs has a major chance to even the series Thursday with Patrice Bergeron sidelined with an upper body injury and spit the bit. The picture of both Auston Matthews and William Nylander should be on milk cartons as they have been missing in action. I can understand that happening on the road when Boston has the last change and Bergeron was on. But game 3, and especially game 4 with Bergeron our, that is inaccessible.
Toronto is still a young team and maturing. Mitch Marner has picked up some of the slack for Matthews and Nylander but the Buds missed Nazem Kadri, suspended for Games 2-4 for his hit on Tommy Wingels, and the rest of the team hasn’t done their part. Boston has exposed the lack of speed on the Leafs D, especially taking advantage of Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly, while Frederik Andersen hasn’t shone as well.
Much was made over Boston not hitting a home run with their three picks in the 2015 draft. Failing to select Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor were major missed but the Bruins get major props for their pick of Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins look too deep and too strong to blow a 3-1 lead, even if Bergeron doesn’t play Game 5 or any other contests this series.
The Blue Jackets has a chance to grab a stranglehold on the series and completely blew that opportunity. Columbus won both games in Washington and even a split at home would have put the Caps on their heels. After failing to get out of the second round the past several years, trailing 3-1 might have pushed Washington off the edge.
Game Three was decided on a fluky goal in second overtime but Columbus was the better team in the first OT. Thursday, as coach John Tortorella said, the team sucked, laid an egg and didn’t show up. By dropping both games at home, the Blue Jackets allowed the Capitals to get right back in the series.
Another series where a backup started based on his work during the year and was exposed in the playoffs. Philipp Grubauer deserved the starting nod over Braden Holtby, but as we have seen, playoff pressure is a whole other beast. Grubauer was chased in Game 2 and Holtby bailed our the Caps, winning games 3 and 4.
John Carlson has been the best blue liner in the series, outplaying Seth Jones and Zack Werenski, continuing his case to cash in during free agency. Alexander Ovechkin also has been solid while Evgeni Kuznetsov has his breakout game in Game 4. Keep an eye on T.J. Oshie, who was banged up Thursday but finished the game.
Columbus is led by Artemi Panarin, who was great the first two games. He has received little help the past pair of contests. As good as the offense was the first two games, that’s how invisible they were the last pair. Cam Atkinson and Pierre Luc-Dubois helped carry the Blue Jackets to a duo of road wins. Matt Calvert scored the game-winner in Game 2 but the bottom six have contributed little while Sergei Bobrovsky has had some good moments but allowed at least three goals in each of the four games. I wouldn’t be shocked if the series goes seven.
None of the four games have been competitive. Pittsburgh has notched their three victories in blowouts, the same for Philly in their win. Philly is already on their third goalie, which isn’t a recipe for success.
If Sean Couturier, injured in a collision with Radko Gudas in practice Tuesday, is out for Game 5, the series is definitely over. Even with him, I don’t know if the Flyers extend the series. Pittsburgh is the deeper and better team by far. Sidney Crosby is on his game, aided by Jake Guentzel and others up front, while Kris Letang has shown how big of a weapon he is from the blue line. The Penguins don’t need all their stars to click to win while the Flyers need A games from all to notch victories. Expect the series to be over quickly.
The Avalanche are giving the Predators all they can handle in this series. Nashville is up 3-1 but it has been far from a cake walk. Colorado has shown resiliency in the series, rallying form multi-goal deficits to make two of the losses into one-goal contests.
Billed as a one-line team, Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen, Colorado has gotten production from some of the lesser known and publicized players. One player to keep an eye on is Alex Kerfoot, who has been noticeable on the series. The Avalanche miss Semyon Varlamov, as Jonathan Bernier has struggled in the series. Colorado is turning to Andrew Hammond for Game 5.
Pekka Rinne has struggled during the series after a dominant regular season while Nashville’s bigger names players have had an up-and-down first four games. Austin Watson and Colton Sissons have filled the breach, posting five points each matching the production from Filip Forsberg, the Preds’ best forward so far, and Ryan Johansen. Nashville’s blue line has yet to fully find their stride but I do expect the Predators, who will be without Ryan Hartman for Game 5 as he is suspended for his hit on Carl Soderberg, to win tonight and advance.
Another series marked by a dirty hit and absence of a key player. Josh Morrissey’s cross check to Eric Staal’s face deserved more than a game. But one playoff game clearly equals two regular season contests. Glad the Department of Player Safety is really cracking down and sending a message preventing these issues from re-occurring.
Already without Ryan Suter, the Wild lost Zach Parise during the series to a fractured sternum. Devan Dubnyk hasn’t played poorly but the Jets are coming in waves, rolling three solid offensive lines. For the Wild to have a chance, Dubnyk must stand on his head while Staal and Jason Zucker carry the load offensively.
Connor Hellebuyck rebounded from getting chased in Game 3 with a shutout in Game 4. Of course, if the referees called the penalty on Morrissey when the game was scoreless, maybe the result would have been different. But in my opinion, Winnipeg has too much talent and is too deep to lose the series to Minnesota despite being short handed on the blue line with Morrissey out for Game 5, Tyler Myers still banged up and Toby Enstrom and Dimitry Kulikov also our with injuries.
Las Vegas-Los Angeles
Vegas continued their shocking debut season seeping the Kings. While the Golden Knights did dominate action, each game was a one-goal contest, capped by bookend 1-0 shutouts. Marc-Andre Fleury “outplayed” Jonathan Quick, posting a .977 save percentage compared to Quick’s .947, which also was pretty damn good.
The Knights exploited the Kings’ lack of speed, possibly accelerating a roster changeover. Vegas’ underrated defense, including by me in my playoff preview, outplayed their Los Angeles counterparts. While each game was close, you never got the sense the Knights were in trouble in any contest.
After seeing this series, picking Vegas moving forward is no stretch of the imagination, as they could most certainly make the Western Conference Finals. I still think Nashville and Winnipeg are better than Vegas, the same with San Jose. But the sum of the whole is much greater than the individual parts, making the Knights a tough out.
Like Vegas, San Jose exploited their slower, more physical opponents. The Sharks were like a track meet between Usain Bolt and an offensive linemen. Odd-man rushes and space created in the offensive zone were the hallmarks if this series.
Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kessler looked old in this series. The series loss and manner in which it occurred may hasten a tear down. The absence of Cam Fowler was clearly felt while John Gibson struggled between the pipes.
For the Sharks, Marcus Sorensen had a huge series, evidencing that bottom-six production is paramount to win in the playoffs. Evander Kane set the tone in Game 1 with a pair of goals while Tomas Hertl continued his rise. Martin Jones erased the taste of an uneven season with a strong first round, outplaying Gibson. I had picked SJ over LA in round 2 and think the series against Vegas should be extremely close.