Stanley Cup Playoffs ’19
Eastern Conference Notebook (Round 1)
Bolts, Pens on life support as balance of power shifts
Steve Kournianos | 4/14/2019 | Nashville |
NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — The Stanley Cup Playoffs may have started with several prominent franchises, including four of the NHL’s “Original Six”, on the outside looking in. And with just one week of postseason action in the books, the odds-on favorite to win it all at +200 are now just one loss away from one of the most historic opening-round losses in league history. All it took was a little less than a week of playoff hockey for the President’s Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning to be fighting for their postseason lives, as the Columbus Blue Jackets won each of their first three games to push the Bolts to the brink of elimination. The Bolts not only have to contend with the fast and physical Jackets, but history as well — you can count on one hand the number of teams who came back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
If Tampa bows out, the road to Lord Stanley’s Cup in the Eastern Conference becomes a heck of a lot more unobstructed for the rest of the field than it did less than seven days ago. Here’s how the four playoff series have gone thus far.
Tampa Bay (EC1) vs Columbus (WC2)
|2019-04-10||7:00 PM||CBJ @ TB||CBJ 4-3||19,092|
|2019-04-12||7:00 PM||CBJ @ TB||CBJ 5-1||19,092|
|2019-04-14||7:00 PM||TB @ CBJ||CBJ 3-1||19,224|
|2019-04-16||7:00 PM||TB @ CBJ|
|2019-04-19||12:00 PM||CBJ @ TB|
|2019-04-21||12:00 PM||TB @ CBJ|
|2019-04-23||12:00 PM||CBJ @ TB|
Nobody saw this coming.
But here we are, less than a week into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the league’s regular-season champion just one game from elimination.
Tampa Bay trails its opening-round series 3-0, yet remain alive despite being handed a thorough beatdown by the Eastern Conference’s lowest seed. Injured, inept and mostly invisible, the Bolts will not have history on their side when they hit the ice in Columbus against the Blue Jackets for Game 4 on Tuesday. Only four teams in the last 76 years have bounced back from losing the first three games of a best-of-seven series, with two coming in the last nine years — the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers and the 2014 Los Angeles Kings.
The Blue Jackets, a team that needed help in the final weeks of the regular season just to qualify for the last wild card berth, are making minced meat out of a team that not only tied a league record with 62 wins, but placed a full 30 points higher than their first-round opponent. Yes, Columbus was the busiest team at the trade deadline in late February, swapping virtually their entire 2019 draft for veterans Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Adam McQuaid. But the manner in which they are outplaying, out-chancing and out-hustling the team expected to win this year’s Stanley Cup is coming as a surprise to everyone.
Still, the Lightning is facing a Columbus beat built for a deep postseason run. Although the franchise has never experienced playoff success beyond the first round, the addition of a player like Duchene has given them two powerful scoring lines that are complimented by effective checkers and mobile, physical defensemen. But most important has been the stellar play of much-maligned goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was scapegoated as the culprit behind last season’s first-round meltdown to Washington after winning the first two games on the road. Through the first three games of this year’s playoffs, Bobrovsky owns a sparkling .940 save percentage.
If the Bolts want any chance at surviving, they’re going to need more from Nikita Kucherov. The league’s reigning scoring champion not only was held off the scoresheet in his first two games against Columbus, but he also was suspended for the Game 3 loss after a late hit in Game 2 on Markus Nutivaara.
BOSTON (ATL2) vs. TORONTO (ATL3)
|2019-04-11||7:00 PM||TOR @ BOS||TOR 4-1||17,565|
|2019-04-13||8:00 PM||TOR @ BOS||BOS 4-1||17,565|
|2019-04-15||7:00 PM||BOS @ TOR||TOR 3-2||19,611|
|2019-04-17||7:00 PM||BOS @ TOR|
|2019-04-19||12:00 PM||TOR @ BOS|
|2019-04-21||12:00 PM||BOS @ TOR|
|2019-04-23||12:00 PM||TOR @ BOS|
A series that began for Toronto with an impressive road win in Game 1 seemingly took a critical turn for the worst in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Bruins in Game 2. Not only did the Bruins tie the series with a 4-1 triumph of their own, but Nazem Kadri’s vicious cross-check to the head of Jake DeBrusk late in the third that led to a suspension for the second time in as many years, and against the same opponent each time! Even with Kadri in street clothes for the duration of the series, however, the super-skilled Leafs dealt with Boston’s physicality in Monday’s 3-2 win in Game 3 by dishing it out themselves or ignoring it altogether. Furthermore, the finally got Auston Matthews to awake from his postseason slumber, as the big center scored the go-ahead score on the power play and assisted on Andreas Johnsson’s insurance marker. Matthews’ two-point effort got him out of a postseason funk that saw him record only two points (1g, 1a) in his previous nine playoff games against the hated Bruins.
WASHINGTON (EC2) vs. CAROLINA (WC1)
|2019-04-11||7:30 PM||CAR @ WAS||WAS 4-2||18,506|
|2019-04-13||3:00 PM||CAR @ WAS||WAS 4-3 (OT)||18,506|
|2019-04-15||7:00 PM||WAS @ CAR||CAR 5-0||18,783|
|2019-04-18||7:00 PM||WAS @ CAR|
|2019-04-20||12:00 PM||CAR @ WAS|
|2019-04-22||12:00 PM||WAS @ CAR|
|2019-04-24||12:00 PM||CAR @ WAS|
The defending Stanley Cup champions haven’t been necessarily painting a Rembrandt in their first-round series with upstart Carolina, and it came to a head in Monday’s 5-0 blowout loss in Game 3. But they did their job by winning Games 1 and 2 at home before they hit the road for the next two contests. Washington received some unexpected support from stay-at-home graybeard Brooks Orpik, who fired home the game winner in overtime on Saturday, but they also are being led by the usual suspects — the duo of Alexander Ovechkin (1g, 2a) and Nicklas Backstrom (3g, 1a) combined for seven points in the first two games. The Canes roared back with a convincing win in front of their home fans, and did so without help from either Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Niederreiter, who in the regular season combined for 129 points but have combined for just one secondary assist through three games. The good news for Carolina was that rookie Warren Foegele is among several depth players who have stepped up, especially after stud rookie Andrei Svechnikov was knocked out by Ovechkin in a first-period fight in Monday’s contest. Svechnikov, who scored 20 goals this season and was the Canes’ leading scorer through the first two games of the series, had to be helped off the ice after an apparent head injury.
NY ISLANDERS (MET2) vs. PITTSBURGH (MET3)
|2019-04-10||7:30 PM||PIT @ NYI||NYI 4-3 (OT)||13,917|
|2019-04-12||7:30 PM||PIT @ NYI||NYI 3-1||13,917|
|2019-04-14||12:00 PM||NYI @ PIT||NYI 4-1||18,610|
|2019-04-16||7:30 PM||NYI @ PIT|
|2019-04-18||12:00 PM||PIT @ NYI|
|2019-04-20||12:00 PM||NYI @ PIT|
|2019-04-22||12:00 PM||PIT @ NYI|
When was the last time a 100-point player was held scoreless in the playoffs? Try almost 35 years ago. So if the real Sidney Crosby wants to stand up, he’s running out of time before he becomes a present-day example of postseason futility. The Islanders have held Crosby in check while winning the first three games of the series, and are just one win from advancing to the second round for only the third time in 31 years. The last time New York swept a playoff series was the 1983 Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers, and it looks as if the goaltending of Robin Lehner and the collective efforts to smother the neutral zone by his teammates to his front have placed the Isles on the precipice of their deepest playoff run since they went to the Wales Conference Finals in 1992-93.