NHL Playoffs bring unmatched game excitement
April 18, 2017 3:04 AM
by Nick Pellegrino
To the absolute surprise of practically no one, the Stanley Cup playoffs again are proving to be the best postseason competition in North American pro sports, even for those who know nothing about the National Hockey League.
The reason why was resonated recently by Ottawa Senators head coach Guy Boucher, “Every game is a must-win game.”
Every game? Try every period or even every shift.
So when the Senators joined every other Canada-based club by dropping their opening postseason contest, the “I will not let this happen” attitude prevailed with most teams to even their respective series.
For Ottawa, three players receiving elevated minutes were the difference-makers to rally the Sens from a 3-1 deficit to stun Boston to get even.
The pronounced standout was veteran Dion Phaneuf, who was lost for years in Toronto, yet registered the game-winner less than two minutes into overtime. In addition, he also contributed a pair of assists for a plus-3 rating – and he’s a defenseman!
Sens captain Erik Karlsson, who is quickly racing past Drew Doughty from “my” L.A. Kings as the best blue-liner in the league, kept the game simple with his physicality and board play to stop the Bruins.
Why haven’t you heard of Karlsson? Because he plays in a minor Canadian market, so NBC Sports never mentions his name or televises their games.
Throw in a pair of key shot blocks by Mark Stone in the third period and the table was set for a major, late comeback, erasing Boston’s mark of 34-0-1 when leading after two periods this season.
For bettors: the line is completely out of whack; the Bruins are a public team – they were road favorites both times – because no one knows where Ottawa is even located.
Note: The Bruins have lost four players to injury over their last four games, so their depth will be challenged – the Sens remain the value selection.
Canada reversing 0-5
A year after the country’s seven teams all missed the playoffs, five of Canada’s “Silver 7” qualified in 2017, only to all fall face-first in their respective Game 1s.
However, don’t tear-up your Stanley Cup futures ticket just yet. These series are a best of 7.
After blowing an early Game 1 lead in Washington, the Maple Leafs responded with a stunning upset win in double overtime to even the series. Toronto looked like another young team skating without the experience needed to win on the road, but changed all that with the deciding goal scored by the fourth line.
The Capitals have demons, too (besides never earning a Cup Final victory). In franchise logs, the Caps are a mere 3-9 all-time in multiple-overtimes, including Game 2 against Toronto when Kasperi Kapanen beat Braden Holtby.
Kapanen’s goal (via a Brian Boyle assist) was the first by Toronto on the road in multiple OTs since Hall of Famer Frank Mahovlich in the 1960 semifinals. Brian Boyle also once scored for Finland to clinch a World Juniors crown.
Last week, this column suggested the Leafs were the worst possible first-round opponent for Washington. The President’s Cup champ should still capture the series… but in seven games, not four, which means betting opportunities on T-town.
Note: In Game 2, Leafs D Roman Polak was rushed to the hospital; head coach Mike Babcock ruled him out for the balance of the playoffs.
Edmonton started fast, then did nothing in dropping Game 1 in overtime. So the Sharks accept the win and did nothing in Game 2, yet only lose because of their despicable power play. And they were blanked at home in Game 2, 1-0. Now the Oilers lead the series 2-1 and have home ice advantage back.
A year ago, San Jose raced to the Cup Final with the best man-advantage unit in the league. Now they rank 24th.
Sure, veteran Joe Thornton was given the night off, but San Jose shows no true signs of winning this series. Likewise, the Oil lacks experience to win either, despite a breakout playoff performance by Zack Kassian, the same guy who was almost kicked out of the league for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Kassian also scored the game winner in Game 3.
Note: If the Oil can barely win a game sans Thornton on the ice, what chance do they have to win the series? Bet on the Sharks over the balance of the series.
Montreal: Registering more than 60 hits, the Canadiens defense decided to support goalie Carey Price, who posted the Game 2 shutout of the Rangers. NYR set a club playoff record for shots allowed, looking like they were happy with a road split – a big mistake. Now they trail the series 2-1 and can’t buy a goal.
Calgary: Forget about the Honda Center jinx (no wins in Orange County since the 2004 lockout). The Flames also blow a 2-1 lead by allowing a 3-on-none break on their defense-less goalie – literally! – following a “failed” (I can’t use the word I really want) line change in Game 1.
Then Calgary took two minor penalties in the final six minutes of Game 2 allowing a late, power play goal in another 3-2 setback.
Entering the series, the Ducks were venerable on defense because of injuries.
Those bodies are starting to return… a sweep is now possible, especially since Calgary can’t score 5v5.
Whether in Pittsburgh or New Jersey, “Goodbye, Columbus.”