By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
To borrow a phrase from John Davidson, “OH BABY,” what a weekend!
If you’re a hockey fan at all then this past weekend was hockey nirvana for you. There were not one, not two, not even three, but FIVE Game Seven’s across the NHL. It was the second-most winner-take-all games in a single round in NHL Playoff History. Three took place Saturday night and two more were played on Sunday; with the latter two requiring overtime to decide a winner.
However, if you are a fan of any of the teams who played in those Game Sevens then I suggest you immediately consult with your cardiologist because you went through the ringer with your team. Let’s take a brief look at what transpired in each game.
CAROLINA VS. BOSTON
The Hurricanes went into this series looking to vanquish The Ghost of Playoff Failures Past. The Bruins ended Carolina’s playoff runs in both 2019 and 2020, so this series was a chance for the Hurricanes to finally get some payback. Of course, the ‘Canes were without number one netminder Frederik Andersen for the series and even lost backup Antti Raanta for a stretch of time, so things didn’t exactly go their way.
Not to worry though as Raanta eventually returned and more than did his part to help Carolina secure a series victory. Of course, Game Seven would have been very different if not for the performance of their trade deadline acquisition, Max Domi. Tie’s son registered three points (2G, 1A) to propel his team past the Big Bad Bruins.
My Pre-Series Prediction – Bruins in Seven – warrants a Mea Culpa. I won’t overlook the Hurricanes in Round Two.
TORONTO VS. TAMPA BAY
The two-time reigning, defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning looked worn out for much of this series. All-World netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy was merely ordinary for much of the series and Toronto played with a chip on its shoulder.
The Maple Leafs came into the series having not won a playoff round since 2004 and, more recently, had a lengthy history of choking when the lights were brightest.
Leafs fans, you do not deserve to be so tortured every year so I’ll be brief. The teams traded victories through the first five games and Toronto held a three-two lead in the series. Then, as if the Hockey G-ds themselves got involved, the Maple Leafs choked the series away. The Leafs took a 3-2 lead into the third period of Game Six, 20-minutes away from eliminating the Lightning on Tampa’s own ice. Then Nikita Kucherov scored midway through the third and Brayden Point won the game with under two-minutes to play in the first overtime.
Game Seven was played in Toronto, but it is now known as “The Nick Paul Game.” The Ontario native scored two goals to knockout his hometown team and keep Tampa’s dreams of a three-peat alive.
Prior to the start of the series I thought Tampa would win it in six-games. Turns out, they needed a seventh, just so they could inflict a little more heartbreak on the Maple Leafs.
EDMONTON VS. LOS ANGELES
Connor McDavid was a man on a mission. And come hell or highwater he was determined not to fail. There were times during this series where it looked like it could go either way. But once the chips were down, McDavid rose to the occasion and almost single handedly willed his team to victory. With two points in the seventh game, including the Oilers’ second goal, McDavid combined his generational offensive talents with some never-before-seen defensive abilities to aid Mike Smith in shutting out the Kings 2-0; thus sending the Oilers to the next round.
Turns out I nailed this one in my pre-series predictions. I said Edmonton would win in seven and they did.
NEW YORK VS. PITTSBURGH
Quick, get your heart doctor on the phone. This game and series were a wild ride that wasn’t for the faint of heart.
It all started with a triple overtime thriller in Game One that Pittsburgh won, 4-3. The Rangers tied the series in Game Two before getting run out of Pittsburgh, losing Games Three and Four by a combined score of 14-6. Granted, Game Three featured about as crazy a second period as I’ve ever seen with the Rangers storming back from a 4-1 first period deficit to tie the game 4-4, before ultimately failing in the third.
Down three-games-to-one the Rangers took the ice at MSG for Game Five with no room for error and promptly fell behind 2-0. Three more second period goals in a span of 2:42 gave New York a 3-2 lead before Jake Guentzel tied the game in the waning moments of the middle period. Filip Chytil’s power-play goal early in the third, coupled with an returning Ryan Lindgren’s empty-netter extended the series to Game Six.
Back in Pittsburgh the Penguins were without Captain Sidney Crosby, who was knocked out of Game Five when he took a hit to the head midway through the second period. Jacob Trouba was not penalized for his hit on Crosby as it was deemed a “hockey play that went wrong.”
The Penguins came out strong in Game Six and took a 2-0 lead into the second period. But an Evan Rodrigues roughing penalty ignited the Rangers, who scored three goals in the second and two more in the third to tie the series 3-3.
Game Seven was a thriller in its own right. Chris Kreider opened the scoring in the first, only to have his goal canceled out by a power-play goal from Danton Heinen roughly 11-minutes later. By the way, Crosby was back for the game, as was Rickard Rackell, who was knocked out of Game One by Ryan Lindgren and promptly missed Games Two through Six. Tristan Jarry also returned, having not played since breaking his foot against the Islanders on April 14th.
Talk about all-hands-on-deck.
Guenztel’s soccer-like power-play goal in the second period gave the Penguins the lead but K’Andre Miller promptly tied the game 1:05 later. Evan Rodrigues outdid Guentzel with an incredible short-handed goal late in the middle period to quiet Madison Square Garden.
Then, with just 5:45 left in regulation time, Mika Zibanejad came through with a goal that beat Jarry to tie the game.
Next came overtime. If you were clutching your chest it proves you are indeed human. An Artemi Panarin power-play goal 4:46 into overtime won the game for New York and completed the magical comeback.
By the way, New York became the only team in NHL Playoff History to: 1) win three straight elimination games when trailing in each, and 2) comeback from a three-one series deficit for the third time in franchise history.
I said the Rangers would only go as far as Igor Shesterkin could take them and while he wasn’t great in the series he came through when it mattered most. I thought the Bluehsirts would take it in six but they needed seven, just because they’re a heart attack team.
CALGARY VS. DALLAS
I was very wrong about this series. I figured the Flames would easily sweep the Stars. Dallas, I apologize for not giving you enough credit.
The Flames won Games One, Four and Five, while the Stars won Games Two, Three and Six to necessitate a Game Seven.
Dallas scored 40-seconds into Game Seven but then proceeded to be outplayed for essentially the entire game. By the time the 2-2 game was minutes away from going to overtime the Flames had attempted over 100 shots. On the flipside, the Stars had only attempted around 40 shots.
The only reason this game needed overtime to determine a winner was because Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger quite literally stood on his head. Without his brilliance, this game would have been over in the second period.
Johnny Gaudreau scored the game-winning goal at 15:08 of the first overtime, but the story was the 64-saves Oettinger made; the second most ever in a Game Seven. (Kelly Hrudey’s 73-saves in Game Seven of the 1987 Patrick Division Semi-Finals between the Islanders and Capitals is the all-time Game Seven saves record.)
ROUND TWO PREDICTIONS
Since I clearly haven’t learned my lesson about making predictions in the playoffs, let’s see what my crystal ball says will happen in the second round.
Panthers Vs. Lightning: Tampa in Seven.
Avalanche Vs. Blues: Colorado in Six.
Hurricanes Vs. Rangers: Carolina in Six.
Flames Vs. Oilers: Calgary in Six.
The Battle for Florida and The Battle of Alberta will take center stage in the second round while Carolina and New York will contest a deeply personal series filled with subplots.
There are six former Rangers on the Hurricanes’ roster (Antti Raanta, Brendan Smith, Derek Stepan, Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo and Jesper Fast). Oh and by the way, let’s not forget how Carolina was essentially strong-armed into trading Adam Fox to New York when the Jericho, New York native refused to sign with the ‘Canes out of College.
That just leaves the Avalanche to exorcize their playoff demons. St. Louis won’t go down easy but this finally feels like Colorado’s year to get over the hump.
LAMBERT IN, DEBOER OUT
Monday morning began with the news that the Islanders, one week after firing Barry Trotz, had hired Trotz’s longtime Assistant/Associate Coach, Lane Lambert to take the reins. Lambert was seen as a potential replacement for Trotz in the immediate wake of his firing and now it is official. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without some question marks.
Plenty of teams and people around the NHL believed Lambert was a Head Coach in Waiting. That’s fine. But GM Lou Lamoriello said he was firing Trotz because he felt the Islanders needed a “new voice.” Lambert has been by Trotz’s side for over a decade. We don’t yet know the specifics of what system Lambert will want his team to play in, but one would have to assume it’s fairly similar to Trotz’s defense-first style of play. Which begs the question, is he really a “new voice?”
However, one source who has been around the team for years indicated he witnessed Lambert and Lamoriello chatting at length prior to the Isles’ final home game of the season while Trotz was nowhere to be seen.
Now, there’s no way to know exactly what was said during that prolonged conversation, but it does make you wonder if, perhaps, this was Lamoriello’s plan all along?
Meanwhile, out in Vegas, the Golden Knights canned Pete DeBoer a few hours after Lambert was named Isles’ Head Coach.
Many felt that, given his ties to Lamoriello, DeBoer would be an excellent choice to replace Trotz should the former be fired by the Golden Knights. However, with Lambert getting the gig on Long Island, it raises questions as to what DeBoer’s immediate future holds. Now, with DeBoer being shown the door after a highly successful tenure, the whispers about the organizational dysfunction in Vegas are growing louder.