You can’t win a cup without stellar goaltending. This mantra has been used time and time again…and guess what, it’s proving to be true once again. From the expected (Jacob Markstrom) to the unexpected (Louis Domingue – Spicy pork and broccoli anyone?!). Domingue is an interested case, becoming the first goalie to enter a game in double OT or later and then owing the net and the Rangers in the process. Can he keep this solid play going to complete the upset? The Rangers defense look in disarray and Igor Shesterkin has been pulled in back-to-back contests. Goes to show you just get to the big dance and who knows what can happen!
On the flip side if goaltending duels and low scoring action is your jam the Calgary – Dallas series has been a nail-biter. Only 3.5 goals per game with each goalie notching a shutout in the first two games. Much was expected with Markstrom tied for 4th in wins in the regular season with 37. Jake Oettinger was spectacular in grabbing the starting job this season (30 wins), but odds are if you live outside of the state of Texas you might not be familiar with him. However, check out his save of the playoffs so far, albeit in a losing effort last night. His play was a question mark come playoff time, but he’s the reason Dallas even has a chance with the series knotted at two.
Speaking of goalies, Avalanche fans breathed a sigh of relief when Darcy Kuemper’s freak accident eye injury turned out to be minor. Pavel Francouz was sturdy enough for the Avs to secure a first-round sweep versus the 3rd stringer Connor Ingram, who played valiantly for an undermanned Predators squad. The Avalanche have swept the opening round in back-to-back playoff years now. It’s the first time since Detroit did it in 1999 and 2000. As with the Avs last year and both those Red Wing seasons (where they lost to Colorado each time ironically), they didn’t result in drinking from Lord Stanley’s Cup. What will history say this time around? Colorado awaits the winner of Minnesota and St. Louis as the NHL doesn’t re-seed after rounds anymore, much to most of our confusion. I guess the top team get rewarded in the first round only now. No bueno in my opinion!
Depth has also proven to be at the forefront for the men standing in the crease. Pop quiz, how many goalies have made an appearance this playoff season? Reminder, we’re in the FIRST ROUND and have 16 teams involved. Automatic 16, maybe a few goalie changes, have to be at what…20 perhaps? Add 6 to that and you’re correct, 26 goalies have already made an appearance in this playoff season, unbelievable! Pittsburgh has already seen their starter coming in, Casey DeSmith ruled out for the remainder with a core injury. He was already stepping in for All-Star Tristan Jarry who is now skating and may be in like to come back for Round 2, should the Penguins advance. They look for the upset tomorrow night and to continue their 7 goals per game average in the last two games. Shell-shocked Gerard Gallant elects to go back to Shesterkin versus changing to Alexander Georgiev who’s notched a .936 save percentage compared to Igor’s .777 in the last two games…ouch. I’d try Georgiev at this point. On the flip side, Pittsburgh is showing overall playoff experience has a huge value this time of year.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been trying to exercise his playoff demons and played a solid game last night. The Panthers found a way to snatch victory from the claws of the Capitals, with a late tying goal and then an OT winner from Carter Verhaeghe. Washington fans had to be super deflated after that loss. It will be tough to bounce back after having the President’s Trophy winners on the brink of going down 3-1.
On tap for tonight…grab your favorite brewski and get ready
Bruins – Canes: Carolina is reeling after Brad Marchand decided against his usual antics and imposed his will in Game 4. He provided quite the highlight reel and Boston looks to steal one on the road. Marchand now leads the playoff scoring for forwards with 9 points. Carolina desperately missed Freddie Anderson who still isn’t skating. Sebastian Aho must also step up now and incite the raucous crowd in Raleigh. Here’s a fun stat for the nostalgic types. Cam Neely is still the all-time leader in Bruins playoff goals, crazy. Brings ya right back to Sega NHL ‘92-‘93 baby! If that’s Seabass over there… I’m a big Antti Raanta fan, but he doesn’t look 100% to me. As much as the crowd tries to will a win, I think the Bruins take one on the road.
Lightning – Maple Leafs: Another overall high scoring series, the winning team has scored no fewer than 5 goals in the first four. Rocket Richard winner Austin Matthews leads the way with 6 points in the playoffs (4 goals) and must continue that surge for a victory tonight. Tampa is led by the human viking Victor Hedman, also notching 6 points (5 assists). The Lightning will lean on their depth and Andrei Vasilevskiy needing to take another game over. His .888 SP% is not getting it done so far. This series is also all tied up at two. The see-saw nature of this series continues and Toronto ekes one out at home.
Blues – Wild: David Perron and Kirill Kaprizov are both tied for the playoff lead in goals scored with 5. Who will tickle the twine again tonight and lead their squad to a game 5 victory? Marc-Andre Fleury looks to add to his playoff win total as he’s now tied for 3rd all-time in NHL History with Grant Fuhr. Only Patrick Roy and Martin Broduer have more wins than those two hockey giants. On the other end the Blues turned back to Jordan Binnington and got a surprise W in game 4. Has he found his stride again come playoff time? I say no, Wild get an easy win tonight.
Kings – Oilers: In a shocker this series is also tied at two, the full slate of huge games tonight finishes off with this Western Conference tilt. This series is a true head scratcher…one game Mike Smith and the Oilers shutout LA 6-0…two games later and it’s Jonathan Quick notching a shutout 4-0 versus Edmonton. If you’ve only caught the last two games in this series you truly can’t believe the latest score. I know Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be pumped to try to get a leg up on this series at home tonight. Oilers make Quick pay for that disrespect and go up 3-2 tonight.
Written by Chris Dittmer