Short­ened NHL play­off se­ries re­sult in even shorter fuses

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS

You know it's the play­offs when some had writ­ten off the Toronto Maple Leafs af­ter one game.

Only days into Gary Bettman's COVID-CUP, we've had fights, fines and over­re­ac­tions. There was a buzzer­beater to de­cide one game and a six-goal blowout to de­cide an­other. One player was sus­pended for an il­le­gal hit to the head. An­other player avoided all sup­ple­men­tary dis­ci­pline, de­spite de­liv­er­ing what one coach de­scribed as a “filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg.”

And that was only in the first two days.

If you thought that play­ing in the bub­ble af­ter four months off would re­sult in a sub­dued in­ten­sity and a bor­ing prod­uct, think again. So far, the in­ten­sity has been through the roof. Part of that is be­cause of the five-round for­mat.

The best part about the play­offs is the stakes are at their high­est. Ev­ery game mat­ters. Ev­ery shift mat­ters. Ev­ery goal, ev­ery save, ev­ery missed call is re­played and dis­sected more than the Zapruder film. This year, with the qual­i­fi­ca­tion round be­ing a best of five rather than a best-of-seven se­ries, the stakes are even higher.

You can't af­ford to go down 2-0 in a se­ries. Not with his­tory telling you that teams are 1-55 when fac­ing early elim­i­na­tion. So if the Leafs weren't al­ready un­der a heap of pres­sure head­ing into a post-sea­son played on home ice, they cer­tainly are af­ter los­ing 2-0 in Game 1 to the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets.

The Leafs needed a win last night as they faced off against the Blue Jack­ets once again. Re­sults were not avail­able by press time . More than that, they need to show they care.

The nar­ra­tive go­ing into their qual­i­fi­ca­tion round se­ries against Colum­bus was whether Toronto's star play­ers cared enough about play­ing de­fence. Af­ter los­ing Sun­day, it's now changed to whether the star play­ers care enough to fight through traf­fic and score.

If not, it's go­ing to be a long rest of the sum­mer.

KING NO MORE

Hen­rik Lundqvist made his 129th con­sec­u­tive start in the play­offs Mon­day in a 4-1 loss to the Hur­ri­canes, stop­ping 30 of 34 shot.

Lundqvist was only start­ing in net be­cause Igor Sh­esterkin is “un­fit to play” in the se­ries so far. You might as well slap that la­bel on the 38-year-old Lundqvist, whose Rangers trail the Hur­ri­canes 2-0 in the best-of-five se­ries.

Even if Sh­esterkin can­not play in Game 3, ex­pect Alexan­dar Ge­orgiev to get the start ahead of Lundqvist. Af­ter all, this isn't the same Lundqvist who won the Vez­ina Tro­phy and took the Rangers to the Stan­ley Cup in 2014. This isn't the same goalie who won 35 or more games in six of his first seven sea­sons.

Lundqvist, who had a 3.16 goals-against av­er­age in the reg­u­lar sea­son, didn't win 35 games this year. He didn't even play in 35 games.

King Hen­rik's reign is over. And with Pekka Rinne get­ting passed over in Nashville and Mike Smith los­ing the net in Edmonton, he is not alone in that re­gard. SVECH­NIKOV ONE OF ‘BEST’

It was in a first-round se­ries against Wash­ing­ton when Alex Ovechkin “wel­comed” Carolina's An­drei Svech­nikov into the Stan­ley Cup play­offs by de­liv­er­ing a knock­out punch to the 19-year-old rookie.

One year later, the Hur­ri­canes winger has wisely de­cided to keep the gloves on. As a re­sult, he's been the one dol­ing out pun­ish­ment.

Svech­nikov, who had an as­sist in a 3-2 win against the Rangers in Game 1, fol­lowed it up with a hat trick in a 4-1 win in Game 2. It was the first three-goal game for a Carolina player in the post-sea­son. It was also an in­di­ca­tion of how much the 2018 No. 2 over­all pick has grown in the last year.

“I think he'll get a few more (hat tricks) be­fore his time's over in his ca­reer,” Hur­ri­canes head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. “He's a gamer, too. This guy is one of those play­ers in this break that worked on this game, he wanted to get bet­ter. I think you're see­ing that.”

The player, who team­mates call the “Rus­sian Mule”, had 37 points last sea­son as a rookie. When this sea­son was halted be­cause of the coron­avirus, Svech­nikov was on pace to dou­ble that num­ber with 61 points in 68 games.

No won­der Rangers coach David Quinn said Svech­nikov, who also had a game-high six hits, is “quickly emerg­ing as one of the best play­ers in this league.”

NOW’S THE TIME TO KNEEL

It took courage for Mat Dumba to stand at cen­tre ice and talk about the need for so­cial and racial jus­tice be­fore Edmonton's first game of the post-sea­son. It's just too bad no one else from his Min­nesota team – or the league, for that mat­ter – was will­ing to dis­play sim­i­lar courage.

When Dumba knelt for the U.S. an­them be­fore Edmonton's game against Chicago, no one else knelt with him. When he raised his fist for the U.S. and Cana­dian an­thems be­fore Min­nesota's game against Van­cou­ver, he raised it alone.

When asked why team­mates had not joined Dumba in a show of sol­i­dar­ity, Wild head coach Dean Eva­son said it wasn't brought up.

“Nope, there's been no dis­cus­sions,” he said. “The only thing that we've dis­cussed as a staff is that we want to elim­i­nate racism for good.”

POSTMEDIA NEWS

Van­cou­ver Canucks Elias Pet­ters­son is pasted up against the boards by Min­nesota Wild’s Jonas Brodin at Rogers Arena on Feb. 19.

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