Shortened NHL playoff series result in even shorter fuses
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.”
Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson is pasted up against the boards by Minnesota Wild’s Jonas Brodin at Rogers Arena on Feb. 19.