As we will do through the rest of the playoffs, just wrapping up the other action and previewing what comes tonight.
Islanders 1 – 1 Lightning
The East’s stepchild series, as no one seems to be paying any attention. And yet it has the potential to be as good as the other one. Game 2 was seemingly the only one that John Tavares didn’t simply grab in his hand and wield it however he saw fit. That’s been the most exciting thing about the Isles’ run so far, obvious as it is. There’s something about watching a player simply transcend all those around him, and Tavares has done that through his team’s first eight games.
There’s also something pretty satisfying about watching a coach have to eat it over previous treatment of a player, like Jon Cooper and Jonathan Drouin. The latter has been crushing it when finally given a scorer’s role, which you might think would come pretty naturally to a #3 overall pick. But in a league that looks to stifle creativity it took this long. But don’t worry, Cooper is still a genius who will get all the plaudits for making Drouin “earn it.” Though considering Tyler Johnson was broken last year and Stamkos misfiring, might Drouin made a bigger difference last spring?
Penguins 1 – 1 Capitals
It would have been hard for this series to live up to the hype, but if it hasn’t it’s just a pubic hair way from doing so so far. Saturday night primetime on NBC, this felt like an event and the game didn’t let anyone down.
While he’s been a hothead and is still liable to go off at any point, Kris Letang kicked around a pretty shitty Rangers team for five games and that hasn’t stopped with the step up in competition. Over 35 minutes in Game 2 Letang rang up a 55.1 CF% and was the center of everything good for the Penguins. He had to once Maatta was brained by Orpik (who should have gotten more than three games but this being the NHL you never get what is right), and didn’t miss a step. Other than Tavares he’s probably the leading Conn Smythe contender at this point, though Pavelski might like to have a word. There’s just no way this one isn’t going the route.
Blues 1 – 1 Stars
I’m not sure Ken Hitchcock is any better of a coach than he was when the Blues flamed out in previous years, because the same mistakes keep getting made. You can’t just sit back in the 3rd and/or with a lead and invite teams like the Hawks and especially Stars to do what they want. But he keeps doing it, and thanks to Antoine Roussel taking about as dumb of a penalty as you can in OT he got away with it again.
The thing is the Stars can’t blow anyone out because the goaltending is so bad, so the Blues will be in every game where all they need is a call or bounce to go their way. I’d imagine Lindy Ruff will now switch to Niemi for Game 3, which seems like a bad idea even with Lehtonen’s woof-tastic Game 2. He’s been by far the better goalie in the playoffs, not that it matters much.
Sharks 2 – 0 Predators
We said all season that the Hawks couldn’t goalie/power play their way to a deep playoff run. And they couldn’t. But the Sharks seem hellbent on proving that a team can. They weren’t particularly good last night, but Martin Jones held them in and then their power play broke through and it just looks like their power play is going to keep breaking through. They still only have two lines I’d trust but with Big Baby Joonas Donskoi playing as well as he is with Couture and Ward, I’m not sure any team can match this top six with Thornton and Pavelski simply being out of their minds right now. And Pekka Rinne turning into Playoff Pekka Rinne probably spells doom for the Preds, because the Sharks are actually better on the road.
The Preds refuse to admit Rinne is a problem, which is a shame for them because this is a team that while having no superstars is about as solid as they get and plays the game in a way that should see them making deep runs. But they’re not going to, especially with this San Jose PP getting looks at this Rinne.
Pens-Caps Game 3 Preview:
Scene shifts to Pittsburgh tonight. I’m not sure how much that will change things. Trotz in DC fought fire with fire by sending out Backstrom’s line against Crosby’s, and that’s been something of a standstill. Mike Sullivan may decide that’s fine by him, because Pittsburgh’s depth is contributing more than Washington’s so far, who needed a hat trick from top liner Timothy Leif to win Game 1 and got pretty much nothing from anyone in Game 2, though that was greatly aided by a wonderful performance from Matt Murray.
One day this is going to be a headache for the Penguins, as Murray doesn’t look too far away from being ready for the top job. Thankfully for them M.A. Fleury has actually been way better than people realize the past couple years and hence that contract shouldn’t be as unmovable as it once was. But that’s for another day.