It was recently announced on NHL Live that Pavel Datsyuk, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards are the finalists for the Lady Byng trophy. Datsyuk has the opportunity to be the first player to ever win it five times in a row and would also be among the most frequent winners of the award (Frank Boucher is the all-time winner with 7, Wayne Gretzky has five.)
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a team with a relatively young core. Even though they were the “underdogs” in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals, they have to be disappointed a with the way things ended, and there’s a few reasons for that.
The Jackets caught the league by storm last season, as they went from a 76-point season in 2015-16 to a 108-point season in 2016-17. John Tortorella’s team went from being 15th in East to third in the Metropolitan Division, but they eventually lost to Pittsburgh in five games last spring. At the time, that outcome was widely accepted as being successful (by people outside the organization) because of the quick turnaround from one year to the next. This year’s playoff loss is a different story.
Before we dive into what went wrong during the postseason, let’s take a look at the 82 games of the regular season first.
Columbus won eight of 12 games in October. They followed that up by dropping four games in a row early in November, but they responded by rattling off six consecutive wins. Even though they got off to a good start, Tortorella made it clear that their stars weren’t playing well. A lot of their early-season success came from Sergei Bobrovsky‘s stellar play.
Their play fell apart in the middle of the year, but even though it looked like they were in trouble, they managed to get their season back on the rails.
Artemi Panarin eventually got comfortable and he became the offensive catalyst the Blue Jackets expected him to be. Pierre-Luc Dubois, who’s still just a teenager, also grew up quite a bit during the season. He looked more confident down the stretch. It took some time, but Cam Atkinson also picked up his play in the second half of the year. Combine all that with Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and company on defense and Bobrovsky, and you have a team that ended up finishing in a Wild Card spot. For whatever reason, it simply didn’t end up working out in the postseason.
Things were looking good early on, especially because they found a way to win Games 1 and 2 in Washington. Going back home with a 2-0 lead should have resulted in the Jackets eventually punching their ticket to the second round. Instead, they’ll be hitting the golf course earlier than they wanted to.
That’s not to say that the Blue Jackets totally fell apart. Four of the six games against Washington ended in overtime. In Game 5, they completely dominated the Capitals, outshooting them 16-1 over the final 20 minutes of regulation. Unfortunately for them, they ended up losing in overtime on a perfect deflection from Nicklas Backstrom. Washington ended up taking a 3-2 lead in the series and they never looked back.
“We learned a lot about ourselves, but I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m tired of learning,” Nick Foligno said after being eliminated, per beat reporter Steve Gorten. I want to continue to get better, and continue to move on. I hope we understand that now’s the time for this team.
“We had a real good opportunity being up 2-0 and didn’t make the most of it. That’s how fine it is to win. It’s hard in the postseason to close out things. I hope guys understand and realize the window you have to win. This is a hell of a team. Now’s the time to start winning.”
The quote above says it all. They may have put together back-to-back solid campaigns, but they’re a team that has legitimate expectations when it comes to making a run. As well as they’ve played at different times over the last two years, it doesn’t mean much if they don’t take the next step when it counts.
The Blue Jackets aren’t just a good story anymore, they’re a team that people expect to see in the playoffs every year. But simply getting into the postseason isn’t good enough by the fans’ standards or the team’s standards.
There’s some solid building blocks in place, now it’s just about gaining the confidence necessary to overcome adversity in the playoffs. The next two or three seasons should be interesting for this organization. Still, you can’t help but feel that they didn’t take a step forward in 2017-18.
• Each team unveiled their nominee for the King Clancy Award, which is given “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” Ryan Getzlaf, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, P.K. Subban, the Sedin twins are all on the list. (NHL.com)
• Winning three Stanley Cup titles in a row would be a great accomplishment for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but a successful year would be making it out of the Metropolitan Division bracket. Anything beyond that is gravy. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)
• Pens GM Jim Rutherford wasn’t happy with Flyers fans after they threw beer can on the ice following their team’s Game 6 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
• Paul Maurice’s playing career came to an abrupt ending, but he managed to transition into coaching pretty quickly. Even though he had doubts early on, everything worked out. (Featurd)
• After a great season, the Avalanche decided to give Jared Bednar a one-year contract extension. Also, don’t be surprised if the team becomes even younger than they were this year. (Denver Post)
• There’s been rumblings about Erik Karlsson being on the trade market. Most teams would jump at the opportunity to acquire a player like that, but here’s three reasons why the Rangers should stay away. (Blue Seat Blogs)
• The Minnesota Wild decided to part ways with GM Chuck Fletcher for a few reasons. Cap management, the losses in the expansion draft and the struggles they’ve had in the entry draft are three of the reasons he got let go. (Hockey Wilderness)
• This gay ECHL referee hasn’t had it easy during his time in the hockey, but he keeps pushing forward with his sights set on the NHL. (New York Times)
• Jim Howard of Puck Junk recently came across an audio yearbook on the 1979-1980 New York Islanders. The record touched on the Isles’ journey from an expansion team to Stanley Cup Champs. (Puck Junk)
Two games on Monday night
Washington Capitals 6, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (Capitals win series 4-2)
Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the NHL’s best goalies. He is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a claim that only 22 goalies in league history can make. He has consistently been one of the most productive goalies in the league since arriving in Columbus. For whatever reason, that regular season success has not translated over to the playoffs.
After giving up five goals on Monday night in an elimination game against the Washington Capitals, Bobrovsky’s career postseason numbers now fall to a 5-14 record and an .891 save percentage in 24 appearances.
That is not great. He ended this series with a .900 save percentage as the Blue Jackets dropped four games in a row to the Washington Capitals.
In his defense his only real postseason appearances have come against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Capitals, two teams that get the best of a lot of goalies. On the other hand, when you are a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and get paid the way Bobrovsky does there at some point has to be an expectation for more no matter who the opponent is. The Capitals win the series 4-2, will now play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second-round for the third year in a row and the fourth time since 2009. It will be the 10th postseason series meeting between the two franchises.
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Boston Bruins 1 (Series tied 3-3)
There will be one Game 7 in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it will be played on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET puck drop on NBCSN) in Boston.
The Maple Leafs were able to force a Game 7 thanks to their 3-1 win over the Bruins on Monday night thanks to another great performance from Frederik Andersen in net.
You might remember the previous postseason series involving these two teams also went to a Game 7 when the Maple Leafs allowed a 4-1 third period lead to slip away. They forced a Game 7 in that series by also fighting off elimination with close wins in Games 5 and 6.
This group has a chance to change the script.
1. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs needed a huge game from their goalie on Monday night and they got just that in their 3-1 win. Andersen turned aside 32 shots in the Maple Leafs’ 3-1 win and has been the difference in all three of Toronto’s wins in the series. Without him this series might already be finished. They are going to need one more big performance from him in Boston on Monday night.
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Two more goals for Ovechkin Monday as he helped the Capitals top the Blue Jackets. He finished the first-round with five goals, three assists, and four two-point games. Do not ever let anybody tell you he does not produce in the playoffs.
3. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Frederik Andersen was not the only player to come through for the Maple Leafs on Monday, they also received a couple of huge goals from two of their young stars in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Marner’s goal, his second of the playoffs, ended up being the game-winner and the result of a rare mistake from Bruins forward Brad Marchand.
Factoid of the Night
This is probably why the Columbus Blue Jackets are now 0-4 in playoff series since entering the league.
No games on Tuesday.
Game 7 for the Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs is on Wednesday.
When the Washington Capitals lost the opening two games of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on home ice — including a Game 2 loss that seemed to only add to their playoff torment — it seemed as if they were headed for another bitterly disappointing exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Then they changed goalies.
Then Alex Ovechkin promised they were going back home tied at two.
Then they finally got a playoff bounce to go their way.
Then they won four games in a row, including Monday’s 6-3 Game 6 decision in Columbus, to eliminate the Blue Jackets and move on to the second-round where they will meet a very familiar nemesis — the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the third year in a row.
For now, though, the focus remains on what the Capitals accomplished in Round One and the way Ovechkin helped put the team on his back and lift them to the series win.
Do not let anybody ever tell you that Ovechkin doesn’t come through in the playoffs. If they try to, they are wrong. Horribly wrong. Laughably wrong. After his two-goal effort on Monday, he is now up to 51 goals and 98 total points in 103 career postseason games.
His 0.49 goals per game average is the second-highest among active NHL players that have played in at least 50 playoff games, trailing only Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He has never had a postseason series in his career where he did not score at least one goal. Don’t think that sounds impressive? Consider that out of the top-25 active postseason goal-scorers in the NHL, all of them — except for Ovechkin — have had at least one postseason series where they were held without a goal. Only four of those players have had fewer than two postseason series without a goal. Scoring goals in the modern day NHL is difficult. It is even more difficult in the playoffs. There is something to be said for that level of consistency.
He brought it in the first-round against the Blue Jackets scoring five goals and adding three assists. He had at least two points in four of the six games, including three of the Capitals’ wins.
On Monday, those two goals were massive for the Capitals, scoring them just six minutes apart in the second period to help them open up a 3-1 lead. The second goal was a vintage Ovechkin power play goal that he scored from his office on top of the circle.
The greatest sign of dominance in professional sports is when the other team knows exactly what you are going to do, where you are going to do it from, and how you are going to do it, and they are still powerless to stop you. That is Alex Ovechkin on the power play.
That power play unit was 9-for-27 in the series.
Now the Capitals move on to the second round where they have to play the team they’ve had issues trying to solve. The Penguins and Capitals have met in the playoffs 10 times before. The Penguins have won nine of them, including in the second-round in each of the past two seasons and all three times in the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin era.
Will this be the year the Capitals get over that hump? They are not quite as deep as the teams that could not do it the past two years, but Braden Holtby appears to be locked in in net after regaining his starting job and Ovechkin is playing great. Both are great signs. If the past three matchups between these two franchises are any indication it is sure to be an amazing series that probably goes the distance.
Get ready for it.