A year after Mike Babcock told arena staffers in Washington he’d see them a few days later for Game 7, John Tortorella claimed his Blue Jackets would be back after winning Game 6 back in Columbus.
Now the trick is doing what Babcock’s Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t last year: stave off elimination from the Capitals.
“It’s about finding a way to win a hockey game right now,” Tortorella said Sunday. “There are so many ways of winning and losing in playoff hockey, so many ebbs and flows. That’s just the way the game is.”
Toronto is in the same spot as Columbus, down 3-2 in its first-round series against the Boston Bruins with Game 6 at home Monday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, stream). The Maple Leafs held off a significant surge from the Bruins on Saturday night to avoid being eliminated in five and send the series back across the border.
“You got to look forward — there’s no sense and no good in looking back,” forward Connor Brown said. “We’re going back to (Air Canada Centre) where we love to play. Our fans are going to be excited so right now we’re all just thinking about Game 6.”
Game 6 in the Bruins-Maple Leafs series comes after Boston took a 3-1 lead in the absence of suspended Toronto center Nazem Kadri. Goaltender Frederik Andersen needed to make 42 saves to keep the Maple Leafs alive as they hope to avoid another first-round exit.
The Blue Jackets are trying to do the same in their Game 6 Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, CNBC, stream) after losing to the Capitals in overtime Sunday in Game 5. Four of the five games between Columbus and Washington have gone to OT compared to one total in the other seven first-round series.
“It’s been a crazy series,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. “So much is happening. Calls and OT — it’s been fun. I think guys are enjoying it. It’s pretty nerve-wracking, but we’re going to keep pushing forward here. We know we have a good team. They have a good team, as well. It’s not going to be easy.”
It’s rarely easy for the Capitals, who are 2-5 in their past five chances to eliminate an opponent and 6-11 overall in those situations in the Alex Ovechkin era. They’re also 2-5 over that time in Game 7 at home, which they’d like to avoid another incarnation of Wednesday.
This is the same situation Barry Trotz’s team was in last year — an overtime-filled first-round series against Toronto — and it wrapped things up in six.
“If you have a chance to eliminate a team, you have to have that killer instinct,” Trotz said. “You have to have that ability to close out a team. And it’s the toughest game to win because the other team is desperate. Their backs are against the wall. They’re there. They’re going to give their absolute max effort.”
No one doubts max effort from the Blue Jackets or the Maple Leafs staring down elimination. Columbus outshot Washington 16-1 in the third period of Game 5, and while that kind of ice-tilting onslaught is unlikely, the Blue Jackets are going to try to push the pace and ratchet up the pressure on the Metropolitan Division champions after blowing a 2-0 series lead.
“The belief in this room is incredible,” captain Nick Foligno said. “There’s no better motivation than what we’re facing.”
Tactically, the Blue Jackets need to cash in on the power play after going 0 for their past 13. Goaltender Braden Holtby and Washington’s penalty kill have been the difference in the series.
“The penalty kill has been a major factor for us in the last few games,” Trotz said. “I think as a group, they’ve all stepped up. I don’t think I can single out anybody. They’ve all stepped up. The penalty kill is as good as the five guys that you have, your four and your goaltender. They’ve been very committed there.”
WAITING IT OUT
The Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks will meet in the second round of the Pacific Division bracket, while the Winnipeg Jets await the winner of the Nashville-Colorado series. In the East, the Atlantic Division-champion Tampa Bay Lightning finished off New Jersey on Saturday and will face Toronto or Boston in the second round.
AP Sports Writers Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Ohio, and Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Subban’s Nashville Predators got the better of MacKinnon’s Colorado Avlanche, but that doesn’t take away from how Subban views the Avs forward and his chances of winning the Hart Trophy this year.
“You guys know I’m biased about [Pekka Rinne], but in my opinion, he was the best player in the league this year,” Subban said of MacKinnon, per Tracey Myers of NHL.com. “That’s not to take away anything from other guys like Taylor Hall who have had great years. But I think for him and what he’s done with this team, a team that’s been up and down…he’s just come into his own and he’s a phenomenal hockey player. He’s so tough to handle, so fast, strong and shifty. My expectations for him as a player as a player is to be a hall of famer by the end of his career. He understands that. Just tremendous respect for him. I just told him I hope he takes home that trophy that he deserves as the MVP. He deserves it.”
MacKinnon’s 97 points during the regular season was the fifth-highest in the league this season. It’s important to note that he played between four and six games less than the four guys who finished ahead of him.
In the postseason, The 22-year-old had three goals and three assists in six games against the Predators.
There’s many reasons for Colorado’s turnaround in 2017-18, but there’s no denying that MacKinnon’s play was the biggest factor. His points-per-game jumped from 0.65 last year to 1.31 this year. The Avalanche went from being the worst team in the NHL by a mile to finishing in a Wild Card spot.
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Overtimes between the Capitals and Blue Jackets have made this series exciting, but it’s starting to take a toll on players and fans, too. (The Hockey Writers)
• Even though the second round is on the verge of beginning, the Vegas Golden Knights are as healthy as they’ve ever been. (SinBin.Vegas)
• NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke discussed the challenges and next steps his group has to undertake in order to get a team running by 2020-21. (MyNorthWest.com)
• Finding a general manager might not be so easy for the Carolina Hurricanes, but Rod Bring’Amour is definitely willing to serve as a head coach. (Raleigh News & Observer)
• The St. Louis Blues invited their season ticket holders to paint the ice, so one fan took the opportunity to mock a controversial offside decision. (The Sports Daily)
• The Sporting News came up with a first-round mock draft for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. There’s no surprise at no. 1, as Rasmus Dahlin is the pick, but things get interesting after that. (Sporting News)
• Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper has added the Golden Knights’ logo to the end of his bats. (Sports Logos)
• Ellen DeGeneres paid tribute to the victims of the tragedy in Humboldt at an event in Calgary last week. (CBC)
• Boston University head coach David Quinn will serve as the bench boss for Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championship next December. (College Hockey News)
• One year after leaving the NHL, Andrei Markov took home the KHL’s Gagarin Cup with AK Bars Kazan. (Associated Press)
2017 Stanley Cup Finalists move on
Penguins 8, Flyers 5 (Penguins win series 4-2)
Despite Evgeni Malkin missing Game 6 and Sean Couturier playing through a torn MCL, these two teams still provided plenty of fireworks including big goal totals, some controversial/nasty moments, and ultimately the end of the series. Jake Guentzel ended up scoring four consecutive goals to erase the Flyers’ lead and then give the Penguins enough of a cushion to close things out.
After beating their in-state rivals, the Penguins await another familiar foe, whether that ends up being the Blue Jackets or the Capitals. The Penguins have to breathe a sigh of relief that they avoided a Game 7, as that was far from a foregone conclusion for much of Sunday (despite the odd final score).
See for yourself:
Predators 5, Avalanche 0 (Predators win series 4-2)
While there was plenty of drama before the Penguins advanced, the Predators turned Game 6 into a formality pretty early on. Former Penguins forward Nick Bonino scored a goal and two assists, Austin Watson continued his strong postseason, and some usual suspects (Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson) put the game out of reach. Pekka Rinne only needed to make 22 saves to earn a shutout.
West second round is set:
Nashville Predators [Central first seed] vs. Winnipeg Jets [Central second]
Vegas Golden Knights [Pacific first seed] vs. San Jose Sharks [Pacific third]
PHT will provide schedule and TV information when it becomes available.
1. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins – At one point, the Flyers were up 4-2 during the second period. Patric Hornqvist made it 4-3, then Guentzel went on a dizzying tear where he scored four unanswered goals. Guentzel also grabbed an assist on that Hornqvist goal, so the 23-year-old generated four goals and one assist to help Pittsburgh advance (and thus avoid a Game 7 against Philly). He was a +5 in Game 6, too.
Guentzel’s clutch credentials continue to climb; he now has 19 goals and 34 points in just 31 career playoff games. Wow.
2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers – You could make a very strong argument that Couturier deserves the first star, but the tie goes to the runner/guy whose team won. If the regular season didn’t serve as a convincing coronation for Couturier to go from a very good player to a bonafide star, then this postseason should remove any doubt.
Generating a hat trick and two assists with your team’s season on the line is already a ridiculous accomplishment. To do so with a torn-up knee is jaw-dropping. And, hey, Couturier drew penalties, and probably should have drawn another one on what ended up being Guentzel’s game-winner:
3. Nick Bonino, Nashville Predators – Sidney Crosby deserves an honorable mention, as both Crosby and Bonino generated one-goal, two-assist games in helping their teams advance to the second round.
Bonino collected assists on the first two goals for Nashville, then he found the net for his first goal of the night/second tally of the series. This marks the first three-point game of Bonino’s postseason career, which is really something considering how much success he enjoyed with Crosby, Guentzel, and the Penguins during his two Cup runs with Pittsburgh.
Guentzel’s night was special in many ways. Here’s one historical angle:
The Predators aren’t the only team going for their first Stanley Cup. But you already knew the Golden Knights haven’t won one yet, of course:
Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)