Today’s five thoughts take us around the action during last night’s playoff action and we’ve got kudos to give out to a pair of teams that knotted up their series while we praise one team that’s up 2-0 in their series while we get concerned over the other one.
1. Got a funny feeling we’re in it for the long haul with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. What a response in Game 2 by the Lightning as they jumped out 3-0 on Pittsburgh after one period and didn’t let go the rest of the way en route to a 5-1 win. They got production from all lines and got a huge game out of Simon Gagne (three assists). After such an effortless Game 1, Game 2 proved to be just the tonic they needed. Now we’ll see how Pittsburgh counterpunches on the road in Games 3 and 4. Pittsburgh’s been a tremendous road team this year (24-11-6) but Tampa’s record at home is equally impressive (25-11-5).
2. Not to get all smug on you here, but I’m feeling good about picking the Caps to make the Stanley Cup final. While many were rightfully pointing out how sluggish the Rangers defense looked in last night’s 2-0 loss, let’s give credit to the Capitals defense for helping make them look bad. The Rangers outshot Washington 22-18 last night but the Capitals blocked 21 other shots. The Caps are getting in the way of anything New York tries to do offensively and it’s working perfectly so far.
3. The Canucks got the test they didn’t get in Game 1 and they responded decently. A 4-3 win that saw Chicago never really go away and made the game uncomfortable was a good test for them to see just how they could handle a pesky team that gives them fits and doesn’t back down. Each time Chicago got close, Vancouver was able to fend them off with a goal or buckling down defensively. The Canucks the last two seasons in the playoffs lose that game so it was a great win for them in that respect.
4. There’s concerns for me about this Canucks team though. Chicago, despite all their bogeyman qualities for Vancouver, is a team they should be handling with relative ease. In Game 1 they had puck luck on their side as Blackhawks shots were hitting posts and preserving the shutout. In Game 2 they bunkered down in the waning minutes of the game and Chicago took it to them without coming up with the tying goal. Good on Vancouver for winning these games, but if nothing else Chicago is providing us with a couple of red flags for the Canucks.
5. Anaheim certainly found a way to respond to Nashville after being humbled in Game 1. The Ducks top line took it to the Predators and played the way they’re more than capable of doing. They need that brand of effort each game to win though. We’ll see how they’re able to handle a potential Bobby Ryan suspension as he very stupidly attempted to stomp on Jonathon Blum’s foot in the third period. One concern for me with the Ducks though is their defense. It’s much too passive. I realize this isn’t the 2007 team that thumped everyone along the way to the Stanley Cup, but this Ducks defense has to be more physical.
Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.
Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.
It’s easy to see why.
He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.
“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.
On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.
Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.
From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.
In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.
And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.
During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.
Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.
“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”
Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.
With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.
“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”
An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.
Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.
To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.
The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.
Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.
Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.
While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.
While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.
“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.
Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.