Five Thoughts: Unsuspecting heroes making themselves known yet again in playoffs

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers checking in today and if you haven’t gone and thanked your mother for what she’s done for you, it’d be wise to get going on that. As the character Ricky in the movie Better Off Dead said, “It wouldn’t be wise to upset mother.” As for hockey, we know there’s a few very proud hockey moms out there today.

1. If this year’s playoffs have proven anything, it’s that unsuspecting heroes are always all the rage in the playoffs. Think about it. Last year it was Dustin Byfuglien, the year before that it was Maxime Talbot, and in 2008 Johan Franzen arrived on the scene. The playoffs are always about someone coming out of nowhere to do amazing things and this year we’ve got two. Nashville’s Joel Ward and Tampa Bay’s Sean Bergenheim are the active leaders in goals scored in these playoffs with seven goals and their stories are similar. Ward was essentially given up by the Minnesota Wild years ago while Bergenheim ran out of chances with the Islanders. Now their teams wouldn’t be doing as well as they are without them.

2. While Vancouver is still leading their series with Nashville, they’ve shown a tremendous lack of killer instinct in these playoffs. They’re now 1-4 in games where they could eliminate their opponents from the playoffs. They’re fortunate in that they’ve been able to give themselves the cushion needed to have room for error but after nearly giving away their series to Chicago and now giving Nashville life in heading home for Game 6 you have to wonder about them. After all, if they escape this round and make the Western Conference finals it’s doubtful that San Jose or Detroit would give them the kind of room to make mistakes like this. Staying sharp would help the Canucks tremendously.

3. For anyone wondering what, exactly, Predators hockey looks like they got a healthy dose of it last night. Tough, hard-hitting, stifling hockey is just what you saw once the Predators took the lead in the third. Vancouver had a hard time doing anything and only the superhuman efforts of Ryan Kesler even made the game a one goal game late in the third. Just think where the Preds might be in this series if it weren’t for Kesler. He’s practically a Scooby Doo villain at this point for Nashville in that they’d already be in the Western finals if it weren’t for that meddling Kesler. A win like last night’s gives Nashville a lot of confidence to stick to their gameplan and I’d expect things to be even tougher come Game 6.

4. You know things are going rough for the Sedins line with Alex Burrows when they’re getting out-chanced by the line they’re sent out to match up against and try to exploit for offense the other way. David Legwand and Joel Ward didn’t always make it look pretty for their goals (Legwand’s goal flipping it over the net and off of Alex Edler was ingenious) but that sort of thing has happened all series. Alain Vigneault obviously isn’t going to change where he puts his top line on the ice against but he desperately needs the Sedin line to play better in both ends of the ice. If you’re getting beaten by a team’s top line, that’s one thing. Getting beaten by their third line is inexcusable.

5. While the teams in the Western Conference are kind enough to help extend the second round and give us a bit more drama, the Lightning and Bruins must be sitting at home and saying, “Let’s go guys… We’re waiting.” The conference final rounds obviously can’t start until all the pairings are set and while the East is all set and ready to go, we’re still waiting for the West to wrap things up. With that, the Lightning and Bruins will have to stay sharp with practices until then. It’ll be curious to see what that sort of layoff does to both teams and what kind of effect it has going forward into the Stanley Cup finals.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.