Leafs assoc. coach: I was thinking about Round 2 home ice during Boston collapse

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Over at Maple Leafs Hot Stove, there’s a terrific and extremely candid interview with Toronto associate coach Greg Cronin, in which he sheds light on his mindset during the Leafs’ Game 7 collapse against Boston in the opening playoff round.

Most interesting? Despite the shift in momentum over the final 10 minutes of the third period — during which Boston erased a 4-1 deficit — Cronin was looking ahead to potential home ice advantage in the second round.

That’s right.

Here’s more, from the Hot Stove:

“If you watch the game over again, watch the last three minutes. Did you know that [Mikhail] Grabovski had the puck in Boston’s zone, behind the net, and they had no goalie in the net? It was 4-2, and there was just around 2 minutes to go in the game.

“I was not in any shape or form worried about being under assault like we were in Game 5. It just wasn’t happening. It wasn’t happening up until that point. We had the puck in their zone, and Grabovski turned the puck over. They came up the ice, [David] Krejci passed it up to [Milan] Lucic, and Lucic skated by our bench. There was about a minute and 45 seconds to go and he dumped the puck in.

“I looked at the clock and I saw the Rangers were beating Washington. This was how comfortable I was. I was thinking, ‘the Rangers won and we’re going to have home ice for the next round of the playoffs.’

“That’s what I thought in my head. I didn’t feel that the Bruins had established any consistent threat. They had some rushes where they came into the zone and dumped it in and had a couple of shots from the boards, but there wasn’t any sustained pressure that when you’re a coach you think, ‘oh boy we’re in trouble.’

“Until Lucic scored the goal.”

Lucic’s goal came with 1:22 left in the contest. Thirty-one seconds later Patrice Bergeron scored the equalizer, then potted the game-winner just 6:05 into overtime.

The comeback, as has been stated on numerous occasions, was truly one for the ages. The Bruins became the first team in NHL history to win a Game 7 after trailing by three goals in the third period, something that Cronin tried to explain.

“I think were were looking at a group of players who had never been in that situation before in their careers,” he said. “Did the pressure get to them?

“I don’t think they’d be human if didn’t.”

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.