The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild put forth a spectacular show tonight. In a game that featured big controversies, shows of perseverance, major injuries, and stunning clutch goals, the Wild managed to eliminate the Avalanche with a 5-4 victory in overtime.
There were so many players worthy of mention in this game, but there’s no question that 21-year-old Wild forward Nino Niederreiter was the hero tonight. He had two goals and an assist, including the game-winning goal in overtime. That’s quite an accomplishment for a player that wasn’t able to establish himself with the team that originally drafted him, the New York Islanders, and was given a chance at a fresh start this season with Minnesota.
Speaking of redemption, 33-year-old forward Dany Heatley has seen his production steeply decline in recent years, to the point where he started this series in the press box. He came up big tonight with a goal and two assists.
The news wasn’t all good for Minnesota though. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who has previously dealt with concussion problems, was hit in the head midway through the third period and left the contest. Ilya Bryzgalov replaced him and, after losing the first two games of this series, was credited as the Game 7 winner.
This has to be a bittersweet end for the Avalanche. There’s no question that they wanted to do better, especially after coming so close to winning the series, but they also exceeded most people’s preseason expectations for them. Rookie Nathan MacKinnon stepped up in the playoffs to get Avalanche fans excited about their future, even if he finished Game 7 with no points and a minus-three rating.
For the Wild, it will only get harder from here as their next opponent is the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.
Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:
Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49
Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.
Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.
Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.
Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.
Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.
Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win
Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.
The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”
Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.
Lundqvist: "We didn’t give up as much, and it shows how committed we need to be in our own end.”
Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.
Mike Babcock: The back end was in lots of trouble tonight.
The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.
So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus
Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.
Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.
The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.
Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.
Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.
This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.
More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.
Greiss blanks Stars as Isles win in first game of post-Capuano era
The New York Islanders began the Doug Weight era in the same way Jack Capuano’s ended: with a shutout.
Yeah, it’s easy to forget that the Islanders actually won their last game under Capuano, consider all that’s happened since.
They blanked the Boston Bruins 4-0 on Monday and generated a 3-0 shutout against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. It’s quite a feather in the cap of goalie Thomas Greiss, who owns these back-to-back shutouts.
(It’s worth mentioning that, for all the Bruins’ and Stars’ flaws, they can be very explosive on offense …)
That Monday shutout wasn’t enough for Capuano to save his job, and the Isles still have a long way to go after this encouraging outcome. The East’s second wild card spot still seems like a long shot for Weight & Co.
Even so, the Islanders will take it. They play their next five games at home and seven of eight in Brooklyn, so if there’s ever a time for movement, it would logically come now.