Getty

Which team is most likely to come back from 2-1 deficit?

Leave a comment

We’re midway through the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and although the Vegas Golden Knights have already punched their ticket to the second round, there are still other spots that are up for grabs.

The Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild are on the brink of elimination. That’s not to say that they can’t overcome their current deficits, but they have a steep hill to climb. So let’s look at the teams that are down 2-1 in their respective series.

The Devils, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Capitals and Avalanche are all in that predicament. Every one of those teams, except Philadelphia, came away with a huge Game 3 victory, so there’s a sense of optimism surrounding those clubs. They aren’t in an ideal spot, but they aren’t dead either.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Who has the best chance of coming back to win the series? Let’s rank them from least likely to most likely.

• New Jersey Devils

Taylor Hall was sensational in New Jersey’s Game 3 victory, as he recorded a goal and two primary assists. Hall has played at least 20 minutes in each of the first three games of the series. He’s a matchup problem for any of Tampa’s skaters, but getting Brayden Point on the ice against him is clearly the preference for head coach Jon Cooper. But will Devils bench boss John Hynes be able to get the desired matchups when the series shifts back to Tampa? Hall will produce no matter what, but there’s no denying that winning on the road and winning at home are two different things, especially for a team with quite a few youngsters.

The wild card in all of this is Cory Schneider, who picked up his first win of 2018 in Game 3. Schneider looked as confident as he’s looked in quite some time, so stealing a game or two would go a long way in helping New Jersey come back. Again, that might be a lot to ask from a guy that lost his starting job to Keith Kinkaid for a few weeks.

“Still a lot of work to go. One win is a starting points, so we have to make sure we come back with the same intensity (Wednesday) night,” Schneider said, per NJ.com. “But yeah, 2-1 and 3-0 are a big difference. It was an important game for us to win just to get into the series and make it a series. Hopefully we can continue to make it more difficult as it goes on here.”

It’ll also be interesting to see how the bad blood at the end of Game 3 affects this series. Can the Devils use Mikhail Sergachev‘s hit on Blake Coleman as motivation? Does the rough stuff help Tampa Bay focus on getting back to business? There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered heading into Game 4.

• Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have been overwhelmed by the Penguins in two of the first three games, but here they are trailing to just one game heading into Game 4. Discipline has been a big problem for them through three contests. Even in the game that they won, they still took silly penalties, but managed to kill them off. If that doesn’t change, this series will be over faster than you can say “Philly cheese steak with no onions and extra cheese whiz”.

As if the 2-1 deficit to the Penguins wasn’t enough, it now looks like they might be without Sean Couturier, who was injured during a collision in practice with Radko Gudas. Missing him for any amount of time would be a huge loss for the Flyers.

Whether Couturier plays or not, Philadelphia will need more from Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek.

“There’s a lot of guys in here that can pick up slack, guys that are itching to get more time too,” Flyers goalie Brian Elliott said, per NHL.com. “If he’s not available, if he is available, I think our guys are ready for that.”

The Flyers proved that they could beat the Penguins, now they just have to show that they can do it three more times.

• Colorado Avalanche

The Avs have surprisingly dominated the opening period of each of these first three games. Unfortunately for them, they only have one win to show for it, but they can pull positives from the fact that they weren’t skated out of the building on the road against the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Nathan MacKinnon and Hall are in similar situations, meaning that they’ll have to shoulder most of the offensive burden, but the Avs forward definitely has more help up front. Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog can also be difference-makers for Colorado.

You have to wonder how injuries have affected this series. How much do things change if Colorado has a healthy Erik Johnson, Samuel Girard and Semyon Varlamov. Missing Varlamov seems to be the biggest loss, as Jonathan Bernier has had his share of tough moments in the series. Is he capable of stealing a game in Nashville? That’s what it’s going to take for Colorado to move on to the second round.

Nothing is impossible, but it seems like the Avs are a year away from taking the next step. Overcoming this 2-1 deficit would be a huge surprise.

• Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are an interesting case. They played a relatively strong home game in Game 3, as they managed to keep the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak off the scoresheet. The thing is, they haven’t looked too good on Boston ice, where the desired matchups are a lot harder to come by. Deadline acquisition Tomas Plekanec along with Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey did what they had to do to keep that line in check in Game 3. Can they do it again? Even at home, that’s not a sure thing.

Boston’s first line had their share of opportunities, especially when the Bruins were pressing in the third period. You just get the feeling like the Leafs will have to do an impeccable job defensively and they’ll have to pray that the opposing trio doesn’t bury one, or two, or three.

Goalie Frederik Andersen is also an interesting case. He’s let in some bad goals during this series, including in Game 3, but he’s also managed to come up with some impressive saves at times. The Leafs are going to need a little more consistency from their number one netminder, or this thing could get away from them in a hurry.

And, of course, Toronto has to hope that Auston Matthews‘ game-winning goal in Game 3 will help give him the spark he needs to continue producing regularly. Monday’s goal was his first point of the playoffs.

“People find it hard to believe, but it’s easy to lose your confidence very quickly at playoff time,” head coach Mike Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “I think we’re in a great spot to get it back, and I really felt it helped Freddie (Monday) night, it helped Auston (Monday) night. A lot of guys are feeling better about themselves.”

•Washington Capitals

This is arguably the most interesting one of the lot. Sure, they’re the most likely team to come back from a 2-1 deficit, but they could easily be down 3-0 if Lars Eller doesn’t get that lucky bounce in double overtime on Tuesday night.

The Capitals have all the firepower they need to make a deep run, they just haven’t ever been able to do it. As the Caps have found out, the Blue Jackets are no joke, so they’ll have to be at their best to advance to the second round. Bowing out in the first round would probably bring about more changes in Washington, so they’ve got to come through if they want to stick together going forward.

Braden Holtby made some big saves during Game 3, but he also let in an incredibly weak goal to Pierre-Luc Dubois to tie the game at one in the second period. Holtby has been off for most of the year, but if there was ever a time for him to emerge as a hero, it’s right now.

“It puts us right back in the series,” Holtby said, per NHL.com. “I thought we held our composure really well in the overtimes. We didn’t cheat. We stuck to our systems and got a gritty goal to win it. It’s a good sign.”

Of the five teams trailing 2-1, there’s no denying that the Capitals are the most talented team. On the flip side, they also have the most playoff baggage of all the teams, too. It’ll be interesting to see if they can overcome these mental hurdles, but that lucky bounce in OT may have saved their season.

 —

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Maple Leafs, Devils, Avalanche record important wins; Ducks embarrassed

Getty Images
7 Comments

Monday’s results

Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 2 (Bruins lead series 2-1): Patrick Marleau scored a pair and Frederik Andersen made 40 saves in a must-win for the Maple Leafs. Boston had dominated both outings at TD Garden, with the Leafs giving up 12 goals over both games and forcing Mike Babcock to pull Anderson in the first period in Game 2 after allowing four goals on seven shots. Andersen was back between the pipes on Monday, and although he allowed two gifts early on, he settled in to aid in the win. Auston Matthews scored his first of the series and David Pastrnak was held pointless after his six-point outing on Saturday. In fact, the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak failed to record a point after putting up a whopping 20 over Games 1 and 2.

Devils 5, Lightning 2 (Lightning lead series 2-1): Speaking of teams needing a win and better goaltending… The Devils found themselves down 2-0 after allowing five goals in each of Game 1 and Game 2 in Florida. John Hynes elected to make a switch in net after Devils playoff starter Keith Kinkaid was yanked after 33 minutes in Game 2. Cory Schneider stopped 34-of-36 en route to his first win in 2018. Taylor Hall had a goal and two assists in the game.

Avalanche 5, Predators 3 (Predators lead series 2-1):  Take a team that plays very well at home and a player who scores a lot of his points at home and you get a Colorado Avalanche win thanks to two goals by Nathan MacKinnon on Monday. The Avs scored three times in the first period. MacKinnon’s second of the game early in the second period stood as the game-winner.

Sharks 8, Ducks 1 (Sharks lead series 3-0): The Anaheim Ducks need a miracle after Monday’s embarrassment. After losing both games at home to the San Jose Sharks, the Ducks put up a stinker in Monday’s loss. John Gibson didn’t get any help and then he was pulled after allowing five on 24 shots. The Ducks looked disinterested after a while and the Sharks feasted as a result. Joonas Donskoi had a goal and two assists to lead the way. Martin Jones was stellar when called upon, stopping 45 of 46.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three stars

Patrick Marleau, Maple Leafs: Toronto needed someone to step up and it came through their elder statesman in Marleau, who notched a pair as the Maple Leafs rode to victory to help stave off a 3-0 deficit.

Taylor Hall, Devils: Hall scored unassisted to tie the game in 1-1 in the first period and then was the primary assist on Will Butcher‘s game-tying goal in the second and Stefan Noesen‘s eventual game-winner later in the period. A solid outing from the Hart Trophy candidate.

Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche: There’s a strong case to be made here for Martin Jones, who set a franchise record for a playoff game with 45 saves, but MacKinnon’s two goals propelled the Avs to a much-needed victory after coming into Monday’s action down 2-0 in their first-round series against the Predators. MacKinnon and the Avs have been money at Pepsi Center this season and that held true in their win on Monday. Sorry, Martin.

Highlights of the Night

First and foremost, this:

Them moves:

Eric Fehr scored. Yes, your eyes don’t deceive you:

Nice feed, nice goal:

Factoids of the Night

Old-man Marleau turning back the clock:

Also, old-man Chara:

Look who made the trip!

Tuesday’s schedule

Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) – Blue Jackets lead 2-0
Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC) – Jets lead 2-1
Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) – Golden Knights lead 3-0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

MacKinnon, Avalanche continue home success in Game 3 win

5 Comments

In Game 2, the Colorado Avalanche looked like they could compete with the Nashville Predators.

Game 1 was a bit of a wash after initially taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. But with some time to get to know their first-round foes, the Avs appeared to start to sort out the puzzle in their second meeting of the best-of-7 series.

Better goaltending would help and a sprinkling of improved team defense would certainly go a long way to getting the Avs back into a series they trailed 2-0 coming into Monday’s action.

And, of course, a return to Pepsi Center, where the Avs were far more Jekyll than they were Hyde during the regular season, something that PHT’s James O’Brien pointed out on Monday and something that rang true when the final buzzer sounded in a 5-3 win for Colorado.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Indeed, the Avs were simply very good at home during the regular season with a record of 28-11-2, compared to their unappealing 15-19-7 spread on the road. Their road woes were evident in Games 1 and 2, just as their success at home was apparent on Monday.

Nathan MacKinnon, who scored 67 points in 39 home games during the regular season, was back at it with two goals in the win. The home/away disparity existed with MacKinnon as well, as he had 30 points in 35 away games this season.

But through three games, MacKinnon is sitting at a healthy five points. His first goal was a lesson in not allowing him in on a breakaway. His second was a tale of what happens when you give the man a second in the slot.

For Pekka Rinne, that second goal spelled the end of his night.

Game 3 has proven to be kryptonite for a few teams that came into them with a 2-0 series lead. The Winnipeg Jets dropped a 6-2 decision to the Wild after going up 2-0. The Bruins and Lightning followed along on Monday, each missing an opportunity to put a stranglehold on their respective series with losses.

The biggest question remaining for Colorado is if they can replicate their quick start and hold onto it in Game 4. And then, can they win two more against the Presidents’ Trophy winners?


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Avalanche are mile-high threat to Predators in Colorado

Getty
2 Comments

Despite giving up the first goal in each of the opening games of the first round, the Predators managed wins against the Colorado Avalanche in both contests in Nashville so far.

The Minnesota Wild have already shown that a change of venue can provide a team a shot in the arm, but the Avalanche’s home-ice advantage has the potential to be as extreme as any team in the NHL. Colton Sissons acknowledged how winded you can become thanks to the altitude in Denver, as NHL.com’s Rick Sadowski reports.

“For me personally, I’m second-winded a little bit more on the bench, especially early in games,” Sissons said. “You get adjusted to [the altitude] pretty quick. Having a pregame skate this morning also helps.”

The Predators boast some assets that make Sissons’ optimism seem reasonable. Sure, the Avalanche were 28-11-2 in Colorado this season, but as Sadowski notes, the Predators were robust on the road with an away record of 25-9-7 in 2017-18.

Still, it’s truly resounding just how much more dangerous this Avs team becomes when they are at home.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Consider special teams, in particular.

Avalanche power play at home: 39 PPG (tied with Penguins for first in NHL), 25-percent success rate.

Avalanche power play on the road: 26 PPG (still a solid sixth in the NHL), but just 18.6%.

Avs PK at home: 10 power-play goals allowed, 91.7 percent killed (both best in the NHL).

Avs PK on the road: 35 PPGA (third-worst in the NHL), 76.3 percent killed (sixth-worst).

Those are pretty extreme splits, and you can see the difference in the output of key players. Superstar Nathan MacKinnon is an excellent example of such dynamics. While he’s fantastic overall, MacKinnon generated 67 points in just 39 home games vs. 30 points in 35 road contests during the regular season. Tyson Barrie and Mikko Rantanen also seem to enjoy a mile-high spike, and both Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier saw remarkable swings in road vs. home effectiveness.

Again, the Avalanche already gave the Predators some headaches in Games 1 and 2. In each case, they carried 1-0 leads through the first intermissions. During Game 2, they also regained the lead at 2-1 before Nashville took over.

The Predators are a deep team, so they stand a chance to mitigate that altitude factor more than a squad that would ask a top-heavy roster to carry a huge workload. This could be the time when they really lean on the luxury of having a strong second pairing of defensemen and Kyle Turris‘ dangerous second line.

Still, it could be something that really tilts things in the Avalanche’s advantage, particularly if the altitude is rough on a towering goalie such as Pekka Rinne. If nothing else, it could make the heavy underdogs look, at times, like favorites.

It’s also the type  of advantage that could make the Avalanche downright terrifying if they continue to add speedy, skilled players to a solid (yet not especially deep) foundation.

You can see if the Avalanche are able to leverage their home-ice advantage in Game 3 on NBCSN tonight. Puck drop is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Pastrnak sets one playoff record, ties another after six-point night

Getty Images
3 Comments

Saturday’s games:

Predators 5, Avalanche 4 (Predators lead 2-0)

The Preds led 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3 and the Avs just kept coming, but in the end, they didn’t have enough gas to find an equalizer and head to Denver down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series. Kevin Fiala led the way for the Preds with a goal and an assist. Nathan MacKinnon scored his first goal of the series, so the Avs will be hoping that opens the floodgates in Game 3.

Lightning 5, Devils 3 (Lightning lead 2-0)

Nikita Kucherov had a goal and two assists and the Lightning put up five goals for the second time in the series. And while Kucherov had a good game, it’s the second line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson who kept doing the heavy lifting for Tampa. That line had four more points in Saturday’s game and now have 10 over the first two games as the series shifts to New Jersey,

Bruins 7, Maple Leafs 3 (Bruins lead 2-0)

You can read about the battering here. The TL;DR version: David Pastrnak gets a hat trick and records six points. Bruins notch four goals on their first seven shots, chase Frederik Andersen in the first period and cruised to their second dominant win. Toronto needs help. Fast.

Sharks 3, Ducks 2 (Sharks lead 2-0)

Tomas Hertl‘s first goal of the playoffs 1:11 into the second period stood as the game-winner as Sharks held onto a 3-2 lead in the third period, riding Martin Jones‘ 28 saves, including 11 in the final frame.  Logan Couture had a goal and an assist in the win. Evander Kane had seven shots on goal and came close to rekindling the success he found in Game 1. John Gibson, despite the loss, made 32 saves and was vital in keeping the game close as the Sharks pressed in the third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. David Pastrnak, Bruins: I mean, the guy had a hat trick and a six-point night. In the playoffs. You don’t see that too often. Pastrnak was dominant against the Maple Leafs, who don’t appear to have the slightest of chances in this series based on the first two games. Pastrnak is very much responsible for that with his nine points in that span. His line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand is simply unstoppable with its 20 points. Good luck back at home, Toronto. You’re going to need it.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning: Kucherov scored the game-winner and assisted on both of Alex Killorn‘s markers for a three-point night to help the Lightning to a 5-3 win and a 2-0 series lead on the Devils.

3. Logan Couture, Sharks: Couture announced his arrival in the Western Conference series against the Ducks with a goal and an assist, which proved important as the apple was on Hertl’s game-winner in the second period. The Sharks now get to head to the Shark Tank home having stolen two wins in SoCal. Advantage San Jose.

Highlights of the Night 

Pastrnak’s hat trick for your viewing pleasure:

John Gibson doing this thing:

Hertl’s game-winner:

Too quick:

Factoids of the Night

Sunday’s schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild, 7 p.m. ET (USA)
Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals,. 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, NBCSWA)
Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck