The first period of Sunday’s matinee between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers certainly wasn’t lacking in highlights, but the most eventful stretch came right in the middle of the frame.
In the span of less than two minutes, Pittsburgh and New York combined for three goals. The Rangers already had a 1-0 lead going into that stretch when Phil Kessel executed a great feed to Carl Hagelin for the Penguins’ first marker. Dominic Moore quickly regained the lead for New York, but just over a minute later Kessel fired a rocket of a shot off the rush to beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
You can see all three of those markers here:
With a goal and an assist already today, Kessel has six points in five contests this year. It also gives him 27 points in 27 career postseason games.
In terms of offensive production during the regular season, Kessel didn’t live up to the high expectations thrust upon him when the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him from Toronto. However if he keeps making plays like these in the playoffs then whatever he did in the regular season will seem secondary.
The score remained tied for the rest of the first period, but the Penguins broke out in the second frame with goals from Bryan Rust, Matt Cullen, and Conor Sheary.
It was a scary scene Wednesday night when Flyers forward Scott Laughton crashed into the end boards and had to be taken out of the game on a stretcher. Fortunately, the news about him has been encouraging since that event.
After being released from the hospital on Thursday, Laughton is planning on skating Monday, per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi.
What’s more, Laughton might even play in Game 7, provided that the Flyers make such a contest necessary by beating the Washington Capitals Sunday afternoon. Philadelphia has already battled back from a 3-0 series deficit thanks in no small part to the efforts of goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
This is the 21-year-old Laughton’s first postseason series after scoring seven goals and 21 points in 71 contests with the Flyers during the 2015-16 campaign.
With their season hanging in the balance, the New York Rangers have shaken up their defensive pairings for Game 5 this afternoon thanks to the return of Dan Girardi from an undisclosed injury.
Girardi hasn’t played since Game 1 due to the injury, but he’s projected to skate alongside Brady Skjei. To make room on the roster, 39-year-old blueliner Dan Boyle has been scratched. Boyle has averaged 19:35 minutes per game so far in the series.
New York’s other two defensive pairings are projected to be Keith Yandle and Kevin Klein as well as Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh. Raphael Diaz is also on the roster as a seventh defenseman and might play a significant role with the man advantage.
The Rangers need to bounce back after being outscored 8-1 in their past two games. Solving Penguins goalie Matt Murray will obviously be a top priority, but the Rangers will also need to contain the Pittsburgh’s potent offense in a way that they haven’t been able to for much of this series.
After talking about the Washington Capitals’ desire to not dwell on their past, it seems appropriate to shine a light on their polar opposite: the Chicago Blackhawks.
Unlike Washington, which is preparing for its third attempt to close out its first round series against Philadelphia, Chicago is battling for its playoff lives. If not for a double-overtime goal by Patrick Kane on Thursday, the St. Louis Blues might have won Game 5 of that series and advanced to the second round.
As it is, the Blackhawks still have an uphill battle ahead of them going into Game 6, but they can look to their past as a source of strength. Beyond the obvious three Stanley Cup championships in the past six years, Chicago is also 8-1 in elimination games over the last four years and 14-1 in Game 6s since 2009.
“Our experience comes in huge in those situations,” Jonathan Toews said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You want to go out there and throw everything you’ve got at ‘em, but sometimes you’ve just got to relax and stay calm and do your job.”
Experience alone doesn’t buy playoff victories, as the Los Angeles Kings can attest, but it’s certainly one of the weapons in the Blackhawks’ arsenal. The Blues are a formidable team though. They were hard to beat on Thursday. It will be even more challenging to defeat them another two times in a row to advance.
Is it happening again?
There’s the hope that the Washington Capitals are different now. That it would be unfair to judge this year’s team based on their lackluster postseason showings earlier in the Alex Ovechkin era. But ultimately the only way to get people to stop pointing to a trend is to break it and the Capitals haven’t done that yet.
After winning the Presidents’ Trophy they took a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers, but then Michal Neuvirth entered this series and won Philadelphia back-to-back contests, including Friday’s 44-save shutout. Now his name is starting to be used in the same breath as Jaroslav Halak, who helped the Montreal Canadiens overcome a 3-1 series deficit versus Washington in 2010.
This hasn’t put Washington on an inevitable path. The power of a 3-0 series lead is that you can concede games like that and still eventually deliver the final blow as the Capitals might do on Sunday. Still, you have to wonder if at some point the burden of past failures turns setbacks into dread and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner doesn’t buy into that, as he asserted that this particular team has no playoff history. Coach Barry Trotz seems to share that sentiment.
“Everybody talks about the past, the past, the past,” Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “The only pressure we’ll have is on ourselves. We’ll go into Philadelphia and play really well and get a win there. If we don’t accomplish that, we go to Game 7. I thought tonight we played excellent. What are you going to say? You just keep playing that way and it’ll turn.”
Washington needs to believe that if it keeps playing like it did on Friday then eventually it will work out. Unless of course, Neuvirth has more games like that one. In which case, Trotz will once against be listening to questions about the past.