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The Columbus Blue Jackets’ shocking Round 1 sweep over the Tampa Bay Lightning began on the wrong foot.
Down 3-0 after the first period of Game 1, the Blue Jackets found themselves in the dressing room wondering if their season was going to go out with a stomping from the Presidents’ Trophy winners. There was no yelling from head coach John Tortorella or inspirational speech from captain Nick Foligno. They just had a belief that they were better than they had showed after 20 minutes and they needed to get back to their strengths.
“I don’t think any of us envisioned us making that kind of a comeback, but because we had that mindset and then we start smelling blood and getting that game going, it took off from there,” Foligno told Pro Hockey Talk recently.
(Tortorella already said what needed to be said in his pre-game talk to the team.)
Foligno’s goal nine minutes into the second period would start the memorable comeback en route to an opening game victory. Two days later they would take a surprising 2-0 lead in the series and the questions about their failure to close out the Washington Capitals in the same situation a year ago were at the forefront.
What happened in 2018 didn’t dominate the pre-Game 3 discussion in the Blue Jackets’ dressing room, but it wasn’t completely forgotten. The focus remained the same, as did the belief they could continue to play the way they had been playing through two games.
“For us, it was let’s make sure whatever happens in this game, we’re playing our best and then we’ll answer whatever we need to answer in Game 4,” Foligno said. “I just loved that no matter what was going on in that game, no one thought anything different other than we’re going to win this.”
Win they did — an upset like no other: sweeping the NHL’s best in Round 1. It was another step in the right direction for the franchise, one that began with a gamble in February by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen with his approach to the trade deadline.
“I think it was really appreciated by the guys that have been here a while,” Foligno said. “When you looked around the room and the core group that’s been here for at least these past six, seven years, it was a chance. It was an opportunity that he felt strongly enough that he wasn’t hurting our future but he felt like we had a chance to really try and do something here. You’ve got to be in a good situation to have that happen and we feel proud that we’ve done that and given our organization a chance to be in this position as players and then also the confidence from our management to allow us to do that.”
Foligno’s main message in the wave of good feelings following the series win was simple: “The job’s not done.”
But while the Blue Jackets’ still have work to be do, their progress this season has been felt around the Columbus. In their 18 seasons in existence, they had never won a Stanley Cup playoff series. There were many years of falling short of expectations, but there’s been a different feeling around the city of late.
“Now it’s three years in a row we’ve made the playoffs,” Foligno said. “It’s not just a flash in the pan anymore. I think people really believe we are a good team and we’ve become a better organization. We still don’t have the respect that we need and that’s just got to be earned; it’s not anything other than earning it and by winning and consistently being a good team. You can just see the persona around the city of our team and how much people love our team.
“After [Game 4], my god, it was insane. You had people crying in the stands. It meant that much to people here because of the years of just disappointment or not quite getting off the right foot, the years it was supposed to get better [and] it didn’t. I think now they feel like there’s a real foundation here. There’s a real growth in that it’s not just one year it’s a good team and the next year it’s a struggle. It’s every year now we’ve been a good team and now they really have something to hang their hats on as a fan base. Now we’re proud to try and deliver that.”
Foligno acknowledged that next year could be different as the futures of potential unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus remain uncertain. But those are concerns for another day. The Blue Jackets enjoyed their sweep of the Lightning but have already turned their attentions to facing the Boston Bruins in Round 2 (Live stream).
With nine days between series, Tortorella obviously wants his players to retain their sharpness, so on Monday he organized an intrasquad scrimmage which attracted nearly 6,000 fans to Nationwide Arena. Foligno used his downtime to keep a close eye on the Bruins-Maple Leafs series when he wasn’t being “super dad” to his three young children.
There’s always talk about rest versus rust this time of year, and while players certainly welcome the time off to heal up from various bumps and bruises suffered during the season, Foligno sees it from a different angle, one that’s specific to their experience.
“I think this actually benefited us because of the magnitude a little bit of how long it’s been coming to try to get a series win here,” he said. “It’s given us a chance to really enjoy it with the fans and with the people around here, and then lock it away and get re-focused and have some time to be able to do that. I wonder if it’s a Game 7 win maybe it’s good because you just roll into the next series, but I think there’s still so much emotion and so many things going.
“We really believe we still have better hockey to play. That’s how we temper it. We haven’t done anything. We’re proud for the organization, but one series win doesn’t do anything and we’re hungry for more and we know it’s going to get harder, so it’s a great challenge for us to see where we stand and we’re looking forward to that.”
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Going through some of the fan reactions to the Carolina Hurricanes taking Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in 2OT. (FanSided)
• The Capitals players were solemn after being eliminated. (NBC Sports Washington)
• Thom Loverro argues that losing Barry Trotz and replacing him with Todd Reirden as head coach ultimately hurt the Washington Capitals. (Washington Times)
• While Vegas was defeated in Round 1, the Golden Knights showed in 2018-19 that their inaugural season was far from a fluke. (The Hockey News)
• Jay O’Brien will not stick with Providence for the 2019-20 campaign. He wants a change after a difficult freshman season. (Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News)
• Taking a look back at what Steve Yzerman did in his first year as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning to gauge what he might do early on with the Detroit Red Wings. (Winging It In Motown)
• Bruins GM Don Sweeney spoke highly of the Columbus Blue Jackets and believes they will present a challenge to Boston. (NBC Sports Boston)
• The Senators search for a new head coach is going to be thorough. They reportedly have permission to speak with Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin and want to talk with Providence coach Nate Leaman. (Ottawa Citizen)
• Reflecting on the Islanders’ logo and what it means to the players. (Newsday)
• The Chicago Blackhawks announced that assistant coach Don Granato won’t be back for the 2019-20 campaign. Granato was a holdover from when head coach Joel Quenneville was fired along with assistant coaches Ulf Samuelsson and Kevin Dineen. (Chicago Tribune)
Catch your breath yet? That was an exciting Round 1, but there’s no time for rest! Round 2 begins tonight with a pair of matchups as the quest for the Stanley Cup rolls on.
We begin Round 2 without the Presidents’ Trophy winners or the top seeds in either conference or any division winners. Six 100-point teams are enoying their off-season. Three teams remain who are hoping for their first championship and Joe Thornton’s beard lives to see another round.
As we progress in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, here are questions for each of the eight teams left in the tournament.
How far can these “Bunch of Jerks” go?
The Carolina Hurricanes ended the first round in dramatic fashion with their double overtime win over the Washington Capitals in Game 7. They’ve become the “second favorite team” of many hockey fans this season, led by Rod Brind’Amour and their captain, Justin Williams. The “Storm Surges” and their sticking it to the old dinosaurs around the game has endeared them to fans. After plenty of teasing that they’d finally take a step forward, 2018-19 has been their year and it’s been an incredible run so far after a decade-long drought. They get 48 hours to come down from the high before taking on the Islanders. There are probably a few more surprises left in their tank.
Will there be an early emotional letdown or continued momentum for the San Jose Sharks?
Game 7 had it all. Controversy, goals, a dramatic comeback, overtime, incredible postgame quotes… The Sharks have two full days off to decompress and turn their attentions to the Colorado Avalanche. Sometimes it’s good for a team to have that time off to heal up and come down from the emotional high of such a victory. Sometimes it’s good for a team to keep that positive momentum going as soon as possible. How will Peter DeBoer ensure his players — with hopefully Joe Pavelski back in the lineup — maintain that level for Game 1?
Which St. Louis Blues defensemen will chip in the goals?
The Blues scored 16 goals in their six-game series victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Zero came off the stick of one of their defensemen, who combined for 46 during the regular season to lead the NHL. The shots were there, as the St. Louis blue line fired 56 pucks on goal, but their contributions came in the form of assists (16). The opportunities won’t get any easier facing a stingy Dallas Stars defense.
How will the extended time off affect the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders?
John Tortorella and Barry Trotz had the right idea. Following their Round 1 sweeps, and realizing they would have a ton of time off, the two coaches wanted to keep their players’ competitive juices going during the break so they organized intrasquad scrimmages. The Blue Jackets welcomed 5,550 fans to Nationwide Arena for theirs, while the Islanders kept theirs only open to the media. The goal was the same: give the players a different reason for coming to the rink and break up the monotony of a typical NHL practice. How they come out at the start of their respective Game 1s will give us a clue how the extra rest affected them.
Can Miro Heiskanen play more minutes, please?
Only three other players averaged more minutes per game (26:32) in Round 1 than the 19-year-old Finnish defenseman. Only Roman Josi (32:49) played more minutes in the Dallas Stars’ overtime clincher in Game 6 than Heiskanen (32:35), who became the third teenage defensemen since the NHL began tracking ice time to play at least 32 minutes in a playoff game. He’s so fun to watch and so fluid in his skating. You can see why the GM Jim Nill was so reluctant to include him in any trade for Erik Karlsson.
Can the Bruins’ bottom six production keep up?
The Bruins’ first three goals in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs were scored by Marcus Johansson, Sean Kuraly, and an empty-netter from Charlie Coyle. That’s the kind of contributions you need to this time of year. In Game 6, the bottom six, despite being held pointless, had an 18-7 advantage in shot attempts. Tuesday night they stepped up offensively and made their impact felt. Coyle scored three times, Joakim Nordstrom chipped in a pair of goals. Bruce Cassidy found combinations that clicked in his bottom line forwards, and they can’t disappear against the Blue Jackets.
Is Playoff Colin Wilson here to stay?
The Nashville Predators know this Colin Wilson. They know this Colin Wilson well, the one who really makes himself noticeable in the postseason. Through six games, the Avalanche forward has two goals and four points and giving Colorado hope that he can repeat some of his previous playoff production. He scored five times for the Predators in six games in 2015 and tallied five goals and 13 points in 14 games a year later. His two big goals in the second period of Game 5 helped put the Calgary Flames to bed. Now the Avs will need more of that to help their secondary scoring against the Sharks.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville Predators had every piece in place for another long playoff run chasing the Stanley Cup.
So they thought.
Now they have a longer offseason to fix the NHL’s worst power play and the issues that proved so costly in being ousted in the first round for the first time since 2015.
”It is disappointing that for so many people for us to be here today,” general manager David Poile said Wednesday. ”Everything seemed to be in place in my mind. On paper, I believe we had a team that could compete for the Stanley Cup.”
Poile didn’t have any answers for what went wrong when he and coach Peter Laviolette met with reporters. Last summer, the Predators asked Poile to keep their team together after the Presidents’ Trophy winners lost a Game 7 in the second round. Poile said he believed they had reason to give that group another opportunity.
The Predators became the first to repeat as Central Division champs in a decade only to lose in six games to Dallas.
”We targeted this year to be our year, to obviously take another step forward and to get to our ultimate goal of winning the Cup,” defenseman P.K. Subban said. ”Our trajectory sort of went the other way where we went to the Cup Final, then second round and now obviously with a first-round knockout it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Poile said he plans to look at himself and management, Laviolette and his assistants and the players themselves. Laviolette took responsibility for the power play woes and graded himself poorly.
”Our objective is to be successful in the playoffs, so ultimately it’s not good enough,” said Laviolette, who’s under contract through the 2020-21 season.
Some things to know about the Predators going into this offseason:
FIX THE POWER PLAY
Not only were the Predators the NHL’s worst with the man advantage in the regular season, they went 0 for 16 against Dallas. Four power plays came in Game 6, including in the final two minutes of regulation, yet they didn’t convert. Laviolette said he tried everything from switching the assistant in charge of the power play two-thirds of the way through the season, to team meetings and even hired an outside consultant.
The top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson had quite the regular season. Arvidsson set the franchise record with 34 goals in just 58 games due to a broken thumb, while Johansen had a career-high 50 assists. But the trio combined for four points against Dallas, and Arvidsson was held scoreless. The contrast with Dallas’ dominating top line was stark. The JOFA line remains under contract together at least through the 2021-22 season with Arvidsson signed for the next five seasons and Johansen through June 2025.
Poile says he has enough flexibility under the salary cap but didn’t know if he’ll need more this offseason. He will be in touch with the agent for captain Roman Josi on July 1 to start talking about an extension with one season left on his current deal. Nashville has a lot of money tied up already in its defensemen starting with Subban, who’s due $9 million each of the next three seasons. Ryan Ellis is under contract through the 2026-27 season at $6.25 million. Rookie Dante Fabbro, signed at the end of the season once his college season ended, made a strong impression on his entry deal and is expected to get more playing time next season.
Kyle Turris was signed to a six-year deal when Nashville traded for him in November 2017. He had what he called a frustrating season with just 23 points in 55 games, making his $6 million salary very costly for the production the Predators have gotten.
SUBBAN AND TRADE RUMORS
With each offseason, rumors start swirling that Subban will be traded. The defenseman ranked ninth with 31 points but played only 63 games because of an injury. Subban said he understands the responsibility that comes with being the team’s highest-paid player and he knows the business-side of the NHL having been traded once in his career.
”All I can hope is to continue to try to help this team win a championship,” Subban said.
PENDING FREE AGENTS
Poile traded for both Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds to help the power play, which didn’t happen. Now both Boyle, who returned a week after having his appendix removed in the playoffs, and Simmonds will be free agents this summer. Boyle said he’d like to return.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker