- For the second time in a row, the Predators and Hurricanes didn’t just need OT; they needed double OT to highlight the NHL playoff action on Sunday.
- The Avalanche did enough to win Game 4, finishing a sweep of the Blues in the process.
- Credit the Capitals for serious efforts, but the Bruins eliminated them in Game 5.
- Somehow, the Oilers squandered a 4-1 lead (and breakthroughs from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), and the Jets went up 3-0 in the series.
- Get ready for five more NHL playoff games on Monday, with three teams facing elimination. That includes the Oilers, who don’t have much time to get over that shocking loss to the Jets.
Game 4: Predators 4, Hurricanes 3 [Double OT] (Series tied 2-2)
Games 3 and 4 were different for the Predators and Hurricanes, but there were key similarities, too. Obviously, each contest required double overtime. Both teams also asked a lot of their goalies, with Juuse Saros shining brightest. Oh, and the Predators won both games at home (in double OT), and all of a sudden a First Round series that looked all-Hurricanes is now tied 2-2.
Game 4: Avalanche 5, Blues 2 (COL wins series 4-0)
On one hand, the Blues put forth a respectable effort vs. the Avalanche in Game 4, much like Game 3. At the same time, it seemed apparent that Colorado could “turn it off” when needed, while St. Louis just didn’t have that extra juice to get over the hump. Maybe there’s some solace in Vladimir Tarasenko creating some offense, but the Blues probably aren’t focused on small victories after getting eliminated in this Avalanche sweep.
Game 5: Bruins 3, Capitals 1 (BOS wins series 4-1)
For most, if not all, of the Bruins – Capitals series, Boston’s stars were able to shine brighter than Washington’s standouts. Beyond Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, key Capitals just couldn’t get things going. While the instinct would be to totally bury those top Capitals after they were eliminated, give credit to the Bruins’ best, and maybe Tuukka Rask most of all. Rask was fantastic all series long, and now the Bruins get a nice break after eliminating the Capitals in Game 5.
Game 3: Jets 5, Oilers 4 [OT] (WIN leads series 3-0)
The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are already brimming with surprises, but this was a true stunner. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl finally enjoyed strong playoff performances, generating three points apiece. The Oilers built what seemed like a commanding 4-1 lead in Game 3, and it was in the third period vs. the Jets. That all fell apart, and the Jets won in overtime, leaving the Oilers a loss away from a sweep. Again … stunning.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]
Three Stars for NHL playoff action on Sunday
1. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
Yes, Saros allowed three goals in double OT playoff action on Sunday. But three goals allowed sounds a lot better when you realize that Saros almost played two playoff games worth of hockey in that double OT thriller.
Overall, Saros generated 58 saves, setting a new Predators playoff record. (Managing 58 saves in a playoff game is fairly rare in NHL history, at least when you’ve played less than 100 minutes.)
During the regular season, Saros was sensational while dragging the Predators to the playoffs. He’s now putting up slightly better numbers (.929 save percentage in playoffs; .927 in regular season season) in the postseason, which is saying a lot.
The Predators deserve credit for gutsy efforts in squeezing a 2-0 Hurricanes lead down to a 2-2 series tie. But Saros kept them in the first two games, and then played an enormous role in winning those last two.
2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
For all the deserved praise Saros receives, he’s not a no-brainer choice over Rask for the top star of Sunday’s NHL playoff action. (A day that was quite fine for Finns, by the way.)
As far as being close-to-perfect, Rask gets the edge. He only allowed one Capitals goal, stopping 40 shots as the Bruins eliminated Washington. Rask really must have drained a lot of the Capitals’ will in the second period, in particular, stopping all 20 Washington shots on goal.
After the Bruins eliminated the Capitals, Rask’s save percentage stands at .941 for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Between his work in the regular season and postseason throughout his career, Rask likely deserves more love, including from Bruins fans and media.
Maybe this run will be the one where Rask is finally not taken for granted?
(Consider Patrice Bergeron among the honorable mentions for Sunday’s NHL playoff performers. He scored two big goals for the Bruins. Other two-goal scorers made bigger impacts, though …)
3. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets
One or both of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid should have been in this spot. Honestly, maybe they should still be in the mix, as their three-point outputs remain impressive.
But the Oilers squandered the 4-1 lead Draisaitl and McDavid helped build, and Ehlers helped Winnipeg win a stunner. Ehlers scored the Jets’ first goal in Game 3, and then found the net for the overtime game-winner. Quite a way to return to from an injury, and it only makes it more uncomfortable for the Oilers that they couldn’t win either of the games Ehlers couldn’t participate in.
If you prefer, there are plenty of other choices for the three stars for Sunday in the NHL’s 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Consider two-goal games alone. Luke Kunin collected two goals of his own, including the double-OT-winner for the Predators. Both Brock McGinn and Vladimir Tarasenko collected two goals apiece in defeat.
Ehlers makes the Jets much more dangerous, and that’s bad news for an Oilers team in big trouble, and on the verge of a sweep.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
Monday’s NHL playoff games
Game 5: Islanders at Penguins (Series tied 2-2), 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Maple Leafs at Canadiens (Series tied 1-1), 7 p.m. ET – NHL Network (livestream)
Game 5: Lightning at Panthers (TB leads 3-1), 8 p.m. ET – CNBC (livestream)
Game 4: Oilers at Jets (WPG leads 3-0), 9:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 5: Wild at Golden Knights (VGK leads 3-1), 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC (livestream)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.