Game 7 Saturday: Hurricanes, Lightning, Oilers earn tough playoff wins

Game 7 Saturday: Hurricanes, Lightning, Oilers earn tough playoff wins
Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

• Home-ice advantage indeed ruled the Hurricanes – Bruins series. The Hurricanes won Game 7, and will face either the Penguins and Rangers.

• Same old story? Not necessarily, but the same old result. The Maple Leafs could not advance in the First Round, instead losing to the defending repeat champion Lightning in Game 7.

• That said, the Lightning may be the less-healthy team against the Panthers. Brayden Point was unable to finish Game 7 after suffering an injury.

Leon Draisaitl gritted Game 7 out, with Connor McDavid dominating to help the Oilers outlast the Kings. We’ll either get a “Battle of Alberta” in the Second Round, or it will be Oilers – Stars.

Game 7: Carolina Hurricanes 3, Boston Bruins 2 (CAR wins series 4-3)

As mentioned above, the home team won all seven contests in the Hurricanes’ series win against the Bruins. In the case of Game 7, it was the first one not decided by at least two goals. Granted, it was almost decided by two. David Pastrnak scored to reduce Carolina’s lead to 3-2 with about 21 seconds left. While that provided some late drama, it sure felt like the Hurricanes controlled the larger run of play against the Bruins. Granted, the B’s had their near-misses, so maybe it could have been closer. Generally, Carolina was the better team, and the Hurricanes will begin the Second Round at home (whether they face the Penguins or the Rangers).

Game 7: Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 (TBL wins series 4-3)

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

In previous Game 7-type situations, the Leafs didn’t just lose, they often wilted. In Game 7 against the Lightning, it didn’t feel quite that way, at least for those observing the Maple Leafs. They’re almost certainly not happy hearing platitudes. Mostly.

With two chances to advance, the Maple Leafs fought hard against the repeat defending champions. Still, the overall result remains the same. One-and-done, once again.

Truly, you have to mix some bad with the good. Yes, the Maple Leafs had a goal disallowed, and maybe the Lightning got away with a penalty here and there. At the same time, the Maple Leafs went 0-for-3 on the power play in Game 7, and much like being unable to endure the trapping and turtling of the Canadiens last year, Toronto couldn’t break through when Tampa Bay clamped down.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

For a team that’s often a scoring machine, it’s deeply disturbing to see their offense dry up so often when it matters the most.

Some may disagree on this. But, as I said, I wouldn’t “blow up” the Maple Leafs. Tweaks are needed, though. Ideally, they’ll get more stable in net, and find a little bit of extra scoring punch. Tweaks like finding more options on the rush may be the ticket, rather than something drastic.

None of these points erase the frustration for Maple Leafs players, staff, and fans. We’ll find out soon enough if this latest disappointment translates to bigger or smaller changes.

Game 7: Edmonton Oilers 2, Los Angeles Kings 0 (EDM wins series 4-3)

If you drew up Game 7 to give the Kings the best chance to beat the Oilers, it would have gone like this. They received a vintage clutch performance from Jonathan Quick. This was a low-scoring game, including a scoreless first period and just a single goal in the second.

Leon Draisaitl even wasn’t 100-percent.

To the Oilers and Mike Smith‘s credit, they did not blink despite the Kings staying in a one-sided Game 7. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have arguably the best player in the world …

Three Stars from Game 7 Saturday

1. Connor McDavid, Oilers

Did Connor McDavid silence debate about anyone else being the best player in the world on Saturday, or in this series?

That’s probably hasty talk. That said, if shot with truth serum, I’d blurt out Connor McDavid as the greatest active NHL player. One may argue that truth serum might be “one beer.”

Chances are, these discussions will bubble up again. That could happen as soon as the Second Round, as Connor McDavid and the Oilers will face either the puck-hogging and defensively stout Flames, or the defensive-minded-to-a-throwback-level Stars. Those are teams that could make things tough for McDavid, especially if Leon Draisaitl’s injury issues linger.

In Game 7, McDavid assisted on Cody Ceci‘s 1-0 goal, then did it all on a crucial 2-0 insurance tally. That second goal was the sort of clip you’ll share with his future doubters.

Beyond that, McDavid and his line (a hobbled Draisaitl, and Kailer Yamamoto) also dominated at 5-on-5.

McDavid scored four goals and 10 assists, averaging two points per game (14 in 7) in this series. Wow.

2. Max Domi, Hurricanes

There’s a proud history of unexpected Game 7 masterpieces. Not everyone can be Justin Williams, seemingly rattling these moments off on a whim. (Also, not everyone can be like Justin Williams in also being very good in non-Game-7 situations.)

Frankly, you could forgive all but the most die-hard Hurricanes fans for occasionally forgetting that Max Domi was on this roster. Part of that is the Hurricanes’ waves of quality forwards. The other was that he hasn’t made that big of an impact, at least on the scoreboard.

Going into Game 7, Max Domi only managed two assists (and zero goals) in this series. In Game 7, Domi factored into every Carolina tally, scoring two goals and one assist.

While Domi is a flawed player, especially defensively, he’s also clearly skilled. To an extent, he’s talented enough to give Carolina this kind of boost. But, yeah, it was surprising.

2. Nick Paul, Lightning

Even compared to Max Domi (a 28-goal, 72-point season; 52 points as a rookie; 12th pick of 2013), Nick Paul (32 points this season a career-high, otherwise 20 or lower; picked 101st in that same draft) was less likely to be a Game 7 hero.

Yet, there was a “surprising, but not as random as some might think” element to Nick Paul being the Game 7 difference-maker for the Lightning.

While Paul is a relative unknown, he’s been finding his game with Tampa Bay. Generating 14 points in 21 games with the Lightning already shows that maybe the franchise was right about taking a small chance on Nick Paul. He was especially hot in April, though. In 16 April games, Paul scored 13 points.

So, again: surprising, but maybe not quite shocking.

NHL Playoff Game 7 action on Sunday

Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers (Series tied 3-3), 7 p.m. ET — TBS, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360
Game 7: Dallas Stars at Calgary Flames (Series tied 3-3), 9:30 p.m. ET — ESPN2, SN, TVAS

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Blues vs. Wild
• Avalanche vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings

Flames vs. Stars

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info
First Round, Stanley Cup predictions
• NHL Draft Lottery set: Canadiens have best odds for top pick
Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup

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    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.