Eastern Conference

Hurricanes rally around injuries, take 2-0 series lead vs. Islanders

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It’s almost as if adversity galvanizes the Carolina Hurricanes, with every blow bringing the team closer together in their fight for the Stanley Cup.

These particular playoffs — their first in a decade — haven’t been kind to the Hurricanes, who entered the game already without Andrei Svechnikov, Micheal Ferland and Jordan Martinook. Injuries didn’t halt their progress in Round 1, winning a seven-game series against the Washington Capitals despite missing some key pieces.

And while three more names were added to that growing list — queue up that one Drowning Pool song — Carolina banded together to come from behind as they took a 2-0 Round 2 series lead against the New York Islanders after a 2-1 win on Sunday.

“It’s not easy, that’s for sure, because you’re asking a lot of guys that are out of their comfort zone and doing things they don’t normally do,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’amour said following the game. “But that’s playoffs, that’s part of it. It is a war of attrition a lot of times in the playoffs. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

Trevor van Riemsdyk was gone just 36 seconds into the game and Petr Mrazek followed suit in the second period as he slid from across his crease on an apparent non-contact injury. Saku Maenalanen was the third body to hit the trainer’s table, with his injury happening in the third period after providing a big assist.

“That’s tough, but hopefully those guys will heal up quickly,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t been playing that are ready to step in and do their job.”

That’s six injuries and a 2-0 series lead heading back to Raleigh, with a much needed extra day off in between.

Carolina’s ability to deal with the ebbs and flows of a game is remarkable at this point.

Sunday’s game was tight through two periods the Islanders took a 1-0 lead from Mathew Barzal on the power play, New York’s first goal on the man-advantage in their past 10 tries.

In the second, before Mrazek was replaced by Curtis McElhinney, the Hurricanes failed to produce on an extended 5-on-3. Mrazek’s injury soon after must have felt like a kick to the ribs while they were already lying on the floor.

But somewhere between there and the beginning of the third, Carolina regrouped.

Warren Foegele‘s fifth came just 17 seconds into the period to tie the game and the Hurricanes had a 2-1 lead just 48 seconds later when Nino Niederreiter put the perfect tip on a point shot for his first of the playoffs.

“Leadership in that room,” Brind’amour said. “It’s simple. Jordan Staal. Justin Williams. Jaccob Slavin. Those are our best players every night. They’re leading a group and they don’t have a choice but to follow these guys.”

Brind’Amour figured Mrazek’s injury was similar to the one he picked up back in November, one that forced him to miss a month of action. Yikes.

McElhinney proved to be a formidable backup. He had just 82 minutes of playoff experience heading into this game but he was up to the task, making 17 saves in relief.

One wonders how long the Hurricanes can be without such a large contingent of their roster. Game 3 could conceivably look like the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina’s Amerian Hockey League affiliate) are getting a game in the playoffs depending on the severity of the ailments. And the Islanders had their chances in the third, with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Pulock both hitting he crossbar and Anders Lee narrowly missing an open net on Pulock’s rebound.

For now, however, we’ll continue to believe that the Hurricanes can manage in some of the most unappealing situations. They’ve done it so far. Why doubt them?

Game 3 goes Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN from PNC Arena. 


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

Blue Jackets return to form, win special teams battle to even Round 2 series vs. Bruins

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Special teams: never sleep on it.

Just ask the Boston Bruins, who will be left to rue missed opportunities in that phase of the game. Or the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were 0-for-4 in Game 1.

On Saturday night, however, the Blue Jackets can take pride in what they were able to do with the man-advantage and with a man-disadvantage as they evened up their best-of-seven series 3-2 in double overtime following some tweaks.

The series will shift to Nationwide Arena in Columbus next week after Matt Duchene pocketed the oh-so-important marker in 3:42 into the second extra frame. An ill-advised offensive-zone trip by Patrice Bergeron put the Blue Jackets a man up and Duchene was Johnny on the spot on a rebound in front to slip the puck between Tuukka Rask‘s legs to end the game.

The power play got Columbus going in the second period after they entered the frame down 1-0.

The man they call the Bread Man — Artemi Panarin — delivered the first of two blows off his stick in the period (and had the primary assist on the double OT winner). Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen may still rue the day he didn’t trade Panarin, an unrestricted free agent come July 1, before the trade deadline, but the risk to keep him has unquestionably paid off in these playoffs, with Panarin’s six-game point streak as proof.

Panarin’s third goal of the playoffs was followed by his second to once again tie the game roughly seven minutes later after David Pastrnak responded to the Russian’s first the of the game just 58 seconds after Panarin made it 1-1.

The most important thing for the Blue Jackets to do coming into Game 2 was to get back to their suffocating forecheck that served them so well in Round 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was a goal they accomplished (you can see how the relentless forecheck led to Panarin’s second, for instance). And Sergei Bobrovsky was on the right side of a tight game this time around after making some particularly incredible saves in the first overtime period.

Boston stumbled over themselves too often in this game, including roughly five minutes of power play time in the second period where they couldn’t register a shot — a no-no in a playoff game.

Gift with around three minutes of a man-advantage after a high-sticking call against Josh Anderson, the Bruins played the 4-on-4 poorly and got scored on by Panarin to tie it 2-2.

From there, they squandered away that opportunity and then another glorious one late in the third when a Cam Atkinson tripping penalty could have served them up the game on a silver platter.

But Columbus defended remarkably on both attempts by the Bruins, whose fans voiced their displeasure.

Game 3 goes Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena on 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

Maple Leafs turn it on late, take 3-2 series lead against Bruins

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Heading into Friday’s Game 5 between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was the latter that needed to make a few tweaks to their game after a 6-4 loss a game earlier that evened the best-of-seven series.

Stopping the Bruins from scoring six goals would be a good start, of course. Quelling their solid power play would also prove wise.

A 2-1 win where Boston’s only goal came with an empty net with 43 seconds left in the third? I’d say the tweaks worked.

More proof needed? How about a renewed penalty kill? The Bruins came into the game 5-for-11 (45.5 percent) but was held at bay in each of their three man-advantage opportunities in the game, one that was so tightly contested that a goal allowed could have changed the outcome entirely.

The first two periods of the game resembled hockey that’s played in overtime. It was hesitant, a byproduct of two teams knowing what was at stake. Nearly 80 percent of the teams that take Game 5 in a series that is tied 2-2 go on to progress to the next round. A tight game was expected, and it delivered.

Both teams seemed reluctant to take any risks, and it wasn’t until Auston Matthews broke the ice at 11:33 of the final frame that some urgency seemed to set in. Kasperi Kapanen took advantage of a Bruins team now in chase mode, giving the Leafs a 2-0 lead 2:12 later.

Matthews’ goal came with some controversy. Zach Hyman appeared to impede Tuukka Rask from getting across the net. He wasn’t in a position to make a save when Matthews one-timed the puck past him.

The NHL Situation Room said the play wasn’t conclusive in terms of overturning the call of a good goal on the ice.

“After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Referees, the Situation Room confirmed the Referee’s call on the ice,” an email from the league said. “The decision was made in accordance to Rule 78.7 that states in part, ‘If a review is not conclusive and/or there is any doubt whatsoever as to whether the call on the ice was correct, the original call on the ice will be confirmed.’ “

Bruins fans aren’t going to like that one, and they certainly have an argument. Rask was clearly impeded on the play.

Frederik Andersen was solid in the game, stopping 28 shots in a bounce-back effort after allowing five on 30 in Game 4.

Toronto can now take the series at home on Sunday, which would exorcize their demons against the Bruins, who beat them in Game 7 of Round 1 last year (and in 2013).

Game 6 of this series goes on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC


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

Blue Jackets cap off all-time upset, sweep Lightning

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Let this be a lesson.

A lesson that anything is possible, no matter the odds. A lesson in never writing off a team, no matter the circumstances. And a lesson that, no matter how good a team is in the regular season, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference come playoff time.

Yes, the Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off what many thought impossible, an upset for the ages after a 7-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night in Game 4 of their best-of-7 series.

Swept.

The Lightning certainly crashed (the first Presidents’ Trophy-winning team to be swept in the first round), and the Blue Jackets won their first playoff series in franchise history.

Gone are the horrors of that crossbar in overtime of Game 3 against Washington last year. So, too, with it, the agony of losing four straight after beating the Capitals twice in their own barn.

Columbus returned to the postseason this year with a vengeance, and my, oh my, did it ever show.

The formula for Tampa seemed simple enough. Do what you did all regular season: score at will, steal souls on the power play and suck the will out of teams with superb goaltending.

It’s a recipe that cooked up 62 wins, tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most ever in a season. But when the Lightning checked the cupboards for ingredients in Game 1, the cupboard was bare.

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

Sure, the Lightning exploded to a 3-0 first-period lead in Game 1. They then gave up four straight and lost in spectacular fashion.

Why you ask? The Blue Jackets implemented a near-perfect game plan from the second period of Game 1, onward. A relentless forecheck stifled the Lightning. A commitment to blocked shots took away scoring chances. Providing great screens in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy made a great goalie seem mediocre. And finding scoring from the up and down the lineup, both on forward and defense, added a layer of guesswork that Jon Cooper and his troops had no answer for.

Since the 17:50 mark of the first period in Game 1, Columbus outscored 19-5.

The stat actually looks better given that the Lightning scored twice to tie the game 3-3 in the second period. But as things went all series, the Blue Jackets had an answer, scoring on a delayed penalty to regain the lead.

Tampa poured it on for nearly 18 minutes in the third before pulling Andrei Vasilevskiy. That last gasp effort resulted in three empty net goals against. The clouds cleared and the Blue Jackets emerged standing, virtually unblemished.

Vasilevskiy came into the game with a .866 save percentage and a 3.73 goals-against average, numbers that look nothing like his stellar regular-season statistics that may win him a Vezina in June.

He was at his worst in this series, allowing four more on 22 shots in this game, and had just one game above a .900 save percentage in the series.

Two-hundred feet the other way, Sergei Bobrovsky was sensational, especially in the second and third games of the series, and masterful in the third period in Game 4, turning aside all 13 shots the Lightning could muster.

It certainly didn’t help that Tampa’s best scorers only showed up in the final game. Steven Stamkos finally scored. So did Brayden Point. Nikita Kucherov got two assists after being suspended for Game 3. The team was also without Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman due to injury. It’s unlikely they would have mattered. They didn’t when they were healthy.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets’ best came to play. Matt Duchene finished the series with three goals and seven points. Artemi Panarin added two goals and five assists. Seth Jones contributed two goals and four points. Pierre-Luc Dubois picked a great time to find the score sheet, picking up three points in the final game.

John Tortorella said his team was ready for the challenge a week ago. Man, was he ever right.

Columbus proved us all wrong, and it was incredible theatre.


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

Orpik plays overtime hero as Capitals take 2-0 series lead

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When you need a hero in Washington you call… Brooks Orpik?

Indeed. Brooks Orpik, playing in his 151st playoff game, hammered a one-timer into the top corner behind Petr Mrazek 1:48 into the extra frame for his fourth career playoff goal that sends the Washington Capitals to Carolina with a 2-0 series lead on the back of a 4-3 overtime win on NBC on Saturday.

The playoffs are about finding big goals from unlikely places, and Orpik’s marker embodied all of that. He jumped off the bench, found a spot without a defender, and when Evgeny Kuznetsov laid the sauce on his stick, Orpik didn’t disappoint, sending Capital One Arena into a frenzy.

The mathematics suggest that 86 percent of teams who go down 2-0 in a series never recover. Despite a valiant effort from the Hurricanes in Game 2 of their series with the defending Stanley Cup champions. If only they could sort out their starts…

Like Thursday when they went down 3-0 after 20 minutes, the Hurricanes spotted the Capitals with another lead, this time 2-0 inside the first 10 minutes.

[RELATED: Hurricanes’ Ferland handed match penalty for debatable head shot]

The Capitals looked like a grizzled playoff team showing a young pretender that there are levels to this in the first frame. To recite a passage from the Hockey Cliche Handbook, Washington is tough on pucks, don’t give up a lot of space and are hard to play against.

Sometimes simple hockey boredom speech actually paints an accurate picture. A broken clock is right twice a day. Every now and then, those cliches are going to stand up and they certainly did in the first.

Carolina found success when they got pucks in deep and ground the game out down low. Both Lucas Wallmark and Sebastian Aho, the latter who scored his first goal in 16 games, brought the ‘Canes level heading into the third period.

Tom Wilson regained the lead for Washington just before the nine-minute mark, but with five minutes to go, Jordan Staal tipped a point shot back Braden Holtby to send the game to overtime.

The series shifts to Raleigh for Game 3 on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET on CNBC.

[MORE: Capitals vs Hurricanes preview]

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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