The Playoff Buzzer: Dominant Game 1 efforts for Backstrom, Marner, and Smith

  • Mitch Marner did something that only a handful of players in NHL history have done in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ big Game 1 over the Boston Bruins
  • The Carolina Hurricanes put up a great fight against the defending Stanley Cup champions but had just one flaw they have to correct
  • An unlikely hero emerged for the Calgary Flames
  • Capitals defenseman John Carlson tied an NHL postseason record
  • Alex Ovechkin continued to climb another goal-scoring leaderboard

Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 1 (Maple Leafs  lead series 1-0)

The Maple Leafs are already off to a better start in their playoff rematch against the Boston Bruins, jumping out to an early 1-0 series lead thanks to a huge night from Mitch Marner and additional goals from William Nylander and John Tavares. They need their stars to shine, and on Thursday night they did.

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 2 (Capitals lead series 1-0)

The Hurricanes may have been the better team at even-strength and showed they have a chance in this series, but the Capitals’ power play (and penalty kill) was the difference as the defending Stanley Cup champions stole Game 1 away. If the Hurricanes can repeat this effort in Game 2 they stand a great chance to even the series, but they must find an answer for the Capitals’ power play to allow that to happen.

Flames 4, Avalanche 0 (Flames leads series 1-0)

The Calgary Flames’ superstars had a fairly quiet night and they still rolled to a 4-0 shutout win over the Colorado Avalanche. Mike Smith was outstanding in net and the Flames’ defense did a great job shutting down the Avalanche’s big-three, including Mikko Rantanen in his return to the lineup.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Mike Smith, Calgary Flames. All season, and especially leading up to the playoffs, the big question for the Calgary Flames was whether or not they had the goaltending to go on a deep Stanley Cup run. David Rittich is unproven and regressed down the stretch, while Smith had, for the most part, a brutal year. Playing in his first playoff game in seven years, Smith was the best player on the ice and for one night silenced the doubters.

2. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. Backstrom was a beast for the Capitals in Game 1, scoring a pair of first period goals and then coming up with two huge blocked shots late in the third period to help the Capitals hold off a late Hurricanes rally. He is one of the best all-around centers in the NHL and showed why on Thursday.

3. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs. Entering play on Thursday Marner had scored just three goals in his first 13 career playoff games. He scored two in the Maple Leafs’ Game 1 win and proved to be the team’s most dangerous player as they jumped out to an early series lead over the Bruins.

Highlights of the night

Not long after tying the game against the Bruins, Marner gave the Maple Leafs with the lead with what would prove to be the game-winning goal on a penalty shot and what a move it was! According to the NHL’s Public Relations department, this was just the fifth shorthanded penalty shot goal in NHL playoff history.

While Mike Smith was stopping everything, Andrew Mangiapane got the Flames on the board with this beautiful goal against Philipp Grubauer.

Factoids of the Night

John Carlson’s three first period assists tied an NHL postseason record for most assists in a period. [NHL PR]

Alex Ovechkin moved into 27th place on the NHL’s all-time postseason goal-scoring list [NHL PR]

Friday’s schedule

Columbus Blue Jackets at Tampa Bay Lightning, Game 2 (CBJ leads 1-0), 7 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders, Game 2 (NYI leads 1-0), 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
St. Louis Blues at Winnipeg Jets, Game 2 (StL leads 1-0), 9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, Game 2 (SJ leads 1-0), 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Mike Smith unlikely hero as Flames shutout Avalanche in Game 1

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Mike Smith certainly didn’t start this season on a positive note and while he did improve as the campaign went on, goaltending was still a big question mark for Calgary going into the series. Few would have predicted that Smith would end up being the standout in this battle between two high-powered offenses, but that was the case in the Flames’ 4-0 victory over the Avalanche.

Philipp Grubauer, who also had a poor start to the season before bouncing back, did hold up for most of the game. He couldn’t save the Avalanche Thursday night, but he kept them in this one despite the lopsided final score. It wasn’t until late in the second period that the Flames first solved him.

Continuing with the theme of Game 1 defying expectations, rather than one of the Flames’ many offensive stars netting the goal, it was Andrew Mangiapane, who has just eight career goals and was making his postseason debut. For a moment, he looked like an elite forward, weaving through the Avalanche and outmaneuvering Grubauer before finishing him with a backhand.

Late in the second period, Matthew Tkachuk capitalized on a power-play opportunity to score his first career playoff goal. That 2-0 edge would hold for most of what remained until the floodgates opened late. Mikael Backlund added another power-play goal at 17:01 of the third period then just 14 seconds later, Tkachuk scored again to make it 4-0.

Colorado was the clear underdog going into this series, so from that perspective this outcome wasn’t surprising even if how we got to it did deviate from the script. At the same time, the Avalanche couldn’t be discounted and still shouldn’t be. Any team headlined by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen has the potential to be very dangerous and the Flames know full well that their work is far from done.

Avalanche-Flames Game 2 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Will streaky Calgary stay hot or flame out in playoffs?

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The Calgary Flames know they’re in the playoffs. Now comes the hard part.

Despite being idle on Sunday, the Flames became the first Western Conference team to clinch a postseason berth due to the New York Islanders’ win over the Minnesota Wild. But the Flames know better than most teams that nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. Since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, Calgary has won just one postseason series. A Canadian team has not won the Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. The Flames won their only championship 30 years ago. Will this finally be the year that the C of Red celebrates into the summer?

Even the Flames would have to admit they’ve been inconsistent over the last month. After winning seven straight games from February 16 to 27, Calgary dropped their next four in regulation, followed by another three-game winning streak with a jaw dropping 20 total goals during that three-game stretch. Obviously, no team can afford a prolonged lull in the playoffs.

Calgary’s chances to make a run deep into spring begin between the pipes, as both David Rittich and Mike Smith have been up and down this year. While Rittich is enjoying a career season (his third in the NHL) with 25 wins, he owns just a .910 save percentage, which ranks tied for 24th in the NHL among qualified goaltenders (21 or more games played). The veteran Smith has just an .896 save percentage on the year and has dropped three consecutive starts in March. While he once brought the Phoenix Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012, Smith has not been back to the postseason since. The Flames boast the fourth best offense in the NHL this season (3.56 goals per game), but when scoring inevitably dries up in the playoffs, a reliable netminder is vital in the march toward the Cup.

Calgary’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm is one of the best trios in the league. Gaudreau is a Hart Trophy candidate this season with a career-best 91 points, Monahan has already secured his third career 30-goal season and Lindholm has been a rousing success story in Calgary, blowing past any of his previous five seasons with Carolina. It’s also easy to forget just how good Monahan was the last time the Flames were in the playoffs. Though Calgary was quickly swept in four games by the Anaheim Ducks in 2017, Monahan scored a power play goal in all four games. He is one of eight players in League history to tally a power play goal in four consecutive postseason games.

Aside from the top line, Calgary does have depth with the likes of Matthew Tkachuk (73 points), Norris Trophy-hopeful Mark Giordano (67 points) and Mikael Backlund (44 points). They could also get a boost if James Neal returns to form. Neal is getting closer to returning from a lower body injury that has kept him out over a month. The 31-year-old signed a 5-year, $28.75 million deal this off-season, but has been a disappointment with just 15 points in 55 games. Still, Neal has shown the ability to be a big-time player throughout his career and has loads of experience, having played in the postseason each of the last eight years.

Several other statistics from this season bode well for the Flames entering the playoffs. They have a whopping plus-49 goal differential in the third period and lead the NHL with 105 goals in the third period. They are also 21-14-2 on the road and need just two road wins to set a single-season franchise record.

Despite their success away from Alberta, clinching home ice advantage would be huge for Calgary’s chances. There is little doubt that the Scotiabank Saddledome will be rocking come playoff time, but even more importantly, winning the Pacific Division would ensure that the Flames avoid playing the reigning Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights in the First Round. Giordano, however, took the diplomatic approach, saying the opponent won’t matter.

“Well…the team that gets in as the wildcard is going to be playing really well and playing really hard,” Giordano told the Calgary Sun. “I’ve never been a fan of trying to pick and choose who you want to playoffs because the league’s so tight. The team that’s usually in the wildcard is feeling good and playing well. And if you want to go all the way, you’re going to have to go through a lot of great teams.”

To this point, Calgary has proven to be great in the regular season. But they’ll need to find more consistency to end their – and Canada’s – Stanley Cup drought.

The Buzzer: Pastrnak leads Bruins comeback, Smith blanks McDavid, Oilers

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Players of the Night:

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: The Bruins trailed 4-1 in the third period. They then proceeded to score five in a row, including a hat trick by Pastrnak, who now has 27 goals on the season. The Bruins simply won’t die when they’re down.

J.T. Miller, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning got shelled by the Ottawa Senators, of all teams. Still, Miller, who was traded at the deadline to the playoff-bound lightning notched Tampa’s first three goals in the loss.

Mike Smith, Calgary Flames: He didn’t have much run support, but you only need one when you turn aside each and every shot you face. Smith did just that, stopping 28 shots and Johnny Gaudreau provided the game’s only goal to put the Flames within a point of third place in the Pacific Division in a 1-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers.

Adin Hill, Arizona Coyotes: He allowed three goals on the night — with two in the third period to allow the Kings to erase a 3-1 deficit. But Hill also stopped Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar in the shootout and he did all of this to record his first NHL win. Kudos to the kid.

Highlights of the Night:

Factoids of the Night:

Predators are good:

The Bruins, also pretty good:

News of the Night:

Scores:

Bruins 6, Hurricanes 4

Senators 7, Lightning 4

Canadiens 4, Stars 2

Predators 3, Jets 1

Avalanche 5, Wild 1

Flames 1, Oilers 0

Coyotes 4, Kings 3 (SO)


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

Flames get good news on Mike Smith’s lower-body injury

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Calgary Flames have dodged a bullet as goaltender Mike Smith’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared. While the 35-year-old Smith will miss the next two games, when the Flames return home for a two-game set this weekend he’ll be considered day-to-day.

“Sometimes that mental rest is good, too, along with the physical stuff that he’s going to heal up,” said Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan after Tuesday’s morning skate in Boston. “He is a workhorse. But we’re just happy with the news. Everyone is pretty relieved that it wasn’t more serious.”

Smith injured his lower-body at the end of regulation during Sunday’s game against the New York Islanders, and it looked real, real bad.

The Flames currently hold the third spot in the Pacific Division two points behind the San Jose Sharks. But losing Smith for an extended period of time may not have been the deathknell that might doom other clubs.

As Christian Roatis of Flames Nation broke down this morning, Gulutzan having to rely on No. 2 goalie David Rittich hasn’t meant a decline in success. The 25-year-old Czech Republic native will get to continue his fine season Tuesday against the Bruins and possibly Thursday against the Nashville Predators.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.