Fans of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the National Hockey League have to be feeling a bit cheated. We had two more games on Tuesday night and both contests were decided in regulation. We haven't had an overtime game for three consecutive days, although we had at least one playoff contest decided by one goal for the 16th consecutive day dating back to Sunday, April 14. Let's get started!
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Columbus Blue Jackets 2, Boston Bruins 1
After gaining a road split in Boston and seizing home-ice advantage, the Blue Jackets were back in their home barn looking to hang onto the advantage in front of their raucous crowd. Losing isn't something Columbus has experienced a lot of lately, and after Tuesday they are in the driver's seat in this Eastern Conference Semifinals series.It was a defensive struggle in the first period. Both teams were gumming up the neutral zone and there weren't a ton of scoring chances. Former Bruins forward Riley Nash was getting the business from his old teammates, but he had the last laugh. He picked up the primary assist on Boone Jenner's opening salvo with 18:37 of the first period to send the home crowd into a frenzy. Scott Harrington also picked up a helper, and the home team went to the dressing room feeling good about themselves.
Midway through the second period it was Brad Marchand heading off for a high sticking call, something we've seen a lot of during the postseason. Matt Duchene cashed in with a power-play marker, making it 2-0 on assists from Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson. It would be more than enough for Sergei Bobrovsky, as the impending free agent continues to improve his stock heading into the offseason. He allowed just one goal on 37 shots in the Game 3 win, improving to 6-1-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in his seven postseason starts, including 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .950 save percentage in three home outings.
The only person able to beat Bobrovsky was Jake DeBrusk, as the irritant muscled one in with assists from David Krejci and Karson Kuhlman. While that's all well and good, the big guns of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have combined for just one point for the entire series. The Bruins aren't going to be around much longer if they cannot get their Big Three cooking in this series. It's a problem the Tampa Bay Lightning know all too well, as they reminisce on the golf links.
Bergeron was able to do what he does best, win faceoffs. He was 15-for-20, or 75 percent, in the faceoff circle, while Noel Acciari tossed his weight around with four hits. Charlie McAvoy was also scoreless with a plus-1 rating, a blocked shot and five hits. Veteran Zdeno Chara should he is still very useful, sacrificing his 42-year-old body with six blocked shots and a plus-1 rating in his 20:52 of ice time across 24 shifts.
For the Jackets, only Harrington managed a point among the rearguards. However, he was one of four defensemen to record at least two blocked shots, with All-Star Seth Jones leading the way with five of them, while also dishing out six hits. All six D-men had at least two hits, with Zach Werenski chipping in with five. Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nash also were scoreless, but they had an impact with at least four hits apiece.
San Jose Sharks 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
In the late-night game, there was more scoring. In fact, there was exactly twice as many goals as the undercard on this NHL evening. It was a seesaw battle in the Mile High City, and one guy lived up to his prediction that the road team would show up and play a good game. The Sharks did that, and then some. He stepped up with a hat trick, channeling his inner Mark Messier from 1994 when the Hall of Famer guaranteed a Game 6 victory against the New Jersey Devils when they were on the brink of elimination.
Couture opened the scoring, and quieted down the raucous Denver crowd, with an even-strength goal from new papa Gustav Nyquist and Timo Meier. It was the latter striking on an unassisted goal just three-plus minutes later to make it 2-0. The Sharks knew they needed to go into Denver and grab at least one win to seize home-ice advantage back from the Avalanche, and they were wasting very little time. However, the Avalanche were not going to go quietly into the spring night.
In the second period it was Nathan MacKinnon striking for the cash line, scoring with 4:49 to go to make it 2-1, with Ian Cole chipping in with the helper. Midway through the third period it was Matt Nieto striking for his fourth goal of the postseason. That's why hockey is so awesome. A guy like Carolina's Warren Foegele has 10 goals in the regular season, and he is a hero in Raleigh with five goals so far in the playoffs. Nieto isn't a rookie, but he was a light scorer during the regular season. He managed just four goals and 23 points in 64 games in the regular season, but he has already matched that goal total in eight playoff games. It appears Nieto is super exciting trying to sink his former employer, as he spent part of his first four NHL seasons in the Bay Area.
After the Avalanche tied it up 2-2 to get the crowd back into it, Couture had enough. Just 65 seconds after the equalizer by Nieto, Couture struck for his second goal, again on assists from Meier and Nyquist. He capped off the hatty with an empty-net goal with 30 seconds remaining, salting the game away and putting the Sharks up 2-1 in the series. There were no hats falling from the stands in Denver, however. The offensive support has been a nice chance for Martin Jones, too. He was shaky in the first four games of the playoffs, but he has gotten his sea legs. He is 5-1-0 with a 2.06 GAA and .935 save percentage over the past six outings, as suddenly the Sharks are looking championship caliber again. They'll go only as far as he takes them.
Michael Haley didn't get on the board, but he had a plus-1 rating and five hits. Justin Braun and Meier were also tossing their weight around, registering three hits apiece. And Marc-Edouard Vlasic stepped up with five blocked shots to lead the rearguards, while Brent Burns and Marcus Sorensen each sacrificed their bodies with three shots each. On the flip side, Gabriel Landeskog was blanked, but he did tie for the team lead with four hits, matching Erik Johnson. Tyson Barrie lead the way with three blocked shots, while Carl Soderberg was blanked with a plus-1 rating, but he did win eight of his 10 faceoffs to lead the team.