Wow, what a night.
The 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs kicked off with four games on Wednesday, and when the weak link is arguably a match between two stallions in the Islanders and Capitals, you know you’re in for a treat.
The best part is that I feel highly optimistic that more excitement is up ahead.
Look, this was a tough regular season at times for me and probably for others who have been watching pucks for years. The mid-season doldrums hit hard and didn’t loosen their grip for some time, and it led me to be a little less excited about the postseason than maybe I should have been.
I say maybe because, frankly, hockey fans without a horse in the race should be generally happy with the way things shook out. Sure, a Dallas Stars-type thrilling team here or there didn’t make it, but some snore-tastic squads will stay on the sidelines.
My hope is that this signals to some management groups that playing quicksand, dead-puck hockey isn’t the only way to go, yet I also realize that’s probably dreaming too big.
Regardless, I don’t expect many (any?) nights to top the first one, but the important thing is that there’s a decent chance that the overall level of play will be pretty high. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some snoozers - if Wild vs. Blues is fun, consider it a bonus - yet I feel fairly positive about things.
/Stashes this column for a dark night of dump-and-chase.
Anyway, the Dose will be with you every step of the way, rather than one or two times per week as in previous playoff years. Let’s get to recapping last night’s foursome, then.
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BLACKHAWKS 4, PREDATORS 3 (DOUBLE OT)
-- Holy smokes, what a game this was. It says a lot about how spoiled Joel Quenneville is that he won’t outright name Scott Darling the Game 2 starter over Corey Crawford after this performance. While Crawford was pulled after allowing three goals in the first period, Darling stopped all 42 shots he saw. I couldn’t help but joke about the situation.
-- In one game under Peter Laviolette, the Predators set a new franchise-record with 54 SOG. The length of the game bares a huge influence, yet it was clear that these aren’t your older brother’s boring, passive Preds any longer.
-- Colin Wilson scored two goals in this one and showed a nice burst, especially late. I'm almost a little surprised that he didn't receive more than the 23:32 TOI he got.
-- Patrick Kane managed two assists and 23:08 TOI in his rapid return. Chicago has the sort of assets to protect him, because life is unfair for every other NHL team.
-- Jonathan Toews may have had the best night with a goal and two assists.
CANADIENS 4, SENATORS 3
-- I rank among those who aren't so sure that P.K. Subban deserved a game misconduct for his slash on Mark Stone, although in my case, I think that comes from seeing so many egregious infractions passed off as nothing in the past. Either way, it would be ludicrous if Subban even gets a fine after this.
Then again, the NHL could be the NHL here. Who knows at this point?
-- Here's a fun-killing gut feeling: Andrew Hammond is going to get exposed in this series.
That bums me out extra because the kid at least deserves a big payday for dragging Ottawa into the playoffs.
-- Both Erik Karlsson and Subban grabbed two assists in this one. I wonder which blueliner will be remembered most fondly when they both hang up their skates. More than anything else, I hope they don't hang up their skates for a very long time.
-- That Andrei Markov goal was brutal but pretty funny. He had to be one of the happiest people that a) Montreal won and b) a bunch of crazy things happened to make that moment less important and memorable.
-- If I were the Habs, I'd make a "don't play Max Pacioretty until we lose" rule, at minimum. I know he's Wolverine and all, but they should be careful with him.
FLAMES 2, CANUCKS 1
-- Weird how the two teams arrived at 30 SOG: the Flames had 10 every period while the Canucks went 13, 4, 13.
-- The Flames ended the regular season tied with the Lightning with the most third-period goals at 99, but they scored 22 fewer overall tallies than Tampa Bay. I'd say that probably makes them the most disproportionately-good-in-the-third team in the NHL. That strange phenomenon continued into Game 1, as both of Calgary's goals came in the third, including the Kris Russell GWG with just 30 seconds remaining.
I really need to know if Bob Hartley is goosing this or if it's just random chance.
It's pretty fun stuff either way, though.
-- Cannot blame Calgary AT ALL for going with Jonas Hiller. In fact, it's stunning that the Flames got this far with Hiller only being their guy here and there.
(I like Jonas Hiller.)
-- Eddie Lack was literally one save (28 for 30 versus 29 for 30) short of Hiller, so I believe I saw seemingly clichéd postgame quotes that were actually accurate.
-- The Flames' big line managed five SOG while Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows had nine, but none of those six players (Henrik Sedin had zero) scored. Nice bonus for Calgary that they won without their big guns producing.
ISLANDERS 4, CAPITALS 1
-- Brock Nelson started the 2014-15 regular season off red-hot, so why not do the same thing in the playoffs? He scored the first goal and an empty-netter. Unlike that hot October, he had a nice five SOG, so it seems less flukey. The 13:17 TOI is less promising, though.
-- Marcus Johansson unleashed quite a shot for his goal. Honestly, I always thought of MarJo as a setup guy entering this season, and maybe he's still more of that, but I'd encourage him to shoot quite a bit if I were Barry Trotz.
-- The logic of breaking up Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom is easy to understand ... but I wouldn't do it very often beyond just breaking things up when things are boring in the regular season. Those two are Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, and there's no Steve Young waiting on the roster.
-- Could this be another postseason in which Jaroslav Halak haunts the Capitals? He doesn't have to do everything this time, though; last night was a good example as he only had to make 24 out of 25 saves.
-- Even with a tough game with a -2 rating, Alex Ovechkin still made an impact, firing eight SOG and five hits. How many Washington losses until he gets unfairly blamed, though?
-- Tough game for Braden Holtby. This could be a difficult series for both goalies once it's over, though.
-- Good grief, Matt Niskanen was a -4 rating in this one.
-- Kyle Okposo now has a three-game point streak extending back into the regular season. There's really little reason to doubt that he's for real, honestly.