Now, that’s more like it.
The second round hasn’t been a total dud, but the first round set a high enough bar that the conference semifinals did kind of feel a little dreary at times. There are only so many passively played 2-1 games you can absorb before you don’t start to grumble even unconsciously.
The beauty of Rangers - Capitals Game 6 was that the contest was electric almost the whole way, including when it became 2-1. It makes you hope that a big break between Sunday’s Game 6 and Wednesday’s Game 7 will open the door for a frenetic finish … even if it’s my fear that coaches will merely convince their charges that a few lightened bruises mean that it’s prime time to play turtle hockey in nervy times.
Regardless, it was a mostly strong night of hockey, and here’s hoping that remains the rule rather than the exception before we shift gears to 2015-16. A Ducks - Blackhawks series is about as promising as it gets from an entertainment regard, anyway.
DUCKS 3, FLAMES 2 (OT) - Anaheim advances
-- Corey Perry was the man to watch in this one. A questionable hit by Matt Stajan left Perry limping frighteningly off of the ice in the second period, yet he managed to miss very little time. After the game, he seemed mostly positive about his lower-body injury. (Obviously it's all cloaked in mystery, mind you.)
The perfect sports story played out after he came back. Perry isn't regarded as a speedy skater anyway, yet his mobility was limited for much of the game. One worried that maybe his inability to speed up might mean a backchecking or transition error was coming.
Instead, Perry became increasingly comfortable and scored the overtime game-winning goal, ending Calgary's season in the process. (Sports!)
There's a strong chance that Perry's issues are of the month or week-long variety, but if it's closer to day-to-day, then what appears to be a long gap between the second and third rounds could benefit him greatly.
It's still a situation to watch with serious interest, though.
-- Matt Beleskey scored one goal in all five games of this series, including two GWG and the tally that sent Game 5 to OT. Those five goals represent all of his points in nine playoff games so far. He had a nice regular season (22 goals, 32 points in 65 games, 39 PIM and +13), so there's a chance that he isn't JUST having a great contract year run lately. That said, as a pending UFA, he could really make himself a ton of cash if he keeps this hot streak up.
-- -- Ryan Kesler is lining up with Beleskey, so it makes sense that he's also had a nice series, scoring a goal and three assists in the past four games. He now has nine points in nine playoff contests, and while his percentages scream "soon to hit a wall," he looms as the sort of supporting scorer the Ducks were needing badly when they sought out a trade to nab him.
-- Be mean and file this under "Too little, too late" if you'd like, but Jiri Hudler had a nice game. He scored a goal and assisted on Johnny Gaudreau's tally for Hudler's first two points of the series, giving Calgary 1-0 and 2-1 leads that the Flames fell short of protecting.
Interestingly, 2015-16 looms as a contract year for all three of Hudler, Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, though Calgary could obviously re-sign all of them at a certain point and put any worries to rest.
-- The Flames goalie situation is intriguing. Karri Ramo played out of his mind in Game 5, even if he couldn’t grab a win for Calgary. Jonas Hiller had a very much up-and-down season, but he has a year left on his deal ($4.5M) while Ramo is a UFA.
If I were Calgary, I’d target a backup who could conceivably be a starter, such as someone like Thomas Greiss.
RANGERS 4, CAPITALS 3
-- People dislike Chris Kreider considerably, and I get it (never tough to understand why fans don't appreciate a guy who has many "oopsies" that end with goalie collisions, among his other transgressions).
If you can go into amoral fantasy owner mode, Kreider is a nice gem in leagues with some "grit" stats. During the season, he scored 21 goals, 46 points, had a +24 rating and 88 PIM.
His second goal of the first period felt like a game-winner, even if it wasn't.
-- Alex Ovechkin clobbered Ryan McDonagh, who seemed hurt afterward. The early word is that McDonagh is fine, but you be the better judge by keeping an eye out on updates. Game 7 is not until Wednesday, so perhaps that will be enough time for McDonagh to feel fairly close to 100 percent.
-- Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom remain pointless in four straight games.
Barry Trotz opted to swap Joel Ward with Marcus Johansson, and the results were huge ... for Ward's new line. Ward had a goal and two assists while Jason Chimera and Evgeny Kuznetsov had matching one-goal, one-assist games.
This could be quite the setup, especially since I believe that "MarJo" is the ideal winger for Ovechkin and Backstrom ... at least in the current context.
Fighting words? Yeah, but the results of Game 7 will determine if the comments showed "winning swagger" or if they backfired in defeat.
-- There's no doubt Lundqvist was better than Holtby in Game 6. Lundqvist stopped 42 out of 45 shots while Holtby gave up four goals on 28 shots. Washington dominated stretches of the contest (especially the second period), but Holtby made the difference.
Perhaps that challenge will push Holtby just that much more in Game 7?
If that doesn't work, contract year motivation should help plenty.