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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Hurricanes tie series with Caps, Blues take series lead, Sharks avoid elimination

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Hurricanes tie series with Caps, Blues take series lead, Sharks avoid elimination

As the first-round starts to head into the final games, each matchup is getting more and more critical, as was evident Thursday. Not only did the Carolina Hurricanes have the chance to even up the series with the Washington Capitals in Game 4, but the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets were playing for the 3-2 series lead and the San Jose Sharks found themselves in a must-win situation in order to avoid elimination against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Thursday's slate of games proved to be crucial and ultimately, played out well for the Hurricanes, Blues and Sharks. Here's how each series stacked up Thursday.

Hurricanes tie series against Caps with narrow 2-1 win

It was a close matchup between Washington and Carolina Thursday, but thanks to a couple of key goals and a big night for Petr Mrazek between the pipes, the Hurricanes were able to take Game 4 with a 2-1 victory.

Warren Foegele opened the scoring for Carolina just 17 seconds in, crashing the net and scoring on a lay-up that beat Braden Holtby. It was his third goal of the playoffs and the fastest playoff goal for Carolina in franchise history.

Alex Ovechkin was able to even the score in the second period with a one-timer on the man advantage, putting an end to 11 straight penalty kills for the Canes. The goal was Ovechkin's second of the playoffs, with both tallies coming on the power play. However, just before the second period came to a close, Teuvo Teravainen returned the lead for Carolina to make it 2-1.

Petr Mrazek made 30 saves on the night, including eight in the third period to guarantee the victory for the Hurricanes, while Holtby made 22 saves on 24 shots. Washington also lost T.J. Oshie to injury late in the game after he was hit from behind by Warren Foegele. The series is now tied 2-2.

Blues edge Jets with comeback victory, take series lead

Although the Jets were up 2-0 over the Blues heading into the third period, Winnipeg surrendered three unanswered goals as St. Louis took a 3-2 victory.

Adam Lowry scored just 12 seconds into the opening frame for the Jets' fastest playoff goal in franchise history to make it 1-0, and Kevin Hayes added a goal a little over halfway through the first to make it 2-0.

The lead would carry over until the final 20 minutes of regulation, where the Blues kicked it into full gear. Ryan O'Reilly beat Connor Hellebuyck on the power play a little over a minute into the third to pull the Blues within one. With about seven minutes to go, Brayden Schenn would tie the game at 2 with his first goal of the playoffs.

With the final minute winding down, it appeared that the game would be headed to overtime; however, Tyler Bozak was able to knock the puck loose and find a wide-open Jaden Schwartz in front, who fired the puck past Hellebuyck with just 15 seconds remaining to make it 3-2.

With the victory, the Blues now hold a 3-2 series lead and can eliminate Winnipeg in Game 6 Saturday.

Sharks stay alive with statement 5-2 win over Golden Knights

Thursday's game was a must-win for the Sharks, and thanks mainly to the effort of Tomas Hertl, they were able to dominate on home ice with an impressive win over Vegas.

A little over a minute in, Tomas Hertl jumped on a pass from Erik Karlsson and scored his third of the playoffs to make it 1-0 early. Later in the period, Logan Couture would beat Marc-Andre Fleury to put the Sharks up by two, but with 30 seconds to go in the opening frame, Reilly Smith was able to pull Vegas within one with his first of the postseason.

While it looked like Vegas would be able to shift the momentum with their end to the first, Barclay Goodrow redirected a Justin Braun shot past Fleury and the Sharks regained their two-goal lead.

Jonathan Marchessault would strike for the Golden Knights on the power play over halfway into the third to cut the lead to one, but Hertl soon after scored his second of the night on the rebound of a Joe Pavelski shot to make it 4-2. With less than two minutes to go in regulation, Pavelski scored on the empty net for his second point of the game, which ultimately sealed the deal for the Sharks.

Martin Jones, who had been struggling but was given the start regardless, proved his worth with 30 saves on 32 shots, and Erik Karlsson also put up a multi-point performance for San Jose in the win.


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Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

With their 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, the Capitals' playoff future is starting to come into focus. Washington has only one game remaining and can finish in either third or fourth in the round robin standings. That limits the number of possible playoff opponents for the Caps when the games really start to matter.

First, before talking about who the Caps may play, it is important to remember why. Under the NHL's regular format, a normal year would see teams advance in a bracket, meaning each team knows going in they will be playing the winner of a specific matchup if they advance. This year, the NHL is going back to its old format of re-seeding after each round. This makes determining matchups a bit harder to figure out.

Here's what we know. The Caps are going to finish in the bottom half of the round robin meaning they will play one of the highest two seeded teams coming out of the qualifying round. The Carolina Hurricanes swept their qualifying round series against the New York Rangers. As the No. 6 seed coming in, Carolina is going to be one of the top two qualifying round teams.


Washington's final seed will be determined by Sunday's game against the Boston Bruins. A win in regulation, overtime or a shootout will mean the Caps are No. 3, while a loss in any fashion will bump them down to No. 4.

The simplest scenario for Washington is that If the Pittsburgh Penguins rally to win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps are guaranteed to play either Pittsburgh or Carolina as the No. 5 and 6 seeds, respectively. It gets a little trickier if the Penguins lose. If that happens, the Hurricanes become the top qualifying team and will play No. 4. The top team behind them then becomes No. 6 which, as of now, could be the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So a rematch with the Hurricanes is a definite possibility for the Caps, as is a matchup with the rival Penguins.


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Defensive breakdowns, Evgeny Kuznetsov benched and the Capitals' penalty kill put to the test

Defensive breakdowns, Evgeny Kuznetsov benched and the Capitals' penalty kill put to the test

The Philadelphia Flyers' dominance over the Capitals carried over from the regular season into Thursday's 3-1 round robin win, as Washington was eliminated from contention for the top seed in the East.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

The Flyers forced the Caps into defensive breakdowns

The first of Philadelphia's three goals was a bad turnover by Radko Gudas. The other two were defensive breakdowns forced by the Flyers' movement in the offensive zone.

In the second period, Kevin Hayes had all eyes on him as he stickhandled around in Washington's defensive zone. He battled with Jonas Siegenthaler in the corner, then retreated to the top of the circle, closely followed by Siegenthaler. Dmitry Orlov stayed on Scott Laughton. That left room for Travis Sanheim who skated in behind the right side of the defense. Hayes found him with a seam pass and he beat Holtby one-on-one for Philadelphia's second goal.

That player in the top left doing a double-take? That's Evgeny Kuznetsov. He was in front of the net, skated away and reacted to Sanheim going in on net too late. More on him later.

In the third period, Orlov went behind the net after Travis Konecny who passed it off to Hayes. Siegenthaler went after Hayes while Konecny stopped behind the net. As Hayes stickhandled on the right, Laughton charged in from the left where there was no defense to be found. Kuznetsov recognized the net was open and parked in front, but was too far up and was caught standing when Hayes made the seam pass. Laughton put the puck into the net before Kuznetsov even reacted.

"It's a breakdown in coverage and they take advantage of it," Reirden said. "It's individual responsibilities that happen from mistakes prior to that. That's how goals happen and we have to execute better with the puck to give ourselves the chance to play in the offensive zone. We need to be better, we need more from everybody right down our list."

In both situations, the defensive was drawn away from the front of the net. It was Kuznetsov's responsibility to cover the front for the defense and he did not do a good enough job. Both mistakes resulted in goals.

And we know these plays were breakdowns by Kuznetsov because....

Reirden was displeased with Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov got tangled near the end of the first period and was slow to get up and skate to the bench. He returned for the start of the second period, but played only three shifts in the third. Because of what happened in the first period, I assumed this was because of an injury and I asked Reirden for an update on Kuznetsov's status after the game.

"How we break down ice time and use certain guys, we're going with who's playing the best at that time," Reirden said. "We need a different level of play and we know we have it. It's not a secret. We have a different level of play and we need to get to it if we want to have success. We need more from everybody and we didn't have that."

What Reirden appears to be saying here while trying not to single out Kuznetsov is that Kuznetsov was benched.

Kuznetsov's last shift came with 11:23 left in the third period. That was the Laughton goal in which Kuznetsov was caught standing in front of the net.

Too many penalties

I'll keep this one short because it's fairly obvious. You can't give up six power plays in the first two periods of a game and hope to win. And those penalties were blatant.

No, it's not just because it's the round robin

Sorry, you can't explain this loss away by just saying it was the round robin and the Caps are looking past this towards the playoffs.

Yes, Washington was without Carlson who is being held out, we believe, as a precaution, but Philadelphia started Brian Elliott in net over starter Carter Hart and James van Riemsdyk was out for them. Both teams made roster decisions with an eye on the playoffs, but one of them played much better than the other. I don't think Thursday's game was a product of the Caps not taking a round robin game seriously, it was just a bad game.

Turning point

When Tampa Bay went up 2-0 against the Caps on Monday, the Caps ramped up the intensity and rallied to tie the game before the end of the second period. When Philadelphia went up 2-0 on Thursday, the goal was completely deflating and I don't think anyone watching the game had any real confidence the Caps were going to be able to rally from this one. Hayes just stickhandled as much as he wanted until the seam opened up for Sanheim. That 2-0 lead felt like 5-0 at that point.

Play of the game

The game was leaning more and more in favor of the Flyers in the second period, but a 3-on-1 opportunity for Philadelphia could have made things even worse if not for the pad save by Braden Holtby.

Stat of the game

Washington's lone goal on the night came from Travis Boyd. It was his first playoff point.

Boyd played in two games during the 2018 Cup run but did not record a point in either game. While this may be the "round robin" and not a playoff series, these points do technically count as playoff points.

Quote of the game

Reirden summed this one up pretty well: "You need everybody’s top game. And we didn’t have that tonight. That’s really, to me, the story of this game, is that we need more from everybody.”

To end on a lighter note, Boyd was asked about his goal and said, "First playoff goal, I guess I will take that."

T.J. Oshie then cut in saying, "Many more to come."

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