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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Maple Leafs pull ahead of Bruins, Avalanche eliminate Flames

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Maple Leafs pull ahead of Bruins, Avalanche eliminate Flames

Thursday's games gave us another tied series with the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, a slugfest between the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets, and the San Jose Sharks avoiding elimination at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Friday's games pushed the Boston Bruins to the brink of elimination, and the Colorado Avalanche eliminated the Calgary Flames in the Saddledome.

Here are all of Friday's results.

Maple Leafs take 3-2 series lead with 2-1 win over Bruins

Frederik Andersen and Tuukka Rask were sharp for the first two periods, but Auston Matthews broke the scoreless tie with a controversial goal 10 minutes into the third period. Boston challenged for goaltender interference, but the goal stood. Matthews now has four goals in the last three games of the series.

Kasperi Kapanen gave the Leafs the game winner on a 3-on-2 just two minutes later.

The Bruins battled back to make it 2-1 with a backdoor feed for David Krejci, but they couldn't force a tie to send the game to overtime. Should the Leafs hold on to win, not only would they reverse their two-year trend of losing in the first round of the playoffs, they would win a series for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

Avalanche extinguish Flames, win series with 5-1 victory

The upstart Avalanche had four players hit three points in their Friday night upset over the Flames. Mikko Rantanen continued his punishing pace with two goals in the game, including the opening and closing goals.

Colin Wilson also notched a two-goal night, and Philipp Grubauer held steady with 28 saves.

This is Colorado's first series win since the 2007-08 season, and the Flames became the second first seed to be knocked out of these playoffs, as the Tampa Bay Lightning were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this week.

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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If the Capitals want to go far in the playoffs, they have to get physical

If the Capitals want to go far in the playoffs, they have to get physical

The first half of Monday's game was a struggle for the Capitals. While both Washington and the Tampa Bay Lightning were initially feeling out one another, the Lightning seemed to get their legs first and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. It looked like the game was headed in the wrong direction...and that's when things got physical. Up to that point, the Caps were playing without any intensity to their game at all. When T.J. Oshie dropped his gloves against Yanni Gourde, however, the goals soon followed. This game was a good reminder for Washington that if they want to go far in the playoffs, they will have to get physical.

"I think that’s what we pride ourselves on," Brenden Dillon said. "When we’re playing our best hockey, we’re playing physical."

There are a lot of ways to win in the playoffs. If there was only one formula for it, everyone would just do that. For this Washington team, however, the key is to be physical.

In 2018, the Capitals came up against a Tampa Bay team in the conference final that was better. Momentum from beating the rival Pittsburgh Penguins carried the Caps to a 2-0 series lead, but the Lightning took over to win the next three and push the Caps to the brink of elimination. Washington responded with one of the most physical games I have ever seen. Not recklessly physical, but purposeful. In my estimation, Game 6's 3-0 win over the Lightning was the greatest playoff game in franchise history. It was a complete victory, but the key was the way in which the Caps bullied Tampa Bay. They pushed them around. The Caps battered, bruised and beat them into submission, outscoring Tampa Bay 7-0 in the final two games of the series.

Washington has incredible skill, they have speed, but at their core, this team is at its best when it is playing physical hockey.

"That’s a big part of our identity as a team, no fun to play against and yet still have the ability to execute skill plays when we get in those situations," head coach Todd Reirden said. "But for us, the physicality that we can bring on a nightly basis, we feel that really allows us to have success and tilt the ice in our favor."

RELATED: OBSERVATIONS FROM THE CAPS' LOSS

This isn't just about 2018, it was evident again on Monday.

When it comes to just pure talent, the Caps are a little behind Tampa Bay. When the game was being played with little intensity and skill was able to take over, the Lighting had the edge. From the first shift of the second period, Tom Wilson clearly came in trying to change the momentum and spent his first shift hitting everything that moved. It did not stick, however, until Oshile's fight.

Down 2-0, Oshie dropped the gloves with Gourde. Less than five minutes later, the game was tied at 2.

"We started to create some momentum in probably the second half of the second and then really took it to a different level after T.J.'s fight really inspired our group and then we just built on that," Reirden said.

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He added, "I just felt like as we got going now we were finding our stride a little bit more and then eventually we were able to wear them down a little with our physical play. I thought the more we invested physically, then we were able to see some benefits of it."

For the Caps to win a Stanley Cup, several factors will be important. Alex Ovechkin will have to continue to be elite, the defense will have to improve from what we saw in the regular season, Braden Holtby will have to be at the top of his game, etc., etc. But the key to all of it, just like in 2018, will be the Caps playing a physical game and wearing down their opponents.

"When we’re playing our best hockey, we have the skill to go with it and the speed as well," Dillon said. "Come playoff time, we know we’re built for this style of game."

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