Sunday brings us our first two elimination games of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs: the Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins can secure their tickets to Round 2. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals are struggling to stay alive, with both teams trying to break out of their post-championship playoff slumps.
There's been some drama off the ice -- including plenty of yapping about officiating -- but Saturday was all about the blowouts. All four games were decided by three or more goals.
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This series has the arenas with the two best atmospheres in the playoffs so far. But after a double-overtime loss in Game 3, Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour was seething about the officiating. "We played our butts off, played great, played hard," Brind'Amour said Friday. "We're playing a great team and we're in a battle. Nashville is a phenomenal team. But we're also fighting the refs. It's that plain and simple. You can't tell me two games in a row we get seven and eight penalties and they get three, when the game is this even? It's not right. I give my guys tons of credit for just sticking and going and playing their butts off and having a good chance to win." Filip Forsberg is looking dangerous for Nashville after posting an 84.2% expected goals for percentage in Game 3.
The Avs can be the first team to advance to round two with a win here. Brind'Amour isn't the only coach frustrated with playoff officiating. St. Louis coach Craig Berube said in his series, "It's so one-sided, it's not even funny." The Blues have been beset by injuries, especially to defensemen Robert Bertuzzo and Justin Faulk. The team's highest-paid forwards -- Brayden Schenn, Ryan O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko -- have combined for just two points and are a collective minus-24. It's a stark difference from the five goals in three games Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon has scored, though Game 3 also flexed Colorado's depth, with 20-year-old Alex Newhook scoring his first NHL goal.
If the Caps lose this series, it would mark their third straight first-round exit following their 2018 Stanley Cup win. The Caps finally had all of their skaters back and healthy for Game 4, but they came out lifeless. Some players could still be banged up, but it seems that Washington may not be able to overcome its myriad of issues, which have also included key players sidelined because of COVID-19 protocols. The Bruins certainly have been the speedier team. With defenseman Kevan Miller (who was hospitalized but released following a hit from Dmitry Orlov) ruled out for Game 5, that means either Jarred Tinordi or Urho Vaakanainen will enter the Bruins' lineup.
Edmonton was viewed as a major favorite in this series, but the tables have turned. The Oilers' biggest advantage, of course, is Connor McDavid. However, the Jets' have effectively shut McDavid down, clogging down shooting lanes and keeping him to the outside. McDavid has been held without a point in two games so far. Coach Dave Tippett even reunited McDavid with Leon Draisaitl for Game 2 -- which usually equates to magic -- and often paired the duo with Darnell Nurse on defense, but no dice. Now the series shifts back to Winnipeg, but maybe that doesn't equate to home-ice advantage for the Jets. The Oilers went 4-1 in Winnipeg during the regular season.
About last night
The Battle of Florida brought the heat, but could it soon be over? The Lightning have taken control of this series after scoring a pair of goals on their first three shots to cruise to a win in Game 4. Not an ideal start for Sergei Bobrovsky, who made his second start of the series. Tampa Bay felt great about having Nikita Kucherov back, and he scored a goal and three assists in this one. But the game ended on a somber note as the star winger went down after being slashed by Florida's Anthony Duclair midway through the third. The extent of Kucherov's injury is unclear. This one got sloppy, as both teams ended up with 13 penalties. "The hockey game ended halfway through the second period, then it turned into something else," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. Full recap.
This is the last year of the Nassau Coliseum as the Islanders are scheduled to move to their new arena, at Belmont Park, next season. The Isles are saying goodbye to the legendary arena in style. Saturday's game -- which locked this series at two games apiece -- featured a scoreless first. Then the Islanders broke it open with a pair of power-play goals (from Jordan Eberle and Oliver Wahlstrom) in a 24-second span, the fastest two power play-goals in Islanders postseason history. Ilya Sorokin, who served as backup for Games 2 and 3, stopped 29 of 30 shots. The Penguins will be lamenting their six penalties. And once again, New York was able to silence the Sidney Crosby line (Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have combined to score just two goals in this series). Full recap.
John Tavares is going to be out at least two weeks, after injuring his knee during his scary Game 1 collision. Tavares also suffered a concussion, so it's tough to say when we'll see him back. But Toronto rallied around its captain, with an offensive outburst against the Habs. The Leafs scored two power-play goals for the first time since March 3. Toronto is supposed to have an explosive power play, but over the last 33 games, it had gone 6-for-82 (7.3%), which is not great. The Maple Leafs dominated nearly the entire game. The only bright spot for Montreal was Jesperi Kotkaniemi scoring, after being scratched in Game 1. Full recap.
Minnesota surprised Vegas by taking Game 1. But the Golden Knights -- behind Marc-Andre Fleury the whole time -- have stormed back to take the next three, and now the Wild are on the brink of elimination. Alex Tuch continues to torment the team that gave him up in the expansion draft. We also got one of the best cellies of the postseason: Introducing Mark Stone's jazz hands. Full recap.
Three stars of the night
After becoming the first Maple Leafs player to win the Rocket Richard trophy, Matthews scored his first goal of the playoffs. It gave the Maple Leafs their first lead of the series, and they never looked back Saturday.
The young American also assisted on two other Toronto goals and won 16 of his 20 faceoffs.
After making 29 saves on 30 shots on Saturday, the 25-year-old has taken control of the Islanders' net; for now, at least. Through his first two NHL playoff starts, Sorokin is 2-0 with a 1.76 goals-against average.
Sorokin became the second rookie goaltender in Islanders history to win multiple playoff games for the franchise, joining Glenn Resch.
The Lightning have scored 19 goals through the first four games of their series against the Panthers, their most through the first four games of any series in franchise history
Killorn did his part for the offense Saturday, scoring two goals and adding two assists.
Talking point of the day
Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri was suspended eight games for an illegal check to the head of Blues defenseman Justin Faulk. (The St. Louis defenseman, by the way, missed Game 3 and remains doubtful for Game 4).
In determining the length of suspension, the NHL considered Kadri's history with the Department of Player Safety -- which is long, and includes back-to-back postseason suspensions while with the Maple Leafs. Toronto traded Kadri to the Avalanche following the second such instance, a five-game ban in 2019.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar took umbrage to the latest ruling, noting that Kadri hasn't run into trouble since joining Colorado.
"They lay out the rules of what's a repeat offender and in my understanding, it's 18 months," Bednar said Saturday night. "So you watch the video and they talk about him being a repeat offender, but he's not. He's been with us for 18 months and he doesn't have any history. So I don't necessarily understand it."
The problem is, while Kadri isn't a "repeat offender" according to the CBA, the NHL is still permitted to more severely punish players "who repeatedly violate league playing rules." The Department of Player Safety had no problem reminding Bednar of that on Sunday. (Note the subtle trolling: the FAQ the DOPS tweeted is from 2015).
To address some apparent confusion regarding the definition and specific implications of 'repeat offender' status, please refer to Section 8 of the Department of Player Safety FAQ linked here: https://t.co/izpRbVZwOt— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 22, 2021
Fan of the day
Jets OL Dan Feeney with the most elite mullet while chugging a beer at the Islanders game. What a beauty. pic.twitter.com/JcaqbriQQU— Field Yates (@FieldYates) May 22, 2021
Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was also on hand, but perhaps he was the designated driver.