Day 2 of the NHL restart was just as exciting as the opener, as hockey fans were treated to fantastic goaltending performances, more upsets and a buzzer-beater.
As we head to Game 2s of the qualification round, let it be known that teams that win Game 1 in a best-of-5 series typically end up winning, going 68-15 (.819) — though the NHL hasn’t played this format since 1986. Will the trend continue or is this tournament poised for unprecedented chaos?
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Note: All times Eastern.
The Canes played their first game without top defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and he’s likely not going to play in Game 2, though coach Rod Brind’Amour said the defenseman is “getting better” after the injury he suffered in training camp. Nonetheless, Carolina deployed its signature forecheck, which caused fits for New York’s mistake-prone blue line. Henrik Lundqvist got the surprise start for the Rangers in Game 1 and battled well, stopping 34 shots after allowing a goal on his first. But after practicing on Sunday, it appears hotshot rookie Igor Shesterkin could be available for Game 2. The Rangers could use a big game from Artemi Panarin, their Hart Trophy finalist.
If you’re looking for a series already stirring up controversy, it’s this one. And that’s thanks to one Matthew Tkachuk. The talented but pesky winger is responsible for Winnipeg’s top center Mark Scheifele missing most of Game 1 — and potentially the rest of the series — with what Jets coach Paul Maurice called a “disgusting” and intentional kick to the leg. TSN’s excellent Winnipeg reporter, Sara Orlesky, says while Scheifele’s injury isn’t believed to be long-term, he’s doubtful for Game 2, as is Patrik Laine. Tkachuk says the Scheifele tangle was an accident, and Calgary is defending its guy. It would be surprising if the department of player safety issues any discipline (it is likely viewing it as a freak accident), but that just means emotions will run extra high in Game 2.
The Lightning looked like a wagon in their lone exhibition game, a blowout against the Florida Panthers. The kicker: They were without two of their best players in that game: center Steven Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman. Stamkos sounds unlikely to suit up on Monday. “We’ve never really — in any of our plans — had him playing in this first game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Sunday. Hedman, who was a late arrival to the bubble after attending to a personal matter, is a much better bet to play. I’ll be keeping an eye on Caps goalie Braden Holtby, one of the singular most fascinating players in this tournament. The pending free agent is looking to make one last good run with this team, but he’s coming off a career-worst season. A date with the high-powered Lightning is an excellent first test.
The Golden Knights acquired Robin Lehner at the trade deadline; in part because he was surprisingly available, but also because they were looking for someone to ease the burden on Marc-Andre Fleury. Lehner is going to start this game, though it’s not necessarily an indictment on Fleury. “My plan is both guys are going to play through the round-robin,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said Sunday. Dallas, which is more of a defensive team, will need to find a way to crack Lehner, who went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in his three appearances with Vegas before the season was paused. The Stars should welcome back Tyler Seguin, who missed Thursday’s exhibition loss to the Predators, as well as Andrew Cogliano, who left the first period with an apparent leg injury.
You might be surprised that the Canadiens — yes, the team with the 24th-best record when the NHL was paused — took Game 1 against the fully loaded Penguins, but you can’t say they didn’t deserve it. Carey Price was on top of his game, and the Habs outshot Pittsburgh 12-7 in overtime, before Jeff Petry notched the game-winner. Give credit to Montreal coach Claude Julien too. He had his top defensive center, Phillip Danault, on Sidney Crosby for most of the night, which is the exact matchup he wanted. Pens coach Mike Sullivan will mull several Game 2 adjustments. No word yet on whether it’s Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry in net.
I’ll say this bluntly: It was a strange choice for Dave Tippett to start Mike Smith, and not Mikko Koskinen, in Game 1. Edmonton didn’t play very well defensively, but Smith didn’t do much to help their cause. Koskinen was the more consistent goalie throughout the season, and Tippett should turn to the Finn for Game 2. But let’s talk about those Blackhawks: what an emphatic offensive performance that was! Jonathan Toews (two goals) & Co. want to take full advantage of this surprise opportunity, and thanks to a good cast of youngsters (including rookie Dominik Kubalik, and his five-point NHL postseason debut) they may be able to make some noise.
Theme of the day: Is it the Blue Jackets’ world, and are we all just living in it?
The giant-killers of last year’s playoffs began the 2020 postseason with a strong debut, totally stifling Toronto’s star-studded offense. But maybe Columbus has a hex over everyone else. The Blue Jackets were supposed to regress this season after losing three of their best players — Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene — in free agency. Bobrovsky (now with the Panthers), Panarin (Rangers) and Duchene (Predators) went a combined 0-3 in their opening games.
Cam Atkinson’s goal early in the third period gives the Blue Jackets the lead and eventually the win.
Bet of the day
Pittsburgh Penguins (+110) over the Montreal Canadiens. OK, so the Habs — the team everyone says has no business being in this tournament — came away with a surprising Game 1 win. I’d be genuinely shocked if the veteran Penguins crumble again in Game 2.
About last night…
Coach John Hynes hasn’t been around this team very long, but he chose Juuse Saros, who was Nashville’s better goalie for most of the season, for Game 1 instead of franchise legend Pekka Rinne. That snapped Rinne’s streak of 89 straight postseason starts, which was the second longest among active goaltenders, behind Lundqvist. Saros had a tough start, allowing a fluky double-doink goal to open the scoring, though he battled back. This game was all about the Yotes, though. Arizona got offense from all areas (even strength, power play, and a short-handed beauty from Michael Grabner) and then held on to the lead for the franchise’s first postseason win since 2012. As weird as it is seeing Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel playing postseason hockey together — in Yotes jerseys, no less — we’re not complaining.
Put pucks on net and good things happen!
Arizona gets a fortunate bounce and open the scoring. #StanleyCup
— #StanleyCup Qualifiers on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) August 2, 2020
This was our first taste of round-robin play and I must say the obvious: The intensity just wasn’t the same as qualification-round games. That said, kudos to the Flyers, who looked fantastic. They built an early lead, then kept it; Philly led the league with a 32-0-2 in the regular season when leading by two-plus goals at any point, and it kept that tradition alive. Carter Hart (21 years, 355 days) became the youngest goaltender in franchise history to earn a postseason win. As for the Bruins? Everyone expected Boston to be a favorite this summer — the Bruins were cruising at the time of the season’s pause — but it laid a dud in its exhibition as well as its first round-robin game. The B’s couldn’t generate any offense, and that includes their “Perfection Line” of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, which went a combined minus-seven.
The end of this game was absolute chaos, culminating with Nazem Kadri winning it for the Avalanche on a buzzer-beater. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have only been two game-winning goals at 19:59 of the third period in a Stanley Cup postseason game. Jussi Jokinen scored one in 2009 for the Hurricanes against the New Jersey Devils. Kadri is now the other. It does portend well for St. Louis that David Perron scored the opening goal. Perron also scored the opening goal of the 2019 postseason — after which St. Louis went on to win the Stanley Cup. Jordan Binnington was excellent, but the Blues relied a bit too much on their goaltender. If this game is any indicator, it’s going to be a grind to earn that top seed in the Western conference.
John Tortorella decided to start Joonas Korpisalo in Game 1 instead of Elvis Merzlikins. Why? “I’m not explaining it,” Tortorella said pregame. Alrighty then. It turned out to be a good choice, as Korpisalo turned away all 28 shots he faced to record the first shutout by a Blue Jacket in franchise history. Cam Atkinson provided the first tally, and Columbus stayed disciplined from there, holding Toronto to just one power play. The Leafs’ offense may have been stifled by the swarming Jackets — not great, as one of two home teams in this tourney — but at least Frederik Andersen looked good, turning away 33 shots himself. The pressure is on for the Leafs, who are trying to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
A Wild defenseman had never recorded a three-point game in the postseason until Jared Spurgeon came around. The 5-foot-9 defenseman, playing in his home province of Alberta, scored two goals and notched an assist to pace the Wild. Oh, and Kevin Fiala continued where he left off during the season, scoring a goal, while Alex Stalock notched the shutout in his second postseason start. Elias Pettersson looked like a man who could use some help, as Vancouver couldn’t get anything going offensively. This series has the potential to be a testy one. Keep an eye on Micheal Ferland who was, uh, quite active throughout.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) August 3, 2020
The math here is simple: you score a buzzer-beater in the Stanley Cup postseason (yeah, yeah it’s not technically the playoffs yet), you get the No. 1 star of the night. As Blues forward David Perron said after: “At 0.1, it’s on the line and at 0.0 it’s in the net. I’m sure it’s as close a goal as you’ll ever see.”
You’re 26, you’re making your first NHL postseason start (after battling Elvis Merzlikins in training camp), and you not only earn a win against the NHL’s most expensive offensive corps — you shut them out. Korpisalo is just the fifth goalie over the past 30 seasons to record a shutout in his postseason debut (John Gibson was the most recent, in 2014). This save on Auston Matthews is absolutely gorgeous.
The 21-year-old showed incredible poise in his first NHL postseason start, turning away 34 of 35 shots against the big, bad Bruins, letting Philly pick up right where it left off at the season’s pause. Hart always seems to be in perfect position too. It’s going to be hard to rattle this guy.
Carter Hart is so good, it isn’t fair pic.twitter.com/4ZRtSfab6N
— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) August 2, 2020
Best time spent in quarantine
It’s unclear how exactly Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov spent his nearly five months off, but it’s apparent he did make a conscious decision to work on growing out his hockey hair. And it is a thing of beauty. One of the elite defenders in this tournament debuted his fabulous flow on Sunday:
Provorov’s flow is ELITE pic.twitter.com/F59tnsUMWE
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) August 2, 2020
Social post of the day
Remember last season when there was a belief that Fortnite was a major distraction for NHL players? Junior hockey prospects were reportedly advised to scrub gaming references from their social media accounts, and the Canucks banned their players from playing Fortnite on the road. Yeah, that was so 2019. In 2020, video games — or anything you can do safely, isolated — rule. And that’s certainly true in the bubble:
Day three in the #NHLBubble in Toronto. A sign of the times: there are two Wifi networks we can use at the hotel, one for regular internet usage, and because so many players brought gaming consoles, a separate wifi network for that.
— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) August 2, 2020
Outfit of the day
This is how you keep the message front and center. Way to take advantage of the relaxed dress code, Bruins.
— NHL Bubble Outfits (@NHLFitWatch2K20) August 2, 2020
Quote of the day
“I feel at this point in time I have to defend my player. Was there intent there to put his skate on Scheifele? No. There was no intent. I understand what Paul is doing. He’s trying to get an elite player on our team suspended.” — Flames coach Geoff Ward, inevitably defending Matthew Tkachuk. It’s no Battle of Alberta, but the heat is dialed up in the Flames-Jets series, and I’m here for it.