NHL takeaways: Avs’ MacKinnon cements star status in OT win
GAME OF THE DAY: Colorado 4, Minnesota 3 (OT): If the Blackhawks–Blues series has been the No. 1 series of the postseason, this series has been 1A. Game 5 had it all: spectacular skill, controversial calls, a late rally, overtime and the continued coming out party of a special rookie.
PLAY OF THE DAY: The Avalanche’s tying goal in regulation. This one will be talked about in Minnesota for a long time. With the Wild leading 3-2 and Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov pulled early for an extra attacker — what else is new for coach Patrick Roy? — Avs defenseman Andre Benoit got away with a blatant hold on Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle as he pursued an empty-net goal that would have iced the game. Moments later, Colorado forward Paul Stastny appeared to be offside moments before P.A. Parenteau’s game-tying goal with 1:14 remaining — a turn of events that was confirmed by former NHL referee Kerry Fraser on Twitter.
1. C Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado: Set up a pair of goals — the first with warp speed through the neutral zone — and scored the game-winner in OT. The 18-year-old Calder Trophy lock leads all playoff scorers with 10 points.
Trouble in Denver. Charlie Coyle held by Andre Benoit with net empty causing turnover. Up ice, Paul Stasny is offside as Avs tie game. Ouch!
— Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) April 27, 2014
Series: Boston won, 4-1.
Key stat: Montreal has won 24 of the previous 33 series with Boston. The two teams will meet in the conference semifinals for the 34th time — a North American pro sports record.
Key player: LW Milan Lucic, Boston: He had a goal, an assist and just seemed to be around the puck and the action all night.
What we learned: Detroit is a well-coached team with a pair of stars in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg who can still bring it. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, their young future is not yet ready for prime time (there’s no guarantee it will ever be) and it showed in a series with the Eastern Conference’s top team. Datsyuk led the team with three goals and five points in this now concluded five-game series. Zetterberg finished tied for second with a goal and two points despite missing the first three games of the series. Forwards Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Darren Helm and Riley Sheahan did not have a point. Veterans Daniel Aldresson, Johan Franzen and Darren Helm did not score so Detroit managed just six goals in the series. Detroit has a short window with Datsyuk and Zetterberg aging. Will the younger core be ready before itâs too late? Aside from aging blue-line anchor Zdeno Chara and veteran forward Jarome Iginila, Boston has a young nucleus that should contend for a long while — especially if the Bruins keep playing this brand of defensive hockey. Montreal had their number in the regular season, but will that mean anything in the playoffs?
Next game: Conference semifinals Game 1: Montreal at Boston, TBD
Series: Pittsburgh leads, 3-2.
Key stat: The team that has scored the first goal has lost every game in the series.
Key player: G Marc-Andre Fleury: Few thought Fleury could bounce back from a disastrous Game 4 loss, but he did with a big assist from the Penguins defense. Fleury stopped 23 shots while Pittsburgh carried the play with 50, making life easy on its goaltender.
What we learned: The Penguins are going to have to work for this series. They could have put Columbus away in five games, but Fleury melted down in Game 4 to prevent that luxury. The Blue Jackets couldn’t generate much offense on Saturday and that will have to change at home in Game 6 because the Penguins dominated possession, but Columbus has the chops to play a physical game, they have been the harder working team in this series and the Blue Jackets have had the better goaltending. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had perhaps his best game of the series with 48 saves. Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin do not have a goal in this series. They’ve combined for nine assists and Crosby has also been a force at the other end, but when you make about $18 million combined per season, as these two do, you’re expected to score. The duo combined for 59 goals in the regular season (even though Malkin missed 22 games). No matter what else they’re doing, this drought is indefensible. Crosby has gone 10 straight playoff games without a goal; Malkin has gone nine.
Next game: Monday at Columbus, 7 p.m. EST
Colorado 4, Minnesota 3 (OT)
Series: Colorado leads, 3-2
Key stat: Colorado leads this series despite the 16th-ranked (last) power play in the postseason (5.6 percent).
Key player: C Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado. What else is left to say about the Avs’ sensational rookie after this three-point performance? Once a controversial No. 1 pick over defenseman Seth Jones, MacKinnon has silenced that train of thought. Just hand him the Calder Trophy already.
What we learned: This is the second-best series in the first round of the 2014 playoffs and it has a chance to surpass St. Louis-Chicago. Saturday’s game featured more dramatic shifts in momentum. Colorado looked like it was in control with a 2-1 third-period lead, but Minnesota scored two goals in less than two minutes — Zach Parise’s first of the playoffs on a bullet; Kyle Brodziak’s second of the series after being scratched in Game 3 — to threaten the first road win in this series. But the aforementioned controversial call and MacKinnon’s brilliance helped Colorado pull out another improbable victory — something the Avs have been doing all season. There were too many notable performances on Saturday to mention, but Minnesota forward Jared Spurgeon was terrific despite playing hurt. He had an assist, created the turnover that led to Brodziak’s goal and blocked three shots. Wild coach Mike Yeo didn’t want to complain much about the missed calls at the end of regulation which was probably a prudent move for his team’s mental state — not to mention the fact that a blown offside call went the other way in Game 1. "To sit here and dwell on it, I donât think itâs going to do us any good," Yeo told the reporters. "We’ve got an opportunity to go home in front of our crowd and win a hockey game to push it to Game 7." For the sake of hockey viewers, let’s hope that happens.
Next game: Monday at Minnesota, 9 p.m. EST
Los Angeles 3, San Jose 0
Series: San Jose leads, 3-2
Key stat: Kings RW Jeff Carter has recorded at least one point in nine straight playoff games (3-7-10), dating back to Game 2 of the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
Key player: G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles. Quick entered play having allowed 19 goals in four games and looking uncomfortable in net. He got plenty of help from L.A.’s trademark possession game, but he looked sharp on Saturday with 30 saves.
What we learned: Well, well, well. The Kings have life after all, and the Sharks just may be thinking about their inglorious past — you know the one in which they’ve never reached the Stanley Cup Final? Just about everybody who follows this sport thought San Jose would close this out in Game 5 at the Shark Cage, er Tank. But L.A. played its most dominant period of the postseason in Period 1, firing 18 shots at goalie Antti Niemi and beating him twice. Unlike past games, the Kings never let San Jose up off the mat, eventually chasing Niemi on Carter’s early second-period goal. With Game 6 set for Staples Center, the Kings have a genuine chance to knot this series. It could be even worse for San Jose if unheralded top defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is lost for any length of time. He left the game with an upper body injury after Kings center Jarret Stoll appeared to drill him in the head. If L.A. wins Monday, the Kings will have all the momentum and every psychological edge you can imagine on the Sharks, who fell to L.A. last season in seven games in the conference semifinals. Only three times in 176 tries (1.7 percent) has a team come back to win a series after trailing 3-0 in the playoffs (Toronto vs. Detroit in 1942; the New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh in 1975; and Philadelphia vs. Boston in 2010). Are we about to witness No. 4?
Next game: Monday at Los Angeles, 10 p.m. EST
Final thought: Saturday’s blown offside call is certain to revive cries for a coach’s challenge. "It was offside and they missed a call and it’s a damn shame," Wild defenseman Ryan Suter told reporters of Colorado’s game-tying goal late in regulation. NHL GMs have expressed concern that the scope and usage of such challenges could become problematic, but that’s easily fixed by limiting them to plays that lead to a goal or a goal being taken away while expanding video review for everything else, like four-minute high sticking penalties and the lot. And if each team has just one challenge per game, they’ll save it for the right moment. How do you ensure that? If they lose their challenge, penalize them to prevent abuse.