Blue no more: Columbus grabs 1st playoff win in 2OT stunner
The defending Stanley Cup champions are on the ropes. The Stanley Cup favorites could join them on Sunday. And folks, we’re just getting started.
GAME OF THE DAY: Columbus 4, Pittsburgh 3 (2 OT): You can make an argument for St. Louis’ win over Chicago, given all the drama involved in that one, but the Blue Jackets posted their first-ever playoff win, and they did it in dramatic fashion, rallying from a 3-1 deficit on the road against the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins. That’s worthy of a cannon shot, even if many of us still struggle to explain that unusual nickname. If you really want to know that story, read about it here.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Brent Seabrook’s nasty hit on David Backes: It’s a shame that with all the great hockey being played over the past two days, the plays that are dominating discussion are dirty ones. On Friday, Milan Lucic and Corey Perry took shots at opponents’ unmentionable areas. On Saturday, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook took a shot at the one area the NHL has deemed off limits: the head. Late in the third period, with the Blackhawks leading 3-2 and already short-handed, Seabrook caught Backes with a vicious elbow directly to the head and then followed through to snap Backes’ head back to the glass. All of this after the puck had clearly left the area. Backes was angry and woozy after the illegal hit, Seabrook was on his way to the penalty box for a 5-minute charging major and game misconduct, and the Blues were on their way to another late rally and overtime victory. Seabrook will have a phone hearing with the league’s disciplinary arm on Sunday and will likely earn a suspension. That means Chicago will have to play without one of its best defenseman in a 2-0 series hole — a hole Seabrook created with a dumb and reckless penalty. "I was just trying to make a play on Backes," Seabrook told reporters after the game. "I thought the puck was there. I just tried to finish my hit. I feel bad seeing a guy like that on the ice. I’ve been there myself. I’m not trying to target his head. I’m not trying to do anything like that. It doesn’t feel good to see a player like that lying there like that, knowing that I hit him. It wasn’t my intent. It’s a physical series. Hits have been laid like that from both sides the whole series. I hope Backes is feeling alright and I hope he’s doing OK. I guess that’s all I can say."
1. C Nathan McKinnon, Colorado: He factored in all the scoring with a goal and three assists in the Avs’ 4-2 win over the Wild. And oh what a goal it was, as he nearly broke Jared Spurgeon’s legs with an inside-out move before scoring. MacKinnon tied an NHL record for the most points in his first two career playoffs games with seven.
2. LW Matt Calvert, Columbus: Scored a second-period goal to give Columbus life; scored the game-winner just 1:10 into double overtime to give the Blue Jackets a real chance in their series with Pittsburgh.
3. RW Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis: Scored the tying goal with 6.4 seconds left in regulation, then helped up set up defenseman Barrett Jackman’s game-winner in overtime of the Blues’ second straight, 4-3 overtime victory over Chicago.
Series: Blues lead, 2-0
Key stat: St. Louis had nine power plays and with one exception, they were well deserved.
Key player: RW Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis. Tarasenko was a pest all game long, getting under the Blackhawks’ skin with gritty, in-your-face play. But his greatest contributions were a late, game-tying goal and an assist on the game-winner in OT.
What we learned: The Blues are in the Blackhawks’ heads. A team predicated on skill and possession came unglued on Saturday. There were dumb penalties early (Brandon Saad for slashing and Kris Versteeg for roughing) when St. Louis grabbed a 2-0 lead, and there were mind-bogglingly dumb penalties late (Duncan Keith for high-sticking, Bryan Bickell for kneeing and Brent Seabrook for the aforementioned charge) that helped St. Louis erase another late deficit and beat the Hawks in extra time on Barrett Jackman’s shot through goalie Corey Crawford’s wickets. The defending Stanley Cup champs are in a hole of their own digging. Whether it becomes a grave will depend on how they respond on Wednesday in Game 3 at United Center, but they’ll probably have to do it without Seabrook. Seabrook has two goals in this series but also has authorship of the series-altering charge on Backes, who could also miss time with what sure looked like a concussion. When asked how Backes was doing afterward, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said: "How do you think he is? Not great." Aside from a return to the composed game they normally play — the game they played when they scored three straight goals to grab the lead at Scottrade Center — Chicago could use more from its power play, which was tied for ninth in the league this season but is just 1 for 10 in this series. It would also help if Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews chipped in. It’s hard to know how healthy the stars are after both missed the end of the regular season with injuries, but they combined for just two shots Saturday. St. Louis has the Hawks right where they want them — in a gut-checking, physical mind-game of a series. That’s not a game Chicago is built to win.
Next game: Monday at Chicago, 8:30 pm. EST.
Series: Tied, 1-1
Key stat: Three of Columbus’ four goals came via special teams — two shorthanded; one on the power play.
Key player: G Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus: Bobrovsky looked more like the 2013 Vezina Trophy winner on Saturday, stopping 39 shots — including several grade-A chances — to give the Jackets a chance after they fell in a 3-1 hole.
What we learned: The playoffs always thrust forth a few guys who went largely unnoticed in the regular season. For a while on Saturday, it looked like that guy would be Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen, who actually had a good season with 10 goals and 46 points. Niskanen posted his second straight two-point night with an assist and what looked like it would be the game-winning goal for a 3-1 lead. Niskanen has four points in two playoff games. But after Matt Calvert scored the second of the Jackets’ two shorthanded goals to pull Columbus within 3-2 in the second period, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang took a dumb interference penalty to give Columbus a power play late in the third. Defenseman Jack Johnson scored with 6:01 remaining to force overtime, then double overtime. That’s when Calvert stole the hero’s trophy, banging in a rebound of Ryan Johansen’s shot just 1:10 into the fifth period to give the Jackets their first taste of playoff victory. It may not last — we expect a big response from the somewhat lackadaisical Penguins in Game 3 after they blew a two-goal lead — but the Jackets have officially substantiated their playoff berth while improving to 1-5 all-time in the postseason.
Next game: Monday at Columbus, 7 p.m. EST
Series: Avalanche leads, 2-0.
Key stat: Calder Trophy lock Nathan McKinnon recorded four points (goal, three assists).
Key player: C Paul Stastny, Colorado: With a goal and three assists, Stastny is tied with MacKinnon for the lead among playoff performers with seven points. Again, we remind you that he was on the trade block at one point.
What we learned: There will be no letdown from the surprising Avs after capturing the Pacific Division against all odds — and the Blues and Blackhawks. Colorado’s skill was flying again and Minnesota simply couldn’t keep up through the neutral zone. Season-long Wild-killers Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon have combined for 21 points in seven games against the Wild after Saturday’s six-point effort. It’s probably not fair to lay all the blame on Minnesota goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, but the career postseason numbers are not impressive. Bryzgalov has allowed 86 goals in his last 24 playoff games, going 8-16. Of the goalies to start this postseason, he is last in goals against average (4.85) and last in save percentage (.822). He was pulled in favor of rookie Darcy Kuemper after the third goal and that may be it for him in this postseason. At the other end, Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov was brilliant, turning aside 30 shots and robbing Mikko Koivu in the late stages of the game. Colorado looks better and more confident with each passing day. The most remarkable team story of the NHL season continues.
Next game: Monday at Minnesota, 7 p.m. EST
Final thought: There was a clear division between the top five or six teams in the Western Conference and the rest during the regular season. It’s showing in the first round of the playoffs. Dallas and Minnesota did good things to get in, but they haven’t won yet in four postseason games and both are teetering on the edge of extinction, trailing 2-0 in their series. It’s not that they’ve been bad; it’s that the top of the West is that good. Anaheim, Colorado, St. Louis, San Jose, Chicago and L.A. (if they get offense) are all capable of winning the Cup. That’s a tough group to crack.
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