Ramblings – Playoff talk, Philly implodes and Minny strikes (April 19)
Braden Holtby in cruise control, Minny capitalizes on scoring chances and more …
You don't need to praise the goaltending in a 6-1 win, but Braden Holtby has saved 91 of 93 shots through the first three games.
For the majority of the series, including for most of Game 3, Washington hasn't been able to shut the door on Philadelphia, either. In fact, the Flyers drove the play at even strength through the first two games with more shot attempts (91-75) at five-on-five.
In Game 3, Philadelphia just didn't have an answer for the Capitals power play. If anyone listened to the CBC broadcast, this point was certainly not lost on you, either.
However, once again, the Flyers attempted more shots than Washington (48-32) at five-on-five.
Holtby's play has made this series look like a cakewalk for the Capitals, but he has turned away 27 of 28 high-danger scoring chances and made all the easy saves.
It is possible Washington is still finding its top form following three months of meaningless hockey, but it hasn't matted. Holtby has this thing locked into cruise control.
All said, there is a reason Washington had things wrapped up by January, and as long as Holtby is playing at a historic level, the Capitals should remain the favorites.
Who are you taking before Holtby next year? Not just in nets, but overall.
There hasn't been a lot of talk about Mike Richards, and just how significant his role — on and off the ice — is with Washington is up for debate, but he can't possibly hurt. He was a possession drain through the first two games of the series, but he still plays a feisty game and hasn't looked out of place as he did before his demotion during the 2014-15 season.
If we're calling the Capitals the favorites, and I am, it would make four Stanley Cup Finals appearances and potentially three cups for Richards. Add a Memorial Cup, a World Junior Hockey Championship, a Calder Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal and it is an incredible collection of hardware.
It isn't out of the question to think a committed Richards can't play another two, three or five more seasons, either. It is a rare comeback-success story in the league these days. Many people doubted Richards would ever play in the league again, let alone be where he is right now. Up to here, it has been a great risk-free grab by Washington.
Brooks Orpik left the game Monday, and it didn't look likely he'll be back anytime soon. The broadcast team sort of posed the question of the legality of the hit. If that is somehow suspension worthy, you might as well take hitting out of the game entirely.
The crew also discussed Orpik's concussion history, but he also had a wrist and a lower-body injury this season that contributed to him playing just 41 games. He's played 930 regular season and playoff games during his 13-year career, and he has never passed up an opportunity to rough it up. The hit Monday could have aggravated any number of previous ailments.
The Philly meltdown reached a new level following Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's hit on Dmitry Orlov. Both players were engaged and seemed to lose their footing to a degree, and the final result was ugly. Orlov avoided injury, though, thankfully.
What was worse than the hit, though, was Radko Gudas and Ryan White determining the follow-up scrum permitted them to start throwing haymakers. None of the Capitals appeared to throw any punches, and they didn't go after Bellemare — just a few shoves that accompany the majority of post-whistle scrums.
It is bad optics when concussion lawsuits loom. I have no issue with two players deciding to tee off and tilt, but an unsuspected punch is significantly more dangerous and exactly what needs to be removed from the league.
When followed by the bracelet throwing, it just wasn't a very classy night for orange. Fans are fans, but players should be held accountable. White and Gudas have nothing to lose, but the same can't be said for the Capitals on the ice then.
I doubt Washington even stoops to the level of retaliating to this, but it certainly adds incentive to.
Patrick Sharp looked fast in the first period Monday.
He didn't fully take off in Year 1 with Dallas, and he's unlikely to reach the 70-point plateau again, but 20 goals and 35 helpers should be seen as a disappointment.
Through 117 playoff games with the Hawks, Sharp scored 42 goals and 38 assists, including 26 goals and 27 assists through 68 games in the championship years.
Depending on your league, Sharp could be the bounce-back elder who returns handsomely on a mid-round selection next season, ala 2015-16 Joe Thornton.
So, we didn't expect Kari Lehtonen to string together 10 solid starts, right?
Entering Game 3, he had a .935 save percentage and a 1.68 goals-against average with eight wins through his past nine games dating back to the regular season.
And after Dallas jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, the writing appeared to be on the wall.
Four-unanswered goals later, and Minnesota has life, and no surprise, each goal was right in front of the net in the high-danger zone.
Dallas, and their goaltenders, can only survive as long as high-danger chances are limited, and it has only been a matter of time all season, before it all fell apart. Remember, Lehtonen posted a .909 save percentage at five-on-five during the regular season, too.
It is going to be extremely difficult for the Stars to make a deep playoff run with the deeper and more balanced teams in the Western Conference ahead of them.
Stephen Johns caught my eye, and he was a plus-5 in the Corsi counts through over 19 minutes of ice time Monday. He is aggressive offensively and skates well enough to be a player to watch next year.
The organization coveted him in the Sharp deal this summer, too, so Johns will likely receive a long look at being a full-time player next season.
Making a third-period comeback looked nearly impossible for Dallas Monday. Minnesota stymied the zone entries over and over and clogged the neutral zone extremely well. Dallas had just seven third-period shots, with two missed shots and 10 shot attempts blocked.
It'll be interesting to see what happens with Tyler Seguin, but it seems unlikely he flies to Minnesota for Game 4 and risks further injury, especially if he isn't 100 percent.
Expect Dallas to win two of the next three games and finish the Wild in five or six games. Minnesota won't sneak up on Lindy Ruff again.
So the Kings came out victorious in Game 3, and it was in pretty impressive fashion given the two penalties they killed off late in the third period and the final flurries in their end.
The Milan Lucic penalty was bad, dirty and unnecessary. His teammates bailed him out there in a big way, and he better have splurged on some room service or something. That single act of stupidity could have ended the season for Los Angeles.
It was interesting/neat/fitting to see Tanner Pearson score the winner in overtime after he took the delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. His head was pretty low in the sin bin during that kill.
The real story was the desperation in the Kings' penalty kill following Lucic's minor, though. There were all kinds of chances, and Jonathan Quick made a save with the butt end of his stick on a Logan Couture shot in the slot that was a game saver.
Dustin Brown is a force, and while his offensive days are obviously behind him, he brings it nightly and makes it extremely difficult on opponents. When you've constantly have to look out for No. 23, it is uncomfortable. When you're uncomfortable you make mistakes, and sometimes, as in the game-winning goal, you don't even have the chance to make a mistake.
It was an extremely rare gaff in the defensive end for Couture, which was unfortunate. Mike Johnson pointed out the flyby immediately during the broadcast, and it was classic example of cheating defensively with the hope of kick-starting a fast-break attack the other way.
If the puck bounces the other way, though, Couture is the only player with speed headed in that direction, and it could have resulted in an odd-man rush and/or a scoring opportunity for San Jose.
That is the story and should be the focus.
The margin of error in most of these games is so small. Couture had the game won in regulation, but the butt end of Quick's stick just caught the puck. Similarly, Pearson had the game lost in regulation, but the Sharks couldn't capitalize on the power play.
Couture shouldn't be dragged over the coal because he saw a chance at a game-breaking opportunity. The bounces weren't on his side Monday. Again, it is interesting/neat/fitting that Pearson and Couture ended up being at the crossroads of the game in overtime.
Back to Lucic quickly, the spearing act is getting a touch to frequent. He is a repeat offender, and spearing isn't a common penalty, at all. You can watch 25 games without a spearing penalty.
It is incredibly dangerous, and I'm not sure why he continues to utilize his stick as a weapon and target vulnerable areas of opponents. It's gutless, and he has been called out for it in the past.
If I had it my way, I'd just call Dalton Prout!
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