The Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders were both top 10 teams in goals-against average during the regular season (more on the stingiest defenses in a moment). So it seemed fitting that neither team could score in regulation. Jordan Staal scored the game’s first and last goal at 4:04 of overtime to give the Canes the 1-0 win and the 1-0 series lead. Here’s Staal’s OT winner:
And that's the game! Jordan Staal scores the overtime winner. pic.twitter.com/zrYmGzRUl4
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) April 27, 2019
Even though Staal was probably largely ignored in playoff pools, he now has four goals and three assists in eight playoff games along with goals in three consecutive games. He certainly missed the playoffs, as he had never played in the playoffs for the Hurricanes prior to this season and he last played in the playoffs in 2011-12 for the Penguins. Staal trails only Jaccob Slavin (nine assists) in playoff points among Hurricanes.
By the way, Slavin is currently tied with Erik Karlsson with nine playoff assists (among all players, not just defensemen). Slavin, who has been good for around 30-35 points the past three seasons, has been scoring at a point per game during these playoffs. Another Cane that probably didn’t factor into your playoff pool strategy. He was held off the scoresheet on Friday, though.
During games like these, we need to give props to the goalies. Petr Mrazek has either been great or awful during the playoffs. Fortunately for the Canes, he was on his game on Friday, stopping all 31 shots he faced in the win. In a losing cause, Robin Lehner stopped 31 of 32 shots he faced.
More likely to be considered a playoff pool contributor than Slavin, Brent Burns led the charge for the Sharks, scoring a goal with three assists with a plus-4 together with six blocked shots. Burns had been fairly quiet (by his standards) in the Vegas series, going without a point from Games 2-5. However, he’s back on track with eight points in eight playoff games. You can debate whether the Sharks really deserve to be at this point after the Game 7 controversial call, but remember the Sharks were built for a long playoff run with Burns and Karlsson on the back end. Jumping the gun here, but a potential Sharks/Blues Western Conference Final (as predicted by our writers) would be a very intriguing series and probably difficult to pick a winner from.
The Pavelski absence meant that Gustav Nyquist moved up to the second line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier, while Lukas Radil drew into the lineup and onto a great spot with Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane. The move helped Nyquist in particular, who scored his first goal of the playoffs.
The Sharks roll a solid three lines, with Joe Thornton and Marcus Sorensen each recording two points with a plus-3. Kevin Labanc, the other member of that line, scored a goal of his own. Fresh off his four power-play point Game 7, Labanc now has five points over his last two games.
David Krejci is listed as questionable for Game 2 on Saturday because of an undisclosed injury. If Krejci can’t go, Charlie Coyle would move up to the second line. Coyle has been hot with five goals and six points in eight playoff games, including the game-tying and game-winning goals in Game 1. If the Bruins go on a long playoff run, the Coyle acquisition from Minnesota near the trade deadline could turn out to be a key one.
The Jack Adams nominees were announced on Friday: Craig Berube, Jon Cooper, and Barry Trotz. If I had a vote in this (which I don’t), I’d go with Trotz. What he has done to turn around the Islanders this season – particularly on the defensive side – has been outstanding. I know the first round had all kinds of weird results, but I’m amazed that the Islanders are still playing and both the Capitals (his former team) and the Leafs (the team John Tavares went running to) are now golfing. Trotz led the Isles to the league’s fifth-best record despite not having anyone reach 30 goals or 65 points. Now doesn’t that seem like a Trotz-coached Nashville team?
We know that many of the teams left in the playoffs aren’t top seeds, as only three teams in the top 10 of the NHL standings in terms of points are still playing (Boston, NY Islanders, San Jose). But what if I told you that the top three teams in terms of goals allowed (NY Islanders, Dallas, Boston) are still playing, and five of the top eight teams (also St. Louis and Carolina) are still playing? Maybe these playoff results don’t seem so much like upsets. Or maybe defense truly wins championships.
Going to shift away from hockey for a moment. For those of you who are Toronto Blue Jays fans or into fantasy baseball, Happy Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Day! In case you’re not in the know, the most highly-touted baseball prospect in quite a while made his MLB debut on Friday, going 1-for-4 with a ninth-inning leadoff double that eventually became the game-winning run. I’m fortunate enough to own him in one of my two fantasy baseball leagues, where I had to use a pick outside of the top 50 to draft a player that I knew could be in the minor leagues for the first month of the season. But hey, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, right? Eight of ten teams in this fantasy baseball league make the playoffs, so I didn’t think I had much to lose by stashing him on my bench for the first month.
I should ask, who will be the Vlad Jr. of fantasy hockey in the 2019-20 season? One of the Hughes brothers? Kaapo Kakko? Cale Makar? Someone else? Keep an eye out for the Fantasy Prospects Report, which will be out on June 1. Keep in mind that it will also be available as part of the Ultimate Fantasy Pack.
I’m going to discuss prospects some more, which relates to the reason that I’m posting these Ramblings later than normal (you might only notice if you’re a night owl or you live in a part of the world where it’s daytime). I attended Game 5 of the WHL’s Western Conference Final, where the Vancouver Giants clinched a series victory with a 3-2 win over the Spokane Chiefs. This game was an absolute blast and the most fun I’ve had at a hockey game in a long while.
The Giants will now face the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Prince Albert Raiders and Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL championship. The Raiders lead the series 3-2 thanks to a 4-0 win on Friday.
This game featured defenseman Bowen Byram, who is expected to be a top-10 pick in this year’s draft (some mock drafts even have him going as high as third overall). Byram got the crowd going with this shorthanded goal late in the first period.
— xy – Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) April 27, 2019
Byram assisted on a power-play goal near the end of the period to give him a two-point game. After an incredible draft year regular season in which he scored 71 points in 67 games, Byram has impressed even more during the playoffs. He now leads the entire WHL (not just defensemen) in playoff scoring with 18 points (7g-11a) in 15 games. I’ve heard that Byram’s stock might be higher than normal because of the lack of high-end defensemen in this season’s draft, yet he has only increased his value as the season has gone on. I don’t expect him to be NHL-ready next season as he’ll probably need to bulk up some more (he’s listed as 6-1, 192 lbs.), but he should already be drawing the attention of keeper leaguers with entry drafts coming up.
On a side note, Byram would have only been the second-most (at best) famous person in the building. Singer/songwriter Michael Buble was in attendance (Buble is a part-owner of the Giants).
The Chiefs have a couple of names that you might be familiar with from previous drafts and from Team Canada at the most recent World Junior tournament:
Ty Smith, picked 17th overall by New Jersey in 2018 – He recorded an assist tonight, but it was his only point in the five-game series, as noted by the Giants’ broadcast crew. I don’t see icetime numbers in the WHL boxscores, but I’m pretty sure he saw more icetime than any other Chiefs’ player. Smith is another defenseman who fits the small yet mobile category that teams are trending toward. He finished with a very strong regular season (69 points in 57 games), and as the Devils’ top defensive prospect could be in line to make the Devils as early as next season.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, picked 41st overall by Los Angeles in 2017 – He scored a goal tonight, pushing his playoff total to 13 points in 15 games. Anderson-Dolan has scored at over a point per game in three WHL seasons. I was impressed with his speed, which a slower team like the Kings could certainly use. I’d guess that he has an outside shot at making the Kings’ roster next season, but I think he’ll more likely spend a season in the AHL before we see him full-time in a Kings’ uniform.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me directly, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.