Ramblings: Elimination Friday, But Leafs Stay Alive In Dramatic Comeback (Aug 8)
It was a hockey fan's dream on Friday, as games started early and went well into the evening. These games saw multiple teams enter the 16-team playoffs (playoffs for sure now), while some surprise teams will be entering Monday's lottery for the first overall pick.
Teams that won their series on Friday: NY Islanders, Arizona, Montreal, Chicago, Vancouver
Teams eliminated on Friday (while entering the draw for the first overall pick): Florida, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Minnesota (joining NY Rangers and Winnipeg)
The first game of the day saw the Islanders punch their ticket with a 5-1 Game 4 win over the Panthers. Anthony Beauvillier scored twice for the Islanders, giving him a point in every one of the four games in this series. Beauvillier can be a streaky player, but he is clearly on a roll for the Islanders. Not only is he leading the team in playoff scoring (five points), but he is also leading the team with 16 shots. If an increased shooting pace is a sign of things to come, then he should be able to break the 40-point barrier for the first time in his career.
The game that followed between Nashville and Arizona had its share of craziness. The Coyotes held a 3-2 lead with under a minute to play when Filip Forsberg scored to give the Predators new life and a chance to win in overtime.
In the end it didn't matter for the Preds, as Brad Richardson played overtime hero for the Coyotes to send them to the round of 16.
The Preds went all out in this game to try to avoid elimination, firing 52 shots on Darcy Kuemper. Many hockey fans believe that this team has underachieved. Yet beyond possible Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi, this team did not have a 50-point scorer in its lineup this season. Combine that with defensive numbers going in the wrong direction, and this Nashville team probably shouldn't have been considered a true Stanley Cup contender.
Okay, this is not how to watch hockey. I turned off the Toronto-Columbus game after Boone Jenner scored to make the game 3-0 with under six minutes to play. (My son wanted to play a game, which I needed to give my full and undivided attention to because neither of us knew the rules.) And yes, I thought the Leafs were fallen yet again.) So when I saw that Toronto won the game 4-3 in overtime, I seriously thought it was a typo! Give me a hard time if you want, Leafs fans. Yet I'd be willing to bet that most of you were ready to pack it in at that point too. I had seen my fill of the "Leafs are too soft" analysis on social media by that point. Does that still hold true if the Leafs win Game 5?
In case you missed it, William Nylander, John Tavares, and Zach Hyman all scored with under four minutes to play and Frederik Andersen on the bench, and then Auston Matthews scored 13:10 into overtime. I mentioned to a Leafs fan that I know that I felt his team deserved better after Game 3. I bet he's still picking his jaw off the floor after this one.
Here's the Hyman game-tying goal with just 23 seconds to play.
And the Matthews overtime goal.
Also of note is that Zach Werenski left Game 4 in the third period. As you'd expect at his post-game conference after his team coughed up a three-goal lead, John Tortorella wasn't offering any kind of update.
Game 5 is scheduled for Sunday, and it’s the only series yet to be decided. Buckle up.
Whether you like it or not, and whether they deserve it or not, both the Penguins and the Oilers will be in Monday's draw for the first overall pick. Or to put it another way, arguably the NHL's two biggest names in Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid won't be competing in the 16-team playoffs. And one of these two may have a future star to play alongside next season!
The league probably wasn't expecting both the Canadiens and the Blackhawks to advance to the round of 16 (I know I certainly wasn't), yet here we are. If the NHL plans to use this new adjusted format in future seasons, then it has to expect that a #5 conference seed may not make the actual playoffs. More on this later, where I discuss more of the advantages.
This about sums up my thoughts about both the play-in series this season and the first round last season.
As expected based on the result, Carey Price came up big for the Habs, posting a 1.67 GAA and .947 SV% over the four games. His goals-against average over his last four postseasons: 1.67 (2019-20), 1.08 (2016-17), 1.84 (2014-15), and 1.79 (2013-14). Even though he has never played more than a dozen games in any playoff season, he's still a big-game performer.
The two lower-ranked play-in teams that I thought could break through were the Rangers in the East and the Jets in the West. Yet four games into the play-in tournament, and both teams have left their respective bubbles. Don't I look like an expert (although the majority of Dobber writers agreed with me!) When looking at what went wrong, there are many reasons, but injuries for both teams deserve mention.
When I saw that Igor Shesterkin was unfit to play and Henrik Lundqvist was starting Game 1, I'll admit that I wanted to change my pick to Carolina. Too late, as they're already locked in, and it would only be fair to the other writers that I ask them if they'd like to change their picks as well. With or without Shesterkin (who was back in Game 3), Carolina was clearly the better team in this series anyway.
A friend who probably watched more of this series than I did mentioned that Tony DeAngelo had an awful series. I know plus/minus isn't the most valid stat when it comes to a player's true ability, but DeAngelo's minus-6 for the series (including a minus-4 in Game 3) justifies this. Word is that he was dealing with a hamstring injury (NY Post), which was bound to happen to someone as these teams jumped straight into do-or-die games after a long layoff.
As for the Jets, it's pretty simple. Lose Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine in Game 1 and your goose is cooked. Even though the Jets won Game 2, it was going to be an uphill battle without their first-line center and a sharpshooter winger who would have hit 30 goals over a full season.
Since the Jets had no Scheifele for Games 2-4 and no Bryan Little for the entire series, they were too thin up the middle. To give you an idea, Andrew Copp logged 20+ minutes in each of Games 2, 3, and 4, including nearly 24 minutes in Game 3. Copp averaged 17 minutes and change per game this season, so he was forced to take on a much bigger role. Scheifele was a point-per-game player this season, while Copp didn't even reach half a point per game. That's a massive dropoff at first-line center.
Let's not forget that the Jets had their share of challenges from even before the season, when Jacob Trouba was traded, Tyler Myers left as a free agent, and Dustin Byfuglien was both injured and unwilling to play. Overall this was a challenging season in Winnipeg.
I should also acknowledge Cam Talbot, who made some impressive saves and exceeded expectations overall in this series. Talbot finished the series with a 1.55 GAA and .944 SV%, including a shutout in Game 4. Talbot will unquestionably be the Flames starter in Game 1 of their next series. Once the playoffs end for the Flames, he'll be in demand as a UFA goalie. And no, I'm not trying to earn brownie points from Dobber by saying that.
On Thursday, Barry Trotz mentioned that he is in favor of a permanent 24-team playoff format (theScore). Like many policies that businesses implemented in order to continue in the face of COVID-19, that plan didn't require years of back and forth with plenty of resistance to keep the old way. With these play-in rounds being a huge success so far (even without fans in attendance), the 24-team plan might be here to stay.
For those who say that 24 teams is too many for the playoffs, you may recall that 16 of 21 teams made the playoffs back in the 1980s. That was just over 75 percent of teams. That made for some one-sided playoff matchups (Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers vs. a Smythe Division fourth-place Canucks or Kings team comes to mind). If 24 of 31 teams make the playoffs or play-ins or whatever it's supposed to be called, that's also just over 75 percent of teams. Plus with the new (current) system and with more parity, the matchups like you see today won't be as one-sided was what was witnessed in the 1980s.
The other reason, of course, is revenue. One could argue that a .500 team should have a chance to play in the postseason. Only the bottom quarter of teams miss, so there won't be any monumentally uncompetitive teams there. Let those seven teams go to the draft lottery for battle for the first overall pick. The other three-quarters of markets get some form of playoff hockey, which will get their fans more emotionally invested in their teams.
A couple of lineup notes for the Canucks/Wild game:
2016 fifth overall pick Olli Juolevi made his NHL debut in this game, although he played just six minutes as of the end of regulation. That does make sense, as you're not going to give a rookie d-man major minutes in a potential series-clinching game. View Juolevi's Dobber Prospects profile.
And of course, the moment I hit publish for tonight’s Ramblings…. CANUCKS WIN!!! Chris Tanev with the winner 11 seconds into overtime!
How quick was this goal? It tied a record. It’s funny how the hockey universe works sometimes.
There was lots going on Friday, so if I missed something important, I'll try to pick it up tomorrow. For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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