Artemi Panarin celebrates
The brooms were out in full force in Columbus on Tuesday evening. Well, not actually as the arena made it very clear they would not allow a broom to actually enter the barn. But you get the point.
CBJ has been doing the unimaginable in this series – completely dominating one of the most prolific regular season squads in NHL history. They’ve owned them on the scoreboard, the shot clock, and the hits counter. The tenacious forecheck has completely befuddled the skillful design of the Lightning.
Game four started out much the same way that the first three games went, with Columbus jumping out and dictating the pace of play. Rookie, Alexandre Texier got things rolling early with his first career playoff goal. It was on the first shot of the game.
Texier’s developmental arc has been something to marvel. As the youngest player in the crop, he was drafted halfway through the second round in 2017 out the top league in France. All he’s done since is make the Columbus scouting staff look like geniuses.
He had a very strong year in the Finnish Liiga as an 18-year-old in 2017-18. This past season his 41 points in 55 contests were the second most by a U20 player. He came over to the American League to close out the campaign and scored five goals and seven points in as many games. That earned him the call to the big club and I’m guessing he won’t be heading down any time soon.
Texier will be an extremely interesting player to rank heading into drafts next season. Keeper leagues need to be all over this guy, but his original draft slot coupled with a bit of no-name vibe could push him into sleeper territory. That is, of course, if he doesn’t go off this post-season.
The 19-year-old has been skating on a line with Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson at even-strength and seeing some second unit power play deployment. With Artemi Panarin almost assuredly out the door this summer, a left-wing spot in the top-six will be wide open. If the Blue Jackets don’t fill that hole with a big fish (a big if), then I like Texier to put his name on it.
Back to the game though, 1-0 CBJ on one shot on goal. After an Andrei Vasilevskiy save, Pierre-Luc Dubois doubled the lead with a tally of his own. The rink was rocking and the energy was being sucked completely out of the Lightning lineup.
Steven Stamkos helped that out by getting his squad on the board halfway through the first frame.
Steven Stamkos needed that one almost as badly as Tampa did. pic.twitter.com/bX5IR1fXgD
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) April 16, 2019
Cam Atkinson scored a power-play goal a few minutes later but Jon Cooper took a risk and challenged it as an offside earlier in the play. If he was wrong his team would be down 3-1 and, on the penalty, kill. Fortunately for him, he was right and finally showed a modicum of emotion. Finally, we see the coach get some.
Columbus went up 3-1 in the third before trading tallies to make it 4-3. The Bolts pulled the goalie only to see the gaping cage be hit three times. Columbus took the game 7-3 and the series sweep was completed. This will go down as one of the biggest upsets in recent memory and the first playoff series victory for the 19-year-old franchise.
How about GM, Jarmo Kekalainen? The brass balls on that guy to not only refuse to trade away his expiring contracts but going out and buying UFAs-to-be. It almost blew up in his face as it took until game 81 to lock down a playoff bid, but he sure looks good now.
The Blue Jackets await the winner of Toronto and Boston.
Over in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were attempting to stave off elimination at the hands of the Islanders, and you just knew Sidney Crosby wouldn’t stay off the scoresheet in this one.
The Pens shuffled the top line of Crosby and Jake Guentzel by adding Jared McCann to the mix. The trio clicked on a Guentzel tally just 35 seconds in the game. I’ve written about this before, but the 40-goal scoring, Guentzel is one of the few players who I believe can consistently live in the mid-to-high teens for conversion rate. It doesn’t hurt that he’s locked to Crosby at even-strength.
I imagine he’ll finally take a full-time spot on the top power-play unit next fall as well.
However, the Islanders were not to be blasted out of the building. They scored two of their own and went into the dressing room up 2-1. The score stayed that way until the dying minutes of the third period when the Penguins pulled their netminder and frantically pushed for the equalizer.
But Robin Lehner would have none of it. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent has been a marvel this season and has continued it in spades this post-season. This dude is going to get paid on July 1. And he can thank Barry Trotz for it. This Isles' squad is stifling defensively with him at the helm. One of the main reasons I picked them to win this series.
Off to round two for the Islanders and a date with the Caps or the Canes.
Oh, Mat Barzal did something that may catch the eye of the DoPS. Probably not, but you never know with these guys.
Uh oh, Mat Barzal is out there swinging at the high heat pic.twitter.com/WSLdKR85bF
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) April 17, 2019
Tuesday night saw the Jets attempt to keep the streak alive that saw the road team win each of the first three games in their series against the Blues. It took more than 40 minutes before we saw the red light flash.
Vladamir Tarasenko buried one of his patented power-play wristers 35 seconds into the third frame. It was an absolute rocket. Needless to say, Vladdy appears to have his mojo all the way back after shoulder surgery last offseason robbed him on some zip for much of the campaign. You may even get him at a good value on draft day due to his less-than-stellar counting stats for the season as a whole.
There's literally nothing you can do to stop this shot from Vladimir Tarasenko.
1-0 STL pic.twitter.com/p6Si6jBXfu
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) April 17, 2019
The Jets would not go quietly into the night though. Seven minutes later, the big line got rolling with Mark Scheifele tallying an exquisite diving tip into the top corner. Assists to Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler.
We needed extra time in this one, and the top line came out swinging once again for Winnipeg.
You've gotta love the Jets transitional attack. Kyle Connor ties the series at two games a piece with the OT winner. pic.twitter.com/LaEKupagt2
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) April 17, 2019
Back-to-back two-point outings for Connor. He's the least talked about upcoming RFA this summer. People are whispering about offer sheets all over the place, but the Winnipeg cap, coupled with his strong production may lead to some interesting negotiations.
With the Winnipeg victory, we have our first series assured of at least a game six. Hallelujah!
Off to Nevada, we go for the final tilt of the evening. The Sharks were attempting to even the series on the road. The first item on the agenda: Slow down Mark Stone and the Vegas second line.
Stone is in one heck of a groove right now. He came into the evening leading the post-season in goals (6) and tied with linemate, Paul Stastny for the lead in points with eight. Before the puck dropped on Tuesday night’s action, Stone had outscored both the Pens and the Lightning this spring.
It didn’t take long for that line to get moving and shaking with Max Pacioretty tallying a goal off a pass from Stone. It was another marker on the first shot on net. 18 minutes later, Shea Theodore scored to double the lead. Pacioretty grabbed a second assist on that one.
This despite the Sharks out attempting Vegas 31-14 in the first frame. They were dictating the play for long stretches only to have any momentum sucked away thanks to weak goaltending.
Let’s be frank, Martin Jones has been dreadful this season. For all netminders with at least 25 starts Jones finished the season in the bottom-five for save percentage (0.896) and hung around the bottom-10 for quality start percentage (45.2). His inability to make a stop is without a doubt the main reason for this club’s soon-to-completed season.
That said, Erik Karlsson being on the ice for 80 percent of the goals against isn’t a great look either. EK is clearly still battling something. His acceleration looks dreadful. His ability to pivot from forwards to back is reminiscent of a young Patty Affleck. It's not pretty. The way this season has played out, it doesn’t appear to look good for a contract extension.
The goaltender is well below average. The blue line is porous (himself included). I’ll be surprised if he isn’t in a new sweater for press conferences this summer.
Pacioretty tallied another goal (assist goes to, you guessed it, Stone) to make it 3-0 on 14 shots after 40 minutes of play. Vegas cruised to a 5-0 victory.
The series may be 3-1 for Vegas but this one looks over.
Patches finished with four points on the night and is up to 10 this post-season. He's tied with Stone at the top of the pyramid while Stastny sits third with his eight points. Imagine a team going out and purchasing an entire second line (first line on many teams) via trade and free agency. This Vegas squad has been exquisitely built and geared for another lengthy run.
Well done, George McPhee.
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