Blown leads, 11 OTs and surprises abound in NHL first round
The first week of the NHL postseason has been about as unpredictable as anyone could imagine, even in a sport where upsets are the norm, home-ice advantage is often meaningless and a hot goaltender can overshadow everything else that’s happening.
Perennial Stanley Cup favorite Chicago is down three games to none against Nashville and the NHL-leading Washington Capitals trail Toronto 2-1 in their first-round series, but that’s only part of the story. Seven of the first 24 games have featured a blown lead of two goals or more, 11 have gone to overtime and winning goals have come from some of the unlikeliest of sources.
Just Monday, all four games went to OT for only the third time in NHL history and first time since 1985, including the Blackhawks and Capitals blowing two-goal leads to sow more seeds of doubt and give the Predators and Maple Leafs a jolt of confidence.
“Our guys think they’re a good hockey team, and they’re playing a good hockey team,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “But I think you gain respect for yourself in the process and you start believing that maybe you can do this.”
The Blackhawks’ core has three Stanley Cups in the past seven years and a lot experience to lean on. Washington only has playoff disappointments in the rearview mirror, and panic is starting to set in about another early exit.
The Capitals were heavy favorites to beat the young Maple Leafs, but it hasn’t looked like it as all three games so far have gone to overtime.
“It’s a lot closer match than people let on,” coach Barry Trotz said after losing Game 3 in Toronto. “It’s not David and Goliath.”
Defending Cup champion Pittsburgh against Columbus looked like a close matchup on paper but hasn’t been as the Penguins are up 3-0 and Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, has a 3.49 goals-against average and league-worst .897 save percentage through his first three games of the playoffs after finishing first in the regular season (2.06 GAA, .931 save percentage).
Some of the biggest goals around the playoffs so far have come from surprising players, too, from Zack Kassian scoring two game-winning goals for the Edmonton Oilers to put them up 2-1 the San Jose Sharks to Tanner Glass having a game-winner for the New York Rangers.
Some things to watch Wednesday night:
Capitals at Maple Leafs, Toronto leads 2-1 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
The Capitals won’t have shutdown defenseman Karl Alzner, missing his second consecutive game with an upper-body injury, a significant blow to their depth and penalty killing even though Nate Schmidt brings an offensive spark. But Alex Ovechkin should play more than the 15:08 he did in the Game 3 OT loss.
“That’s on me, to get him in the ice time,” Trotz said. “It wasn’t based on play. I thought Ovi was playing terrific. It’s on me to get him a little more ice time, no question.”
Senators at Bruins, Ottawa leads 2-1 (7:30 p.m. ET, USA)
The series everyone seems to be forgetting about has plenty of late-game drama, including OT game-winners by Dion Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan for Ottawa. Boston’s blue line continues to deal with injuries, and the Senators’ ability to exploit that could be the difference.
Wild at Blues, St. Louis leads 3-0 (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
This is one of four possible sweeps along with Pittsburgh-Columbus, Anaheim-Calgary and Nashville-Chicago. There were only four sweeps combined in the first round of the past seven playoffs.
Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau has only been swept once before, in 2011 when he was with the Capitals and lost to Guy Boucher’s Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.
Ducks at Flames, Anaheim leads 3-0 (10 p.m. ET, USA)
Like the Blue Jackets, Wild and Blackhawks, the Flames are trying to join the elite company of the four teams that have come back to win a series when trailing 3-0. Calgary blew a 4-1 lead to lose Game 3 in overtime Monday, a potential backbreaker against an experienced Anaheim team that still has Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry around from the 2007 Cup champions.
With files from The Canadian Press.
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