the Fifth Line: Who Needs OT?

Remember all those tense, amazing overtime games in round one?

Yeah, me too. Whatever happened to those? Or to series that went more than four or five games? Instead, playoff teams seem rather keen to make sure that NBC Sports Network gets us to Men in Blazers (relatively) on time.

Thankfully, Calgary and Anaheim gave us only our second OT game of round two, but even that was hockey gods deciding that Calgary didn’t deserve to get jobbed on that controversial no-goal call:

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No goal!

Aside from Calgary, though, all the other series are already one win away from being over. If New York, Minnesota, and Montreal can’t course-correct quickly, the second round may be one of the briefest playoff rounds in recent history.

But before we break down the different NHL series, let’s pause to look at the international scene. At the IIHF World Championships, Team USA has a 3-0-0-1 record, including a win against Russia (who said the game would be their response to US sanctions).

Meanwhile, the U.S. Sled Hockey team dominated the IPC Sledge Hockey championships, finishing off Canada 3-0 to win the gold medal. It’s Team USA’s third gold medal in four years, and it was awesome to catch the championship game live on TV in between NHL playoff hockey.

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Speaking of NHL playoff hockey, let’s look at round two so far, eh?

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Chicago Blackhawks | 3 – 0 | Minnesota Wild

So far, the Blackhawks that showed up are the ones who finished off the Predators. Patrick Kane is rounding into Conn Smythe form, Teuvo and Sharp are proving to be a dastardly third line, and Chicago’s blue line has looked not-terrible. With the exception of game 3, where they were protecting a 1-0 lead, Chicago has put more shots on goal than Minnesota.

For the Wild, they’ve seemed one step behind the ‘Hawks in making adjustments after game 1. They looked like vengeful spirits in the 2nd period of that game, but have looked like a team playing catch-up ever since Teuvo scored the game 1 winner. Relying on power-play goals and Devan Dubnyk may have worked against the Blues, but Chicago has a bit more firepower and creativity than St. Louis. If Minnesota can’t get its shot-suppression going, this series will not last much longer.

While we’re on the subject of Dubnyk, this I am enjoying the crow that some analysts ought to be eating so far. A lot of the lead-up to this series had hot takes giving a slight edge to Minnesota because “we know what Dubnyk can do.” I like Dubnyk, and the guy deserves to be a Vezina finalist. But let’s not forget that Chicago already beat another Vezina finalist in the first round (Pekka Rinne). Not only that, but Dubnyk put up worse even-strength numbers against the offense-challenged Blues than Rinne did against the potent ‘Hawks.

The Blackhawks have shown their offense can win even when their goalie situation is fuzzy. Crawford (and the blue line) has rewarded them my rounding back into Jennings-winning form. Can Minnesota win without Dubnyk putting up Vezina numbers?

Anaheim Ducks | 2 – 1 | Calgary Flames

For two games, the Anaheim Ducks followed the winning guideline: put the Flames to bed before the 3rd period, otherwise you’ll find yourself somehow with a loss.

For those two games, the Ducks dominated the Flames. Game 1 was an ugly, bruising, one-sided affair. Game 2 was Calgary looking helpless as Anaheim strolled to a 3-0 win. The Ducks seemed to be proving the point of the pundits who had them as a favorite in the West. “Look at them dominate! They’re putting the rest of the playoff teams on notice!”

This seemed a little pre-mature, even if the odds were good that Anaheim might sweep Calgary. Again, the Ducks played in the weakest bracket. Their first series was against the worst goaltender in the playoffs, and they still spent most of the series trailing (and yet winning every game). Now they’re playing a team whose underlying numbers predict a hard crash to earth, and who are starting their back-up goalie. The only thing the rest of the league notices is that Anaheim had yet to be tested.

That third game, though. That was a weird one. Penalties a-plenty, a controversial no-goal, and “Johnny Hockey” scoring a last-second goal to send the game into OT. There were somehow only 21 shots on goal from each team in the whole game. By the time Calgary won it, the Ducks were looking like they needed a nap.

I still think the Ducks are going to win this series, but there is schadenfreude in seeing the team with the easiest path to the conference finals get bloodied for the first time.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Montreal Canadiens | 0 – 3 | Tampa Bay Lightning

I wrote that Montreal got here on the back of Carey Price, and now that he’s not carrying them, the cracks are showing in the Canadiens’ facade. They’ve always been there, mind you, but the MVP-level play from their goaltender often papered over those cracks.

The issue is that Montreal wants to be a stifling, physical team with dangerous offense, like Washington or Detroit. But the reality is that without Price putting up MVP numbers, Montreal isn’t that stifling, and Pacioretty hasn’t risen to the threat level like that of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Datsyuk, or Zetterberg. The physicality is translating not into intimidation or shot suppression, but penalties. And Tampa Bay is killing Montreal on special teams.

Not only that, but the Lightning faced one of the most stifling, frustrating playoff teams in the Detroit Red Wings. If the Lightning can escape Detroit, they aren’t going to fear Montreal trying to play the same game.

New York Rangers | 1 -3 | Washington Capitals

Wow. Who would’ve thought that the absence of Mats Zuccarello would have this big of an effect on the New York Rangers? Sure, you knew that they were going to miss the Norwegian dynamo, but it beggars belief that they would miss him this much.

During the season, Zuccarello was a big assists guy, along with Brassard, Stepan, and Hayes (and St. Louis, who also added 21 goals of his own). Theoretically, there are enough offensive threats to make up for the absence of one winger, but it seems that without Zucarello, there’s no longer that critical mass. Without it, the Capitals’ style of shut-down defense is frustrating them, and even though the Rangers have usually managed at least 30 shots on goal each game, Braden Holtby is getting good looks at the shots — and stopping almost all of them.

This lack of offense seems to be frustrating the Rangers’ talented blue line, too. Despite playing solid most of the time, the few defensive mistakes that occur are immediately turning into Washington goals. All of New York’s losses have by only a single goal, but it feels like the margins have been larger.

Unless the Rangers can break out the Capitals’ trap, Barry Trotz will continue to be comfortable scoring just enough to win. When you have a top line of Ovechkin / Backstrom / Ward, you can do that — if you opponents let you. Right now, New York is doing a lot of letting.

Does that mean the Rangers are done? Not necessarily. But with only one win away from advancing, the Capitals are going to keep stonewalling the Rangers until New York can overcome the loss of its Norse winger.

Tonight is a pair of game 4s that could result in series sweeps for Chicago and Tampa Bay. I don’t think the Wild are going to let that happen at home, but I wouldn’t be surprised by either result tonight. As for Montreal… well, Carey Price may need to get a shutout for the Canadiens to win.

-J.

-J.

The entity known as -J. would be at home in a place like Carcosa or Night Vale, but instead lives near a far more dreary place -- Wrigley Field. He is the patron Addisonian of whisk(e)y and tabletop games, and is often adorned with a waistcoat & his ridiculous mustache.

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