Sharks, Golden Knights impress early in first round matchups

The Stanley Cup playoffs are officially underway and this year’s postseason features plenty of contenders, surprises and rivalries.

Three games filled the slate for the first night of the postseason on April 11.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers opened up their highly anticipated series. The Penguins fired on all cylinders, taking advantage of every Philadelphia mistake. Sidney Crosby scored a hat trick; Jake Guentzel recorded a goal and three assists; Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin and Evgeni Malkin each scored; Matt Murray made 24 saves and the Penguins routed the Flyers 7-0 to take a 1-0 series lead.

In the West, the Winnipeg Jets hosted the Minnesota Wild. The goaltending was terrific, as Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk stole the show. Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele opened the scoring late in the second period.

The Wild responded with two early third-period goals from Matt Cullen and Zach Parise. But the Jets got an equalizer from Patrik Laine and the eventual game-winner from Joe Morrow late in the frame. The Jets hung on for a 3-2 victory, the franchise’s first playoff win.

The night concluded with Game 1 between the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings. Shea Theodore gave Vegas a 1-0 lead in the first and that would be more than enough. The Kings’ Jonathan Quick made 27 saves, but Vegas’ Marc-André Fleury made 30 saves en route to a 1-0 Golden Knights victory.

On April 12, fans saw the remaining five first-round matchups get underway.

The Washington Capitals opened their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov scored two late power-play goals in the first period. Columbus tied the score at 2-2, with goals from Alexander Wennberg in the second and Thomas Vanek early in the third. The two teams then exchanged goals in the third period, with Devante Smith-Pelly scoring for Washington and Seth Jones getting it in the net for Columbus. The game went to overtime, where Artemi Panarin scored the game-winner six minutes in to give the Blue Jackets the series lead.

Starting in the East, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs opened their Original Six showdown. The teams exchanged goals in the first period, with Brad Marchand for Boston and Zach Hyman for Toronto. It was all Bruins after that, as they scored four consecutive goals from David Backes, David Pastrnak, Sean Kuraly and David Krejci. Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 26 saves in the effort. The Bruins took Game 1 by a score
of 5-1.

Rounding out the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils squared off. The Lightning stormed out to a 3-0 lead with goals from Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson in the first period, and Yanni Gourde early in the second period.

The Devils cut the lead to 3-2 with third-period goals from Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac. But the Lightning iced the game with late goals from Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov. Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy also made 29 saves to help lead the Lightning to a 5-2 series-opening victory.

Back in the West, the top-seeded Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche opened their series. The game was tied at 2-2 going into the third period, with goals from Nikita Zadorov and Blake Comeau for Colorado, accompanied by Austin Watson and Craig Smith for Nashville.

But the Predators pulled away in the third period with three goals — two from Filip Forsberg and an empty-netter from Colton Sissons. The Predators took Game 1 by a score of 5-2.

Finishing up the night, the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks faced off. The game was all Sharks, as Evander Kane scored twice and Brent Burns added a goal, all in the second period. Martin Jones made 25 saves for San Jose, as the Sharks took Game 1 on the road with a score of 3-0.

On April 13, fans saw bounce-back efforts, continued momentum and an overtime thriller.

After an embarrassing effort in Game 1, the Flyers rebounded with a 5-1 victory to even the series at one game apiece. Shayne Gostisbehere scored late in the first period, Sean Couturier scored early in the second period and Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick and Andrew MacDonald scored in the third period. Brian Elliott was magnificent in goal, making 34 saves after being pulled in the second period of Game 1. Patric Hörnqvist scored the lone goal for Pittsburgh in the third period.

Moving West, the Jets continued their dominance against the Wild with a 4-1 victory in Game 2. Tyler Myers scored in the second period, while Paul Stastny, Andrew Copp and Laine scored in the third period. Parise broke up the shutout with 45 seconds remaining. The Jets used their strong home-ice advantage to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.

Finishing up, the Golden Knights and Kings played a thrilling Game 2, with great goaltending and late drama. Each team scored once in regulation, with Alex Tuch for Vegas and Paul LaDue for Los Angeles. It took two periods of overtime to end the game. Late in double overtime, Erik Haula scored the game-winner and gave the Golden Knights a 2-0 series lead. The goaltending was the story, as Fleury made 29 saves, while Quick made a whopping 54 saves.

April 14 saw four teams take commanding series leads.

The Devils looked to get even against the Lightning in Game 2, but Tampa Bay’s offense was too much. The teams were tied at 1-1 after the first period, with Palat scoring for Tampa Bay and Nico Hischier scoring for New Jersey. But the Lightning proceeded to score four consecutive goals in the second period by Killorn twice, Johnson and Kucherov. The Devils answered back with two goals by Sami Vatanen at the end of the second and Blake Coleman in the third. But that would be all the Devils could get, as the Lightning took Game 2 by a score of 5-3 and received a 2-0 series lead.

At the same time, the Predators and Avalanche played Game 2 of their series. Gabriel Bourque gave the Avs an early lead in the first, but the Preds scored three consecutive times in the second, thanks to Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson and
Ryan Johansen.

Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon cut the lead to 3-2 to end the second period. The teams then exchanged goals in the third, with Watson scoring for Nashville and Gabriel Landeskog scoring for Colorado. Nashville’s Ryan Hartman scored an empty-netter, but Alexander Kerfoot answered back for the Avs. Nashville, however, hung on for a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series lead.

The Bruins and Maple Leafs returned to the ice for Game 2, with the Leafs looking to bounce back. That did not happen, as Boston’s offense took over once again. Pastrnák recorded 6 points which included a hat trick and three assists.

Marchand and Patrice Bergeron each had four assists; Krejci, Kevan Miller, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash all scored a goal and Rask made 30 saves. For Toronto, James van Riemsdyk, Mitchell Marner and Tyler Bozak scored. The Bruins ultimately won 7-3 to take a 2-0
series lead.

Finishing off the night, the Ducks looked to get even with the Sharks in Game 2. They took an early 1-0 lead in the first, thanks to Jakob Silfverberg. But San Jose scored three consecutive times after that, courtesy of Marcus Sörensen, Logan Couture and Tomáš Hertl.

Hampus Lindholm scored for Anaheim to slice the deficit to 3-2, but that score would hold up in the end. San Jose heads back home with a commanding 2-0 series lead.

On April 15, there were changes in venues and shifts in momentum for several teams.

The Penguins-Flyers series shifted to Philadelphia for Game 3, with a chance for Philadelphia to really gain a stranglehold on the series. That did not happen, as the Penguins cruised to a 5-1 victory to take a 2-1 series lead. Crosby, Malkin, Derick Brassard, Brian Dumoulin and Justin Schultz scored for Pittsburgh. Travis Sanheim scored Philadelphia’s lone goal.

The Capitals looked to get even against the Blue Jackets in a huge Game 2. Washington jumped out to a 3-1 lead midway through the game, with two goals from Alex Ovechkin and a goal from Jay Beagle. But Columbus responded with three consecutive goals in the second period by Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski.

The Capitals, however, tied the game late in the third period courtesy of T.J. Oshie. It took overtime to decide the game once again, where Columbus pulled off another sudden-death miracle.

Matt Calvert scored late in the first overtime to give the Blue Jackets a 5-4 win and 2-0 series lead heading back home.

The Wild looked to gain some momentum against the Jets, as the series shifted to Minnesota. Feeding off the home crowd energy, the Wild dominated in a huge 6-2 victory to get back into the series. Parise, Mikael Granlund, Mathew Dumba, Eric Staal, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno scored for Minnesota. Myers and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

The Golden Knights and Kings squared off in Game 3, with the series shifting to Los Angeles. The change in venue did not change anything, as Vegas continued their superb play with a 3-2 victory.

Fleury made 37 saves, while Cody Eakin, James Neal and William Karlsson scored goals. Alex Iafallo and Anže Kopitar scored for the Kings, who are on the brink of elimination.

April 24, 2018

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Felix Malamud

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