THE Stanley Cup Playoffs are just getting started but already some top teams have been eliminated.
The NHL postseason is down to eight teams with the St. Louis Blues hosting the Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Edmonton Oilers to start the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Wednesday night (Thursday morning AEST).
After the two Western Conference series get going, the Ottawa Senators host the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals host the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night (Friday morning AEST). Washington versus Pittsburgh is a showdown of the top two teams in the league during the regular season. The Atlantic Division champion Montreal Canadiens and Central champion Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated in a first round that set a record for the most overtime games with 18. It was the first time a first round didn’t feature a Game 7 in any series since 2001.
OTTAWA SENATORS DOWN BOSTON BRUINS
Clarke MacArthur scored a powerplay goal 6:30 into overtime to give Ottawa a 3-2 victory Sunday at Boston that advanced the Senators into the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs.
Ottawa won the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series 4-2 and booked a second-round showdown against the New York Rangers, who ousted Montreal in round one.
MacArthur only returned to the Senators on April 4 after an 18-month absence following a concussion suffered in October 2015 against Columbus.
The 32-year-old left wing missed 156 games and played only four regular season games this month but netted two precious goals in six playoff contests against Boston, the biggest the series winner. The Senators won three games of the series in overtime on the way to capturing only their second playoff series triumph in a decade.
Boston’s Drew Stafford opened the scoring with a powerplay goal just 1:47 before the end of the first period. But Ottawa answered in the second period, Bobby Ryan tipping in the equaliser on the power play just 3:26 into the period and Kyle Turris netting his first goal of the sires just 5:06 later to give the Senators the lead. The Bruins answered 1:57 into the third period on Patrice Bergeron’s wrist shot, pulling Boston level at 2-2.
WASHINGTON HOLD OFF MAPLE LEAFS
Marcus Johansson stuffed his second goal of the game past Frederik Andersen at 6:31 of overtime, lifting the Washington Capitals to a series-winning 2-1 victory ove the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 6.
Johansson pulled Washington even at 1-1 with less than eight minutes to go in the third period after Auston Matthews broke a scoreless tie with his fourth goal of the series for Toronto. It was the fifth overtime game of the series, and the record-setting 18th in the first round of the playoffs. Holtby made 37 saves for the Capitals, who will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Andersen was sharp with 34 saves.
BLUES BUMP MINNESOTA FROM PLAYOFFS
Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime to give the St. Louis Blues a series-clinching win over the Minnesota Wild. The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round. Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 5 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.
Paajarvi’s first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago. Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period.
NASHVILLE ELIMINATE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
The Nashville Predators finally get a new opponent in the postseason after their surprising sweep of the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks. Their reward? The St. Louis Blues, fresh off downing the West’s second-best team with a 4-1 series victory over the Minnesota Wild that was as stunning as Nashville’s sweep. St. Louis coach Mike Yeo said he is well aware of the Blues’ next challenge.
“It’s pretty easy for us to look at what happened in the last series and not underestimate that opponent,” Yeo said after St. Louis clinched its opening- round series over Minnesota.
“So they’re a great team and that’s life in the Central Division for you, and the Western Conference for you. You get to advance from one good team and you get to go play another.”
Nashville coach Peter Laviolette gave his team Friday and Saturday off, a precious commodity this time of year, after finishing its 4-0 sweep of Chicago on Thursday night. The Predators returned to the ice Sunday morning for a high-tempo practice.
Nashville won three of its five regular-season match-ups against the Blues. The Blues won two of three games played in St. Louis, and they will have home-ice advantage in this semi-final after edging out Nashville for third in the Central. That left Nashville with the second wildcard as the No. 8 seed. This semi-final ensures one Central Division team will be playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals, just not the teams expected in the first postseason series between these franchises.
NEW YORK RANGERS OUTPLAY MONTREAL
Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period as the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.
The Rangers will face Ottawa in the next round of the playoffs.
Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals.
EDMONTON OILERS BEAT SAN JOSE 4-2
After a more than a decade-long playoff drought in Edmonton, the Oilers are in no hurry to leave the NHL’s postseason party. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on breakaways in the opening minutes of the second period as the Oilers advanced to the second round of the playoffs with a 3-1 victory in Game 6 over the San Jose Sharks.
“I think we’re a little bit more mature than people give us credit for and I think we showed that tonight,” said captain Connor McDavid, who sealed the game with an empty-net goal in the final second.
The three goal scorers in the clincher are among the nine skaters on the Oilers who are younger than 25 and had been almost entirely untested in the rigours of the postseason. But they managed to bounce back from a blown lead and overtime loss in Game 1 and a 7-0 shellacking in Game 4 to beat a veteran team that had gone all the way to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. Not that it came easy in their first postseason trip since 2006. The Oilers frantically tried to hold on after building the 2-0 lead and had to survive a tense power play after a penalty for too many men on the ice that included Joe Pavelski hitting both the cross bar and post on a shot that nearly tied the game.
“We were anxious. I’m not going to lie to you. There were anxious moments, there were mistakes, too many men on the ice, you get a little over excited,” coach Todd McLellan said.
“There were lessons learned for us. We’ll be better the next time we get in that situation, but the good thing is we came through it.”
ANAHEIM SWEEP CALGARY FLAMES
Patrick Eaves, Nate Thompson and Ryan Getzlaf scored, and the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Wednesday night for a sweep of their first-round playoff series.
Anaheim became the first team to advance to the conference semi-finals. It was the Ducks’ first four-game sweep since they eliminated Winnipeg in the first round in 2015 and just the fifth in franchise history. John Gibson made 36 stops for Anaheim, which will face the Edmonton Oilers or San Jose Sharks in the second round.
Sean Monahan scored a powerplay goal in the second for Calgary, which qualified for the postseason as the first wildcard in the Western Conference. It was a short night for Flames goaltender Brian Elliott, who was pulled for Chad Johnson after giving up a soft goal at 5:38 of the first period. Johnson allowed a goal on the second shot he faced, but finished with 20 saves. Monahan’s redirection of a Kris Versteeg feed made it 2-1 at 16:07. Johnson was pulled for an extra attacker with almost two and a half minutes remaining, and Getzlaf converted an empty-netter in the final seconds.
A sharp-angled shot by Eaves slid under Elliott’s pads on Anaheim’s third shot of the game. The Ducks quickly scored on Johnson at 6:46, with Thompson banging in a rebound.
The Ducks opened the series with a pair of 3-2 wins at home before storming back from a three-goal deficit to win 5-4 in overtime at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Game 3. The Ducks haven’t lost in regulation in 18 games dating to March 10. Led by Getzlaf and Corey Perry, holdovers from Anaheim’s 2007 Stanley Cup win, the Ducks were a poised team that prevailed in the big moments of the series.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS TO FACE WASHINGTON/TORONTO
Sidney Crosby and Scott Wilson scored 51 seconds apart in the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 5-2 win in Game 5 of their first-round series on Thursday. Bryan Rust scored twice for Pittsburgh, Phil Kessel added his second of the playoffs and Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 49 saves. The defending Stanley Cup champions will face the winner of the Toronto-Washington series in the conference semi-finals.
William Karlsson and Boone Jenner scored for the Blue Jackets, but Sergei Bobrovsky stopped just 27 of 32 shots to finish a forgettable series. Columbus trailed by three in the second period but had a potential tying goal waved off in the third for interference. Pittsburgh responded immediately. Crosby’s one-timer on the power play restored a two-goal lead and Wilson’s backhand less than a minute later finished off the Blue Jackets.
And once again, they were able to get away with it thanks to Fleury. He fended off 15 shots in the first period alone, several of them from point-blank range. It gave the Penguins time to find their legs, and Kessel’s wrist shot from the top of the circle 9:07 into the first put Pittsburgh in front. When Rust scored twice less than three minutes apart early in the second — both of them on backhand rebounds — the Penguins appeared to be in control. The Blue Jackets, trying to extend a breakthrough season that included a franchise-record 108 points and the sixth-best record in the league, showed one last flash. Karlsson and Jenner beat Fleury twice in 2:54 at the game’s midway point and Columbus was right back in it.
The surge ended when Fleury flopped to the ground after Alex Wenneberg clipped the goaltender as he fought off a check in the crease five minutes into the third. Columbus coach John Tortorella and the rest of the Blue Jackets bench erupted in anger. Things only got worse for Columbus when Crosby powered a shot from just above the goal line by Bobrovsky. Wilson pushed the lead to three when he casually tapped a backhand by a woefully out of position Bobrovsky. It’s become old hat in Pittsburgh, which will have some time to rest before beginning the next step in its title defence.