NHL Playoffs: Nashville-San Jose and Dallas-St. Louis head to two Game 7’s, Pens dismiss Caps

We sit on the precipice of a pair of game 7’s, and two of those teams (the Predators and Blues) have already dipped their toes in the game 7 pool earlier this postseason. Recall Nashville toppling Anaheim in Round 1, and … Continued

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SiriusXM Editor
May 11, 2016

We sit on the precipice of a pair of game 7’s, and two of those teams (the Predators and Blues) have already dipped their toes in the game 7 pool earlier this postseason. Recall Nashville toppling Anaheim in Round 1, and by extension sent Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau to Minnesota. Colin Wilson opened the scoring less than six minutes into that game, and the Predators had their 2-0 lead before the end of the first period as they’d hold on to win 2-1. St. Louis dispatched their tormentor and defending Cup champs Chicago 3-2 in their Game 7. The Blues popped off to 2-0 lead within the first 14 minutes before Chicago tied it early on in the second. Troy Brouwer, formerly of the Blackhawks, would score the deciding goal midway through the third.

So what can we glean as the keys to advancing? Scoring first, and weathering the storm. But you probably knew that already. Occasionally, that’s all it really is in an elimination game. We saw it last night with Pittsburgh and Washington’s Game 6. The Penguins were up 3-0 midway through the game (score first), but needed overtime to advance (Ah-ha! Weather the storm.)

We saw a Herculean effort help push it so far. Pressing for the game-tying goal in the third period, Alex Ovechkin came back on the ice. Half a minute later Chris Kunitz flipped one over the glass from his defensive zone, giving the Capitals a crucial power play. To no one’s surprise, Ovechkin didn’t leave the ice. In fact he fired a shot on net, wide left, 50 seconds in. Soon after, Nick Bonino committed the same foul, giving the Capitals a white-knuckle inducing two-man advantage with 8:22 to go. To which the Caps called their timeout, and promptly gave their fans enough time to decide on which paper bag to hyperventilate into. (It was the one from Game 5.)

Ovechkin would fire two more shots, one blocked, and one swallowed up by Matt Murray before Ian Cole completed the puck over the glass penalty trifecta.

Then this happened 27 seconds later,

Ovechkin would stay on the ice, amassing a lactic-acid inducing shift of 4:43. Over that time he attempted five shots with two on net and one deft pass. He’d later skate a 94-second shift to end the period, plus an 80-second shift to begin overtime.

Perhaps, what we’ve learned then, as we’re probably often reminded should we choose to pay attention, is that heroes are as relative as our memories.

Speaking of heroes, we have a few more to discuss as they also represent potential Conn Smythe winners.

Human-grizzly bear Brent Burns, currently leads the playoff with 11 assists and is tied with Jamie Benn for most points at 15, would probably be the Sharks’ pick for Conn Smythe but let’s be honest – it’s Martin Jones.

The first-time starter has been everything the Sharks ever needed out of a playoff goaltender. During the regular season he posted a .918 overall save percentage with a .925 mark at even-strength over 65 games. To wit, he posted a 36:9 Quality Start to Really Bad Start ratio, which measures how many games he was a brick wall in net versus a sieve.

Through 11 games this postseason Jones hasn’t changed. He’s posted a .913 save percentage with a 6:1 QS to RBS. In addition the Sharks have allowed the fewest shots on net, by a significant margin, of the three remaining Western teams with a primary starting netminder.

Pekka Rinne, already deep into the decline phase of his career, deserves his kudos this postseason as he has nearly returned to his elite form. But it’s the much-maligned Colin Wilson carrying the Predators’ torch as they fight doubters on and off the ice. Wilson leads the team with five goals and 13 points, three goals and eight points of which have come in this series. He’s skating at a 55.9% Corsi clip with a 107.8 PDO, the latter of which is used as a proxy to measure how much good luck a player is or is not experiencing. League average is 100, bigger is better. Wilson’s been damn lucky this postseason and even moreso since the Preds beat the Ducks.

Jamie Benn represents the Stars’ best hope for advancement. He’s played in all 97 games for them this season, posting 46 goals and 104 points. However in the 38 games Dallas has lost he’s posted just 11 goals and 26 points. No other team’s fortunes have hinged so much on a single non-goalie from stem to stern like the Stars. The funny thing about Benn’s greatness? He posted a 99.9 PDO during the regular season.

It wouldn’t be a Conn Smythe-type piece without mentioning the best goalie. Brian Elliott has been a beast for St. Louis. He’s seen by far the most rubber (412, next best Thomas Greiss at 388), with a 91 goals against average percentage, which measures how far beyond League average he is (100). Lower is better this time.

Of the remaining netminders (sorry Braden Holtby, 71), only Ben Bishop (86) and Matt Murray (80) have posted better marks. The only competition Elliott has in the West is Jones, but his 97 is downright pedestrian by comparison.

The gates to the next round only open to the teams with the most goals after the buzzer rings. There’s no formula. There’s no magic. There’s just effort, adjustments, and both good and bad luck.

As Brouwer told Louie Korac of NHL.com, “It’s nice to have that experience and obviously being able to come out on top in the first series is going to give us a lot of confidence.” The veteran power forward is 3-4 in his career in Game 7’s, including five straight series. “Same mindset we had last series, going to take one more win to finish the series and it’s what we want to do,” Brouwer said. “This time [we’ll] have to do it in someone else’s building, but we’re excited for the challenge.”

Wherever you’re watching this week just make sure your building has a comfortable seat and never, ever give up hope,