Tonight, both the Lightning and the Blackhawks can close out sweeps in their respective series. So what can their potential victims, the Canadiens and Wild, do to avoid the ignominy of a broom treatment?
The 0-3 comeback has been accomplished only four times since 1942 when the Maple Leafs became the first NHL team to do it, but the Habs and Wild can take heart in the most recent cases: last year when the Kings took down the Sharks, and 2010 when the Flyers upset the Bruins. The key to those two bounce-backs wasn’t so much belief by the underdog that it could pull off the near-impossible. It was planting a seed of doubt in Goliath that continued to grow with each ensuing game.
Here’s a quick look at tonight’s elimination games and how Montreal and Minnesota could stay alive while puncturing Tampa Bay’s and Chicago’s confidence.
Canadiens at Lightning (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA)
When teams suffer a heartbreaking loss, they often say they want to get right back on the ice to avoid letting memories of the game fester. But playing a game less than 24 hours after losing to a buzzer-beater goal? That will be tough for Montreal, which played Wednesday night's Game 3 with great desperation only to come up bitterly short.
The good news (if there can be any while deep in an 0-3 hole) is that goalie Carey Price has been quite good in back-to-back games this season. He was 2-1-0 with a .947 save percentage on the back half. So Montreal should not worry about his fatigue being an issue. His counterpart, Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, on the other hand started games on consecutive days just once this season. In the first game, he had been pulled after the first period. In the second, he allowed three goals on 28 shots against Anaheim but got the win. This points to a potential soft spot in Tampa Bay, which is coming off an emotional win.
With all the excitement and anticipation of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, there is a chance the Lightning could experience a letdown tonight at home. By their own admission, they needed time to get going in Game 3 and were fortunate to win. Montreal’s key then is to capitalize on that tendency to ease up. The Habs must start fast and give Price something to protect. The Canadiens should know how quickly a stranglehold can turn into a loose grip. In the first found they were up 3-0 when they let Ottawa back into their series before closing out the Senators in six. So to carry out their own comeback, the Habs will need to test Bishop—often and early—and get him and Lightning questioning themselves. It also means getting into the heads of Tampa Bay’s young stars such as Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. Their confidence has been key to the Lightning’s success. Expect desperate Montreal to make life much harder for them from here on out.
Blackhawks at Wild (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA)
Minnesota may simply suffer from a big mental block when it comes to the Blackhawks. For the third straight year, the Wild have fallen behind Chicago in the postseason and they are on the verge of elimination once again. Their big shortcoming in this series has been mostly playing from behind. They haven’t led at all in any of the three games and have been outscored in first periods, 4-0. The Wild put up a valiant push early in Game 3 with three quality chances in the first five minutes, but the Hawks came right back and ultimately struck first again.
Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk has been fine, but what the Wild need most is better play up front by some of their stars. Thomas Vanek, for one, has been noticeably subpar all postseason. A –7 in the playoffs, he hasn’t scored a goal since April 2. In Game 3, he didn’t look confident with the puck, pulling up as he entered the zone and looking like an easy target for a forced turnover. Mikko Koivu has produced only one point in the series, and Charlie Coyle, who was a respectable +13 during the regular season, is –3 in this series. Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville lead the Wild in shots against Chicago, but 58% of them have come in the third period (when Minnesota has invariably been trailing). Those two players have combined for just three shots in first frames.
The easiest place to strike some doubt into the Blackhawks has to be in net. Goalie Corey Crawford was solid in Game 3, as he has been for Chicago all series, but there are psychic wounds to exploit. If Minnesota is to have any hope, it will be from getting Crawford off his game and forcing the Blackhawks‘ goalie controversy back into the limelight. That could be enough of a distraction for Chicago to stumble, but it will have to happen one game at a time.
The numbers game
• The Rangers, who are now down three games to one in their series vs. the Capitals, face a comeback that has been successful only 27 of the 274 times it has been attempted since 1942. However, it has been accomplished in five of the last six years by a total of seven teams: Rangers over Penguins, Kings over Sharks (2014); Blackhawks over Red Wings (2013); Lightning over Penguins (2011); Flyers over Bruins, Canadiens over Capitals (2010); Capitals over Rangers (2009).
• Tyler Johnson is the first Lightning player to score a winning goal in the final 10 seconds of regulation in a postseason game. (Alexander Selivanov scored Tampa Bay’s latest regular season goal, at 19:52 vs. the Capitals on Feb. 25, 1998.) Johnson's buzzer beater on Wednesday night was the fourth last-minute goal of the 2015 postseason. The others: Flames defenseman Kris Russell at 19:30 of Game 1 vs. the Canucks in the first round; Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg at 19:39 of Game 2 vs. the Jets in their opening round series; and Joel Ward of Capitals at 19:58 of Game 1 vs. the Rangers in the second round. Prior to this year, there had been only two game-winners tallied in the final two seconds of regulation in postseason play: Maple Leafs forward Bob Pulford at 19:58 on April 11, 1964 vs. the Red Wings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen at 19:59 on April 21, 2009 vs. the Devils in Game 4 of their first round series.
• Through Wednesday night’s action nine of the 13 second round games had been decided by one-goal margins.
• Learning English from watching American TV was just part of the adjustment process for the Capitals’ engaging young Harry Potter.
• Speaking of the Capitals, they drew some superlatives from Jimmy Fallon.
• James Mirtle explains what is fundamentally wrong with Les Habitants, and it’s something that has been dogging them all season.
• Have to admit that Quebec’s nearly completed new arena is looking pretty nice.