- Goalie questions arrive for the Capitals as they relinquish another overtime loss to the Blue Jackets, while Vegas is the first to reach three wins.
A goalie two years removed from winning the Vezina Trophy watched the first 100-plus minutes of his team’s opening playoff series from the bench, while his three-year backup was tabbed to ride his 10-game hot streak into the biggest games of his life. The previous sentence would draw triple-takes if it applied to any other team, but set against the long list of bizarre playoff occurrences involving the Washington Capitals, it makes just as much sense as anything else.
Head coach Barry Trotz’s decision to start Philipp Grubauer over Braden Holtby in net for the Capitals’ first-round series against the Blue Jackets was largely met with public approval—Grubauer had clearly found a rhythm in March, and shuffling anyone’s roles regardless of pedigree could only help the juju of this Washington roster, which has so often lost to playoff opponents it had dead to rights on paper. But after Grubauer was lifted for making just 18 saves on 22 shots in a 5–4 overtime loss that put the Capitals in a 2–0 series hole heading to Columbus for Game 3, Trotz has no choice but to ride the playoffs out with Holtby, who for his part seemed quite comfortable in the spotless third period he worked.
Just like in Game 1, Columbus trailed by two goals late in the first period, and just like in Game 1, the Blue Jackets cranked up the pressure in the final 30 minutes to take over. The Blue Jackets took advantage of the glove-side demons Grubauer was battling, scoring three unanswered goals that left the 26-year-old netminder double-clutching even some of the pucks he did catch before Holtby took over to start the third period.
Josh Anderson snuck a snap shot through on Grubauer’s short side to cap off a 4-on-2 break-in at 8:49 of the second; then Cam Atkinson took an extra second to collect a cross-ice pass but still roofed it as Grubauer scrambled in vain to slide over at 11:13; then Zach Werenski sent a seeing-eye wrist shot that floated past Grubauer’s left side at 18:52, sealing the decision to send in Holtby after the intermission. Only a late power-play goal from T.J. Oshie forced overtime, and the Capitals needed every one of their three tallies with the man advantage to hang with a Blue Jackets team all too willing to make Grubauer pay for his shaky night.
There were the more typical what-might-have-beens that tend to define most Washington playoff appearances, as well. A power play that took up the final 1:59 regulation went for naught, with John Carlson hitting a post with 21 seconds left. Tom Wilson missed everything with a wide-open one-timer that spoiled an overtime odd-man rush and proved to be the Capitals’ last best chance to split the series heading back to Columbus, as Matt Calvert muscled his way to a putback game-winner 52 seconds later. But everyone in D.C. will be talking about the goalies until the puck drops on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena—this was just not the way the Capitals were hoping to end the controversy.
PENGUINS 5, FLYERS 1
In a game of special teams, the Penguins made the Flyers pay. Pittsburgh went three-for-seven on the man advantage and a perfect four-for-four on the penalty kill to reclaim the series lead in Philadelphia, taking a win in enemy territory that included a record-tying two goals in five seconds as part of a three-goal blitz in the second period. The win marked the sixth time since the start of the 2017-18 season the Penguins posted at least five goals against the Flyers, including twice in three games in the playoffs. Sidney Crosby notched four points in the matinee win, while goalie Matt Murray bounced back from a subpar Game 2 loss, stopping 26 of 27 shots.
WILD 6, JETS 2
After being outshot 84–37 over two games in Winnipeg, the Wild knew they had one chance to change the tone of their first-round series at home before things got out of hand, and they did not waste it. Minnesota touched up Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck for six goals, tripling their total output for the series in one night and slowing the roll of an opponent that looked like the West’s strongest team through the first five days of playoff action. Just as encouraging were the players who pitched in on the scoring, namely Eric Staal, who had been held to just three shots in the first two games after pouring in 42 goals in the regular season, and U.S. Olympic Team standout Jordan Greenway, who rifled home a turnaround wrister for his first NHL goal to put the game out of reach just 20 seconds after Staal’s goal.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS 3, KINGS 2
Vegas has taken every opportunity to get an edge in the goaltending battle that has defined this series. On Sunday night Marc-Andre Fleury remained red-hot, Jonathan Quick let in a soft goal that seemed like window dressing at the time, but proved to be the game-winner and the Golden Knights clamped down in the final moments to win a third-straight one-goal game. After allowing four goals on nine shots in his last playoff appearance with Pittsburgh during the 2017 conference finals, Fleury has now stopped 85 of the 88 shots he’s faced this series.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
There was a lot to process in the immediate aftermath of Game 2 in Washington—the Blue Jackets’ run at franchise history, the Capitals’ crisis of confidence and the offside review that held up the full celebration—but both the national and local announcers caught the skill that it took Matt Calvert to make his one-handed game-winner possible, walling off a defender with his free hand and using his plant leg for stick leverage to lift the puck into the top corner. Ninety-nine percent of the hockey-playing population would only be able to manage a feeble shove of the puck into Holtby’s pads in that situation.
1. Sidney Crosby, PIT — Crosby turned in the type of “Everybody, settle down” performance you might expect out of the captain of the two-time defending champs, with a four-point night that included the game’s first goal and two assists in that five-second sequence that put Philly in a 4–0 hole.
2. Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ — The Capitals set a franchise record for most shots on goal in regulation of a home playoff game and finished with 58 in total. The reigning Vezina winner stopped 54 of them.
3. Mikael Granlund, MIN — Granlund’s creativity along the boards in the offensive end led to both of his points, including a beautiful spin-o-rama pass to Eric Staal at the faceoff dot that make Jets defender Dustin Byfuglien look silly.
The Maple Leafs head back to Toronto after a second-straight loss at the hands of the Bruins searching for answers, specifically how do they stop Boston’s top line? The trio of David Pastrnak (nine points), Patrice Bergeron (five assists) and Brad Marchand (six points) has racked up 20 points through the first two games of the series as the Bruins have outscored the Leafs 12-4. Already without Nazem Kadri (suspension), Toronto must also deal with a potential injury to Leo Komarov, who left Saturday’s matchup with a lower-body injury. All is not lost for the Leafs ahead of Game 3, however. “The good news is, the story isn’t totally written yet,” Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “We’ve got some work to do tomorrow to look after what happened here tonight and continue to improve. We can try to change the story come Monday night.”
Devils coach John Hynes has some options ahead of Game 3, promising lineup changes after falling into a 0-2 hole against the Lightning. While he didn’t reveal his roster for the return to New Jersey, he did say that he’s chosen his starting goalie—but hadn’t told either of his netminders as of Sunday afternoon. Stretch run starter Keith Kinkaid was pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals in a 2:47 span, while Cory Schneider made 10 saves in relief. Either way, New Jersey will be facing a Tampa Bay team that’s clearing feeling the bumps and bruises from the series, as forward Ryan Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi missed time in Game 2.
Game 3 is essentially a must-win for the Avalanche, who are down two games to Nashville as they head back Colorado. The Predators have won their last 12 games against the Avs, and would like to get this series over with as quickly as possible. Though leading the series, Nashville started the first two games much slower than it'd like. The Avs have led in each of the first two games, and they did not let the Preds win easily in Game 2, consistently answering them until the end.
The Sharks are sniffing out a sweep as they return to San Jose. With a 2-0 series lead before ever having home-ice advantage, San Jose certainly has a momentous edge on Anaheim heading into Game 3. But the Ducks were slowly starting to figure out Sharks netminder Martin Jones, who gave up a goal on the first shot he faced in Game 2. Speaking of goalies, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said he is sticking with goaltender John Gibson, even though he has Ryan Miller, who has 28 playoff wins, on his bench.