- The Penguins, Lightning and Predators are one win away from the second round—where they'll join the Sharks, fresh off a sweep of the rival Ducks.
If you like blowouts, you might want to catch Game 5 of Penguins-Flyers on Friday.
Given the way the Penguins have played in their three wins, nobody should expect the Flyers to send it back to Philadelphia, even after they won Game 2 in Pittsburgh by a lopsided 5-1 margin. As good and efficient as the Flyers’ were offensively in that contest—five goals on just 20 shots—the Penguins have been even scarier in the other three, winning them by a combined 16 goals. The catalyst has been none other than Sidney Crosby, who passed Mario Lemieux for the all-time Penguins record for playoff points (173) with an assist in the first period and a goal in the second on Wednesday. The tally was Crosby’s fifth of the series and the assist was his fourth.
“A lot of his records aren’t going to be touched,” Crosby said of Lemieux. “The fact that I can be close to him and around that one, I guess I’ve been fortunate to play in a number of playoff games helps a lot.”
Crosby has won three Cups in Pittsburgh, which surpasses Lemieux’s total. Much of the team's success can be credited directly to the two-time Hart Trophy trophy winner. Crosby’s nine playoff points have him tied for the league lead, and he shows no signs of slowing down. He registered 27 playoff points in 24 games a year ago en route to his second Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s ahead of that pace and paving the way for a third postseason MVP honor if Pittsburgh races its way through the Eastern Conference bracket and into the Stanley Cup Final yet again. The playoffs have barely begun, but the Penguins appear to be in late postseason form—and it’s not just Crosby.
Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang all found twine in Game 4, and Matt Murray has given up just one goal in the Penguins’ three victories. All four players have been key contributors to the Penguins’ most recent dynasty. Though Murray gave up four goals in Game 2, he still holds a blistering .948 save percentage through four playoff games. Malkin bested Crosby’s playoff point total by one last year and has added a quality five points this time around. Kessel and Letang add veteran leadership and experience that is vital to any roster this time of year.
On the back end, Brian Dumoulin has been solid defensively and offensively. He’s second on the team in both plus/minus and points, behind only Crosby in both categories. Pittsburgh’s play from top to bottom is giving fans of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions optimism that their team is once again peaking at the right time.
LIGHTNING 3, DEVILS 2
The Devils, fresh off a solid 5-2 victory in Game 3, appeared to be off to another great start in Game 4. A win would have knotted the series and sent the Lightning back to Tampa Bay with the pressure on. But the game took a turn halfway through the first frame.
New Jersey earned a 5-on-3 advantage when Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn and Cedric Pacquette were sent to the box. The Devils capitalized on Kyle Palmieri’s rocket of a one-timer over Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevsky’s right shoulder. Still on the power play, the Devils had a chance to pull even further ahead in front of a reverberating home crowd. Instead, Tampa Bay killed the penalty and closed the period with a pair of tallies from J.T. Miller and Nikita Kucherov. Jon Cooper’s club played a stifling style of play the rest of the way, only allowing five New Jersey shots on goal in the second period. The Devils doubled that total in the third, but Vasilevsky stood tall and slammed the door shut. Kucherov added an empty-netter, and instead of heading home with their backs against the wall, he and his teammates have a chance to eliminate the Devils on Saturday.
PREDATORS 3, AVALANCHE 2
Everything came easy for Nashville in the first two periods. Filip Forsberg scored another highlight reel goal in the first and Colton Sissons and Craig Smith added goals in the second to give the Predators a 3-0 advantage heading into the third. But the game was much closer than the 40-minute margin suggested. It would get even closer. Ryan Hartman and Sissons took simultaneous minors for the Predators, and Gabriel Landeskog made them pay with a 5-on-3 goal. Alexander Kerfoot scored six minutes later, leaving Colorado half the period to complete the three-goal comeback. Nashville wouldn’t let it happen. The Preds found the dominance they displayed during the first two frames and rode it to a huge victory in enemy territory.
SHARKS 2, DUCKS 1
Many had completely written Anaheim off after the Sharks dismantled the Ducks, 8-1, in Game 3. But with all odds against them and facing elimination on the road in Game 4, the Ducks came to play with competitiveness and tenacity—it simply just wasn’t enough. The Sharks jumped out to an early lead just over five minutes into action, but Anaheim stayed within reach. A scoreless second period left 20 minutes for the Ducks to survive another day. Andrew Cogliano did what he could to will the series back to Anaheim for Game 5 with a goal midway through the third. But Tomas Hertl responded less than two minutes later to regain San Jose’s lead, which the Sharks would not relinquish. Martin Jones was a big reason why. With the fans inside SAP Center sensing a sweep, Jones gave them reason to cheer each time he swatted away the Ducks’ bids to knot the game and send it to overtime.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Filip Forsberg just can’t be stopped—ask the Avalanche defensemen, who don’t seem to have any answers for him.
1. Sidney Crosby, PIT — Any time you pass Mario Lemieux in the record book, it’s a good night on the ice. Though Crosby’s goal seemed routine and simple, not every player has the keen forechecking ability and awareness to sneak the puck in on the short side the way he did. That’s why he’s Sidney Crosby.
2. Eastern Conference goalies — Andrei Vasilevsky and Matt Murray shined in the night’s two Eastern Conference games. Vasilevsky recorded 27 saves in a game in which the Devils had plenty of chances to even the series. Murray stopped 26 shots in his shutout victory in a rout of the Flyers.
3. Martin Jones, SJS — The Sharks moved their way into the second round on the shoulders of Jones, who denied 30 of the 31 shots he faced. Jones only allowed four goals in the four-game sweep of the Ducks.
The Bruins looked unbeatable in the first two games in Boston. When the series shifted to Toronto, the B’s suddenly looked far more vulnerable. After scoring five goals in Games 1 and seven in Game 2, Boston managed to produce just two in Game 3. As the Bruins’ offense cooled off, Toronto’s heated up to the tune of four goals—all of which came from heavy hitters in the lineup. Patrick Marleau scored twice, Auston Matthews finally registered a point in the series with his goal and James van Riemsdyk popped another. In addition to those players continuing to manufacture scoring chances, the Leafs will need to tame the Bruins’ first line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand if they want to head back to Boston all even. That trio has combined for 20 points thus far. If they go off for more, the series is all but over.
After avoiding a catastrophic 0-3 hole with a double overtime victory on Tuesday, the Capitals have a chance to level the series with Columbus and earn their home ice advantage back. Washington’s victory came with loads of luck—Lars Eller’s 2OT goal pinballed off himself and Blue Jackets’ defenseman Zach Werenski before trickling past the goal line. Luck is openly welcomed in a series as tight as this one, with all three games having been decided after regulation time. Braden Holtby, who boasts a .930 save percentage in the one and a half games he’s played in the series, surely would like for Alex Ovechkin and company to get the job done in 60 minutes. But Artemi Panarin, who paces the Jackets with seven playoff points, has similar plans for his netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who has a sporty .925 save percentage of his own in the series. Another close contest in Game 4 shouldn’t surprise anybody.