- The underdog Hurricanes and Avalanche came out with commanding wins at home, while the Predators and Maple Leafs hung on to take their series leads.
Andrei Svechnikov had to know who he was picking a fight with. In most of the 19 years of the Hurricanes rookie and Siberia native’s life, Alex Ovechkin has been Russia’s preeminent hockey superstar. Yet Svechnikov, the youngest player in this year’s playoffs, went looking for a scrap, and he got everything he wanted and much more when the eight-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner dropped the gloves late in the first period and knocked the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft out cold in a matter of seconds.
That fight was a no-contest, but Carolina had the upper hand the rest of the way in an emphatic 5–0 win in Game 3, notifying the defending Stanley Cup champions that their first-round series will be more of a battle than they may have expected when they arrived in Raleigh. Playing their first playoff home game since 2009, the Hurricanes overcame the loss of top-six forwards Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland yet still dictated play, taking over during a one-sided second period in which they outshot the visitors 18–1 (the Caps’ lone shot came with less than five minutes to play in the period) and getting two goals each from Warren Foegele and Dougie Hamilton. Brock McGinn drove in the final nail with a top-corner snipe in the final minutes. In all, the Hurricanes outshot Washington 45–18, leaving goaltender Petr Mrazek with the easiest of his four career playoff shutouts.
Foegele was in the middle of the action all night, dishing out hits, squirreling his way to dangerous areas and frustrating the Capitals’ defense. After Washington roughed up the Canes’ key playmakers in the first two games, making it abundantly obvious which team had spent more time in the playoffs, Carolina responded with a physical statement of its own that may resonate for as long as this series lasts.
Two other Eastern Conference first-round series may be at risk of becoming sweeps, but the Caps will have to earn their way into the conference semis with some pugnacious former Southeast Division rivals blocking their way.
MAPLE LEAFS 3, BRUINS 2
After two games in Boston that were stretched to multi-goal margins by the third period, we finally got some drama in one of the most hotly anticipated series of the first round. Andreas Johnsson’s nifty backhand power-play goal late capped a five-goal second period to set up a tense final 20 minutes, and goalie Frederik Andersen kept his cool in the dying seconds to give Toronto the upper hand with a 3–2 win in Game 3. It was Mitch Marner who made the most memorable saves, throwing himself in front of two David Pastrnak shots just before the horn that sent Scotiabank Arena into hysterical celebration.
PREDATORS 3, STARS 2
Pekka Rinne made 40 saves and got the better of Ben Bishop as the Predators reclaimed home-ice advantage with a 3–2 win in Dallas that was defined by what the two decorated netminders did and didn’t do. Nashville started and ended with the type of greasy goals teams cherish on the road in the playoffs: Early in the second period, Rocco Grimaldi opened the scoring by throwing a soft centering pass toward the slot that was redirected on net and past Bishop. After Filip Forsberg doubled the visitors’ lead with an expert dangle in close quarters, the Stars roared to life, with Tyler Seguin tying things up just before the midpoint of the third period. The Stars nearly took the lead seconds later, but Rinne stoned Jamie Benn with a sprawling leg save. At the other end, Bishop’s second glaring lapse in focus allowed the Predators to take the lead for good when a Mikael Granlund shot from the point skimmed off his blocker and in.
AVALANCHE 6, FLAMES 2
The Avalanche brought all the momentum from their Game 2 heist back to the Pepsi Center, pouring it on the Western Conference’s top seed in a 6–2 win in which contributors new and old got into the act. Nathan MacKinnon built off his overtime winner on Saturday with two power play goals in the first 14 minutes, and rookie Cale Makar, who won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award late last week and played for a national championship with UMass on Saturday night before joining the team that took him fourth overall in 2017, became the fifth player in the expansion era to score a playoff goal in his NHL debut, doing so on his first shot. Matt Nieto, who scored four goals all season, produced a second playoff tally to give Colorado its first four-goal lead.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Rinne’s desperation splits effort to stonewall an unmarked Jamie Benn on the doorstep left a delirious crowd of Stars fans astounded and swung the momentum back to Nashville. Imagine having core muscles that could handle the strain of that split.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, COL — MacKinnon’s one-man, three-goal run between overtime of Game 2 and the first period of Game 3 may have turned the tide in favor of the scrappy underdog Avs.
2. Warren Foegele, CAR — Foegele was everywhere for the outmanned Hurricanes, relentlessly following the puck deep into the offensive zone and coming away with possession from some long-odds puck battles. After scoring the first two goals of the game himself, he provided the critical screen on Hamilton’s first goal and the congestion in front of the net on several other big chances. He needs to continue to be the sneaky-productive energy guy for one of Rod Brind’Amour’s top lines as the Hurricanes consider life without their full complement of forwards.
3. Andreas Johnsson, TOR — The 24-year-old rookie added to his 20-goal, 23-assist regular season by feeding Auston Matthews perfectly for an easy one-timer to break a tie and then slotting home a goal of his own (which happened to be the game-winner) exactly seven minutes later.