New York Islanders star Mathew Barzal started off a bit slow in this postseason with three points in the opening round six-game series against Pittsburgh. Facing Boston in the second round, the former Seattle Thunderbird forward heated up with six points in Games 2 through 5 as the Isles took command of the series.
Barzal opened the scoring for his team and the series versus defending champion Tampa Bay. Barzal took a stretch pass delivered with zip by Josh Bailey, outpaced TBL defenseman Jan Rutta and scored between the leg pads of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy with Rutta practically riding his back.
Not pretty, especially with Barzal almost sliding between Tampa's Vezina Trophy nominee in net. But it's another step to the clutch performer NYI coach Barry Trotz is mentoring the 24-year-old Barzal to be at playoff time.
Game 1 Numbers to Note
Barzal's goal was his fourth in the last five games after not scoring in the first eight contests of this postseason. His teammate, defenseman Ryan Pulock, scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal five-plus minutes into the third period to put the Islanders up 2-0.
Pulock's goal is his fourth of the playoffs too. Three have been game-winning goals, not bad for a player who has scored seven goals in 49 postseason appearances. The 2013 first-round draft choice (15th overall) had two goals in the just completed 56-game regular season.
In goal, Semyon Varlamov has won four straight starts, finishing off Boston and now getting the jump on Tampa Bay. The Lightning didn't score until its 31st shot on goal with 52 seconds remaining, which happened to also be TBL's last shot.
Varlamov was hovering at the minus-4 range in the Goals Saved Above Expected the last time WaFd Weekly Warmup checked in with goalie advanced. He's at 3.1 now and trending up-basically making saves he's not expected to make. He made several of those type of saves late in both the second and third periods Sunday.
Answering the 'Caul'
At the 2019 NHL Draft, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was ecstatic post-first round while talking with friends in the lobby of the headquarters hotel. His night resulted in picking forward Cole Caulfield at No. 15 overall.
While any number of scouts and media members judged Caulfield too small at 5-foot-7 and maybe 160 pounds to be picked that high, Bergevin saw a 72-goal scorer in juniors during his draft-eligible rule. Two years later, the 20-year-old Caulfield is teaming with 21-year-old Nick Suzuki as leading catalysts-props to veteran star goalie Carey Price-to spark a surprising and deep playoff run for the Canadiens.
Caulfield didn't dress for the first two games of the Toronto first-round series, then assisted on Suzuki's overtime game-winning-goal in Game 5 (stealing a pass in his team's defensive zone to start the play) and drew a penalty with a dazzling move behind Toronto's net in Game 6 that resulted in the goal that proved the margin of victory and clinched the series. The same two MTL forwards connected on Suzuki's OT winner in Game 4 of Round 2 to sweep Winnipeg.
Caulfield broke the U.S. National Development Team single-season record with those 72 junior goals. Who did he replace in the record books? Auston Matthews, who led the NHL in goals this past season.
Two years at NCAA Wisconsin were equally productive. He averaged a point per game as a freshman in the rugged Big 10 conference, then upped it to 1.5 points per game this past season and led college in goals scored with 30 in 31 games, plus 22 assists and five game-winning goals.
What has turned heads and proved Bergvin and his Montreal hockey ops group prescient is Caulfield's commitment to defending when the other team has the puck and his instinct to be a playmaker, especially when linemates Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli are open, rather than skate with a shoot-first mentality.
Vegas in View
Everyone watching Vegas (No. 2 overall record during regular season) and Montreal (18th best record, qualified due to divisional setup) is making assumption that the West division rep will look to be physical with Caulfield and Suzuki. Another assumption is Vegas easily wins the series.
But VGK head coach Peter DeBoer is not in the this-is-over-before-it-starts camp. He told reporters Saturday "You're foolish if you look at their [regular-season] record and make a judgment."
DeBoer has his reasons: "Their last [seven] games, [three] against Toronto after they were down 3-1 and their four against Winnipeg, they've been lights out, they've gone to another level,"DeBoer said.
Game 1 in Vegas is Monday (6 p.m., NBC Sports Network). Expect the aforementioned Price and fellow veteran Marc-Andre Fleury in goal. Both are playing at high levels, even for them.
Both teams are deep in lines and defensive pairings. Sixteen different Vegas players have scored during postseason; Montreal features 12 goal scorers.
Suzuki was drafted by Vegas at No. 13 overall in the 2017 Draft, then packaged him in a trade deal with Montreal to bring former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty (2015-18) to the Golden Knights. Pacioretty, who scored 26 goals during the regular season, missed the first six playoff games due to injury, but has now scored four goals and added four assists in seven games.
Montreal has some X-factor players who can make a difference even if they don't dent the scoring sheet as often as playoff leading scorers Toffoli and Joel Arnia, including defensive shutdown center Philip Denault and veteran alternate captain Brendan Gallagher. It promises to be fun if Montreal can keep shutting down opposing top scorers as done in Rounds 1 and 2 against Toronto and Winnipeg.
Games to Watch This Week (as in All)
Here's the full schedule for remaining games in the Stanley Cup semifinals (NYI leads TBL, 1-0; asterisk = if necessary for best-of-seven outcome):
Vegas Golden Knights (No. 1 among remaining teams) vs. Montreal Canadiens (4)
Monday, June 14, 6 p.m.: Canadiens at Golden Knights | NBC Sports Network
Wednesday, June 16, 6 p.m.: Canadiens at Golden Knights | NBCSN
Friday, June 18, 5 p.m.: Golden Knights at Canadiens | USA
Sunday, June 20, 5 p.m.: Golden Knights at Canadiens | NBCSN
*Tuesday, June 22, 6 p.m.: Canadiens at Golden Knights | NBCSN
*Thursday, June 24, 5 p.m.: Golden Knights at Canadiens | USA
*Saturday, June 26, 5 p.m.: Canadiens at Golden Knights | NBCSN
Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs. New York Islanders (3)
Tuesday, June 15, 5 p.m.: Islanders at Lightning | NBCSN
Thursday, June 17, 5 p.m.: Lightning at Islanders | NBCSN
Saturday, June 19, 5 p.m.: Lightning at Islanders | USA
*Monday, June 21, 5 p.m.: Islanders at Lightning | USA
*Wednesday, June 23, 5 p.m.: Lightning at Islanders | NBCSN
*Friday, June 25, 5 p.m.: Islanders at Lightning | NBCSN