Two NHL postseason series are knotted at two games each while the other pair of final-eight matchups feature elimination games from here out. The 16th and last team to qualify is one Monday night win from advancing to this spring's Stanley Cup semifinals.
Let's drop the WaFd Bank Weekly Warmup puck to name names.
Colorado, the top overall seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, rocketed to a fast start in the postseason. They dispensed of 2019 Cup champion St. Louis Blues in a four-game sweep during the first round, then beat Vegas twice in home games, including a 7-1 blowout in Game 1.
Following Friday night's 3-2 loss, Colorado head coach Jared Bednar did not spare any feelings of his players. He called the game "a waste of time," despite the one-goal margin of defeat.
Losing a one-goal lead achieved early in the third period Friday will do that to a coach. Vegas notched two goals in 45 seconds with roughly five minutes remaining secured the win.
"For five periods straight, they've been more competitive than we've been," Bednar said during a post-game media conference. "We're kidding ourselves if we think that's the competitiveness we need to beat the team that tied us for first in the league [the Avalanche won the tiebreaker with more regulation wins during the regular season]."
Bednar likely felt a bit better when veteran forward Brandon Saad scored his sixth postseason goal in eight games just 1:50 into the first period. Vegas evened it on a Jonathan Marchessault goal at 7:07.
You could call the first period competitive. But Colorado defensive miscues afforded goals by Max Pacioretty (just 1:11 into the second period) and a second by Marchessault 10 minutes later provided a lead that Vegas padded with two more third-period scores, including a hat-trick third goal by Marchessault that delayed the game several minutes to round up all of the hats tossed to the ice by a raucous, packed home crowd.
Though the series is tied with the home team winning each game so far, the Avalanche look like a team on the ropes and stellar goalie Philipp Grubauer looked a bit slow with the glove hand on the two middle-period goals (easy to say via laptop but he was stopping similar shots in previous games to help Colorado get the two wins and keep it close Friday.
Game 5 is Tuesday. Colorado will be looking to ease Grubauer's workload. The Avs were outshot 83-45 in the weekend losses (even more lopsided with a 3-to-1 ratio during five-on-five play).
Its first line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantenen will have to halt looking pedestrian. MacKinnon, arguably the league's best player in his first six 2021 postseason game, had just two shots on goal and even threw a hard check later second period to find a way to kickstart teammates. Rantenen had three shots and Landeskog didn't have a single one.
FYI on NYI
There is no debating the consistency and winning ways of the Boston Bruins, including three Cup Finals in the last decade and the 2011 Stanley Cup victory. This postseason, they dispensed a solid Washington team in five games and look all the part of a potential Cup winner from the the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak to high-quality defenseman to the highly dependable goalie Tuukka Rask.
New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz is building his own winning culture, which is no surprise to NHL expert observers but nonetheless impressive. The Islanders advanced to final four last summer and tied their series with Boston with Saturday night's 4-1 win.
Former Seattle Thunderbirds stat Mathew Barzal scored the game-winner 13 minutes into the third to break a 1-1 tie. Two late empty-net goals sealed the victory but not before Boston revved up scoring chances in the final minutes.
Two things stand out about the Isles, OK, maybe three.
- Even with a razor-thin one-goal lead, NYI still played aggressive, let's-score-another-one hockey in the last seven minutes.
- Jean-Gabriel Pageau is drawing raves from media members for his work defensively as the always desired "200-foot center" who plays hard in all zones on the ice. But, oh, btw, he leads NYI with 10 postseason points (3 G, 7 A).
- Trotz seems to have mentored and unlocked Barzal's game across all areas. T-Birds faithful tuning in Monday for Game 5 (3:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network) to see for themselves.
Winnipeg Pays the 'Price'
Montreal goalie Carey Price continues to quiet early-season doubters about whether he has the skill set and reflexes at 33 to carry a team in the playoffs. Winnipeg is learning the hard way, down 3-0 in its second-round series.
The Canadiens can be the first time clinching a semifinal berth with a Monday win. Price has clearly outdueled 2020 Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebucyk in the nets.
Price has allowed just four goals on 87 shots (.954 save percentage) over the first three games, a good number of them momentum-killers for a team playing without suspended center Mark Scheifele, who was banned for four games due to a hit on Montreal's Jake Evans at the end of Game 1. Evans is out with a concussion.
If or when there is fourth Montreal win, it moves on to a third-round game against a U.S. team (pairings will decided by season record, 1 plays 4 and 2 plays 3). Over the weekend, Canada's government categorized NHL hockey as an essential service, announcing the all-Canada North division victor will be able to back and forth across the border (same exemption for U.S.-based opponents) provided players are restricted to their hotels and not allowed any interaction with fans.
Tale of Two Goalies
After a pair of 2-1 road losses in the opening two games of Carolina's series with defending Cup champion Tampa Bay, head coach Rod Brind'Amour switched goaltenders from 25-year-old rookie Alex Nedeljkovic to 29-year-old veteran Peter Mrazek. Nedeljkovic played so well during the stretch run of regular season that he is a Calder Trophy nominee for rookie of the year.
Nedeljkovic, a Ron Francis second-round draft choice during the Kraken GM's time with the Hurricanes in the game role, starred in Carolina's first-round, six-game series win over Nashville. But Brind'Amour's switch appeared to work in 3-2 overtime win in Game 3 of the series with Mrazek stopping 35 of 37 shots.
Not so much Saturday, though, when Carolina scored four goals in the second period of Game 4 but the Lightning answered with scores, including a Steven Stamkos powerplay goal with 23 seconds left in the middle 20 minutes.
Brind'Amour told the media he had not yet made a decision on which goaltender will start in Tuesday's matchup (NBC Sports Network, 3:30 p.m.).
Finalists Tabbed for NHL's Willie O'Ree Community Award
Three bonafide social-impact activists were announced as finalists for the league's 2020-21 Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award: Renee Hess, founder of the Black Girl Hockey Club ; Kevin Hodgson, executive director of HEROS (Hockey Education Reaching Out Society); and Howard Smith, co-founder of Pittsburgh I.C.E. (Inclusion Creates Equity).
Each finalist was identified an individual "who through the sport of hockey has positively impacted her/his community, culture or society." The award winner will be determined by fan vote and weighted votes from O'Ree, the NHL and sponsor MassMutual.
Fans are encouraged to start voting today until June 11 at NHL.com/OReeAward. The winner will receive a $25,000 USD prize and the two finalists will each receive a $5,000 USD prize, each of which will be donated to a charity of their respective choice.