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Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz: Capitals begin defense of championship

Host Hurricanes in series opener; Maple Leafs, Bruins face off for second straight year

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Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily in-depth look at the 2019 NHL postseason. Five first-round best-of-7 series began on Wednesday with the other three set to start Thursday.

 

On Tap

There are three games on the schedule on Day 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NESN): Here we go again. The Atlantic Division rivals face off in the Eastern Conference First Round first round for the second straight season. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs in seven games last season and have home-ice advantage again. Boston hasn't made it past the second round since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013. The Maple Leafs are in the playoffs for the third straight season but have not won a series since 2004.

Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVAS2, NBCSWA, FS-CR): The Capitals begin defense of their Stanley Cup title against one of the biggest surprise teams in the playoffs. The Hurricanes, under first-year coach Rod Brind'Amour, qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2009, when they were swept in the Eastern Conference Final by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals lost the first two games in last season's playoffs, but won their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games en route to the Stanley Cup.

Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, ALT): The Flames had the best record in the Western Conference and will play the Avalanche who finished as the second wild card. Colorado is one of the hottest teams in the League heading into the playoffs. The Avalanche went 8-1-2 in their final 11 games of the regular season; the regulation loss came after they clinched a playoff berth.

 

About Last Night

There were five games on the schedule Wednesday:

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3: The Blue Jackets scored four straight goals to stun the Presidents' Trophy winners and take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference First Round. Seth Jones scored a power-play goal with 5:55 remaining to break the 3-3 tie for the Blue Jackets, who trailed by three goals after Yanni Gourde's goal 17:50 into the first period. Nick Foligno, David Savard and Josh Anderson scored for the Blue Jackets. Sergei Bobrovsky made 26 saves and stopped the final 17 shots he faced.

St. Louis Blues 2, Winnipeg Jets 1: Tyler Bozak scored the tiebreaking goal with 2:05 remaining in the third period and the Blues took a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference First Round. Bozak scored from the right hash marks after receiving a pass from Pat Maroon behind Winnipeg's net. Rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, who made 24 saves in his first start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, stopped Mark Scheifele with his right pad on a one-timer from the left circle with 13 seconds remaining.

New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3 (OT): Josh Bailey scored 4:39 into overtime to give the Islanders a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference First Round. Bailey put a shot into a half-empty net after he picked up the rebound of a shot off the post by Mathew Barzal. The goal after came Pittsburgh's Justin Schultz tied the game 3-3 with 1:29 left in the third period.

Dallas Stars 3, Nashville Predators 2: Stars rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen scored and had an assist to help Dallas win its opener in the Western Conference First Round. Mats Zuccarello, playing in just his third game with Dallas after being acquired by the Stars from the New York Rangers on Feb. 23, scored the game-winner midway through the third period.  

San Jose Sharks 5, Vegas Golden Knights 2: Joe Pavelski scored a goal off his face and Brent Burns scored a 3-on-3 goal to help the Sharks take Game 1 of their rematch with the Golden Knights, which defeated San Jose in the Western Conference Second Round last season in six games. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl scored for San Jose. Erik Karlsson, playing his first postseason game for San Jose, had two assists. Mark Stone scored two goals in his first playoff game for the Golden Knights.

Video: Jones, Sharks top Fleury, Golden Knights in Game 1

 

What we learned

Here are some takeaways from Day 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

 

Blue Jackets can grind on the Lightning

The Blue Jackets had no forecheck or physicality, especially on the walls, in the first period and trailed 3-0. Once they established their forecheck in the second period, they started to grind on the Lightning, chip away and create scoring chances by using their legs and well-positioned sticks. They need to stick to that approach if they're going to win three more games against Tampa Bay, the NHL's best team during the regular season.

 

Lightning must be smarter with lead

Lightning coach Jon Cooper's reasoning for why his team lost Game 1 makes sense. Instead of trying to protect the three-goal lead they built in the first period by playing smart and making the simple plays to keep the puck in the offensive zone and the Blue Jackets on their heels, the Lightning tried to make things happen that they didn't need to make happen. For example, defenseman Ryan McDonagh trying to make a cross-ice diagonal pass through traffic to set up Erik Cernak for a one-timer. The smarter play would have been for McDonagh to either shoot the puck or get it deep. Instead, the pass was tipped and Nick Foligno went in for a breakaway goal that cut Tampa Bay's lead to 3-1. The Lightning's killer instinct when they build a big lead should be to lock down the win, not to think about a blowout. They were guilty of the latter Wednesday.

 

Blues foundation is rock solid

The surge by St. Louis in the second half of the season wasn't accomplished with flash and dash but rather with structure and repeatable, reliable plays, especially defensively. The Blues started Game 1 against the Jets a little nervous and absorbed some heavy hits. Most important, they carried on, never appeared overwhelmed and stayed in the game until the opportunity to win arrived in the third period. A dose of strong goaltending from rookie Jordan Binnington didn't hurt, either. That's the makeup of a team built for playoff success. Now that the first game is complete, you'd have to think the Blues only get better from here.

Video: Binnington, Bozak lead Blues by Jets late in Game 1

 

Jets don't need to change much

Apart from capitalizing on their quality chances, the Jets insist they don't need to change much against the Blues. The expected tight style was evident in Game 1 (shots on goal were 26-25 in favor of St. Louis), as was the physical play. Patrik Laine scored with a perfect shot in the first period and Winnipeg had at least a half-dozen other quality looks that Binnington stopped, including Mark Scheifele's one-timer from the left circle with 13 seconds remaining in the third period. Laine and Byfuglien also hit goal posts. If just one of those other chances goes in, the result could have changed.

 

Penguins diversify lineup

The Penguins put three of their four best offensive forwards on different lines in Game 1 against the Islanders. Center Sidney Crosby, who had 100 points during the regular season, played with Jake Guentzel, who scored 40 goals, and Bryan Rust. Evgeni Malkin, who had 72 points, centered the second line, which featured Patric Hornqvist and Jared McCann. Malkin scored a goal, had an assist and a team-high six shots. Phil Kessel, who had 82 points in 82 regular-season games, played wing on the third line with Nick Bjugstad and Dominik Simon. That line managed 10 shots, five by Kessel, who had a goal and an assist.

 

Kuhnhackl makes his case with Islanders

Josh Bailey may have scored the overtime goal for the Islanders in Game 1 against Pittsburgh, but it's easy to make the argument that Tom Kuhnhackl was their best forward. It was apparent early that Kuhnhackl, who won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, had some extra jump in his step, as evidenced by his first shift when he had a goal disallowed for offsides on a wrist shot from the left circle. He had another disallowed 1:12 into overtime. Coach Barry Trotz had to decide whether to play Kuhnhackl or rookie forward Michael Dal Colle in Game 1; Kuhnhackl certainly made his case to stay in the lineup.

 

Predators power play still struggling

The Predators went 0-for-4 with the man-advantage against Dallas, carrying over their issues from the regular season, when they were last in the NHL at 12.9 percent. Their final chance came with 4:52 left in the game; they even pulled goalie Pekka Rinne for most of it but could not tie the game. Nashville must figure out a way to score with the extra man as this series progresses.

 

Stars respond after sluggish start

The Stars didn't look good in the first period, but they were quicker and more aggressive through the final two periods. Coach Jim Montgomery said Dallas looked nervous in the first; that's not a complete surprise, given that this is their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016. Whether something was said in the locker room or the Stars just realized it was time to regroup, they did so.

 

Jones doesn't need to be story for Sharks

The biggest key for the Sharks entering the Western Conference First Round against the Golden Knights appeared to be goaltending. Martin Jones had poor numbers this season overall and in his career against Vegas (3.44 goals-against average, .897 save percentage), especially compared with Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The best way to solve that is to protect Jones and cut down on Grade A scoring chances. Jones made a big save late in the third period, stopping forward Reilly Smith on a breakaway, but for the most part he had a quiet night as the Sharks smothered the Golden Knights in all three zones and outshot them 33-26.

 

Golden Knights can look bad against Sharks

Games between Vegas and San Jose have tended to be lopsided wins by the Golden Knights or nail-biters. In the Western Conference Second Round last season, the Golden Knights won 7-0, lost 4-3 in two overtimes, won 4-3 in overtime, lost 4-0, won 5-3 and won 3-0. This season, they won 6-0, lost 3-2, won 7-3 and lost 4-3 in overtime. A 5-2 loss in Game 1 was like that 4-0 loss in the second round last year, a shellacking by San Jose. "I think it was us," Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore said. "We shot ourselves in the foot. We didn't play our style. We didn't play our game. That's something we have to refocus and get back to."

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