On Tap For Today — Montreal at Vegas; 6 pm PDT; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, SN
JACKED UP: Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, Minnesota’s Dean Evason, and Florida’s Joel Quenneville were announced as finalists for the Jack Adams Award, honoring the league’s top coach. The NHL is set to announce the award winners throughout the Stanley Cup Semifinals and Stanley Cup Final, starting today.
WHAT THE HALL: Boston’s Taylor Hall may approach free agency a bit differently this offseason, valuing his fit with a potential team more than a potential salary bump.
GOT THE POWER: The University of Michigan’s Owen Power, a strong candidate to be the top overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, has hinted that he may return to college for his sophomore season.
RE-HAB: Montreal appears to be close to getting a number of injured players back, as Jeff Petry, Jon Merrill, and Jake Evans all traveled with the team for tonight’s Game 1 against Vegas. Though it’s a good sign, interim coach Dominique Ducharme was non-committal to any sort of timetable for the return to game action.
CUTTING IT CLOSE: The Islanders’ 2-1 Game 1 win over Tampa was their fifth one-goal win in the playoffs, one short of the team’s record of six achieved both in 1980 and 1993.
SHOCKING: Lightning coach Jon Cooper called out the team’s mental lapses out after Tampa’s Game 1 loss, lamenting “Our minds weren’t there.” Game 2 is set for Tuesday at 8 pm EDT.
How They Can Win the Cup
With the NHL down to the final four teams competing for a chance to win the Stanley Cup, we thought we would take a look at how each team complete their run.
New York Islanders
The Islanders are out for revenge. Fans are seeing a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, as the Isles take on the Tampa Bay Lightning to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. New York’s general manager, Lou Lamoriello, deserves a ton of credit and has put together a roster that is built for the postseason. They are gritty, detailed in their play, and most importantly disciplined.
New York has a realistic chance of not only beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, but also to win the Stanley Cup. Head coach Barry Trotz is one of the best in the business and his team is playing a well-rounded complete game. The biggest advantage the Islanders have over the Lightning is New York’s disciplined style of play. If they can stay out the penalty box, the Isles increase their chances of winning the game — especially against a team who has scored half of its goals this postseason on the power play.
The acquisition of Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac at the Trade Deadline has been paying dividends, and softened the blow of losing Anders Lee. Each season it is reinforced how crucial the bottom-six forwards are to a playoff team’s success, and the Islanders have one of the best third and fourth lines of the remaining teams. Unlike the Avalanche and Oilers, the Isles are getting scoring up and down their line up. This is not a team depending on one or two guys to provide offensive numbers, as Trotz knows he can confidently roll all four lines — as proven successful in the first two rounds.
New York also has an advantage in the faceoff circle. The Isles’ centers are Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Casey Cizikas. Each of those players have proven to be more than capable in the faceoff circle — and let’s not forget they have veteran Zajac who is more than effective if and when they need him. During the playoffs the Isles have a faceoff win percentage of 51.7, which is better than the Lightning and Canadiens. As possession and clock management become more important as the series goes longer, faceoff wins will become key to giving teams the best chance to succeed.
Not saying that Tampa won’t present a challenge for New York, but the Islanders are clearly up for the task and have a ton of motivation after last year’s postseason matchup. This team is built for the playoffs and, if they stick to the their strengths, there is no doubt they will be competing for the Stanley Cup.
What Went Wrong
Narrowing down the remaining NHL postseason playing field to four division champions means that another four clubs must fall by the wayside. In conjunction with our “In Memoriam” segment, we are using this space to offer some final words to these vanquished hopefuls.
Sad Nathan MacKinnon aside, the Colorado Avalanche will be fine. Even after losing four straight to fall to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6, the Avs will surely dust themselves off and eventually be ready for the 2021-22 season in which they will be on a short list of early Stanley Cup favorites.
No, that probably doesn’t ease the sting of a blown 2-0 series lead for the Presidents’ Trophy winners (the Curse strikes again). In the much-anticipated powerhouse clash for the Honda West Division crown, Colorado sent a message with a 7-1 trouncing in Game 1 and then withstood a spirited response by Vegas with a 3-2 overtime triumph in Game 2. However, with a chance to take a 3-0 series advantage in sight, they coughed up a third-period lead in Game 3 and surrendered all momentum amidst a stunning Vegas revival.
On the positive side, NHL history is littered with teams that had to suffer through heartbreak to reach the sport’s pinnacle — just ask the Washington Capitals about that. While there are questions to be answered about the team’s killer instinct and Nazem Kadri’s inability to keep a cool head in the playoffs, this remains a richly talented roster built for long-term success.
Captain Gabriel Landeskog, starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer, restricted blue chip defenseman Cale Makar, and secondary scoring threat Brandon Saad are all in need of new contracts — but MacKinnon’s bargain contract will help ensure that there is room for the Avs to keep their core in tact and stay the course. Even though the club is likely to lose a valuable piece to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, they have plenty of talent to absorb such a loss.
At the beginning of the season, Colorado was projected to have the sixth-youngest roster in the league. MacKinnon is somehow still only 25 years old and the Avalanche’s enviable cache of young talent that includes Makar, Sam Girard, Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook, and Tyson Jost all stand to only get better.
Yes, the MacKinnon presser was emotional (and confusing). And yes, the Honda West Division was probably more fun when it meant beating up on the Kings, Sharks, and Ducks, than having to face Vegas in Round Two. Still, no one’s going to feel sorry for these Avs when they’re back to beating up on the rest of the league next season.