May 26 — Gretzky, Goals & Playoffs Past

Tuesday’s Toe Drags

LIFE GOALS: William Nylander’s second period goal in the Maple Leafs’ 4-0 Game 4 win over Montreal made him the fifth player in NHL history to score in four consecutive playoff games. Shortly thereafter Joe Thornton notched one of his own, becoming the oldest player in Toronto history to record a playoff point in the process.

GREAT CALL: Wayne Gretzky has left his role with the Oilers and announced that he’ll join TNT as a lead studio analyst next season. While we’re on the subject of play-by-play announcers, ESPN, it’s time to get on the phone with Gary Thorne.

SAVES FIT FOR A KING: Team USA goalie (and 26-year-old Kings prospect) Cal Petersen made 18 saves in the team’s 3-0 win against Kazakhstan in the IIHF World Championship on Tuesday. It was the Waterloo, Iowa native’s first career international shutout.

JORDAN-ESQUE: Jordan Staal’s overtime heroics capped a wild Game 5 between Carolina and Nashville, in which the Hurricanes’ Martin Necas and Predators’ Yakov Trenin each had two goals.

Whacky Wednesday — Playoff Edition

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a completely different animal than the regular season — it is nearly impossible to predict and anticipate what will happen. Fans are guaranteed great hockey, but there is always a chance we will see some crazy headlines and, in one case, the start of a new franchise tradition. Let’s enjoy a trip down memory lane as we recall some of the craziest things to happen in postseasons past.

Wave the White Flag 

Chicago Stadium 1982, Vancouver was facing off against the Blackhawks in Game 2 of the Clarence Campbell Conference Finals, and things were not going well for the visiting Canucks on the ice.  They were losing on the scoreboard and Vancouver head coach Roger Neilson was becoming increasingly irritated by the skewed refereeing by Bob Myers. Neilson decided to grab a hockey stick and put a towel on the end to create a DIY white flag to wave in surrender. Although Neilson was ejected from the game but the iconic moment will always be remembered. The Canucks debuted a statue of Neilson with his make shift flag in hand to celebrate Vancouver’s towel power in 2011. 

A Coach in the Crease?

Sometimes drastic measures must be taken in order to have a chance to win a Cup. In 1928, the New York Rangers were battling the Montreal Maroons in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final when the Rangers goaltender, Lorne Chabot, had to leave the game midway through the second period after suffering an eye injury. Without emergency goaltenders back in those days, head coach Lester Patrick decided to suit up and play goalie for the rest of the game. His legendary words to his team were — “Boys, don’t let an old man down.” Patrick, who was 44 years old at the time, made 19 saves to help his team win the game in overtime. Could you imagine D.J. Smith — the Ottawa Senators head coach — suiting up for a game? Me neither. 

When the Lights Go Out

It seems that the power always goes out at inopportune moments. I can’t think of a worse time than late in the second period of a tied 3-3 game in a Stanley Cup Final. In 1988, the Bruins hosted the Oilers and the power went out during Game 4 in the Boston Garden when an overloaded transformer outside the building tripped another switch, completely shutting down the main power. This caused the series to shift back to Edmonton, who had a 3-0 series lead, to play Game 5 as though it were Game 4. What really makes this a whacky story is that two years later these same two teams were again battling at Boston Garden and there was another outage. The Oilers ultimately won the Cup both times.

Empty Playoff Arenas

Thanks to COVID-19, fans were unable to experience the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The weirdest part was seeing the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisting the Stanley Cup in an empty arena while FaceTiming their families on their phones. Thankfully, most arenas have fans in some capacity, but they are still missed in Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg — especially this postseason. Imagine the energy inside Scotiabank Arena or Bell Centre for this first round matchup or when the Jets miraculously came back in Game 3! The energy inside Bell MTS Place would have been indescribable.

What Went Wrong

In the words of Ferris Bueller — “Life comes at you pretty fast.” It feels like the NHL playoffs just started and already teams are falling by the wayside. The postseason is a time of year when much of the focus is placed on looking ahead and celebrating those teams that remain in Cup contention. However, in the spirit of our new “In Memoriam” segment, we are going to offer some final words on these first round casualties.

Washington Capitals

When the NHL playoffs kicked off, fans had the MassMutual East Division heavyweight clash between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins circled as a matchup to watch. Alexander Ovechkin vs David Pastrnak, Tom Wilson vs Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara vs his former club — there were no shortage of intriguing storylines to add further layers to a series between two talented, playoff-tested rosters.

The fact that four overtime periods were needed to decide the first three games of this contentious series wasn’t surprising. However, Washington bowing out meekly in five games and being outscored 7-2 over the final two games, definitely was. Whether it was fatigue on the part of the Caps, or discouragement after Game 3 ended in double overtime when goaltender Ilya Samsonov enraged Ovechkin by coughing up the puck behind his own net, the 2018 Stanley Cup Champions just looked defeated.

In hindsight, the series might have been over before it even started for the Capitals. The club found itself mired in countless distractions heading into the postseason. Wilson’s highly-publicized takedown of New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin brought unwelcome questions and headlines, while Evgeny Kuznetsov and Samsonov got themselves into hot water — along with Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov – by failing to adhere to COVID protocols and showing up late for a mandatory team function.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

All that doesn’t even include a public questioning of Kuznetsov’s effort level by GM Brian MacLellan back in January, raising questions about the skilled Russian center’s future with the organization.

The five-game series loss to Boston brought back memories of a pre-2018 playoff history that Washington probably doesn’t want to remember. In the nine seasons prior to winning the Cup, the Capitals topped 100 regular season points six times, and won the Presidents’ Trophy three times, but could never advance past the second round.

With Kuznetsov’s status up in the air and Ovechkin awaiting a new contract, change could be afoot in the nation’s capital. If the Capitals do make one more run with their current roster, anything short of a Stanley Cup would be considered a failure.