It's the most wonderful time of the year! Playoff hockey is underway and we've already had some great games and great goaltending performances. By now, most teams have already played two games. Let's take a look at the action that happened from Opening Night through Saturday, April 14.
Connor Hellebyuck stopped 18 of 20 in his first ever playoff appearance, tallying the first ever playoff win in Winnipeg Jets franchise history (sort of...). He didn't have too much work but looked calm and collected when called upon, bailing his defenseman out with a big blocker save with the game still scoreless. Blocker saves don't look quite as cool as snagging the puck out of the air with your glove but this is a big save in a big spot and Hellebyuck made it look easy. He followed it up with anther cool 16 of 17 performance in game 2, losing his shutout on a redirect off a skate in the final minute of play. The Jets look scary.
On the other end, Devan Dubnyk was peppered with 40 shots and made an impressive 37 stops including this beauty, once again, with the score tied at 0. He looked really solid in the first game. Dubnyk held off the onslaught in Game 2 for the first 28:41 of game time until he got caught leaning into a VH and opened up the far side. Doobs continued to keep the Wild in the game and it was almost another full 20 minutes before the Jets got on the board again. He stopped 40 of 44 in the game. His efforts may not matter much if the Wild can't keep the puck out of their own zone.
Elsewhere, the Flyers goaltenders struggled against the March of the Penguins, who tallied 7 in Game 1 while making it look pretty easy. Murray stopped all 24 shots against and preserved his shutout with a nice diving stop. Meanwhile the Flyers goaltending duo allowed 7 goals on just 33 shots. I must say, not all of this was the goaltenders fault as Elliott got hung out to dry most of the first period, but neither goalie was without fault either as Elliott looked like he wasn't tracking the puck very well. He got out in front and opened up on Malkin's backhander here with large shuffle steps. On the first goal he punched a rebound right out in front then struggled to locate the puck through the screen.
If you want an idea of how badly the Flyers were outplayed in Game 1, Check out these Shot Charts courtesy of hockeyviz.com.
Game 2 was a completely different story as Elliott was locked in, stopping 34 of 35 in the win. He looked like a completely different goaltender in Game 2 - calm, collected, and controlled - and made a number of nice saves to keep the Flyers up throughout the game. Any time you can rob the best player in the game and make it look easy, you know you're having a great game.
Fleury vs Quick seems to be the best goaltending showdown in the first round. The two dueled in Game 1 to a 1-0 final. Quick stopped 20 of 21 and Fleury turned away all 24 to earn the Golden Knights their first ever playoff victory. As predicted, Fleury looks like he has come to play in these playoffs.
Quick put together an absolute classic in Game 2, stopping 54 of 56 (you read that right) including too many great saves to count. Quick was so good that he made Fleury's incredible effort on the other end look pedestrian. Vegas is up 2 games to none heading to Las Angeles. Let's hope the Kings can get back in this one so we can enjoy more of these two.
Quick still seems to be overusing that paddle-down sliding move. He used it well in tight to stop this shot and made a few more saves with it throughout the game. I can't help but wonder if the Knights will pick up on this and be a little more patient in the next game to exploit some open room upstairs or try to move the puck around Quick who is inhibiting his ability to adjust and track a pass from that position.
I'm going to give Fleury extra credit for this stop here. Too often, I've seen goalies in that exact situation dive out of the way or give up on the play looking to draw the interference call. Fleury didn't leave it up to chance, righting himself and coming up with a big stop in a one goal game.
Anderson looked locked in early in game 1. His energy was high and he made a few nice stops early (get some, Freddy) on, but as the game went on it looked like he was almost too jacked up. A pass out in front from the corner had him on his stomach flailing and the third shot just beat him straight by his blocker from a top-of-the-circles wrister. I don't know if I'd consider the 5th goal an RVH fail but Anderson got caught never really transitioned fully into the RVH but it looked like he wanted to for a split second. He never got squared up to Krejci and began cheating over, expecting the pass out in front, and it burned him.
On the other end of the ice, Rask stopped 26 of 27 in Game 1 and looked solid in the process. Not much to say for Rask as he didn't have too much tough work but came up with the stops when the Bs needed him.
The bleeding continued to Game 2 where the Bruins lit the lamp seven times behind the Leafs Goaltenders. Anderson and Curtis McLhinney might see David Pastranak in their nightmares as the Bruins forward netted three goals for himself and helped on three more as well. Freddy looked a bit wild on the first goal, got hung out on the second, and got a flukey bounce on the third. That was all she wrote for him as three of the first five shots on goal found the back of the net. McLhinney didn't fare much better, kicking out a juicy rebound on the 4th goal.
The fifth goal seemed to be a wake-up call for the Leafs who turned it on to net 2 in the second period but Rask stood tall and made a number of nice stops to keep them out of reach. He stopped 30 of 33 overall and has looked strong early in the Postseason.
In Tampa, Keith Kinkaid looked pretty solid in his first career playoff start. The Lightning scored 3 goals in the first 22 minutes of game time but the Devils defense left him out to dry on all three. New Jersey tightened up on Defense and was able to stop the bleeding until Alex Killorn threw a twisted wrister off the bar just over halfway through the 3rd. Kinkaid stopped 27 of 31 including a few nice stops through traffic. He got chased in Game 2 after allowing five goals on 15 shots and we got to see Cory Schneider debut his new CCM E-Flex 3s. All of the goals came in tight and Kinkaid didn't necessarily play poorly, but the Devils are going to need their goalies to make a few of those stops if they want to have a chance against the Lightning. Schneider stopped all ten shots he faced including this beauty. I would assume it will be his net to lose from here on out. I do think this gives them the edge in net heading home to Newark.
Andrei Vasilevskiy had a bit of an easier go of it. He stopped 29 of 31, including a few nice stops, but was kicking rebounds out in front all night. I couldn't help but think what the score would have been if the Devils offense was just a bit better or the Lightning defense wasn't so great at clearing those rebounds out of harms way for Vasilevskiy. Vas' rebound control may not be an issue until the second round where the Lightning will face a stronger offense in either Boston or Toronto.
In Game 2, Vas got caught reaching in on Sami Vatanen's wrister from the high slot and Brent Coleman's clapper from around the same spot and his rebounds continued to pile up. The story of the next two games will be how much better is the Lightning offense compared to Schneider than the Devils offense compared to Vasilevskiy. If the Devils can put up three or more, you have to think Schneider may be able to keep the Devils in it enough for them to steal a game or two.
Pekka Rinne's great play from the regular season carried over to the first postseason game where he stopped 25 or 27 including this beauty, stoning Gabriel Landeskog to keep the Preds within 1 and this vintage Rinne glove save with the game tied at 2. Rinne's will to battle for the puck no matter how flukey a play or how down and out he seems was on display here and here.
Bernier whiffed on a sharp angle shot then over-committed on the second goal (driving past the puck and squaring up to the shooter) on what would have been an admittedly difficult save either way. I've watched the third goal about ten times and I'm still unsure what exactly happened or what Bernier was doing. It looks like he thought the puck was going wide and gave up on it. Again, it would have been no easy save either way but Bernier not moving at all certainly didn't help the situation. We have to give credit where credit is due as this save was textbook and he made it look easy, tracking the puck all the way across the ice, staying patient on his feet and reacting into the shot.
In Game 2, Bernier and Rinne battled it out in the first period, trading big saves before the scoring opened up in the second. The game ended 5-4 with both goalies allowing 4 goals. Each goal looked like a legit scoring chance and there was traffic in front of Rinne all night. Considering how many opportunities both of them turned away throughout the game, it looks like the game could have gotten out of hand for either team had Rinne and Bernier not been so sharp.
John Gibson made his return WWE Royal Rumble style and got the start for Game 1. He made 31 saves on 34 shots. Some great. He was also back to his crazy athletic self and I can't fault him for any of the 3 goals the Sharks put up on him. Here's an interesting article regarding John Gibson's durability. One interesting fact out of the article is that Gibson started every single game he was healthy enough to dress for. If he's healthy, he'll be in net.
At the other end of the ice, Martin Jones was a rock. He stopped all 25 of the shots he saw and there were just too many great saves to link to them all. Luckily NHL.com did a nice montage of his performance. In the Playoff Previews I said that Martin Jones might be the best goalie in the West and he started out the postseason with the best performance so far.
In Game 2, Jones whiffed on the first goal but stood tall the rest of the way, ultimately stopping 28 of 30 including this huge stop against Corey Perry late in the game with the net empty, fighting through traffic and controlling the rebound with four Ducks right next to him waiting to bang any loose pucks home.
Gibson caught a tough bounce off the boards on the first goal and didn't have much of a chance on the other two that beat him. Remember in the Western Conference Playoff Preview when I said that Gibson is capable of making saves that few in the world can make? Here's one.
Phillipp Grubauer got the start for Washington, his second playoff start in his career. He stopped 23 of 27. He had a few minor gaffs and it will be interesting to see if the Caps stick with him in Game 2. On the second goal, the pass went right through his crease. That crease is the goalie's area, no puck should be getting through uninhibited like that. The RVH didn't allow him much push across and he ended with some sort of flailing motion that brought his pad up off the ice and allowed the puck to sneak through. On the game-tying goal, Grubauer stops at the body of Seth Jones. Jones is a right handed shooter and he opened the puck up to his forehand to shoot which opened up the short side on Grubauer. It is important to be conscience of the handedness of the shooter receiving the pass as it will drastically change the angle from which the puck will get shot. This all happens at such a fast speed and the power play allowed for Jones to be more open and have more time and space to pick his spot than he normally would so it is certainly tough to put that goal on Grubauer but this is something to be conscious of, especially when the overtime game winner came from a right handed shooter shifting the puck to his forehand and going over the glove. See my piece breaking these plays down for a more visual representation of what is happening.
The Capitals capitalized (hey!) twice on the 5 minute boarding major to go up 2-0 late in the first. We got our first goalie interference controversy of the playoffs (I think this should have been interference) and then Kuznetsov doubled up 30 seconds later with a twised wrister. I think the iron is still ringing from that one. Later, in the 2nd, Bobrovsky says, "fool me once..."
RVH Fail of the week
This might not completely classify but Bobrovsky did get caught here. Instead of squaring up and pushing across he slid straight across and, it seems, looked to go right into that RVH on the right side. The shot came in to the side and Bobrovsky didn't even know the shot went in because his head and chest were not square to the puck. Over-reliance on the RVH is easily the biggest problem with the move as it focuses the goalie on performing the RVH isntead of on stopping the shot.