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 Sunday, April 15 through Wednesday, April 18.
Dubnyk's miscues cost him in Game three but he was still able to come up with 29 stops on 31 shots including this huge sliding save in a one-goal game. On the other side of the ice, Hellebyuck struggled a bit, allowing six through two periods before being yanked for Steve Mason. Hellebyuck caught a few tough bounces but also seemed to be fighting the puck all night.
The jets rightfully stuck with Hellebyuck in Game 4 and it paid off as he put together his best performance of the playoffs so far. Hellebyuck's calmness might be his biggest strength and he used it to lock in and stop all 30 in the Game 4 shutout. I could watch this glove save over and over until the end of time. Dubnyk's solid play continued as well. Scheifle put one by him on a nifty give-and-go but Dubnyk was able to hold off the Jets the rest of the way and keep it a one-goal game until the empty netter iced it for the Jets.
RVH Fail of the Week
Murray looked sharp right off the bat as he made an outstanding glove save on Nolan Patrick less than two minutes into the game and never really looked back. He made a number of real nice saves throughout the game and made most of them look easy.
It didn't take long for the Penguins to go on the Power Play in Game 4 and they were able to take advantage when Crosby dished a pass across the netmouth to Evgeni Malkin. The Flyers picked it up after the goal but Murray stood tall and kept the puck out and gave the Pens a chance to get a break. I cant even imagine what it's like to stand in front of a Phill Kessel wrist shot but I have to imagine it's like trying to solve a puzzle while also driving 100mph down the highway. His release is so quick and from a different angle every time and his follow through is never consistent, making it impossible to get a read on where the puck is going to go before it comes off the stick. He got Elliott leaning on the second goal - one that looked very stoppable - but if that were me in net I probably would have just ended up in the corner crying in the fetal position. Elliott got chased after the third goal and Neuvirth allowed two more - one where Crosby caught him sleeping on a wraparound and one where Sheehan shelfed one on a partial break. Overall the Flyers goalies had a rough go of it but the Flyers defense was also very poor throughout the game.
Murray wasn't tested too much in Game 4 but it's not like he had to sleep through his 26 save shutout. He shut down a few breakaways and robbed Nolan Patrick in the second period. He is moving really well, playing very patient and making some tough stops look easy. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up once he has to face a tougher offense in Washington or Columbus.
Down 2-0, the Flyers had just killed a penalty when they hit the guy out of the box for a breakaway. This could have been a huge momentum grab for the flyers, killing a penalty and scoring to pull within one heading into the intermission, but Murray stood tall and turned the shot away to keep the Pens up 2.
The struggle continued for the forwards of the Kings and Knights. They combined for 65 shots in Game 3 and Fleury continued to just edge out Quick to the tune of a 3-2 victory. You could tell from Quick's body language after James Neal snuck a rare one through Quick's five-hole that Quick knew there was almost no chance the Kings were going to be able to tie it up. The Knights followed up with a bang-bang play to go up 3-1 and the Kings were able to bounce a flukey deflection past Fleury but were not able to get the equalizer.
Is is possible for a player to win the Conn Smythe trophy even if his team got swept in the first round? Holy Quick. Quick's heroic efforts in the series were just not enough as Fleury was up to the challenge on the other end and the Knights were just the better team in all four games. Quick fought until the very end but his team just couldn't get one for him. Watching these two battle was the highlight of a first round full of highlights. Combined, Quick and Fleury saw 261 shots throughout the series and allowed just ten goals. Fleury will have to keep up his play as he takes on Martin Jones and the Sharks in the second round.
The script flipped in Toronto as the Leafs were able to snag one from Boston despite Tuuka Rask's best efforts. Rask made a number of great saves in the first before James van Riemsdyk was able to stuff home a rebound on the power play. Later in the second, Marleau snuck one under Rask's pad on a 2-on-1 (keep your chest up and drive your pads down kids!). Rask continued to stand tall until Matthews snapped a wrister over his shoulder in the third. It looked like another case of a goalie getting caught transitioning into the RVH instead of just worrying about tracking the puck.
One the other end, Anderson put up a weird 40 save performance in the Game 3 win. On one hand, both goals were pretty much 100% on him. The first slipped through a crack in his butterfly. The second, well, these RVH fails are really starting to pile up on me. On the other hand, he did stop 40 of 42 including a bunch of stops in the third where it looked like he was toast. In the end, he stuck with it and battled through the end of the game and was a huge part of the Leafs victory.
Schneider stuck with his new E-Flex 3s (here's a cool article from InGoalMag about his unexpected switch) as they faired him well in Game 2. They did the job once again as Schneider stopped 34 of 36 in the Devil's win. Both goals came from the terrifying Lightning power play on the types of goals we've come to expect from the Lightning in this series - perfectly executed passes to wide open players with perfectly executed finishes. Schneider was a rock the whole way through, playing calm, cool and collected, while coming up with big save after big save. Toward the end of the game, it looked like he may have sustained what the NHL refers to as a "lower body injury" but he battled through it to finish his first win since December 27th. Hopefully the injury is nothing major. His presence in the crease is a legitimate game changer in this series.
Game 3 was a heck of a time for Vasilevskiy to decide to have his best game of the series. Vas battled Schneider the whole way, matching big saves with him until the Devils were finally able to pull away. He fell victim to Taylor Hall's Midas Touch, tons of traffic on a 5-on-3 PK, and an absolute clapper from Stefan Noesen. He may have been able to be a bit more patient on the third goal instead of committing so quickly to the slide but he played so well throughout the game that we'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.
The duel continued to Game 4 where the two traded big saves all night. The only goals allowed came in the first period and for the last 40 minutes there were a number of times both teams could have come up with one to tie or pull away but couldn't get one past the tenders. This series goes back to Tampa with the Lightning up 3 games to 1.
Check out this save from Schneider and notice the difference between that stop and the goal here. Notice how, instead of worrying about transitioning into the RVH, Schneider remains on his feet, squares up and reacts into the shot. Trust your feet kids!
Another script flipped with a new location as the Avalanche were able to send Pekka Rinne to the bench just 4 minutes into the second period. The Avalanche were sworming from the get-go and Rinne fell victim to some defensive lapses and impressive offensive plays but he usually makes a few of those stops, especially with how well he played in the first two games. Juuse Saros came in relief and did everything he could to keep the Preds in the game, stopping all 18 of the shots he faced. Saros has been solid this year in his spot starts and is one of the better options as a backup (or maybe I'm just biased because he reminds me of how I play) but this should be Rinne's net unless he has some sort of serious collapse.
Bernier got hung out to dry on the first two goals against but whiffed on the third while trying to draw an interference call (I agree with the call on the ice of no interference). He stopped 29 of 32, though, from what I can tell the Preds didn't have too many scoring chances.
Bernier was locked in early Game 4. He made 8 stops in the first 8 minutes of game time alone. He stopped three more before Filip Foresberg went HAM and dominated the entire Avalanche roster. He did what he could to keep the Avs in the game but the Predators were just too good and he surrendered two more before leaving the game in the second intermission due to one of those incredibly specific "lower body injuries". Andrew Hammond came in relief and stopped all 8 of the shots he faced in the third to give the Avs a chance to climb back. Unfortunately they could only crack Rinne twice and the series will go back to Nashville with the Preds up 3 to 1.
That second goal against Rinne should not have been called a goal. Especially after the Predators Challenged and the refs got another look at it. First of all, Rinne clearly was interfered with. He made the save and trapped the puck and it only came loose when the Avs player skated into him. Second, interference or not, the whistle should have blown because Rinne had it trapped. One thing that gets under my skin is when a referee of a youth league gets this wrong. If the goalie covers the puck and a player knocks it out of his glove and scores, the goal should not count. Period. The goalie had the puck covered, the whistle should blow, and the player knocking the puck loose is interference at best, lots of times slashing at worst and should be considered a penalty. The rule is not "the whistle didn't blow so the puck is live". It's an incorrect call and the goal is on the referee, not the goalie.
Gibson picked a tough time to turn into Mr. Hyde. Remember in the Playoff Preview when I mentioned that Gibson can leave you scratching your head? Ryan Miller came in relief and was less of a band-aid and more of a piece of gauze trying to stop the bleeding of an amputated leg. In fairness, the whistle should have blown on the second goal he allowed. It's not like the table was on tilt either. Martin Jones faced 46 shots and stopped all but one, a slicing one-timer from Rickard Rakell (who I'm pretty sure is a Game of Thrones character). His 45 saves were a Sharks playoff record. With how well Jones is playing, my pick of Sharks to the finals is looking pretty good.
Jakyll Gibson showed up in Game 4, stopping 22 of 24 and dueling with Martin Jones to the end. Remember when I said that Gibson can make saves that few other goalies in the world can? This glove save was textbook as well. In the end, though, it just wasn't enough, as it hasn't been all series. The Ducks fell victim to Martin Jones once again who stopped 30 of 31 on the night. He allowed just 4 goals in the 4 game sweep. In the next round he will face off against the only goalie who allowed less goals than he did.
It's weird to say that your goaltender was the hero in a 5-4 game but Bobrovsky should get a ton of credit for his effort in Game 2. He stopped 54 of 58 shots including a number of great saves in the 3rd period and overtime to keep his team in it and give them a chance to get the win in OT. He continued to be a rock in Game 3, stopping 43 of 45, but caughed up a juicy rebound in double overtime that cost him. Notice how Bobrovsky decides to T-push even though the pass is all the way out past the top of the circles. The shot gets taken as he is still opened up with the T-Push and he gets caught trying to set his feet and make the save at the same time which doesn't allow him to get a good movement into the shot and leaves him unbalanced after the save.
Game 2 was the second game in a row that the Capitals gave up a two goal lead and, while it certainly is not all on Grubauer, it's hard not to think that Holtby would have come up with a few of those saves. Holtby got his chance as he started the third period and overtime and came up with some nice saves before falling victim to an impressive one handed play by Calvert in overtime. It was enough for him to earn the start for Game 3 and he made the most of it, turning away 33 of the 35 shots he faced. He looked like vintage Holtby and, was able to hold off the swarming Blue Jackets at the end of regulation with a number of nice stops, including a few on Panarin who netted the second goal. With Holtby and Schneider back in net for their teams, it looks like we finally have some goalie battles in the East.