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Uphill Battle Now Facing The Toronto Maple Leafs

from David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail,

The playoff pressure pendulum that was stuck on the Washington Capitals for the past two games is now bearing down on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Their skate-like-crazy, throw-pucks-at-the-net, see-what-happens style made the Leafs the talk of the NHL for the first week of the playoffs.

But now that the Capitals gave them a good lesson on playoff hockey in Game 4 – yes, the Leafs made it close near the end but that was only on the scoreboard – it is time to see if the roller-coaster team really is ready to stay ahead of the rebuilding plan and finish this upset, which looked so close until the Caps tied the first-round series with that 5-4 win on Wednesday.

Roundup: The latest news and results from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The best-of-seven series is now a best-of-three, with two games in Washington. The Leafs have more than a chance to win but that means once again bouncing back against the best regular-season team in the league. Game 5 may well decide this, since the winner gets a 3-2 lead, one game from ending it in what is a battle of the psyches as much as on the ice.

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The Difference-Maker Is Erik Karlsson

from Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe,

Locked and loaded now for vacation, the Bruins Friday night will try to shake their insidious playoff funk when they return to Ottawa for Game 5. They are down, 3-1, to the Senators, and have yet to recover from a third-period collapse on the road Saturday, when they blew a 3-1 lead and what might have been an iron-clad 2-0 grip on the best-of-seven series.

Much has happened since then, none of it good for the “we’re-looking-for-a-deep-run-in-the-playoffs” Black and Gold.

The Senators have been faster, smarter on both sides of the puck, vastly more consistent, more resilient and, despite their wonkish and methodical 1-3-1 ways in the neutral zone, eminently more entertaining to watch. It is no mistake or writ of numbskulled officiating that they are about to advance to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup grinder, while the Bruins are pointed to the offseason badlands of talk radio persecution.

It helps the Senators, of course, that they have arguably (if anyone cares to argue) the most exciting, game-changing player in the NHL in defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has been brilliant in key moments, and not for his play alone.

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The Pittsburgh Penguins Handled The Physical Play By The Columbus Blue Jackets

from Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,

The Penguins used a hockey version of judo to secure a 5-2 win Thursday night and oust Columbus in five games in a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

They took the Blue Jackets' greatest strength and turned it into a weakness.

The Blue Jackets came into the series with their reputation well established. They were a big, physical team that liked to throw punishing hits, especially on the forecheck. On every line, from Brandon Dubinsky to Boone Jenner to Josh Anderson, there was a hulking forward capable of stapling opponents to the boards.

The game plan against the Penguins was simple. The Blue Jackets were going to come out of the locker room with guns blazing and hit everything that moved for as long as they could.

To an extent, it worked. They recorded 197 hits in the five-game series.

“It was physical,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “They don't pass up any opportunities to finish checks. They really tried to establish that from the first game.”

It turned out to be their downfall, too.

read on

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Sweet Sweep In Nashville

from Joe Rexrode of The Tennessean,

“SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!” the Predators fans chanted in the final stages of a 4-1 win in Game 4 Thursday at Bridgestone Arena. And that’s what they got, thanks to that Sissons goal, two from Roman Josi, an Arvidsson empty netter for emphasis and yet another masterpiece from goaltender Pekka Rinne – and despite an appropriately desperate performance from the Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks.

“It’s a great feeling, 2010 and 2015 we lost to these guys in the first round; we had a chance to kind of redeem ourselves, a little payback,” Rinne said of the Blackhawks. “But it’s a great feeling, and I think organization-wise too, it goes pretty high up there.”

Now it’s on the Predators to capitalize on this achievement, their No. 1 to date, and knock it down the list before the spring ends. It’s on these players to shake more hands of people who are gritting their teeth in disappointment while the Predators say nice things and temporarily contain their exuberance.

“We’ve been in this situation, and in my career too I’ve been in this situation (three times) now,” Rinne said of first-round wins in 2011, 2012 and 2016. “It really is nothing. It’s a great feeling and it’s really hard to get to the second round, but at the same time, you’ve got to keep your foot on the gas. Stay focused, stay hungry. We haven’t done anything yet.”

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The San Jose Sharks Fell To The Edmonton Oilers In OT

from Curtis Pashelka of the Mercury News,

Oscar Klefbom scored with 2:46 left in the third period to tie the game 3-3, as the Oilers came all the way back after trailing by two goals to take a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 on Saturday in San Jose.

“What can we do? We’ve just got to get ready for the next one,” Jones said. “Our backs are against the wall now. So we’ve got to play with some urgency and win a home game.”

Only a handful of sensational saves by Jones in overtime allowed the game to go as long as it did.

Jones had 32 saves in regulation time and was epic in overtime, stopping Draisaitl point blank and making another save on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after the puck had bounced behind him. Jones also stopped shots by Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle, as the Oilers recorded 12 of the first 14 shots in overtime.

The Sharks were hoping they could withstand the Oilers’ pressure in overtime and eventually find their footing.

“But you’re playing with fire when you’re playing in your own end the whole time,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “We couldn’t reestablish any offensive momentum, and I think it’s because of our mindset the last 10 minutes of the third. We were defending and sitting on the lead and did a great job of that, made one mistake and couldn’t get it back again.”

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The Montreal Canadiens Now Face Elimination After Losing In OT To The New York Rangers

from Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette,

The best way to describe the mood in the Canadiens’ dressing room after Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers was delusional.

There were the usual clichés about how the game could have gone either way in overtime, but there was only one predictable outcome from the way the Canadiens played from the start of the third period until Mika Zibanejad redirected a shot from Chris Kreider for the winning goal.  

“There were opportunities to close out the game and (Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist) made some good saves and they got a bounce on that goal,” captain Max Pacioretty said. “But nothing we can do about it now. We have an opportunity now to show what we have in this room. We’ve come back a lot this year and hopefully we can do it in this series as well.

“It could have gone either way, it really could have,” added Pacioretty.

No, it couldn’t....

The Canadiens took a 2-1 lead after the first period, but coach Claude Julien said the seeds of destruction were sown in the second period.

“In the second half of that period, we spent less time (in the Rangers’ zone) and when we got the puck in there, it came right back out,” Julien said. “We spent more time chasing and defending than we did controlling the puck and that can be tiring. They got some energy in the second half and they brought it into the overtime like we did a few games ago.”...

“In order to get through this, we’re going to need more from a lot of guys,” said Julien. “It’s time for certain players to elevate their games and have that confidence and desire to be better. There’s no doubt when you lose games and you’re behind 3-2, you can’t be satisfied as a team and you know there are certain players who can give a little bit more.”

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The Bad Luck Columbus Blue Jackets Lose Their First Round Series To The Pittsburgh Penguins

from Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch,

“We played our (glutei) off,” Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “That’s not a 4-1 series.”

Jackets fans will stew over the officiating, and their beefs will not be wholly without merit. The fateful call came early in the third period. A goal by Oliver Bjorkstrand — which would have tied the score at 3 — was wiped out on a goaltender’s interference penalty on Alexander Wennberg.

When the so-called foul occurred, Fleury was outside of his crease and Wennberg was being hooked, rather blatantly, by Scott Wilson. Fleury embellished the contact with a lovely back dive and the referees either missed or ignored the hook. The Penguins went on a power play and the rest is history.

Playoff officiating can be capricious. You want to avoid complaint? Winning helps.

The Jackets ran into just enough bad luck to stunt a series of fine efforts. They had no luck in Games 1 and 2 — seriously, none at all. They lost their star rookie defenseman, Zach Werenski, who took a puck in the face in Game 3. They lost their captain, Nick Foligno, to a lower-body injury in Game 5. There was a lot that was scrambled in front of Bobrovsky, who never got comfortable.

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The Chicago Blackhawks Were Swept Out Of The Playoffs

from Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times,

Welcome to the new reality, Blackhawks.

After years in a different realm as the gold standard of NHL excellence in the salary-cap era, the Hawks’ stunning demise against the eighth-seeded Predators — a four-game sweep after a 4-1 loss Thursday at Bridgestone Arena — likely signaled the end of an era as Stanley Cup favorites.

The Hawks still will be contenders in future postseasons — though the demise of the once-mighty Kings remains a cautionary tale — but the days of “flipping the switch,” forcing good teams to play poorly and willing their way to victory appear to be over. Against the Predators, the Hawks were just another playoff team at the mercy of NHL parity and the hockey gods. Neither was kind to the Hawks this postseason.

“It was a major disappointment across the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They raised their level of play in the playoffs, and I don’t think we got to where we had to be.”

continued

Game highlights and handshakes are below...

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NHL Short Notes

THURSDAY’S RESULTS
Home Team in Caps
NY Rangers 3, MONTREAL 2 (OT) – NYR leads 3-2
PITTSBURGH 5, Columbus 2 – PIT wins 4-1
NASHVILLE 4, Chicago 1 – NSH wins 4-0
EDMONTON 4, San Jose 3 (OT) – EDM leads 3-2
 
PREDATORS COMPLETE HISTORIC SWEEP OF BLACKHAWKS
Roman Josi scored twice and Pekka Rinne made 30 saves as the Predators defeated the Blackhawks to complete the first sweep in franchise history.
 

 

 
* Nashville, who finished in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, won four consecutive playoff games (at any stage in the postseason) for the first time to defeat Chicago, owners of the best record in the conference during the regular season.
 
* Elias notes that Nashville became the third team since 1974-75 (when the NHL introduced the conference format) to sweep the team with the best record in the conference in the opening round. The others: Edmonton swept Montreal in the 1981 Preliminary Round (best-of-five) and St. Louis swept Chicago in the 1993 Division Semifinals (best-of-seven).

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Your Calder Memorial Trophy Finalists

NEW YORK (April 20, 2017) – Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski are the three finalists for the 2016-17 Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition,” the National Hockey League announced today.

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About Kukla's Korner Hockey

Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com

 

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