With the variety of quality viewing options during this sports spring — baseball, NBA playoffs, The Masters, hours upon hours of lead-up to the NFL Draft — we can forgive you if you haven't tuned in to the Stanley Cup Playoffs just yet. Luckily, we have you covered. Here's what you may have missed over the weekend that was in hockey.
The Problem With The Coach's Challenge
Let's be clear. Each of the three offside reviews this weekend — on Jori Lehtera in St. Louis, Derick Brassard in Pittsburgh and Jonathan Huberdeau in Brooklyn — gave us the correct call by the letter of the law. With cameras installed above the blue lines for the postseason, officials now have better sightlines to determine whether or not a player crossed into the offensive zone before the puck.
On the surface, that's a good thing. We don't want a missed call to determine the outcome of a playoff game. The problem is these reviews both take too long and produce unsatisfactory, albeit accurate, results. Consider the play in St. Louis. Lehtera rushed onto a Kevin Shattenkirk area pass and appeared to stagger his stride across the blue line to stay onside. Moments later he set up Vladimir Tarasenko for the apparent go-ahead goal in what was then a 1-1 game. Almost immediately Chicago assistant Kevin Dineen urged head coach Joel Quenneville to challenge the play.
Replays showed Lehtera's left skate leave the blue line before the puck entered the zone... by less than an inch. Here's what bothers me. A disallowed goal is a huge price to pay for what is a somewhat arbitrary infraction, one that was nearly invisible to the naked eye. On the flip side, if an official incorrectly blows a play dead when, say, a defenseman keeps the puck in on a power play, there is no review nor should there be.
Or take Brassard's play. He scored on a breakaway, a goal which was held up by the slimmest of margins. If the referee called him offside initially, the Rangers would have been robbed of the chance to go ahead against Pittsburgh. Luckily, the play was allowed to continue and New York took a 2-1 lead on its way to a 4-2 Game 2 win.
Officiating in the NHL is arguably harder than in any other sport. We need to give these referees as much room for error as possible, but we shouldn't sacrifice the pace of the game or alter the course of a series with too much video review.
Kings Have The Sharks Right Where They Want Them
The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs are off to a rough start for the San Jose Sharks, as the Los Angeles Kings took a commanding 0-2 lead in their opening round series.
On Thursday, the Sharks hit the ground running falling behind 1-0. Then it went back and forth with San Jose eventually prevailing when captain Joe Pavelski scored his second goal of the game 17 seconds into the third period. The Kings successfully kept from netting another one and eventually won 3-4.
In Game 2, the Sharks fell behind 2-0 with goals from Pavelski in the first and Logan Couture in the second. San Jose tried to get back into it when they surrendered a power play goal to Vincent Lecavalier with five minutes to play, but the Kings smartly didn't find the back of the net the rest of the way.
The Kings can take a 0-3 series lead and all but clinch a series win on Monday with a loss at the SAP Center. The Sharks are hoping history doesn't repeat itself. They will rely on Martin Jones to stop standing on his head in crunch time and hope Pavelski and the rest of the offense can cool off and give their team a chance to get back into the series with a loss.
Return Of The King
After losing Game 1, 5-2, and trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 after the first period of Game 2, the New York Rangers’ Keith Yandle and Derick Brassard scored 13 seconds apart in the second period. Mats Zuccarello gave the team a 3-1 lead, with Brassard setting up Chris Kreider for a fourth tally. The final was 4-2, Rangers on Pittsburgh ice.
The Broadway Blueshirts look poised to pull away at this point, and the Madison Square Garden faithful could provide a distinct advantage in Game 3 Tuesday night. Sidney Crosby has been quiet so far, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is still day-to-day as he recovers from a recent concussion.
Henrik Lundqvist, on the other hand, has provided crucial on-ice leadership coming back after taking a stick to the eye from teammate Marc Staal. It is uncertain if or when key defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will return to the lineup, and the Rangers need all the grit they can muster. Lundqvist’s injury might have ended the Rangers’ playoff hopes, but by coming back, he just might be able to help the team advance despite the current defensive hole.
By winning Game 2, Lundqvist collected his 55th career playoff win, passing Terry Sawchuk at 15th on the all-time list, and leading Fleury and all active goalies by two games.
Nashville's D Dooms Ducks
Earlier this season Nashville raised a few eyebrows when it shipped defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus in exchange for high-scoring center Ryan Johansen. After all, it's usually good practice to hold onto young, franchise blue-liners.
The reason the Predators could afford to make that move, however, is that the team is loaded on the back end. No one scored more goals from the blue line than Nashville during the regular season. Shea Weber bagged 20 while Roman Josi led the Preds in assists with 47 and finished second in points with 61.
That offensive trend continued in the opening round series against the Anaheim Ducks. D-man Ryan Ellis made an end-to-end rush to set up Colin Wilson to tie Game 1 at two before Filip Forsberg won it in the third. In Game 2, Mattias Ekholm and Weber each got on the board in a 3-2 Preds win. Josi has provided three assists in the two victories.
Nashville's defensemen are mobile, skilled and in Weber and veteran Barrett Jackman, they have two guys that can match Anaheim's physicality. The early returns suggest that not only can the Predators close out the Ducks at home in the next two contests, but they have the ability to make the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Long Island... I Mean, Brooklyn, Stand Up!
The New York Islanders’ first season in Brooklyn has been a quasi-success. While the team has christened the Barclays Center with playoff hockey for the first time – a great 4-3 comeback win against the Florida Panthers on Sunday – regular season attendance reflected a disconnect between the team’s true faithful in Long Island and the copper-colored Kangol hat on Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Five teams averaged less than 90% capacity of their arenas in relation to tickets sold this season and the Isles’ sat at 86.2%, 26th of the NHL’s 30 teams. The 13,626 per game average was 28th, barely ahead of Arizona and Carolina. Meanwhile, the Panthers drew 1,758 more fans per game (24th) to the slightly smaller BB&T Center outside of Miami than the Islanders at Barclays.
Long Island fans showed up in droves on Sunday to essentially a full house at 15,795, but will they on Wednesday after work for Game 4? Playoff sports should compel fans to show up, no matter the day or time. Yet, while many Islanders fans make the daily commute to NYC for their jobs, how many will stick around for a nightcap and the full post-game experience in victory or defeat? Based on Sunday’s thrilling OT win, Islanders fans very well may fill up Barclays again, and hopefully there are more playoff beards in the building than the hipster ones from New York’s tech bros.
(The Panthers did have 17,422 fans for Game 1 and 18,373 for Game 2. Just sayin’.)
Steve Mason Forgets How To Goalie
Okay. We all saw the highlight. It is, in my opinion, the worst goal a goaltender has ever given up.
Here’s why it doesn’t matter: the Flyers eventually lost the game to the Capitals 4-1. No one expected Philadelphia to press the Presidents' Trophy-winning Caps. No one, frankly, expected the Flyers to even reach the postseason.
And besides, Mason played excellent down the stretch and had moments of brilliance in Games 1 and 2. This isn’t a Roman Cechmanek brain fart or an Ilya Bryzgalov gaffe. It’s simply a rare, implausible miscue that came at a bad time. It won’t doom Mason nor the Flyers. They were already up against it anyway.
Philadelphia born. Raised in God's country aka Duluth, Minnesota. Give me a frozen pond and an open pitch and I'll be happy. Follow me on twitter @noclassfriday