In the Western Conference, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs has been a battle. In the East? Not so much. Every series in the West has seen every team win at least one game after three. Meanwhile, two series in the Eastern Conference could end in sweeps. Let’s take a quick look at the situation going into tonight.
Lightning Struck…and Missed (Tampa Bay vs Columbus 7:00 pm)
Of the two teams facing a sweep, the biggest surprise is the Tampa Bay Lightning who finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL. This one series alone is on the verge of obliterating a lot of playoff brackets.
Now best the season record doesn’t always indicate a championship, especially in hockey, but almost no one could have predicted they’d be down 0-3. Since blowing a 3-0 lead to lose Game 1, the Bolts have been outscored 8-2. Art Ross Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov was suspended for Game 3 and didn’t do much before that, and Victor Hedman will out for game 4.
Where is Stamkos? Well, that eight shots on net with no goals pretty much says it all. Andrei Vaslevskiy is starting to return to form in net, but at the moment it isn’t enough.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets have it all. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been locked in with a .940 save percentage and a 1.67 Goals Against Average. Suddenly, Columbus looks like a Stanley Cup favorite and have a chance to sweep the favorites to win it all tonight. However, there is one glimmer of hope for the Lightning. Two teams have come back to win a series when down 3-0 since 2010. Can they do it? The team is certainly capable of it but something has to change quickly.
The Pens Might Be Swept By the Islanders? (Pittsburgh vs New York 7:30 pm)
Yes, the back to back Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins are on the verge of being swept as well. Since losing in OT in game 1, the offense hasn’t been there. The Penguins scored a single goal in the last two games. While he’s technically doing better than Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray is still only has a save percentage of .902.
And while you can look to what’s wrong with what the Penguins are doing, you need to look at what the Islanders are doing right because that’s more the reason than anything. Seven players have scored at least a goal in the first three games. Jordan Eberle is doing it all. Here’s his game-tying goal from the game 3:
If the Penguins want to avoid being swept they’ll need to put pressure on the offense and take advantage of the power play (they’re 1/8 on power plays). For the Islanders, they just need to keep doing what they’re doing.
Jets Look to Avoid Singing the Blues (Winnipeg vs St. Louis 9:30 pm)
Unlike the first two games covered so far, this series is guaranteed to go five games. It can’t be said that either team has played poorly. Both of St. Louis’s wins were by a single goal and Winnipeg’s win showed them finally breakthrough in the 3rd period. Both teams in at least one of the games have taken advantage of the power play.
One key issue both teams face is that defense has had it rough since game 1. It’s safe to say that whoever performs better defensively will win the game. Winnipeg has to momentum with the offense coming alive and goalie Connor Hellebuyck is still keeping the team in the game. They appear to be the favorites to win tonight securing that the series goes to at least six.
Golden Knights Continue to Stay Golden (Vegas vs San Jose 10:30 pm)
The legend of the Vegas Golden Knights continues. The sophomore squad is continuing to show the inaugural trip to the Stanley Cup Finals wasn’t a fluke. The Sharks, on the other hand, have made their game 1 win look like a fluke. Since the Sharks 5-2 win, the Golden Knights have outscored them 11-6. It’s been an offensive series, to say the least, with every winner scoring a least five goals.
Mark Stone leads the charge for the Golden Knights with six goals and two assists. Max Pacioretty has been another key player for Vegas with two goals and four assists. The two alone have made the series nightmarish for Sharks goalie Martin Jones who has an abysmal 5.24 Goals against average. From the way things appear now, the Golden Knights have the edge to gain control of the series.