COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS 7 TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING 3- (Columbus wins 4-0)
When you cover a team that has now missed the playoffs in 4 consecutive seasons, trying to find angles that make things relevant to the fanbase can become a challenge. Thankfully, both series that came to a screeching halt last night have a very Canucks twist to them. Let’s start in Columbus, where history was made. The Tampa Bay Lightning took a distinction away from the Vancouver Canucks last night, and if you haven’t felt a cathartic release from this, you might as you realize what happened. The Lightning, they of the ‘We just tied for the greatest NHL season of all time’ a mere 10 days ago are gone from the NHL playoffs. It is the worst showing by a Presidents’ Trophy winner since the award was created, the one of the worst collapses of any 1st place team in NHL history and right up there with any of the similar collapses in the NBA, NFL or MLB. The best part about it? The Columbus Blue Jackets are 100% full value for those wins. They shut down a team that should have rolled to the finals in a way no one imagined. A team that seemed to be able to score at will was hard pressed to generate any meaningful offence and even when they had tied the game last night, it never felt like they were a threat to take the lead. And while comments will come from players today about what happened, one thing that coach Jon Cooper said last night really stuck with me.
“When you have the amount of points we had, it’s a blessing and a curse,’’ coach Jon Cooper said. “You don’t play really any meaningful hockey for a long time and then all of the sudden you’ve got to amp it up. It’s not an excuse, it’s reality. That’s how it goes.
“And so you have a historic regular season the way we did and basically had a historic playoff in defeat.’’
On one hand, he’s right. In the playoffs, if your team can’t elevate their game to even match that of their opponents, it usually sees your team lose. So who’s supposed to try and prepare for such an eventuality? I mean, hindsight being what it is, did it not occur to Cooper and his staff that his team really wasn’t playing meaningful hockey for a long time and warn them of this happening? I’m seeing fatigue and injuries mentioned and you can GTFOH with that. If your team’s fatigued in the first round of the playoffs, you don’t get to claim that you haven’t played meaningful hockey for months, and that also falls on you. I don’t think they fire Cooper for this. That’s an overreaction. I do think that he’s on notice now, and if there’s not a Stanley Cup being raised by Tampa next year then we could see that happen. Meanwhile Columbus now rests and awaits the winner of the Toronto/Boston series and OMG Tortorella vs the Toronto media may be the best thing we’re gonna see all spring.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS 3 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 1- (New York wins 4-0)
And that brings us to the other sweep. And a sweet one it is. For all of their star power, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a very easy team to dislike. They’re arrogant. They’re dirty. And they won their Cups because of some pretty deliberate, blatant tanking that saw them gifted future Hall of Famers. But the part that made this sweep so good was the Vancouver connection to it. The Penguins somehow ended up with Jared McCann, who is starting to turn into exactly the kind of player that the Canucks find themselves in need of. And the fact that the defenceman that the Canucks traded this prospect for, who was an unmitigated failure in his time in blue and green, was a reason they got sunk is poetic justice of a sort that we’re not used to being on the right side of in these parts.
Pittsburgh won’t win another Cup as long as Erik Gudbranson is on their roster. You can’t overcome that. No one can.— Nucks Jerksconduct (@nucksmisconduct) April 13, 2019
Favorite quote of the night, from the leader of the Penguins cheapshot brigade:
"We're not champions anymore. Nobody wants to respect our team. ... It was a tough year. It comes to the playoffs and we tried. But it's hard." Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins are stunned after getting swept by the Islanders. https://t.co/dnNJCNy1mP— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) April 17, 2019
Cry some more, Eugene. Respect is earned, and it’s not just because your window is closing that the respect is gone, dude. As far as the Islanders, like Columbus, they came in with a game plan designed to shut down the Penguins most dangerous players and worked it to perfection. Barry Trotz has done a hell of a job with this team, and while I would love to see Carolina pull off the upset, the Islanders/Capitals matchup that is looming is a very appealing storyline. Now, we can just sit back and enjoy the sound of the Penguins window starting to slam shut.
WINNIPEG JETS 2 ST LOUIS BLUES 1 (OT)- (Series tied 2-2)
It really looked like the Jets were in trouble after dropping the first two games of this series at home. They couldn’t solve Jordan Binnington, and were getting stymied by a stingy and tough Blues defence. They travel to Missouri and all of a sudden they remember that they’re actually a pretty good team. They go toe to toe with the Blues physically and light up Binnington for 6 in Game 3. Game 4 proved to be a real battle as both Binnington and Connor Hellebuyck were outstanding.
Scoreless through two periods, you had the feeling that this was going to come down to a mistake, and when Vladimir Tarasenko scored just :35 seconds into the 3rd, I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling like that might hold up. The Jets turned it on, and 7 minutes later got a goal from their top line, Mark Scheifele getting his 3rd of the playoffs from Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor. The teams traded chances in OT before the Jets top line struck again, Connor banging home a loose puck in front after some pretty passing from Wheeler and Scheifele. The series now heads back to Winnipeg Thursday for Game 5 with the Jets carrying all the momentum.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 5 SAN JOSE SHARKS 0- (Vegas leads 3-1)
Smack talk. It makes for entertaining reading, and those of us who cover these things love to see it, because it ensures people read it to be thrilled or outraged, depending on which side of the fence you find yourselves. So when Evander Kane weighed in on his Game 3 fight with Ryan Reeves (who had talked smack about Kane and Joe Thornton after the hit that saw Jumbo suspended for last night’s contest). And let’s be honest, this is some pretty good shit-talking:
Evander Kane's full comments on Ryan Reaves fight, some highlights:— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) April 16, 2019
"He thinks it's the WWE. Probably going to end up there pretty soon."
"Nobody thinks of Ryan Reaves as a hockey player."
"To chirp Jumbo's vision. The guy has over 1,000 assists. That doesn't seem too bright." pic.twitter.com/JG5heW3zB4
Here’s the thing about smack talk. If you run your mouth, you best be prepared to back it up, and even more importantly than a rematch with Reeves, you’d think Kane would come out and lead the Sharks with a big goal or two and hush that raucous Vegas crowd. No, the Sharks got their asses handed to them, and this was Kane’s response:
Criticizing someone’s intelligence and then doing that? Not a good look, dude. And then to put the icing on the muffin...
Yeah, that’s a KO from the Vegas DJ.
The Sharks are rattled, they’re banged up and quite frankly should be put out of their misery. Let’s just hope that Erik Karlsson heals up this summer for when he signs with the Canucks. Want him back to normal when he takes Quinn Hughes under his wing.