After some fairly big surprises in the play-in round, the first official round of the Stanley Cup play-offs produced only two unexpected results: the New York Islanders upsetting the Washington Capitals and the Vancouver Canucks taking down the defending champion St. Louis Blues. Everything else went virtually according to plan. Well, the Canucks might be in over their heads against the Vegas Golden Knights but the Isles sure seem like they might be around for a while yet after a thorough victory in Game 1 one of their series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Monday Night Games:
New York Islanders 4, Philadelphia Flyers 0, NYI Leads Series 1-0
- When the regular season ended, the Isles had all the trappings of a mediocre play-off team: good enough to get to the dance, but not good enough to hang with the big boys. If you looked at their performance throughout the year, you’d have been hard-pressed to make a meaningful case they were any better than Columbus, Toronto, Carolina, or heck even Florida. They had a negative goal differential on the season!
Well, something happened to the Isles when they arrive in the bubble because after taking Game 1 against the Flyers in decisive fashion, they look like a team primed for a long play-off run. They have a borderline superstar in Mathew Barzal, who is playing out of his mind, and a bevy of dependable veteran depth including former Sens Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Isles never trailed in this one, and though it was 1-0 for most of the game it never felt like the Flyers were about to make a breakthrough. Pageau’s goal to make the score 2-0 gave the Isles what felt like an insurmountable lead and was indicative of everything New York is doing right: a ferocious forecheck from Komarov freed the puck for Pageau to cash in what should have been a nothing play. I don’t know if they’ll be able to keep the Flyers at bay forever, or whichever of Boston or Tampa Bay that they would face should they win, but man do they look good defensively right now.
- The Dallas Stars are a legitimately good team, but if you’d told me they would be up 2-0 in this series on Colorado I might have laughed you out of the room. The Avs looked unstoppable against Arizona and Nathan MacKinnon has not slowed down by one single step. In fact, he scored this game’s opener and assisted on the second Avs goal by Mikko Rantanen that made it 2-0 before Dallas responded with four (!) goals in the second period. This game was eerily similar to the last game in the Calgary series were Dallas looked like they didn’t even belong in the game in the first period and then found their footing in the second for long enough to turn a deficit into a big lead. Colorado was probably the better team on the whole but that’s cold comfort when you’re starting down a 2-0 deficit and suddenly need to beat the Stars four out of the next five games in order to advance.
I, for one, had a Vegas-Colorado Conference Final virtually set in stone before this round started. How easily this league can make a fool out of one’s predictions.
Vancouver Canucks @ Vegas Golden Knights, 945pm ET, VGK Leads 1-0