Sports bring out a different side of everyone involved, and the playoffs raise that to a new level. Fans wait for the playoffs so they can watch their favorite players stretch themselves to the edge of human capacity. Heart attacks and emotional outbursts abound. Breaths come shorter and shorter. Fingernails become finger nubs. It’s the playoffs, baby.
Superstars become legends.
Unknown depth players become the hero.
Young guns make a name for themselves (looking at you Mario Götze).
The game play elevates to new heights that only happen in the postseason.
And no playoffs are like hockey playoffs. Fans that watch other sports and leagues, along with hockey, know that playoff hockey rises above the rest. This is not a knock on other sports. If other sports’ playoffs are the $100 a glass liquor, playoff hockey is the stuff that doesn’t have a price next to it. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
The 2019 NHL Playoffs are already off to a historic start, and here are a few things to catch you up if you’ve been living under a puck for the past week.
Lightning Doesn’t Even Strike Once
It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Lightning steamrolled their way to a historic regular season. They tied the 95-96 Detroit Red Wings with 62 wins. Star RW Nikita Kucherov scored 41 goals and 87 (!) assists for 128 points. The Lightning was the first team to have three 40+ goal scorers (Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Captain Steven Stamkos) since 95-96, and the 23rd team to do so in NHL history.
The list of team and player records, accolades, and jaw-dropping statistics could go on for several pages; however, their season’s success can be summed up in one statistic. They clinched the Presidents’ Trophy, the award to the top team in the NHL’s regular season, with 56 wins on March 18, 2019, with a win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Imagine Going All-In to Lose in the First Round
They drew the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first round of the NHL playoffs. It should have been a cakewalk. Their regular season record against them was 3-0. The Columbus goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, had a rare, but epic emotional outburst after being pulled in a 4-0 loss to the Lightning. No one (except for a coin) picked the Blue Jackets to win the series.
It was all for naught. The Columbus Blue Jackets put the only, but an incredibly large blemish on a historic season. The Lightning outscored the Jackets 17-3 in the regular season and appeared to be continuing that trend in the opening frame of game one. This too would be all for naught. After storming out to a 3-0 lead, the Lightning couldn’t seem to conduct any more offense for the rest of the short-lived series and would never hold a lead again. The Blue Jackets suffocated the league’s most potent offense and demolished the historic team. The Lightning was outscored 19-5 for the remaining 11 periods of the series and lost in four to the Blue Jackets.
The 8th seed Blue Jackets swept the Presidents’ Trophy winners in round one of the playoffs, a feat never before accomplished in the NHL. A truly historic ending to a historic season. Just not the way they thought.
“Follow Me, and I Will Make You Fishers of Pens.” — Barry Trotz (Probably)
The Islanders were not to be outdone. The Penguins, coming off of a postseason that finally saw the Capitals push past them, had to be hungry for redemption. For a team with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, and Matt Murray, they should have been able to put up a fight. They were never in it from the start. The Islanders are a team with something to prove and played like it. They stifled the former back-to-back champions and outscored the Penguins 14-6, beating them in four games to none.
The similarities between the Islanders and the Blue Jackets do not end at their series sweeps. They both are exemplary examples of two teams that had a 100% buy-in to their coach’s game plan. Neither team had a passenger. Every player knew their role and executed. Both teams are filled with storylines that ESPN 30-for-30 was made for.
Fighting, and Chirping, and Knockouts, Oh My!
When it comes to the NHL playoffs, tensions tend to run much higher than normal. Those tensions don’t tend to boil over when individual games are so important. So far this postseason, those tensions have boiled over to physical violence three times (not counting dirty plays or suspensions).
Werenski vs. Point
The first instance of fisticuffs featured two unlikely combatants. Brayden Point (TBL) participated in his third professional fight against Zach Werenski (CBJ). This was Werenski’s first professional fight, and first since 2013 as a 16-year old. The fight was incredibly tame, only garnering a 5.03 rating on hockeyfights.com. The fight did give Zach Werenski the first postseason Gordie Howe hat-trick (fighting major, goal, and assist) in Blue Jackets history.
Kane vs. Reaves
In the third period of game three of the VGK-SJS series, a heavyweight bout took place between Ryan Reaves (VGK) and Evander Kane (SJS). Reaves has fallen into the role of enforcer and certainly embraces it, often sporting merchandise from California based clothing company Violent Gentlemen. Kane, however, was born into the role. He was named after boxing legend, Evander Holyfield. Their fight came after their war of words in games and through the media throughout this series.
Kane on Reaves: “For being the toughest guy in the league, I don’t know if he landed a punch. At times, I thought I was fighting the muffin man. Definitely didn’t expect that. I expected a lot more of a battle there.”
Reaves on Kane: “(Kane) gets 10 feet tall when I’m not on the ice, and when I’m out there, he doesn’t seem to do much. That’s how he’s been every time I’ve played him in my career. I don’t expect it to stop.”
Svechnikov vs. Ovechkin
The big talking point of the NHL was the ill-advised fight between rookie Andrei Svechnikov (CAR) and grizzled veteran Alex Ovechkin (WSH). The young Russian had been poking and prodding the older Russian for much of the series. After a few more drive-by altercations, Svechnikov tried to initiate a fight with Ovechkin and he obliged. They grappled and exchanged a few glancing blows until two jabs from Ovechkin caught the 19-year old square in the face. Svechnikov promptly fell to the ice and needed to be helped off of the rink.
This fight re-ignited another fight: whether or not fighting should be allowed in hockey. Arguments can be made both ways. No one likes to see a player get hurt. We know what traumatic brain injury can do to people. Svechnikov should not have felt like he HAD to fight. Players still want it in the game. Players choose to drop the mitts. The advanced stats of fighting keeping certain players in check remains to be seen in today’s NHL.
…and that’s only Round One
The 2019 NHL Playoffs have already gotten off to a spectacular start. Over here at ABNT, we can’t wait to see what happens next.
Feature Image Credit – (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)