We had perhaps the most surprising night of the Stanley Cup playoffs to date. The President's Trophy jinx continued, and this was the all-time worst collapse of any No. 1 overall seed in the history of the NHL. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who posted a NHL record-tying 62 victories during the regular season, managed to win as many games in the postseason as me and you. The Pittsburgh Penguins, with one of the biggest superstars to ever lace up the skates, are also heading to the golf course after Stanley Cup champion head coach Barry Trotz and his New York Islanders showed the Pens to door. Let's get started!
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This isn't relevant to Tuesday's slate of action, but on Monday night at Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in Raleigh between the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes I had the good fortune of meeting Spencer Williams. You are asking, "Who?" He was serving as the emergency goaltender for the first playoff game in Carolina in nearly a decade.
Williams might have been the most important person looking on, as if one of the goaltenders for either team suffer an injury, he is summoned to go get dressed and be ready as the backup. I never knew that the emergency goalie actually plays for either team, as I was under the impression that the traveling team had their own backup plan. But NHL rules have changed recently, and the emergency goaltender is provided by the home team organization for both sides.
Williams is originally from Asheboro, N.C., and lives in the Raleigh area, and is lifelong Carolina Hurricanes fan. However, if Braden Holtby would have suffered an injury, causing Pheonix Copley to come in, Williams could have switched out of his Hurricanes sweater as a fan and had to don a white Capitals sweater for the visitors. If Copley would have also suffered an injury, then Williams would have had to face his favorite team - in a playoff game. How surreal.
Williams said that when Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo went down with a lower-body injury and was unable to return on Nov. 23, 2018, he was summoned downstairs from his seat and dressed in full pads and the Panthers white sweater. He didn't get onto the ice, as James Reimer made it through the game without incident.
So how does one go about getting selected as the emergency netminder? Williams, 29, plays several times per week in our local Polar Adult Hockey League (PAHL) in Cary and Garner, N.C. "I play in Cary and Garner in the A and B leagues," Williams said. "I dressed against Florida when Luongo went down in the first period right there." He pointed to the cage which was currently occupied by Petr Mrazek, taking warm-up shots before Game 3.
The good news is that Holtby made it through the game without incident, so Williams could enjoy the game - and win - by his favorite team, winning their first playoff game in nearly a decade. He didn't have to come on, live a lifelong dream, and try to ruin the fun of his fellow Caniacs. Williams did ruin my fun, however. I asked if he wouldn't mind coming out to the Raleigh Iceplex on Saturday night for my Lower C semifinals playoff game. He just smiles, shook his head and went about his business. Oh well, it was worth a shot.
Now, on to the action from Tuesday night.
Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Tampa Bay Lightning 3
It was a stunning end to an amazing season. The Lightning entered play on Tuesday night in an 0-3 series hole, and the Jackets were not about to let their foot off the gas.
The Lightning had Nikita Kucherov back from his one-game suspension, and he was unable to will the team back to Tampa for Game 5 and extend their season. Columbus fired out of the chute with Alexandre Texier registering his first-career playoff goal on the power play just 2:26 into the game, and Pierre-Luc Dubois tallied his first just 1:22 seconds later against the beleaguered Lightning. They were able to pick themselves up off the mat somewhat, as Steven Stamkos posted his first of the series to make it 2-1 after 20 minutes.
Seth Jones registered his second goal of the postseason, and his second point of the night, after scoring with 6:28 of ice time to make it 3-1. The Lightning showed some backbone by notching goals by Cedric Paquette and Brayden Point, the latter on the power play, as they tied the game 3-3 to take the raucous crowd out of it for all of a minute. Just 54 seconds after Point scored on the man advantage, Oliver Bjorkstrand stuck a stake into the heart of the Lightning with an even-strength goal to send the Blue Jackets to the room, up 4-3.
In the third period it was all Jackets, as the Lightning just had no answers. Artemi Panarin, Texier and Matt Duchene each scored in the third period, tacking on the extra point for a football-like final score of 7-3. It was certainly not the ending the Lightning and their fans were expecting. In fact, their fans are still probably stunned that the Tampa Bay Rays have won more games in the past few days than the Lightning.
Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is probably happiest of all, as he took a lot of heat mortgaging the future at the NHL trade deadline to bring in Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid to provide added depth. After a series sweep of the best team, the second wild-card in the Eastern Conference is suddenly looking like the No. 1 seed and a serious contender. Now, they await the winner of Boston Bruins-Toronto Maple Leafs series to see if they can keep it cooking.
New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
The Islanders also entered the night with a 3-0 series lead, and they had their brooms out ready to sweep away Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin and the battle-tested Penguins. Guentzel opened with a goal just 35 seconds into the game to send the home crowd wild, as the Pens were trying to extend their season. The euphoria lasted for just 94 seconds, as Jordan Eberle scored his fourth goal in four postseason games to splash cold water on the Steel City party.
There was no scoring in the second period, but Josh Bailey was able to post an empty-netter with just 38 seconds left in regulation to officially punch New York's ticket to the second round where they will play the winner of the Carolina-Washington series. Robin Lehner was superb again, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced, posting a 4-0-0 record, a 1.47 goals-against average and .956 save percentage to lead his boys to a series sweep.
Winnipeg Jets 2, St. Louis Blues 1 (OT)
The Jets and Blues think home-ice advantage is overrated, and no one seems to want it. After opening the series with two straight home losses in Games 1 and 2, the Jets hit the road for the banks of the Mississippi River looking to avoid the sweep. Not only did they simply extend their season another game or two, they made a series of it again, picking up a pair of road victories of their own.
Last season's Vezina finalist Connor Hellebuyck allowed just one goal on 32 shots in Tuesday's 2-1 overtime win, drawing the Jets even, with a pivotal Game 5 set for Thursday night back at MTS Centre. Can the Jets finally earn a home win, or will the road ways continue?
Kyle Connor did the honors in overtime with the game-winning tally, and he ended up with an assist. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler joined Connor in the multi-point club, as Scheifele had a goal and helper, while Wheeler had two assists and a team-high five hits. For the losing side, it was Vladimir Tarasenko lighting the lamp on the power play to account for his team's only offense. Oddly enough, St. Louis is 2-0 in the playoffs when Tarasenko is scoreless, and 0-2 when he etches his name upon the scoresheet. This has been a strange series.
Vegas Golden Knights 5, San Jose Sharks 0
After losing Game 1, the Golden Knights have looked like the team which ran roughshod over the rest of the Western Conference last season en route to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in their initial season. The scary thing is this team might actually be much, much deeper and powerful.
Max Pacioretty, one of the additions from last offseason, notched his fourth consecutive multi-point effort with two goals, two assists and a plus-3 rating with a game-best seven shots on goal. That's four goals and 10 points in four playoff games so far. Mark Stone, the biggest fish at the NHL trade deadline, is also enjoying being back in the postseason. He picked up two more assists in the victory, giving him six goals and 10 points with a plus-5. The Sharks have struggled to shut down those two big forwards, and it didn't help that Joe Thornton was suspended for this game after a hit to the head of Tomas Nosek in Game 3.
It's been a tale of two goaltenders, too. Marc-Andre Fleury notched his 15th-career shutout, and 78th postseason win to take sole possession of seventh place on the NHL's all-time wins list, surpassing Mike Vernon. Next up in his sights will be Ken Dryden, sixth on the list with 80 playoff wins. For the Sharks, Martin Jones coughed up two goals on seven shots in the first period, and head coach Peter DeBoer had enough, pulling Jones for the second time in four games. Aaron Dell stopped 17 of 20 shots in relief, and he could potentially get the start in Game 5. It probably won't matter, as hot as the Golden Knights have been.