Not need for much build-up: there were three awesome Game 7s to close out the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last night (sad face). I watched them all and thought a few thoughts along the way.
These are those thoughts.
Rangers 2 - Flyers 1
Steve Mason was incredible
Game 7 in the Flyers/Rangers series came down to the wire, for which Philly can thank Steve Mason. New York pumped quality chance after quality chance on the guy but couldn’t beat him. After a season when he posted a .917 save percentage in 61 games, he followed it up with a .939 in playoffs. Not bad for a guy who was a punchline in the not-too-distant past.
Whether it’s getting older (he’s 25 now), his work with goalie coach Jeff Reese, or something else, I’m okay with taking him out of the “Ondrej Pavelec” category and calling him average or better.
Jakub Voracek is “there”
The Flyers’ 24-year-old forward is just so much fun to watch. He finished inside the top-40 in NHL scoring this year with 62 points, and he regularly displays the type of talent that makes you believe he could do more. I think he could climb into the mid-70s next season at age 25 while playing with a 26-year-old Claude Giroux, on what I expect to be a better Flyers team.
Zuccarello and hope passes
Coaches hate when you throw “hope” passes like Mats Zuccarello did last night on the Rangers’ first goal. What they mean by hope passes is “Yes, it would be nice if you could get the puck to Carcillo on the back-door, but that would involve a spin-o-rama and a backhand pass that would have to go throw the wickets of two Flyers players. Maybe just keep possession instead of firing it away.” But as a player, sometimes - SOMETIMES - it works, and you score, and it’s incredible, and like a junkie sniffing out his next high, you’re unable to give up the habit completely. And as a fan, I’m thankful guys still seek out that rush. Man that was a pretty goal. Carcillo was as surprised as anyone.
Wild 5 - Avalance 4 (OT)
Nathan MacKinnon is a special kind of special
Last night I tweeted something to the effect of “How long until Nate MacKinnon wins his first Art Ross Trophy? 350 days? 715?” Of course, if Crosby’s healthy that might be a bit of a stretch. But holy hell, this kid is next level and moving beyond that fast. Last night he was being fronted by Mikael Granlund, who had dropped his stick, and he suddenly turned into And1 Streetball’s The Professor and so thoroughly broke him down I spun an imaginary towel on my couch. He skates like the fastest players in the league (Hagelin, Grabner et. all), only he can control the puck and think while going mach 6. He’s unbelievable.
Four blown leads at home in Game 7?
Man, the Avs really should’ve been able to shell properly last night. It’s great to drive play and all that, but if you’re lucky enough to get up a goal late in a huge game, even an inferior team should be able to stack enough bodies around the goal line and make enough safe plays to eke out with a win. They needed a save or two from Semyon Varlamov that they didn’t get, they had a positional mix-up on the game-tying goal, and the Wild were lucky to come out with a series win in Colorado (whether they deserved to or not).
Ilya Bryzgalov will have a hand in all this yet
He will, right? After Darcy Kuemper left the game versus the Avs with what seems to be a concussion, Bryzgalov made one save and ended up with the win. Well, now he’s the likely starter for Game 1 of round two versus the Blackhawks. This is gonna be entertaining.
Kings 5 - Sharks 1
Someone had to go
That’s the tough part of an amazing, incredible Sharks/Kings series: someone always had to lose, though neither team deserved it. The biggest takeaway for these teams should be that under the new playoff format, winning your division -- particularly if you’re in a good one -- is more important than ever. Maybe the Sharks “choked,” I dunno. But if they play the Kings 100 times, I doubt the record strays too far from 50-50. They’re a damn good hockey team that doesn’t need to change much to be a serious contender next year.
Jonathan Quick shut ‘er down
That was some performance by Jonathan Quick in Game 7 - the Sharks were all over the Kings at times. When LA had their backs against the wall, Quick stepped up and played exceptionally well. He put together four straight games as their rock, and allowed them the chance to take that series back. He, as much as anyone on the Kings, deserves the credit for the turnaround. He’s proven he can handle that pressure in the past.
Speaking of people who deserve credit…
Sometimes I have trouble giving Doughty the credit he deserves because he looks like a doughy homeless beer leaguer. But guys, I have news: he’s actually exceptional at hockey. Where the Sharks missed their Olympian defender (Vlasic), the Kings relied heavily on theirs to help them get by. The guy is racking up a Jonathan Toews-like resume at age 24.
In General: NHL shooting
In all, at least four of six goaltenders were fantastic last night. In today’s NHL, four out of every six goaltenders are fantastic. To match that, the ability to pick corners at the highest level of the sport has gotten bonkers. From Spurgeon’s goal to tie the game and Niederreiter plunking one just inside Varlamov’s ear and off the crossbar, to Doughty’s awkward off-hand laser and Toffoli’s casual top-corner deposit, it’s just silly all around. These days, anything less than a perfect shot rarely goes in.