Monday, July 8, 2019

The Top 25 Games of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Revisiting the highlights of the NHL postseason that was, from the Bolts' historic first-round choke to the Blues FINALLY taking Lord Stanley home...

By: Jimbo X

This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs had a little bit of everything (except an appearance from the Red Wings or the Rangers, naturally.) You had monumental upsets. You had insanely riveting, sudden-death overtime games galore. You had hard hits and heart-palpitating saves and some fantastic donnybrooks and — as has become the norm in pro hockey, lamentably — a LOT of very, very suspicious officiating. But even if the final outcome wasn’t as riveting as, say, the 1994 festivities or the 2003 season (or even last year’s playoffs, for that matter), there were still plenty of great (or, at least, memorable) games scattered throughout the 2019 postseason.

As a matter of fact, I reckon I can pinpoint 25 of them in particular that stand out as the National Hockey League’s finest outings from the playoffs that just were. Feel free to print this sucker out and use it as a cheat sheet whenever the NHL Network is showing repeats this summer — indeed, having to make do with replays of these instant classics is going to have to tide all of us over ‘til the zambonis of October roll around again ...

April 10, 2019
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

The Lightning not only headed into the series with the best record in the NHL, they actually tied the League record for most wins in a season. So, naturally, everyone and their mama expected them to steamroll the ho-hum Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. And it certainly looked like the Lightning were going to roll Columbus in game one of the series, as T.B. quickly leapt out to a 3-0 lead heading into the second period … only for the Blue Jackets to mount an improbable comeback, complete with Seth Jones knocking the power play game winner at the 14-minute mark of the third. Certainly, it was a shocking way to being the series — although, clearly not as shocking as how it ended a mere six days later.

April 13, 2019
Washington Capitals 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

The Caps made it a 2-0 affair with back-to-back goals from Nicklas Backstroke and T.J. Oshie, only for the Canes’ Lucas Wallmark to get Caroline on the scoreboard with about four minute remaining in the first period. Sebastian Aho scored with about three minutes left in the second to make it a tied game, with Tom Wilson breaking the deadlock with a score at about the nine-minute mark of the third … only for Jordan Staal to roar back about six minutes later with a goal of his own to make it 3-3 all. Alas, the overtime period was not long for this world, as Brooks Orpik got the puck past Part Mrazek less than two minutes into the first frame of OT hockey.

April 15, 2019
Carolina Hurricanes 5, Washington Capitals 0

An otherwise unremarkable blowout victory for the Canes — which, if I’m not mistaken, represented their first home playoff win in about a decade — will forever be remembered for one thing, and one thing only: Alexander Ovechkin KTFO out of Andrei Svechnikov around the 11 minute mark of the very first period. Thank God for hockey — where else on Earth can you see 20,000 people cheer a 33-year-old for punching a teenager into a momentary comatose state?

April 16, 2019
Winnipeg Jets 2, St. Louis Blues 1

Who says defensive hockey is dead these days? After 40 minutes of scoreless action (remind you of high school a little bit?), Vladimir Tarasenko snuck one past Connor Hellebuyck barely half a minute into the third period. Mark Scheifele, however, would even the integers on the scoreboard when he rolled the rubber past Jordan Binnington around the six-minute mark of the period. Ultimately, it was Kyle Connor who played hero of the day for Winnipeg, as he scored the sudden death game-winner at the six-minute mark of the first OT period.

April 16, 2019
Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

After staging an epic four-point comeback in game one, the Blue Jackets shellacked Tampa Bay 5-1 in game two and then made it a 3-0 series lead following a 3-1 victory over the HEAVILY favored Lightning. So Tampa Bay — the 2019 Presidents’ Trophy winner and only a team tied for the most regular season wins in NHL history — inconceivably found themselves on the cusp of being swept by a team that scored 30 less regular season points than they did. It was a fairly competitive game two periods in, with Brayden Point notching a power play goal with about two minutes and some change to go in the second to make it a 3-3 affair. However, Oliver Bjorkstrand would then go on to score for Columbus less than a minute later, as the Blue Jackets’ defense held steady en route to scoring three empty netters late in the third to end the series with a downright unfathomable 7-3 victory. Not since the Detroit Red Wings were bumped out of the first round by the 41-win Edmonton Oilers in 2006 an I recall a more shocking upset … or, to be frank, a more embarrassing performance from ANY team in recent NHL postseason history.

April 16, 2019
New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 1

The perennial playoffs-contending Penguins went into their first round series against the Islanders as considerable favorites. Alas, following a thrilling game one that saw Josh Bailey give NYI the deuce in overtime, the Isles quickly managed to pound down Sid Crosby and company in a 3-1 game two victory and an even more impressive 4-1 game three win. Facing elimination on their home ice, the Pens predictably shat the proverbial rink and couldn’t muster a single score after Jake Guentzel’s  goal about 30 seconds into period one. Ultimately, Brock Nelson’s goal around the 18 minute mark of the first period proved to be the game-winner — and series-clincher — for the Islanders, who celebrated their first postseason series sweep since the friggin’ 1983 Stanley Cup Finals.

April 21, 2019
San Jose Sharks 2, Vegas Golden Knights 1

It was do or die for San Jose, and they certainly rose to the occasion in thrilling fashion in Game 6’s double overtime road win. Logan Couture scored with less than ten seconds remaining in the first period to get the Sharks up early, only for Jonathan Marchessault to make it even Stevens with a goal at the 11-and-a-half-minute-mark of the second. Then — after nearly 50 minutes of scoreless action — Tomas Hertl slipped in the game-winning puck around the 11-minute mark of 2OT, as Martin Jones wrapped up the game with a downright ABSURD 58 saves on 59 shots.

April 22, 2019
Dallas Stars 2, Nashville Predators 1

Up three games to two, the Stars looked to eliminate Nashville on their home ice, and while it may have taken some extra time on the clock, they nonetheless managed to do precisely that in a series-clinching, game six victory. Austin Watson struck early in the first to give the Preds the momentary lead, but Blake Corneau would tie things 1-1 with a goal around the five-minute mark of the second period. Like you in high school, neither team could do much scoring in the third, resulting in overtime play. In sudden death play, John Klingberg rolled the rubber past Pekka Rinne at about the 17-minute mark to make it 2-1, Dallas — and, of course, punch their ticket to the second round of playoffs action. 

April 23, 2019
Boston Bruins 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Another year, another bruising playoffs exit for the Maple Laughs at the expense of the Bruins. Joakim Nordstrom and Marcus Johansson made it 2-0 for Boston with a twosome of first period goals, but John Tavares did manage to cut the lead down to just one goal following a net-rustler at about the four-minute mark of the second period. Alas, Sean Kuraly’s goal with less than three minutes to go in the third period pretty much put the dagger through Toronto’s heart — while Charlie Coyle and Patrice Bergeron’s subsequent empty netters stomped it into a bloody pulp. 

April 23, 2019
San Jose Sharks 5, Vegas Golden Knights 4

It might just be the “Curse of McSorley's Stick” for the Playstation 4 generation — or at least the most controversial series-ending penalty call since Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. Vegas looked like they had this one in the bag, porting about a 3-0 lead with barely 10 minutes remaining in the third period. Alas, a cross-checking call on Cody Eakin resulted in a five-minute major, in which the Sharks scored no less than FOUR goals (including two from Logan Couture) to make it a 4-3 San Jose game with about six minutes left in regulation. Just when you think this game couldn’t get any crazier, Jonathan Marchessault scored with just 47 left in the period to tie things up 4-4. The Sharks and Knights would pound on each for nearly an entire overtime period before Barclay Goodrow ultimately snuck one past Marc-Andre Fleury at about the 18-minute mark to give San Jose the exhilarating game seven victory.

April 24, 2019
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Washington Capitals 3

And just like that, the reigning, defending Stanley Cup champions got bounced outta’ the playoffs — in the first round, via a heartrending, double overtime loss. Which, of course, was absolute ecstasy for the other team on the ice, as the self-professed “bunch of jerks” completed a mini-comeback en route to the monumental upset. The Caps got off to a quick 2-0 lead heading into the second period, thanks to the handiwork of Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson. Sebastian Aho scored on a short-handed goal around the 10-minute mark to make it a 2-1 affair, only for Evgeny Kuznetsov to smack the puck past Petr Mrazek to extend Washington’s lead to 3-1. Alas, Teuvo Teravainen and Jordan Staal would score goals to tie things up 3-all, with Brock McGinn rattling off the series-clincher at 11:05 of 2OT.

April 25, 2019
Boston Bruins 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

The Bruins hopped out to an early lead thanks to Noel Acciari’s splendid short-handed goal at the 10-minute mark of the first. However, the Blue Jackets would bounce back with goals less than 20 seconds apart from Branodon Dubinsky and Pierre-Luc Dubois around the midway point of the third to make it 2-1 Blue Jackets. With less than five minutes remaining in regulation, Charlie Coyle snuck one past Sergei Bobrovsky to knot things up. And as fate would have it, Coyle would be the same Bruin who won the game for Boston, as he scored around the five-minute mark of the first overtime period to give the boys in yellow, black and white and I think maybe a little bit of brown the first win of the series.

April 27, 2019
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Boston Bruins 2

No gimmicks here — just a good, old-fashioned double overtime thriller, with all the high drama you would expect out of a fiercely competitive playoff hockey game. Matt Grzelcyk got the B’s on the board early with a first period power play goal, but it only took Artemi Panarin a minute or so within the second period to roll the rubber past Tuukka Rask to make it a 1-1 affair. Of course, David Pastrnak would strike back with another goal less than a minute later, only for Panarin to score his second goal of the game at the eight-minute mark of the second to make it 2-2 heading into the third period. There would be no scoring for almost an hour of ice time before Matt Duchene got another one by Rask … thus, giving the Blue Jackets the 2OT, series-tying victory on enemy ice at the TD Garden.

April 29, 2019
St. Louis Blues 4, Dallas Stars 3

A wacky back-and-forth slugfest that saw Patrick Maroon score the game-winning goal with less than two minutes remaining in regulation — this, just two minutes after Tyler Seguin rattled the puck past Jordan Binnington to make it three-all for all of 120 seconds. Speaking of Binnington, he wrapped up the game with 28 saves on 31 shots, thus extending the Blues’ road record to 4-0 in the postseason.

May 03, 2019
Carolina Hurricanes 5, New York Islanders 2

It may not have been a thrilling series — save, perhaps, for game one, which witnessed Jordan Staal sneak one past Robin Lehner for a 1-0 overtime victory — but you can’t help but be impressed by the Canes’ steamrolling of the Islanders in their four-to-zip semifinals sweep. In the fourth and decisive game, Mathew Barzal actually managed to get NYI on the board first … only for Carolina to then rack up five unanswered points en route to Brock Nelson scoring a totally meaningless goal with barely a minute left in the third period to make it a 5-2 final score. As for the goalie stats, Curtis McElhinney finished the outing with a stellar 26 saves on 28 shots — while Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss tag teamed for a considerably less impressive 16 saves on 21 shots.

May 05, 2019
St. Louis Blues 4, Dallas Stars 1 

It was do or die for the Blues, and this Sunday afternoon, they decided they’d rather do. Alex Pietrangelo scored barely a minute into the first period, as Tyler Seguin knotted things up 1-1 with a power play goal around the 11:30 minute mark. Alas, From there on out it was all STL, with David Perron, Jaden Schwartz and Sammy Blais all getting the vulcanized rubber past Benny Bishop and Anton Khudobin en route to the 4-1 final tally. Especially noteworthy was Schwartz’s redirection goal in the third, which he managed to notch up in a virtually empty net while Ben Bishop rolled around on the ice, waiting for a ref stoppage that never came.

May 06, 2019
Boston Bruins 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

The Jackets were a good enough time to sweep the season’s President’s Trophy winner, but apparently they didn’t have enough tank in the gas to outlast Boston. In a game that was certainly more riveting than the final score implies, David Krejci got the Bruins on the board first with a goal around the 12-minute mark of the second. It would be about nine minutes into the third period when Marcus Johansson extend the B’s lead after rolling a puck past Sergei Bobrovsky, as David Backes drove the proverbial dagger through the Blue Jackets’ hearts with his first goal of the postseason less than two minutes later.

May 06, 2019
Colorado Avalanche 4, San Jose Sharks 3

The season was on the line for Colorado, and to their credit, the Avs stepped up big time with their backs to the brink. Tyson Jost scored first at the four minute mark of the second, with the Sharks’ Marc-Edouard Vlasic tying things up 1-1 with a goal around the 14-and-a-half-minute-mark of the period. J.T. Compher would score with less than two minutes remaining in the second to give Colorado a 2-1 lead, only for Brent Burns to score with just ten seconds remaining in the period to once again knot it all up. Compher would score his second goal of the game at the four-minute mark of the third, with Vlasic notching up his second goal of the game with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. Tied 3-3, Gabriel Landeskog didn’t take long to find the game-winner (and season-saver) for the Avalanche, as he rolled the rubber past Martin Jones just two minutes and 32 seconds into the first overtime period.

May 07, 2019
St. Louis Blues 2, Dallas Stars 1

How could you possibly complain about a Game 7 matchup that requires double overtime to determine the series victor? Well, the Blues made the hometown faithful happy in this thrilling semifinals round-closer, which saw Vince Dunn get STL on the board first with a goal at 13:30 of the first period. The Stars’ Mats Zuccarello, however, would respond with a goal of his own less than two minutes later, and at 1-1 she stood for the next 66 minutes of ice time before Patrick Maroon — who, fittingly enough, was actually BORN in St. Louis — rolled the puck past Ben Bishop (who, at the final horn, had made an absurd 52 saves on 54 shots) at the 5:50 mark of 2OT to give the Blues their first passport to the Western Conference Finals since 2016.

May 08, 2019
San Jose Sharks 3, Colorado Avalanche 2

Joe Pavelski struck first for SJ with a goal about six minutes into the first period, with Tomas Hertl following suit with a goal at the 11:35 minute mark. Mikko Rantanen would get the Avs on the board with a score with just seven seconds remaining in the period, but the Sharks would extend their lead to 3-1 following a Joonas Donskoi goal around the midpoint mark of the second. Tyson Jost gave Colorado some hope with a goal less than a minute into the third period, but San Jose’s defense would hold steady — with Martin Jones finishing the contest with 27 saves on 29 shots — en route to the one-goal, series-clinching victory.

May 12, 2019
Boston Bruins 6, Carolina Hurricanes 2

An absolute laugher that saw the Bruins hold an insurmountable 6-0 lead before the five minute mark of the third period even rolled around. Matt Grzelcyk racked up two goals in the blowout, with Jake DeBrusk, David Backes, Connor Clifton and Danton Heinen all getting opportunities to roll the puck past Petr Mrazek, who, with a mere 19 saves on 25 shots, appeared to have been struck with sudden onset retardedness an hour or so before the game. Don’t even get excited about Justin Williams and Teuvo Teravainen’s late goals for the Canes … by then, they were so deep into garbage time you can almost smell the methane emanating from their skates. 

May 15, 2019
San Jose Sharks 5, St. Louis Blues 4

A back-and-forth heavyweight slugfest that witnessed San Jose jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in the first — only for the Blues to go on a four-goal rampage in the second period. Things were wacky from the get-go in the second, with Alexander Steen and Joe Thornton scoring within 14 seconds of one another to make it 3-1 Sharks. Alas, Vladimir Tarasenko and back to back goals by David Perron would quickly make it a 4-3 lead for St. Louis. Indeed, with literally one minute left in regulation, it seemed like the Blues were destined for a 2-1 series lead … only for Logan Couture to fire one past Jordan Binnington with 61 seconds left on the clock to make it a 4-4 affair. Erik Karlsson would proceed to score the overtime game winner at the 5:23 mark — a rather fitting situation, considering he also scored the first goal of the game, too.

May 29, 2019
St. Louis Blues 3, Boston Bruins 2

The Blues managed to even the series with a hard-fought road win against the Bruins in Game 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals. Charlie Coyle got the B’s on the board early with a power play goal about four and a half minutes into the first period, only for STL’s Robert Bortuzzo to fire back with a goal of his own a few seconds shy of the 10-minute mark. Naturally, Joakim Nordstrom would manage to score just moments later to make it 2-1 for Boston, with Vladimir Tarasenko’s veteran ass making things even once more when he rattled the puck past Tuukka Rask around the 15 minute mark of the first. There would be no scoring in the second and third, however, thus necessitating some extracurricular play. Alas, the overtime period didn’t last too long, as Carl Gunnarsson rolled the rubber past Rask at around the four-minute mark of O.T. 1 to give St. Louis their first win of the Championship series.

June 06, 2019
St. Louis Blues 2, Boston Bruins 1

After a scoreless first period, Ryan O’Reilly rolled the rubber past Tuukka Rask less than a minute into the second. The Bruins played fairly solid defense, only for David Perron to make it 2-0 STL with a goal around the 10-minute mark of the third. Jake DeBrusk managed to cut the deficit to 2-1 for Boston when he scored around the 13-minute mark, but St. Louis’ D held steady for the next six and a half minutes to secure the Game 5 victory. Speaking of great defensive performances, Jordan Binnington finished the outing with a sublime 38 saves on 39 shots — indeed, he managed to stop 678 out of 742 shots throughout the playoffs, giving him a final postseason save percentage of .914.

June 12, 2019
St. Louis Blues 4, Boston Bruins 1

After the Bruins clobbered St. Louis 5-1 on June 9 to force a game seven — back at the TD Garden, no less — it just seemed like Boston was on the verge of yet another championship victory. Alas, the Blues had other plans in the ultimate game of the 2018-2019 NHL campaign, with Ryan O’Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo knotting up two goals a piece late in the first period to give the Blues and early — and as it turns out, insurmountable — lead on the heavily favored B’s on their home ice. After a scoreless second period the Blues continued to pour it on, with goals from Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford making at a 4-0 blowout with less than five minutes to go in the third period. While Matt Grzelcyk was able to get Boston on the board with a goal with barely two minutes left in regulation, there was no hope for an epic Boston comeback win this evening. And after 50 years of futility, the Blues — led by Conn-Smyth winner O’Reilly — FINALLY got an opportunity to hoist Lord Stanley … an affair made even sweeter having to watch all of those crestfallen New Englanders pout throughout the post-game festivities.


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