What a crazy and fun ride the first round of the 2019 NHL playoffs was to watch. Capitals fans were in nail-biting mode for a good bit of the series. That also seems to hold true for most of the rest of the league as a couple of teams were swept and a few more went down to the wire with seven games to sort out the winner.
Get the Broom
The Tampa Bay Lightning felt the power of the so-called Presidents’ Trophy curse and gave up the fight after four games against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They became the first trophy winner to ever be swept in the first round. There were times it looked as if the Bolts had no desire to win, even though they have some of the best players in the league on their roster. The Blue Jackets defense was stronger than the Bolts’ offensive play and there simply was no getting around stellar goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. On the other side- the Lightning defense just wasn’t up to the power of the Jackets offensive play. Maybe they thought speed would do it for them, but Columbus seemed to know how to slow them down and take the lead. The series ended 4-0 and the Jackets will play the Boston Bruins in Round Two.
The New York Islanders, under the direction of the Caps former coach Barry Trotz, came to win it. They out-played their opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins. As Caps’ fans gleefully watched, the Isles swept the Pens out of the playoffs. They held the Pens main man, Sidney Crosby, out of the scoring zone; he had one assist in the series. Evgeni Malkin threw his body around a lot but didn’t help where it counted. The Islanders had something to prove for themselves and for their coach. The Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner did an amazing job but then so did the team as a whole. There was that tenacity we saw Trotz bring to the Capitals that kept them pushing forward to win the Cup. Jordan Eberle led the charge and will be the man to watch in Round Two. He’s the guy with a goal in every game. The Islanders will take on the Carolina Hurricanes next.
Five and Six Is What it Took
It took the Avalanche five games to close the round and advance. The Calgary Flames took the first game, shutting out the Avs 4-0. Colorado came back fighting, with their new goaltender, Philipp Grubauer, defending the net. They won game two in overtime, as well as game four. Game five was all they needed to win a series for the first time since 2008. Former Caps’ goalie Grubi received a good bit of credit for keeping the Avs alive long enough to get points on the board. They will play San Jose in round two.
The Winnipeg Jets almost looked like they could take the first round from the St Louis Blues. The Blues narrowly won the first two and the Jets came back to win game three, 6-3. They followed up with a close-call OT to infuse some hope. The Blues charged on to win the next two games by one goal in each matchup. Winnipeg just didn’t seem to have the stamina to shift things toward a W. Either team could have taken the round; the Blues had a narrow enough advantage to make it go their way. St Louis will play Dallas in round two.
The Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars began their face-off with the Stars taking a one point lead for the win. Two more games and the Preds thought they turned the tide with an OT win and another one-goal lead win. In the next two matches Dallas sent a message to Nashville that they intended to take the round, winning the next two, 5-1 and 5-3. The final game six was not going to be an easy win as the goaltenders battled to save their teams. In the end it was the Stars goalie Ben Bishop who held off the Predators attack in overtime. Nashville never really showed up and Dallas took advantage of their performance to eliminate them with relative ease.
Play All The Games
The Vegas Golden Knights didn’t have the shiny season compared to their performance the previous year. The new kids struggled to get to the playoffs and that struggle turned to strength and a fight to win. The San Jose Sharks on the other hand were right where most expected them to be at the end of the season. The Sharks took the first game; however, the Knights looked golden again as they took back the series lead with wins in games two, three, and four. The Sharks were sloppy in their play with lots of penalties while the VGK were faster at moving the puck into the scoring zone. And then game five happened to turn things around. With a decisive 5-2 win, SJS took control of the series. The highlight was a two-time OT for game six, in which the Sharks outlasted the Knights. Finally, game seven game with all kinds of drama revolving around Cody Eakin ejection for cross-checking Joe Pavelski. Eakin received a five minute major and a game misconduct for the hit that sent Pavelski off the ice. The Knights believe that this tipped the scales in the favor of the Stars who went on to win in OT. The Stars decimated the Knights 3-0 goal lead entering the third period answering with four goals of their own. The Knights came back to tie it up and force the OT play. Be what it was, the Sharks advanced to Round Two to face the Avalanche.
It seemed everyone in the hockey world was focused on the final game of the series: round seven between the defending Stanley Cup Champions the Capitals and the determined Carolina Hurricanes. The teams could only manage to win at home, which led the Capitals fan base to feel sure that game seven would be theirs. Washington, with home ice advantage won the first two games then the Canes had their chance to take two games. In the process, young Russia player Andrei Svechnikov decided it was a good idea to pick a fight with captain Alex Ovechkin. He left the game and would not play the rest of the series. The next game Warren Foegele boarded TJ Oshie who also would not return, undergoing surgery for a broken clavicle. The Caps returned home and with shouts of “TJ Oshie” they shutout the Canes 6-0. Back to Raleigh and a 5-2 win for the Hurricanes to force a game seven in Washington DC. It would not prove to be the best of games for the Caps as the match went into double OT. They were outplayed by the Canes who dominated the puck, eventually landing it in the net for a 4-3 win. The Canes advance to the second round to play the Islanders.
It was a great first round. The Capitals are out of the running now. The only thing for fans to do is decide if they want to back the Islanders or the Hurricanes for the Eastern Conference win.