The first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs is close to half over, and has already had more than its share of surprises. The presumptive favorite Tampa Bay Lightning and the persistent favorite Pittsburgh Penguins are both on the brink of elimination staring into the void of 0-3 series deficits, and our San Jose Sharks, while only down 2-1 in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, certainly look like less of a contender than we’d like. Luckily, the first round is brimming with hockey to cleanse the palate before San Jose’s not-technically-must-win-but-pretty-much-must-win-for-all-practical-intents-and-purposes Game 4 tomorrow night.
What’s on tap
Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)
4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, NESN
The Bruins clawed back into this series in a big way in Game 2, dominating play for pretty much the entire first two periods and clearly getting under the skin of some of Toronto’s depth forwards. What does Toronto look like this offseason if the best roster the biggest hockey media market has seen in decades drops out to the Bruins in the first round at least partially due to undisciplined play from Nazem Kadri for the second year in a row? To all of my fellow Team Chaos supporters, may I present to you: the Boston Bruins.
Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes Game 3 (WAS leads 2-0)
4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2, FN-CA, NBCSWA
After being soundly outmatched in Game 1, the Hurricanes at least made a show of it in Game 2, taking the defending champs to overtime before dropping into their 0-2 hole. As the saying goes, no series is over until you lose at home. That’s pretty obviously not true, but if the ‘Canes can’t figure out Braden Holtby and the Caps tonight, they’ll be in a 50 percent deeper hole and will be effectively finished.
Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)
6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 p.m. ET on NBCS, SN, TVAS, FS-SW, FS-TN
After a slightly spirited Game 1, this series seems to have settled back into what we all expected, which is to say boring. High scoring games are not the only exciting games, but they are more likely to be exciting than the 2-1 slog we saw in Game 2. The overtime was exciting, as it often is, but with a total of eight goals in six-plus periods of hockey, maybe just tune in if it’s going to extra innings.
Calgary Flames at Colorado Avalanche Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)
7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2, ALT
The Avalanche’s quest to best Mike Smith will get some reinforcement tonight in the form of Hobey Baker winner and 2017 fourth overall pick Cale Makar. Smith’s .954 save percentage leads all goalies this postseason but, with a career regular season mark of .918 and a 2018-19 mark of .898, the Flames have to be crossing every finger that he can keep this up, and that might affect their stickhandling.
Auston Matthews: Okay, not hot, per se, but Matthews is a key player to watch for the exact opposite reason tonight. With no points in this series and just two points in nine playoff games against Boston, Matthews either forgot how to hockey or is getting really effectively shut down by Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. The latter is much more likely.
Sebastian Aho: Similarly to Matthews, what will Aho be able to do once head coach Rod Brind’Amour is able to get him away from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitri Orlov with the home team’s last change? Aho’s play is vital to Carolina’s finding life in this series, as his 83 points led the team through the first 82.
Ben Bishop: After a late season push into the Vezina conversation, the Stars netminder is carrying that momentum right into the playoffs. Bishop’s .946 save percentage and 2.59 goals saved above average in all situations is third best in the post season (behind the New York Islanders’ Robin Lehner and Calgary’s Smith), and will be just as instrumental in Dallas’ progression through the playoffs as he was during the regular season.
Cale Makar: The NCAA Division I most valuable player is going pro tonight for Colorado, after scoring 49 points in 41 games for the University of Massachusetts during the regular season and being ousted by Minnesota Duluth in Saturday’s Frozen Four final. College players’ impacts are notoriously difficult to project to the NHL, but Makar drove the Minutemen’s offence to an absurd degree, increasing their goal differential by almost 800 percent compared to when he was off the ice. That’s kind of silly.
There are a lot of really strong storylines today, but we’re coming back around to Bruins-Leafs again. How Toronto head coach Mike Babcock manages match ups with last change to free up the Matthews line to provide some offense promises to be a really interesting B-plot to the piles of skill and talent on both sides of the ice, and the transcendant play of both goaltenders has to be appointment viewing.
On the other hand, there is this:
DID YOU SEE THAT?! That is an American hero right there. That should probably not be allowed, but it is very cool, and what’s more American than “not technically illegal?” USA! USA! USA!
What are you watching tonight?