With the rare two-day break between Games 5 and 6, the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights likely welcome the extra rest. Well, so do we, as another day of playoff hockey without the emotional upheaval and cardiac volatility of a Sharks-Knights game may come as a welcome respite.
With the Colorado Avalanche’s upset of the Calgary Flames in Game 5 last night, the top teams in both conferences have now been bounced in the first round, winning a combined one (1) game in the process. This marks the first time both top seeds have been eliminated in the first round since the NHL’s first major expansion in 1967, since prior to that, there was only one top seed.
From a certain perspective, it could be argued that only underdogs have won playoff rounds so far (the New York Islanders were the higher seed in their first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I think most of the hockey world picked the Pens in that match up), which bodes well for teams like the Stars and Hurricanes tonight.
What’s on tap
Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators Game 5 (Series tied 2-2)
12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET on NBC, SN, TVAS
The Stars seemingly entirely forgot about the defensive mindset that powered them through a successful regular season in Game 4 on Wednesday, and with four goals in the first period, showed us that maybe the Predators did, too. This series is turning out to be a lot closer than most of us expected, but only slightly more entertaining. The Perds’ penalty kill is going to have to adjust their strategy, as they allowed three of the Stars’ five goals while down a man.
Winnipeg Jets at St. Louis Blues Game 6 (STL leads 3-2)
4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS2, FS-MW
After the Jets earned a hard-fought two goal lead heading into the third period of Game 5 on Thursday, the Blues roared back, scoring three unanswered goals to take the stranglehold on the series, including Jaden Schwartz’s game winner with 15 seconds left in regulation time. Still, every year there seems to be a series where the road team wins every game, so expect Winnipeg to bounce back in St. Louis tonight to bring us the most beautiful thing in all of NHL hockey: Game 7.
Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals (Series tied 2-2)
5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on NBC, SN360, SN1, TVAS
After the Hurricanes looked like new kids on the playground early, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals roared out to a two game lead at home, many of us were worried that this series was all but over. Ditto after Carolina lost forwards Micheal Ferland and Andrei Svechnikov in Game 3, the latter after an ill-advised and controversial fight with Alex Ovechkin. With both those players out, however, the ‘Canes rallied in front of a 30-save performance from goaltender Petr Mrazek to tie the series. These kids aren’t going away without a fight, and yet another series that could have been a walk is looking like a real competition.
Roope Hintz: With two goals in the Stars’ dismantling of the Predators on Wednesday, the first playoff goals of his burgeoning career, Hintz is living up to the promise of his very good hockey name, and exploiting the lack of center depth on the Nashville roster. The trade deadline addition of Mats Zuccarello undoubtedly has helped him, and Hintz is making a name for himself at the most important possible time.
Jaden Schwartz: The tie-breaking goal with 15 seconds on the clock in Game 5 was a back-breaking tally. If the Blues win this series, whether it’s tonight or in Game 7, that moment will be seen as yet another in a series of turning points in this roller coaster of a St. Louis season.
Warren Foegele: The center of no small amount of controversy, Foegele was looking down the barrel of a call from the department of player safety after this hit on T.J. Oshie knocked the American hero out for the remainder of the game. Oshie is out indefinitely and is not likely to return for the remainder of the postseason. Before any of that, though, Foegele set a franchise record (such as it is) with the opening goal just 17 seconds into Game 4, setting the tone for the rest of the contest.
As much as it pains me to look away from the emotional rivalry that’s developing between the Capitals and Hurricanes, there is no way we’re missing an elimination game in Jets-Blues Game 6 tonight. This series has been as close as they get the whole way, and it’s hard to imagine how they could possible ratchet the intensity up any farther, but staring down the golf course tends to do that for some teams (Flames excepted), and we’re strapping in.