If you’re a big proponent of the saying “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” then Wednesday’s duo of games put the icing on your cake.
Most of last night’s contests were pretty abysmal. There was an hour stretch (the second period of each game, more or less) that was worry-about-the-state-of-the-sport material. The Lightning barely managed a shot on goal in the second period of their game, for instance.
Both games were definitely guilty of zombie-shambling beginnings (and middles, really), but oh those finishes. Each contest generated the kind of flashes of brilliance that fill out a highlight reel just enough.
So, ultimately the best things about each game revolved around quality moments rather than a quantity of thrills, but at least it was better than nothing.
Let’s recap the action now, shall we?
LIGHTNING 2, CANADIENS 1
-- This one ended on a broken play, at least if you look at it from Montreal's perspective. Ondrej Palat showed great patience in finding Victor Hedman cutting in, who sent a video game-style one-timer pass to Tyler Johnson for a game-winner with maybe one second remaining.
As heartbreaking as that Game 1 last-second loss must have been for the New York Rangers in Game 1 against Washington, this had to be worse, right?
-- One big reason why that loss hurts, beyond the most obvious being down 3-0 thing, is that Montreal dominated by just about any metric. The Canadiens held Tampa Bay without a shot for about 18 minutes and generated a 31-19 shot differential overall. That 19th shot on goal for Tampa Bay made all the difference, though.
-- Steve Stamkos did not score a goal, and even more shocking, didn't generate a SOG. He did, however, set up Alex Killorn's third goal of the postseason on a silver platter. That's a long way of saying Stamkos assisted on Killorn's goal (and it was a nice one).
-- Ben Bishop gets a lot of flack for embellishing, but however you feel about that business, he's been fantastic lately. He stopped 30 out of 31 shots in this one, and has only allowed five goals on 104 SOG faced in this series (and five on 135 in the past four contests, since he pitched a shutout to close out Detroit).
Carey Price has had a fantastic season - Vezina no doubt, maybe Hart material - but Bishop has been better in this series.
-- Brendan Gallagher took a serious beating in this one, once shown putting his nose back into place (gah) after a cross-check. He was rewarded for some hard work, too, as he scored his second goal of the postseason.
-- After failing to score a point in 17 games during the regular season, Greg Pateryn has three assists in six playoff contests, including a helper on that Gallagher goal.
-- Kind of an odd setup here: these two teams received an extra night off before Game 3, but will turn around for a rare Game 4 back-to-back. Not sure if this benefits one side more than another, but I imagine someone will try to make it seem that way.
-- Jonathan Drouin played, technically. And hey, he got about a minute-and-half of extra ice time (and just a -1 instead of a -2). Still, it feels like Drouin's getting in there just enough for people to ask fewer questions. Why not give him more of a shot, especially if your power play needs a boost here and there?
CAPITALS 2, RANGERS 1
-- Speaking of young, promising players who haven't necessarily always gotten the opportunities some believe they should, Andre Burakovsky was the obvious difference-maker in this one ... at least among skaters.
Burakovsky scored both of Washington's goals, and both in highlight-reel fashion. The 20-year-old also assisted on Game 3's 1-0 tally, so he's been involved in all three of the Capitals' three goals in their past two wins at home to take a 3-1 series lead. I'm guessing that Barry Trotz will have to answer more questions the next time he makes Burakovsky a healthy scratch for some grunt.
-- Speaking of Trotz, a LOT of people came out to proclaim a should-be Jack Adams winner. Trotz is a good coach, and he seems like an even better person ... but sometimes I wonder if people maybe overrate him a teeny tiny bit. I mean, in all honesty, the biggest difference with this year's Caps is that Holtby has been outstanding. Sure, he deserves credit for getting out of Alex Ovechkin's way, but that mainly boils down to him not being as ridiculous as Adam Oates.
Again, not saying Trotz is a bad coach by any means, but how many other coaches would get a free pass for never advancing beyond the second round and never having his team win a division title in more than a decade of work?
Trotz looks primed to advance to his first conference finals, but how about this: let's slow down the hype train if the Caps don't win anything significant with Trotz by, say, 2018?
-- Derick Brassard ended up scoring the Rangers' only goal in the Rangers' two games in Washington, breaking a 100-minute drought. He's been carrying the Rangers' offense (scoring five of their 16 goals during this postseason).
-- Rick Nash didn't score a goal, yet he (and Martin St. Louis) assisted on Brassard's tally. Nash's point totals really aren't THAT bad, as he has six points (much like Brassard) in the playoffs. Considering how much the Rangers have been struggling to score in general, it's difficult to beat up Nash too much.
-- Henrik Lundqvist hasn't been bad by any stretch, Holtby has just been THAT good. People (actually, maybe just bitter Rangers fans) trashed Carl Hagelin for a supposedly weak penalty shot, but I thought it was more a fantastic Holtby save than anything else.