Being the best for 7 months is not enough to lift the Stanley Cup. Enough to make the playoffs, of course. But that is only the first step. So it’s the steps you take in May and possibly June that make the difference. The Florida Panthers are learning this in this first round against the Washington Capitals. First ranked team in the East vs. No. 8. Fantastic record for points scored and wins, with an average number of goals scored per game unmatched by the other 31 NHL teams. And yet… Race 1 was the confirmation that the playoffs will restart and the competition may not look anything like the one played up to that point. The Capitals rallied from 1-2 and with three goals in the third period immediately annulled the Panthers’ home court advantage. In race 2 I redeemed Florida with a clear score: 5 to 1. It wasn’t that easy. Washington had several chances early in the game and appeared to dominate. Then, at the end of the first half, Ekblad’s goal came with a shot that he hit a defender, bounced off the ice, came back, climbed over the goalkeeper’s shoulder and ended up in the bottom of the goal. Happens. The advantage gave the Panthers peace of mind who then scored quality goals, unleashing their attack. But not all of this difference was seen on the ice. With these premises and on the 1 to 1 we arrive at the first game of the series that will be played in Washington and that can be seen live tonight at 7:00 p.m. on channel 253 of Sky Sport.
Giroux wants the cup
These playoffs are also a special occasion and especially for Claude Giroux, 15 years of excellent career in the NHL with Philadelphia but without lifting the Stanley Cup. He accepted the exchange that took him to Florida on March 19 to have one more opportunity for his 34 years. The first was in 2010, when the Flyers lost the final against Chicago. Giroux played very well, 21 points in 23 games in the playoffs. Numbers left, but only the names of the winners are engraved on the cup. When you’re very young and immediately successful, you might think that getting to the playoffs and then the finals is normal. What will always happen. Wrong. It’s a terrible league. It is difficult to reach the playoffs, it is a challenge to reach the final. They are playoffs where anyone can beat anyone. When you have the opportunity, you have to play it to the fullest. You don’t know when you’ll have another. Not even if you have it. Giroux has chosen Florida, a team with an attacking game, talented players and a good goalkeeper. He knew it would be fine. He played 18 regular season season finale games, with 3 goals and 20 assists. Florida has won 15 of those 18 games, including 13 in a row. He started the playoffs with a goal and an assist. In his career, he has scored 73 points in 85 postseason games. So it’s the usual Giroux. That the Panthers are no longer the captain as he was for 10 years in the Flyers but he is already the most listened to player. Respect and leadership.
Missing a tough guy: Wilson
Washington may have to face the best team of the season without one of its key players: Tom Wilson. Wilson in Game 1 opened the scoring in the first period, but he left the ice shortly after and never returned. He also missed game 2. He is a very physical player but he is also of substance in the goal area, 24 goals and 52 points in the season with more than 18 minutes of use. A great presence in the Capitals that he won the Stanley Cup in 2018. A career also characterized by several disqualifications for very bad and dangerous positions for opponents, a tendency that he is learning to control. About. It seems that he was injured trying to charge a rival, but he failed by crashing into the balustrade… He is a playoff player, because of his competitive position but also because of his ability to look for important goals in these types of games.
Watch out for Ovechkin
Russian striker Alexander Ovechkin, the greatest scorer in the sport’s recent history and arguably the greatest of all time, has yet to enter the series. He so far he has added two points thanks to two assists. Nine shots and zero goals. It’s not from Ovechkin. He reached the first round of the playoffs with an injury in the last week of the regular season and it was not the ideal approach. But the physique of the big number 8 remains resilient, even at 36 years old. He is a doer of power and not touch. He has the most devastating punch in history, both with the slap punch to hit the puck with maximum load on the punch, and with the wrist slam when the puck is already attached to the stick. If his goals come, Washington can complicate the Panthers’ path and take them very far in the series. In those types of games in which the inertia caused by the desire to win ends and the fear of losing begins to grow.
Many goals even in the playoffs
We come from the richest regular season in the last 26 years. The average number of goals scored by an NHL team per game was 3.1. A change of mentality that the league has been promoting for a long time. The coaches form lines more dedicated to the attack, only the fourth line has almost exclusively defensive functions. There are more technically gifted players and fewer workers with strong physiques and lead hands. There are so many Europeans. The youngsters display more courage, although they have some gaps in defensive coverage. Defenders are more involved in attack and have more and more offensive responsibilities. The achievement rate in power games has grown. Teams make better use of higher percentage zones to create chances and dangerous shots. At the start of the playoffs, everyone agreed that this will no longer be the case. The teams will increase their defensive coverage and in goal will be some of the best goalkeepers of the moment. And instead… We continue to score a lot. Each team has scored an average of 3.25 goals in playoff games so far. Edmonton has made 17 in three games. The only series that replicates the usual schemes is the one between Calgary and Dallas (1-0 game 1 and 0-2 game 2). But despite the goals, the balance remains. The series that went into Game 3 are all 2-1 and the others playing tonight are all 1-1 except for Colorado who have a 2-0 lead over the Predators.
Problems in the goal
There also seems to be a pattern to injuries involving goalkeepers from different teams. Pittsburgh is in trouble, starting the playoffs without Jarry, and backup DeSmith immediately rectified an injury that sidelined him this season. He leans on Domingue, who is the third goalkeeper. Situation similar to that of Carolina, without Frederik Andersen and with Raanta injured in race 2, he had to rely on the rookie Kochetkov. Nashville doesn’t have Saros and against the overwhelming power of Avalanche it would have gone a long way. Dallas doesn’t have Khudobin. Precisely because he attacks and scores more than usual, goalkeepers remain the most decisive players. At least that hasn’t changed and probably never will in a hockey game.
The NHL on Sky Sport
This weekend, in addition to tonight’s Race 3 Washington-Florida, there will also be Race 4 St. Louis-Minnesota. The appointment is Sunday, May 8 at 10:30 p.m. on Sky Sport Action.