Maven’s Playoff Musings: Bolts Strike Back

Our resident hockey Maven, Stan Fischler, shares his thoughts on the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

1. Looking ahead to Game 4 of the Washington-Tampa Bay series on Thursday night in D.C., The Maven returns to the classroom. The subject is Basic Bolts 101: The lesson can be summarized thusly: The Lightning still has the best balance of The Remaining Four teams and, therefore, I predict the series will be tied two-two by 11 p.m. Thursday night.

2. Here’s another reason why I side with Jon (The Professor) Cooper‘s club. It’s The Caps Curse that’s so hard to shake. It hangs over every game until Barry Trotz‘s skaters become too hot to trot; meaning they’ll gallop to the Final. Sorry, but I have to see that monumental event to believe it.

3. How do you figure playoff ace, Jonathan (Try To Spell It Right The First Time) Marchessault being passed off as The Invisible Man by three teams in succession? The Blue Jackets, Lightning and Panthers all whiffed. Or should I toss in William Karlsson whose talent was significantly ignored by both the Ducks and Blue Jackets? Why are they starring now but not then?

WINNIPEG, MB – MAY 14: Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates his third period goal against the Winnipeg Jets with teammates at the bench in Game Two of the Western Conference Final during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell MTS Place on May 14, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

4. (Answer:) On previous clubs the three whiz-bangs didn’t have Gorgeous George McPhee for a general manager nor Gerard (Is He Ever) Gallant as coach. McPhee’s masterstroke was drafting the Dashing Duet. Meanwhile, Gallant simply has extracted all the best creative juices from each sharpshooter.

5. I liked Marchessault’s explanation of the Knights’ ascent: “None of us were part of the core of teams we came from but we seized the opportunity in Vegas. That’s what made us a success; a bunch of hockey players who wanted a home. We all found one and became awesome.”

6. The Marchessault-Karlsson-Reilly Smith line’s success should surprise nobody who studied the regular season arithmetic. The trio finished second out of 31 teams for the most even-strength goals (47). Colorado’s unit, led by Nathan McKinnon, topped them by a single goal. After two games of the Conference Final, Vegas’ Terrific Threesome had a 10-2 spread over their rivals at even strength in the playoffs.

7. Home-ice “advantage” in the playoffs is a DIS-advantage. Home teams have a losing record, but why? Jets coach Paul (Moe) Maurice, who’s been around almost as much as The Maven, offers an interesting thought: “Kids who come into the game now have become used to the big stages, big performances, loud buildings at a younger age,” Moe insists. “Playing on the road doesn’t faze them.”

8. My feeling is that clubs get too revved up by their already zany home fans and wind up doing things — such as Capitals getting ridiculous penalties on Tuesday night losing at home to the Bolts — they likely would not do away from home.

9. Because Winnipeg is Winnipeg — and not The Big Apple, Toronto or Boston — quality Jets lines often tend to be underplayed by the media while they out-play their foes. Exhibit A is the Jets’ Blake (Big) WheelerMark ScheifeleKyle Connor juggernaut. In case you forgot, Wheeler is an alumnus of Atlanta’s woebegone Thrashers (2011) and could qualify for an as yet un-coined NHL trophy — “Most Underrated Player In The League.”

NASHVILLE, TN – MAY 10: Josh Morrissey #44, Mark Scheifele #55, Blake Wheeler #26, and Kyle Connor #81 celebrate a goal against the Nashville Predators during the second period in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 10, 2018, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

10. Considering the tension pervading every playoff game, it’s ironic to hear a key performer such as Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck calling it “a fun time to be playing the game.” (Tell that to your blood pressure machine.)

11. Department of Confessions and Transparency: You should know that The Maven is rooting against the Knights. Very simple; if Vegas wins the Stanley Cup it will be a case of too soon, too easy. Everything after will be a build-up to a letdown. Besides, the longer the Knights stay alive, the more nervous Vegas bookies become.

12. If the Sin City Skaters win the Stanley Cup, a $20 bet placed in October will bring in $10,000. (You’d faint on the spot if you were that bookie.)

13. Reader Danny Farrell of Manhattan, who teaches hockey at Sky Rink and Central Park’s Lasker pond, offers this: “The less-publicized key to a Lightning Cup is Tyler Johnson. We know all about Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, but Little Ty is their unsung, but very, very important depth guy.”

14. The Deadline Tradee-turned Flop-ee for the Penguins is our old friend Derek Brassard who delivered the square-root-of-nothing for The Crosby Gang. The irony here is that Brassard was Nick Bonino‘s replacement when NB went to Nashville. So, what happens; both exit Stage Right, as in Wrong.

PITTSBURGH, PA – MARCH 03: Derick Brassard #19 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at PPG Paints Arena on March 3, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

15. Where’s the big brain in St. Louis who urged trading Paul Stastny to Winnipeg where Hall of Fame Peter’s son has turned playoff star? (It couldn’t have been Marty Brodeur, the Blues, assistant G.M., could it?)

16. Some believe it’s sinful to use the term “choke” about an athlete who really blows a huge playoff game, but how else can one describe Pekka Rinne’s goaltending in Game 7 of Preds-Jets?

17. When Washington beat Pittsburgh, Braden Holtby‘s playoff goaltending grade — according to Me — climbed from C-minus to a rip-roaring B. And if the Caps somehow can beat the Bolts it will soar to an A-minus. (And you know how he can get an A, don’t you?)

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18. Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin took their Cup-ousting with grace which says plenty about their character. Looking for an alibi, others blame the Pens’ loss on their getting too hot too soon. (Maven blames it on attrition.)

19. Most noticeable about the contemporary Caps compared to past Washington teams is that Trotz’s outfit is bigger (average height 6-2, vs. 5-11 on Tampa) than usual and does a better job overall finishing checks.

20. If somehow Vegas reaches the final round, Marc-Andre Fleury should get the Congressional Medal of Honor, The Victoria Cross, Order of Canada and be named Third Deputy NHL Commissioner with the final review on all goalie interference calls.

LAS VEGAS, NV – APRIL 11: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights tends net against the Los Angeles Kings after he lost his helmet, glove and stick in the third period of Game One of the Western Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on April 11, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights won 1-0. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

21, Should Pekka Rinne win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie — he’s favored by the way — it will prove that voting should include playoffs, not just for the regular season.

22. What’s the worst penalty that happens to a team? After the Lightning had a tying (1-1) goal disallowed in Game 1 vs. Washington, Hall of Famer Phil Esposito said the “Too many men on the ice” infraction belongs in the Hall of Infamy.

23. Should the Capitals, by some miraculous turn of events, actually depose Tampa Bay from the playoffs, that egregious “too many men” penalty could be called the series turning point.

24. James Neal is the Real Deal, and if you don’t believe it, ask the Predators. Even with the insertion of Bonino and Kyle Turris into the Nashville lineup, the club missed Neal like a moose would miss its hat rack.

25. Trotz admits he obtained a mere four-and-a-half hours sleep after the Caps’ Game 2 win. If Washington wins the series, he’ll have four-and-a-half minutes sleep that night.

26. Based on playoff performance alone, local boy John Carlson who grew up in Colonia, N.J. looms as the juiciest free agent to be available on July 1. As all know, in the eyes of general managers, crack defensemen these days have the look of polished diamonds.

ANNAPOLIS, MD – MARCH 03: John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period in the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on March 3, 2018, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

27. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman learned his hockey managerial tricks by studying under Jimmy Devellano in Detroit, where signing Russians proved pivotal to winning Cups. “Steve lived it,” Devellano told Joe Smith of The Athletic. “He saw it (drafting Russians) first-hand. He’s made his team just like what we had, winning Cups in Detroit.”

28. Analyzing the Capitals is easy. You do the same thing in every series when Washington begins; dare them to win. No matter how you shake it, a black cloud will hover over Trotz’s team until it reaches the Final; assuming that’s possible. For me, it’s the same feeling I had rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers; until they won the 1955 World Series, All bets were off them until they got the big prize.

29. Chris Kunitz, the Rajah From Regina, still has the touch even as a fourth-liner with Tampa. He’s already got four rings and will be as important to the Lightning Cup hopes as Stamkos or Kucherov.

TAMPA, FL – MAY 11: Chris Kunitz #14 of the Tampa Bay Lightning brings the puck up against the Washington Capitals during the first period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 11, 2018, in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

30. Reader Emma Miller of Fair Lawn, New Jersey offers this critique of the Capitals: “Even a ‘good’ penalty could be a nail in the Caps’ coffin. Holtby’s lumberjack chop on Wednesday night and Lars Eller‘s imitation of an outfielder catching a popup are examples of carelessness. The Lightning struck on both ensuing advantages. Tampa’s power play is lethal; if the Caps fail to improve discipline, Ovie can say goodbye to the Final.”

31. Rating Final Four Goalies: 1. Fleury; 2. Hellebuyck; 3. Holtby; 4.Vasilevskiy.

32. Holtby ahead of Vasilevskiy is subject to change based on Game 4. And you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

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