• Bye bye Blackhawks
• Rangers playoff power play woes continue
• Canadiens and Oilers lose pivotal game fives
Some players excel in the regular season, some are power play specialists and others are clutch playoff performers. Bryan Rust is the latter.
The 24-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins forward scored two goals en route to a 5-2 series-clinching victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, and it was his third career two-goal playoff game.
Rust now has 10 career playoff goals and three assists in a respectable 28 games (.46 PPG), whereas in 112 regular season games spanning three years he has 20 goals and 21 assists (.36 PPG).
Of course some of his playoff success has to be attributed to all-star linemates in Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, who both had excellent performances in the series-deciding win.
Midway through the first period Kessel fired a shot past the blocker side of Vezina Trophy favourite Sergei Bobrovsky and it found its way inside the post to open up the game’s scoring. The marker also kept Kessel in the race with Alex Ovechkin for best current playoff scorer.
Among active players with at least 50 games of playoff experience, Ovechkin leads the way with 44 goals in 88 games (.50 GPG) while Kessel sits in second with 25 goals in 51 games (.49 GPG). Both are significantly ahead of the next best in Jarome Iginla who has lit the lamp in 37 of 81 games (.46 GPG), but he is nearing the end of his career.
Malkin, the final piece of the high-octane line, added another three assists to his points lead on Thursday night bringing his post-season total to 11 (Kessel is second with eight).
Almost an afterthought on the front-loaded Penguins team was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who made 49 saves — a career playoff high — while picking up his 57th career playoff win to set a new Penguins franchise record.
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Bye bye Blackhawks
The Nashville Predators did the improbable by taking down the perennial playoff powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks. And it only took them four games.
They had everything going at once. Great goaltending, tons of scoring and were on the receiving end of a couple of good bounces including this interesting play when Corey Crawford inadvertently threw the puck into his own net.
But the key to the entire series was Pekka Rinne. He entered the fourth and final game of the series allowing two or fewer goals in 11 of his last 12 starts. Now you can make it 12 of 13. He picked up two shutouts while allowing only three total goals and ended the series with a mind-boggling .976 save percentage.
Here’s the icing on the Rinne cake.
Pekka Rinne stopped 123 of 126 shots in the series. He also finished with two points…no Blackhawks player had more. @NHLonNBCSports
— Liam McHugh (@liam_mchugh) April 21, 2017
Two players on the Blackhawks had as many points as Rinne: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Five other players recorded a single point, and that was the entirety of the offence of the 50-win, Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks.
Rangers playoff power play woes continue
Entering the 2017 playoffs the New York Rangers had one noticeable flaw: their inability to score on the power play.
Last post-season they went 1-for-16 during the first round and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Penguins in five games.
This season, the Rangers are faring better in the wins category, up 3-2 against the Montreal Canadiens, but their performance with the extra attacker is the same old story.
Rangers now 0-for-14 on the power play this series. Only team in playoffs without a PP goal.
— Justin Tasch (@J_Tasch) April 21, 2017
It’s not as though the Rangers are a bad power play team.
In the regular season, the Rangers posted a power play percentage of 20.2%, the 11th best in the league. Leading the way for New York was Derek Stepan with 18 points, but through the five games in the first round he has only managed one assist.
Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello were the other driving forces on the Rangers’ PP, but they too have only managed to find the scoresheet once each.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. The Canadiens have been lights out on the penalty kill and have been coming up with huge kills in crucial times. But whether or not their current 100% kill rate is legitimate (they were 14th during regular season with 81.1%), they may have to make it to Round 2 to see if their PK is as dominant as the current statistics imply.
Canadiens and Sharks lose pivotal Game 5s
Both the Canadiens and San Jose Sharks the played their way into overtime in their respective Game 5s while sitting deadlocked in the series tied at 2-2.
Both ended up losing a pivotal game and now need to win two straight to make it to the second round. Unfortunately, history is not on their side.
When teams are tied at 2-2 in a best-of-seven playoff series, the team that wins Game 5 has gone on to win the series 78.7% of the time. Only 55 times in playoff history (out of 258 series knotted at two) has the Game 5 loser won the final two contests.
The numbers get even worse for the Canadiens considering they let Game 5 slip from their fingers while on home ice. When the road team wins Game 5, they go on to win the next game to take the series in six games 59.6% of the time.