With the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals down 2-0 in their respective series heading into a slate of crucial Game 3s — and the Los Angeles Kings already in a deep hole — we asked our roundtable:
Which playoff team is in the most trouble if it goes down 3-0?
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: The Avalanche. Going into their series against the Nashville Predators, there was no doubt which team was better. The Predators are deeper, more intimidating on defense, have a more skilled goalie and are better seasoned by far. (The Avalanche have a combined 175 games of playoff experience, the least of any team in the postseason; 14 Colorado players had never played in the postseason until last week.) In the first two games, the Avs have been able to hang with the Predators in a way few imagined they could. Colorado has struck quickly (in both games, scoring on its first shot on goal) and stayed competitive late (two goals in the third period of Game 2). The Avalanche have compensated for deficiencies; for example, defenseman Patrik Nemeth (career-high 25:54 ice time in Game 2) stepped up for an injured Sam Girard. Their first line remains productive. But in both games, it wasn’t enough.
The only advantage the Avalanche have left is home ice. They went 28-11-2 at the Pepsi Center this season. Nathan MacKinnon has been especially terrific there (67 points at home, versus 30 on the road). If Colorado can’t win on Monday night, I’m afraid the inevitable will happen: The more talented team will prevail.
Another big negative at this point is that Toronto is going to have the benefit of the last change for line matching purposes, but it will be without one of its better two-way players in Nazem Kadri — who was suspended three games for his hit on Bruins forward Tommy Wingels — for two more games. Where having the last change will help is Toronto is the ability to find favorable matchups for Auston Matthews and see if they can open things up offensively for him. But the Leafs need to do a lot more than that to get things going.
Any team that falls into the 0-3 hole is going to be in a bind, but this is one series that hasn’t looked all that close since it started. And I had such high hopes for it in terms of entertainment value and drama going in.
Ben Arledge, associate editor: Well, all of them. The Maple Leafs probably have the best team on paper of those in a 0-2 deficit, but they’ve looked helpless against the Bruins. The New Jersey Devils seem unable to contain the Tampa Bay Lightning to a similar degree. The Anaheim Ducks and Capitals have surrendered the opening two contests in closer fashion, but 0-2 is 0-2. And did we mention that the Kings are already in a 0-3 rut?
But, forced to pick one, I agree with Emily. The Predators are Cup contenders for good reason, and Colorado lacks the punch to hang with Nashville, let alone fight back from a multi-game deficit. The absence of Semyon Varlamov hurts quite a bit, and MacKinnon and his linemates won’t be able to carry this club through a Cup favorite down 3-0. The Avalanche had an impressive regular season, but they are probably a year early here, forced to play a juggernaut right out of the gate.
Sachin Chandan, ESPN The Magazine researcher: The Ducks would be in jeopardy should they fall behind 3-0, not because they’ve been outplayed by the San Jose Sharks, but because their chances to come back are drying up. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Ducks had 17 high-danger scoring chances in the first two games, but they have not been able to crack Sharks goalie Martin Jones, especially during that frantic third period of Game 2. In fact, Jones has been a wall on the penalty kill, facing more shots than any goalie this playoffs, but remaining perfect.
Speaking of special teams, the Sharks have been whistled for the second-fewest number of penalties, and thus not even giving the Ducks many chances with the advantage. It gets worse: The Sharks turn on the throttle in close games, with a shot attempts percentage of 58.25 in close games, third best in the playoffs. The Ducks have serious high-end talent with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but you’d be asking too much for them to come back from a 3-0 hole, especially with the Sharks playing as hot as they are right now.