Monday, April 24, 2017

Weekend wrap: On to round two

Game 6 doesn’t carry quite the mystique of a Game 7, for obvious reasons. But from a drama perspective, it’s not far off. One team will be facing elimination. The other will be desperately trying to finish things off and avoid facing a winner-take-all Game 7.

This weekend served up Game 6 tilts in five series. And all five of those ended with a handshake line. Just like that, the first round is done. No Game 7 for you.

The last of the Game 6s came last night, with the Maple Leafs hosting the Capitals at the ACC. The series even making it this far qualified as a surprise, and it's not even like Toronto had fluked their way here. They'd gone toe-to-toe with the Presidents' Trophy winners, never looking especially overmatched. They'd given the Caps all they could handle.

But good teams find a way to take all they can handle and still emerge with a win. The Capitals have a history of failing to do that, but maybe this year is different. It was last night, as Washington fought back after a lucky-bounce goal by Auston Matthews to tie the game and send it to the fifth overtime of the series. And once they got there, Marcus Johansson poked home a rebound to end it.

Barry Trotz said he wanted to see the Capitals push the Leafs off a cliff, and sure enough, by the end of last night's action the Maple Leafs were reduced to a Wile E. Coyote-style puff of smoke. Still, when it comes to going over a cliff, Leaf fans will take a hard-fought Game 6 loss over Brian Burke's 18-wheeler any day. For once, there's a reason for actual optimism in Toronto.

There should be some optimism in Washington, too. They've got a rematch with the defending champs in round two in what may well be the best matchup of the playoffs. Find a way to win that, and the path to the franchise's first Cup opens up nicely.

So now it's on to round two for the eight teams left. And it's on to the weekly top and bottom five for the rest of us.

Top Five

Celebrating the players, teams, storylines and themes that had the best week.

5. Bruce Boudreau's honesty: In the aftermath of the favoured Wild bowing out in five games to the Blues, their coach had this to offer:

That just isn't something that NHL coaches are supposed to say. When you lose, you tip your cap to your opponent and move on. Suggesting that you deserved a better fate – especially when you just lost four of five – seems like making excuses. You win or you don't, and deserving has nothing to do with it.

But here's the thing: Boudreau isn't wrong.

The Wild really were the better team in this series by several measures. They outshot the Blues badly; on a per-game basis, the Wild were second only to the Penguins in round one, while the Blues were dead last. In terms of shot attempts, the gap was even wider, with the Wild averaging better than 15 extra attempts per game. Minnesota had 60 per cent of the scoring chances in the series.

Some of that is score effects, but even allowing for that, there's little question that the Wild really were the better team for long stretches of this series. It didn't matter, because they ran into Jake Allen, and in the playoffs a hot goalie and some timely scoring can trump everything. That's hockey, and the Blues don't owe anyone any apologies here.

But neither should Boudreau. As much as it might go against our expectations of what coaches are supposed to say, he didn't do anything but tell the truth.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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