Monday, April 17, 2017

Weekend wrap: We are all Dart Guy

Five days into the NHL playoffs, and here’s the good news: Everyone is still in. Not a single team has been eliminated. Everyone still has hope.

Well, except for you, Blue Jackets and Wild. You’re basically already out.

Sure, none of the series have played more than three games, and the analytics guys we hired to crunch the numbers tell me it’s not possible to lose four games before Game 4 has even arrived. But you can lose three, and NHL history tells us that being down 3-0 means it’s basically over.

Two teams face that scenario today thanks to losses on Sunday. Minnesota dropped a third straight close one to the Blues, while the Blue Jackets lost a heartbreaker at home when Jake Guentzel snuck an overtime winner home to silence the Columbus crowd.

For both teams, an early exit would make for a devastating ending to an unexpectedly excellent season. Both spent time on top of their respective conferences, and both went into the playoffs as legitimate Cup contenders. Now, both are wondering if they can so much as win a game.

The Blue Jackets can at least point to a brutally tough matchup with the defending champs, as the league's playoff format matched two of the league's top four regular-season teams in Round 1. John Tortorella and his team were going to need to go through Pittsburgh eventually. But a better matchup would have been a welcomed boost for a team that's never won a round, and now doesn't look like they'll snap that streak this year.

The Wild can't even play the matchup card; they went into their series with home ice and as heavy favourites over the Blues, a team that the oddsmakers had installed as the playoffs' biggest underdog in terms of overall Stanley Cup chances. St. Louis is making that look like a bad call, riding some timely scoring and Jake Allen's sudden transformation into late-90s Dominik Hasek. Bruce Boudreau defended his team after the game, insisting that they were "friggin' good," but it's becoming apparent they'll need to be much more than that, and soon.

So can either team pull off the comeback? In theory, the NHL's age of parity should make 3-0 comebacks more common; if every game is close to a coin flip, you'd expect to see a team come all the way back a little more than once every 10 opportunities. The Kings managed it three years ago and the Flyers did it back in 2010, so let's not go and slam any coffin lids shut quite yet. But it's close, and the Wild and Blue Jackets know it.

Columbus gets the first chance to stave off elimination Tuesday, while Minnesota has to wait for Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Flames and Blackhawks will try to avoid 3-0 deficits of their own Monday night.

During the regular season, this is the part where we ranked the league's teams in our weekly top five/bottom five power rankings. Now that the playoffs are here, that format only takes us so far – we're going to start running out of teams before long. So instead, we'll broaden the approach and open our power rankings up to just about anything – teams, players, coaches, fans and even narratives.

Top Five

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

5. Overtime: Last year's first round was disturbingly overtime-deprived; there were just seven OT games through the eight matchups. We got more as the post-season went on, finishing with 20 overtime games in total. But that wasn't enough, because when it comes to playoff overtime, it's never enough.

This year, the hockey gods haven't made us wait. We've had seven overtime games already, covering six of the eight series. The Leafs and Caps have already played two, and we've had at least one sudden death game on every day of the playoffs.

The only thing missing so far is the marathon game that goes three or four extra periods. But you knew that couldn't happen on a long weekend where lots of fans don’t have to work the next day. That would be too easy. That one's coming on some random Tuesday night, where it can wipe a day's productivity out of the Canadian economy. And it will be worth it.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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