I took a long weekend off from hockey after quite an overwhelming week. I’m grateful I didn’t miss too much hockey as the NHL also chose to postpone games following the players’ strike (that’s what it was, but we don’t have to call it that). It was a good weekend to unwind and watch some movies, some pretty good ones I might add. Now that I’m back, I thought it was a good idea to catch up on what I missed from the NHL Conference Semifinals, and I thought it would be good to bring everyone along too.

I’m sure the NHL is pleased that, despite the work stoppage, they are right on track to finish the second round on Saturday, September 5th and begin the Conference Finals in Edmonton the following Monday. No skin off their nose. All series have completed four games as of last night, with the first pair of Game 5’s starting today. Here is a rundown of where each series stands, why, and when the concluding games will be played this week.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
TBL leading 3-1
Game 5: Monday, 7pm
Game 6*: Wednesday, TBD
Game 7*: Thursday, TBD

The Lightning have a chance to win four games in a row and eliminate the Bruins in five games for the second time in a row. In 2018, the Bruins dropped four straight to the Lightning to bow out of the second round in five games as well. It’s not quite a full reverse sweep, or a proper sweep, but beating the Bruins is a worthy accomplishment nonetheless.

The Bolts offense has showed up in the series, led by their first line and Brayden Point. He’s been an integral first line centre next to Nikita Kucherov as their line with Ondrej Palat has seven goals (six at even strength) in the series. The Bolts were without Victor Hedman for a bit at the beginning of the playoffs, with 22-year-old Mikhail Sergachev leading the back end when he was gone, but Hedman has played all four games this series and he surprisingly has three goals on 17 shots, which is a lot for a defenseman. Trade acquisitions Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow with centre Yanni Gourde have been a great agitator line and they’ve scored three crucial goals for the team.

The Anthony Cirelli line has been getting crushed by the Patrice Bergeron, but crucially, they’ve limited them when it comes to the scoresheet. Brad Marchand has four goals in the series, but only two have come at even strength, the only two goals by the line at evens. Jaroslav Halak has been ok for the Bruins, but he’s definitely been getting out-played by Andrei Vasilevskiy at the other end. In Game 1, Vasilevskiy looked very human, but since that game he’s been a very calm and confident goalie. He hasn’t had to make crazy cat saves, he’s been where he’s needed to be and the Bruins haven’t been able to exploit mistakes.

New York Islanders vs. Philadelphia Flyers
NYI leads 3-1
Game 5: Tuesday, 7pm
Game 6*: Thursday, TBD
Game 7*: Saturday, TBD (last potential game of the second round)

The Flyers had a chance to even the series last night, but they didn’t look prepared enough to get around the Islanders and their stifling style of play. Not in the analytical sense of preventing chances and focusing on low shot quality (they’ve actually given up most of their chances in front of the net), but in the classic areas. A perfect penalty kill, shot luck offensively (seriously, goals from Matt Martin and Leo Komarov?), and two good goalies to split the series so far — both goalies have combined to save two goals above expected in this series alone while Carter Hart and Brian Elliott have been about average.

The top players on the Islanders have also been really hot in the series. All of Anders Lee (3g), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (3g), Brock Nelson (2g, 1a), Mathew Barzal (3a), and Josh Bailey (3a) have three primary points in the series — most coming at even strength. Anthony Beauvillier has also been really good as a facilitator, his assist in last night’s game was really clever.

As for the Flyers, they just haven’t been able to solve the Islanders offensively. They’ve gotten behind in games and they just haven’t been able to catch up when the Islanders don’t have to push as hard. The Islanders have had the expected goals share advantage in every game this series except Game 4, which I thought backup Brian Elliott struggled in at key times. The Flyers had a few chances to come back, but they didn’t get the saves when the counterattacks came.

Dallas Stars vs. Colorado Avalanche
DAL leads 3-1
Game 5: Monday, 9:45pm
Game 6*: Wednesday, TBD
Game 7*: Friday, TBD

The Stars have figured out the Avalanche, and they’ve been able to embarrass them for large parts of this series. Their strategy: get to the front of the net and play with the Avs defense like a chewtoy. Without Erik Johnson, the Avalanche have been incredibly lacking in their battles against their best net-front guys in Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, and Mattias Janmark.

For the Avs defense, they have Cale Makar pretty much doing all their offense with lots of shifts with the first line. Ian Cole has had to take on a heavy workload each night, playing a lot of the defensive zone minutes against top competition and he’s been struggling. Nikita Zadorov and Ryan Graves have been completely useless in their own zone, Zadorov just goes for hits whenever he wants (see video below) and Graves looks like an AHLer in the NHL playoffs (which is who he is). Sam Girard has been the Makar-lite (or the Tyson Barrie?) of the team, he’s on the ice for a lot of goals and can’t make up for it offensively with better usage. The Avs are clearly missing a guy, and it’s Johnson, and everyone’s struggling as a result.

Obviously the team has missed starter Philipp Grubauer, but with how hot the Stars are and how dysfunctional the Avs look, I don’t think he would’ve made much difference in this series. Game 5 is today, on the second half of a back-to-back and the Avs current backup is Michael Hutchinson. When Francouz was pulled in Game 3, Hutchinson came in, so it’s not an impossibility they go to him to start a playoff game today. If they do that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Stars finish a lot of people’s West favourites in five.

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Vancouver Canucks
VGK leads 3-1
Game 5: Tuesday, 9:45pm
Game 6: Thursday, TBD
Game 7: Friday, TBD

The Canucks have been pretty bad in this series, losing Games 1 and 3 by a combined score of 9-0. They won the second game 5-2 after a bad game from Robin Lehner and a great game from Jacob Markstrom. Bo Horvat has been a great player for the Canucks, along with rising star Elias Pettersson, but unless everything goes right for them, they can’t complete games against an established team like Vegas.

Game 4 was close, with the Canucks holding the lead at points in the game, but they were just too porous defensively and gave it all away in the third period. The Canucks have gotten pretty far with what they have, I just don’t think it’s enough to beat arguably the best team in the Western Conference.

How many upsets will we see?

Zero, the leaders have it in the bag64
One upset34
Two upsets4
Three teams come all the way back1
Four upsets, utter chaos4

Yesterday’s Games

Dallas Stars 5, Colorado Avalanche 4 — DAL leads 3-1
This was the game where the Stars scored three goals before the Avs could get a shot, and they didn’t get their first shot of the game until 18 and a half minutes in. They got the game close in the second period, but like most games in this series, the Stars always kept them at arm’s length until the final horn. It sounded like a really defeating loss, as media desperately asked if reinforcements were coming back from injuries and head coach Jared Bednar gave them the classic “no one is coming” reply. [Recap]

New York Islanders 3, Philadelphia Flyers 2 — NYI leads 3-1
This was a game of the backups on the second half of a back-to-back and Thomas Greiss definitely out-played Brian Elliott. The Flyers were close all night long, but couldn’t get anything to stick offensively. Isles fans are letting everyone know very loudly that at least they’re having fun. [Recap]

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Vancouver Canucks 3 — VGK leads 3-1
It was a back and forth game all night long, with neither team getting a two-goal lead at any point. Eventually, the Golden Knights pulled ahead in the third and kept it that way until the end.

Today’s Games

Boston Bruins “@” Tampa Bay Lightning — TBL leads 3-1

Dallas Stars “@” Colorado Avalanche — DAL leads 3-1
9:45pm ET — SN, NBCSN, TVAS

Various Hockey Branches

Elliotte Friedman released his 31 Thoughts yesterday. They include a lot of topics of interest to the Leafs:

  • The Leafs are only willing to trade William Nylander if they get a legit top-4 defenseman (duh).
  • The Carolina Hurricanes have interest in Frederik Andersen. Do not trade with them.
  • The Leafs fleeced the Pittsburgh Penguins because no one else around the league was willing to give up a first round pick and a good prospect for Kasperi Kapanen. Dubas took advantage of a desperate team.
  • Teams currently in the playoffs were mad they couldn’t bid on Kapanen. Of course.
  • And what it’s going to take to keep Pietrangelo in St. Louis, a scenario both sides likely want to make happen./

More from Friedman. Apparently the Coyotes have realized rebuilds are cheap to do and they could blow up the mediocre team John Chayka “built.” Darcy Kuemper is potentially on the market. The goalie market this season is getting foggier and foggier.

The Florida Panthers GM hunt has lots of names and very little talent. What did Peter Chiarelli do to have so many people push him for jobs?

Canadian Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray spoke in a post-game interview after single-handedly forcing his team into a Game 7 about emotion, motivation, purpose, and life.