NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 30, 2023
The Maple Leafs win their first playoff series in 19 years, the Oilers eliminate the Kings and the Rangers force Game 7 with the Devils. Details and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
NHL.COM: For the first time since 2004, the Toronto Maple Leafs advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. John Tavares’ overtime goal gave the Leafs a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to win their first-round series four games to two. Toronto center Auston Matthews opened the scoring in the second period but Lightning captain tied it in the third period to force overtime. Ilya Samsonov kicked out 31 shots for the win.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs await the winner of the Boston Bruins-Florida Panthers series. Game 7 of that matchup goes this evening at 6:30 pm ET in Boston.
This was a well-deserved and long-overdue series victory for the Maple Leafs. Samsonov was solid in goal for most of this series while star players like Tavares and Matthews rose to the occasion in nearly every game. The players brought in by management at the trade deadline gave them a deep roster that the Lightning ultimately couldn’t match despite their experienced core.
I’ve seen some fans of other clubs mocking Leafs supporters on social media for their enthusiastic celebration of their team finally winning a playoff round after 19 years. I’m not a Leafs fan but I have relatives and friends who’ve stood by this club for years, even decades, and I’m happy for them. It takes a special kind of devotion to stick by a team that has frustrated them for so long. If I were in their shoes, I’d be in a party-hearty mood too.
As for the Lightning, this could be the end of perhaps the most dominating run of any NHL team in the salary-cap era. As The Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano observed, the Lightning won more games and scored more goals than any other NHL club over the last nine years. They won 50 more postseason games than any other team, went to six Conference Finals and four Stanley Cup Finals, winning two championships.
The cost of maintaining a Cup contender under the salary cap, however, also depleted their roster over the past three seasons. Players departed via free agency or cost-cutting trades as cap dollars went to retain their core players. Even though many of those players accepted hometown discounts, it was still expensive to keep guys like Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brayden Point in the fold.
That core of talent is still solid enough to keep the Lightning competitive as a playoff contender over the next several years. Higher increases in the salary cap after next season could help them replenish their roster. Nevertheless, their championship window appears to have finally slammed shut.
The Edmonton Oilers also advanced to the second round by defeating the Los Angeles Kings 5-4 on a tie-breaking goal by Kailer Yamamoto late in the third period to win their series four games to two. Klim Kostin scored twice and collected an assist while Stuart Skinner stopped 40 shots for the Oilers, who go on to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round. Kevin Fiala had a goal and two assists for the Kings.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This series didn’t go the full seven games like last year’s between these two teams but it was still closely contested and very exciting. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Oilers and Kings meeting in the postseason over the next several years.
Not to take anything away from the Oilers’ well-earned series victory but I wonder if the outcome would’ve been the same had Fiala played in every game in this series. Sidelined by injury for the first three games, he had six points for the Kings in their final three games, giving their offense a noticeable boost.
The New York Rangers defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-2 to force a seventh and deciding game in their first-round series on Monday night in New Jersey. Chris Kreider led the way with a goal and two assists while Mika Zibanejad and Vladimir Tarasenko each had a goal and an assist and Igor Shesterkin made 34 saves. Curtis Lazar and Dawson Mercer replied for the Devils.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s only fitting that these long-time rivals should go to Game 7 in this series. It’s been an interesting back-and-forth between these two clubs with the Rangers dominating the first two games, the Devils bouncing back with three straight wins and the Blueshirts staving off elimination on home ice.
COLORADO HOCKEY NOW: Avalanche forward Andrew Cogliano suffered a fractured neck and is sidelined indefinitely. He suffered the injury during Game 6 of the Avalanche-Kraken series when he was hit from behind by Kraken winger Jordan Eberle and driven head-first into the boards. Eberle receive a two-minute minor penalty and received no supplemental discipline for his actions. Game 7 of the Avalanche-Kraken series goes tonight in Colorado.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Yet another example of how much of a joke the NHL’s so-called “department of player safety” has become in the eyes of the fans and pundits.
Eberle isn’t a dirty player and has never done anything like this before. Nevertheless, it was a dangerous hit that deserved at least a five-minute major and a match penalty. Even if we give the on-ice officials the benefit of the doubt with their initial call (something that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do in every series of this round), the department of player safety should’ve reviewed this and handed down the proper discipline.
And yet, nothing. Not a peep.
Cogliano’s postseason is probably over even if the Avs reach the Stanley Cup Final. Eberle, meanwhile, gets away with a dangerous hit and continues to play. The league’s officiating loses more respect while the department tasked with protecting the players loses more credibility.
What a farce.
Speaking of the Avalanche, The Denver Post’s Bennett Durando reports Josh Manson and Darren Helm remain sidelined for Game 7.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: Matthew Tkachuk has played a major role in the Panthers’ rallying to force Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. He scored the overtime goal in Game 5 and led the way in Game 6 with two goals and an assist.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Tkachuk was Florida’s leading scorer during the regular season with 109 points. He’s also their leader in this series with five goals and 10 points in six games. Love him or hate him, Tkachuk’s aggressive style has paid dividends for the Panthers.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said Saturday that the decision on who starts in goal for them in Game 7 against the Panthers will be made on Sunday morning. There’s speculation Jeremy Swayman could get the call after starter Linus Ullmark struggled in his last two games.
THE ATHLETIC: Minnesota Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said he intends to honor the final season of his contract. The 38-year-old hinted next season might be his last. “I’ve got one more year and that might be it,” he said.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Age is catching up with Fleury, who lost the starter’s job to Filip Gustavsson during the Wild’s first-round series against the Dallas Stars.
WINNIPEG SUN: Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor were among several Jets who took issue with head coach Rick Bowness’ scathing public criticism of their performance following their first-round elimination by the Vegas Golden Knights.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wheeler said he didn’t agree with how Bowness handled himself after that game, preferring the coach directed those comments to them behind close doors. If you asked most Jets fans, however, they probably agreed with Bowness questioning the players’ lack of pride and pushback in their series against Vegas and over the final two months of the regular season.