A Special Night For Goaltenders

Ilya Sorokin, Spencer Knight both record big wins. Taylor Hall, a difference-maker for the Bruins. Winnipeg sweeps Oilers from playoffs.

A SPECIAL NIGHT FOR GOALTENDERS

Goaltending has been described as "the toughest job in sports" and there's good reason for the observation.

Armed with high-tech sticks which propel the six-ounce hunk of vulcanized rubber at speeds of more than 100 miles an hour, shooters can terrorize the men guarding the goal.

Yet contemporary netminders have perfected their art to a level un-imagined during the halcyon days of super performers such as Turk Broda, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante and Martin Brodeur.

Every so often, for one reason or another, a goaltender can "steal" a hockey game and this was evident last night in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Sunshine, Florida. 

For the Islanders, Ilya Sorokin gave his team a three games to two series lead over the Penguins. The Rapid Russian made 48 saves, a franchise record for a rookie.

For the Panthers, Spencer Knight, just out of Boston College, made his NHL debut in the most pressure-packed possible situation and kept his Cats alive by defeating the defending champion Lightning. 

Put those two performances together and you can say with conviction; when it comes to astonishing goaltending, "That's as good as it gets!"

(The following stories explain why.)


HEADLINE: SOROKIN ROBS PENS; WINS 2ND OT GAME

THE JIVE: The late, great jazzman, Fats Waller, played a tune called "Stealin' Apples." Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin did a hockey version of that only the title is "Stealin' Pucks." The Russian rookie still has the Penguins, their fans and tv analysts shaking their heads today over New York's 3-2 victory accomplished just 51 seconds into the second sudden-death period. "The Penguins did everything right," said Pittsburgh's tv analyst -- and former Penguin, Colby Armstrong -- everything. And still couldn't beat the guy." Well, "everything," with one key exception. Pitt goalie Tristan Jarry literally gave the game away. Fielding the puck -- and with plenty of time to make a move -- Jarry fired a perfect pass to Islanders Josh Bailey. Without even a "Thank you very much," the Isles vet cruised in, tamed the on-end puck and lifted it over the stunned Jarry. 

As for Sorokin, he re-defined "steal" having been outshot 48-25,  with amazing save after amazing save. He's considered an "athletic marvel" by New York reporter Denis Gorman. "His potential is untapped. My goalie guru, Henri Kolb, emphasizes Ilya's "fantastically fast leg work," which was on display all night. Just as Jarry's play was scrutinized after Pittsburgh lost the opener, so it was again with specific attention to his weak glove hand. "On the winning goal," explained Isles tv analyst and four-Cup-winner Butch Goring, "Jarry's glove hand was down by his ankle as the puck sailed over it and into the net."

How a club can win when it's outshot by an almost two to one basis was best explained by another Penguins tv analyst and former player Jay Caufield. "The Islanders got the goaltending so they were able to be patient and seize on mistakes. That was evident on the winning goalie; a give-away by Jarry."

Plus, a takeaway by Bailey. My younger son, Simon, a part-time goalie coach, marvelled at the split-second manner Sorokin moves from side to side. "He can play standing up," Simon points out, "and going down when he has to go down. He does it all."

Meanwhile, as this gripping series moves on to Game Six, the onus is on Jarry to rebound tomorrow night at Uniondale. He did it once, winning Game Two to tie the series. Then again, Simon wonders how fast Sorokin can keep his superior game going after three straight powerful workouts; all wins. "Our win," concludes coach Barry Trotz, "is all on our goalkeeper."

If he can pull off another like he did last night, the Isles will move on to the second round.


TWENTY-YEAR-OLD SPENCER KNIGHT ALLOWS PANTHERS TO LIVE ANOTHER DAY

With their backs against the wall facing elimination and less than stellar past performances from Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger, it was one of those desperation moments. Needing a spark, coach Joel Quenneville decided to go with the rookie who was 4-0 in late season action and along the way showed he was cool as a cucumber. Q reasoned that Knight has “been on big stages before.”  Indeed he has. Earlier this year he led Team USA to gold at the World Juniors.

Knight is the youngest goalie to ever start an elimination game. After relinquishing a goal to Ross Colton on the first shot, a near unstoppable two-on-one, he rattled off 36 consecutive saves before a frenzied expanded crowd at BB&T Center. Along the way a few smiles could be detected under his mask despite the pressure.

Post-game a very pleased Joel Quenneville explained his rationale for betting his entire season on a 20-year-old. “I think his whole career, coming up to joining us this year, gave every indication that he’s capable of doing it. Now it’s just an opportunity. When he did play for us right off the bat his composure gave every indication that he’s capable of handling any kind of situation. We’re in a situation that we have nothing to lose – let’s go in there and have some fun with it – and he did…That was a goalie win.”

Call it passion or call it just plain ugly – these games have been intense and this rivalry is very real.


THE FAMED HALL CALLED TAYLOR

The Bruins have every right to crow. 

So does Taylor Hall.

While 99 and 44/100th percent of the National Hockey League wise men had figured Hall for either finished, half-finished or a used-car-on-skates, Don Sweeney thought otherwise.

Good thinking now that Helluva Hall has helped Boston vanquish the Capitals and move into the second round.

Back to Sir Sweeney. He saw the same sight that Emmy Award-winner George Falkowski viewed when Georgeos G was covering the New Jersey Devils. 

"What I remember," says Falkowski, "was that Hall was not only a terrific offensive force but a great guy post-game, in the room. Always available always helpful."

Whatever happened to Hall in Buffalo is what happened to Dr. Jekyll when he turned Mister Hyde. Nothing worked. Not Jack Eichel; not Ralph Krueger; not even Buffalo Wings; spicy version, of course.

G.M. Kevyn Adams tried everything short of hiring Mandrake The Magician, and nothing worked with the 2017-18 Hart Trophy-winner. 

What he really needed was a reasonable facsimile of David Krejci, the Poor Man's Patrice Bergeron. Krejci -- often underrated because his name is hard to spell -- is the waiter serving Hall beautiful biscuits.

Now, everything is working for the Taylor Man who figures to get another $8 million contract from Boston; maybe more.  And if he helps the Beantowners to The Cup, there'll be room for a statue off Causeway Street next to that of a man called Orr.

Hey, crazier things have happened. And if you don't believe me, check it out with any Sabres fan who was told that the Hall-Eichel duet would "transform Buffalo into a lethal offensive team."

Well, they were "offensive" but not the way anyone thought.


Stan’s Java Jive

HEADLINE: THE INCREDIBLE WINNIPEG SWEEP.

THE JIVE: Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland has his work cut out for him; big-time

His Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl whiz-bangs suffered a humiliating -- one top Canadian writer called it "a choke" -- four-game sweep at the hands of a doughty Jets sextet.

And it was none other than a McDavid' giveaway to Winnipeg defenseman Neal Pionk that led to left wing Kyle Connor's breakaway goal in the third overtime.

"Neal got the puck from McDavid," explained Connor, "and set me up with the perfect pass."

Veteran goalie Mike Smith made it easy for Connor by dropping to the ice -- a ridiculous goalie reflex when standup was the move -- giving the Jet an acre of air to shoot at; which he did with consummate ease.

The Jets' other Connor -- Hellebuyck -- out-goaled Smith throughout the series. Holland, a former goalie, must realize his Oilers never will go far with a Smith-Mikko Koskinen pair in the crease.

Kenny should be shopping hard; perhaps checking out the Rangers Alex Georgiev.

No doubt coach Dave Tippett will be retained but the fact is, Winnipeg's wily Paul Maurice out-thought Tippy from start to finish. The neutralizing of Gold Dust Twins, McDavid and Draisaitl, is Exhibit A in that department.

Holland must also know by now that his team is top heavy on top and -- like a see-saw -- can only go one way; which they did.

Down!

As for the Jets, they went both ways; were balanced and opportunistic. 

I don't know how McDavid explained the series-winning takeaway for which he was responsible but one quote he should take-away was his end of season punchline: "We were the better team."

Was that a joke, or what?

I like mine better: "OH!?" Or, "UH-OH!!"


HEADLINE: DOES VEGAS GET OVERLOOKED BECAUSE IT'S VEGAS?

THE JIVE: For a team that was rated third-best in the league in pre-season previews, the Knights deserve better coverage than they're getting. Maybe it's because of Sin City's long-standing night club image or distant location -- whatever it is -- but Peter DeBoer's team is hot stuff. The story lines are abundant; from Marc-Andre Fleury's rare comeback to Robin Lehner’s assorted tales of revival and the fact that this odd goalie couple can coexist is amazing enough. My fave Knight forward is Mark Stone in a top-nine forward group that features Reilly Smith, Max Pacioretti, Jon Marchessault and William Karlsson, just to name a few. Even coach DeBoer is a good story; lawyer goes straight and becomes a hockey coach!


HEADLINE: DO THE AVS MISS SUSPENDED NAZIM KADRI?

THE JIVE: Not a bit. Matter of fact they'd be better off without him, even after the troubled forward's suspension is over. Meanwhile, I thought it might be fun to somehow acknowledge Kadri's lack of revolutionary decorum. Thus, I'm considering Nazim as the first recipient of my newly-minted Tom Wilson Award for "Conspicuously Not Helping His Team." By the way, Kadri's penalty has been well-received around the NHL except in Denver. Coach Jared Bednar's comment on the suspension is a defense lawyer's classic: "I don't understand it." (Suggestion: Check Kadri's other suspensions.)


HEADLINE: COACHES EMPLOYMENT AGENCY BUSY

THE JIVE: At this moment, five teams are on the lookout for head coaches. They include the Rangers, Kraken, Sabres, Blue Jackets and Coyotes. I stick with my pick that the Broadway Blueshirts will choose Gerard Gallant and the Blue Jackets -- Pal John Davidson now warming his old chair -- with Claude Julien. If the Sabres are smart, they'll opt for Don Granato who resurrected the team down the stretch. I don't even have a gut feeling about Arizona's potential choice but the guy who walked out on Phoenix, Rick Tocchet is liked by a lot of people. If I'm wrong about the Rangers and Blue Jackets, Tocchet, would wind up working for J.D. which would be just fine. As for wild cards -- you know the answer here -- there's always His Excellency, His Majesty, Sir John Tortorella.


HEADLINE: CAPITALS CONUNDRUM

THE JIVE: After Washington's first round exit last playoff g.m. Brian MacLellan canned bench boss Todd Reirden and imported Peter Laviolette. MacLellan was concerned over a slipping culture and lack of accountability. Laviolette was entrusted with restoring both. 

Lavvy got a good, second place effort out of one of the NHL's oldest rosters but had the misfortune of running into a superior Bruins outfit. It came down to a matter of age -- ancient ex-Bruin Zdeno Chara couldn't carry the defense and Alex Ovechkin couldn't do all the goal scoring. In the finale, Washington outshot Boston by a ton but only could manage one goal. Ilya Samsonov failed the Caps in the end which prompts the question: How much better would they have done with a Healthy Hank Lundqvist all season? Which prompts another question: will The King be healthy enough to play next season? Only time -- and the medics-- will tell.

Our Gus Vic adds: "The Caps lacked structure and the ability to close games. Ovie becomes a UFA. Meanwhile, Nik Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov didn't help matters in one way or another. Plus, They gave up four guys for Anthony Mantha and didn't even get past five games.”


TRIVIA CORNER: When was the first NHL players' union attempted? Which team was strongly behind the movement: (Answer below.)


CLEVER COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "When I want to win a hockey game -- or walk down a dark alley, I know where Bill Smith will be. He'll be there!"

-Islanders g.m. Bill Torrey on his favorite goaltender.



TRIVIA ANSWER: The Rangers -- led by the brothers, Neil and Mac Colville and captain Art Coulter -- started a union in 1941. Ex-Bruin Gerry Geran helped organize the drive. But the advent of World War II saw the organizers off to the armed forces and their players' association never took off.