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Islanders Show Why They're 'Playoff-Built'
Isles to skate vs. the Boston Bruins in Round 2. Gretzky a Hall of Fame Broadcaster? Hextall and Burke will go to work. Golden Knights forced to 7.
Call them "The Comeback Kids."
Call them "The Team Built For The Playoffs."
Call the Islanders what you will -- "Amazing" wouldn't be out of place either -- but they're on top and the first-place Penguins are playoff history.
And, speaking of history, the Nassaumen will try to write another happy chapter in Round Two against Boston; date coming up soon.
The 5-3 victory was a tribute to g.m. Lou Lamoriello's "All-Team-No-Superstars" mantra; not to mention his trade deadline acquisitions of Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the Devils.
Palmieri, who led his club to victory in the pivotal Game One of the series,
delivered another biggie last night at the rip-roaring Nassau Coliseum.
In his first series appearance, Zajac assisted on Ryan Pulock's game-winner.
It's noteworthy that today superstars Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl all are finished for the season.
Meanwhile, the Islanders team concept worked again with the likes of Brock Nelson (2 goals, 1 assist), Anthony Beauvilier (1 goal, 2 assists) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (2 assists) being difference-makers.
Goaltending was a huge factor in deciding the winner.
Rookie Ilya Sorokin won all four games for New York. His goals against average is an impressive 1.95 as is his save percentage, .945. Tristan Jarry failed again for Pitt.
Out of 24 shots, Jarry relinquished five goals. He was mediocre in Games One, Four and Five. By contrast Sorokin produced 34 saves, many of them outstanding.
No less pivotal; Barry Trotz out-coached Mike Sullivan up and down the line.
Bottom Line: Islanders won by employing a balance of four varied but all useful lines, better defense and far superior goaltending. The fact that Pittsburgh finished first will be forgotten by 11 p.m. tonight.
CAN WAYNE GRETZKY BECOME A HALL OF FAME BROADCASTER?
The official announcement that The Great One will be an analyst -- formerly "color commentator" -- for TNT is less stunning than the idea of a Buffalo playoff team.
Wayne remains the living King of Hockey. He played for enough teams to be objective; he's smart and will be attractive on camera,
The only issue relates to bland.
Gretz is as laid-back as an old Texas cowhand -- Wayne's idol Gordie Howe was that way too -- and bland is not necessarily an arresting quality on tv.
On the other hand, Mr. Great has a nifty sense of humor, is a cool cat and should be good as an interlocutor and possibly do an interview or three.
But how would he handle controversy -- the essence of hockey -- as well as rips at his alma mater, the Oilers?
Imagine if Gretz was a panelist for the recent Edmonton-Winnipeg series. What if that TSN guy said, "Wayne, your old team choked. Your thoughts?”
My guess is that the Gretzky I know would handle it with aplomb.
I say this because -- over the decades -- Wayne and I had our differences. For starters, he played for the Oilers and I was broadcasting for the Islanders. We weren't crazy about each other.
Later, when he played for the Rangers -- and I still was doing Isles TV -- he was good enough to come on the air and discuss our feud.
At the end of the interview, our feud had ended with the commercial break.
Unless your name was Billy Smith, it was hard not to like The Great One.
And that's why he'll be a success in his new broadcasting gig!
Stan’s Java Jive
HEADLINE: ISLANDERS VS. BOSTON; LOOK ALIKES
THE JIVE: Picking a winner here is a challenge. Over the season they went 3-3-2 because of similarities. "The Islanders play a style like ours," says Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "They want to score but they also play a tight defense. They're comfortable playing a 1-1 game. Compared to other teams, they're heavier and tougher to get inside."
In its season preview, The Hockey News picked Boston as the fourth-best team in the NHL; and the Islanders seventeenth. That's quite a difference.
Bruins core veterans -- David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci — are constant threats. Charlie McAvoy has become a constant Norris Trophy contender.
"The Bruins play good hockey," notes Travis Zajac of the Isles. "They beat good teams and so did we. This should be a fun series."
Pastrnak agrees. "The Islanders are a good defensive team with a couple of big guys on the blue line. Overall, that team is good in its defensive zone as well as in the transition game. Plus, they're tough on the forecheck. They get on top of you in a hurry."
I picked the Islanders in seven. I go with another upset; Isles in seven again!
HEADLINE: HEXTALL AND BURKE HAVE MAJOR WORK AHEAD
THE JIVE: Pittsburgh's two-headed high command -- Brian Burke and Ron Hextall -- have their work cut out for them. Their Penguins have problems everywhere. 1. The aces, Crosby and Malkin, have mucho mileage on their tires. Crosby went for a minus-3 in Pitt's biggest game of the season. Malkin lumbered around leaving Pitt-watchers wondering if he was awake or asleep. 2. Goaltending was a case of Tristan Jarry or bust. He was the latter. The general staff had better sign someone better. Hexy, the ex-goalie, knows that. 3. Kris Letang is a fine-fine blueliner. Ditto, Brian Dumoulin. The rest? Eh! 4. Although Mike Sullivan -- aided by Todd Reirden -- got the Pens into first place, Burke-Hextall may just want to bring in a fresh face behind the bench. But how do they replace aging Sid, Ev and Kris? (At least they're getting big bucks to figure that out. Perhaps a seance with Gentleman Jim Rutherford is in order!)
HEADLINE: THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS COMING UP SNAKE EYES
THE JIVE: A couple of games ago, Vegas was considered a decent bet to march to the Final Cup round. Today, they resemble a team that could become burned toast in a couple of days. Minnesota's amazing Wild have tied the series at three-apiece with a 3-0 blank job courtesy of Cam Talbot's superior goaltending.
And there's the rub. Knights coach Peter DeBoer has been running with ancient Marc-Andre Fleury in goal and it appears that The Flower is running out of saves. Does DeBoer stick with a fading Fleury or does he wise up and insert the team's better puck-stopper, and regarded as No. 1 all season, Robin Lehner. Me? I go with Lehner. (Wouldn't it be one heck of a story if Minny's pulls this out, thereby placing Vegas in the unofficial Flop League alongside The Oil and The Penguin!)
HEADLINE: BOLTS IN, PANTHERS OUT
THE JIVE: After all of the nastiness and heavy hits, the heroics by heretofore unknowns like Spencer Knight and Ryan Lomberg, and the rhetoric by coaches, it was your usual culprits doing the damage while closing out their cross-state rivals in six. There is a reason that the Lightning are the defending champions.
A typical outstanding performance by Andrei Vasilevskiy in registering his second career playoff shutout. Your standard power play one-timer by Steven Stamkos and a slick goal by Brayden Point were the highlights. Hedman, McDonagh and Co. stifled the Cats’ offense. Simply stated, it was Tampa Bay at its best. As a team, they totally neutralized Aleksander Barkov, hitting him at every opportunity and holding him to two shots on goal.
A distraught Barkov said post-game, “We didn’t win more than two games but I think we played good hockey. We tried our best but credit to Tampa, too.”
On the Tampa side Steven Stamkos said, "Our best effort by far in the playoffs and the biggest game we played so far. That's what experienced teams do in these situations." He added a little dig by mentioning the Game 5 hype of Spencer Knight, but added, “Vas is the best in the world.”
Florida coach Joel Quenneville said of Vasilevskiy, “He was great tonight.” In assessing his team’s effort he tried to be positive and to recognize that they were up against top opposition in the Lightning. “It’s a great hockey team. We learned how hard it is to win in first rounds. It’s the toughest round ever. There are a lot of good things that happened with our team. I loved how we competed in this playoff.”
HEADLINE: GRETZKY LEAVES THE OILERS; WHAT ABOUT MCDAVID?
THE JIVE: Here's a hot one: Less than 24 hours after the Oilers were dismissed from the postseason, a group of Rangers fans went on line with a Blueshirts jersey and the name McDavid on the back. Really, it's only good for laughs but there is something more when you consider that a day later, Wayne Gretzky announced he was leaving his executive position with the Oilers.
That was followed with a Bleacher Report column which went about the business of guesing the year when McDavid would come south to the States and play somewhere between the Left Coast and the Right Coast.
Let's face it, the only tie Connor has to Edmonton is a contract and that doesn't last forever.
No way, McDavid will deliver anything but cheery homilies but I sure would love to be a fly on the wall of Connor's agent when the rep and McD discuss futures.
HEADLINE; MARC STAAL HAPPY TO REMAIN A RED WING
THE JIVE: It's hard to believe that the once-fresh, red-headed Rangers rookie once was getting ready for his freshman run at the puck. Now, Marc is a warhorse D-man considering his future after a year in Hockeytown USA. Marc should stay withe the Red Wings and help the rebuild.
HEADLINE: WAS JORDAN BINNINGTON WORTH THE MONEY?
THE JIVE: Heck no. For a short stretch of good goaltending -- and a Stanley Cup, Blues g.m. Doug Armstrong rushed to judgement. He gifted Binnington with a six year extension at $6 million a year. So, what did he get in return? Not a whole lot when you consider the Blues first round exit and his goalie's postseason arithmetic -- 3.59 goals against average and .875 save percentage. The excuses are good: no Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Steen. Take your pick; good excuses or not?
HEADLINE: TURNER IMPORTS NBC'S TOP BROADCAST TEAM
THE JIVE: It's official. TNT's play-by-play and analyst team will be Kenny Albert working with Eddie Olczyk. Albert, who stepped into major shoes left by the retired Mike (Doc) Emrick, has evolved as a magnificent replacement. Although Kenny's style differs from wordsmith Emrick, it is fresh, crisp and exciting. Flawless, I say. Olczyk, who works hand in glove with Albert, guarantees NHL fans what they deserve, a superior double dip doing the games. (The next announcement figures to be ESPN's new play-by-play guy.)
Which Bruin passed the puck to Bobby Orr when Boston scored the Cup-winning goal against St. Louis in 1970? And who was the Blues goalie?
CLASSIC COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "When Bobby Hull shoots the puck it looks like a pea; sometimes I can't even see it."
-Penguins goalie Les Binkley.
It was center Derek Sanderson -- from behind the net -- who fed the puck to Orr. Glenn Hall in net for the Blues.