2020 finally showed us mercy and gave us three game sevens in one round of playoff hockey. We deserved it. In all seriousness, last week was an awesome week for the NHL, as three out of four playoff series went to a game seven. I’ll share my thoughts on each of those series as well as a few notable stories that impacted the hockey world.
1. Dallas Knocks Off Colorado in Game 7
In a thrilling seven-game series, the Dallas Stars have defeated the Colorado Avalanche to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Dallas went up 3-1 on the Avs but Colorado battled back to force a game seven. Dallas pulled it out in game seven, with Joel Kiviranta scoring the winner in OT, which also landed him a hat trick.
I don’t know where Dallas finds these guys. I mean, Colorado has all the firepower and big names. Not that that’s what always wins games, but honest to God I’d never heard of Kiviranta until Friday night. At first, I felt guilty, then I checked his stats and saw he’s only played 11 career regular-season games, and four in the playoffs. He scored all three of his career postseason goals in Friday’s game seven! Last year, Roope Hintz was Dallas’ star of the playoffs, this year it’s Kiviranta, at least for this week.
Although Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen were the two highest scorers in the series, Jamie Benn and Miro Heiskanen led Dallas’ offense. I’m happy to see Benn finally raise his level of play. He’s been a bit disappointing over the last two seasons or so. Heiskanen on the other hand is a bonafide star. He’s been a stud the moment he has suited up for Dallas and has arguably been their best player all season.
I can’t talk about Dallas without mentioning Anton Khudobin. It’s nuts to think Ben Bishop would be the starter on almost every other team in the NHL, but Khudobin has cemented himself as the team’s number one. Khudobin finished the series with a 4-2 record and .899 sv%. Not great on paper, but that’s against one of the most talented teams in the league.
I’m very excited to see Khudobin attempt to keep up that level of play against another high-flying offense in the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
2. Islanders Advance to Conference Finals
The New York Islanders are heading to the Conference Finals for the first time since the 1992-93 season. That’s two years before I was born. The Isles defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games, winning game seven 4-0. Kevin Connolly must be the happiest man on planet Earth right now.
I feel bad for Islanders fans because no matter what happens this season, they’ll never get the credit they deserve. They get no love because they’re a boring team to watch and they don’t have a marketable star… yet. What they do have is a Stanley Cup-winning coach in Barry Trotz and a bunch of very, very good players. Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey have been underrated for too long. Matthew Barzal gets most of the accolades, as he should, but those two have been really good NHL players for a long time now.
What’s crazier is that they’ve played both their goalies, Seymon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss these playoffs, as have many other teams, which is rare. It was Greiss in net during the Isles’ game seven victory, in which he stopped all 16 shots he faced. The Islanders play a defensive style which prevents shots on net and contributes to their lack of excitement.
This is what makes the NHL playoffs great and better than every other league. There is so much parity in the NHL that every team has a shot. Teams with no hype and a lack of star power can still make waves in the playoffs. The one drawback is that star power attracts fans. But, I know hockey purists don’t care, they want to see the best teams face off. That’s what we’re going to see when the Islanders take on the star-studded Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Finals.
3. Golden Knights Move On, Demko Shines
Speaking of parity, the Golden Knights/Canucks series was one of the three series that went to seven games. The NHL continues to prove that their playoffs are the best with even matchups and unpredictable outcomes. In this series, the underdog Canucks pushed the Golden Knights to their limit reaching a game seven. However, like the Islanders, Vegas shutout their opponent in game seven and earned a birth in the Conference Finals and a date with the Dallas Stars.
The goalies were the stars in their series. With Vegas, Robin Lehner started all but one game, finishing the series with a 3-3 record and a .934 sv%. Marc-Andre Fleury won the one game he played in.
Note, there was no sword visibly stabbing Fleury in the back during that game.
On Vancouver’s side, both Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko split time between the posts. But, it was Demko who impressed. Demko allowed two goals on 130 shots good for a .985 sv% in the four games he played in. That’s fucking crazy. Demko was by far the best player in the series and if he had started each game Vancouver would probably be facing Dallas in the Conference Finals.
One of the best parts of the playoffs is the breakout stars. The young players that cement their status as “the guy” the following regular season. When that young guy is a goalie, it’s especially memorable. See Cam Ward in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. So far, this year’s breakout star is Demko. Sadly, we won’t be able to see him play until the start of the next regular season.
4. Stamkos Ruled Out of Conference Finals
Me when Steven Stamkos is ruled out for the Conference Finals.
Steven Stamkos is one of my favorite players in the league. He’s also one of the best and most exciting. And after suffering an injury before training camp, Stamkos hasn’t played yet these playoffs. He has been ruled out of the Conference Finals against the Islanders.
This sucks. The playoffs are when the best shine bright and I, like all fans that don’t live on Long Island, want to see Stamkos back and playing great. We just have to hope and pray that he’s healthy enough to play in the Stanley Cup Finals if the Lightning are to make it that far.
5. Mike Green Retires
With all the craziness of the playoffs, I haven’t had enough space in my column to talk about some other important news. One of those stories I missed was that Mike Green has retired.
Green was one of the most prolific defensemen throughout his career. He broke in with the Washington Capitals during the 2005-06 season. Green was a part of the great Capitals teams in the mid to late 2000s that dominated the regular season but wasn’t able to win in the playoffs. In his prime he was the best offensive defenseman in the league, scoring 31 goals during the 2008-09 season.
Green left Washington in the summer of 2015 and signed with the Detroit Red Wings. He was never able to match his previous level of production and injuries took a toll on his body. Green was traded to Edmonton before this season’s trade deadline and retired at the age of 34-years-old.
Green should be remembered for his glory days in Washington and his other-worldly offensive contributions. He was also an underrated defenseman. I wish Green all the best and hope to see him stay involved in the hockey community. ■