Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz: Avalanche host Golden Knights in Game 1

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Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily in-depth look at the 2021 NHL postseason. There are two playoff games scheduled for Sunday and there were two Saturday.

On Tap

There are two games on the Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule Sunday:

Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS): It’s the first-ever playoff series between the Lightning and Hurricanes. The Lightning, the defending Stanley Cup champions, have won five playoff series in a row and were led by forward Nikita Kucherov in a six-game, first-round victory against the Florida Panthers. Kucherov scored 11 points (three goals, eight assists) and leads the NHL in playoff scoring after missing the entire regular season recovering from hip surgery Dec. 29. The Hurricanes advanced to the second round by defeating the Nashville Predators in six games, the final four of which were decided in overtime. Carolina won Games 5 and 6 in overtime after trailing in the third period in each. Forward Sebastian Aho leads Carolina with seven points (five goals, two assists) in the playoffs. Tampa Bay and Carolina were 4-3-1 against the other in eight regular-season games.

Vegas Golden Knights at Colorado Avalanche (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS): It’s the first-ever series between the Avalanche and Golden Knights, who finished tied in points on top of the Honda West Division this season. The Avalanche won the tiebreaker, the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage for the playoffs by having more regulation wins (35-30). Colorado was led by its top forwards in a first-round sweep against the St. Louis Blues. Nathan MacKinnon scored nine points (six goals, three assists), Gabriel Landeskog scored eight points (two goals, six assists) and Mikko Rantanen scored seven points (one goal, six assists) against the Blues and goalie Philipp Grubauer had a 1.75 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. Mark Stone scored four goals and Mattias Janmark scored six points (three goals, three assists) in the first round for Vegas, which defeated the Minnesota Wild in seven games. Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had a 1.71 GAA and .931 save percentage in the first round. Colorado was 4-3-1 against Vegas during the regular season; Vegas was 4-4-0 against Colorado.

What we learned

Here are some takeaways from Day 14 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Canadiens confidence growing

The always quotable Brendan Gallagher was at his chatty best during a Zoom call with reporters prior to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup First Round between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. “Nothing’s guaranteed. I don’t think you’re going to get a Mark Messier quote from me,” the Canadiens forward said. “But I’ve said it all year: No matter what this group has gone from, and I wouldn’t lie to you guys, belief has never been an issue.” On May 25, 1994, Messier, then a forward with the New York Rangers, guaranteed a victory against the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, then went out and scored three goals in New York’s 4-2 victory which tied the series. Gallagher didn’t do that, but he was right on the mark when he said the Canadiens believe. That was evident when they peppered Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell with eight shots in the first three minutes and then rebounded after letting a 2-0 lead in the third period slip away before winning 3-2 in overtime to tie the best-of-7 series. Montreal has scored seven goals in the past two games after scoring four in the first four. They have gotten better as the series has progressed and it’s evident their confidence is snowballing heading into Game 7 on Monday. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer 

Muzzin irreplaceable on Toronto blueline

One of the main goals of the Maple Leafs during the offseason was to add depth, and they did that by signing free agent defensemen TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian to join a group that already had Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Justin Holl, Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin. When Muzzin left Game 6 in the second period because of a lower-body injury, it was a reminder that no matter how many NHL defensemen they have, none play with the physicality and sandpaper he does. With Muzzin out of the lineup, Canadiens forward Corey Perry and his teammates had a much easier time ploughing into the dirty areas around the Toronto crease. Muzzin’s absence was noticeable when Perry opened the scoring in the third period of Montreal’s 3-2 overtime win. Toronto defenders could not knock him off the puck nor clear it during a chaotic scramble that led to the goal. With the series tied 3-3, expect Montreal to employ the same strategy in Game 7, especially if Muzzin is out. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

Bruins contain Barzal in Game 1

Mathew Barzal remains without a goal in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the New York Islanders center has three assists in seven games, one at even strength. The Boston Bruins held Barzal to one shot on goal in 16:24 and won five of six face-offs against him in their 5-2 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Second Round and did a solid job of not allowing him to use his speed through the neutral zone and generate odd-man rushes. “That’s when he’s most dangerous,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Obviously in the O-zone he likes to walk up, so your coverage has to be good sort of on the strong side of the puck and the weak side because he’ll find the open guy. You want to turn him on his backhand as much as possible. I thought we kept him in check. … All in all, I thought we did a good job with him.” — Brian Compton, deputy managing editor 

Islanders must tighten up against Bruins’ top line

After doing a good job of containing the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first line of Jake Guentzel (one goal, one assist), Sidney Crosby (one goal, one assist) and Bryan Rust (two goals, one assist) in the first round of the playoffs, the Islanders weren’t nearly as diligent against the Bruins’ top line of David Pastrnak (three goals), Patrice Bergeron (two assists) and Brad Marchand (one assist) in a 5-2 loss in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Second Round. The Islanders appeared to back off defensively, giving the three forwards easy offensive-zone entries and plenty of open ice to take shots. Pastrnak (seven shots on goal), Bergeron (eight) and Marchand (four) combined for 19 shots on goal and 23 shot attempts. “They obviously have a lot of firepower up front and, yeah, they’re good players and they want to score goals,” New York forward Anthony Beauvillier said. “It’s going to be our job to defend better, and obviously create more offense.” — Tom Gulitti, staff writer

About Last Night

There were two games on the schedule Saturday:

Montreal Canadiens 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 2 (OT): Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored at 15:15 of overtime to lift the Canadiens to a second straight overtime win, tie the series and send it to a seventh game. That will take place in Toronto on Monday (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). Kotkaniemi’s shot from the high slot nicked the leg of Toronto defenseman Zach Bogosian and eluded Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell. Toronto, which led the series at one point 3-1, outshot Montreal 13-2 in overtime. Canadiens goalie Carey Price made 41 saves in the win. The Maple Leafs rallied late in the third period to send the game to overtime with goals by Jason Spezza at 11:35 and T.J. Brodie at 16:39. Corey Perry and Tyler Toffoli scored for the Canadiens at 5:26 and 6:43 of the third. 

Boston Bruins 5, New York Islanders 2: David Pastrnak scored a hat trick and the Bruins defeated the Islanders in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Second Round with three straight goals in the third period to break a 2-2 tie. Charlie McAvoy scored at 6:20 of the third to give Boston a 3-2 lead and Pastrnak, with this third of the game at 15:50 and Taylor Hall into the empty net at 18:35, also scored. Anthony Beauvillier and Adam Pelech scored for the Islanders, who were outshot 40-22. A crowd of 17,400 attended the game at TD Garden. 

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