The Enigmatic Oilers, the Improbable Game 3 in Tampa and Other Stanley Cup Insights
This just in – the NHL regular season is over!
Calgary’s meaningless 6-2 win over Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon – four days after the first playoff game took place – finally brought down the curtain on the COVID-delayed irregular season. And with the great news that only postseason games remain, here’s a look at an interesting statistic or two from each of the first-round series, all of which are underway:
East Division: New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Thursday’s Game 3 of the series produced a milestone.
It was the 26th Stanley Cup game matching head coaches Mike Sullivan (Pittsburgh) and Barry Trotz (New York). That total includes 19 games when Trotz was behind the Washington bench and seven since he took over the Islanders after leading the Capitals to the 2018 Stanley Cup.
Only one coaching matchup has occurred in more playoff games in league history.
Additionally on this series: Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby enters Game 4 with 190 career postseason points. His next playoff point will put Crosby alone in seventh place in Stanley Cup history, breaking a tie with Brett Hull. At that point, Crosby will be exactly halfway to the playoff total of the all-time leader, Wayne Gretzky, who amassed 382 points in his postseason career.
But it’s not all about Crosby. Thursday’s thrilling 5-4 Pens win was the 62nd game in Crosby’s playoff career in which he failed to register a point. It was the first time in those 62 games that Pittsburgh put in as many as five goals – and just the 22nd which the Pens won.
East Division: Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals
It’s an unprecedented run for these two teams – 12 consecutive postseason games between them decided by exactly one goal.
The streak includes a first-round game in 1998, all seven games of a first-round series in 2012, a round-robin game last August and all three games of this series. It’s a streak that is five games longer than any other streak of one-goal games between two opponents in postseason history.
How close is this series? It’s started with three games, all of them going overtime, with neither side holding a two-goal lead. The Bruins hold a 2-1 edge despite leading for less than nine minutes.
This is just the third playoff series all time to begin with three overtime games and no two-goal leads. It happened in the 1933 Boston-Toronto Cup Final and a 2012 first-round series between Chicago and Phoenix.
North Division: Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The formidable Maple Leafs won their first division title in 21 years, with an 18-point gap between them and their first-round opponents.
The Canadiens’ season was so unimpressive that they fired head coach Claude Julien after 18 games, then had a losing record under Dominique Ducharme, but still made the playoffs. Of course, once a team makes the postseason, anything can happen. . .
The Leafs had only four games in the regular season in which they scored zero or one goal. They lost Thursday’s opener to the Habs 2-1. But the real oddity was the fact that Montreal’s winning tally was a short-handed goal by Paul Byron with 7:16 remaining in the third period. In the Habs’ 760-game postseason history, this is the only time the team has scored a tie-breaking short-handed goal in the last 10 minutes of the third period.
Canadiens Postseason Go-Ahead SHG in 3rd Period, All Time
|Goal Scorer||Time Remaining|
|Paul Byron, 2021 @ TOR||7:16|
|Bob Gainey, 1986 @ BOS||11:02|
|Pete Mahovlic, 1971 vs CHI||11:04|
|Jim Roberts, 1977 vs NYI||12:14|
|Serge Savard, 1968 @ STL||17:43|
|Guy Carbonneau, 1993 @ BUF||18:11|
The Canadiens have scored one short-handed overtime goal in the postseason – in 1955 at Boston by Don Marshall.
Meanwhile, Leafs fans can hardly be faulted for feeling a sense of doom. This is a franchise that has gone 52 straight seasons without reaching the Stanley Cup Final. That’s the longest drought by any team in league history.
For the moment, Toronto is just hoping to end a run of 16 straight seasons without winning a playoff series – the longest such stretch in Maple Leafs’ annals.
North Division: Winnipeg Jets vs. Edmonton Oilers
In the regular season, the Oilers’ Connor McDavid led the league in assists with 72 and in points with 105. McDavid’s point total was 21 more than any other player amassed.
Though the season was shortened to 56 games, it was the largest gap between the points leader and No. 2 scorer since 1990-91 when Wayne Gretzky finished 32 points ahead of Brett Hull.
In fact, McDavid played the fewest games ever in a regular season for a 100-point scorer.
Fewest Games Played in a Season w/100+ Points, All Time
|Connor McDavid, EDM||2020-21||56||105|
|Mario Lemieux, PIT||1989-90||59||123|
|Mario Lemieux, PIT||1992-93||60||160|
The player who finished second to McDavid in both points and assists was teammate Leon Draisaitl. And in addition to McDavid and Draisaitl, Edmonton had the NHL’s top point-producing defenseman in Tyson Barrie (48 points) and the No. 2 goal-scoring blueliner in Darnell Nurse (16 goals).
So this must be a great offensive team, right? No. The Oilers ranked seventh in the NHL in regular-season scoring, potting 14 fewer goals than the No. 1 offensive team, the Avalanche. And the reality was that Edmonton wasn’t so scary against the better teams. The Oilers finished with 3.72 goals per game against non-playoff teams during the regular season, but just 2.78 against playoff teams.
Similarly, McDavid produced 61 of his 105 points against non-playoff teams. In the series opener against the Jets, he was held without a point for just the fifth time in the last 32 games, as Winnipeg prevailed 4-1.
McDavid had points in all nine regular-season games against the Jets, as Edmonton went 7-2-0 – but it’s worth noting that the Oilers are 2-9-1 over this extended season when McDavid’s name is not on the scoresheet.
Central Division: Nashville Predators vs. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes’ Alex Nedeljkovic was placed on waivers on January 12 and went unclaimed. Between mid-January and mid-March, the transaction column for Nedeljkovic lists 19 occasions on which he was designated for assignment and sent to the team’s taxi squad. He would start every other game for Carolina, go to the taxi squad, then return.
Finally, a March 22 shutout of Columbus earned Nedeljkovic something he hadn’t had previously: a second consecutive start. From that point to the end of the regular season, he sparkled with a 9-3-1 record, 1.69 GAA and .937 save percentage – though he started only half of Carolina’s games.
In two playoff games against Nashville, Nedeljkovic – stop the presses – has started both. He’s allowed only two goals and stopped 54 of 56 shots. Combining the regular season and playoffs, this part-timer has some of the best numbers for any netminder since the league began tracking save percentage in 1955-56.
Seasons w/GAA Under 1.90 & Save Pct .935+ (Regular Season & Playoffs; Minimum 25 Games)
|Jacques Plante, STL||1968-69||1.85||.942|
|Dominik Hasek, BUF||1998-99||1.85||.937|
|Alex Nedeljkovic, CAR||2020-21||1.83||.935|
Nedeljkovic led the NHL in regular-season save percentage at .932, with Nashville netminder Juuse Saros fourth at .927. Saros has been decent in the series’ first two games, allowing six goals – but against the NHL’s top part-time starter, that hasn’t been good enough.
Central Division: Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s hard to overstate the improbability of Florida’s 6-5 overtime win at Tampa Bay in Game 3.
From a 2-0 lead after one period to a 5-3 deficit after allowing five second-period goals, a goaltending change and a late third-period tying goal, it was hardly a conventional path to victory. For only the third time in postseason history, a team that scored 5 or more goals in one period went on to lose. Tampa Bay had won 151 straight games (regular season and postseason) when scoring at least five goals prior to Game 3.
For Sergei Bobrovsky to beat Andre Vasilevskiy in a postseason game is improbable in its own right given their playoff histories. Among the 89 goaltenders to start at least 35 career postseason games, Vasilevskiy ranks 11th with a .603 winning percentage (35-23). Bobrovsky is 87th on the list with a ghastly .371 mark – just 13 wins in 35 decisions.
West Division: St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche
Games 1 and 2 of the series have been a Nathan MacKinnon tour de force to the tune of five goals and seven points.
MacKinnon has produced 32 points in 17 games in the 2020 and 2021 postseasons – a whopping 1.88 points per contest. Exclude the round-robin games of last September, and that figure jumps to 2.07.
MacKinnon’s career playoff average is 1.45 points per game and he’s reached 25 goals and 61 points in only 42 games. Only three of the all-time greats – including MacKinnon’s general manager, Joe Sakic – have reached 25 and 60 in fewer games.
For the Blues, the numbers are sobering. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2019, St. Louis is 2-11-1 in the postseason over the last two years. The Blues yielded 2.69 goals per playoff game en route to the Cup, but that number has shot up to 3.73 in ’20 and ’21.
West Division: Minnesota Wild vs. Vegas Golden Knights
In the regular season, no team scored first more often than Vegas – and no club had a better record when drawing first blood.
The Golden Knights tied for the best first-period goal differential in the league. In Games 1-3 against the Wild, none of those trends held.
The second and third periods in the series have belonged to Vegas to the tune of an 8-1 advantage in goals. And Marc-Andre Fleury continues to solidify his place as one of the greatest postseason goaltenders in history, fashioning a 1.32 GAA and .951 save percentage through three games.
Fleury’s next postseason start will be the 148th of his career, breaking a tie with Grant Fuhr for fourth all time. Only Patrick Roy (246), Martin Brodeur (204) and Ed Belfour (156) have started more.
Research support provided by Tim Bazer and Jacob Jaffe. Design by Matt Sisneros.