Success in NHL playoffs hinges on star players at their best
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A group of young, emerging prospects are moving to the forefront in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Of course, there are several key veterans having an impact on their series as well.
When it comes to making a run for the Stanley Cup, this is the time of year for the league’s biggest stars.
Daniel Sedin and Vancouver are hoping to draw even in their first-round series against Calgary when they take on the Flames in Game 6 tonight. Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson, Nashville’s Filip Forsberg and Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov also are back in action in their respective series.
“I love the playoffs. It’s the most fun,” said Johnson, who led a stirring comeback that evened the Lightning’s series against Detroit at two games apiece. ”(Regular) seasons are great, but don’t stand anywhere close to the playoffs.”
While Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos is searching for his first goal of the postseason, Johnson has stepped up with four in his team’s two wins. His first goal Thursday night ended a stretch in which the Lightning went 118 minutes without scoring. The second ended Game 4 against the Red Wings 2:25 into overtime.
Stamkos, a two-time league scoring champion, was second in the league with 43 goals this season. Johnson scored 29 and matched Stamkos for the team lead with 72 points. He has a knack for delivering when Tampa Bay needs it the most.
“If we all could do it, we’d be doing it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But there just seems to be guys that have that ‘it’ factor.”
While the Lightning look to take control in Game 5 tonight, the Capitals have a chance to finish off the New York Islanders after Kuznetsov scored twice to help Washington go up 3-2 in the series.
Sedin broke a third-period tie as Vancouver extended Calgary to a sixth game, and Forsberg’s first career hat trick helped Nashville win an elimination game for the first time in franchise history, although the Chicago Blackhawks still hold a 3-2 advantage in that series.
Here’s a look at tonight’s lineup. All times EDT:
Washington at New York Islanders. Capitals lead 3-2. Game 6, 3 p.m., NBCSN
STARTINGOVER: Capitals coach Barry Trotz says winning Game 5 to push the Islanders to the brink of elimination won’t have any impact.
“It was one game. I don’t think momentum carries to the next game,” Trotz said, adding that Washington has been good at keeping both success and failure in perspective.
“We’ve learned a lot this year to park it,” he said. “Whatever we do, park it and move on — good and bad.”
New York defenseman Thomas Hickey said the Islanders are leaving Game 5 behind, too.
“We’ve got a great test of character, test of ourselves with our back against the wall,” Hickey said. “Flush this one down the toilet. It doesn’t matter what the score was. We’ve got to be better and we’re going back to our rink in front of our fans to even the series.”
Detroit at Tampa Bay. Tied 2-2. Game 5, 6 p.m., NBCSN
UNLIKELY CLIMB: Johnson began his career as a little-known undrafted free agent, but has been a part of successful teams on every level he’s played. He insists he’s never felt overlooked.
“I’m grateful to be where I’m at. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of people believe in me at the right time,” Johnson said.
HAVEN’T DONE ANYTHING: The Lightning and Red Wings have alternated victories, with Detroit winning Games 1 and 3, and the Lightning bouncing back in Games 2 and 4. And even though, the Lightning seemed to capture momentum by scoring three times in just under eight minutes (including overtime) to come from behind to win Game 4, Lightning coach Jon Cooper doesn’t expect the stirring finish to carry over to the next game.
“All we did was put ourselves back in the series,” Cooper said.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock agreed, even though he felt Detroit probably played its best game on Thursday.
“I believe the series should be 2-2. That’s what it’s at,” Babcock said. “You earn what you get.”
Nashville at Chicago. Blackhawks lead 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m., NBC
FISHER RETURNS: The Predators got alternate captain Mike Fisher back just in time to help stave off elimination. The 34-year-old center suffered a lower-body injury early in the second period of the series opener with the Blackhawks, and he is the guy Nashville wanted to help defend Chicago captain Jonathan Toews.
Fisher brought a physical presence with a big check on Blackhawks defenseman Kimmo Timonen and he also had an assist as the Predators sent the series back to Chicago.
“It gives us a boost because he does a lot of things for our team,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette. “I would say first and foremost is leadership and presence on our team, and then when you bring it out on to the ice he adds a lot there as well.”
SNUBBED ROOKIE: Nashville forward Filip Forsberg of Sweden became only the fourth rookie in the past 70 years to score three goals in a playoff game with his team facing elimination, but he’s also the third player in the last four years to get a hat trick in the postseason before turning 21. Forsberg leads all rookies with five points this postseason (four goals, one assist), average time on ice (21:10) and shots (18).
Vancouver at Calgary. Flames lead 3-2. Game 6, 9 p.m., NBCSN
FEELING THE HEAT?: After extending the series by winning Game 5 in Vancouver, the Canucks believe the pressure has shifted to the Flames, who will have to play Game 7 on the road if they can’t win at home Saturday night. Even though the Canucks still trail 3-2, captain Henrik Sedin believes Vancouver’s win on Thursday night planted seeds of doubt in the Flames. Calgary won Games 3 and 4 at the Scotiabank Saddledome after the teams split the first two games at Rogers Arena.
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich in Washington and Teresa Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.