Inside the NHL
Given how May 10 remains a hallowed date in Stanley Cup playoffs history, it wasn’t surprising to see Tuesday night’s record lineup of pivotal games.
Stanley Cups have been won May 10, famously by Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins in 1970, then by the Montreal Canadiens in 1973 and 1977, with clinching conference finals games involving a fading Canadiens dynasty in 1979 and a fledgling one for the New York Islanders in 1980.
The playoffs go too late nowadays for such high-stakes May 10 results, but this year’s date featured four Game 5 matchups in series tied 2-2 — the second time that’s happened any single day and first since 1991.
For Kraken fans missing their hockey fix, it’s tough for any sport to beat NHL nightly offerings in its opening playoff round. This year is no exception, with Tuesday night’s biggest victors being the Toronto Maple Leafs, who probably contain the most compelling playoff storyline as well as a couple of ex-Kraken players in Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell.
The Leafs have not won a Cup or been to a final since capturing their previous championship in 1967. They haven’t even survived the opening round since 2004, including such eliminations the past five consecutive years despite ample talent.
Tuesday’s Game 5 at home against two-time defending champion Tampa Bay was a must-win, but Toronto appeared destined to lose after falling behind 2-0 and being outshot 10-2 at one point in the first period.
Most by then had left Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and company for dead and were plotting how Barry Trotz would replace Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe next season. Speaking of Trotz: Yes, NHL coaches do apparently get fired for taking the Islanders to consecutive conference finals and then having the audacity to miss the playoffs because the team played its first 15 games on the road due to its new home arena not being ready.
In all seriousness, the Islanders play an aggressive forechecking style quite similar to what the Kraken attempted. Trotz had recently mused that perhaps that style was best-suited for pandemic-shortened seasons and not quite as physically sustainable over a full 82 games.
Food for thought.
Anyhow, hold off on the Trotz rehiring at least another day, as Keefe remains employed after Toronto staged a gutsy rally for a 4-3 comeback win.
Mind you, every hockey fan, especially Kraken coach and ex-Leafs assistant Dave Hakstol, knows Toronto hasn’t won anything yet despite the 3-2 lead heading back to Tampa Bay on Thursday. Especially given the Leafs’ recent choke-job history and the Lightning being 16-0 after a playoff loss the past two-plus postseasons.
Earlier Tuesday, I was about to anoint the Bruins the night’s biggest loser given their pitiful showing in Carolina and historical connection to May 10. More on that in a moment.
But the Edmonton Oilers quickly usurped them by losing 5-4 in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings at home to trail 3-2 in their series. No one can really figure out how an Oilers team with two all-time greats in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is trailing a playoff bubble squad. Except that, well, the Oilers do this every postseason, which, fair or not, risks tainting McDavid’s legacy.
Winning matters in pro sports. And the McDavid-Draisaitl Oilers haven’t won much of anything that matters. That they’ve also sported a bit of an attitude while accomplishing relatively little will make for a long and entertaining offseason in Edmonton if again they are eliminated early.
And speaking of regular-season juggernauts, the Minnesota Wild lost 5-2 at home to St. Louis in Tuesday’s other matchup to trail their series 3-2. This isn’t as egregious as the Oilers, given St. Louis looked like a Cup contender when the Kraken visited early last month.
Then again, the Wild also looked like a Cup contender in beating the Kraken a few weeks back. This was supposed to be the year the Wild put it all together. But they probably got the worst first-round draw possible in a Blues team that matches up extremely well against them.
As for other series, Cup favorite Colorado swept Nashville as expected. Wednesday’s scheduled tilts saw Pittsburgh enter with a 3-1 series lead on the New York Rangers, while the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals were tied 2-2 as were the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars.
Many wondered whether the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers were merely a great regular-season team. Same with the Rangers and Flames. Then again, having the league’s Nos. 1, 6 and 8 finishers overall eliminated this early would be something.
Throw in the Wild at No. 5 and Lightning at No. 7, and you see why they call the playoffs the “second season.” Even the Bruins appeared positioned to upset the No. 3 overall Hurricanes before getting blown out 5-1 on Tuesday.
May 10 has marked the highest and lowest Bruins playoff moments.
It was on May 10, 1970 that Bruins legend Orr scored perhaps the NHL’s most famous goal — and certainly derived its most famed photograph — to win the Cup in overtime against St. Louis at the Boston Garden. The goal itself was anticlimactic, ending a four-game sweep. But it became iconic when onetime Seattle Totems defenseman Noel Picard tripped Orr as the puck crossed the line, sending him flying through the air to be captured by camera lens.
The low point, on May 10, 1979, was the “Too Many Men” game when Bruins coach and future television commentator Don Cherry got a bench penalty for having an extra man on the ice while clinging to a 4-3 lead late in Game 7 of the conference final in Montreal. Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur, who died of lung cancer last month, scored one of the most famous goals in NHL history to tie it on the power play with 74 seconds to play before Yvon Lambert won it for the Canadiens in overtime en route to Montreal’s fourth consecutive championship.
It marked the end of an era for Cherry’s Bruins. Just as this year’s May 10 perhaps ended the last realistic Cup grasp for a Bruins core led by Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, champions in 2011 and finalists in 2013.
But who knows? There’s still hockey to be played.
And given the history of the Maple Leafs and Bruins and the unpredictable nature of playoff hockey in general, we might have completely different story lines to chat about a day or two from now.