NHL pundit talks Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh's potential for early golf, Caps cooling off Carolina and Kadri’s lack of cool
Barely a week into the opening round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the stage is already set for two potential upsets.
The most noteworthy sees the Columbus Blue Jackets poised to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning. Winners of the Presidents' Trophy for the best regular-season record after tying a league record for single-season wins (62), the Lightning were expected to make short work of the Jackets.
Instead, it's the Lightning on the verge of elimination.
The hardworking Jackets neutralized Tampa Bay's speed through the neutral zone, shut down scorers Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point and pressured the Bolts defenders into making costly mistakes.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, face being swept at home by the New York Islanders.
While the Penguins possess considerable post-season experience and superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they've been frustrated by the Islanders speed and physical style.
Despite a limited playoff resume, Isles goaltender Robin Lehner has thwarted Pittsburgh's offence, with Crosby held scoreless thus far.
Capitals containing Hurricanes
The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals were the favourite to win their opening-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. So far, everything's gone according to plan for the Capitals.
With stars Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby leading the way, the champs leaped to a 2-0 series lead.
The plucky Hurricanes, however, didn't make it easy. Thanks in part to youngsters like Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, they rallied back from a 3-0 deficit in Game 1 before falling 4-2 and dropped a 4-3 overtime decision in Game 2.
Given the Capitals' depth in experienced talent, the Hurricanes face a daunting challenge coming back in this series. Nevertheless, they've proven to be a tougher opponent than many expected.
Kucherov, Kadri lose their cool
The intensity of playoff competition can bring out the best in NHL players. It can also bring out the worst.
Lightning winger and NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov earned a one-game suspension for boarding Columbus defenceman Markus Nutivaara in Game 2 of their series. His absence contributed to his club's Game 3 loss as the Bolts face a possible sweep in the first round by the underdog Blue Jackets.
For the second straight year, Toronto Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri's loss of composure ended in a lengthy suspension. Last year, he got three games for boarding then-Bruins forward Tommy Wingels. This time, he faces stiffer punishment for cross-checking Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk.
Kucherov and Kadri aren't no-talent goons; they're skilled core players considered essential to their respective teams' performance. Their undisciplined antics took them out of their respective lineups when their teams needed them the most. It's a reminder cool heads prevail in the heat of post-season competition.
Despite his actions, Kucherov's future with the Lightning remains assured. The same, however, cannot be said for Kadri whose history as a repeat offender raises questions about his worth to the Leafs going forward.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with Sporting News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.