Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily in-depth look at the 2019 NHL postseason. There were four Game 3s on the schedule Sunday, and two teams moved within one win of a first-round sweep.
About last night
Here is what happened on Day 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 1: The Islanders moved within one victory of eliminating the Penguins with the Game 3 win. Robin Lehner made 25 saves for New York, which is looking for its first series sweep since defeating the Edmonton Oilers in the 1983 Stanley Cup Final.
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1: The Blue Jackets moved within one win of a sweep after defeating the Lightning in Game 3. Columbus is the second team in NHL history to take a 3-0 series lead in the first round against the Presidents’ Trophy winner, joining the Los Angeles Kings, who defeated the Vancouver Canucks in five games in 2012.
Winnipeg Jets 6, St. Louis Blues 3: Kyle Connor scored twice to help the Jets to the Game 3 win, their first of the series. Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien each had a goal and an assist, and Connor Hellebuyck made 26 saves for the Jets. David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen scored, and Jordan Binnington made 23 saves for the Blues, who won Games 1 and 2 in Winnipeg and had won their final seven regular-season home games.
Vegas Golden Knights 6, San Jose Sharks 3: Mark Stone scored the first hat trick of his NHL career to help the Golden Knights take a 2-1 series lead. Stone, who was acquired by Vegas in a trade from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 25, also had two assists, and Paul Stastny scored two goals and had three assists for the Golden Knights.
What we learned
Here are some takeaways from Day 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Inability to protect lead dooms Penguins again
Not only has it been difficult for the Penguins to take a lead in the first three games of their best-of-7 series against the Islanders, they haven’t been able to protect a lead once they do get it. That doomed them again in Game 3. Penguins forward Garrett Wilson scored the opening goal at 12:54 of the first period, but New York forward Jordan Eberle tied the game 28 seconds later and Brock Nelson put the Islanders ahead 1:02 after Eberle scored. The Penguins have had the lead twice in the series for a combined 3:17. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson put them ahead 1-0 in the second period of Game 2, but Eberle tied it 2:49 later.
Islanders not fazed by Penguins crowd
The Islanders knew Penguins fans would bring the noise at the start of Game 3 with hopes of helping them get back in this series. But after allowing the first goal, New York silenced the crowd when Eberle and Nelson scored 1:02 apart in the first period to give the Islanders a lead they would not relinquish.
Lightning found some life
It might wind up being a case of too little, too late, but the Lightning found their skating legs and ways to make plays through the middle of the neutral zone and the offensive zone in the third period of Game 3. It’s at least a formula for success, something for them to build on as they try to start climbing the mountain in Game 4 on Tuesday, trailing the best-of-7 series 3-0. They pushed and had a determination to use their skill. They had the Blue Jackets on their heels for the first time since the first period of Game 1. They gained the zone with puck control and were able to use a lot of the misdirection in the offensive zone that they love to use to open shooting lanes and create opportunities. If they can just find a way to bottle what they did and use it early in Game 4, it might spring their hope to life too.
Blue Jackets staying physical and disciplined
Columbus has found the balance between playing aggressive, physical and fast, while staying disciplined. It’s maybe the most important balance a team can find against the Lightning because of their potent power play. The Blue Jackets didn’t give Tampa Bay a single power play opportunity in Game 3. Their only two penalties were matching minors. They gave the Lightning just two power plays in Game 2 after giving them three in Game 1. That the Blue Jackets’ discipline hasn’t come at the expense of their physicality is arguably the biggest reason why they’re leading the series 3-0.
Jets have weapons
The Jets had shown some measure of frustration after losing the first two games against the Blues at home. But Winnipeg was the third-highest scoring team in the Western Conference this season, with 270 goals, and captain Blake Wheeler said after the morning skate Sunday that offense was not his worry, that defense was going to tell the tale. Wheeler was right on both counts. The Jets scored six goals past Blues goalie Jordan Binnington in Game 3. And in building a 3-1 lead through two periods, the first lead of more than one goal by either team in the series, the Jets were quick on pucks and aggressive in all zones, holding the Blues to 13 shots on goal.
Blues have a higher gear
The Blues couldn’t find their speed, tenacity or close gaps in Game 3, things they used to win Games 1 and 2 in Winnipeg. Coach Craig Berube warned after the morning skate that nobody expected everything in the series to go St. Louis’s way, that the Jets would have a response, and he was correct. But don’t expect the Blues’ top game to be absent for long. The Blues were 30-10-5 and won their final seven home games of the regular season. They know how to find their top gear.
Martin Jones continues to struggle
That’s six more goals against for San Jose goalie Martin Jones, after he allowed three on seven shots and was pulled in Game 2. Coach Peter DeBoer didn’t pull Jones in Game 3 for what would have been the sixth time in 16 games against Vegas, but the Sharks have to figure this out. Jones had a poor season, has a poor track record against Vegas and has looked off his angle on too many goals. He’s sliding instead of setting his feet, and the Golden Knights are beating him high repeatedly.
Vegas can win special teams battle
The Golden Knights are 4-for-13 on the power play (30.8 percent) in three games. And not only have they held the Sharks to 3-for-16 on the power play (18.8 percent), they’ve scored two shorthanded goals. The theory entering the series was that Vegas was better off 5-on-5, and that might still be true over the long term, especially considering the Sharks have Norris Trophy winners Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson running their power play. But the Golden Knights are winning the special teams battle right now.