NHLN Playoff Notebook: Goodbye To The Panthers, Flyers, and Wild!

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:33 am by Cam Lewis

Three more down! It felt like it took a hell of a lot longer than it should have, but both the Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota Wild were eliminated on Sunday after holding off elimination until game six of their respective series. But while it felt like the Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars took forever getting the job done on these vastly weaker teams, nothing feels longer than the playoff series victory drought that John Tavares damn near singlehandedly snapped last night in double overtime against the Florida Panthers. 

New York Islanders 2 — Florida Panthers 1 (2OT)

For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders are advancing past the first round of the playoffs. The last time New York won a playoff series, Al Arbour was their head coach, Pierre Turgeon was their leading scorer, and Glenn Healey was their starting goalie. But while one awful playoff futility streak came to an end, another one continued. The Florida Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, and thanks to John Tavares, that’s going to continue for another year. Well, I mean, they’ve only actually made the playoffs four times since then, but they’ve been dropped in the first round in each of them. Maybe one day. 

The star of this game was certainly John Tavares, who, to be honest, wasn’t all that great from what I saw. But hey, it doesn’t really matter how you play if you managed to score the game tying goal with under a minute left and then you bury the game winner in the second overtime period, right? Tavares showed why he’s the face of the New York Islanders franchise, not just tonight, but in this series in general. He led the team with five goals and nine points over the six games, and of course, the two he scored tonight will permanently etch his name in Islanders history (if it hasn’t been written already). 

Another pat on the back should be handed out to Thomas Greiss for his spectacular play this series. When I wrote the preview a couple weeks ago, I said that the Panthers certainly had the advantage in net, because Roberto Luongo has infinitely more playoff experience than Greiss does. But Greiss, who’s only ever made one playoff appearance in his career (in which he saved 26 of 28 shots in relief of Evgeni Nabokov for the San Jose Sharks in 2010), played incredibly well, posting a 0.944 save percentage throughout the series. 

I’m certainly not upset that the Islanders won, but I’ll be honest, it would have been cool to see a playoff matchup between the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Anyways, this was a really excellent series. Only one of the six games was decided by more than one goal, and to be honest, it doesn’t really count because the goal the Panthers scored to pull ahead 3-1 in that situation was an empty netter, so it was basically a one-goal game. The series also featured three different overtime games, all of which were won by the Islanders. It can’t really get much tighter than that. 

Also, I didn’t want to get into detail about this at all, but the referees missed a really, really obvious call towards the end of the game that certainly would have iced it for the Panthers. Swallowing your whistled in a situation like that? Yeah, OK, fair enough, I guess. But not mentioning the missed call at all on TV? Really? So, uh, yeah. That sucks a lot for the Panthers. 

Dallas Stars 5 — Minnesota Wild 4 

After the first period of this game, I’m pretty sure the fans at Xcel Energy Center were ready to let the Wild relocate to Dallas. The effort by the Wild players was terrible, and the Stars were just laying a beating on them for being pesky and forcing them back to Minnesota for a second time. Dallas scored three goals in the period and outshot the Wild 13 to six. I don’t think anybody would have blamed the officials for just calling the game right then and there, because there are certainly better things for Minnesotans to do on a Sunday afternoon than watch the Wild get pounded by their old franchise. 

But thankfully, they didn’t call the game after the first period. It probably had something to do with the fact that everyone knows that no game is over until the final whistle blows, especially when you’re dealing with a team that has goaltending as terrible as the Stars. 

Dallas pulled ahead 4-0 in the second, but Minnesota quickly turned things around in the third. Jared Spurgeon got Minnesota on the board, then Jonas Brodin brought them to within two goals just a few second later. Actually, the back-to-back goals scored by Spurgeon and Brodin were just 16 second apart, which is the quickest two goals in Wild (playoff) franchise history. A few minutes later, Spurgeon scored to cut the lead to one. There’s no way they could actually blow this lead, right? RIGHT!?!?

Watching the Stars try to close out this game was like watching the Colorado Rockies try to navigate their way through the ninth inning. If you don’t understand the baseball reference, just look at what they did yesterday against the Dodgers. Yeesh. 

But anyways, Devan Dubnyk decided he wasn’t really all that interested in being on the right side of a legendary comeback, so he went ahead and let the Stars regain a two goal lead by scoring on himself. Just ask any Oilers fan, they’ll tell you. Regardless of how well Dubnyk is playing, he’s eventually going to allow a horrible goal at a really unfortunate time. It always happens. 

Just five minutes after that, Jason Pomminville buried a goal to bring the Wild to within one AGAIN. In the final minute of the game, the Wild threw the kitchen sink at Kari Lehtonen, but couldn’t bury one. They came close, so close, in fact, that it triggered Flames fans into remembering how they should have won the Stanley Cup back in 2004. The Wild jammed away in front of the net, and from one angle, it looked like the puck crossed the line, or it was under Lehtonen, who was shoved into the net, or it had been covered by Jason Demers, which maybe could have resulted in a penalty shot. But none of the above happened. The call was reviewed, it wasn’t a goal, and Dallas went on to win the game. 

This series was a lot more difficult for Dallas than it needed to be, that’s for sure. But from the perspective of the Wild, they certainly put up a good fight. They basically made the playoffs by default because nobody else in the West was really interested in continuing their season, and they still managed to push it to six games, which is more than anybody expected from them. 

Washington Capitals 1 — Philadelphia Flyers 0 

Speaking of a series in which a team made it waaaaaay more difficult than it needed to be… The Washington Capitals have finally knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers! 

At a glance, this series is basically a carbon copy of the Stars and Wild series, in that the first placed team in the Conference went up three games to none over a team that won, like, half as many games as them in the regular season, but they ended up dropping back-to-back games before finishing it in six. But when you look a little deeper, the Flyers actually fared quite a bit better than Minnesota did. At the end of the series, the Flyers had a 46.4 Corsi For percentage at even strength, so while they were outplayed, they didn’t get hammered as hard in the possession game as four other teams (three of which who went on to win their series, nonetheless). 

Anyways, I won’t go into tremendous detail about this one, considering there isn’t really all too much to say about a 1-0 game, but the pat on the back for the series for Philadelphia definitely belongs to Michal Neuvirth, who posted a 0.981 save percentage in three games (two of which were wins) after coming in relief for Steve Mason, who had a rough go of it in the first three games. If the Flyers were somehow, someway going to mount a comeback against the Capitals, it would have been because of his excellent play. 

Now the Capitals move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is going to be excellent. Since the beginning of the Crosby and Ovechkin era, the two teams have only met once in the payoffs before. That came back in 2009, when the Penguins bounced the Capitals in seven games in a series where five of the seven games were decided by one goal and Washington blew a 2-0 series lead. It’ll be good. I don’t have to tell you that. 

Also, the Flyers should be happy about their season. They were in a rebuilding year, and despite that, they managed to claw their way into the playoffs and put up a good fight against a much better team. They should be excited about their future, which is something I wouldn’t have said a year ago. 


Three Stars! 

3. Jason Spezza 

Jason Spezza low-key had one of the best playoff games of his career yesterday, picking up a goal and three assists for the Stars in their 5-4 win over Minnesota. Sometimes I completely forget that he plays for Dallas. 

2. Braden Holtby/Michal Neuvirth 

The goalies in the Flyers and Capitals game yesterday were both fantastic yet again (Neuvirth stopped 28 of 29 shots while Holtby stopped all 26 shots), so they can both share the honour of second star! 

1. John Tavares 

He scored the game tying goal with under a minute left, and then ended it overtime abut an hour later. These are probably the two biggest goals of John Tavares’ career, and they helped end a 23-year long playoff series losing skid for the Islanders.