It’s the most, wonderful time, of the yearrrrrrrr! Who doesn’t love playoff hockey right? This is what we wait all season for, this is why most of us became fans of the game, as the postseason captivates us year after year after year. My personal favorite part is the dying minutes of a one-goal game when everything is a scramble, bodies are diving everywhere, pucks are zipping around the zone and the intensity is as high as can be. Until we get to overtime that is, when it become full-on, tighten your butt cheeks, gasp and cringe with every shot end-to-end action (WITH NO COMMERCIALS!!).
Who will hoist the 2016 Stanley Cup?
With the team I cover out of the playoffs (again), I relish the opportunity to write a little out of character and enjoy the playoffs as a fan of the game, and pick my three stars of each night like our friends over at Yahoo!/Puck Daddy blog do throughout the season. You can find player standings at the bottom of each post with three points for being the no. 1 star, two for no. 2 and one for no. 3 and on some nights we’ll have an honorable mention.
April 30, 2016
#3) Matt Murray, Pittsburgh: 23 saves/24 shots, Win
Murray was a brick wall again for the Pens and the only goal he allowed was on a power play, that probably shouldn’t have been a power play. This kid has gone toe-to-toe with the best team in the NHL this season, in their barn, and is an overtime, wraparound goal from maybe being up 2-0 in the series, on the road. Despite only facing ten shots over the first two periods, he denied 13 of 14 in the third when the heat was on and the Caps were trying to play catch up. So many times this season we saw Washington flip a switch in the third period and rally for a win, but in Game 2 it was Murray who won,
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 1, 2016
Let's all take a moment and appreciate Matt Murray. pic.twitter.com/2YP066Jg3Q
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 1, 2016
#2) Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay: 2 goals, assist
Tampa netted four goals and Mr. Undrafted had a hand in three of them. Yes, one of the two goals was an empty netter, but it wasn’t a tap in or a breakaway. Johnson netted it from long distance as the Isles were trying to claw back into the game. His first goal was a thing of beauty, video below and set the tone for the rest of Game 2, which was close to a must-win game for the Bolts; he also won 53% of the face-offs he took in the 4-1 win.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 30, 2016
#1) Kris Letang, Pittsburgh: 5 blocked shots, 6 SoG, 3 hits, 35:22 TOI
It ain’t always all about the glamour stats — and Letang put on a great performance on Saturday night against the Capitals. With fellow defenseman Olli Maatta out of the game since the early stages of the first period the Pens’ All-Star blueliner played more than half the game, and did everything except registering a point. If he keeps up this elite level of hockey, Pittsburgh has an excellent chance to win this series.
@bobgrove91 Him not losing his mind with all the uncalled abuse on him tonight is also pretty remarkable.
— Eric Majeski (@LGP_netwolf) May 1, 2016
— Penguins PR (@PenguinsPR) May 1, 2016
Honorable mention) Nicklas Backstrom, Washington:
He had such a other-wordly game in the face-off circle in Game 2 that I just couldn’t write a post without mentioning his exploits. Always one of the under appreciated players in the NHL, Backstrom is one of the best all-around, all situation players and it has been on display again this postseason. Check out the two stat nuggets in the tweets below to see just how tricky Nicky was. Sid is no slouch in the dots, so for Backstrom to dominate him like that, he might’ve been my third star if his team won the game.
#Caps Nicklas Backstrom won 18 of 20 faceoffs (90.0%), marking the highest faceoff win% in the NHL playoffs since 1987-88 (min. 20 faceoffs)
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) May 1, 2016
NHL Network points out Backstrom won 13/14 faceoffs vs. Crosby. I immediately picture Crosby doing a Jagr-like workout atm, just faceoffs.
— Angie (@acarducci) May 1, 2016
Braden Holtby (Wash): 6
Brian Elliott (StL): 6
Joe Pavelski (SJ): 5
Michal Neuvirth (Phil): 5
John Tavares (NYI): 5
Pekka Rinne (Nash): 5
Tyler Johnson (TB): 5
Nikita Kucherov (TB): 4
Thomas Hickey (NYI): 3
Alex Ovechkin (Wash): 3
Antti Niemi (Dall): 3
Evgeni Malkin (Pitt): 3
Artemi Panarin (Chi): 3
Troy Brouwer (StL): 3
TJ Oshie (Wash): 3
Radek Faksa (Dall): 3
Kris Letang (Pitt): 3
Patric Hornqvist (Pitt): 2
Roberto Luongo (Fla): 2
Tanner Pearson (LA): 2
Frederik Andersen (Ana): 2
Ben Bishop (TB): 2
Mikko Koivu (Minn): 2
Sami Vatanen (Ana): 2
Shane Prince (NYI): 2
Nick Bonino (Pitt): 2
Joel Ward (SJ): 2
Matt Murray (Pitt): 2
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.