It wasn’t long after celebrating Craig Smith’s overtime goal that P.K. Subban zeroed in on the cold reality of Nashville’s playoff series against Dallas.
“There are no easy shifts out there, no easy games and no easy plays,” he said. “It’s hand-to-hand combat out there.”
Subban and the Central Division-winning Predators needed to work overtime just to even things with the Stars at a game apiece, and the Colorado Avalanche got a sudden-death goal from Nathan MacKinnon to tie up their series against the Western Conference top-seeded Calgary Flames. In the East, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals needed extra time to take a two games to none lead on the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Boston Bruins are going blow-for-blow with the Toronto Maple Leafs in series that’s all square and looking like it could be a classic.
None of these first-round series are going to be easy — even for the Capitals, who will go into a madhouse Monday (7 p.m. ET, CNBC) for the first Hurricanes home playoff game in a decade.
“Absolutely no quit in that team,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said Sunday of Carolina. “They’re not going away.”
Whistles Disappear & Nastiness Ensues
This isn’t a time of year for shrinking from challenges, and the Bruins showed in their Game 2 against the Maple Leafs that they’re not going anywhere. As the series shifts to Toronto, the Maple Leafs will be without centre Nazem Kadri for at least Game 3 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN), who has an in-person hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety earlier in the day for cross-checking Jake DeBrusk in the face.
Kadri was suspended three playoff games for boarding Boston’s Tommy Wingels when these teams met in the first round a year ago and could be banned for the rest of this series, if not longer. It’s no surprise the tensions are high between the Bruins and Maple Leafs.
“Things were getting pretty amped up there towards the end of the game and a lot of emotions, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about,” Bruins agitator extraordinaire Brad Marchand said after Game 2. “It’s going to happen on both sides. There’s going to be a lot of physicality the rest of the series.”
The Capitals will try to keep up the physicality against the small and quick Hurricanes, who have shown they can come back on Washington. Center Jordan Staal said, “We’re right there,” and there’s no shortage of belief that they can make it a series.
“I don’t think we played our best game,” centre Sebastian Aho said. “It’s just trying to believe that when we play our best, we have a better chance to win.”
Tight Checking Leads to Tight Games
Stars-Predators is anyone’s series going into Game 3 Monday night in Dallas (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Each of the first two games was decided by a goal, and players expect the low-scoring trend to continue as the series wears on.
“It’s not obviously open like the regular season,” Stars goaltender Ben Bishop said. “Everybody finishes checks, everybody’s going 110 per cent. It’s not going to be that up-and-down style that you’re used to.”
Bishop clearly isn’t watching Avalanche-Flames, which finally opened up in Game 2 after a shutout by Calgary’s Mike Smith in the series opener. Led by MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog and now-healthy Mikko Rantanen, Colorado looks like it can push the Flames with the series shifting to Denver for Game 3 (10 p.m. ET, CNBC)
“We’ve always had the confidence in this room,” forward Matt Nieto said. “Down late or running into a hot goalie, we know we can win games against this team. We’re thrilled to be going back 1-1 and get back in front of that Pepsi Center crowd and try to get a lead in the series.”
The Capitals know from their own experience in the first round last year that a 2-0 series lead doesn’t mean a whole lot. They came back from down 2-0 to beat Columbus on the way to winning the Cup and were pushed to seven games by Tampa Bay after leading the Eastern Conference final by that same margin.
They know better by now than to underestimate the Hurricanes.
“There’s a lot of desperation whether you’re down two or you’re starting the series, but there might be a little extra,” Washington winger T.J. Oshie said. “feels good to be up 2-nothing, but I think we can still do a lot better job and we’re going to have to if we want to go get a win there.”
Late Additions – Makar, Gavrikov & Gusev
The Avalanche could have top prospect Cale Makar in their lineup sooner than later after signing the 20-year-old defenceman to a three-year entry-level contract Sunday. Makar, who won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA player of the year, is fresh off a loss with UMass in the Frozen Four title game Saturday and could be a big boost for Colorado.
“He is a game-changing type of player who made a lasting impact on the UMass hockey program,” general manager Joe Sakic said. “We are excited to have him join our team.”
Colorado isn’t the only team adding a player with the playoffs underway. The Blue Jackets signed defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov to a two-year deal and the Vegas Golden Knights signed forward Nikita Gusev for the rest of the post-season after their seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League ended.
“Vladislav is an outstanding defenceman who excels at both ends of the ice,” Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He is big, strong and mobile and has enjoyed a successful career in the KHL and in international competition, including winning an Olympic gold medal last year. We are very excited about his future with the Columbus Blue Jackets.”
AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Pat Graham in Denver, Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, Jimmy Golen in Boston and The Canadian Press contributed.
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press