Four playoff series have gone very poorly for four clubs. The Wild, Flyers, Red Wings, and Kings all find themselves down two games to none. It isn’t a death sentence just yet, but it definitely is not the ideal position strategically. As these four clubs face pivotal Game 3s, which team is most likely to rise to the challenge?
How They Got Here
In two cases, the best team in both conferences has played like the best teams should. The Dallas Stars and the Washington Capitals are high-powered and star-studded. Their opponents, the Wild and Flyers respectively, are capable and worthy of postseason hockey, but hardly elite. In these series, the results were almost expected.
However, the Red Wings and Kings are not wild card teams. The Kings lost out on winning the Pacific Division on the final day of the season. The Red Wings are riding their consecutive playoff streak from before cell phones were even an idea.
They knew it would be a challenge. The Stars score. And they score in bunches. The offense went missing in Game 1 as Stars netminder, Kari Lehtonen, spent large amounts of time talking to his goal posts to keep him company. Game 2 was a much better performance all around, but the Wild were unable to muster enough to overcome the Stars after a controversial opening goal.
Steve Mason probably feels very lonely right now. A 100-foot goal that will undoubtedly be played for years to come sank the Flyers in Game 2. The orange sweaters were unable to solve playoff specialist, Braden Holtby in Game 1. Already down 2-0 in the series, the Flyers have only managed one goal.
The Red Wings have scored twice in each of their games. But they have nothing to show for it. Even without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning are finding offense and Jimmy Howard has not been good enough to cover up the holes this aging team has.
The only higher seeded team to be in this unique position, the Kings are in trouble. The Kings lost the back-and-forth offensive outburst in Game 1 and were frustrated by Martin Jones in Game 2. They even took the ever-so-rare two penalties at the exact same time. The resulting 5-on-3 would produce the eventual game winner.
Grabbing the Buckets
Each team is, of course, not out of it yet. Until that elimination game comes and reads triple zeroes, there is still a chance.
The Kings have the luxury of one of the best goaltenders in the league and (the elephant in the room in San Jose) experience coming from behind in the postseason. They are coached by one of the smartest tactical minds in hockey and are fully capable of bringing about change. However, it will not happen. The Sharks they are facing are not the team they made history against two years ago. They are a vastly more talented team on offense with captain Joe Pavelski firing on all cylinders so far. The blue line is deeper as Marc-Edouard Vlasic is fully healthy as well. But the most damning argument against the Kings is simple: the Sharks are in their heads. The Kings are unable to mount an offensive against this Shark forecheck. It has become frustrating, and the Kings emotions are getting the better of them. History may be on the Kings side, but this is the year the Sharks exercise some demons.
In Minnesota, they have Devan Dubnyk. He has shown the ability to carry this team all on his own. They are returning home to the State of Hockey and will naturally receive a bit of a boost from the raucous home crowd there. And the Stars were not known for their goaltending during the regular season. But this is just a case where the talent gap is too wide. The Stars outmatch the Wild in one-on-one matchups everywhere on the ice. The Wild have been unable to generate nearly enough shots, let alone chances, to give themselves a prayer. Unless Dubnyk shuts the Stars out, it will be tough to win.
The Flyers were the hottest team in the second half of the season. It made sense to many that they could give the Capitals more than just a scare. Mason was playing out of his mind down the stretch and goals were coming from everywhere. But it would seem fatigue has set in. Ugly goals give it away. And when facing Alexander Ovechkin, your goalie is the most important player you have. The Flyers offense was invisible in Game 1 and Washington’s Holtby made 41 saves in Game 2, where the Flyers only beat him once. While the Flyers will likely get at least one game, this just seems to be the Caps’ year.
This Ship Isn’t Sunk Yet
The Detroit Red Wings. That’s right, the negative goal differential, the old veterans, and The Joe. They have the best chance to climb out of their 2-0 hole. This playoff series has been far more even than the others. And the damage that is coming Detroit’s way? It’s all been focused on one
bolt line of Lightning. The top line, without Steven Stamkos, has scored 7 of the 8 goals so far for Tampa. Top heavy scoring can win you solitary games, but it is not sustainable in playoff series. It is far too easy to shut down one line if it is the only dangerous trio.
The Wings have had their chances. In fact, in all situations (power plays included), the numbers are very even. In shots for, the Wings lead 68-65. In Corsi, Tampa is up 114-112. And in scoring chances, the teams are dead even at 55. It is merely a matter of converting now. The defense needs to slow the Johnson-Kucherov-Killorn trio down. Howard (or Mrazek if he is called in) must step up and allow Detroit to hold a lead. And lastly, Pavel Datsyuk must get going. Goalless in his last 12, he has to give Detroit one last push if he really is going back to Russia when this is all over.