Now that all 16 teams competing in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs have kicked off their respective series, it’s time for a small public service announcement, so take a deep breath and say it with us: “It’s only Game 1.”
And while there is no diminishing the importance of earning that first win on home ice and shaking off the first-round jitters, going down two games to none is obviously a much deeper hole to climb out of.
So, with that in mind, we take a look at one way each Game 1 loser can earn a big bounce-back win and draw the series level.
Key to winning Game 2: Cut out 3rd-period penalties.
The Caps were a few dumb penalties away from a convincing Game 1 victory over the Blue Jackets, as three third-period power plays propelled Columbus to a late-game comeback win, despite it trailing for the majority of the contest. The Jackets converted on two of their final-frame power plays and got the OT winner from a red-hot Artemi Panarin.
Key to winning Game 2: Get more shots on Matt Murray.
If you’ve been keeping even half an eye on the NHL playoffs over the last couple seasons, you might have noticed goaltender Matt Murray is developing into one of the most clutch postseason performers currently playing. So the Flyers’ 24 shots on net (only five in the third period) against the Pens in their Game 1 loss just won’t get the job done.
Murray has already shown he doesn’t get rattled easily and 24 shots are light work for a guy rocking two rings from his first two years in the show.
Realistically, there is no simple solution to beat Pittsburgh in a seven-game series. But if the Flyers want to shock the world, they will need to get a lot more shots on target and create some confusion in front of Murray’s cage.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Key to winning Game 2: Be more disciplined.
Puck fans waking up in Toronto this morning had the unfortunate experience of not only having to deal with a Game 1 loss to the Boston Bruins, but also with a potential suspension for Nazem Kadri for his dirty hit on Tommy Wingels.
And while Kadri’s five-minute major was enough of a setback, the Leafs sent Boston to the power play five other times, a number far too high given the Bruins own the fourth-most efficient power-play unit, converting at an impressive 25.5 percent clip.
New Jersey Devils
Key to winning Game 2: Shuffle lineup.
The Devils lost Game 1 to the speedy Tampa Bay Lightning in convincing fashion. And while Keith Kinkaid has earned the right to be starting for Jersey, John Hynes’ decision to keep Damon Severson and Jesper Bratt in the press box is causing some fans to call for a lineup shuffle.
Sure, calling for a guy in Cory Schneider, who struggled mightily in the second half of the season, is most likely a foolish move. But, given the impressive speed of all four Tampa forward lines, the injection of Bratt and Severson’s speed compared to that of Lovejoy and Boyle’s could go a long way for New Jersey.
Key to winning Game 2: Take out crowd energy by scoring first.
Minny was a Joe Morrow point shot away from taking Game 1 to an extra frame against the Winnipeg Jets. The Wild don’t really need to do that much different to right the ship and earn a Game 2 victory.
But burying the first goal would go a very long way to help silence the raucous crowd at Bell MTS Place – a crowd that was kept mostly in check during the first game until Mark Scheifele got the home team on the board near the end of the second stanza.
It’s hard to quantify something as intangible as a home-crowd advantage, but if you’ve ever watched a game in Winnipeg, you know how much energy the Jets get by feeding off the rabid crowd.
Key to winning Game 2: Generate more scoring chances.
A tight, one-goal shutout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night was a tough pill to swallow for the Kings. Even more so was losing Norris Trophy candidate and blue-line stud Drew Doughty for Game 2 due to suspension.
But the Kings’ biggest hurdle to clear will be their relative inability to score.
The Kings finished in the bottom half of the league in goals per game at 2.89 and struggled to generate scoring chances against a Knights squad that averaged over three. Factor in that L.A. was badly out-chanced Wednesday in Game 1 (21 to 14 in favor of Vegas), and John Stevens’ side will need to get its offense going if it wants to head back to California with a win in its pocket.
Key to winning Game 2: Pray that Jonathan Bernier steals the game.
Let’s not get it twisted: The Nashville Predators are scary good. A stacked blue line, solid forward group, and a potential Vezina winner in Pekka Rinne between the pipes have earned Nashville the right to be called Cup favorites.
And after a convincing opening-game victory over the Avalanche on Thursday, it’s clear Colorado just can’t hang with the caliber and experience of the Predators’ loaded core. Bernier will need to have a game for ages for the Avs to steal Game 2 in The Music City.
Key to winning Game 2: Convert on scoring chances/power play.
Another Game 1 result that wasn’t indicative of how close the contest actually was, the Ducks‘ first game against the San Jose Sharks could have ended a lot differently had Anaheim capitalized on some of its chances with the man advantage.
The Ducks came up with goose eggs on all three of their PP opportunities, managing a measly three shots against Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
Given all the close chances and hit posts Anaheim had during its loss, Game 2 should look a whole lot different if the Ducks can capitalize on their special teams chances.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)