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Friday, August 19, 2022

It’s crunch time for Canada’s NHL playoff teams

SportsIt's crunch time for Canada's NHL playoff teams

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

After Calgary’s 4-1 win in Dallas last night, all three NHL playoff series involving Canadian teams are tied 2-2 and heading north for Game 5. To get you ready for the de facto best-of-three battles ahead, here’s a quick check-in on each of the matchups:

Calgary vs. Dallas

Scoring might be up in the NHL these days, but not in this series. The Flames and Stars are averaging a combined 3.5 goals per game — a full three goals below the league average for these playoffs. The leading scorers on each team — Johnny Gaudreau for Calgary, Joe Pavelski for Dallas — are tied for 30th overall with just four points apiece. Conversely, the goalies — Dallas’ Jake Oettinger and Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom — are the top two in save percentage.

The silver lining to the lack of fireworks is that this might be the only truly close series. Yes, six of the eight first-round matchups are tied 2-2. But, as we talked about in yesterday’s newsletter, there have been a ton of blowouts. The average margin of victory in every other series is at least three goals. In Calgary-Dallas, it’s two. And all three of the multi-goal wins were capped by empty-netters, so the games have been even closer than that average suggests.

WATCH | Flames level series with Stars:

Gaudreau’s magnificent penalty shot leads Flames past Stars

Calgary beats Dallas 4-1 and ties their first round series at 2-2. Johnny Gaudreau scores on a penalty shot during the third period. 0:49

Edmonton vs. Los Angeles

This series is the anti Calgary-Dallas. Since L.A.’s 4-3 win in Game 1, we’ve been treated to blowouts of six, six and four goals. The average victory margin is a whopping 4.25 goals — half a goal higher than in any other series. Game 4 was pretty typical: after losing by six goals in back-to-back games, the Kings blanked Edmonton 4-0. Go figure.

The pressure is on the Oilers because they entered the series as pretty big favourites and they have the two best players. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have captured five of the last six regular-season scoring titles, but they’ve won only one playoff series during a partnership that’s now in its seventh year. Through four games vs. the Kings, both guys have yet to go off for more than two points in a night. McDavid has six points but just one goal, while Draisaitl has three goals and one assist.

This, however, might actually be a good thing. The big knock on the McDavid/Draisaitl-era Oilers has always been their lack of a supporting cast. So it’s nice to see Evander Kane currently topping the team playoff scoring table with six points on the strength of five goals — including a hat trick in Game 3. Another encouraging sign for Edmonton is that they’ve outscored L.A. by seven goals in this series.

Game 5 goes tonight at 10 p.m. ET in Edmonton. Watch it live on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

WATCH | Kings’ Quick slams door on Oilers in Game 4:

Grundstrom and the Kings shut down Oilers, even series at 2-2

Carl Grundstrom’s two goals helped Los Angeles shut out Edmonton 4-0, as the series is now tied 2-2. 2:57

Toronto vs. Tampa Bay

Here’s another series that’s tied 2-2, appears to be evenly matched, and yet almost every result is lopsided. The Leafs and Lightning have yet to play a one-goal game, and the average victory margin is 3.5 goals. True, Toronto’s 5-2 win in Game 3 was augmented by a pair of empty-netters, but Game 4 was an honest-to-goodness blowout: Tampa raced out to a 5-0 lead early in the second period before cruising to a 7-3 win. 

They say that to win the Cup, your best players have to be your best players. The Leafs check that box right now with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner leading the team with six points apiece. Marner’s production is especially encouraging, as there were concerns that his small frame might just not be cut out for the rigors of playoff hockey after he failed to score a single goal in 12 post-season games over the past two years. But Toronto needs more from captain John Tavares in the attacking zone. He has no goals and only two assists in this series — not the bounce-back Tavares was hoping for after his 2021 playoffs were cut extremely short by an inadvertent (but no less brutal) knee to the head from Montreal’s (and now Tampa Bay’s) Corey Perry.

A couple of big names are struggling to get on the scoresheet on the Tampa Bay side too. Steven Stamkos, who scored a team-best 42 goals in the regular season, finally got his first of the playoffs in Game 4. Brayden Point has only one goal and one assist through four games. Nikita Kucherov, who won the playoff scoring title in both of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup victories in 2020 and ’21, has a modest one goal and four assists.

Game 5 goes tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET in Toronto. Watch it live on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

WATCH | Lightning score 7 in Game 4 to even series with Leafs:

Ross Colton leads the way as Lightning even up series with Leafs

A pair of goals by Ross Colton lifts Tampa Bay to a 7-3 win over Toronto, evening the series at 2-2. 1:31

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