Tony Brown: There's Nothing Like Playoff HockeyAug 13, 2020
Hello again Monsters fans, we’re back with another edition of “From the Booth” as we charge into the heart of the Stanley Cup Playoffs’ opening round from Edmonton and Toronto.
This week I thought I’d touch on: a familiar face excelling on the big stage, a few observations from the initial wave of action, and a word on an exciting recent announcement from the AHL. Tweet any questions you may have – hockey-related or otherwise – using the #MonstersMailbag hashtag to get a prompt reply next week!
1. A Monster Makes History
Whatever is said about the Blue Jackets’ historic eight-period, five-overtime war vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game One of the first-round series will fail to reflect the insanity of what the players went through - and that insanity turns to impossibility when you consider the goaltenders. The crushing pressure to avoid mistakes, the fight against fatigue as the marathon plods on and on…I can only imagine.
But one former Monster turned in a performance no witness will soon forget as Joonas Korpisalo stopped an NHL-record 85 (!!!) pucks for Columbus en route to a heartbreaker of a 3-2 loss in the fourth-longest game in NHL history and the longest in 20 years.
I must admit, I was really excited to see Korpi reclaim the Jackets’ net for the team’s decisive game five win over Toronto in the qualifying round and with two shutouts, a 1.34 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage in five postseason outings, it’d be pretty difficult to describe him as anything other than CBJ’s MVP thus far. After last year’s sweep by the Jackets of the Lightning, Tampa Bay knows what a fierce opponent they’re up against and that should make for a classic seven-game slugfest in this opening round. Can’t wait for this afternoon’s game two!
2. Teams to Watch
Now that the full 16-team playoff field is set, it’s time to survey the landscape and pick some front runners and dark horses. As expected, the Vegas Golden Knights look well equipped for a run out west and the Philadelphia Flyers look solid to me in the east thanks in part to the stellar net-minding of young Carter Hart (a former Lehigh Valley Phantom), but let’s talk for a second about some teams that are maybe flying under the radar.
In the west, I’ve been really impressed with the Vancouver Canucks and their young superstars Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. It’s a deep and dangerous lineup with guys like Bo Horvat stepping up in game one vs. the defending Cup champs from St. Louis. Held to just 22 shots on goal in the first game against the Blues, Vancouver found a way to score a handful of goals and went 3/6 with the extra man in victory. That’s a tidy performance in terms of efficiency to say the least.
In the east, don’t act too shocked but I really love the way Columbus is playing. First, they find a way to shut down the Toronto Maple Leafs’ star-studded forward group in the qualifying round and turning some major heads in the process. Then they overcame a big setback in game four, to lean on their league-best (in my opinion) defensive corps in game five and punch their ticket officially to the playoffs.
Next, CBJ stares down the talented Lightning for the second straight year with Tampa well aware of the quality of their opponent this time around. Despite Game One’s defeat, I love the belief, sacrifice and the guts the Jackets are showing right now, especially defensively against dynamic offensive players - not to mention Korpisalo’s coming out party as one of the NHL’s best goalies. If the Jackets can start pumping a few more pucks into the net, watch out – the sky’s the limit for this group.
Also, not for nothing, but don’t sleep on former Monsters head coach Jared Bednar’s Colorado Avalanche. After dealing with injuries to some of the team’s top players during the regular season, it appears the Avs are finally totally healthy and that should scare the rest of the league…MacKinnon, Makar, Rantanen, Landeskog and the list goes on…that’s a formidable stable of talent that appears to be surging at the moment. The rest of the Western Conference better keep their head on a swivel!
3. AHL Timeline emerges
A few weeks back, we all received the first bit of 2020-21 season information since the season’s abrupt conclusion. In the wake of the AHL's annual Board of Governors Meeting, it was announced that the league is targeting a start date for next season no earlier than Dec. 4, 2020. While that’s hardly set in stone, it does reveal the AHL’s intentions, likely closely mirroring the NHL’s plans, and it gives us all a mental target for a return to relative normalcy.
Going forward and knowing that date could easily change if serious progress against COVID-19 isn’t made, my plea is this – if you want the AHL back, commit yourself to masks, distancing, A+ hand hygiene, and avoiding crowded situations. Be a part of the solution and then, share in the joy once the Monsters return to the ice at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. That will be a glorious day!
Take care guys, enjoy the games and know that we miss you all!