Once again, both Western Conference games got off to a slow start. Neither game produced more than 15 shots (collectively) on goal in the first frame (6-3 Blues and 12-3 Ducks).
But as luck would have it, the teams with the fewest shots were also the first to dent the mesh with James Neal scoring in the first for Nashville and the Oilers Andrej Sekera sniping one 65 seconds into the first frame in Anaheim.
In spite of the fact that both teams scored in the first (Edmonton’s Sekera, along with Neal and Vladimir Tarasenko who tallied one a side in the early game), neither game set the barn on fire in terms of scoring opportunities. Anaheim put up 12 in an effort to head into intermission on equal footing, but they got no return on their investment. Everyone else could only manage single digits.
In St. Louis, they no longer had home ice by way of a loss in Game 1 in front of their home crowd. They knew they were going to have to find another level to avoid the same fate Nashville delivered to Chicago, who left their home ice down 2-0 and returned to pack up their lockers as they surrendered two more in Nashville in the first round.
With Nashville’s strong play evident again in the second round, that was not out of the realm of possibilities. Neal tallied first, and the air went out of the building as fans started to hold their breath. While Jake Allen has been stellar throughout these playoffs, netminders are not generally considered scoring threats, and that is what the Blues desperately needed.
Who’s Your Vladdy?
After a very ugly knee on knee hit by Vernon Fiddler on Colton Parayko (that resulted in a five-minute major and game misconduct), the door was open.
Fiddler kneeing major and misconduct pic.twitter.com/lEDjEaGICO
— steph (@myregularface) April 29, 2020
The Blues just needed someone to find the magic that helped them claw their way back into the playoff race late in the season.
They needed some heroics, and though he had been a little too quiet in the playoffs thus far (one goal, two assists in six previous games), Tarasenko was primed and ready to give his netminder some support.
Vladdy scored as the clock wound down on the first period allowing his team to go into the locker room with some energy and the hope that this game wouldn’t end with unhappy fans.
Nashville’s Ryan Ellis blew a rocket by Allen early in the third, but Jori Lehtera gave the Blues faithful a reason to cheer once again as he got the equalizer about four minutes later.
more angles pic.twitter.com/NTYBpCC6Z2
— steph (@myregularface) April 29, 2020
The Blues would be lost without Allen doing absolutely everything to keep the puck out of his net with several brilliant stops giving his team a chance to fight back night after night.
Fight back they did as Tarasenko once again lifted this team up and stole the game. Something he has frequently done for the better part of five seasons.
With just under four minutes remaining, Tarasenko buried a one-timer off a ridiculous feed from Jaden Schwartz by way of Joel Edmundson‘s skate. Preds netminder Pekka Rinne had no chance on the shot.
For the better part of a week, fans and commentators have been making a lot of Tarasenko’s low key playoff performance to this point, but in the NHL real heroes are made in the Playoffs, with moments like this one.
They turn games and create the momentum when hope is starting to falter, and they almost always show up right when their team needs them the most.
All Out Allen
While Tarasenko had done his job putting the Blues up for the first time in this young series, Allen’s job was only going to get more difficult. With less than four minutes remaining, the Preds threw everything they had at the Blues young netminder.
The final frame accounted for more than half of the Preds shots on goal (15 of 24), so Allen was just as much the hero as Tarasenko. This was especially evident as Neal ripped a shot point blank with 34 seconds and change on the clock.
Allen corralled it and gave no rebound.
If Brian Elliott was the hero last spring in St. Louis, Allen is going to do everything he can to re-write the headlines this year.
65 Second Sekera
Anaheim stepped onto home ice for Game 2, but Oilers fans were doing their level best to make sure it didn’t feel like it. They invaded SoCal like an oil slick and proceeded to rub the Ducks fanbase the wrong way as they sparred amongst each other in their outdoor voices.
That only got worse when Sekera absolutely blistered a shot past John Gibson just 65 seconds into the opening frame.
The Oilers would add an insurance policy from Patrick Maroon at 6:41 in the second and Jakob Silfverberg kept the Ducks in the game with a tally at 15:34. In spite of the fact that the Ducks once again hammered the Oilers on the dot (64 percent) and outshot them to the tune of 40-23 that was as much as they could muster.
Little Red Defender
While the shots on goal were certainly in favor of the Ducks, there were several occasions where the Oilers seemingly dressed an additional defensemen. He is rail thin, red, and goes by the name of goalpost.
Cam Talbot got two such assists in the final minutes of Game 2, and both teams have produced more than their fair share of grand theft goalpost. Two nights ago, both teams could have been guilty of too many men if that post had a pair of skates and a sweater on.
For all its work tonight, Cam Talbot might want to take his post out for a steak dinner or at the very least give it a little love tap for its aid in keeping pucks out of the net. It’s happened enough times in this series that one is left to wonder if Talbot’s been downing Unicorn Frappucino’s because he certainly seemed to be coughing up pixie dust on more than one occasion.
If things continue along the same lines in Edmonton as they have in Anaheim, Talbot and that mighty little red defender might not be seeing each other until next season. He’ll have to hope the posts in Edmonton will be as favorable.
Rogers Place + McDavid = McDoom
This show is now headed to Rogers Place with the Ducks carrying a goose egg for the series (Edmonton now leads 2-0) after managing just the one goal in Game 2. They’ve limited Connor McDavid to a single assist, but it hasn’t mattered because the Oilers have more than one weapon in the arsenal.
What’s worse is that you have to believe McDavid like all great NHL stars will not be stopped forever. With home ice, the Oilers will also have more control over the matchups, and that will almost certainly give McDavid the space he needs to put his fingerprints all over this series.
With just one opportunity, McDavid can ignite, and no amount of faceoff wins or heavy hits will be able to save the Ducks because McDavid’s rise is before us, and Anaheim might be forced to accept that they are only there to bear witness.