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The Battle of Alberta series living up to its hype

 

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By Neil Becker
 
This latest installment of the Battle of Alberta is quickly heating up.
 
For the first time since 1991,  Alberta hockey fans have gotten their wish of watching a playoff series featuring  the Edmonton Oilers going up against the  Calgary Flames in what is famously referred to as  ‘The Battle of Alberta.’ 
 
The Flames, who finished finished first in the Pacific Division with 111 points needed a full seven games in defeating the Dallas Stars in first round playoff action while the Oilers who placed second with 104 points also needed seven games to beat the Los Angeles Kings. 
 
As a result, hockey fans from coast -to- coast have gotten the anticipated dream matchup in what is the sixth installment of The ‘Battle of Alberta’.  
 
Back in the 1980’s which was the height of their great playoff rivalry, fans watched some fast paced firewagon hockey involving  great talents such as Oilers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and goalie Grant Fuhr to name a few.  Meanwhile the Flames had some big guns such as defenceman Al MacInnis, forwards Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Doug Gilmour and goalie Mike Vernon to made their mark.
 
These two teams had the entire hockey world in awe when they played some historic playoff rounds in 1983 (Oilers won Smythe Division Finals 4-1),  1984 (Oilers won Smythe Division Finals 4-3), 1986 (Flames win Smythe Division Finals 4-3), 1988 (Oilers won Smythe Division Finals 4-0) and 1991 (Oilers won Smythe Division Finals 4-3).
Naturally through the course of time, the names of players who participated have changed. 
 
Since their last playoff series was in 1991, an entire new generation of hockey fans who have never seen such talents as Messier, Gretzky or Robers and Nieuwendyk, have been getting their first taste of what this rivalry is all about. 
 
So far, in a Western Conference  best of seven second round series which has the Oilers winning 2-1, the hype has definitely met expectations.
 
On Sunday night at a sold out Rogers Place, Oilers forward Evander Kane had quite the night as he continued his strong playoff run with a Western Conference second round Game 3 natural  hattrick in a 4-1 win against the Flames. Kane, who joined the Oilers in January, scored his three goals in a six minute span during the second period.
 
Also having solid games were the Oilers two big guns in forwards Leon Draisaitl who had four assist and was a +4 along with captain and league leading scorer Connor McDavid who totaled three assist and was also a +4. Draisaitl, who is more of a shooter set a playoff record with four assist in a period.
 
After a shaky start to the series, Oilers netminder Mike Smith has continued to be clutch with his latest accomplishment being Sunday’s 32 save performance.
This year’s Battle of Alberta Game 1 opener resembled the high scoring fire wagon hockey played in the 1980’s.
 
In what was an absolute wild playoff opener, the Flames marched out to a 3-0 lead and at one point had a four goal cushion and though it wasn’t pretty held poon at he end for a 9-6 Game 1 win.
Making his mark in the series opener was Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk who electrified the Scotiabank Saddledome fanbase by scoring a hattrick. 
 
Other Game 1 Calgary stars included defenceman Rasmus Andersson, forwards Andrew Mangiapane and Johnny Gaudreau who all had three point performances. 
 
To no surprise McDavid led the Oilers offence with four points followed by Draisaitl who notched three along with Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto who had two point games.
 
To say it wasn’t a great performance from the goaltenders would be an understatement. Smith allowed 3 goals on 10 shots before being chased out of the Oilers net for backup Mikko Koskinen. 
Meanwhile Calgary goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who is an elite player allowed 6 goals on 28 shots.
 
Edmonton quickly seized momentum when two nights later in Game 2, they shocked the Scotiabank Saddledome by capitalizing on a couple of third period breakaways as they evened their best of seven series with a 5-3 win.
 
Game 2 didn’t start off well for the Oilers as Calgary once again took a 2-0 first period lead. However this time, Edmonton was able to rebound and got those two third period breakaway goals from Zach Hyman and Draisaitl to clinch the win.
 
The Game 2  Oilers scoring leaders were both Draisaitl and defenceman Ducan Keith who had a goal and three points followed by McDavid who scored a goal in a two point game. Leading the Flames offensive chart was Gaudreau who had a two point performance.
 
Leaf fans had to be flinching in Game 2 when forward and former Leaf Hyman scored what was a highlight reel shorthanded third period goal which stood up as the winner.
 
This series which has a good chance of going the distance has been full of intensity, some solid saves and highlight reel goals.
 
These two teams will drop the puck for Game 4 once again at Rogers Place on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. 
 
 
 
 

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The Toronto Maple Leafs suffer heartbreaking Game 7 loss

 

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By Neil Becker
 
The Toronto Maple Leafs quest for a long playoff run has come to an end.
 
Coming off a record breaking season which saw them set franchise records with 54 wins and 115 points, this was the spring where the Leafs were looking to make a Stanley Cup run.
Heading into playoffs, this was a determined team who despite not winning a playoff rebound since 2004, still had confidence and high expectations.
 
As expected it was a close Eastern Conference first round best of seven series between two evenly matched teams in the Leafs and back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning.
 
Toronto had a chance to close out their series on Thursday in Game 6 at Amalie Arena but ended up losing a 4-3 overtime thriller which brought the series back to Scotiabank Arena for a deciding Game 7.
 
Looking to avoid another disappointing Game 7 loss on home ice, the Leafs on Saturday night couldn’t get the job done as their playoff run came to an end following a heartbreaking 2-1 loss.
Leafs fans might remember all to well last year when they couldn’t close out a 3-1 best of seven first round series lead against the Montreal Canadiens and ended up losing at Scotiabank Arena in seven.
 
On this Saturday night both goalies played well. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was solid in a 30 save performance while Leafs goalie Jack Campbell also was sharp as he stood tall in stopping 23 shots.
 
In showing how much playoffs mean to players, a perfect example came late in the first period when Lightning forward Brayden Point went awkwardly into the boards and was shaken up. This event which happened with less than three minutes left, saw him getting helped off the ice. It looked for certain that he wouldn’t be back, but then there he was skating out in tremendous pain with teammates to begin the second. He took one shift and was in tremendous pain. Point, who two days earlier scored he Game 6 winner, refused to go to the dressing room for treatment. Instead he remained for the second and third periods on the bench giving his teammates moral support. 
 
The Game 7 scoring hero for Tampa turned out not to be their stars such as Steve Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov or Victor Hedman. Instead it was fourth liner Nick Paul who had the game of his life.
Paul, who was traded on March 20, 2022 from the Ottawa Senators to the Lightning scored what were the first two playoff goals of his career.
 
His first, which came with under two minutes remaining in the first occurred when he backhanded a rebound from a Ross Colton shot past Campbell for that all important 1-0 Lightning lead.
Scotiabank Arena fans had reason to get loud when at the 13:25 mark defenceman Morgan Rielly released an accurate shot from the right circle which went in on Vasilevskiy’s glove hand side to make it a brand new game.
 
This Leafs goal came shortly after Leafs captain John Tavares thought he tied things up only to have the goal waived off due to a Leafs penalty.
A little over three minutes later Tampa scored what turned out to be the winning goal on an individual highlight-reel play by Paul. On a night he will always remember, this skilled forward kicked the puck with his skate to his stick before skating in and scoring the series winning goal blocker side on Campbell.
 
Looking at from an optimist point of view, the Leafs took the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions to a deciding game. However the bottom line is that they had two chances and just couldn’t close things out.
 
                SCORING SUMMARY
                  1st Period                                        TB –    TOR
                  8:24  Nick Paul (1)                            1   –      0
                  Ross Colton (2), Cal Foote (2)
 
                   2nd Period                                      TB  –   TOR
                   3:25 Morgan Rielly (3)                       1   –     1
                  Auston Matthews (5), Mitch Marner (6)
 
                  6:32  Nick Paul (2)                              2   –     1
 
                  3rd Period   (no scoring)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Tampa Bay Lightning force a seventh and deciding game

 

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By Neil Becker
 
The Toronto Maple Leafs were approximately 10:40 away from achieving something they haven’t done in 18 years.
 
On Thursday night at Amalie Arena, the Leafs were defeating the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in the third period as they were only 20 minutes away from closing out their best of seven first round series in six. 
 
Suddenly, at the 9:20 mark, Amalie Arena was rocking as Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on the power play scored his second playoff goal of the spring to eventually force a Game 6 overtime.
Toronto had some great overtime opportunities to end the series,  but it was the Lightning who avoided elimination as Brayden Point scored his second playoff goal at the 18:04 mark to force a series deciding Game 7 back at Scotiabank Arena.
 
It was a painful night for Leafs fans as they were so close to advancing for the first time since 2004 into the second round.
 
Meanwhile in what is definitely an amazing streak of consistency the Lightning have now improved their record to 17-0 after dropping a playoff game.  They haven’t lost two or more consecutive playoff games since 2019 when they were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
 
Tampa Bay got that critical opening goal which came off a rare mistake by Leafs forward Alex Kerfoot. Skating up ice in what was a 4 on 4 situation, he tried a neutral zone back pass to defenceman T.J. Brodie which didn’t connect. The Lightning quickly pounced on the mistake as forward Ondrej Palat picked up the lose puck before skating in on the Leafs goal and scoring at 17:38 of the first for a 1-0 Lightning lead.
 
That lead got even bigger when at the 10:46 mark of the second period, Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli executed a highlight reel spinarama play to score a shorthanded goal to give them a two- goal lead.
 
Less than a minute later Toronto cut the deficit to one when off an offensive zone face-off defeneman Mark Giordano unleashed a shot which was deflected by Auston Matthews for his fourth playoff goal.
 
Late in the second period, Leafs captain John Tavares who had been criticized for his lack of offensive production picked the right time to get hot as he scored two goals in the final minute which put Toronto ahead 3-2 heading to the third.
 
Both teams had some golden opportunities in the third, but again it was Tampa who were rewarded as Kucherov scored that huge power-play goal to force overtime.
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was money in the overtime and eventually at 18:04 of overtime, another Tampa Bay hero emerged as Point scored that winner to force a series deciding Game 7 back in Toronto.  
 
These two teams will play Game 7 on Saturday night with a 7 p.m. opening face-off at Scotiabank Arena.
 
              SCORING SUMMARY
 
                1st Period                                   TOR-        TB
                17:38 Ondrej Palat (3)                  0    –         2
 
                 2nd Period                                TOR  –       TB
                 10:46 SHG- Anthony Cirelli (1)      0     –       2
                 
                 11:40 Auston Matthews (4)           1     –        2
       Mark Giordano (2), William Nylander (3)
                 
                19:26 John Tavares (2)                 2     –        2
          Jason Spezza (1), Ondrej Kase (3)
                 
                19:52  John Tavares (3)                3     –         2
           William Nylander (4), Alex Kerfoot (1)
 
              3rd Period                                     TOR –        TB
               9:20 PPG- Nikita Kucherov (2)         3     –         3
              Brayden Point (2), Steve Stamkos (2)
 
            OT Period                                       TOR –        TB
              18:04 Brayden Point (2)                   3    –          4
              Alex Killorn (4), Brandon Hagel (3)
 
 
 
 
 

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have the Tampa Bay Lightning on the ropes

 

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By Neil Becker
 
The back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions are now officially on the ropes.
 
On Tuesday night in a sold out electric Scotiabank Arena, the Leafs overcame an early 2-0 deficit in pulling out a dramatic 4-3 Eastern Conference Game 5 first round playoff win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
 
This victory, which has them in the drivers seat with a 3-2 series lead puts them one win away from doing something they haven’t done since 2004 which is advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs second round.
 
Scoring the winning goal was forward Auston Matthews who had the building rocking when on a two on one break with line-mate Mitch Marner, he scored at the 13:54 mark of third off a rebound.
Tampa Bay dominated the first where they outshot Toronto by a 14-4 margin and grabbed the momentum with a 2-0  lead.
 
Looking to silence the Scotiabank Arena crowd, the Lightning got two early first period goals starting with captain Steve Stamkos when at the 5:19 mark he scored his second playoff goal this spring which came from the slot against Jack Campbell.
 
Less than a minute later the Bolts doubled their lead as Victor Hedman scored his second, which came on the Power Play.
 
Early in the second, Toronto got a fortunate break when at the 3:35 mark they scored a power -play goal when a William Nylander shot hit John Tavares in the skate for his first playoff goal of the spring to cut the deficit to one.
 
Toronto quickly seized momentum in the third when starting at 3:01 defenseman Morgan Rielly scored his second playoff goal which tied things up at 2-2 to make it a brand new game.
The Leafs began to press and finally they were rewarded as Nylander a minute later sent the fans into a frenzy when he scored his third goal in the past two playoff games to give Toronto its first lead.
 
That lead lasted for a little over four minutes until Lightning veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh blasted home his first playoff goal of the spring to once again make it a brand new game.
Late in the third period, overtime was looking like a distinct possibility until Matthews came through in the clutch.
 
Late in the third, Mitch Marner found himself on a two on one break with Matthews. Marner’s shot produced a big rebound which was stuffed home at 13:54 by Matthews which sent the Scotiabank Arena faithful into a frenzy.
 
In pulling out all the stops, Tampa Bay eventually pulled their goalie but to no prevail as the Leafs won and are now only one win away from eliminating the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions.
The Leafs will try to apply the knockout punch on Thursday night with a 7:30 p.m. opening face-off from Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay.
 
Note.. Leading the Leafs Game 5 offence was Nylander who had 1 goal, 3 points and was a +2. 
 
              SCORING SUMMARY
                 
            1st. Period                                        TB –   TOR
            5:19 Steven Stamkos (2)                    1   –     0
           Ondrej Palat (2), Nikita Kucherov (5)
 
            6:11 PPG- Victor Hedman (2)              2   –    0
           Nikita Kucherov (6), Alex Killorn (3)
 
           2nd. Period                                        TB –  TOR
           3:35 PPG- John Tavares (1)                 2  –      1
           William Nylander (1), Mark Giordano (1)
 
         3rd Period
          3:01 Morgan Rielly (2)                         2   –     2
          John Tavares (3), William Nylander (2)
 
          4:14 William Nylander (3)                    2  –      3
         Ilya Mikheyev (2), Justin Holl (1)
 
          8:17 Ryan McDonough (1)                 3    –      3
          Ross Colton (1), Nick Paul (2)
 
         13:54 Auston Matthews (3)                 3   –       4
        Mitch Marner (5), Michael Bunting (2)
 
 

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Toronto Maple Leafs Win Game 3 to take first round series lead against Tampa Bay Lightning

 

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By Neil Becker
 
It’s no real surprise that the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves in a real playoff battle.
 
Tampa Bay, who finished third in the Pacific Division with 110 points, currently find themselves in an intense momentum swinging first round best of seven playoff series against the talented Toronto Maple Leafs who finished second in the Pacific with 115 points.
 
Toronto, who won two of the  four regular season meetings against Tampa Bay, come into playoffs strongly determined to not only make up for last year’s first round playoff collapse against the Montreal Canadiens, but to advance for the first time since 2004.
 
Meanwhile Tampa Bay stumbled a bit down the stretch and not everyone believed that they would defeat Toronto in the opening round.
 
With the teams having split the opening two of their best of seven first round series, the scene shifted to Tampa Bay where on Friday night at Amalie Arena the Leafs won Game 3 by a 5-2 score to take a 2-1 series lead.
 
The Leafs grabbed some early first period momentum after Lightning forward Pat Maroon was assessed a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass.
 
Pressuring on the power play, Toronto stunned the Tampa Bay fans when defenceman Morgan Rielly cruised in from the blueline before jumping on a rebound and scoring his first of the spring at the 4:54 mark for a 1-0 Leafs lead. 
 
A little under five minutes later, after killing off a Lightning power play, the Leafs doubled their lead. Finding themselves on a three on one rush defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin passed to forward Colin Blackwell who on the set-up scored his first playoff goal.
 
Hoping to build off that momentum, Tampa Bay forward Brandon Hagel coughed the puck up in the neurtal zone which eventually led to Toronto  expanding their lead as forward David Kampf at the 5:52 mark of the second period scored his second playoff goal.
 
Tampa Bay, who were continuously being frustrated by Leafs goalie Jack Campbell, finally got some momentum when with just under nine minutes remaining in the second, forward Ross Colton scored his first on the power play to get them on the board. 
 
In the third, Tampa Bay was really pressing and they had the arena rocking when forward Ondrej Palat at the 5:43 mark scored his first of the spring on a rising shot over Campbell’s shoulder to make it a one goal game.
 
Looking to force overtime, Tampa Bay pulled their goalie and were pressing for the equalizer but it wasn’t mean to be as Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev scored his first two playoff goals 1:35 apart into an open net to clinch a pivotal Game 3 victory.
 
The Leafs will be looking to put the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions Lightning on the ropes when on Sunday at 7 p.m. from Amalie Arena they face-off for the even more pivotal Game 4 of the series.
 
 
                  SCORING SUMMARY 
                     1st Period                                                    TOR –   TB
                     4:54 PPG- Morgan Rielly (1)                        1   –    0
                     Michael Bunting (1), Mitch Marner (4)
 
                     9:44 Colin Blackwell (1)                                2   –     0
                    Ilya Lyubushkin (1), Pierre Engvall (1)
 
                    2nd Period                                                   TOR –   TB
                    5:52  David Kampf (2)                                   3    –     0
 
                   11:03  Ross Colton (1)                                   3    –     1
                    Mikhail Sergachev (1), Ondrej Palat (1)
 
                   3rd Period                                                      TOR –    TB
                   5:43 Ondrej Palat (1)                                       3   –      2
                   Alex Killorn (2), Ryan McDonagh (1)
 
                 18:20 Ilya Mikheyev (1)                                     4   –       2
                  Pierre Engvall (2)
 
                19:55 Ilya Mikheyev (2)                                      5  –        2
                 Pierre Engvall (3)
 
 
 

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