The Floridian brooms are out in Sunrise. Non-playoff teams have all fingers crossed for tonight’s draft lottery, and the Edmonton Oilers, coming off their most impressive win of the 2023 playoffs, are hoping to knock the Golden Knights off their high horses one more time tonight.
Here are five things to know about the NHL playoffs:
LEAFS LIVING ON THE EDGE
Ever since the oddsmakers pointed at Toronto as the Stanley Cup favourite, the Maple Leafs haven’t won a game. They’ve come close, but this isn’t horseshoes.
Last night they lost starting goalie Ilya Samsonov to injury and then Game 3 in overtime, and are now in a crater-sized 3-0 hole with Game 4 on Wednesday at FLA Live Arena.
The Leafs cut down on their mistakes in Game 3, kept Panthers’ pest Matthew Tkachuk off the scoresheet, hit a few goalposts, had some missed opportunities and played well enough to win, but they didn’t receive any offence from their top guns.
Sam Lefferty and Erik Gustafsson were the only ones to score on Sergei Bobrovsky, who only had to make 22 saves.
The Leafs will need to figure out, quickly, how to win four in a row against the stubborn Panthers. Even quicker, they’ll need to figure out how to win Wednesday to get the series back to Toronto. And if Samsonov can’t play, they’ll have to hope that where there’s a (Joseph) Woll, there’s a way.
FLORIDA FANS TROLL LEAF NATION
Seconds after Sam Reinhart scored the overtime winner last night for the Panthers, fans at FLA Live Arena started chanting “We Want Florida!”
If you recall, hockey fans gathered at Maple Leaf Square were shown on TV during Round 1 saying the same thing, believing that once the wild-card Panthers eliminated the record-setting Boston Bruins that the path to the Stanley Cup would be easier for the Canadian squad.
The Panthers have used that perceived slight as extra motivation to beat the Leafs. The Cats have pushed their post-season win streak to a franchise-best six games. Only three teams have recorded a longer run over the past 10 years — Colorado (seven in 2022), Montreal (seven in 2021) and Boston (eight in 2019).
KNIGHTS EXPECT SMARTER EFFORT TONIGHT
The Vegas Golden Knights said they’ve already flushed the disaster that was Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the visiting Edmonton Oilers and vow to be a much better team when the puck drops tonight in Game 3 of their second-round series.
The Oilers pounced on the Golden Knights in Game 2 with four first-period goals, three power-play goals and one short-handed marker. Edmonton had built a 5-0 lead when the game deteriorated to cheap shots, scraps and after-the-whistle shenanigans.
With the Oilers’ lethal power play punishing the Knights, Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said his team needs to be aggressive and smarter, reminding reporters that his squad was the least penalized team in the league, but very tough to play against.
Captain Mark Stone said they didn’t expect to sweep the Oilers and was confident his team could bounce back tonight like it did in the first round against Winnipeg when the Jets won Game 1 5-1 and then lost four straight.
KRAKEN, DEVILS TURN UP THE HEAT
The Seattle Kraken and New Jersey Devils, teams that have made a living on winning tight defensive games this season, showed they can light it up with the best of them in their respective playoff series on Sunday night.
The Kraken got goals from seven different players as they outshone the visiting Dallas Stars 7-2 to grab a 2-1 series lead. The Devils, trailing their series 2-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes, got back into the series by whipping the visitors 8-4 as Jack Hughes scored two goals and added two assists for the winners.
The Dallas Stars cancelled a watch party that was planned during last night’s game in the plaza outside their home arena. That is less than 50 kilometres from a Texas outlet mall where an assailant killed eight people on Saturday. The Stars said they cancelled the watch party outside the American Airlines Center out of respect for the victims, families and community of Allen.
FINGERS CROSSED FOR BEDARD LOTTERY
All eyes will be on tonight’s NHL draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J.
The lottery will determine the top 16 picks in Round 1 of the 2023 NHL entry draft, with all non-playoff teams being eligible to earn the top pick.
The NHL altered the format for the draft lottery in 2021. The most notable was that teams can only move up 10 spots in the lottery process, which means that only the top 11 teams have a shot to land the No. 1 pick.
For the first time in several seasons, the No. 1 prospect this year is a near lock to become a franchise-altering player. Canadian centre Connor Bedard, 17, who played for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats this past season, compiled 143 points, including 71 goals.
The draft takes place June 28 and 29 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.