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NHL News & Notes: Igor’s Better, Who’s In Goal? & Kopitar Wins the Messier

The Eastern and the Western Conference finals are happening. What’s the news from each? What award did Anze Kopitar win yesterday?

in this edition of NHL News & Notes, I’ll take a look at the two semi-final rounds of the NHL playoffs. The winner of each series goes on to the Stanley Cup Final. Last night, the New York Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 6-2.

Second, I’ll take a look at the tough choice that Edmonton Oilers’ coach Jay Woodcroft has about who he should play in goad for the second game of the series. Given the history of Mike Smith, it’s a tough choice.

Finally, I’ll congratulate Anze Kopitar who yesterday it was named as the Mark Messier Leadership Award winner. I’ll comment on why he was the winner and share the work that he’s doing in Southern California to promote hockey there.

Related: Darcy Kuemper a Question Mark for Game 2 Versus Oilers

Note One: New York Crowd is Right: Igor Was Better

Get ready for a long list of New York Rangers’ goal scorers and point producers. First, Filip Chytil scored twice in the second period. Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Frank Vatrano each had two points (scoring a goal and adding an assist). Chris Kreider scored a goal. Finally, Alexis Lafreniere and Adam Fox each had two assists.

The result was that the Rangers routed the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning last night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. The game also set a Rangers’ franchise-record with seven home playoff game victories in a row.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers

That said, the Lightning have been through this before in round one when they got beat on by the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re still playing because they came back and won four of the next six games.

In this game, Rangers’ goalie Igor Shesterkin stopped 37 of 39 shots to put a lid on the Lightning’s offense. Shesterkin’s win improved his record to 8-3 over the last 11 postseason games.

At the other end of the ice, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who gave up just three goals in four games against the Panthers, had 28 saves. However, there were 34 shots. Vasilevskiy had given up only three goals in four games during the second round against the Florida Panthers, but that seemed like a different goalie. In the end, as the Rangers’ crowd chanted, “Igor was Better!”

Note Two: Oliers’ Head Coach Jay Woodcroft Hasn’t Named His Team’s Starting Goalie

Perhaps Oilers’ head coach Jay Woodcroft was convinced by the play of Mikko Koskinen when he replaced Smith in the goal. When asked today about who he would start in goal tonight, Woodcroft put off the question. He’s obviously not ready to name who his starting goalie will be for Game 2 against the Colorado Avalanche – not until later today. 

Woodcroft, however, didn’t lean one way or the other. He noted that he “thought Mike Smith was excellent for us all playoffs long.” And, he added that the coaching staff would “determine Mike’s status and Mikko [Koskinen]’s status tomorrow.”

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers negotiating new contract

On the other hand, perhaps Woodcroft – for as much as a fighter Smith is in the net – might crave more stability. And, Koskinen provided it to allow the Oilers’ to mount a comeback from four goals down to get within one. Then, again, if Woodcroft looks at Smith’s history, he had tough first games in both other series (against the Los Angeles Kings and then against the Calgary Flames). However, he pulled up his socks to play strong hockey. You can see the back-and-forth.

My guess is that Smith will start; however, if he struggles again, I think Woodcroft will likely pull out the hook.

Related: Three Takeaways from Oilers’ 8-6 Loss to the Avalanche

Note Three: Kopitar Wins Messier Award

In some non-playoff news, the NHL announced yesterday that the Kings’ Anze Kopitar has been named the winner of the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award. It’s a unique award in that Messier asks individual team and NHL representatives to give him a list of candidates. Then he selects a winner.

The award is presented to the NHL player “who exemplifies great leadership qualities on and off the ice and who plays a leading role in his community growing the game of hockey.”  Obviously, Messier was impressed by the work Kopitar was doing in Southern California to advance the sport of hockey.

Specifically, Kopitar has played 16 seasons with the Kings after he was chosen in the first round (11th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Kopitar works with several community programs and charities in Southern California. These include the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Make a Wish Foundation, Wags and Walks, and the Kings Care Foundation. In additiion, he was voted by his teammates (perhaps the highest honor a team player can receive) as the Ace Bailey Memorial Award winner for the most inspirational player during each of the last two seasons.

Kopitar noted in an interview with Messier after being presented with the award that: “We’re all trying to grow the game. Between the LA Kings and myself I think we’ve done a really good job around here in SoCal, with the help of the Anaheim Ducks team.” Kopitar, who was the 16th winner of the award, added that “Just getting the game spread apart here in SoCal, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”

Related: Scribe Suggests NHL Rigging Games in Favor of McDavid and Oilers

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