Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning are out, the field is wide open -- and yet things are tighter than ever, with three of the six remaining series tied (pending the result of Thursday's Carolina Hurricanes-Washington Capitals clash in Raleigh, North Carolina).
Here's a recap of Wednesday night's action (check out replays of every playoff game on ESPN+) and what to watch for tonight in Thursday's edition of ESPN Stanley Cup Playoffs Daily:
About last night ...
Game 4: Boston Bruins 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 4 (series tied 2-2) Now that Tampa Bay is eliminated, we can officially say this is the most intriguing series in the Eastern Conference first round. The frenetic pace of the third period in Game 4 was a microcosm of the intensity of this series. Auston Matthews has officially broken out, recording his first career playoff multigoal game. The Leafs' comeback was fun, but the night belonged to Boston's offense and the re-emergence of David Pastrnak.
Game 4: Dallas Stars 5, Nashville Predators 1 (series tied 2-2) Talk about flipped narratives. The Predators have been the personification of superior defense and goaltending all season. The Stars were one of the league's worst teams offensively this season. So of course a Dallas rout chased last year's Vezina Trophy winner, Pekka Rinne, out of the game. In an encouraging development, it wasn't top-line-or-bust for the Stars; they got secondary scoring thanks to Mats Zuccarello and Roope Hintz.
Game 4: Colorado Avalanche 3, Calgary Flames 2 (OT) (Avalanche lead 3-1) What a series this is shaping up to be. We now know the Avs have a propensity for late-game theatrics, thanks to their second OT victory of the series. The Flames' defense is doing their goaltender no favors, as Mike Smith has faced a ridiculous 102 shots over the past two games in regulation. The encouraging news: Smith bounced back from his Game 3 shellacking, so there's hope for a series comeback.
And a great moment in the crowd during this game, as Cale Makar continues to make fans in his new NHL home:
My guy really brought a head of kale to the game lmao pic.twitter.com/OwBwFOxesl
- Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) April 18, 2019
Who would have thought that this series would be the most thrilling of them all? It was yet another overtime game, which meant somebody had to be the hero. And after Nathan MacKinnon scored the game winner in Game 2, this time it was linemate Rantanen ending the affair 10:23 into the extra session.
Pastrnak didn't quite look like himself the first three games of this series. Perhaps it was lingering effects of his thumb injury? The day began with Pastrnak being taken off the top line. It ended with him scoring two goals -- his first two of the playoffs. Pasta is back.
Hintz broke the scoring open with a first-period goal, but he wasn't done there. The rookie from Tampere, Finland, scored again midway through the second. He had no playoff points before Wednesday night, and just one multigoal game this entire season. His first tally was one of three power-play goals for the Stars in the opening period.
Play of the night
A gorgeous pass from MacKinnon and a well-executed tip by Rantanen, tying the game at 2 late in the third:
Nathan MacKinnon finds Rantanen for the equalizer. Great deflection pic.twitter.com/BRO0TWKPns
- Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 18, 2019
Dud of the night
Nashville's first period gets the nod here. The Preds were down four goals by the end of the first, and to put it plainly: They just stunk. There were times this season when we questioned whether the Predators actually looked like a contender. Wednesday was another one of those nights.
On the schedule
After a 5-0 statement in Game 3, the Hurricanes have made this a series. However, they'll have to battle without two of their leading scorers, Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland. Svechnikov is in the concussion protocol after his fight with Alex Ovechkin. Coach Rod Brind'Amour indicated that Ferland could be out a while. The Caps are veterans of long playoff runs and know they can't get rattled by one off night. Ovechkin said he spent the first of the past two off days not doing anything and not thinking about hockey.
We thought Winnipeg might be one of the toughest road environments in the postseason, but that hasn't been the case. Instead, the Blues won their first two in the White Out -- then Winnipeg bounced back with two wins in St. Louis. The Jets have started to look like the best version of themselves lately, with Dustin Byfuglien, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler all producing.
Martin Jones looks as shaky as he has been all season, which is saying something. It's clear Vegas has his number, too. Jones ranks last in the postseason in both save percentage (.838) and goals-against average (a whopping 5.33). And yet coach Peter DeBoer is sticking with him for what could be a decisive Game 5. In the other net, Marc-Andre Fleury looked quite solid in Game 4, stopping all 28 shots. But just as important for Vegas: The offense is clicking.
Social post of the day
I can't wait to tell my grandchildren about the Muffin Man chirpfest of 2k19 pic.twitter.com/0ggr383usT
- Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) April 18, 2019
"If I had just traded Panarin for picks, and Bobrovsky for picks, everybody in our fan base and city would've said, 'F---ing Blue Jackets, that's all they ever do is trade for picks and they tell us we're going to be good in the future, just wait, be patient.' No, we wanted to send a message to the fan base and the locker room at the deadline that we're serious about winning. If it doesn't translate to winning, hey, I'll take responsibility." -- Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, summing up what the Blue Jackets' first-round upset means to Columbus. (via Sports Illustrated's Alex Prewitt)