Down the Frozen River Podcast #107- Stanley Cup Final Preview (Not Live in Vegas)

Nick and Connor contemplate going to Vegas in addition to a complete breakdown, preview and predictions for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

A Win-Win Situation for George McPhee

George McPhee is on top of the world right now. Technically speaking maybe it’s just the part of the world that pertains to hockey. Actually, nope, let’s just extend that to all of sports because what the Las Vegas Golden Knights have done under the management of McPhee has never been done before and likely will never happen again. He has taken a team of misfits and turned them into potential Stanley Cup Champions. Just four wins is all that it will take for the Golden Knights to take a drink from the Holy Grail of hockey.

As many have noted, this will be no easy task. Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, and the rest of their crew are not going to simply roll over and die. The Capitals are a very formidable foe. They have been a great hockey team for many years, winning at least 45 games in the past four seasons, including two Presidents’ Trophies in that span. Washington has finally jumped over the so called “playoff hump” and they too have a great chance to raise the Stanley Cup. This brings me back to, George McPhee is on top of the world right now.

When a coach or team manager is fired, I would imagine there are probably a lot of things going through their minds. One of these things would surely be, “When will I get my next chance?” Athletes of any sport want their sunset moment. They don’t want to be removed from the game they love due to a career-ending injury or failing to earn a roster spot because age has taken its toll. General Managers are the same way, in that many of them get fired year after year, but they refuse to let that moment define them. They keep their heads up and work for the next opportunity.

After being relieved of his duties with the Washington Capitals in 2014, George McPhee found a new home with the Golden Knights and he has obviously made the most of it. If this team can win the Stanley Cup to culminate their first year of competition in the NHL, McPhee will be able look proudly upon the accomplishment, knowing he redeemed himself. As he celebrates with his coaches and players, he will experience that sunset moment.

But what if they lose? What if McPhee watches the program he took 17 years to build claim their first Stanley Cup, without him being a part of it? Well, he may not be on the Capitals’ payroll, but McPhee is still a big part of it.

The year is 2004 and a young, talented, Russian winger was first off the board in the NHL Draft. Alex Ovechkin was the first piece of the Capitals’ puzzle, arguable the most important. Two years later, Washington’s staff makes another great first-round selection, picking up Nicklas Backstrom. McPhee continues his hot streak, by drafting John Carlsson, Dmitri Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the following years. The General Manager really showed off his recruiting talent when the Capitals chose Braden Holtby, who was a mid-draft pick at 93rd overall in 2008. There were plenty of other goalies on the board, but Washington picked Holtby, and well, you could say that was a pretty good choice.

George McPhee was fired years later due to lack of playoff success, paired with a couple harebrained schemes that turned out to be complete busts. The act of flipping first-round pick Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat was likely the final straw for his time in Washington, but his legacy has lived on. Roughly 50% of the current roster either played under or were drafted by his staff. Sure Washington has transitioned a bit since 2014, by adding talents such as T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik, but the core of the team hasn’t changed a significant amount and McPhee is responsible for that group of players.

When the Golden Knights and Capitals take the ice for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, you can bet anything that George McPhee will be behind his team. Why wouldn’t he be? Las Vegas can etch their name in the history books with a storybook season that will likely never be matched by another expansion team. But if they do lose, as McPhee watches Washington pass around the Stanley Cup, he can be satisfied knowing he had his hand in building a championship team. One way or the other, he has proven he is one talented General Manager.

Burakovsky and Holtby lead Caps to Cup Finals

 

With his second-straight shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning, First Star of the Game G Braden Holtby lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-0 Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Capitals entered this game with a 7-2 record away from Capital One Arena this postseason, but a 4-11 all-time record in Game 7s for their franchise history.

One of these records had to give.

Doing his best to turn the tables in Washington’s favor, Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (F Evgeny Kuznetsov and RW Tom Wilson) provided one of his patented slap shots from above the left face-off circle only 62 seconds into the contest to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage.

That goal proved to be the game-winner, due in large part to the excellent performance of Holtby. He saved all 29 shots he faced during regulation, with 22 of those being struck in the first two periods.

While Holtby is certainly deserving of credit, it is not without some fortuitous bounces that he held on to his clean sheet. There were more than a few occasions in this tilt that a puck initially beat him between his legs or rang off the post, but he was fortunate that his defense was there to keep the Lightning from scoring off the rebound.

D John Carlson‘s unbelievable five shot blocks (a game-high) played a major role defensively for Washington, as did Ovechkin’s five hits (tied with D Victor Hedman and LW Chris Kunitz for a game-high) and C Lars Eller‘s two takeaways (you guessed it, another game-high).

Additionally, all this talk about Holtby is not to discredit the work done by G Andrei Vasilevskiy. Playing in the second Eastern Finals Game 7 of his young career, the Russian’s 19-for-22 stat line (.864 save percentage) is not reflective of his performance, as he made more than his fair share of awe-inspiring saves.

In fact, the two insurance goals scored in the second period by Second Star W Andre Burakovsky could largely be pinned on Vasilevskiy’s defense, as both were buried as a result of one-on-one matchups.

At the 8:59 mark of the second period, Burakovsky took advantage of D Dan Girardi mishandling the puck in his own zone to register his first playoff tally since May 8, 2017 – another two-goal performance. After wrapping his way around the defenseman, the Austrian slid towards Vasilevskiy’s crease before sneaking a wrist shot under the netminder’s right arm to the far post.

7:32 later, Burakovsky was on the receiving end of another play by a defenseman, but this blueliner was one of his own. Carlson intercepted a Lightning pass off the boards in his own defensive zone and quickly sprang his waiting teammate at the red line, setting Burakovsky up for his second breakaway opportunity of the frame. Just before D Ryan McDonagh caught up to him, the winger slid his wrister past Vasilevsky five-hole, setting the score at 3-0 with 23:29 remaining in regulation.

The final goal of the game belonged to C Nicklas Backstrom, who scored an empty netter with 3:43 remaining in the Lightning’s season.

No Game 7 is complete without tempers flaring, and that box was checked early. With 7:01 remaining in the first period, a seemingly innocent meeting of the minds in Vasilevskiy’s crease – following an incredible save, no less – proved to be nothing of the sort, as the ensuing shoving match between D Braydon Coburn and Kuznetsov resulted in the former possessing two sweaters: the one he was wearing and his opponent’s.

That ignited the fury of Wilson, who tried his hardest to rush Coburn but was intercepted by an official. Both Coburn and Wilson were charged with matching unsportsmanlike penalties, setting play at even-strength four-on-four for two minutes.

However, this was not a simple cool-down period in the penalty box. Immediately upon their release, Coburn and Wilson elected to engage in an exciting bout of fisticuffs. Coburn won by virtue of Wilson falling first, but both earned “five for fighting” major penalties and were sent to their respective dressing rooms for the remainder of the frame.

If Coburn elected to fight Wilson to inspire his club, it did little to do that. After his bout, the Bolts managed only one more shot on goal in the frame, and only 20 for the remainder of the game. Throw in the excellent form that Holtby was sporting, and there was little Tampa – the preseason favorite in many’s eyes – could do to stave off elimination.

With the Prince of Wales Trophy in hand, Washington will wage war against the Vegas Golden Knights in a Stanley Cup Final that features two teams searching for their first title. Game 1 is scheduled for Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern from the theatrical confines of T-Mobile Arena and will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN1 and TVAS.

An early note regarding these Finals in relation to these playoffs: In the First Round, the Boston Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, but were eliminated in the Second Round. Similarly, the Second Round featured the Winnipeg Jets besting the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7, but falling in the Western Conference Finals.

After the Caps required seven contests to eliminate Tampa Bay, will they suffer a similar fate against Vegas? Or will they buck yet another trend?

Only time – and at least four hockey games – will tell.

Oshie, Holtby and Capitals crew force Game 7

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For just the third time this postseason, there will be a Game 7, thanks to the Washington Capitals’ 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on home ice in Game 6 Monday night.

Despite plenty of shorter series’s, the league is still averaging one Game 7 per round (Boston defeated Toronto at home in a Game 7 in the First Round and Winnipeg eliminated Nashville on the road in a Game 7 in the Second Round).

The winner of Wednesday night’s Game 7 not only walks away with the Prince of Wales Trophy, but with an appearance in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced and picked up his fifth career playoff shutout en route to the win for Washington, while Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 save percentage in 58:56 time on ice in the loss.

For the first time in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final the score was tied 0-0 after the first period. Neither team found the back of the net as both goaltenders stood tall, despite a bevy of chances thrown at or towards the net.

Washington came out strong, hitting everything in sight and firing off pucks on net. Tampa responded in kind around the halfway point of the period, but the Capitals readjusted and forced their way into the attacking zone for longer periods of time, it seemed.

Tempers flared as Brooks Orpik and J.T. Miller dropped the gloves in favor of squaring off with fisticuffs at 15:48 of the opening period. Both players were handed five minute majors for fighting and sent to the locker rooms early as only a little over four minutes remained in the first period.

Tom Wilson sent a rocket of a pass to Alex Ovechkin in the low slot, point blank, which Ovechkin redirected on the backhand only to be stoned cold by Vasilevskiy.

With less than a minute remaining in the period, the Capitals desperately searched for a little puck luck on rebound after rebound in the low slot, but Vasilevskiy kept coming up big, culminating in a save in which the Lightning netminder dropped his stick and dove on his left side, making a glove save in the process.

After one period the score remained as the game began, 0-0, with Washington leading in shots on goal (8-6), blocked shots (8-6), hits (16-9), takeaways (8-2), giveaways (6-1) and faceoff win percentage (53-47). Neither team had seen any action on the power play as there were no penalties called in the first period.

Jay Beagle opened the second period guilty of hooking Tampa defender, Anton Stralman, 40 seconds into the second frame. The Lightning went on the power play for the first time of the night.

The Capitals came up huge with their biggest penalty kill of the series up to that point, given the circumstances of a scoreless game in a game in which they were facing elimination.

Andre Burakovsky followed the momentum swing with a fast break-in of his own, surging past Tampa’s trade deadline acquisition, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and firing the puck high above the net.

The Bolts subsequently had a two-on-one of their own going the other way with Miller saucering the puck to Anthony Cirelli, but Holtby made the save.

A little past the halfway point of the second period, Braydon Coburn hooked Devante Smith-Pelly and the Caps went on the power play for the first time since Game 4 in the series at 13:49 of the second period.

Shortly after ringing the post, T.J. Oshie got a second chance at redemption.

Acting as the bumper in the low slot, Oshie (6) received a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and blasted a one-timer past Vasilevskiy sending Capital One Arena into a frenzy of euphoria as the home team went up, 1-0.

Backstrom (11) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (12) had the assists on Oshie’s power play goal at 15:12.

With less than a minute remaining in the second period, Washington had yet another two-on-one opportunity that just wouldn’t go past Tampa’s goaltender. Jakub Vrana followed up with a one-timer of his own as a mirror image of Oshie’s goal with about 30 seconds left, but Vasilevskiy made the initial save.

The puck squibbed free from the Bolts goalie and sat in the crease awaiting further direction until Brayden Point poked it clear to the boards as Oshie dove to either get his stick on the puck or break up Point’s last ditch defensive effort.

Nikita Kucherov swept in on an attacking zone faceoff in the final eight seconds of the second period and fired a shot that beat Holtby, but rang the iron.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led, 1-0. Washington also had the advantage in just about everything else, including shots on goal (24-14), blocked shots (15-9), hits (29-13), takeaways (11-4), giveaways (7-3) and faceoff win percentage (59-41). Tampa was 0/1 and the Caps were 1/1 on the power play after two periods.

After trading chances to start the third period, the Capitals still held onto a one-goal lead.

Just past the halfway mark, Smith-Pelly (4) put an exclamation mark on the insurance goal as Beagle beat out the icing call, kept the puck down low in the attacking zone for Chandler Stephenson to dish out to Smith-Pelly on a no-look spin pass as Smith-Pelly was flying in the low slot undetected.

Smith-Pelly followed up with a one-timed wrist shot that beat Vasilevskiy and gave Washington a 2-0 lead at 10:02 of the third period. Stephenson (5) and Beagle (4) had the assists.

A minute later, Backstrom tripped up Ondrej Palat and the Lightning went on the power play for the second time of the night at 11:03.

The Capitals penalty killing unit not only kept the puck out of their own net, but they kept it out of their own zone, sending two shots on goal shorthanded while Tampa failed to record a shot on goal while on the power play.

Washington killed off the penalty and kept charging.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos collided with his own teammate just past the twelve-minute mark in the period, sending J.T. Miller to the ice with an elbow to the head. Miller was slow to get up, but skated off under his own power, sat on the bench and leapt back into the action after the next stoppage in play.

Protocol was definitely followed and your eyes were deceiving you.

Vasilevskiy vacated Tampa’s goal crease with about two minutes remaining in regulation as the Lightning tried to score two quick goals with the extra skater.

Bolts Head Coach Jon Cooper used his timeout 30 seconds later prior to a face-off in the attacking zone to the left of Washington’s netminder to go over every scenario with his team.

Despite winning the faceoff, the Lightning could not get a shot past Holtby and the Capitals worked the puck out of their own zone.

Beagle kept the puck onside as Backstrom held onto the puck to assure his team of the victory, making a selfless pass to Oshie to give the Washington goal scorer an easy layup for the empty net goal.

Oshie (7) scored his second goal, pocketing the rubber biscuit in the gapping 4-by-6 net, and gave the Caps a three-goal lead. Backstrom (12) had the only assist on the goal that sealed the deal for a 3-0 win.

At the final horn, the Capitals had tied the series, 3-3, thanks to a 3-0 victory in Game 6. Washington dominated the final stat sheet, leading in shots on goal (34-24), blocked shots (20-13), hits (39-19), giveaways (10-6) and faceoff win percentage (54-46). Tampa finished the night 0/2 on the skater advantage, while Washington completed the night 1/1 on the power play.

Game 7 is Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Puck drop is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and fans can catch the action on NBCSN, CBC, SN1 or TVAS. The winner will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

How the Vegas Golden Knights got here

The Vegas Golden Knights had 500-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season back in October. Now, they’re just four wins away.

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Let’s clarify a few things here:

1. The team has a lot of leadership.

Whether it’s Jon Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron, Deryk Engelland or Marc-Andre Fleury, the Golden Knights have a deep locker room of leaders.

And that’s not doing enough justice to give their head coach, Gerard Gallant, some credit for the way the team’s carried themselves.

2. The team has a lot of playoff experience.

Vegas general manager George McPhee didn’t look for just a bunch of nobody’s. This is Fleury’s fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final– and third straight.

Entering this postseason, only the following Golden Knights regulars had zero games of playoff experience– Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban (their backup goaltender, not likely to see any playing time with Fleury existing) and Alex Tuch.

Fleury (115 games), Neal (80), Perron (42), Ryan Reaves (36), Engelland (28), Erik Haula (24), Nate Schmidt (21), Luca Sbisa (20) and Shea Thoedore (20) all had at least 20 games of playoff experience coming into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Reaves, of course, was acquired prior to the trade deadline. Primarily for his scoring prowess in an elimination game, obviously. Wait.

3. The 2017 Expansion Draft was not rigged.

Nobody told Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon he had to a) leave Marchessault exposed and b) trade Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they wouldn’t select someone other than Marchessault at the Expansion Draft.

Let’s reword that a bit.

Marchessault was left exposed and the Panthers did not specify that he was untouchable as part of the Smith deal. Florida encouraged Vegas to take on Smith’s $5.000 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season after one down year with the Panthers.

The Golden Knights were the scapegoat for salary cap mismanagement by other NHL teams and everyone thought Vegas wouldn’t turn out to be this way.

Fleury was assured of being selected by McPhee and Co. thanks to Pittsburgh’s tight cap after winning back-to-back Cups along with their goaltending situation in which Matt Murray had rightfully taken the starting goaltender role. The Penguins even sent a 2018 second round pick in the trade to persuade Vegas to select Fleury in the Expansion Draft instead of a guy like Brian Dumoulin.

William Karlsson had underperformed with the Columbus Blue Jackets and was left exposed to Vegas as part of a deal that saw the Golden Knights take on David Clarkson‘s deadweight contract.

A happy accident– or more accurately, superb scouting and foresight. That same scouting led to nailing more than one needle in a haystack.

Alex Tuch? Traded by the Minnesota Wild to Vegas as part of an agreement that McPhee would select Erik Haula.

The Anaheim Ducks traded Theodore to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take Clayton Stoner and not one of Anaheim’s young core players of the future.

Finally, the talent pool is better than ever before. The Golden Knights were bound to stockpile a few good players as a result of stacked rosters (in theory) across the 30 other NHL clubs.

McPhee also worked the phones and made more than a few trades and depth signings in free agency.

Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk were both free agent signings that held things over for Vegas in the net while Fleury and Subban were injured for almost the first quarter of the regular season. Dansk went down with an injury himself four games into the Golden Knights third-string goaltending emergency relief plan.

When the Golden Knights turned to Dylan Ferguson in goal it was only possible because of McPhee’s deal with the Dallas Stars in which defender Marc Methot, who was claimed at the Expansion Draft by Vegas, was flipped to Dallas for Ferguson and a 2020 second round pick.

Not every selection made by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft suited up for the Golden Knights.

Trevor van Riemsdyk was packaged with a 2018 seventh round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).

David Schlemko was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.

Alexei Emelin was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2018 third round pick.

Despite appearing in preseason action for Vegas, last season’s backup goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche– turned AHL backup goaltender with the Toronto Marlies this season– Calvin Pickard was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2018 sixth round pick and Tobias Lindberg.

Pickard’s trade was spurned by McPhee finding a better backup goaltender at no cost to the organization– Malcolm Subban.

Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston after the Bruins waited a few days after waivers went into effect to decide on sending him to Providence.

Ryan Carpenter? Another claim off waivers– midseason— from the San Jose Sharks.

It’s a professional league. It’s a free market. Something, something, stop complaining because your team has a history of letting you down. The Golden Knights will let their fans down in time, just like every other professional sports franchise in the history of all major professional North American sports.

But for now, why not enjoy the ride?

They swept a 1967 expansion team in the First Round, they defeated a 1990s expansion team in the Second Round and now they’ve beaten a late-1990s expansion franchise that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 for the Western Conference championship.

There’s never going to be another run quite like this and if it ends in a Stanley Cup championship maybe we should all meet in Vegas for the afterparty. Celebrate the sport.

Fleury off to third-straight Stanley Cup Final

 

The Campbell Bowl is the possession of the Vegas Golden Knights after they beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 at Bell MTS Place in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

Winnipeg did all it could to win this game and prolong its postseason: the Jets matched Vegas in shots on goal (32 apiece), earned four power plays to the Knights’ two and G Connor Hellebuyck saved 30-for-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage).

However, G Marc-Andre Fleury was none too interested in starting a summer without the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2015. Fleury saved 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage). He refused to yield to even one of the Jets’ power plays, making miraculous save after miraculous save.

Pair Fleury’s performance with First Star of the Game RW Alex Tuch‘s (F Ryan Carpenter) wrist shot only 5:11 into the game, and the Jets were facing an uphill battle that was made even more steep by the fact that Third Star D Josh Morrissey‘s giveaway was what directly led to the tally.

Morrissey didn’t successfully corral Hellebuyck’s pass along the boards, leading to Carpenter knocking the puck off his stick to Tuch in the high slot, which he proceeded to squeeze between the netminder’s right arm and the post.

The only flaw in Fleury’s game struck 12:03 later when Morrissey (F Bryan Little) made amends for his giveaway to score off a face-off. Won by Little at the dot to Fleury’s right, Morrissey ended up with the puck above the face-off circles and one-timed a white-hot slap shot over the goalie’s glove.

The resulting 1-1 tie held for almost 20 minutes – 16:07, to be exact – before Second Star RW Ryan Reaves (D Luca Sbisa and F Tomas Nosek) potted what proved to be the series-clinching goal.

Though this goal can’t be blamed on Hellebuyck, that’s not to say that Reaves was truly intending to score on this play. Sbisa fired an elevated initial wrister from the point that likely would have been either blocked by a Jet or saved by Hellebuyck, but Reaves intercepted that attempt and deflected it just under the bar over the goalie’s right shoulder.

If Reaves were only a foot or two closer to the crease, his shot surely would have flown over the crossbar, but the trade acquisition was in the right place at the right time to secure his and his club’s first-ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

In the third period, the Golden Knights clamped down on the talented Jets offense to limit them to only eight shots on goal. D Colin Miller converted one takeaway, while eight different Knights either blocked a Winnipeg third period shot or threw a body check.

Winnipeg also was its own worst enemy by aiming five third period shots to the wrong side of the iron. In particular, RW Patrik Laine was responsible for sending two of those shots wide or over the net.

The Golden Knights await the victor of the Eastern Conference Finals, which the Tampa Bay Lightning currently lead 3-2. Should the Bolts hold on to clinch the Prince of Wales Trophy, Vegas will travel to Florida for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. However, if the Washington Capitals can win two-straight games, they will travel to Vegas for the first games of the series.

Game 6 of the Eastern Finals from Capital One Arena will take place Monday, May 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Fans interested in seeing who the Knights will square off against should tune their televisions to CBC, NBCSN, SN1 or TVAS.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #106- We Recorded This Before Vegas Won (Unedited)

The Original Trio reunite for a special look at the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, college coaches landing NHL jobs and Conference Finals takeaways. Also, we meant Andrei Svechnikov.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Lighning Strike Fast at Home due to 4th Line

Unknown-3The Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 on home ice by a score of 3-2. It was the first win by a home team in the series. A big part of the game was the matchups used by Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, and having a fast start to the game.

The Lightning started the game the best way possible scoring a goal just 19 seconds into the game. Cooper was playing the matchup and started his 4th line. They were able to force Dmitry Orlov into a turnover and Ryan Callahan made a great play to get the puck to Cedric Paquette who fired the puck past Braden Holtby. For his first of the playoffs.

Tampa continued the dominance in the first period by creating the majority of the chances. They doubled their lead just before the halfway mark of the period. Another turnover by Orlov, led to Ondrej Palat with a stick wrister past Holtby for a 2-0 lead. It was Palat’s 6th goal of the playoffs.

Tampa out played the Capitals in the first period, with the 4th line of Callahan, Paquette and Chris Kunitz leading the way. Tampa outshot the Capitals 13 to 4.

The second period started as well as the first for the Lightning. 33 seconds into the period Stralman made a great move to take the puck to the net while Callahan crashed in and the puck went off his upper body and into the net for a 3-0 lead. It was Callahan’s second point of the night and his 2nd goal of the playoffs

It seemed Washington wasn’t going to have an answer to break down Tampa. They did find a goal five Washington Capitals Logominutes into the second period with Matt Niskanen letting a shot go from the point that was deflected by Evgeny Kuznetsov to make it a 3-1 game. It was Kuznetsov’s 22nd point of the playoffs.

This seemed to spark the offense of Washington as they began to pepper Andrei Vasilevskiy, but he stood tall. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 13 to 5 in the second period.

The third period was a back and forth period with both teams getting chances. Vasilevskiy and Holtby were both strong making saves they should make and some they had no right making. Washington took over late in the closing minutes of regulation. Tampa received some luck as Alex Ovechkin and his other Caps teammates hit the post a number of times.

Ovechkin did find his goal with less than two minutes left in the game and the extra attacker on the ice. He was a little above his signature spot, but his one timer blew by Vasilevskiy to make it a 3-2 game.

It was too little too late though, as Vasilevskiy robbed John Carlson as time ran down. Tampa held on to win on home ice and lead the series 3-2. Game 6 will be Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Vegas’s first line lifts Golden Knights to 3-1 series lead in Game 4

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William Karlsson had a goal, Jonathan Marchessault had an assist and Reilly Smith had a goal and an assist en route to the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 4 of the 2018 Western Conference Final. The Golden Knights first liners— along with another strong performance from their goaltender— helped cement a 3-1 series lead.

Vegas is one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final almost a year since their roster was formed via the 2017 Expansion Draft.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 35 saves on 37 shots against for a .946 save percentage in the win for the home team at T-Mobile Arena Friday night, while Winnipeg netminder, Connor Hellebuyck, stopped 26 out of 29 shots faced for an .897 SV% in 58:29 time on ice in the loss.

Penalties are all the more costly in the postseason and the Jets got an early reminder of why that is in the first period when Tyler Myers was called for interference less than two minutes into the action.

William Karlsson (6) buried a shot from one knee off the post and in on the power play and the Golden Knights led, 1-0, 2:25 into the first period. Jonathan Marchessault (10) and Reilly Smith (14) notched the assists on the goal.

Marchessault tied the NHL record for most points by a player in his team’s first playoff appearance (18 points) with his assist on Karlsson’s goal. Igor Larionov was the last player to record 18 points in his team’s first postseason with the San Jose Sharks in 1994, while Jude Drouin was the first to establish the record of 18 points by a player in his team’s first postseason as a member of the New York Islanders in 1975.

A little past the halfway mark of the first period, Mark Scheifele slashed Brayden McNabb and was subsequently sent to the penalty box to serve for a minor infraction. Vegas did not convert on the ensuing player advantage.

After one period, the Golden Knights led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and trailed, 10-9, in shots on goal. Both teams had nine blocked shots and four giveaways aside, while the Jets led in hits (17-15). Vegas led in takeaways (3-2), faceoff win percentage (65-35) and was 1/2 on the power play after 20 minutes of play, while Winnipeg had yet to see any time on the special teams advantage.

Karlsson slashed Jets captain, Blake Wheeler, and was sent to the sin bin early into the second period— less than three minutes into the second frame— but Winnipeg couldn’t will the puck past Fleury on the power play.

Then Tomas Nosek tripped Jacob Trouba at 8:28 of the second period and the Jets went back on the power play.

This time, things were different, as Wheeler had set up Patrik Laine with one of the best chances of the night, only to be denied by Fleury after Laine couldn’t receive the pass cleanly, settle the puck and release one of his patented quick shots in time. No matter, Winnipeg would get another chance.

On the ensuing faceoff in the attacking zone, the Jets won the puck and worked it around the offensive zone before Dustin Byfuglien fed Laine in his comfort zone— the faceoff dot just to the right of Vegas’s netminder.

Laine (5) ripped a shot past Fleury and Winnipeg had a power play goal of their own, tying the game, 1-1, at 9:29 of the second period. Byfuglien (11) and Wheeler (18) had the assists on the goal.

Just like in Game 3, however, the Golden Knights responded on the scoreboard less than a minute later as Nosek found redemption for serving time in the sin bin.

Nosek (1) poked the puck through Hellebuyck after Pierre-Edouard Bellemare nearly scored on a wraparound 10:12 into the second period, giving Vegas a 2-1 lead.

Bellemare (1) and Luca Sbisa (1) were credited with the assists on the Golden Knights goal 43 seconds after Winnipeg tied the game.

Late in the period, Sbisa tripped Nikolaj Ehlers and Vegas went on to kill off the minor penalty without any trouble from the visiting team’s power play.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Golden Knights led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and trailed, 25-22, in shots on goal. Vegas also led in blocked shots (16-15) and takeaways (13-6), while Winnipeg led in hits (32-28) and giveaways (8-6). Faceoff win percentage was even (50-50) after two periods and the Jets were 1/3 on the power play, while Vegas was 1/2 on the skater advantage heading into the second intermission.

A mere 28 seconds into the third period, McNabb was guilty of cross checking Scheifele and was sent to the box. Winnipeg came out of the gates surging and being shorthanded did not help Vegas’s cause, though the Golden Knights were able to kill off the penalty, thanks to Fleury’s stellar goaltending.

But it was Tyler Myers (4) finding the back of the twine in the vulnerable minutes after Winnipeg’s power play, having shot the puck through Fleury’s five-hole and wedging it underneath the net camera.

Jack Roslovic (3) had the only assist on the game-tying goal at 5:34 of the third period. This time the Golden Knights did not immediately strike back and the game remained tied, 2-2, for a little over seven minutes.

A Jets turnover led to a loose puck winding up on Smith’s stick. The Vegas forward charged into the attacking zone and sniped a snap shot past Hellebuyck’s short side going bar down to give the Golden Knights their third lead of the night, 3-2.

Smith’s (2) goal was just his second of the postseason and was unassisted at 13:02.

Time ticked down. Tension grew. Tempers didn’t flare as much as they had in previous games in the series, which didn’t lead to any retaliation penalties that could’ve jeopardized everything for either club.

With 90 seconds remaining in regulation, Hellebuyck vacated the goal for an extra attacker.

Paul Maurice called a timeout at a stoppage in play with 1:13 remaining in regulation to rally his Jets roster, but Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights matched the intensity— clearing the puck, battling along the boards and keeping the vulcanized rubber biscuit away from their opponent.

Vegas won the final faceoff of the game with 6.8 seconds remaining in their own zone. Winnipeg would not get a last second shot away as Marchessault guided the puck through the neutral zone as the final horn sounded.

The Golden Knights won Game 4, 3-2, and are now one win away from advancing to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final— in their inaugural season.

After 60 minutes of play, Winnipeg led in shots on goal (37-29) and giveaways (16-9), but Vegas led in blocked shots (25-18), hits (45-43) and more importantly in the final results column. The Jets went 1/4 and the Golden Knights were 1/2 on the power play Friday night.

Game 5 is Sunday afternoon at Bell MTS Place in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 3:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States have the chance to witness history on NBC. Fans in Canada, meanwhile (assuming the entire country’s rooting for the last Canadian team in the postseason) can cheer for the Jets on CBC, Sportsnet or TVAS.

Vasilevskiy makes ECF a best-of-three series

 

By winning Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 at Capital One Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reclaimed home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals by leveling the series at two victories apiece.

With Washington out-shooting the visiting Lightning 38-20, no Bolt deserves more credit for the victory than First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy. After allowing the first goal of the game to D Dmitry Orlov (F T.J. Oshie and D Matt Niskanen) only 4:28 into the contest, Vasilevskiy proceeded to post a 36-for-38 effort (.947 save percentage) despite facing no fewer than nine shots against per frame. In particular, Vasilevskiy stood extremely tall when taking on Washington’s four power plays, as he saved all nine shots faced while his club was shorthanded.

Meanwhile, G Braden Holtby only wishes his play looked anywhere near as good as Vasilevskiy’s. His 16-for-19 performance (.842 save percentage) was borderline disastrous, especially given the incredible help his offense was providing him.

Wait, offense?

Yes, it was not the Capitals’ defense, but their offense that truly kept Holtby’s workload light. Not only did they more than double Tampa’s shots on goal in both the first and second periods (15-7 and 14-6, respectively), but the Caps also held extended possessions in their offensive zone. Pair that with Oshie’s two takeaways and W Devante Smith-Pelly‘s six hits, and you find a team that made life so easy on its goaltender that he just might have grown complacent.

That’s not to say the goals he allowed were soft. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Take for example Second Star F Brayden Point‘s (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson) tic-tac-goal only 1:10 after Orlov’s that tied the game at one-all. Holtby was forced to shade towards his left post when he saw Gourde – who scored 25 goals this season, the fourth-most among all rookies – all by himself inside the near face-off circle, but some deft passing across the slot to Point was all the second line needed to take advantage of a sloppy pass by D Michal Kempny.

Similarly, it’s hard to blame Holtby for his second goal allowed in the first period, registered only 2:54 after Point’s. This time, he was tasked with keeping Tampa’s lethal power play off the scoreboard thanks to C Lars Eller‘s holding penalty against RW Nikita Kucherov 1:05 before.

A power play that had scored at least once in eight previous contests is obviously in a groove, and that groove continued at the 8:32 mark of the game when C Steven Stamkos (Point and F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-1 with a one-timer from the slot.

For those keeping track at home, the Lightning now sport a 30.8 percent power play conversion rate that is tops among the four teams still competing for the Stanley Cup, trailing only Boston – their opponent in the previous round – for the mark of best power play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the score never changed, the remaining 11:28 of the first period was far from uneventful. However, the previously mentioned shots on goal were not the only activity as even the missed shots drew many a Capitals fan to his or her feet. In particular, W Alex Ovechkin had more than his fair share of salivating shots on net – both in this frame as well as the entire game – but many of those whizzed past the wrong side of the post and harmlessly crashed into the endboards.

Just when it seemed like Vasilevskiy was going to be unbreakable for the remainder of the tilt, Third Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and RW Tom Wilson) sprung hope anew in Washington with his wrist shot 5:18 into the second period.

With the exception of Kuznetsov’s path taking him along the left boards instead of between the face-off circles, this goal was eerily reminiscent of the marker that eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs for the first time since April 2015. A long pass from Ovechkin sprung his countryman for a breakaway opportunity against the goaltender (who, by happenstance, is also a fellow Russian), who he beat five-hole.

Thanks to some incredible defense played by both clubs (RW Ryan Callahan matched Smith-Pelly’s six hits and D Ryan McDonagh blocked a game-high four shots), that 2-2 tie lasted 26:39 before Tampa third-liner F Alex Killorn (W Ondrej Palat and D Mikhail Sergachev) provided the game-winning goal.

Struck six seconds after Eller was released from the penalty box (his second foul of the night, this time for hooking the eventual goalscorer), Killorn showed some impressive puck-handling skills inside the crease to convert a forehanded shot that would likely be stopped by Holtby’s left leg into a backhand that sneaked between the netminder’s wickets.

With 2:09 remaining in regulation, Head Coach Barry Trotz was forced to pull his goaltender for the second consecutive game. Tampa Bay was unable to convert on the empty net in Game 3, but rookie C Anthony Cirelli bested that effort with 62 seconds remaining to cement the Bolts’ series-evening victory.

Now that they’ve given up the home-ice advantage they worked so desperately to win in Florida, the Capitals must now find a way to win at least one more game at Amalie Arena. A good first step towards doing that – especially for Eller – will be to avoid the penalty box, as the Caps’ 73.7 percent successful penalty kill is the worst remaining in the playoffs.

Saturday is the day for the Eastern Conference Finals’ all-important Game 5. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Eastern (right after the Preakness Stakes) and may be viewed on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

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