January 23 – Day 105 – Governor’s Cup

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche needed a shootout to determine the home team as the winner.

The Blues scored the first goal of the night with only 2:03 remaining in the second period, as Troy Brouwer assisted Alexander Steen to his 15th goal of the season, this one a wrister to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead heading into the second intermission.

The Avalanche waited until only 54 seconds remained in regulation to level the score at one-all.  Third Star of the Game Nathan MacKinnon fired a wrister of his own after assists from Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie (his 23rd helper of the season).  The one-all score not only held to the completion of regulation, but also throughout the three-on-three overtime period, forcing the game to the shootout.

Only one goal was scored in the shootout, courtesy of Gabriel Landeskog, to secure the bonus point for Colorado.

First Star Semyon Varlamov saved 34 of 35 (97.1%) to improve his record to 18-12-3, while Second Star Brian Elliott’s falls to 10-5-5 after saving 41 of 42 (97.6%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 46-20-9, favoring the home squad by 36 points over the roadies.

It’s a busy, exciting Saturday schedule, with 22 teams in action!  The festivities get started at 12:30 p.m. eastern when Vancouver visits Pittsburgh (SN), with the other matinee starting at 4 p.m. eastern when Minnesota visits San Jose.  Five games get started at the usual 7 p.m. eastern starting time (Columbus at Boston, Montréal at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/TVAS], Anaheim at Detroit, Tampa Bay at Florida and New Jersey at Winnipeg [SN]), followed by Philadelphia at the New York Islanders half an hour later nothing, since PhillyNYI was postponed due to weather.  8 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of Colorado at Dallas, followed an hour later by Los Angeles at Arizona.  Finally, this evening’s nightcap, Nashville at Edmonton (CBC/SN), gets started at 10 p.m. eastern.

Almost half of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Montréal at Toronto, Tampa Bay at Florida, Philadelphia at New York, Colorado at Dallas and Los Angeles at Arizona), and three are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Minnesota at San Jose, Tampa Bay at Florida and Colorado at Dallas).

For the first season in a long time (arguably the 1995-’96 season), the Governor’s Cup has been an important rivalry in the Atlantic Division.  We’ve already missed three of the games this season, so we’d better catch this one!

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Tonight’s game is Tampa Bay‘s seventh appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 3-2-1 record.  Their most recent showing in the series was Thursday, when they beat the Blackhawks 2-1.  Florida has been featured four times before tonight’s game, and own a 3-1-0 record in such games.  Their most recent appearance was January 3, when they defeated the Wild.

The 26-17-4 Tampa Bay Lightning currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference.  To get them to that position, they’ve played a top-10 defense, paired with an offense that falls just short of that ranking (as measured by goals against/scored).  A more in-depth explanation of their game can be found on Thursday’s post.

The Bolts are currently riding a seven-game win streak, with their most recent being Thursday’s victory over the Hawks.  A win tonight by the Lightning pulls them within a point of the division-leading Panthers.

The 27-15-5 Florida Panthers currently sit in first place in the Atlantic and second in the Eastern Conference.  Although they have only an average offense, they’ve been able to climb to the top of the table with one of the best defenses in the league (as measured by goals against).

Thanks in part to Willie Mitchell’s team-leading 70 blocks, the Panthers have allowed only 1351 shots to reach 20-13-4 Roberto Luongo and co., of which they’ve collectively saved a solid 92.7% for only 105 goals against, third-least in the league.  One reason for that success has been how Florida has reacted to the power play, killing 82.76% for only 25 power play goals against.

The offense continues their interesting play, as they focus more on the quality of shot versus quantity.  Led by Jonathan Huberdeau’s 110 attempts, Florida has fired 1264 shots, of which 9.2% have found the back of the net for 116 goals (led by Jaromir Jagr’s 15 tallies).  The biggest hole in Florida‘s offense has been their power play.  Successful on only 15.48% of attempts, they have 24 extra-man goals, led by Aleksander Barkov’s four tallies.

The Panthers‘ last game was last night, a 4-0 win against the Blackhawks, ending their four-game losing skid.  If Florida pulls out the win, they will extend their division lead over Tampa Bay to five points.

As hinted at before, these squads have already played three of the five games in this season’s series, with the Panthers leading the series 2-1-0.  Although Florida has the lead, it is actually the Bolts who have the most recent success, winning 3-1 only six days ago in Tampa.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game includes Florida‘s Aaron Ekblad (+17 [tied for eighth-best in the league]) and Luongo (19 wins [tied for seventh-best in the league], three shutouts [tied for eighth-best in the league] and .927 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Ben Bishop (1.94 GAA [second-best in the league], 19 wins [tied for seventh-best in the league] and .928 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the league]).

Now that Ekblad is back and the Panthers have the monkey off their back of the losing streak, I think they will begin to return to form.  I pick Florida to make a statement win for their division this evening.

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