February 20 – Day 128 – East is wild…card

Every game is important for the Flames if they want to make a playoff push, and they made that fact known in yesterday’s Game of the Day, beating Vancouver 5-2 in the Saddledome.

Calgary didn’t wait long, 1:41 to be exact, before scoring their first goal, as Joe Colborne’s snap shot found the back of the net, assisted by Mikael Backlund (his 19th helper of the season) and TJ Brodie.  Vancouver leveled the score at the 10:41 mark with a wrister from Adam Cracknell, assisted by Jannik Hansen and Daniel Sedin (his 27th helper of the season), and followed that 5:06 later with a wrister from Jake Virtanen (his fourth of the season) to take a 2-1 lead that held into the intermission.

A three-goal second is what sealed the game for the Flames.  Their first of the period came only 2:07 after resuming play, courtesy of a Backlund wrister, assisted by Colborne and Michael Frolik.  The game-winner found the back of the net 3:27 later, courtesy of Frolik, who was assisted by Brodie (his 31st helper of the season) and Matt Stajan.  Calgary set the score at 4-2 with only 25 seconds remaining in the second period, compliments of a Mark Giordano slap shot, assisted by Brodie and Johnny Gaudreau (his 34th helper of the season).

Calgary scored the lone goal of the third relatively early, as Josh Jooris’ deflection (his fourth goal of the season) found the back of the net at the 3:01 mark, assisted by Lance Bouma and Jakub Nakladal.

Jonas Hiller earns the win after saving 26 of 28 (92.9%), while Jacob Markstrom takes the loss after saving 28 of 33 (84.8%).

After that, the DtFR Game of the Day series stands at 57-29-12, favoring the home squad by 34 points over the roadies.

It’s a busy day in the NHL, just like we like it!  There’s nine games on the schedule, and the first one, Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, starts at 12:30 p.m. eastern.  Four games drop the puck at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern (Philadelphia at Toronto, Detroit at Ottawa, Winnipeg at Florida and New Jersey at Washington), followed an hour later by two more (Los Angeles at Nashville and Boston at Dallas [NHLN]).  The St. Louis at Arizona game gets started at 9 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by this evening’s nightcap, Colorado at Edmonton.

Only two of tonight’s games are between division rivals (Detroit at Ottawa and New Jersey at Washington) and three are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, Los Angeles at Nashville and Boston at Dallas).

Since the Lightning and Penguins are currently tied at 66 points for the two wildcard positions, it is impossible to not keep an eye on this game!

Unknown-1Pittsburgh Penguins Logo

 

 

 

 

This will be Tampa Bay‘s 11th time being featured in our Game of the Day series, where they currently own a 6-3-1 record.  Their most recent game under our observation was a February 12 4-3 overtime victory over the Predators.  Pittsburgh has been featured nine times before today, and own a 3-5-1 record in such games, with their most recent being a 3-0 shutout loss on home ice to the Rangers on February 10.

The 31-22-4 Tampa Bay Lightning currently sit in fourth in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, good enough to qualify them for the second wildcard position (they’re tied with Pittsburgh for the other wildcard, but the Pens have played one less game).  To get to that position, they’ve played the eighth-best offense in the league, paired with the 13th-best scoring offense.

Thanks in part to Victor Hedman’s team-leading 97 blocks, the Bolts have allowed only 1606 shots to reach 22-17-3 Ben Bishop and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.8% for 144 goals against, eighth-fewest in the league.  That success has continued with the penalty kill, which holds 82.08% of extra-man opportunities scoreless for only 31 power play goals against, making Tampa Bay the 11th-best penalty kill.

The offense in Tampa is above average.  Even with Steven Stamkos’ 162 shots, they’ve only fired the puck 1665 times, but 9.1% have found the back of the net for 155 goals (led by Nikita Kucherov’s 24 tallies), 13th-most in the league.   Unlike the penalty kill, this special team does not follow suit with the full unit.  The Bolts have only been successful on 17.95% of attempts for 35 power play goals (led by Stamkos’ 11), 10th-worst in the league.

Tampa Bay last played Thursday night, when they needed a shootout to beat the Jets 6-5.  In addition to breaking their tie with the Pens, a win today also has the potential to move the Bolts all the way into second in the division should both Boston and Detroit lose this evening.  Should Tampa lose, they do run the chance of falling out of the playoffs should New Jersey beat Washington.

The 29-19-8 Pittsburgh Penguins currently occupy fourth in the Metropolitan Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference, leading the Bolts by a games played tiebreaker for the top wildcard position.  They play a top-10 defense, but the offense ranks near the bottom 10, so the Penguins have had struggles this year.

Even with Ben Lovejoy’s 84 blocks, the Pens have allowed 1729 shots to reach 23-13-6 Marc-Andre Fleury and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 144 goals against, eighth-best in the league.  The defense has especially stepped up their efforts on the penalty kill, where they are killing 84.27% of opposing power plays for only 28 extra man goals against, fourth-best in the league.

On the other hand, the offense has been anything but exemplary.  The Pens may have fired 1827 shots, but only 8% have found the back of the net for 148 tallies (led by Sidney Crosby’s 25 goals), 11th fewest in the NHL.  Those numbers improve with the man advantage though, as Pittsburgh has scored on 19.34% of their opportunities for 35 power play goals (led by Evgeni Malkin’s 10 extra man tallies).

Pittsburgh‘s most recent game was a 6-3 victory over the Red Wings on Thursday.  Just like Tampa, a win this afternoon officially breaks their tie with this afternoon’s opposition for the wild card, but Pittsburgh is unable to improve past their current position.  A loss by the Pens would, just like the Bolts, open them up for being replaced in the playoffs by the Devils should they win tonight.

So far this season, Tampa Bay leads the season series 2-0-0.  These teams last met February 5 in Tampa, where the Bolts won 6-3.  The better of the two games for Pittsburgh was the first meeting on January 15, where the Pens took the Lightning to overtime before falling 5-4.

Some players to keep an eye on in this matinee are Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (55 points [eighth-most in the league] and 25 goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]), Fleury (four shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league] and 23 wins [ninth-most in the league]), Chris Kunitz (+22 [fifth-best in the league]) and Olli Maatta (+21 [tied for sixth-best in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Bishop (2.14 GAA [fifth-best in the league]) and Kucherov (24 goals [10th-most in the league]).

This is a tough game to predict.  Tampa‘s offense, overall, has played better than Pittsburgh‘s, but the Penguins have been surging of late, and will be encouraged by a home crowd.  I predict a tight game, but a Penguins winner.

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