February 24 – Day 132 – Wildcard Wednesday

The Carolina Hurricanes finally won a game in the Game of the Day series, beating the Philadelphia Flyers, who hadn’t lost in our series, 3-1.

It was actually the Flyers that scored first, but it wasn’t until late in the first.  Scott Laughton’s wrister found the back of the net at the 17:45 mark, assisted by Matt Read (his 10th helper of the season) and Radko Gudas, the only score of the opening frame.

In their black alternates, the Canes leveled the score 8:09 after resuming play with a Joakim Nordstrom snap shot, his eighth tally of the season.  10:17 later, Jordan Staal’s 16th goal of the season gave Carolina a lead they would not yield, assisted by Brett Pesce and Andrej Nestrasil.  The Hurricane‘s 2-1 lead held into the second intermission.

Carolina‘s lone insurance goal found the back of the net with 5:49 remaining, courtesy of a Eric Staal wrister, assisted by Jay McClement and Elias Lindholm (his 21st helper of the season).

Cam Ward earns the win after saving 36 of 37 (97.3%), while Michal Neuvirth takes the loss, saving 15 of 18 (83.3%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 59-31-12, favoring the home squad by 33 points over the roadies.

Today’s schedule is fairly light, with only four games to be played.  The first, Montréal at Washington, drops the puck at 7 p.m. eastern, followed half an hour later by Pittsburgh at Boston (NBCSN).  San Jose at Colorado (NBCSN) gets started at 10 p.m. eastern, trailed 30 minutes later by this evening’s nightcap, Buffalo at Anaheim.

None of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries, but two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Pittsburgh at Boston and San Jose at Colorado).

I must admit, I’m being swayed by a mini-rivalry here in the “office” (aka our dorm rooms), but I think the PittsburghBoston game will be the most competitive this evening, so let’s head to the TD Garden!

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoUnknown

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s game will be Pittsburgh‘s 11th in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 3-6-1 record.  Their most recent showing under our observation was a 4-2 loss to the Lightning on Saturday.  Boston hasn’t been featured since Valentine’s Day, when they fell 6-5 in Detroit.  That game was their 12th in the series, and set their record at 4-7-1 in such games.

The 30-20-8 Pittsburgh Penguins currently occupy fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, good enough for the second wildcard position.  To get to that position, they’ve played the 12th-best defense in the league, but have scored the 11th-fewest goals, which has kept contests tight.  A more in-depth analysis of their game can be found within Saturday’s article.

The Penguins most recent game was a 4-3 victory in Buffalo Sunday afternoon.  A regulation win tonight would propel Pittsburgh past Boston into the first wildcard position, and they would trail the Islanders by a lone point for the third division spot.  A loss would not put them out of the playoffs, but it would keep the differential between them and the first team out, New Jersey, at only a lone point.

The 32-22-6 Boston Bruins currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference.  It has been the offense that has led the way for the Bruins, as they’ve scored the third-most goals in the league, but they’ve given up the 10th-most goals.

Led by Patrice Bergeron’s 201 shots, the B’s have fired puck an incredible 1902 times, with a whopping 9.5% finding the back of the net for 185 goals (led by Brad Marchand’s 30 tallies), third-most in the NHL.  Just like you’d expect, that offense success has continued on the power play, where Boston‘s 22.29% success rate, for 39 power play goals (led by Bergeron’s nine), ranks fourth-best in the league.

The center line has represented the divide between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the Bruins, as the defense continues to struggle this season.  Even with Kevan Miller’s team-leading 96 blocks, Boston has allowed 1822 shots to reach 22-17-5 Tuukka Rask and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.3% for 169 goals against, 10th-most in the league.  That being said, the Bruins do flip a switch on the penalty kill, as they’ve killed 82.76% of their penalties for only 35 power play goals against.  In addition, the kill has also been tremendous at scoring, as they have eight short-handed goals to their credit (led by Marchand’s four shorties).

The Bruins last played Monday night, a 6-4 loss to the Blue Jackets on home ice.  A win tonight would put Boston back into the third division spot by virtue of losing the games played tiebreaker to Tampa Bay.  A regulation loss allows the Penguins to jump the Bruins for the top wildcard spot, and they would have a three point lead over New Jersey.

Boston has already won the season series 2-0-0, with the cumulative score reading 9-2.  Both previous games were played in a home-and-home series on December 16 and 18, with the Bruins winning 3-0 on home ice before travelling to the Steel City and winning 6-2.  Those games were the second and third of Mike Sullivan’s Pittsburgh career.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Boston‘s Marchand (30 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (four shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (56 points [eighth-most in the league] and 25 goals [tied for ninth-most in the league]), Marc-Andre Fleury (four shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league] and 24 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Chris Kunitz (+21 [tied for seventh-best in the league]).

This Pittsburgh team is a much different one than played the Bruins in December, and is much more capable of scoring.  I expect to see a lot of goals scored, but favoring the Bruins when the clock reads zeroes.