March 7 – Day 144 – Another potential Atlantic playoff pairing?

Although Minnesota put up quite the fight in the third period, St. Louis was able to hold on for the 4-2 win in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The Blues notched their first goal only 7:44 into the game, courtesy of a Third Star of the Game Jori Lehtera slap shot, his eighth tally of the season.  The Blues doubled their lead only 1:53 later with a snap shot from Ryan Reaves, assisted by Kyle Brodziak and Jay Bouwmeester (his 14th helper of the season).  St. Louis would hold their 2-0 lead through the remainder of the period and into the intermission.

The goal that came to be the game winner found the back of the net only 21 seconds after the midway point of the game, scored by Patrik Berglund, assisted by David Backes (his 20th helper of the season).  That was the only score of the third, so the Blues‘ 3-0 lead held to the second intermission.

Minnesota began staging their comeback at the 11:02 mark of the final period courtesy of a Second Star Ryan Suter backhander, assisted by Zach Parise (his 22nd helper of the season).  Only 3:38 later, Matt Dumba cut the Blues’ lead to only a score on a backhander, assisted by Charlie Coyle and Mikko Koivu (his 31st helper of the season).  But, it was the Blues with the final goal, as Robby Fabbri fired a wrister at an empty net, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk (his 24th helper of the season) to set the score at the 4-2 final.

First Star Jake Allen earns the win after saving 30 of 32 (93.8%), while Devan Dubnyk takes the loss, saving 13 of 16 (81.3%).  He was replaced after Berglund’s goal by Darcy Kuemper, who saved all 18 shots he faced for no decision.

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 64-37-13, favoring the home sides by 30 points over the roadies.

This Monday’s schedule is a decent one, with seven games taking place.  The action gets started at the usual 7 p.m. eastern starting time with Tampa Bay visiting Philadelphia, followed half an hour later by two games (Buffalo at Toronto and Boston at Florida).  The next couple of games don’t drop the puck until 9 p.m. eastern (Arizona at Colorado [NBCSN] and San Jose at Calgary), trailed an hour later by Washington at Anaheim.  Finally, this evening’s nightcap, Vancouver at Los Angeles, gets started at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Over half of this evening’s games are divisional rivalries (Buffalo at Toronto, Boston at Florida, San Jose at Calgary and Vancouver at Los Angeles), and two games will be contested between squads currently qualifying for the playoffs (Boston at Florida and Washington at Anaheim).

Although Alex Tanguay is making his first return to the Pepsi Center since being traded to Arizona at the deadline, the game that attracts my attention is the BostonFlorida game, as it is currently an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

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Tonight’s game will be Boston‘s 15th in the DtFR Game of the Day series, where they own a 5-8-1 record, with their most recent being a 4-1 loss to the Lightning on February 28.  Florida has been featured only six times before tonight’s game, and own a 4-2-0 record in such games.  Their most recent showing in the series was almost exactly a month ago, a three-goal shutout loss in Detroit on February 8.

The 36-23-7 Boston Bruins currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played one of the strongest offenses in the game, but the defense ranks 12th worst.

Led by Patrice Bergeron’s 222 shots, the Bruins have fired the puck a solid 2070 times, with an even better 9.6% finding the back of the net for 202 goals (led by Brad Marchand’s 33 tallies), third most in the league.  Part of the reason for that success can certainly be attributed to the power play, as their 21.13% success rate, good for 41 power play goals (led by Bergeron’s 10 extra man tallies), ranks eighth best in the NHL.

It has been the defense that has been the issue for the Bruins this year.  Even with Kevan Miller’s 103 blocks, Boston has allowed 2016 shots to reach 26-18-6 Tuukka Rask and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.6% for 180 goals against, 12th most in the league.  That being said, the Bruins still host the 10th best penalty kill in the league, defending 82.19% of their infractions for 39 power play goals against.  Further improving that rate, the penalty kill is also responsible for eight shorthanded goals, led by Marchand’s four.

Boston‘s last game was a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals on Saturday.  With a win tonight, Boston would advance past Florida for the second seed in the Atlantic Division, important for home ice in at least the first round.  They could also be only one point behind Tampa Bay for the division lead, should the Bolts fall to the Flyers.

The 36-21-8 Florida Panthers currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.  The name of the game in Sunrise has been their sixth best defense, paired with the 13th best offense.

Led by Dmitry Kulikov’s 95 blocks, the Panthers have allowed only 1913 shots to reach 27-16-6 Roberto Luongo and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.4% for only 156 goals against, the sixth fewest in the league.  Probably the biggest chink in their armor has been the penalty kill, but that still ranks 10th best in the NHL.  Florida neutralizes 81.19% of opposing power plays for 41 extra man tallies against.

Led by Vincent Trocheck’s 145 shot attempts, Florida has fired the puck only 1815 times, but 9.4% have found the back of the net for 177 goals, 13th most in the league.  This attack is peculiar in that the power play is not an integral part, as Florida‘s 16.44% success rate, good for 37 goals (led by Aleksander Barkov’s eight power play goals), ranks fourth worst in the NHL.

Florida is currently riding a two game losing skid, with their most recent being a 5-1 loss in Arizona on Saturday.  Since the beginning of February, the Panthers have gone 7-6-3, a far cry from their December and January dominance.  Because of this, they have ceded the division lead to the arch-rival Lightning, and run the risk of losing second place with a loss tonight.

Boston currently leads the season series 2-0-0, with their most recent meeting occurring December 12 in Boston, a 3-1 win for the home side.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Boston‘s Marchand (33 goals [third most in the league] and +20 [10th best in the league]) and Rask (four shutouts [tied for fifth most in the league]) & Florida‘s Brian Campbell (+22 [tied for eighth best in the league]) and Luongo (four shutouts [tied for fifth most in the league], .924 save percentage [tied for sixth best in the league] and 27 wins [tied for seventh most in the league]).

I’m always a fan of an underdog, or undercat in Florida‘s case, as they are rarely thought of as a successful club, but I’m worried the Original Six franchise might get the win this evening.  They have the win streak and the season series in their back pocket.  Florida is certainly capable, but I think it will be a Bruins winner.

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