March 17 – Day 157 – No green here

Top o’ the mornin’ to you, or whatever people say today to fool themselves into believing they’re Irish.

I’m obviously infatuated with the holiday.

One thing I actually enjoy is hockey, and I think that’s something we can all get behind. A perfect 10 games are on today’s schedule, starting with Chicago at Buffalo (NHLN) at 1 p.m. and Edmonton at Florida an hour later. 4 p.m. marks the puck drop of New Jersey at Los Angeles, the last matinee of the day. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it four tilts (Montréal at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/SN/TVAS], Boston at Tampa Bay, Philadelphia at Carolina and Ottawa at Columbus [CITY/TVAS2]), while the New York Rangers at St. Louis waits an hour before getting underway. Minnesota at Arizona’s puck drop is scheduled for 9 p.m., and San Jose at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – tonight’s nightcap – sees the green light 60 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Two games stuck out to me at the start of this season, including…

  • Montréal at Toronto: Who cares that the Habs have no shot at winning this game? It’s Original Six action!
  • New York at St. Louis: D Kevin Shattenkirk has played over seven seasons’ worth of games at Scottrade Center, but tonight will be his first in the arena as a visitor. Of note, he won’t be wearing normal road attire tonight, as the Notes are electing to sport their white sweaters at home this evening. Guess that shows how well I’ve paid attention to the Rangers during their decline – Shattenkirk has been sidelined with a knee injury since mid-January.

However, there’s no way anyone can miss the potential title fight going down in Florida this evening.

 

Ooh boy, what a showdown we have today!

Let’s start with the 48-18-4 Lightning, who have sat atop the Eastern Conference for almost every day of the 2017-’18 season. Though it’s been a wee bit stressful (seven of the Bolts’ last 11 games have required extra time), things have been looking up for Tampa Bay lately, as it has earned an impressive 9-1-1 record.

Now, before I jump in talking about how great the Lightning have been lately, we do need to acknowledge there’s a major reason for their offensive explosion. Tampa has allowed a miserable 3.55 goals against per game over its last 11 showings, which just so happens to be the fourth-worst mark in the NHL since February 20. The defense has been abysmal by allowing 35.27 shots against per game ([t]fifth-worst in the league) since February 20, and even the greatness that is 40-13-3 G Andrei Vasilevskiy cannot keep up with that kind of nightly assault.

Fortunately for the Lightning, there’s two ends of the ice and they’re really, really good on that end. Specifically, they have the luxury of employing C Steven Stamkos, who just so happens to be one of those guys that’s pretty good at his job.

Not only has Stamkos posted impressive 27-55-82 totals on the season – already locking himself in as a point-per-game scorer a year removed from a 17-game campaign – but he’s also managed team-leading 3-11-14 marks since February 20.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the weapons Stamkos does as linemates, as both RW Nikita Kucherov and F J.T. Miller have also been stellar lately. With respective 3-11-14 and 5-4-9 totals, both join Stamkos in averaging a point-per-game since February 20 (Kucherov has played only eight games, and Miller seven with Tampa). The Lightning’s current top line has accounted for 10 of the club’s last 42 goals, just short of 25 percent.

Talk about an offensive presence, especially considering the pressure they’ve been under during this defensive lapse. Even with their backs against the wall, the Lightning have managed a (t)second-best goals per game since February 20 with 3.82.

Of course, Tampa is not the only team in the Atlantic Division that knows how to win. Second place 44-17-8 Boston is pretty good in its own right, made evident by its 7-2-0 record in its last nine showings.

What makes this game fun is that the Bruins are effectively a mirror image of the Bolts lately. Though the defensive end has had its lapses lately (Boston has allowed a 13th-worst 3.22 goals per game since February 27), the Bruins have scored an impressive 4.11 goals per game in their past nine games to lead the league since February 27.

Beloved he may not be, but there’s no denying LW Brad Marchand‘s ability to create offense. In his last eight games, Marchand has posted impressive 6-8-14 totals to elevate his season marks to team-leading 30-42-72 numbers.

Joining him in averaging at least a point per game since February 27 are RW David Pastrnak (5-8-13), D Torey Krug (3-7-10), F Riley Nash (3-7-10) and the injured LW Jake Debrusk (2-7-9). With a top line of Marchand, Nash and Pastrnak lining up against Tampa’s best in Miller, Stamkos and Kucherov, it’s hard to tell which team has the upper hand – and that’s even without the help of Boston’s C Patrice Bergeron.

With the Bruins trailing only Tampa in the Eastern standings, the potential playoff implications of this game are pretty easy to discuss.

While the Lightning are the only team in the conference with 100 points to their credit, Boston – which trails by four points – is actually neck-and-neck in the race for home ice through the conference tournament due to its fewer games played. Should the Bruins earn the win tonight, they’ll pull within two points of Tampa Bay with two more tilts against the Bolts and a game in hand.

There’s a major difference between playing the Maple Leafs in the first round and the whichever team ends up as the second wild card, so it goes without saying that both sides in tonight’s game want to emerge victorious.

Even though the end of the regular season is only a few weeks away, tonight’s meeting between the Bolts and Bruins is only their second of the year. The first tilt occurred way back on November 29 at TD Garden, and it went the way of the hosts as Boston survived to earn a 3-2 victory (Krug posted the eventual game-winning goal in the second period when he set the score at 3-0).

If this matchup strikes your fancy, you’re in luck: Boston and Tampa will meet two more times before the year is through. They’ll square off again at TD Garden on March 29, followed six days later by a final southern showdown.

Whether these teams square off in the second round of the postseason or not, this game is definitely a preview of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs as a whole.

But that’s a month from now – who wins today?

I’m leaning towards the Bruins for the simple fact that Boston’s unstoppable offense has the chance to play against a slumping defense. While I don’t expect Tampa to be a pushover at home, the Bruins should come away with two points tonight – even if the game requires more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.


For a game expected to be a defensive matchup, there were a whole lotta goals scored at Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as the San Jose Sharks beat the Calgary Flames 7-4.

This tilt started innocently enough, as only one goal apiece was struck in the first period. First Star of the Game LW Evander Kane (W Jannik Hansen) got the Sharks on the scoreboard with a wrist shot 6 minutes into the game, but W Troy Brouwer (F Curtis Lazar and C Matt Stajan) leveled the game 10:42 later with a snap shot.

Instead, it was the second period where this game took a turn towards the insane with a whopping combined six markers. Calgary took its first lead of the game 2:10 into the period when C Mark Jankowski (RW Garnet Hathaway) scored a wrister, but that advantage lasted only 4:19 before Kane (D Dylan DeMelo and D Brenden Dillon) scored his second of the game to pull San Jose even at 2-2.

Next up on the scorecard is LW Johnny Gaudreau (Third Star W Micheal Ferland and D Michael Stone), who returned another one-goal advantage to the Flames with 9:44 remaining in the period, but RW Kevin Labanc (D Brent Burns) needed only 1:26 before he matched Gaudreau’s tally.

Things started tilting in San Jose’s favor with 3:28 remaining in the second frame, as that’s when Kane (C Chris Tierney) completed his hat trick to give the Sharks their first lead since scoring the opening goal. 1:30 after Kane’s marker, Second Star F Tomas Hertl (D Justin Braun and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal.

There’s pretty goals, and then there’s goals like Hertl’s. Braun advanced the puck into the offensive zone along the right boards before attempting a quick shot to the far post from the face-off circle. G Mike Smith was able to make that save, but Hertl jammed the rebound through the netminder’s legs to set give San Jose a two-goal advantage.

As if a hat trick isn’t enough, Kane (F Joe Pavelski) posted a four-goal night with a tip-in 1:02 into the third period to set the score at 6-3. Ferland (C Sean Monahan and D Dougie Hamilton) was able to strike back with 5:35 remaining in regulation, but the Flames couldn’t muster a fifth – much less a game-tying sixth – goal. That forced Head Coach Glen Gulutzan to pull G David Rittich for an extra attacker, allowing F Eric Fehr (Hertl) to score his second goal of the season on an empty net with 3:58 remaining in the game.

What might be most unbelievable about this final score is that none of these 11 goals were scored with the man-advantage. Talk about some serious five-on-five offense.

G Martin Jones escaped with the victory after saving 30-of-34 shots faced (.882 save percentage), leaving the well-deserved loss to Smith, who saved only 14-of-20 (.7). Smith was lifted following Kane’s third period goal in favor of Rittich, who saved all seven shots he faced for no decision.

San Jose’s victory marks the seventh-straight win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 87-51-19 hosts now have only a 34-point advantage in the series.