All posts by Connor Keith

Hat tricks abound, but Guentzel’s leads Pens to Second Round

 

Philadelphia Flyers fans will argue (with some validity) that it was with some help from the officials, but the Pittsburgh Penguins successfully punched their ticket into the Second Round with an 8-5 victory at Wells Fargo Center in Game 6.

This was a wild back-and-forth affair that wasted no time in getting started, as Second Star of the Game C Sean Couturier needed only 2:15 of action to give Philadelphia an early lead. When D Jamie Oleksiak failed to collect W Bryan Rust‘s pass along the boards, Couturier pounced to beat D Chad Ruhwedel to the corner to G Matt Murray‘s left and took possession.

Couturier backhanded a centering pass towards Murray that he blocked into the center of the zone. That ended up being a very poor decision, as W Wayne Simmonds was able to continue applying the pressure with a wrist shot from right in front of the crease. Murray slowed the puck, but it ended up sitting loose in the blue paint, allowing Couturier to force it home with a wrister.

In all, the Flyers absolutely dominated play for the opening 6:26 of action, as they out-shot Pittsburgh seven-to-two.

That all changed after the first TV timeout though, as Third Star C Sidney Crosby (D Kris Letang and D Brian Dumoulin) cleaned up Letang’s slap shot from the blue line to level the game at the 6:30 mark. G Michal Neuvirth was able to make the initial save, but the Penguins’ set play was designed to give Crosby a rebound opportunity in case the netminder yielded one to his glove side.

Only 47 seconds after Crosby tied the game for the Pens, LW Carl Hagelin (RW Phil Kessel and C Riley Sheahan) took a quick pass from Kessel to give Pittsburgh the advantage. The Flyers defense was largely to blame for this play, as there were two players crashing on Kessel inside the trapezoid to leave the center of the zone wide open for Hagelin. Waiting at the left corner of the crease for Kessel’s pass, Hagelin took advantage of the open shot to beat Neuvirth to the far post.

But the Flyers were far from ready to give up that easily, as they were able to level the game at 2-2 4:12 before the intermission courtesy of D Andrew MacDonald‘s (D Ivan Provorov and Couturier) clapper from the point. MacDonald had the luxury of Simmonds and Oleksiak screening Murray, allowing him to beat the netminder glove side with ease.

Only one penalty was charged in the first period, and it is there where Philadelphians’ critiques of the zebras will begin. It was a wild play around the 17:30 mark of the frame that started with a W Conor Sheary snap shot. With the help of the near post, Neuvirth was able to make the save, and the resulting scrum in front of his crease quickly became a dog-pile of all players Pennsylvanian.

Somehow, only C Scott Laughton was charged with an infraction (interference against C Derick Brassard) with 1:25 remaining in the period, but fortunately for the Flyers it did not cost them their third goal against.

Riding the positive energy from completing the kill in the second period (35 seconds carried across the intermission), Philadelphia reclaimed the lead at the 40 second mark when Couturier (W Matt Read) scored his second of the game. Similar to the first, he had to grind this tally out, as Murray initially appeared to survive the center’s patient pull across his crease. However, Couturier’s backhanded shot eventually squeaked under the netminder and into the back of the net.

In a game filled with goals, the fact that there was 11:34 between Couturier’s tally and Laughton’s (Couturier) long-range snapper was unbelievable. However, the Flyers weren’t complaining one bit, as they earned the first two-goal game of the lead.

Of course, we all know what is said about two-goal leads, so it didn’t take long for the Penguins to begin storming back. RW Patric Hornqvist (First Star F Jake Guentzel and Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within one goal 1:21 after the horn stopped blaring for Laughton by completing some stellar passing with a wrister. Hornqvist had the luxury of a gaping cage due in large part to Guentzel’s well-earned reputation for clutch playoff performances (a point he’d further cement in the third period), as Neuvirth fully committed to stopping any shot the sophomore could attempt on his blocker side.

Speaking of Guentzel’s playoff scoring abilities, he (D Olli Maatta and Hornqvist) was the one responsible for tying the game at 4-4 with 54 seconds remaining in the second period.

Also in that category, Guentzel scored Pittsburgh’s fifth (assist from Kessel at the 30 second mark), sixth (assists from Crosby and Letang at the 12:48 mark) for his second-ever hat trick (both in the playoffs) and seventh goals of the game (assists from Hornqvist and Letang at the 12:58 mark).

It was the game-winning goal where officiating started to look a little fishy. Having already been sent to the penalty box for cross checking Couturier with 9:23 remaining in regulation (then setting up 1:28 of four-on-three play for the Flyers), it seemed like Letang was guilty of a fairly obvious tripping penalty against Couturier along the boards in Philadelphia’s defensive zone. However, play was allowed to continue, allowing Guentzel to bury his slap shot from between the face-off circles past Neuvirth’s glove.

Let the boo birds begin their song.

Surely mad at not getting the call he thought he deserved, Couturier (F Claude Giroux) set the score at 7-5 with 2:53 remaining in regulation to complete his hat trick. Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan challenged for goaltender interference, but it was ruled that Murray was able to play his position after the slight contact from the eventual goalscorer.

Couturier scored with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, and – with his club facing elimination – Head Coach Dave Hakstol employed that strategy once again for any glimmer of hope that his team could score two more goals.

They would not be able to pull that off, but one goal was left to be scored: an empty netter by Rust with 31 seconds remaining in regulation.

Of course, this being the Battle of Pennsylvania, even this simple play could not go off without some gritty play. However, it was Maatta’s blatant cross check against a Flyer at center ice immediately before Rust’s goal that once again drew the ire of the Philly crowd.

Similar to Letang’s, this infraction went “unnoticed” by the officials and the orange-clad fans let them know about – not only with a chorus of boos, but also with rally towels and beer cans of various volumes.

While it is unwise to condone such behavior from fans, it’s hard to argue with their judgement. This was a built-up frustration stemming from the missed Letang penalty (at minimum) that truly could have influenced the outcome of this game, and it boiled over when Maatta’s penalty also went uncalled.

With one rivalry behind them, the Penguins now await the winner of the Columbus-Washington series for Round Two in their quest for a three-peat. The Capitals own a 3-2 advantage going into Game 6, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. Pens fans should tune their televisions to CNBC, SN or TVAS2 to find out which capital their club will square off against next: Ohio’s or the nation’s.

Flyers stave off elimination with gutsy performance

 

Even though the Philadelphia Flyers were out-shot 32-25, they held on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena in Game 5 of their first round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to force Game 6 back at Wells Fargo Center.

After 7-0, 5-1, 5-1 and 5-0 final scores in the first four contests, this rivalry series was more than due for a competitive, back-and-forth game.

Though Philly takes credit for one of those lopsided victories, Game 5 was easily the Metropolitan’s third-place team’s best effort of the postseason so far, and that might be due in large part to the stellar play of G Michal Neuvirth. Earning his first start of the series, he stopped 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), including a dazzling glove save against C Sidney Crosby with 51 seconds remaining in regulation to preserve the Flyers’ then 3-2 lead.

Another Flyer that put it all on the line was First Star of the Game C Sean Couturier. After sitting out Game 4 with an injury suffered in practice at the hands of D Radko Gudas, Couturier (W Wayne Simmonds) scored the game-winning goal with 75 seconds remaining in regulation.

In G Matt Murray‘s defense, Couturier’s goal was a bit of a fluke. However, luck counts just as much as snipes do when they reach the back of the net, so Couturier’s wrister bouncing off D Brian Dumoulin‘s left skate and past the netminder’s glove was what proved to be the deciding tally.

Murray departed the ice for the extra attacker with one minute remaining on the clock (nine seconds before Neuvirth robbed Crosby), and W Matt Read (Second Star F Valtteri Filppula) took advantage with 18 ticks left in the game to score an empty-netter for his first playoff goal since April 25, 2014.

However, all this talk about the Flyers implies they dominated this contest. That is as far from the truth as it gets, as Pittsburgh certainly had its fair share of scoring opportunities. That was no more true than the first period, but the solid play by Neuvirth meant Philly was the only side to register a marker in the frame.

F Claude Giroux (RW Jakub Voracek and Filppula) took credit for the tally with a slap shot from between the face-off circles with 2:31 remaining in the period. It was an opportunistic goal for the Flyers, as the stoppage of play before Giroux’ tally was to allow F Evgeni Malkin to get off the ice after C Jori Lehtera landed awkwardly on his left leg.

Malkin would return to action following the first intermission, but was not able to score even one point to help Pittsburgh’s predicament.

Instead, it was Third Star W Bryan Rust (W Conor Sheary and C Derick Brassard) that snapped Neuvirth’s 13-save shutout with eight minutes remaining in the second period to tie the game at 1-1.

Though PPG Paints Arena never fell fully silent, Rust’s goal brought the crowd roaring back to life, and that positive energy translated to the ice 4:45 later when F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and F Dominik Simon) buried a wrister on Neuvirth to give Pittsburgh a one-goal advantage.

However, that excitement was sucked out of the building just as fast, as Guentzel’s tally was not the final one of the frame. Even though Gudas’ holding penalty against F Zach Aston-Reese with 2:58 remaining in the period had given the Penguins the man-advantage, a sloppy giveaway by RW Phil Kessel ended with Filppula flying towards Murray’s crease. The 2008 Stanley Cup Champion dropped a pass to Lehtera, but he ended up being the one scoring the shorthanded goal by scrapping out a wrister from within the crease.

Still facing elimination, the Flyers will host Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday, April 22. Puck drop is scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern, and fans not in attendance can catch the action on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Having spoiled the opportunity to clinch a spot in the Eastern Semifinals on home, the Penguins will surely be a bit angry when they travel east this weekend. However, they have the luxury of knowing they’ve won four-straight games at Wells Fargo Center and will continue to play with the confidence expected from a reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champion.

Road team wins again, CBJ-WSH series leveled at two

 

After winning Game 4 at Nationwide Arena 4-1, the Washington Capitals have salvaged losing Games 1 and 2 to reclaim home-ice advantage in their Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The first two periods of this game were so exciting, even people with insomnia were falling asleep with ease. Whether that was due to lazy offense by Columbus or incredible defense by Washington (the Blue Jackets managed only 15 shots in opening 40 minutes), the fans at Nationwide Arena had very little to get excited about.

Playing a major role in hampering the Jackets’ offense all night was none other than D Brooks Orpik, who blocked a (t)game-high four shots (D Seth Jones matched him in that effort for Columbus), and Third Star of the Game RW Tom Wilson with his team-leading three hits.

Perhaps Columbus’ best scoring opportunity of either of the first two periods came with 5:37 remaining in the opening frame. LW Artemi Panarin had not one, but two shots from prime real estate right in front of G Braden Holtby‘s crease, but the netminder rejected both offerings to keep his young shutout alive.

However, that’s not so say there wasn’t any offense in those periods, as there were two goals struck – but both those markers belonged to the visiting Capitals. Wilson (First Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov) took credit for the first tally at the 6:16 mark of the first period with a slap shot from the top of the zone, followed by F T.J. Oshie‘s (Second Star W Alex Ovechkin and D John Carlson) power play wrist shot 23:03 later.

Oshie’s play started at the 8:49 mark of the second period when Panarin was caught slashing Kuznetsov. Washington’s resulting man advantage lasted only 30 seconds before its third-ranked postseason power play achieved its goal of setting the score at 2-0. After both Carlson’s and Ovechkin’s offerings were rejected by G Sergei Bobrovsky, Oshie collected the loose puck in the slot and beat the netminder’s glove to the far post.

While Oshie’s tally will go down as the game-winner (the fourth of his playoff career), Ovechkin’s (Kuznetsov and Wilson) wrister 2:49 into the third period proved to be the most important goal of the game. Not only was it the Caps’ purest snipe of the night (Ovi elevated his shot from the right face-off dot over Bobrovsky’s glove to beat him near side), but it also forced Head Coach John Tortorella to pull Bobrovsky for an extra attacker even earlier than he would have liked.

But more on that after we discuss the Blue Jackets’ lone goal of the game: a redirection on RW Josh Anderson‘s clapper from above the left face-off circle by F Boone Jenner. For the first time in 46:22 of action, Jackets fans finally had something to cheer about – and cheer they did. Nationwide Arena sounded like it did Tuesday during Game 3, and Columbus rode that positive energy to firing nine shots on goal in the third period – the most it managed in any frame all game.

Just when it seemed like the party was beginning to die down, Bobrovsky ramped the fans back up with an impressive glove save on Ovechkin at the 8:46 mark after The Great 8 earned a one-on-one matchup against the netminder with a long breakaway.

However, all good things must come to an end, and that end started when Tortorella pulled Bobrovksy with 3:29 remaining in regulation.

If only Ovechkin hadn’t scored scored earlier in the third period and the Jackets were only trailing by one instead of two, maybe the Russian goaltender would have still been in the net when Kuznetsov came up with the puck with 2:19 remaining in the game. However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and that ended up in Kuznetsov’s favor as he buried an unassisted wrister from the blue line to set the score at 4-1 with his third goal of the series.

Holtby earned the victory after saving 23-of-24 shots faced (.958 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

After winning two games in Washington and having the tempting “sweep” word on the mind, the Blue Jackets need to regroup in a similar way the Caps did when the series transitioned to Ohio. If they don’t show a positive effort in Game 5, Columbus may be forced to wait another year to taste a playoff series victory.

Scheduled for a 3 p.m. Eastern matinee puck drop, the aforementioned Game 5 will go down on Saturday, April 21 at Capital One Arena. Viewers should tune their televisions to NBC, NBCSN, SN or TVAS to catch the action.

Preds survive Colorado comeback; win away from Second Round

 

With a 3-2 victory at Pepsi Center, the Nashville Predators have taken a commanding 3-1 advantage in their First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche.

All three periods had a very distinct character in this tilt. Act One featured the Predators team that many were predicting could win the Stanley Cup during the offseason, followed by a second period that saw both clubs’ emotions boil over. Finally, Colorado mounted an exciting comeback in the third frame that fell just short of forcing overtime.

Let’s tackle them in that order, shall we?

Perhaps the most boring of the three periods was the first, but that is more a compliment to the second and third frames than it’s an insult to the opening 20 minutes.

G Jonathan Bernier in particular experienced a very quick introduction to Game 4, as he took a W Viktor Arvidsson slap shot to the mask only 22 seconds into the match. In fact, the clapper was so forceful that it damaged the cage through which Bernier peers, forcing him to swap his mask for his blank head gear worn at practice while Avalanche Head Equipment Manager Mark Miller made the necessary repairs.

However, Miller was far from the center of attention while he was working, as the Avs unwisely ended up with D Patrik Nemeth (closing hand on puck) and F Carl Soderberg (hi-sticking against C Nick Bonino) both occupying the penalty box at the same time whilst he was working, resulting in a 2:41 Predators power play that included 1:19 of five-on-three action.

It seems that Bernier’s blank mask is his good luck charm when it comes to facing such tough tasks, as the scoreless draw that was on the scoreboard when Nemeth entered the sin bin remained when Soderberg was released. However, for fear of wearing out any positive juju the mask may contain, Bernier swapped out masks once again for his usual duds at the next stoppage of play.

If you’re one to buy into any sort of thing like that, then perhaps you’d think Bernier should have stuck with the white headgear considering First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (F Ryan Johansen and Third Star D Mattias Ekholm) scored a wrist shot with 4:27 remaining in the first period to score Nashville’s first game-opening goal of the series.

That being said, I highly doubt Bernier’s mask played too much into Forsberg’s strike, as D Duncan Siemens – playing in only his third-career Stanley Cup Playoff game after being one of Colorado’s first-round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – was little more than dead weight in his attempt to slow down his opposition. The forward dragged Siemens along as he drove toward Bernier’s crease before patiently depositing his wrister behind the netminder’s left skate.

Due in large part to the extended power play, the Predators dominated the first period in a far stronger fashion than a 1-0 score hints at. Nashville out-shot the Avs 15-8 – nearly doubling the hosts’ offensive offerings.

Inversely, even though the Predators added two more goals in the second frame, it didn’t seem like either team had much of an upper hand on the other in the middle 20 minutes.

That was due in large part to the Predators taking five penalties to Colorado’s three, including a 24-second five-on-three opportunity that effectively amounted to a 3:36 extended power play for the Avalanche.

Just like the Preds, Colorado was unable to convert neither that two-man advantage nor any other second period power play into a goal, which played right into the hands of Nashville. 47 seconds after F Colton Sissons was released from the penalty box (he was guilty of playing the puck with his hand at the face-off dot), he (Forsberg and Ekholm) scored a wrister at the 7:18 mark of the frame to double the Predators’ advantage to two goals.

Just in case Colorado didn’t learn the error of its ways the first time in losing track of penalized players returning to action, F Craig Smith (F Austin Watson) reiterated the lesson with 8:11 remaining in the third period. Having been released from serving RW Ryan Hartman‘s roughing penalty against W Sven Andrighetto only seven seconds before, Smith collected a loose puck at center ice and proceeded to rip a wrister over Bernier’s glove.

Speaking of Hartman, he kind of went berserk at the 9:41 mark of the frame – hence the reason he roped Smith into the box with him to help serve his penalties. Just seconds before the the events leading up to the infractions, Andrighetto borderline speared Smith near his midsection while both were working their ways towards G Pekka Rinne‘s zone. This sent Hartman well over the edge, as he dropped the gloves at the next stoppage of play and pounced on Andrighetto without waiting for the Swiss to agree to fight.

As a result, Hartman was charged with holding the stick and roughing, while Andrighetto only took a roughing penalty to give Colorado the two-minute power play that featured RW Mikko Rantanen getting severely cut below the eye by F Nathan MacKinnon‘s stick (Rantanen returned to play before the end of the frame) and led to Smith’s goal.

To complete our conversation about unruly penalties, it wasn’t only Andrighetto and Hartman allowing their tempers to get the best of them. Ekholm and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog were charged with negating penalties with 6:32 remaining in the period (slashing and roughing, respectively), and F Alexander Kerfoot‘s roughing infraction against Rinne held over into the third period.

It’s Kerfoot’s penalty that really made Head Coach Jared Bednar’s reluctant decision to replace Bernier with G Andrew Hammond –  another product of the F Matt Duchene trade, for those keeping track at home – even harder to make. However, it was announced that Bernier suffered a lower-body injury, meaning it was time once again for the Hamburglar to take over the NHL.

If only one period of action is enough evidence (it isn’t), the Avs are no worse off defensively in Game 5 with Hammond than they were with Bernier. After the backup-turned-starter saved 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage) in the first two frames, the former Senator saved all eight shots that came his way in the final period.

Colorado finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:20 mark of the third period when Landeskog (F Tyson Jost and D Tyson Barrie) buried the lone power play goal of the game, a five-on-three wrister with Hartman and Sissons in the penalty box for charging Soderberg and tripping F J.T. Compher, respectively.

The comeback continued with 8:59 remaining in regulation when Kerfoot (W Matthew Nieto and D Nikita Zadorov) pulled the Avs back within a goal on a wrister. Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette challenged for goalie interference against W Blake Comeau – and likely should have won the challenge considering Comeau’s skate made contact with Rinne before the puck even reached him – but the NHL is the NHL and decided to keep the marker on the board.

Regardless, even though the Avs fired a total of 11 shots at Rinne in the third period, he did not yield the game-tying goal. In all, Rinne saved 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage) to earn his first road playoff victory since Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Anaheim on May 20, 2017.

Speaking of road wins, Colorado’s offense cannot afford to fall in another 3-0 hole in Game 5 in Nashville if it wants to extend its postseason any further. After all, the Avs have only won one of the three games in which they scored the first goal.

After a quick plane ride from the Rocky Mountains to the Smokies, Game 5 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, April 20 and will take place at Bridgestone Arena. The match can be viewed on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS.

Avs score three in first period, take Game 3

 

The old saying goes that a team is never behind in a playoff series until it loses a home match. With that in mind, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to win Game 3 and pull within a victory of leveling their First Round series.

The good news for the Predators is that G Juuse Saros saved all 18 shots he faced in his 33:34 of action.

The bad news is, of course, that he didn’t start the game.

Instead, that honor was bestowed upon G Pekka Rinne, who saved only 11-of-15 (.733 save percentage) before being lifted at the 4:25 mark of the second period.

Going back to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, this was the third-consecutive road playoff game that saw Rinne get chased from the crease, not to mention his fourth-consecutive road playoff loss.

The Avs have made a living in this series pouncing on Rinne early, and that trend was only magnified with the luxury of home ice when they buried three markers before the first intermission.

Just like in Games 1 and 2, the Avs scored the first goal when Third Star of the Game W Blake Comeau (F Carl Soderberg and W Matthew Nieto) buried a tip-in only 1:50 into play – Colorado’s first shot on net in the contest. That advantage doubled to two goals with 6:36 remaining in the frame when W Gabriel Bourque (D Patrik Nemeth and F J.T. Compher) scored another tip-in from a similar position as Comeau’s tally: right in front of Rinne’s crease.

Not to be outdone by his own bottom-six, First Star F Nathan MacKinnon made sure to get on the scoreboard 4:43 after Bourque’s marker by scoring a wrist shot with a breakaway-springing assist from Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog.

MacKinnon’s next act not only proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Rinne, but it also ended up as the game-winning goal by the time the Predators’ comeback attempt was said and done.

4:22 into the second period, RW Mikko Rantanen did his best Serge Savard spin-o-rama impression to fire a centering pass from along the goal line. However, Landeskog was not able to corral the pass and the puck trickled towards the high slot. C Kyle Turris had an opportunity to take possession of the loose puck, but it bounced over his stick to MacKinnon, who was sure to pocket his wrister over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Now with a comfortable 4-0 advantage, Colorado made it its job to weather whatever resurgence Nashville was going to assuredly muster up. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work to perfection when Nemeth and D Nikita Zadorov were both sent to the penalty box at the 9:27 mark of the second frame for respective cross checking and hooking penalties.

Handed a full two minutes of five-on-three play, the Preds did exactly what any good squad would do and took advantage of that opportunity. Nashville finally got on the scoreboard with 9:37 remaining in the second period to pull within a 4-1 deficit courtesy of a F Ryan Johansen (F Filip Forsberg and D Ryan Ellis) wrister.

While Nemeth was serving up the remainder of his penalty, G Jonathan Bernier decided it would be really neat to make a save with his neck. Ellis’ shot rode up on him and would have sneaked by had the netminder not squeezed the puck between his head and shoulder pads. As would be expected, Bernier took a second to recover from the play, but he stayed in the game.

Even though no more scoring occurred in the second frame after Johansen’s marker, Pepsi Center’s scoreboard operator still had much to do. Four more penalties occurred before the second intermission. Three of those infractions were against the Predators, including negating holding penalties between MacKinnon and D P.K. Subban. What doesn’t make the scorecard is why MacKinnon was holding Subban in the first place, as the Nova Scotian was on the receiving end of a questionable elbow. These teams are growing increasingly displeased with each other, and that is made even more apparent when the heavily-favored Predators struggle to get past Bernier and the Avs.

The closest Nashville got to a third period comeback occurred at the 7:12 mark when F Colton Sissons (D Roman Josi and Ellis) buried a wrister, but the Predators couldn’t make anything more out of that positive energy. That forced Head Coach Peter Laviolette to pull Saros for an extra attacker, allowing Landeskog (Rantanen and D Mark Barberio) to score an empty-netter with 1:36 remaining in regulation.

F Austin Watson did score a wrister 21 seconds later that was challenged for goaltender interference, but Toronto ruled it to be a good goal. Of course, it didn’t ultimately matter, as the Predators were unable to score two goals to level the game.

The Avalanche’s comeback is far from done, however. Game 4 is still an important match in this playoff series, as the Predators could go home with either a 2-2 tie or needing only one more win to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 4 is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, April 18 at Pepsi Center. Fans can catch the game on NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Columbus sitting pretty with 2-0 lead

 

Another overtime game, another Columbus Blue Jackets victory, as they beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 to take a two-tilt advantage going into Game 3.

Even though it was challenged for offsides, First Star of the Game LW Matt Calvert (D Zach Werenski and RW Josh Anderson) scored his fourth career postseason goal – and second-ever playoff overtime winner – to etch his name into Jackets lore on an elevated wrist shot to the near post from along the goal line with 7:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

For a franchise that has never escaped the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blue Jackets are a mighty confident team right now. Going back to the regular season, Columbus has earned a 15-2-2 record in its last 19 games played and is showing no signs of slowing down yet.

That being said, tonight was not a game in which Columbus dominated play. That was made apparent right from the opening puck drop, as F Jay Beagle (D Brooks Orpik and D Jakub Jerabek) scored Washington’s first shot on goal to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage. That lead doubled to two 11:14 later when Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (D John Carlson and F T.J. Oshie) scored a power play slap shot from his usual spot in the left face-off circle.

In all, the Capitals out-shot the Blue Jackets 58-30, earning a dominating 28-shot differential that effectively demonstrated just how much action was taking place in G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s end.

However, it was the incredible play of Bobrovsky – who saved 54-of-58 shots faced (.931 save percentage) and earns the honorary DtFR Fourth Star – that not only kept the Jackets alive defensively, but also allowed Columbus to set up an effective counterattack on numerous occasions.

Enter Second Star RW Cam Atkinson with 1:35 remaining in the first period. Having been the Jacket called for the goalie interference penalty that allowed Ovechkin to find the back of the net 4:59 earlier, Atkinson (F Nick Foligno) collected a long stretch pass that crossed both blue lines to beat G Philipp Grubauer‘s left skate to the post with a wrister, pulling Columbus back within a goal.

Even though it came late in the period, Atkinson’s play signified a major turning point in this game. The tally came on the heels of the conclusion of two minutes of four-on-four play (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and F Evgeny Kuznetsov were charged with corresponding slashing minors) that certainly boosted the confidence of Columbus’ defense.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Washington to try to reclaim control after the intermission – and it did with a little help from F Brandon Dubinsky, who accidentally removed Carlson’s helmet with a hi-stick while hitting W Devante Smith-Pelly.

The power play is usually Ovechkin’s (C Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson) time to shine, and he didn’t disappoint by burying another one of his patented clappers at the 4:09 mark of the frame – only eight seconds after Dubinsky took his seat in the sin bin.

However, a two-goal advantage is all the Caps could manage, as the Jackets started to turn the tides in their favor to score three goals before the second intermission.

Getting back to the counterattack point from earlier, Anderson (Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) was the next beneficiary at the 8:49 mark of the frame. After W Brett Connolly fell down in the corner to Bobrovsky’s right, Anderson pounced on the newly vacated puck to set up a five-on-two rush for Columbus. With such a man-advantage, it’s no surprise that the Jackets were able to pass the puck back-and-forth enough times to confuse Grubauer and pull themselves back within a one-goal differential.

The theme of Game 1 was unwise and untimely penalties, and the Capitals decided to reprise that story line for the remainder of the second frame with two such infractions that resulted in Columbus goals.

First was a RW Tom Wilson roughing penalty against D Seth Jones with 9:24 remaining in the period. Like so often happens in a hockey game – regardless of if it is in the regular season or playoffs – there was a little scrum in front of Grubauer’s net after he froze the puck. However, Wilson took offense to this one in particular and elected to literally jump into the fray and take Jones down to the ice. In turn, Atkinson (Panarin and Jones) made his stay in the penalty box only 37 seconds long after tying the game with a power play wrister.

Old habits die hard, so it only makes sense that Smith-Pelly was sent to the box with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission for a holding the stick penalty. This power play lasted 1:12, but the net result as the same: Werenski (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and Panarin) scoring another goal for the Blue Jackets, giving them their first lead of the night.

With the rumored hockey gods distributing power play goals like Oprah gives away household appliances, it’s only logical that the Capitals would be handed one last opportunity to level the game when Werenski flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game infraction with 4:51 remaining in regulation.

Still looking for his first goal of the 2018 postseason, Oshie (Backstrom and Carlson) capitalized on the man-advantage to bury a power play snap shot, tying the game at 4-4 with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

But wait, there’s more! After Oshie scored, F Boone Jenner didn’t like him very much so he tripped him with 1:59 remaining in regulation. That’s right, ladies and gentleman: Jenner decided to give the regular season’s seventh-best power play a shot at winning this game in regulation.

Fortunately for Jenner, he escaped the wrath of Head Coach John Tortorella when Wilson absolutely whiffed on an excellent opportunity, allowing the game to advance into overtime which eventually ended in Columbus’ favor.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Braden Holtby takes the overtime loss after saving seven-of-eight shots faced (.875 save percentage) in the third period and overtime. He replaced Grubauer, who saved 18-of-22 (.818) and earned no decision, following the second intermission.

Of note, W Andre Burakovsky suffered an upper body injury on his first shift of the game, meaning the Capitals played almost the entire contest with only 11 forwards. It remains to be seen what his status for Game 3 and beyond will be for Washington.

After a short flight west to Central Ohio, Game 3 will take place at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, April 17 at Nationwide Arena. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canada will be serviced by SN360 and TVAS.

Flyers even series with dominant effort by Elliott

 

No matter how many shots the Pittsburgh Penguins fired at Second Star of the Game G Brian Elliott, he would not yield as he led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena in Game 2.

When Head Coach Dave Hakstol elected to start his second line at the opening puck drop, C Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took advantage to fire two quick shots on goal. It seemed like the Pens were in line to dominate this game in a similar fashion as Game 1.

However, Elliott was there to make both saves, as well as 32 others. In all, the man known as Moose saved 34-of-35 shots faced, earning an impressive .971 save percentage.

The lone goal Elliott allowed belonged to RW Patric Hornqvist (D Justin Schultz and D Brian Dumoulin) at the 5:27 mark of the third period, then setting the score at 4-1 and not putting the final result of this tilt into question.

At the other end of the rink, this game was all about the numerous goals G Matt Murray and his defense allowed – especially when First Star C Sean Couturier, who scored three points, was on the ice.

There were major concerns coming into these playoffs that either Pittsburgh’s defense or goaltending  – and perhaps a combination of both – could be its ultimate demise. Even though Murray quelled some of those worries with his shutout in Game 1, those doubts were fully realized when Philadelphia converted 25 percent of its 20 shots on goal into tallies on the scoreboard.

The first of those belonged to D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Claude Giroux and Couturier), who took advantage of F Zach Aston-Reese sitting in the sin bin for boarding Third Star D Ivan Provorov to redirect a power play shot past Murray with 37 seconds remaining in the first period.

Couturier (Provorov and W Michael Raffl) bounced a shot off D Kris Letang to set the Flyers’ advantage at 2-0 47 seconds into the second period, but Philadelphia did most of its offensive damage in the third frame.

F Travis Konecny (RW Wayne Simmonds and Provorov) needed only 89 seconds of third period play to find the Flyers’ third goal of the game. 2:21 after Konecny’s tally, Hornqvist found a seat in the penalty box for roughing C Nolan Patrick to set up Philly’s final goal against Murray. As luck have it, Patrick (Couturier and RW Jakub Voracek) cashed in on the power play, scoring a wrist shot to set the score at 4-0.

The Flyers’ final goal of the contest belonged to D Andrew MacDonald (C Jori Lehtera), who scored a long-range wrister on an empty net to set the 5-1 final score.

Murray saved only 15-of-19 shots faced (.789 save percentage) in the loss. He’ll obviously need to improve on that mark if Pittsburgh wants any chance of advancing beyond the first round.

After making the quick trip across the commonwealth, Game 3 will take place at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, April 15 at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Costly penalties abound; Jackets win 4-3 in overtime

 

In a contest filled with a combined 29 penalty minutes and four power play goals, the Columbus Blue Jackets earned a 4-3 overtime victory to beat the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in Game 1 of their first round matchup.

With the exception of this being the first overtime match of the 2018 postseason, easily the biggest story coming out of this game is RW Josh Anderson‘s boarding penalty against D Michal Kempny with 2:37 remaining in the first period. Kempny struggled to return to his skates after the hit and never returned to the game, earning Anderson a match penalty (and a probable call from the Department of Player Safety if D Drew Doughty‘s one-game suspension is any indication) and the Capitals a five-minute power play.

Having managed only four shots on goal in their first two power plays against Columbus’ (t)fifth-worst regular season penalty kill, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov took matters into his own hands to score two goals in the first 58 seconds of Anderson’s infraction. Both markers, which set the score at 2-0, were a result of primary apples from C Nicklas Backstrom and hockey assists by Third Star D John Carlson.

However, the man-advantage didn’t just favor the hosts, as the Blue Jackets also earned themselves a pair of power play markers in the third period – including the tally that forced overtime.

RW Tom Wilson was caught charging D Ryan Murray 1:18 into the third period, and W Thomas Vanek (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and First Star LW Artemi Panarin) needed only 13 seconds of the man-advantage to tie the game at 2-2 with a wrist shot (C Alexander Wennberg [F Boone Jenner and Vanek] got the Jackets on the board with a second period even-strength goal).

Even though Washington regained a one-goal lead at the 5:12 mark when W Devante Smith-Pelly (LW Jakub Vrana and Carlson) scored a wrister, another Capitals penalty – this one an W Andre Burakovsky tripping infraction against D Seth Jones – proved to really send the hosts off the rails.

Burakovsky was sent to the sin bin with 5:05 remaining in regulation with a two-minute sentence, but Jones (Panarin and RW Cam Atkinson) – the very man he tripped – found it in him to post his bail after serving only 39 seconds of confinement by scoring a wrister.

Forgiveness is a fickle thing in the NHL, isn’t it?

Speaking of forgiveness, the Capitals will be begging for it from Head Coach Barry Trotz before too long considering how easily Panarin (D Ian Cole and Dubois) was able to get into position to rip his overtime wrister over G Philipp Grubauer‘s left shoulder.

Upon receiving Cole’s falling pass from Columbus’ zone, Panarin sped along the left boards – dodging D Dmitry Orlov in the process – to end up on Grubauer’s front porch. Instead of being patient and attempting to drag the play across the crease, Panarin elected to elevate his wrister from the slot to beat the netminder to the far post.

G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Grubauer, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

With the obvious goal of limiting penalties in Game 2, the energy levels of both teams – specifically Columbus’ offense and Washington’s defense – will be of much interest. Playing almost the entire game short a skater can be extremely taxing, and everyone involved will surely be grateful for the extra day off before returning to Capital One Arena.

Speaking of Game 2,  it’s scheduled for Sunday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. For those that can’t make it to Capital One Arena, the tilt will be broadcast on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS2.

Crosby nets hat trick, Pens take Game 1

 

During the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins scored five goals in each contest against the Philadelphia Flyers to sweep the four-game series. In Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena, they continued their dominance of their bitter rivals by beating them 7-0.

No player was brighter than First Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby, who registered his first hat trick since March 19, 2017 and his first in the postseason since May 17, 2013 by registering the final three tallies of the game.

Crosby’s (D Brian Dumoulin and Second Star F Jake Guentzel) first goal was struck at the 9:01 mark of the second period, and it just might be his most exemplary of the season. Dumoulin attempted to fire a shot on goal from the left point, but it was deflected into the air by W Wayne Simmonds. However, that was no matter for Crosby, who backhanded the puck over G Brian Elliott‘s left shoulder to then set the score at 5-0.

Having chased Elliott following his first goal, the captain completed his performance with two third period markers in the span of 3:01 against G Petr Mrazek. A Crosby (D Justin Schultz and Guentzel) wrist shot at the 7:41 mark gave Pittsburgh a six-goal advantage, and he (Dumoulin) followed it up with a tip-in with 9:18 remaining in regulation to earn himself some free headwear.

Of course, by scoring the final three goals of a lopsided game, it’s hard to say that Crosby’s effort was little more than icing on the cake for Pittsburgh. Instead, W Bryan Rust (D Kris Letang and Guentzel) takes credit for the game-winner by scoring a wrister 2:38 into the game.

The Pens continued applying the pressure 7:29 later when LW Carl Hagelin (RW Patric Hornqvist and C Riley Sheahan) scored a slick deflection to the near post, followed by F Evgeni Malkin‘s (Hagelin) backhander with 5:51 remaining in the frame.

Guentzel (C Derick Brassard and W Conor Sheary) took credit for the final goal before Crosby took command of the attack, then setting the score at 4-0 with a power play tip-in.

At risk of being forgotten in all this offense is Third Star G Matt Murray, who also played a major role in this game. He saved all 24 shots he faced – including more than a few beauties – to register his third-consecutive postseason shutout, going back to Game 5 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals against the Nashville Predators.

By comparison, Elliott saved 14-of-19 shots faced (.737 save percentage) in the loss, while Mrazek took no-decision after saving 12-of-14 (.857).

The Flyers are going to learn very quickly that out-hitting the Penguins is a one-way trip to booking tee times at Merion Golf Club. Even though Philadelphia outhit Pittsburgh 39-27, the Flyers were unable to slow down their speedy rivals.

This is no surprise to Penguins fans. Going back to the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, Pittsburgh now has a 6-4 postseason record in games where its opponent throws more hits, including a perfect 3-0 mark when the Pens are out-hit by eight or more.

Game 2 is scheduled for Friday, April 13 at 7 p.m. Eastern. For those that can’t make it to PPG Paints Arena, the tilt will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

April 8 – Day 179 – This is the end, beautiful friend

Originally left as an off day in preparation for the postseason, a nasty Nor’easter on January 4 has turned Florida at Boston’s (NHLN/SN/SN360) showdown, postponed until tonight at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, into the NHL’s regular season finale.

 

With Philadelphia eliminating the 43-30-8 Panthers from playoff contention yesterday, this game is all about the 50-19-12 Bruins and their ability to claim first place in the Eastern Conference.

Thanks to the Lightning losing in overtime yesterday to the Hurricanes, a win of any variety tonight earns Boston home ice throughout the Eastern playoffs and a date with the New Jersey Devils in the first round.

Inversely, a loss of any variety tonight leaves the Bruins in second place in the Atlantic Division with a first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even though an overtime or shootout loss would tie the Bruins with Tampa Bay at 113 points, the fact that the Bolts currently have one more regulation+overtime victory means they would hold on to their spot atop the conference.

For Boston to claim that coveted spot atop the Eastern mountain, it needs to keep playing like it did yesterday instead of continuing in the form its assumed for the rest of April. The Bruins have posted only a 1-2-1 record since Easter Sunday, a run that surely doesn’t inspire confidence going into the playoffs.

Offense has not been the Bruins’ friend since since flipping the calendar to April. Even though Boston managed five goals in yesterday’s victory over the Senators, it has still averaged only 2.5 goals per game since April 1, the fifth-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

Boston’s struggles are certainly not the fault of F Danton Heinen. The rookie has played exceptionally from the second line over his last four games, posting 2-2-4 totals to improve his season marks to 16-31-47. Additionally, F David Backes has also been well outperforming his 13-19-32 season numbers in these last four outings, as he has 1-2-3 marks to show for his month of April.

Instead, I’m much more concerned with the scoring struggles of LW Brad Marchand (34-51-85 season totals), C David Krejci (17-26-43) and LW Jake Debrusk (16-27-43). All three skaters rank among the Bruins’ seven best point producers, yet they combine for only three points over these last four games – none of which were goals, an especially important note in regards to Marchand, who’s 34 markers tie RW David Pastrnak for most on the team.

If there’s any team in the NHL primed to play spoiler, it’s the Panthers, who are riding a four-game winning streak.

There may not be a hotter goaltender in the NHL right now than 18-11-2 G Roberto Luongo. Even though the defense in front of him has allowed a whopping 36 shots against per game since April 2 – a mark that’s (t)fourth-worst in the NHL in that time – the Panthers have allowed only two goals against per game during that run to rank (t)second-best in the league.

Considering his stats in his last three starts (he didn’t play in yesterday’s game against the Sabres), Luongo is the only reason for Florida’s defensive success lately – and really for the season as a whole. Since April 2, the Montréal native has managed a stellar .951 save percentage and 1.67 GAA, both marks that are well superior to his .929 save percentage and 2.48 GAA on the year.

If there’s any concern this team won’t have the heart to compete tonight after their impressive playoff qualification run came up just short, those doubts were squashed in last night’s 4-3 home victory over the Sabres. The only reason the score ended so close is because Buffalo scored three goals on 21 shots (not a surprise considering the Panthers’ previously mentioned horrid defense) on 21-14-6 G James Reimer‘s goal in the third period, but the Panthers made sure to reward their fans for their support with two points.

Even if a few Panthers are held out of this effectively meaningless game due to some lingering injuries that are no longer worth playing through, I don’t expect Florida’s competitive drive to dull.

So far this season, home ice has played a pivotal role in determining a winner between these clubs. In the two games it hosted at BB&T Center, Florida earned two points apiece, starting with March 15’s 3-0 victory (Reimer earned the shutout with a perfect 46-save performance). Most recently, the Panthers claimed a 3-2 win on April 5 (C Jared McCann provided the game-winner in the third period).

However, the Bruins’ den – better known as TD Garden – was not a friendly environment for the Panthers last weekend, as Boston took a dominant 5-1 decision on March 31 (DeBrusk’s two-goal, three-point effort led the way for the Bruins).

It’s never a good thing for a struggling offense to be going up against a red-hot goaltender, especially one that has a Jennings Trophy on his résumé. Even though the games between these sides have favored the team playing at home, there’s a real chance Luongo could keep the Bruins from claiming first in the conference.


With a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues at Pepsi Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Colorado Avalanche clinched their first playoff berth in four seasons.

In the first period, no one stole the show quite like G Jake Allen. He very nearly saved all 12 shots he faced in the period – many of which were reminiscent of his 2015-16 campaign. However, with 46 seconds remaining in the first period, First Star of the Game D Samuel Girard (W Blake Comeau and F Carl Soderberg) got the Avalanche on the scoreboard with a slap shot.

Colorado didn’t take nearly as long to find its second goal, as D Tyson Barrie (RW Mikko Rantanen and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog) buried a power play clapper 6:11 into the second period that, though it was challenged for offsides, doubled the Avs’ advantage. After killing off the delay of game penalty resulting from the failed challenge, F Jaden Schwartz (D Alex Pietrangelo and F Brayden Schenn) scored a power play tip-in of his own with 7:32 remaining in the period to pull St. Louis back within a one-goal deficit. However, Schwartz’ tally didn’t prove to be the final goal of the second frame, and the one that was ended up being the all-important game-winner.

Entering this game, F Nathan MacKinnon had been riding a nine-game goalless skid. That all changed 3:02 before the second intermission, as he (Landeskog) took advantage of the open space caused by four-on-four play to beat Allen bar down to the far post with a wrist shot from below the left face-off dot.

With only 4:35 remaining in the Blues’ season, Head Coach Mike Yeo was forced to pull Allen for an extra attacker. 1:12 later, Landeskog (MacKinnon) scored a wrister on an empty net to set the score at 4-1. With nothing left to lose, Allen departed the ice once again with 3:16 remaining in regulation, with Schenn (Schwartz and F Patrik Berglund) finding success this time to pull St. Louis back within two goals. However, W Matt Nieto’s (Soderberg) wrister on an empty net with nine seconds remaining in the game set the 5-2 final score.

Third Star G Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 32-of-34 shots faced (.941 save percentage), leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 34-of-37 (.919).

Perhaps its no surprise the Avalanche won the game considering how well home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been performing lately. Having earned points in six-straight games, the 103-54-22 hosts now have a 53-point advantage on the roadies in the series.