All posts by Connor Keith

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 25

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 7

With First Star of the Game Chris Kunitz‘ slap shot at the 85:09 mark of a winner-takes-all Game 7, Pittsburgh beat the Senators 3-2 in double-overtime at PPG Paints Arena to clinch its second-straight Prince of Wales trophy and the corresponding berth to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Receiving the puck at the far point, Second Star Justin Schultz crept down the boards before passing into the corner for Sidney Crosby. Chris Wideman was immediately on the Pens’ captain, so Crosby was forced into the far face-off circle instead of towards the goal crease. Once he reached the dot, he passed to a waiting Kunitz at the top of the circle, who fired his one-timer over Third Star Craig Anderson‘s right arm to clinch the series for Pittsburgh.

The Senators never led in regulation, but they never trailed for long. In total, Ottawa played from behind for only 3:17 of play.

Similar to Game 6, both teams took a slow approach to the first period to combine for only 11 shots on goal. None of those offerings got past Anderson or Matthew Murray, leaving the score tied at nil.

Instead, the attack began in full during the second frame. By the middle of the period, both Pittsburgh and Ottawa had managed at least seven shots on goal, but it was a supple Kunitz (Conor Sheary and Matt Cullen) wrister at the 9:55 mark that snapped the scoreless draw.

After receiving a quick pass along the neutral zone’s far boards from Cullen to get the play out of the defensive zone, Sheary bumped a pass towards center ice for Kunitz to create a Pittsburgh two-on-one opportunity. Kunitz returned the offering to Sheary when they both entered their offensive zone, but the youngster returned the favor from the far side of the slot. The maneuver was too quick for Anderson to respond and seal the near post, and Kunitz was more than willing to complete the play for his first goal of the 2017 postseason.

The Penguins held on to their 1-0 lead for a whopping 20 seconds before Mark Stone (Erik Karlsson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau) tied the game once again with a wicked top-shelf wrister.

Each player involved in the play was responsible for tackling one zone. Though a forward, Pageau was the one to get the puck out of Ottawa’s defensive zone. He passed from his far defensive point to Karlsson at the red line along the near boards. The star defenseman attacked into Ottawa’s offensive zone, driving towards the near face-off circle before passing across Olli Maatta to Stone in the near slot. A goalscorer 22 times during the regular season, Stone knew exactly what he needed to do to beat Murray and level the game.

After the blitz of tallies, the arena’s scoreboard operator had an opportunity to take a rest as no more markers were registered until 8:16 remained in regulation. Taking advantage of the Senators’ lone penalty of the game – an interference call on Dion Phaneuf against Phil Kessel – Schultz (Kessel and Kunitz) scored a snap shot 25 seconds later to reclaim the lead for Pittsburgh.

Schultz started at the near point with the puck, but passed to Kessel at the far face-off circle. Kessel tried to move towards the crease but was cut off by Cody Ceci, forcing him to return the puck to Schultz at the center of the offensive zone, a spot that is uncannily similar to where Kunitz would eventually bury his series-winner from. Schultz saw his opportunity and fired the puck towards the top-right corner of Anderson’s goal.

Though Kunitz earned an assist on the play, his primary role was as a goaltender screen. In particular, Marc Methot took notice and tried to move Kunitz out of Anderson’s way, but his attempt corresponded with Schultz’ shot and effectively doubled the size Kunitz’ screen to make it impossible for Anderson to see the play.

The Penguins managed to hold onto this lead a little bit longer than their first, but Ryan Dzingel‘s (Karlsson and Kyle Turris) response 2:57 after Schultz’ marker was too quick for Murray to handle.

The play began with Turris possessing the puck in the near corner of Ottawa’s offensive zone. With Cullen approaching him, he passed towards the top of the zone to Karlsson, who lined up a slap shot that passed everyone and everything except Murray’s crossbar. The goaltender incorrectly guessed where the rebound landed, leaving Dzingel with an exposed puck at the far corner of the crease and a gaping net.

Neither club could find its third goal in the remaining 5:19 of regulation, leading to the first overtime period.

To put it simply, the Penguins absolutely dominated those 20 minutes. Though they only had eight shots to show for their efforts, they possessed the puck for most of the play to limit Ottawa to only two shots on net.

One play of particular excitement occurred just minutes before the fourth intermission. Many Pens fans in the arena grew furious – to the point of unwisely throwing their golden rally towels onto the ice in protest – with an apparent uncounted goal.

But they did not have the benefit of a clear replay. It looked to them that the puck entered and exited the goal faster than the eye could see – and a poor in-house camera angle broadcast on the video board seemed to support their claims – but a television replay proved that the puck hit the rear bracket of the goal post on the wrong side of the crossbar – above it instead of below.

Of course, Kunitz’ goal approximately half an hour later in real time made all those worries for naught.

He earned only Third Star honors according to the members of the PPG Paints Arena Media, but Anderson was easily the player of the game – if not the entire Eastern Conference Finals. He saved an incredible 39-of-42 (92.9%) shots faced in Game 7, including all eight in the first overtime period (compared to Murray’s two).

For the entire series, he registered an even better .936 save percentage and 2.07 GAA on 242 shots faced (34.6 per game) to keep the Sens within reach of the Penguins with incredible saves or smart stoppages of play on multiple occasions.

Now that the Penguins have reclaimed the Prince of Wales Trophy, everything is set for the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nashville Predators are en route to Pittsburgh for Game 1, which is scheduled for Monday, May 29 at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Of note, this will be the first ever Stanley Cup Finals contested between two American-born head coaches, as both Nashville’s Peter Laviolette and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan are Massachusetts natives.

Those intending to catch the action in America should tune to NBC, while Canadians have their choice of CBC, SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 23

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – Game 6

Thanks to its 2-1 victory over the Penguins at the Canadian Tire Centre Tuesday, Ottawa has forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The first period was an overall bland showing by both sides. Even though both Mark Stone and Second Star of the Game Bobby Ryan served independent stints in the sin bin, the Penguins managed only 11 shots at Third Star Craig Anderson, just two more than Ottawa sent Matthew Murray‘s way.

The action tremendously improved in the second, especially in favor of the Pens early on. By the time the middle frame was through, the Pens had fired a tremendous 23 shots on goal to the Sens’ 10.

One of those belonged to Trevor Daley exactly three minutes into the period. It was a scrappy wrist shot from inside Anderson’s crease that eventually slipped past the netminder. Unfortunately for Daley and the Penguins, Anderson felt he was interfered with, leading to Guy Boucher challenging the goal. The officials ruled in Anderson’s favor, so Daley’s potential second goal of the postseason was taken off the board.

But Ottawa could only keep the game tied at nil against the postseason’s best offense for so long. Only 1:51 after play resumed, Evgeni Malkin (Ian Cole and Scott Wilson) collected the rebound of his own shot from the near slot to push a backhander between Anderson and the near post.

The Penguins didn’t relinquish control of the period until 8:15 remained before the second intermission, though it wasn’t by their own accord. Ron Hainsey didn’t seem to make much contact with Jean-Gabriel Pageau in the neutral zone, and the referee did not seem to be inclined to call a penalty. Until, that is, the Senators’ faithful started to cause a ruckus. The official was quickly persuaded and sent Hainsey to the box for interference.

Ottawa’s power play had not yet found success yet against the Penguins, so there were few on the Pens’ bench truly worried until Cole joined Hainsey in the sin bin 36 seconds later for hi-sticking Kyle Turris.

It took only 54 seconds of the five-on-three advantage for Ryan (Turris and Erik Karlsson) to turn the tides for the Sens. It was some beautiful puck movement that led to the tally, as Turris faked a slap shot from the center of the zone before finding Ryan at the near face-off dot. The left wing immediately ripped a snap shot top-shelf over Murray’s to level the game at one-all with 6:45 remaining in the second period.

Ottawa carried that momentum into the third period, easily it’s best frame. The Sens fired six shots at Murray before a single one reached Anderson. One of those offerings was a slap shot over Murray’s glove from First Star Mike Hoffman (Fredrik Claesson and Clarke MacArthur), who did his best Alex Ovechkin impression 94 seconds into the final frame from the far face-off circle to give Ottawa its first lead since Game 3.

Any chance for a late Penguins comeback was effectively eliminated when they were caught with too many men on the ice with 4:05 remaining in regulation. Even with Murray pulled for the remaining 1:44 of regulation for the extra attacker, they could not level the game.

The officiating in this contest was questionable at best, especially in the minds of Mike Sullivan and the Penguins. Though it’s rare – especially in the middle of the game – that a club agrees with a referee, there will be many Pens fans that question Daley’s goalie interference call. Even more will wonder if Hainsey’s blow should have earned him a seat in the box.

The lone Game 7 of the Conference Finals will be played Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. NBCSN is responsible for broadcasting the event in the United States, while Canadians will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 22

 

Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

Though the Ducks led in almost every statistical category, it was Nashville that won 6-3 Monday to claim its first-ever Clearance Campbell Bowl and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 6 had a sour start for Anaheim before the puck was even dropped. With John Gibson sidelined with a lower body injury, Randy Carlyle and the Ducks were forced to turn to backup Jonathan Bernier, making his first Stanley Cup playoffs start.

Unfortunately for Bernier, it was baptism by fire. He faced only four shots in the first period, but he gave up two goals. The first was struck only 81 seconds into the contest by Second Star of the Game Austin Watson (Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin), his first faced of the game. Two shots and 7:26 later,  a wrist shot from First Star Colton Sissons (Third Star Pontus Aberg) set the score at 2-0.

Following Sissons’ marker, the tides turned largely in favor of the visiting Ducks. Though they didn’t find the back of Pekka Rinne‘s net in the first frame, they did fire an impressive shots on net compared to Nashville’s four. That dominance continued in the second period when Anaheim fired 13 shots, nine more than Nashville.

Even more impressive, the Ducks could have registered even more shot offerings. Led by Watson’s six rejections, the Predators blocked a total of 22 shots in the game. A large reason for Anaheim’s strong possession time was a result of its work at the face-off circle. Thanks in large part to Ryan Getzlaf‘s 73% face-off win rate, the Ducks won 62% of play resumptions.

The most important thing the Ducks ensured by keeping puck in their offensive zone? They kept pucks off Bernier.

The Ducks were finally rewarded for their hard work at the 4:45 mark of the second period courtesy of Ondrej Kase‘s (Getzlaf and Sami Vatanen) wrister on a gaping cage due to Rinne blocking a previous shot at the near post.

With the comeback halfway complete, Anaheim looked to be well on its way to forcing a Game 7 at the Pond – but that was before Sissons (Aberg and Filip Forsberg) squeezed a backhanded shot between Bernier’s wickets to reclaim a two-goal lead for the Preds.

But the Ducks weren’t dead yet. Only two minutes after Aberg’s tally, Chris Wagner (Nicolas Kerdiles and Antoine Vermette) bounced a wrister off Rinne’s head to pull Anaheim back within a goal, and Cam Fowler (Vatanen) leveled the game at three-all 8:52 into the third period.

Fowler’s goal was not without controversy though, as Rinne felt Corey Perry‘s screen was a little too snug. Though Peter Laviolette challenged the play, but the referees sided with the Ducks and decided that Perry did not interfere with the netminder.

But whether the goal counted or not didn’t matter, the Ducks could not find a fourth marker. Unfortunately for them, the Predators could – and what a series-winner it was.

After receiving a pass from Calle Jarnkrok in the neutral zone, Sissons flew up the near boards into his offensive zone. Fowler ripped the puck off Sissons’ stick, but Jarnkrok was following close enough behind to maintain Nashville’s possession in the near slot. Once Jarnkrok saw Bernier had committed to sealing the near post, he crossed a pass to Sissons, who completed his hat trick with a nasty top shelf wrister.

As the clock was winding down and the Ducks still trailed by a tally, Carlyle was forced to pull Bernier for the extra attacker to try to continue his club’s season with 2:33 remaining in regulation. Forsberg (Vernon Fiddler) took advantage only 11 seconds later to set off the loudest cheers Bridgestone Arena had ever heard.

Watson (Ryan Ellis) tacked on yet another empty netter with 1:34 remaining in the game to set the final 6-3 score.

Regardless of the Predators’ opponent, they’ll be on the road for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Puck drop for the series opener is scheduled for Monday, May 29. Though a starting time has yet to be announced, it is expected to be at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 21

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 5

With Pittsburgh’s seven-goal shutout victory over the Senators at PPG Paints Arena Sunday, it has pulled within one victory of hoisting the Prince of Wales Trophy for the second-straight year and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.

This game was over by the first intermission. Olli Maatta (Second Star of the Game Bryan Rust), Sidney Crosby (Trevor Daley and Evgeni Malkin), Rust (Nick Bonino and First Star Carter Rowney) and Scott Wilson (Rowney and Bonino) all joined to set the score at 4-0 in a span of 10:03, chasing Craig Anderson – celebrating his 36th birthday – to the Senators’ bench.

Through the first four games of the Eastern Finals, Pittsburgh had averaged only 29.5 shots-per-game. Based on their explosive 15-shot first period, the Penguins were on pace for 45 before the end of Game 5. Though they didn’t quite reach that mark (they ended the night with a measly 33 shots on goal), it was more than enough to eliminate the Senators’ hope for a victory.

After taking a 1:28 shift between Rust and Wilson’s tallies, Mike Condon assumed the Senators’ net for the remaining two periods. On only his third shot faced in the period and fifth of the day, Matt Cullen (Mark Streit and Rowney) extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-0 at the 1:54 mark of the middle frame.

To close out the Pens’ tab, Phil Kessel (Crosby and Malkin) and Daley (Kessel and Malkin) both buried power play goals before the midway point of the third period to set the score at the 7-0 final.

Of note, the Penguins’ third line was electric. Together, Bonino, Rowney and Rust combined for one goal and six assists for seven points, including playing a part in all four even-strength tallies.

Conversely, almost nothing went right for the Sens in this contest. They managed only 25 shots on goal all game – all of which, of course, were saved by Third Star Matthew Murray. They failed to convert any of their four power play opportunities, due in large part to being out-blocked 19-12 (specifically Ian Cole and his game-high five rejections). They also struggled to maintain possession, losing the giveaway battle five to four.

If they can take anything from this contest, it’s that they’ve figured out the face-off dot. They won 60% of puck drops, including Kyle Turris beating his opponent – typically Crosby – 76% of the time.

While this is the worst playoff loss in the Senators’ modern history (of which their first playoff appearance was in 1997), it is not the Penguins’ strongest playoff victory. Though it ties the home record set in 1993, Pittsburgh did manage an 8-0 road victory in Bloomington, Minn. against the North Stars to hoist its first Stanley Cup in 1991.

The Penguins will have their first opportunity to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals this Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern time when the puck drops for Game 6 at the Canadian Tire Centre. Those in the United States should check NBCSN for coverage, while Canadian residents will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 19

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – Game 4

With their 3-2 victory over Ottawa at the Canadian Tire Centre Friday, the Penguins have leveled the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

The biggest story coming into the game was Mike Sullivan‘s decision to entrust the Penguins’ net to Matthew Murray instead of Marc-Andre Fleury. The choice baffled many Yinzers considering the veteran goaltender had posted a .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA in his 14 postseason games before getting pulled not even 13 minutes into Game 3 after allowing four goals.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Sullivan may not have made the right decision, but it certainly wasn’t the wrong one. Allowing only two goals against, Murray earned his first victory of the 2017 playoffs on a .923 save percentage.

Stopping Ottawa’s attack was only half the battle though. Pittsburgh had only scored a goal-per-game in the first three contests of the series, but it exploded in comparison with three goals in one match – or, more precisely, just over 12 minutes.

It started with Olli Maatta‘s (Second Star of the Game Sidney Crosby and First Star Jake Guentzel) first-ever postseason tally with 46 seconds remaining in the opening frame. After crossing the near face-off circle, the fourth-year defenseman squeezed a wrist shot under Craig Anderson‘s blocker to give the Pens a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

Where the Penguins’ offense truly took command of the game was in the middle frame. Thanks to Jean-Gabriel Pageau earning a roughing penalty for practicing his favorite WWE moves on Pittsburgh’s captain, Crosby (Guentzel and Phil Kessel) himself doubled his club’s lead with a scrappy power play goal 7:41 into the second period, followed 3:49 later by Brian Dumoulin (Ian Cole and Scott Wilson) banking a wrister from the far point off Dion Phaneuf‘s left skate and behind Anderson for what proved to be the deciding tally, the first game-winner of his playoff career.

With the Senators trailing 3-0, Sullivan’s decision was truly put to the test as the Senators upped their attacking intensity in the remaining 28:30 of regulation. In that time, they fired 16 shots at the second-year netminder, including 10 in the third period.

The first evidence came about in the waning moments of the second period. Just as Maatta did for the Pens late in the first period, Clarke MacArthur (Bobby Ryan) did for the Sens in the second. With 98 seconds remaining before the second intermission, he recharged a nervous Canadian Tire Centre with a tip-in that beat Murray top-shelf.

Even with MacArthur’s tally, the Penguins felt comfortable for most of the third period with their two-goal advantage. That lead was trimmed to one with 5:01 remaining when Third Star Tom Pyatt (Erik Karlsson and Pageau) not only acted as a screen on Karlsson’s initial shot, but also deflected it through Murray’s five-hole, making the remainder of regulation that much important in not only deciding Game 4’s victor, but also the momentum of the remaining games in the series.

Murray certainly did his job in those remaining five minutes as he saved all three shots he faced in that time, but it was the Penguins’ defensive efforts that were arguably more impressive – especially since they were on the short side of a six-on-four man-advantage for the final 37 seconds of the game due to having too many men on the ice.

In all, Pittsburgh forced three missed shots after Pyatt’s goal, including two from Kyle Turris, owner of a 14.6% regular season shooting percentage, the third-best on the Senators’ roster.

Shot blocking was also a major focus for the Penguins during Ottawa’s final possession to close regulation. In all, the Senators fired four shots after winning the last face-off of the game with 37 seconds remaining. Two were saved by Murray, and two were blocked by Dumoulin and Nick Bonino to secure the victory.

The Eastern Conference Finals, now a three-game series, return to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh for Game 5 at 3 p.m. Eastern time this Sunday. American viewers should tune their televisions to NBC, while Canadians have the option between CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 14

 

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

With a 5-3 victory at the Honda Center Sunday, Anaheim leveled its Western Finals series against the Predators at 1-1.

Three goals is all the Predators needed to beat Anaheim in Game 1. In Game 2, both clubs had already reached that mark by the 30:41 mark.

First it was the Predators with a two-goal surge. Ryan Johansen (Third Star of the Game Viktor Arvidsson and Roman Josi) was the first to score, burying a wrist shot 4:18 into the contest. James Neal (Johansen and Mattias Ekholm) followed that up 4:14 later with a backhanded power play shot to set the score at 2-0.

Next up was an Anaheim attack, though it was split in half by the first intermission. Second Star Sami Vatanen (Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler) got the Ducks on the board with one minute remaining in the first period, followed by Jakob Silfverberg (Rickard Rakell and Cam Fowler) only 39 seconds into the middle frame.

Vatanen’s marker was a special one not only because it leveled the game at two-all and was his first postseason goal since last year’s series with the Preds, but also because it was the Ducks’ first power play goal in their last 22 attempts.

The Predators once again took the lead 7:59 into the second period thanks to a Filip Forsberg (Arvidsson) wrap-around offering, but First Star Ondrej Kase (Shea Theodore and Josh Manson) leveled the game at three-all only 2:42 later.

Neither John Gibson (.909 save percentage) nor Pekka Rinne (.846 save percentage) would yield a goal in the third period, which proved to be a major problem for Nashville considering Nick Ritchie‘s (Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) tally with 2:53 remaining in the second period.

The play started when Montour passed from the near point of his defensive zone to Getzlaf at center ice. The captain one-touched his bank pass off the near boards to the eventual goalscorer, who took possession in the face-off circle to Rinne’s right. Ritchie ripped an impressive snap shot over the goaltender’s stick shoulder for what proved to be the youngster’s second game-winning playoff goal of his career.

Through Rinne was pulled for the extra attacker with 2:08 remaining in regulation, the Predators still couldn’t manage a goal to level the game. Antoine Vermette (Getzlaf and Fowler) made sure to make Rinne pay for vacating his post by burying a wrister with 44 seconds remaining to ensure the Ducks’ victory.

After a four hour flight to Nashville (yet six hours according to a clock due to time zones), Game 3 in the now best-of-five will be played Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at Bridgestone Arena. Though American viewers are limited to NBCSN, Canada is being serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 13

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Bobby Ryan‘s overtime winner, the Senators defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 at PPG Paints Arena Saturday to steal home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Ryan was involved in both Senators tallies, as was Jean-Gabriel Pageau – the proud scorer of a wrist shot with 5:28 remaining in the first period. The play was caused when Pageau forced Brian Dumoulin into a giveaway behind Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net. Ryan collected the loose puck and centered a pass to the native Ottawan in the far face-off circle that he was more than able to bury top-shelf.

Though the Senators have been lauded for their defense this postseason, it certainly didn’t hurt that Pittsburgh struggled to find much rhythm offensively for most of the evening. The Pens uncharacteristically gave the puck away a whopping 17 times (Pittsburgh has given the puck away only 109 times this entire postseason, the fewest of the remaining squads), not to mention the 11 times Ottawa intentionally stole the puck.

A lot of that was due to the Sens’ physical play. Led by Marc Methot‘s seven blows, Ottawa threw 32 hits to knock the Penguins off balance. Even when Pittsburgh could manage a shot, the Sens were quick to get in the way, as they blocked an impressive 22 offerings (led by Methot’s four).

And the Penguins’ 28 shots that did manage to reach First Star Craig Anderson? He saved all but one for a .964 save percentage.

But no matter how well a defense and goaltender perform, its tough to keep the mighty Penguins offense off the board. With 5:35 remaining in regulation, Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Chris Kunitz and Ron Hainsey) leveled the game at one-all to give Pittsurgh life. It was a beautiful redirection by Malkin on Kunitz’ initial shot from the near face-off circle to beat Anderson five-hole.

That marker could have rattled the Sens, but they regrouped following regulation to reestablish their dominance. In the 4:59 of extra time, they allowed only two Penguins shots to reach Anderson.

The Senators themselves may have managed only three shots, but their final one ended the game. Assisted by Pageau and Mark Stone, Ryan fended off Bryan Rust in his own defensive zone to set up a breakaway opportunity for himself. Screaming up the near boards, he crossed across the slot to set up a nasty backhander that beat Fleury to the far post.

After a day off, these teams will be right back at it Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern time for Game 2. NBCSN has broadcasting rights withing the 50 United States, while Canada will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 12

 

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

With their 3-2 overtime victory over Anaheim at the Honda Center, the Predators have stolen home-ice advantage and a one-game lead in the Western Finals.

The biggest difference in this game seemed to be energy and rest. The Predators eliminated St. Louis on May 7 while the Ducks just finished their series against Edmonton on Wednesday, meaning Nashville had three more free days before resuming play.

That extra energy showed itself in a multitude of ways, but it was most noticeable in the shots on goal category. Led by Ryan Ellis‘ seven attempts that made their way to Second Star of the Game John Gibson, Nashville led the Ducks  in shots by a whopping 46-29 differential.

It took 5:15 of action before the Ducks could register even their first shot on Third Star Pekka Rinne, but it’s all they needed to take a 1-0 lead. Jakob Silfverberg was the one to register the goal, using the defending Roman Josi as a screen to bury a potent upper-90 snap shot from the near face-off circle.

But that lead didn’t last all that long, as the Predators’ efforts finally bore fruit with 7:26 remaining in the first period via a Filip Forsberg (Matt Irwin and Ryan Johansen) redirection through both Antoine Vermette and Gibson’s legs to level the game at one-all.

In terms of of the Predators’ shooting effort, it was a similar start to the second period as they managed five shots before the Ducks reached Rinne once. Fortunately for Nashville, its second tally came quicker than its first, as Austin Watson (Johansen and Mattias Ekholm) scored a slap shot only 2:42 into the middle frame for the first playoff goal of his career.

The rest of the second period was a test of special teams, specifically an Anaheim power play that can’t find results no matter how well it performs.  Only 34 seconds separated Colin Wilson exiting the penalty box after hooking Rickard Rakell and Ellis earning a seat for roughing Andrew Cogliano. Between the two man-advantages, the Ducks managed only one shot that reached Rinne (courtesy of Ryan Kesler), but the postseason’s best goaltender was more than up to the task and stopped the attempt with ease.

Randy Carlyle apparently had enough of his club being dominated offensively in the first two periods, so the Ducks turned the tables in the third. Anaheim fired five shots at Rinne in the opening 7:21 of the third frame, the last of which was a Hampus Lindholm (Nate Thompson) snapper to level the game at two-all.

Anaheim won 56% of face-offs against the Predators all game, and that came into play on Lindholm’s goal. Thompson beat Calle Jarnkrok at the dot to Rinne’s right to maintain possession in his offensive zone. He shoved the puck back towards the far point to the waiting blueliner, who was more than able to bang home his marker over the netminder’s stick shoulder.

Following their game-tying tally, the Ducks tried their hardest to lose the game by firing not one, but two pucks over the glass within 33 seconds of each other. Though Nashville earned 87 seconds of five-on-three play, it could not find its game-winning goal in regulation.

Instead, the Predators waited until the 9:24 mark of overtime before First Star James Neal (P.K. Subban and Ekholm) ripped his winning snapper into Gibson’s net. It doesn’t quite qualify for a tic-tac-goal play, but it was an absolutely brilliant assist by Subban to set up the marker.

Ekholm began the sequence by driving on Gibson’s crease in attempts of forcing the puck across the goal line, but the netminder was up to the challenge and somehow forced the puck into the far corner. The defenseman got back to his skates, chased down the puck and reset the play at the near point to Subban. The former Hab looked like he had all intentions of firing a slap shot back into the scrum, but decided instead to find a wide-open Neal in the near face-off circle. In the same swipe, Neal took possession and fired his shot over a splayed Gibson to end the game.

It’s only fitting that between these clubs’ primary colors both black and blue are represented. Hockey has never been classified as a gentleman’s game, and neither Anaheim nor Nashville are wasting any effort on chivalry. Not only were 55 total hits thrown between them, but tempers were also flaring even before the first intermission.

In particular, Johansen was certainly frustrated after Ryan Getzlaf fired a slap shot right at the Predator’s right hand covering his groin. A player would certainly be within his rights for being aggravated after taking a puck in that area, but it looks as if Getzlaf intentionally took aim at Johansen’s crotch, making the action all the more egregious. The physicality between these sides will be something to behold as this series advances.

This series will resume Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. American viewers can catch the action on NBCSN, while SN and TVAS will broadcast the game in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 8

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 6

By beating Pittsburgh 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena, the Capitals have forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 for a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Simply put, absolutely nothing was going right for the Penguins. Though the Capitals did throw an impressive 38 hits (led by both Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson‘s five blows), Pittsburgh still should have managed more than 18 shots on goal.

It wasn’t until 7:43 remained in the first period that the Pens managed their first shot on Braden Holtby‘s goal. Unfortunately for them, Third Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Second Star Nicklas Backstrom) was already getting to work on the Capitals’ first goal of the night 24 seconds later, a power play snap shot from the far face-off circle.

Another part of the game the Penguins struggled at was keeping the puck away from Washington. They committed a combined 11 giveaways, the most egregious of which was Ron Hainsey‘s at the 6:32 mark of the second period.

Though it doesn’t go down as a turnover because First Star Andre Burakovsky dislodged the puck with a hit along the far boards, Hainsey brought the contact on himself. At the tail end of what proved to be a long 76-second shift, he tried to maintain possession for his club instead of chip the puck out of the defensive zone, turning back towards Marc-Andre Fleury‘s goal. Burakovsky took advantage of the exhausted defenseman to squeeze a wrist shot between Fleury and the far post to double the Caps’ lead.

But not all of Washington’s goals were results of Penguins mistakes. The game-winner certainly qualifies as one of those, as Backstrom (Oshie and Dmitry Orlov) won the third frame’s opening face-off to bury a snapper only 16 seconds later to set the score at 3-0.

John Carlson (Matt Niskanen and Kuznetsov) and Burakovsky tacked on two more goals within 1:12 of one another to set up a comfortable five-goal advantage for the visiting Caps, more than enough to survive Jake Guentzel (Sidney Crosby) and Evgeni Malkin‘s (Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin) two-goal surge in the remaining 3:22 of regulation.

The series’ deciding game has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, May 10. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canadian hockey fans will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 7

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators – Game 6

With its 3-1 victory over the Blues at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville has advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Sometimes you start slow, but you’ve got to finish fast. It may not be an original game plan, but it worked like a charm for Peter Laviolette‘s Predators.

Of course, for that plan to work means a painful beginning to the game. That was represented by Paul Stastny‘s (Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz) wrist shot only 2:04 into the contest.  It was another scrappy, ugly playoff goal. Tarasenko ripped a wrist shot on net from the far face-off circle, but Third Star of the Game Pekka Rinne was more than able to make the save.

But there’s a big difference between simply making a save and containing a save. Rinne did only the former, leaving the puck exposed behind him in the crease. Stastny took notice and reached behind the goaltender to complete the play and give the Blues an early 1-0 lead.

Knowing St. Louis would have home ice for a deciding Game 7, the Preds clearly tightened up following Stastny’s marker. They managed only five shots in the first period due in large part to giving the puck away nine times before the first intermission.

Whether it was a message from Laviolette or Captain Mike Fisher, something got through to the club during the break because the score read 1-1 only 35 seconds after the beginning of the second period. Scoring his fourth goal of the playoffs, Roman Josi (Mattias Ekholm and First Star Ryan Johansen) scored a snap shot on Jake Allen‘s seventh shot faced of the game.

Both defenses yielded only seven shots in the second period to leave the score as it was for the remaining 19:25 before the second intermission. The physical play by both clubs had a big part in that effort, as St. Louis’ Colton Parayko and Smashville’s Colton Sissons both threw five hits during the game.

During the second intermission, it was the Notes’ opportunity to regroup and respond to the Predators’ second period. Instead, Johansen (Second Star Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal 3:15 into the frame.

It was a beautiful breakaway goal befitting the title of series-clincher. Ekholm ripped the puck away from Tarasenko along the far boards in his defensive zone and passed to Forsberg near the far point. Upon seeing Ekholm’s takeaway, Arvidsson had been working his way towards the neutral zone and Forsberg dished across the blue line to him. The Swede raced up the ice into the offensive zone and passed from the far face-off dot to his trailing center to set up a one-on-one matchup with Allen. After making the netminder commit to the near post with a shot fake, he pulled the puck back across the crease and finished with a smooth backhander to give the Predators a lead they would not yield.

Allen departed his crease for the first time with 2:20 remaining in regulation. With the extra attacker, the Blues managed only two shots – neither of which required a save by Rinne. Instead, Calle Jarnkrok (Josi and Rinne) bolted down the ice to ensure Nashville its chance to fight for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl by burying a wrister with 60 seconds remaining before the final horn.

Allen would desert his net for the sixth attacker again with 51 seconds remaining in regulation, but to no avail. The Blues could not manage a tally, much less a second they would have needed to force overtime.

The NHL has yet to release a starting date or time for the Western Conference finals, but Game 7 in the other Western Semifinal will be played Wednesday.

 

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 6

With five goals in the first period, Edmonton stomped the Ducks 7-1 Sunday at Rogers Place to force the first Game 7 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals.

With an opportunity to advance to the Western Conference Finals with a win, nothing went right for the Ducks in the first period. They managed only eight shots on goal compared to Edmonton’s 16.

Instead everything went the Oil’s way. It started with First Star of the Game Leon Draisaitl‘s (Adam Larsson) wrist shot only 2:45 into the game and only escalated from there. Draisaitl (Milan Lucic and Darnell Nurse) scored again only 4:37 later, followed by Zack Kassian (Second Star Mark Letestu and Griffin Reinhart) at the 8:25 mark. Letestu was apparently impressed by Draisaitl’s two-tally frame, so he buried one (Kris Russell and David Desharnais) with 8:21 remaining in the period and another (Matt Benning and Draisaitl) 7:10 later on the power play.

Edmonton actually reached its sixth goal before the Ducks even fired their ninth shot of the contest. Anton Slepyshev (Patrick Maroon and Draisaitl) buried a wrister from the slot only 45 into the second period to truly break Anaheim’s spirit. Though Rickard Rakell (Corey Perry and Cam Fowler) did manage to get the Ducks on the board at the 8:56 mark of the period, Draisaitl (Lucic and Letestu) completed his hat trick with 4:33 remaining in the frame on a power play to neutralize his tally.

Allowing only one goal on 35 shots faced (97.1%), Third Star Cam Talbot also deserves much credit for Edmonton’s victory. He especially deserves credit for yielding a goal on any of the Ducks’ three power plays. Though Anaheim’s power play hasn’t been very potent this postseason at a 14.3% conversion rate, a man-advantage is still a man-advantage and requires extra focus from a netminder.

Though Game 7 is scheduled for Wednesday, the time of puck drop will be determined following the conclusion of Game 6 between the Capitals and Penguins.