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.