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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Tampa repeats in preview of 2021 Stanley Cup Final

For 29 (soon to be 30) franchises, the calendar’s already flipped from 2020-21 to 2021-22, but for two teams remaining in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs there’s still one goal– winning the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

At one end of the rink, the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Pittsburgh Penguins did it in 2016 and 2017.

Lightning forward, Pat Maroon, is seeking to become the first player in the Expansion Era (since 1967) to win three consecutive Cup rings in as many seasons among two different franchises, having won his first with the St. Louis Blues in 2019, and his second last year with Tampa.

Maroon can also be the first player to win the Cup in three consecutive seasons in general since a bunch of players on the New York Islanders did so during the Isles’ dynasty from 1980-83.

At the other end of the rink, the Montréal Canadiens are seeking to win their first Stanley Cup– and 25th in franchise history– since 1993, which also happens to be the last time a Canadian club won the Cup.

The Habs were the last team to clinch a spot in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and yet, here they are.

Corey Perry lost to the Lightning as a member of the Dallas Stars in six games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and has made it back to the Final for the third time in his career, while Eric Staal is back in Cup contention for the first time since 2006, when he won it all as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Perry won his first Stanley Cup ring with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Meanwhile, Carey Price is making his Stanley Cup Final debut as the greatest goaltender in Canadiens history since some guy named Patrick Roy won it all three years before demanding a trade out of Montréal.

It all comes down to this– four more wins and one team will be crowned as this year’s Stanley Cup champion.

For the first time since 2009, all games in the Stanley Cup Final will be played in the Eastern Time Zone. It’ll also be the first time that Stanley Cup Final games are held in July, much like how last year marked the first time the Final was held in September due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also the first Stanley Cup Final since 1980, to feature teams that are normally in the same conference.

As a result of the ongoing pandemic, the league temporarily realigned to four divisions and no conferences for a 56-game regular season schedule, featuring the top-four teams in each division qualifying for the postseason and no international travel between the United States and Canada until the Semifinals round– which was held in place of the usual Conference Finals round.

Monday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, the 2021 Stanley Cup Final gets underway. Here’s a quick review and more on how each team got here since the dawn of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

(3) Tampa Bay Lightning (40-14-2, 82 points) vs (4) Montréal Canadiens (24-21-11, 59 points)

Tampa: 56 games played, .670 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montréal: 56 games played, .527 points percentage, 20 regulation wins.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to go back-to-back as they defeated the Florida Panthers in six games (4-2) in the First Round, eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games (4-1) in the Second Round and finished off the New York Islanders in seven games (4-3) in the Semifinals before reaching their second-straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

Led by Brayden Point in regular season scoring with 23-35–48 totals in 56 games, teammates Ondrej Palat (15-31-46 totals in 55 games) and Victor Hedman (9-36–45 totals in 54 games) rounded out the top-three in Bolts scoring for 2020-21, while Nikita Kucherov spent the entire regular season on long term injured reserve.

It’s a legal loophole in the salary cap, whether it was exploited or not, Kucherov’s hip needed the time off while the Lightning stockpiled in unlimited playoff salary as the cap ceiling gets turned off when the postseason starts.

Kucherov’s play hasn’t skipped a beat as he leads Tampa with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 18 games thus far in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Point trails Kucherov with 20 points (14 goals, six assists) in 18 games, followed by Alex Killorn (8-9–17 totals in 18 games), Steven Stamkos (7-10–17 totals in 18 games) and Hedman (1-15–16 totals in 18 games) to round out the top-five in team postseason scoring.

The Lightning can strike more than twice per game– in fact, they’re scoring about 3.22 goals for per game thus far, trailing only the eliminated Colorado Avalanche (3.80) for the most goals for per game this postseason.

Tampa trails the Toronto Maple Leafs– who were ousted in the First Round by Montréal in seven games– for the fewest goals against per game. The Bolts have allowed 2.06 goals against per game in 18 contests, while the Leafs had 2.00 in their seven-game postseason stretch.

In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy served as the Lightning’s starting goaltender in both the regular season and playoffs– amassing a 31-10-1 record in 42 games played (42 starts), as well as a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.

A Vezina Trophy Finalist for 2020-21, Vasilevskiy has previously won the award for his 2018-19 season performance.

Curtis McElhinney served as Tampa’s primary backup this season and went 4-6-2 in 12 games (12 starts) with a 3.09 goals-against average, an .875 save percentage and one shutout in that span.

Meanwhile, Christopher Gibson played in two games (two starts) for the Bolts in the regular season and went 1-1-0 with a 2.65 goals-against average and an .875 save percentage.

Entering the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, Vasilevskiy is 12-6 in 18 games (18 starts), has four shutouts and has a 1.99 goals-against average, as well as a .936 save percentage so far.

He earned his first career postseason shutout in Tampa’s, 2-0, victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final– clinching the franchise’s second Stanley Cup ring in the process– and has since become the first goaltender in NHL history to record three shutouts in three series clinching games in one postseason in the Lightning’s ongoing quest for a 2021 Stanley Cup ring.

The Montréal Canadiens overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games (4-3) in the First Round, then swept the Winnipeg Jets in four games (4-0) in the Second Round before upsetting the Vegas Golden Knights in six games (4-2) in the Semifinals to make their 37th appearance in the Stanley Cup Final (including their days before the NHL’s existence).

Tyler Toffoli led the way for the Habs in the regular season in scoring with 28 goals and 16 assists (44 points) in 52 games, while Jeff Petry (12-30–42 totals in 55 games) and Nick Suzuki (15-26–41 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in points on the roster for 2020-21.

Leading up to the trade deadline, Montréal added some depth and veteran experience that’s paid off with some clutch goals in their 2021 postseason run thus far.

Toffoli leads the Canadiens in playoff scoring with 5-9–14 totals in 17 games thus far, while Suzuki (5-8–13 totals in 17 games), Cole Caufield (4-5–9 totals in 15 games), Perry (3-6–9 totals in 17 games), Joel Armia (5-3–8 totals in 17 games) and Staal (2-6–8 totals in 16 games) round out the top-five in points on Montréal’s playoff roster.

In the crease, Jake Allen actually had more playing time than Carey Price in the regular season due to Price having battled a couple of injuries throughout the season.

Allen went 11-12-5 in 29 games (27 starts), amassing a 2.68 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in the process as the expected backup for the Canadiens, while Price produced a 12-7-5 record in 25 games (25 starts), as well as one shutout, a 2.64 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in the regular season.

Cayden Primeau appeared in four games (four starts) for the Habs and went 1-2-1 in that span, recording a 4.16 goals-against average and an .849 save percentage in the process.

Since the start of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Price has not come out of Montréal’s crease to be replaced by another goaltender and has been lights out for the Canadiens in their run to the Final.

Price has a 12-5 record in 17 games (17 starts) thus far and has recorded one shutout, as well as a 2.02 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in that span.


The Canadiens have had no problem upsetting teams thus far in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and– as long as they survive the first 10 minutes of each game and are able to get a lead– have been able to steal pivotal games and suck the life out of their opponents.

The Lightning have thundered their way back to the Final after winning it all last year and are capable of completely dominating games on the scoreboard and stifling the other team’s offensive production– limiting shots on goal and shot attempts in the process.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, Monday night will be the first time these two teams have seen each other in the league’s 2020-21 calendar year.

It’ll also be the 64th unique Stanley Cup Final in league history.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, is in search of solidifying his place as the greatest at his job behind the bench in Tampa’s history, while Dominique Ducharme is trying to nail down the title as Montréal’s next official head coach– despite the fact that he won’t be back until Game 3 after testing positive for COVID-19 during the last series against Vegas.

Luke Richardson’s waited things out in the American Hockey League for several years and already served well as an assistant coach for the Canadiens, but continues to make a well-rounded argument for staking a claim to the Habs’ coaching job on his own.

Montréal won’t only be without Ducharme for the start of the series, however, as Armia also tested positive ahead of Game 1 for the Final and may not be available while the Canadiens are in Tampa.

UPDATE: Armia cleared COVID protocol on Monday and was en route to Tampa via a private jet and will be a game time decision for Game 1.

Not that it’s a big advantage for the Lightning, since the two teams are of great contrast in playing style thus far.

Tampa can out skate, out hit and out score their opponent.

Montréal can defend, latch on and if they’re able to withhold the sustained pressure from the Bolts (and not take any penalties) they’ll get the necessary goaltending out of Price.

That said, Vasilevskiy is equally, if not more so, locked in right now.

Both goaltenders have won the Vezina before and will be the first pair of Vezina Trophy winners to square off in the Final since the days of Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour in, what, 1999?

The Canadiens have been on a Cinderella run, but they’re running into the Lightning– the Lightning— of all teams now.

They might have stood a chance against the Islanders, but Tampa is on another level.

That said, my recent predictions have been the wrong team, but the right number of games, so it looks like the Habs would have to be taking it all right now in five games.

But the Bolts are just too good. It’s their time to shine– as it has been for the last season already. They might not be dynasty material, but they’re pretty close to it and going back-to-back is within reach.

If they lose, it’ll be their own fault.

Tampa has something else on their side and it’s the fact that their Semifinals round lasted one game longer against New York than Montréal’s six-game series against the Golden Knights.

In recent years, the team that’s played more hockey in the round leading up to the Final has won the Final more often than not.

Just going back to 2015, both Chicago and Tampa won their Conference Finals rounds in seven games (Chicago won the Cup). In 2016, Pittsburgh advance in seven, while the San Jose Sharks won in six– the Penguins went on to win the Cup.

In 2017, it was more of the same– the Pens in seven, the Nashville Predators won in six games, but Pittsburgh won the Cup.

In 2018, the Golden Knights beat the Jets in five games, while the Washington Capitals defeated the Lightning in seven games before going on to win the Cup.

In 2019, the St. Louis Blues advanced in six games, while the Boston Bruins swept the Hurricanes. The Blues went on to win the Cup.

And in 2020, the Stars won in five games, but the Bolts advanced in six games and went on to beat Dallas in the Final.

It’s just science.

Besides, the Lightning are 2-1 in all time playoff series’ against the Canadiens, sweeping the Habs in the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinal, losing to Montréal in four games in the 2014 First Round and beating Montréal in six games in the 2015 Second Round.

Tampa is repeating as your Stanley Cup champion in 2020 and 2021, and this time they’ll do it in five games.

Schedule:

6/28- Game 1 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/30- Game 2 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/2- Game 3 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/5- Game 4 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/7- Game 5 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

7/9- Game 6 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

7/11- Game 7 MTL @ TBL 7 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Pacioretty or Suzuki, hope you made the right choice in 2018

There are four teams remaining in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and for the first time since 1981, there are no Conference Finals going on.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the National Hockey League was forced to temporarily realign the divisions and get rid of conferences for a season as the league and it’s players’ union did what they could to get an abbreviated 56-game regular season schedule and a full Stanley Cup Playoffs experience in the history books.

In May, ESPN‘s Greg Wyshynski reported that the league would not award the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to the victors of the equivalent third round, but after the Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Colorado Avalanche in six games to conclude the Second Round of this year’s postseason last Thursday, the league apparently changed its mind.

With a regular all-Eastern Conference matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, as well as 50% of the teams representing the Western Conference in the other Semifinal series, both trophies will be awarded to the third round series winners after all.

The winner of the Lightning and Islanders series will take home the Prince of Wales Trophy, while either the Golden Knights or the Montréal Canadiens will win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

Montréal can join a short list of teams to have won both trophies in franchise history, as only the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and Islanders have won each before.

How is this possible, you ask?

Well, for starters, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was introduced in the 1967-68 season and awarded to the team that finished with the best regular season record in the West Division (the precursor to the Western Conference in the modern era), while the Prince of Wales Trophy dates back to the 1925-26 season and, you guessed it, eventually became the East Division (pre-Eastern Conference days) equivalent.

Ahead of the 1981-82 season, however, the league changed its postseason to include a Conference Finals round, thus involving these trophies in the playoffs and eventually leading to the creation of the Presidents’ Trophy for the team with the best regular season record since the 1985-86 season.

So anyway, the teams mentioned above that won both have changed conferences and divisions over time.

Now let’s talk about the other half of the Semifinal matchups– the Golden Knights and the Canadiens.

(1) Vegas Golden Knights (40-14-2, 82 points) vs (4) Montréal Canadiens (24-21-11, 59 points)

Vegas: 56 games played, .732 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Montréal: 56 games played, .527 points percentage, 20 regulation wins.

The Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Minnesota Wild in seven games (4-3) in the First Round before ousting the 2020-21 Presidents’ Trophy winning, Colorado Avalanche, in six games (4-2) in the Second Round to advance to the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals as the representative club from the Honda NHL West Division.

Vegas is making their second appearance in the third round of the playoffs– their first since 2018– and is in search of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup ring in just their fourth season of existence.

Mark Stone (21-40–61 totals in 55 games) lead the Golden Knights in team scoring in the regular season and was named a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, while Max Pacioretty (24-27–51 totals in 48 games) and Jonathan Marchessault (18-26–44 totals in 55 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring on the roster.

Through 13 postseason games thus far, William Karlsson leads the Golden Knights in playoff scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in that span.

Marchessault, Stone, Pacioretty and Alex Pietrangelo are tied for the second-most points in the playoffs for Vegas so far with eight points each in 13 games (except for Pacioretty, who has eight points in seven games).

Alex Tuch, Mattias Janmark and Reilly Smith are tied for the sixth-most points on the roster in postseason scoring with seven points each.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury led the way with a 26-10-0 record in 36 games played (36 starts) in the regular season, as well as a 1.98 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and six shutouts in that span.

Meanwhile, Robin Lehner amassed a 13-4-2 record in 19 games (19 starts) to go with a 2.29 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and one shutout.

Oscar Dansk even made an appearance with a 1-0-0 record in one game (one start), as well as a 3.93 goals-against average and an .862 save percentage, while Logan Thompson made a relief appearance in one game, earned no decision and had a 1.000 save percentage as a result.

Fleury’s gone on to have an 8-4 record in 12 games (12 stars) this postseason, as well as a 1.91 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and one shutout entering the Semifinals.

Meanwhile, Lehner made one appearance (one start) thus far in the playoffs and went 0-1 with a 7.03 goals-against average and an .811 save percentage.

At the other end of the rink, the Montréal Canadiens were the winners of the Scotia NHL North Division, having overcome a 3-1 series deficit in seven games (4-3) against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round prior to sweeping the Winnipeg Jets (4-0) in the Second Round to advance to the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Poised as Canada’s team, the Habs have not won the Cup since 1993, and were last in the third round in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final– losing to the New York Rangers in six games (4-2) in the process.

The Canadiens haven’t even been back to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993, when they defeated Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in five games (4-1).

Tyler Toffoli (28-16–44 totals in 52 games) led the way for Montréal in team scoring this season in a prolific display of offensive prowess over a shorter than normal regular season schedule.

Jeff Petry chipped in 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) from the defense in 55 games and Nick Suzuki (15-26–41 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in Canadiens scoring in 2020-21.

Thus far in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Toffoli’s continued to lead his teammates with 4-6–10 totals in 11 games, while Suzuki has eight points (four goals, four assists) in that span.

Joel Armia and Eric Staal are each tied for the third-most points on the Habs’ postseason roster, notching seven points through 11 games for Armia and 10 games for Staal.

In the crease, Jake Allen actually played in more games than Carey Price as Price dealt with injuries throughout the season.

Allen amassed an 11-12-5 record in 29 games (27 starts) and had a 2.68 goals-against average, as well as a .907 save percentage in the process, while Price managed to put up a 12-7-5 record in 25 games (25 starts) and had a 2.64 goals-against average, a .901 save percentage and one shutout in that span.

Cayden Primeau also had some action in the crease for Montréal this season, recording a 1-2-1 record in four games (four starts), as well as a 4.16 goals-against average and an .849 save percentage.

Thus far in the playoffs, it’s been all Price for Montréal as the Canadiens longtime starter has an 8-3 record in 11 games (11 starts), a 1.97 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and one shutout in that span.


These two teams– the oldest in the league that predates the NHL (Montréal) and the new kids on the block (Vegas) at least until the Seattle Kraken pick players for their team next month in the 2021 Expansion Draft– are meeting for the first time in a playoff series in what is sure to be more than just an incredible experience.

They also didn’t get to play each other in the regular season because of the league’s temporary realignment, let alone the fact that the United States and Canadian border was closed.

It’ll be the first international matchup in the league this season with the Canadian government providing an exemption for games at Bell Centre.

Now, for starters, there’s the obvious “this would never happen regularly at least until the Stanley Cup Final” factor, but there’s also a shared history that has these clubs intertwined– the Max Pacioretty trade.

On Sept. 10, 2018, the Golden Knights made a splash by trading their second-highest drafted player in franchise history– Nick Suzuki at 13th overall in 2017– along with Tomas Tatar and a 2019 2nd round pick originally belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Canadiens for Pacioretty.

Vegas may have stumbled into “win now” mode to the average eye, but Golden Knights owner, Bill Foley, has long intended to replicate– if not beat– the Philadelphia Flyers’ emergence on the Stanley Cup scene.

Foley cried out for his team’s first Cup ring within three years of existence and something had to be done to spruce up their top-six forward group.

Enter Pacioretty, the longtime Canadien and former captain in Montréal in a bit of a disagreement regarding whether or not he and Habs General Manager, Marc Bergevin, could ever reach terms of a deal on an extension.

So Bergevin got bold.

He dealt Montréal’s most recognizable skater (not goaltender named “Price”, mind you) to Vegas for a high-caliber prospect, Tatar and a second round pick that he later flipped.

At the time, the Golden Knights claimed victory in the trade– acquiring the biggest star in the here and now, though they’re still searching for that elusive first Cup– while Canadiens fans lamented the loss of their prolific scorer in Pacioretty, but remained hopeful for the future with Suzuki coming into the fold as the team had just drafted Jesperi Kotkaniemi 3rd overall in the 2018 Draft in June.

Three years later, the Habs are a Cinderella team, while Vegas is right where they expected to be– except neither expected to play each other before the Stanley Cup Final, which only amplifies the magnitude of the Pacioretty trade even more.

Oh, then there’s the battle of Fleury and Price in net too, which by now, is worth pointing out that we haven’t even gotten into how each team could win the series.

For the Golden Knights, it’s their potent offense that’s generated throughout the lineup.

Vegas head coach, Peter DeBoer, rolls four lines and three defensive pairings and any and all players on the ice can find a way to wire a puck into the twine one way or another.

For the Canadiens, it all comes down to Price as the team’s offense has mostly relied upon a top-heavy approach.

That’s not to say that Corey Perry or Staal can’t be a determining factor in the clutch, but rather that in a standard “which team has the better offense, better defense and/or better goaltending” checklist, well, Vegas has scored 40 goals this postseason to Montréal’s 28 goals for.

Price should help the Canadiens steal a game or two in the series, but unless their miracle run finds a way to continue, the Golden Knights should wrap things up in six games.

Schedule:

6/14- Game 1 MTL @ VGK 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/16- Game 2 MTL @ VGK 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/18- Game 3 VGK @ MTL 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/20- Game 4 VGK @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/22- Game 5 MTL @ VGK 9 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS*

6/24- Game 6 VGK @ MTL 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS*

6/26- Game 7 MTL @ VGK 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Lightning seeking back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final

There are four teams remaining in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and for the first time since 1981, there are no Conference Finals going on.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the National Hockey League was forced to temporarily realign the divisions and get rid of conferences for a season as the league and it’s players’ union did what they could to get an abbreviated 56-game regular season schedule and a full Stanley Cup Playoffs experience in the history books.

In May, ESPN‘s Greg Wyshynski reported that the league would not award the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to the victors of the equivalent third round, but after the Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Colorado Avalanche in six games to conclude the Second Round of this year’s postseason on Thursday, the league apparently changed its mind.

With a regular all-Eastern Conference matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, as well as 50% of the teams representing the Western Conference in the other Semifinal series, both trophies will be awarded to the third round series winners after all.

The winner of the Lightning and Islanders series will take home the Prince of Wales Trophy, while either the Golden Knights or the Montréal Canadiens will win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

Montréal can join a short list of teams to have won both trophies in franchise history, as only the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and Islanders have won each before.

How is this possible, you ask?

Well, for starters, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was introduced in the 1967-68 season and awarded to the team that finished with the best regular season record in the West Division (the precursor to the Western Conference in the modern era), while the Prince of Wales Trophy dates back to the 1925-26 season and, you guessed it, eventually became the East Division (pre-Eastern Conference days) equivalent.

Ahead of the 1981-82 season, however, the league changed its postseason to include a Conference Finals round, thus involving these trophies in the playoffs and eventually leading to the creation of the Presidents’ Trophy for the team with the best regular season record since the 1985-86 season.

So anyway, the teams mentioned above that won both have changed conferences and divisions over time.

Now let’s talk about one-half of the Semifinal matchups– the Lightning and the Islanders.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (36-17-3, 75 points) vs (3) New York Islanders (32-17-7, 71 points)

Tampa: 56 games played, .670 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

N.Y. Islanders: 56 games played, .634 points percentage, 24 regulation wins.

The Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Florida Panthers in six games (4-2) in the First Round before taking care of the Carolina Hurricanes in a five-game upset (4-1) to represent the Discover NHL Central Division in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

They’re also the defending Stanley Cup champions looking to be the first team to repeat as such since the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

The Bolts have followed the league’s salary cap rules to a “T”, which enabled them to spend almost $99 million as the playoffs began because Nikita Kucherov had been on the long term injured reserve all season long and due to the fact that the cap ceiling disappears for the postseason.

Brayden Point led the Lightning in the regular season with 23-25–48 totals in 56 games, while Ondrej Palat (15-31–46 totals in 55 games) and Victor Hedman (9-36–45 totals in 54 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring on the roster in 2020-21.

Through 11 games this postseason, Kucherov hasn’t missed a beat, leading his teammates with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in that span.

Tampa’s captain, Steven Stamkos, missed the last part of the regular season, but returned in time for the playoffs and has not missed any action due to injury.

As a result, he’s had 5-8–13 totals in 11 games– good enough for the second-most points by a Lightning skater in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Point (8-4–12 totals in 11 games) and Alex Killorn (6-6–12 totals in 11 games) are tied for the third-most on the postseason roster.

In the crease, Andrei Vasilevskiy led Tampa’s netminders with a 31-10-1 record in 42 games played (42 starts), yielding a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in the process.

Curtis McElhinney served as Vasilevskiy’s backup and amassed a 4-6-2 record in 12 games (12 starts), as well as a 3.09 goals-against average, an .875 save percentage and one shutout in that span.

Christopher Gibson even got a little time in net, recording a 1-1-0 record in two games (two starts), as well as a 2.65 goals-against average and an .875 save percentage.

Thus far in the playoffs, Vasilevskiy has yet to be chased from the crease– putting up an 8-3 record in 11 games (11 starts) to go with his 2.24 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

Oh and he’s more than doubled his career postseason shutout total– recording two so far in Tampa’s quest for back-to-back rings.

At the other end of the rink, the New York Islanders beat two teams they’re used to beating in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs– defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games (4-2) in the First Round and the Boston Bruins in six games (4-2), as well, in the Second Round to reach the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals as the MassMutual NHL East Division’s representation.

Head coach, Barry Trotz, is still using his modified trap, though New York’s potent offense is actually leading the way in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 43 goals for thus far.

Vegas is second with 40 goals for, while Tampa sits third with 38 goals for and the best goal differential in the postseason so far with a plus-12 differential.

Mathew Barzal (17-28–45 totals in 55 games) led the Isles in scoring in the regular season. Josh Bailey (8-27–35 totals in 54 games), Brock Nelson (18-15–33 totals in 56 gmaes) and Jordan Eberle (16-17–33 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in team scoring in 2020-21.

Through 12 games this postseason, Jean-Gabriel Pageau has emerged at peak performance at the right time of the year to be on top of one’s game, leading the Islanders in playoff scoring with 3-10–13 totals.

Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier each have 11 points in 12 games, while Nelson has the fourth-most points on the playoff roster with 6-4–10 totals in that span.

In net, Semyon Varlamov led the way as New York’s starter, amassing a 19-11-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), as well as a 2.04 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and tied for the league lead in shutouts with Colorado Avalanche netminder, Philipp Grubauer, blanking opponents on the scoreboard seven times each this season.

Ilya Sorokin’s first season in the NHL was served in a backup role, going 13-6-3 in 22 games (21 starts) and accruing a 2.17 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts in that span.

Though Sorokin ultimately helped the Islanders get over the Penguins in the First Round, his Game 1 performance against Boston left something to be desired, forcing Trotz to hand the keys to the crease back to Varlamov.

Varlamov’s gone on to post a 4-3 record in seven games (seven starts) this postseason, notching a 2.62 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in the process.

Sorokin, meanwhile, has a 4-1 record in five games (five starts), as well as a 2.32 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage.

With the way Varlamov’s been playing as of late– recording 40 saves against the Bruins some nights– it’s not likely that Sorokin will see any action against the Bolts.

Unlike how the Lightning got a key component of their roster in Kucherov back in time for when it counts, New York’s captain, Anders Lee, remains sidelined until the 2021-22 season with a knee injury.


These two teams are meeting for the fourth time in a playoff series, with the Lightning holding a 3-0 all time advantage, having defeated the Islanders in five games (4-1) in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, in five games (4-1) again in the 2016 Second Round, as well as in six games (4-2) in the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.

For the second year in a row, these two clubs are squaring off in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but unlike last year’s neutral site at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, the home crowds may be a factor in 2021.

What’s more, these two teams have yet to play each other thanks to the temporary division realignment for 2020-21, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

If history is any indicator, it’s that Tampa should win the series and extend their all time advantage to 4-0, but New York presented a challenge to the Bolts last year that is sure to be amplified by both rosters’ familiarity with each other, as well as the fact that the Lightning will have to go through the ringer that is known as Nassau Live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

This isn’t to say that the fans in attendance at Amalie Arena won’t be just as boisterous, but there’s something to be said about a Long Island crowd this time of year– especially one that’s been longing for their first Stanley Cup title since 1983.

Not only that, but it’d be a great way to send the building off into retirement as the Islanders move into their new home in Elmont, New York at UBS Arena next season.

That said, the Lightning have home-ice advantage in this series for the first time this postseason and they’ve been pretty good at stealing games on the road– winning two out of three games in the First Round at BB&T Center against Florida and all three games held at PNC Arena in their Second Round series with Carolina.

2020 Stanley Cup winning head coach, Jon Cooper, pitted against 2018 Stanley Cup winning head coach in Trotz (then of the Washington Capitals)– this rematch is sure to be one hell of a battle.

Though the Lightning have cruised thus far, there’s something to be said about the tenacity of the Islanders and the way momentum seems to be working in their favor.

For the first time, it looks like New York will come out on top against Tampa and they’ll likely do it over seven games of some of the best hockey fans desire leading up to the Stanley Cup Final.

If it’s anything shorter, it’ll be because Vasilevskiy continued to stay hot and the Islanders gave up too many power plays to the Lightning, but New York was one of the least penalized teams in the regular season.

If the offense doesn’t sputter, the Isles have their best chance at getting back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1984, when they lost in five games to the Edmonton Oilers.

Schedule:

6/13- Game 1 NYI @ TBL 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/15- Game 2 NYI @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/17- Game 3 TBL @ NYI 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/19- Game 4 TBL @ NYI 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/21- Game 5 NYI @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

6/23- Game 6 TBL @ NYI 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

6/25- Game 7 NYI @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview: MassMutual NHL East Division

Nobody’s perfect.

Both in First Round prediction outcomes and in trying (and failing) to deliver predictions for each First Round series ahead of time.

The short excuse is that the overlap of the 2020-21 regular season and the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs made it difficult to finish compiling stats, writing game recaps and subsequently writing previews for each series that hadn’t already started.

Then it’s a matter of catching up.

Plus there’s a few other projects being worked on right now that you’ll hopefully get to see soon.

Granted, there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this it’s because 1) you’re somehow an oddly dedicated fan of my random musings, 2) you’ve accidentally stumbled upon this blog or 3) you’re a potential employer trying to get a read on if this guy is actually desirable.

Anyway, the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs is mostly over as only the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montréal Canadiens have yet to sort out who will be taking on the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round of Scotia NHL North Division action.

For now, let’s just keep it simple with the MassMutual NHL East Division on the docket for Saturday and the Discover NHL Central Division and Honda NHL West Division on the calendar for Sunday, then we’ll go from there.

(3) Boston Bruins (33-16-7, 73 points) vs (4) New York Islanders (32-17-7, 71 points)

Boston: 56 games played, .652 points percentage, 25 regulation wins.

N.Y. Islanders: 56 games played, .634 points percentage, 24 regulation wins.

The Boston Bruins eliminated the Washington Capitals in five games (4-1) in the First Round and are poised to be in command of home ice advantage in their Second Round series matchup with the New York Islanders by virtue of being the higher seed as both MassMutual NHL East Division First Round matchups technically resulted in upset victories by the “underdogs”.

Sure, Boston has had a bit of recent playoff success riding the momentum of their last four consecutive seasons with at least one playoff series victory and New York improved to 5-1 all time against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Stanley Cup Playoff series, but that’s besides the point.

The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2019-20, having recorded the league’s best regular season record at the time of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, well, officially being declared a pandemic and cutting last year’s regular season short.

They entered 2020-21 as favorites to not only lead their division at season’s end, but contend for the Presidents’ Trophy in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.

That… didn’t pan out, but it might actually be a benefit to the current roster to not be seen as the clear cut favorites on paper.

To remind everyone that didn’t read the First Round preview for Boston, the Bruins were led by Brad Marchand (29-40–69 totals in 53 games played) in the regular season, with Patrice Bergeron (23-25–48 totals in 54 games) and David Pastrnak (20-28–48 totals in 48 games) rounding out the top-three scorers on the team.

Through five games this postseason, the B’s look like they could be on the verge of something special as a plausible last hurrah for their current core with David Krejci and Tuukka Rask set to become unrestricted free agents at season’s end and Father Time™️ eventually going to become a factor and catch up with the ageless wonders that are Bergeron and Marchand.

It’s likely that Rask will be back for another season or two to serve as a mentor for current backup goaltender, Jeremy Swayman, like how Tim Thomas played that role for the franchise’s all-time winningest goaltender in the regular season and playoffs.

Or if you’re from outside the Boston market– think like what Pekka Rinne just did for the last two seasons in Nashville as Juuse Saros gradually took over as the starter for the Predators.

Krejci, on the other hand, has a bit more of a clouded future.

Bruins president, Cam Neely, told reporters earlier in the week that the organization has shelved talks of extensions with Rask and Krejci for after the postseason (a standard for the industry, especially with an expansion draft looming for the Seattle Kraken), but Neely was open to the idea of the two “one team” players spending their entire NHL careers in Boston.

That said, there’s always the possibility for retirement for Krejci or that he might go spend a few seasons in Czech Republic while winding down the twilight of his professional playing days.

None of that is relevant for the here and now, however.

Right now, the Bruins are focused on getting past the Islanders in the Second Round– a team that’s given them a bit of an inconsistent ride to say the least this season.

Boston dropped the first five games against New York, but won the last three meetings between the two clubs in the regular season.

That doesn’t actually say as much as one would think, since the Capitals had more recent success as the season progressed against Boston.

But then again, Washington did lose.

It’s also not like the B’s didn’t get better as the season went on– especially since they added Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly ahead of the trade deadline in April.

Boston has a legitimate top-six forward group and interchangeable components that can get the job done in the bottom-six, as well as a defense that has a mix of youth and experience– sans Kevan Miller for Game 1, at least, as Miller is out with an upper body injury, though Jarred Tinordi did fine for a bottom-pairing role in Game 5 against Washington.

Rask’s save percentage has gone up in each of his first five postseason games so far.

Through five games in the 2021 postseason, Pastrnak leads the team in scoring with six points (two goals, four assists), while bona fide stallion , Charlie McAvoy, has five assists and Bergeron (3-1–4 totals in five games) round out the top-three in postseason production thus far.

In the regular season, Rask led the way in the crease for the B’s with a 15-5-2 record in 24 games (24 starts), a 2.28 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage, as well as a pair of shutouts in that span.

Jaroslav Halak started the season as Boston’s backup, but ended it as the third string netminder with a 9-6-4 record in 19 games (17 starts) for the Bruins with a 2.53 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and two shutouts in 2020-21.

Swayman emerged as Rask and Halak spent time out of the lineup due to injury, as well as an extended stay in COVID protocol for the latter goaltender (perhaps affecting Halak’s performance as a result).

But before Swayman amassed a 7-3-0 record in 10 games (10 starts), as well as a 1.50 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and two shutouts, Dan Vladar made five appearances (all starts) and earned a 2-2-2-1 record to go along with a 3.40 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage.

Don’t let Vladar’s numbers fool you, however, as one desperate start on the second night of a back-to-back against the Capitals sank otherwise decent stats for the projected backup to Swayman someday on Boston’s depth chart.

In the postseason, Rask has put up a 4-1 record in five games with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.

So in other words, it’s midseason form for No. 40 for the black and gold.

Gerry Cheevers has faith in Rask.

At the other end of the rink, the Islanders utilized head coach, Barry Trotz’s, patented trap to stupefy Pittsburgh’s potent offense in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while also appearing to not really have to do that much to beat Tristan Jarry in the crease in six games (4-2).

This time we mean it. Nassau Live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is on its last legs.

Next season, the Isles will be opening up their new home at UBS Arena in Elmont, New York– making the “long” trek from Uniondale, New York to their new address.

Both TD Garden and the Coliseum are expected to have near full capacity crowds for the entirety of the series, so if you already couldn’t stand Boston and Long Island enough for some reason, expect the crowds to be as loud and as obnoxious as ever.

That said, we could all use a good laugh and some release from the last year and a half of pain, grief and suffering. Hopefully the cheers and jeers do not veer into the distasteful.

It is, after all, just a game.

Anyway, the Islanders were led by Mathew Barzal (17-28–45 totals in 55 games) this season, while Josh Bailey (8-27–35 totals in 54 games), Brock Nelson (18-15–33 totals in 56 games) and Jordan Eberle (16-17–33 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in team scoring in 2020-21.

In the crease, Semyon Varlamov led the way with a 19-11-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), as well as a 2.04 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and seven shutouts in the regular season.

Ilya Sorokin was the backup netminder for New York and amassed a 13-6-3 record in 22 games (21 starts) and had a 2.17 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts in the process.

Through six postseason games, Anthony Beauvillier (3-4–7 totals) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (1-6–7 totals) are tied for the team lead in playoff scoring, while Bailey and Nelson rank tied for third on the roster with six points (three goals, three assists for each player).

Varlamov’s gone 0-2 in two games (two starts) and has a 3.61 goals-against average, as well as a .903 save percentage, while Sorokin has taken over with the hot hands in net– amassing a 4-0 record in four games (four starts) and an equally impressive goal against average (1.95) and save percentage (.943) as Rask’s numbers for Boston thus far in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Isles captain Anders Lee remains out of the lineup with a lower body injury that ended his season after 27 games in 2020-21.


These two teams are meeting for the third time in a series, with the Islanders holding a 2-0 all time record, having defeated the Bruins in five games (4-1) in the 1980 Quarterfinal and in six games (4-2) in the 1983 Wales Conference Final.

Both times that New York defeated Boston, the Isles went on to win the Stanley Cup.

In the 2020-21 regular season, however, the Bruins went 3-3-2 in eight games against New York, while the Islanders went 5-2-1 against Boston.

New York outscored Boston, 21-18, in that span, though the Bruins held the advantage in total shots on goal over the course of their regular season series, 269-216.

Stellar goaltending has been a constant for both teams, outside of the odd, 7-2, win for the Islanders on Feb. 25th against the B’s.

The Bruins have Hall, the Islanders have Kyle Palmieri.

Depth scoring is paramount, especially if New York’s trap can get to Boston’s first line as effective as they were against Pittsburgh’s first line.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, is a dynamic coach, however, while Trotz might continue to go back to the well even if it’s starting to run dry– simply out of the comfort and ease of familiarity.

This series has all the makings of being a long, grueling battle that could see Boston victorious over the Islanders for the first time in the postseason in seven games when all is said and done.

Regular season outcomes:

1-0 NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 18th

4-2 NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 13th

7-2 NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 25th

2-1 F/SO NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 9th

4-3 F/OT NYI at TD Garden on March 25th

4-1 BOS at TD Garden on April 15th

3-0 BOS at TD Garden on April 16th

3-2 F/OT BOS at TD Garden on May 10th

Schedule:

5/29- Game 1 NYI @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, SN360, TVAS2

5/31- Game 2 NYI @ BOS 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN1, TVAS

Games 3 and 4, as well as 5 through 7 (if necessary) have yet to be announced by the league at the time of this writing.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: MassMutual NHL East Division

Sometime in the last however many days (or perhaps years, maybe even centuries, for some, as it felt) the calendar went from reading “March 2020” to “March 2021”, then April and now May.

Between then and now, the Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champions in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final over the Dallas Stars in six games after last year’s playoffs were held inside a bubble (well, technically two bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto before coming together in the former).

Then a somewhat regular-looking 56-game 2020-21 season took place as the National Hockey League and the rest of the world started returning to a sense of normalcy from January through now– getting vaccinated and seeing the light at the end of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic tunnel.

Resiliency in life cannot be understated.

That– even after so much loss and millions of deaths around the world– the course of nature goes on.

There is still a lot of grieving to be done, a pandemic ongoing and tensions rising around the globe, yet here we are, arguing over who will win one game– the next four games, a series– the Stanley Cup.

We, as hockey fans, have regressed to the mean. Our veins are pulsing as we hit “tweet” arguing between Toronto Maple Leafs and Montréal Canadiens fans for the first time since 1979.

Our humanity goes on.

Make no qualms about it, the 2020-21 season was one of the hardest seasons on all of the players in the NHL.

Their seemingly lavish lifestyles were disrupted by isolation on road trips, isolation in COVID protocol and isolation from so many family members and friends that may not have been able to go see them play or be around at home due to local rules, regulations or the mere fact that a player is single and living on their own.

No, there are no heroes. Only people.

Even hockey players.

As the dawn of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs arises, we’ll call their clutch goals, big hits and key saves “heroic”, but after all, we’re just watching 10 skaters and two goalies on the ice at any given time play a game at the highest level that so few are ever so privileged to play.

They’re making memories among their teammates on the ice that we’ll never be able to experience.

We’ll never be able to see it from their eyes– until, at least, nano camera technology that can be worn in a contact lens becomes mainstream in sports anyway– but we’ll watch the game with our own eyes and try to memorize every little detail of a play as we try to recreate it in driveways, streets and ice rinks in our own town or others.

It’s time.

Let’s hockey together, friends.


Four teams in each division made the postseason.

The best team facing the fourth best team, the second best team taking on the third best team– the winners of the First Round will face each other in the Second Round staying within their own division as they’ve done through 56 regular season games.

Each division will produce one winner heading to the Stanley Cup Semifinal in light of a Conference Finals round in usual years.

The Semifinal will reseed based on how the four remaining teams finished in regular season points standings with the first best team taking on the fourth, as well as the second best team facing the third best team in a series narrowing down the field to the 2021 Stanley Cup Finalists as a result.

Neither the Prince of Wales Trophy nor the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl will be awarded this year.

No trophies, just vibes (until the Stanley Cup, that is).


(1) Pittsburgh Penguins (37-16-3, 77 points) vs (4) New York Islanders (32-17-7, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 56 games played, .688 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

N.Y. Islanders: 56 games played, .634 points percentage, 24 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders are facing each other for the sixth time in a Stanley Cup Playoffs series with the Islanders holding the lead in all time series wins, 4-1.

New York beat Pittsburgh in seven games (4-3) in the 1975 Wales Conference Quarterfinal, in five games (3-2) in the 1982 Patrick Division Semifinal, in seven games (4-3) in the 1993 Patrick Division Final and in four games (4-0) in the 2019 First Round.

The Penguins beat the Islanders in six games (4-2) in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quaterfinal, meanwhile.

The Pens are making their 36th postseason appearance, while the Isles enter their 27th postseason in franchise history.

Pittsburgh was led by Sidney Crosby (24-38–62 totals in 55 games played) in the regular season, with Jake Guentzel (23-34–57 totals in 56 GP) and Kris Letang (7-38–45 totals in 55 GP) rounding out the top-three scorers on the Penguins’ roster in 2020-21.

Crosby and the Pens cruised to an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games and an impressive 22-4-2 record on home ice this season, which bodes well for their return to the playoffs after missing out on First Round action last season thanks to an early exit on behalf of the Canadiens in four games (3-1) in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier.

Among active members of the current roster, Crosby leads the Penguins with 68-121–189 totals in 168 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, while Evgeni Malkin– suffering from a lower body injury as of late– has 63-106–169 totals in 166 career postseason games.

Letang brings up the rear to round-out the top-three playoff performers currently on the roster with 80 points (21 goals, 59 assists) in 136 playoff games.

In the regular season, Pittsburgh relied on Tristan Jarry for a 25-9-3 record as a starter in 39 games played (38 starts) and two shutouts, as well as a 2.75 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

Casey DeSmith (11-7-0 in 20 games, 17 starts, 2.54 goals-against average, .912 save percentage, two shutouts) served as Jarry’s backup and even Maxime Lagacé made an appearance, recording a win in his only start, as well as a shutout.

When it comes to playoff experience, only Jarry has ever touched the ice in a Stanley Cup Playoff game– earning one start in a loss, as well as a 1.02 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage.

At the other end of the rink, the Islanders were led by Mathew Barzal in scoring with 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in 55 games, as Josh Bailey (8-27–35 totals in 54 games) trailed the prolific 23-year-old center with the second-most points on the team in the 2020-21 regular season.

Brock Nelson (18-15–33 totals in 56 games) and Jordan Eberle (16-17–33 totals in 56 games) were tied for the third-most points in team scoring for New York.

Isles captain, Anders Lee, had his season cut short by a knee injury that will keep him out of contention through the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Islanders went 3-4-3 in their last 10 games as they backed themselves into the postseason.

Among active players on New York’s current roster, Bailey leads his teammates in postseason scoring with 10-27–37 totals in 52 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, while Nelson (16-13–29 in 48 games) and newcomer, Travis Zajac (11-17–28 totals in 57 games) round out the top-three playoff performers entering the Islanders’ 2021 postseason run.

Zajac was acquired along with Kyle Palmieri from the New Jersey Devils ahead of the 2021 trade deadline back in April.

In the crease, Semyon Varlamov led the way for the Islanders with a Vezina Trophy worthy season, amassing a 19-11-4 record in 36 games played (35 starts) to go with seven shutouts, a 2.04 goals-against average a .929 save percentage.

Varlamov and Colorado Avalanche netminder, Philipp Grubauer, led the league in shutouts in 2020-21, while Vegas Golden Knights duo, Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner took home the William M. Jennings Trophy, having allowed the fewest goals against this season.

Meanwhile, Ilya Sorokin served as Varlamov’s backup in his first NHL season and had a 13-6-3 record in 22 games played (21 starts), as well as three shutouts, a 2.17 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

As Sorokin just completed his first season at the game’s highest level of competition, only Varlamov has had postseason experience and is expected to be New York’s starter in their 2021 First Round matchup with Pittsburgh.

Varlamov has a 24-20 record in 46 career Stanley Cup Playoff games (44 starts), as well as four shutouts, a 2.38 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in that span.


The Penguins went 6-2-0, while the Islanders went 2-4-2 in their eight games against one another this season with Pittsburgh outscoring New York, 26-19, in that span.

That alone should give a good indication of how Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, is back on his regular routine and how Isles head coach, Barry Trotz, will need to get crafty to drag Pittsburgh’s offense down a bit more to the level of New York’s “defense first” mentality.

Though it might be easier to slow down Crosby’s game than it is to ease Edmonton Oilers phenom, Connor McDavid, from his carousel around opponents, Pittsburgh has a deeper roster than New York’s stagnant core.

Jeff Carter alone has made a bigger impact on the Pens so far than Palmieri and Zajac combined for the Islanders.

That said, New York has the historical high ground over the Penguins in the playoffs– especially in light of their 2019 First Round sweep.

This time around, however, expect Pittsburgh to get the job done in six games– just long enough to get a rhythm going into an epic clash with either the Washington Capitals or Boston Bruins in the Second Round.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 6th

4-3 F/SO PIT at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 11th

4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 18th

3-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 20th

4-3 F/OT PIT at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 27th

2-0 NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 28th

6-3 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on March 27th

2-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on March 29th

Schedule:

5/16- Game 1 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

5/18- Game 2 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS

5/20- Game 3 PIT @ NYI 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

5/22- Game 4 PIT @ NYI 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

5/24- Game 5 NYI @ PIT*

5/26- Game 6 PIT @ NYI*

5/28- Game 7 NYI @ PIT*

*If necessary

(2) Washington Capitals (36-15-5, 77 points) vs (3) Boston Bruins (33-16-7, 73 points)

Washington: 56 games played, .688 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Boston: 56 games played, .652 points percentage, 25 regulation wins.

The Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins are meeting each other in a playoff series for the fourth time with the Capitals holding the lead in all time series wins, 2-1.

Washington beat Boston in six games (4-2) in the 1998 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal and in seven games (4-3) in the 2012 Eastern Conference Final.

Prior to the last two postseason series meetings between the two clubs, the Bruins swept the Capitals (4-0) in the 1990 Wales Conference Final.

The Caps are making their 31st appearance, while the B’s are set to embark on their 74th appearance in the postseason in franchise history.

Washington was led by Nicklas Backstrom (15-38–53 totals in 55 games played) in scoring this season, while John Carlson had the second-most points and T.J. Oshie rounded out the top-three in team scoring.

Carlson had 44 points (10 goals, 34 assists) in 52 games, while Oshie notched 22-21–43 totals in 53 games for the Capitals in 2020-21.

While battling injury at times this season, Washington captain, Alex Ovechkin, and Co. went 7-2-1 in their last 10 games of the regular season, amassing a 17-8-3 record on home ice.

Ovechkin leads his current teammates in active career postseason scoring with 69-62–131 totals in 136 Stanley Cup Playoff games (all with the Capitals), while Backstrom is second and former Bruin captain, turned Washington defender, Zdeno Chara, has the third-most career Stanley Cup Playoff points on the Capitals’ current roster.

Backstrom has 107 points (36 goals, 71 assists) in 128 career playoff games, while Chara has 18-52–70 totals in 195 career postseason games between the Ottawa Senators (45 games) and Boston (150 games).

In the regular season, Washington relied on the emergence of Vitek Vanecek as their starter with Ilya Samsonov serving as the Caps backup and Craig Anderson getting a handful of appearances mixed in.

Vanecek led the team with a 21-10-4 record in 37 games (36 starts), two shutouts, a 2.70 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage, while Samsonov amassed a 13-4-1 record in 19 games (18 starts) as Vanecek’s backup.

Samsonov had a 2.69 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage to go along with a pair of shutouts, while Anderson went 2-1-0 in four games played (two starts) and yielded a 2.13 goals-against average, as well as a .915 save percentage in that span.

Though Anderson is the only goaltender on the roster with previous playoff experience– including a 23-22 record in 46 games (46 starts) to go along with four shutouts, a 2.35 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in the process– Vanecek will likely be the starter for the Caps for the foreseeable future.

Especially with Samsonov still in COVID protocol on Friday (at the time of this writing).

Brad Marchand led the Bruins in scoring with 29-40–69 totals in 53 games this season, while Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak were tied for the second-most points with 48 points each.

Bergeron had 23-25–48 totals in 54 games, while Pastrnak had 20-28–48 totals in 48 games after getting a late start to the season due to offseason surgery.

Meanwhile, David Krejci, for those wondering, had 8-36–44 totals in 51 games and had the fourth-most points on the roster this season.

Boston’s current career postseason scoring leaders shapes up to be exactly what you expect– Krejci leads over Bergeron and Marchand.

Krejci has 40-75–115 totals in 145 career Stanley Cup Playoff games entering 2021, while Bergeron has 111 points (42 goals, 69 assists) in 149 playoff games and Marchand has 95 points (37 goals, 58 assists) in 121 postseason games.

The trio of Bruins define an era of consistent success not seen since the days of Phil Esposito in the spoked-B and are in search of their second Stanley Cup ring.

Boston utilized four goaltenders this season due to injury and COVID protocol effecting the season as Tuukka Rask led the team with a 15-5-2 record in 24 games (24 starts)– amassing a 2.28 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts in the process.

Rask’s “average” season was balanced out by Jaroslav Halak’s “average” season as a backup– posting a 9-6-4 record in 19 games (17 starts), as well as a 2.53 goals-against average, a .905 save percentage and two shutouts in that span.

Despite Halak’s best efforts, the emergence of Jeremy Swayman has led to Swayman moving up in the depth charts from surefire starter in Providence (AHL) to current NHL backup (with the ultimate goal of taking over for Rask someday as the Bruins transition from their franchise goaltender to their 22-year-old first year professional).

Swayman had a 7-3-0 record in 10 games (10 starts) and put up a 1.50 goals-against average, two shutouts and a .945 save percentage in his first taste of the NHL.

Dan Vladar, meanwhile, contributed where it mattered most and, despite one, 8-1, loss on the second night of back-to-back games against Washington, managed to have a 2-2-1 record in five games played (five starts) with a 3.40 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage for Boston.

With Halak relegated to the third string goaltender role, his 17-20 record in 39 postseason games (37 starts) and 2.48 goals-against average, as well as his .919 career playoff save percentage should remain untouched.

Sure, Vladar made a relief appearance in the 2020 Second Round, but Rask is Boston’s starter, after all.

And for good reason too– since Rask has a 51-42 record in 93 career Stanley Cup Playoff games (93 starts), as well as seven shutouts, a 2.20 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in that span.

No. 40 in black and gold is two wins away from tying Gerry Cheevers for the most postseason wins in franchise history (53).


The Capitals went 4-4-0, while the Bruins went 4-2-2 in their eight games against one another this season with Boston outscoring Washington, 26-25, in that span.

As noted, don’t let too many results in their head-to-head matchups from this season fool you.

The Bruins dressed the equivalents of their AHL affiliate (Providence Bruins) about two times against the Capitals this season.

The first time was due to a ton of injuries and the second time happened to be another final night of a back-to-back matchup in Boston’s schedule and the end of the regular season with both teams having clinched a playoff berth and not eligible for mobility in the standings.

That said, the B’s and Caps are pretty evenly matched.

Vanecek has the chance to ride the waves of his breakout season, while Rask is the steady hand that’s been the model of consistency in the crease this time of year.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, should get the most out of Krejci, Craig Smith and Taylor Hall to round out his top-six forwards, while Peter Laviolette can rely on Chara’s past knowledge of Boston’s systems to utilize as a strength for Washington.

That said, the Bruins should try to wrap things up in six games and move on to the Second Round before worrying about what a Game 7 would look like on the road for the first time since 2011.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT WSH at Capital One Arena on Jan. 30th

5-3 BOS at Capital One Arena on Feb. 1st

2-1 F/SO WSH at TD Garden on March 1st

5-1 BOS at TD Garden on March 5th

4-2 BOS at Capital One Arena on April 8th

8-1 WSH at TD Garden on April 11th

6-3 BOS at TD Garden on April 18th

2-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on May 11th

Schedule:

5/15- Game 1 BOS @ WSH 7:15 PM ET on NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS

5/17- Game 2 BOS @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS

5/19- Game 3 WSH @ BOS 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360, TVAS

5/21- Game 4 WSH @ BOS 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360, TVAS

5/23- Game 5 BOS @ WSH*

5/25- Game 6 WSH @ BOS*

5/27- Game 7 BOS @ WSH*

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Preview: Game 46- Bruins @ Sabres

Friday night at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York, the Boston Bruins face the Buffalo Sabres in the second night of back-to-back games while Boston vies for a seventh-straight win in their current winning streak.

The Bruins enter Friday having beaten the Sabres twice this week, most recently on Thursday night in a, 5-1, victory. Buffalo has yet to beat Boston this season as the two teams square off for the sixth time in 2020-21.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, indicated that defender, Kevan Miller, would make a return to the lineup in place of Connor Clifton, while Tuukka Rask would get the start in net on Friday.

Jaroslav Halak is expected to serve as Rask’s backup with Jeremy Swayman earning the night off in the press box as a healthy scratch after making 29 saves on 30 shots against in Thursday’s win.

Boston will be without Ondrej Kase, Brandon Carlo, John Moore, Trent Frederic and Patrice Bergeron as Kase and Carlo did not travel with the team for their current road trip, Moore is out for the rest of the season due to a hip injury and Frederic is still recovering from a non-COVID protocol related illness.

Bergeron was withheld from pregame warmup with a lower body injury.

Cassidy told reporters earlier in the week that while Kase is not regressing, he has still yet to return to full capacity at practice and would require some game action before making any swift lineup adjustments down the stretch as the Bruins are inside of 10 games remaining in the regular season after Friday night’s action.

The B’s (27-12-6, 60 points) are 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division entering their 46th game of this season’s 56-game schedule, while Buffalo is last in the division with a 12-28-7 record (31 points).

Boston is 13-6-3 on the road this season and 8-2-0 in their last ten games, while the Sabres are 5-16-4 on home ice and 4-5-1 in their last ten games.

The Bruins are 147-113-29-12 in 301 regular season meetings against the Sabres all time with 966 goals for and 932 goals against in that span.

Boston is 32-25-1-7 in 65 games at KeyBank Center since the building was opened in 1996, though Buffalo has outscored the Bruins, 177-168, in that span.

Brad Marchand leads the Bruins in scoring with 25-32–57 totals in 43 games, while Bergeron (18-23–41 totals in 48 games) and David Pastrnak (18-23–41 totals in 38 games) round out the top-three in team scoring this season.

Pastrnak is two goals away from his 200th career NHL goal. He has 198-222–420 totals in 428 career NHL games since being drafted by Boston in the 1st round (25th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Sam Reinhart leads the Sabres in scoring with 17-13–30 totals in 45 games this season, while Victor Olofsson (12-15–27 totals in 47 games) and Rasmus Dahlin (4-16–20 totals in 47 games) rank second and third in scoring for Buffalo.

Rask (11-4-2, 2.22 goals-against average, .916 save percentage in 18 games played) is expected to get the start for the Bruins after having Thursday night off. He had a 32-save shutout in Boston’s, 2-0, win in Buffalo on Monday.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is set to make his National Hockey League debut in the crease for the Sabres since he was drafted in the 2nd round (54th overall) by Buffalo in 2017.

He posted a 1.80 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage in six games for Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Junior tournament and has a 3.60 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage in 14 games for the Rochester Americans (AHL) this season.

Boston is currently 2-0-0 on their five-game road trip with a pair of games in Pittsburgh after Friday night’s action in Buffalo before returning home to face the Sabres to close out the month of April.

Expected lineups

Boston Bruins

63 Brad Marchand (A) 13 Charlie Coyle 88 David Pastrnak

71 Taylor Hall 46 David Krejci (A) 12 Craig Smith

21 Nick Ritchie 20 Curtis Lazar 74 Jake DeBrusk

81 Anton Blidh 52 Sean Kuraly 14 Chris Wagner

48 Matt Grzlecyk 73 Charlie McAvoy

6 Mike Reilly 86 Kevan Miller (A)

55 Jeremy Lauzon 44 Steven Kampfer

40 Tuukka Rask

41 Jaroslav Halak

Healthy scratches, injured and taxi squad members (officially TBA, below is only a prediction based on last game)

Jeremy Swayman, Trent Frederic (illness), Greg McKegg, Brandon Carlo (upper body), John Moore (hip), Ondrej Kase (upper body), Jack Ahcan, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Callum Booth, Connor Clifton, Anton Blidh, Karson Kuhlman, Jarred Tinordi, Kevan Miller (right knee)

Buffalo Sabres

53 Jeff Skinner 23 Sam Reinhart 68 Victor Olofsson

74 Rasmus Asplund 37 Casey Mittelstadt 72 Tage Thompson

96 Anders Bjork 24 Dylan Cozens 25 Arttu Ruotsalainen

13 Tobias Rieder 15 Riley Sheahan 91 Drake Caggiula

54 Mattias Samuelsson 55 Rasmus Ristolainen

26 Rasmus Dahlin 10 Henri Jokiharju

78 Jacob Bryson 3 Will Borgen

1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

31 Dustin Tokarski

Healthy scratches, injured and taxi squad members (officially TBA, below is only a prediction based on last game)

Jack Eichel (lower body), Cody Eakin, Colin Miller, Linus Ullmark, Carter Hutton, Matt Irwin

Goaltending stats entering Thursday

Boston Bruins

1 Jeremy Swayman 5-1-0 in 6 GP, 1.65 GAA, .943 SV%, 1 SO

40 Tuukka Rask 10-4-2 in 17 GP, 2.35 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO

41 Jaroslav Halak 9-5-3 in 17 GP, 2.44 GAA, .910 SV%, 2 SO

70 Callum Booth 0-0-0 in 0 GP, 0.00 GAA, .000 SV%, 0 SO

80 Dan Vladar 2-2-1 in 5 GP, 3.40 GAA, .886 SV%, 0 SO

Buffalo Sabres

1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen 0-0-0 in 0 GP, 0.00 GAA, .000 SV%, 0 SO

31 Dustin Tokarski 2-7-2 in 11 GP, 3.23 GAA, .914 SV%, 0 SO

32 Michael Houser 0-0-0 in 0 GP, 0.00 GAA, .000 SV%, 0 SO

35 Linus Ullmark 9-6-3 in 20 GP, 2.63 GAA, .917 SV%, 0 SO

40 Carter Hutton 1-10-1 in 13 GP, 3.47 GAA, .886 SV%, 0 SO

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Preview: Game No. 29– Islanders @ Bruins

For the first time in a week, the Boston Bruins are set to play another game. This time, the B’s will be kicking off the second-half of their 2020-21 56-game regular season schedule against the New York Islanders at TD Garden on Thursday night.

Boston defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 4-1, at KeyBank Center last Thursday (March 18th) without forward, Sean Kuraly, in the lineup as he had been placed in the league’s COVID protocol earlier that afternoon– jeopardizing that night’s action, when combined with the fact that the Sabres also had a positive test among their coaching staff– but nevertheless, the game went on as scheduled.

Until after the game.

Four more Bruins skaters were placed in COVID protocol, including Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, David Pastrnak and Craig Smith, which forced the postponement of last Saturday’s scheduled matchup with the Sabres in Buffalo and Tuesday’s scheduled home game against the Islanders.

Boston’s facilities were shutdown until Wednesday, when the team held practice for the first time since March 18th’s game action at 7 o’clock in the evening at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton.

Everyone except for DeBrusk and Kuraly came off of the National Hockey League’s COVID protocol list prior to practice on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, back in Buffalo last Thursday, Greg McKegg scored his first goal as a Bruin, DeBrusk added his third goal of the season, Smith notched his fifth and Pastrnak tallied his 14th goal of the year.

Krejci had three assists, surpassing 700 career points (all with Boston) in the process– becoming just the eighth player to do so in a Bruins uniform.

In 935 career NHL games, Krejci has 208-494–702 totals and trails Wayne Cashman (793 points) for the seventh-most points in a B’s jersey.

Jaroslav Halak made 23 saves on 24 shots against for a .958 save percentage in the win for Boston last Thursday, while Carter Hutton stopped 33 out of 37 shots faced for an .892 save percentage in Buffalo’s loss.

Now back to the present.

Entering Thursday night, the Bruins are 0-3-1 against the Islanders this season, with the most recent loss coming in a shootout, 2-1, on March 9th at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

New York is riding back-to-back wins against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 20th at home and March 22nd in Philadelphia as they enter Boston for the first time this season.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, provided a pregame update to reporters via Zoom and informed them that he expects Tuukka Rask to return to the lineup and get the start against the Isles on Thursday, while Jarred Tinordi and Trent Frederic will be game-time decisions.

Boston will be without Ondrej Kase, Kevan Miller, Jeremy Lauzon, Brandon Carlo, John Moore and Zach Senyshyn, though Carlo, Lauzon, Miller and Senyshyn are skating.

Moore underwent surgery on an undisclosed injury and is out longer-term, while Kase has no set timetable for when he’ll be back since sustaining an upper body injury in the second game of the season back on Jan. 16th in New Jersey.

Cassidy, meanwhile, is coaching in his 400th NHL game on Thursday night (177-74-38 overall in 289 games with Boston).

The Bruins (16-8-4, 36 points) are 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division as they embark on the second-half of their season, while New York leads the division with a 21-8-4 record (46 points).

The B’s are 7-3-1 on home ice this season and 5-3-2 in their last ten games, while the Isles enter TD Garden 8-7-2 on the road in 2020-21, as well as 8-2-0 in their last ten games.

Boston is 92-57-21-6 in 176 regular season meetings against the Islanders all time with 590 goals for and 501 goals against in that span.

New York is 18-20-2-4 in 44 games at TD Garden since the building was opened in 1995, outscoring the Bruins in that span, 134-113.

Brad Marchand leads the Bruins in scoring with 12-22–34 totals in 28 games played, while Pastrnak leads the team in goals scored (14), but trails Marchand for the second-most points with 14-12–26 totals in 21 games played this season.

Bruins captain, Patrice Bergeron, rounds out the top-three scorers with 25 points in 28 games and is four points away from tying Rick Middleton for the fourth most points with Boston in franchise history.

Bergeron has 362-532–894 totals in 1,117 career games with the Bruins, while Middleton had 898 points in 881 games with Boston from 1976-88.

Mathew Barzal leads the Islanders in scoring with 9-16–25 totals in 33 games this season, while Anders Lee and Brock Nelson are tied for the team lead in goals with 12.

Lee’s recent injury has limited him to 27 games and ruled him out for the rest of the season, while Nelson has attained 12-6-18 totals in 33 games.

Isles defender, Nick Leddy, is second on the team in scoring with 1-20–21 totals in 33 games, while Jordan Eberle and Jean-Gabriel Pageau each have 20 points for the third-most points on New York’s roster.

Eberle’s recorded 20 points in 33 games, while Pageau has 20 points in 32 games, including 4-1–5 totals in four games against Boston this season.

Rask (8-4-2, 2.46 goals-against average, .906 save percentage in 14 games played) is expected to get his first start since missing the last six games for Boston due to an undisclosed injury.

He is one win away from reaching the 300-win plateau and would be the first Bruins goaltender in franchise history to reach that mark.

Semyon Varlamov (13-6-3, 2.17 goals-against average, .923 save percentage in 22 games played) is likely to get the start in net for the Islanders on Thursday.

The Bruins kick off a seven-game homestand on Thursday, which is tied for the longest home stretch in team history (Jan. 2-16, 2006).

For the first time since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic began last year, fans will be in attendance at TD Garden as the building is limited to 12% seating capacity.

Roughly 2,100 fans will be at a Bruins home game for the first time since March 7, 2020, instead of the usual sellout crowd of 17,850 since the building’s most recent renovations and development of The Hub on Causeway.

Expected lineups

Boston Bruins

63 Brad Marchand (A) 37 Patrice Bergeron (C) 88 David Pastrnak

21 Nick Ritchie 46 David Krejci (A) 12 Craig Smith

10 Anders Bjork 13 Charlie Coyle 83 Karson Kuhlman

11 Trent Frederic 18 Greg McKegg 14 Chris Wagner

48 Matt Grzlecyk 73 Charlie McAvoy

67 Jakub Zboril 75 Connor Clifton

84 Jarred Tinordi 44 Steven Kampfer

40 Tuukka Rask

41 Jaroslav Halak

Healthy scratches, injured and taxi squad members (officially TBA, below is only a prediction based on last game)

Zach Senyshyn (upper body), Jack Studnicka, Brandon Carlo (upper body), John Moore (undisclosed), Ondrej Kase (upper body), Sean Kuraly (COVID protocol), Jack Ahcan, Jeremy Lauzon (fractured left hand), Callum Booth, Jake DeBrusk (COVID protocol), Dan Vladar, Kevan Miller (right knee)

New York Islanders

7 Jordan Eberle 47 Leo Komarov 13 Mathew Barzal

28 Michael Dal Colle 29 Brock Nelson (A) 12 Josh Bailey (A)

18 Anthony Beauvillier 44 Jean-Gabriel Pageau 26 Oliver Wahlstrom

17 Matt Martin 53 Casey Cizikas 15 Cal Clutterbuck (A)

3 Adam Pelech 6 Ryan Pulock

2 Nick Leddy 4 Andy Greene

34 Thomas Hickey 24 Scott Mayfield

40 Semyon Varlamov

30 Ilya Sorokin

Healthy scratches, injured and taxi squad members (officially TBA, below is only a prediction based on last game)

Anders Lee (knee), TBA

Goaltending stats entering Thursday

Boston Bruins

40 Tuukka Rask 8-4-2 in 14 GP, 2.46 GAA, .906 SV%, 0 SO

41 Jaroslav Halak 7-4-2 in 13 GP, 2.06 GAA, .921 SV%, 2 SO

70 Callum Booth 0-0-0 in 0 GP, 0.00 GAA, .000 SV%, 0 SO

80 Dan Vladar 1-0-0 in 1 GP, 1.00 GAA, .971 SV%, 0 SO

New York Islanders

30 Ilya Sorokin 8-2-1 in 11 GP, 1.97 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO

35 Cory Schneider 0-0-0 in 0 GP, 0.00 GAA, .000 SV%, 0 SO

40 Semyon Varlamov 13-6-3 in 22 GP, 2.17 GAA, .923 SV%, 3 SO

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Preview: Game No. 28– Bruins @ Sabres

For the first time this season, the Boston Bruins pay a visit to KeyBank Center to take on the Buffalo Sabres for Hockey Fights Cancer Night in Buffalo.

Last season, Boston went 3-0-0 against Buffalo in the pandemic shortened 2019-20 regular season, winning all three of their matchups, 3-2, on Nov. 21st in Boston, 3-0, on Dec. 27th in Buffalo and, 3-2, on Dec. 29th in Boston.

After Thursday night’s matchup, the two clubs will meet seven more times in 2020-21, including their next meeting on Saturday.

A couple of previous matchups against the Sabres were postponed to later dates in the season due to a plethora of Buffalo players in COVID protocol last month.

A coaching staff member for Buffalo and a Boston skater (Sean Kuraly) were placed in COVID protocol Thursday morning, resulting in both pregame skates being cancelled, but the game remains on schedule through contact tracing, etc.

The Sabres return home after a, 3-2, loss to the Devils in New Jersey and without their now former head coach, Ralph Krueger, who was fired on Wednesday.

Interim head coach Dom Granato was promoted from his position as an assistant coach in Buffalo, where he was hired in that role in 2019. He will be making his National Hockey League head coaching debut on Thursday.

Granato previously served as the head coach of the Columbus Chill (ECHL, 1997-99), head coach of the Peoria Rivermen (ECHL, 1999-2000), head coach of the Worcester IceCats (AHL, 2000-05), an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues (2005-06), head coach of the Chicago Wolves (AHL, parts of two seasons, 2008-09 and 2009-10), head coach of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (2013-16), assistant coach with the Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA, 2016), assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks (2016-19).

Buffalo, of course, is without their captain, Jack Eichel, due to injury.

Boston, meanwhile, is suffering from a plethora of injuries, rendering Tuukka Rask unavailable for the last five games, which meant that Dan Vladar got his first career NHL start on Tuesday after Jaroslav Halak was handed a, 4-1, loss in Pittsburgh on Monday.

Vladar made 34 saves on 35 shots to backstop the Bruins to a, 2-1, victory against the Penguins in his regular season debut in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, is likely to tweak his lineup depending on player availability, as well as whether or not Rask will be good to go after missing six games this season due to an undisclosed injury.

Rask did travel with the team as part of their four-game road trip (1-1-0).

Boston will be without Ondrej Kase, Kevan Miller and Jeremy Lauzon, at least, as Kase has no timetable for a return, Miller is skating back in Boston and Lauzon is approaching one month since sustaining a fractured left hand, which takes four-to-six weeks recovery time.

Brandon Carlo, John Moore and Zach Senyshyn will also be out of the lineup for Boston, while Jarred Tinordi is likely to miss Thursday night’s game in Buffalo as well after sustaining an upper body injury on a hit from Pittsburgh’s Brandon Tanev that resulted in a boarding major, as well as a game misconduct and a five-minute power play for Boston.

Thursday marks the halfway point for the Bruins, who are 15-8-4 overall (34 points) and currently 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division, while the Sabres begin the second half of their season with a 6-18-4 record (16 points, last in the division).

Boston is 3-2 in overtime and 2-2 in shootouts (5-4 past regulation) this season, while Buffalo is 0-2 in overtime and 2-2 in shootouts (2-4 past regulation) thus far in 2020-21.

Boston is also 8-5-3 in 16 games on the road this season, including a 4-4-2 record in their last ten games, while Buffalo is 2-10-2 on home ice and 0-9-1 in their last ten games.

The B’s are 142-113-29-12 in 296 all-time regular season matchups against Buffalo with 949 goals for and 926 goals against in that span.

The Bruins are also 29-25-1-7 in 62 regular season games at KeyBank Center, though the Sabres have outscored Boston, 175-157, in that span.

Brad Marchand leads the Bruins in scoring with 12-21–33 totals in 27 games, while Patrice Bergeron is second with 25 points in 27 games and David Pastrnak is third with 24 points in 20 games, while leading his teammates in goals scored (13).

Marchand has a team-leading plus-nine rating in 27 games, while Chris Wagner is a minus-eight in 23 games this season.

Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson lead the Sabres in scoring with 19 points in 26 and 28 games, repsectively. Eichel (18 in 21 games) ranks third in scoring, while Reinhart leads the roster in goals scored with 11.

Jake McCabe is a plus-two in 13 games, while Rasmus Dahlin is a minus-27 in 28 games thus far.

If Rask gets the start for Boston, he is one win away from his 300th career NHL win, which would also make him the first goaltender in a Bruins uniform to reach the 300-win plateau.

David Krejci is one point away from his 700th career point and currently eighth all-time in scoring in a Bruins uniform with 699 career points.

Wayne Cashman (793 points) is seventh in all-time scoring with Boston.

Bruins captain, Patrice Bergeron (894 points) is four points away from tying Rick Middleton (898) for the fourth most points in a Boston uniform in franchise history.

The Bruins wrap up their four-game road trip with a Saturday matinee (1 p.m. ET puck drop) in Buffalo before returning home on March 23rd against the New York Islanders in what will be Boston’s first game at TD Garden to feature fans since the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic began last year.

TD Garden will be limited to a 12% seating capacity.

Expected lineups

Boston Bruins

63 Brad Marchand (A) 37 Patrice Bergeron (C) 88 David Pastrnak

74 Jake DeBrusk 46 David Krejci (A) 12 Craig Smith

21 Nick Ritchie 13 Charlie Coyle 62 Oskar Steen

11 Trent Frederic 18 Greg McKegg 83 Karson Kuhlman

48 Matt Grzelcyk 73 Charlie McAvoy

67 Jakub Zboril 75 Connor Clifton

54 Jack Ahcan 44 Steven Kampfer

41 Jaroslav Halak

80 Dan Vladar

Healthy scratches, injured and taxi squad members (officially TBA, below is only a prediction based on last game)

Jeremy Swayman, Anders Bjork, Chris Wagner, Greg McKegg, Zach Senyshyn (upper body), Brandon Carlo (upper body), John Moore (lower body), Ondrej Kase (upper body), Tuukka Rask (lower body), Sean Kuraly (COVID protocol), Jeremy Lauzon (fractured left hand), Urho Vaakanainen, Jarred Tinordi (upper body), Kevan Miller (right knee)

Buffalo Sabres

13 Tobias Rieder 12 Eric Staal 23 Sam Reinhart

4 Taylor Hall 15 Riley Sheahan 72 Tage Thompson

53 Jeff Skinner 27 Curtis Lazar 37 Casey Mittelstadt

68 Victor Olofsson 20 Cody Eakin 21 Kyle Okposo

78 Jacob Bryson 55 Rasmus Ristolainen

44 Matt Irwin 62 Brandon Montour

26 Rasmus Dahlin 33 Colin Miller

40 Carter Hutton

34 Jonas Johansson

Healthy scratches, injured and taxi squad members (officially TBA, below is only a prediction based on last game)

Jack Eichel, Henri Jokiharju, Dylan Cozens

Goaltending stats entering Thursday

Boston Bruins

1 Jeremy Swayman 0-0-0 in 0 GP, 0.00 GAA, .000 SV%, 0 SO

40 Tuukka Rask 8-4-2 in 14 GP, 2.46 GAA, .906 SV%, 0 SO

41 Jaroslav Halak 6-4-2 in 12 GP, 2.15 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 SO

80 Dan Vladar 1-0-0 in 1 GP, 1.00 GAA, .971 SV%, 0 SO

Buffalo Sabres

31 Dustin Tokarski 0-0-0 in 0 GP, 0.00 GAA, .000 SV%, 0 SO

34 Jonas Johansson 0-5-1 in 7 GP, 3.79 GAA, .884 SV%, 0 SO

35 Linus Ullmark 5-4-2 in 12 GP, 2.43 GAA, .919 SV%, 0 SO

40 Carter Hutton 1-9-1 in 11 GP, 3.43 GAA, .884 SV%, 0 SO

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Previews

Calgary Flames Looks To Fight Off Red Hot Toronto Maple Leafs

For the first time in nearly a week, the Calgary Flames are back. Puck drop’s at the Saddledome at 4:00pm. 

Dillon Dube likely will not play, ( day to day with LBI ) did not skate during Saturday’s practice and there is no morning skate tomorrow. 

Geoff Ward did say that they’ll take a look at how things look in the morning and go from there. 

If Dube is unavailable, the lines will likely look like this: 

Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Dominik Simon

Andrew Mangiapane – Elias Lindholm – Matthew Tkachuk

Sam Bennett – Mikael Backlund – Josh Leivo

Milan Lucic – Derek Ryan – Joakim Nordstrom

Mark Giordano – Rasmus Andersson

Noah Hanifin – Christopher Tanev

Juuso Valimaki – Nikita Nesterov

Jacob Markstrom 

Things to watch: 

The Flames will reunite with TJ Brodie for the first time this season, after he signed with the Maple Leafs in free agency. Brodie has been heavy on the assists so far this season with three points in six games.

Chris Tanev has been an absolute beaut for the Flames. He took time to practice and shoot around with some of the younger guys yesterday.

Not only is he playing an intricate role on the penalty kill, he is showing his leadership abilities.

Goalie Frederik Andersen’s season has not been off to a hot start. With an .898 SV% and averaging nearly 3 goals against, he’s already in playoff form.

The Flames are going to have to play another full sixty minutes of hockey on both ends of the ice. Toronto is a scary team when they’re healthy and on the same wave length. The Flames have their work cut out for them.

Puck drops at 4:00pm EST. Make sure you check back for your postgame coverage!

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Final Preview

It’s not June, but it is the Stanley Cup Final. This year’s matchup will be between the Western Conference champion, Dallas Stars, and the Eastern Conference champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.

For the first time in recorded history, the Stanley Cup will be awarded in the month of September.

If you’re still in the bubble, congrats on making it this far!

If you were in the bubble, but were eliminated, you still went through a lot of things most of us will never get to know or experience.

If you have yet to be in the bubble– stay tuned for 2020-21 season announcements, because National Hockey League commissioner, Gary Bettman, indicated on Saturday that the 2020-21 regular season could start in mid-December or sometime in January with the expectation still set on a full-82 game schedule and a return to the usual 16-team playoff format.

The entire hockey world (well, those that care about the NHL anyway) shifts its focus to that of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s time for one team to win four games before the other team and raise the Cup high over their heads– even though nobody quite knows what a postgame celebration might look like, let alone what travel plans might be in store for Lord Stanley’s mug as it usually ventures across borders for a day with each member of the winning team.

For the first time since 2000, the Stars are in the Final.

They last lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games in their most recent Final appearance and Dallas has witnessed a generation pass, as well as players come and go between now and then.

For the first time since 2015, the Lightning are in the Final.

They lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in that Final– which was just their second appearance in franchise history– and Tampa hasn’t seen much change, save for the acquisition of youth and glue guys to go along with their “stick to the plan” regimen since then.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Tampa: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 35 regulation wins.

Dallas: 69 games played, .594 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were led by Nikita Kucherov in regular season scoring with 33-52–85 totals in 68 games played prior to the shortened conclusion of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Steven Stamkos had the second-most points on the roster with 29 goals and 37 assists (66 points) in 57 games before missing all action since the league’s return due to injury. He had core muscle surgery in mid-March, skated in June, but was not cleared to play in Tampa’s exhibition, Round Robin or playoff matchups since then.

There is currently no known timetable for his return.

Meanwhile, Brayden Point (25-39–64 totals in 66 games) continue to emerge as a high-caliber center with the third-most points on the Lightning roster in the 2019-20 regular season.

Tampa rolled through the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the First Round– avenging Columbus’ sweep of the Bolts in the 2019 First Round in the process.

Then the Lightning made a repeated effort of their 2018 Second Round matchup with the Boston Bruins, eliminating the B’s in five games once again.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Bolts were met with their toughest opponent yet as the New York Islanders took Tampa to six games before succumbing to the almighty powers that exist for the Lightning.

Tampa advanced to their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in the process.

They have been almost untouchable past regulation, but they are beatable as the Islanders pointed out in double overtime in Game 5 of their series.

Kucherov (6-20–26 totals in 19 games played) leads the Lightning in playoff scoring, while Point (9-16–25 totals in 17 GP) is hot on his tail– as long as he is healthy and in the lineup.

Victor Hedman leads all defenders with the most goals this postseason with nine and has six assists to go along with 15 points in 19 games for the third-most points on Tampa’s playoff roster.

Ondrej Palat (13 points in 19 games) and Yanni Gourde (12 points in 19 games) round out the top-five in playoff scoring for the Bolts.

Meanwhile, after finishing as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the 2019-20 regular season, Andrei Vasilevskiy (35-14-3 in 52 games played, 52 starts, 2.56 goals against average, .917 save percentage and three shutouts in the regular season) has posted a 14-5 record in all 19 games for Tampa in the 2020 postseason.

Through he has yet to record a shutout in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs– let along in his entire postseason career- Vasilevskiy has accrued a 1.82 GAA and a .931 SV% without yielding time in the crease to his backup, Curtis McElhinney (8-7-3 in 18 games, 18 starts, 2.89 GAA, .906 SV% and one shutout in the 2019-20 regular season).

Head coach, Jon Cooper, leads the Lightning behind the bench, while General Manager, Julien BriseBois hasn’t had all that much to do during the season, save for the important acquisitions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow to add speed and grit to their bottom-six forwards.

The Dallas Stars were led by Tyler Seguin in regular season scoring with 17-33–50 totals in 69 games played before the 2019-20 regular season was cut short by the pandemic.

Jamie Benn had 19 goals and 20 assists (39 points) for the second-most points for the Stars in 69 games, while Miro Heiskanen had the third-most points for Dallas with 8-27–35 totals in 69 games in his sophomore campaign.

Dallas trailed, 3-0, within the first seven minutes of Game 6 of their First Round matchup with the Calgary Flames as a Game 7 was all but likely to be forced and some left scratching their heads regarding the Stars.

The Stars came back to win, 7-3, and eliminated Calgary in six games in the 2020 First Round thanks to a five-point night (including four goals) from Denis Gurianov.

After the Colorado Avalanche forced a Game 7 in their Second Round matchup with Dallas, Joel Kiviranta became the first rookie to complete a hat trick with a game-winning overtime goal in a Game 7 to send the Stars to the Western Conference Final.

From there, Dallas beat the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to advance to their fifth Stanley Cup Final appearance in history.

Sometimes it pays to be good. Sometimes it pays to be lucky.

Other times it pays to be good and lucky– and that’s how the 2020 postseason has gone for the Stars.

In the postseason, Heiskanen has emerged as Dallas’ best player with five goals and 17 assists (22 points) in 21 games played. Heiskanen is on track to setting some franchise records as long as nothing cuts his postseason run short.

Benn has the second-most points on the playoff roster with 8-10–18 totals in 21 games, followed by Gurianov (9-8–17 totals in 21 games) for the third-most, John Klingberg (3-13–16 totals in 20 games) for the fourth-most and Joe Pavelski (9-5–14 totals in 21 games), as well as Alexander Radulov (8-6–14 totals in 21 games) tied for the fifth-most points on the Stars this postseason.

Anton Khudobin (16-8-4 in 30 games, 26 starts, 2.22 GAA, .930 SV% in the regular season) is the de facto starting goaltender with Ben Bishop (21-16-4 in 44 games, 43 starts, 2.50 GAA, .920 SV% and two shutouts in 2019-20) out due to injury for most of the postseason.

Khudobin’s spectacular run to the Final at 34-years-old has come on the backs of a 12-6 record in 19 games (18 starts), as well as a 2.62 GAA, a .920 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Bishop made three appearances in the 2020 postseason, posting a 1-2-0 record with a 5.43 GAA and an .844 SV% in the process.

Meanwhile, Jake Oettinger made his NHL debut– the second goaltender to make his NHL debut this postseason, joining Dan Vladar of the Boston Bruins in doing so– to the tune of a 0-0-0 record in one relief appearance with a 0.00 GAA and a 1.000 SV%.

He had five saves on five shots against in 18 minutes of gameplay.

Rick Bowness took over as the interim head coach for the Stars on Dec. 10th after Jim Montgomery was fired due to unprofessional conduct (Montgomery entered rehab for alcohol abuse and has since rejoined the league as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues).

Dallas General Manager, Jim Nill, hasn’t rocked the boat with any major player acquisitions during the season, but certainly added to the depth of veteran experience with the additions of Pavelski and Corey Perry in free agency.

The Stars went 2-0-0 against the Lightning in the regular season– having won both games in overtime.

Khudobin made 45 saves on 48 shots faced in his, 4-3, win at Amalie Arena on Dec. 19th, while Bishop earned the overtime win with 23 saves on 25 shots faced in a, 3-2, Stars victory on Jan. 27th at American Airlines Center.

Home ice means next to nothing in the bubble.

The Stars are this year’s dark horse team that went on a run that doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping anytime soon.

That said, the Lightning are supposed to be the team to beat this year.

If it goes short, expect Tampa to be the team leaving Edmonton with the Cup, but otherwise the writing is on the wall for this year’s Final to go all seven games with the Dallas Stars emerging victorious with their second Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

There’s just too much that they’ve already overcome to not be in their favor ultimately.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT DAL at Amalie Arena on Dec. 19th, 3-2 F/OT DAL at American Airlines Center on Jan. 27th

Schedule:

9/19- Game 1 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 7:30 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/21- Game 2 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/23- Game 3 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/25- Game 4 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/26- Game 5 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/28- Game 6 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/30- Game 7 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary