Sebastian Aho scored a pair of goals as Alex Nedeljkovic made 32 saves in a, 3-0, shutout win for the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of their 2021 First Round series with the Nashville Predators at PNC Arena on Wednesday.
Nedeljkovic (2-0, 1.01 goals-against average, .964 save percentage in two games played) became the second rookie goaltender in Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise history to record a postseason shutout, joining Cam Ward in doing so.
Ward notched a pair of shutouts in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs en route to leading Carolina to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship.
Meanwhile, Predators goaltender, Juuse Saros (0-2, 3.08 goals-against average, .910 save percentage in two games played) stopped 28 out of 30 shots faced in the loss.
The Hurricanes were without Jaccob Slavin on the blue line, so Jake Gardiner was dressed for Carolina.
Meanwhile, Predators head coach, John Hynes, had replaced Calle Jarnkrok (illness), Mathieu Olivier and Ben Harpur with Eeli Tolvanen, Brad Richardson and Matt Benning in the lineup on Wednesday.
Early in the action, former Carolina forward, Erik Haula, got tangled up with Martin Necas and received a minor infraction for roughing– yielding the game’s first power play to the Hurricanes at 2:02 of the first period.
The Canes were not successful on their first skater advantage of the game.
Moments later, Nashville defender, Mattias Ekholm, tripped Warren Foegele and presented Carolina with another power play at 7:17 of the opening frame.
The Hurricanes wouldn’t waste much time on the ensuing skater advantage before Aho (1) received a pass from Andrei Svechnikov through the high slot and one-timed the puck into the back of the twine.
Svechnikov (1) and Dougie Hamilton (1) had the assists on Aho’s power-play goal and Carolina took a, 1-0, lead at 8:03.
The Predators got their first skater advantage of the night at 8:47 when Vincent Trocheck roughed up Benning, but the Preds weren’t able to convert on the power play.
Nor did Nashville have any success on the skater advantage moments later when Hamilton was penalized for interference at 13:04.
No, the Preds also didn’t score on the power play at 15:59 when Aho roughed Haula and again the Predators were powerless on the advantage at 19:03 when Jordan Staal cut a rut to the sin bin for interference.
Heading into the first intermission, the Hurricanes led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and were outshooting Nashville, 10-9.
Carolina also led in blocked shots (4-2), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (5-3) and hits (20-18), while the Predators dominated the faceoff dot in faceoff win percentage (57-44).
Nashville was 0/4 and the Canes were 0/2 on the power play entering the middle frame.
Ryan Johansen got tangled up with Svechnikov as the two forwards exchanged pleasantries and received roughing minors at 4:16 of the second period.
After two minutes of 4-on-4 action, the two teams resumed full strength with cooler heads (for a few minutes anyway).
Brett Pesce was penalized for holding at 8:34, but Nashville continued to struggle on the power play as Nedeljkovic stood tall in the crease for Carolina.
Viktor Arvidsson took a trip to the box at 9:38 for interference, but the Hurricanes couldn’t muster anything on the resulting power play.
Shortly thereafter, Benning and Jordan Martinook got into a heated exchange, yielding roughing minors at 12:03 of the second period and plunging the game into another pair of minutes at 4-on-4.
Late in the period, Nino Niederreiter hooked Richardson, but the Preds couldn’t get anything going on the ensuing power play at 16:37.
Through 40 minutes of action, the Hurricanes held onto their, 1-0, lead on the scoreboard despite Nashville pulling ahead in shots on goal, 24-20, including a, 15-10, advantage in the second period alone.
Carolina held the lead in blocked shots (10-6), giveaways (11-10) and hits (36-32), while the Predators had the advantage in takeaways (5-3) and faceoff win% (56-44).
Nashville was 0/6 on the power play, while the Canes were 1/3 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame.
Foegele sent the puck over the glass and out of play, yielding an automatic delay of game infraction almost midway through the third period at 9:24.
The Preds couldn’t capitalize on the resulting power play.
Late in the period, Hynes pulled Saros for an extra attacker, but Carolina worked to clear the puck out of their own zone.
Pesce dumped the puck deep– missing the empty net– but didn’t ice the puck as Aho (2) charged into the attacking zone, pounced on the loose puck and buried the rubber biscuit into the net to give Carolina a two-goal lead.
Pesce (3) had the only assist on Aho’s second goal of the night and the Hurricanes led, 2-0, at 19:07 of the third period.
Less than a minute later, Foegele (1) worked the puck behind the goal line and wrapped around the net, sending an errant puck off of Ryan Ellis’ skate and through Saros for a three-goal lead.
Jesper Fast (1) had the only assist on Foegele’s insurance goal as the Canes made it, 3-0, at 19:32.
At the final horn, Carolina had secured a 2-0 series lead with a, 3-0, win as Nedeljkovic recorded the shutout– his first career postseason shutout.
The Predators finished the night leading in shots on goal, 32-31, despite Carolina leading in shots on goal in the third period alone, 11-8.
Nashville also wrapped up Wednesday night’s action with the lead in giveaways (19-16) and faceoff win% (53-48), while the Canes finished the night leading in blocked shots (17-10) and hits (52-39).
The Preds went 0/7 and the Canes went 1/3 on the power play in Game 2.
The Hurricanes lead the series 2-0 as the venue shifts to Bridgestone Arena for Game 3 in Nashville on Friday. Puck drop is expected a little after 7 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to national coverage on USA Network, while those in Canada can watch the action on FXX-Canada or TVAS2.
It’s June October and the Stanley Cup has been awarded and already cleaned more than a few times from all of the beer and other things that the Tampa Bay Lightning have done with it, which means it’s the perfect time to gather in a city around your TV screen and be ready to throw on any of the 31 National Hockey League team draft hats (excluding the Seattle Kraken– we’ll deal with them next season) when your name is called.
Well, if you’re one of the 31 prospects lucky enough to go in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft on Tuesday night, at least. Rounds 2-7 will take place Wednesday, starting at 11:30 a.m. ET as always– kind of.
For the first time in NHL history, this year’s draft is virtual thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Montreal was set to play host to the 2020 NHL Draft at Bell Centre back on June 26th and 27th, but it’s 2020 and with the global pandemic still going on, the league originally postponed the event back on March 25th before announcing it as a virtual draft at a later date (this week).
It’s also the first time that the draft is being held outside of June since the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, which was held at the Westin Hotel Ottawa in Canada’s capital city– Ottawa, Ontario– on July 30th of that year and it’s the first time that the draft is being held completely on weekday(s) for the first time since the 1994 NHL Entry Draft in Hartford, Connecticut, which was on Tuesday, June 28th of that year (remember the Whalers?).
The projected first overall pick– Alexis Lafrenfière– will get his moment in the spotlight sometime once the 2020-21 regular season begins, but until then he’ll have to settle for whatever lights his parents have in the living room.
Coverage of this year’s first round begins Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN in the United States, as well as SN and TVAS in Canada. Rounds 2-7 will be televised on NHLN in the U.S. and SN1 in Canada.
1. New York Rangers–> LW Alexis Lafrenière, Rimouski, (QMJHL)
Considered the best player to come out of the Québec Major Junior Hockey League since Sidney Crosby– who also played for Rimouski Océanic back in his Junior days– Lafrenière is a no-brainer for the New York Rangers.
He might be the best player in the draft since Connor McDavid was selected 1st overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015, and for good reason.
Lafrenière had 35 goals and 77 assists (112 points) in 52 games for Rimouski this season until the rest of the regular season, as well as all of the postseason and Memorial Cup were cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.
There’s nothing wrong with the Rangers stacking up on talent on the left side with Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider already in play. Simply put Lafrenière on the third line if you must and watch the forward depth lead the club into a playoff contender.
2. Los Angeles Kings–>C Quinton Byfield, Sudbury (OHL)
Byfield had 32-50–82 totals in 45 games with the Ontario Hockey Leagues’s Sudbury Wolves this season. His 6-foot-4 , 215-pound frame will help ease the transition for the Los Angeles Kings from Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter down the middle to whatever’s next with Byfield taking center stage.
His speed and skating ability is already a cut above the rest in the draft and having a two-time Frank J. Selke Trophy winner (Kopitar) as a teammate should further elevate Byfield’s game into one of the better two-way centers as he’ll be sure to learn a thing or two from him.
3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks)–>C/LW Tim Stützle, Mannheim(DEL)
The best German prospect since Leon Draisaitl, Stützle amassed 7-27–34 totals in 41 games with Adler Mannheim in the DEL last season. He’s a dynamic forward that plays a mature game for his age, which is a promising sign for the Ottawa Senators that ensured they’d be having “unparalleled success from 2021-25”.
It’s not off to that promising of a start for the Sens, but with their rebrand, Stützle at 3rd overall and the 5th overall pick at their hands, Ottawa’s brighter days are ahead if not now. They’ll just need to find a new starting goaltender to really make them a playoff contender with Craig Anderson’s departure as part of Ottawa’s plan.
4. Detroit Red Wings–>D Jamie Drysdale, Erie (OHL)
While Detroit Red Wing General Manager, Steve Yzerman, could make a splash later in the week trying to attract Alex Pietrangelo or Michigan native, Torey Krug, to Detroit’s blue line, it’s about time the Red Wings took another defender to potentially anchor the defensive zone in the future with last year’s first round pick, Moritz Seider.
Drysdale checks off all the boxes for the Red Wings as the best defender in the draft and you know what wins championships in “Hockeytown”? Defense.
That said, he had 9-38–47 totals in 49 games with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League in 2019-20 and is capable of utilizing his 5-foot-11, 175-pound build to his advantage in a two-way game.
5. Ottawa Senators–>RW Lucas Raymond, Frölunda (SHL)
Everybody loves Raymond and his playmaking abilities– drawing comparisons to Ottawa’s intra-province rival, Toronto Maple Leafs forward, Mitch Marner, according to scouts and mock draft experts alike.
His skill, two-way style and high hockey IQ are what sets him apart from other players his age and pairs well with Stützle in the picture for the Sens as a pair of players that could change the face of a franchise on their own. In 33 games last season with Frölunda HC, Raymond had 10 points (four goals, six assists) playing as a teenager among men in the SHL.
He has one goal and one assist (two points) in four games this season already.
The Anaheim Ducks need some scoring power as they stockpile youth on the roster and Perfetti brings the right amount of scoring prowess combined with an all-around ability that sets him apart as a forward.
Perfetti’s vision is one that will generate scoring chances– whether for himself or a teammate– as he amassed 37 goals and 74 assists (111 points) with the Saginaw Spirit (OHL) in 61 games last season.
At 5-foot-10, 177-pounds, he’s not flashy, but he creates space for his own game and that’ll compliment well with Anaheim’s need for a true top-six forward in the coming years– be it first or second line center or just a solid option at left wing.
7. New Jersey Devils–>C Marco Rossi, Ottawa (OHL)
Like the Senators, the New Jersey Devils have three picks in the first round of this year’s draft and if everything goes according to plan, the Devils will make off with a pretty solid core of forwards to intersperse among their organizational depth.
Rossi lit up the OHL in scoring last season with 39 goals and 81 assists (120 points) in 56 games with the Ottawa 67’s, while drawing comparisons to that of Claude Giroux. Meanwhile, he could join the likes of Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner and others as one of few Austrian born players to be drafted in the first round.
8.Buffalo Sabres–>C Anton Lundell, HFIK (Liiga)
Lundell had 10-18–28 totals in 44 games with HIFK last season in Finland’s top professional league (Liiga) and has a knack for protecting the puck rather well.
One of the better two-way centers in the draft, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound 19-year-old has some room to grow into a top-six role with the Buffalo Sabres in the near future– especially if Casey Mittelstadt and/or Tage Thompson can’t solidify their game in terms of a long-term second line center companion to Jack Eichel’s standout status as the first line center.
The Sabres need to shore up their strength down the middle– regardless of Eric Staal’s presence for this season on the second or third line.
Jarvis had 98 points (42 goals, 56 assists) in 58 games with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League last season before the pandemic cut things short.
He’s a crafty new-age center that has room to grow and has shown he can be more of a second-half of the season player that could one day peak at the right time for something the Minnesota Wild haven’t seen in a while– a deep playoff run.
With the Wild moving on from Mikko Koivu, Minnesota will need to replenish the pipeline down the middle both in the immediate and for the future.
10. Winnipeg Jets–>D Jake Sanderson, USA U-18 (USHL)
Sanderson could go higher in the draft or lower reminiscent of how Cam Fowler fell from 5th in the final rankings coming into the 2010 NHL Draft to being selected 12th overall by the Ducks.
He plays with aggression and has a 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame that could make losing Dustin Byfuglien prior to last season a little bit easier for the Jets– though Sanderson has big shoes to fill on a diminished Winnipeg blue line, unless GM Kevin Cheveldayoff flips Patrik Laine for an incredible return to shore up some own zone help for 2019-20 Vezina Trophy winning goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck.
With some polishing of his skills at the University of North Dakota whenever the 2020-21 season is expected to begin, Sanderson could improve from his 7-22–29 totals in 47 games with the U.S. National Development Program into a power play specialist that loves to use the body.
11. Nashville Predators–>D Kaiden Guhle, Prince Albert (WHL)
One of David Poile’s strengths as Nashville Predators GM has long been drafting defenders and Guhle is no exception to the rule. At 6-foot-2, 186-pounds, he could fit in with reigning Norris Trophy winner, Roman Josi, as well as Mattias Ekholm and friends on the blue line.
With 11-29–40 totals in 64 games for the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL last season, Guhle is a consummate two-way defender that can grind his way out of battles and move the puck out of his own zone– a strong suit of Nashville’s defensive core for at least the last 15 years.
12. Florida Panthers–>RW Alexander Holtz, Djurgårdens (SHL)
Holtz had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 35 games with Djurgårdens IF last season in the SHL as a pure goal scorer that’s waiting to emerge with a plethora of shots to take.
He led players 18 and under in Sweden’s top league in scoring and has decent size (6-foot, 192-pounds) to go with adapting well to the increased intensity of NHL-level hockey in due time, though he’ll probably use another season to develop as a more prominent scorer with Djurgårdens in 2020-21.
That said, new Florida Panthers GM, Bill Zito, will take to stocking up prospects in Florida’s new affiliation with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) with pleasure if the American Hockey League is able to make a season happen in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs)–>RW Jack Quinn, Ottawa (OHL)
Though the Carolina Hurricanes could go with taking a goaltender in the first round, GM Don Waddell just might be satisfied enough with how Alex Nedeljkovic continues to develop with Carolina’s new AHL affiliate– the Chicago Wolves– and instead opt for the next best available player in Quinn.
Carolina is much more satisfied crafting a plan via free agency or through a trade to add a goaltender this offseason for what could hopefully bolster their chances as a Cup contender– that’s right, it’s time for the Canes to unleash a storm on the rest of the league as a big improvement from last season to this season.
Quinn was one of two 50-goal scorers in the OHL last season as he finished the year with 52 goals and 89 points in 62 games. He’s also one of eight OHL players to score at least 50 goals in their first NHL draft eligible season since 2000-01.
You know who else did that? Guys like Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jeff Skinner and Alex DeBrincat. Not too shabby.
14. Edmonton Oilers–>G Yaroslav Askarov, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL)
The best goaltender in the draft, Askarov had a 12-3 record in 18 games in Russia’s second-tier league last season. He amassed a 2.45 goals against average and a .920 save percentage in the process and has a .974 SV%, as well as a 0.74 GAA through three games with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL this season.
As the Edmonton Oilers continue to find their way while trying to avoid wasting the primes of once in a generation talents like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it’d make perfect sense for the Oilers to nail down a solid goaltending prospect for once.
Especially as there’s an immediate need for someone to replace Mikko Koskinen and/or whoever Edmonton chases after in free agency.
While the team that beat the Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final passed over him in this hypothetical mock first round, Edmonton was sure to snag Askarov before anyone else could.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs(from Pittsburgh Penguins)–>D Braden Schneider, Brandon (WHL)
While serving as an alternate captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) for the second year of his three full Junior seasons thus far, Schneider brought forth a solid two-way game to contribute to his team on the ice in addition to his leadership in the dressing room.
He had 7-35–42 totals in 60 games last season with the Wheat Kings, while utilizing his 6-foot-2, 202-pound body to shutdown opponents with his two-way game.
Schneider won’t be ready to hit the NHL ice in 2020-21, but he should be able to slide into a prominent role with the Toronto Maple Leafs in due time.
16. Montreal Canadiens–>C/RW Dawson Mercer, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Mercer is a versatile forward that could be beneficial to fitting in with the Montreal Canadiens current game plan– find as many Nick Suzuki’s as possible among their forwards and roll four lines while hoping for the best in Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and others on defense, as well as Carey Price in goal.
The Habs are at a transition point from their old core to a new-age dynamic with the added bonus of head coach, Claude Julien, reconstructing his coaching strategies to propel the Canadiens forward from their .500 season in 2019-20, to hopefully a more legitimate standing as a playoff team in 2020-21.
Mercer amassed 60 points between the Drummondville Voltigeurs and Chicoutimi Saguenéens in 42 games in the OHL last season and should be able to add a little bit of a power forward component to Montreal’s roster in the near future.
17. Chicago Blackhawks–>D Justin Barron, Halifax (QMJHL)
Barron missed a chunk of time last season with the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) due to a blood clot issue, but still managed to put up 4-15–19 totals in 34 games from the blue line while playing an efficient physical game.
The Chicago Blackhawks have a solid group of young forwards emerging that it’s about time they start focusing a little more on developing a defense– whether it’s from within by selecting Barron or through free agency and making trades. In either case, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook aren’t getting any younger and they can’t play forever.
18. New Jersey Devils (from Arizona Coyotes)–>RW Jacob Perreault, Sarnia (OHL)
With their second pick in the first round, New Jersey snags a versatile winger with a knack for shooting the puck and scoring. Perreault had 39-31–70 totals in 57 games with the Sarnia Sting (OHL) last season and should be ready to make an impact on the Devils’ NHL roster sooner rather than later.
He also led Sarnia with 15 power-play goals last season and could help load up New Jersey’s talent pool on the special teams.
19. Calgary Flames–>C Connor Zary, Kamloops (WHL)
If the Calgary Flames are serious about making some big changes to their core, they’re going to need to find a long-term solution down the middle and, luckily, Zary brings just that.
A dynamic skater with decent hands, he had 38 goals and 48 assists (86 points) in 57 games with the Kamloops Blazers (WHL) last season and lends himself to a suitable role as a team player with his 6-foot, 178-pound build at center.
20. New Jersey Devils (from Vancouver Canucks via Tampa Bay Lightning)–>C Hendrix Lapierre, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Upper body injuries limited Lapierre to 19 games last season, but he managed to put up 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in that span as one of the better playmakers his age.
The Devils complete their trifecta of first round picks with a bit of a gamble, but a high upside if everything works out and Lapierre’s health doesn’t end up being a concern. New Jersey’s influx of speed, skill and youth should be able to get them to attract some key role players in the coming years to fill out bottom-six roles on a playoff contending roster.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets–>C/LW Dylan Holloway, Wisconsin (NCAA)
The Columbus Blue Jackets have taken to college hockey players with a lot of love in recent years and there’s no love lost for scooping up Holloway and his 6-foot, 203-pound frame as either a center or left wing in the near future in Flavortown.
He had 8-9–17 totals in 35 games in his freshman year with the Wisconsin Badgers and will likely need at least one more year under his belt in the college program before making the jump, but with the addition of Max Domi via trade ahead of the draft on Tuesday, the Blue Jackets can take their time to craft a heavy hitting lineup down the middle.
22. New York Rangers (from Carolina Hurricanes)–>C Ridly Greig, Brandon (OHL)
Despite being 5-foot-11 and 163-pounds, Greig can play in any role and has a good hockey IQ that comes in handy at both ends of the rink. His 26-34–60 totals in 56 games with the Wheat Kings last season should be decent enough for the Rangers to supplement their first round choice in Lafrenière in due time.
23. Philadelphia Flyers–>C Brendan Brisson, Chicago (USHL)
Brisson had 24-35–59 totals in 45 games with the Chicago Steel (USHL) last season and will be attending the University of Michigan to further develop his two-way game.
His consistency should only improve, as well as his scoring ability, which is promising for the Philadelphia Flyers as Claude Giroux peaks in his prime about the time Brisson could make his NHL debut.
24. Washington Capitals–>LW Rodion Amirov, Ufa (KHL)
In what’s not a surprise to anyone, the Washington Capitals aren’t afraid to take a shot on a Russian forward as Amirov had 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in Russia’s second-tier league last season. His shot and playmaking skills are good, but he’ll need a little time to develop and get stronger before hitting the ice at the NHL level.
At 6-foot-2, 194-pounds, Foerster brings some size to the Colorado Avalanche’s pool of prospects to go along with his 80 points (36 goals, 44 assists) in 62 games last season with the Barrie Colts (OHL). He’s also a decent playmaker, which fits right in with the team mentality of the Avs in their current era.
26. St. Louis Blues–>LW John-Jason Peterka, München (DEL)
Peterka led Germany with four goals in seven games at the 2020 World Junior Championship and has an impressive skating ability for his age, which lends itself to playing amongst the professionals in the DEL. He had 7-4–11 totals in 42 games with EHC München last season and is expected to continue to develop his game and work on using his size (5-foot-11, 192-pounds) to his advantage.
27. Anaheim Ducks (from Boston Bruins)–>D Jérémie Poirier, Saint John (QMJHL)
With their second pick in the first round, the Ducks don’t mind taking a defender and letting him take his time to get better in his own zone before making an impact in Anaheim. Poirier had 20 goals and 33 assists (53 points) in 64 games last season with the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL) and plays a “live by the sword, die by the sword” game that can really come into its own as a shutdown defender with some more development.
28. Ottawa Senators (from New York Islanders)–>D Helge Grans, Malmö (SWE J20)
Grans is a right-shot defender that has a great understanding of the game and decent vision to go along with his 4-23–27 totals in 27 games in Sweden’s junior lead last season, as well as one goal and two assists for Malmö in 21 games in the SHL last season.
He impressed coaches enough to begin the 2020-21 season in Sweden’s top league and should round out a great first round draft for the Senators.
29. Vegas Golden Knights–>D Ryan O’Rourke, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
A two-way defender, O’Rourke has a good hockey sense and had 7-30–37 totals in 54 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) last season. The Vegas Golden Knights already have a solid defensive core, but would be establishing an even better foundation for the future by taking the 6-foot, 178-pound defender.
30. Dallas Stars–>C Thomas Bordeleau, USA U-18 (USHL)
Bordeleau had 16-30–46 totals in 47 games with the U.S. National Development Program last season and has room to grow, but has time to develop within the Stanley Cup runners’ up, Dallas Stars’, system. A native of Texas, he’ll be attending the University of Michigan this fall.
31. San Jose Sharks (from Tampa Bay Lightning)–>D William Wallinder, MoDo (SWE J20)
Rounding out the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent the San Jose Sharks the 31st overall pick for Barclay Goodrow back when the global pandemic hadn’t put an early end to the regular season and before the Bolts won the Cup. As a result, the Sharks have the last pick in the first round since they traded their 2020 1st round pick to Ottawa in the Erik Karlsson trade.
As such, it’s only fitting that San Jose continue to build up their defense with Wallinder as a solid option for moving the puck out of his own zone– either by carrying it on his own or finding an open teammate, while shutting down opponents with his 6-foot-4, 191-pound build.
For the first time since 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup champions.
Gone are the days of choking in the 2015 Final, the 2016 and 2018 Eastern Conference Final or being swept in the 2019 First Round.
Open a window– make it a championship window– and see just how long the good times will last (there’s going to be some salary cap stuff to figure out for 2020-21 and beyond, but worry about that later).
For now, raise a socially distant glass on Zoom or whatever and celebrate responsibly as the Bolts downed the Dallas Stars, 2-0, in Game 6 at Rogers Place in Edmonton to win the series 4-2 and bring the Cup back to Tampa for the second time in franchise history.
Brayden Point’s power-play goal in the first period held up to be the game-winning, Stanley Cup clinching goal as Blake Coleman added an insurance marker in the middle frame.
Victor Hedman became the second player in Lightning franchise history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2020 postseason’s most valuable player.
Hedman’s also the third player from Sweden to win the Conn Smythe and the 10th different defender to win it in league history, joining Duncan Keith (2015), Scott Niedermayer (2007), Nicklas Lidstrom (2002), Scott Stevens (2000), Brian Leetch (1994), Al MacInnis (1989), Larry Robinson (1978), Bobby Orr (1970 and 1972) and Serge Savard (1969) in the process.
He also had 10 goals in the 2020 postseason, which were the most by a defender since Leetch had 11 in 23 games with the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers.
Lightning goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (18-7, 1.90 goals against average, .927 save percentage in 25 games this postseason) earned his first career Stanley Cup Playoff shutout in his 58th career postseason appearance– stopping all 22 shots faced en route to winning the Cup Monday night.
Dallas netminder, Anton Khudobin (14-10, 2.69 GAA, .917 SV% in 25 games this postseason) had 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in the loss.
Dallas interim head coach, Rick Bowness, didn’t change a thing from his lineup after winning in double overtime, 3-2, in Game 5 on Saturday to Monday night’s action in Game 6.
As a result, Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea remained out of the lineup due to injury or otherwise.
Prior to Game 6 on Monday, Steven Stamkos was ruled out of the rest of the Final by the Lightning on Sunday.
Tampa’s head coach, Jon Cooper, inserted Alexander Volkov on Stamkos’ slot on the fourth line right wing (where Carter Verhaeghe played in Game 5 after Stamkos returned for Game 4 before re-aggravating an injury forced him out of the lineup).
On defense, Kevin Shattenkirk was bumped up to the first pairing with Hedman, while Jan Rutta joined the list of scratches as Zach Bogosian took over Shattenkirk’s role on the third pairing with Ryan McDonagh.
Everything else was the same for the Bolts.
Tampa’s list of scratches on Monday included Luke Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Verhaeghe, Scott Wedgewood, Rutta, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens and Stamkos.
Early in the opening frame, Andrew Cogliano tripped up Point and was assessed a minor infraction at 6:32 of the first period.
Tampa wasn’t able to convert on their first power play opportunity of the night, but soon found themselves back on the skater advantage at 11:58, after John Klingberg tripped Volkov.
Less than a minute into the ensuing power play, Point (14) gathered his own rebound and scored on the far side while Khudobin was caught thinking the puck was trapped between his arm and his body.
Nikita Kucherov (27) and Hedman (12) tallied the assists on Point’s power-play goal at 12:23 of the first period and the Lightning led, 1-0.
The goal was Point’s fifth of the series and set a franchise record for the most goals in one postseason by a Tampa player as Point surpassed Tyler Johnson’s previous mark of 13 goals in Tampa’s 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, which ended in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final that year– the most recent time the Bolts made the Final before beating Dallas in six games on Monday night.
Kucherov’s primary assist on the goal also assured him of the fifth most assists (27) in a playoff year in NHL history, trailing Wayne Gretzky (31 assists in 1988), Gretzky again (30 assists in 1985), Gretzky for a third time (29 in 1987) and Mario Lemieux (28 in 1991).
Late in the first period, Hedman interfered with Stars forward, Corey Perry, and received a minor penalty at 18:36, but Dallas’ first power play opportunity did not go well.
Through one period of action in Edmonton on Monday night, the Lightning led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 11-4, in shots on goal.
The Bolts also held the advantage in takeaways (1-0), hits (18-12) and faceoff win percentage (60-40).
The Stars, meanwhile, led in blocked shots (8-5) and giveaways (7-5).
Tampa was 1/2 on the power play, while Dallas was 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the first intermission.
Almost midway through the middle frame, Coleman (5) received a pass through the high slot from Cedric Paquette and fired a one-timer past Khudobin to extend Tampa’s lead to two-goals.
Paquette (3) and Pat Maroon (5) notched the assists on the goal and the Lightning led, 2-0, at 7:01 of the second period.
About a minute later, Tampa defender, Ryan McDonagh was penalized for interference after colliding with Dallas forward, Tyler Seguin at 8:02.
Once more, however, Dallas’ power play was powerless and, in fact, cut shot when Perry bumped into Vasilevskiy yielding a penalty for goaltender interference at 9:22.
Tampa’s ensuing abbreviated power play after a little 4-on-4 action did not result in a difference on the scoreboard as both teams eventually entered their respective dressing rooms for the second intermission with the Bolts still in command, 2-0.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Lightning led in shots on goal, 21-8– including a, 10-4, advantage in the second period alone.
The Bolts also held the advantage in takeaways (3-2), hits (31-20) and faceoff win% (56-44), while the Stars led in giveaways (9-8).
Both teams had 13 blocked shots aside after two periods.
Tampa was 1/3 on the power play, while Dallas was 0/2 heading into the final frame of regulation.
Not much happened in the final period as the Stars rallied to a, 14-8, shots on net in the third period alone advantage– despite ultimately failing to score and finishing the night trailing, 29-22, in total shots on goal.
Dallas played desperate and had one final chance to cut the lead in half on the power play at 15:27 of the third period when McDonagh tripped Joel Kiviranta, but the Stars just couldn’t get any offense on the board.
With 1:44 remaining in the season, Bowness pulled Khudobin for an extra attacker in an attempt to muster just about anything by that point to spur his team for one last chance at forcing a Game 7.
This time, their heroic comeback moment did not come as the Lightning bolted down their defense and struck the Stars with a, 2-0, shutout at the final horn.
Tampa emerged with the 4-2 series win and their first Stanley Cup championship since 2004– their second Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.
Dallas fell to 1-2 in three Stanley Cup Final appearances overall, having won in six games in 1999, against the Buffalo Sabres, and losing in six games in 2000, against the New Jersey Devils.
Six games is all it takes, apparently, for better or worse for the Stars in the Final.
Meanwhile, it’s all the Lightning needed to complete a redemption arc from losing in six games to Chicago in 2015, and the ensuing bouts of embarrassment since then until the stars aligned for Tampa on Monday.
Tampa finished Game 6 leading in blocked shots (22-16), hits (40-37) and faceoff win% (53-47), while Dallas exited the bubble with the advantage in giveaways (11-9) in their final game.
The Lightning finished 1/3 on the power play as the Stars finished 0/3 on the skater advantage.
As the Bolts skated around with Lord Stanley’s mug, Cooper had completed the achievement of winning a championship at every level of hockey that he has coached– a feat that is by no means easy to accomplish, even though he did so while only 53-years-old (which is relatively young for a head coach).
Tampa became the first team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and be swept in the First Round the year before winning the Cup in the following season as the Columbus Blue Jackets ousted the Lightning in four games in the 2019 First Round.
The Lightning, fun fact, overcame Columbus in five games in the 2020 First Round before defeating the Boston Bruins in five games in the Second Round and the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference Final to advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
Maroon became the eighth player in history– and first since former Lightning player, Cory Stillman– to win back-to-back Cups with different teams in consecutive seasons.
Stillman won the Cup with the Lightning in 2004, before winning it again in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes (the NHL had a lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season in between), while Maroon won the Cup last year with the St. Louis Blues– his hometown team– before raising the Cup again in 2020 with Tampa.
Vasilevskiy set an NHL record for minutes played by a goaltender in a postseason with 1,708:12 time on ice.
He also became the 10th different netminder since the league expanded prior to the 1967-68 season to appear in every game en route to the Cup, joining Corey Crawford (with Chicago in 2013), Jonathan Quick (with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012), Tim Thomas (with Boston in 2011), Martin Brodeur (with New Jersey in 2000), Ed Belfour (with Dallas in 1999), Grant Fuhr (with the Edmonton Oilers in 1988), Patrick Roy (with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986), Ken Dryden (five times with Montreal from 1971-78) and Bernie Parent (with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974) in the process.
Bowness fell to 15-13 with Dallas in the postseason (all-time) as the Stars fell to 15-13 in the 2020 postseason as a whole, while Cooper improved to 54-29 behind the bench in the postseason with Tampa.
The Lightning finished 18-7 in the bubble in postseason action– capitalizing their longest postseason (25 games) with a Cup win.
Meanwhile, the NHL as a whole was able to award the Stanley Cup for the 2019-20 season amidst the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic with zero positive tests in Phase 4 of their Return to Play plan– which deserves a banner in its own right– having “administered 33,174 tests to club Personnel, including Players” from the beginning of Phase 4 through September 26th, according to a statement released by the league prior to the game on Monday.
Kudos to the NHL, NHLPA, Gary Bettman and all of the public health and local Canadian government officials that were able to make this happen.
It seems everybody’s scoring points these days as the Tampa Bay Lightning won, 8-2, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Final matchup with the New York Islanders on Monday.
Seriously, 11 different Lightning players had at least a point in Monday night’s series opener, while Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each had five points in the victorious effort.
Tampa carries a, 1-0, series lead heading into Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS). Here’s five takeaways for the next game, as well as the series as a whole.
1. Can the Islanders actually contain Tampa’s offense?
Thomas Greiss allowed three goals on nine shots against in the first 10:46 of the game before being replaced by Semyon Varlamov, but that wasn’t the only reason why New York is behind, 1-0, in the series.
Neither the Columbus Blue Jackets, nor the Boston Bruins were able to limit the Lightning’s attacking zone time and possession, which was not only evident by the fact that each of their series matchups with Tampa only lasted five games– the scoreboard reflected it too.
At any point in time, the Bolts can strike fast and amass goals in bunches (as exhibited by their three goals in the first 10:46 of Monday’s game, plus the other five goals they scored afterward).
It’s that momentum swing that the Islanders (or any team that may face the Lightning if Tampa advances to the Stanley Cup Final) will have to be wary about and eliminate at all costs.
Simply put, the Lightning play with a surge in electricity.
2. Inconsistent shots for the Isles
Tampa outshot New York, 10-6, in the first period and finished the second period with an, 18-17, advantage before going on to finish the game with a, 34-24, total shots on goal advantage.
The Lightning went 58:53 without missing the net in Game 1. The only shot attempt that did not go on net for the Bolts came with 67 seconds left in the game off of Cedric Paquette’s stick blade.
Meanwhile, the Islanders– a team primarily built on a defense-first game plan– failed to record at least 30 shots on goal for the second-straight game after amassing 26 shots on net against the Philadelphia Flyers in their, 4-0, win in Game 7 of their Second Round matchup.
New York only allowed 16 shots against that night too.
In their, 5-4, double overtime loss to the Flyers in Game 6, the Islanders recorded 53 shots on goal and allowed 31 shots against.
Game 5 against Philadelphia resulted in a, 4-3, loss in overtime, while shots on goal were even at 32 aside.
The Islanders were outshot, 38-33, in Game 4, but won, 3-2. New York had a, 29-27, advantage in their, 3-1, win in Game 3, as well as a, 34-31, advantage in their, 4-3, overtime loss in Game 2.
Both teams had 29 shots on goal in New York’s, 4-0, win in Game 1 of their Second Round series with Philadelphia.
Without breaking down the quality of their shots for and shots against, a generalized remedy for the Islanders would be to get more pucks on net (duh) and prevent the Lightning from hitting the twine or whichever goaltender Barry Trotz starts in Game 2 against the Bolts.
3. Followup question, who should start in net for New York?
It’s not like Greiss had really made consecutive starts in the postseason before doing just that from Game 7 against Philadelphia on Saturday to Game 1 against Tampa Bay on Monday.
His 2-2 record in four games doesn’t really speak for his 2.02 goals against average and .929 save percentage in the 2020 postseason.
Plus he got most of the night off, so he should still be fresh enough, in theory.
Meanwhile, Varlamov’s decent 9-4 record in 15 games this postseason stands out on its own, but his goals against average is on the rise as of his last two outings to a 2.22, while his save percentage has dropped to a .913.
Still, the Islanders goaltenders have combined for three shutouts this postseason (Varlamov has two, Greiss has one), which are three more shutouts than what Andrei Vasilevskiy has so far (zero, in case that wasn’t clear).
As bad as Greiss’ .667 SV% in Game 1 sounds, Varlamov still allowed five goals against after Greiss gave up the first three in the, 8-2, loss, so Varlamov’s .800 SV% in Game 1 isn’t ideal either.
If anything, Trotz will have to adjust his matchups to curb the speed of Tampa’s rush and instruct his players on getting in passing and shooting lanes to ease the high danger workload of whichever goaltender he opts for in Game 2.
4. Just how many franchise records will Tampa…
In case you haven’t heard by now, the Lightning are good.
So good, in fact, they tied, broke and set some franchise records in Game 1, including:
— The most assists in a playoff year by a Lightning player (Kucherov had four assists in Game 1 to break Martin St. Louis’ previous mark of 15 helpers in 2004, and set the new franchise record with 16 in 2020).
— The first players in franchise history to record five points in a playoff game (Point had two goals and three assists, while Kucherov had one goal and four assists).
— Tampa’s eight goals matched their franchise record for the most goals in a playoff game (the Lightning had eight in what was also an, 8-2, win in Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Penguins).
Oh and the Bolts improved to 5-0 in their last five playoff games going back to Game 2 against Boston in the Second Round, while outscoring their opponents by a combined, 25-9, margin in the process.
Plus, Point and Kucherov are the second pair of teammates to each record five or more points in a Conference Finals game (since 1982).
Paul Coffey had one goal and five assists (six points), while Jari Kurri had three goals and two assists (five points) in Game 5 of the 1985 Clarence Campbell Conference Final with the Oilers.
5. Will the Lightning buck the trend?
In the last decade or so, the team that plays a longer Conference Final than their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final usually wins the Cup.
It happened just as recent as last year, when the Bruins swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and had 10 days off before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final began.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks in six games in the 2019 Western Conference Final and only had five days between the third and fourth round of the postseason.
The Blues, of course, won the Cup in seven games.
In terms of significant time off between one series to the next, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after beating the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in five games in the 2006 Western Conference Final, then lost in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final in seven games to the Hurricanes who had just come off of a seven-game series win against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006 Eastern Conference Final.
The aforementioned Mighty Ducks had 10 days off after sweeping the Minnesota Wild in the 2003 Western Conference Final, then lost to the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final in seven games after New Jersey had just three days off between their seven-game series win over the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final and the Cup Final.
Obviously those few examples don’t cover the last decade, but fear not, let’s get that out of the way now…
The 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks swept the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final, while the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the Eastern Conference Final before losing in six games to Chicago in the Final.
O.K. that one didn’t fit the trend, but in 2011, the Vancouver Canucks ousted the Sharks in five games, while the Bruins beat the Lightning in seven games, then went on to beat Vancouver in seven games in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes in five games in the Western Conference Final, while the Devils overcame the New York Rangers in six games. Los Angeles beat New Jersey in six games to capture their first Cup in franchise history.
Wait, it happened again, didn’t it?
Well, in 2013, the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East, while the Blackhawks took five games to knockout the Kings in the West, then beat Boston in six games in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. A-ha! There’s one!
In 2014, the Rangers beat Montreal in six games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Kings defeated the Blackhawks in seven games before Los Angeles won their second Cup in three years by defeating New York in five games.
In 2015, both Tampa and Chicago went all seven games in their respective Conference Finals matchups with the Rangers and Anaheim Ducks, respectively.
Chicago won their third Cup in five years in six games over the Bolts in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, though.
In 2016, the Penguins beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Sharks beat the Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final.
Pittsburgh defeated San Jose in six games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.
In 2017, the Penguins edged out the Senators in seven games in the East, while the Nashville Predators beat the Ducks in six games in the West.
Pittsburgh went back-to-back as two-time defending Cup champions with their fifth title in franchise history after defeating the Predators in six games in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
And, of course, back in 2018, the Washington Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western Conference Final.
Washington won the Cup in five games over Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
Back in 1993, of course, the Canadiens beat the Islanders in five games in the Prince of Wales Conference Final, while Los Angeles took seven games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Clarence Campbell Conference Final.
The Habs defeated the Kings in five games to capture the Cup in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final– what’s perhaps the most recent instance of a team amassing a week off between the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final and still winning the Cup despite all that time off.
Either that or it’s one more chance to point out that this year’s Cup will be awarded on Canadian sole, but for the 27th year in-a-row, it won’t be going to a Canadian based NHL club.
Assuming (since they won Game 1) that the Lightning go on to punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in as little as four or five games and the 2020 Western Conference Final matchup between the Dallas Stars and Golden Knights goes six or seven games, then Tampa could be in trouble.
Then again, with the bubble in place and resulting lack of travel— as well as a condensed schedule due to the hopes of still having an 82-game regular season in 2020-21— the earliest the 2020 Stanley Cup Final could begin would be around Sept. 21st or 22nd, since the league already determined the Final must end by or on Oct. 4th— which would leave the Bolts with about a week off to scout their next potential opponent in person for as long as the West takes to decide their series.
For any Islanders fans that thought I forgot about them, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after sweeping the Minnesota North Stars in the 1984 Semifinals (the precursor to the modern Conference Finals round), while New York took down Montreal in six games and had four days off between the Semifinals and the 1984 Stanley Cup Final.
Edmonton won the series in five games in what is the Islanders’ most-recent Stanley Cup Final appearance.
The turnaround from the Qualifier to the First Round was too quick to get this out of the way (other than on the podcast), but at least the league and broadcasting partners gave us all a day or two between the First and Second Round– oh.
By the time that you’ll be reading this, the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars will likely already be well into the first period (at least) of Game 1 in their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round matchup.
Once again, this postseason is unpredictable– and that’s besides whatever happens on the ice.
At any point in time things could be shutdown again, because– you know– of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The players, coaches, team and league staff, as well as broadcasting crews and essential arena/hotel employees have all been in the bubble for almost a month now.
There aren’t enough words to express how taxing on the mind the isolation really is, despite teammates being in the bubble together, etc.
None on the league staff or team staff will see their families, romantic partners, roommates back home, etc. until they’re either eliminated or heading home with the Stanley Cup in their arms *fingers crossed*.
Luckily, the league’s made it this far into Phase 4 with no positive tests for COVID-19 out of the thousands of tests they’ve conducted.
For one reason or another (TV broadcast deals, probably), they’ve decided to make the Second Round feature a multitude of “back-to-backs”– that’s two games in two nights, whereas normally by this point in the playoffs there’s always (except for extenuating arena availability circumstances) a day off between each game in a series.
Alas, being in two bubble cities (Edmonton and Toronto), the league can do whatever it wants.
For now, let’s focus on the Western Conference teams in the Second Round. We’ll get to the Eastern Conference later.
As a reminder, the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, if everything goes according to plan.
Sadly, families won’t allowed to join the players in the Conference Finals and beyond as was first anticipated at the beginning of the bubble.
(1) Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8, 86 points) vs (5) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points)
Vegas: 71 games played, .606 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.
Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.
The Vegas Golden Knights took care of the Chicago Blackhawks in five games (4-1) in the First Round and (if you remember, they didn’t have to play in any Qualifier by virtue of being one of the best four Western Conference teams– seeding determined by a Round Robin tournament) are set to experience what it’s like to face the Vancouver Canucks in the Second Round.
Vancouver hasn’t been back to the Second Round since their 2011 Stanley Cup Final appearance, so good news for them– they won a series for the first time in nine years.
The Golden Knights were led by Max Pacioretty (32-34–66 totals in 71 games played) in the regular season, with Mark Stone (63 points in 65 games) and Reilly Smith (54 points in 71 games) rounding out the top-three scorers on the team.
Through eight games this postseason, Vegas has looked like their usual selves.
Sure, the goaltending is a hot topic these days, but the team can jump out to a quick, 1-0, lead or play a long-range game where the club takes absolute control of the third period and beats their opponent into submission– both on the ice and on the scoreboard.
Stone (four goals, four assists) and Smith (three goals, five assists) lead the Golden Knights with eight points each in eight games thus far in the 2020 postseason.
Shea Theodore (four goals, three assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (two goals, five assists) have the second most points thus far for Vegas– each of them have seven points in eight games.
Oh and William Karlsson– the other usual suspect for Golden Knights offense– has 2-4–6 totals in eight games.
In the regular season, Marc-Andre Fleury amassed a 27-16-5 record in 49 games (48 starts) for the Golden Knights with a 2.77 goals against average and a .905 save percentage in the process, as well as five shutouts.
Malcolm Subban played the role of the backup with a 9-7-3 record in 20 games (19 starts), a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% until he was traded at the deadline to the Blackhawks in a three-team trade that witnessed Robin Lehner exchange hands from Chicago to the Toronto Maple Leafs to Vegas.
Lehner, in the meantime, went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA, a .940 SV% and one shutout for Vegas until the stoppage due to the pandemic.
Oscar Dansk also made one appearance in 2019-20 for the Golden Knights, amassing a 6.00 GAA and an .838 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record.
Meanwhile, Lehner has amassed a 5-1 record in six games with a 2.44 GAA and a .904 SV% in the process.
Lehner’s had his moments, but he’s looked more confident and able to carry himself so far since returning after, what, five months off from the regular season to Phase 4?
Fleury, on the other hand, has let in some goals that are reminiscent of his pre-three Stanley Cup rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins days.
Is it his age or simply a byproduct of not being able to get quite restarted after a pandemic stoppage? Well, we may never know, because despite the “controversy” he still managed to win both games he was in and now– after more of a workload than Fleury– Lehner is regressing to some sort of standard trend for Vegas goaltenders this season.
At the other end of the rink, the Canucks broke through with their first series win since 2011, by beating the Minnesota Wild in four games (3-1) to make the playoffs, then defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games (4-2) to meetup with the Golden Knights in the Second Round.
J.T. Miller (27-45–72 totals in 69 games) led Vancouver in scoring, while Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games) had the second most points and Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) was third.
Pettersson leads his team through 10 games with 4-9–13 totals this postseason as Miller (5-5–10 totals) and Quinn Hughes (1-9–10 totals) each battle it out for second in Canucks playoff scoring.
Horvat (six goals, two assists) and Brock Boeser (three goals, five assists) each had eight points for the third most in offensive production for Vancouver thus far.
In the crease, Jacob Markstrom led the way in the regular season with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games (43 starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in 2019-20.
Thatcher Demko put up a 13-10-2 record in 27 games (25 starts) and had a 3.06 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% as Vancouver’s backup, while Louis Domingue made an appearance this season while the Canucks were depleted due to injury and amassed a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record in one game.
In the playoffs, it’s been all Markstrom, who is 7-3 in ten games with a 2.44 GAA, a .929 SV% and one shutout in that span.
Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer, usually makes it to at least the Conference Finals– if not Stanley Cup Final– in his first season/partial season with a new team after being fired by his old team.
Good news for Vegas fans, DeBoer is behind the bench.
Canucks head coach, Travis Green, has been a long-time coming coaching prospect turned annual “is he in the hot seat?”– but not really– extraordinaire that, with the help of youth, time and forward progress, has been presented a roster that can and will turn heads both in the now and near future.
Basically, these two teams met on Dec. 15th and Dec. 19th and each won a game.
Vegas beat Vancouver, 6-3, at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15th, while the Canucks took home a, 5-4, overtime win on Dec. 19th at Rogers Arena.
The Golden Knights had a combined 89 shots against the Canucks, who had a combined 63 shots against Vegas this season.
Neither team’s goaltending looked solid in their head-to-head matchups, but entering the Second Round, Markstrom clearly has the upper hand.
That said, Vegas has the powerful offense– with recent playoff experience to boot– and their tried and true defense that saw the addition of clutch playoff performer and underrated leader when it really counts, Alec Martinez, at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Kings.
It’s their first time ever meeting and it’s likely one that will last longer than most fans might think– because, again, Markstrom is a huge factor. Whether or not he’s actually this good all the time doesn’t matter.
He’s a hot goaltender this year and he’s been consistent thus far since returning from the stoppage.
It won’t be easy, but the Golden Knights should advance, however, to the 2020 Western Conference Final in six games when all is said and done.
Regular season outcomes:
6-3 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15th, 5-4 F/OT VAN at Rogers Arena on Dec. 19th
8/23- Game 1 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
8/25- Game 2 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton 9:45 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
8/27- Game 3 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton, 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
8/29- Game 4 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton, 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
Colorado: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 37 regulation wins.
Dallas: 69 games played, .594 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.
Both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars were good enough in the Western Conference to participate in the Round Robin tournament while the Stanley Cup Qualifier was going on, after which, the Avs beat the Arizona Coyotes in five games in the First Round, while the Stars eliminated the Calgary Flames in six games.
Nathan MacKinnon led the way for Colorado in the regular season with 35 goals and 58 assists for 93 points in 69 games played. Rookie defender, Cale Makar, was second in team scoring with 50 points in an injury shortened 57-game season, while offseason acquisition, Andre Burakovsky amassed 20-25–45 totals in 58 games for the third most points on the team.
In the postseason, MacKinnon is still leading the way for the Avalanche with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in eight games entering the Second Round. Nazem Kadri is a close-second with 11 points (six goals, five assists) through eight games, while Mikko Rantanen is third with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in eight games.
In the net, Philipp Grubauer split time with Pavel Francouz.
Grubauer amassed an 18-12-4 record in 36 games played (36 starts), while putting up a 2.63 GAA, a .916 SV% and two shutouts.
Francouz had a 21-7-4 record in 34 games (31 starts) and yielded a 2.41 GAA, a .923 SV% and one shutout in that span.
Meanwhile, Michael Hutchinson made one appearance and recorded a 1.00 GAA, as well as a .944 SV% in that game for Colorado after being acquired at the deadline.
In the playoffs, Grubauer’s carried the weight with a 5-0-1 record in six games, a 1.49 GAA, a .937 SV% and one shutout in that span, while Francouz has made two appearances with a 1-1-0 record, a 1.02 GAA, a .958 SV% and one shutout in that stretch.
Entering Game 1, Grubauer was likely to see more time in the crease (but that’s changed now with his lower body injury that he sustained).
Across the ice, the Dallas Stars advanced to the Second Round after ousting the Flames and were led by Tyler Seguin’s 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists) in 69 games in the regular season, while Jamie Benn (19-20–39 totals in 69 games) and Miro Heiskanen (8-27–35 totals in 69 games) also played major roles leading up to the pause.
Entering the Second Round, Heiskanen has emerged as a generational talent for Dallas’ blue line with three goals and nine assists (12 points) in nine games thus far. Free agent signing, Joe Pavelski, has paid off with his usual clutch playoff performance– eight points (six goals, two assists) in nine games so far.
Meanwhile, rookie, Denis Gurianov (6-1–7 totals in nine games) and John Klingberg (1-6–7 totals in eight games) are battling it out for the third most points on the roster thus far in the 2020 postseason.
Gurianov had four goals and an assist against Calgary in Game 6– tying Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik for the most points in a playoff game by a rookie this postseason with five– one shy of the NHL record (Mikko Leinonen had six points– all assists– for the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their Patrick Division Semifinal against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 8, 1982).
In net, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin made a solid goaltending tandem for the Stars with Bishop amassing a 21-16-4 record in 44 games (43 starts), a 2.50 GAA, a .920 SV% and two shutouts while battling injury at times.
Khudobin, meanwhile, held things down with a 16-8-4 record in 30 games (26 starts), a 2.22 GAA and a .930 SV%.
In the postseason, Bishop has been “unfit to play” for the majority of Stars games, while managing to put up a 1-1 record in two games, with a 4.04 GAA and an .862 SV%.
As a result, Dallas interim head coach, Rick Bowness, has had to rely on Khudobin, who’s amassed a 4-3 record in seven games, with a 2.49 GAA and a .919 SV% entering the Second Round.
Now is where the fun begins.
Despite all of their dominance in the regular season, Jared Bednar’s Avalanche have yet to crack the code on the Stars.
Dallas won all four matchups with Colorado, with the Avs dropping a game in overtime and in a shootout to the Stars this season.
Colorado outshot Dallas, 162-137, in combined shots on goal in their head-to-head meetings in 2019-20, but they managed exactly zero wins with Grubauer in net for all four matchups.
Now, of course, with Grubauer hurt in Game 1, they’ll have to be bailed out by Francouz if all else fails.
But coming into the series, for all the mighty strength the Avalanche have in scoring depth, a youthful defense that moves the puck with speed and skill– there’s a very real possibility the Stars overtake them.
For the most part, Colorado has a mix of playoff experience, but Dallas experienced the heartbreak of losing in a Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues that went to double overtime.
That alone is motivation enough for the Stars to make quick work of the Avs and get back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2008, when they lost to the eventual 2008 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in six games.
For Colorado, however, it’s been an even longer wait since their last appearance in the Western Conference Final. The Avalanche last made it in 2002, when they lost in seven games to the eventual 2002 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.
But then there’s Colorado’s recent strides to improve from a First Round exit in 2018 to a Second Round exit last year to consider. There’s a chance they just keep marching forward and at least make it to the Western Conference Final in 2020.
Entering the series, the Avalanche would be a lock for eliminating the Stars in seven games.
But with the result of Game 1’s injury to Grubauer, it’s possible the Avalanche can’t get over the mountain and collapse.
Regardless, the Stars are riding the momentum of an emotional comeback from a three-goal deficit in Game 6 against the Flames in the First Round that it shouldn’t be/wasn’t a surprise that Dallas wins/won Game 1.
The regular season record means nothing– especially more so when the playoffs are five months after a shortened regular season due to a pandemic and completely isolated to two buildings (one per conference).
Colorado can get over the Stars if they first shoot for the moon and a seven-game series victory. It’ll be a good test for how they’ll measure up with the Golden Knights in the predicted 2020 Western Conference Final in this post.
And, boy, what a series that would be.
But first, it’s two teams that haven’t met since the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinal, when the Avalanche won in five games– like they did in the 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinal.
The all-time playoff series between Colorado and Dallas is even at, 2-2, since the Stars initially beat the Avs in the 1999 and 2000 Western Conference Final– both years went all seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
2-1 DAL at Pepsi Center on Nov. 1st, 4-1 DAL at American Airlines Center on Nov. 5th, 3-2 F/SO DAL at American Airlines Center on Dec. 28th, 3-2 F/OT DAL at Pepsi Center on Jan. 14th
8/22- Game 1 DAL @ COL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
8/24- Game 2 DAL @ COL in Edmonton 9:45 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
8/26- Game 3 COL @ DAL in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
8/28- Game 4 COL @ DAL in Edmonton 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league.
It’s time for an update and a look at who the Carolina Hurricanes might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of PNC Arena someday.
Carolina Hurricanes Current Retired Numbers
2 Glen Wesley
10 Ron Francis
17 Rod Brind’Amour
Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?
No! But that could change as soon as current Minnesota Wild forward, Eric Staal, eventually decides he’s had enough and calls it a career. Not just could, it should and (probably) will.
Possible Numbers to Retire Someday
9 Gordie Howe
Let’s keep this one short and sweet– it’s “Mr. Hockey”. Howe spent his final year in the NHL (1979-80) with the Hartford Whalers and subsequently had his number retired by both the Detroit Red Wings and the Whalers, but when Hartford relocated to North Carolina, the Hurricanes chose not to honor any of the retired numbers from their Whalers days.
As such, Howe’s No. 9 is technically available, but it has never been worn in Carolina. Why not go all out sometime on Whalers Night and re-retire Howe’s No. 9 out of a formality?
12 Eric Staal
From the 2003-04 season through part of the 2015-16 season, Staal was a fixture on the Hurricanes roster. In 909 games with Carolina, he scored 322 goals and had 453 assists (775 points), which ranks 2nd on the all-time scorers list in franchise history (behind only Ron Francis, of course, who had 1,175 points as a Hartford Whaler/Carolina Hurricane).
Staal had a massive 100-point season in his sophomore campaign in 2005-06, en route to Carolina’s Stanley Cup championship over the Edmonton Oilers in seven games. He notched career-highs in goals (45), assists (55) and points (100) that season in all 82 games played and only had one season below 70 points– his rookie season, in which Staal had 11-20–31 totals in 81 games in 2003-04– until an injury in 2013 disrupted his prolific playing ability.
As time moved on, it became more clear that Staal would need a change of scenery and the Hurricanes would be wise to cash in on what they could still get for him at a high rather than let him walk away for nothing.
After three consecutive seasons of at least 50 points from 2012-13 through 2014-15, Staal entered the 2015-16 season with Carolina, but finished the season with the New York Rangers.
On Feb. 28, 2016, the Hurricanes dealt Staal to the Rangers for Aleksi Saarela, New York’s 2016 2nd round pick and New York’s 2017 2nd round pick.
Staal had ten goals and 23 assists (33 points) in 63 games for Carolina at the time of the trade that season. He had three goals and three assists in 20 games for the Rangers down the stretch.
The Hurricanes won the trade, which had seen the departure of their first true “homegrown” star, having drafted Staal 2nd overall in 2003.
And there’s still connections to the Staal trade with the Rangers on the roster to this day.
Saarela was later packaged with Calvin de Haan on June 24, 2019, in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg. You might recognize Forsberg as one of Carolina’s many goaltenders this year after David Ayres made his NHL debut back in February.
The 2016 2nd round pick (50th overall) was packaged with a 2017 3rd round pick (originally belonging to Chicago) in a trade with the Blackhawks before the de Haan deal on June 15, 2016, in which the Hurricanes received Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell.
Finally, the 2017 2nd round pick (52nd overall) was used by Carolina to draft a right-shot defender from the University of Michigan named Luke Martin.
Staal played more than one vital role in the ever changing landscape of the Hurricanes from Cup winner to modern day playoff contender on the upswing after making an appearance in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final (albeit losing in four games to the Boston Bruins).
20 Sebastian Aho
Entering the 2015-16 season, Carolina kicked things off by drafting Aho in the second round (35th overall) in 2015. Little did anyone know, but it was poetic selection as Staal later was traded that season and Aho made his NHL debut the following season– proving to perhaps be the heir to Staal’s legacy as the current face of the franchise.
In his rookie season of 2016-17, Aho had 24 goals and 25 assists (49 points) in all 82 games. He followed that up with a sophomore campaign of 29-36–65 totals in 78 games in 2017-18, then set a career-high in assists (53) and points (83) in 82 games last season.
Up until the shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season, Aho had a new career-high in goals (38) and 66 points in 68 games played. He was on pace for another 80-point season.
It’s truly a shame we didn’t get to see what might have panned out– and that’s ignoring the cutthroat Eastern Conference playoff berth race.
At the very least, Aho is no flash in the pan. He’s the real deal in terms of skill, consistency and the true direction of where the franchise is going.
Only four seasons into his NHL career, it looks like he’s destined to be honored for eternity in Hurricanes lore one day with a jersey retirement night.
37 Andrei Svechnikov
Svechnikov just wrapped up a sophomore season that was cut short due to the pandemic, but improved on his 20-17–37 totals in all 82 games in his rookie season last season.
This year, Svechnikov had 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) as well as two lacrosse wraparound goals henceforth referred to as “The Svech”.
Gifted, young, crafty Russian wingers are sometimes hard to predict, but Svechnikov appears to be the real deal– especially since he was the 2nd overall pick in 2018.
Sure, the Hurricanes have had a young Russian first round product before in Alexander Semin, but whereas Semin was drafted by the Washington Capitals 13th overall in 2002, Svechnikov was drafted at the same overall position as Pittsburgh Penguins center, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was a 2004 Draft product and look how he turned out for Carolina’s division rival.
It might be early to say that Svechnikov’s No. 37 will be hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena one day, but it’s not too late to admit that you really liked “The Svech” and you won’t moan about “the disrespect for goaltenders and the game that it has caused”.
What’s not to love?
Carolina has their best chance in franchise history at winning a Cup and remaining an annual Cup contender in the process. The first (and only) time they won in 2006, the Hurricanes utilized assets picked up via trades and otherwise to push them over the edge and into eternal glory as names like “Staal”, “Williams”, “Cole”, “Brind’Amour” and others were etched onto Lord Stanley’s chalice.
But this time around, something’s different.
This time, the Canes have been built primarily from within and over the years via the draft. While Aho has a great chance at being a cornerstone for the franchise, players like Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Teravainen have been around for at least a few years and could cement their names in franchise lore by winning a Cup in Raleigh.
If they’re able to win multiple Cups in Raleigh, then they just might move themselves up into consideration for having their numbers hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena.
The hard part is, however, that the accolades of Slavin and Pesce, for example, may otherwise go unnoticed by the rest of the league. Real Caniacs will know the impact they’ve had on the blue line for the franchise, but how much of the impact will be measured in twine on a pulley that brings their last name and number to the ceiling forever?
Finally, guys like Martin Necas, well, he just had his rookie season, so it seems a bit premature to run around just yet and declare him a player destined to have his No. 88 retired by the Hurricanes (but he just might someday, so you heard it here first if it happens and don’t quote me unless I’m right).
It’s October whateverth, I know, and the regular season is already underway, but transferring data into a new system and (in some cases) building new rosters entirely can take its time in the midst of catching every game on TV, living life, etc.
So without further ado let’s pretend the 5-3-1 (11 points)– 1st place in the Metropolitan Division– Carolina Hurricanes didn’t actually start the season yet and let’s turn back the clocks to before puck drop on the regular season.
Back then, Andrei Svechnikov had yet to play an NHL game as an 18-year-old rookie. The 2nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft’s forecasted stats couldn’t be calculated until he stepped foot on the ice. Though his 2-2–4 totals in his first nine games have him forecasted for 18 goals and 18 assists (36 points) over his first 82 games, we’ll pretend we don’t actually know what we know now.
Anyway, the fact of the matter remains the same– prior to the start of any regular season, these forecasted stats are merely educated expectations. A player who performs better than their expected outcome exceeded expectations (makes sense). A player who doesn’t live up to the numbers was either injured, a healthy scratch or on a chronic cold streak (or whatever).
Last season’s Carolina Hurricanes finished 6th in the Metropolitan Division with a 36-35-11 record and 83 points on the season. Bill Peters was fired as head coach and former Hurricanes superstar Rod Brind’Amour was hired behind the bench. Don Waddell took over as General Manager in the offseason, going from interim to full-time as owner Tom Dundon embraced a new direction to go along with his new reign.
Carolina holds the longest playoff drought in the league currently, dating back to their 2009 Eastern Conference Finals appearance against the Pittsburgh Penguins– just three years removed from their 2006 Stanley Cup championship. The Hurricanes haven’t been part of any postseason activity in the 2010s.
Not that this season can necessarily change that, but the end of the drought is soon and the oasis of playoff hockey draws near.
It’s at this point in every forecast where I’d like to remind everyone my degree is in communication– not math– therefore all mistakes are strictly Microsoft Excels fault and for sure not an error of my own. Well, that, and there’s sometimes a little gut-feeling mixed in for players who’ve only played in less than ten games and therefore are projected to score, like, 100 goals or something.
My area of expertise resides in the written, spoken and nonverbal language of communicating– not numbers.
Forecasted stats are to be looked at as an utopian perspective– as though everything were to fall into line and nothing bad could ever happen. Some players will pan out and others will fall flat. These are only suggested (expected) outcomes for a sport that’s highly unpredictable due to its collective nature and sheer puck luck.
Carolina Hurricanes Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)
The good news for Carolina heading into 2018-19 is the realistic expectations are low. There’s only three players that are expected to crack the 50-point plateau, but that doesn’t mean any meteoric rise can’t creep up on any member of the Hurricanes and propel this roster into the postseason for the first time in– by the time April rolls around– a decade.
Brind’Amour is behind the bench now and having no prior NHL experience as a head coach, there’s nothing to point to and say “they’re destined to fail”. The Canes might come out of this with one of the best rookie coaches this season if they make the playofs and given all the expectations of the other rookie coaches around the league.
Washington’s Todd Reirden is behind the defending-Cup champions (so there’s high expectations with room only to fail), David Quinn is coaching a rebuilding New York Rangers bunch (so anything goes), Jim Montgomery is in charge of the borderline Dallas Stars (things could go either way) and Brind’Amour, well, he can only go up what with the roster he was given.
As always, we’ll get into goalies and rookies after the first quarter of the season passes, however, he’s a quick look at the expected top-points scorers for the Hurricanes this season.
Valentin Zykov has shown potential before and if Brind’Amour can finally be the one to light a fire under his playing style, perhaps Zykov just might amass 24-35–59 totals and be like William Karlsson was for the Vegas Golden Knights last season– except this time around, Zykov isn’t a new face in town for a new team.
Aho (27-31–58 expected totals) should easily reach, if not exceed, expectations for Carolina as he enters the world of first line minutes in the post-Jeff Skinner on the Hurricanes era.
We’ll neglect the holes in the Skinner trade where Waddell should’ve gotten more, but at least Aho is a positive in the “next man up” category of “players who should live up to being rushed into the spotlight, since there’s nobody else to turn to and have already been part of the organization prior to a rather one-sided trade”.
“Mr. Game 7” himself (Justin Williams) is bound for one last “breakout” year with 22-33–55 expected totals on a rejuvenated Hurricanes roster.
Meanwhile, Micheal Ferland, Warren Foegele and Jordan Staal make themselves as prime candidates for dark horse work horses in Carolina.
On defense, Dougie Hamilton (44 expected points) supersedes Justin Faulk (39 expected points) as Carolina’s top blue liner after being acquired in the Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm trade for Hamilton, Ferland and Adam Fox. In addition, Slavin and Pesce continue to fill-out one of the best kept secrets in NHL defense as pieces of the most underrated top-six blue liners with de Haan now part of the fold.
In goal, well, Brind’Amour has a lot of decisions to make on an almost nightly basis. Neither Scott Darling nor Petr Mrazek look to have goals against averages or save percentages in the starting goaltender range.
In fact, both are in the sub-par backup goaltender range– closer to 3.00 than 2.00– so as long as the Hurricane’s defense limits shots against and lessens the workload, then perhaps the season’s collapse won’t be because of bad goaltending.
For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals– Game 7
By: Connor Keith
With a two-goal shutout over Washington at the Verizon Center, the Penguins have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.
If statistics told the whole story (they don’t, much to my chagrin), the first period was only an appetizer of what to expect in the remainder of the first Game 7 of the night. Both teams committed one penalty, both penalty kills rose to the task. Pittsburgh blocked four shots, Washington three. The Penguins stole the puck four times and committed three giveaways, the Capitals made three steals and only two giveaways. Pittsburgh fired 10 shots on net, Washington nine – and all were saved by either First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury or Third Star Braden Holtby.
Things were still looking that way until the 8:49 mark of the second period when Second Star Bryan Rust (Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby) drew first blood. The play started when Ian Cole intercepted Matt Niskanen’s attempted clear at the far point to keep the puck from crossing the blue line. In the same motion he passed to his captain in the center of the offensive zone, who dished to Guentzel en route to the near side of the slot. Instead of firing on Holtby’s net, he slid a centering pass to his right wing that was more than capable of banging home a wrist shot top-shelf for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Once the scoreless draw was broken, the pressure was on Fleury for the remaining 31:11 of the game. As he’s proved so many other times this postseason, he was up to the task only a year removed from being relegated to the bench during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run. In total, he saved all 29 shots he faced for his first shutout of the 2017 postseason. Included within those attempts was a flurry of action late in the second period.
To start, Alex Ovechkin had a beautiful look at leveling the game at one-all from his usual spot in the left face-off circle with 3:53remaining in the frame, but Fleury managed to get his stick and blocker between Ovechkin’s wrister and the back of his net at the last second to prevent the score from changing.
Fleury’s strong play continued 1:29 later when he fought off three separate shots in a wild scrum in his crease, but he was truly confirmed it was his day when Nicklas Backstrom’s offering from along the goal line with 73 seconds remaining before the second intermission not only bounced off his right skate, but also off the far post and out of harm’s way.
If the Pens have learned anything in these playoffs, it’s that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In the opening five minutes of the third period, Pittsburgh outshot the Capitals seven-to-one. That attack found its reward 4:14 into the frame when Patric Hornqvist (Justin Schultz) sneaked a wrister between Nate Schmidt’s legs and over Holtby’s glove to set the score at 2-0.
While only an insurance goal, it seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Verizon Center crowd. The crowds’ mood significantly soured following Hornqvist’s marker as it realized the Capitals would fall for the ninth time in 10 matchups against Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pittsburgh will host the Senators for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at PPG Paints Arena. That series is scheduled to start on Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern time. The contest will be televised on NBC in the USA and CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.
Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks– Game 7
By: Nick Lanciani
Entering Wednesday night, the Anaheim Ducks had lost four consecutive Game 7s at Honda Center. Entering Thursday morning, they’re moving on to the 2017 Western Conference Finals after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 on home ice thanks to Nick Ritchie’s early 3rd period game winning goal.
Ducks goalie, John Gibson made 23 saves on 24 shots against in just his 2nd career Game 7 appearance for a .958 save percentage en route to the win, while Edmonton goaltender, Cam Talbot made his first Game 7 appearance, stopping 28 saves on 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in the loss.
For just the fourth time in franchise history, Anaheim will contend for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, having appeared in the Western Conference Finals in 2003, 2007 and 2015 before advancing to the 2017 edition of the Western Conference Finals against the Nashville Predators.
Drake Caggiula (3) kicked off scoring in Game 7 with his unassisted redirection that beat Gibson just 3:31 into the 1st period to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead.
Despite trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes of play, the Ducks were not ready to fold on home ice in yet another Game 7.
Andrew Cogliano (1) tied the game, 1-1, on a backhand shot that slid past a sprawling Cam Talbot after a series of desperation saves almost midway through the 2nd period. Cogliano’s first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs was assisted by Ryan Kesler (6) and Brandon Montour (5) at 8:55 of the 2nd.
With a close battle carrying over into the 3rd period, the Ducks came out flying early in effort to combat the younger, faster skating Edmonton offense that had pestered teams all season long by playing a game that only got better as the minutes passed.
After swapping scoring chances, Anaheim had strong attacking zone possession, firing pucks on Talbot, generating rebounds and odd caroms off the boards behind the goal.
Ritchie (2) collected a loose puck and fired a blocker side shot that clipped Talbot underneath the shoulder and fluttered into the twine to give the Ducks their first lead of the night. Sami Vatanen (1) and Corey Perry (7) collected the helpers on Ritchie’s goal, which made it 2-1 Anaheim, just 3:21 into the 3rd period.
Despite a late surge by the Oilers around two minutes to go in regulation, the Ducks held off on all of Edmonton’s advances with the Oilers having pulled Talbot for an extra skater.
As time expired, Anaheim head coach, Randy Carlyle improved to 2-2 in four career Game 7 appearances, while Edmonton head coach, Todd McLellan fell to 1-3 overall in Game 7s.
With Wednesday night’s 2-1 win, Anaheim has only allowed one goal in their three Game 7 victories in franchise history, having previously defeated Phoenix 3-0 in the 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals and Calgary 3-0 in the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Anaheim plays host to the Nashville on Friday night at Honda Center for Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 9 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can watch the game on NBCSN, while Canadians can tune to CBC or TVA Sports for coverage.
The Ducks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in their most recent trip to the Western Conference Finals (2015) but advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in both 2003 and 2007.
The Predators will make their Western Conference Finals debut for the first time in franchise history.