In a first, everyone (except for Jordan) appears on the Down the Frozen River Podcast to predict how the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will go before the 2017-18 NHL regular season even ends, technically speaking. The 100th episode anniversary is informally observed.
We’ve all had some time to digest the spectacle that was the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, now let’s reflect on the experience as a whole for a minute and discuss ways to make it more interesting, considering ratings fell for the third year in a row.
This is DTFR Overtime and I’ve been neglecting you all through the holidays.
The Winter Classic is great.
You heard that right. I love an outdoor NHL game. Not for the most commonly stated reason why NBC loves the game. No, I couldn’t care less about how much a player feels like they’re a kid again playing outdoors on their backyard rink, local pond, river or lake.
I love the Winter Classic because it’s different.
Different jerseys, different atmosphere, different venue and usually a different game winner.
The Buffalo Sabres-New York Rangers matchup actually turned out to be a good one. Just when all hope was thought to be lost after trailing 2-0 early, the Sabres showed up on the scoreboard.
In the end, the Rangers won and that was fitting, since they were closer to their home ice than the technically speaking “home” team in this year’s Winter Classic due to a clause in New York’s contract with Madison Square Garden that states the Rangers cannot play a home game outside MSG.
Overtime outdoors with flames in the end seemed like a perfect ending to a largely under-produced, under-promoted, sporting event.
The Winter Classic has always shown potential. Why not tap into it?
Let’s address the obvious elephant in the room from this year’s matchup– the matchup itself. Sure, letting Jack Eichel run around outside is a great idea and all, but against the New York Rangers at Citi Field? None of that makes sense, considering 1) if you’re going to go with the 10th anniversary narrative, at least invite the Pittsburgh Penguins alumni team and Sabres alumni team to skate around the mini rink during intermission or something and 2) it should have been you, New York Islanders.
Not a Sabres-Islanders matchup, but rather a Battle for New York (City). Rangers-Islanders at Citi Field would’ve made a lot more sense, because, you know. The Islanders are the New York Mets of the NHL. Jimmy Fallon loves the Rangers, Jon Stewart loves… well, the Mets. At least the Islanders have that whole color scheme going for them (oh and a new arena coming soon to Belmont Park).
NBC didn’t have a problem calling up archival footage of Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winning goal from the first Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY.
Like Colby Kephart said on the podcast two weeks ago, Crosby’s path to glory at the NHL level started with that game winning shootout goal. He rose to stardom, but didn’t win a Cup immediately. Prior to appearing in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final (and 2009, 2016 and 2017 as well), Crosby’s biggest stage was his Winter Classic moment (again, until he lifted the Cup over his head in 2009, 2016 and 2017).
Eichel could’ve been played up as the American version of Crosby– still one of the greatest players in the league, though sometimes overlooked as if he had to prove himself some more.
Don’t like a Pittsburgh-Buffalo rematch 10 years in the making? That’s fine.
A Rangers-Islanders matchup would’ve made more sense on New Year’s Day if you really want to play the rivalry card. It also would’ve actually meant something in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.
As much as people hate on NBC for taking away divisional or actual rivalry games from local media broadcasting crews, sometimes it must be done. Nationally displaced local fans want to be able to watch their teams with ease– having some of their biggest matchups on national television isn’t a bad thing when it’s done right.
Give us the standings– give us the storylines of recent hatred among the clubs and national audiences might eat it up more than hearing over and over again where somebody is from or how one goaltending coach taught the two goalies at opposite ends of the ice everything they know.
If the league could schedule one or two matchups between rivals within a week or two before they take things outside, imagine what a perfect storm of potential chaos that would be on the ice.
Of course, timing is everything when it comes to touting a rivalry as a premiere event to be seen by all.
Remember how the 2016 Winter Classic was a 5-1 blowout by the Montreal Canadiens on road ice at Gillette Stadium? The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs in 2015 and they went on to miss them again in 2016.
They were in a lull in talent on the ice. Their longest rivalry with Montreal had crescendoed when Bruins exorcised their demons in 2011 en route to the Cup, but not much of the championship roster from 2011 remained in 2016– except for core players in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask.
Then the rivalry went dormant as Boston fell asleep at the wheel in the Second Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Canadiens ousted the President’s Trophy winning Bruins in seven games.
And 2017’s Winter Classic matchup of the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium didn’t go as hoped for a 50-year old rivalry– the Blues defeated the Blackhawks 4-1.
If you’re looking ahead to the 2019 Winter Classic between Boston and Chicago from Notre Dame Stadium, well, you better hope both teams are as lively as they’ve been at times this season on January 1, 2019.
Timing is everything.
If you’re worried about making adidas Winter Classic merchandise and getting it out to the consumers in time for the big game, let alone scheduling the right venue, teams and ticket sales, then why not have all 31 teams prepare something. Let every NHL franchise draw up a set of potential home and road Winter Classic sweaters.
Instead of announcing the following year’s Winter Classic a year and a half ahead of when it’s going to be played, just keep the fans in suspense– let rumors swirl about every team’s potential outdoor look and/or venue for just long enough until the league says “surprise, it’s going to be the Vegas Golden Knights against the Nashville Predators from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee”. Trust me, people would want to go see that.
Worried about having jerseys made in time for fans to purchase? Make the Winter Classic announcement in July or August, then make the Winter Classic jerseys go on sale in pro shops in December.
Boost your holiday sales while not having to give in to the demands of consumers who want to get everything done and out of the way in October or November leading up to the December holidays and Happy Honda Days.
I know it’s hard, but actually keep some things secret.
The Winter Classic should be around through 2021 at least (pending NBC broadcasting rights and negotiations regarding an extension or who knows, maybe ESPN will want to cover hockey again in three years?), but we shouldn’t find out– through the league or anonymous sources– that the Blackhawks will be hosting the Penguins in a first ever home-and-home matchup in 2020 whereby Chicago hosts the Winter Classic and Pittsburgh hosts the Stadium Series until, say, before the start of the 2019-20 season.
The 2019 Winter Classic shouldn’t have been unveiled by a report from Barstool Sports in November 2017. Calendar-year-wise that’s a difference of two years.
That’s at least a year and six months of potential suspense that could’ve been building over where the local market cash grab outdoor game would be venturing off to– it’s Chicago again, isn’t it? Dammit.
At the very least, a league that’s pulling in $4.5 billion in revenue that also doesn’t want to share more money with the players (hello forthcoming lockout anytime between 2020 and 2022) should shell out $1 million to get someone like Lady Gaga or yes, even Coldplay (because hockey is played in the cold), or literally anyone other than Goo Goo Dolls, Nate Ruess or someone NBC wants on TV because they’re a winner or runner up from The Voice.
You can either praise Sidney Crosby all day during a game in which Crosby isn’t involved or you can give me a reality TV singing contestant that nobody’s heard of but you can’t have both in one day, NBC! *That sounded better in John Oliver’s voice in my head than it did when I wrote it, but the point still stands.*
Think of it this way, Mr. Bettman.
If you cast aside one or two outdoor games a year– because we all know three or four of them a year is too many– then you should have enough money to attract someone better than this year’s Super Bowl Pepsi Halftime Show performer, Justin Timberlake, and assert your dominance over the NFL in intermission/halftime entertainment at your very own “super bowl” (ahem, the Winter Classic) months before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I’ll even take more of whatever this year’s Road to the Winter Classic was actually about (I think it was a Honda ad) if you’d just entertain us all for once during intermission instead of putting us to sleep before the Blackhawks come back out of the locker room for their 82nd outdoor game of the season.
And if it’s supposed to have a winter carnival vibe, maybe don’t bring the same stuff every year to each venue.
Bubble hockey is great and all, but giant inflatable snow globes and inflatable jerseys have gotten old. NASCAR’s Fanatics merchandise tent is more exciting than your free FanFest or whatever.
And please, bring back the Winter Classic Alumni Game. Beg NBCSN to show that instead of whatever Mecum Auto Auction they’re rerunning on New Year’s Eve or whatever.
I just don’t want to go a day without hockey, especially when I’m starting a new calendar year.
Thursdays are fantastic, aren’t they? There’s only one day of work left, the weekend is on its way and the cherry on top is that there’s tons of hockey to watch in the meantime.
Nine games will be played in all this evening, starting with two (the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN1] and Columbus at Carolina) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by three more (Dallas at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS], Florida at Montréal [RDS] and Detroit at Tampa Bay). Another trio of contests (Toronto at Nashville, Ottawa at Minnesota [RDS2] and Anaheim at Winnipeg) drop the puck at the top of the hour and San Jose at Edmonton – tonight’s nightcap – gets the green light at 9 p.m. All times eastern.
- Detroit at Tampa Bay: In light of the Red Wings not qualifying for the postseason for the first time in 26 years, I present to you their final rematch of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- San Jose at Edmonton: Currently tied at 93 points, this is the first of two meetings in eight days between the Oilers and Sharks, who could meet up in the Western Quarterfinals.
Sorry Wings, but you got some love already this week. It’s off to Alberta with us for the biggest game of the night.
Nothing makes for more exciting hockey this late in the season than two divisional rivals tied on points and games-played scrapping for home ice in the playoffs. The cherry on top? They very well could be fighting to host tonight’s opponent in that first round.
Thanks to the NHL’s rule book, the tie is broken by regulation+ overtime wins. Tonight’s hosts – the Oilers – have 38 to their credit. The Sharks have 41, so they’d be hosting that playoff series if it started right now.
Of course, that may or may not be the case following tonight’s events. No matter how this contest ends, we will have a clear cut third-place team in the Pacific Division with five games remaining to be played by Anaheim, Edmonton and San Jose.
Things have been better for the 43-26-7 Sharks than they are right now. Although they beat the Rangers 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night, those are the only two points they have to show for their past seven games.
Nothing has gone right for the Sharks in the last two weeks. San Jose has been outscored 27-12 since March 16, showing that the struggles are equal parts offensive and in goal.
You’ll notice I didn’t say defensive. I slightly over-exaggerated before, as the defense has actually remained consistent with their entire campaign. They’ve allowed only 201 shots (28.7 per game) to reach 33-20-6 Martin Jones‘ crease, which is pretty close to their 27.6 season average.
Instead, the issue has been Jones and backup 10-6-1 Aaron Dell. Peter DeBoer has been almost religious in alternating his goaltenders in the month of March, as Jones has made only two pairs of consecutive starts.
What has resting his backstops done for him? Dell has an .881 save percentage and 3.4 GAA. Ouch. Unfortunately, that’s good in comparison to Jones’ .862 and 4.04 GAA.
Jones’ recent struggles continue on the penalty kill, where he’s managed only an .8 save percentage against opponents’ power plays. That is the ninth-worst mark in the league among the 40 netminders with at least three appearances and has resulted in a 64.7% kill rate, the second-worst in the NHL since mid-March.
As of publication of this article, no word has been released from the Sharks whether Dell or Jones will be in net. Since Jones started his second-straight game two nights ago, I’m going to guess Dell will get the nod tonight. I do not know whether that’s the right or wrong choice, but I do know Dell has been the 11th-worst goaltender in the league since March 16, meaning Jones has been… worse.
But the issues aren’t simply limited to DeBoer’s goaltending situation. The Sharks‘ offense has been abysmal too, averaging only 1.7 goals per game. The lone standout over this stretch has been Patrick Marleau, who has buried three of San Jose‘s dozen goals in the past two weeks, not to mention tacking on two more assists.
My biggest concern is that Joel Ward, the man who has notched the sixth-most points (27) and goals (t19) all season for San Jose, did not register a point during the recently-ended skid. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but I think it is no accident that his most recent assist was on March 14 in a victory against the Sabres. The sooner he returns to form, the sooner the Sharks become the team we’ve come to expect.
All that being said about the offense as whole, the power play has actually been solid of late. Not only is a 23.5% conversion rate 10th-best in the league since mid-March, but it also well exceeds the Sharks‘ 17.2% season rate.
While the third month of the year has not gone so well for the Sharks, it’s been splendid for the 42-25-9 Oilers. They’ve taken advantage of playing only two of their 12 games away from Rogers Place to earn an 8-3-1 record in March.
Just like you’d expect from a team led by Connor McDavid, offense has been the driver to Edmonton‘s success. The Oilers have scored 42 goals since March 4, the second-highest total in the league in that time.
In addition to the stellar play of McDavid, line mate Leon Draisaitl has also been exceptional as both have 17 points to their credit this month, which ties for fourth-most in the league in that time. Don’t get confused though; the captain is still in charge of this attack, as he’s scored six of his 27 goals this month, two more than his partner in crime.
As you might expect, Draisaitl and McDavid continue their chemistry on the power play. Since March 4, the Oil has successfully converted 27% of its opponents’ penalties into goals, the fourth-best mark in the league.
The man-advantage seems to be Draisaitl’s forte, as he’s set up five power play goals in March to lead the team in extra-man points. Of course, someone has to score those assists…
That’s where Mark Letestu and Milan Lucic come into play. They are the other two forwards on Draisaitl and McDavid’s power play unit, and they’ve both buried two goals apiece in that situation this month to lead the team.
The Oilers have been just as good of late on the penalty kill with their 88.5% kill rate, so the Sharks will have their work cut out for them this evening. My advice: avoid Andrej Sekera at all costs. He’s blocked nine shots on the penalty kill to not only lead the team, but tie for fourth-most in the league in that time-span.
Thanks to forcing overtime the first time these clubs met, Edmonton trails the Sharks by only a point in the season series between them. The last time they met was January 26, the Oilers‘ lone win against San Jose this season. They traveled to The Tank and emerged with a 4-1 victory thanks to Sekera’s two goals and Cam Talbot‘s 32 saves.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (71 points [10th-most in the NHL]), McDavid (89 points on 62 assists [both lead the league]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] among 38 wins [third-most in the league]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the NHL] on 45 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).
Vegas has marked Edmonton a -126 favorite tonight, a line I think the Oilers are more than capable of upholding. Unless the Sharks get their goaltending under control, the hot Oilers should get their fans screaming at full-throat and even more excited for their return to the playoffs.
- Doug Wickenheiser (1961-1999) – Montréal selected this center with the top pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually spent more of his 10-year career in St. Louis. Hockey fans truly in the know remember Wickenheiser for completing the Blues‘ “Monday Night Miracle” with an overtime goal against Calgary to force a Game 7 in the 1986 Campbell Conference Finals.
- Ty Conklin (1976-) – Some guys just seem to be born unlucky. This goaltender, who has nine years of NHL experience with six different teams (mostly with Edmonton), was a member of the 2008 Penguins team that lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit. So he could get his hands on the hardware, he joined the Red Wings the following season, who ended up losing the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh.
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1987-) – This defenseman was selected 35th-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, and that’s where he’s played ever since. Even though this is his 11th season, tonight’s game is only the fifth he’s ever played on his birthday in the NHL. His last was in 2013, and it was a special one: he notched his first birthday goal.
With four goals in the opening period, the Blackhawks easily beat Pittsburgh 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Though the scoring started quickly thanks to First Star of the Game Artemi Panarin‘s (Third Star Patrick Kane and Second Star Tanner Kero) wrist shot 3:23 after the opening puck drop, the Hawks truly took command of the game in the final six minutes of the first frame. With what proved to be the game-winning goal, Richard Panik (Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews) buried a snap shot with 5:21 remaining, followed by Marcus Kruger (Kane and Panarin) and Marian Hossa (Ryan Hartman) in the closing minute of the period to set Chicago‘s advantage at four goals.
A win by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series was an important one yesterday, as it set the visitors’ record at 83-58-23 and gave them a two-point advantage on the hosts.
The Philadelphia Flyers made a splash in the trading market acquiring the service of center Valtteri Filppula, a 2017 4th round pick and a conditional 2017 7th round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for defenseman Mark Streit.
The Flyers retained 4.7% of Streit’s salary in the deal.
Filppula was drafted 95th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. The 32-year-old forward is a native of Vantaa, Finland and had 7-27-34 totals in 59 games played with Tampa this season.
He has 152 goals and 270 assists for 422 points in 775 career NHL games with the Red Wings and the Lightning, in addition to 24-55-79 totals in 152 Stanley Cup Playoff appearances.
The veteran center was a member of the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.
Streit was acquired by the Lightning on Wednesday afternoon before being flipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He leaves the Flyers organization after almost four complete seasons with the team and having served as an alternate captain for the last three.
He has 5-16-21 totals in 49 games played this season and amassed 30-110-140 totals in 274 games as a member of Philadelphia.
Eleven games. Yes, 11. What a way to spend a Saturday. We get an early start today, as St. Louis at Winnipeg gets underway 3 p.m., and another matinee drops the puck two hours later with Carolina at Columbus. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it four games (Ottawa at Toronto [CBC/CITY/TVAS2], Buffalo at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Los Angeles at the New York Islanders and New Jersey at Philadelphia), and another trio begin an hour later (Tampa Bay at Arizona, Washington at Dallas [NHLN] and Anaheim at Minnesota). The final two games drop the puck within half an hour of each other: Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN) starts first at 10 p.m., with Colorado at San Jose acting as this evening’s nightcap. All times eastern.
- Ottawa at Toronto: The Battle of Ontario rages on in the biggest city in Canada.
- New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Jersey Turnpike connects these two cities, but that doesn’t mean their hockey teams like each other.
- Edmonton at Calgary: Another rivalry takes place in the province of Alberta.
- Colorado at San Jose: After Matt Nieto spent four seasons with the Sharks, he was claimed off waivers two weeks ago by the Avalanche.
There’s no way we’re missing a rivalry that could result in Toronto a massive shakeup in the Atlantic Division. To the Air Canada Centre we go!
I know we just featured this matchup last Saturday, but the stakes just keep getting raised in this rivalry. With a regulation win this evening, the Leafs will improve from from fourth place in the division to second. Pair that with a Flyers victory, and the Bruins find themselves outside of playoff position for the night.
The impact this game could have on the standings is incredible.
Ottawa begins the third Battle for Ontario on a two-game winning streak and in possession of second place in the Atlantic with a 24-15-4 record. They’ve found that success by not allowing opponents to score, allowing only 110 goals this season, which ties for fifth-fewest in the league.
12-7-3 Mike Condon has been the man between the pipes more often than not for the Senators this season. As indicated by his record, he’s done a decent job, as his .92 save percentage and 2.31 GAA are both tied for 13th best among the 52 netminders with at least 11 appearances this year.
It’s been important for Condon to have the success he’s had, as the defense playing in front of him has been far from incredible. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s team-leading 114 blocks (tied for second-most in the NHL), the Senators allow 30.4 shots-per-game to reach their goalie’s crease, tied for the 12th-worst effort in the league.
Playing host this evening are the 21-14-8 Maple Leafs. Given their most recent first-round draft choice, it should be no surprise that their resurgence is due to offensive success. They’ve scored 133 goals so far this year in 43 games – the sixth-best rate in the league.
It remains to be seen if Auston Matthews can be the one to lead Toronto to the Promised Land for the first time in 50 years, but he’s certainly making a good impression in his rookie season. His 38 points are enough to lead the club, as are his 22 goals.
What is most impressive is the Leafs‘ power play. They’ve managed to be second in the NHL with the man-advantage, converting 24.1% of opponent’s penalties into goals. This has been where fellow rookie William Nylander has shone, as his 15 power play points are tops on the team. That being said, the true striker of the special teams unit plays on the other power play line, as Nazem Kadri‘s nine extra-man goals are the best on the squad and tied for second-most in the NHL.
These Leafs are truly a complete team, as the other special team has been just that: special. Toronto‘s penalty kill ranks fourth-best in the NHL, refusing to yield a tally on 84.9% of their infractions. Mark Giordano has been a big part of that effort with his team-leading 32 shorthanded blocks.
Twice these teams met already this season, and twice it’s been in the Canadian capital. As these clubs will only meet four times total this year, the Battle of Ontario shifts to Toronto, and the Leafs bring back a 1-0-1 series lead.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Ottawa‘s Condon (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (30 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (19 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Matthews (22 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).
Vegas has marked Toronto a -139 favorite, and with good reason. They’ve been playing some fantastic hockey over the last month, going 9-2-1 since December 22. What sets the Leafs apart today is their dominance in the special teams play. Unless Condon plays lights-out, I don’t see the Leafs dropping a second-straight home game.
- Georges Vezina (1887-1926) – Vezina won three Stanley Cups over his nine seasons with Montréal, and the Hall of Famer is remembered today by the trophy awarded annually to the league’s best goaltender. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the age of 39 due to tuberculosis.
- Doug Weight (1971-) – The 34th-overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, this four-year All Star played 19 seasons – most of which in Edmonton. He hoisted the lone Stanley Cup of his career in 2006 in Carolina, followed five years later by the Clancy. Of course, he just made his coaching debut Thursday, leading his Islanders to a three-goal shutout victory.
- Andrei Zyuzin (1978-) – San Jose drafted this defenseman second-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, but he played most of his 10-season career in Minnesota. He finished his playing days with a -40 goal-differential.
- Dany Heatley (1981-) – Another second-overall pick, this left wing was selected by Atlanta in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, though he played most his career in Ottawa. It was a magical rookie season for Heatly, as he took home the 2002 Calder before earning three All Star selections over his 13-season career.
- Jonathan Quick (1986-) – Los Angeles drafted this goaltender in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s never worn another sweater since. The Kings made a good selection, as they’ve hoisted the Stanley Cup twice on a netminder that won the 2012 Smythe and the 2014 Jennings. Unfortunately, the All-Star suffered a groin injury in the first game of the season and is not projected to return to the ice for another month.
- Darren Helm (1987-) – Just like Quick, this forward was selected by the same team he’s played for ever since (Detroit) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, even though he was picked two rounds later. He was a rookie on the Wings‘ 2008 Stanley Cup team and contributed four points in that playoff run, including a goal and assist against Pittsburgh in the Finals.
Sometimes, a goal is all you need. That was the case for the Blackhawks last night, as they beat Boston 1-0 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
With 1:26 remaining in regulation, First Star of the Game Marian Hossa (Tanner Kero and Vinnie Hinostroza) takes credit for the lone tally of the game. His wrister from the left faceoff zone beat Third Star Tuukka Rask to the near post to ensure the victory.
Second Star Scott Darling earned the victory by saving all 30 shots he faced, while Rask fell just short, saving all but one of the 22 pucks (95.5%) that entered his crease.
Chicago‘s win was the second-straight shutout in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which now stands at 52-34-14 in favor of the hosts, who lead visitors by five points.
What better way to close out your weekend than with hockey? The action gets an early start at 1 p.m. with Philadelphia at Washington (NBC/TVAS), with two contests dropping the puck in prime time at 7 p.m. (New Jersey at Vancouver [SN] and Minnesota at Chicago [NBCSN]). Finally, St. Louis at Anaheim (NHLN) gets underway at 9 p.m. All times eastern.
- Philadelphia at Washington: In addition to being a rivalry, it’s also a rematch from last season’s Eastern Quartefinals.
- Minnesota at Chicago: A Wild win tonight would distance Minnesota‘s Central Division and Western Conference lead over their biggest rivals in their first meeting of the year.
Just like yesterday’s rivalry in Ottawa, the matchup in the United Center is just too big to miss. Off to the Windy City we go!
Way back in the day, the Blackhawks and North Stars had a fantastic rivalry, similar to the Bears and Vikings and the Twins and White Sox. Of course, it died out when the Stars lost the direction from their name and headed to the Lone Star State.
Simply introducing the Wild to the league in 2000 did not completely rekindle the dormant geographical rivalry. That job was completed 13 years later when these clubs met in the Western Quarterfinals. Although the Hawks needed only five games to dispatch the Wild, a playoff meeting paired with Minnesota joining the Central Division that offseason marked the beginnings of today’s rivalry.
For three-straight seasons, these clubs met in the postseason, and the Wild have been eliminated three straight-times. Minnesota does have a big victory over the Hawks though: last season’s Stadium Series matchup at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Wild whipped Chicago 6-1.
What better environment for a statement win? With a win over the Stars last night for their third-straight, Minnesota took control of Central Division and Western Conference by winning the games-played tiebreaker over Chicago. Of course, the Wild would love to create a real point-spread over the Hawks before staking dramatic claims like “Best in the West” or something to that effect.
Minnesota has earned their 27-9-5 record by playing some phenomenal goaltending that has allowed only 84 goals, the second-fewest in the NHL.
At the midway point of the season, 22-7-3 Devan Dubnyk easily gets my vote (if I had one) for Vezina. His .94 save percentage and 1.77 GAA are both best in the NHL.
Making his effort more impressive is the fact that Minnesota‘s defense is not one of the elite units in the league. Led by Jared Spurgeon‘s 73-block effort, the Wild have allowed 29.5 shots-per-game to reach Dubnyk’s crease, only the 12th-best in the NHL.
Dubnyk’s success has carried into the penalty kill. Thanks to him and Spurgeon’s team-leading 11 shorthanded blocks, Minnesota ranks fifth-best on the penalty kill, refusing to yield a goal on 85.1% of opposing power plays.
Playing host this evening are the 27-13-5 Blackhawks, currently in second place in the Central Division due to losing the games-played tiebreaker to the this tonight’s opponent. They’ve found that success by playing a well-rounded game, but I’ve been most impressed with their goaltending that has allowed only 112 goals over 45 games – the seventh-lowest average in the league.
The man between the pipes more often than not for Chicago has been 16-9-3 Corey Crawford, whose .922 save percentage and 2.47 GAA are (t)12th and 19th-best among the 47 netminders with 14 or more appearances.
While Dubnyk has certainly been better than Crawford this season, Crawford has arguably been more important for his club this season as the Hawks‘ defense allows 31.3 shots-per-game to reach his crease, tied for the eighth-worst rate in the league. Niklas Hjalmarsson is doing all he can to resolve that issue, as his 104 blocks are not only most on the team, but fifth-most in the league.
The biggest issue for Chicago this season has been their miserable penalty kill. Ranked third-worst in the league, the Hawks have stopped only 76.3% of opposing power plays. Once again, Hjalmarsson cannot be lumped into that effort, as his 19 shorthanded blocks are easily the best in the Windy City.
Some players to keep an eye on include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.924 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]), Patrick Kane (33 assists [second-most in the league] among 45 points [fourth-most in the NHL]), Duncan Keith (29 assists [fourth-most in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (42 points [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.77 GAA on a .94 save percentage [both best in the league] for 22 wins, including five shutouts [both tied for second-most in the NHL]), Mikael Granlund (+22 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+22 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+24 [third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+27 [best in the NHL]) and Jason Zucker (+25 [second-best in the league]).
This should be a fantastic game. Minnesota comes into this game riding tons of momentum, while Chicago finally has the goal of reclaiming their position in the standings. Given that the Hawks were inactive yesterday and Minnesota had to travel from Texas, I’m leaning towards Chicago, but that’s not to say I’m picking against a very impressive Wild team.
- Brett Lebda (1982-) – Although undrafted, this defenseman played 397 games over seven seasons in the NHL, most of which with Detroit. He was a member of the Wings‘ 2008 Stanley Cup squad.
You did it Leafs fans. Toronto‘s 4-2 victory over Ottawa in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day has earned them third place in the Atlantic Division. If they hold onto it, they qualify for the playoffs.
Only 6:26 into the game, Second Star of the Game Nazem Kadri (James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak) got things started with a power play wrister to give the Maple Leafs an early lead that lasted until the first intermission.
Toronto got off to an even faster start in the second period as Bozak (Mitch Marner) buried a wrister only 1:07 after returning to the ice. The Senators pulled back within a goal when Dion Phaneuf (Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson) potted a slap shot 8:08 later. With 110 seconds remaining before the second intermission, Third Star Kyle Turris (Bobby Ryan and Ryan Dzingel) leveled the game with a wrister.
Kadri (William Nylander and Matt Hunwick) takes credit for the winning goal only 2:31 after returning from intermission – yet another quick goal. Connor Brown (Auston Matthews) tacked on an insurance goal 5:21 later to secure Toronto‘s victory.
The Leafs‘ victory is the second-straight by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the series record at 49-31-14 in favor of the homers by six points.
There’s only six more days of hockey left before the Christmas break! Start cramming hockey pucks now, starting with Los Angeles at Boston (SN) at 1 p.m., followed by Colorado at Winnipeg at 3 p.m. and Columbus at Vancouver at 4 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it two puck drops (San Jose at Chicago [NHLN] and Ottawa at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS]), trailed 30 minutes later by tonight’s nightcap: New Jersey at the New York Rangers. All times eastern.
The Devils may not be having the success they’d like this season, but nothing can lift a team’s spirits more than a victory over a nearby rival. Let’s follow the Rangers back to Madison Square Garden for the Battle of the Hudson River!
Separated by only 10 miles, this rivalry was sparked the minute the Colorado Rockies moved to Meadowlands Arena in 1982. Since then, these clubs have met 267 times total, with the Rangers leading both the all-time series at 122-110-27-8, and the more competitive playoff series at 18-16.
Nothing details this rivalry better than their dominance in the 90s than counting trophies. New York‘s Stanley Cup victory in 1994 is widely known, as it was their first title in 54 years. But don’t let it be forgotten who they played in the Eastern Conference Finals. You guessed it, it was their old pal Jersey. The Rangers needed seven games to best the Devils before advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals to beat Vancouver.
Although they didn’t have to go through the Blueshirts (they have Philadelphia to thank for that, even though they don’t get along with that club either), it was the Devils‘ turn to take home Lord Stanley a year later. They bested Detroit in a quick four games that year to earn the franchise’s first title.
My, how things have changed since those days. Entering tonight’s game in seventh-place in the Metropolitan Division, the 12-12-6 Devils would beg for success like that, especially given their five-game losing skid. Although the defense and goaltending have not been phenomenal this season, the main reason for Jersey‘s struggles have been on the scoring end of the ice where they’ve managed only 70 goals – the fourth-fewest in the NHL.
With a team-leading 23 points, Travis Zajac has been involved in nearly a third of the Devils‘ scores. That being said, Mike Cammalleri holds the clubhouse goal-scoring lead having lit the lamp nine times so far this campaign.
Between the two of them and Taylor Hall, who has eight goals among 20 points with his new club, they have scored 35.7% of the Devils‘ goals. In short, the Devils need to find a way to get more skaters involved in scoring. No other players have more than 17 points to their credit, which is a striking number given the fact that Zajac only ties for the 36th-most points in the league. This entire offense needs a reboot, but it is going to have to be a team-effort.
Not unexpectedly, the Devils have also struggled on the power play. Their 14.9% conversion rate is eighth-worst in the NHL, but that can’t be blamed on Hall. He already has seven power play points to his credit, as well as four power play goals to lead the squad in both categories. Unfortunately for the Devils, that only ties for the 61st-best effort with the man-advantage in the league, which considerably takes the wind out of Hall’s sails.
Jersey might have been struggling on the power play, but they still find great success on the penalty kill. Led by Captain Andy Greene‘s 19 shorthanded blocks, the Devils have refused to yield a goal to 83.2% of opposing power plays, tying them for the ninth-best rate in the league.
Unfortunately for New Jersey, the odds of them snapping their losing skid are bleak, as they face the second-best team in the Metropolitan Division: the 22-10-1 Rangers, who are riding a two-game win streak thanks to last night’s shootout victory in Nashville. As has been the case all year, the Blueshirts are making headlines with their powerful offense that has already notched 109 tallies this season – the most in the NHL.
Like I said yesterday, you have to keep an eye on the club scoring title in Manhattan. Currently, the king of the dressing room is Kevin Hayes, who has 23 points to his credit. Similarly, Michael Grabner is not the sole lead-goalscorer anymore. He’s been joined by Rick Nash, as they both have 13 tallies apiece.
Currently rating ninth-best, New York has had a solid power play this season as they’re successful on 21.4% of attempts. Six skaters have headed that effort, but Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey deserve special credit as they each have four goals with the man-advantage, tying for a team-high.
The Blueshirts have been even more impressive on the penalty kill, where their 87.3% success rate is third-best in the NHL. Kevin Klein‘s 13 shorthanded blocks have been the most impressive effort on the squad, but 14 of New York‘s 26 skaters have notched at least one block on the penalty kill. This entire club has bought in on both ends of the ice, and Alain Vigneault should be proud.
Tonight’s contest is the second time these teams have met this season. Only a Sunday ago, Madison Square Garden hosted the Devils to a five-goal shutout Rangers victory.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Cammalleri (nine goals [leads the team]), Kyle Palmieri (57 hits [leads the team]), Kyle Quincey (+5 [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 assists among 23 points [both lead the team]) & New York‘s Grabner (+18 [tied for second-best in the league]), Hayes (+16 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and, depending on who plays, Henrik Lundqvist (14 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) or Antti Raanta (1.67 GAA on a .941 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league]).
New York is favored at almost every casino in Vegas, and for good reason. All facets of the game are going their way these days, which is the exact opposite of what you can say about Jersey. Expect the Rangers to put a similar beat-down on their rivals as they did last weekend.
- Jean Pronovost (1945-) – This right wing played 998 games over 14 seasons, most of which with Pittsburgh. By the time his career was done, he’d notched 774 points and been selected for four All Star games.
- Dan Cleary (1978-) – The 13th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, this left wing has played most of his 17+ year career with Detroit, where he was a member of the Stanley Cup winning 2008 Red Wings team. He still plays in Detroit‘s system with Grand Rapids, and made 17 appearances with the senior team in the 2014-15 season.
Third Star of the Game Vesey’s return to Nashville – if you can call it that – went exactly as he would have liked, as his Rangers beat the Predators 2-1 in a shootout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to Nash (Hayes and Nick Holden) and the Rangers. Nash’s wrister was his 13th goal of the year.
It stood as the would-be winner until Second Star Mike Fisher buried an unassisted wrister of his own 9:22 into the second frame to level the score at one-all. As neither side was able to break the tie with the remaining 35:38, which included five minutes of three-on-three play, the important bonus point was awarded in a shootout.
As home team, the Predators elected to shoot first…
- …and sent Ryan Johansen into the fray. Lundqvist was not about to let that into his net.
- Wonder boy himself, Vesey’s shot was pure to give the Rangers a 1-0 shootout lead.
- Next up for Nashville, Craig Smith did even worse than Johansen – he missed the cage.
- Mats Zuccarello ended the shootout almost as quickly as it began, scoring on First Star Juuse Saros.
Lundqvist earns the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (96.9%), while Saros takes the shootout loss, saving 26-of-27 (96.3%).
Another road victory in the DtFR Game of the Day series pulls the roadies within six points of the hosts, who have a 36-22-11 record.
By: Nick Lanciani
The Calgary Flames traded forward Jiri Hudler to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a second round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and a fourth round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Hudler is a 32-year-old native of Olomouc, Czech Republic and had 10-25-35 totals in 53 games with the Flames this season.
In 657 career NHL games, Hudler has 155-251-406 totals among Calgary (2012-2016) and Detroit (2003-2009, 2010-2012). He has 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists) in 77 career Stanley Cup Playoffs games and was a member of the Detroit Red Wings 2008 Stanley Cup championship team.
He was drafted by the Red Wings in the second round (58th overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft and was the 2015 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner.
2015 Stanley Cup Final Game 6 Recap
By: Nick Lanciani
Dynasty. That’s the first word that comes to mind when anyone has to reflect on the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are Stanley Cup champions, once again, for the 3rd time in 6 seasons. 2015 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Duncan Keith, scored the Stanley Cup winning- game winning- goal and Patrick Kane ensured the win with his goal in the 3rd period that made it 2-0 Chicago.
Corey Crawford made 25 saves en route to a Stanley Cup clinching shutout, while Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender, Ben Bishop, stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced in the Lightning’s loss.
Despite entering the night as the only team in the NHL that hadn’t lost 3 games in a row at any point in the season, Joel Quenneville and the Chicago Blackhawks handed the Tampa Bay Lightning their first three game losing streak of the year. Quenneville improved to 10-0 in his career as the Blackhawks head coach in Game 6’s when leading the series 3-2.
The game began with a furious pace as the Blackhawks quickly led the Lightning in shots on goal, 4-2 at 8:35 of the opening period. The 8:35 mark also acknowledged the first penalty of the game as Tampa forward, Cedric Paquette, was called for tripping Chicago captain, Jonathan Toews.
Teuvo Teravainen nearly had a power play goal, but sent the puck just wide of the goal, similar to how Marian Hossa had done so earlier in the series. The Lightning’s penalty killers were able to get the job done and finished off Chicago’s power play opportunity without allowing a goal on the scoreboard.
At 13:53, Brian Boyle took the second penalty of the game and was sent to the box with a minor penalty for roughing. The Lightning killed the penalty. Toews had a remarkable chance late in the 1st period as he fell to his knees and nearly redirected the puck in the net with the shaft of his stick, but sent one wide instead. Paquette had a similar chance a couple of minutes later for Tampa.
After twenty minutes of play, Chicago was outshooting Tampa, 13-4, leading faceoff wins, 12-5, and blocked shots, 9-5, while Tampa was tied in hits, 16-16. The Blackhawks had gone 0/2 on the power play in the 1st, while the Lightning had yet to see a man advantage opportunity.
Nearly a minute into the 2nd period, Steven Stamkos found himself on a breakaway. His backhanded shot was denied by the sprawling pads of Corey Crawford and the lack of puck luck continued to haunt Stamkos.
Both teams swapped numerous chances as the tremendous battle of spectacular goaltending continued. Chicago broke out with a sting of 4 shots on goal in an eight-minute span, while holding Tampa to a single shot on goal.
At 17:13 of the 2nd period, Duncan Keith collected a rebound and scored the game’s first goal of the night. The 1-0 lead for the Blackhawks came on Keith’s 3rd goal of the postseason, with help from Patrick Kane and former Lightning forward, and member of the 2004 Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning team, Brad Richards.
With the goal, Keith tied Chris Chelios for most points by a Blackhawks defenseman in a single postseason with 21 points. Chelios had accomplished the feat in 1992. Chicago was leading shots on goal, 20-11.
22,424 Blackhawks fans at the United Center broke out in unison, chanting “we want the Cup” repeatedly for a few minutes after Keith’s goal.
Ondrej Palat took a minor penalty for elbowing at 19:13 of the period, giving the Blackhawks another powerplay opportunity that carried over into the 3rd period, as a result of not scoring in the remainder of the 2nd period.
After forty minutes of play, Chicago led 1-0 on the scoreboard and was leading just about everything else. The Blackhawks led shots on goal 23-11, faceoff wins 25-15, and blocked shots 14-8. Meanwhile, the Lightning were outhitting Chicago, 40-23.
The final frame of the 2014-2015 NHL season began just as the game had originally begun, with complete domination from the Chicago Blackhawks. The fatigue of 26 playoff games was apparent as the young Tampa Bay Lightning squad chased the well-decorated veteran Blackhawk players around the rink.
With 9:34 remaining in the 3rd period, the Lightning were being outshot 30-18. On Chicago’s 31st shot of the night, Patrick Kane worked his playoff magic and gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead with his 11th goal of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs (and first goal of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final). Kane’s goal was assisted by Brad Richards and Brandon Saad.
The United Center was delirious, all but assured of their first Stanley Cup championship won at home since 1938- back when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President- and rightfully so, with the impressive skill and teamwork of the Blackhawks that has powered them in the Kane and Toews era, burning pages into the history books.
Chicago was so confident, in fact, that when Andrew Desjardins was sent to the sin bin for tripping Tampa defenseman, Anton Stralman, it looked as though they weren’t even playing shorthanded at 16:31 of the 3rd period. The Blackhawks killed the penalty with ease, as Crawford denied every shot on Tampa’s only power play of the night.
The seconds ran out and the Blackhawks had captured the Cup at home for the first time since Fitchburg, Massachusetts native, Bill Stewart, was the first American-trained head coach to win the Stanley Cup in 1938 with Chicago. 1938 was also the final time the Stanley Cup Final was a best of 5-games series.
Chicago finished the night with dominating faceoff wins 42-20, blocked shots 25-12, and shots on goal 32-25, while Tampa led in hits, 56-32. The Blackhawks ended the night 0 for 3 on the power play, while the Lightning finished 0 for 1 on the man advantage.
There are 17 players on the Blackhawks roster now with multiple Stanley Cups. Corey Crawford picked up his 45th career playoff win, tying a Blackhawks record held by legendary goaltender, Tony Esposito. Crawford also became the first Blackhawks goalie to win multiple Cups in a Chicago uniform.
Patrick Kane now has 114 points in 116 career playoff games and gave the series its lone two-goal lead after more than 350 minutes of one-goal leads or tied games. Chicago improved to 43-14 overall after Game 3 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Kane/Toews/Keith era.
Marian Hossa also capped off his 3rd Cup in 5 Stanley Cup Final appearances in the last 8 years. Hossa lost the Cup as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008 and as a Detroit Red Wing in 2009, but has won all 3 Stanley Cups in his career with the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, and 2015).
Among notoriety, this year’s Conn Smythe winner, Duncan Keith is the first defenseman in NHL history to win 3 Stanley Cups, 2 Olympic Gold medals, 2 Norris Trophies, and 1 Conn Smythe Trophy. Keith also joined the likes of Larry Robinson, Brian Leetch, Bobby Orr, and Nicklas Lidstrom as the only defensemen in history to have won at least 2 Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe.
Duncan Keith was, by far, the Conn Smythe Trophy leading candidate, having been on the ice for 46 of the Blackhawks 68 goals in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The next highest on Chicago was Jonathan Toews, with 29. Keith also became the 2nd defenseman since 2005 with more than 20 points in a single postseason, joining Chris Pronger (2006) in that impressive feat.
Keith also became the first defenseman to win the Conn Smythe since Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer won it in 2007.
The Blackhawks became the first team since the 1945 Toronto Maple Leafs to score 2 or fewer goals in all 4 wins of a Stanley Cup Final series. And just like in 1938, the Stanley Cup was late to the party. Delayed because of the weather, the Cup received a police escort to the United Center after leaving the hotel shortly after puck drop. For the record, then NHL President, Frank Calder, did not think Chicago would win the Cup that night, so it wasn’t even presented to the winning team.
After the loss, the Tampa Bay Lightning revealed some of the injuries the team had suffered, including those to goaltender, Ben Bishop- who had been playing with a torn groin since Game 2- and Tyler Johnson, who had been playing with a broken wrist.
Jonathan Toews became the first captain with 3 or more Stanley Cups by the age of 27 since Wayne Gretzky captained the Edmonton Oilers to 4 Stanley Cups in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988.
And on one final note, after 250 days, the 2014-2015 NHL season and playoffs witnessed 1,319 games played, 6,997 goals scored, 67,417 hits, 78,997 shots on goal, and 81,082 face-offs.