The Toronto Maple Leafs finally did the thing! Congrats to the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Class and taking a look at who might join them in 2020.
Wednesday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired their now former head coach, Mike Babcock, and promoted Sheldon Keefe as the new head coach of the Leafs from his previous head coaching duties with the Toronto Marlies (AHL).
It’s a move that everyone likely saw coming, but this soon? That’s impressive.
Babcock was adamant in his coaching abilities and in his belief in himself as “the greatest coach who ever lived” (paraphrasing, obviously), but could not salvage his hubris when it mattered most– right now.
Toronto is currently 9-10-4 (22 points) on the season, 5th place in the Atlantic Division and outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Luckily for the Leafs, the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, 25 points), Philadelphia Flyers (10-7-4, 24 points) and Buffalo Sabres (10-8-3, 23 points) aren’t that far ahead of them in the standings for now.
It’s the perfect time to be bold and make a move if you’re looking to provide a short-term spark that will hopefully re-ignite some cooling embers and launch the Maple Leafs back into playoff contention at the very least– if not Stanley Cup contention, as many have expected for a few years now before Toronto’s General Manager, Kyle Dubas, was forced to spend about $40.489 million on William Nylander, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner while somehow forgetting the importance of a defense and a backup goaltender in the process.
For a team that used to employ a coach that notoriously bet on himself and his process for better or worse, well, they’re betting heavily on the salary cap ceiling to make a significant jump by the time a new national TV rights distribution package in the United States is negotiated in 2022.
But that’s a separate discussion entirely.
For now, we’re left in the wake of a post-Babcock Leafs Era and what it means for the Boston Bruins– Toronto’s biggest rival most recently.
The 56-year-old former head coach in Toronto was in his 5th year of an eight-year, $50.000 million contract with the Maple Leafs.
Toronto went 29-42-11 in the 2015-16 season, which led them to drafting Matthews with the 1st overall pick in the 2016 Draft.
The following year, Babcock and the Maple Leafs improved to 40-27-15, qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013, before losing in six games to the Washington Capitals in the 2017 First Round.
Then history repeated itself as the Leafs went 49-26-7 in the 2017-18 regular season before losing in seven games to Boston in the 2018 First Round.
From there it was a broken record for Toronto– a 46-28-9 effort in 2018-19 led to another First Round matchup with Boston and another Game 7 loss on the road to the Bruins in the 2019 First Round.
This season, through 23 games, the Leafs have six wins in regulation. They have nine total.
Babcock hasn’t won a playoff series since he was still with the Detroit Red Wings in 2013. He hasn’t led a team back to the Stanley Cup Final since losing in 2009 with Detroit in the Red Wings-Penguins rematch from 2008.
He may be “Canada’s Coach”, but he isn’t “Canada’s favorite team’s head coach” anymore.
Enter Keefe, a 39-year-old, from Brampton, Ontario– a short drive from Toronto– emerging as “The Chosen One”.
Hired by Toronto to lead the Marlies on June 8, 2015, Keefe had a respectable first season with Toronto’s AHL affiliate in 2015-16, notching a 54-16-5-1 record (wins-losses-overtime losses-shootout losses, for those of you who aren’t AHL savvy).
Keefe pushed his team all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs (his rookie season as an AHL coach, mind you) before the Marlies succumbed to the Hershey Bears in five games.
In 2016-17, Keefe coached his team to a 42-29-4-1 record and a North Division Final appearance in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs that resulted in a Game 7 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.
That loss didn’t set the Marlies back, but instead motivated Keefe and his team as they marched to a 54-18-2-2 record in 2017-18 and a 2018 Calder Cup Final appearance.
They defeated the Texas Stars in seven games and captured Toronto’s first championship in ice hockey since the NHL’s Maple Leafs raised the Stanley Cup in 1967.
Though it was only the AHL, it proved that something was in the works.
Dubas’ masterplan was coming to fruition as the analytics guru rose to power– taking over as GM of the Maple Leafs with Lou Lamoriello’s departure in the 2018 offseason.
Keefe had followed Dubas from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) to the Maple Leafs organization in 2015, but Babcock stood in the way of his destiny, it seemed.
Babcock was Lamoriello’s choice and fit with Brendan Shanahan’s “Shanaplan”.
Keefe fit with Dubas in the contemporary game, “Shanaplan” be damned.
In 2018-19, Keefe led the Marlies to a 39-24-9-4 record and an Eastern Conference Final appearance for the 2nd year in a row in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Though the Marlies lost to the Charlotte Checkers in six games, one thing was for certain– Keefe had it going in the minor league.
It’s not every day that a coach is able to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in his rookie season, let alone in three of his first four full seasons as an AHL bench boss.
Up until his promotion to the NHL, Keefe amassed a 10-2-2-1 record with the Marlies this season.
They were 1st in the North Division at the time of his departure for the big league.
In 320 career AHL games with the Marlies, Keefe collected a 199-89-22-9 record and a .622 winning percentage in the process– plus one Calder Cup championship in 2018.
So, what does this mean for the Bruins?
A lot when you factor in advantages and disadvantages for each team in the promotion of Keefe from the Marlies to the Leafs.
First, for Toronto, the advantages of having Keefe for a potential playoff matchup with Boston.
The core of Toronto’s current roster (Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly and even Frederik Andersen) has lost in the First Round in at least one of the last three postseasons (Tavares is the only member who hasn’t had to endure three-straight soul crushing First Round departures under Babcock’s reign).
Yes, this may seem bad, but it actually speaks volumes for their playoff experience.
This team is hungry– right from its core– and its fanbase, its front office and its backyard media wants to win sooner rather than later.
Plus, Nylander’s 2nd season in the AHL (although it was only a partial season) overlapped with Keefe’s time behind the bench of the Marlies, so there’s some familiarity between one of the four highest paid players on the Leafs and their head coach.
Additionally, Kapanen, Hyman and others have experience with Keefe and the Marlies’ system.
There’s enough familiarity there for something– potentially something dangerous.
Now for the advantages for Boston.
History is on their side. Boston’s core (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask) has shown its capable of making another Cup run (even with an aging captain and 1-2 centers).
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, remains a constant and in control.
Boston missed the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, but Claude Julien was still their head coach then, so the combination of Cassidy, plus Chara, Bergeron and Krejci’s leadership made for an easier transition into getting the team back into a “top of their game” playoff performer (and eventual Cup contender in 2019).
This isn’t a luxury the Leafs have, where the team’s looking to get back into postseason contention, period, let alone win a series.
Toronto missed the playoffs in their first year with Babcock, but made it for the last three years and lost each year in the First Round.
This leads to Toronto’s disadvantages for another potential postseason meeting with the Bruins.
History is not on Toronto’s side and neither are the statistics.
Yes, Dubas’ 2nd favorite thing in the world– analytics– could get in the way of his 1st favorite thing in the world– bringing the Cup back to the Maple Leafs organization.
As things stand, the Leafs have a greater chance of missing the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs than making them currently.
Toronto– the city, the fans, the players, the front office and the media– wants to win right now. There’s no room for excuses (even if they’re legitimate, like taking one’s time to formulate a defense via prospects or trades and supplementing Andersen in the crease with a legitimate backup goaltender).
But, whereas Cassidy inherited broken pieces in Boston that were addressed and revamped as the team went from outside the playoffs two years in a row to making three consecutive postseason appearances under Cassidy in his head coaching tenure with the B’s– addressing the need for depth down the lineup in the process without the likes of a highly touted free agent acquisition– Keefe and the Leafs have the majority of this season to work on that necessary synergy with a better offense (on paper).
Cassidy was named interim head coach of the Bruins in Feb. 2017. Boston was ousted by the Ottawa Senators in six games in the 2017 First Round and lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the 2018 Second Round prior to their 2019 Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Keefe has Tavares, Matthews and Marner (when healthy) to unleash on any given night and could very well pull a turnaround in one season a la the St. Louis Blues last season (who beat the Bruins in the Final in Game 7 at TD Garden) or the Penguins in 2009 (when Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien midseason and won the Cup) and 2016 (when Mike Sullivan replaced Bylsma midseason and won the Cup).
In that sense, recent history is actually on Toronto’s side.
Boston had some growing pains to go with their dramatic improvement, but the Leafs are built to counteract that pain if Keefe can find a better way to manage it than Babcock did.
As it is, Cassidy is 130-55-27 in 212 games with Boston from 2017-present (good enough for a .613 winning percentage), but 207-128-21-24 in 380 games with the Providence Bruins (AHL) from 2011-16 (.545 winning%).
Babcock was 173-133-45 in 351 games with the Maple Leafs from 2015-19 (.493 winning%).
Keefe gets the final say and has his .622 winning% in 320 games with the Marlies going for him as he steps into the biggest role behind any bench in the National Hockey League.
Playoffs or not, the rest of this season is about to be a wild ride for the Maple Leafs and their fans.
Bruins fans be worried or not.
Brayden Point re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a bunch of other RFAs signed extensions, the Boston Pride were sold, Dan Girardi retired and DTFR’s season previews continued with the Atlantic Division.
In a scene of poetic justice, if you will, the St. Louis Blues raised the 35-pound Stanley Cup high over their heads Wednesday night against the team that beat them the last time they were in the Final 49 years ago– the Boston Bruins.
The Blues are your 2019 Stanley Cup champions after defeating the Bruins, 4-1, in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final– capturing the series 4-3.
For the first time in franchise history, a St. Louis captain skated out to meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, shake Bettman’s hand, take a photo and accept the hardest silverware to win in professional sports.
Alex Pietrangelo gets to be the first person in league history to say that he lifted the trophy as a member of the Blues.
They were dead last in the league standings entering 2019.
For the first time in their 52-year existence (51 seasons), the Blues are Stanley Cup champions thanks to Jordan Binnington’s NHL rookie record 16 wins in the postseason, as well as his 32 saves on 33 shots against en route to the win in Game 7.
Binnington (16-10 record, 2.46 goals against average, .914 save percentage in 26 games played this postseason) also recorded an 8-2 record on the road in the postseason– tying Nikolai Khabibulin (2004), Miikka Kiprusoff (2004) and Ron Hextall (1987) for the most road wins by a goaltender in a playoff year.
He made 187 saves on 205 shots against (.913 SV%) and had a 2.76 GAA in the series.
Ryan O’Reilly took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP. He finished with a six-game point streak in the Final.
Boston goaltender, Tuukka Rask (15-9, 2.02 GAA, .934 SV% in 24 GP this postseason) stopped 16 out of 20 shots faced in the loss.
Rask finished the 2019 Stanley Cup Final with 176 saves on 193 shots against (.912 SV%) and a 2.46 GAA.
Eight years after winning the Cup in the last Game 7 in a Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver, the Bruins will have to wait until another day to earn their seventh title in franchise history.
For the first time in their 95-year franchise history, the Bruins hosted a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final (though the Final only became a best-of-seven series since 1939).
Boston joined the Chicago Blackhawks as the only other team to lose the only Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final that they’ve ever hosted among the first six financially stable franchises from 1942-67– after the league’s inception in 1917 (otherwise referred to as the “Original Six” teams).
The other “Original Six” teams have hosted at least one such contest with the Detroit Red Wings (3-2 in five Stanley Cup Final Game 7s on home ice) as the most successful team.
The Toronto Maple Leafs (2-0), Montreal Canadiens (1-0) and New York Rangers (1-0) have all never lost a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final on home ice.
St. Louis finished 10-3 on the road this postseason, while Binnington improved to 14-2 in games after a loss in the regular season and playoffs in his young career.
The Blues became the fifth road team to win a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final– and third in-a-row since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and Bruins in 2011.
Home teams are now 12-5 in 17 total Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Final.
No home team has won the Cup since the 2015 Blackhawks.
The Bruins fell to 14-9 in Game 7s on home ice (last loss prior to Wednesday night was against Montreal, 3-1, in the Second Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs).
This postseason run wrapped up the longest season (regular and playoffs) in Blues franchise history as St. Louis participated in 108 games total (26 postseason games).
It was the 2nd longest season in Bruins franchise history as Boston played 106 total games (82 regular season and 24 playoff games)– one game short of their 2010-11 record (107 games, 82 regular season and 25 playoff games).
Boston is now 2-1 all time in a playoff series against St. Louis, winning the Cup in four games in 1970, sweeping the Blues in four games in the 1972 Semifinals and losing in seven games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, told reporters ahead of Game 7 that defender, Matt Grzelcyk, would be a game-time decision and was cleared from concussion protocol.
After warmups, Grzelcyk was good-to-go and placed alongside John Moore on the third defensive pairing in place of Connor Clifton.
Joining Clifton among the long list of healthy scratches for Boston Wednesday night was Chris Wagner, Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, David Backes, Steven Kampfer, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, and Trent Frederic.
Once again, Kevan Miller (lower body) remained out of the lineup for the final time this season due to injury.
B’s captain, Zdeno Chara, set an NHL record for the most Game 7 appearances by a player with his 14th Game 7 on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Blues interim head coach, Craig Berube had the services of Ivan Barbashev back in the lineup after Barbashev served his one-game suspension in Game 6 for an illegal hit to head of Boston forward, Marcus Johansson, in Game 5.
Berube also scratched Robert Bortuzzo and re-inserted Joel Edmundson on his blue line for Game 7.
Nearly halfway through the opening frame, St. Louis defender, Colton Parayko, sent the puck over the glass and out of play for an automatic delay of game minor penalty at 7:57 of the first period.
Though they moved the puck around with ease on the ensuing power play, Boston couldn’t muster a goal on their first skater advantage of the night.
The Bruins fired three shots on goal on the power play– including a point-blank attempt by David Krejci to deke and stuff the puck through Binnington’s five-hole.
Late in the period, after Boston’s fourth line couldn’t clear their own zone, Jay Bouwmeester let go of a shot from the point that O’Reilly (8) redirected through Rask’s five-hole to give St. Louis the fist goal of the game.
Bouwmeester (7) and Pietrangelo (16) had the assists on O’Reilly’s goal and the Blues led, 1-0, at 16:47 of the first period.
The goal came on just the third shot on goal for St. Louis after they got the first shot in the game 27 seconds into the action.
For the first time since Wayne Gretzky did so in 1985, O’Reilly scored a goal in four consecutive Stanley Cup Final games. It was also his 22nd point of the postseason– establishing a Blues franchise record for points in a playoff year.
With eight seconds left in the first period, Jaden Schwartz evaded an attempt by Brad Marchand to make a check while Marchand was a de facto defenseman on a botched line chance by the Bruins.
Schwartz skated with the puck deep into the corner and dropped a pass back to Pietrangelo (3) whereby the Blues captain walked right into the slot, pulled the puck to his backhand and flipped it through Rask’s seven-hole to make it, 2-0, St. Louis.
Pietrangelo’s goal officially came at 19:52 of the first period and was assisted by Schwartz (7).
After one period of play at TD Garden, the Blues led, 2-0, on the scoreboard, while the Bruins dominated shots on goal, 12-4.
The B’s also led in takeaways (5-2), giveaways (5-0) and face-off win percentage (61-39), while the Notes led in blocked shots (9-2) and hits (14-11).
St. Louis had yet to see any action on the skater advantage heading into the first intermission, while Boston was 0/1 on the power play entering the second period.
Despite being badly outshot in the first period, the Blues emerged as hockey normally has its way swinging games back-and-forth for a full-press middle frame.
Brayden Schenn had a shot midway in the second period that went off Rask’s stick, off the crossbar and stayed out of the twine thanks to Chara’s stick work keeping the puck out of the goal while chaos befell the rest of the players on the ice all around the crease.
Through 40 minutes of play, St. Louis still led, 2-0, and trailed Boston in shots on goal, 23-10– including an, 11-6, advantage in shots on goal in the second period alone for the Bruins.
The B’s led in takeaways (6-5), giveaways (12-4) and face-off win% (51-49), while the Notes led in blocked shots (15-7) and hits (27-21).
The Blues still hadn’t seen any time on the power play entering the third period and the Bruins were 0/1.
Midway through the final frame, Vladimir Tarasenko chased a loose puck in the attacking zone and threw a pass to Schenn (5) in the slot for the one-timer to give St. Louis a three-goal lead and all but assure themselves of their first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
Tarasenko (6) and Schwartz (8) tallied the assists on Schenn’s goal at 11:25 of the third period and the Blues led, 3-0.
St. Louis capitalized on the scoreboard moments after Joakim Nordstrom was denied at the other end by Binnington’s right pad.
Late in the period, the Blues did it again as David Perron threw the puck through the slot to Zach Sanford (1) for his first career Stanley Cup Playoff and Stanley Cup Final goal.
The New Hampshire native made it, 4-0, St. Louis with a goal that was assisted by Perron (9) and O’Reilly (15) at 15:22 of the third period.
With the secondary assist on the goal, O’Reilly boosted his own Blues franchise record for the most points in a single postseason to 23 points (8-15–23 totals).
Cassidy pulled Rask with 3:54 remaining in regulation out of a desperate attempt to just get on the scoreboard and it worked.
As the seconds counted down, Grzelcyk (4) sent a shot off the crossbar and into the back of the net over Binnington’s blocker side to cut St. Louis’ lead to three goals.
Krejci (12) had the only assist on the goal at 17:50 of the third period.
The Blues were still in command, 4-1, and even after Boston pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker again with about 1:48 left on the clock, that three-goal deficit was all St. Louis needed.
At the final horn, the Notes had done it.
They finally won their first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
This, despite trailing in shots on goal, 33-20, in Game 7. The Bruins also finished the night leading in giveaways (13-7) and face-off win% (51-49), while the Blues led in blocked shots (21-7) and hits (36-28).
There was only one penalty called in the game and thus St. Louis’ power play never saw a second of ice time, while Boston went 0/1 on the skater advantage– way back in the first period after Parayko sent the puck over the glass for an automatic infraction.
The team that scored first won Games 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the series, while the home team only won two games in the entire seven game series.
Boston finished 5-1 in elimination games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs (won Games 6 and 7 in the First Round against Toronto, won Game 6 against Columbus, won Game 4 against Carolina and forced Game 7 against St. Louis by winning Game 6– then lost in the final game).
Exactly 35 years ago, Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Championship in the last Game 7 hosted in Boston.
That was at the old Boston Garden (1928-95). Wednesday night’s action was at TD Garden (1995-present) and the opposing team won.
The Bruins have not won the Cup on home ice since beating St. Louis on May 10, 1970. Bobby Orr scored his iconic– sports photography defining– goal in overtime to clinch the Cup for Boston for the first time since 1941 that night– ending a 29-year drought.
In 2019, it was the Blues quenching their thirst by winning their first.
More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.
Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.
15,948 days after their first puck drop in franchise history, 3,701 games (regular season and postseason combined), 1,124 games played by Alex Ovechkin, 44 years, 20 years between Stanley Cup Final appearances and 1 Stanley Cup championship— their first in franchise history— the Washington Capitals are your 2018 Stanley Cup champions.
The Capitals won Game 5 on the road, 4-3, Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1, in the series.
Washington wasn’t one of the teams expected to win the Cup from day one back in October, unlike the last four or five years, but they won it anyway— clinching every series on the road and as the best road team this postseason.
Oh yeah, in case you haven’t already heard, Ovechkin finally won the Cup in his 13th NHL season. The captain of the Caps, Ovechkin was also named the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— becoming just the 2nd Russian born NHL player in league history to capture the MVP award.
Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 31 shots against for a .903 save percentage in the Cup clinching win, while Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves on 33 shots faced for an .879 SV% in 57:56 time on ice in the loss.
Lars Eller scored the game-winning goal with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the game after Devante Smith-Pelly scored the game-tying goal while falling in what’s sure to become the most iconic photo in D.C. hockey history.
David Perron, Tomas Tatar and William Carrier were in the lineup for the Golden Knights on Thursday, with Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter as a couple of healthy scratches after playing in prior Stanley Cup Final games leading up to Thursday’s Game 5 action.
Colin Miller was guilty of the action’s first penalty, having received an infraction for interference against Washington defender, Michal Kempny, at 11:44 of the first period. Vegas killed off the penalty, however, and the score remained, 0-0, despite Ovechkin having dented the post on the ensuing power play.
After one period, the score remained tied, 0-0, with the Capitals leading in shots on goal, 9-7. Both teams had four blocked shots aside and the Golden Knights had the advantage in just about everything else, including hits (18-10), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (62-39).
There was only one penalty called after 20 minutes. As a result, the Caps were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.
Teetering with danger isn’t normally advised, but it’s what Vegas goers live for in forms of entertainment— like magicians, acrobats and the like— but hockey? Maybe not a great idea, though Shea Theodore put the dangerous Capitals power play unit on the ice without him as the Golden Knights defender was guilty of tripping T.J. Oshie 21 seconds into the second period.
Nevertheless, the home team prevailed unscathed.
The Golden Knights went on the power play themselves for the first time Thursday night when Christian Djoos delivered a high-stick to Reilly Smith moments later at 3:19. Vegas did not convert on their first player advantage of the game.
A few minutes later, after Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland fired a shot high over the crossbar, Jakub Vrana had the puck on his stick, transitioning from the center redline into the attacking zone on a breakaway for Washington.
Vrana (3) sniped a shot upstairs— top-shelf, glove side— on Fleury, giving the Capitals the 1-0 lead and scoring the game’s first goal.
Wilson (10) and leading point scorer in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Evgeny Kuznetsov (20), had the assists on Vrana’s goal at 6:24 of the second period. Depth scoring remained a major key to Washington’s success and ultimate victory.
But the Golden Knights weren’t going down without a fight, having reached back into their young franchise history of comebacks and quick responses to being scored on in the postseason.
Nate Schmidt (3) tied the game, 1-1, with a slap shot at 9:40 of the second period. Smith (17) and Jon Marchessault (13) had the assists and Vegas came alive— not just the team, but the entire home crowd.
With their backs against the wall, there was no backing down from the immense pressure of elimination.
But with pressure comes susceptibility to making costly errors.
Brayden McNabb yanked down Ovechkin with a trip on a breakaway 11 seconds after Schmidt scored, giving Washington’s deadly power play another chance. This time the Capitals wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to capitalize on the player advantage.
In stereotypical fashion, it was Ovechkin (15) breaking the hearts of Vegas’s penalty killing unit, rocketing his 15th goal of the playoffs past Fleury on the power play at 10:14. Not only did he set a franchise record for most goals in one postseason with the goal, but he became the first player to score 15 goals in a postseason since his biggest rival, Sidney Crosby, did so in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It seemed like poetic justice. It seemed like fate. Perhaps to the Hockey Gods, it was destiny.
Almost a few minutes later, Vegas was rocking again on a double deflection, ultimately put in the back of the net by Perron (1)— the healthy scratch for most of the Stanley Cup Final, that had yet to score this postseason.
Perron’s goal was challenged for goaltender interference by Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, but after review, the call on the ice was confirmed; it was a good goal.
Video replay indicated Washington defender Djoos pushed Perron into the crease and made no difference on the play as Holtby was already in desperation, scrambling outside of the crease to get back square to the shooter.
The Golden Knights had tied it, 2-2, in part, thanks to the assists on Perron’s goal from Tatar (1) and Miller (4) at 12:56.
Having lost the coach’s challenge, Washington forfeited their timeout.
For the next five minutes, the game descended into organized chaos. Shift changes on-the-fly, shots ringing off the iron, save-after-save was made and bodies were flying either by contact or by propulsion on skates.
Then Ovechkin was guilty himself— guilty of tripping Karlsson late in the period as the Golden Knights were surging.
Vegas’s power play took their time to set up the perfect play. Holtby was out of position as a result of second, third and fourth chances, leaving an open net for Smith (5) to cash in the power play goal on a pass across the low slot from Alex Tuch, giving the Golden Knights their first lead of the night, 3-2.
Tuch (4) and Theodore (7) had the assists on the Smith’s goal at 19:31 of the second period and as the home crowd experienced euphoria, gloves and shoves were being exchanged after the goal horn.
Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Jay Beagle picked up matching roughing minors with Vegas’s Smith and Tuch. Both teams remained at full strength and headed into the second intermission with the Golden Knights holding on to a one-goal lead.
Entering Thursday night, the Golden Knights were 10-0 when leading after 40 minutes this postseason. Exiting Thursday night, they’d finish their Stanley Cup Final run, 10-1.
But through two periods of intense action, Vegas led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 20-20. The Golden Knights led in everything else, including blocked shots (9-6), hits (29-16), takeaways (13-8), giveaways (11-3) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). Both teams had scored a power play goal entering the second intermission. Washington was 1/3 and Vegas was 1/2 on the man advantage.
Tatar opened the third period with a hooking minor against Eller at 5:37.
Once again the Capitals set up Ovechkin on the ensuing power play, but this time Fleury was able to slam the door shut on the prolific goal scorer and keep his team ahead.
Yet Washington’s onslaught lasted longer than the power play, pressing as hard as ever to tie the game and take back momentum as the midway point of the third period approached.
Orpik kept the puck in the zone at the blue line and threw the rubber biscuit to the front of the net where Smith-Pelly (7) gained possession, dangled as Fleury went through the routine of doing the splits to go from one side of the goal to the other, but Smith-Pelly had just enough to muster a shot while falling, past Fleury’s leg pad and in.
The Caps forward tied it, 3-3, at 9:52 of the third period, matching his goal scoring output from the regular season (seven goals in 75 games played) in just 24 postseason games. Orpik (4) notched the only assist on the now iconic goal in Washington sports lore.
Then Eller (7) pocketed the go-ahead goal and game-winner, as a result of yet another scramble in front of the net, traffic, pounding and collecting a garbage goal— Washington led, 4-3, with a little more than seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.
After a stoppage in play with 2:04 remaining in their season, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used his team’s timeout to rally his troops and pulled Fleury for an extra attacker.
Washington kept getting the puck out of their own zone, sometimes icing it, sometimes just sending it wide of the empty net, but as long as time ticked down and it didn’t end up behind Holtby, nothing else mattered.
Not even a score-clock malfunction inside the arena, whereby (thankfully) the backup timekeeping apparatus was still working and kept the officials on top of everything, right down until the very last second.
For D.C. sports fans, the agony was over. Their Capitals had won.
For the first time in franchise history— dating back to 1974— Washington is home to Stanley Cup champions and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis can celebrate.
After a 60-minute effort in Game 5, the Capitals won, 4-3, and led in final shots on goal, 33-31. Washington also finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-11), while Vegas held the advantage in hits (39-27) and giveaways (15-6). Both teams finished the night scoring a power play goal, with Washington (1/4) and the Golden Knights (1/2).
The teams shook hands, Ovechkin was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the fans wearing Vegas gold and Caps red both booed league commissioner, Gary Bettman, and finally, Ovechkin was presented with the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports— the Stanley Cup— for the first time in his career.
Entering Thursday night, Washington had lost nine out of their last 10 Game 5s on the road. That didn’t matter. Teams leading the series 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final were 32-1 all-time, until the Capitals made them 33-1.
Veteran forward Jay Beagle became the first player to win the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, AHL’s Calder Cup and NHL’s Stanley Cup in a professional career, while Ovechkin became just the first Russian captain to lead his team to a Cup victory in NHL history.
Ovechkin also became the 16th player in league history to play at least 1,000 regular season games before winning his first Cup (joining legendary Detroit Red Wings star and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman, to do so all with one team).
Kuznetsov finished the postseason as the third Russian-born player to lead the NHL in playoff scoring during the league’s modern era (since 1943-44), joining Sergei Fedorov (1995) and Evgeni Malkin (2009, 2017) in doing so.
As for Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals head coach who is now technically a free agent in search of his next contract (and just won his first Cup in his 20th year as an NHL head coach), Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after the game, “if he wants to be back, he’ll be back.”
The house always wins in Vegas and that was once again apparent as the Vegas Golden Knights took down the Winnipeg Jets, 4-2, on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights lead the 2018 Western Conference Final, 2-1, thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal and their superstar since the 2017 Expansion Draft, Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3.
For the first time in about nine weeks, the Jets have lost back-to-back games (dating back to a string of three losses in mid-March during the regular season).
Fleury made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in the win, while Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck stopped 26 shots out of 29 shots faced for an .897 SV% in 58:58 time on ice in the loss.
Quick goals were a theme Wednesday night as Jonathan Marchessault (7) kicked things off with a beautiful backhand goal, beating Hellebuyck with just a tap-in after the Jets netminder overcommitted 35 seconds into the action.
Brayden McNabb (2) had the only assist on the goal and the Golden Knights led, 1-0.
After taking a wild elbow to the face from a Winnipeg defender, James Neal left the ice for a short period of time in the first period. Neal would return by the end of the opening frame and proved to be a key component in Game 3 in the second period.
Erik Haula served a minor penalty for tripping about midway through the first period and the Jets did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Vegas was unable to convert on two man advantage opportunities of their own late in the third (Josh Morrissey for holding at 14:50 and Mathieu Perreault for tripping at 19:35 of the first period, respectively).
After one period of play, the Golden Knights led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and 10-3 in shots on goal. Vegas also led in takeaways (6-0), giveaways (5-1) and faceoff win percentage (71-29), while Winnipeg led in blocked shots (8-5) and hits (18-9). Both teams had yet to convert on the power play as the Jets were 0/1 and the Golden Knights were 0/2 after the first period.
Winnipeg opened scoring in the second period with a nifty deflection by Mark Scheifele (13) on a shot from Blake Wheeler at the goal line to the left of Fleury. Scheifele’s deflection beat the Vegas netminder on the short side and tied the game, 1-1, at 5:28 of the second period as the Jets looked to soar.
Wheeler (16) had the only assist on the goal and the game did not remain tied for long.
Not long at all, as 12 seconds after the Jets tied it, the Golden Knights untied it with a goal of their own from none other than James Neal.
Neal (4) pocketed the puck in the twine after Hellebuyck butchered a chance to handle the puck and promptly turned it over to Vegas forward, Erik Haula. Haula quickly threw the piece of vulcanized rubber in front of the goal where Neal was awaiting and Vegas took the lead, 2-1, at 5:40 of the second period.
Haula (4) had the only assist on the goal.
Less than three minutes later the Golden Knights were at it again with the same basic principle— get the puck down low, toss it to the guy in front of the net in the low slot, one-time it/deflect it and score.
So it came as no surprise when Neal collected his own rebound, then wrapped around the goal only to toss the puck to Alex Tuch (5) in the low slot for the redirection into the twine. Vegas had a two-goal lead just like that at 8:13 of the second period. Neal (5) and Nate Schmidt (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists and the Golden Knights led, 3-1.
About a minute later, Scheifele slashed McNabb and the home team went on the power play. Unfortunately for T-Mobile Arena goers, the Golden Knights did not score a goal on the ensuing power play.
Moments later, Vegas defender, Luca Sbisa, was guilty of holding Perreault and was sent to the sin bin. Winnipeg did not convert on the ensuing player advantage at 14:39 of the second period.
In the closing minutes of the second frame, a scrum resulted after the whistle had been blown on a routine cover up by Fleury. Every skater on the ice grabbed a hold of an opponent and exchanged some pleasantries while Fleury tickled Wheeler’s ear and Jets defender, Dustin Byfuglien latched on to two Golden Knights at once.
Scheifele, Ryan Carpenter, Wheeler and Cody Eakin were all sent to the box for their respective teams with matching roughing minors at 17:26 of the second period so there was no change in strength on the ice.
Through 40 minutes of play, Vegas held on to a 3-1 lead over Winnipeg. The Golden Knights still had advantages in shots on goal (22-19), blocked shots (14-13), takeaways (11-2), giveaways (8-4) and faceoff win percentage (51-49), while the Jets led in hits (38-24) after two periods. Neither team had scored on the power play, as Winnipeg was 0/2 and Vegas was 0/3 entering the second intermission.
Winnipeg came out strong in the third period.
So strong, in fact, that the Jets scored in the first 18 seconds of the period as Scheifele (14) scored his second goal of the night emulating Tuch on his goal for the Golden Knights.
The Jets won the opening faceoff of the third period and worked the puck down low in the attacking zone, where Kyle Connor then found Scheifele sneaking behind Vegas’s defense in open ice for a one-timer past Fleury as the Golden Knights goalie had to stretch across the crease.
Connor (7) and Wheeler (17) had the assists on the goal and Winnipeg pulled to within one, as the Golden Knights two-goal lead diminished to a 3-2 lead with plenty of time left in regulation.
Scheifele’s second goal of the night set an NHL record for most road goals in a postseason (11), previously held by Sidney Crosby (with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009) and Joe Mullen (with the Calgary Flames in 1989), who each had 10 road goals in their respective postseason runs.
Coincidentally, both the 2009 Penguins and 1989 Flames won the Stanley Cup.
The Jets dominated the pace of play throughout the third period, as Fleury was auditioning for a role in Cirque du Soleil by seemingly standing on his head making save-after-save for Vegas.
Fleury’s play culminated in a split across the crease followed by a desperation dive to deny Winnipeg of two quality scoring chances that for sure would have tied the game otherwise if it were not for Fleury’s superhuman ability.
After Hellebuyck covered the puck for a faceoff, Paul Maurice called a timeout to gather his team, draw up a plan and rally a way to forcing the issue.
Instead, Maruice’s Jets were no match for Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights as the Winnipeg netminder was finally able to vacate the net with about a minute left in regulation.
Despite two blown chances at the empty net with about 25 seconds left in Game 3, Marchessault (8) was the one to get the job done on a wraparound with 2.7 seconds left in the game.
The Golden Knights forward beat out the icing call, raced to the puck and put it away for a 4-2 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead as McNabb (3) and Fleury (1) picked up the assists. Yes, Fleury fittingly got an assist on the empty net goal.
At the final horn, Adam Lowry mixed things up a bit with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the skaters on the ice as both teams found partners in case they needed to go square dancing, but the linesmen got things under control after a shoving match and Vegas celebrated their victory.
Entering Wednesday, Winnipeg had not lost back-to-back games this postseason, nor had they trailed in a series. Until now.
After 60 minutes of play, the Golden Knights walked away with the 4-2 win and an advantage in faceoff win percentage (52-48). The Jets finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-30) and hits (48-41). There were no penalties called in the third period.
Game 4 is scheduled for Friday night at T-Mobile Arena with puck drop a little after 8 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune in once again to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN1 or TVAS.
Second Round predictions, Minnesota needs a new GM, Calgary’s got a new coach, award finalist reactions, a Game 7 breakdown between Boston and Toronto, and where do the Leafs go from here? All that and more as Nick and Connor discuss on the latest DTFR Podcast.