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Where do the 2020-21 Boston Bruins go from here?

To some, the 2020-21 Boston Bruins season ended in disappointment. To others, it made sense. Not for the reasons that you’re probably thinking.

No, there’s no arguments to be made around here regarding the departures of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug from 2019-20 to 2020-21, though there certainly is something to be said about what moves were made (or not made) since then.

Chara made his own decision to leave and pursue a challenge that was unique to his own career, while Krug and the Bruins just… …never really saw eye-to-eye in the end.

Boston’s General Manager, Don Sweeney, has a long offseason ahead with some tough decisions regarding his roster composition— the draft, free agency, possible trades and the looming Seattle Kraken expansion draft (not necessarily in that order).

For starters, it’d be unwise for the Bruins to trade their 2021 1st round pick unless it’s one of those “home run” deals where you’ve all but assured yourself of a slam dunk that’ll take you all the way to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

Then again, the Colorado Avalanche were built to be a super team and they were eliminated in the same Second Round that Boston was ousted from this year. Hockey is weird.

Let’s not focus on Seattle too much just yet and sort through just about every player that hit the ice in a Bruins uniform this season instead.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Control” or “Command” “F”, then type your favorite player’s name is your best friend here. It’s a long read, folks.

Forward Line 1

BRAD MARCHAND (29-40—69 totals in 53 games)

Marchand remains under contract through the 2024-25 season and is currently 33-years-old which means he’s only just entering the other side of his prime.

That said, he’s still in his prime and he’s expressed his desire to remain a Bruin for a long time (that was a given when he signed his current contract as an eight-year extension on Sept. 26, 2016, well ahead of when he would’ve reached free agency on July 1, 2017).

PATRICE BERGERON (23-25—48 totals in 54 games)

Along with Marchand, the Bruins captain has expressed to B’s President, Cam Neely, that he would like to go for another Cup with his current team. That doesn’t necessarily rule out whether or not Bergeron would stick around for a rebuild, but it also means that Boston can’t rebuild until Bergeron says so, basically.

He’s earned that right since being drafted by the team in the 2nd round (45th overall) in 2003, and making the roster out of training camp as an 18-year-old for the 2003-04 season— going on to spend the last 17 NHL seasons with Boston.

Bergeron’s entering the final year of his current contract, which means he’ll be a pending-unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season. He’ll also be 36-years-old, so if Jack Studnicka and/or John Beecher aren’t already being trained to become the next first line center sooner rather than later, then that’s going to be something Sweeney will need to fix.

Bergeron has the makeup of a lifetime Bruin, but even Bobby Orr left via free agency (though Alan Eagleson had more to do with that) and Boston was forced to trade Ray Bourque after not being able to win the Cup with him over a 20-year span (regardless of your views on Harry Sinden and penny-pinching).

At least Bergeron already has a 2011 Stanley Cup ring with the Bruins to his name, but it wouldn’t be crazy to see him take one or two more chances elsewhere if things head south.

DAVID PASTRNAK (20-28—48 totals in 48 games)

Pastrnak had a late start to the already months behind 2020-21 league calendar as he recovered from offseason surgery. At times he appeared at the top of his game, but there were a few cold streaks here and there— whether it was injury related or not, sometimes a season just goes like that.

Though he was on pace for 29 goals in a regular 82-game schedule—down from 48 goals in 70 games in a pandemic shortened 2019-20 season, well, again none of that really matters. He was on pace for 56 goals last season at the time the league shut down due to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 pandemic declaration and he’s probably on pace for almost 1,000,000 goals in his career.

Pastrnak is one of two or three biggest components in Boston’s new core (the others being Charlie McAvoy and, if you will, Jeremy Swayman) and has two more years left on his current contract with a $6.667 million cap hit through 2022-23.

Forward Line 2

TAYLOR HALL (10-23—33 totals in 53 games)

Hall arrived via a trade with the Buffalo Sabres with Curtis Lazar in tow in exchange for Anders Bjork and a 2021 2nd round pick, which is one of the best ways to get good value in a deal involving a 1st overall pick (Hall in 2010).

The fact that Hall only had two goals in 37 games with the Sabres is certainly a wild one, but at least he had 17 assists to make up for things, right?

With the exception of his Hart Memorial Trophy winning 93-point performance in 2017-18, Hall has never reached the 30-goal plateau (he had 39 in 2017-18) and plays with a little bit more of a playmaker style to what some might consider a power forward frame or whatever.

He’s got speed, hands and great vision, but he won’t score 50 goals. That’s fine.

He’s still one of the league’s best top-six forwards and pairing him on a line with David Krejci is almost certainly a no brainer. Give him the best fit to excel and it’s no wonder why Hall had 8-6—14 totals in 16 games with the Bruins after the trade.

Buffalo retained 50% of Hall’s salary in the deal, which was great for Boston as he only had a one-year, $8.000 million contract in the first place, so it was much easier to fit $4.000 million under the cap than the full value the Sabres paid for his services back in last October during free agency.

Boston hasn’t had a suitable winger on their second line since the days of, well, Milan Lucic basically.

Bringing Hall back is a top priority for Sweeney this offseason and should get done on a three or four-year deal worth about $6.000 million per season.

DAVID KREJCI (8-36—44 totals in 51 games)

Krejci has previously indicated a desire to finish his professional playing days back home in Czechia and was asked again at the end of season press conference about his desires to return Czech Republic and couldn’t provide a response— citing that he hasn’t even been able to answer his own parents on that question.

Would he like to get another Cup ring? Probably.

Would he also like to play back in his native country for at least a couple of seasons so his children can learn Czech and be able to communicate with their grandparents? Also, probably.

Krejci’s $7.250 million cap hit is expiring this offseason as the 35-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

In 962 career NHL games— all with Boston— since making his league debut in the 2006-07 season, he’s amassed 215-515—730 totals, while spending five out of the last six seasons without a winger that best fits his “pass first” playmaking abilities.

Taylor Hall is destined to re-sign with the Bruins as they have about $27 million in cap space this summer.

If the B’s find a solution on the right wing of the second line or simply continue to operate with Craig Smith as such, then Krejci should want to get a full season out of it just to say that he tried.

Realistically, Krejci could be one of those players that retires from the game at 38 or 39, which might sound early for some, but let’s remember that he’s already been part of 15 NHL seasons— he’s played a lot longer than the average NHL career (about three times longer, in fact).

The best solution for Boston as they transition from Patrice Bergeron and Krejci down the middle in the top-six to Jack Studnicka, Charlie Coyle, John Beecher or whoever else is in the fold— might be to sign Krejci to a one-year deal and give him time for at least two seasons afterwards back in the Czech Republic.

CRAIG SMITH (13-19—32 totals in 54 games)

Smith was highly touted as a decent signing in free agency last offseason and performed as expected for Boston in 2020-21. Though he might’ve made the roster deeper as a whole spending more time on the third line, Smith elevated his game with Ondrej Kase out for most of the season.

He was on pace for 47 points in a regular 82-game schedule, which would’ve been his best performance since he had 51 points in 79 games with the Nashville Predators in 2017-18.

With two years left on his contract at $3.100 million per season, Smith is well worth every penny thus far.

Forward Line 3

JAKE DeBRUSK (5-9—14 totals in 41 games)

There’s no way around it, but DeBrusk had a disappointing season in 2020-21.

Whether you’re on the fence about criticizing his performance given the ongoing pandemic and league protocol related restrictions in relation to how that affects a player’s mindset or one of those people that calls in to a show to complain about nonsense someone made up, DeBrusk was demoted to the fourth line and spent some nights as a healthy scratch.

He established a career-high 27 goals in his second season over 68 games in 2018-19, despite missing some games due to injuries that season and has more offsensive skill to his game and a speed component that his father, Louie, perhaps didn’t have in his NHL playing days.

Where Jake might lack in physicality, he makes up for in his scoring prowess, ability to move the puck and line chemistry.

Yes, there are times when it would seem that he needs to be reminded of forechecking and staying on an opponent, but he’s also provided a versatility along the left side or rarely on his opposite wing when the Bruins have struggled with bottom-six depth over the season.

Things may be coming to a crescendo with Boston, however, given the opportunity to sell before things continue on a downward spiral, even though his $3.675 million cap hit through next season is pretty affordable for what— in the best of times— is a top-nine forward.

The chance to avoid retaining salary is now, rather than later as the 2022 trade deadline approaches and if there’s a team out there that wants to prioritize DeBrusk in their plans, they may very well like that fact that he’s only 24-years-old and will be a pending-restricted free agent at season’s end in 2021-22.

For Boston, he’s a cheaper alternative to the one-dimensional style of Mike Hoffman when he’s on his game and producing goals.

But he’s also trade bait this offseason for the B’s, since a change of scenery might just help him find solid ground in things that bigger than just the game and net the Bruins the depth they badly needed in the playoffs.

NICK RITCHIE (15-11—26 totals in 56 games)

Ritchie amassed a career-high 15 goals in his first full season with the Bruins. That would’ve been phenomenal if he did all from the fourth line, but also highly unrealistic even for the new-age “roll four lines” style of the contemporary NHL.

He looked a lot better overall, though, than when Boston traded Danton Heinen for him on Feb. 24, 2020.

It’s going to be hard to try to finagle a fair contract, though, given his offensive outburst and pending-RFA status coming off of a previous deal where he had a cap hit of about $1.499 million.

Paying Ritchie $3.000 million a year and expecting him to reach almost 20 goals would be very unwise and should earn comparisons to the previous GM in Boston.

If he stays or goes, he’s earned another look in a Bruins uniform— just for the right price, in the right role and as long as he doesn’t stray too far from whatever worked this season (again, namely playing well beyond his expectations alongside David Krejci out of necessity until Taylor Hall was acquired, so that’s unrealistic if Hall and Krejci are re-signed).

If nothing else can be done in free agency regarding the third line (Blake Coleman would be great) and the fourth line is gutted, then Ritchie deserves another “prove it” contract in Boston.

CHARLIE COYLE (6-10—16 totals in 51 games)

In 2015-16, Coyle broke the 40-point plateau with 21-21—42 totals in 82 games with the Minnesota Wild. The following season, Coyle set career-highs in assists (38) and points (56) in 82 games with the Wild.

He’s averaged about 33 points per season over 621 games in his nine-year NHL career between Minnesota and Boston.

Had 2020-21 been a regular 82-game schedule, Coyle would’ve been on pace for 23 points. Instead, he notched 16 points in 51 games— missing some time due to a stint on the league’s COVID protocol list and due to injury— over the course of the league’s 56-game season in light of the ongoing pandemic.

Like most people, Coyle would probably like to forget the last year.

Especially if you were hoping for him to start making the transition from being the third line center to a possible short-term replacement for David Krejci if Krejci doesn’t return.

One season is not worth overreacting to, but it also might not be considered an overreaction if you find the right way to be proactive. Just don’t mess up either way.

That said, Coyle usually bounces back from a “down” (in reality, just average) year. His $5.250 million cap hit through 2025-26 is the least of Boston’s worries.

Sure, you’d like to see more from him in goal production, but the Bruins had bigger problems than just one player having an off year. He’s fine, but doesn’t have as much of a leash as he might have had coming into 2020-21.

It’s also possible that fans and media members alike are overvaluing someone that’s always been on the cusp of reaching top-six status, but otherwise has only been good in a third line role.

As always, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to be proven wrong.

ONDREJ KASE (0-0—0 totals in 3 games)

Kase sustained an upper body injury (concussion) in the second game of the season on Jan. 16th and played in part of one more game after that in the last week of the regular season on May 10th.

In nine games with the Bruins, he’s had one point and missed 55 games during his Boston tenure— though the majority of that lost time was in this season alone.

That said, Kase’s got bigger things to think about— like the rest of his life, for example. Given his concussion history, it might mean shutting things down for a while, if not possibly for good.

Boston could bring him back on a cheap contract and place him on long term injured reserve if necessary. At best, Kase recovers and is signed—by the Bruins or not— and goes on to have a lengthy career in the NHL.

Only Kase will be able to tell when his body is ready, if it’s ever ready again. In any case, it’s an unfortunate situation for everyone involved in the hard decisions that are to be made.

KARSON KUHLMAN (2-0—2 totals in 20 games)

In 56 career NHL games, Kuhlman’s had 6-7—13 totals so far. He made his league debut in the 2018-19 season and put up five points (three goals, two assists) in 11 games in what looked like it was going to be a fast start for the prolific college scorer.

He then had 1-5—6 totals in 25 games in the 2019-20 season while bouncing around and getting some work with the Providence Bruins (AHL) before recording two goals in 20 games with Boston after a late start to the 2020-21 season due to being in COVID protocol as the short training camp in January got underway.

Kuhlman’s been able to hold his own with his speed among the bottom-six forwards, though with Blake Coleman potentially being available in free agency, the Bruins would have better options to pursue moving forward for the time being.

While Boston remains in “win now” mode, they can gently guide Kuhlman’s NHL career into… …whatever it may be at this point. Sure, defenders and goaltenders take a little bit longer to develop, but whether you think Kuhlman’s gotten enough ice time or too little at the NHL level it seems there’s been a stalling point.

Either his role will evolve as a third or fourth line regular for 2021-22 or he’ll be the next young player out of college on his way out a la Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork in recent years, which means something’s not clicking among the B’s scouting department.

All of them still have potential and could become better players, but they’d be doing so after moving on from your club. If your deals don’t land a Cup, then that’s just poor asset management as a result of bad player scouting and development.

Forward Line 4

SEAN KURALY (4-5—9 totals in 47 games)

Kuraly was on pace for 13 points in a regular 82-game season, which would’ve been his worst performance out of his four full seasons at the NHL level. That’s a down year for sure— even for nine points in 47 games in a 56-game schedule— but is it really that bad?

While he’s expected to be a 20-point scorer as an effective fourth line center and penalty killer (with the chance that he might crack the top-nine forward lineup), scoring primarily from the fourth line isn’t a good strategy to win hockey games in 2021.

That’s not to say that the Bruins didn’t have scoring problems as a whole in a league where rolling four lines is vital, though.

Yes, Kuraly’s 2020-21 season was not great— especially in a contract year, do you think he’ll make another $1.275 million cap hit in Boston? But, he’s still a durable 28-year-old NHLer that should bounce back with a regular schedule.

It might be time to move on, though it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s kept inhouse as an affordable utility player.

Maybe he’s the next Austin Czarnik and simply has to move on elsewhere.

Nothing would be surprising at this point. The Bruins need to reevaluate their bottom-six and they know it’ll mean letting go of some guys that have been around for at least a few seasons.

If you’re going to hold Kuraly to Jake DeBrusk or Charlie Coyle-levels of expectations, well, it might be time to reevaluate your own opinion really quick. At least two of those players should be solid top-nine forward options for any NHL club and scoring at least 15 goals and 30-40 points a season in a third line role.

Kuraly, on the other hand, should be closer to 20 points (at best) no matter how it comes.

TRENT FREDERIC (4-1—5 totals in 42 games)

It’s fine to think that Frederic should’ve been given more games.

It’s crazy, however, to think that Frederic was going to be the determining factor— especially if that was your only lineup change down the stretch.

He’s a young player with an edge, so he’s susceptible to taking unnecessary penalties, plus it’s always easier to have a learning experience conversation with a younger player craving to become an NHL regular than an older veteran that might not take being forced to sit out too well.

“But they’re professional players! They should know it’s for the common good— the benefit of the team!”

Yes, but how would you like it if a younger replacement was slotted into your job at your office and you were forced to watch and couldn’t help whoever you enjoyed working with from about nine floors above?

Doesn’t sound as enticing now, doesn’t it?

That’s not to say you shouldn’t play younger players in a youth driven league, but Boston’s bottom-six wasn’t filled with old players as the season came to an end.

It was filled with players that couldn’t score and struggled to get the puck out of their own zone.

Frederic has the makings of a power forward, but he was on pace for about six goals in a regular 82-game schedule. It’s hard to argue whether his 4-1—5 totals in 42 games look better or worse than Chris Wagner’s 2-3—5 totals in 41 games— after all, they each had five points.

If you like Frederic because he fights, makes hits and puts the puck in the net occasionally like what Milan Lucic used to do in a Bruins uniform, that’s fine, but don’t overvalue the reality that’s in front of you.

Frederic is young, though, so he’s developing and some mistakes are bound to be overlooked by the fanbase for a year or two— at least until someone in the balcony demands he be placed on the first line, then wonders why he doesn’t have, like, 50 goals out of nowhere by that point.

His two-year extension at $1.050 million per season through the 2022-23 league calendar is just fine. He’ll be an NHL regular in 2021-22, which means he’s in control of his own destiny at this point.

ANTON BLIDH (1-0—1 totals in 10 games)

Blidh’s sticking around with the organization on a one-year, two-way contract worth the league minimum $750,000. That guy really likes I-95, huh?

At 26-years-old, there’s not much more to the ceiling for Blidh’s potential, but it is nice to have someone that’s as dedicated as Trent Whitfield was as a player to the club (and still is as a coach in Providence).

As a utility guy in Boston, Blidh fits the role well. In a season where taxi squads were a thing, there really wasn’t anyone better as a durable “emergency use only” player. Here’s hoping things continue to go up for him with the team in whatever role he’s in for 2021-22.

CAMERON HUGHES (0-0—0 totals in 1 game)

In parts of four seasons with the Providence Bruins since making his professional debut at the tail end of the 2017-18 season, Hughes has been getting better each year in one way or another.

In 25 games with Providence in 2020-21, he had 21 points (five goals, 16 assists). He’ll be someone to watch in training camp in September as a potential option for the fourth line in some capacity.

Hughes is sure to get more than just the honorary treatment as a fill-in for the last game of the regular season with the Boston regulars having already clinched a playoff spot and earning a night off to rest for the playoffs.

This coming season is a contract year for him and could be his big step up to the major league as the Bruins deal with building the foundation for eventual first and second line centers.

CURTIS LAZAR (7-6—13 totals in 50 games)

Acquired ahead of the trade deadline with Taylor Hall for Anders Bjork and a 2nd round pick in 2021, Lazar had four points (two goals, two assists) in 17 games with Boston after he departed the Buffalo Sabres.

The 26-year-old provides speed and an influx of determination to the fourth line as someone that’s fought for just about every second of his NHL career.

No, not necessarily speaking with the fisticuffs here, but since his first two seasons in the league with the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15 and 2015-16, he’s never really been given a fair shake at a full season until he played in 50 games with the Sabres and Bruins this season.

He’s bounced from the Sens to the Calgary Flames, Buffalo and now Boston, but it looks like the B’s just might have a home for Lazar.

His numbers reflect that of a true fourth liner, so don’t expect too much, but he was on pace for 19 points in 2020-21 if it had been a regular 82-game season.

Lazar’s entering a contract year in 2021-22 with an $800,000 cap hit and there’s reason to believe he’ll do everything he can to prove his worth to Boston.

Assembling a roster isn’t so much about having all the best players and young, enticing prospects, so much as it is about having the right players.

The 2011 Stanley Cup champion Bruins had Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line and— though the league was different 10 years ago— remember what it was like going into the 2010-11 season wondering who the hell this Campbell guy from the Florida Panthers was as an almost afterthought in the Dennis Wideman for Nathan Horton and Campbell trade.

Now come back to reality and remind yourself that the 2021-22 Bruins are not going to be Stanley Cup contenders, but anything can happen if you make the playoffs and play a Conference Finals round that lasts longer than the other one.

JACK STUDNICKA (1-2—3 totals in 20 games)

Well, Studnicka didn’t really pan out this season like some had hoped, but the 21-year-old is only entering his fifth professional season after being drafted in the 2nd round (53rd overall) by Boston in 2017.

Three points in 20 games just seems like a case of bad luck given the way Studnicka plays with control in his game. Seven points in 11 games with Providence this season— despite all of them coming in the form of assists— is promising considering what he had to go through being in and out of Boston’s lineup, being on the taxi squad and dealing with the exceptionally condense AHL season in both division travel and the varying schedule itself from team to team.

The pandemic has been detrimental to the development of young players across the board, but it doesn’t mean that some of these players won’t go on to be stars in their own right.

Studnicka may have his name penciled on the roster for 2021-22, but don’t be surprised if he needs a little fine tuning in Providence for another year.

GREG McKEGG (1-0—1 totals in 5 games)

McKegg is probably gone in the offseason, but he served well as a utility player for Boston and even had a pair of assists in two games with Providence at one point in the 2020-21 season. His five appearances for the B’s this season were the fewest games he played in a season since his early days with the Toronto Maple Leafs when he played in three games as a 22-year-old in 2014-15.

Now 29, McKegg finds himself in the difficult position of being an NHL journeyman doomed to a fourth line role if he can find one, being a top AHL forward on the verge of either sticking  to it or retiring or he could just sign overseas for more money, probably.

CHRIS WAGNER (2-3—5 totals in 41 games)

Wagner was on pace for seven points if the 2020-21 season was a regular 82-game schedule.

That’s right. Seven.

He had a career-high 19 points in 76 games with Boston in 2018-19, when the Bruins went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final on the backs of tremendous bottom-six scoring depth—considering Wagner was responsible for 12 goals that season.

Since then he had 10 points in 67 games in 2019-20 and, well, the five points that he had in 41 games for Boston in 2020-21.

Injuries and the insurmountable expectations placed upon a local kid playing for the local team (as the unofficial mayor of Walpole), well, this season left much to be desired— especially considering it was the first year of his three-year extension worth $1.350 million per season. Oops.

If he bounces back, great! If he doesn’t, then the writing is on the wall and you already have to rework the fourth line anyway, so…

That said, Wagner admitted to suffering from some previously unexperienced anxiety related to the pandemic and the league’s COVID-19 protocols that limited teammate interaction with the cities they traveled to, as well as with each other, to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Hopefully the 2021-22 season provides a sense of normalcy that’ll allow him to get back on his game— even if he is limited in the number of games played, which he probably should be at this point.

OSKAR STEEN (0-0—0 totals in 3 games)

One of the bright spots for the Bruins this season was Steen’s NHL debut. Though he didn’t register anything on the scoresheet and hasn’t in his first three career NHL games, Steen’s provided a spark and some physicality despite his 5-foot-9, 188-pound frame.

Brad Marchand once went 20 games without scoring a goal in a season back when he made his league debut in the 2009-10 season. He’s also 5-foot-9 and about seven pounds lighter than Steen.

Not trying to make comparisons here that might otherwise set unrealistic expectations, but Steen certainly could see more ice time in the 2021-22 season among Boston’s bottom-six if they’re trying to make any kinds of repairs to the team’s depth from within.

ZACH SENYSHYN (0-0—0 totals in 8 games)

Look, Senyshyn only played in eight games this season, but in 14 career NHL games spanning parts of three seasons, he has 1-2—3 totals. Zach Hamill had four points (all assists) in 20 games from when he made his league debut in the 2009-10 season through the 2011-12 season with Boston.

That’s what we’re looking at here.

The pending-RFA could be tendered a qualifying offer, could have his negotiating rights traded or could just be off into the unknown.

In 42 games with Providence in 2019-20, he had 7-9—16 totals (or about .381 points per game). In 18 games with the P-Bruins in 2020-21, he wore an “A” on the front of his sweater and had 7-6—13 totals (about .722 points per game).

He had a career-high 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 66 games with Providence in his first full professional season in 2017-18.

Whether he’s back among the Bruins organization next season depends on how patient both the club and the player are with each other.

At 24-years-old, he could just be a late bloomer. He could also just need a change of scenery. Or he could be like Hamill. Those are the possibilities at this point.

Can his hot hands in Providence last season continue moving forward?

Defensive Pairing 1

MATT GRZELCYK (5-15—20 totals in 37 games)

Despite injuries limiting Grzelcyk to 37 games in 2020-21, he was on pace for 29 points if the season had been a regular 82-game schedule, so 20 points in 37 games in an already condensed 56-game season is actually not that bad, considering the Bruins were looking for someone to step up and replace Torey Krug’s stature as an offensive defender from the point.

Grzelcyk had five goals, while Krug had two this season. Grzelcyk had 20 points in 37 games (.541 points per game), while Krug had 32 points in 51 games (.627 points per game).

One player is just a little bit better on the power play and it’s Krug, which is to be expected given his 10 years in the NHL at this point to Grzelcyk’s five-year career thus far.

Sure, Grzelcyk’s defensive lapses are noticeable at times, but then again, what defender isn’t going to standout when a goal against is scored.

That’s not to say that Boston can’t do better with the addition of a solidified left shot blue liner for the first pairing, but Grzelcyk gets a lot blame for something that is largely mismanagement.

Again, not to go too deep into the “should’ve kept the band together” argument, but the Bruins at least should’ve had a backup plan that wasn’t just “play the kids and hope for the best”— not while they’re trying to win one more Cup with their old core, at least.

More on that in a minute.

CHARLIE McAVOY (5-25—30 totals in 51 games)

McAvoy is a stud. He’s the new core to build around on the back end and he had a great season all things considered.

He’s also on the verge of a breakout it seems, but when remains to be seen. That said, you want him on your team for the ride. Imagine if the Bruins dealt Ray Bourque, like, 20 years before they actually traded Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche in 2000. Yeah, see, that would’ve been one of the franchise’s worst mistakes in this hypothetical situation.

When McAvoy breaks out, he’ll get Norris Trophy attention. Until then, he’s considered to be a star in Boston, but otherwise just a really good defender that’s young— even as a 23-year-old with four seasons under his belt— and has time to learn to become a master.

Enough said.

Defensive Pairing 2

MIKE REILLY (0-27—27 totals in 55 games)

If Alec Martinez is too costly and Jamie Oleksiak or Ryan Suter aren’t options, then it’s fine to stick with Reilly on Boston’s defense.

No, he probably shouldn’t be on the second pairing, but a career-year and the way he moves the puck up through the neutral zone will draw some attention to giving him more ice time and seeing what he can handle.

In a perfect world, nobody gets injured and the Bruins sign a guy like Suter or whoever to cement the left side with Grzelcyk, some guy and Reilly.

It wouldn’t be like, say, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s defense, but it would be more competitive than when all of your defenders are injured and you’re left reaching for Jack Ahcan or Urho Vaakanainen a bit too soon (not that they’re bad players, for the record).

BRANDON CARLO (3-1—4 totals in 27 games)

Carlo was limited to 27 games due to multiple injuries and had four points this season before his postseason run was cut short by yet another concussion. His new six-year extension with Boston carries a $4.100 million cap hit which is both 1) a steal if he’s healthy and remains a solid shutdown defender on the second pairing and 2) a bit of an overpay if he can’t play.

The good news, however, is that long term injured reserve exists for a reason, so, you know, just legally circumvent the salary cap if you have to.

Here’s hoping his traumatic brain injury days are behind him.

Defensive Pairing 3

JEREMY LAUZON (1-7—8 totals in 41 games)

It’s honestly kind of surprising that Lauzon only had a goal this season. He’s managed to hit the back of the net in each of the parts of three seasons that he’s played for Boston, but he’s yet to record two goals in one league calendar year.

At 24-years-old, he’s the same age as Brandon Carlo, though Carlo is a late 1996 birthday, whereas Lauzon is an early 1997 Gen-Zer or whatever.

If he’s not taken by the Seattle Kraken at the 2021 Expansion Draft, then that’s a good thing. One mistake alone by Lauzon didn’t cost Boston their Second Round series against the New York Islanders and he seems to be the kind of player that will learn quickly and correct things in-game just by continuing to play.

Lauzon doesn’t get disgruntled and he doesn’t give up. Sure, he might be battling his own youth and inexperience at times, but he likes to hit and play a bit of a physical game, which is in demand for Boston’s defense.

The Bruins should try to coerce Seattle to take someone that might otherwise be hoping for a fresh change of scenery in Jakub Zboril.

KEVAN MILLER (1-3—4 totals in 28 games)

After numerous knee injuries, surgeries, rehab and more, a concussion in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the final blow for the 33-year-old Miller as he announced his retirement on Wednesday.

Though he was signed to a one-year, $1.250 million contract last offseason, the Bruins could’ve used that money elsewhere on, say, a different defender.

Instead, Brandon Carlo now gets Miller’s cap hit added on to his freshly expired $2.850 million AAV contract for Carlo’s new six-year, $24.6 million deal.

Whereas last season anyone else could’ve been signed for that price or less and not have missed half of the season, this season with the flat cap and everything, Boston is destined to make a trade if they’re able to re-sign some of their pending-UFAs in Taylor Hall, David Krejci and others before assessing what else needs to be done.

CONNOR CLIFTON (1-6—7 totals in 44 games)

Clifton set career-highs in assists (six) and points (seven), while playing in a career-high 44 games in the 2020-21 season. As he came into the league, Clifton was a bit more of a run of the mill seventh defender, but he’s played well enough to earn a shot at being on the last pairing full-time.

At 5-foot-11, 175-pounds, Clifton still plays hard and bangs bodies with ease.

With a $1.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season, he’s the perfect low-cost, high-reward player to have in the toolbox as Boston continues to overhaul their blue line.

JARRED TINORDI (0-1—1 totals in 21 games)

Claimed off waivers during the season, Tinordi had one assist in 14 games with Boston as a depth defender. He’s got a big frame at 6-foot-6, 205-pounds and can fight when necessary, so he’ll pack an extra punch when the team needs a physical boost or someone to provide a spark.

He’ll be a pending-UFA though and with Steven Kampfer heading off to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), it’d make sense to keep Tinordi around on another league minimum contract as the new seventh defender.

JAKUB ZBORIL (0-9—9 totals in 44 games)

Zboril can move the puck. How well can he do that? Depends on who you ask.

He’s been frustrated by the fact that he’s not yet set in stone on Boston’s roster full-time, was given that chance in the 2020-21 season and really didn’t live up to expectations.

Nine assists are fine for defender that was projected to be on the bottom pairing for most of the year, but Zboril couldn’t play up the lineup when teammates went down with injuries and was exposed as a young, inexperienced, blue liner time and time again.

It’d probably take a lot of convincing for Seattle to see something in him rather than a couple other potential options from the Bruins at the expansion draft, but if Boston somehow lost Zboril for nothing to the Kraken, they wouldn’t be losing too much.

Sure, Zboril could go on to develop into a fine defender for Seattle, but that’s just it. Maybe it’s time for a change of scenery.

Defenders take a few extra years to develop sometimes, but unless everyone understands that rushing things right now is unwise or that there’s a lot of work to be done, then it’s time to do yourself a favor and stop the bleeding.

JOHN MOORE (0-2—2 totals in 5 games)

Moore has two more years remaining on his five-year contract worth $2.750 million per season and appeared in five games in 2020-21 in between some pretty major season ending injuries.

Is he the new Kevan Miller, you ask? Probably.

Moore’s latest surgery back in March was a hip arthroscopy and labral repair and will keep him out until about time for training camp in September at the earliest, but if he’s not ready to go then at least there’s the long-term injured reserve.

Unless you find a trading partner to take on his cap hit.

The Moore experiment wasn’t necessarily a failure, but it also hasn’t really worked out so far.

Was it a long contract to sign at the time? Yes, but the cap hit is low enough to be manageable in the event that, well, this happens.

Now on the wrong side of 30, Moore will be turning 31 in November and if his body can’t take what’s being thrown at him, he’ll be on his way out of the league sooner rather than later.

If the Bruins don’t do anything substantial to their defense and Moore can return to full health, he’s not a bad bottom-pairing solution to rotate among the youth, but that’s also the problem facing Boston.

They have too many bottom-pairing defenders with little to no upside and not enough jobs for each of them.

STEVEN KAMPFER (2-3—5 totals in 20 games)

Kampfer contributed a lot this season in a limited role as a seventh defender that ended up playing almost half the season and bounced back and forth between Providence and Boston on a few occasions.

Despite making his league debut in his first stint with the Bruins during the 2010-11 season, Kampfer never really made a full-time impact anywhere he went in the NHL, whether it was with the B’s, Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers and Bruins again.

Now, he’s got a chance to make more money playing in the KHL and could flourish given his NHL development over his nine-year NHL career.

JACK AHCAN (0-0—0 totals in 3 games)

Ahcan made his NHL debut this season with Boston and looked fine. Probably not ready for a full-time role, but just fine. That’s about it on that.

URHO VAAKANAINEN (0-2—2 totals in 9 games)

Vaakanainen is only 22, so if you’re going to freak out about development of a defender taking a normal length of time that it should take, then there’s not much else to say, I guess.

He recorded his first pair of points in the NHL in nine games this season and did fine, but probably will spend more time in Providence this season.

Starting Goaltender

TUUKKA RASK (15-5-2 in 24 GP, 24 GS, 2.28 GAA, .913 SV%, 2 SO)

Rask is a pending-UFA that won’t be able to play until January at the earliest while he recovers from offseason hip surgery. As one of the greatest goaltenders in league history— statistically speaking— as well as one of the best Finnish-born netminders, there will certainly be a lot of teams interested in his services regardless of when he can get back into the crease for the 2021-22 season.

But for Rask, there’s only one option— playing for Boston.

He’s been a Bruin ever since the Rask-for-Raycroft trade on June 24, 2006, that sent 2003-04 Calder Memorial Trophy winner, Andrew Raycroft, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a then considered expendable goaltending prospect in Rask.

Talk about one of the best deals for Boston since the Phil Esposito trade, which also landed the Bruins Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield for Jack Norris, Pit Martin and Gilles Marotte in return to Chicago on May 15, 1967.

Though some would consider that to be a “hockey trade”.

Rask’s indicated that he would like to be part of the transition in the crease as the B’s are expected to make Jeremy Swayman their full-time starter within the next two to three seasons (though out of necessity to start 2021-22) and he’s earned every right to wind down his career as he sees fit.

It’s Boston or bust and Rask is sure to come back for at least one more season before ultimately retiring.

Bruins GM, Don Sweeney, can take his time with a new deal for Rask— both with expansion in mind and as it relates to either starting the season on long term injured reserve or just signing No. 40 almost midway through the year.

Backup Goaltender

JEREMY SWAYMAN (7-3-0 in 10 GP, 10 GS, 1.50 GAA, .945 SV%, 2 SO)

With Tuukka Rask out until January (if he sticks around for another year in Boston), there’s good news and bad news for the Bruins in the crease.

The good news is that it looks like Swayman’s ready to start taking on a prominent role as a goaltender in the NHL.

The bad news is that it comes without Rask able to guide him as much in the first half of the season and because of the fact that Swayman’s developed into at least a surefire backup goaltender for the B’s, Jaroslav Halak is leaving in free agency to find a stable job elsewhere with another team.

Oh, plus if the defense doesn’t improve— from within or due to external influences, well…

At the very least, Boston should probably sign another goaltender to take some of the stress off of Swayman and Dan Vladar so they don’t try to rush the young phenom into too big of a role too quickly.

Philadelphia Flyers goaltender, Carter Hart’s 2020-21 season is the last thing you want to happen to Swayman, ultimately.

Third String Goaltender

JAROSLAV HALAK (9-6-4 in 19 GP, 17 GS, 2.53 GAA, .905 SV%, 2 SO)

Despite putting up a solid goals-against average for a backup goaltender in the NHL, two shutouts and winning almost ten games in a 56-game condensed season due to the ongoing pandemic, Halak was relegated to the third string goaltender role as Jeremy Swayman emerged and Tuukka Rask returned to the lineup at the end of the 2020-21 season.

Halak’s .905 save percentage was a bit low for the average backup (usually around .910) and a few of his outings didn’t do him any favors in the eyes of those that are tasked with assessing his game and figuring out whether he’s ready to go take the load off of the starter for a night.

Whether Halak ended up on Bruce Cassidy or Don Sweeney’s bad side doesn’t really matter here, though. His play was average to below-average while Swayman played lights out down the stretch.

Generally speaking, you go with the hotter goaltender more often than you don’t.

Halak’s short Bruins tenure has run its course after three seasons and though the 36-year-old didn’t win a Cup ring with Boston, he did exactly what he needed to for the organization and went above and beyond at times— winning the William M. Jennings Trophy for his second time with Rask in 2019-20.

Fourth String Goaltender

DAN VLADAR (2-2-1 in 5 GP, 5 GS, 3.40 GAA, .886 SV%, 0 SO)

Vladar and the B’s were blown out by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, in his last start of the season in his 2020-21 campaign, but otherwise looked great in his regular season debut and subsequent minutes.

Though he’s likely projected as Boston’s backup goaltender in both the immediate sense with Jeremy Swayman as the projected starter for 2021-22 while Tuukka Rask is out due to offseason surgery, Vladar has the chance to solidify himself as a capable contender for the long-term starting job in a Bruins uniform or perhaps elsewhere if it comes down to that.

Right now, though, he’ll be Boston’s protected goaltender in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft since Rask and Jaroslav Halak are pending-UFAs and Swayman isn’t eligible to be exposed.

The Bruins will have tendered a qualifying offer to Callum Booth— the long-time taxi squad practice goaltender during the 2020-21 season, though the Kraken will likely pry a defender or a forward away from the organization instead.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Canadiens advance to first Stanley Cup Final in 28 years

For the first time since the last time they won the Stanley Cup in 1993, the Montréal Canadiens are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-2, in overtime on home ice in Game 6 at Bell Centre on Thursday night.

With the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl secured, the Canadiens have now won every trophy in National Hockey League history and join the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders as the only teams to have won both the Campbell Bowl and Prince of Wales Trophy in franchise history.

Artturi Lehkonen scored the biggest goal of his short five-year NHL career thus far a little more than 90 seconds into overtime as the Canadiens won the series 4-2 to advance to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Habs netminder, Carey Price (12-5, 2.02 goals-against average, .934 save percentage in 17 games played), stopped 37 out of 39 shots faced in the win.

Robin Lehner (1-2, 3.63 goals-against average, .887 save percentage in three games played) made 29 saves on 32 shots against in the loss.

Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer, fell to 12-7 when facing elimination all time in his career behind the bench of an NHL team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Meanwhile, Montréal improved to 11-2 when scoring first this postseason and 11-0 when scoring at least two goals in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They’re also the first Canadian NHL team in the Stanley Cup Final since the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games (4-3) in 2011.

Jake Evans remained out of the lineup for Montréal, while DeBoer swapped Nick Holden on his defense with Nic Hague and gave Lehner the start over Marc-Andre Fleury on Thursday.

Luke Richardson led the Canadiens behind the bench for the fourth time in the series while Dominique Ducharme remains in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 prior to Game 3.

Vegas General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon, remains out of commission in isolation as well, having tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of Game 4.

Nicolas Roy caught Jon Merrill with a high stick and presented the Habs with the first power play of the night at 1:56 of the first period.

Montréal was unsuccessful on the ensuing skater advantage, however.

It wouldn’t take the Canadiens all night before they found a way to convert on the power play as Alex Pietrangelo presented the Habs with their second advantage of the night as a result of a roughing infraction at 12:36.

This time, Montréal used up about 90 seconds of power play time before Alec Martinez went to clear the puck out of the zone but failed as a result of his stick shattering and an errant puck landing on Shea Weber’s blade instead.

Weber (1) unloaded on an unassisted slap shot past Lehner’s blocker side while Jesperi Kotkaniemi screened the Vegas goaltender to give the Canadiens a, 1-0, lead on a power-play goal at 14:06 of the first period.

Less than a minute later, though, the Golden Knights responded and tied things up, 1-1, thanks to a shot pass from Shea Theodore that Reilly Smith (3) redirected behind Price on the low blocker side.

Theodore (9) and William Karlsson (11) tallied the assists on Smith’s goal at 14:54.

Entering the first intermission, the score was tied, 1-1, despite the Golden Knights leading in shots on goal, 10-8.

Vegas also held the advantage in blocked shots (6-5), giveaways (11-5) and faceoff win percentage (52-48), while Montréal led in takeaways (1-0) and hits (10-7).

The Canadiens were 1/2 on the power play, while the Golden Knights had yet to see time on the skater advantage after one period on Thursday.

Tyler Toffoli hooked Smith early in the middle frame and cut a rut to the box at 3:15 of the second period– presenting Vegas with their first power play of the night as a result.

The Golden Knights couldn’t convert on the ensuing advantage, however, and would go back on the penalty kill shortly after Montréal killed off Toffoli’s minor.

Vegas had too many skaters on the ice and sent Keegan Kolesar to serve the bench infraction at 5:42 of the second period.

The Canadiens failed to score on the resulting power play.

Moments later, Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson worked to get the puck out of their own zone as Edmundson fed Cole Caufield with a lead pass through the neutral zone that Caufield deflected over Brayden McNabb’s stick while breaking into the attacking zone.

Caufield (4) drove to the net and elevated a shot high on Lehner’s glove side to put the Habs up, 2-1, midway through the second period.

Edmundson (6) and Petry (5) notched the assists on Caufield’s goal at 9:36.

Eric Staal hooked Kolesar at 11:04 of the second period and presented Vegas with their second and final power play of the evening, but the Golden Knights couldn’t muster anything on the skater advantage as the Canadiens went on to kill off their 30th consecutive infraction this postseason– extending their ongoing franchise record as a result.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Habs led, 2-1, on the scoreboard despite trailing Vegas, 22-21, in shots on goal.

Montréal actually held the advantage in shots on net in the second period alone, 13-12, and led in blocked shots (11-7), takeaways (8-2) and hits (20-19) heading into the dressing room for the second intermission.

Vegas led in giveaways (17-13) and faceoff win% (56-44) after two periods.

As there were no penalties called in the final frame of regulation, as well as in the extra frame, the Habs finished the night 1/3 on the power play, while the Golden Knights went 0/2.

Pietrangelo wired a shot on net that rebounded in and out of Price’s glove before Martinez (4) did what he does best in the postseason– score clutch goals– this time off of Price and through the five-hole to tie the game, 2-2, at 1:08 of the third period.

Pietrangelo (8) and Karlsson (12) were credited with the helpers on Martinez’ goal as both teams continued to swap chances throughout the third period.

Vegas couldn’t get anything going with their surge in momentum as Smith continued to be a prominent figure on the ice among their top-six forwards as Phillip Danault and his Canadiens teammates continued to shutdown Golden Knights captain, Mark Stone, in every way imaginable.

Stone expressed remorse to reporters after the game for failing to record a single point in the series and had 5-3–8 totals in 19 games this postseason for Vegas– down from 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 20 games last postseason for the Golden Knights.

The horn sounded to indicate the end of the third period and the necessity for overtime as the two teams remained tied, 2-2, after 60 minutes.

Vegas led in shots on goal, 37-31, and held a, 15-10, advantage in the third period alone.

The Golden Knights continued to lead in giveaways (25-19), hits (31-28) and faceoff win% (52-48), while the Canadiens led in blocked shots (13-12) and takeaways (11-5).

For the third time in the series, Vegas and Montréal were heading to overtime.

Though the Golden Knights got two quick shots on the board to start the extra frame, it didn’t take long before the Canadiens emerged victorious as they won a battle in their own end before sprinting down the ice, whereby Danault released a pass to Lehkonen (3) for the one-timer goal on Lehner’s short side that eliminated Vegas and sent Montréal to the Stanley Cup Final.

Danault (3) and Brendan Gallagher (3)– two of the Habs’ longest tenured players not named Price– had the assists on Lehkonen’s game-winner at 1:39 of the overtime period as the Canadiens took home a, 3-2, victory.

Vegas exited Bell Centre leading in the final shots on goal total, 39-32, including a, 2-1, advantage in overtime alone, as well as the lead in giveaways (25-21), hits (31-29) and faceoff win% (53-47).

Meanwhile, Montréal delighted their home crowd with the win, pictures with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl and the final advantage in blocked shots (14-13) on the night.

Speaking of the trophy that’s normally been presented to the winner of the Western Conference Final (or its Campbell Conference Finals equivalent from 1982-93), with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl now belonging to the Canadiens for the 2021 postseason, Montréal has won every trophy in league history.

As a result of the Game 6 win in overtime, the Habs improved to 5-1 past regulation this postseason, while the Golden Knights finished 2-4.

The Canadiens are 1-2 in all time Stanley Cup Playoff series’ against Tampa and 3-1 in all time postseason series’ against New York.

Montréal will face the winner of the Islanders vs. Lightning series on Monday night (June 28th) on the road in Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

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Habs victorious on the road in Game 5, can advance to the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday

The Montréal Canadiens matched a franchise record set in 1989, for the most road wins in a postseason with their seventh victory on an opponent’s ice in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs as they defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1, in Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday.

Carey Price (11-5, 2.02 goals-against average, .933 save percentage in 16 games played) made 26 saves on 27 shots against as the Habs took a 3-2 series lead in the win.

Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Fleury (9-7, 2.04 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 16 games played) stopped 22 out of 25 shots faced in the loss for the Golden Knights.

The Canadiens can reach the Stanley Cup Final with a win in front of their own fans on Thursday and join a short list of teams to have won both the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl in franchise history, as only the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders have done so in National Hockey League history.

With no conferences this season due to the ongoing global pandemic restricting travel, the NHL decided to hold a Stanley Cup Semifinals round with the winner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Islanders series taking home the Prince of Wales Trophy, while the winner of Vegas and Montréal’s best-of-seven games series would take home the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

The former is usually reserved for the Eastern Conference champion, while the latter is usually presented to the Western Conference champion since a Conference Finals round became a thing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1982.

Jake Evans remained out of the lineup for the Habs, while Chandler Stephenson returned to his usual spot on the first line for Vegas after missing the last three games due to an undisclosed injury.

Golden Knights General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon, remains isolated in Montréal after testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of Game 4 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, likely won’t return to the series after testing positive prior to Game 3 unless the NHL’s protocols change between now and the conclusion of his scheduled isolation.

Despite his recent offensive contributions– including the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 3– Paul Byron opened the action with a cross checking infraction at 2:05 of the first period, yielding the game’s first power play to Vegas.

The Golden Knights, however, couldn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Almost midway through the opening frame, Josh Anderson fired a shot on Fleury that rebounded as Jesperi Kotkaniemi (5) crashed the net before he floated the puck into the top-right corner of the net with his backhand as the Vegas goaltender swung his paddle behind his back in desperation.

Anderson (1) and Byron (3) had the assists on Kotkaniemi’s goal on the rebound as the Canadiens pulled ahead, 1-0, at 8:45 of the first period.

Entering the first intermission, Montréal led, 1-0, on the scoreboard despite both teams managing to record six shots on goal each.

The Golden Knights held the advantage in blocked shots (4-3), takeaways (5-4), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (73-27), while the Habs led in hits (16-10) after one period.

Vegas had the only power play in the first period and went 0/1, while Montréal was still awaiting their first skater advantage of the night heading into the middle frame.

Alex Pietrangelo caught Kotkaniemi with a high stick, but an official review determined that it was an unintentional result of a follow through– thereby negating any infraction early in the middle period.

Minutes later, Eric Staal (2) emerged fresh off the bench on a line change for a catch and release snipe over Fleury’s glove after Nick Suzuki broke up Jonathan Marchessault’s play at the other end and generated a breakout for the Habs before connecting with Staal.

Suzuki (7) and Tyler Toffoli (8) tallied the assists on Staal’s goal as Montréal extended their lead to, 2-0, at 6:32 of the second period.

The Canadiens got their first power play of the night after Nicolas Roy caught Artturi Lehkonen with a high stick at 8:33.

The Habs made relatively quick work on the resulting skater advantage as Suzuki forced a turnover, which led to Corey Perry and Cole Caufield entering the attacking zone with an almost 2-on-1 advantage.

Perry made a no-look pass to Caufield (3) for the one-time goal as Fleury stood no chance with the burst of speed approaching and shortened reaction time.

Caufield’s power-play goal made it, 3-0, for the Canadiens as Perry (6) and Suzuki (8) notched the assists at 9:49 of the second period.

Less than a minute later, the Habs were back on the power play as Lehkonen drew another penalty as Shea Theodore cross checked the Canadiens skater at 10:42.

Montréal did not convert on the resulting power play, however.

Late in the period, Shea Weber hooked Stephenson at 17:10, but the Golden Knights couldn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Canadiens led, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 17-15, in shots on goal, including an, 11-9, advantage in shots in the second period alone.

Montréal also held the advantage in hits (35-20), while Vegas led in takeaways (9-7), giveaways (10-2) and faceoff win% (57-43).

Both teams managed to have eight blocked shots each.

There were no penalties called in the final frame, as the Habs went 1/2 on the power play and the Golden Knights went 0/2 on the skater advantage on the night.

Roy won an attacking zone faceoff early in the final period as Max Pacioretty (5) fanned on his initial shot attempt before gathering his composure and sending the puck over Price’s blocker side.

Pacioretty’s goal put Vegas on the scoreboard, though they trailed, 3-1, at 4:09 of the third period, nonetheless.

Roy (5) had the only assist on Pacioretty’s first goal of the series.

With 2:53 remaining in the game, Fleury skated to the bench for an extra attacker as Peter DeBoer pulled his goaltender to rally the Golden Knights for a pair of goals, ideally.

Instead, while trying to keep the puck in the attacking zone, Vegas botched a play along the blue line whereby Toffoli was able to gather the loose puck and send it off the glass through the neutral zone.

As the puck made its way out of Montréal’s defensive zone, Suzuki (5) gathered the de facto indirect lead pass and raced to the vacant goal frame for an empty net goal to make it, 4-1, for the Canadiens.

Toffoli (9) had the only assist on Suzuki’s added insurance marker at 18:54 of the third period.

At the final horn, Montréal had won, 4-1, and taken a 3-2 series lead with the chance to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993.

Coincidentally, 1993, is also the last time the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, defeating Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings in five games in the process.

The Golden Knights finished the night leading in shots on goal, 27-26, including a, 12-9, advantage in the third period alone.

The Canadiens finished Game 5 with the advantage in blocked shots (18-8) and hits (44-35), while Vegas exited their own building on Tuesday leading in giveaways (14-4) and faceoff win% (58-42).

With a win in Game 6 on Thursday night in front of their own fans at Bell Centre, Montréal can become the first Canadian team to appear in the Stanley Cup Final since the Vancouver Canucks represented Canada in 2011, before losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games (4-3).

Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. ET on Thursday and viewers in the United States can tune to USA Network, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.

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Lightning shutout Stars in Game 6, win 2nd Cup in franchise history

For the first time since 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup champions.

Gone are the days of choking in the 2015 Final, the 2016 and 2018 Eastern Conference Final or being swept in the 2019 First Round.

Open a window– make it a championship window– and see just how long the good times will last (there’s going to be some salary cap stuff to figure out for 2020-21 and beyond, but worry about that later).

For now, raise a socially distant glass on Zoom or whatever and celebrate responsibly as the Bolts downed the Dallas Stars, 2-0, in Game 6 at Rogers Place in Edmonton to win the series 4-2 and bring the Cup back to Tampa for the second time in franchise history.

Brayden Point’s power-play goal in the first period held up to be the game-winning, Stanley Cup clinching goal as Blake Coleman added an insurance marker in the middle frame.

Victor Hedman became the second player in Lightning franchise history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2020 postseason’s most valuable player.

Hedman’s also the third player from Sweden to win the Conn Smythe and the 10th different defender to win it in league history, joining Duncan Keith (2015), Scott Niedermayer (2007), Nicklas Lidstrom (2002), Scott Stevens (2000), Brian Leetch (1994), Al MacInnis (1989), Larry Robinson (1978), Bobby Orr (1970 and 1972) and Serge Savard (1969) in the process.

He also had 10 goals in the 2020 postseason, which were the most by a defender since Leetch had 11 in 23 games with the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers.

Lightning goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (18-7, 1.90 goals against average, .927 save percentage in 25 games this postseason) earned his first career Stanley Cup Playoff shutout in his 58th career postseason appearance– stopping all 22 shots faced en route to winning the Cup Monday night.

Dallas netminder, Anton Khudobin (14-10, 2.69 GAA, .917 SV% in 25 games this postseason) had 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in the loss.

Dallas interim head coach, Rick Bowness, didn’t change a thing from his lineup after winning in double overtime, 3-2, in Game 5 on Saturday to Monday night’s action in Game 6.

As a result, Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea remained out of the lineup due to injury or otherwise.

Prior to Game 6 on Monday, Steven Stamkos was ruled out of the rest of the Final by the Lightning on Sunday.

Tampa’s head coach, Jon Cooper, inserted Alexander Volkov on Stamkos’ slot on the fourth line right wing (where Carter Verhaeghe played in Game 5 after Stamkos returned for Game 4 before re-aggravating an injury forced him out of the lineup).

On defense, Kevin Shattenkirk was bumped up to the first pairing with Hedman, while Jan Rutta joined the list of scratches as Zach Bogosian took over Shattenkirk’s role on the third pairing with Ryan McDonagh.

Everything else was the same for the Bolts.

Tampa’s list of scratches on Monday included Luke Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Verhaeghe, Scott Wedgewood, Rutta, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens and Stamkos.

Early in the opening frame, Andrew Cogliano tripped up Point and was assessed a minor infraction at 6:32 of the first period.

Tampa wasn’t able to convert on their first power play opportunity of the night, but soon found themselves back on the skater advantage at 11:58, after John Klingberg tripped Volkov.

Less than a minute into the ensuing power play, Point (14) gathered his own rebound and scored on the far side while Khudobin was caught thinking the puck was trapped between his arm and his body.

Nikita Kucherov (27) and Hedman (12) tallied the assists on Point’s power-play goal at 12:23 of the first period and the Lightning led, 1-0.

The goal was Point’s fifth of the series and set a franchise record for the most goals in one postseason by a Tampa player as Point surpassed Tyler Johnson’s previous mark of 13 goals in Tampa’s 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, which ended in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final that year– the most recent time the Bolts made the Final before beating Dallas in six games on Monday night.

Kucherov’s primary assist on the goal also assured him of the fifth most assists (27) in a playoff year in NHL history, trailing Wayne Gretzky (31 assists in 1988), Gretzky again (30 assists in 1985), Gretzky for a third time (29 in 1987) and Mario Lemieux (28 in 1991).

Late in the first period, Hedman interfered with Stars forward, Corey Perry, and received a minor penalty at 18:36, but Dallas’ first power play opportunity did not go well.

Through one period of action in Edmonton on Monday night, the Lightning led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 11-4, in shots on goal.

The Bolts also held the advantage in takeaways (1-0), hits (18-12) and faceoff win percentage (60-40).

The Stars, meanwhile, led in blocked shots (8-5) and giveaways (7-5).

Tampa was 1/2 on the power play, while Dallas was 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the first intermission.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Coleman (5) received a pass through the high slot from Cedric Paquette and fired a one-timer past Khudobin to extend Tampa’s lead to two-goals.

Paquette (3) and Pat Maroon (5) notched the assists on the goal and the Lightning led, 2-0, at 7:01 of the second period.

About a minute later, Tampa defender, Ryan McDonagh was penalized for interference after colliding with Dallas forward, Tyler Seguin at 8:02.

Once more, however, Dallas’ power play was powerless and, in fact, cut shot when Perry bumped into Vasilevskiy yielding a penalty for goaltender interference at 9:22.

Tampa’s ensuing abbreviated power play after a little 4-on-4 action did not result in a difference on the scoreboard as both teams eventually entered their respective dressing rooms for the second intermission with the Bolts still in command, 2-0.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Lightning led in shots on goal, 21-8– including a, 10-4, advantage in the second period alone.

The Bolts also held the advantage in takeaways (3-2), hits (31-20) and faceoff win% (56-44), while the Stars led in giveaways (9-8).

Both teams had 13 blocked shots aside after two periods.

Tampa was 1/3 on the power play, while Dallas was 0/2 heading into the final frame of regulation.

Not much happened in the final period as the Stars rallied to a, 14-8, shots on net in the third period alone advantage– despite ultimately failing to score and finishing the night trailing, 29-22, in total shots on goal.

Dallas played desperate and had one final chance to cut the lead in half on the power play at 15:27 of the third period when McDonagh tripped Joel Kiviranta, but the Stars just couldn’t get any offense on the board.

With 1:44 remaining in the season, Bowness pulled Khudobin for an extra attacker in an attempt to muster just about anything by that point to spur his team for one last chance at forcing a Game 7.

This time, their heroic comeback moment did not come as the Lightning bolted down their defense and struck the Stars with a, 2-0, shutout at the final horn.

Tampa emerged with the 4-2 series win and their first Stanley Cup championship since 2004– their second Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

Dallas fell to 1-2 in three Stanley Cup Final appearances overall, having won in six games in 1999, against the Buffalo Sabres, and losing in six games in 2000, against the New Jersey Devils.

Six games is all it takes, apparently, for better or worse for the Stars in the Final.

Meanwhile, it’s all the Lightning needed to complete a redemption arc from losing in six games to Chicago in 2015, and the ensuing bouts of embarrassment since then until the stars aligned for Tampa on Monday.

Tampa finished Game 6 leading in blocked shots (22-16), hits (40-37) and faceoff win% (53-47), while Dallas exited the bubble with the advantage in giveaways (11-9) in their final game.

The Lightning finished 1/3 on the power play as the Stars finished 0/3 on the skater advantage.

As the Bolts skated around with Lord Stanley’s mug, Cooper had completed the achievement of winning a championship at every level of hockey that he has coached– a feat that is by no means easy to accomplish, even though he did so while only 53-years-old (which is relatively young for a head coach).

Tampa became the first team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and be swept in the First Round the year before winning the Cup in the following season as the Columbus Blue Jackets ousted the Lightning in four games in the 2019 First Round.

The Lightning, fun fact, overcame Columbus in five games in the 2020 First Round before defeating the Boston Bruins in five games in the Second Round and the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference Final to advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Maroon became the eighth player in history– and first since former Lightning player, Cory Stillman– to win back-to-back Cups with different teams in consecutive seasons.

Stillman won the Cup with the Lightning in 2004, before winning it again in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes (the NHL had a lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season in between), while Maroon won the Cup last year with the St. Louis Blues– his hometown team– before raising the Cup again in 2020 with Tampa.

Vasilevskiy set an NHL record for minutes played by a goaltender in a postseason with 1,708:12 time on ice.

He also became the 10th different netminder since the league expanded prior to the 1967-68 season to appear in every game en route to the Cup, joining Corey Crawford (with Chicago in 2013), Jonathan Quick (with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012), Tim Thomas (with Boston in 2011), Martin Brodeur (with New Jersey in 2000), Ed Belfour (with Dallas in 1999), Grant Fuhr (with the Edmonton Oilers in 1988), Patrick Roy (with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986), Ken Dryden (five times with Montreal from 1971-78) and Bernie Parent (with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974) in the process.

Bowness fell to 15-13 with Dallas in the postseason (all-time) as the Stars fell to 15-13 in the 2020 postseason as a whole, while Cooper improved to 54-29 behind the bench in the postseason with Tampa.

The Lightning finished 18-7 in the bubble in postseason action– capitalizing their longest postseason (25 games) with a Cup win.

Meanwhile, the NHL as a whole was able to award the Stanley Cup for the 2019-20 season amidst the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic with zero positive tests in Phase 4 of their Return to Play plan– which deserves a banner in its own right– having “administered 33,174 tests to club Personnel, including Players” from the beginning of Phase 4 through September 26th, according to a statement released by the league prior to the game on Monday.

Kudos to the NHL, NHLPA, Gary Bettman and all of the public health and local Canadian government officials that were able to make this happen.

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Perry, Stars force Game 6 with, 3-2, 2OT win in Game 5 against Lightning

The last time someone scored in double overtime in a Stanley Cup Final, Alec Martinez won the Cup for the Los Angeles Kings in five games against the New York Rangers in 2014.

This time, the Dallas Stars didn’t want to be on the losing end– at least not yet, anyway– as Corey Perry scored a pair of goals– including the game-winning goal in double overtime– to force a Game 6 with a, 3-2, win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta on Saturday.

Anton Khudobin (14-9, 2.72 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 24 games this postseason) made 39 saves on 41 shots against for a .951 SV% in the win for Dallas.

Bolts goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (17-7, 1.97 GAA, .925 SV% in 24 games this postseason) stopped 30 out of 33 shots faced (.909 SV%) in the loss.

Despite the loss, Tampa leads the series 3-2 with a chance to win the Cup on Monday night (Sept. 28th).

With Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau out of Dallas’ lineup due to injury, Stars head coach, Rick Bowness, toyed with his forward lines starting Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov on the first line with Joel Kiviranta, Tyler Seguin and Perry rounding out Dallas’ top-six forwards.

Bowness opted to insert Justin Dowling in Hintz’s place on the third line with Mattias Janmark on the left side and Denis Gurianov at right wing.

Dallas’ fourth line trio of Andrew Cogliano, Jason Dickinson and Nick Caamano remained untouched since Caamano went into the lineup in place of the injured Comeau.

On defense, Bowness kept the same pairings.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, kept his lineup for Game 5 the same as it was in Game 4.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ list of scratches included Faksa, Comeau, Jason Robertson, Hintz, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea.

Tampa’s list of scratches for Saturday night included Luke Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Zach Bogosian, Scott Wedgewood, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens, Steven Stamkos and Alexander Volkov.

For the first time since the 2009 Stanley Cup Final– and just the second time since 1955 overall– a pair of Stanley Cup Final games were played on consecutive days.

Additionally, Saturday’s Game 5 marked the first time in Stanley Cup Final history that games on consecutive days required overtime.

Early in the opening frame, Seguin tripped Brayden Point yielding the first power play of the night to the Lightning at 4:19 of the first period.

Tampa’s skater advantage wasn’t as functional as it was in Game 4’s win on Friday, however, as the Bolts weren’t able to muster a power play goal.

Late in the period, Perry jumped on a loose puck that had deflected off of Seguin’s stick while No. 91 in green and white struggled to settle the rubber biscuit.

Perry (4) wired a shot through Vasilevskiy’s arm to give the Stars a, 1-0, lead at 17:52 of the first period.

Seguin (9) and Jamie Oleksiak (4) had the assists as Dallas scored first for the second consecutive game in as many nights.

Entering the first intermission, the Stars led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, while the Lightning led in shots on goal, 10-8.

Dallas held the advantage in blocked shots (5-3) and takeaways (5-3), while Tampa led in giveaways (4-3), hits (22-17) and faceoff win percentage (55-46).

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while Dallas had yet to see any time on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Ondrej Palat (11) tied the game, 1-1, as the Lightning forward received a pass from Nikita Kucherov on a rush into the attacking zone, brought the puck in deep towards the goal line, then cut towards the slot with a deke as Khudobin dove paddle-first in desperation while Palat slide the puck into the twine.

Kucherov (26) and Point (18) tallied the assists on Palat’s goal at 4:37 of the second period.

Midway through the middle period, Carter Verhaeghe slashed Miro Heiskanen and received a minor infraction at 12:33.

Dallas did not convert on the ensuing power play, however.

Through 40 minutes of action on Saturday, the score was tied, 1-1, while the Bolts led in shots on goal, 23-14– including a, 13-6, advantage in the second period alone.

Tampa held the advantage in hits (37-31) and faceoff win% (52-48), while the Stars led in blocked shots (13-11) and takeaways (7-6).

Each club had nine giveaways and was 0/1 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Khudobin’s 22 saves through the first two periods in Game 5 boosted his 2020 postseason totals to 700 saves in 24 games– becoming the fifth goaltender since 1955-56 (when shots on goal and saves began to be tracked) to record at least 700 saves in a single playoff year.

The other goaltenders to do so? Tim Thomas (798 saves) with the Boston Bruins en route to winning the Cup in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kirk McLean (761) with the Vancouver Canucks in the 1994 postseason, Tuukka Rask (715) with the Bruins in the 2013 postseason and Jonathan Quick (705) with the Kings en route to the Cup in 2014.

Upon the conclusion of Saturday night’s, 3-2, win in double overtime for Dallas, Khudobin has amassed 717 saves this postseason– good enough for the third-most in a postseason since 1955-56.

Mikhail Sergachev (3) put the Lightning ahead of the Stars on a one-timer from the point while Kucherov and Palat screened Khudobin at 3:38 of the third period.

Point (19) had the only assist on the goal as the Bolts pulled ahead, 2-1.

Midway through the period, Erik Cernak caught Pavelski with a high stick and was assessed a minor penalty at 11:06 of the third period– presenting Dallas with their second power play opportunity of the night.

The Stars failed to convert on the skater advantage, but caught Tampa in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Pavelski (13) collected the garbage on a rebound and tied the game, 2-2, at 13:15.

Benn broke up a clearing attempt from Kevin Shattenkirk, then Heiskanen fired a shot from the point that Pavelski ultimately snagged on a rebound and pocketed the loose change for his 61st career postseason goal– the most by any United States born player in NHL history.

Heiskanen (20) and Seguin (10) were credited with the assists on the goal as Heiskanen became the fourth defender in NHL history to record 20 assists in a single postseason.

Perry and Pavelski, in the meantime, became the eighth and ninth players in league history to score on consecutive days in the Stanley Cup Final– joining Justin Abdelkader (in 2009 with the Detroit Red Wings), Jean Beliveau (in 1955 with the Montreal Canadiens), Ted Lindsay (in 1952 with the Red Wings), Sid Abel (in 1950 with the Red Wings), Tony Leswick (in 1950 with the New York Rangers), Allan Stanley (in 1950 with the Rangers) and Harry Watson (in 1948 with the Toronto Maple Leafs) in doing so.

Additionally, both Perry and Pavelski became the first players aged 35 or older to score in consecutive games in the Stanley Cup Final (in general, not necessarily on consecutive days) since Mark Recchi did so in Games 2 and 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final with Boston.

At the end of regulation, the score remained tied, 2-2, despite the Lightning leading in shots on goal, 30-27.

Dallas had a, 13-7, advantage in shots on net in the third period alone and maintained a lead in blocked shots (19-13) and takeaways (10-7) heading into overtime.

Meanwhile, Tampa led in giveaways (21-16), hits (53-42) and faceoff win% (54-46).

The Bolts were 0/1 and the Stars were 0/2 on the power play entering the extra frame(s).

About nine minutes into the first overtime period, Tampa surpassed the 200-minute mark of overtime hockey in this postseason alone (extending their ongoing record).

Dallas had their first shot on goal in the overtime period at 17:53, while the Lightning looked like (and were) the more dominant team in the first overtime period.

Alas, without a game-winning goal, 80 minutes of hockey was not enough as the Bolts and Stars remained tied, 2-2, on the scoreboard, despite Tampa leading in shots on net, 37-29– including a, 7-2, advantage in the first overtime period alone.

Dallas maintained an advantage in blocked shots (30-14) and takeaways (14-10), while the Lightning led in giveaways (23-21), hits (62-53) and faceoff win% (51-49).

As there were no penalties called in either overtime period, the Lightning finished the night 0/1 on the power play, while the Stars went 0/2.

Midway through the second overtime period, John Klingberg let go of a shot that Perry (5) found on the rebound and scored the game-winning goal while Vasilevskiy dove glove-first in desperate attempt to prolong the Game 5 action.

Klingberg (17) and Seguin (11) notched the assists on Perry’s game-winning goal at 9:23 of double overtime.

Dallas finished the effort with a, 3-2, win and forced a Game 6 while trailing in the series 3-2.

Tampa finished the night leading in shots on goal, 41-33, as well as in giveaways (24-23), hits (64-57) and faceoff win% (51-49).

The Stars finished Saturday night leading in blocked shots (33-18), while both teams managed four shots on goal apiece in the second overtime period.

Despite not scoring a goal in 13 games, Seguin managed to amass three assists as the Stars improved to 5-1 in overtime this postseason.

The Lightning fell to 6-2 in overtime in the 2020 postseason as a result of the Game 5 loss.

Meanwhile, Dallas became the fifth team in NHL history to win a multi-overtime game in which their opponent could have clinched the Stanley Cup.

It was also the second time that the Stars achieved the feat– having previously beaten the New Jersey Devils in Game 5 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final (before losing the series in six games).

Dallas did, however, beat the Buffalo Sabres in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final– winning the Cup in triple overtime that year– as a bonus fun fact.

Tampa has another chance to finish the Stars and win their second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history Monday night in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final from the Edmonton bubble at Rogers Place.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC to catch the action, while those in Canada can tune to CBC, SN or TVAS.

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Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 5 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

For the first time since 2000, and fifth time in franchise history– dating back to two previous appearances in the Stanley Cup Final as the Minnesota North Stars and and two more since relocating– the Dallas Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final after eliminating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games with a, 3-2, overtime victory in Game 5 of the 2020 Western Conference Final.

The Stars overcame a two-goal deficit to comeback and win it in overtime on Monday night after Denis Gurianov scored the game-winning goal while on the power play after Zach Whitecloud received an automatic delay of game infraction for sending the puck over the glass.

Whitecloud’s penalty, however, was not the reason why the Golden Knights lost the game and bowed out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs earlier than hoped.

Anyway, it’s probably time we address five takeaways from Game 5 before we get to preview the 2020 Stanley Cup Final sometime.

1. Vegas strikes first (a franchise trend).

The Golden Knights won 10 times when they scored first in the 2020 postseason, but it didn’t help them in their last two games of the 2020 Western Conference Final.

Yes, even after taking a, 2-0, lead in Game 5, Vegas blew their two-goal advantage and lost in overtime.

They scored before the midpoint of the opening frame thank to Shea Theodore and Reilly Smith added an insurance goal before Dallas came back in the third period and overtime.

More on Smith, et al in a minute.

2. It was a goalie battle.

Most of Game 5 was a great display of goaltending as Vegas peppered Anton Khudobin with 36 shots (34 saves), while Dallas fired 26 shots (23 saves) on Robin Lehner.

In the entire series, the Stars and Golden Knights combined for 17 goals. Dallas ultimately held the series advantage with nine goals for and eight goals against.

Each and every game was close– even as Vegas won Game 2 with a, 3-0, shutout.

Both teams had a shutout (Game 1 itself was a, 1-0, shutout for Dallas) and only one of the five games was won by more than one goal (the aforementioned Game 2).

3. Reilly Smith had his first goal in *checks notes* 11 games!?!

Smith last scored on Aug. 23rd in Game 1 of Vegas’ Second Round matchup with the Vancouver Canucks before he made it, 2-0, Golden Knights in Game 5 against Dallas.

Unfortunately for Vegas, that wasn’t enough as the Stars came back to win, 3-2, in overtime, but it was a poignant fact worth noting– Vegas struggled to score as a whole this postseason.

Smith went 11 games between his fourth and fifth goals of the 2020 postseason.

He might not be the world’s greatest player, but he’s usually one to perform one way or another for the Golden Knights from night-to-night.

The problem was that if he’s not scoring and not getting assists, then that speaks volumes for guys like Mark Stone (one goal in his last nine games of the playoffs on Sept. 10th in Game 3 against Dallas), William Karlsson (one goal since Sept. 1st– Game 2 vs. Dallas), Jonathan Marchessault (last scored on Aug. 23rd– Game 1 vs. Vancouver– had two assists since), Alex Tuch (no goals against Dallas, last scored on Sept. 4th) and Max Pacioretty (one point in his last eight games in the 2020 playoffs, last goal Aug. 30th) who are all large components of Vegas’ core that are expected to generate offense on any given night.

Each player struggled.

Sometimes a team goes on a cold streak at the most inopportune time, which is awful to experience, but it doesn’t mean everyone should be traded.

That said, if it happens two years in-a-row, well, then heads might roll.

4. More of the same for the Golden Knights (but also Anton Khudobin).

Once again, Vegas dominated in shots on goal, 36-26, but Khudobin turned aside 34 out of 36 shots faced for a .944 save percentage in the game, while improving to a 12-6 record in 19 games with a 2.62 goals against average and a .920 SV% in that span, as well as one shutout.

That’s basically it.

Oh and Khudobin made 153 saves on 161 shots faced across the entire series against Vegas.

5. Once in a generation.

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

The Stars won the Cup in 1999, after defeating the Buffalo Sabres in six games and have made the Final now five times in franchise history (losing in 1981 to the New York Islanders and 1991 to the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Minnesota North Stars, winning in 1999 over Buffalo and losing in 2000 to the New Jersey Devils).

Among Dallas players with previous Stanley Cup Final appearances, only one player has appeared in two or more Finals– Tyler Seguin (2011 and 2013 with the Boston Bruins).

Seguin won the Cup with Boston in 2011.

Corey Perry is the only other Stars player with a Stanley Cup ring already– having won in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.

Meanwhile, Joe Pavelski made the 2016 Stanley Cup Final with the San Jose Sharks and Khudobin was the backup to Tuukka Rask on the Bruins’ 2013 Stanley Cup Final roster.

Oh and if you remember him, Ben Bishop was with the Lightning in their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s been 20 years since the Stars last made the Final and 21 years since their only Cup ring in franchise history, but with the plethora of youth and potentially franchise record breaking postseason that Miro Heiskanen is having– combined with the veteran experience– Dallas shouldn’t be taken lightly in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 1 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final

It seems everybody’s scoring points these days as the Tampa Bay Lightning won, 8-2, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Final matchup with the New York Islanders on Monday.

Seriously, 11 different Lightning players had at least a point in Monday night’s series opener, while Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each had five points in the victorious effort.

Tampa carries a, 1-0, series lead heading into Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS). Here’s five takeaways for the next game, as well as the series as a whole.

1. Can the Islanders actually contain Tampa’s offense?

Thomas Greiss allowed three goals on nine shots against in the first 10:46 of the game before being replaced by Semyon Varlamov, but that wasn’t the only reason why New York is behind, 1-0, in the series.

Neither the Columbus Blue Jackets, nor the Boston Bruins were able to limit the Lightning’s attacking zone time and possession, which was not only evident by the fact that each of their series matchups with Tampa only lasted five games– the scoreboard reflected it too.

At any point in time, the Bolts can strike fast and amass goals in bunches (as exhibited by their three goals in the first 10:46 of Monday’s game, plus the other five goals they scored afterward).

It’s that momentum swing that the Islanders (or any team that may face the Lightning if Tampa advances to the Stanley Cup Final) will have to be wary about and eliminate at all costs.

Simply put, the Lightning play with a surge in electricity.

2. Inconsistent shots for the Isles

Tampa outshot New York, 10-6, in the first period and finished the second period with an, 18-17, advantage before going on to finish the game with a, 34-24, total shots on goal advantage.

The Lightning went 58:53 without missing the net in Game 1. The only shot attempt that did not go on net for the Bolts came with 67 seconds left in the game off of Cedric Paquette’s stick blade.

Meanwhile, the Islanders– a team primarily built on a defense-first game plan– failed to record at least 30 shots on goal for the second-straight game after amassing 26 shots on net against the Philadelphia Flyers in their, 4-0, win in Game 7 of their Second Round matchup.

New York only allowed 16 shots against that night too.

In their, 5-4, double overtime loss to the Flyers in Game 6, the Islanders recorded 53 shots on goal and allowed 31 shots against.

Game 5 against Philadelphia resulted in a, 4-3, loss in overtime, while shots on goal were even at 32 aside.

The Islanders were outshot, 38-33, in Game 4, but won, 3-2. New York had a, 29-27, advantage in their, 3-1, win in Game 3, as well as a, 34-31, advantage in their, 4-3, overtime loss in Game 2.

Both teams had 29 shots on goal in New York’s, 4-0, win in Game 1 of their Second Round series with Philadelphia.

Without breaking down the quality of their shots for and shots against, a generalized remedy for the Islanders would be to get more pucks on net (duh) and prevent the Lightning from hitting the twine or whichever goaltender Barry Trotz starts in Game 2 against the Bolts.

3. Followup question, who should start in net for New York?

It’s not like Greiss had really made consecutive starts in the postseason before doing just that from Game 7 against Philadelphia on Saturday to Game 1 against Tampa Bay on Monday.

His 2-2 record in four games doesn’t really speak for his 2.02 goals against average and .929 save percentage in the 2020 postseason.

Plus he got most of the night off, so he should still be fresh enough, in theory.

Meanwhile, Varlamov’s decent 9-4 record in 15 games this postseason stands out on its own, but his goals against average is on the rise as of his last two outings to a 2.22, while his save percentage has dropped to a .913.

Still, the Islanders goaltenders have combined for three shutouts this postseason (Varlamov has two, Greiss has one), which are three more shutouts than what Andrei Vasilevskiy has so far (zero, in case that wasn’t clear).

As bad as Greiss’ .667 SV% in Game 1 sounds, Varlamov still allowed five goals against after Greiss gave up the first three in the, 8-2, loss, so Varlamov’s .800 SV% in Game 1 isn’t ideal either.

If anything, Trotz will have to adjust his matchups to curb the speed of Tampa’s rush and instruct his players on getting in passing and shooting lanes to ease the high danger workload of whichever goaltender he opts for in Game 2.

4. Just how many franchise records will Tampa…

In case you haven’t heard by now, the Lightning are good.

So good, in fact, they tied, broke and set some franchise records in Game 1, including:

— The most assists in a playoff year by a Lightning player (Kucherov had four assists in Game 1 to break Martin St. Louis’ previous mark of 15 helpers in 2004, and set the new franchise record with 16 in 2020).

— The first players in franchise history to record five points in a playoff game (Point had two goals and three assists, while Kucherov had one goal and four assists).

— Tampa’s eight goals matched their franchise record for the most goals in a playoff game (the Lightning had eight in what was also an, 8-2, win in Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Penguins).

Oh and the Bolts improved to 5-0 in their last five playoff games going back to Game 2 against Boston in the Second Round, while outscoring their opponents by a combined, 25-9, margin in the process.

Plus, Point and Kucherov are the second pair of teammates to each record five or more points in a Conference Finals game (since 1982).

Paul Coffey had one goal and five assists (six points), while Jari Kurri had three goals and two assists (five points) in Game 5 of the 1985 Clarence Campbell Conference Final with the Oilers.

5. Will the Lightning buck the trend?

In the last decade or so, the team that plays a longer Conference Final than their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final usually wins the Cup.

It happened just as recent as last year, when the Bruins swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and had 10 days off before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final began.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks in six games in the 2019 Western Conference Final and only had five days between the third and fourth round of the postseason.

The Blues, of course, won the Cup in seven games.

In terms of significant time off between one series to the next, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after beating the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in five games in the 2006 Western Conference Final, then lost in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final in seven games to the Hurricanes who had just come off of a seven-game series win against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006 Eastern Conference Final.

The aforementioned Mighty Ducks had 10 days off after sweeping the Minnesota Wild in the 2003 Western Conference Final, then lost to the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final in seven games after New Jersey had just three days off between their seven-game series win over the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final and the Cup Final.

Obviously those few examples don’t cover the last decade, but fear not, let’s get that out of the way now…

The 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks swept the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final, while the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the Eastern Conference Final before losing in six games to Chicago in the Final.

O.K. that one didn’t fit the trend, but in 2011, the Vancouver Canucks ousted the Sharks in five games, while the Bruins beat the Lightning in seven games, then went on to beat Vancouver in seven games in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes in five games in the Western Conference Final, while the Devils overcame the New York Rangers in six games. Los Angeles beat New Jersey in six games to capture their first Cup in franchise history.

Wait, it happened again, didn’t it?

Well, in 2013, the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East, while the Blackhawks took five games to knockout the Kings in the West, then beat Boston in six games in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. A-ha! There’s one!

In 2014, the Rangers beat Montreal in six games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Kings defeated the Blackhawks in seven games before Los Angeles won their second Cup in three years by defeating New York in five games.

In 2015, both Tampa and Chicago went all seven games in their respective Conference Finals matchups with the Rangers and Anaheim Ducks, respectively.

Chicago won their third Cup in five years in six games over the Bolts in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, though.

In 2016, the Penguins beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Sharks beat the Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final.

Pittsburgh defeated San Jose in six games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

In 2017, the Penguins edged out the Senators in seven games in the East, while the Nashville Predators beat the Ducks in six games in the West.

Pittsburgh went back-to-back as two-time defending Cup champions with their fifth title in franchise history after defeating the Predators in six games in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

And, of course, back in 2018, the Washington Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western Conference Final.

Washington won the Cup in five games over Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Back in 1993, of course, the Canadiens beat the Islanders in five games in the Prince of Wales Conference Final, while Los Angeles took seven games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Clarence Campbell Conference Final.

The Habs defeated the Kings in five games to capture the Cup in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final– what’s perhaps the most recent instance of a team amassing a week off between the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final and still winning the Cup despite all that time off.

Either that or it’s one more chance to point out that this year’s Cup will be awarded on Canadian sole, but for the 27th year in-a-row, it won’t be going to a Canadian based NHL club.

Assuming (since they won Game 1) that the Lightning go on to punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in as little as four or five games and the 2020 Western Conference Final matchup between the Dallas Stars and Golden Knights goes six or seven games, then Tampa could be in trouble.

Then again, with the bubble in place and resulting lack of travel— as well as a condensed schedule due to the hopes of still having an 82-game regular season in 2020-21— the earliest the 2020 Stanley Cup Final could begin would be around Sept. 21st or 22nd, since the league already determined the Final must end by or on Oct. 4th— which would leave the Bolts with about a week off to scout their next potential opponent in person for as long as the West takes to decide their series.

For any Islanders fans that thought I forgot about them, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after sweeping the Minnesota North Stars in the 1984 Semifinals (the precursor to the modern Conference Finals round), while New York took down Montreal in six games and had four days off between the Semifinals and the 1984 Stanley Cup Final.

Edmonton won the series in five games in what is the Islanders’ most-recent Stanley Cup Final appearance.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview: Western Conference

The turnaround from the Qualifier to the First Round was too quick to get this out of the way (other than on the podcast), but at least the league and broadcasting partners gave us all a day or two between the First and Second Round– oh.

By the time that you’ll be reading this, the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars will likely already be well into the first period (at least) of Game 1 in their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round matchup.

Once again, this postseason is unpredictable– and that’s besides whatever happens on the ice.

At any point in time things could be shutdown again, because– you know– of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The players, coaches, team and league staff, as well as broadcasting crews and essential arena/hotel employees have all been in the bubble for almost a month now.

There aren’t enough words to express how taxing on the mind the isolation really is, despite teammates being in the bubble together, etc.

None on the league staff or team staff will see their families, romantic partners, roommates back home, etc. until they’re either eliminated or heading home with the Stanley Cup in their arms *fingers crossed*.

Luckily, the league’s made it this far into Phase 4 with no positive tests for COVID-19 out of the thousands of tests they’ve conducted.

For one reason or another (TV broadcast deals, probably), they’ve decided to make the Second Round feature a multitude of “back-to-backs”– that’s two games in two nights, whereas normally by this point in the playoffs there’s always (except for extenuating arena availability circumstances) a day off between each game in a series.

Alas, being in two bubble cities (Edmonton and Toronto), the league can do whatever it wants.

For now, let’s focus on the Western Conference teams in the Second Round. We’ll get to the Eastern Conference later.

As a reminder, the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, if everything goes according to plan.

Sadly, families won’t allowed to join the players in the Conference Finals and beyond as was first anticipated at the beginning of the bubble.

(1) Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8, 86 points) vs (5) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points)

Vegas: 71 games played, .606 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.

The Vegas Golden Knights took care of the Chicago Blackhawks in five games (4-1) in the First Round and (if you remember, they didn’t have to play in any Qualifier by virtue of being one of the best four Western Conference teams– seeding determined by a Round Robin tournament) are set to experience what it’s like to face the Vancouver Canucks in the Second Round.

Vancouver hasn’t been back to the Second Round since their 2011 Stanley Cup Final appearance, so good news for them– they won a series for the first time in nine years.

The Golden Knights were led by Max Pacioretty (32-34–66 totals in 71 games played) in the regular season, with Mark Stone (63 points in 65 games) and Reilly Smith (54 points in 71 games) rounding out the top-three scorers on the team.

Through eight games this postseason, Vegas has looked like their usual selves.

Sure, the goaltending is a hot topic these days, but the team can jump out to a quick, 1-0, lead or play a long-range game where the club takes absolute control of the third period and beats their opponent into submission– both on the ice and on the scoreboard.

Stone (four goals, four assists) and Smith (three goals, five assists) lead the Golden Knights with eight points each in eight games thus far in the 2020 postseason.

Shea Theodore (four goals, three assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (two goals, five assists) have the second most points thus far for Vegas– each of them have seven points in eight games.

Oh and William Karlsson– the other usual suspect for Golden Knights offense– has 2-4–6 totals in eight games.

In the regular season, Marc-Andre Fleury amassed a 27-16-5 record in 49 games (48 starts) for the Golden Knights with a 2.77 goals against average and a .905 save percentage in the process, as well as five shutouts.

Malcolm Subban played the role of the backup with a 9-7-3 record in 20 games (19 starts), a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% until he was traded at the deadline to the Blackhawks in a three-team trade that witnessed Robin Lehner exchange hands from Chicago to the Toronto Maple Leafs to Vegas.

Lehner, in the meantime, went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA, a .940 SV% and one shutout for Vegas until the stoppage due to the pandemic.

Oscar Dansk also made one appearance in 2019-20 for the Golden Knights, amassing a 6.00 GAA and an .838 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record.

In the playoffs, there’s a growing goalie controversy– no, not mentioning Fleury’s agent posting… …whatever that was— but Fleury’s posted a 2-0 record in two games (two starts) with a 2.50 GAA and an .886 SV.

Meanwhile, Lehner has amassed a 5-1 record in six games with a 2.44 GAA and a .904 SV% in the process.

Lehner’s had his moments, but he’s looked more confident and able to carry himself so far since returning after, what, five months off from the regular season to Phase 4?

Fleury, on the other hand, has let in some goals that are reminiscent of his pre-three Stanley Cup rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins days.

Is it his age or simply a byproduct of not being able to get quite restarted after a pandemic stoppage? Well, we may never know, because despite the “controversy” he still managed to win both games he was in and now– after more of a workload than Fleury– Lehner is regressing to some sort of standard trend for Vegas goaltenders this season.

At the other end of the rink, the Canucks broke through with their first series win since 2011, by beating the Minnesota Wild in four games (3-1) to make the playoffs, then defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games (4-2) to meetup with the Golden Knights in the Second Round.

J.T. Miller (27-45–72 totals in 69 games) led Vancouver in scoring, while Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games) had the second most points and Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) was third.

Pettersson leads his team through 10 games with 4-9–13 totals this postseason as Miller (5-5–10 totals) and Quinn Hughes (1-9–10 totals) each battle it out for second in Canucks playoff scoring.

Horvat (six goals, two assists) and Brock Boeser (three goals, five assists) each had eight points for the third most in offensive production for Vancouver thus far.

In the crease, Jacob Markstrom led the way in the regular season with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games (43 starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in 2019-20.

Thatcher Demko put up a 13-10-2 record in 27 games (25 starts) and had a 3.06 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% as Vancouver’s backup, while Louis Domingue made an appearance this season while the Canucks were depleted due to injury and amassed a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record in one game.

In the playoffs, it’s been all Markstrom, who is 7-3 in ten games with a 2.44 GAA, a .929 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer, usually makes it to at least the Conference Finals– if not Stanley Cup Final– in his first season/partial season with a new team after being fired by his old team.

Good news for Vegas fans, DeBoer is behind the bench.

Canucks head coach, Travis Green, has been a long-time coming coaching prospect turned annual “is he in the hot seat?”– but not really– extraordinaire that, with the help of youth, time and forward progress, has been presented a roster that can and will turn heads both in the now and near future.

Basically, these two teams met on Dec. 15th and Dec. 19th and each won a game.

Vegas beat Vancouver, 6-3, at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15th, while the Canucks took home a, 5-4, overtime win on Dec. 19th at Rogers Arena.

The Golden Knights had a combined 89 shots against the Canucks, who had a combined 63 shots against Vegas this season.

Neither team’s goaltending looked solid in their head-to-head matchups, but entering the Second Round, Markstrom clearly has the upper hand.

That said, Vegas has the powerful offense– with recent playoff experience to boot– and their tried and true defense that saw the addition of clutch playoff performer and underrated leader when it really counts, Alec Martinez, at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s their first time ever meeting and it’s likely one that will last longer than most fans might think– because, again, Markstrom is a huge factor. Whether or not he’s actually this good all the time doesn’t matter.

He’s a hot goaltender this year and he’s been consistent thus far since returning from the stoppage.

It won’t be easy, but the Golden Knights should advance, however, to the 2020 Western Conference Final in six games when all is said and done.

Regular season outcomes:

6-3 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15th, 5-4 F/OT VAN at Rogers Arena on Dec. 19th

Schedule:

8/23- Game 1 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/25- Game 2 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton 9:45 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/27- Game 3 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton, 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/29- Game 4 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton, 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/31- Game 5 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton*

9/1- Game 6 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton*

9/3- Game 7 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(2) Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8, 92 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Colorado: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 37 regulation wins.

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

Both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars were good enough in the Western Conference to participate in the Round Robin tournament while the Stanley Cup Qualifier was going on, after which, the Avs beat the Arizona Coyotes in five games in the First Round, while the Stars eliminated the Calgary Flames in six games.

Nathan MacKinnon led the way for Colorado in the regular season with 35 goals and 58 assists for 93 points in 69 games played. Rookie defender, Cale Makar, was second in team scoring with 50 points in an injury shortened 57-game season, while offseason acquisition, Andre Burakovsky amassed 20-25–45 totals in 58 games for the third most points on the team.

In the postseason, MacKinnon is still leading the way for the Avalanche with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in eight games entering the Second Round. Nazem Kadri is a close-second with 11 points (six goals, five assists) through eight games, while Mikko Rantanen is third with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in eight games.

In the net, Philipp Grubauer split time with Pavel Francouz.

Grubauer amassed an 18-12-4 record in 36 games played (36 starts), while putting up a 2.63 GAA, a .916 SV% and two shutouts.

Francouz had a 21-7-4 record in 34 games (31 starts) and yielded a 2.41 GAA, a .923 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Meanwhile, Michael Hutchinson made one appearance and recorded a 1.00 GAA, as well as a .944 SV% in that game for Colorado after being acquired at the deadline.

In the playoffs, Grubauer’s carried the weight with a 5-0-1 record in six games, a 1.49 GAA, a .937 SV% and one shutout in that span, while Francouz has made two appearances with a 1-1-0 record, a 1.02 GAA, a .958 SV% and one shutout in that stretch.

Entering Game 1, Grubauer was likely to see more time in the crease (but that’s changed now with his lower body injury that he sustained).

Across the ice, the Dallas Stars advanced to the Second Round after ousting the Flames and were led by Tyler Seguin’s 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists) in 69 games in the regular season, while Jamie Benn (19-20–39 totals in 69 games) and Miro Heiskanen (8-27–35 totals in 69 games) also played major roles leading up to the pause.

Entering the Second Round, Heiskanen has emerged as a generational talent for Dallas’ blue line with three goals and nine assists (12 points) in nine games thus far. Free agent signing, Joe Pavelski, has paid off with his usual clutch playoff performance– eight points (six goals, two assists) in nine games so far.

Meanwhile, rookie, Denis Gurianov (6-1–7 totals in nine games) and John Klingberg (1-6–7 totals in eight games) are battling it out for the third most points on the roster thus far in the 2020 postseason.

Gurianov had four goals and an assist against Calgary in Game 6– tying Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik for the most points in a playoff game by a rookie this postseason with five– one shy of the NHL record (Mikko Leinonen had six points– all assists– for the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their Patrick Division Semifinal against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 8, 1982).

In net, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin made a solid goaltending tandem for the Stars with Bishop amassing a 21-16-4 record in 44 games (43 starts), a 2.50 GAA, a .920 SV% and two shutouts while battling injury at times.

Khudobin, meanwhile, held things down with a 16-8-4 record in 30 games (26 starts), a 2.22 GAA and a .930 SV%.

In the postseason, Bishop has been “unfit to play” for the majority of Stars games, while managing to put up a 1-1 record in two games, with a 4.04 GAA and an .862 SV%.

As a result, Dallas interim head coach, Rick Bowness, has had to rely on Khudobin, who’s amassed a 4-3 record in seven games, with a 2.49 GAA and a .919 SV% entering the Second Round.

Now is where the fun begins.

Despite all of their dominance in the regular season, Jared Bednar’s Avalanche have yet to crack the code on the Stars.

Dallas won all four matchups with Colorado, with the Avs dropping a game in overtime and in a shootout to the Stars this season.

Colorado outshot Dallas, 162-137, in combined shots on goal in their head-to-head meetings in 2019-20, but they managed exactly zero wins with Grubauer in net for all four matchups.

Now, of course, with Grubauer hurt in Game 1, they’ll have to be bailed out by Francouz if all else fails.

But coming into the series, for all the mighty strength the Avalanche have in scoring depth, a youthful defense that moves the puck with speed and skill– there’s a very real possibility the Stars overtake them.

For the most part, Colorado has a mix of playoff experience, but Dallas experienced the heartbreak of losing in a Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues that went to double overtime.

That alone is motivation enough for the Stars to make quick work of the Avs and get back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2008, when they lost to the eventual 2008 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in six games.

For Colorado, however, it’s been an even longer wait since their last appearance in the Western Conference Final. The Avalanche last made it in 2002, when they lost in seven games to the eventual 2002 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.

But then there’s Colorado’s recent strides to improve from a First Round exit in 2018 to a Second Round exit last year to consider. There’s a chance they just keep marching forward and at least make it to the Western Conference Final in 2020.

Entering the series, the Avalanche would be a lock for eliminating the Stars in seven games.

But with the result of Game 1’s injury to Grubauer, it’s possible the Avalanche can’t get over the mountain and collapse.

Regardless, the Stars are riding the momentum of an emotional comeback from a three-goal deficit in Game 6 against the Flames in the First Round that it shouldn’t be/wasn’t a surprise that Dallas wins/won Game 1.

The regular season record means nothing– especially more so when the playoffs are five months after a shortened regular season due to a pandemic and completely isolated to two buildings (one per conference).

Colorado can get over the Stars if they first shoot for the moon and a seven-game series victory. It’ll be a good test for how they’ll measure up with the Golden Knights in the predicted 2020 Western Conference Final in this post.

And, boy, what a series that would be.

But first, it’s two teams that haven’t met since the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinal, when the Avalanche won in five games– like they did in the 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinal.

The all-time playoff series between Colorado and Dallas is even at, 2-2, since the Stars initially beat the Avs in the 1999 and 2000 Western Conference Final– both years went all seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 DAL at Pepsi Center on Nov. 1st, 4-1 DAL at American Airlines Center on Nov. 5th, 3-2 F/SO DAL at American Airlines Center on Dec. 28th, 3-2 F/OT DAL at Pepsi Center on Jan. 14th

Schedule:

8/22- Game 1 DAL @ COL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/24- Game 2 DAL @ COL in Edmonton 9:45 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/26- Game 3 COL @ DAL in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/28- Game 4 COL @ DAL in Edmonton 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/30- Game 5 DAL @ COL in Edmonton*

8/31- Game 6 COL @ DAL in Edmonton*

9/2- Game 7 DAL @ COL in Edmonton*

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Numbers Game

Look To The Rafters: Dallas Stars (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Dallas Stars might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of American Airlines Center someday.

Dallas Stars Current Retired Numbers

7 Neal Broten

8 Bill Goldsworthy

9 Mike Modano

19 Bill Masterton

26 Jere Lehtinen

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

Yes! Jere Lehtinen’s No. 26 was retired by the Stars on Nov. 24, 2017, and Dallas has plans to retire Hockey Hall of Famer, Sergei Zubov’s No. 56 next season (2020-21). Both are equally deserving of the highest honor bestowed upon them by the team.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

3 John Klingberg

If there’s one under the radar defender in the National Hockey League more than anyone else these days, it’s John Klingberg.

To the casual fan, the Stars might be easy to overlook and, as a result, Klingberg’s name often goes unnoticed with it, but in 425 career NHL games so far (all with Dallas), he’s amassed 58-233–291 totals.

Until the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2019-20 regular season, he never had fewer than 40 points in a season, which is a tremendous rate of production from a defender in today’s NHL.

Though he had six goals and 26 assists (32 points) in 58 games this season, Klingberg was on pace for about 45 points.

In 2016-17, he established a career-high in goals with 13 tallies in 80 games, then followed up wiht a career-year (so far) in 2017-18, setting career-highs in assists (59) and points (67) in a full, 82-game, season.

As one of the cornerstone defenders for the franchise (Miro Heiskanen being the other), there’s a chance Klingberg will endure lengthy success and translate that into more points on the scoresheet over the years. All of that is to say that the Gothenburg, Sweden native that was drafted in the fifth round (131st overall) by Dallas in 2010, is on the right track for a promising legacy in a Stars sweater that just might lead to No. 3 being raised to the rafters at American Airlines Center.

10 Brenden Morrow

Morrow spent parts of 13 seasons in Dallas, notching 243 goals and 285 assists (528 points) in 835 career games for the Stars from 1999-2013. 

On March 24, 2013, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins with the Minnesota Wild’s 2013 3rd round pick (previously acquired, Pittsburgh selected Jake Guentzel) for Joe Morrow (no relation) and Pittsburgh’s 2013 5th round pick (Matej Paulovic).

After finishing the 2012-13 season with the Penguins, Morrow made stops with the St. Louis Blues in 2013-14 and Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014-15, before retiring from the NHL with 265-310–575 totals in 991 career NHL games.

Shawn Horcoff, Patrick Sharp, Martin Hanzal and Corey Perry have all worn No. 10 in Dallas since Morrow’s departure, so it would seem as though the Stars have already made up their mind about the winger’s career, but never say never.

There’s a chance that it just might take a little time before the former Stars captain is formally recognized for his contributions to the organization over the years since being drafted by Dallas in the first round (25th overall) in 1997, having the 5th most games played in franchise history, being tied for 8th in all-time franchise goals scored, as well as sitting 9th in all-time franchise points records.

14 Jamie Benn

The current longest-tenured player in Dallas, Benn has been around with the Stars since breaking into the league in the 2009-10 season after being drafted by Dallas in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007. 

That draft pick, by the way, originally belonged to the Boston Bruins, who traded it to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Adam McQuaid, then the Blue Jackets flipped the pick, as well as two more 2007 5th rounders for Los Angeles’ 2007 4th round pick (previously acquired by Dallas, Columbus selected Maksim Mayorov).

Anyway, Benn made an impact with the Stars in his rookie season, scoring 22 goals and collecting 19 assists (41 points) in 82 games.

He has only had two seasons with less than 40 points so far– once in the lockout shortened, 48-game 2012-13 season, in which Benn amassed 12-21–33 totals in 41 games, and again in the premature end to the 2019-20 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in which Benn scored 19 goals and had 20 assists (39 points) in 69 games.

If you’re wondering, he was on a 66-point pace in 2012-13, had the season not been shortened due to a lockout and a 46-point pace this season prior to the pandemic cutting the 2019-20 regular season short.

In 2014-15, Benn took home the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading point scorer with 35-52–87 totals in 82 games, but he then went on to set career-highs in goals (41), assists (48) and points (89) the following season in 82 games in 2015-16.

The 31-year-old Victoria, British Columbia native has 300 goals and 388 assists (688 points) in 814 career games thus far for the Stars.

As one of their most consistent performers, it’s reasonable to think that No. 14 will be set aside forever and live in the rafters in Dallas after Benn hangs up his skates.

91 Tyler Seguin

There were a lot of fireworks on the U.S. Independence Day (July 4th) in 2013, as the Boston Bruins traded Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button to the Stars for Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith and Joe Morrow.

Seguin already had 56 goals and 65 assists (121 points) in 203 games with Boston, as well as one Stanley Cup ring from his rookie season (2010-11), then things really took off with Dallas.

He had set a season-high 29 goals, 38 assists and 67 points in 81 games with Boston in his sophomore campaign of 2011-12, but in his first season with the Stars in 2013-14, Seguin scored 37 goals and 47 assists for a career-high 84 points in 80 games.

Eriksson, the biggest piece in return for Seguin, had a measly 37 points in 61 games with the Bruins in 2013-14. He didn’t find his stride in the Eastern Conference until he had 30 goals and 33 assists (63 points) in 82 games in 2015-16, but then the Bruins chose to let him walk in free agency and sign a massive six-year, $36 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1, 2016.

Nevertheless, the Stars won the Seguin trade– if not, for nothing else, because they got the bigger name in the deal (Seguin– you know, the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 Draft).

In seven seasons with Dallas, Seguin’s only had one year where he failed to reach 70 points. 

This season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the regular season short, Seguin only had  50 points (17 goals and 33 assists) in 69 games. He was on a 59-point pace at the time of the pause– two seasons removed from reaching the 40-goal plateau in 2017-18.

In 538 games with the Stars so far, Seguin has 223 goals and 291 assists (514 points) as one of the greatest transactions in franchise history. That’s pretty good– so good, he’s 10th so far among Stars leaders all-time in assists and tied for 10th with Jere Lehtinen in franchise points.

The story writes itself, No. 91 will be in the rafters in Dallas someday.

Final Thoughts

Dallas has a few candidates in the immediate and/or near future to consider for jersey retirement nights. Yet, there’s perhaps a plethora of players that are really just starting out that cannot be ignored, but shouldn’t be held to higher than realistic expectations and standards.

Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov are four quality players to build a team around– combined with the veteran presences of Klingberg, Benn, Seguin, Joe Pavelski and Ben Bishop, well, the Stars should be a strong candidate for a deep playoff run, if not Cup contenders.

Heiskanen’s put up 20-48–68 totals in 150 games so far, but it’s not always about the points with defenders. Meanwhile, Lindell is quietly doing his own thing with 27-73–100 totals in 308 games with the Stars since breaking into the league with a four-game stint in 2015-16.

Hintz avoided a sophomore slump this season after scoring nine goals and 22 points in 58 games last season, he improved to 19 goals and 14 assists (33 points) in 60 games prior to the regular season being cut short in 2019-20. That’s 28-27–55 totals in 118 games so far while he continues to develop as a young NHL player.

Meanwhile, Gurianov just wrapped up a shortened rookie season, in which he had 20 goals and 29 points in 64 games. He was on pace for a respectable 26-goal rookie season after scoring one goal in 21 games in 2018-19, and first appearing in the league in one game in 2016-17.

Odds are at least one of these guys could end up in the next edition of this five years from now.