Tag Archives: 2016 Eastern Conference Final

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.

Bolts advance to the Eastern Conference Final with, 3-2, 2OT win over Bruins in Game 5

Victor Hedman scored the game-winning goal in double overtime to catapult the Tampa Bay Lightning into the 2020 Eastern Conference Final with a, 3-2, victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of their Second Round series.

Tampa emerged victorious in the series, 4-1, while Boston is heading home from the Scotiabank Arena bubble in Toronto empty handed.

For the first time since 2018, the Lightning are back in the Eastern Conference Final, which, coincidentally also featured a five-game series win against the Bruins in the Second Round to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

With the series win on Monday, Tampa improved to 2-1 in all-time postseason series meetings against Boston.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (9-4 in 13 games this postseason, 1.91 goals against average, .931 save percentage) made 45 saves on 47 shots against for a .957 SV% in the win for the Bolts.

Meanwhile, Jaroslav Halak (4-5 in nine games this postseason, 2.76 GAA, .902 SV%) stopped 32 out of 35 shots faced for a .914 SV% in the loss for the Bruins.

Bruce Cassidy made a few necessary adjustments to his lineup with Sean Kuraly, Nick Ritchie and Chris Wagner out due to injury (officially, “unfit to participate”).

With Kuraly missing his third game of the series, Par Lindholm remained as the fourth line center with Karson Kuhlman taking Wagner’s spot at right wing while Joakim Nordstrom remained on the left side.

Jack Studnicka was back in the lineup and took over Kuhlman’s spot on the right side of the third line with Anders Bjork also back in action on the left side of Charlie Coyle.

Kuraly, Ritchie and Wagner were all “unfit to participate”, while Boston’s list of scratches also included Zach Senyshyn, John Moore, Maxime Lagacé, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Trent Frederic.

Jon Cooper made one change to Tampa’s lineup for Game 5, re-inserting Ryan McDonagh on the blue line after the defender had been out since Game 1 with an injury.

As a result, Braydon Coburn joined Mathieu Joseph, Carter Verhaeghe, Jan Rutta, Mitchell Stephens, Steven Stamkos, Alexander Volkov and Scott Wedgewood among the Lightning’s scratches on Monday.

David Krejci tied Wayne Cashman for the fourth most postseason games played in a Bruins uniform with 145.

Meanwhile, Cassidy now holds a 27-28 (.491 winning percentage) record in the postseason behind the bench with Boston.

He is 29-32 overall as an NHL head coach in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (Cassidy was the head coach of the Washington Capitals for parts of two seasons from 2002-04, leading Washington to a 2-4 record in six postseason games outside his tenure with the Bruins).

2020 marks the sixth appearance (previous, 2004, 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2018) in the Eastern Conference Final for the Lightning since their first season in the NHL in 1992-93.

As a fun fact, Tampa spent their first season in the Campbell Conference (what is now known as the Western Conference) before moving to the Eastern Conference for the 1993-94 season and beyond.

Midway through the opening frame Nikita Kucherov tried to sneak behind Zdeno Chara while skating through the low slot in front of the net before the two collided without Chara knowing the Lightning forward was there, thereby lending both players to lose their balance.

In the process, the Bruins captain caught Kucherov with a high stick, while an errant puck hit Chara in the leg/skate as an unintentional blocked shot that left both players falling to the ice– Kucherov for the stick to the face, Chara for the shot to the leg/foot.

Chara was sent to the box with a double-minor for high sticking at 12:48 of the first period and despite having a four-minute power play, the Lightning weren’t able to score on the skater advantage.

Late in the period, Barclay Goodrow got a stick around David Pastrnak and hooked the Bruins forward, yielding a power play to Boston in the closing minutes of the opening frame at 17:46, but the B’s didn’t convert on the advantage.

The game was still tied, 0-0, after one period despite the Bruins holding an advantage in shots on goal, 8-5.

Boston also held the lead in blocked shots (10-4), while Tampa led in hits (14-10) and faceoff win percentage (59-41) heading into the first intermission.

Both teams had two takeaways and two giveaways aside, while the Lightning were 0/2 and the Bruins were 0/1 on the power play entering the middle frame.

Early in the middle frame, Ondrej Palat (5) redirected a shot from Kevin Shattenkirk over Halak’s shoulder on the glove side, off the bar and into the twine to give Tampa the, 1-0, lead, while tying the longest postseason goal scoring streak in Lightning franchise history as Palat has scored at least one goal in the last four games.

Palat (2020), Stamkos (2015 and 2018), Vincent Lecavalier (2007) and Martin St. Louis (2003) are all tied for the team record with goals in at least four-straight playoff games for the Bolts.

Meanwhile, Shattenkirk (4) and Blake Coleman (4) had the assists on Palat’s goal at 4:21 of the second period.

Midway through the period, Kucherov tripped Charlie McAvoy and was sent to the box at 10:44, presenting Boston with their second power play of the night.

Krejci sent a pass to Pastrnak (3) for the one-timer from the dot to Vasilevskiy’s right side– beating the Bolts goaltender on the blocker side and tying the game, 1-1, with a power-play goal at 12:38 of the second period.

Krejci (8) and Patrice Bergeron (6) yielded the assists while Pastrnak recorded his 20th career postseason goal in his 52nd career Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Only three players in Bruins history required fewer games to reach 20 goals in the playoffs– Barry Pederson (24 games), Gregg Sheppard (32) and Bobby Orr (50)– while Pastrnak has 20-33–53 totals in 52 games.

About four minutes later, Matt Grzelcyk hooked Goodrow at 16:13 and the Lightning went on the power play for the third time Monday night.

Tampa’s skater advantage was cut short when Yanni Gourde hooked McAvoy at 16:56 and presented each team with a 1:17 span of 4-on-4 action before the Bruins had a brief 5-on-4 power play afterwards.

Through 40 minutes of play, the B’s and Bolts were tied, 1-1, despite Boston leading in shots on goal, 23-13– including a, 15-8, advantage in the second period alone.

The Bruins also held the lead in takeaways (3-2), while the Lightning led in blocked shots (16-12), giveaways (7-6), hits (29-22) and faceoff win% (54-46) heading into the second intermission.

Tampa was 0/3 and Boston was 1/3 on the power play heading into the final frame of regulation.

Kucherov wasn’t available for the Bolts in the third period onward while an undisclosed injury kept him out for the rest of the night.

Meanwhile, Cedric Paquette ran McAvoy from behind into the boards– worthy of at least a minor for boarding, given the standards defined in the series, but instead received no penalty whatsoever while McAvoy needed assistance from a trainer and a teammate before returning late in the third period.

Midway through the final frame of regulation, Hedman sent a shot with eyes from the point that was redirected by Anthony Cirelli (2) off of Halak’s blocker and stick before it found the twine to give Tampa the, 2-1, lead at 12:03 of the third period.

Hedman (4) and Brayden Point (11) tallied the assists on Cirelli’s goal as the Lightning grabbed the lead once more and settled into their game for a few minutes.

McAvoy returned to Boston’s bench with 4:20 left in the third period, then the team rallied to tie the game, 2-2, at 17:27 of the third when Krejci (4) guided the puck into the open twine while Vasilevksiy was behind the play after Chara faked the goaltender and sent a pass to Krejci on the doorstep instead.

Chara (2) and Connor Clifton (2) collected the assists on Krejci’s game-tying goal and the B’s yanked enough momentum to carry themselves into overtime while earning a power play when Hedman tripped Ondrej Kase at 18:04.

After 60 minutes of action, the Bruins and Lightning were tied, 2-2, despite Boston leading in shots on goal, 35-21– including a, 12-8, advantage in the third period alone.

Boston also led in takeaways (3-2) and giveaways (11-9), while Tampa led in blocked shots (24-20), hits (40-34) and faceoff win% (59-41).

The Lightning were 0/3 and the Bruins were 1/4 on the power play heading into the first overtime period.

Cassidy opted to start Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Kase as his forwards, while sending out Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo on defense.

Cooper kicked things off in overtime with Coleman, Goodrow, Erik Cernak and McDonagh on the penalty kill before Hedman returned from the box and the Lightning could make a line change.

Midway through the first overtime period, Krejci tripped up Alex Killorn and was sent to the box at 10:27, but Tampa wasn’t able to capitalize on the power play in sudden death overtime.

Through 80 minutes of hockey on Monday night, the Bruins led in shots on goal, 46-28, despite the score remaining even at, 2-2, entering the second overtime.

Boston held the, 11-7, advantage in shots on goal in the first overtime period alone, while also leading in giveaways (15-11) entering the fourth intermission.

Tampa led in blocked shots (30-29), takeaways (5-3), hits (50-46) and faceoff win% (59-41) heading into the second overtime.

With no penalties called in the second overtime, the Bolts finished 0/4 and the B’s finished 1/4 on the power play on Monday.

Cassidy began the second overtime with Marchand, Bergeron, Kase, Clifton and Grzlecyk, while Cooper matched with Goodrow, Gourde, Coleman, Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev.

Both teams went back and forth until the ice was scrapped during a stoppage with 9:51 remaining in double overtime.

Moments later, Hedman (5) slipped a shot through Halak while Pat Maroon acted as a screen in front of the Boston netminder and sent the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Final while eliminating the Bruins with the, 3-2, game-winning goal at 14:10 of the double-overtime period.

Shattenkirk (5) and Point (12) tabbed the assists on the game-winning goal as the Bolts wrapped up the series.

Boston finished Monday night’s action leading in shots on goal, 47-35, despite trailing Tampa, 7-1, in shots on net in the second overtime period alone.

Tampa finished the night leading in blocked shots (35-34), hits (56-53) and faceoff win% (60-40), while Boston wrapped up the night leading in giveaways (21-12) in addition to their advantage in shots on goal.

With the win, the Lightning improved to 4-0 in overtime (5-0 past regulation this postseason– they went 1-0 in shootouts in the Round Robin), while the Bruins fell to 1-2 in overtime as they were ousted from the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tampa improved to 20-8, while Boston fell to 59-77-3 in all-time overtime postseason games.

The Bruins also fell to 2-3 when tied after one period, 1-3 when tied after two periods and 1-2 when tied after three periods in the 2020 postseason.

While Tampa moves on and will likely travel to Edmonton to play in the Eastern Conference Final (though there is a plan to begin the series in Toronto if the Western Conference’s Second Round matchups take too long and/or the Lightning cannot travel to Rogers Place just yet), Boston will leave the Toronto bubble and disperse for the 2020 offseason with the future uncertain.

Chara is 43-years-old and may retire, Krug is a pending-unrestricted free agent looking for a big payday as a 29-year-old defender in his prime, while Jake DeBrusk and Grzelcyk are pending-restricted free agents.

Additionally, Nordstrom is a pending-UFA who may or may not be back due to Boston’s plethora of bottom-six talent, while Kevan Miller will likely be riding into the sunset after not playing since May 2019 due to multiple knee injuries that kept him out of 2019-20 action.

Bolts advance to Eastern Conference Final with 3-1 win in Game 5

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The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Boston Bruins, 3-1, on Sunday, eliminating Boston in five games en route to the third round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Call it an Eastern Conference Finals Appearance Dynasty if you want, but Tampa has one thing in their sight if they can get four more wins this postseason— winning their 2nd Cup in franchise history. This year’s appearance in the Eastern Conference Final marks just the third time in the last four years that the Lightning are a participant (2015 vs NYR, 2016 vs PIT & 2018).

For the first time in the series, the team that scored first in the game lost the game.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves on 28 shots against for a .964 save percentage in the win for the Lightning, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask turned aside 19 out of 21 shots faced for a .905 SV% in the loss.

Tampa got out to a quick start in the overall flow of the game, controlling its pace and puck possession as the Bruins got out to another slow start.

Charlie McAvoy gave a quick cross check to Brayden Point about seven minutes into the first period and gave the Lightning their first power play of the afternoon. The Bolts did not convert on the skater advantage.

Boston outlasted the ten-minute mark in the opening frame, unlike the previous two games in the series where the Lightning held a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period.

David Backes bumped Anthony Cirelli into Boston’s net and was handed a minor penalty for interference at 11:52. Tampa’s 5-on-4 power play was short-lived as defender, Victor Hedman, held Bruins forward, Brad Marchand, and received a minor infraction for holding.

Marchand was also penalized for embellishment on the call, so the Lightning would still be on the power play at 12:04 of the first period.

Late in the first, Dan Girardi, checked Sean Kuraly without the puck and the Bruins went on the power play. About a minute later, Cedric Paquette, tripped David Pastrnak at 18:06 of the first period and Boston’s 5-on-4 advantage became a 5-on-3 advantage for 56 seconds.

Shortly after Girardi’s penalty expired, David Krejci (3) received a pass from McAvoy and fired a one-timer past Vasilevskiy as the Lightning goaltender was moving side-to-side in the crease.

McAvoy (4) and Patrice Bergeron (10) had the assists on Krejci’s power play goal at 19:12 of the first period and Boston jumped out to the lead, 1-0.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were ahead on the scoreboard, 1-0, and in shots on goal, 9-7. Boston also held on to an advantage in blocked shots (6-5), while Tampa was leading in hits (13-9) and giveaways (3-2) after one period. The B’s were 1/2 on the power play and the Bolts were 0/2 on the man advantage through 20 minutes of play.

Much like the start of the game, the Lightning came out of the gates in the second period at full throttle as Boston was making turnover after turnover.

Those turnovers proved to be costly past the halfway mark in the second period, as Krejci gave up the puck to Point (4) who promptly buried a shot in the twine with Rask out of position due to Krejci’s complete redirection of the play.

Point’s goal was unassisted and tied the game, 1-1, at 10:43.

Shortly thereafter, Rick Nash, took a shot from a teammate off the right knee and needed some assistance down the tunnel. The elder Nash on Boston’s roster would return to the action.

J.T. Miller followed through on a hit delivered to Bruins veteran, David Backes, wherein both players collided helmets and Backes fell to the ice, motionless, save for reaching for his head. He did not return to the game.

No penalty was assessed on the play.

Bergeron was sent to the box for tripping Ondrej Palat at 13:31 of the second period and the Lightning capitalized on the ensuing man advantage just 29 seconds later.

Miller (2) fired a shot home at 14:00 of the second period to give Tampa a one-goal lead, 2-1, on what would become the game-winning, series-clinching, goal. Nikita Kucherov (6) and Steven Stamkos (7) notched the assists on the goal.

With the Bolts ahead by one on the scoreboard after two periods, shots on goal were even, 14-14. Both teams had a power play goal and the Bruins had a slight advantage in blocked shots (10-8).

Boston went stride for stride with Tampa in the third period, as Rask kept his team in the game, but the Bruins could not muster a shot on goal that would go past Vasilevskiy and even the score.

Late in the third, Ryan McDonagh tripped up Pastrnak and was sent to the sin bin for two-minutes. Boston could not capitalize on the power play as time ticked down from under five minutes to go to under two minutes left in regulation.

Bruce Cassidy used his timeout with 3:16 remaining in the game and pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with a little over 90 seconds left in the season.

A faceoff in the attacking zone resulted in a defensive zone win for the Lightning, where Anton Stralman had a clear lane to flip the puck the length of the ice into the empty four-by-six frame in Boston’s end.

Stalman (1) scored his first goal of the 2018 postseason and made it, 3-1, Tampa at 18:31 of the third period. Hedman (6) had the only assist on the goal.

Rask vacated the goal again with less than a minute left, but it was all for naught as the Lightning finished the Bruins’s playoff hopes.

After a 60-minute effort, the Bolts had a 3-1 victory, clinching the series, 4-1. Boston finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal, 28-22, while the Lightning led in blocked shots (17-12), hits (37-29), giveaways (9-8) and faceoff win percentage (55-45). Both teams went 1/3 on the power play on the afternoon.

Tampa head coach, Jon Cooper, heads to his third career Eastern Conference Final behind the bench with the Lightning, while the Bruins fall to 0-24 all-time when trailing, 3-1, in a best-of-seven game series.

Boston was without defenseman, Torey Krug, on Sunday as a result of his lower body injury sustained in Game 4. Nick Holden made his Bruins playoffs debut  in Krug’s place.

The Lightning await the winner of the Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins series to find out who they’ll battle in the last playoff round before the Stanley Cup Final. Washington currently leads their series with Pittsburgh, 3-2.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round– May 10

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals– Game 7

By: Connor Keith

With a two-goal shutout over Washington at the Verizon Center, the Penguins have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.

If statistics told the whole story (they don’t, much to my chagrin), the first period was only an appetizer of what to expect in the remainder of the first Game 7 of the night. Both teams committed one penalty, both penalty kills rose to the task. Pittsburgh blocked four shots, Washington three. The Penguins stole the puck four times and committed three giveaways, the Capitals made three steals and only two giveaways. Pittsburgh fired 10 shots on net, Washington nine – and all were saved by either First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury or Third Star Braden Holtby.

Things were still looking that way until the 8:49 mark of the second period when Second Star Bryan Rust (Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby) drew first blood. The play started when Ian Cole intercepted Matt Niskanen’s attempted clear at the far point to keep the puck from crossing the blue line. In the same motion he passed to his captain in the center of the offensive zone, who dished to Guentzel en route to the near side of the slot. Instead of firing on Holtby’s net, he slid a centering pass to his right wing that was more than capable of banging home a wrist shot top-shelf for what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Once the scoreless draw was broken, the pressure was on Fleury for the remaining 31:11 of the game. As he’s proved so many other times this postseason, he was up to the task only a year removed from being relegated to the bench during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run. In total, he saved all 29 shots he faced for his first shutout of the 2017 postseason. Included within those attempts was a flurry of action late in the second period.

To start, Alex Ovechkin had a beautiful look at leveling the game at one-all from his usual spot in the left face-off circle with 3:53remaining in the frame, but Fleury managed to get his stick and blocker between Ovechkin’s wrister and the back of his net at the last second to prevent the score from changing.

Fleury’s strong play continued 1:29 later when he fought off three separate shots in a wild scrum in his crease, but he was truly confirmed it was his day when Nicklas Backstrom’s offering from along the goal line with 73 seconds remaining before the second intermission not only bounced off his right skate, but also off the far post and out of harm’s way.

If the Pens have learned anything in these playoffs, it’s that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In the opening five minutes of the third period, Pittsburgh outshot the Capitals seven-to-one. That attack found its reward 4:14 into the frame when Patric Hornqvist (Justin Schultz) sneaked a wrister between Nate Schmidt’s legs and over Holtby’s glove to set the score at 2-0.

While only an insurance goal, it seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Verizon Center crowd. The crowds’ mood significantly soured following Hornqvist’s marker as it realized the Capitals would fall for the ninth time in 10 matchups against Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Pittsburgh will host the Senators for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at PPG Paints Arena. That series is scheduled to start on Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern time. The contest will be televised on NBC in the USA and CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks– Game 7

By: Nick Lanciani

Entering Wednesday night, the Anaheim Ducks had lost four consecutive Game 7s at Honda Center. Entering Thursday morning, they’re moving on to the 2017 Western Conference Finals after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 on home ice thanks to Nick Ritchie’s early 3rd period game winning goal.

Ducks goalie, John Gibson made 23 saves on 24 shots against in just his 2nd career Game 7 appearance for a .958 save percentage en route to the win, while Edmonton goaltender, Cam Talbot made his first Game 7 appearance, stopping 28 saves on 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in the loss.

For just the fourth time in franchise history, Anaheim will contend for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, having appeared in the Western Conference Finals in 2003, 2007 and 2015 before advancing to the 2017 edition of the Western Conference Finals against the Nashville Predators. 

Drake Caggiula (3) kicked off scoring in Game 7 with his unassisted redirection that beat Gibson just 3:31 into the 1st period to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead.

Despite trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes of play, the Ducks were not ready to fold on home ice in yet another Game 7.

Andrew Cogliano (1) tied the game, 1-1, on a backhand shot that slid past a sprawling Cam Talbot after a series of desperation saves almost midway through the 2nd period. Cogliano’s first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs was assisted by Ryan Kesler (6) and Brandon Montour (5) at 8:55 of the 2nd.

With a close battle carrying over into the 3rd period, the Ducks came out flying early in effort to combat the younger, faster skating Edmonton offense that had pestered teams all season long by playing a game that only got better as the minutes passed.

After swapping scoring chances, Anaheim had strong attacking zone possession, firing pucks on Talbot, generating rebounds and odd caroms off the boards behind the goal.

Ritchie (2) collected a loose puck and fired a blocker side shot that clipped Talbot underneath the shoulder and fluttered into the twine to give the Ducks their first lead of the night. Sami Vatanen (1) and Corey Perry (7) collected the helpers on Ritchie’s goal, which made it 2-1 Anaheim, just 3:21 into the 3rd period.

Despite a late surge by the Oilers around two minutes to go in regulation, the Ducks held off on all of Edmonton’s advances with the Oilers having pulled Talbot for an extra skater.

As time expired, Anaheim head coach, Randy Carlyle improved to 2-2 in four career Game 7 appearances, while Edmonton head coach, Todd McLellan fell to 1-3 overall in Game 7s.

With Wednesday night’s 2-1 win, Anaheim has only allowed one goal in their three Game 7 victories in franchise history, having previously defeated Phoenix 3-0 in the 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals and Calgary 3-0 in the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Anaheim plays host to the Nashville on Friday night at Honda Center for Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 9 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can watch the game on NBCSN, while Canadians can tune to CBC or TVA Sports for coverage.

The Ducks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in their most recent trip to the Western Conference Finals (2015) but advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in both 2003 and 2007. 

The Predators will make their Western Conference Finals debut for the first time in franchise history.

2016 Mock Draft: The Complete First Round

By: Nick Lanciani

 

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Here’s a look at how I think the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will pan out. Of course, I expect just about every single one of these predictions to be wrong. Likewise, experts and draft rankings may say a player is going to go 11th overall, but there’s always a good chance that player could slip up or down on Draft day, so I’ve tried to take account for that as I see fit.

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of good players, but how often do we see them get drafted in the right order— especially when hindsight is 20/20 (I’m looking at you, 2010 NHL Entry Draft).

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1) Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Auston Matthews, Zurich (SUI)

If you read my mock draft from last month, you might realize that it seems not much has changed with my top-14 picks. This one should be self-explanatory. Hope is back in Toronto in the form of Auston Matthews. A 6’1”, 210-pound center, Matthews is a two-way player similar in nature to Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles or Patrice Bergeron in Boston. In 36 games with Zurich this season, he had 24-22-46 totals.

Matthews was named the Rising Star Award winner and finished 2nd in voting for the MVP of the National League A in Switzerland. Matthews is the franchise center that the Maple Leafs have been waiting for since the days of Mats Sundin. He led the United States to the bronze with 7-4-11 totals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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2) Winnipeg Jets–> RW Patrik Laine, Tappara (FIN)

Patrik Laine is the number one choice for number two. You read that right, folks. Laine is one of the next best things for the city of Winnipeg and Jets fans alike. The 6’4”, 206-poung right-winger is a treat to watch and could easily fill the hole left behind by Andrew Ladd’s departure around the trade deadline. We’re talking about the kind of player that could have a bigger year than Blake Wheeler’s already big year. Laine’s size and skill combined with his maturity provides some strength on an increasingly younger and talented Jets roster.

Laine had 10 goals in 18 playoff games with Tappara en route to being named postseason MVP and winning the championship in Liiga (Finland’s top professional league). He had 17-16-33 totals in 46 games during the regular season and led all Liiga rookies in scoring. As well, Laine tied Auston Matthews in goals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship while helping Finland win gold.

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3) Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Jesse Puljujarvi, Karpat (FIN)

It’d take a pretty sizeable trade to get Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen to give up the 3rd overall pick— and for good reason. Puljujarvi is the next best skater in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. His talent and hockey sense drive his offensive game as one of the better prospects on the wing.

Puljujarvi would easily contribute to the youth movement in Columbus as the organization looks to get back to competitive form with a dominant AHL squad in Lake Erie leading the influx of prospects.

The 6’3”, 203-pound forward had 13-15-28 totals in 50 games played for Karpat in Liiga as a 17-year-old. In addition, Puljujarvi was one point shy of Jaromir Jagr’s record for U-18 players at the World Junior Championship level, having scored 17 points in seven games en route to winning gold with Finland this year at the 2016 IIHF World Juniors.

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4) Edmonton Oilers–> LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)

Originally, I had Jakob Chychrun pegged at 4th overall as the Draft’s best defenseman, but after seeing a second half of the season fade out from Chychrun, even I am skeptical of what he can become. With that, I still have faith in him (see mu 8th overall pick), but while the Oilers could use a young defenseman (that they won’t let slip away— *cough, cough* Jeff Petry), they’ll be forced to take Matthew Tkachuk instead. Not that that’s a bad thing. He’s a talented forward with lots of grit at 6’1”, 195-pounds.

Tkachuk tied Auston Matthews in scoring for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with 11 points and hand 30-77-107 totals in 57 games with the London Knights this season. And, oh yeah, he scored the game winning goal in this year’s Memorial Cup Final for the Knights against Rouyn-Noranda. Tkachuk can also revamp a power play unit, given that 42 of his points this season with London came on the power play.

Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli can’t complain about this pick jumpstarting a quick revitalization in Edmonton with Connor McDavid receiving a skilled, young, winger on his line.

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5) Vancouver Canucks–> LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed it yet, but there’s a dumpster fire in the Canucks management office. All kidding aside, Vancouver has had bad asset management over the last few years. Trading Jared McCann was, well, not a smooth move on Canucks GM Jim Benning’s move. Granted, Erik Gudbranson is a better defenseman than half of Vancouver’s blue line, but that’s not saying much.

Okay, now that trade analysis is out of the way, here’s the hot take on Pierre-Luc Dubois: he’s good. Dubois is a smart and versatile forward that brings a level of flexibility to the Canucks lineup. He’s more than capable of playing alongside Bo Horvat. Dubois stands tall at 6’2”, 201-pounds, but don’t let his size fool you, he’s got great hands and can play on edge. He led the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles with 57 assists and 99 points in 62 games this season and was a plus-40 rating. Dubois also finished the season in the top-six in the QMJHL in goals and points.

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6) Calgary Flames–> C Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL)

Calgary has a youth movement that at times, seems to work very well, and at other times shows exactly the kind of thing you would expect from young players— inexperience. They’ve done a good job of building through the draft, though at times surprising with who they’ve selected. Their primary focus this offseason should be on a solid defenseman, but they’re not going to find the one they’re looking for at 6th overall in the draft (yes, I know Olli Juolevi exists, let me finish).

The Flames are going to have to be one of those teams that just goes with the best available player on the board, given their position, and since Logan Brown is just that. He’s also bigger than most of their defensemen, so there should be no problem with adding size to their offense without addressing their long-term defensemen needs just yet. At 6’6”, 222-pounds, Brown is a skilled center with speed and the ability to handle the puck better than any other. Think of Joe Thornton as a comparable, since Brown is apt to be a playmaker first, goal scorer second.

He had 21 goals and 74 points in 59 games with the Windsor Spitfires this season. He also had 29 points on the power play and won 53% of his faceoffs, so there’s that.

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7) Arizona Coyotes–> D Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)        

Olli Juolevi is one of the best defensemen in this year’s draft. Of course, hindsight is always better than foresight, but for all you Team Chychrun vs. Team Juolevi people, final rankings and second half of their season performance really separates the two from one another. Both are NHL ready, but one is clearly more ready than the other and has a bit more hockey sense to him.

The fact of the matter is that Juolevi fits the Coyotes style and brings an edge to their blue line that Arizona desperately needs, given the uncertainty of who they’ll bring back and for how long with plenty of pending free agents in the desert. While the Keith Yandle deal from the spring of 2015 paid in dividends for the Coyotes with the addition of Anthony Duclair, they still lost a defenseman that they put a lot of time and effort into forging. And Brandon Gormley wasn’t much of a success either, so much so that they sent him to Colorado. There’s plenty of cause to add another defenseman to forge and create some competition for a roster spot next season.

Juolevi comes ready-made at 6’2”, 182-pounds and provides some solidarity should the Coyotes part with Oliver Ekman-Larsson in any fashion in the coming years. Juolevi had nine goals and 42 points for the London Knights this season with a plus-38 rating. He also won gold with Finland at the 2016 World Juniors and transitioned from Finland to the OHL with ease.

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8) Buffalo Sabres–> D Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL)

Sometimes players fizzle out a little before the draft to only prove everyone wrong when the experts say they’re unsure of how that player will turn out. At least, that’s what I hope is the case for Chychrun. Look, he’s one of the best defensemen in the draft, given the fact that he is definitely a first rounder and years later we could be looking back on this draft saying that Chychrun was the best defenseman from this draft.

The point is this, he’s a 6’2”, 214-pound, two-way defenseman and is sure to fight for a roster spot on the Sabres come this October. While Chychrun ultimately fell in some draft rankings, he is still a cut above many other defensemen in the draft, given his size and familiarity with the North American style of the game. His physicality and awareness brings a solid foundation to Buffalo’s blue line. Chychrun had 11 goals and 49 points in 62 games along with a plus-23 plus/minus rating this season with the Sarnia Sting.

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9) Montreal Canadiens–> RW Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL)

Nylander had four goals, five assists and nine points for the Swedes at the 2016 World Junior Championship and blossomed as a skilled forward this year with the Mississauga Steelheads. He’s built for NHL stardom and could do so on one of the biggest stages in the sport in Montreal. Nylander is the 6’0”, 180-pound younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward, William Nylander, and is bound to jumpstart a Canadiens offense that was streaky at best (aside from being injured) this season. He had 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games in his first OHL season with Mississauga.

He’s a dynamic skater that is more than effective on the power play, notching nine power play goals for the Steelheads. Nylander can separate himself from any other skater on the ice with ease. If the Sabres overlook Jakob Chychrun, there’s a good chance he could go 8th overall, but since they probably won’t look past Chychrun, Nylander is best fit to go to another rival of the Maple Leafs— the Habs. I’ll say it again, he’s going to be picked by a rival of Toronto, but the question is which one?

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10) Colorado Avalanche–> D Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL) 

In light of all the rumors/actual evidence that the Avalanche are/are not shopping Tyson Barrie, this one seems self-explanatory. Colorado moves a defenseman to then take a defenseman (that they’ll have to start the process all over again with) at the draft. This seems to be a very Colorado move, but stay with me for a moment on this one. Mikhail Sergachev packs a punch— we’re talking Rob Blake style impact, but with an offensively minded side of the game.

Sergachev is a big 6’2”, 208-pound defenseman and was named the best defenseman in the OHL in his first season in North America this season. His two-way presence along the blue line brings enough of an offensive element to his game to satisfy anyone that likes watching someone hit someone along the boards with their size, then start a quick transition the other way (and execute it well). With Sergachev, we’re talking almost like an Erik Karlsson, but with more strength when it comes to playing defense.

He plays with confidence and speed and had 17 goals and 57 points in 67 games with the Windsor Spitfires in his rookie season. Add to that his 31 points on the power play and maybe the Avalanche are ready to take on a young, NHL-ready defenseman that might be able to help them figure out what the heck they are doing. Sergachev is the total package that the Av’s have failed to produce on their own, but desperately want, and brings balance to their youth movement all around.

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11) New Jersey Devils–> C Tyson Jost, Penticton (BCHL)

If you’re the Devils and you’re committed to Cory Schneider as one of the league’s best-underrated goaltenders, then you should be working harder than ever to prevent the current turnaround from lasting forever. You owe it to Schneider and his goalie equipment. Okay, rant aside, New Jersey could use younger talent and it might not be a bad idea if it does take them a few years to groom it properly. After all, letting another Zach Parise get away wouldn’t be good.

The fact of the matter is this— New Jersey isn’t going anywhere unless they figure out that they need to build around Adam Larsson, Adam Henrique, Schneider and the like. Yet the Devils seem pretty insistent on going where they want with what they have, which means it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add to their lack of strength down the middle. Ray Shero is a smart general manager knows how to add talent.

Tyson Jost is perhaps one of the best-underrated players available in the draft as a 6’0”, 194-pound center heading to the University of North Dakota next season. Jost could become a cornerstone forward for New Jersey as long as they’re willing to add to their foundation. He had 42 goals and 104 points in 48 games for Penticton this season, with 14 goals on the power play and seven game-winners.

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12) Ottawa Senators–> D Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL)

The likes of another Erik Karlsson in Ottawa wouldn’t be a bad thing considering their addition of the annual butt-end of a pylon joke, Dion Phaneuf this season. Jake Bean is a solid defenseman with a considerable offensive element of his game that with some work, could flourish in the NHL. Plus his name fits the Senators obsession with defenseman with short, four-letter last names, like Cody Ceci.

Bean is a 6’0”, 173-pound offensive defenseman with excellent wheels and smart puck possession. He can make excellent passes and carry his own weight. With proper training, Bean could strengthen up enough to become a force to be reckoning with on the blue line. His stick, body and talent is sure to be a great compliment alongside any of Ottawa’s defenders in the years to come. One more thing to note, Bean led the Western Hockey League defensemen with 24 goals in 68 games in his second full season in the league with the Calgary Hitmen.

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13) Carolina Hurricanes–> C Clayton Keller, USA U-18 (USHL)

First the Hurricanes made waves by landing Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason, next they’re going to make waves by selecting Clayton Keller with the 13th overall pick. Here’s why: despite what everyone tells you about size in hockey, you don’t always need size— you just need skill (and a lot of hard work). Keller is a skillful 5’9”, 168-pound center reminiscent of the likes of Martin St. Louis or Jonathan Drouin. Overlooked, doubted, under recognized, Keller is a smart, tactical, forward.

He led the USA’s U-18 program with 70 assists and 107 points in 62 games this season. As well, Keller recorded four goals and 10 points in seven games at the 2016 IIHF World U-18 Championship en route to a bronze medal. The Hurricanes need to retool down the middle in the post-Eric Staal era and Keller is likely to be their man. He’s committed to Boston University in 2016-2017 and was also selected in the second round (40th overall) of the 2014 OHL Draft by the Windsor Spitfires, proving that he’s got plenty of options for some development before making the NHL jump.

Carolina shouldn’t rush things with him, if they’re committed to the long term approach of success (though the same can’t necessarily be stated for the relocation rumors surrounding the team).

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14) Boston Bruins–> D Charlie McAvoy, Boston University (Hockey-East)

Boston needs a defenseman, so Boston drafts a defenseman they can keep their eyes on throughout his development, as McAvoy is across town at Boston University. Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney, has a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason just as he did last offseason and must look to add depth on the blue line both in the immediate future and down the pipeline.

McAvoy brings an excellent 6’0”, 208-pound frame with excellent defensive awareness. While he’s not NHL ready, a year or two of development looks to pay off in dividends with his 39 blocked shots in 37 games played this season as a freshman at BU. Likewise, McAvoy had three goals and 25 points and was a plus-10 rating in his first year as a Terrier. He had a plus-5 rating with the bronze medal-winning United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Under the guidance of some veterans and Boston’s coaching staff, McAvoy could turn into a household name at TD Garden.

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15) Minnesota Wild–> LW Max Jones, London (OHL)

Minnesota has some tough decisions to make this offseason with regards to their plethora of pending free agents, potentially buying out or trading Thomas Vanek and the inquiries they face in the ongoing phone calls about Darcy Kuemper. With four picks in the 2016 Draft, the Wild could be looking to stockpile a few more (and they’ve got assets to move). With Bruce Boudreau at the reigns the Wild should become a contender with the right pieces. The only trouble is finding those pieces between now and then.

An addition that’s needed for Minnesota to surpass their previous playoff failures is found in 6’2”, 203-pound forward, Max Jones. He would bring size and physicality to their lineup along with a skilled stick that scored 28 goals and 52 points in 63 games as a London Knight this season. Barring his brutality (he had amassed 106 penalty minutes and a 12-game suspension in the OHL playoffs), Jones could be a wild enough power forward for the Wild.

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16) Detroit Red Wings–> D Dante Fabbro, Penticton (BCHL)

The phrase “defense wins championships” has long been synonymous with the Detroit Red Wings. While their offense has improved in age and dynamics, as Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan surely cannot do everything; the Red Wings have been a little lackluster on the point in prospects. Actually, it hasn’t been a little— it’s been virtually non-existent with every young defenseman in their system having either faded out or been traded.

The point is, Detroit needs a younger defense sooner rather than later to avoid a situation similar to the *ahem* Boston Bruins or New York Rangers.

Fabbro brings in a solid 6’0”, 189-pound stature that had 14-53-67 totals in 45 games for Penticton this season. The Boston University bound defenseman will need some time to develop, but the Red Wings can take a year or two to work their way with him and align everyone on the same “defense wins championships” page. Of note, Fabbro was named the top defenseman in the British Columbia Hockey League for his efforts this season.

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17) Nashville Predators–> D Logan Stanley, Windsor (OHL)

Replacing Seth Jones isn’t easy— was something I expected to say in twenty years if you asked me three years ago at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but now everything’s changed since Jones didn’t pan out the way Nashville envisioned how they’d utilize him. Still feeling the effects of Ryan Suter jumping ship (and Shea Weber almost jettisoning the Predators), Nashville goes with Logan Stanley to regain some control of developing their defensemen the way they want to.

At 6’7”, 225-pounds, Stanley packs a punch standing tall and bone crunching-ly strong. Additionally, he skates well and can pair up with just about any defenseman willing to carry the more offensive sides of the game as Stanley fits more of a stay-at-home, shutdown blue liner role. He had 5-12-17 totals and 103 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Spitfires this season and handles speedy forwards with ease, often breaking down oncoming rushes.

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18) Philadelphia Flyers–> C Michael McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

The Flyers are in prime position for aligning themselves as playoff contenders for the next few seasons (at least) if they continue to manage their assets and commit themselves to a solid goaltender (looking at you Michal Neuvirth). Philadelphia has a lot of centers, so what’s one more? Likewise, GM Ron Hextall has mentioned that he wants to add size. He should do so, with versatility.

Michael McLeod led Mississauga in shorthanded goals (four) and 21-40-61 totals this season. Combined with his work ethic, McLeod’s 6’2”, 188-pound frame and speed shows durability as a playmaking forward that could develop well on the wing in Philly. While Shayne Gostisbehere holds down the blue line for the Flyers, drafting a smart, gifted offense will help balance the franchise’s talent pool in the coming years.

Overall the Flyers are a few steps away from taking the New York Islanders model into a deeper playoff routine…

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19) New York Islanders–> C Luke Kunin, Wisconsin (BIG 10)

…and speaking of the Islanders…

First, what were the they thinking with that Casey Cizikas extension? Second, they’re going to need someone to step up big time to replace Kyle Okposo, especially with the threat of John Tavares opting to hit the free agent market in 2017— though do you think New York won’t learn anything from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s current situation with Steven Stamkos to put more than enough emphasis on valuing their best franchise player? Enough ranting about the organization overall, more about Luke Kunin.

Kunin is a 5’11”, 193-pound solid center that was named to the Big Ten Conference All-Freshmen team after leading the Wisconsin Badgers with 19 goals (five of them on the power play) and 127 shots on goal in 34 games this season. Again, “solid” is the keyword here. Dependable on special teams and durable in the lineup are other expected qualities from Kunin, especially with some time to develop, he could become one of the better two-way players in the league, emulating the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar. But again, the other keyword here is development (which he’ll certainly get in his coming years at Wisconsin).

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20) Arizona Coyotes (from New York Rangers)–> LW Riley Tufte, Blaine (HS-MN)

Having already addressed Arizona’s needs, this one is simply one of those “take one of the highly ranked guys, oh and talk about his size being important to the lineup” selections.

Look, with a roster that already has Max Domi and other skilled, young players, looking to create a dynamic mix of skill and toughness in the desert, Riley Tufte is a clear choice for the Coyotes at 20th overall if he’s still available by then. He’s a 6’5”, 211-pound left wing that wins battles along the boards. Tufte also has a heavy shot and had 47 goals and 78 points (with six power play goals) in 25 games en route to winning the 2016 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award. He also had 10 goals in 27 games with Fargo in the USHL and is committed to the University of Minnesota Duluth next season to add some more strength and development to his game.

In time, he’ll leave opponents howling for mercy in Arizona (I just wanted to make a pun, please appreciate it).

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21) Carolina Hurricanes (from Los Angeles Kings)–> D Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL)

Some things were said about the Hurricanes and some things remain. Meanwhile, they’ve got some good defensemen coming up the ranks and lots of potential trade bait on the blue line, both in the now and in the future. Sometimes a change of scenery is best for both teams in regards to the lack of development for players like Ryan Murphy. Likewise, the uncertainty of Justin Faulk’s future in Carolina looms overhead.

It only makes sense to make a selection that you intend to groom properly and insert into the lineup down the road. Dennis Cholowski is a 6’0”, 170-pound sturdy defenseman with excellent hockey sense and decent skating ability. He had 12 goals and 40 points in 50 games with Chilliwack this season and knows how to open up enough space for a breakout. With some strength and development at St. Cloud State University, Cholowski could become a solid, underrated, blue liner for Carolina.

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22) Winnipeg Jets (from Chicago Blackhawks)–> LW Kieffer Bellows, USA U-18 (USHL)

Barring a Patrik Laine breakdown, the Winnipeg Jets make out with two solid first round picks in my mock draft.

Kieffer Bellows is just what the Jets need for a pure goal scorer that’ll help the likes of Mark Scheifele and whoever else Winnipeg has down the middle. Bellows scored 50 goals this season with the USA U-18 national development team and is sure to make a sound next season at Boston University. His 12 power play goals and nine game-winning goals and 81 points came in 62 games this season. At 6’0”, 196-pounds he’ll be more than ready to be a durable winger coming down the pipeline in the next few seasons. Oh and he likes to shoot from anywhere, as evidenced by his 50 goals with the NTDP U-18 team.

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23) Florida Panthers–> RW Alexander DeBrincat, Erie (OHL)

The Florida Panthers are trending upwards and they appear to be only getting better, what with the Keith Yandle trade and signing as the latest piece to the puzzle and the ageless wonder— excuse me, legend— Jaromir Jagr in great shape.

Alexander DeBrincat brings a lot of skill to the Panthers roster, despite his 5’7”, 163-pound frame (but again, size doesn’t matter when hard work and talent is enough to prove people wrong). DeBrincat may have had his run-ins with trouble on the international Junior stage, but he’s not one to pass up on and cast off as uncoachable or whatever. He anticipates what comes to him with ease and has an impressive release on an accurate shot that played alongside Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome the last two seasons.

Along the way, DeBrincat amassed 102 goals in 128 games with the Erie Otters as perhaps one of the most underrated forwards alongside the likes of McDavid and Strome.

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24) Anaheim Ducks–> C Rasmus Asplund, Farjestad (SWE)

After surprising everyone with the way they flapped around the bottom of the standings at the start of this season, the Anaheim Ducks worked their way as far as a disappointing Game 7 loss in Round 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Nashville Predators. Then they fired Bruce Boudreau and hired Randy Carlyle as head coach. Apparently they think that every ten years they can win a Cup or something with the same head coach and just the same amount of confusion in the offseason. Where they’re headed nobody knows.

But drafting Rasmus Asplund certainly won’t be a mistake for the Ducks. Asplund’s a 5’10”, 176-pound center that will need some time to develop in order to strengthen up and fully transition to the North American style of the game, but he’s got superb leadership and great competitiveness in his game. The potential for this 4-8-12 total point scorer in 46 games with Farjestad this season to improve as he comes more into his development as a two-way forward is yet to be calculated as to just how far off the charts he could reach. Asplund is one of those well-liked guys you can work with and tailor to your needs.

Think of a lesser known, better kept secret, David Pastrnak type of player on the ice with the potential of being the next Teemu Selanne style leader off the ice. Anaheim fans will surely like that.

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25) Dallas Stars–> RW Vitaly Abramov, Gatineau (QMJHL)

The Dallas Stars aren’t looking to do much this offseason besides find better goaltending, if possible, and work on ensuring that Tyler Seguin is fully healed and ready to carry the team on his back alongside Jamie Benn again (slightly warm hot take).

Dare I say it, but drafting Vitaly Abramov could pay off in— stars— for the Stars. The 5’9”, 175-pound winger led the Gatineau Olympiques with 38 goals (with 11 of them on the power play) and 93 points this season en route to being named the QMJHL Rookie of the Year. Abramov is highly competitive and has a quick shot. There’s no need to worry about his transition to the North American game, because he’s already further developed than most for his skill level.

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26) Washington Capitals–> C German Rubtsov, Team Russia U18 (RUS)

Capping off a President’s Trophy winning season (and their best season in franchise history) with an early second round of the playoffs exit to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins was not something on the Washington Capitals’ list this season. But their plethora of talent isn’t sure to diminish anytime soon.

German Rubtsov is the kind of two-way player that could really excel under Barry Trotz’s guidance and/or alongside Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov— actually pretty much anyone on the Capitals roster. As a 6’2”, 178-pound forward with 26 points in 28 games for Team Russia’s U18 team, Rubtsov displayed flashes of brilliance in his hockey sense and defensive awareness, bringing forth a tremendous two-way element to his game. He’s sure to win some battles in high traffic situations for Washington in the years to come with a little fine seasoning in their system, wherever that may be.

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27) Tampa Bay Lightning–> D Lucas Johansen, Kelowna (WHL)

Tampa Bay has a lot on its plate this offseason, between the swirling rumors around trading Ben Bishop, their defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals, oh and the fact that Steven Stamkos could very well be heading to unrestricted free agency and the Lightning will be left without a #1 franchise player if he decides to leave. But hey, sure, let’s look ahead for the organization, why not? What else could possibly go wrong— insert plea for Victor Hedman to tough it out and anyone else worried about what skilled Lightning player will be taken by Las Vegas at next year’s expansion draft.

Enough kidding around, Tampa could use a defenseman that is young and may need a year or two before coming into the league because, well, what else might they need. They’ve got plenty of young forwards, young defensemen (I’m looking at you Slater Koekkoek, okay actually I just wanted to type that name) and a young goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy; so really, the choice is yours Steve Yzerman and crew. Take Lucas Johansen and you’ve got your hands on a 6’1”, 176-pound younger brother of the Nashville Predators’ Ryan Johansen.

This Johansen can skate well and play at both ends of the rink and is in an organization that has produced Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Tyson Barrie. That’s some pretty good company to be in and enough reason for Tampa to look to the future of a shut down pair in Lucas Johansen and Hedman.

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28) St. Louis Blues–> C Pascal Laberge, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

David Backes is heading to free agency, Paul Stastny isn’t getting any younger, but at least Vladimir Sobotka may be making his return to the St. Louis Blues lineup next season. As an aside, I’m a huge fan of Sobotka, just throwing it out there. Tight against the salary cap, the Blues may be singing the blues in Ken Hitchcock’s final season as head coach if they can’t find a way to restock their prospect pool and finagle a way to keep high-end talent on their roster. It’s the tragedy of the salary cap era to see a team that’s so good, make it only so far, then have to dismantle nearly everything when they get behind the eight ball a bit against the cap.

With that, Pascal Laberge is a promising center that led the Victoriaville Tigres with 68 points in 56 games this season. He was named MVP of the 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January, by the way, and is a 6’1”, 172-pound, right-shot that goes to the dirty areas to pick up points and notch goals. His compete level and ability to play the puck along the wall, while winning battles all over the ice, prove he can develop into an all-in-one impact player for St. Louis, like Backes, but perhaps a tad better. It’s time to start thinking long term and begin building down the middle for the Blues.

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29) Boston Bruins (from San Jose Sharks)–> C Tage Thompson, Connecticut (Hockey-East)

Remember everything I said before about the Bruins? Yeah, well, they need a lot of help. Regardless of whatever they’re able to attract this offseason, they’re still quite a ways off from righting the ship unless they can pull off a miracle it seems. But hey, the good news is that they have two first round picks at their dispersal and some talent forming in their pipelines/already with the NHL club in the likes of Frank Vatrano, Colin Miller (who’s a pending RFA) and others.

Tage Thompson works perfectly for them to keep an eye on through his development at UConn. He led the NCAA with 13 power play goals this season and had 14 goals and 32 points in 36 games with the Huskies. The 6’5”, 195-pound forward finished his freshman year with lots of promise and has enough time to continue to develop into a solid, accurate shooting, quick with the hands center that would bring an immense boost to Boston’s power play if all goes according to plan. Thompson will also have to add some strength to match his height and the level of his game, but he’s got some time while Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci hold down the fort on the Bruins top lines.

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30) Anaheim Ducks (from PIT via TOR)–> RW Julien Gauthier, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

I talked about the Ducks before, so I’ll cut to the chase, especially since you’ve been such a good reader making it all the way to the end of this mock draft. Thanks for that.

Julien Gauthier is a monstrous 6’3”, 225-pound power forward. Obviously I meant that in a good way. While some see him as a second or third rounder, Anaheim sees his potential and grabs him before anyone else can even begin to dream about having him in their lineup in the years to come. His 41-11-57 totals in 54 games for Val-d’Or are impressive enough to be a tactical selection by the Ducks, in light of being the only 2016 NHL Draft-eligible player to play for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Gauthier had two assists in five games played at the 2016 IIHF WJC.

And that does it. That’s all folks. Well, at least for the first round, but I don’t think you want to see me project all seven rounds do you? Thanks for reading. May your favorite team have the best of luck at Friday and Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft. We’ll have a live blog of the first round going and keep you updated on all the trades made, as usual.

HOT TAKES: Is It Time To Trade Marc-Andre Fleury?

By: Nick Lanciani

With Matt Murray’s impressive 2016 Stanley Cup Playoff run for the Pittsburgh Penguins, is it time for them to think about their future in goal and realize the future is now? Let’s decide whether or not it’s time for the Penguins to trade Marc-Andre Fleury.

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Trade Him, Trade Him Now

Everyone’s making a big fuss over goaltenders these days, yet it seems like the smart thing to do would be to stick with your number one goalie all along. The St. Louis Blues fallout in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the now-headed to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, San Jose Sharks, had nothing to do with shaky goaltending, despite being outscored by a large margin.

Brian Elliott was the Blues clear starting goalie in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs as Jake Allen lost his way in the final month and a half of the regular season and was relegated to the backup role in the playoffs. Allen’s Game 5 loss to the Sharks comes as no surprise, given well, let’s just say Elliott is the clear number one goaltender as of right now for St. Louis’s 2016-2017 season opener (and I’m not just saying that because of a bet I made with Connor).

The Penguins rode the momentum of their tremendous run on the backs of Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff this season, but one thing has emerged as a clear choice to make. Is it time to replace Fleury?

Look, that might sound surprising— okay, I’m even surprising myself— but let’s face it, Fleury is coming off his greatest season ever and there’s no greater time to amass a significant return than right now. Especially when Matt Murray put up similar numbers in the regular season to the currently elite Washington Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby’s rookie year.

Fleury went 35-17-6 is 58 games played this season with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 SV%. He recorded five shutouts this year, which put him at 20 shutouts over the last three seasons. Last year, Fleury went 34-20-9 in 64 appearances, with a league leading and career high 10 shutouts and a 2.32 GAA and .920 SV%. For the lack of a better summarization, Fleury’s been on fire in recent years.

His success seems to be unusual, considering how Fleury often flutters out of peak performance in the playoffs— oh wait.

Having been out of the lineup since March 31st with a concussion, Fleury returned to his first game action in relief of Murray in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning on May 20th. Fleury made his first start in nearly two months on May 22nd in Game 5.

In two playoff appearances, Fleury is 0-1-1 with a 3.03 GAA and an .875 SV%. In other words, not good for his first couple of games back on the wings of a spectacular Vezina Trophy worthy season (it beats me why Jonathan Quick is a finalist this year and Fleury is not). A good playoff goalie is expected to make an impact on the series, bar none.

I get it, he’s coming back from being mostly inactive for the last couple of months, but he is considered a regular at what he does for a living and should not have even started Game 5, based on Murray’s performance in the playoffs as a whole. You don’t change your goalie in a series unless it’s goalie change in a relief appearance or heading into an elimination game— otherwise you’re only tinkering with momentum and robbing a goalie’s confidence (and perhaps the rest of the team’s confidence).

But Matt Murray is ten years younger and making an impact as good, if not better than Fleury, when it comes to crunch time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In Murray’s 13 regular season games this season, he went 9-2-1 with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 SV%. His rookie season save percentage almost mirror’s Holtby’s .934 SV% as a rookie 21-year-old back in the 2010-2011 season. Holtby also went 12-10-2 in 14 games with a 1.79 GAA, for the record, that year.

While Holtby set himself apart from the rest in 12 playoff appearances this year with a 1.72 GAA and .942 SV% at 26-years old, Murray’s been Holtby-esque spectacular, all while defeating the Capitals and taking his team further than Holtby’s ever been in the playoffs.

In 14 playoff appearances, Murray is 10-4-1 with a 2.30 GAA and a .924 SV% in his first run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Holtby went 7-7-4 in 14 games played with a .935 SV% and a 1.95 GAA in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs (his first taste of playoff hockey). While the numbers might seem misleading, Holtby allowed 30 goals on 459 shots against that year and Murray’s allowed 32 goals on 420 shots against thus far in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For a 21— 22-year-old goaltender, this kind of a run is insanity, no matter how you look at it.

For a general manager, living in the Braden Holtby-as-top-dog-in-net era, it’s certainly worth considering moving Murray up not only from the third-string position, but to your number one spot for good.

I have nothing against Marc-Andre Fleury as he is now.

I’ll repeat that. I have nothing against Marc-Andre Fleury.

However, at $5.75 million with 4 years left on his contract and Murray only costing $620K with two years left and a plethora of other talented pending RFA’s in the next couple of seasons for the Penguins, it’s worth the time to see what other teams would give up for a surefire number one goalie for at least the next five years (if not longer- Fleury isn’t showing signs of turning into the next Ryan Miller anytime soon).

And given the relationship between the Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs after the Phil Kessel deal in the offseason, it might be worth investigating just how badly Toronto needs a goaltender. Let alone other teams scampering around the Maple Leafs in the standings.

One more tidbit of information; Fleury’s rookie campaign of the 2003-2004 season only saw a 4-win, 14 losses and 2 ties performances in 21 games played with a 3.64 GAA and a .896 SV% at the age of 18 going on 19.

The fact of the matter is that the Penguins could lengthen the life of their success with a young goalie like Murray putting on a performance similar to their rival in Washington’s goalie (Holtby) and still be built on the currently successful Chicago model of running a team.

A team built on interchangeable scoring, a shutdown defense and a goalie that is clutch when you need him to be, but can be bailed out as he grows with the team in front of him.

Trade Fleury while you can. Make a pure hockey move, reminiscent of the days when the Boston Bruins acquired prolific goal scorer Phil Esposito in a deal that worked out for everyone involved— Blackhawks included— or like when the Colorado Avalanche landed Patrick Roy from the Montréal Canadiens— except the Canadiens didn’t really get much out of that deal and it was kind of forced on them (or by themselves, depending of who you ask).

Bottom line, hockey is a business and in a business you’re always looking for the here and now and where you’re headed in the future. Otherwise you’re only doomed to mismanagement at its finest. Pittsburgh has a chance to avoid poor management by trading Fleury while the price is still high and avoid falling in the standings by the grace of the rest of their organization and Matt Murray in goal.

Sharks Silence the Blues in Six Games, Reach First Ever Stanley Cup Final.

The St. Louis Blues will have to wait another season to try and make it to the Stanley Cup Final. The Blues have not made it to the SCF since the 1969-70 season when they lost to the Boston Bruins in 4 games (you might recall that flying goal by Bobby Orr in overtime in Game 4). That is a whopping 44 seasons in a row, which ranks 2nd all-time among teams trailing only the Toronto Maple Leafs who have not made it since 1966-67, which is 47 seasons.

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This is the San Jose Sharks biggest game in their 25 years of being a NHL team. They will try and silence the  St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup run tonight at “The Shark Tank”.

With a Sharks win in Game 6 on Wednesday night, they would advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It would be their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. The Blues will be going back to their “number one” goalie Brian Elliott for Game 6. Elliott was benched for their last two games as he was replaced by Jake Allen.

After Allen’s horrid Game 5, where he 0nly stopped 21 out of 25 shots for a terrible .840 SV% the Blues made the switch back to Elliott for the next game. Elliott has given up 6 goals on his last 37 shots in his last 2 starts, as well as being 2-0 in elimination games these playoffs. Allen did start Game 4 in San Jose where the Blues looked like a brand new team winning 6-3 and Allen finishing with a strong .912 SV%. St. Louis fans had something to look forward too after his win, but were let down as Allen and the Blues looked like a pee-wee team and squandered a 2-1 lead and a 3-2 lead and ended up losing the game.

As well as the Blues goalie troubles, they are having scoring troubles from their better players. For example, star winger Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues in scoring with 40 goals which were the most on the team. Tarasenko has yet to register a POINT let alone a goal in the series. He will definitely have to pick up his play. So the Blues will look to stave off elimination and force another Game 7 back in St. Louis.

San Jose has played in a total of 31 playoff series. Out of these 31 series, 10 of them have ended in 6 games. The Sharks have been on the losing end of the majority of these matchups with their record being 3-7. The Sharks will look to keep their composure and win in front of their home crowd. While St. Louis will look to do the opposite and get the crowd out of the game early, just as they did the last time they were here.

The Sharks won the battle of the crowd-pleasing early, although the game’s first shot didn’t happen until almost two minutes in (courtesy of San Jose), they got the crowd pumped and ready to go with a couple chances early. St. Louis got a little life back as they went on a little run, stringing together 3 shots but were all turned away by San Jose’s goalie Martin Jones. The Sharks would keep the crowd loud and proud as they would tally first almost four minutes in.

Here’s how it went down:

Sharks goalie Martin Jones would come up huge with a wicked glove save to stone Blues vet Alex Steen in the slot. The rebound would go flying into the left corner. Sharks winger Tomas Hertl found the puck lying in the corner and went back to get it. Hertl basically grabbed the puck, turned around in the corner, and threw the puck out of the zone for what it looked like to be a harmless clear.

Well, Sharks vet Jumbo Joe Thornton would sneak behind the two St. Louis’ defenders, pick up the loose puck after it was slowed down by a tip, and burst in on a breakaway. Thornton would come in on Blues goalie Brian Elliott and flip a wrister on net in the slot but would miss the net completely going high and get all glass behind the net.

As both of the Blues defenders would clumsily go behind the net looking for the puck, Sharks captain Joe Pavelski would find the loose puck behind the net. Pavelski sneakily wrapped the puck around the back of the net to Elliott’s left and get stoned by Elliott as he whipped out his left pad. Fortunately for Pavelski, since the defenders were still behind the net, the puck sat on the goal line. Pavelski had another huge whack at the puck and pushed the puck over the goal line to-tally first and put them in the lead at 1-0. This was Pavelski’s league leading 13th goal of the playoffs.

This early goal got the crowd ROARING early and LOUDLY. This was exactly what the Sharks wanted, to jump out to an early lead and get the crowd going. Sharks fans had something to look up to, because in all 5 previous games in the series, the team to score first would end up winning the game. The Sharks would also shut down the Blues offense early as they held St. Louis shot-less for a long six-minute span in the middle of the first period.

Surprisingly, there were no more big opportunities, just small ones, and no team took a single penalty in the first frame which happened for the second straight game. Other than that, to sum up the opening period between these two teams… it was ALL Sharks. When I say “ALL Sharks” I really mean it, this doesn’t happen very often, when a team controls the whole period. The Sharks only let 4 shots reach goalie Martin Jones as he had a quiet period after his glove save. San Jose scored early and dominated the rest of the period and kept their 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.

The “no penalty” part of the first did not carry over into the second period. Just 36 seconds into the middle period, Blues winger Troy Brouwer gets called for interference on Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi. This sent the Sharks to their first power play of the game, where they always dominate even if they don’t score a man up. They always create momentum no matter what. Unfortunately, the Blues were great at getting their sticks in the shooting lane and only let one shot get to Elliott and they killed it off.

The Sharks would once again lock down on defense and didn’t allow a shot until five minutes into the period. This stellar defense would lead to their second goal of the game. San Jose’s 3rd line would go right to work in the attacking zone looking for a goal. Sharks grinder Chris Tierney would find his way out of a battle in the right corner with the puck. Tierney pushed the puck up to Sharks star D-man Brent Burns at the right side point. Burns flipped a wrister on net that would find the stick of Sharks winger, Joel Ward. The puck would deflect right off Ward’s stick, past Elliott’s blocker, and into the net. This was Ward’s 3rd goal of the playoffs and 19th of his career in the postseason.

The Sharks would have another glorious chance as they would get their potent power play back onto the ice, and this one was a lengthy one. Blues 4th liner Scottie Upshall would catch Sharks winger Tommy Wingels up high with his stick. It would be a double minor (four minutes) because Wingels was bleeding from the contact with the stick. The Blues were once again up to the task, only giving up two shots, and killed off a huge penalty to keep the score at 2-0 at the midway point of the second period.

St. Louis would get their best chance to cut into the lead at the 10:48 mark of the period. Blues 1st line center Jori Lehtera would receive a perfect pass from teammate Robby Fabbri right in his wheelhouse in the slot on the right hash marks. Lehtera would unleash a massive one-time clap bomb and was absolutely ROBBED by Jones’ left pad. Jones pushed from his right to his left and kicked out his left pad at the last minute to rob Lehtera to keep his perfect night intact. This save was Jones’ best save of the series by far!

The second period would end with the score still being 2-0 in favor of the Sharks. The only thing different in the summary of the period was that San Jose had all the momentum early in the period especially with the goal five minutes in. Although, after the Blues killed off the massive four minutes power play, they brought the momentum back to their side. They spent probably 70% of the remainder of the period in the Sharks zone threatening to score. St. Louis outshot the Sharks 7-2 after killing the penalty. San Jose’s Martin Jones was there for every shot and turned them all away. The Sharks are 7-0 when leading after two periods in the playoffs while outscoring the opposition 26-12 in the third periods overall.

Well, the Sharks third period dominance showed up again early in the final period. San Jose’s 2nd line was in on the prowl looking to extend their lead and they did with beautiful passing. Sharks winger Joel Ward stole the puck in the offensive zone high on the right side boards. Ward looked up and fired a cross-ice pass over to linemate Logan Couture on top of the left side circle. Couture corralled the pass and skated down to the left side hash marks almost right on the boards.

Couture then whipped a wicked pass over to a streaking Joel Ward, who slipped down past the defense, parked right above the goalie crease to the right and tapped it into the wide-open net to extend their lead to 3-0 just three minutes into period three. It was Ward’s second goal of the game and fourth goal in his past two games.

The Sharks threatened to score again almost two minutes later. Sharks winger Tomas Hertl found himself with the puck behind the Blues net. Hertl stickhandled three to four times in place and found a wide open Joe Pavelski right below the left side hash marks. Pavelski put a snap shot right on net that had to be headed down into the corner by Elliott to keep the Blues’ little glimmer of hope still alive.

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That little glimmer of hope was smashed into pieces just four minutes later when San Jose would score again to go up 4-0. Sharks’ Patrick Marleau seized the puck in the neutral zone and skated into the offensive zone on the right side.

Marleau stopped on a T at the hash marks near the boards and dumped the puck off to streaking winger Logan Couture at the top of the circle. Couture took the puck, skated a foot, and spotted fellow winger Joonas Donskoi wide open in the slot to his left.

Donskoi wasted no time with the pass and unloaded a massive one-timer that beat Brian Elliott to his right. This was Donskoi’s 5th goal of the playoffs.

St. Louis would piece together a little bit of hope that was previously smashed by Donskoi’s goal. Blue’s D-man Colton Parayko would get the puck on the top of the right circle. Parayko would rip a wrister on net that was saved by Jones’ pad, but Jones would trip himself up and fall over. Blues’ Jori Lehtera would get the rebound and take the puck behind the net to set back up. Lehtera would find Russian star Vladimir Tarasenko high left side in the slot. Tarasenko would find the puck in his feet, kick the puck to his stick, and shoot a wrister on net that beat the out of position Jones high blocker side. This was finally Tarasenko’s first point and goal of the series to make the score 4-1.

Then with 4:25 left in the game a scrum would ensue between the benches. After everything settled down, both teams would get a penalty with a player from each side going to the box. Sharks’ Tommy Wingels would get caught for slashing Blues D-man Kevin Shattenkirk while Shattenkirk would get caught for cross-checking Wingels right back. We would have played 4 on 4 hockey with the penalties offsetting each other. St. Louis wasn’t going to take any chances and needed to score badly so they pulled Brian Elliott to make it 5 on 4 in favor of St. Louis.

This worked right in favor for the Blues as the scored 50 seconds later to cut the Sharks lead in half at 4-2. Blues center Paul Stastny would get the bouncing puck above the hash marks on the left side. Stastny would pass the puck down to recent goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko right on the goal line in the left corner. Tarasenko would see that the Sharks were giving him a lot of room and drove right to the net on the goal line. Tara would simply try his luck on goal with a little wrist shot. Somehow the seeing-eye shot would find a way into the net after Tara banked the puck right in off Jones’ hip as he was hugging the right post. This was Tarasenko’s second goal of the game and gave the team a little more hope then before.

St. Louis would then pull Brian Elliott and replace him with Jake Allen. The main reason for the replacement was that Allen is a much better puck handler in case he had to handle a loose puck. They move did not make much sense because they pulled him for the rest of the game to get the extra attacker to play 6 on 5 hockey for the last three minutes of the game.

The extra attacker did not pay off as they only managed four more shots that were stopped by Jones to keep their two goal lead. Then with 20 seconds left in the game, after a nice blocked shot from defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Sharks would put the icing on the cake with Logan Couture’s empty net goal to make it 5-2.

This would end up being the final score as the Sharks ended the Blues season earlier then they hoped. San Jose will now play in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. The most experienced players on the team, them being Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, will also play in their first SCF after a combined 3,093 games! The Sharks were then presented with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, which is awarded to the Western Conference Playoff Champion.

There is a superstition about touching or not touching the trophy when it is presented to you. Some say if you touch it, you will lose the SCF. Well captain, Joe Pavelski did not touch the trophy, as most players choose not to so we will see what happens! This is also Sharks coach Peter DeBoer 2nd career time reaching the Stanley Cup Final. His first time was with the New Jersey Devils in 2012, his first time coaching in the NHL. The 2012 Devils, like the 2016 Sharks, missed the playoffs entirely the year before.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones stopped 23 out of 25 shots for a solid .920 SV% and Blues’ Brian Elliott stopped 22 out of 26 shots for a disastrous .856 SV%. St. Louis led in faceoffs (32-27), penalty minutes (8-2), and hits (42-31) while San Jose led in shots (27-25),  blocked shots (18-14), and giveaways (19-12). San Jose was 0/3 on the PP and St. Louis was 0/1.

San Jose’s final stats for their Conference Final are as followed: Teams leading goal scorer were Joe Pavelski and Joel Ward both with four, leading apple (assist) getter was Joe Thornton with seven, leading total point getter was Joe Pavelski with nine points (4G, 5A), the time on ice leader was Brent Burns averaging 23:39 per game. Goalie Stats: Martin Jones appeared in 6 games going 4-2 with a .920 SV% and 2.02 GAA and James Reimer appeared in 1 game (a relief effort) saving 6 out of 7 shots for a .857 and 2.06 GAA.

St. Louis’ final stats for their CF are: Teams leading goal scorer was surprisingly Troy Brouwer with three, leading apple getter was Paul Stastny with four, total point getter was Paul Stastny with four points (0G, 4A), time on ice leader was Alex Pietrangelo averaging 26:44 per game. Goalie Stats: Brian Elliott in 4 games going 1-3 with a .884 SV% and 3.02 GAA and Jake Allen also in 4 games going 1-1 with a .885 SV% and a 3.29 GAA%.

San Jose will have a nice little break as they wait to find out their opponent— either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning— for the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh and Tampa battle in Game 7 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final on Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center. The first game of the Stanley Cup Final will be on Monday, May 30th.

Penguins force Game 7 with 5-2 victory over Lightning

By: Nick Lanciani

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoWell, Evgeni Malkin made true on his words— there will be a Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Sidney Crosby’s 6th goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs proved to be the game-winner for the Pittsburgh Penguins after a third period surge by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as Pittsburgh walked out of Amalie Arena on Tuesday night in Game 6 with a 5-2 win.

Matt Murray was in net for the Penguins after some speculation over whether or not Marc-Andre Fleury would return to the goal after his Game 5 flub in a 4-3 overtime comeback for Tampa on Sunday. Instead, it was Murray in goal for the Pens, staving off elimination for at least one more game day. Tuesday night was the first time this postseason that Pittsburgh was facing elimination.

Murray made 28 saves on 30 shots on goal for a .933 SV% in the 60 minute effort, while Andrei Vasilevskiy came up with just 29 saves on 33 shots faced for a .879 SV% in the loss.

After an overturned goal early into the first period, the Tampa Bay Lightning fell out of rhythm and the Pittsburgh Penguins settled in for an eventual 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

Here’s how it happened.

Lightning fans in attendance jumped from their seats as Jonathan Drouin thought he had scored on a beautiful rebound from Matt Murray into the wide open net vacated by an out of position Penguins goaltender (Murray). But with 14:48 to go in the first period, Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, used his only coach’s challenge of the night to review the goal and see if the play entering the zone was offside.

As Tampa entered the zone, Drouin had lifted his left leg, which was trailing his already-in-the-offensive-zone- right leg as the puck just barely crossed the blue line, thereby making Drouin offside. Multiple angles confirmed it and the call on the ice was overturned. The Lightning were offside and had not scored as a result. Play resumed, scoreless.

Drouin’s overturned goal was the 8th overturned goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Evgeni Malkin added fuel to his own fiery passion for the game upon a retaliation infraction at 14:20 of the first period. Malkin received a two-minute minor penalty for slashing Tampa Bay captain, Ryan Callahan, and gave the Lightning their first power play of the night. The Bolts were unable to capitalize on the man advantage and the Penguins escaped a bad situation with one of their top forwards in the box with no harm.

Two penalties in a span of 41 seconds doomed the Lightning on their penalty kill unit’s first appearance of the night. Anton Stralman was called for interference on a subjectively early/on time hit, depending who you ask, on Tom Kuhnhackl at 17:09 of the 1st and Victor Hedman was called for delay of game for sending the puck over the glass at 17:50 of the 1st period. With Tampa’s top defensive pair (Stralman and Hedman) in the box, Pittsburgh went to work on a 5-on-3 power play opportunity.

Phil Kessel hacked at a flubbed pass from Sidney Crosby and ended up putting the puck at the back of the net for his 9th goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Crosby (9) and Malkin (9) picked up the assists on the power play goal at 18:46 of the period.

With the goal, the Lightning gained a man back on the penalty kill and were able to escape the ensuing 5-on-4 advantage for Pittsburgh unscathed.

After twenty minutes of play, the Penguins led 1-0 on the scoreboard and 14-4 in shots on goal, continuing their trend of outshooting the Lightning, as they entered Game 6 with a 196-131 shots on goal advantage over Tampa. The Bolts led in hits (7-6), faceoff wins (16-4), giveaways (7-3) and blocked shots (6-4), meanwhile Pittsburgh went 1/2 on the man advantage in the first and the Lightning went 0/1.

Tampa started the second period with an extra jump in their step that they quickly lost and found themselves trailing the Penguins all over the ice.

Kris Letang made it a 2-0 game with his 2nd goal of the playoffs scored on a nice wrist shot with a Penguin screening Vasilevskiy in front of the net. Conor Sheary (5) and Nick Bonino (12) notched the primary and secondary assists on Letang’s goal at 7:40 of the 2nd period.

Ondrej Palat slashed Carl Hagelin just past halfway in the second period and received a minor penalty, which put Pittsburgh on the power play at 10:06 of the period. The Penguins were unable to convert on the man advantage and the Lightning were successful on the penalty kill without committing too many turnovers.

With 25.6 seconds left in the period, Sidney Crosby made it a 3-0 game with his 6th goal of the playoffs on a wicked impressive wrist shot that beat Vasilevskiy. The lone assist went to Patric Hornqvist and was his 4th assist of the postseason.

Forty minutes were in the books and the Penguins looked all but sure to have the game easily wrapped up by the second intermission, but Tampa Bay’s Brian Boyle had other plans in mind, at least in terms of entertainment value for the Lightning fans that packed Amalie Arena on Tuesday night.

Unknown-1Five and a half minutes into the third period, Boyle fired a shot that bounced off a Pittsburgh skater and wound its way behind Murray to get Tampa on the board and cut the Penguins lead to two. The goal was Boyle’s 4th of the postseason and made it 3-1.

Trailing by two, the Lightning drummed up several more quality chances before finally breaking through Murray’s brick wall with another goal from Boyle. His 5th of the playoffs, Boyle’s second goal of the night was assisted by Slater Koekkoek (1) and Jonathan Drouin (9) at 12:43 of the 3rd period. Plenty of time left for Tampa to make things interesting.

But nearly five minutes after Brian Boyle earned his 1st career multi-goal playoff game, Bryan Rust skated in on Vasilevskiy on a costly breakaway.

With a deke and a forehanded shot that slid past Vasilevskiy’s leg pad, Rust scored his 3rd goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and put the Penguins back up by two. Chris Kunitz (5) and Olli Maatta (3) were credited with the assists on Rust’s goal at 17:52 of the third period in what was now a 4-2 game.

Neither team committed a penalty in the third period and both teams swapped a couple of chances before Jon Cooper had to make the call to pull Vasilevskiy in favor of an extra attacker with about 75 seconds left in the game.

Bonino promptly tallied an empty net goal for Pittsburgh at 19:06 of the third period and made it an unreachable three-goal lead. His 3rd of the playoffs, Bonino’s goal made it 5-2 and was assisted by Ben Lovejoy (2).

With the win, road teams improved to 42-41 this postseason. In the entire 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, road teams were 38-51. Pittsburgh improved to 47-1 when leading after two periods this season (regular and postseason combined). Their only loss came in Game 5 to the Lightning.

The Penguins last rallied from a 3-2 series deficit in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. Having forced a Game 7 for Thursday night, the Penguins have a chance to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009. Tampa is looking to go to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, having lost in last year’s Stanley Cup Final run to the defending champion, Chicago Blackhawks.

The Lightning also defeated the New York Rangers on the road in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final, for the record.

Pittsburgh and Tampa have faced each other in a Game 7 only one other time in Stanley Cup Playoff history. They met each other in the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and the series came down to a 1-0 victory for the Lightning in Game 7 on the road at CONSOL Energy Center.

Some final stats from Game 6…

The Penguins led in shots on goal (34-30) and blocked shots (15-8), while the Lightning dominated in hits (26-18), faceoff wins (39-31), giveaways (17-7) and takeaways (8-6). Pittsburgh finished the night 1/3 on the power play and Tampa ended Tuesday’s action 0/1 on the man advantage.

The Lightning were still without Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos and it is unclear whether or not either one of them, if not both, may return for Game 7 on Thursday night in Pittsburgh at CONSOL Energy Center.

Puck drop for Thursday is scheduled for 8 PM ET and the game can be viewed on NBCSN in the United States and on CBC and TVA Sports in Canada.

The Duo of Johnson and Kucherov lead The Bolts to a Comeback Win, Now Lead Series 3-2.

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The Pittsburgh Penguins blew two leads; a 2-0 lead, and a 3-2 lead late in the game and lost a heartbreaker to the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in Overtime. This win puts the Lightning up 3-2 in the series and are now one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second year in a row.

The Pittsburgh Penguins looked to get back into the win column tonight at home. After dominating Games 2 and 3, the Pens were outworked in a Game 4 loss. Pittsburgh was welcomed to see that WWE Hall-of-Fame legend The Heartbreak Kid aka Shawn Micheals would be in attendance for tonight game. The Penguins 3rd line, better known as the HBK line, made up of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel has been on fire as of late. Shawn Michaels has inspired all Pittsburgh fans to now call this line the HBK line and the Pens invited him to come out to the game and he did! So Michaels hoped he could see the Pens pull out a win.

The Penguins turned to their 12-year vet, goaltender Marc-André Fleury for his first start since March 31st. Fleury has not played since the end of March because he was battling a concussion. The Penguins were going with newcomer Matt Murray in hopes that he could spark the team and go on a long run. They were right and Murray was the backbone of the team and led them all the way to Round 3, the Conference Finals. Sadly, after Murray’s last performance in the Game 4 loss, he was pulled at the start of the third period due to the fact that he let in 4 goals on 30 total shots for a measly .867 SV%. Murray has appeared in a total of 13 games in this year’s playoffs going 9-4-1 with a .923 SV% and a 2.33 GAA. Pittsburgh is making the right call going with Fleury for Game 5. This game is also Fleury’s 100th career playoff game.

Now on to the long list of injuries. As expected, Tampa goalie Ben Bishop, who has been out since his lower-body-injury in Game 1, is sidelined again for the 4th consecutive game. Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos, who also has not played since the end of March due to a blood clot, is still not able to suit up. The Penguins have scratched winger Conor Sheary who has not scored a goal since April 23rd. Beau Bennett has been given the nod to play tonight. This will be Bennett’s first game of the playoffs this year, and his first game since April 5th at Ottawa. On the other hand, Pens lockdown D-man Trevor Daley will miss the rest of the postseason, no matter how far Pittsburgh gets, due to a broken left ankle suffered in Game 4. Pittsburgh will welcome D-man Olli Maatta back into the lineup. Maatta has been dealing with a lingering injury suffered against the Capitals in Round 2 and some poor play that has held him in and out of the lineup. The Penguins will have to rely on the play of D-man Kris Letang more if they will want to shut down the strong forwards of the Lightning.

The game started out with both teams flying out of the gate and being very physical with each other. The two clubs combined for a total of 13 hits within the first nine minutes of the opening frame. So you could tell that both teams aren’t messing around and want an early edge over the other squad.

We would get the game’s first penalty with them being coincidental. Tampa defender Matt Carle and Pens center Evgeni Malkin both getting the gate for unsportsmanlike conduct at 9:11 of the first period. We would play 4 on 4 hockey for 1:25 until the Lightning would get the games first true penalty. Tampa center Tyler Johnson would get a two-minute call for hooking Pens captain Sidney Crosby. With this call the Pens would play 35 seconds of 4 on 3 man advantage, they were not able to score or apply pressure. The coincidental would expire and both teams would get their players back and they would play a regular 5 on 4 power play for 1:25. Pittsburgh only managed one shot and Tampa killed it off.

Pittsburgh would get on the board first, but would barely beat the buzzer. It all started with a great play by Pens winger Chris Kunitz who would get the puck on the left-hand boards by the blue line in his own zone. Kunitz would make a beautiful play to chip the puck past pinching Tampa defender Anton Stralman and up to a streaking teammate, Bryan Rust in the neutral zone. Rust would grab the pass and beat opposing defender Victor Hedman wide and go in on a mini breakaway. Rust was able to hold of the back checking of Hedman and get off a wimpy shot in close that was saved by a stretched out Andrei Vasilevskiy and his right pad. The rebound was sat right on top of the goalie crease for anyone to grab. Meanwhile behind the play, Pens defender Brian Dumoulin jumped up in the play when he realized that the time was running out in the period. Dumoulin beat Tampa grinder Brian Boyle to the net and shoveled home the rebound with .7 seconds left in the period to put the Pens on the board at 1-0. This goal was Dumoulin’s first goal in 103 games (he did not score in the regular season playing 79 games), his first ever playoff goal, and his second ever career goal in the NHL.

The second period would start with it being all Penguins, and as a result, the Pens would double their lead. Pittsburgh would bring the puck into the zone with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby skating down to the right boards to the hash marks. Crosby would post up and spot Pens D-man Olli Maatta wide open in the middle of the ice at the point. Maatta would receive the pass and quickly fire a shot pass to winger Carl Hagelin who peeled open at the top of the goalie crease on the left side. Hagelin would direct the pass to fellow winger Patric Hornqvist on top of the crease to the right side. Hornqvist would then tap the puck into the wide open net to increase the Pens lead to 2-0. This was Hornqvist’s 7th goal of the playoffs.

Tampa would get their first power play of the game, and their first real chance to cut into Pittsburgh’s deficit. Pens D-man Kris Letang would get a two-minute trip to the box for slashing Tampa youngster Jonathan Drouin. Tampa’s power play has been struggling lately as they are just 2/8 in the series coming into Game 5. The Lightning would get their best chance of the game with the PP coming to an end. Defender Victor Hedman would get the puck at the point and come right down the middle of the ice. Hedman would fake a shot and dish it off to center Tyler Johnson at the side of the net. Johnson had the whole top of the net to shoot at. He one-timed the puck and was completely ROBBED by the stretched out toe of goalie Marc-André Fleury as he pushed from his left to his right to keep the score at 2-0 and kill the penalty.

Just about four minutes later the Pens would go back to their second manpower advantage of the game. Tampa winger Nikita Kucherov would get the gate for holding winger Bryan Rust. The Penguins would only get two shots on the net and could not capitalize.

Pittsburgh Penguins Logo

The Tampa Bay Lightning would then score just 13 seconds after they killed off the penalty at 13:15 of the middle period. Tampa defender Andrej Sustr would hold the puck in at the right side hash marks and play the puck around the back of the net. Winger Alex Killorn would grab the puck at the left side hash marks skate in a foot and absolutely let a laser of a wrist shot go that beat Fleury high short side over the blocker to get the Bolts on the board and trim the Pens lead to 2-1. Tampa would then tie the game up 1:10 seconds later at the 14:25 mark. Again Lightning D-man Andrej Sustr would carry the puck into the same spot on the right side but he ended up losing the puck. Luckily, grinder Vladislav Namesnikov would pick up the loose puck, carry on towards the net and find an open Nikita Kucherov on the left hash marks in the slot. Namesnikov hit Kucherov right in his wheelhouse and Kucherov let a gnarly one-t snap-shot go into the wide open net before Fleury could get there to tie the game up at 2-2. This was Kucherov’s 10th goal of the playoffs which now puts him in a tie for first in the league with Sharks captain Joe Pavelski.

Once again, the Pens would strike as the period would expire. Penguins defender Olli Maatta would carry the puck into the zone through the middle and dangle his way past the net and below the goal line on the right side. Maata would stop on a dime, turn around, and feed winger Evgeni Malkin in the slot. Malkin would grab the puck, fight off a falling Tampa defender, turn around, and fire a wrist shot on net. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy would make the save on top of the crease but let the rebound fall right in front of him. Before Vasy could dive and fall on the puck, Pens winger Chris Kunitz would bat the puck out of mid-air just before Vasy could get it with his glove. The puck would go right under Vasy’s body, through his legs, and into the net. The goal came with 50 seconds remaining in the second period to gain the lead back and make it 3-2.

The Penguins are 46-0-0 (regular season and playoffs) when leading after two periods this season. They are the ONLY team to win every game when leading at this point. So if the Lightning want to be the first to beat them, they will have to jump out early in the final period and gain some momentum.

With just 2:36 gone in the final period Tampa would go back on the power play. Pens defender Olli Maatta would get a double minor for catching Lightning’s Slater Koekkoek up high with his stick. So Tampa would have a four minutes power play in hopes of tying the game. With around two minutes gone in the four-minute man advantage center, Tyler Johnson would get called for interference on Pens defender Kris Letang. This penalty on Johnson would nullify the rest of Tampa’s power play and they would play 1:53 of 4 on 4 hockey. The 4 on 4 hockey did not result in anything so once Maatta’s double minor expired, the Pens would get a brief 6 seconds of PP time but could not do anything.

With 3:52 left in the game, Tampa winger Ryan Callahan came down the left-hand side with the puck. Callahan skated to the dot and put a beauty of a wrist shot towards the net. The puck hit Fleury’s jersey near his arm, deflected off the post, and across the goal line but stayed out! Tampa was inches away from tying this contest up. Then just 36 seconds later, Tampa was able to get their tying goal. Winger Nikita Kucherov skating down the left side with the puck and dropped a nice backhand pass to fellow linemate Tyler Johnson at the left boards. Johnson put a shot on the net that was padded aside by Fleury. Regrettably, the puck fell to the boards behind the net where Kucherov was there to pick it up. Kucherov grabbed the puck and instantly wrapped around to the other side of the net and beat Fleury’s pad to the post and knotted this game up at 3-3 with 3:16 to go in the final frame. This was Kucherov’s second goal of the game (11th) which now puts him in sole position of first place for goals.

The third period ended with the score still the same at 3-3 and went into over time. The only reason why the Penguins never scored again so far in the game is because the stellar play of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasy was amazing making a numerous amount of clutch saves. This is the second time in the series these two teams would play OT. Pittsburgh won Game 2 in OT. Tampa is 2-1 in OT games in the playoffs and Pittsburgh is 3-1.

As the overtime started, both teams were hoping to end this game early. That hope was fulfilled by one team, that team? The Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa’s first line was in on the attack in the offensive zone. Lightning winger Ondrej Palat, who was on the right side hash marks, passed the puck up to Nikita Kucherov in the middle at the blue line. Kucherov accepted the pass and immediately passed the puck over to D-man Jason Garrison who slide down to the dot of the left-hand circle. Garrison put a wrist shot on net that ended up deflecting off center Tyler Johnson’s backside and ricocheting into the net for the game-winner only 53 seconds into extra time.

Tampa Bay was led by their goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who turned away 31 out of 34 shots for a nice .912 SV% while Pittsburgh’s Marc-André Fleury stopped 21 out of 25 shots for a terrible .840 SV% in his first game back. The Pens coach Mike Sullivan will have another big question on who to start for Game 6. Pittsburgh led in shots (34-25), faceoffs (37-31), hits (43-37), blocked shots (22-8), and giveaways (9-1) whereas Tampa Bay did not lead in any category. The teams were tied in penalty minutes (8-8) and both teams were 0/3 on the PP.

These two powerhouse squads will suit back up for Game 6 where Tampa will look to close out the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Final Tuesday night at 8 pm.

Lightning hold on for 4-3 win in Game 4, Series Tied 2-2

By: Nick Lanciani

Unknown-1The Tampa Bay Lightning had just enough in them by the third period to hold off a charging comeback from the Pittsburgh Penguins to win 4-3 in Game 4 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final on home ice at Amalie Arena on Friday night.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 35 saves on 38 shots faced for a .921 SV% en route to the victory, while Matt Murray made just 26 saves on 30 shots against before being replaced after the second period in the loss.

Murray’s replacement, Marc-Andre Fleury, made seven saves on seven shots faced in the third period.

Ryan Callahan kicked off the scoring with the second fastest playoff goal in franchise history for the Lightning, just 27 seconds into the first period on redirect. Victor Hedman fired a slap shot from the point that Callahan tipped past Murray for the goal, which was just his 2nd of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hedman (8) and J.T. Brown (2) notched the primary and secondary assists.

Adam Hall had the fastest playoff goal for Tampa, 13 seconds into Game 2 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final in Boston.

Carl Hagelin gave the Bolts their first power play of the night when he was sent to the penalty box for tripping Lightning forward, Alex Killorn, at 1:10 of the first period. Tampa was unable to convert on the power play.

The Lightning also failed to take advantage of another man advantage when the Penguins were penalized for too many men on the ice at 7:59 of the first period. Phil Kessel served the bench minor for Pittsburgh.

Andrej Sustr found the back of the net on a breakout for Tampa at 14:28 of the first period and gave the Bolts a 2-0 lead with his first goal of the playoffs. Nikita Kucherov (6) and Alex Killorn (7) picked up the primary and secondary assists on Sustr’s goal.

With two minutes left in the first period, Chris Kunitz and J.T. Brown got into a little bit of a shoving match that set the tone for the rest of the game. Both players received roughing minors and were sent to the locker room early to cool off before the first intermission commenced.

After twenty minutes, Tampa was leading 2-0.

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoThe second period began with a Pittsburgh power play just a little over two minutes into it. Kucherov was called for boarding on a hit that shook up Ian Cole for a minute or two, before he regained himself and continued to play the rest of the night.

The Penguins were unable to convert on the man advantage and failed again to do so when Jonathan Drouin was sent to the box for holding almost four minutes later.

At 11:38 of the 2nd period the whistle had blown on a delayed call against the Penguins, except Kris Letang continued to shoot the puck up the boards and into a passing by Drouin. Several Lightning players, including Drouin, were sure to let Letang know they did not appreciate the extracurricular effort.

As a result, Matt Cullen was sent to the box with the original infraction of holding and his friends Brian Boyle and Letang each took a trip to their respective boxes with him (Boyle for roughing, Letang for roughing and cross checking). Because Letang took two penalties at once, the Penguins were shorthanded for four minutes and the Lightning went to work on a lengthy power play opportunity.

Vasilevskiy had just denied a shorthanded breakaway with a huge save to keep it a 2-0 game, when the Bolts found a way to get going to the other side of the ice and start generating rebounds. Drouin found a rebound in the low slot, off of Murray, and sent it to the back of the twine to give Tampa a 3-0 lead with a power play goal. Drouin’s goal was his 4th of the postseason and 3rd of the series.

Ondrej Palat (5) and Hedman (9) were credited with the assists on the goal.

In a largely undisciplined second period, the Lightning again took another penalty when Alex Killorn tripped Evgeni Malkin with less than five minutes remaining in the period. Pittsburgh was unable to generate any successful offense on the ensuing power play.

Tyler Johnson added another goal for Tampa with what would become the game-winning tip-in goal at 17:48 of the 2nd period. An errant shot by Kucherov caught enough of Johnson to deflect past Murray to give the Lightning a 4-0 lead. Johnson’s goal was his 6th of the playoffs and was assisted by Kucherov (7) and Killorn (8).

With forty minutes in the books the Lightning were ahead 4-0 on the scoreboard and led in shots on goal (30-22), faceoff wins (23-22) and blocked shots (6-5). The Penguins led in hits (18-17) and giveaways (8-7) in what was a tight possession battle that had yet to translate on the scoresheet. Pittsburgh was 0/3 on the power play entering the second intermission and Tampa was 1/3.

Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, made the executive decision to replace Murray with the veteran— though back from an injury and yet to have seen much action in the playoffs— Marc-Andre Fleury after Murray allowed four goals through forty minutes of play.

Phil Kessel kick started the comeback attempt for the Pens with his 8th goal of the playoffs 1:18 into the 3rd period. Nick Bonino (11) and Brian Dumoulin (6) tallied the assists.

Evgeni Malkin scored his 4th goal of the postseason (his 1st of the series) just past the eleven minute mark at 11:13 of the third period to cut Tampa’s lead in half. Ian Cole picked up his 2nd assist of the playoffs on Malkin’s goal that made it a 4-2 game with plenty of time remaining.

Thirteen seconds after Malkin scored, the Lightning committed their last infraction as Killorn was guilty of tripping up Letang. The Penguins were once again, on the power play for the fourth time of the night and found a way to convert in its closing seconds.

Chris Kunitz notched his 3rd goal of the postseason on a pass from Justin Schultz at 13:08 of the third and brought Pittsburgh to within one. Schultz (2) and Conor Sheary (4) assisted on Kunitz’s goal. What had been a 4-0 lead for Tampa was now a nerve-wracking 4-3 battle.

With over a minute and a half remaining in the game, Sullivan motioned to Fleury to vacate his net and head for the bench in exchange for an extra attacker.

Facing desperation, Vasilevskiy stood tall in his net and picked up his first career playoff win that was not in a relief appearance for the Lightning. Tampa Bay had held off the momentum swinging Penguins in a raucous third period and tied the series 2-2.

What looked like it would be a blowout turned out to be a close 4-3 victory for Tampa and a hard fought battle for Pittsburgh. After sixty minutes, the Penguins finished the night leading in shots on goal (38-37), hits (29-27), faceoff wins (33-31) and giveaways (10-7), while the Lightning clung on to an advantage in takeaways (4-2) and in blocked shots (14-6). Both teams wrapped up the night 1/4 on the power play.

Game 5 is scheduled for Sunday night at 8:00 PM ET at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. It can be seen on NBCSN for viewers in the United States and on CBC and TVA Sports in Canada.