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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

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

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

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

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

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

It’s all just part of the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

DTFR Podcast #202- What Are Your Qualifications?/Let’s Get Kraken

Using Qualifiers to enhance this postseason (it’s a breakdown of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin action). Plus the Seattle Kraken!

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

DTFR Podcast #182- Back In A New Year Groove

The DTFR Podcast is back from hiatus as Nick provides a State of the Podcast, reviews a few things from the last couple of months and delves into all of the transactions leading up to the 2020 NHL trade deadline.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Halak, B’s beat Rangers, 3-1

The Boston Bruins beat the New York Rangers, 3-1, at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon and swept their regular season series (3-0-0) against New York for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Jaroslav Halak (15-6-6 record, 2.31 goals against average, .922 save percentage in 27 games played) stopped 25 out of 26 shots faced for a .962 SV% in the win for the Bruins.

Rangers goaltender, Alexandar Georgiev (14-12-1, 2.98 GAA, .912 SV% in 28 games played) made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 SV% in the loss.

Boston improved to 37-11-12 (86 points) on the season and remained in command of the Atlantic Division, while New York fell to 30-24-4 (64 points) and in 7th place in the Metropolitan Division.

The B’s also improved to 16-9-3 on the road this season and have won ten out of their last 12 games.

Boston was without the services of Kevan Miller (knee) on Sunday as the Bruins defender has yet to make his season debut due to lingering issues from his knee injury last season and subsequent re-injuries since then.

Connor Clifton (upper body), while listed as “day-to-day” since being injured against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 29th, was reassigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) ahead of Sunday’s contest as part of a conditioning stint and is likely to return to full health with Boston in the near future.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his lineup from Saturday’s, 4-1, win against the Detroit Red Wings, while Halak was back in the net for the first time since Feb. 5th (a, 2-1, overtime win in Chicago).

Par Lindholm, John Moore and Anton Blidh served as Boston’s healthy scratches on Sunday.

Midway through the opening frame, Ryan Lindgren checked Brad Marchand along the wall at the benches and got into a bit of an exchange that resulted in only the Rangers defender heading to the penalty box with a minor infraction for roughing at 11:31 of the first period.

Boston didn’t convert on the ensuing power play.

In the final minute of the first period, Charlie McAvoy (3) ripped a shot from the point that appeared to have redirected off a New York skater prior to the puck floating in the air and over Geogiev’s shoulder for the game’s first goal at 19:18.

McAvoy’s goal– his third in the last six games for the B’s– was unassisted with 41.7 seconds left in the period.

The Bruins led, 1-0, on the scoreboard entering the first intermission and, 11-9, in shots on goal.

Boston also held the advantage in giveaways (4-3), while New York led in blocked shots (6-4), hits (11-6) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). Both teams had one takeaway aside.

The Rangers had yet to see time on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 0/1 on the power play heading into the second period.

Early in the middle frame, David Krejci caught Lindgren with a high stick on a follow through while both players went after a bouncing puck.

Krejci’s high stick drew blood and resulted in a four-minute double minor penalty at 5:06 of the second period. The Rangers failed to capitalize on the lengthy power play.

Late in the period, Marchand cross checked Lindgren after the Rangers defender shoved Bruins forward, Patrice Bergeron, after a stoppage in play in front of the New York net.

Marchand was assessed a minor infraction at 17:14 and the Rangers went on the power play.

While on the ensuing penalty kill, Charlie Coyle (14) stole the puck from New York defender, Jacob Trouba, and created his own breakaway before elevating the puck over Georgiev’s glove side to give Boston a two-goal lead.

Coyle’s short handed goal was unassisted and gave the Bruins a, 2-0, lead at 18:42 of the second period.

Less than a minute later, after killing off Marchand’s minor, Boston went on the power play after Mika Zibanejad tripped up Marchand in Boston’s own zone at 19:33.

The B’s did not score on the resulting power play.

After two periods of play, the Bruins led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 24-17.

The B’s also held the advantage in takeaways (5-4), hits (18-17) and faceoff win% (56-44), while the Rangers led in blocked shots (10-8) and giveaways (14-8).

New York was 0/3 on the power play and Boston was 0/2 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

Karson Kuhlman kicked off the final frame with an interference minor infraction against Marc Staal at 4:23 of the third period. The Rangers did not score on the resulting power play, but got another chance almost midway through the final frame.

Torey Krug tripped up Zibanejad at 9:05 and presented New York with their fifth power play opportunity of the afternoon.

Less than a minute into the ensuing skater advantage, Zibanejad (25) rocketed a shot from the point that ricocheted off a Bruins player’s stick and into the twine behind Halak– cutting Boston’s lead in half, 2-1.

Artemi Panarin (49) and Ryan Strome (36) tallied the assists on Zibanejad’s goal at 9:52 of the third period and New York surged in momentum.

Boston was able to withstand the Rangers’ rally as New York’s head coach, David Quinn, pulled Georgiev for an extra attacker with 90 seconds remaining in regulation.

After the Bruins iced the puck with 35.5 seconds left in the game, the Rangers used their timeout to draw up one last plan in effort to tie the game, but it was to no avail as the B’s worked the puck out of their own zone upon the ensuing faceoff.

Marchand found Bergeron (26) in the dying seconds of the game for the empty net goal that assured Boston of the, 3-1, victory.

Bergeron’s goal was assisted by Marchand (51) at 19:47 of the third period and sealed the deal for the Bruins as the final horn sounded 12.2 seconds later.

Boston finished the afternoon with a “W” in the win column and the lead in shots on goal (34-26) and faceoff win% (55-45), while New York finished the game with the advantage in blocked shots (16-12), giveaways (20-12) and hits (29-25).

The Rangers finished Sunday’s effort 1/5 on the power play, while the Bruins went 0/2 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins improved to 22-7-8 when scoring the game’s first goal, 21-5-3 when leading after the first period and 22-1-6 when leading after two periods this season.

New York, on the other hand, fell to 10-16-1 when they allow the game’s first goal, 5-14-2 when trailing after the first period and 2-18-0 when trailing after two periods this season.

Boston continues their four-game road trip (1-0-0) with stops against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday (Feb. 19th), Calgary Flames on Friday (Feb. 21st) and Vancouver Canucks next Saturday (Feb. 22nd).

The B’s return home for a two-game homestand on Feb. 25th and Feb. 27th for meetings with the Flames and Dallas Stars, respectively, before wrapping up the month of February with a road game against the New York Islanders on Feb. 29th.

Bergeron’s hat trick, Marchand and Pastrnak’s five-point games, lead Bruins over Rangers, 7-4

Patrice Bergeron (3-0–3 totals) scored a hat trick and his linemates, Brad Marchand (2-3–5) and David Pastrnak (0-5–5) each had five-point nights as the Boston Bruins beat the New York Rangers, 7-4, Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (3-1-1 record, 2.59 goals against average, .919 save percentage in five games played) made 25 saves on 29 shots against (.862 SV%) in the win for the B’s.

Henrik Lundqvist (2-3-0, 3.58 GAA, .906 SV% in six games played) stopped 27 out of 31 shots faced (.871 SV%) in 40 minutes played prior to being replaced before the third period by Alexandar Georgiev (1-2-1, 2.70 GAA, .923 SV% in four games played) for the final frame.

Georgiev turned aside nine out of the 11 shots he faced for an .818 SV% in the loss.

Boston improved to 8-1-2 (18 points) on the season and remained in command of 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, meanwhile, New York remained stagnant in 7th place in the Metropolitan Division with a 3-5-1 record (seven points).

For the 11th time this season, Kevan Miller (knee) and John Moore (shoulder) were out of commission due to injuries. Miller should return to full practice later this week, however, while Moore is still on track for a return in mid-November.

David Krejci (upper body) missed his 4th consecutive game, but is hopeful to return Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks.

Karson Kuhlman (fractured right tibia) is still out and was placed on the injured reserve as he’ll be sidelined for at least four weeks.

Meanwhile, Joakim Nordstrom (infection) and Chris Wagner (foot) were new additions to Boston’s injury list Sunday night as both players took part in Saturday night’s, 3-0, shutout win over the St. Louis Blues, but were not well enough to go in New York on Sunday.

Nordstrom’s been battling some lingering issues, while Wagner blocked a shot against the Blues and went down the tunnel briefly before returning moments later on Saturday.

As a result of the mountain of injuries for the Bruins, Peter Cehlarik was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) on emergency basis and made his 2019-20 season debut for Boston against the Rangers.

B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, inserted Cehlarik on the fourth line left wing and reintroduced David Backes on the right wing of the fourth line, leaving Steven Kampfer as the only healthy scratch for Boston.

Jesper Fast (personal reasons) was a healthy scratch for New York on Sunday.

Nearly 30 seconds into the game, Rangers defender, Brady Skjei tripped up Bruins alternate captain, Patrice Bergeron, and was sent to the penalty box for a minor infraction.

Boston went to the power play 35 seconds into the first period, but couldn’t muster much of anything on the skater advantage and instead took a penalty of their own shortly after New York killed off Skjei’s minor.

Cehlarik was called for hooking Libor Hajek at 2:55 of the first period and the Rangers went on their first power play of the night.

It didn’t work.

Midway through the opening frame, however, Brendan Smith let go of a shot from just past the blue line that deflected off of Torey Krug in front of his own goaltender.

Micheal Haley (1) pounced on the rebound to give the Rangers the, 1-0, lead with his first goal of the season at 10:19.

Smith (3) and Lias Andersson (1) notched the assists as New York was the first to get on the scoreboard and carried their one-goal lead into the first intermission– even after botching another power play at 12:17, after Marchand cut a rut to the sin bin for high sticking Rangers blue liner, Jacob Trouba.

After one period, New York led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite being outshot, 10-7, by Boston.

Both teams were pretty even in the statistical categories unrelated to shots on net and goals as the Blue Shirts led in blocked shots (9-6), giveaways (12-4) and hits (12-6) and the B’s led in takeaways (1-0) and faceoff win percentage (60-40).

The Rangers were 0/2 on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 0/1 on the power play entering the second period.

It didn’t take long for Boston to tie things up in the middle frame as Bergeron (3) scored his first goal of the night 11 seconds into the second period.

Pastrnak crashed the net and was tripped by a New York defender into Lundqvist– knocking the Rangers netminder to the ice and allowing for Bergeron to swoop in and bury the rebound.

Officials reviewed the play and determined that the call on the ice stood– it was indeed a good goal, as the play was deemed a “continuous motion” cause by New York’s own volition.

Pastrnak (8) and Marchand (11) tabbed the assists and the game was tied, 1-1.

Less than a minute later– 57 seconds, to be exact– Marchand (6) received a pass from Pastrnak, held onto the puck as he entered the low slot, deked Lundqvist off his rocker and scored to make it, 2-1, Boston at 1:08 of the second period.

Pastrnak (9) picked up his second assist of the night on the goal and Brandon Carlo (2) recorded the secondary assist– his first of two in the game on Sunday night.

About 30 seconds later, Kaapo Kakko caught Charlie McAvoy with a high stick and was sent to the box at 1:36.

Boston didn’t convert on the resulting power play.

Midway through the period, Charlie Coyle (1) scored his first goal of the season after receiving a tape-to-tape pass from McAvoy after the Bruins defender wrapped around the net.

McAvoy (3) and Zdeno Chara (1) tallied the assists on Coyle’s goal and the B’s led, 3-1, at 9:27 of the second period.

Less than a minute later, feeling as though he had been wronged on the non-call against Pastrnak (even though it was his own defender’s doing that caused No. 88 in black-and-gold to crash into the New York goaltender), Lundqvist lunged at Pastrnak while the Bruin was attempting to make a play of the puck in the trapezoid.

Marchand and Lundqvist got into a shoving match immediately thereafter and each were disciplined with roughing minors at 10:01.

Pavel Buchnevich served Lundqvist’s penalty in the box for the Rangers as both teams skated 4-on-4 for two minutes before resuming full strength action.

After serving his time in the box, Marchand (7) sniped a shot past Lundqvist to give the Bruins four unanswered goals in the second period.

Whereas on the previous goal, Coyle received a pass on a wraparound from McAvoy, this time around Coyle received a drop pass from Jake DeBrusk, wrapped around the Rangers net and sent a pass to Marchand for the goal.

Coyle (3) and DeBrusk (3) tallied the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the night at 12:09.

After allowing a fourth goal against, Rangers head coach, David Quinn, used his team’s only timeout to refocus his team.

Seconds later, Chara tripped Brendan Lemieux and was sent to the box at 12:36, but New York couldn’t convert on the resulting skater advantage.

Through 40 minutes in “The Big Apple”, the Bruins led the Rangers, 4-1, on the scoreboard and outshot New York, 31-12, entering the second intermission– including a, 21-5, advantage in the middle frame alone for Boston.

The Rangers, however, had taken advantage of nearly everything else, leading in blocked shots (14-7), takeaways (4-3), giveaways (19-8) and hits (18-10), while the Bruins led in faceoff win% (55-46).

New York was 0/3 and the B’s were 0/2 on the skater advantage to begin the final frame of regulation.

Quinn replaced Lundqvist with Georgiev prior to the start of the third period and the young Rangers goaltender was immediately put to the test less than a minute after coming into the game.

Chara (2) blasted a one-timer rocket from the point over Georgiev’s glove and the Bruins extended their lead to four-goals.

Pastrnak (10) and Carlo (3) had the assists on Chara’s goal 43 seconds into the third period and the Bruins led, 5-1.

Moments later, Pastrnak tripped up Buchnevich and presented the Rangers with yet another power play opportunity at 4:18 of the third period.

New York didn’t score and Boston successfully made the kill.

The B’s announced that forward, Par Lindholm, suffered an upper body injury at some point in the action and would not return for the night– this, after New York did the same with Mika Zibanejad back in the first period after Zibanejad got laid out on the ice along the boards on a clean hit from Bergeron.

Almost midway through the third, Buchnevich (2) cut Boston’s lead to three-goals as Artemi Panarin sent a saucer pass across the ice to Tony DeAngelo, whereby DeAngelo spotted Buchnevich in the low slot acting as a bumper for the goal.

DeAngelo (3) and Panarin (3) had the assists and the Rangers trailed, 5-2, at 8:15 of the third period.

Moments later, Bergeron (4) sent a shot from the high slot into the corner of the twine behind Georgiev for his second goal of the game and re-extended Boston’s lead back to four at 11:39.

Marchand (12) and Pastrnak (11) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal and the B’s led, 6-2.

Late in the third, Chara received a delay of game penalty for closing his hand on the puck at 17:52.

Nine seconds later, New York scored on the power play as Chris Kreider (2) snuck around Halak to pocket a rebound off the post and just across the goal line to make it, 6-3.

DeAngelo (4) and Buchnevich (6) were credited with the assists on Kreider’s goal at 18:01.

Just 21 seconds later, Skjei (1) notched his first of the season while following up on another rebound as the Bruins completely broke down in their own zone.

Panarin (4) and Ryan Strome (5) gathered the assists on Skjei’s goal and the Rangers trailed by two, 6-4, in favor of Boston at 18:22.

But with about 90 seconds left on the clock, Quinn pulled Georgiev for an extra attacker, leaving Bergeron (5) with the hat trick goal on an empty net at 19:15 to seal the deal on the win for the B’s, 7-4.

Marchand (13) and Pastrnak (12) each collected their 5th point of the night on Bergeron’s 5th career hat trick.

The Bruins finished the night with the win and with the advantage in shots on goal, 43-29, while the Rangers bounced back to a, 17-12, advantage in shots on net in the third period alone.

New York wrapped up Sunday night’s action leading in blocked shots (16-12), giveaways (25-13), hits (21-15).

The Rangers went 1/5 on the skater advantage in the game.

Boston finished the night with the advantage in faceoff win% (52-49) and 0/2 on the power play.

Bergeron’s hat trick marked Boston’s second hat trick this season as Pastrnak previously scored a hat trick (and a fourth goal for good measure) in the Bruins’, 4-2, victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 14th.

With five assists on the night– despite not scoring a goal– Pastrnak now has 11-12–23 totals through 11 games played this season.

Boston finishes the month of October at home Tuesday night versus the San Jose Sharks. They begin the month of November at home against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday (Nov. 2nd).

The Bruins went 8-3-2 in back-to-back days with games last season and improved to 4-1-1 on the road this season.

Sunday night’s matchup was the 2,000th regular season game at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, Madison Square Garden.

New York Rangers 2019-20 Season Preview

New York Rangers

32-36-14, 78 points, 7th in the Metropolitan Division

Missed the postseason for the second straight year

Additions: F Phil Di Giuseppe, F Michael Haley (signed to a PTO), F Greg McKegg, F Danny O’Regan, F Artemi Panarin, D Adam Fox (acquired from CAR), D Jacob Trouba (acquired from WPG, then re-signed)

Subtractions: D Julius Bergman (SHL), D Chris Bigras (signed with PHI), D John Gilmour (signed with BUF), D Neal Pionk (traded to WPG), D Rob O’Gara (signed with San Antonio, AHL), G Dustin Tokarski (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Connor Brickley, F Brendan Lemieux, D Fredrik Claesson, D Tony DeAngelo, G Brandon Halverson, G Chris Nell

Re-signed: F Pavel Buchnevich, F Vinni Lettieri

Offseason Analysis: New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton thought he won the lottery when he landed the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and selected Kaapo Kakko, but he actually won the lottery twice this offseason.

Gorton signed the biggest prize in free agency to the biggest contract among unrestricted free agents and nabbed Artemi Panarin for the next seven years at $11.643 million per season.

Panarin and Kakko are lightly to be centered on the same first line by the legendary DJ, Mika Zibanejad.

Head coach, David Quinn, has no shortage of options when it comes to testing out the new faces in The Big Apple, as Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox were box acquired by the club in addition to Panarin’s signing.

Trouba’s restricted free agency rights were acquired from the Winnipeg Jets and shortly thereafter re-signed in exchange for Neal Pionk and a 2019 1st round pick that originally belonged to Winnipeg and was previously acquired by New York in the Kevin Hayes transaction at the trade deadline.

The 25-year-old defender brings his skillset in its prime to stabilize the blue line for a team that is retooling on the fly and looking to shortened the lifespan on its rebuild. Trouba now carries an $8.000 million cap hit through 2025-26 with a no-movement clause set to kick in after this season and a modified no-trade clause for the final two years of the deal.

Fox, the 21-year-old protege from Harvard University, was originally sent to the Carolina Hurricanes by the Calgary Flames in the Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin trade.

After declining to sign with the Canes, Carolina sent Fox to the Rangers for a 2019 2nd round pick and a conditional 2020 3rd round pick that may become a 2020 2nd round pick if he plays in 30 or more games this season.

What’s more, Gorton was still active in the trade market, making a minor move with the Buffalo Sabres, shipping Jimmy Vesey off to Buffalo for a 2021 3rd round pick.

Only Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo are still unsigned-RFAs with about $1.000 million in cap space available before New York makes any other transactions– with or without another team involved– to save a little more money.

The Rangers have eight contracts expiring at the end of this season, including backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev’s current deal which runs a $792,500 cap hit.

With 37-year-old Henrik Lundqvist expected to retire in two-years time when his seven-year extension carrying an $8.500 million cap hit that he signed in December 2013 expires, Gorton may have to get creative to assure Georgiev of the starting role– and a starter’s salary– in the meantime for one more season of overlap with Lundqvist.

It’s not feasible for New York to keep Lundqvist past due as Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin could almost run the crease by themselves as things are today.

By season’s end, if the Rangers aren’t in a wild card spot, they will have at least significantly improved from their standing in 2018-19 and reduced their minus-45 goal differential from last season with a new-found defense.

At the very least, New York is improving and adapting to the game, while their counterpart on Long Island may be getting worse.

Offseason Grade: A

Things are tight with the salary cap for Gorton and Co., but the good news is Chris Kreider and Vladislav Namestnikov are both pending-UFAs at the end of the season. If the Rangers keep one (Kreider) over the other or let both of them go– via a trade or free agency– some much needed cap room will open up for the younger players that are projected to be or currently part of New York’s core.

Also, signing the biggest name in free agency, while fleecing another team in need of cap relief from one of their top-two defenders for next to nothing generally gets a GM high marks for an offseason’s worth of moves. The rebuild is right on track and on schedule.

DTFR Podcast #166- New New New York

Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #163- Cap’n Crunch

The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #148- Regrets-ing

The DTFR Duo honors Ted Lindsay, addresses a potential outdoor game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, talk John Tavares’ “welcome” back to Long Island, can’t figure out the Ottawa Senators coaching change circus and more.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show onPatreon.

Halak, Bruins let another one slip away, 4-3, in shootout

The New York Rangers took home the, 4-3, shootout victory on Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden after allowing three unanswered goals in the second period.

New York mounted a comeback in the third period to tie the game, 3-3, then after an entertaining, high-action, three-on-three overtime period was not enough, the Rangers put it away in seven rounds of a shootout.

Alexandar Georgiev (7-9-0 record, 3.24 goals against average, .897 save percentage in 18 games played) made 27 saves on 30 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the shootout win as the Rangers improved to 9-1-0 in their last 10 regular season battles with Boston.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (13-9-4, 2.50 GAA, .918 SV% in 28 GP) recorded 36 saves on 39 shots against for a .923 SV% in the shootout loss and fell to 18-8-1 in his career against the Rangers.

Boston fell to 19-2-1 when leading after two periods this season and is now 2-0-1 so far in February.

The B’s fell to 29-17-8 (66 points) on the season, but improved to 3rd place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Rangers improved to 23-22-8 (54 points), but remain in 7th place in the Metropolitan Division.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, juggled his lines– reinserting Danton Heinen on the fourth line in place of David Backes, but later jumbling every forward line except for the Sean KuralyNoel AcciariChris Wagner trio.

By the end of the night, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Heinen made up the first line with Peter Cehlarik, David Krejci and David Pastrnak filling out the top-six forwards.

Joakim Nordstrom, Trent Frederic and Jake DeBrusk were relegated to fourth line duties with Nordstrom coming up strong in breaking up some crucial plays in overtime.

Cassidy kept his same defensive pairings from Tuesday, with John Moore, Backes and Steven Kampfer serving as the B’s healthy scratches on Wednesday.

Given it was the second night of back-to-back games, Halak got the start in goal over Tuukka Rask, who picked up the, 3-1, win against the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

Bergeron tripped up Rangers forward, Mika Zibanejad at 1:11 of the first period and handed New York their first power play opportunity of the night early in the action.

The Rangers did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage and followed up with a penalty of their own– Marc Staal for cross-checking Kuraly– at 13:39.

Boston did not succeed in their first skater advantage opportunity of the night.

Moments later, Zibanejad (22) let go of a snipe-shot from the point that had eyes and beat Halak to give New York the lead, 1-0.

Mats Zuccarello (21) recorded the only assist on Zibanejad’s goal at 17:45.

Will less than a minute remaining in the opening frame, Kuraly bumped into Boo Nieves while both players weren’t looking at each other and drew the ire of Jimmy Vesey at 19:08.

Vesey was dealt a cross-checking minor against Wagner, while Kuraly received a roughing minor against Nieves. Both penalties were handed out with 51 seconds remaining until the first intermission and would yield 4-on-4 action into the second period.

After one period of play, the Rangers led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 12-9.

Boston maintained the advantage in blocked shots (5-4) and takeaways (6-3), while New York led in giveaways (5-4), hits (15-10) and face-off win percentage (55-46).

Both clubs were 0/1 on the power play entering the 2nd period.

Kevan Miller cross-checked Vladislav Namestnikov at 2:16 of the second period, but the Rangers didn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Cassidy restructured his lines almost midway through the middle frame and it provided instant results.

On a face-off in the offensive zone, Marchand worked the puck back to Matt Grzelcyk for the shot towards the goal that was tipped by Heinen (7) for his first goal in his first game back since being a healthy scratch for the last few games.

Grzelcyk (13) and Marchand (41) tallied the assists on Heinen’s goal at 10:37 of the second period and the game was tied, 1-1.

Just 72 seconds later, Pastrnak (31) redirected a pass from Krejci behind Georgiev to give the Bruins their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 11:49 of the middle frame.

Krejci (31) and Miller (5) were tabbed with the primary and secondary assists, respectively.

Less than 30 seconds later, Bergeron took his second trip to the penalty box– this time for slashing Zuccarello– at 12:12.

Shortly after New York’s power play expired, Tony DeAngelo was guilty of tripping Bergeron at 14:22, resulting in a power play for Boston.

Less than a minute into the skater advantage, Bergeron (19) tipped a shot from Torey Krug past the right leg of the Rangers goaltender as Georgiev attempted to make a butterfly save.

Krug (31) and Marchand (42) had the assists on Bergeron’s power play goal at 15:11 of the second period and the B’s led, 3-1.

Late in the period, Brandon Carlo and Zuccarello got tangled up with each other and received matching roughing minors at 16:34.

Entering the dressing room after 40 minutes of action, Boston led, 3-1, on the scoreboard, but trailed New York, 22-20, in shots on goal. The Bruins did, however, lead in second period shots on goal alone– with a slight advantage– 11-10.

The Bruins led in blocked shots (7-6), while the Rangers led in just about everything else, including takeaways (10-9), giveaways (12-6) and hits (30-16) entering the final frame of regulation.

Both teams went 50-50 in face-off win% after two periods and the Rangers were 0/3 on the power play entering the third period. Boston was 1/2 on the skater advantage.

Kevin Hayes (12) made it a one-goal game at 9:24 of the third period.

Pavel Buchnevich received a pass up the middle and threw a shot on goal that Vesey chased down the rebound for in order to send the puck to Hayes for the goal.

Vesey (14) and Buchnevich (8) had the assists and the Rangers trailed, 3-2.

Charlie McAvoy took a horrendous boarding penalty at 12:05 of the third period. It was horrendous, because it ultimately proved costly.

Filip Chytil (10) pocketed a rebound that Halak failed to control after Buchnevich fired the initial shot.

Buchnevich (9) and DeAngelo (10) had the assists on Chytil’s power play goal for New York at 12:42 and the Rangers tied the game, 3-3.

Through 60 minutes of regulation, both teams were still tied, 3-3, on the scoreboard, despite the Rangers leading in shots on goal (33-29), blocked shots (10-9), giveaways (20-11) and hits (41-25).

Boston, in the meantime, escaped regulation with the lead in takeaways (13-11) and face-off win% (53-47).

The Rangers finished the night 1/4 on the power play, while the Bruins went 1/2 as no penalties were called in the five-minute, three-on-three overtime period.

Cassidy started Pastrnak, Krejci and Krug in overtime for the Bruins as both teams got off to a frantic pace, leading to chance after chance and save after save.

Eventually, both teams attempted their fair share of trick shots and odd banks off of pads, sticks and whatever they could find to try to will the puck into the twine.

But, Georgiev and Halak stood tall, leading to a shootout after five minutes of overtime was not enough.

As an aside, the Rangers had six shots on goal in overtime, compared to Boston’s one shot on net (officially).

New York finished the night leading in shots on goal (39-30), blocked shots (12-10), giveaways (21-11) and hits (42-26), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (55-45).

In the shootout, David Quinn elected to have his home team Rangers shoot first on Halak, but Zuccarello was denied by the outer post.

Cassidy sent out Cehlarik as his first shooter, but Georgiev made the save.

Kevin Shattenkirk was denied by Halak, as Pastrnak failed to muster a shot off his stick in the second round of the shootout.

Zibanejad deked and roofed the puck to give New York the, 1-0, advantage in the third round of the shootout, but was matched by Marchand’s nifty dangle-turned-five hole squib-shot to even it, 1-1, after three rounds.

Hayes was turned aside by Halak and McAvoy had the puck poke checked away by the Rangers netminder in the fourth round.

Chytil rang the post and DeBrusk’s shot was saved by Georgiev in the fifth round.

Vesey nailed the crossbar and Heinen was stopped in the sixth round.

Finally, DeAngelo mustered enough stick work on the puck to get Halak to commit to a sprawling position, as DeAngelo then elevated the puck for what became the game-winning shootout goal in the seventh round after Krejci fired his shot wide.

New York improved to 6-2 in shootouts on the season, while Boston fell to 1-2 past overtime this season.

The Rangers had won, 4-3, officially on the scoreboard after the shootout and stole the extra point past regulation.

Call it Adam McQuaid‘s revenge or whatever, but Wednesday night’s game was the 54th game of the regular season for Boston.

The Bruins venture back home for a three-game homestand at TD Garden starting Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET with a matchup against the Los Angeles Kings.

Boston will honor Bergeron prior to puck drop for participating in his 1,000th career regular season NHL game on Tuesday.

Sunday afternoon, the B’s take on the Colorado Avalanche, then wrap things up at home with a tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks next Tuesday.

Cassidy’s crew swings through the three teams in California, the Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues on a roadtrip from Feb. 15th through the 23rd.