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Oshie, Holtby and Capitals crew force Game 7

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For just the third time this postseason, there will be a Game 7, thanks to the Washington Capitals’ 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on home ice in Game 6 Monday night.

Despite plenty of shorter series’s, the league is still averaging one Game 7 per round (Boston defeated Toronto at home in a Game 7 in the First Round and Winnipeg eliminated Nashville on the road in a Game 7 in the Second Round).

The winner of Wednesday night’s Game 7 not only walks away with the Prince of Wales Trophy, but with an appearance in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced and picked up his fifth career playoff shutout en route to the win for Washington, while Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 save percentage in 58:56 time on ice in the loss.

For the first time in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final the score was tied 0-0 after the first period. Neither team found the back of the net as both goaltenders stood tall, despite a bevy of chances thrown at or towards the net.

Washington came out strong, hitting everything in sight and firing off pucks on net. Tampa responded in kind around the halfway point of the period, but the Capitals readjusted and forced their way into the attacking zone for longer periods of time, it seemed.

Tempers flared as Brooks Orpik and J.T. Miller dropped the gloves in favor of squaring off with fisticuffs at 15:48 of the opening period. Both players were handed five minute majors for fighting and sent to the locker rooms early as only a little over four minutes remained in the first period.

Tom Wilson sent a rocket of a pass to Alex Ovechkin in the low slot, point blank, which Ovechkin redirected on the backhand only to be stoned cold by Vasilevskiy.

With less than a minute remaining in the period, the Capitals desperately searched for a little puck luck on rebound after rebound in the low slot, but Vasilevskiy kept coming up big, culminating in a save in which the Lightning netminder dropped his stick and dove on his left side, making a glove save in the process.

After one period the score remained as the game began, 0-0, with Washington leading in shots on goal (8-6), blocked shots (8-6), hits (16-9), takeaways (8-2), giveaways (6-1) and faceoff win percentage (53-47). Neither team had seen any action on the power play as there were no penalties called in the first period.

Jay Beagle opened the second period guilty of hooking Tampa defender, Anton Stralman, 40 seconds into the second frame. The Lightning went on the power play for the first time of the night.

The Capitals came up huge with their biggest penalty kill of the series up to that point, given the circumstances of a scoreless game in a game in which they were facing elimination.

Andre Burakovsky followed the momentum swing with a fast break-in of his own, surging past Tampa’s trade deadline acquisition, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and firing the puck high above the net.

The Bolts subsequently had a two-on-one of their own going the other way with Miller saucering the puck to Anthony Cirelli, but Holtby made the save.

A little past the halfway point of the second period, Braydon Coburn hooked Devante Smith-Pelly and the Caps went on the power play for the first time since Game 4 in the series at 13:49 of the second period.

Shortly after ringing the post, T.J. Oshie got a second chance at redemption.

Acting as the bumper in the low slot, Oshie (6) received a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and blasted a one-timer past Vasilevskiy sending Capital One Arena into a frenzy of euphoria as the home team went up, 1-0.

Backstrom (11) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (12) had the assists on Oshie’s power play goal at 15:12.

With less than a minute remaining in the second period, Washington had yet another two-on-one opportunity that just wouldn’t go past Tampa’s goaltender. Jakub Vrana followed up with a one-timer of his own as a mirror image of Oshie’s goal with about 30 seconds left, but Vasilevskiy made the initial save.

The puck squibbed free from the Bolts goalie and sat in the crease awaiting further direction until Brayden Point poked it clear to the boards as Oshie dove to either get his stick on the puck or break up Point’s last ditch defensive effort.

Nikita Kucherov swept in on an attacking zone faceoff in the final eight seconds of the second period and fired a shot that beat Holtby, but rang the iron.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led, 1-0. Washington also had the advantage in just about everything else, including shots on goal (24-14), blocked shots (15-9), hits (29-13), takeaways (11-4), giveaways (7-3) and faceoff win percentage (59-41). Tampa was 0/1 and the Caps were 1/1 on the power play after two periods.

After trading chances to start the third period, the Capitals still held onto a one-goal lead.

Just past the halfway mark, Smith-Pelly (4) put an exclamation mark on the insurance goal as Beagle beat out the icing call, kept the puck down low in the attacking zone for Chandler Stephenson to dish out to Smith-Pelly on a no-look spin pass as Smith-Pelly was flying in the low slot undetected.

Smith-Pelly followed up with a one-timed wrist shot that beat Vasilevskiy and gave Washington a 2-0 lead at 10:02 of the third period. Stephenson (5) and Beagle (4) had the assists.

A minute later, Backstrom tripped up Ondrej Palat and the Lightning went on the power play for the second time of the night at 11:03.

The Capitals penalty killing unit not only kept the puck out of their own net, but they kept it out of their own zone, sending two shots on goal shorthanded while Tampa failed to record a shot on goal while on the power play.

Washington killed off the penalty and kept charging.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos collided with his own teammate just past the twelve-minute mark in the period, sending J.T. Miller to the ice with an elbow to the head. Miller was slow to get up, but skated off under his own power, sat on the bench and leapt back into the action after the next stoppage in play.

Protocol was definitely followed and your eyes were deceiving you.

Vasilevskiy vacated Tampa’s goal crease with about two minutes remaining in regulation as the Lightning tried to score two quick goals with the extra skater.

Bolts Head Coach Jon Cooper used his timeout 30 seconds later prior to a face-off in the attacking zone to the left of Washington’s netminder to go over every scenario with his team.

Despite winning the faceoff, the Lightning could not get a shot past Holtby and the Capitals worked the puck out of their own zone.

Beagle kept the puck onside as Backstrom held onto the puck to assure his team of the victory, making a selfless pass to Oshie to give the Washington goal scorer an easy layup for the empty net goal.

Oshie (7) scored his second goal, pocketing the rubber biscuit in the gapping 4-by-6 net, and gave the Caps a three-goal lead. Backstrom (12) had the only assist on the goal that sealed the deal for a 3-0 win.

At the final horn, the Capitals had tied the series, 3-3, thanks to a 3-0 victory in Game 6. Washington dominated the final stat sheet, leading in shots on goal (34-24), blocked shots (20-13), hits (39-19), giveaways (10-6) and faceoff win percentage (54-46). Tampa finished the night 0/2 on the skater advantage, while Washington completed the night 1/1 on the power play.

Game 7 is Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Puck drop is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and fans can catch the action on NBCSN, CBC, SN1 or TVAS. The winner will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Caps stun Bolts 6-2 in Game 2

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The Washington Capitals rolled through the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in Game 2 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final Sunday night at Amalie Arena, earning their 7th road win this postseason (tying a franchise record set in 1998— which is also the last time the Capitals made the Stanley Cup Final).

Braden Holtby made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in the win, while Tampa netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 out of 37 shots faced for an .838 SV% in the loss.

It didn’t take long for Game 2 to look a lot like Game 1 with the Capitals grabbing an early lead. So early, in fact, that it was only 28 seconds into the action when Tom Wilson (3) redirected a shot from the point past Vasilevskiy.

Wilson’s goal was all thanks to Matt Niskanen’s stellar job keeping the puck in the attacking zone and haphazard shot towards the net that Wilson deflected. As a result, Niskanen (4) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (10) had the assists on the goal that made it, 1-0, Washington.

The noted agitator of the Capitals, Wilson subsequently took the game’s first penalty (a minor for goaltender interference) at 6:48 of the first period after he bumped into Vasilevskiy.

Tampa converted on the power play with a little puck luck as Niskanen blocked a shot, Brayden Point (5) scooped up the loose puck and capitalized on the man advantage with Holtby out of position.

Steven Stamkos (8) and Victor Hedman (8) had the assists on the goal that tied it, 1-1, at 7:08 of the first period.

About a minute later, T.J. Oshie got a stick up high on Hedman, though replay confirmed the Washington forward only grazed the glove of the Lightning defender and that it was actually the puck that caught Hedman in the face. Nevertheless, Oshie was penalized for high-sticking and Tampa went to work on the ensuing advantage.

As the power play was winding down, Nikita Kucherov worked a pass across the ice to Stamkos (5) for a stereotypical Stamkos power play goal— a one-timed slap shot while falling to one knee. The Bolts grabbed a one-goal lead with Stamkos’s power play goal, 2-1, at 10:22 of the first period.

Kucherov (8) and Point (7) had the assists on the goal.

Minutes later, Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz mixed things up a bit after the whistle and received matching roughing minors.

Entering the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 13-10. The Caps had an advantage in blocked shots (5-4) and hits (15-14), while the Bolts led in takeaways (4-3), giveaways (2-1) and faceoff win percentage (64-36). Washington had yet to see any time on the power play and the Lightning were 2/2 on the skater advantage.

In keeping with the theme of early goals in the period, Devante Smith-Pelly (3) sent a one-timer past Vasilevskiy on the heels of a tremendous saucer pass from Alex Chiasson at 2:50 of the second period to tie the game, 2-2.

Chiasson (1) and John Carlson (10) had the assists on Smith-Pelly’s goal.

Jay Beagle and Cedric Paquette took matching roughing minors 6:33 into the second period and play resumed, 4-on-4, for a couple minutes.

Midway through the second frame, the Capitals finally went on the power play for the first time Sunday night as Yanni Gourde was guilty of hooking Lars Eller. Washington did not convert on the power play and took the game’s next penalty— a minor for interference.

After killing Michal Kempny’s interference minor, the Capitals surged in momentum in the closing minutes of the second period.

Eller (5) scored on a point blank redirected pass from Jakub Vrana and Washington pulled back in front, 3-2, leading for just the second time of the night. Vrana (4) had the assist on Eller’s goal at 18:58 of the period.

Almost a minute later, Vasilevskiy was guilty of tripping Andre Burakovsky behind the play and Ondrej Palat was sent to the sin bin to serve the Lightning netminder’s minor.

With ten seconds left on the clock until the second intermission, Washington only needed seven of them to pocket a power play goal and make it a two-goal game.

Kuznetsov (8) threw the puck towards the goal from the goal line to the left of Vasilevskiy as the Lightning goaltender attempted to poke the puck free from the low slot. Instead, Tampa’s goalie actually caught a chunk of the puck off the blocker and the rubber biscuit had eyes of its own, sliding through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole into the twine for the power play goal.

Alex Ovechkin (9) and Eller (5) had the assists and the Caps led, 4-2, at 19:57 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, Washington was ahead, 4-2, on the scoreboard and, 23-21, in shots on goal. Both teams had nine blocked shots aside and three giveaways each. The Capitals also led in hits (27-23), while Tampa led in takeaways (7-3) and faceoff win percentage (63-37) after two periods. Washington was 1/2 on the power play and Tampa was 2/3 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

The Capitals have outscored the Lightning, 5-0, in second periods alone so far this series.

Washington got out to a quick start in the third period, finishing a two-on-one to go up three-goals when Ovechkin (10) notched his tenth goal of the postseason courtesy of a pass from Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov (11) and Wilson (6) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it, 5-2, Capitals at 3:34 of the third period.

Shortly thereafter, Kempny cross checked Paquette, but the Lightning were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Brett Connolly (3) scored in the vulnerable couple of minutes after the Tampa power play, giving Washington a four-goal lead, 6-2 at 12:57 of the third. Eller (6) and Carlson (11) had the assists on Connolly’s goal.

Halfway through the final frame, Alex Killorn and Connolly got into a shoving match, resulting in matching minor penalties for roughing at 13:09.

After being a victim to a questionable, uncalled, trip by Connolly, Kucherov retaliated on his way to the bench in the final minute of regulation and was handed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

At the final horn, the Capitals had sealed the deal on a 6-2 victory on the road, taking a 2-0 series lead back home for Game 3 at Capital One Arena on Tuesday. Washington dominated Game 2, leading in shots on goal (37-35), blocked shots (16-10) and hits (38-33), while the Lightning led in faceoff win percentage (56-44). The Caps finished the night 1/3 on the power play, while Tampa went 2/4.

Washington has outscored the Lightning, 10-4, through the first two games of the series.

Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can watch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.

Caps’ attack too much for Bolts; win Game 1 4-2

 

After a 4-2 victory at Amalie Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Between the actual 2-0 score and the fact that the Caps led 9-2 in shots on goal, we get a rather accurate impression of how the first 20 minutes went down.

The Caps almost exclusively dominated possession from the opening draw to the first TV timeout. They might have managed only two shots on goal in that time (which still exceeded Tampa’s zero), but the fact that they kept the puck in their offensive zone did a lot to wear out the Bolts’ defensemen early.

That pressure paid off in spades at the 7:28 mark when Washington drew first blood in the Eastern Finals. D Michal Kempny (Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov and D John Carlson) did the dirty work with a wrist shot from the blue line, his first-ever North American postseason marker.

Of course, the best weapon against possession is a stellar counterattack. RW Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning though they had done just that with seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, but it was ruled Tampa Bay had too many men on the ice, negating the goal and awarding a power play to Washington.

Entering the game with the best power play in the postseason (converting 30.9 percent of man-advantages into goals), the Caps completed their stellar command of the first frame by burying a man-advantage tally with only six seconds remaining in the frame.

Who else to score that power play goal than First Star W Alex Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and F T.J. Oshie)? Almost unexpectedly, Ovechkin departed from his usual spot in the left face-off circle and scored his patented one-touch slap shot from the blue line on a set play from Oshie’s face-off victory.

Washington picked up right where it left off 2:40 into the second period. Third Star F Jay Beagle (W Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Orlov) beat G Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole from the slot, receiving an unintentional assist from D Braydon Coburn after Connolly’s centering pass bounced off his skate.

4:02 later, the score read 4-0 when C Lars Eller (Oshie and Ovechkin) converted a Kucherov roughing penalty into yet another power play goal – Washington’s final tally of the game.

What started as a 2-0 shot differential early in the first period became a 25-10 domination by the second intermission. It could be argued that LW Jakub Vrana‘s game-high five shots on goal is a major part of that, but I would instead point to Oshie’s two takeaways over the course of the game, as well as both Kucherov and FJ.T. Miller yielding two giveaways by the end of regulation.

Additionally, Washington was also excellent at blocking shots, as it managed 19 before retreating to its hotel that evening. Co-led by Carlson and D Matt Niskanen‘s three blocks apiece, the Caps’ blue line was a major reason for Tampa’s struggle to establish anything close to an offensive presence in the opening 40 minutes.

However, all that turned on its head in the third period when Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to bench Vasilevskiy, who saved 21-of-25 shots faced for a .84 save percentage, in favor of G Louis Domingue.

While Vasilevskiy could have certainly been better in this game, he didn’t give up any blatantly soft goals (looking at you, G Pekka Rinne). Instead, his benching was intended to be a message for his team, and the Lightning certainly responded just as Cooper wished.

It took 43:45 of play and RW Alex Chiasson sitting in the penalty box for slashing F Alex Killorn, but Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard when C Steven Stamkos (Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) did his best Ovechkin impression and scored a clapper from the left face-off circle, pulling the score to 4-1.

That was certainly more than enough to get the positive energy surging in the arena. Tampa out-shot the Capitals 11-7 in the third period, proving just how much of the game was  played in its attacking zone.

Keeping hope alive, another goal trickled by with 6:57 remaining in regulation when W Ondrej Palat (F Tyler Johnson and D Anton Stralman) beat G Braden Holtby short side with a wrister from the slot.

However, hope ran short in that remaining time due in large part to the solid effort of Holtby. Though it wasn’t his best game of the season, Holtby posed an imposing challenge even after the Bolts pulled Domingue for the extra attacker. In all, he saved his last four shots faced in the game, posting an 19-for-21 (.905 save percentage) overall performance.

If the Lightning learned one thing from this game, it is that they cannot continue committing penalties like they have been in these playoffs. Washington’s power play, which converted 50 percent tonight, is just too potent for the Bolts to continue serving the 14:41 penalty minutes per game that they’ve managed through the first two rounds.

Tampa’s first opportunity to resolve that issue is in Game 2, which is right back at Amalie Arena and scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern this Sunday. Fans unable to make it to Western Florida can catch the live broadcasts on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Tampa tops Boston in OT, can win series on Sunday

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The Tampa Bay Lightning thundered along to a 4-3 overtime win in Game 4 at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins on Friday night. Dan Girardi scored the game-winning goal on a deflection and the Lightning will take a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 on home ice.

Bolts goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, turned aside 29 shots on 32 shots faced for a .906 save percentage in the win, while Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask, made 24 saves on 28 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss.

Entering Friday night, the team that scored the game’s first goal went on to win the game in every game so far in this series.

So when Brayden Point (3) forced a turnover, split Boston’s first defensive pair (Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy), fired a shot on Rask, then pocketed his own rebound the fate of Game 4 was thought to be sealed just 4:36 into the action.

And through a series of events– technically speaking– it did as the “first-goal –> win the game” trend continued.

Minutes later, Rick Nash was penalized for tripping Tampa’s captain, Steven Stamkos, despite replay showing what might otherwise be dubbed “another controversial bad call in this, the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs” at 7:17 of the first period.

A little more than a minute later, as the Bruins struggled to get the puck out of their own defensive zone, Chara cleared the puck straight out of the playing surface and over the glass, thereby attaining the automatic minor penalty for delay of game.

The Lightning went to work on their 5-on-3 advantage and Nikita Kucherov (6) gave his team a two-goal lead on a one-timer fired from the faceoff dot to the left of Rask.

Victor Hedman (5) and Stamkos (6) had the assists on Kucherov’s goal (his first point of the series) and Tampa had a 2-0 lead seven seconds short of the halfway mark in the first period at TD Garden.

The Bolts were leading in shots on goal, 8-2, at the 9:53 mark of the first period.

Yanni Gourde followed up with a tripping minor of his own at 11:21 after taking down Bruins defender, Matt Grzelcyk, with his stick. Boston would not convert on their first power play of the night, but a few moments later, Stamkos and Rick Nash just couldn’t keep themselves away from each other (a trend that would continue deep into the night between these two players, let alone entire rosters).

Stamkos caught Nash with an illegal check to the head and was assessed a minor penalty at 14:45 of the first period.

On the ensuing power play, the Bruins generated scoring chance after scoring chance, but just couldn’t beat Vasilevskiy until David Pastrnak (6) worked his Czech magic, batting a puck out of the air, to score a power play goal and cut the Lightning’s lead in half, 2-1.

Torey Krug (8) and Brad Marchand (12) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal at 15:28.

Heading into the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 11-9. The Bolts also led in blocked shots (9-5), hits (13-12) and takeaways (2-0), while both teams had five giveaways each and were 50-50 in faceoff win percentage. Additionally, the Lightning were 1/2 and the Bruins were 1/2 on the power play through one period of action.

Less than a minute— 43 seconds to be exact— into the second period, Tampa’s Tyler Johnson, tripped Pastrnak and Boston went back on the power play.

Fashionably late into the power play, the Bruins converted on a stereotypical power play goal from Patrice Bergeron (5) whereby the veteran center acted as the bumper from reception of the pass by Krug to the ensuing one-timer past Vasilevskiy.

Krug (9) had the only assist on the goal and Boston had tied the game, 2-2, at 2:04 into the second period.

A few minutes later, Nash and Stamkos found each other again, except Nash was the recipient of a controversial tripping minor (though not nearly as controversial as later calls and non-calls that ultimately played a hand in the course of the game, for better or worse).

The Lightning did not score on the power play and the Bruins killed off Nash’s tipping minor.

Through 40 minutes of hockey, the game was tied, 2-2, and the Bruins had rallied to lead in shots on goal, 23-15. Tampa held onto the advantage in blocked shots (14-12), hits (24-23) and giveaways (8-6), while Boston had an advantage in takeaways (9-6) and faceoff win percentage (62-38). After two periods, the Bolts were 1/3 on the power play and the B’s were 2/3.

Noel Acciari led things off on the event sheet in the third period with a phantom hooking call against Hedman at 5:34. This level of consistency would not be upheld later in the third en route to Tampa’s game tying goal, staying par for the course on the level of officiating in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs league-wide.

While shorthanded, Marchand led a break alongside Bergeron and threw the puck towards the Bruins center, whereby Bergeron (6) redirected it into the twine and gave Boston their first lead of the night, 3-2, on a shorthanded goal.

Marchand (13) had the only assist on Bergeron’s second goal of the night at 6:36 of the third period.

Johnson slashed Chara less than a minute later, but the B’s were not able to convert on the resulting player advantage.

Following a hold on McAvoy by Kucherov that went unnoticed, the Lightning worked the puck in the offensive zone from J.T. Miller over to Stamkos (3) for a blast that went past Rask and knotted the game, 3-3, almost a few minutes past the halfway mark of the third period.

Miller (5) officially recorded the only assist on Stamkos’s tying goal at 12:56 of the third.

Regulation time would turn out to not be enough for Boston and Tampa to determine a winner, so for the first time in the series (as well as for both teams in the 2018 postseason), overtime became necessary.

After 60 minutes, the score was tied, 3-3, with the Bruins outshooting the Bolts, 30-26. Tampa led in blocked shots (23-18), hits (32-30) and giveaways (14-13), while Boston led in takeaways (12-8) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The Lightning would finish the night 1/4 on the power play and the B’s went 2/4 on the advantage.

Krug left the third period with what would later be classified as a “lower body injury” per the Bruins PR team and did not return to the action in Game 4.

Just past the three-minute mark in overtime, after Boston had a couple quality scoring chances, Dan Girardi (2) tipped a shot past Rask as a little puck luck went a long way for the Lightning.

Alex Killorn (2) and Gourde (4) notched the assists on the game-winning overtime goal at 3:18 of the overtime period and Tampa finished off Game 4 on the road with a 4-3 victory.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 32-28, and in faceoff win percentage, 62-38. Meanwhile, the Lightning had cemented a 3-1 series lead and led in blocked shots (24-19), hits (33-30) and giveaways (15-13).

Tampa can clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years (2015, 2017 and present) with a win on home ice in Game 5 of their Second Round series with Boston on Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC. Fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC or TVAS.

Lightning thunder back to even series with 4-2 win in Game 2

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Tampa’s second line of Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat got the job done in Game 2 as the Lightning won, 4-2, on Monday night at Amalie Arena— leveling their Second Round series with the Boston Bruins, 1-1.

Andrei Vasilevskiy had 18 saves on 20 shots faced for a .900 save percentage in the win, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 27 saves on 30 shots against for a .900 SV% in 58:34 time on ice in the loss.

Tension escalated quickly in Game 2 as Cedric Paquette was handed a roughing minor for his activity with David Backes after the whistle just 5:30 into the action. Backes, meanwhile, was handed two roughing minor penalties and the Bruins were shorthanded as a result. Tampa did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

Exactly halfway through the first period, Boston defender, Torey Krug, was called for slashing Point with a quick chop across the shin pad and the Lightning went on their second power play of the game.

While on the penalty kill, Zdeno Chara accidentally bumped into the net, forcing it off its moorings. Almost a minute went by before the officials realized what was up behind Rask and blew the whistle to cease play.

The Lightning won the ensuing faceoff, worked the puck down low, around the boards, then back to the point and finally to Yanni Gourde (2) who lobbed a shot on Rask. The puck caught Rask’s right leg pad and deflected into the goal to put Tampa on the scoreboard first, 1-0, and give Gourde a power play goal at 11:47 of the first period.

Point (4) and Mikhail Sergachev (2) had the assists on Gourde’s goal and the Bolts were outshooting Boston, 10-0.

Almost a few minutes later, Johnson took a roughing penalty after a whistle, having been tangled up with Brad Marchand. Fifteen seconds later, Ryan McDonagh gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 advantage for running Marchand into the boards— though McDonagh was only assessed a minor penalty for roughing at 14:17

Just prior to their first power play opportunity, Patrice Bergeron recorded Boston’s first shot on goal, 14:01 into the game.

While on the power play, Ryan Callahan blocked a couple of shots, Boston worked the puck around the offensive zone really well and David Pastrnak rang the goalpost. The B’s did not convert on their two-man advantage.

Minutes later, while in the offensive zone, Bergeron sent a pass back to Charlie McAvoy as the 20-year-old defender snuck his way in from the point. McAvoy (1) fired a shot past Vasilevskiy for his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and tied the game, 1-1, for Boston.

Bergeron (9) and Marchand (10) notched the assists on McAvoy’s goal at 18:30 of the first period.

After one period of play, the game was tied, 1-1, with the Lightning dominating the first half of the first period and the Bruins in complete control of the second half of the period. Boston trailed Tampa, 10-0, in shots on goal as the Bolts went up, 1-0, but the Lightning were held without a shot on goal for the last 8:33 of the opening period as Boston tied the game.

Tampa led in shots on goal (10-8), hits (13-9), takeaways (4-2), giveaways (5-4) and faceoff win percentage (65-35) after 20 minutes of play. Meanwhile, the Bruins led in blocked shots (8-4). Boston was 0/2 on the power play and the Lightning were 1/2 through one period.

After Tampa cleared the puck off glass, Point fed Johnson (3) on a rush that led to Johnson beating Rask, high-glove side. Point (5) and Palat (4) had the assists on Johnson’s goal at 10:14 of the 2nd period and the Lightning had a 2-1 lead.

Victor Hedman was penalized for holding Boston fourth liner, Sean Kuraly, at 10:31 and the Bruins went on their third power play of the evening. They did not convert on the man advantage.

Through 40 minutes of play, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 18-13. The Bolts also led in hits (35-18), takeaways (6-4) and faceoff win percentage (64-36), while the B’s had an advantage in blocked shots (11-6) and giveaways (11-6) after two periods. Boston was 0/3 on the power play and the Lightning were 1/2.

The Bruins did not register a shot on goal in the last 9:14 of the second period and totaled over 23 minutes without a shot on goal through 40 minutes of action.

Tempers flared after Kevan Miller hit Point from behind and was dealt a boarding minor. Krug (roughing), Anton Stralman (cross checking) and Gourde (roughing) were all penalized for their actions in the scrum after the whistle, so neither team had a power play at 3:18 of the third period.

On a faceoff, moments later, Pastrnak attempted to lift Hedman’s stick and in doing so, sent the Lightning defender’s stick into his own face. This is— albeit by an unconventional definition— high-sticking, per the rulebook, as Hedman was cut from the play.

Pastrnak was sent to the box with a four-minute, double-minor at 7:31 of the third period. Boston killed off both penalties.

As Marchand attempted to clear the puck from his own defensive zone almost seven minutes later, he turned it over in the neutral zone, forcing a pass from Point to Palat for the breakaway.

Palat (2) capitalized on a high-glove side shot that beat Rask and gave the Lightning a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 14:08. Point (6) had the only assist on the goal as a result of Marchand’s costly turnover.

About a minute later, Krug (3) rocketed a slap shot past Vasilevskiy to cut Tampa’s lead to one. Pastrnak (13) and Marchand (11) had the assists on the goal at 15:58 of the third period.

With about 90 seconds remaining in regulation, Bruce Cassidy pulled his goaltender for the extra skater, but it was to no avail as Point (2) pocketed the empty net goal with about 25 seconds left in the game. Hedman (2) collected the lone assist as the Lightning put the game away, 4-2.

At the final horn, Tampa had evened the series, 1-1, with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 on home ice. The Bolts finished the night leading in shots on goal (31-20), hits (42-24) and faceoff win percentage (57-43), while Boston led in blocked shots (13-8) and giveaways (13-6).

The Bruins finished the night 0/3 on the power play and the Lightning went 1/4 on the man advantage.

The series shifts to Boston for Game 3 at TD Garden on Wednesday night. The winner will take a pivotal, 2-1, series lead and puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the game on NBCSN. Fans in Canada can tune to CBC or TVAS for their fill.

Bruins steal the thunder from the Lightning, 6-2, in Game 1

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Rick Nash (2-0—2), David Pastrnak (0-4—4) and the Boston Bruins ripped apart the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

Tuukka Rask had 34 saves on 36 shots faced for a .944 save percentage in the win for Boston, while Tampa’s netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy, made 18 saves on 23 shots against for a .783 SV% in 59:18 time on ice in the loss.

Ryan Callahan was guilty of the first penalty in the series after tripping Bruins defender, Kevan Miller, late in the first period.

Boston converted on the ensuing power play just eight seconds later as David Pastrnak fired a shot from the point that Rick Nash (2) tipped past Vasilevskiy at 17:11 of the first period. Pastrnak (9) and Patrice Bergeron (8) had the assists on the goal that made it, 1-0, Bruins.

After one period of play in Tampa, Boston was leading, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 13-11, in shots on goal. The Bruins also led in blocked shots (7-3) and giveaways (6-1). Meanwhile, the Lightning led in takeaways (4-2). Hits were even (11-11) as was faceoff win percentage (50-50) and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play after 20 minutes (Tampa had yet to see a man advantage).

Bergeron (2) gave Boston a two-goal lead 42 seconds into the second period on a one-timer past Vasilevskiy. Pastrnak (10) and Brad Marchand (7) notched the assists on the goal after Pastrnak sold a drive to the net and passed the puck across the low slot to Bergeron for the shot on net.

Less than two minutes later, Dan Girardi (1) put the Lightning on the board, cutting the lead in half, with a slap shot from the point that deflected off of Bruins blueliner, Matt Grzelcyk, and went past Rask to make it a 2-1 game. Cedric Paquette (1) and Victor Hedman (1) had the assists on the goal at 2:31 of the second period.

Marchand thought he had a goal of his own midway through the period, but a delayed penalty ruled the goal dead as Pastrnak cross checked Tyler Johnson behind the play, giving Tampa their first power play of the afternoon.

The Bolts did not convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Shortly after killing off Pastrnak’s penalty, Rick Nash (3) fired a shot off the iron and in, giving the Bruins a 3-1 lead at 12:33 of the second period with his second goal of the game. David Krejci (7) and Pastrnak (11) had the assists.

Twelve seconds later, Jake DeBrusk was sent to the sin bin for interference and the Lightning went back on the power play.

This time, however, the Bolts would score thanks to an odd scenario for Rask. Boston’s netminder lost his left skate blade and couldn’t move across the ice as well, but fell victim to the fact that the only rule in which the whistle is blown for a goaltender’s equipment malfunction is if the goaltender’s mask comes off.

As such, Mikhail Sergachev (2) took advantage of a mostly empty net and brought Tampa within one, 3-2. Brayden Point (3) and Yanni Gourde (2) had the assists on the goal at 13:22.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and trailed the Lightning in shots on goal, 25-18. Boston led in blocked shots (11-4) and giveaways (8-4), while Tampa led in hits (24-21) and faceoff win percentage (51-49).

Charlie McAvoy intentionally shot wide aiming to connect on a redirect and Marchand (4) finally got his first goal of the afternoon, giving Boston a 4-2 lead 3:32 into the third period. McAvoy (2) had the only assist on the goal.

Midway through the third, it was Boston’s first line again making magic happen as Pastrnak worked a pass off to Marchand, Marchand delayed the next move and circled with the puck and sent it over to Bergeron (3) for Bergeron’s second goal of the game.

Marchand (8) and Pastrnak (12) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal at 10:11 of the third period. Pastrnak completed a four-point day (all assists), giving the Bruins a 5-2 lead.

DeBrusk was sent to the box for cross checking about a minute later and the Bolts failed to convert on the ensuing power play.

With just under seven minutes remaining in regulation, Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, pulled his goaltender for the extra skater. It did not work out the way he planned.

Fresh out the box, DeBrusk (6) rushed in on a pass from Marchand and buried the empty net goal at 13:41 of the third period. 6-2, Boston. Marchand (9) and McAvoy (3) had the assists and all of the Bruins first line forwards completed four-point efforts in the game.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won 6-2 and taken a 1-0 series lead.

Boston led in blocked shots (21-6) after regulation and trailed the Lightning in shots on goal (36-24) and hits (33-27). Tampa finished the afternoon 1/3 on the power play and Boston went 1/1.

Game 2 is set for Monday night in Tampa. Puck drop at Amalie Arena is expected a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can watch the action on NBCSN. Fans in Canada can follow along on CBC or TVAS.

DeBrusk and the Bruins eliminate Toronto in seven games

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First Star of the game, Jake DeBrusk (2-0—2 totals), and the Boston Bruins are moving on to the Second Round after a thrilling 7-4 victory in Game 7 on Wednesday night. The TD Garden crowd was roaring throughout the game as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tuukka Rask made 20 saves on 24 shots against for an .833 save percentage in the win, while Toronto’s Frederik Andersen stopped 29 out of 35 shots faced for an .829 SV% in the loss. Rask improved to 2-2 all-time in a Game 7, as Andersen remains winless (0-3) in his career Game 7 action.

Bruce Cassidy started his Worker Bs line consisting of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari against Maple Leafs superstar, Auston Matthews, and the energy level cranked past 11 at puck drop.

Perhaps a bit too much for the Bruins, however, as Kuraly was penalized on a controversial tripping minor against Toronto defender, Jake Gardiner, 30 seconds into the action.

While Boston was struggling to settle their jitters, the Leafs pounced.

Patrick Marleau (3) opened the game’s scoring 2:05 into the first period with a tip-in from point blank and gave Toronto a 1-0 lead. Gardiner (2) and William Nylander (2) had the assists on the goal.

Gardiner fired a shot from the point into heavy traffic where Marleau used his stealthy hand-eye coordination to redirect the puck past Rask.

Entering Wednesday night, the team that scored first won five out of the six prior games in the series. In games where Toronto has led this series, they’ve won. All of that would mean nothing by the end of the night.

Morgan Rielly followed up with a minor penalty of his own, giving the Bruins their first power play, as the Maple Leafs blueliner was sent to the penalty box for delay of game (puck over glass) three minutes into the period.

As was tradition in the regular season, Boston’s power play had several chances, but could not capitalize on the man advantage until late in the power play.

After David Krejci kept the puck in the zone on a Toronto clearing attempt, the veteran Czech forward sent it to his fellow countryman, David Pastrnak, who quickly fired a purposeful shot looking for DeBrusk in front of the goal to redirect it. And that’s exactly what happened.

DeBrusk (4) redirected the shot into the net and the Bruins tied the game, 1-1, on a power play goal at 4:47 of the first period. Pastrnak (8) and Krejci (4) notched the assists on the goal.

The game wouldn’t be tied for long, however, as Marleau (4) scored his second goal of the night on a wicked wrist shot that beat Rask blocker side. Mitch Marner (7) had the only assist on the goal, having been responsible for the reverse pivot— fake shot on goal, turned pass— that was enough to sell Rask just out of position to stop Marleau’s shot.

Just over six minutes into the first period, the Maple Leafs had a 2-1 lead. It was the third time in three games that Boston allowed a goal about a minute after scoring.

Almost three minutes later, Danton Heinen (1), who had returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for part of the series, rocketed a shot past Andersen to knot things up, 2-2. Krejci (5) and Rick Nash (1) assisted on the goal at 9:10 of the first period.

Halfway through the opening frame of Game 7, there were 11 combined shots on goal. Four of them were goals.

Past the halfway mark, Leafs defender, Morgan Rielly took a shot up high— just above his upper lip— that caused a stoppage in play while the blueliner was attended to by Toronto’s athletic trainer.

The Bull Gang scrapped off the blood on the ice and play continued. Rielly would return for the second period after getting stitched up.

Rick Nash caught Zach Hyman with a high-stick at 11:30 of the first period and sent Boston on a penalty kill. The ensuing effort by both Toronto’s special teams and the Bruins penalty killers did not result in any goals allowed and Boston once again swung momentum in their direction, feeding off of the home crowd.

With less than a minute remaining in the opening period, the Bruins worked the puck into the offensive zone, whereby David Backes worked the puck back to Kevan Miller and the Bruins defender took full advantage of everything he had.

Miller shot the puck intentionally wide to attain a carom off the boards on the far side. The plan worked flawlessly as Patrice Bergeron (1) was crashing the net and put home the rebound off the boards to give Boston their first lead of the night, 3-2.

The assists went to Miller (2) and Backes (1) at 19:23 of the first period.

Through 20 minutes of Game 7, the Bruins led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and 12-10 in shots on goal. Boston also led in blocked shots (6-5) and faceoff win percentage (52-48), while Toronto led in takeaways (6-3) and giveaways (4-3). Both teams had 12 hits aside and one power play goal, as the Maple Leafs were 1/2 on the man advantage and Boston was 1/1 heading into the first intermission.

The Maple Leafs became the first team in NHL history to blow two separate first period leads in a Game 7, but fear not, that provided just enough motivation to take back the game’s momentum in the second frame.

Toronto stormed out of the gates to start the second period as Travis Dermott (1) converted on a Bruins turnover to tie the game, 3-3, just 2:07 into the period.

Roman Polak (1) and Nylander (3) picked up the assists on the goal as the B’s started a tumultuous period of sloppy play all over the ice.

Tomas Plekanec knocked down Brad Marchand away from the play at 4:56 of the second period and was assessed a minor penalty for interference. Boston’s power play proved to be powerless, especially after Torey Krug failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone.

With Marchand chasing after the puck, Kasperi Kapanen (1) stripped the Bruins winger of the rubber biscuit and dangled one past Rask on a beautiful individual effort for a short-handed goal to give Toronto the 4-3 lead just over six minutes into the period.

Boston allowed two goals on two shots on net to start the second period and were snake bitten leading up to the second intermission.

After 40 minutes of play, Toronto held a one goal lead— leading, 4-3 heading into the third period. Boston led in shots on goal (25-16), giveaways (6-5) and faceoff win percentage (58-42) after two periods and the Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (10-9), hits (26-22) and takeaways (14-4). Both teams were 1/2 on the power play.

Krejci and Hyman took matching roughing penalties about a minute into the third period, resulting in 4-on-4 action, early in the final frame of regulation.

Four seconds later, Krug (2) redeemed his poor second period play with a one-timer goal that beat Andersen after the Bruins won an offensive zone faceoff. Miller (3) and Bergeron (6) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on the goal that tied the game, 4-4, just 1:10 into the third period.

Moments later, Tyler Bozak and Rick Nash couldn’t keep their hands off of each other as Bozak interfered with the Bruins winder and Nash retaliated.

Boston was pressing harder than they had in the end-to-end action that concluded the first period. The Bruins were looking to be the ones to score the next goal and they did just that, thanks to one of their rookies.

After working the puck up the boards, Krejci sent a quick, short, pass to DeBrusk (5) who bolted into the offensive zone, slide the puck under Gardiner’s stick, while taking a hit and went five-hole on Andersen to give Boston their second lead of the night, 5-4, at 5:25 of the third period.

Krejci (6) had the only assist on the goal.

Six minutes later, after surviving counter attacks from the Maple Leafs, the Bruins were on the prowl again, working the puck deep into the offensive zone, where Marchand slid the puck to Bergeron.

Boston’s alternate captain tossed the puck to Pastrnak (5) in the low slot and the 21-year-old star held onto the puck just long enough to let Andersen overcommit and leave a gapping net open.

Pastrnak hit the twine and the Bruins had the first two-goal lead of the night, 6-4, at 11:39 of the third period.

With about three minutes remaining in regulation, Babcock pulled his goaltender for an extra skater and the Leafs went on the assault for a solid minute and a half until Riley Nash skated the puck out of the defensive zone and up to Marchand.

Marchand (3) brought it in just far enough to seal the deal with an empty net goal and gave Boston a three-goal lead with 51 seconds remaining in the game. Riley Nash (1) notched his first point of the series and the Bruins led, 7-4.

At the final horn, Boston had finished the Toronto in seven games— leading, 7-4, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (36-24), hits (33-31) and faceoff win percentage (57-43). Despite the loss, the Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (10-9). Both teams scored one goal each on the power play, as Toronto finished the night 1/2 and the Bruins finished 1/3 on the man advantage.

Bruce Cassidy completed his first series win as a head coach and is now 1-0 in Game 7s for Boston, while Mike Babcock fell to 3-6 all time in Game 7s, split between Anaheim, Detroit and Toronto.

The Bruins are now 3-1 all-time in Game 7s against Toronto, having last beaten them, 5-4 in overtime, in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Boston improved to 14-12 in Game 7s all-time, tying an NHL record for most Game 7 wins (14) with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings. Wednesday night’s game was also the 26th Game 7 appearance in franchise history for the Bruins, surpassing Detroit’s 25 appearances for the league lead.

As a result of the win, the Bruins are moving on to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since the Bolts won the Atlantic Division and secured the best record in the Eastern Conference, Tampa will have home ice in the series and Game 1 is set for Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBC. Canadian viewers can follow the action on Sportsnet or TVA Sports.

Bolts beat Devils 3-1 in Game 4 and lead series 3-1

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Entering Wednesday night the Tampa Bay Lightning held a 2-1 series lead over the New Jersey Devils and after leading most of the game, 2-1, it was only fitting that Nikita Kucherov’s empty net goal at 18:52 of the third period reflected what the game and the series would be— 3-1, in favor of Tampa.

Yes, the Lightning stole Game 4 on the road at Prudential Center and the Bolts will have a chance to finish the Devils in Game 5 on home ice.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves on 28 shots against for a .964 save percentage in the win, while New Jersey’s Cory Schneider had 34 saves on 36 shots faced for a .944 SV% in the loss.

It didn’t take long for the first penalty of the game to be called. In fact, it only took 34 seconds. Taylor Hall was sent to the penalty box with a minor penalty for hooking Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point. The Lightning did not convert on the ensuing power play and the Devils made the kill without their best player on the ice.

Alex Killorn got his name on the event sheet as a result of hooking New Jersey forward, Marcus Johansson, 7:47 into the first period providing the Devils with their first power play of the night. Cedric Paquette made his way to the sin bin shortly thereafter for tripping Hall and gave New Jersey a 5-on-3 power play at 8:12.

It only took 11 seconds for the Devils to convert on the two-man advantage.

Travis Zajac won a faceoff and the puck ended up working its way to Kyle Palmieri (1) who fired one past Vasilevskiy with Patrick Maroon providing a hefty screen in front of the Tampa netminder.

Will Butcher (2) and Hall (4) had the assists on Palmieri’s power play goal that made it 1-0 New Jersey.

Not long after, the Lightning responded with a goal of their own to tie the game, 1-1, at 11:30 of the first period.

J.T. Miller (1) rushed on a breakout and sent a pass to Steven Stamkos who dropped it back to Kucherov. With Miller heading for the goal, Kucherov lobbed the puck to his linemate and Miller sent a shot high and past Schneider’s blocker side.

Kucherov (5) and Stamkos (4) notched the assists on the goal and Tampa surged in momentum.

Cory Conacher thought he had his first goal of the postseason when he beat Schneider cleanly on the glove side, but Devils head coach, John Hynes, challenged the call on the ice and the refs reviewed the play entering the zone for offside.

After review, the ruling on the ice was reversed and the score remained tied, 1-1. Hynes’s coach’s challenge was successful.

But the Lightning had already got the ball rolling on a momentum swing and nonetheless, capitalized on their next great scoring chance as Kucherov (3) sent a shot past Schneider’s glove side to put the Bolts ahead for the first time in the game, 2-1. Braydon Coburn (1) and Miller (2) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively.

Late in the first period, Kucherov was the topic of controversy as he caught Sami Vatanen without the puck in what some may view as a shoulder-to-shoulder check, while Devils fans may see otherwise. There was no penalty called on the play and Hynes was irate behind New Jersey’s bench as Vatanen skated off the ice and left the game with an upper body injury.

It’s hard to tell via replay whether or not Vatanen’s head is the point of contact at all, but regardless of whether or not it was the principal point of contact— given the precedent set this postseason by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty’s one-game suspension for his hit on Vegas Golden Knights forward, William Carrier— Kucherov should expect something from the league.

Once the blood got boiling as a result of Kucherov’s hit, both teams were riled up the rest of the night.

Lightning forward, Alex Killorn, hit New Jersey defender, Ben Lovejoy, from behind and was assessed a minor penalty for boarding at 16:49 of the first period. As a result of the blatant hit to the numbers, a scrum ensued prior to Killorn’s exit from the ice to the penalty box.

This scrum mentality continued a couple of minutes later when a stoppage in play resulted in every player squaring off with an opponent. New Jersey’s Miles Wood and Blake Coleman, as well as, Tampa’s Anton Stralman, were given roughing minors and the Lightning ended up on the power play with less than a minute to go in the first period.

After 20 minutes of play, the Lightning led the Devils, 2-1, on the scoreboard while New Jersey led, 13-12, in shots on goal. New Jersey had a slight edge in blocked shots (2-1) and hits (9-6) and was 1/3 on the power play through the end of the first period. Tampa was 0/2 on the man advantage.

Midway through the second period, Hall tripped up Stralman and the Bolts went back on the power play until Kucherov’s ensuing holding minor penalty ended the run of 5-on-4 hockey at 11:28. Less than 20 seconds of 4-on-4 hockey occurred and Hall was released from the box, giving New Jersey a shorter than usual power play.

Brayden Point followed up with the next penalty in the game after he bumped into Schneider and got sent to the sin bin for goaltender interference about three minutes later.

Finally, Stefan Noesen got his name on the event sheet for high-sticking Point at 18:38 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, the score remained 2-1, Tampa. The Lightning led in shots on goal (24-18) and blocked shots (7-6), while the Devils led in hits (18-12), takeaways (8-7), giveaways (8-5) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The Bolts were 0/4 with the man advantage and the Devils were 1/5 on the power play.

Miller slashed Hall at 7:18 of the third period. New Jersey didn’t get anything going on the power play.

Andy Greene tripped Stamkos at 12:52 of the third period. Once again, the Lightning didn’t get anything going with their special teams.

Finally, with Schneider pulled for an extra skater, Tampa put away the game with an empty net goal courtesy of Kucherov (4) at 18:52. Miller (3) had the only assist on the goal that put the Bolts up 3-1 in the game and in the series.

Tampa finished the night leading in shots on goal (37-28), but the Devils led in just about every other stat— hits (25-19), giveaways (11-5), faceoff win% (59-41) and even had a power play goal (1/6 on the night). The Lightning didn’t bring the thunder on any of their power play opportunities and finished the night 0/5.

Game 5 is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. Puck drop is expected to be a shortly after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC/NBCSN (check your local listings, because it appears they’re going to do what they did when New Jersey and Tampa were playing at the same time as Colorado and Nashville about a week ago). Fans in Canada can tune in on SN360 or TVAS2.

Deal(t) with the Devil: Tampa fends off scrappy New Jersey to take Game 1

 

Funny thing, hockey.

In one corner we have the Atlantic Division champion Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that for long stretches of the year looked nigh-on immortal, and made ritual of beating basically everyone who dared stand in their path.

In the other corner stands a New Jersey squad that just squeaked into the playoffs in a wild card spot, have a roster with almost as many ‘misfit toys’ as the upstart Golden Knights, and… went undefeated against the Lightning in the regular season?

Well. Color me interested.

The Devils made a season of being the eternal underdogs. Apart from Hart Trophy favorite Taylor Hall, they really don’t possess much in the way of name value. Goaltender Cory Schneider spent much of the year hurt, and struggled upon his return. But career-backup Keith Kinkaid won 26 games this year (he’d won just 23 in four previous seasons combined) and stole the starting job heading into the playoffs.

New Jersey headed into Amalie Arena as perhaps the biggest underdogs in all the playoffs, and for good reason. Tampa Bay is as deadly a hockey team as you’ll find in the NHL today, boasting four stellar lines, six quality defensemen, and a Vezina candidate goaltender. For the first half of this game, the script went just as the numbers suggested it should.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper elected to start the game with his fourth line, and John Hynes elected to follow suit. It gave the start of the game some energy, and showed that neither coach is afraid to try something a bit off-the-beaten-path.

Apart from a follow-through on an attempted shot by Miles Wood treating Bolts defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a bloody nose, the first few minutes passed without many notable incidents or quality chances, but saw Tampa controlling a good portion of the play. As the clock neared halfway point of the period, Tampa began to settle in and the chances started coming.

First it was Yanni Gourde chipping a loose puck past a pinching defender to create a two-on-one. The winger streaked into the zone and put Kinkaid out into about the fourth row of seats with a beautiful move, but just couldn’t quite direct the puck into the yawning cage as it rolled off the end of his stick. He wouldn’t need to wait long for another chance, as on his line’s next shift he corralled a loose puck out of a netfront scramble, but Kinkaid was able to track it through the mess of sticks and skates to shut the door on #37.

The very next faceoff saw a bouncing puck lure Kinkaid out of the blue paint while attempting to cover up, and the puck ended up coming right to – you guessed it – Gourde who wasn’t quite able to control it and get a shot away.

Finally at the 15:00 mark it would be Tampa’s second line going to work down low in the zone and Tyler Johnson would feed Ondrej Palat from below the goal line, and after a quick set of dekes the 2016 playoffs standout lifted a backhand shot over the pad of Kinkaid to put the Lightning up 1-0.

Still, the Bolts kept coming. Anthony Cirelli nearly scored on a wraparound with 2:30 to play, but the toe of Kinkaid was equal to the task.

Finally New Jersey got a quality chance, as Vasilevskiy turned the puck over attempting to play it behind his net, but was able to recover in time to cover up as everyone crashed the net and a scrum ensued.

With 28 seconds left to play, it would be Tampa’s second line again making plays deep in the offensive zone, this time with Palat and Brayden Point forcing a turnover, and Palat sending a perfect pass to the tape of a driving Johnson who made no mistakes and buried it over the glove of Kinkaid.

Shot clock only read a two-shot advantage (13-11) to Tampa at the end of one, but the quality chances were all on one end of the ice.

The momentum would continue in Tampa’s favor at the beginning of the second period, as an early power play opportunity presented itself and they made sure to cash in. Gourde, on what by my count was about his 42nd quality scoring chance of the game, hammered home a slam-dunk after a ridiculous kick-pass across the netmouth by Palat to put the home team up by three.

The very next shift is when things began to change, as Michael Grabner and Pat Maroon would combine for about three legitimate bids in quick succession, but Vasilevskiy was able to turn them all aside. Later in the frame it would be New Jersey with a power play opportunity, where they’d get three or four high-quality chances that Vasilevskiy had the answers to.

Finally with just over six minutes to play in the second, Hall (because who else?) would crack the goose egg and get his team on the board, pouncing on an egregious defensive zone turnover by Palat and burying the opportunity before Vasilevskiy could get set.

The Devils didn’t let up, nearly scoring again with just over a minute remaining on a big-time deflection (chest height to the ice in the blink of an eye) on a Mirco Mueller point shot that Vasilevskiy somehow managed to track and react to, kicking out the right pad in a flash and gobbling up the rebound to prevent further chaos.

Capitalizing on the big momentum shift, New Jersey heavily outshot the boys in blue to lead on the shot clock 26-20 after 40 minutes, hoping to carry it into the third and try to close down the two-goal margin.

Carry it into the third they did not. The Bolts would tally the first seven shots of the period, and at one point briefly thought they had scored when Alex Killorn tipped a shot at the side of the net that Kinkaid just barely managed to keep out (Killorn even momentarily raised his arms in celebration). The third line kept the Devils hemmed in their own zone after the near-miss, and finally a dominating shift came to an end when Gourde (obviously) took a cross-ice pass from Cirelli off of a turnover and ripped a one-time blast just over the crossbar and out of play. New Jersey would not register a single shot until nearly 9:30 into the third period.

But, at 9:35 of the third, Jersey’s second shot of the period was a power play goal by Travis Zajac (one of only two players on either roster to have played the last time these two teams met in the playoffs 11 years ago*) who deflected a beautifully-sold shot-pass by Hall just over the glove of Vasilevskiy to drag the visitors to within one.

*The other was Andy Greene

Now Tampa is on the back foot. New Jersey is charging. Can they complete the comeback? How will the Lightning survive the onslaught?

Oh hey look, it’s that Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde line again.

Yes, the unstoppable force known as Tampa’s third line did it again, this time with Gourde forcing a turnover by Maroon at the blueline, then leading his linemates on a three-on-two rush up the ice, eventually feeding it to the trailer Killorn in the high slot. Cirelli drove the net to create the diversion, but Kinkaid was never catching up to this one anyhow. PING goes the crossbar, an absolute laser by the Harvard grad restores the two-goal lead just under two minutes after it had been erased.

Tampa followed their goal with a solid fourth-line shift, capped off by a thundering check on Hall by the playoffs’ only four-time Cup winner Chris Kunitz, and the Devils star would be slow to his feet, though he would finish the game.

Kinkaid retreated to the bench with 2:30 to play, but it would be all-for-not, as with 1:12 left Nikita Kucherov (who had been mostly silent until that point) dangled a Devils defender and waltzed in to bury the dagger.

At the final horn, a good deal of pushing and shoving came about, with the Devils hoping to set a tone heading into Game 2 (which I’ll just so happen to be covering, as well) on Saturday afternoon.

The story of this game was really a tale of two major plots.

First was simply the unbridled speed of Tampa Bay. New Jersey is arguably one of maybe two teams in the league that have a legitimate shot at keeping up with Tampa’s pace, and in this one they were totally outclassed. If they can’t find a way to clog things up and slow the Bolts down, they are going to be in trouble.

Second, and probably the even more daunting challenge, is the sheer depth of the Lightning lineup. The Devils did a spectacular job of silencing Tampa’s lethal #1 line of J.T. Miller – Steven Stamkos – Kucherov, but the Devils simply don’t have the same top-to-bottom quality that the Bolts depth chart possesses.

Palat-Point-Johnson is a top line on probably a third of other NHL squads.

Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde is an impossible speed/skill matchup for nearly any other third line.

Kunitz-Paquette-Callahan will forecheck whatever is left of you into the ground.

Tack on one of the best one-through-six defense corps in the league, and it’s borderline impossible for any club to gain a matchup advantage, especially on the road where the home team gets last change.

Nothing is impossible in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but New Jersey is going to need some help from the hockey gods from the looks of things.

Rangers, Vigneault will bounce back

Shortly after their last game of the season on Saturday, the New York Rangers relieved Alain Vigneault of his head coaching duties. In his fifth year with the organization, the Rangers went 34-39-9 (77 points) and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

It was Vigneault’s worst year in the Big Apple. It was a transition year for a team retooling on the fly– trading away Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and others for centerpieces in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov (among other assets).

Now it’s time for someone else to take the reins behind the bench of King Henrik’s team.

The clock is ticking in goaltender Henrik Lundqvist‘s quest for his first Stanley Cup. Vigneault was almost the man to do it having brought the Rangers all the way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in his first season with New York.

That was the closest Lundqvist has ever been– just three wins away– but the Los Angeles Kings had other plans, given it only took them five games to beat New York for the Los Angeles’s second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

It was the closest the Rangers had come to winning its first Cup since defeating the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.

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The 2014-15 season witnessed a franchise record 113 points in the regular season– good enough to notch the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best record that year. Vigneault’s team knocked out Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in the First Round in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then New York got behind in the Second Round series with the Washington Capitals, 3-1. Chris Kreider tied Game 5, McDonagh scored the game winner in overtime and the Rangers rallied back in the series to force the first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Rangers were to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Despite a decisive 7-3 victory in Game 6 on the road at Amalie Arena, New York was shutout, 2-0, in Game 7 on home ice.

They wouldn’t get another chance to come that close to the Stanley Cup Final with Vigneault behind the bench.

The 2015-16 Rangers finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and battled Mike Sullivan‘s Penguins in the First Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It only took five games for the Rangers to be eliminated in Pittsburgh’s tear through the playoffs to their first Cup since 2009.

In 2016-17, New York regrouped with a 102-point season, but was cursed by the NHL’s current playoff format.

The Rangers were relegated to the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference since three teams finished ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division with at least 108 points or more.

New York had four more points in the regular season than the Ottawa Senators (98 points)– who finished second in the Atlantic Division– and seven more points than the Boston Bruins (95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic) and Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, second wild card in the Eastern Conference by virtue of having three fewer regulation-plus-overtime wins than Boston).

Vigneault’s team got by Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens in six games of the First Round in what was touted as a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

Then they ran into the streaking Senators who had beaten the Bruins in their own six game series.

Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with home ice advantage– despite having the worse of the two teams’s regular season records, but the Rangers seemed unfazed having won Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden 4-1 and 4-1, respectively.

Kyle Turris ended Game 5 almost six-and-a-half minutes into overtime at Canadian Tire Centre and the Rangers found themselves in a 3-2 series hole heading home for Game 6.

Senators captain, Erik Karlsson, had a goal and an assist in Ottawa’s decisive 4-2 victory on road ice and New York hit the golf course after just two rounds of the 2017 postseason.

Time kept ticking. Lundqvist got older.

Management grew more frustrated with the lack of a direction.

Dead last in the Metropolitan Division after all 82 games this season and under .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, Vigneault’s dismissal comes as no surprise.

It’s what is expected of any organization that expects to finish first, but fails in a rather large fashion.

Even more so with the league getting younger, skaters getting faster and teams placing more of an emphasis on a constant attack, a constant barrage of offense.

Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Spooner, Namestnikov and crew have already showcased a new face of the game in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, while Vigneault’s systems might have been the only thing slowing them down in the waning days of the season.

It was time to shake things up and head in that new face of the game’s direction.

For the first time since the 1967-68 season only one coach was fired in-season (thanks to Mother Nature having played a part in extending the season by a day due to Boston’s rescheduled matchup from January with the Florida Panthers).

Unfortunately for Vigneault, he was that coach.

New York will be just fine.

They’re stockpiled with prospects and have already integrated youth, skill and speed into their lineup.

Now general manager Jeff Gorton will look to patch the blue line and give Lundqvist a high-caliber backup goaltender to ease the workload of the grueling regular season schedule.

It might not be the quickest turnaround, but it shouldn’t turn out to become an annual groan-fest watching the Blueshirts next season.

For Vigneault, there will be other opportunities.

He led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in the midst of President’s Trophy seasons. He led New York back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a generation. He’ll be studying hard, but he’s still in demand.

Somewhere there’s a team looking for his veteran coaching presence– like Buffalo– or a team that just missed the cut this season, but is on the brinks of a breakout year that very well might end up with their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970– like St. Louis.

But alas, this is all merely speculation.

More coaches will be fired for their team’s shortcomings (of their own fault or otherwise) this offseason upon diligent review in front office’s league-wide.

Rangers fans may be glad and it should be a mutual feeling of respect and good luck. They had a good run that lasted a while, but ultimately came up empty handed. Times have changed, players moved on and the game evolved.

Somewhere, Vigneault is that missing piece a franchise is looking for and it won’t just be a team finally getting over that mountain, but a head coach too.