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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Eastern Conference

*cue Andy Williams*

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned and all is right with the world (unless your team missed the postseason).

In the past, we here at Down the Frozen River have covered every game of every series.

This year, we’re mixing it up a bit– starting with this preview of every First Round series in the Eastern Conference, continuing with a followup preview of every First Round series in the Western Conference and as much analysis as possible on the DTFR Podcast in addition to the blog.

Ch-ch-ch-changes are inevitable and yours truly cannot cover all 16 teams in the postseason alone.

A1 Tampa Bay Lightning (62-14-6, 128 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)

The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the President’s Trophy (for the first time in franchise history) by mid-March and finished with the 4th most points in a season in NHL history, while star forward, Nikita Kucherov, amassed 128 points (the most by a Russian born player in a season) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4 record, 2.40 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 53 games played) turned in a Vezina Trophy worthy performance in the crease.

Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.

The Bolts also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season (62).

Backup goaltender, Louis Domingue (21-5-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV% in 26 GP) posted respectable numbers as well in the Lightning’s thunderous run through the season.

Tampa has home ice throughout the playoffs and kicks things off with a First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 3-2, shootout victory over the New York Rangers last Friday– eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from postseason contention in the process.

Columbus was all over the Metropolitan Division this season, but went all-in at the trade deadline, adding Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid for the stretch run.

Duchene and Dzingel quickly fit in to their respective top-nine roles, while McQuaid struggled to find a suitor on the blue line at first in his return to the organization that originally drafted him 55th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and broke into the league with the B’s in 2009-10.

Kinkaid was added solely for goaltending depth as pending-unrestricted free agent, Sergei Bobrovsky (37-24-1, 2.58 GAA, .913 SV% in 62 GP) led the league with nine shutouts on the season.

Blue Jackets backup goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo (10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% in 27 GP) hit some rough patches at times, but found a way to dig his team out from the backend when necessary.

In the grand scheme of things, the Bolts won the season series, 3-0-0, and outscored Columbus, 17-3, in that span.

While many consider Columbus as a Stanley Cup Playoffs pushover– given the franchise has never won a series– Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella always poses a tough challenge that can wear down his opponent.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, earns his own merit in his ability to keep his players cool, calm, collected and always in comeback mode, but it’s not unfathomable to see the Blue Jackets pestering Tampa about as much– if not more than– Columbus did to Washington in last season’s First Round matchup.

After all, the Blue Jackets did lead that series, 2-0.

That said, this is Tampa’s year for a Cup run or bust. The Lightning should win the series in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

5-1 TBL at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 18th, 4-0 TBL at Amalie Arena on Jan. 8th, 8-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on USA , SN360, TVAS

4/12- Game 2 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*

4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*

4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*

*If necessary

A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)

For the second season in a row, the Boston Bruins are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Despite being without Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara at one point this season, the Bruins rallied from their 12th defenseman on up through the rest of the lineup to finish one win shy of consecutive 50-win seasons in Bruce Cassidy‘s third season (second full season) as head coach.

Speaking of Bergeron, however, the perfect two-way center finished the season with a career-high in points (79) and matched his career-high in goals (32) while battling injury early in the season. Bergeron’s 32-47–79 totals came in just 65 games. That’s only one more game played than last season for No. 37 in black-and-gold.

Meanwhile, his linemates, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each reached milestones of their own. Marchand reached the 100-point plateau this season and became the first Bruin to do so since Joe Thornton recorded 101 points in 2002-03.

The “Little Ball of Hate” also set a career-high in assists (64) and was not suspended in 79 games played this season (he was rested for the final two games in the regular season and missed one game due to injury).

Pastrnak set a career-high in goals (38) and points (81) despite missing time due to a left thumb injury and being limited to 66 games played.

The B’s were led in net this season by Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 SV% in 40 GP) in a 1A/1B scenario. For the first time since the 1989-90 season, Boston had two goaltenders with 20-plus wins.

Back north in Toronto, the Maple Leafs added a formidable center in John Tavares in free agency and his presence was immediate, notching career-highs in goals (47 ) and points (88) in 82 games.

Auston Matthews (37-36–73 totals in 68 games) and Mitch Marner (26-68–94 totals in 82 games) continued to their thing as the $11.634 million man (starting next season) and the soon to be at least $10.000 million boy wonder man.

Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, added Jake Muzzin in January in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in effort to shore up his blue line, however, questions remain as to how head coach, Mike Babcock will limit time on ice for veterans, like Ron Hainsey, and mix in more opportunities for Morgan Rielly (20-52–72 totals in 82 games) in his breakout season.

Boston won the season series, 3-1-0, outscoring Toronto, 16-10, in that span.

Some experts are picking the Bruins in five games. They also said similar things in 2013 and 2018. This series is going six games (at least), with Boston overcoming the Maple Leafs defense in Game 7, once again.

To their credit, Toronto always makes things interesting in what’s likely to be the most unpredictable First Round matchup.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 BOS at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 12th, 6-3 BOS at TD Garden on Dec. 8th, 4-2 TOR at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 26th, 5-1 BOS at TD Garden on Nov. 10th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 TOR @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 TOR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*

4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*

4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*

*If necessary

M1 Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)

Just as everyone expected, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 104 points after Barry Trotz left for the head coaching job on Long Island. Did I mention the Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions?

Anyway, Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals and collected his 8th career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as a result– though Edmonton Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, was hot on his tail with 50 goals this season.

After the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for what seemed like forever, it’s important to note the Metro was actually anybody’s game from puck drop in October. Here’s the thing, the Carolina Hurricanes were near the top of the division– they’ve been surging all season.

Speaking of surging, Carolina introduced their “Storm Surge” post-win celebration and the Caniacs loved it.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the club in Raleigh, Brett Pesce is good. Also, Sebastian Aho (30-53–83 totals in 82 GP), Andrei Svechnikov (20-17–37 totals in 82 GP) and Teuvo Teravainen (21-55–76 totals in 82 games)– they’re pretty good too.

Washington was led by Braden Holtby (32-19-5, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV% in 59 GP) between the pipes this season and is comforted to know Pheonix Copley (16-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% in 27 GP) is quite capable of playing this season’s role of Philipp Grubauer (since traded to the Colorado Avalanche after last season’s Cup celebrations).

The Canes were led by a duo of goaltenders who were once thought of as an after thought in Curtis McElhinney (20-11-2, 2.58 GAA, .912 SV% in 33 GP) and Petr Mrazek (23-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV% in 40 GP).

Though his record might not show it, Mrazek has been hitting his stride for the last month and is locked in. Ride that wave until it crests.

The Hurricanes had a league-leading ten skaters play in all 82 games. There’s no such thing as playing too much hockey– especially when it’s the first postseason appearance since 2009.

Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the Caps some interruptions coming out of the gate.

Despite Washington having swept the season series, 4-0-0, the Hurricanes kept things close in their most recent matchup with a, 3-2, loss at PNC Arena on March 28th.

Carolina almost pulled off the victory in a shootout on Dec. 14th, but lost, 6-5, on home ice to the Capitals.

Washington is beatable. Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour knows that, his team just hasn’t done it yet. Caps head coach, Todd Reirden, is also making his postseason debut at the reigns behind the bench for his respective team.

Though they won the Cup last season– that was then. This is now.

This series is going seven games and the Hurricanes will make sure there’s no repeat Cup winner this year.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 WSH at PNC Arena on March 28th, 4-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on March 26th, 3-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on Dec. 27th, 6-5 F/SO WSH at PNC Arena on Dec. 14th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 CAR @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on USA, SN360, TVAS2

4/13- Game 2 CAR @ WSH 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/18- Game 4 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on TBD, SN360, TVAS

4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*

4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*

4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*

*If necessary

M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points)

Barry Trotz figured out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trotz is the key. Trotz knows the secret stuff to beat Mike Sullivan and his Penguins.

That’s why the William M. Jennings Trophy winning duo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% in 46 GP) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV% in 43 GP) will backstop the New York Islanders past Pittsburgh in their First Round matchup in six games.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.

New York split the season series with the Pens, 2-1-1, with their most recent result against Pittsburgh coming in a, 2-1, shootout loss on Dec. 10th at NYCB Live (that’s the Nassau Coliseum, if you haven’t already heard. The Isles will host their First Round games there).

Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello put together a team without John Tavares. Trotz figured out how to get the most out of his players– guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and even Andrew Ladd (until Ladd got injured)– while playing the trap.

That same trap won the Cup last season.

This season, Trotz has Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee as his main attractions instead of names like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Long Island residents have long memories– the Penguins are one of their greatest rivals– and the added energy of Tavares’ departure has only fueled more passion all season long.

Can New York flip the switch from their late season bumps in the road?

Obviously, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby. They also have Evgeni Malkin. Crosby and Malkin are ready to go for another deep postseason run after watching their biggest rival not only beat them in the Second Round last year, but go on to take the Cup out of the hands of the Penguins’ recent streak of dominance in 2016 and 2017.

Patric Hornqvist is also another silent killer option for Sullivan when his team needs a clutch goal– and that’s on top of Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel throughout the rest of the lineup.

The Penguins were led in the crease by Matt Murray (29-14-6, 2.69 GAA, .919 SV% in 50 GP) this season with some helpful bailout backup goaltending from Casey DeSmith (15-11-5, 2.75 GAA, .916 SV% in 36 GP). If Murray shows any signs of wavering, Sullivan shouldn’t have a hard time going to DeSmith to push his team over the edge.

How will Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann play into the fold as Jim Rutherford‘s biggest prize acquisitions this season? Who might be the breakout star for Pittsburgh that outshines Crosby in the Conn Smythe Trophy vote?

Aren’t these questions supposed to be answered in an editorial preview? Sure.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/SO PIT at NYCB Live on Dec. 10th, 6-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6th, 3-2 F/SO NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 1st, 6-3 NYI at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 30th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*

4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*

4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*

Lightning at Bruins Preview: 4/6/2019

The Boston Bruins (49-23-9, 107 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division) close out their 2018-19 regular season on home ice at TD Garden against the Tampa Bay Lightning (61-16-4, 126 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division) Saturday afternoon.

Boston is looking to even the season series (1-2-0) against the Lightning after losing, 3-2, in Tampa on Dec. 6th, winning, 4-1, in Boston on Feb. 28th and allowing three unanswered goals in the third period of March 25th’s, 5-4, loss at Amalie Arena.

The Bolts are seeking to tie an NHL record set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a season (62), while the B’s are looking to finish the season with at least 50 wins in consecutive seasons since they did so from 1970-71 to 1973-74.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, told reporters prior to Saturday’s matinee meeting with Tampa that none of his players willingly wanted to come out of the lineup in Thursday night’s, 3-0, shutout of the Minnesota Wild or Saturday.

Having already clinched home ice in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Cassidy will role with Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and David Pastrnak on his first line, while Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle and Zach Senyshyn will fill out the rest of the top-six forwards.

Anton Blidh and Jeremy Lauzon were recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) ahead of Saturday’s game and will suit up for Boston while some of the veterans get the afternoon off.

Blidh will be the third line left wing with Trent Frederic at center and David Backes on the right wing and Lauzon will be paired with Steven Kampfer on the third defensive pairing.

Danton Heinen, Joakim Nordstrom and Karson Kuhlman will comprise the fourth line against the Lightning.

Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy return to the action after resting on Thursday. They will be the first defensive pairing, but likely not see much ice time, while Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton anchor the second pair on the blue line for Boston.

Chris Wagner (lower body), Brandon Carlo (healthy scratch), John Moore (upper body), Patrice Bergeron (healthy scratch), Torey Krug (healthy scratch), Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand), Noel Acciari (healthy scratch), Brad Marchand (healthy scratch) and Kevan Miller (lower body) will all be out against the Bolts.

Kuraly skated on his own at TD Garden on Saturday morning and Miller is expected to participate at full practice on Monday.

Tuukka Rask (27-12-5 record, 2.42 goals against average, .915 save percentage in 45 games played) will get the final start of the regular season for Boston.

Tampa head coach, Jon Cooper, is without the services of Louis Domingue (lower body, day-to-day) and Victor Hedman (upper body, day-to-day) against the Bruins.

Edward Pasquale (1-1-0, 4.43 GAA, .870 SV% in two games played) will tend the net for the Lightning.

Bruins at Lightning Preview: 3/25/2019

The Boston Bruins (46-20-9, 101 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division) visit the Tampa Bay Lightning (58-14-4, 120 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division) in their final visit to Amalie Arena in the 2018-19 regular season.

Boston is 1-1-0 against Tampa this season with their most recent matchup being a, 4-1, victory on home ice on Feb. 28th and their loss to the Lightning coming at the hands of a, 3-2, defeat in Tampa on Dec. 6th.

The two teams battled in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Bolts advancing in five games.

Both clubs have already clinched a spot in the 2019 postseason with the Lightning holding home ice advantage throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by virtue of having won the President’s Trophy.

The highest the Bruins can finish at the end of this current regular season is 2nd in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.

The B’s enter Tampa on a four-game win streak (including a 3-0-0 record on their current four-game road trip) and might be getting back another player from injury Monday night.

Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) joined the club in Florida last Friday and is a game-time decision according to Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy.

Kevan Miller (upper body), Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) and Torey Krug (concussion) remain traveling with the team, but will not be back in the lineup.

Additionally, Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand) remains out for approximately four weeks.

Chris Wagner had a maintenance day at practice on Sunday, but should be good to go on the third line with Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle against the Lightning.

If Johansson does return to the lineup against Tampa, he’ll play on the right side of Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci.

Karson Kuhlman will likely be the odd forward out of the lineup as a healthy scratch on Monday.

Cassidy is expected to start Tuukka Rask (26-10-5 record, 2.35 goals against average, .918 save percentage in 42 games played) in net against the Lightning.

Tampa head coach, Jon Cooper, is expected to rely on his usual starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy (36-9-4, 2.33 GAA, .928 SV% in 49 GP)– in the midst of a career-year and what should be a Vezina Trophy winning performance this season– against Boston.

Yanni Gourde is serving the second game of his two-game suspension and will not be in the lineup for the Lightning. As such, Ryan Callahan will participate in his third consecutive game.

Dan Girardi will also miss Monday night’s matchup and may miss the remainder of the regular season for Tampa.

The Bruins are 8-3-0 in the month of March, while the Bolts are 9-2-0 so far this month with a, 3-0, loss against the Minnesota Wild on March 7th and a, 4-3, loss in St. Louis against the Blues on March 23rd.

Both teams face each other one more time at TD Garden on April 6th, which is the final day of the 2018-19 NHL regular season.


Boston defeated the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at BB&T Center in a blowout victory, 7-3, as the Bruins clinched a playoff berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as a result of the win.

Jaroslav Halak (20-10-4, 2.31 GAA, .924 SV% in 37 GP) made 31 saves on 34 shots against for a .912 SV% in the effort for the B’s, while Florida goaltender, Sam Montembeault (4-3-1, 3.02 GAA, .893 SV% in eight GP) stopped 32 out of 38 shots faced in the loss for the Panthers.

Halak joins Tuukka Rask with 20 or more wins this season for Boston. It marks the first time since the 1989-90 season that the Bruins have two goaltenders with at least 20 wins on the season (Andy Moog, 24 wins in 1989-90, and Reggie Lemelin, 22).

Noel Acciari, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Karson Kuhlman, Steven Kampfer, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron had the goals for the Bruins, while Jayce Hawryluk, Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck scored for Florida.

Chara’s goal was the 200th goal of his NHL career. He is just the 22nd defender in league history to amass 200 or more goals in his career.

Boston surpassed the 100-point total on the season for a league-leading 23rd time in franchise history and clinched a playoff berth for the third season in a row under Bruce Cassidy’s reign behind the bench.

It is the 10th playoff appearance in the last 12 seasons for the Bruins.

Lightning strike B’s, 3-2, in Tampa

Anthony Cirelli’s shorthanded goal in the third period was enough to hold off a potential comeback from the Boston Bruins Thursday night as the Tampa Bay Lightning went on to win, 3-2, at Amalie Arena.

Louis Domingue (12-4-0, 3.07 goals against average, .903 save percentage in 14 games played) made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 SV% in the win for the Bolts, while Tuukka Rask (6-6-2, 2.62 GAA, .914 SV% in 14 GP) stopped 27 out of 30 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins have now lost four out of their last five games and have fallen to 14-10-4 (32 points) on the season– sliding to 5th place in the Atlantic Division and the 2nd wild card in the Eastern Conference as a result of the Montreal Canadiens’ win over the Ottawa Senators Thursday night.

Tampa improved to 22-7-1 (45 points) on the season and remained 1st in the Atlantic with the win.

Earlier in the day on Thursday, Charlie McAvoy was activated from the injured reserve and set to partake in pregame warmups. Kevan Miller was placed on the injured reserve having sustained a throat injury on Nov. 26th in Toronto.

The Bruins claimed Gemel Smith off waivers from the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Smith, 24, had two goals and one assist (three points) in 14 games for Dallas this season.

As a result of their roster moves, Connor Clifton was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) after appearing in nine games for Boston– including his NHL debut– this season.

Boston also announced five of their prospects that will be attending preliminary World Junior camps for their respective countries next week, including D Daniel Bukac and F Jakob Lauko for Czech Republic, G Kyle Keyser for Team USA, F Pavel Shen for Russia and F Jack Studnicka for Team Canada.

The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship is being held in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia and begins later this month with round robin group play.

Bruce Cassidy shook up the lines with McAvoy returning from an upper body injury (concussion) after missing the last 20 games. The 20-year-old defender was paired with John Moore on the bottom defensive pair with Matt Grzelcyk playing alongside Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug partnered with Steven Kampfer (back in the lineup since being a healthy scratch for the last two games).

Jeremy Lauzon joined Smith and Chris Wagner as Boston’s healthy scratches, while Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) and Miller (throat) remain out of the lineup.

Among the forwards, Cassidy left the first line of Brad Marchand, Colby Cave and David Pastrnak intact, while placing Joakim Nordstrom to the left of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson was back in the lineup– centering the third line with Ryan Donato to his left and Noel Acciari to his right– and Danton Heinen was demoted to the fourth line with Sean Kuraly and David Backes with Wagner scratched.

Pastrnak (20) recorded the game’s first goal at 2:04 of the first period on a rebound given up by Domingue after Cave initially recorded a shot on goal. Pastrnak collected the puck with Domingue out of position and buried the loose puck in the twine to reach the 20-goal plateau for the third consecutive season.

Cave (2) had the only assist on the goal and the Bruins led, 1-0.

Only Jaromir Jagr needed fewer than 28 games to reach 20 goals in a season among all Czech born NHLers in history.

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After surviving an early onslaught from the B’s, the Lightning tied the game late in the opening frame with Brayden Point (21) firing a wicked wrist shot past Rask on a backhand pass from Nikita Kucherov.

McAvoy mishandled the puck, leaving Tyler Johnson in position to swipe at the rubber biscuit a couple of times before flinging a pass to Kucherov for the backhand drop pass to Point for the tying goal, 1-1.

Kucherov (31) and Johnson (9) had the assists on Point’s goal at 14:59.

Point now has 12 goals and seven assists (19 points) in his last 12 games.

Moments later, McAvoy was charged with the first penalty of the game for hooking Point at 18:50 while the Lightning forward was in the attacking zone. Tampa did not convert on the ensuing power play that would carry over into the second period.

Entering the first intermission, the game was tied, 1-1, and the Bolts were outshooting the Bruins, 15-11. Tampa also led in takeaways (5-3), while Boston led in blocked shots (10-4) and face-off win percentage (56-44). Both teams had two giveaways each and 12 hits aside.

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play after one period.

Victor Hedman tripped up Donato almost midway through the second period and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the night– 7:04 into the middle frame.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Neither team was able to break the tie as things went on in the second period and by the second intermission, the Bruins were outshooting the Lightning, 23-21. Boston led Tampa in shots, 12-6, in the second period alone.

The Bolts led in giveaways (9-4) and in hits (25-18) after two periods and the B’s maintained an advantage in blocked shots (11-10), takeaways (10-8) and face-off win% (52-48).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play entering the third period.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Mathieu Joseph (9) picked up the puck on an unforced turnover, waltzed past Carlo and tucked the puck underneath Rask to give the Lightning their first lead of the night, 2-1.

Alex Killorn (10) and Dan Girardi (6) had the primary and secondary assists on Joseph’s goal at 2:40 of the third period.

About a minute later, Domingue sent the puck over the glass and was charged with a delay of game minor at 3:49.

While on the penalty kill, Steven Stamkos broke up a play by Backes as the grizzled Bruins veteran tried to work the puck back to Marchand, which led to Anthony Cirelli (5) scooping up the loose puck and skating right by Pastrnak and Marchand as the Boston forwards helplessly trailed behind.

Cirelli avoided a poke check from Rask with just enough of a deke to slip the biscuit past the Bruins netminder and into the goal at 4:03 of the third period. Cirelli’s short handed tally was unassisted and gave Tampa a two-goal lead, 3-1.

With a little under two minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker.

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Krejci (3) fired a slap shot from the point at 18:15 (assisted by Pastrnak (12) and Backes (3)– the three David’s united!) and scored his first goal in 19 games to pull the Bruins within one, but it wasn’t enough.

As the final horn sounded, the Bruins suffered their third straight loss as the Lightning won their fifth game in-a-row. Tampa struck down Boston, 3-2, on the scoreboard, despite being outshot, 35-30.

The Bolts finished the game with the advantage in giveaways (10-6) and hits (33-22), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (56-44). Both teams had 16 blocked shots each and the Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s were 0/2.

Tampa improved to 6-2-0 when tied after one period and Boston fell to 3-3-3 when tied after 20 minutes.

Boston travels home to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday before traveling to Ottawa to face the Senators on Sunday. The Bruins then host the Arizona Coyotes next Tuesday before a two-day break and a one-game road trip to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins next Friday.

Panthers pounce on Bruins, 5-0

Aleksander Barkov had three assists and Mike Hoffman had two goals in the Florida Panthers sunset cruise over the Boston Bruins in Sunrise, Florida on Tuesday night. The Panthers won, 5-0, thanks to Roberto Luongo‘s 33 save shutout– good enough for his 77th career shutout in 1,011 NHL games played.

Luongo (5-3-0, 2.71 goals against average, .914 save percentage in ten games played), stopped 33 shots against for a 1.000 SV% in the win, while Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (8-4-2, 2.55 GAA, .932 SV% in 16 GP) made 39 saves on 44 shots against (.886 SV%) in the loss.

Boston fell to 14-9-4 (32 points) on the season, but remained in 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Panthers jumped up to 7th place with a 11-10-5 record and 27 points on the season. Florida has a game in-hand on the Ottawa Senators and trails the Detroit Red Wings for 6th place by one point.

The B’s are one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and may soon be in danger of falling further in the standings with Montreal having the chance to surpass Boston on Thursday night with a Bruins loss in regulation in Tampa and a Canadiens win any fashion in Ottawa.

Torey Krug was in the lineup for Boston, despite taking a maintenance day on Monday, though his minus-three rating in Tuesday night’s action may say otherwise.

Bruce Cassidy provided an update on Charlie McAvoy, indicating the young defender will be back in the lineup soon, but not expected to play on this two-game road trip in the Sunshine State. McAvoy returned to full-contact practice this week.

Cassidy made no lineup changes, despite the poor efforts in three out of the last four games now.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Steven Kampfer were the healthy scratches for the Bruins on Tuesday, while Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), McAvoy (concussion) and Kevan Miller (throat) remain injured.

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Joakim Nordstrom hooked Dryden Hunt late in the first period at 15:34 and gave the Panthers their first power play of the night, but the Bruins were able to kill off Nordstrom’s minor and save themselves from one of the many chances Florida’s deadly power play would have on the night.

Mark Pysyk interfered with David Krejci at 17:41 of the first period and put Boston on the power play for the first time in the game, but the Bruins were unable to convert on any of their skater advantages on the night. Boston failed to record a shot on goal on the power play while Pysyk was in the box.

After one period, the score was still tied, 0-0, with Florida outshooting Boston, 13-7. The Panthers also led in giveaways, 8-6, after 20 minutes of play, while the Bruins led in blocked shots (4-3), takeaways (1-0) and face-off win percentage (52-48). Hits were even, 10-10, and both teams were 0/1 on the power play.

With both teams coming out of the dressing room after playing on sloppy ice and lacking effort at establishing some sort of pace, the Bruins continued to struggle to establish a zone time presence and got outrun numerous times in the second period as the Panthers came back ready to play.

Seriously.

First Colton Sceviour banked a shot off of the back of Halak’s leg, leading to a loose puck in the crease for Mike Hoffman (13) to just tap it in and give the Panthers the 1-0 lead. Scevious (4) and Jonathan Huberdeau (23) had the assists on Hoffman’s goal at 4:21 of the second period.

Jared McCann took a trip to the penalty box shortly after his teammate gave Florida the lead. McCann’s infraction was for hooking Bruins blue liner, John Moore, at 5:30.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Almost midway in the second period, Michael Matheson (2) went 200-feet down the frozen river from one end of the ice to the other and scored an unassisted goal past Halak’s blocker side at 7:13 of the middle frame. Florida led, 2-0.

The Bruins were 0-7 when trailing by two goals entering Tuesday and they left BB&T Center 0-8 at the final horn.

Michael Haley caught Halak with a high-stick at 14:04, but the B’s power play was short-lived– 16 seconds, in fact– as David Pastrnak was penalized for holding at 14:20.

While in the midst of the 4-on-4 action, Huberdeau (7) fired one of his accurate wrist shots into the back of the twine at 15:14 of the second period. Keith Yandle (20) and Aleksander Barkov (14) were tabbed with the assists and the Panthers led, 3-0.

Hunt was charged with interference at 17:51, but Pastrnak received a matching minor penalty for embellishment, yielding no skater advantage for the Bruins.

Jake DeBrusk cut a rut to the sin bin at 19:00 of the second period for slashing Sceviour and the Panthers went on a rare 4-on-3 power play.

With seconds remaining on the clock before the second intermission, Hoffman (14) emulated Matheson’s goal, but with the help of Barkov (15) and Yandle (21) to give Florida a four-goal lead at 19:56.

As a result of Hoffman’s second goal of the game, the Panthers have now scored at least one power play goal in 16 out of the last 17 games.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Panthers led the Bruins, 4-0, on the scoreboard and, 33-23, in shots on goal. Florida also dominated in blocked shots (8-4) and takeaways (6-4), while Boston led in giveaways (15-10) and face-off win% (60-40). Hits were even, 18-18.

Florida was 1/3 on the power play and the B’s were 0/3 after two periods.

Nick Bjugstad was called for holding Sean Kuraly at 5:20 of the third period and the Bruins went to the power play for the fourth and final time of the night. They did not score on the ensuing advantage.

Moore went to the penalty box for hooking former Bruin, Frank Vatrano, at 9:10 of the third period and Chris Wagner shortly followed to the sin bin at 10:49 for tripping Bjugstad.

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Connor Clifton launched himself into a high hit on Bjugstad with about eight minutes remaining in regulation. Bjugstad took his time getting up and had to go through concussion protocol, but Clifton was not penalized on the play.

The rookie Bruins defender filling in while blue line regulars like Chara, McAvoy and Miller are out of the lineup received an earful for the remainder of the game from unhappy Panthers players, but wasn’t challenged to fight.

Instead, while on the power play as a result of Brandon Carlo cross-checking Vatrano at 13:02 of the third period, the Panthers collected another power play goal thanks to the relentless effort of Evgenii Dadonov (13) collecting the garbage in the low slot.

Barkov (16) had the only assist on Dadonov’s goal at 14:26 and the Panthers sealed their Tuesday night victory with a 5-0 lead.

At the final horn, Florida finished the night outshooting Boston, 44-33, and leading in blocked shots (16-8). The Bruins led in giveaways (19-15), hits (26-22) and face-off win% (56-44)– two of the three don’t equal scoring prowess.

Giving the puck away is problematic and usually teams that lead in hits lacked puck control to begin with, which was evident in the lack of sustained attacking zone time from Cassidy’s crew.

Florida finished the night 2/6 on the power play and Boston went 0/4.

The Bruins head to Amalie Arena for a Thursday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning before returning home Saturday to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Boston has a quick turnaround back to the road on Sunday with a game in Ottawa against the Senators, before coming back home for next Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes.

In fact, including Thursday night’s game in Tampa, Boston alternates between road and home games for the next seven games until their short two-game home-stand from December 20-22.

The Bruins face five opponents in the next seven games from the Atlantic Division in addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins (Eastern Conference rival) and Coyotes (inter-conference action).

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.