Tag Archives: Anton Stralman

Florida Panthers 2019-20 Season Preview

Florida Panthers

36-32-14, 86 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the postseason for the third straight year

Additions: F Noel Acciari, F Brett Connolly, F Joel Lowry, F Kevin Roy, F Dominic Toninato (acquired from COL), D Gustav Bouramman (acquired from MIN), D Tommy Cross, D Ethan Prow, D Anton Stralman, G Sergei Bobrovsky, G Philippe Desrosiers

Subtractions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea (signed with BUF), F Henrik Haapala (KHL), F Juho Lammikko (Liiga), F Derek MacKenzie (retired), F Maxim Mamin (KHL), F Vincent Praplan (NLA), F Riley Sheahan (signed with EDM), D Ludwig Bystrom (Liiga), D Michael Downing (signed with Florida, ECHL), D Jacob MacDonald (traded to COL), D Julian Melchiori (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Scott Darling (acquired from CAR, then bought out), G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (traded to CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Jamie McGinn

Re-signed: F Troy Brouwer (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Greco, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Dryden Hunt, F Denis Malgin, D Ian McCoshen, D Thomas Schemitsch, D MacKenzie Weegar, G Sam Montembeault

Offseason Analysis: The rules of the offseason are pretty simple. Don’t be that person that overpays.

But for Florida Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon, apparently the rules don’t apply.

Yes, fixing the hole in the net left behind by Roberto Luongo’s decision to retire was a good idea. No, signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract isn’t a steal.

A $10.000 million cap hit for a goaltender that’s 30-years-old and only getting older won’t exactly look too great by the fourth year of the deal, but by then it might not even be Tallon’s problem.

Tallon is in “win now” mode.

The Panthers haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Final since their lone appearance in 1996, in which they were swept in four games– the final two on home ice– by the Colorado Avalanche.

As it is, Florida hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016’s First Round loss to the New York Islanders in six games.

So they’ve bolstered their roster with Bobrovsky in the crease and three other players that were signed on July 1st– Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman.

Acciari’s a bottom-six forward who likes to hit and can hit clean, but at three-years and $1.667 million per season, might be a bit much to pay for someone who only had 14 points last season. Sure it was career-year, but his goal scoring production was down from 10 goals in 2017-18 to six goals in 2018-19.

Connolly signed a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and with a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the Washington Capitals in 2018, he brings more than just winning pedigree– he had career-highs in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) in 81 games for the Caps last season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft is finally coming around to his potential at age 27. Better late than never and that’s why the Panthers are taking this gamble.

An improved offense in the top-nine forwards to go with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano, as well as an addition to the blue line in Anton Stralman’s three-year contract worth $5.500 million per season has the Panthers with high hopes for the 2019-20 season.

Especially when you consider the fact that their new head coach behind the bench is three-time Stanley Cup champion, Joel Quenneville.

Tallon, Quenneville and Florida’s roster don’t just have their sights set on a First Round appearance.

What if they don’t pull things off right away and age catches up to their free agent signings from this offseason? Is it right back to square one as an older, slower, knock-off version of their intra-state rival up in Tampa?

Ten players on the current NHL roster are pending free agents of the unrestricted and restricted variety after this season.

Florida currently has about $781,330 in cap space with Hoffman and Dadonov as their biggest pending-UFAs next July.

Thanks to Luongo’s early retirement, the Panthers will be stifled with a cap recapture penalty that’s not as significant as the one the Vancouver Canucks will face, but nonetheless costing Florida $1,094,128 per season through 2021-22.

But Tallon is used to maxing out the books to put his team in a position to win sooner rather than later– just ask the Chicago Blackhawks how their Cup winning core worked out for them.

Offseason Grade: B

Florida going “all-in” in free agency is out of character for their franchise history, it would seem. While nabbing top-end talent at a premium price lands the Panthers as a winner of the bidding war for free agents, there’s a lot of risk involved.

Long-term growth may have been stalled by short-term planning for gains that may or may not pan out as the season has yet to begin. As such, Tallon’s offseason was “above average”, but now comes the time to prove whether it was all worth it or else risk becoming the more expensive version of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 trade deadline.

DTFR Podcast #166- New New New York

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

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

2019-20 Atlantic Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 109 points
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points
  4. Florida Panthers, 89 points
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 89 points
  6. Detroit Red Wings, 84 points
  7. Ottawa Senators, 78 points
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 71 points

Tampa Bay Lightning: Pros and Cons

The Lightning are annual favorites among the experts to win the Stanley Cup, so it’s no surprise, really, that they haven’t yet. There’s either too many expectations to live up to or there’s too much of a casual atmosphere from season-to-season.

You know what they say when you assume.

Just like the Washington Capitals and their 2018 Stanley Cup championship, it’s better for the Bolts if nobody is talking about them. Prior to the Caps winning in 2018, there was a “Cup or bust” mantra that just didn’t work.

Nothing is willed without hard work and humility.

That’s not to say Tampa doesn’t work hard or isn’t humble, but rather, they must lose on the big stage repetitively until everyone expects them to fail. That’s when they’ll go on a run.

They’ve managed to keep their roster together (granted, RFA center, Brayden Point, is still unsigned) while trimming the fat (gone are the days of Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi on the blue line) and are still Stanley Cup front-runners, but they likely won’t get back to the 60-win plateau in back-to-back seasons.

The Lightning will still get to 50 wins for the third season in-a-row, have Nikita Kucherov set the league on fire in scoring and yield out-of-this-world goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy before the real season starts– the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How would the Lightning fail?

Everyone keeps talking about the Lightning as if they’re some godsend (too much hype, remember?). That, or General Manager Julien BriseBois blows up the roster and/or Jon Cooper is fired as head coach.

Boston Bruins: Pros and Cons

The Bruins core remains strong among their forwards and as long as they’re able to negotiate an extension with RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo without any bumps in the road, then their defense is pretty sound too.

Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year deal last summer, so the 1A/1B tandem of Tuukka Rask and Halak in the crease seems fine for another run in 2019-20.

Boston exceeded expectations in 2017-18 and went under the radar in 2018-19– though they managed to amass only 10 losses in regulation since Jan. 1st, which means they were actually pretty loud in the points percentage column.

Injuries come and go.

If the Bruins are able to stay healthy instead of dropping like flies to their 12th defenseman on the depth chart, they might actually pick up a few more points than they did last season.

With Bruce Cassidy as head coach, things should remain status quo in the regular season, but Boston still needs to address their top-six forward problem.

David Pastrnak can play on the first or second line, but on any given night that leaves one of their top two lines in need of a scoring winger.

General Manager Don Sweeney managed to patch a hole at the third line center– acquiring Charlie Coyle as last season’s trade deadline loomed– and Coyle was one of their better players in their 2019 Stanley Cup Final postseason run.

But with a couple of depth signings for bottom six roles in the offseason (Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie), everyone getting another year older and David Backes’ $6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21 still on the books, Boston’s hands are tied.

How would the Bruins fail?

There’s enough bark in the regular season, but not enough bite for a deep postseason run. It’s harder than ever before to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons– and that’s before you consider age, injuries and regression.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Pros and Cons

Toronto has Auston Matthews as their second best center. Yes. Second best. Why? Because John Tavares enters the second year of his long-term seven-year deal that he signed last July.

That alone will continue to keep the Leafs afloat with a strong 1-2 duo down the middle.

Regardless of the Mitch Marner contract negotiations (or lack thereof), the Maple Leafs are just fine with their forwards– having traded Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche and acquiring Alex Kerfoot in the process (Calle Rosen and Tyson Barrie were also swapped in the deal).

Patrick Marleau is gone and it only cost Toronto a conditional 2020 1st round pick (top-10 lottery protected) and a 2020 7th round pick in the process, but an affordable Jason Spezza at league minimum salary ($700,000) on a one-year deal for fourth line minutes will do just fine.

By puck drop for the 2019-20 season, the Leafs will save $10.550 million in cap space thanks to David Clarkson (yes, his contract’s back after a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights that sent Garret Sparks the other way) and Nathan Horton’s placement on the long-term injured reserve.

The stars are aligning for Toronto to still need to get past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.

With Kadri gone, however, perhaps they will be able to do so with or without Boston in the equation.

How would the Leafs fail?

They don’t sign Marner and they lose in another Game 7 because of it. There’s a lot of turbulence ahead for Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas considering the Leafs have one defender under contract after 2019-20. If the team doesn’t breakout in the postseason, it’s really just status quo until proven otherwise.

Florida Panthers: Pros and Cons

The Panthers are beginning to ripen with a mix of youth and experience among their forwards, plus a defense that quietly does their job.

They also added Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman and (most importantly) Sergei Bobrovsky to the mix.

While Acciari’s $1.667 million cap hit through 2021-22 is a slight overpay for a fourth line center, at least it could be worse. Connolly’s making $3.500 million for the next four years and even Stralman has a cap hit of $5.500 million through 2021-22 when he’ll be turning 36 on August 1, 2022.

Ok, so it was an expensive offseason for Florida– and that’s before you add the $10.000 million price tag for the next seven years of Bobrovsky in the crease.

Yes, despite landing one of the better goaltenders in the league in free agency, General Manager Dale Tallon managed to make matters complicated after, say, the fourth year of Bobrovsky’s contract.

Bobrovsky will be roughly 37-years-old by the time his contract with the Panthers expires and not everyone can be like Dwayne Roloson in the net forever.

At least they drafted Spencer Knight (in the first round– a goaltending prospect curse).

Though they missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by 12 points for an Eastern Conference wild card spot, the Panthers are in a position to gain more than a few wins with new head coach (and three-time Stanley Cup champion) Joel Quenneville behind the bench.

How would the Panthers fail?

Florida’s already landed the biggest prize in head coaching free agency with Quenneville reuniting with Tallon in Sunrise. What could possibly go wrong (besides Tallon being replaced by a clone of Stan Bowman and then the Panthers go on to win three Cups without Tallon in command)?

Montreal Canadiens: Pros and Cons

Montreal didn’t get Matt Duchene or Sebastian Aho in free agency, so they got the next best thing– not overspending on July 1st.

That’s not to say Duchene and Aho aren’t quality players, but rather just an observation of cap concerns for the Habs with Max Domi as a pending-RFA in July 2020 and the rest of Montreal’s future core (Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Victor Mete, Cayden Primeau and Jesperi Kotkaniemi) to consider going down the road.

Granted, Aho could’ve sped the process up a bit if it weren’t for those pesky RFA rights and compensation in the CBA, right Montreal?

The Canadiens need a legitimate number one center, but General Manager Marc Bergevin has been preoccupied restructuring the defense in the meantime.

That’s not a bad thing.

Shea Weber is 34 and under contract through the 2025-26 season, though after 2021-22, his base salary drops to $3.000 million in 2022-23 and $1.000 million from 2023-26 (meaning he could be traded with ease in a few years, despite his $7.857 million cap hit).

But Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry are both over 30 and have no-trade and/or no-movement clauses in their contracts.

At least free agent addition, Ben Chiarot, is 28-years-old, but he also carries a no-trade clause as part of his three-year deal.

How would the Canadiens fail?

Claude Julien inexplicably reverts back to his old ways and doesn’t play the kids, Carey Price is injured for most of the season and/or Bergevin overcompensates in a trade because of his failure to secure a free agent center.

Detroit Red Wings: Pros and Cons

Steve Yzerman has come home and is rightfully the General Manager for the Red Wings, but as we’ve seen in Tampa, his masterplan takes a little time.

Detroit is four or five years out from being an annual Cup contender, but that doesn’t mean the Red Wings haven’t already sped things up in their rebuild.

Trading for Adam Erne isn’t a grand-slam, but it does make the average age of the roster a tad younger.

It also means that the Red Wings now have seven pending-RFAs on their NHL roster and roughly $37.000 million to work with in July 2020.

How would the Red Wings fail?

Having Yzerman in the front office at Little Caesars Arena is like adding all of the best toppings to a pizza. The only downside is that leftover pineapple is still on the pizza from all of the no-trade clauses delivered by the last guy.

Ottawa Senators: Pros and Cons

The Senators are looking to spend ba-by.

Just kidding, they don’t plan on being good until 2021, so does that mean starting with the 2020-21 season or the following year in 2021-22?

But they do have a ton of draft picks stockpiled including two in the 1st round in 2020, three in the 2nd round, one in the 3rd, 4th and 5th, a pair in the 6th and one in the 7th.

Plus they have roughly $15.600 million in cap space currently and eight players under contract for next season that aren’t on the injured reserve.

For some reason (Eugene Melnyk) current-RFA Colin White is still unsigned and 38-year-old, Ron Hainsey, was signed in free agency, but at least Cody Ceci is a Maple Leaf now.

Oh and former Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith is Ottawa’s head coach now. That’ll show them!

How would the Senators fail?

More importantly, how would Ottawa succeed?

Buffalo Sabres: Pros and Cons

Pro: The Sabres will probably be better than last season.

Con: Ralph Krueger is Buffalo’s new head coach and nobody knows what to expect (he went 19-22-7 in the lockout shortened 48-game season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13).

Pro: Only eight skaters are under contract next season.

Con: Only eight skaters are under contract next season, including Rasmus Ristolainen and nobody is sure whether or not the club is trying to trade him.

Pro: Marcus Johansson!

Con: Jimmy Vesey! (Only cost Buffalo two third round picks over three years to get him.)

Pro: The average age of the roster is about 26.

Con: Matt Hunwick is the oldest player at 34-years-old, followed by Carter Hutton at 33 and Vladimir Sobotka at 32.

Pro: Royal blue in 2020!

Con: It’s not until 2020.

How would the Sabres fail?

If Buffalo actually finishes last in the division, instead of any improvement whatsoever.

DTFR Podcast #165- Where’s My Cottage Invite?

Nick takes a little time out of the summer to go over third line signings, jersey number controversy and Ron Francis’ hiring as General Manager of the Seattle expansion franchise.

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

DTFR Podcast #164- The Free Agency Mega-Hour

Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.

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

DTFR Podcast #156- Second Round Surge

Nick and Pete discuss whether or not it’s worth pursuing Pavel Datsyuk this summer, the Adam Fox trade and what it means for the New York Rangers, as well as more Second Round musings in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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

Bruins thunder past Lightning, 4-1

After receiving 15 stitches after taking a puck to the mouth on Tuesday, Noel Acciari scored the eventual game-winning goal in the third period Thursday night, as the Boston Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-1, at TD Garden.

For the first time in league history, two teams met in the midst of a 14-game point streak. Tampa entered the night on a franchise record, 10-game, winning streak.

Tuukka Rask (21-8-5 record, 2.36 goals against average, .920 save percentage in 35 games played) made 20 saves on 21 shots against for a .952 SV% in the win.

Lightning goaltender, Louis Domingue (19-5-0, 2.92 GAA, .908 SV% in 24 GP) stopped 37 out of 41 shots faced for a .902 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 38-17-9 (85 points) on the season and remained in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division standings behind their Thursday night opponent, the Lightning, who fell to 49-12-4 (102 points) and remained in control of the Atlantic.

Boston improved to 25-4-5 when scoring first this season and 24-1-3 when leading after two periods. The B’s are 11-0-4 in their last 15 games and went without a loss in regulation in the month of February for just the 9th time in franchise history.

The last time Boston went without a regulation loss in one month’s time was in November 2011.

The Bruins finished February with an 11-0-2 record.

Kevan Miller (upper body) and David Pastrnak (left thumb) remained out of the lineup as Bruce Cassidy kept his lines the same from Tuesday night’s, 4-1, win over the San Jose Sharks.

Peter Cehlarik and Karson Kuhlman were recalled on emergency basis on Wednesday, but re-assigned back to the Providence Bruins (AHL) by puck drop Thursday night.

Steven Kampfer was the only healthy scratch for Boston with Miller and Pastrnak out due to injury.

Early in the first period, after taking a cross check into the frame of the net, David Backes dropped the gloves and went square dancing with Adam Erne.

It was Backes’ second fight in the last two games as both players were assessed five-minute major penalties for fighting at 2:54 of the opening frame.

Neither team could buy a goal or a penalty in the first period, as the Bruins and Lightning went back to their respective dressing rooms for the first intermission, tied, 0-0.

The B’s led Tampa in shots on goal (17-4), while the Bolts led Boston in blocked shots (8-2), takeaways (6-2), giveaways (4-3), hits (14-7) and face-off win percentage (58-42).

Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, was assessed a two-minute minor infraction for cross checking Tyler Johnson at 4:54 of the second period.

The Bolts did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Victor Hedman was sent to the penalty box for interference at 8:11.

While on the power play, Bruins winger, Jake DeBrusk (21) ripped a wrist shot off of Lightning defender, Anton Stralman, and through Domingue’s five-hole to score the game’s first goal and give Boston the lead, 1-0, at 8:43 of the second period.

Torey Krug (39) and Rask (2) were credited with the primary and secondary assists.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 32-9, in shots on goal.

That’s right, Boston only allowed nine shots against entering the second intermission against the best team in the NHL– and even outshot the Bolts, 15-5, in the second period alone.

Tampa led in blocked shots (14-11), takeaways (9-5), giveaways (9-6) and hits (24-15), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (52-48).

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s went 1/1 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

Almost midway through the final frame of regulation, Hedman took a skate to the sin bin for the second time of the night for tripping Acciari at 9:29.

In the vulnerable minute after the ensuing power play, Chris Wagner sent a shot off of Domingue’s pads, generating a rebound, whereby Acciari (3) buried the loose puck in on the far side of the twine.

Boston led, 2-0, at 11:47 of the third period thanks to Acciari’s goal.

Wagner (6) had the only assist, but the Bruins were not done scoring.

Less than a minute later, Patrice Bergeron (22) received a pass from Danton Heinen and let go of a shot from the bumper through the five-hole of the Lightning goaltender to put the B’s ahead, 3-0, on two goals in a span of 45 seconds.

Heinen (14) and Acciari (5) tallied the assists on Bergeron’s goal at 12:32 of the third period.

Prior to Bergeron’s goal, Domingue had stopped 36 out of 37 shots against.

Brad Marchand (26) completed Boston’s run of four unanswered goals– including three goals in a span of 1:28– with a breakaway goal at 13:15.

Heinen (15) and Krug (40) notched the assists as the Bruins led, 4-0.

Almost 40 seconds later, Anthony Cirelli (13) tipped in a shot from the point by Ondrej Palat after the Tampa forward kept the puck in the offensive zone for the Bolts.

Palat (20) had the only assist on Cirelli’s goal at 13:52, as the Lightning trailed, 4-1.

Almost a minute later, Hedman hooked Charlie Coyle and went to the box for the third time of the night at 14:30.

Boston’s ensuing power play was cut short when Charlie McAvoy hooked Cedric Paquette at 15:54, resulting in 37 seconds of 4-on-4 action before an abbreviated power play for the Bolts.

Late in the third, Matt Grzelcyk cross checked J.T. Miller and was assessed an infraction at 17:59.

Tampa did not score on the ensuing power play.

With about 90 seconds remaining in the game, Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but it was not successful as time expired in the action.

Boston completed the, 4-1, victory and snapped Tampa’s 10-game winning streak.

The Bruins finished the night leading in shots on goal (41-21), while the Lightning led in blocked shots (16-12), giveaways (16-7) and hits (35-22).

Both teams went 50-50 in face-off win%, while the Bolts went 0/3 on the skater advantage. The B’s finished 1/3 on the power play Thursday night.

Heinen (two assists), Krug (two assists) and Acciari (one goal, one assist) each had two points in the effort, while Tampa fell to 6-3 on the second night of back-to-back games this season.

Boston meets with Tampa two more times in the regular season, including once more in Tampa on March 25th and for their final game of the regular season at TD Garden on April 6th.

The Bruins kick off the month of March with the continuation of their six-game homestand on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. Next Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes visit the B’s and will be wearing their Hartford Whalers throwbacks.

Boston takes on the Florida Panthers next Thursday (March 7th) and the Ottawa Senators that Saturday (March 9th) before hitting the road to Pittsburgh on March 10th.

Oshie, Holtby and Capitals crew force Game 7

Unknown-3Washington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

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’ 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No penalty was assessed on the play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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