Nick, Cap’n and Pete mourn the Columbus Blue Jackets, review the Vegas Golden Knights front office moves, Ken Holland to the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers new assistant coaches. Finally, the guys preview the 2019 Eastern Conference Final matchup between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the 2019 Western Conference Final matchup between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.
Not to beat a dead horse, but the Boston Bruins’ first line got the job done again in Game 5, as the B’s topped the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-3, at TD Garden on Saturday night.
After blowing a two-goal lead in the final ten minutes of the game, Boston overcame incredible shifts in momentum to give themselves the series lead, 3-2, heading back to Nationwide Arena for Game 6 on Monday.
Tuukka Rask (7-5 record, 2.19 goals against average, .932 save percentage in 12 games played this postseason) turned aside 33 out of 36 shots faced (.917 SV%) for the win.
Columbus goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky (6-3, 2.33 GAA, .928 SV% in nine games played this postseason) had 32 saves on 36 shots against (.889 SV%) in the loss.
Wagner was a healthy scratch for the last two games.
Boston had a plethora of healthy scratches to go with Moore, Miller and Acciari in the press box for Game 5, including Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Jordan Szwarz, Peter Cehlarik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Steven Kampfer, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.
Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella dressed seven defenders– including Vladislav Gavrikov, who made his NHL debut as a result– and scratched Alexandre Texier for Game 5.
The B’s failed to convert on the skater advantage opportunity.
The Blue Jackets did not capitalize on their first power play of the game and shortly followed things up with another penalty of their own– this time a bench minor for too many men on the ice.
Gavrikov was sent to the box to serve the infraction at 13:43 and the Bruins went back on the skater advantage.
Entering the first intermission, the game remained tied, 0-0, with the Bruins leading in shots on goal, 9-8.
Boston also held the advantage in hits, 14-13, while Columbus led in just about every other category, including blocked shots (6-2), takeaways (6-1), giveaways (5-4) and face-off win percentage (62-39).
Heading into the second period, the Blue Jackets were 0/1 and the Bruins were 0/2 on the power play.
Early in the middle frame, the pace of play quickened as both teams jumped out of the gate– yielding end-to-end action.
Krejci (3) settled the puck and trickled an off-speed shot through Bobrovksy’s five-hole to give the Bruins the lead, 1-0, at 1:39 of the second period.
DeBrusk (2) and Backes (3) notched the assists on the goal.
Columbus did not convert on their ensuing power play.
Through 40 minutes of play, Boston led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 23-21, in shots on goal.
The Blue Jackets maintained their dominance in every statistical category, leading in blocked shots (9-7), takeaways (11-2), giveaways (8-4), hits (31-23) and face-off win% (52-48) after two periods.
Both clubs were 0/2 on the power play heading into the third period.
Boston started things off with strong possession in the final frame of regulation and worked their way to scoring chance after scoring chance on Bobrovsky.
It wasn’t long before Brad Marchand (5) got his own rebound from close range– after the Columbus goaltender made the initial glove save– and fired the puck into the twine to give the B’s a two-goal lead.
With the primary assist on the goal, Clifton earned his first career Stanley Cup Playoff point in his seventh career postseason game.
Midway through the third period, Seth Jones (3) squeaked a puck between Rask’s pad and inside the post to cut the Bruins’ lead in half, 2-1, at 10:33.
The goal was originally reviewed and confirmed as a good goal more than a few minutes after the play itself occurred.
Zach Werenski (5) and Atkinson (6) had the assists on the goal after the official timeout helped wake up tired legs on both squads.
David Pastrnak (5) broke the other way after a Columbus scoring chance was denied and sent a shot past Bobrovsky’s blocker side to give Boston the lead, 3-1, at 11:16 of the third period.
Marchand (7) had the only assist on Pastrnak’s goal.
Not even a quick response was enough to stop the freight train of goals scored by both clubs in the final ten minutes of regulation, as after the B’s answered back in a hurray, the Blue Jackets replied.
Duchene (5) and David Savard (2) had the primary and secondary assists respectively.
Just over a minute later, Dean Kukan (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal as the Blue Jackets defender blasted a shot from the slot over Rask’s glove without a body in the shooting lane to tie the game, 3-3, at 13:58.
Late in the period, Marchand worked up ice with Pastrnak and threw a pass across the slot for Pastrnak (6) to redirect behind Bobrovsky to put Boston ahead, 4-3, at 18:32.
Marchand (8) and Brandon Carlo (1) had the assists on what would become Pastrnak’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff game-winning goal.
Tortorella had no choice but to pull Bobrovsky for an extra attacker with 1:21 remaining in regulation and the Blue Jackets threw the kitchen sink at the Bruins.
Duchene redirected a shot off the post behind Rask and Columbus nearly scored when Atkinson hacked away at a loose puck while Rask was desperate to get back across the crease less than a minute later.
Finally, after McAvoy extended his leg to block a shot with his foot in the closing seconds of the game, the Bruins came away with the victory, 4-3, on home ice.
Boston finished the night tied in shots on goal with Columbus, 36-36, and trailed in every other stat, including blocked shots (18-15), giveaways (11-4), hits (42-32) and face-off win% (54-46).
Both teams finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins improved to 7-0 this postseason when leading after two periods.
The B’s take a 3-2 series lead to Columbus with the chance to punch their ticket to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and host the Carolina Hurricanes in the next round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win on Monday.
Puck drop is set for a little after 7 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN for the action. Fans in Canada will have the choice between CBC, SN and TVAS for their viewing pleasure.
The Boston Bruins forced their way back into the series with a, 4-1, win on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena in Game 4 of their 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As a result of their win, the series is tied, 2-2, heading back to Boston for Game 5 on Saturday.
Tuukka Rask (6-5 record, 2.11 goals against average, .933 save percentage in 11 games played this postseason) made 39 saves on 40 shots against for the .975 SV% in the win for the B’s.
Blue Jackets goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky (6-2, 2.13 GAA, .933 SV% in eight games played this postseason) stopped 42 out of 46 shots faced for a .913 SV% in the loss.
Bruce Cassidy tweaked his lines from Tuesday night’s, 2-1, loss in Game 3 to Thursday night’s Game 4 action– re-inserting David Backes into the lineup on the second line right wing in place of Karson Kuhlman.
John Moore (upper body) and Kevan Miller (lower body) remain out of the lineup for Boston due to injury, while Chris Wagner, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Steven Kampfer and Kuhlman joined the long list of healthy scratches at this time of the postseason.
McAvoy (5) had the only assist on the goal and for the first time this postseason, Columbus trailed on home ice as the Bruins jumped out to the, 1-0, lead at 3:33 of the first period.
While on the power play, the B’s gave up a shorthanded opportunity to Blue Jackets forward, Boone Jenner, who was promptly brought down by a trip from Marchand at 6:52.
As a result of being tripped while on the breakaway, Jenner received a penalty shot attempt that was denied by Rask.
Less than a minute later, Bergeron (4) ripped a shot past Bobrovsky’s glove side for the power play goal and gave the Bruins a two-goal lead.
Bergeron’s goal was assisted by Marchand (6) and Krug (5) at 7:18 of the first period and Boston led, 2-0, 26 seconds after Jenner’s penalty shot.
About a minute later, after the puck hit the netting above the glass and technically had gone out of play, Columbus capitalized on a missed call by the on-ice officials and pocketed a goal from Artemi Panarin (5) to cut the lead in half, 2-1, at 8:46.
Not even the official review of every goal in the postseason could overturn an otherwise non-reviewable play as the coach’s challenge only pertains to offside and goaltender interference calls.
Oliver Bjorkstrand (3) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (3) notched the assists on Panarin’s goal– the second goal to be scored after the puck hit the netting above the glass in Columbus since the last time the Blue Jackets also tabbed a goal in similar fashion on Dec. 27, 2014 against– you guessed it– the Bruins.
Nine seconds later, Josh Anderson hooked Pastrnak and skated his way over to the penalty box to serve a two-minute minor infraction. Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.
The Bruins would fail to score once more on a power play after Dean Kukan elbowed Backes in the face at 12:30 of the opening frame.
Moments later, while struggling to clear the puck from their own zone, Marchand flung the puck over the glass and out of play for the automatic delay of game minor penalty at 16:00 of the first period.
Columbus did not score on the resulting skater advantage.
Through 20 minutes of the action in Game 4, the B’s led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and trailed the Blue Jackets, 15-13, in shots on goal. Columbus also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-2), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (3-2) and hits (20-10), while Boston led in face-off win percentage (63-38).
The Blue Jackets were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission and the Bruins were 1/3.
Columbus did not convert on their second power play opportunity of the night and failed to record a shot on goal on the skater advantage while Clifton was in the box.
Moments later, Clendening interfered with Backes and was sent to the box with a minor penalty at 12:06. Boston did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.
After killing off the Clendening minor, Anderson cut a rut to the penalty box for interfering with McAvoy at 14:19 of the second period.
For the fifth time of the night, the Bruins went on the power play, but for the fourth consecutive power play, Boston did not capitalize on the scoreboard.
Late in the period, Marchand inadvertently tripped up Cam Atkinson in the neutral zone and was charged with a minor penalty at 18:01– leaving one second remaining on the power play for the Blue Jackets entering the third period.
After two periods of play, the Bruins led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and trailed Columbus, 27-25, in shots on goal– despite splitting shots on goal in the second period, 12-12.
The Blue Jackets maintained the advantage in blocked shots (7-6), takeaways (8-2) and hits (28-16), while the B’s led in face-off win% (62-38) heading into the second intermission.
Both teams had five giveaways apiece after 40 minutes of action and Columbus was 0/3 on the skater advantage, while Boston was 1/5 on the power play heading into the third period.
Midway through the third period, Dublin, Ohio native, Sean Kuraly (2) scored on the intentional carom off the endboards set up by Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, to give Boston a two-goal lead once again.
Chara (2) and Backes (2) were credited with the assists on Kuraly’s goal at 8:40 of the third period and the Bruins led, 3-1.
Past the midpoint of the final frame of regulation, Jake DeBrusk tripped Bjorkstrand and was sent to the box at 12:12.
Despite firing off four shots on goal on the resulting power play, the Blue Jackets were not able to get one past Rask.
Shortly after having the skater advantage, Columbus found themselves on the skater disadvantage when Dubois held Brandon Carlo at 15:59 of the third period.
For the sixth time of the night, Boston went on the power play.
This time, they capitalized.
Pastrnak received a pass from Krug and rocketed a shot off of Bobrovsky, yielding just enough of a rebound for Bergeron (5) to pot into the twine from just outside the crease to give the Bruins a, 4-1, lead with his second goal of the night at 17:30.
Bergeron’s power play goal was assisted by Pastrnak (5) and Krug (6) and helped No. 37 in black and gold surpass Bobby Orr for 6th all-time in Bruins franchise history in Stanley Cup Playoff points.
The longest-tenured assistant captain in the NHL, Bergeron has 36-57–93 totals in 123 career Stanley Cup Playoff games. Orr had 22-66–92 totals in 74 postseason games with Boston.
At the final horn, Columbus’ cannon was silenced as the Bruins won Game 4 by a score of, 4-1.
The B’s finished the night leading in shots on goal (46-40) and face-off win% (59-41), while the Blue Jackets exited the building leading in blocked shots (15-13), giveaways (8-6) and hits (30-25).
Columbus finished Thursday night’s action 0/4 on the skater advantage, while Boston went 2/6 on the power play and improved to 6-0 this postseason when leading after two periods.
For the first time in the series, a game was decided by more than a one-goal differential.
Game 5 is back in Boston at TD Garden on Saturday. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:15 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC. Canadian fans can catch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.
The Columbus Blue Jackets edged out a victory against the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of their 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round matchup and now lead the series, 2-1.
Columbus managed to pull off a, 2-1, win Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena, while Sergei Bobrovsky (6-1 record, 1.88 goals against average, .937 save percentage in seven games played this postseason) stopped 36 out of 37 shots faced (.973 SV%) in the victory.
Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (5-5, 2.22 GAA, .928 SV% in 10 GP this postseason) made 32 saves on 34 shots against (.941 SV%) in the loss.
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, toyed with his lineup between Games 2 and 3, keeping Danton Heinen on the first line right wing with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, while moving David Pastrnak down to the right side of the third line with Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle.
As a result, Karson Kuhlman was re-inserted into the lineup with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci on the second line and Chris Wagner joined Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, David Backes and Steven Kampfer as the healthy scratches for Boston.
The Bruins failed to record a shot on goal on the ensuing power play.
After Boston maintained tremendous pressure in the offensive zone late in the period, Columbus did what hockey does best– letting the other team score after nearly scoring a few times yourself.
In this case, Boone Jenner (1) broke into the attacking zone and fired a shot past Rask while the Bruins goaltender tried to cut down on the angle and the Blue Jackets grabbed the lead, 1-0, at 18:37 of the first period.
Through one period of play at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night, Columbus led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and trailed Boston, 12-10, in shots on goal.
The B’s also led in blocked shots (6-4) heading into the first intermission, while the Blue Jackets held the advantage in takeaways (5-2), hits (25-8) and face-off win percentage (59-41).
Both teams had two giveaways each and were 0/1 on the power play entering the second period.
Columbus had 1:05 left on the power play, however, as the second period began. They did not convert on the time remaining with the skater advantage as the middle frame got underway.
Midway through the second period, Marchand got a stick up high on Jenner as the two tangled in the corner. As a result, Marchand was charged with a high-sticking infraction at 10:49 of the second period and the Blue Jackets went back on the power play.
Boston’s penalty kill never cleared the puck on the ensuing disadvantage, while all nine skaters on the ice at the start of the special teams action remained on the ice for the duration of the penalty.
While pressuring the Bruins into submission, Columbus threw the kitchen sink on the net and Matt Duchene (5) found yet another rebound this series for the power play goal.
Foligno (2) and Cam Atkinson (5) were credited with the assists as the Blue Jackets took the two-goal lead, 2-0, at 12:42 of the second period.
In the final minute of the second period, Boston pressed hard and threw the puck on net with just enough force for it to squeeze through Bobrovsky and slip through the Columbus goalie and the right post past the goal line.
There was just one problem– the ref originally waved the goal off.
DeBrusk (2) was last to touch the puck before it crossed the line before the whistle was blown to stop play and received credit for the goal after an official review determined the continuation of play– combined with the fact the whistle was blown after the puck entered the net– meant a good goal had been scored.
Krejci (5) and Kuhlman (2) tallied the assists on DeBrusk’s goal as the Bruins cut the lead in half, 2-1, at 19:20 of the second period.
Columbus led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 27-22, in shots on goal after 40 minutes of play. The Blue Jackets also led in takeaways (7-2), giveaways (6-2) and hits (38-21).
Boston led in face-off win% (54-46) and both teams had 13 blocked shots aside heading into the third period.
The B’s were 0/1 on the power play, while Columbus was 1/2 entering the final frame of regulation.
Midway through the final period of regulation, David Savard tripped up Marchand at 11:18 of the third period and was sent to the box with a minor infraction.
Seconds later, Bergeron was called for tripping at 11:35 of the third period and both teams skated at 4-on-4 for a span of 1:44 until the Blue Jackets had an abbreviated power play.
Neither team took advantage of either special teams opportunity.
Despite pulling their goaltender with about 2:12 remaining in regulation and using their timeout with 1:01 left in the third period, the Bruins were not able to convert with the extra attacker and tie the game as the final horn sounded, signaling an end to Game 3 in the best-of-seven series.
Columbus has won, 2-1, and taken the series lead, 2-1, with it.
Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (37-34) and face-off win% (58-42), while Columbus left the rink with the advantage in blocked shots (22-17), giveaways (8-5) and hits (53-28).
The Blue Jackets went 1/3 on the power play on Tuesday and the Bruins went 0/2 on the skater advantage.
Game 4 is set for Thursday night at Nationwide Arena with puck drop expected a little after 7:30 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN to catch the action, while Canadian fans can watch on CBC, SN or TVAS.
The Columbus Blue Jackets took Game 2 at TD Garden, 3-2, in double overtime on Saturday against the Boston Bruins– tying their 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round series, 1-1, in the process.
Matt Duchene scored the game-winning goal while on the power play at 3:42 of the second overtime period and the Blue Jackets celebrated a road victory to even the series.
Sergei Bobrovsky (5-0-1 record, 2.01 goals against average, .930 save percentage in six games played this postseason) made 29 saves on 31 shots against (.932 SV%) in the win for Columbus.
Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (5-3-1, 2.23 GAA, .927 SV% in nine games played this postseason) stopped 38 out of 41 shots faced (.927 SV%) in the loss.
Bruce Cassidy made one minor change to his lineup, starting David Pastrnak on the first line right wing with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. As a result, Danton Heinen was swapped from the top line to the second line with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci.
Boston’s healthy scratches remained the same from Game 1 on Thursday to Game 2 on Saturday with Zane McIntyre as the extra goaltender and Paul Carey, David Backes, Steven Kampfer and Karson Kuhlman as the B’s skaters that got to watch the game from the press box with the injured Moore and Miller.
Prior to Todd Angilly’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner“, TD Garden public address announcer, Jim Martin, asked those in attendance to honor Boston Celtics legend, John Havlicek, with a moment of applause and celebration after the Celtics star died at the age of 79 on Thursday.
While on the ensuing power play, Boston recovered a loose puck along the boards and sent a pass to Matt Grzelcyk (1) as the B’s defender crept in from the point to the face-off circle to the right of Bobrovsky, whereby Grzelcyk unloaded a slap shot into the twine.
Charlie McAvoy (4) and Krejci (4) tallied the assists on Grzelcyk’s power play goal and the Bruins led, 1-0, at 7:50 of the first period.
At the sound of the horn for the start of the first intermission, both teams got into a shoving match along the glass and resulted in a cross checking penalty to Marchand at 20:00 of the first period.
The Blue Jackets would begin the second period on the power play after trailing, 1-0, on the scoreboard heading into the first intermission, despite leading in shots on goal, 9-6.
Columbus also led in giveaways (6-3), while Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (4-0), takeaways (5-4), hits (20-18) and face-off win percentage (65-35) after 20 minutes of game action.
The B’s were 1/1 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.
While on the power play to start the second period, Columbus moved the puck out of their own zone and skated the length of the ice to send the rubber biscuit around the horn in Boston’s defensive end before giving it to Artemi Panarin.
The pending-unrestricted free agent in July unloaded a cannon of a shot past Rask on the stick side to tie the game, 1-1.
Less than a minute later, the Bruins regained the lead after Charlie Coyle wrapped around the Columbus net with possession and banked a redirection off of Pastrnak (3) in the low slot to give Boston the lead, 2-1.
Coyle (2) and Marcus Johansson (3) were credited with the assists at 2:01 of the second period as the B’s broke the tie 58 seconds after Panarin’s first goal of the night.
Moments later, Zdeno Chara tripped up Atkinson at 6:36 and was sent to the penalty box with a minor penalty.
While on the power play, Anderson got a stick up high on Sean Kuraly and drew blood, yielding an automatic high-sticking double-minor at 7:37.
Both teams would play 4-on-4 for 59 seconds before the Bruins would have a little more than three minutes on the power play.
While at even strength during the 4-on-4 action, Coyle turned the puck over in his own defensive zone and Panarin (4) roofed the puck over Rask’s glove and off the rear crossbar to tie the game once again, 2-2, with his second goal of the game.
Once more, Jones (6) had an assist for Columbus– only this time it was the only assist on Panarin’s goal at 8:03 of the second period.
The Bruins did not convert on their long power play.
Through 40 minutes of play, the game was tied, 2-2, while the Blue Jackets led in shots on goal, 19-13. Columbus also led in blocked shots (9-7), hits (31-27) and face-off win% (51-49) after to periods.
Boston held the advantage in takeaways (9-5) and giveaways (10-6) heading into the second intermission.
The Blue Jackets were 1/2 on the power play and the B’s were 1/3 on the skater advantage entering the third period.
Midway through the final frame of regulation, Atkinson tripped Torey Krug and cut a rut to the sin bin at 10:48 of the third period. Boston did not get a shot on goal on the resulting power play and failed to capitalize on the skater advantage.
There were no goals or penalties thereafter in the third period.
At the final horn of regulation, the game was still tied, 2-2, much as it was in Game 1 after 60 minutes of play.
Unlike in Game 1, Columbus led in shots on goal, 26-21, after three periods and the Blue Jackets also held the advantage in blocked shots (16-10) and hits (42-35).
Boston led in takeaways (10-7), giveaways (13-8) and face-off win% (53-47) heading into the first overtime period.
Columbus was 1/2 on the power play and the B’s were 1/4 on the skater advantage entering overtime.
One overtime period wasn’t enough– even after McAvoy took a trip to the penalty box for high-sticking Duchene at 10:48 of the first overtime– and the Bruins and Blue Jackets entered the second overtime intermission with ten shots on goal each in the first overtime.
Columbus led in shots on goal through four periods of play, 36-31, as well as in blocked shots (21-16) and hits (49-42). Boston led in takeaways (13-11), giveaways (14-9) and face-off win% (57-43) entering double overtime.
The Blue Jackets were 1/3 on the power play and the B’s were still 1/4 on the skater advantage entering the fifth period of hockey on Saturday night, which blended into Sunday morning by the time double overtime rolled around.
Bergeron tripped Jones at 2:59 of the second overtime period and sent Columbus back on the power play for the fourth time of the night.
Less than a minute later, Duchene (4) followed up on a rebound and beat Rask through the five-hole while the Boston goaltender tried to follow the loose puck.
Panarin (5) and Atkinson (4) tabbed the assists on Duchene’s game-winning power play goal at 3:42 of double overtime as the Blue Jackets sealed the deal on a, 3-2, victory.
At the sound of the final horn, Columbus finished the night leading in shots on goal, 41-31, as well as blocked shots (22-17) and hits (49-42).
The Bruins wrapped up the action leading in giveaways (14-9) and face-off win% (57-43) and went 1/4 on the night on the skater advantage.
The Blue Jackets concluded the action 2/4 on the power play.
With the series knotted, 1-1, Game 3 is set for Tuesday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Puck drop is set for a little after 7 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can tune to CBC, SN or TVAS.
How’s your bracket doing? Not great? Well, you should have taken my advice for the last round (except for Calgary and Tampa). Maybe you’ll nail the Second Chance Bracket the NHL is offering.
Or maybe you won’t.
Regardless, the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is over and the Second Round starts on Thursday. As such, let’s take a look at every matchup like we did for the last round.
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)
The Bruins went 2-1-0 against the Blue Jackets in the regular season and matched Columbus’ intensity at times throughout all three games in the season series.
Boston is coming off a seven game series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second year in a row and is getting more than enough production from their bottom six forwards as of late.
Charlie Coyle has consistently been the best player on the ice for the B’s– going hard to the corners and dirty areas, carrying the puck and adding 3-1–4 totals (tied for 5th on the roster in scoring).
As usual, Brad Marchand leads the Bruins this postseason in goals, assists and points with 4-5–9 totals entering the Second Round, while the rest of the first line– Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak— has five and six points, respectively.
Yes, short of Krejci and Pastrnak’s performance in the First Round matchup, the B’s are looking to get a little more from DeBrusk (one goal against Toronto) against Columbus.
Tuukka Rask (4-3-0 record, 2.31 goals against average, .928 save percentage in seven games this postseason) has been solid in his last few starts and looks to maintain momentum as things get going with the Blue Jackets.
For the first time in franchise history, Columbus advanced past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Not only that, but they rocketed past the Tampa Bay Lightning– sweeping the 2018-19 President’s Trophy winners with the best regular season record of 62-16-4 (tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in a season) in just four postseason games.
Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, is quite familiar with what it takes to knockoff one of the best teams already heading into the Second Round and he has a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the (you guessed it) 2004 Lightning.
Columbus is led by trade deadline acquisition, Matt Duchene, in scoring with sevens points (three goals, four assists) in four games this postseason.
The Blue Jackets have a lot of speed and firepower and they have guys like, former Bruin, Riley Nash on their penalty kill.
Though he finished the regular season with a career-worst 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 78 games played (ignoring his nine points in 32 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and previous one point in five games in 2011-12), Nash has reached the back of the twine once already in the playoffs.
After recording a career-high and league-best nine shutouts in the regular season, Sergei Bobrovsky (4-0-0, 2.01 GAA, .932 SV% in four games this postseason) has the upper hand in goaltending– statistically speaking, of course.
He is in the midst of his postseason career-best performance, but he has faced the Bruins before in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2011 as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. That year, Boston swept Philly and went on to win the Cup, while Bobrovsky suffered two losses in three starts (six games played) and amassed a 3.23 GAA and .877 SV%.
He was just a rookie, but if anyone’s done their research on how to beat Bobrovsky it might just be the Bruins. In his two starts against Boston this season (March 12th and April 2nd) he allowed four goals in each game.
Granted, the playoffs are a different breed from the regular season, Boston should still find a way to deal with Tortorella’s all-in crew in six games.
Regular season outcomes:
6-2 BOS at Nationwide Arena on April 2nd, 2-1 F/OT BOS at TD Garden on March 16th, 7-4 CBJ at Nationwide Arena on March 12th
4/25- Game 1 CBJ @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/27- Game 2 CBJ @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/30- Game 3 BOS @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/2- Game 4 BOS @ CBJ 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/4- Game 5 CBJ @ BOS 7:15 PM ET on NBC, TVAS*
5/6- Game 6 BOS @ CBJ*
5/8- Game 7 CBJ @ BOS*
M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)
New York went 3-1-0 against Carolina in the regular season, but don’t let that influence anything.
The Islanders split their games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season, then went on to sweep them in the First Round and the Hurricanes lost every game against the Washington Capitals in the regular season, but defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games.
Welcome to the playoffs.
Barry Trotz is in his first season behind the bench of the Islanders and brought his usual anchor of a defensive style, while General Manager Lou Lamoriello brought some stability to the front office, as well as the roster as New York said “goodbye” to John Tavares last July.
The Isles led the Metropolitan Division at times this season, but faltered late in February and March to 2nd place in the division standings.
Yet, this team has almost always performed better when just about everyone is counting them out.
When Tavares left, many experts didn’t see anything that could make up for the hole in the roster.
When the puck dropped against the Penguins in the First Round, many thought Pittsburgh’s three Cups in the last ten years would have brought more than enough experience to outperform the defending Stanley Cup champion head coach.
New York has been led by Jordan Eberle in scoring this postseason as the former Edmonton Oiler has amassed a goal a game and six points (four goals, two assists) in four playoff games this year.
As for Mathew Barzal? He leads the team in assists with five.
In goal, Robin Lehner (4-0-0, 1.47 GAA, .956 SV% in four games played this postseason) is blazing through his prior struggles in the crease in his first postseason as a starting goaltender.
It’s a team effort that’s gotten the Isles this far. But it’s also a team effort that’s let the Hurricanes into the Second Round.
Making their first postseason appearance since 2009, Carolina entered Game 7 in Washington boasting a 4-0 record in such games since relocating from Hartford.
The Canes trailed 2-0, and 3-1, but they forced overtime and won the game, 4-3, in double overtime– improving to 5-0, since the Whalers last existed, in Game 7s and knocking off Alex Ovechkin and his pals.
For the 19th time in the last 20 postseasons, there won’t be a repeat champion.
Rod Brind’Amour won a Cup with Carolina as player in 2006. He’s in his first season behind the bench as the Hurricanes head coach and joined Dallas Stars head coach, Jim Montgomery, as the only rookie coaches this season to advance to the Second Round.
Brind’Amour’s lineup has been led from the back-end out with Jaccob Slavin leading in scoring with nine assists in seven postseason games.
In the crease, Petr Mrazek (4-3-0, 2.53 GAA, .899 SV% in seven games played this postseason) has battened down the hatches for the Canes.
The last time Carolina won a Game 7 on the road in overtime, they beat the Boston Bruins in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals. There’s no reason not to believe in a team after what we’ve witnessed from that said organization which has promised others to Take Warning all season long.
It’s ten years in the making, but the Hurricanes will get back to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since they last appeared in that round against the Penguins in 2009 (Pittsburgh swept the series to advance to the Stanley Cup Final).
Carolina will defeat the Islanders in six games and meet up with the Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
PNC Arena is louder than Barclays Center– and overall better– and it’s shame the Islanders can’t just keep using the NYCB Live for the Second Round.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 CAR at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 8th, 4-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 24th, 2-1 NYI at PNC Arena on Oct. 28th, 2-1 F/OT NYI at PNC Arena on Oct. 4th
4/26- Game 1 CAR @ NYI 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/28- Game 2 CAR @ NYI 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/1- Game 3 NYI @ CAR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/3- Game 4 NYI @ CAR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/5- Game 5 CAR @ NYI*
5/7- Game 6 NYI @ CAR*
5/8- Game 7 CAR @ NYI*
The Boston Bruins silenced the cannon at Nationwide Arena with a, 6-2, win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.
Tuukka Rask (27-12-5 record, 2.42 goals against average, .915 save percentage in 45 games played) made 32 saves on 34 shots against for a .915 SV% in the win for the Bruins.
Blue Jackets goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky (36-24-1, 2.59 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) stopped 19 out of 23 shots faced for a .913 SV% before being replaced by Joonas Korpiaslo (9-7-3, 3.00 GAA, .895 SV% in 26 GP) after allowing four unanswered goals.
Korpisalo made three saves on five shots against for no decision in relief of Bobrovsky.
Boston improved to 48-23-9 (105 points) on the season and clinched 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while Columbus fell to 45-31-4 (94 points) on the season and 5th in the Metropolitan Division.
The Bruins also improved to 19-15-6 on the road this season.
Bruce Cassidy made one adjustment to his lineup heading into Tuesday night’s action as Danton Heinen (illness) was not ready to go. Instead, Chris Wagner slid in on the third line right wing while Marcus Johansson remained on the left wing of Charlie Coyle.
Almost two minutes into the action, Jake DeBrusk (26) flung the puck off the top of the net– yes, the top of the net– and hit the rear crossbar before the puck bounced back towards Bobrovsky, off the Blue Jackets goaltender’s back and into the twine to give the Bruins the lead, 1-0.
With the primary assist on the goal, Krejci tied his career-high in assists (51) and points (70) set in the 2008-09 season. Krug also set a career-high in assists (46) with the secondary assist on the goal.
Late in the period, Coyle generated a rebound off Bobrovsky that Johansson (13) buried to give Boston a two-goal lead. Coyle (22) and Wagner (7) tallied the assists on Johansson’s first goal as a Bruin to make it, 2-0, Boston at 17:27 of the first period.
After one period, the B’s led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 11-8, in shots on goal. Boston also led in blocked shots (5-0) and face-off win percentage (52-48), while Columbus led in takeaways (1-0) and hits (9-6).
Both teams had one giveaway each and neither team had seen any time on the skater advantage.
Both teams spent the next 1:48 at 4-on-4 before the Bruins had a brief abbreviated power play. Neither team converted on the special teams action.
Late in the middle frame, Brad Marchand (36) made it, 3-0, for the Bruins with an unassisted effort as he followed up and never relented on the play at 15:14.
Just 46 seconds later, DeBrusk (27) added his second goal of the night on a breakaway at 16:00 of the second period.
Karson Kuhlman (2) and Krejci (52) tallied the assists on DeBrusk’s goal, leaving Krejci with new career-highs in assists (52) and points (71).
After DeBrusk made it, 4-0, for Boston, Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, pulled Bobrovsky in place of Korpisalo.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 4-0, on the scoreboard and, 24-17, in shots on goal. The B’s also led in blocked shots (10-4), while Columbus led in takeaways (2-1), giveaways (3-1), hits (16-13) and face-off win% (51-49).
Both teams were 0/1 on the power play entering the third period.
Bergeron (47) and Marchand (64) had the assists on the goal and the Bruins led, 5-0. Marchand’s secondary assist was his 100th point of the season, making him the first Bruin since Joe Thornton to reach the 100-point mark (Thornton notched 100 points in 2002-03 for Boston).
No. 63 for the black and gold also became the 10th player in franchise history to amass 100 points or more in a season.
He followed up his historical marker with an interference penalty against former Bruin, Riley Nash, at 4:13 of the third period.
Columbus capitalized on the power play when Bjorkstrand (22) unloaded a shot from the face-off circle to the left of Rask as Nick Foligno screened the Boston goaltender.
Less than a minute later, Charlie McAvoy caught Anderson with a high-stick and drew some blood at 6:24, yielding a four-minute double-minor penalty.
Boston killed off the first half of the double-minor with ease, but Matt Duchene (31) snagged a power play goal at 9:14 with a shot from close range as Rask dove across the crease behind the play.
About a minute later, Kuhlman (3) pounced on an odd puck bounce and answered back in a hurry after DeBrusk whiffed on a one-timer and pocketed the puck in the twine behind Korpisalo while the Columbus netminder was out of position.
DeBrusk (14) and Krug (47) had the assists on Kuhlman’s goal at 10:28 of the third period and Boston led, 6-2.
At the sound of the final horn, the Bruins had won, 6-2, and awaited the eventual Carolina Hurricanes’, 4-1, victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto to clinch home ice in the First Round matchup with the Leafs.
Boston finished the night leading in blocked shots (17-5), while Columbus ended Tuesday night’s action with the advantage in shots on goal (34-28), giveaways (5-2), hits (22-17) and face-off win% (54-46).
The Blue Jackets went 2/4 on the power play on the night, while the Bruins went 0/1.
With the win, the B’s improved to 33-6-5 when scoring first this season and 30-3-3 when leading after two periods.
The Bruins are now 1-1-0 on their three-game road trip.
Boston visits the Minnesota Wild on Thursday in their last road game of the regular season before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday to close out the regular season at home.
The Columbus Blue Jackets dealt the Boston Bruins their first back-to-back losses since late December with a, 7-4, victory at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday.
Boone Jenner had a hat trick for Columbus as Boston lost in back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 23rd (at Carolina) and Dec. 27th (versus New Jersey) after their 19-game point streak was snapped on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Sergei Bobrovsky (30-22-1 record, 2.76 goals against average, .906 save percentage in 53 games played) made 27 saves on 31 shots against for an .871 SV% in the win for the Blue Jackets.
Before being replaced in the second period, Tuukka Rask (24-9-5, 2.41 GAA, .918 SV% in 39 GP) stopped 19 out of 24 shots faced in the loss, while Jaroslav Halak (18-10-4, 2.33 GAA, .924 SV% in 35 GP) made nine saves on 10 shots against in relief of Rask for the B’s.
Boston fell to 42-19-9 (93 points) on the season, but remained in control of 2nd place in the Atlantic, while Columbus improved to 39-28-3 (81 points) and remained 5th in the Metropolitan, as well as in command of the 2nd wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins fell to 27-6-5 when scoring first in a game this season and 15-12-6 on the road.
Bruce Cassidy made a few adjustments to his lineup with Kevan Miller (upper body), David Pastrnak (left thumb), Jake DeBrusk (lower body), Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) and Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) all out due to injury.
With Lee Stempniak reassigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL), Trent Frederic was recalled on emergency basis.
Charlie Coyle moved up to David Krejci’s right wing with Peter Cehlarik at left wing on the second line, while Joakim Nordstrom slid down to the third line left wing with Frederic at center and David Backes on the right side in his usual role.
Since Grzelcyk was out due to injury, Steven Kampfer suited up alongside John Moore on the third defensive pairing.
Early into the action, Brandon Carlo was penalized for interference at 3:29 of the first period and gave the Blue Jackets their first power play of the night.
Nearly 30 seconds into the ensuing power play for Columbus, the Bruins caught the Blue Jackets on a turnover and charged down the ice on a shorthanded bid.
Brad Marchand tossed the puck over to Patrice Bergeron (26) for his 4th shorthanded goal of the season and 3rd SHG this week.
Boston grabbed the, 1-0, lead at 4:00 of the first period with Marchand (55) tallying the only assist on Bergeron’s goal.
Shortly after the B’s went ahead, Josh Anderson (23) showed off his speed and caught the Bruins in a line change. Anderson deked and scored on a breakaway with ease and tied the game, 1-1.
Zach Werenski (28) and Ryan Dzingel (26) had the assists on Anderson’s goal at 7:19.
Almost seven minutes later, Dzingel (23) scored his first goal as a Blue Jacket after following up on a rebound generated by Werenski (and the following second and third chances until Dzingel banked the puck off Rask and in)– making it, 2-1, Columbus.
Werenski (29) and Seth Jones (32) were credited with the assists on Dzingel’s goal at 14:18 of the first period.
Late in the period, Columbus committed a rash of penalties with Jenner sent to the box for tripping Bergeron at 17:34 and Nick Foligno closing his hand on the puck at 18:56, resulting in 39 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play for Boston.
It did not go well for the Bruins.
Shortly after emerging from the box, Jenner (13) crashed the slot on another breakaway by Anderson and pocketed the rebound to give the Blue Jackets a two-goal lead.
Anderson (15) had the only assist on Jenner’s first goal of the night t 19:54 of the first period and Columbus led, 3-1, heading into the first intermission.
It was the 13th shorthanded goal allowed by the Bruins this season.
The Blue Jackets dominated in shots on goal (13-4), blocked shots (4-1), giveaways (3-2) and face-off win percentage (70-30) entering the second period, while Boston led in hits (9-2).
Both teams had three takeaways each, while the Blue Jackets were 0/1 on the power play. The B’s were 0/2 on the skater advantage after 20 minutes of play.
Cassidy juggled his second and third lines to start the middle frame, but things started to slide almost halfway into the period.
Matt Duchene (29) scored on a backhand pass from Dzingel while sneaking into the slot after Columbus sustained pressure in the attacking zone to make it, 4-1, Blue Jackets.
Dzingel (27) and Anderson (16) had the assists at 7:09 of the second period.
Jenner (14) added his second goal of the night– and his 100th career NHL goal– a minute later with Riley Nash (8) and Foligno (14) receiving credit for the assists.
Columbus led, 5-1, at 8:09 of the second period and Cassidy had watched his crew let down his goaltender enough. It was time for a change, so he pulled Rask in favor of Halak.
Things started to click for the B’s as Marchand (29) answered on the scoreboard at 13:07 of the middle frame.
Charlie McAvoy (18) and Backes (11) notched the assists as Boston pulled to within three goals.
A mere 14 seconds after Marchand’s goal, McAvoy and Artemi Panarin got into a scrap and exchanged fisticuffs for the 1st time this season (and 2nd time in their careers) at 13:21.
As an aside, McAvoy’s last fight (and first of his career) also came against the Blue Jackets last season (against Pierre-Luc Dubois).
McAvoy also picked up an extra minor penalty for slashing, so Cassidy sent Danton Heinen to serve the penalty while the Bruins were shorthanded.
Boston had a little more fight in them– in part because of McAvoy’s actual fight– and sustained an attack as the period ticked by.
Chris Wagner (12) broke free from the Blue Jackets blue liners and slipped the puck past Bobrovsky on a breakaway at 15:36 of the second period.
Heinen (20) had the only assist as the “Mayor of Walpole” made it a two-goal game. Columbus’ lead was whittled down to, 5-3.
Late in the middle frame, Marchand (30) tabbed his second goal of the game off a face-off from point blank.
Bergeron (39) had the only assist and the Bruins trailed, 5-4, at 18:37 of the second period.
Marchand has reached the 30-goal plateau for the 4th consecutive season and has at least 85 points in his last three seasons.
Columbus also only had four skaters on the ice– after a stoppage in play that resulted in a face-off in their own zone– for the goal against.
They wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
Heading into the second intermission, Columbus led, 5-4, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 28-17. The Blue Jackets also led in blocked shots (11-5), takeaways (6-4), giveaways (6-3) and face-off win% (70-30).
Boston led in hits (18-9) after 40 minutes of play, while both clubs were 0/2 on the power play entering the third period.
Kampfer cut a rut to the penalty box for slashing Anderson at 1:43 of the third period, but the Blue Jackets did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Panarin slashed Torey Krug at 10:08, but Boston didn’t capitalized on the skater advantage. Despite nearly completing a comeback in the second period– the Bruins failed to score in the final frame.
Heinen hooked David Savard at 10:49 of the third period and Columbus went back on the power play.
Late on the ensuing advantage, Werenski (10) wired a shot into the twine from the point past Halak after the Bruins nearly capitalized on a couple quality shorthanded chances.
Panarin (49) and Anderson (17) notched the assists on Werenski’s goal at 12:21 of the third period and the Blue Jackets led, 6-4.
With less than 90 seconds left in regulation, Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra attacker to no avail.
Jenner (15) completed his first career hat trick with a shot at the empty net from his own end at 19:13. Nash (9) and Werenski (30) had the assists and the Blue Jackets led, 7-4.
Columbus finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-31), blocked shots (13-8), giveaways (7-5) and face-off win% (64-36).
The Blue Jackets went 1/4 on the skater advantage.
Boston finished Tuesday night leading in hits (22-18) and went 0/3 on the power play.
The Bruins are currently 0-2-0 on their three-game road trip that wraps up Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets. Boston returns home to face the Blue Jackets on Saturday before hitting the road against next Tuesday (March 19th) against the New York Islanders.
After the B’s take on the Isles, they swing through New Jersey on March 21st, Florida on March 23rd and Tampa on March 25th.
It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.
Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 4|
|Tuesday, March 5|
|7 p.m.||Carolina||Boston||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||New Jersey||2-1 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa Senators||New York Islanders||4-5 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Florida||Pittsburgh||2-3 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Tampa Bay||2-5|
|8 p.m.||Minnesota||Nashville||4-5 (SO)|
|8:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Dallas Stars||0-1|
|9 p.m.||Detroit||Colorado||3-4 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||Montréal||Los Angeles||3-1|
|Wednesday, March 6|
|9 p.m.||Toronto||Vancouver||2-3 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||St. Louis||Anaheim||5-4|
|Thursday, March 7|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Ottawa Senators||4-2|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Detroit Red Wings||2-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Minnesota||Tampa Bay||3-0|
|8:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Chicago||4-5 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Los Angeles||4-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Montréal||San Jose||2-5|
|Friday, March 8|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Washington||0-3|
|Saturday, March 9|
|4 p.m.||St. Louis||San Jose||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Edmonton||CBC, NHLN, SN|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Boston||CITY, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Tampa Bay|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Islanders|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey Devils||New York Rangers|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Arizona|
|10 p.m.||Vegas||Vancouver||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1|
|Sunday, March 10|
|7:30 p.m.||Boston||Pittsburgh||NBCSN, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Los Angeles||Anaheim||NBCSN|
As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.
Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.
Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.
In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.
As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.
While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?
Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.
While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.
Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.
Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.
Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.
Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.
With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).
Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.
Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).
Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.
Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.
With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.
Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.
However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.
Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.
In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.
Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.
I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.