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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

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

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

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

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

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

It’s all just part of the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

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

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

Boston Bruins

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

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

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

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

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

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

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

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

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

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

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

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

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

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

Krug’s rocket leads Bruins to, 2-1, win in OT in Florida

Torey Krug and the Boston Bruins pulled off a, 2-1, comeback win in overtime against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at BB&T Center.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (18-6-6 record, 2.39 goals against average, .919 save percentage in 31 games played), made 32 saves on 33 shots against for a .970 SV% in the win.

Florida netminder, Chris Driedger (5-2-1, 2.29 GAA, .932 SV% in 10 games played) stopped 26 out of 28 shots faced for a .929 SV% in the overtime loss.

The B’s improved to 43-13-12 (98 points) on the season and remain in command of the Atlantic Division, while the Panthers fell to 33-26-8 (74 points) and stuck in 4th place in the Atlantic.

Boston improved to 21-10-3 on the road this season, as well.

The Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee) and Connor Clifton (upper body) on Thursday night, while head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made one change to his lineup among his forwards– moving Sean Kuraly back to center the fourth line with Anders Bjork replacing Par Lindholm at left wing.

Lindholm was joined by John Moore, Anton Blidh and Karson Kuhlman in the press box as Boston’s healthy scratches in Florida.

Midway through the opening frame, Ondrej Kase awkwardly collided with Evgenii Dadonov, leaving Kase on his hands and knees and (somehow) a minor penalty for tripping Dadonov at 11:41 of the first period.

Florida did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

A few minutes later, after Nick Ritchie tried to mix things up with Dadonov for the incidental contact with Kase that sent Kase down the tunnel before re-emerging from Boston’s dressing room moments after Jake DeBrusk served Kase’s minor for tripping Dadonov– Ritchie went square dancing with Riley Stillman.

The two players exchanged fisticuffs and received five-minute majors for fighting at 14:35 in what was the 18th fight this season for Boston– and the 11th since Jan. 1st.

It was Ritchie’s first fight in 46 personal games played this season and Stillman’s second fighting major in 33 personal games this season.

Less than a minute to go in the first period, Mike Matheson tripped up Brad Marchand and was sent to the penalty box as a result at 19:01.

Boston did not convert on their first skater advantage of the night.

Heading into the first intermission, the game was still tied, 0-0, while the Bruins led in shots on goal, 12-4.

The Panthers held the advantage in takeaways (8-4), hits (9-6) and faceoff win percentage (67-33), while the B’s led in giveaways (6-4).

Both teams had six blocked shots aside and were 0/1 on the power play.

Early in the middle frame, MacKenzie Weegar (6) kicked things off with a one-timer from the point that beat Halak over the blocker with net front screen by Lucas Wallmark.

Brett Connolly (14) and Wallmark (13) had the assist’s on Weegar’s goal and Florida jumped out to a, 1-0, lead at 6:55 of the second period.

Moments later, Dadonov threw an errant elbow on a reverse check in the corner, leaving Bruins defender, Brandon Carlo dazed as he was helped off the ice.

Carlo did not return to the game and was ruled out by Boston’s public relations team with an upper body in a tweet during the third period.

Dadonov was originally assessed a five-minute major penalty on the play, but a review lessened the infraction to two-minutes for elbowing at 10:46 of the second period.

The 30-year-old forward is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and has 25-21–46 totals in 67 games with the Panthers this season and has never been fined or suspended in his National Hockey League career (2009-12, 2017-present).

As a result of Thursday night’s loss, Florida is still four points outside of a playoff spot.

Boston’s power play unit didn’t take long while Dadonov was in the box to capitalize on the skater advantage as Krug rocketed a shot from the point that Patrice Bergeron (30) tipped in to reach the 30-goal plateau for the sixth time in his career (2003-present).

In doing so, Bergeron became the sixth Bruin in franchise history to record at least six 30-goal seasons, joining Phil Esposito (eight 30-goal seasons with Boston), Rick Middleton (eight), Johnny Bucyk (seven), Cam Neely (six) and Peter McNab (six).

Krug (39) and Marchand (57) notched the assists on Bergeron’s power play tally at 11:00 of the middle frame and the Bruins tied the game, 1-1.

Less than a minute later, Boston was back on the power play as Aleksander Barkov tripped up DeBrusk at 11:48, but the B’s weren’t able to convert on their third power play of the night.

Shortly after the Panthers killed off Barkov’s infraction, Florida went on the power play after Marchand caught Mike Hoffman with a hook at 15:06.

The Panthers didn’t score on the advantage, however.

With 1:59 remaining in the period, Anton Stralman took a puck to the face off an inadvertent deflection, but remained in the game.

Through 40 minutes of action at BB&T Center, the Bruins and Panthers were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard with Florida holding an edge in shots on goal, 19-17.

Boston led in blocked shots (10-8), hits (16-14) and faceoff win% (57-43), while Florida led in takeaways (10-8) and giveaways (11-9).

The Panthers were 0/2 on the advantage, while the Bruins were 1/3 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Frank Vatrano slashed Jeremy Lauzon at 2:04 of the third period and was sent to the sin bin as a result, but Boston’s power play was cut short when Charlie Coyle tripped Stralman at 2:58.

The two sides escaped 4-on-4 action unharmed, but upon Vatrano’s re-admittance to the game, No. 77 in Panthers red and blue played the puck while one of his legs was still in the penalty box– resulting in an automatic interference minor penalty at 4:06.

Once more, the two clubs skated at 4-on-4 even strength until David Pastrnak got his stick between the legs of Barkov and brought down the Florida captain at 4:54 of the third period.

The Panthers emerged with an abbreviated power play after the two sides went through 4-on-4 action again, but Florida remained powerless on the power play.

At the end of regulation, the score remained tied, 1-1, and the Panthers led in shots on goal, 31-24.

Florida maintained the advantage in takeaways (12-10) and hits (24-21), while Boston led in faceoff win% (53-48).

Both teams had 14 blocked shots and 14 giveaways aside.

As there were no penalties called in overtime, the Panthers finished the night 0/4 on the power play, while the Bruins went 1/4.

In overtime, Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville, opted to start Barkov, Hoffman and Aaron Ekblad, while Cassidy countered the Panthers’ trio with Coyle, DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.

Late in the five-minute overtime period, after both teams swapped chance for chance, Pastrnak worked to retrieve a puck along the end boards that was sent in by Krug.

No. 88 in black and gold sent a pass back to Krug at the point, where No. 47 then wound up and blasted a slap shot past Driedger to end the game in overtime.

Krug’s (9) goal was assisted by Pastrnak (46) and David Krejci (29) at 4:08 of the overtime period and lifted the Bruins over the Panthers, 2-1.

Boston finished the game with victory on the scoreboard, but trailed Florida in shots on goal, 33-28.

The Panthers also held the advantage in giveaways (15-14) and hits (24-22), while the Bruins led in faceoff win% (52-48).

Both teams finished with 14 blocked shots each.

Florida fell to 2-4 in overtime this season and 4-8 overall past regulation, while Boston improved to 6-2 in overtime and 6-12 past 60 minutes overall in the regular season.

The Bruins improved to 13-2-6 (6-1-0 on the road) when tied after the first period, 18-6-4 (8-5-1 on the road) when giving up the game’s first goal and 11-2-2 (6-2-0 on the road) when tied after two periods this season.

Meanwhile, the Panthers fell to 11-9-4 (4-5-2 at home) when tied after the first period, 25-5-4 (14-2-3 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal and 2-4-4 (0-3-2 at home) when tied after two periods this season.

Boston wrapped up their three-game road trip (3-0-0) on Thursday and plays host to the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden on Saturday.

2019-20 NHL Mascot Power Rankings

Back by popular demand– though a few months later than last season– it’s once again time to rank the NHL mascots.

In January 2017, DTFR began a new tradition of giving props for great efforts made in the community, laughs shared, smiles brought to everyone’s faces and (most importantly) character displayed by every mascot in the National Hockey League.

So without further ado, let’s get started.

31) New York Rangers 31st in 2018-19, 30th in 2017-18

The Rangers still don’t have a mascot, which in today’s day and age is a crime. Just march Brian Leetch around Madison Square Garden once in a while or something. Maybe even let Henrik Lundqvist become the team’s first mascot once he retires.

30) Al the Octopus (Detroit Red Wings) 30th in 2018-19, 26th in 2017-18

It’s a yearly tradition at this point to mention how awesome any Al the Octopus plush toy is and that it’s a shame the Red Wings never made Al the Octopus into a real thing instead of just a prop that ended up being sold for $7,700 at an auction in 2017 after Joe Louis Arena was closed and Detroit moved into their current home, Little Caesars Arena.

29) Spartacat (Ottawa Senators) 21st in 2018-19, 9th in 2017-18

Just like the Senators, Spartacat has fallen on hard times and really needs someone to love him. Unfortunately for Spartacat, he probably needs a haircut first or at least that rebrand to finally come around and give Ottawa a fresh look all-around (with new jerseys, new logos and new players).

28) Thunderbug (Tampa Bay Lightning) 18th in 2018-19, 15th in 2017-18

Being as cute as a bug no longer cuts it when you have Gritty running around causing chaos, plus other mascots really drumming up their personality bits. Perhaps Thunderbug has gotten too casual in recent years and that’s the reason why the Lightning haven’t won the Cup since 2004.

27) Nordy (Minnesota Wild) 28th in 2018-19, 24th in 2017-18

Like Minnesota sports as a whole, Nordy is just comfortable where he’s at. Nobody’s really sure whether he’s a fox, a wolf or some hybrid northern animal native to the wild, but the Wild’s mascot might also be on General Manager, Bill Guerin’s, list of assets to move at this year’s trade deadline if he’s not careful.

26) Wild Wing (Anaheim Ducks) 17th in 2018-19, 3rd in 2017-18

Wild Wing would be the perfect mascot for a roller hockey team, which is fitting for his location in southern California– where you could play roller hockey year-round. What might be a better option for the Ducks, however, would be to have legendary surfer, Rob Machado, make more appearances at Honda Center in an Anaheim sweater.

25) Sparky the Dragon (New York Islanders) 29th in 2018-19, 25th in 2017-18

With a new arena in Belmont Park looming, one would think the Islanders would make the natural switch to a horse-based mascot because, you know, horse racing and stuff. Either that or just give Sparky the Dragon a more fish-based appearance. Just add a few cuddly scales or perhaps give him a fishing rod that can also double as a hockey stick. Props go a long way at improving ratings.

24) Tommy Hawk (Chicago Blackhawks) 20th in 2018-19, 14th in 2017-18

Something about Tommy Hawk just feels off these days. Perhaps his contract will be traded in the offseason too while the Blackhawks adjust from their decade of dominance in the early 2010s to life in the 2020s.

23) Stanley C. Panther/Viktor E. Ratt (Florida Panthers) 25th in 2018-19, 20th in 2017-18

The Panthers have what some might call the “Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly of mascots”. Sure their early works were great, but their recent comedy has shown their age. Florida should put all of their focus in on one or the other– or at least give Olli Jokinen a proper display case inside BB&T Center.

22) Hunter (Edmonton Oilers) 26th in 2018-19, 23rd in 2017-18

Hunter’s redeeming quality this year is the new alternate threads for the Oilers. Edmonton’s new third sweaters help take away the scary qualities of this lovable lynx if you could only see through his otherwise terror inducing mane.

21) Howler (Arizona Coyotes) 27th in 2018-19, 21st in 2017-18

The Coyotes are embracing their kachina sweaters like never before and we can only hope that Howler will have to wear them full-time in the near future. If not, he’ll continue to be average in ranking. Your move, Arizona.

20) Bernie the St. Bernard (Colorado Avalanche) 22nd in 2018-19, 22nd in 2017-18

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Bernie the St. Bernard, since St. Bernard dogs are usually the go-to rescue animals in the event of an avalanche in the real world, but it’s just a little too on the nose compared to the Yeti that once walked the corridors of Pepsi Center.

It was as close to a Sasquatch as you’d see in an NHL arena– until Seattle joins the fray in 2021, that is (hopefully they take our suggestion for a mascot). So yeah… the Avalanche have an average mascot.

19) Youppi! (Montreal Canadiens) 10th in 2018-19, 6th in 2017-18

Look, there’s nothing bad about Youppi!, but has anyone heard from him lately? I mean, is everything ok? First the Tampa Bay Rays jettison their plans for a potential split-season between St. Petersburg and Montreal, then the Canadiens just seem to have really overlooked how much he means to the mascot world lately.

Fear not, this may be a down year in the rankings, but Youppi! should bounce back once the Expos return from their quick run to get bread and milk.

18) Bailey (Los Angeles Kings) 3rd in 2018-19, 1st in 2017-18

Cranky mascots on Twitter is getting kind of old. We’re just putting Bailey here so he can tweet at us and change our minds.

17) Harvey the Hound (Calgary Flames) 23rd in 2018-19, 18th in 2017-18

Put a shirt on for heaven’s sake. It’s winter! Canadians, man. They’re an interesting breed.

16) Chance (Vegas Golden Knights) 9th in 2018-19, 31st* in 2017-18

We gave Chance a chance, but now the Golden Knights’ mascot just seems average, if not just old news thanks to something we call “the Gritty Factor” in the industry. A good performance at the 2020 NHL Mascot Showdown could boost his ranking.

15) Mick E. Moose (Winnipeg Jets) 16th in 2018-19, 11th in 2017-18

Mick E. Moose looked stunning in Winnipeg’s 2019 Heritage Classic sweater, but unfortunately for the Jets mascot, there’s not much else going for him these days. Maybe next year.

14) Gnash (Nashville Predators) 19th in 2018-19, 17th in 2017-18

Gnash gets some bonus points for Nashville’s 2020 Winter Classic sweater, but he hasn’t done anything out of this world lately to try to capture a few more spots.

13) Slapshot (Washington Capitals) 5th in 2018-19, 4th in 2017-18

Once a rising star in the mascot ranking world, Slapshot lost a little of his edge while the Capitals roll right along with the Metropolitan Division lead. Another Stanley Cup Final run could be the cure for his ails.

12) Victor E. Green (Dallas Stars) 12th in 2018-19, 19th in 2017-18

We’re over the moon for this huggable alien in his Stars 2020 Winter Classic threads. Victor E. Green’s also still got those cute hockey stick ears going for him, but could use another viral video or two to really move him up the ranks. Anyone know if he’s on TikTok?

11) Stinger (Columbus Blue Jackets) 15th in 2018-19, 27th in 2017-18

Stinger’s quips with Greg Wyshynski are amusing and have us concerned about just how sentient all NHL mascots have become in today’s world. We’d hate for him to sting us next. The Blue Jackets, in the meantime, are slowly being forgiven over the years for the mistake that was Boomer. Meanwhile, Elvis Merzlikins’ post-win celebrations might merit their own felt-based mascot sometime soon.

10) Louie (St. Louis Blues) 14th in 2018-19, 12th in 2017-18

The Blues win one Cup in 52 years and everyone loses their minds except one being– Louie. Louie will never give you up. He’s never going to let you down (anymore). He’s never going to run around and desert you. Also, he’s just really nice, so let’s reward him with Top-10 status this season.

9) Stormy (Carolina Hurricanes) 24th in 2018-19, 28th in 2017-18

Our biggest improvement this season belongs to none other than Stormy. It may or may not have something to do with him rocking Hartford Whalers gear on Whalers Night for the past two seasons, but the Hurricanes mascot is looking fine as ever in every thread that covers that hog body.

Plus we’ll give bonus points for Hamilton the Pig and free street-cred to the wonderful fans that own and care for Hamilton.

8) Blades the Bruin (Boston Bruins) 8th in 2018-19, 5th in 2017-18

The Bruins almost saw Blades fall in this year’s rankings if it weren’t for how well he’s able to pull off that “B” on their new alternate jerseys. It seems fitting that Blades wears the first letter of his name big and bright on his jersey once in a while. Now if only we could get him to do a backflip or something.

7) Carlton the Bear (Toronto Maple Leafs) 11th in 2018-19, 13th in 2017-18

The Maple Leafs mascot is in the Top-10 for the first time in our ranking and he is looking classier than ever before for some reason. Did someone say “everything old is new again”? Because he’s old, but never going out of style. Alexa, play “Style” by Taylor Swift while we jam with Carlton the Bear and his friends.

6) Fin (Vancouver Canucks) 7th in 2018-19, 10th in 2017-18

Slow but steady has been the progress of the Canucks over the last few years that this season they might make the playoffs and next season Fin just might make the Top-5 in our mascot ranking. Unfortunately for Vancouver’s favorite orca, he’s just one spot shy of being a certified superstar in the making.

5) Gritty (Philadelphia Flyers) 4th in 2018-19, 29th* in 2017-18 (pre-Gritty)

We swear we didn’t take the easy way out by picking Gritty as this year’s top 5th place mascot, but would you honestly blame us if we did? We are all gritizens these days anyway and Gritty rules us all. It certainly helps that the Flyers introduced their “Disassembly Room” and continue to go all-in on the chaos that Gritty brings everywhere he goes.

Plus, look at all the props, costumes and sheer grit that Philly’s orange monster has for each and every event, game and everything in between.

(We also wrote this before learning of the current allegations against Philadelphia’s beloved orange ball of fur.)

4) Iceburgh (Pittsburgh Penguins) 1st in 2018-19, 7th in 2017-18

Iceburgh won top-dog– er, penguin– in last season’s mascot ranking, but things have cooled off for a bit while the Penguins mascot comes down from the many highs of being the No. 1 mascot. He’s ready to settle down and chill in his nest for a while, then go right back for the krill next year.

3) Sabretooth (Buffalo Sabres) 6th in 2018-19, 8th in 2017-18 

Just look at how phenomenal the Sabres’ 50th anniversary sweaters are, then look how much they bring out all the best qualities in Sabretooth to the forefront of this rising mascot in the ranking.

Sabretooth’s a shoe-in for Runner-Up or First Place next season when Buffalo goes back to royal blue as their primary color. The question is, will Sabretooth’s stripes change accordingly?

2) S.J. Sharkie (San Jose Sharks) 2nd in 2018-19, 2nd in 2017-18

For the third year in-a-row, S.J. Sharkie came in 2nd in our ranking. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that we think Sharkie won’t be able to win this competition like how the Sharks always find a way to disappoint their fans before (or during) the Final.

One of these years, San Jose. One of these years. Unfortunately it won’t be this year, as the Sharks are likely to miss the postseason and don’t even have their first round pick.

1) N.J. Devil (New Jersey Devils) 13th in 2018-19, 16th in 2017-18

What’s hotter than hell these days? The N.J. Devil himself.

Seriously, just look at this gorgeous mascot and you too will start questioning if you’re really that attracted to his facial hair or the fact that this guy can bench more than your cousin Tony. New Jersey, your next reason to shutdown your beaches is right in front of you and it looks way hotter.

Also, has there ever been a more relatable mascot that loves pizza just like us?


In all seriousness though, all of the league’s mascots do a great job of being an entertaining part of the game, as well as wonderful ambassadors for spreading kindness and cheer in their community.

Hats off to the people living inside the sweaty costumes and the marketing teams behind them.

B’s snap five-game losing streak with, 4-2, win in Florida

David Pastrnak had a pair of goals in the Boston Bruins’, 4-2, victory over the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Saturday night.

Jaroslav Halak (8-3-3 record, 2.26 goals against average, .928 save percentage in 14 games played) made 31 saves on 33 shots against (.939 SV%) in the win as the Bruins snapped a five-game losing streak.

Panthers goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky (11-9-4, 3.14 GAA, .900 SV% in 26 games played), stopped 38 out of 41 shots faced for a .927 SV% in the loss.

Boston improved to 21-7-6 (48 points) on the season and increased their command over the rest of the Atlantic Division, while Florida fell to 15-12-5 (35 points) and dropped to 6th in the Atlantic.

The B’s also improved to 9-6-1 on the road this season.

For the 34th time this season, Kevan Miller (knee) was still out of the lineup due to lingering setbacks from his injury late last season. He has yet to make his 2019-20 season debut.

Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia) and Zach Senyshyn (lower body) remained out of the lineup due to injuries while the Bruins took on the Panthers in Florida.

Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, announced a few lineup changes to reporters before the game, replacing Brett Ritchie with David Backes among his forwards.

As a result, Charlie Coyle was moved up to the second line right wing in Ritchie’s place, while Sean Kuraly filled in Coyle’s third line center spot and Chris Wagner moved from the fourth line right wing to the fourth line center.

Backes took over Wagner’s role on the right side of the fourth line.

Everything else was unchanged from Thursday night’s, 3-2, loss in Tampa.

Par Lindholm and Connor Clifton joined Ritchie as Boston’s healthy scratches against the Panthers.

Patrice Bergeron skated in his 1,053rd career NHL game on Saturday– surpassing Don Sweeney for the 3rd most in Bruins franchise history.

Early in the action, Anders Bjork caught Florida defender, Anton Stralman, with a high stick and presented the Panthers with their first power play of the game at 2:10 of the first period.

Florida’s power play couldn’t get anything going and did not convert on the skater advantage while Bjork was in the box.

Midway through the period, Mark Pysyk tripped Brad Marchand at 11:13.

Boston’s first power play opportunity of the night was not successful, but the Bruins were able to take advantage of the momentum generated in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Jake DeBrusk (8) poked the puck through a Florida defender and earned himself his own breakaway before scoring on Bobrovsky.

Charlie McAvoy (12) and David Krejci (16) notched the assists on DeBrusk’s 100th career NHL point as the B’s took the game’s first lead, 1-0, at 14:41 of the first period.

Less than a couple of minutes later, Matt Grzelcyk interfered with former Bruin, Frank Vatrano, and was assessed a minor infraction at 16:08.

The Panthers were unsuccessful on their second power play of the game and quickly found themselves shorthanded after Grzelcyk was freed from the box.

Brett Connolly tripped John Moore at 18:39 and presented Boston with their second power play of the night.

Though the power play carried over into the second period, the Bruins were not able to take advantage of their skater advantage.

Entering the first intermission, Boston led Florida, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 22-11, in shots on goal.

The Bruins also held the advantage in blocked shots (7-3) and hits (10-8), while the Panthers led in takeaways (3-2) and faceoff win percentage (57-44).

Both teams had four giveaways aside and were 0/2 on the power play after 20 minutes of action at BB&T Center.

Krejci (7) blasted a one-timer from the high slot that squibbed through Bobrovsky and just over the line before a Panthers defender tried to scoop it out as though it had never happened (before DeBrusk tapped it back in) and the Bruins jumped out to a two-goal lead at 3:14 of the second period.

DeBrusk (8) and Torey Krug (17) had the assists on Krejci’s goal as the B’s led, 2-0.

Moments later, Vincent Trocheck sent the puck over the glass for an automatic delay of game penalty at 6:50 of the middle frame.

While on the power play, Marchand worked a pass through the slot that was redirected by Pastrnak (27) into the twine from the edge of the crease to make it, 3-0, for Boston.

Marchand (31) and Krug (18) tallied the assists on Pastrnak’s power play goal at 7:30 of the second period and the Bruins had their first three-goal lead in a game since beating the Montreal Canadiens, 8-1, on Nov. 26th in Montreal.

Through 40 minutes of play on Saturday night, the B’s led the Panthers, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 32-22, in shots on goal.

Florida held the advantage in shots on net in the second period alone, 11-10, as well as in takeaways (6-3), giveaways (8-7) and hits (18-11).

Boston led in blocked shots (13-10) and faceoff win% (54-46) entering the second intermission,

The Panthers were 0/2 on the skater advantage, while the Bruins were 1/3 on the power play heading into the third period.

Pysyk (2) sent a backhander over Halak from point blank on a rebound at 2:46 of the third period to put the Panthers on the board and cut Boston’s lead to two-goals.

Aaron Ekblad (13) and Keith Yandle (24) notched the assists on Pysyk’s goal as Florida came out of the gate for the final frame with a burst of energy.

Ekblad got caught up on a Pastrnak breakaway and hooked the winger while falling behind the play, yielding a penalty shot for the Bruins winger in the process.

Pastrnak took his time as he skated in on Bobrovsky for the penalty shot at 6:29 of the third and fired a shot right into the goaltender as he tried to muster something on the short side.

Though he has a knack for scoring impressive goals in regular game situations, Pastrnak is now only 1-for-3 on penalty shots in his career. Meanwhile, Bobrovsky has made seven saves on 11 penalty shot attempts in his career.

Almost midway through the third period, Yandle (4) rocketed a one-timer from the point over Halak’s glove that rang the post and deflected into the twine to make it a one-goal game.

Trocheck (11) and Ekblad (14) had the assists on Yandle’s goal at 9:13 and Florida trailed, 3-2.

Panthers head coach, Joel Quenneville, pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker with almost two minutes remaining in the game, but things did not go as planned for Florida’s comeback attempt Saturday night.

Unlike how things went when the Bruins blew a, 4-0, lead at home on Nov. 12th against the Panthers, Boston finished off Florida while on the road with an empty net goal from Pastrnak (28) as the NHL’s leading goal scorer hit the empty twine from downtown.

Marchand (32) and Bergeron (17) were credited with the assists on Pastrnak’s second goal of the night at 17:50 and the Bruins secured the, 4-2, victory as a result.

Additionally, with his second assist of the game, Marchand became the first Bruin to reach 50 points in a season in 34 or fewer games since Adam Oates reached the 50-point mark 31 games into the 1995-96 season.

Oates had 14-36–50 totals in that span, while Marchand has 18-32–50 totals so far this season.

Finally, at 18:37 of the third period, McAvoy picked up an interference minor when he knocked down Florida captain, Aleksander Barkov, near the corner boards as time winded down and the puck was a little too far out of reach for both players.

Barkov suffered what appeared to be a lower body injury as a result while McAvoy skated over to the penalty box.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won, 4-2, and finished the night leading in shots on goal (42-33), blocked shots (21-14) and faceoff win% (57-43).

Florida finished the night leading in giveaways (15-10), while both teams were even in hits (21-21).

The Panthers went 0/3 on the skater advantage, while the B’s finished Saturday night’s action 1/3 on the power play.

Saturday night marked the first win for Boston since their, 2-0, shutout over the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 3rd. Halak was also in net that night.

Boston wrapped up their four-game road trip (1-3-0) Saturday.

The B’s also improved to 12-3-0 when leading after one period, 11-0-2 when leading after two periods and 14-5-3 when scoring the game’s first goal this season.

The Bruins return home for a four-game homestand next Tuesday (Dec. 17th) against the Los Angeles Kings before hosting the New York Islanders (Dec. 19th), Nashville Predators (Dec. 21st) and Washington Capitals (Dec. 23rd).

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.

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Panthers pounce on Bruins, 5-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberto Luongo, Bjugstad, and Smith Overpower New York to Even Up the Series.

The Florida Panthers defeated the New York Islanders by the score of 2-1 on Friday night in front of a rocking 18,373 at the BB&T Center. The Panthers were led by their All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo who made 41 saves in their winning effort.

Both teams started off the game by sending their 4th line to the opening faceoff to try to gain momentum. This worked in favor of both sides being that just 42 seconds into the game there already was a scrum. The scrum involved the two team’s enforcers Shawn Thornton and Matt Martin but didn’t amount to anything. Just three minutes later on the Panthers sixth shot, Rielly Smith (his 3rd goal in just two games) scored the game’s first goal off a juicy rebound from Thomas Greiss, assisted by Nick Bjugstad and Johnathan Huberdeau.

Rocco Grimaldi took the game’s first penalty just two minutes later after he took down Islanders center, Alan Quine. This would send the Islanders to the power power where they looked to even up to score. They were able to sustain a good amount of pressure, but with just one weak shot from the point, it never amounted to anything great. Then 12 minutes later Panthers left winger Garret Wilson tripped Islanders left winger Shane Prince resulting in their second power play of the period. Unfortunately, this PP was worse than the first one resulting in no shots. So, the first period ended 1-0 in favor of the Panthers.

The second period started just like the first, with both coaches sending out their 4th line to set the tone, but this time nothing happened. The first prime scoring chance and momentum went to the Panthers at 17:04 of the second period from veteran defenseman Dmitry Kulikov after Greiss shut down his first shot from the slot with a great toe/blocker save. Then just 3 minutes and 21 seconds later Dmitry Kulikov found Reilly Smith behind the net who then found a cutting Nick Bjugstad (who slipped poor coverage from Islanders right-winger Josh Bailey) with a spinning backhand pass and Bjugstad roofed his first of the playoffs to open the Panthers scoring tab in the second period.

With 1:27 remaining in the second period we had our games first major altercation. Of course, you might have even guessed it, it involved both teams 4th line again! The Islanders enforcers went at it trying to gain energy for their team who were down 2-0 at the time. It seemed that everyone on the ice had a man tied up and were going back and forth. Before it all started, the pesky Casey Cizikas gave Panthers D-man Aaron Ekblad a shot below the belt and his teammates didn’t like that and a brawl commenced. After everything settled down, a total of 6 penalties were handed out, with both teams sending 3 players to the box. Believe it or not, each player on the 4th line for both teams got two minutes for roughing with Cizikas getting an extra penalty for the low blow. So, the Panthers went on their first power play, but it resulting in nothing special.

The start of the third period was a slow one, with no team truly gaining momentum. One of the first actions of the period was at the 15:47 mark of the third period when Cal Clutterbuck made two beautiful toe drags to gain the zone and gave Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic no choice but to drag Clutterbuck down and go to the box for holding. The Islanders would then get their third PP of the game. They grabbed three high-quality shots during the 2-minute span, but Roberto Luongo was up to the task and kept the shots out of his net.

Then with 3:33 seconds remaining in the game, the Islanders were able to ultimately get one past the stellar Luongo with their 40th shot of the game. With their superstar, John Tavares corralling Nick Leddy’s point shot off the boards and slamming the puck past Luongo’s right pad for his second of the playoffs. Also, Kyle Okposo grabbed the secondary apple (assist) on the goal. They then pulled goaltender Thomas Greiss for the extra attacker pushing for that tying goal. They only managed two shots, but “Lu” wasn’t having any of it and shut the door. The Panthers would then ice the game on an empty net goal scored by Dmitry Kulikov assisted by Aleksander Barkov at 19:51 of the third period.

New York outshot Florida 42-31 and outhit the Panthers 32-22. While Florida won in the faceoff category 36-27, lead in giveaways 13-9, and blocked shots 12-8. Florida was 0/1 on the power play while New York was 0/3.

First Start Roberto Luongo would earn his first playoff win since 2011 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks after saving 41 out of 42 shots (.976%). While Thomas Greiss, who played a great game, gets stuck with the loss after saving 28 out of 30 shots (.933%).

The series is now tied at one game apiece (1-1).  Both teams will now grab a flight up north to Brooklyn, New York for Game 3 on Sunday with puck drop scheduled for 8 PM. You can catch this matchup on NBCSN, SN, MSG+, or FS-F.