Tag Archives: Brian Dumoulin

A Beginner’s Guide to NCAA Hockey; 2017-2018 Season Preview

The NCAA Hockey season is upon us once again. The cries of “Is it October yet?” have almost been answered. Many teams will begin playing exhibition games this weekend and their seasons will officially drop the puck one week later. College hockey, or #cawlidgehawkey if you want to be like John Buccigross, is becoming an increasingly deep source of professional prospects. Although playing in Major Juniors still seems to be the predominant route to the NHL, collegiate players are no joke. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at this quick list:

Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Brian Dumoulin, Jake Guentzel, Carl Hagelin, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz, Bryan Rust, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary

If you haven’t figured this one out yet, these are all former NCAA Hockey players who have become Stanley Cup Champions with the Pittsburgh Penguins (many of them more than once).

Even if you don’t follow along with college-level puck, check your NHL squad’s roster and I would almost guarantee a few players have come out of the NCAA. The developmental AHL and ECHL are also filled with former college hockey players trying to work their way up the ladder.

If you’re not into NCAA Hockey, it’s totally understandable. There are six different leagues, 60 different teams and over 1,200 individual players (and that’s just at the D-1 level). It may be difficult to dive into at first, but I can assure you it is worth your while. If you want to see grit, speed, talent and passion for the game of hockey all wrapped into one, attend any NCAA game.

Whether this is your first rodeo with college hockey or if you have been around the block a few times, the 2017-2018 season is about to begin. Here is a season preview for the upcoming campaign, which highlights each of the six leagues, as well as lists my predictions for the regular season champions of each organization. Read, enjoy and drop that puck!

Atlantic Hockey

Teams – AIC, Air Force, Army, Bentley, Canisius, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT and Robert Morris

Without putting it bluntly, Atlantic Hockey has struggled since its 2004 founding. They are largely undeveloped unlike many other NCAA Hockey leagues, and many of the teams in this league haven’t been able to find much success – especially against out-of-conference opponents.

That being said, there is typically one team every year that appears to be poised to make a good run. This year, that is likely to be either Robert Morris or Air Force. Both squads return quality players and will try to build upon the growth they showed during the previous season. The Colonials will return team leader Brady Ferguson, who put up an impressive stat line of 24-34-58 last year. Meanwhile, Air Force earned a spot in the preseason polls, coming in at 17th. Although this is a positive sign, they will have to prove their worth when the puck drops.

Preseason Favorite – Air Force Falcons

Big10

Teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin

The Big Ten Conference is still very new to the NCAA Hockey scene, but it has already shown signs of success. After Penn State made the decision to form a D-1 hockey program, the Big Ten decided it was time to flex its muscles a bit and commit to creating a private league for its member universities. Although it was a shame to see the CCHA disband, it was seemingly bound to happen eventually.

This league boasts historic programs such as Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota, but the past isn’t worth more than memories (we don’t need to talk about all of the championships they have won… it’s a lot). This year, the Big Ten Conference will attempt to prove they are a dominate group among the NCAA. With Notre Dame joining as an affiliate member, the league now has seven teams. Five of those seven teams earned preseason rankings in the top 20, with Minnesota coming in at number three. Could this be the year a National Champion is crowned out of the Big Ten?

Preseason Favorite – Penn State Nittany Lions

ECAC

Teams – Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Quinnipiac, RPI, St. Lawrence, Union and Yale

ECAC Hockey (also referred to as the smarty-pants schools) has been able to stay in the spotlight over the past several years. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t too long ago that Union and Yale hoisted the NCAA Championship in back-to-back years. Cornell, Harvard and Quinnipiac are always strong contenders, while the other schools in the league are respectful in their own right.

It will be interesting to see how well Harvard recharges the batteries after facing key losses this offseason. Graduated seniors Tyler Moy and Alex Kerfoot both chipped in 45 points last season, with the remaining 2017 grads collectively contributing 41 goals, which is a lot of firepower to replace internally. With that said, Harvard should still compete well, but other conference opponents could take advantage of any offensive woes.

Preseason Favorite – Quinnipiac Bobcats

HockeyEast

Teams – Boston College, Boston University, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, UMass-Lowell, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Providence and Vermont 

Hockey East Association once again enters the season with very high expectations. They have two teams, Boston University and UMass-Lowell, ranked in the top-five of the preseason poll. Hockey East is a conference that has and will continue to put quality programs in the mix for an NCAA Championship. Many consider this to be the best conference in college hockey, but the emergence of the NCHC has provided some stiff competition.

Make no mistake, Hockey East is still an amazingly talented league. Boston College, Boston University and Providence alone have combined for five championships over the past ten years. The demographics of college hockey are simply changing and other parts of the country, such as Denver and North Dakota, are seeing great success. We will see how this impacts Hockey East teams down the road, but for now, they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Preseason Favorite – Boston University Terriers

NCHC

Teams – Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan

As a college hockey fan, you either love the NCHC or you hate it. One way or the other, you must recognize the level of talent they acquired when they emerged as an NCAA Hockey league. They have five teams represented in the preseason poll, with Denver taking home top honors (if you consider a preseason ranking an honor). They have also brought home two NCAA Championships in as many years courtesy of Denver and North Dakota.

To put it simply, these teams are good.

No, they are great. There is no tip-toeing around the subject. The NCHC did exactly what they set out to do, which was create the most highly skilled, competitive and talented league in the NCAA. Are they the best? That is up for you as a fan to decide, but their early body of work speaks for itself. Keep an eye on the National Collegiate Hockey Conference to see if their master plan will continue to be a success or if they will take a step back this season.

Preseason Favorite – Denver Pioneers

WCHA_2

Teams – Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan

Last, but certainly not least, the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference. As a graduate of Bowling Green State University, I can assure you I am very well-rounded in my knowledge of this league. The WCHA is probably one of the most divided leagues in the NCAA. Any given season, Ferris State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State are prepared to make strong postseason runs. Other teams in the league, such as Bowling Green, have the potential, but have never taken a serious step forward. On the other side of the coin, both Alaskan schools continually struggle and Alabama-Huntsville is still trying to turn in a successful season after their move to the D-1 level.

The last time a current member of the WCHA won a national championship was Lake Superior back in 1994… I don’t want to upset Lake Superior fans, but they are not the team they once were. Then again, you could say the same for Bowling Green, Ferris State, or Northern Michigan. I have a soft spot for the WCHA and hopefully a few of the teams at the top can regain some national prominence for the entire league.

Preseason Favorite – Minnesota State Mavericks

2017 NHL Expansion Draft: Protected Lists

30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.

The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

To recap, here’s all of the protected players:

Anaheim Ducks

Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Antoine Vermette

Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm

Goaltender: John Gibson

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards: Nick Cousins, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder

Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn

Goaltender: Chad Johnson

Boston Bruins

Forwards: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller

Goaltender: Tuukka Rask

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo

Defensemen: Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen

Goaltender: Robin Lehner

Calgary Flames

Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferlund, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan

Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton

Goaltender: Mike Smith

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen

Defensemen: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy

Goaltender: Scott Darling

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews

Defensemen: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards: Sven Andrighetto, Blake Comeau, Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Nieto

Defensemen: Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg

Defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard

Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky

Dallas Stars

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza

Defensemen: Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell

Goaltender: Ben Bishop

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg

Defensemen: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen

Goaltender: Jimmy Howard

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards: Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera

Goaltender: Cam Talbot

Florida Panthers

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck

Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle

Goaltender: James Reimer

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli

Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin

Goaltender: Jonathan Quick

Minnesota Wild

Forwards: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker

Defensemen: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw

Defensemen: Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber

Goaltender: Carey Price

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen

Defensemen: Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban

Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

New Jersey Devils

Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac

Defensemen: Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

New York Islanders

Forwards: Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, John Tavares

Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Thomas Greiss

New York Rangers

Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal

Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris

Defensemen: Cody Ceci, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf

Goaltender: Craig Anderson

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek

Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning

Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin

Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz

Goaltender: Matt Murray

San Jose Sharks

Forwards: Ryan Carpenter, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney

Defensemen: Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Goaltender: Martin Jones

St. Louis Blues

Forwards: Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko

Defensemen: Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo

Goaltender: Jake Allen

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos

Defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman

Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk

Defensemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly

Goaltender: Frederik Andersen

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter

Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev

Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom

Washington Capitals

Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson

Defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov

Goaltender: Braden Holtby

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards: Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler

Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba

Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck

Pens repeat as Stanley Cup Champs

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 6

 

Thanks to Sunday’s 2-0 Game 6 win against Nashville at Bridgestone Arena, the Penguins have retained the Stanley Cup for the second-straight year.

The Finals had been waiting all series for a true battle between the opposing goaltenders. It got what it wanted in Game 6, as Matthew Murray (27-for-27) and Second Star of the Game Pekka Rinne (.964 save percentage) combined to allow only one goal against on 55 shots against.

Play started out predominantly in Rinne’s end for the early minutes of the game, due in large part to the Pens dominating the face-off dot at that time. However, as Nashville began to take control of resumptions of play, the ice began to tilt more in their favor. In fact, the Predators ended the first period trailing the Penguins in shots on goal only 9-8.

The Predators had a much stronger start in the second period, and almost earned the first goal of the game 74 seconds into the frame. Filip Forsberg fired a shot on Murray that he was able to deflect, but not control. Colton Sissons collected the loose puck and fired it into the net, but the goal was disallowed because the referee had blown his whistle for incorrectly thinking Murray had possession of the puck.

But that did little to rattle the still-technically-a-rookie goaltender. He went on to save the remaining 10 shots he faced in the second period to maintain the scoreless draw.

Of all the saves made in the game, the biggest were in the third period. Though only a combined 15 shots were fired in the frame, it seemed the best scoring chances arose in the final 20 minutes. But as had been true for the first two periods, Murray and Rinne kept the opposition searching for its first marker in almost every situation.

In particular, the Predators had an excellent opportunity at the midway point of the period. Due to Olli Maatta tripping Viktor Arvidsson at the 7:19 mark, Nashville earned its third power play of the contest. That advantage grew even larger 1:28 later when Trevor Daley was caught roughing Ryan Ellis. What resulted was a 3:28 extra-man situation for the Preds that included 32 seconds of five-on-three play.

That proved to be the turning point of the game – but not for the original beneficiaries of the infractions. It’s been rumored by players and analysts that a successful penalty kill can reinvigorate a club in a way not even a power play goal could dream of.

That was exactly what happened for Pittsburgh. It played from the 7:19 mark until 9:13 remained in regulation with at least one defenseman in the penalty box and made it look easy. Not only did the Pens not allow a goal in that time, but they only yielded three shots to reach Murray.

7:38 after Daley returned to action, the Penguins began their attack.

The play started with Chris Kunitz behind Rinne’s net chasing the puck towards the far corner. He caught up with the rubber even with the face-off dot along the wall before getting it to Third Star Justin Schultz at the far point. The defenseman slightly slid towards the top of the zone before slinging a wrist shot towards the goal.

Schultz’ attempt missed its mark wide of Rinne’s glove to careen into the boards, but First Star Patric Hornqvist – who was acting as a screen on the blue liner’s shot – was not ready to give up on the play. The former Predator worked his way past the netminder to reach the puck near the far goalpost and smack a wrister off Rinne’s left elbow and into the twine.

Peter Laviolette challenged the goal for goaltender interference (Hornqvist and Rinne did make contact as the scorer dove towards the puck), but it was ruled he was capable of playing his position, therefore a good goal, leaving Nashville only 95 seconds on the clock to respond.

With his club facing elimination, Laviolette was forced to pull his goaltender almost immediately after Mike Fisher won the ensuing face-off  at center ice. But the Penguins defense would not give an inch. No shots reached Murray with Rinne off the ice, and Carl Hagelin (Brian Dumoulin) was able to ensure the Penguins’ fifth Stanley Cup by scoring an empty-netter with 14 ticks remaining on the clock.

Captain Sidney Crosby laid claim to his second-straight Conn Smythe Trophy for scoring 27 points, the second-highest total among all participants (Evgeni Malkin notched 28). With the exception of the Eastern Conference Finals, he registered seven points per round, but it was against Ottawa that he scored three goals – his highest total in a 2017 playoff series.

While the Penguins’ hoisting the Stanley Cup is an impressive feat – they’re they first club to do it since the 1997 and ’98 Detroit Red Wings – Crosby winning back-to-back Smythe Trophies is arguably even more impressive. He is the first to repeat as playoffs MVP since former Penguins player-turned owner Mario Lemieux claimed the trophy in both 1991 and ’92.

Looking ahead, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the NHL Awards Ceremony on June 21 – only 10 days away. Not only will numerous honors be distributed, but the Vegas Golden Knights’ Expansion Draft selections will be announced.

Preds’ counterattack levels Cup Finals

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 4

 

After losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, Nashville has done exactly what it needed to do by beating the Penguins 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 4 to level the series at two games apiece.

Entering Monday’s match, the Predators had averaged 32.3 shots-on-goal per game in the Finals, a lofty number compared to the Pens’ 22.3 average.

Even though it didn’t quite reach that number Monday, three offerings proved extremely important for Nashville in the 15th minute of the first period. The first was an Austin Watson wrist shot fired on Matthew Murray‘s net from beyond the far face-off circle with 5:11 remaining in the frame. The netminder was able to make the stop, but he couldn’t contain the rebound.

That’s where Calle Jarnkrok (Craig Smith and Watson) comes into play only two seconds later. He and Smith both crashed Murray’s crease to collect the rebound. Smith was the first to the loose puck and bat the puck out of the air over the goalie’s left leg. Murray deflected that offering too, but he couldn’t stop the third: a Jarnkrok wrister from the near corner of the crease to give the Preds a 1-0 lead.

Mike Sullivan elected to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but Toronto correctly ruled that Smith’s follow-through, though it made obvious contact with Murray, did not occur before  before the puck had entered the net.

Beyond that marker, offense – specifically offensive possession – was at a premium in Game 4. Don’t let a 4-1 final score fool you, as both clubs managed only 26 and 24 shots, respectively, due in large part to the strong defensive efforts by both squads.

Pittsburgh preferred to keep Murray’s workload to a minimum by blocking shots before they reached his crease. In total, the Penguins blocked 18 Nashville attempts, including an impressive four rejections by Brian Dumoulin.

Meanwhile, the Predators played with a bit more finesse in front of First Star of the Game Pekka Rinne, preferring to force and capitalize on turnovers. Not only did Matt Irwin lead that charge with two of the Preds’ eight takeaways, Nashville was a bigger beneficiary of the Penguins’ sloppy handling. Pittsburgh gave the puck away 16 times, including a miserable four by Ron Hainsey.

Regardless of how either team decided to play, this type of game makes a club’s ability to counter-strike paramount to its success.

The first of those breakaway tallies was struck only 66 seconds after Jarnkrok had finished celebrating his second goal of the playoffs, courtesy of Sidney Crosby (Dumoulin).

Given the events late in Game 3 and their interactions over the first 15:57 of play, P.K. Subban was definitely under Crosby’s skin early in the contest. Anytime they came in close contact, Crosby made sure to give the defenseman an extra shove.

But being under Crosby’s skin does not mean he cannot score. After Dumoulin laced a blue line-to-blue line pass to him at the top of his offensive zone, Pittsburgh’s captain took advantage of his one-on-one matchup with Rinne to patiently wait until the netminder committed to a forehand deke. Crosby then pulled the puck across to his backhand side to bounce the puck off the far post and then off the netminder’s left skate to level the game.

The score read 1-1 for the remainder of the opening frame, but the counterattack theme continued in the second period. This time, both goaltenders were up to the task… at least at first glance.

First up was Rinne, who saved a breakaway wrister fired from the crease by Chris Kunitz at the 3:29 mark. That attempt was followed only 16 seconds later by Murray batting Third Star Frederick Gaudreau‘s wrap-around offering back towards center ice just before it crossed the goal line.

Or so it seemed.

None in the building noticed it, but someone in Toronto did. From approximately 770 miles away, the NHL stopped play almost a full minute later to force a review of Murray’s seemingly miracle save. Video showed that the puck did barely completely cross the red goal line before Murray sent it the other way, meaning the Predators earned a 2-1 lead. Ryan Ellis and Harry Zolnierczyk provided the assists on Gaudreau’s tie-breaking – and what proved to be game-winning – tally.

Yet another Predators breakaway opportunity formed with seven minutes remaining before the second intermission. It started in Nashville’s defensive zone along the far boards when Roman Josi forced the puck towards the blue line. Though Ian Cole tried to separate James Neal from the puck, the former Penguin forced his way past the defenseman to advance it into the neutral zone to Second Star Mike Fisher. Fisher’s adversary was Evgeni Malkin, who knocked the Predators’ captain to the ice – but not before he batted a puck towards Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson beat Justin Schultz to the pass, and in doing so set up a one-on-one matchup with Murray. Arvidsson took the opportunity to line up a wrister towards the far post to beat the goalie’s suspect glove.

Trailing by two goals in the final period, the Penguins managed the best offense they could muster in attempts of tying the game. Even then, their 10 shots were not enough to get past Rinne. To further tilt the tables in its favor, Pittsburgh pulled Murray with 3:31 remaining before the final horn. The Pens were rewarded for that decision only eight seconds later when Filip Forsberg (Mattias Ekholm and Subban) scored a wrister from his defensive face-off circle to set the 4-1 final score.

The Stanley Cup Finals, now a best-of-three series, will recommence following a 90-minute flight from the Music City to the City of Bridges. Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena and may be viewed on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Penguins trounce Predators 5-3 in Game 1

2017 Stanley Cup Final– Game One Recap

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Comebacks are a bit of Peter Laviolette’s specialty. That is until Monday night when Nashville Predators head coach, Laviolette, faced fellow Massachusetts native and Pittsburgh Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan in Game 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Sullivan coaxed his Penguins to the 5-3 victory on home ice— staving off a looming Predators comeback at PPG Paints Arena.

Jake Guentzel scored the game winning goal late in the 3rd period before Nick Bonino added an empty net goal for good measure, securing the win for Pittsburgh goaltender Matthew Murray.

Murray made 23 saves on 26 shots against for an .885 save percentage in the win, while Nashville’s Pekka Rinne stopped 7 out of 11 shots faced for a .636 SV% in the loss.

This year’s Stanley Cup Final begins with controversy, though of a different kind from what you’re probably thinking about (a borderline hit, a blown call or whatever). No, this year’s Stanley Cup Final began with a coach’s challenge that drastically turned the momentum of Game 1 on its side.

P.K. Subban thought he had scored his 3rd goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs early in the 1st period, but after Sullivan challenged the call on the ice, the refs determined that prior to the puck entering the net, the Predators had entered the zone offside.

The review lasted 4:12 and was the 19th coach’s challenge of the 2017 postseason. It was only the 5th to result in the call on the ice being overturned.

Sullivan, of note, is 2-for-2 in the successful outcome of having utilized his coach’s challenge this postseason.

With 6:10 to go in the 1st period, Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal took coinciding minor penalties for interference and cross checking, respectively, resulting in a 5-on-3 power play for the Penguins.

It didn’t take long for Pittsburgh to capitalize on the two man advantage, as Evgeni Malkin (8) opened up scoring on a power play goal. Trevor Daley (3) and Sidney Crosby (14) assisted the goal that made it 1-0 Penguins.

Conor Sheary (1) followed suit with a goal of his own less than a minute later on a tremendous no look pass from Chris Kunitz. Sheary’s one timer goal from the side of the net made it a 2-0 game and was assisted by Kunitz (4) and Crosby (15).

Bonino (3) capped off the three goal 1st period for Pittsburgh, scoring his first of two goals on the night with 17 seconds left in the period after throwing a shot near Nashville’s goal before it deflected off of Predators defenseman, Mattias Ekholm, and in. Brian Dumoulin (3) collected the only assist on Bonino’s goal.

After 20 minutes of play, the Penguins led 3-0 on the scoreboard, while the Predators led in just about every other category, including shots on goal (11-8).

Nashville was unsuccessful on their first power play opportunity of the night almost four minutes into the 2nd period, but they wouldn’t be fooled again for the rest of the night on the man advantage.

Almost a minute after the Penguins killed off Olli Maatta’s interference minor, Ian Cole was sent to the penalty box for roughing Jarnkrok after a stoppage in play.

With Viktor Arvidsson screening Pittsburgh’s net minder, Ryan Ellis (5) unloaded a shot past Murray with 18 seconds left on the ensuing power play and cut the lead to two. Subban (9) and Mike Fisher (1) recorded the assists on the power play goal, which made it 3-1. Fisher’s assist snapped a career worst 16-games without a point in the playoffs.

Entering the 2nd intermission, the Predators trailed 3-1 despite outshooting the Penguins 20-8 in the game and 9-0 in the 2nd period alone. That’s right, Pittsburgh failed to record a shot on goal in the 2nd period. Nashville became the first team to hold an opponent to 0 shots on goal in a period in a Stanley Cup Final game since the NHL officially began tracking the stat in the 1957-1958 season.

Mounting a comeback effort in the 3rd period, Colton Sissons (6) redirected a shot behind Murray on a power play with 9:54 to go in regulation. Roman Josi found a loose puck as a result of a botched pass attempt from Jarnkrok and fired the puck on goal after Nashville won the offensive zone face-off on a power play, thanks to Malkin’s slashing minor against Subban. Josi (6) and Jarnkrok (3) were credited with the primary and secondary assists.

Trailing by a goal, the last thing the Preds wanted to do was take a stupid penalty. Thankfully, the Penguins weren’t able to convert on Subban’s delay of game minor penalty for sending the puck over the glass.

Shortly after killing off Subban’s penalty, Frederick Gaudreau (1) notched his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and tied the game, 3-3, with 6:31 to go in regulation.

The assists on Gaudreau’s goal went to Austin Watson (3) and Fisher (2).

Exactly 37 minutes after Bonino made it a 3-0 game, the Pittsburgh Penguins recorded their 9th shot on goal. And it wasn’t just any shot from the Pens. It was also a goal, this time on a wrist shot from the rookie, Guentzel (10) with 3:17 to go in the 3rd period. Again, that’s two shots in a span of 37 minutes between the 1st period and the 3rd period (and both shots were goals).

Matt Cullen (6) and Justin Schultz (8) picked up the assists on Guentzel’s game winning goal that had made it a 4-3 game.

Prior to becoming the hero of Game 1, Guentzel had “been getting really frustrated lately” as a result of his recent point skid— or more accurately, his recent goal skid— which put him in the fourth line spot that he was playing on Monday night, per our in house Penguins beat Down the Frozen River contributor, Connor Keith.

Finally, Bonino (4) doused the hopes of yet another rallying effort by Nashville with an empty net goal at 18:58 of the 3rd period. Kunitz (5) had the only assist on the goal that made it an untouchable 5-3 game.

At the final horn, the Penguins held on to win Game 1, despite trailing in nearly every important statistical category not including the final score. Nashville outshot Pittsburgh 26-12, led in blocked shots, 14-9, and hits, 37-31. The Penguins dominated the face-off dot on the night winning 58% of face-offs taken.

Pittsburgh finished the night 1/3 on the power play, while Nashville had marginally better success, converting on two of their three (2/3) man advantage opportunities on Monday.

The Penguins take a 1-0 series lead heading into Wednesday night for Game 2 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final on home ice. Puck drop at PPG Paints Arena is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in to NBCSN for coverage, while Canadian viewers have their choice of CBC, SN or TVA Sports.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 19

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – Game 4

With their 3-2 victory over Ottawa at the Canadian Tire Centre Friday, the Penguins have leveled the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

The biggest story coming into the game was Mike Sullivan‘s decision to entrust the Penguins’ net to Matthew Murray instead of Marc-Andre Fleury. The choice baffled many Yinzers considering the veteran goaltender had posted a .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA in his 14 postseason games before getting pulled not even 13 minutes into Game 3 after allowing four goals.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Sullivan may not have made the right decision, but it certainly wasn’t the wrong one. Allowing only two goals against, Murray earned his first victory of the 2017 playoffs on a .923 save percentage.

Stopping Ottawa’s attack was only half the battle though. Pittsburgh had only scored a goal-per-game in the first three contests of the series, but it exploded in comparison with three goals in one match – or, more precisely, just over 12 minutes.

It started with Olli Maatta‘s (Second Star of the Game Sidney Crosby and First Star Jake Guentzel) first-ever postseason tally with 46 seconds remaining in the opening frame. After crossing the near face-off circle, the fourth-year defenseman squeezed a wrist shot under Craig Anderson‘s blocker to give the Pens a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

Where the Penguins’ offense truly took command of the game was in the middle frame. Thanks to Jean-Gabriel Pageau earning a roughing penalty for practicing his favorite WWE moves on Pittsburgh’s captain, Crosby (Guentzel and Phil Kessel) himself doubled his club’s lead with a scrappy power play goal 7:41 into the second period, followed 3:49 later by Brian Dumoulin (Ian Cole and Scott Wilson) banking a wrister from the far point off Dion Phaneuf‘s left skate and behind Anderson for what proved to be the deciding tally, the first game-winner of his playoff career.

With the Senators trailing 3-0, Sullivan’s decision was truly put to the test as the Senators upped their attacking intensity in the remaining 28:30 of regulation. In that time, they fired 16 shots at the second-year netminder, including 10 in the third period.

The first evidence came about in the waning moments of the second period. Just as Maatta did for the Pens late in the first period, Clarke MacArthur (Bobby Ryan) did for the Sens in the second. With 98 seconds remaining before the second intermission, he recharged a nervous Canadian Tire Centre with a tip-in that beat Murray top-shelf.

Even with MacArthur’s tally, the Penguins felt comfortable for most of the third period with their two-goal advantage. That lead was trimmed to one with 5:01 remaining when Third Star Tom Pyatt (Erik Karlsson and Pageau) not only acted as a screen on Karlsson’s initial shot, but also deflected it through Murray’s five-hole, making the remainder of regulation that much important in not only deciding Game 4’s victor, but also the momentum of the remaining games in the series.

Murray certainly did his job in those remaining five minutes as he saved all three shots he faced in that time, but it was the Penguins’ defensive efforts that were arguably more impressive – especially since they were on the short side of a six-on-four man-advantage for the final 37 seconds of the game due to having too many men on the ice.

In all, Pittsburgh forced three missed shots after Pyatt’s goal, including two from Kyle Turris, owner of a 14.6% regular season shooting percentage, the third-best on the Senators’ roster.

Shot blocking was also a major focus for the Penguins during Ottawa’s final possession to close regulation. In all, the Senators fired four shots after winning the last face-off of the game with 37 seconds remaining. Two were saved by Murray, and two were blocked by Dumoulin and Nick Bonino to secure the victory.

The Eastern Conference Finals, now a three-game series, return to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh for Game 5 at 3 p.m. Eastern time this Sunday. American viewers should tune their televisions to NBC, while Canadians have the option between CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 13

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Bobby Ryan‘s overtime winner, the Senators defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 at PPG Paints Arena Saturday to steal home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Ryan was involved in both Senators tallies, as was Jean-Gabriel Pageau – the proud scorer of a wrist shot with 5:28 remaining in the first period. The play was caused when Pageau forced Brian Dumoulin into a giveaway behind Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net. Ryan collected the loose puck and centered a pass to the native Ottawan in the far face-off circle that he was more than able to bury top-shelf.

Though the Senators have been lauded for their defense this postseason, it certainly didn’t hurt that Pittsburgh struggled to find much rhythm offensively for most of the evening. The Pens uncharacteristically gave the puck away a whopping 17 times (Pittsburgh has given the puck away only 109 times this entire postseason, the fewest of the remaining squads), not to mention the 11 times Ottawa intentionally stole the puck.

A lot of that was due to the Sens’ physical play. Led by Marc Methot‘s seven blows, Ottawa threw 32 hits to knock the Penguins off balance. Even when Pittsburgh could manage a shot, the Sens were quick to get in the way, as they blocked an impressive 22 offerings (led by Methot’s four).

And the Penguins’ 28 shots that did manage to reach First Star Craig Anderson? He saved all but one for a .964 save percentage.

But no matter how well a defense and goaltender perform, its tough to keep the mighty Penguins offense off the board. With 5:35 remaining in regulation, Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Chris Kunitz and Ron Hainsey) leveled the game at one-all to give Pittsurgh life. It was a beautiful redirection by Malkin on Kunitz’ initial shot from the near face-off circle to beat Anderson five-hole.

That marker could have rattled the Sens, but they regrouped following regulation to reestablish their dominance. In the 4:59 of extra time, they allowed only two Penguins shots to reach Anderson.

The Senators themselves may have managed only three shots, but their final one ended the game. Assisted by Pageau and Mark Stone, Ryan fended off Bryan Rust in his own defensive zone to set up a breakaway opportunity for himself. Screaming up the near boards, he crossed across the slot to set up a nasty backhander that beat Fleury to the far post.

After a day off, these teams will be right back at it Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern time for Game 2. NBCSN has broadcasting rights withing the 50 United States, while Canada will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 8

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 6

By beating Pittsburgh 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena, the Capitals have forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 for a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Simply put, absolutely nothing was going right for the Penguins. Though the Capitals did throw an impressive 38 hits (led by both Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson‘s five blows), Pittsburgh still should have managed more than 18 shots on goal.

It wasn’t until 7:43 remained in the first period that the Pens managed their first shot on Braden Holtby‘s goal. Unfortunately for them, Third Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Second Star Nicklas Backstrom) was already getting to work on the Capitals’ first goal of the night 24 seconds later, a power play snap shot from the far face-off circle.

Another part of the game the Penguins struggled at was keeping the puck away from Washington. They committed a combined 11 giveaways, the most egregious of which was Ron Hainsey‘s at the 6:32 mark of the second period.

Though it doesn’t go down as a turnover because First Star Andre Burakovsky dislodged the puck with a hit along the far boards, Hainsey brought the contact on himself. At the tail end of what proved to be a long 76-second shift, he tried to maintain possession for his club instead of chip the puck out of the defensive zone, turning back towards Marc-Andre Fleury‘s goal. Burakovsky took advantage of the exhausted defenseman to squeeze a wrist shot between Fleury and the far post to double the Caps’ lead.

But not all of Washington’s goals were results of Penguins mistakes. The game-winner certainly qualifies as one of those, as Backstrom (Oshie and Dmitry Orlov) won the third frame’s opening face-off to bury a snapper only 16 seconds later to set the score at 3-0.

John Carlson (Matt Niskanen and Kuznetsov) and Burakovsky tacked on two more goals within 1:12 of one another to set up a comfortable five-goal advantage for the visiting Caps, more than enough to survive Jake Guentzel (Sidney Crosby) and Evgeni Malkin‘s (Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin) two-goal surge in the remaining 3:22 of regulation.

The series’ deciding game has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, May 10. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canadian hockey fans will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 16

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

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Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues – Game 3

By: Connor Keith

St. Louis is one game away from the Western Conference Semifinals thanks to its 3-1 victory over the Wild Sunday afternoon at the Scottrade Center.

“A goal a frame keeps the Wild away” seemed to be Mike Yeo’s lesson for his club, and St. Louis performed that plan to a t. That attack started early, as Second Star of the Game Colton Parayko (Patrik Berglund and David Perron) scored a wrist shot under Devan Dubnyk’s glove from beyond the face-off dots.

The second period’s goal was a little later than the third, but no less important. The play actually started with 5:48 remaining in the frame when Ryan White hi-sticked Third Star Jaden Schwartz. As it turns out, Schwartz is not the Blue Note Minnesota wanted to aggravate, as he was able to tip-in a power play tally only 67 seconds later (Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko) to register what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Steen completed the scoring by taking credit for the third period’s goal, though he was also the beneficiary of a missing Wild player. Assisted by Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, the center fired a wrister into a vacant net from behind the blue line to ensure the Blues’ victory.

Though the offense performed spectacularly, it was actually Jake Allen that took First Star honors. Though his defense blocked a whopping 23 shots (led by Captain Alex Pietrangelo’s five), Allen still faced 41 pucks throughout the game, saving all but Charlie Coyle’s (Zach Parise and Ryan Suter) tip-in with 7:01 remaining in the second period that then tied the game at one-all.

The Notes’ first opportunity to punch their ticket into the next round will occur Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time. American viewers can watch the contest on NBCSN, while Canadians will be serviced by both SN360 and TVAS2.

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Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets – Game 3

By: Connor Keith

With their 5-4 overtime victory in Columbus, the Penguins are a game away from eliminating the Blue Jackets and punching their ticket to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

It’s not just the Maple Leafs’ rookies that are capable of scoring, as First Star of the Game Jake Guentzel is already having himself a brilliant postseason. Sunday’s overtime snap shot (Sidney Crosby) was not only his second game-winning goal of his first playoff appearance, but also his third-goal of the night for the first hat trick of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though Guentzel buried the tally, Crosby actually did all the work. The captain took possession of the puck behind Sergei Bobrovsky’s net with two Jackets surrounding him. For eight seconds he fought with Brandon Dubinsky and David Savard in the trapezoid to maintain ownership before dishing to the rookie patiently waiting at the far corner of the goal crease. Immediately upon receiving the pass, Guentzel squeezed a quick snapper between Bobrovsky and the far post to win the game for the Pens.

Another Penguins youngster that deserves praise is Second Star Bryan Rust, as the sophomore’s tally at the start of the second period sparked a streak of three unanswered goals. It was a tip-in 5:21 (Brian Dumoulin and Evgeni Malkin) after resuming play after the first intermission. Dumoulin originally fired his slap shot from the blue line towards Bobrovsky’s glove side, but outside the near post. Waiting at the near corner of the crease, Rust resolved that issue by redirecting the puck between the netminders’ legs and beyond the goal line. The wing’s tally then pulled Pittsburgh back within a 3-2 deficit.

As a high-scoring overtime contest will indicate, offense was the name of the game for both clubs. Third Star Cam Atkinson was a major part of that effort for Columbus, as he registered two of its four tallies – both in the first period. His first (Dubinsky and Nick Foligno) was only 11 seconds into the game, a snap shot on the rebound of Dubinsky’s attempt that rebounded off Marc-Andre Fleury’s right pad.

Only 4:51 later, Atkinson struck again to reclaim a 2-1 lead for the Jackets. This time, it was an unassisted backhander immediately after stealing the puck off an unsuspecting Crosby’s stick at the near face-off dot. That steal set up a one-on-one situation against Fleury, and the right wing made the netminder commit to the near post before pulling the puck across the crease and burying it on the opposite side.

The Blue Jackets’ defense actually deserves a lot of credit in this game. Though they did allow Pittsburgh to fire 47 shots on goal, they managed an impressive 29 shot blocks, including a whopping seven courtesy of Jack Johnson.

The Pens and Jackets will take to the ice again Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, and Pittsburgh will have the opportunity to end the series. The contest will be broadcast on CNBC on the United States, while Canadians can take the game in on either SN360 or TVAS2.

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Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers– Game 3

By: Nick Lanciani

Special teams opportunities were costly for the New York Rangers on Sunday night, as Shea Weber’s 2nd period goal on the power play (the 2nd of the night for the Montreal Canadiens) proved to be enough to hand the home team Rangers with their sixth straight loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden— dating back to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

New York’s Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves on 29 shots against in the loss, while Montreal’s Carey Price made 20 saves on 21 shots faced for the win.

Both teams failed to score in the first period, setting up for what some may have thought to be an intense goaltender battle for the rest of the night, considering the many saves Lundqvist and Price made in Games 1 and 2.

But Artturi Lehkonen (1) of the Canadiens had other things in mind when he scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal in just his 3rd career NHL playoff appearance on the power play at 17:37 of the 2nd period. J.T. Miller had been in the box for New York for a delay of game infraction after using his hand to illegally win a faceoff.

Brendan Gallagher (2) and Tomas Plekanec (2) had the assists on Lehkonen’s goal which made it 1-0 Montreal heading into the 2nd intermission.

Weber pounced on another power play goal for Montreal after Mats Zuccarello served a high sticking double minor for the Rangers. Weber’s goal was his first postseason goal with the Canadiens since the offseason blockbuster trade with the Nashville Predators involving P.K. Subban in June and was his 14th career playoff goal.

Alex Galchenyuk (2) and Alexander Radulov (3) tallied the assists on Weber’s goal at 7:42 of the 3rd period.

The Habs went up 3-0 on a goal from Radulov (2) at 15:35 of the period, which all but  officially put things away. Phillip Danault (2) was credited with the only assist on Radulov’s goal.

Price’s bid for a shutout came to an end with 2:56 remaining in the game, as Brady Skjei (1) fired one past the Montreal goaltender for his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Kevin Klein (1) and Mika Zibanejad (1) had the assists on the Rangers goal which cut the lead to two, but proved to be too little, too late.

The Canadiens now lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 scheduled for Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET and can be viewed nationally in the United States on NBCSN, as well as CBC and TVAS in Canada.

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Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks– Game 3

By: Nick Lanciani

Cam Talbot and the Edmonton Oilers were victorious at SAP Center on Sunday night with a 1-0 win against the San Jose Sharks and their second straight shutout in the series.

Scoreless through a little over fifty minutes, Edmonton’s Zack Kassian (2) wired a shot past San Jose goaltender, Martin Jones, to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead and the only goal of the night. Kassian’s goal was unassisted at 10:45 of the 3rd period.

Talbot continued to play lights out hockey with a 23 save performance and his second straight shutout in the win, while Jones amassed 20 saves on 21 shots faced for a .955 save percentage in the loss.

Joe Thornton made his return to the Sharks lineup and had two shots on goal, as well as two hits in 16:27 of ice time.

The series resumes on Tuesday night with Game 4 in San Jose at 10 p.m. ET and can be seen nationally in the United States on NBCSN, as well as SN and TVAS in Canada. The Edmonton Oilers now have a 2-1 series lead and will look to make it a 3-1 series lead on Tuesday with a chance to punch their ticket into the Second Round in Game 5 back on home ice at Rogers Place if they can pull off another win on the road.

April 4 – Day 167 – Who gets Game 7?

After a quiet Monday in the NHL last night, the final Tuesday of the regular season should be absolutely stellar.

Barring some freak weather system or facilities complication, 13 contests will take place this evening. All but four teams will be in action tonight, including the entire Western Conference.

The action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Philadelphia at New Jersey and Columbus at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by two more (Washington at Toronto and Detroit at Ottawa [RDS]). Another trio (Winnipeg at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota) will be contested at 8 p.m., with Arizona at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago at Colorado is the only matchup to start at 9 p.m., which is the same for Calgary at Anaheim (SN1) at 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Los Angeles [NBCSN] and Vancouver at San Jose) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to finish the night.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: Both teams may be eliminated from the postseason, but that won’t take away from the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike, which was already heated before Dalton Prout‘s hit on Radko Gudas.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: While the rivalry status of this matchup is still in the air, one thing is certain: it will have an immediate impact on the Metropolitan Division with only six days remaining in the season.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: With a little help from the Flames, this old-timey rivalry could provide the Oilers a shot at first place in the Pacific Division.

Riding a two-game winning streak, it seems like the Penguins are getting healthy and returning to form just in time for the playoffs. They’ll need all the help they can get tonight to try to retain home ice in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

 

There’s a lot at stake tonight in this game. 48-19-11 Pittsburgh currently has a one-point advantage on 49-21-8 Columbus for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Of course, that second seed is ultra-important in the not-so-new-anymore playoff format the NHL is using nowadways.

Instead of a conference tournament where the best team was paired with the worst team in a given conference until the conference championship (effectively the NBA’s playoffs, except the NHL used to reseed after every round), the league now crowns two division champions, determined by three seven-game playoffs, to play for one of the conference titles.

Whether you’re a fan of the format or not (Hint: I’m not. #TeamOldFormat), it’s the world we live in. And that’s what makes this matchup so integral. As all sports fans know, a home ice/court/field advantage can be wildly important in deciding who wins a Game 7 and advances to the next round, or loses and schedules tee times a week later.

All that aside, this also acts as a week-early preview for a highly-probable first round playoff matchup. Considering what is on the table, I doubt either of the coaching staffs are too concerned about putting too much film in their opponent’s hands. Then again, we are talking about John Tortorella, so who knows?

While I’m in no way implying that I think the Jackets have lost their edge, they have hit a slight rough patch in the past week; since March 30, they’ve amassed only a 0-2-1 record. Given, their two regulation losses are in Chicago and against the Capitals, but beating playoff teams is relatively important when the postseason starts next week.

The Blue Jackets have been one of the best defenses in the league all season long, allowing only 2.28 goals-against per game – the second-best mark in the NHL. In the last three games, they’ve allowed eight goals – well above that mark.

Much of that season success has been due to a solid blueline. Unfortunately for 41-15-5 Sergei Bobrovsky (more on him in a minute), a blueline collapse is not the reason for Columbus‘ recent struggles. They’ve allowed only 28.3 shots-against in the past week, which is actually down from the usual 30.4 they’ve averaged all year.

No, the blame rests on Bobrovsky’s shoulders. While he’s been almost as far from horrible as one can get, he’s not been his usual super-reliable self. On the season, he has a .934 save percentage and 1.99 GAA (both are best in the league among goalies with more than eight games played), but he’s let his numbers drop to .906 and 2.56 in the past six days.

As showcased by Chicago and Washington, that extra sliver of space is all elite offenses need to capitalize.

With the postseason on the horizon, the important thing is that the penalty kill has remained healthy. The fact that the Jackets have allowed only one power play goal against since March 30 is proof enough that nothing needs to be retooled in Columbus; Bobrovsky just needs to focus back in and the Jackets should be set for an effective postseason.

The thing that does need to be checked for life is the power play. Usually successful on 19.9% of attempts – an above-average effort – the Jackets haven’t scored on the man-advantage in their past seven attempts. It is moments like these where Captain Nick Foligno and power play-mastermind Alexander Wennberg need to step up and provide the offensive spark for their club, a squad that desperately needs one with the extra-man.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the Penguins are doing much better of late. Since March 23, they’ve gone 2-2-2, though their last two contests were victories against solid offenses in Carolina and New York.

Though I love statistics, Pittsburgh‘s drop in production can be attributed to one thing and one thing along: injuries. There’s still seven Penguins on the injury report, including the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz, who went down against the Rangers Saturday.

That explains why the best offense in the league has managed only 13 goals in six games, but why has Pittsburgh allowed so many goals of late?

I’m going to give  30-10-4 Matthew Murray a pass here and blame the blueline. Of course, the Penguins‘ defense is hurt too. Trevor Daley, Letang and Olli Maatta have not registered a game since at least February 21, all of whom average more than a shot block per game when healthy.

One of those pieces looks to be coming back soon though. The Penguins‘ official Twitter handle indicated that Daley returned to practice today, so it remains to be seen when he will see game action.

Until then, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to keep shots off Murray. In the past six games, the Pens blueline has allowed 213 shots (35.5) to reach their goaltender, which is worse than their already very bad 32.6 season average.

Both Justin Schultz and Ian Cole have been fantastic in their efforts, as they’ve combined for 26 shot blocks in the past six games. But it’s skaters like Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel that need to improve their effort.

It is hard to have such high expectations for Ruhwedel, who has bounced between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but the fact that he has only one block in five games with the Penguins should be alarming to Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan, and could impact if he gets a contract of any kind this offseason.

Where Murray doesn’t get a pass is the penalty kill. He’s faced seven power play shots in the past six games, and has saved only four of them. Four. As you’d expect, a .571 power play save percentage has dropped the Penguins‘ penalty kill numbers to the bottom of the league in that stretch of time, as they’ve successfully stopped only 76.9% of opposing attempts in the last 13 days.

The current Penguins‘ brightest spot has to be a a power play that has managed to convert 30.8% of its opportunities since March 23, the seventh-best effort in that time. Though Phil Kessel, who has 29 power play points on the season, still leads the team’s man-advantage, it’s been a full-team attack of late as both lines have found the back of the net. In fact, even though the squad has managed four power play goals in this stretch, no player has more than two points to his credit.

Though the Blue Jackets have gone 2-0-1 against Pittsburgh this year, they still have yet to clinch the season series. The Pens could tie it all up tonight if they can best Columbus in regulation.

If February 17 is any indicator, the Penguins will have to work extremely hard to get that done. Columbus needed overtime to best Pittsburgh 2-1 the last time they met (Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winner), though they had that pesky home ice we were talking about earlier in their favor.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (34 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (1.99 GAA on a .934 save percentage [both best in the NHL] for 41 wins [tied for the most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and David Savard (+30 [sixth-best in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 84 points [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]).

Though wounded, Vegas has marked Pittsburgh a -130 favorite going into tonight’s game. I expect a tight game, but I’m actually leaning towards the Blue Jackets. I think their special teams are an even match for those of the Penguins and their offense should take advantage of a struggling Pittsburgh defensive corps.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pat Burns (1952-2010) – It may have been the shortest stop in his 14 years of head coaching, but Burns is most remembered for leading the 2003 Devils to the Stanley Cup.
  • Dale Hawerchuk (1963-) – Winnipeg selected this center with the top pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and it turned out to be a good pick. In addition to winning the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy, this Hall-of-Famer played in five All-Star Games over his 16 seasons.
  • Yanic Perreault (1971-) – Selected 47th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played 14 seasons – most of which with Los Angeles. Though he appeared in only one All-Star Game, he scored 247 goals over his career.
  • Kevin Weekes (1975-) – Before working for NHL Network and starting his clothing line No5Hole, this goaltender was selected 41st-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Florida. He ended up playing 348 games over 11 seasons – most of which with Carolina – for a 105-163-39 record.
  • Roberto Luongo (1979-) – Another goalie, Luongo was picked fourth-overall by the Islanders in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Currently in his second stint with the Panthers, he’s played 494 of his 966 games with Florida. He has a career 453-365-117 record.
  • Evgeny Artyukhin (1983-) – Tampa Bay selected this right wing 94th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his three-year career. He managed only 49 points before returning to Russia.
  • Doug Lynch (1983-) – Another player whose career didn’t last long, this defenseman was selected 43rd-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton. He only played two games with the Oilers, and has since played most of his career in the EBEL.
  • Cam Barker (1986-) – This defenseman was the third-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, and that’s where he spent most of his eight-year NHL career. Most recently, he was playing in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava.

Led by Nazem Kadri‘s two-point effort, the Maple Leafs bested Buffalo 4-2 in the Battle of the QEW, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Toronto took command of this game quickly, as it had a 3-0 lead by the 5:09 mark of the first frame. Third Star of the Game Leo Komarov (Kadri) took credit for the Leafs‘ first tally, tipping-in a shot 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 35 seconds later, First Star Auston Matthews (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) doubled that lead by potting a wrist shot. That surge culminated with Second Star James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak), who notched the game-winner only eight seconds after Matthews’ 39th tally of the season, the most ever by an American rookie.

Buffalo finally got on the board 1:51 into the second period. Though Marcus Foligno still had nine seconds remaining on his cross-checking penalty against Kadri at the end of the first period, Ryan O’Reilly (Brian Gionta) notched a shorthanded snap shot to pull the Sabres within two goals of their Canadian rivals.

That 3-1 score held until the 5:50 mark of the third period. That’s when Kadri (Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev) buried his power play marker to reclaim a three-goal advantage for Toronto. Jack Eichel (Sam Reinhart) buried a backhanded shot with 56 seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little too late to effect Buffalo‘s fate.

Frederik Andersen earned the win after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), leaving the loss to Robin Lehner, who saved two-of-five (40%). He was pulled after van Riemsdyk’s game-winning slap shot in favor of Anders Nilsson, who saved 39-of-40 (97.5%) for no decision.

Toronto‘s victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the 85-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Though hosts have still had more success when featured, their advantage over the visitors is now only three points.