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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

DTFR Podcast #202- What Are Your Qualifications?/Let’s Get Kraken

Using Qualifiers to enhance this postseason (it’s a breakdown of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin action). Plus the Seattle Kraken!

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

Rask’s 35 saves and Bergeron’s OT winner secure, 3-2, win for Boston against Isles

Patrice Bergeron scored the game-winning power play goal in overtime as the Boston Bruins defeated the New York Islanders, 3-2, at Barclays Center on Saturday night.

With the goal, the Bruins set a new franchise record for most consecutive games with at least one power play goal (13)– surpassing the previous record (12) set in the 1987-88 season.

Tuukka Rask (17-4-6 record, 2.27 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 27 games played) made 35 saves on 37 shots against for a .946 SV% in the win for the B’s.

Islanders goaltender, Semyon Varlamov (15-5-4, 2.33 GAA, .923 SV% in 28 games played) stopped 30 out of 33 shots faced for a .909 SV% in the overtime loss.

Boston improved to 27-8-11 (65 points) and remained in command of the Atlantic Division, while New York fell to 27-12-4 (58 points) and stagnant in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Bruins improved to 12-6-2 on the road this season in what was Torey Krug’s 500th career NHL game and Sean Kuraly’s 200th career NHL game.

Kevan Miller (knee) and Connor Clifton (upper body) were the only Bruins out of the lineup due to injury, while Zdeno Chara made his return after missing the last game due to his lingering jaw recovery.

B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made one change among his forwards– swapping David Backes with Brett Ritchie on the third line.

Backes, Par Lindholm and Steven Kampfer served as Boston’s healthy scratches against the Isles.

Early in the opening frame, Mathew Barzal sent the puck back to the point whereby Scott Mayfield (5) sniped a shot into the corner of the twine over Rask’s glove to give the Islanders the first lead of the night, 1-0.

Barzal (20) and Noah Dobson (3) had the assists on Mayfield’s goal at 4:36 of the first period as New York dominated the first period in shots on net.

Midway through the opening period, Charlie McAvoy hooked Brock Nelson and was assessed a minor infraction at 12:31.

The Islanders did not convert on the ensuing power play opportunity.

Entering the first intermission, New York led, 1-0, despite dominating in shots on goal, 14-5.

The Isles also led in giveaways (10-7) and hits (10-9), while the Bruins held the advantage in blocked shots (7-2). Both teams had three takeaways aside as the Islanders were the only team to see any time on the skater advantage and went 0/1 through 20 minutes.

After taking an errant stick down low from Derick Brassard in the first period, Matt Grzelcyk was ruled “unlikely to return to the game” as announced by Boston on their Twitter account early in the middle frame.

Moments later, the Bruins tied the game, 1-1, on a whacky play whereby Jake DeBrusk (14) poked at a loose puck over Varlamov that had rebounded off of someone in front of the net after McAvoy’s initial shot was blocked.

Anders Bjork (6) and McAvoy (16) were credited with the assists as Boston evened the score at 8:33 of the second period.

Late in the period, Mayfield was penalized for roughing against Charlie Coyle, but Boston was not successful on their first power play opportunity of the night.

Through 40 minutes at Barclays Center, the Bruins and Islanders were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard and, 11-11, in shots on goal in the second period alone.

New York held the total shots on goal advantage (25-16) and led in faceoff win percentage (52-49).

Boston held the lead in blocked shots (12-9) and takeaways (4-3), while both teams had 14 giveaways and 17 hits each.

Heading into the third period, each team was 0/1 on the power play as well.

John Moore (2) rocketed a shot from the point that redirected off of the skate of former Bruins defender turned current Islanders defender, Johnny Boychuk, and behind Varlamov while Ritchie acted as a screen in front of the goal.

Danton Heinen (11) and Coyle (15) tallied the assists on Moore’s first goal in 11 games as Boston took their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 5:48 of the third period.

Less than four minutes later, Barzal (17) deflected the puck through Rask’s five-hole on a slap pass from Josh Bailey– tying the game in the process.

Bailey (16) had the only assist on Barzal’s goal at 9:33 and the Islanders knotted things up, 2-2.

With about five minutes remaining in regulation, McAvoy blocked his second Boychuk slap shot of the night and skated off slowly before returning to action.

The stinger caused a brief scare for the Bruins– having already lost Grzelcyk for the night in the first period on the blue line.

After 60 minutes of regulation, the game went to overtime with the score tied, 2-2, and New York leading in shots on goal (37-30), despite Boston holding the advantage in shots on net in the third period alone (14-12).

The Islanders led in hits (30-29) and faceoff win% (52-48) heading into overtime, while the Bruins led in blocked shots (18-17) and giveaways (20-17).

Both teams had five takeaways and were 0/1 on the power play entering the extra frame.

Cassidy elected to start David Krejci, Brad Marchand and McAvoy in overtime, while Isles head coach, Barry Trotz, went with Anthony Beauvillier, Nelson and Nick Leddy.

Just 40 seconds into the overtime period, Nelson trailed Marchand and tripped up the Bruins winger, yielding a power play to Boston and the 4-on-3 advantage for the B’s as a result.

While on the ensuing power play, Casey Cizikas blocked a shot from David Pastrnak and went down only for play to continue a few more seconds before the officials determined a stoppage was necessary to tend to the injured Cizikas.

Shortly thereafter, the Bruins worked back into the attacking zone on the skater advantage after New York cleared the puck down the length of the ice.

Krug fed Bergeron (19) in his usual bumper role as No. 37 in black and gold scored the game-winner at 1:33 of the overtime period.

Krug (26) and Rask (2) had the assists on Bergeron’s power play goal as the Bruins took home the, 3-2, victory on the road in the first game at Barclays Center in about six weeks.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal in the overtime period, 3-0, but trailing to New York in the final shot totals, 37-33.

The Islanders managed to finish the night leading in blocked shots (19-18), hits (31-29) and faceoff win% (54-46) despite the overtime loss. They also went 0/1 on their only skater advantage opportunity of the game.

The B’s wrapped up Saturday night with the advantage in giveaways (20-17) and went 1/2 on the power play.

New York fell to 7-3 overall in overtime this season.

The Bruins improved to 1-3-3 when trailing after the first period and 8-2-3 when tied after two periods this season as a result of the win. The B’s are now 3-4 in overtime this season.

Boston continues their three-game road trip (1-0-0) on Monday (Jan. 13th) in Philadelphia for a meeting with the Flyers before finishing up their current road trip in Columbus on Tuesday (Jan. 14th).

The Bruins return home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 16th before facing the Penguins in Pittsburgh for the second game their home-and-home matchup and finish up their game action before the All-Star break with a home game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 21st.

Varlamov robs B’s in Isles, 3-2, shootout win

After trailing early in the first period, New York Islanders came back to pull off a, 3-2, shootout victory at TD Garden over the Boston Bruins on Thursday.

Semyon Varlamov (12-3-2 record, 2.34 goals against average, .923 save percentage in 20 games played) made 27 saves on 29 shots against for a .931 SV% in the win for the Islanders.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (13-4-5, 2.29 GAA, .922 SV% in 22 games played) stopped 19 out of 21 shots faced (.905 SV% in the shootout loss).

It was the second fewest saves on the second fewest shots against that Rask has faced this season.

Boston fell to 21-7-8 (50 points) this season, but remained in 1st place in the Atlantic Division, while New York improved to 23-8-2 (48 points) and stayed in 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Bruins are now 12-1-7 at home this season and 1-4-3 in their last eight games.

It was also the first time that the Islanders beat the B’s in their last eight meetings.

Kevan Miller (knee) and Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia) were out of the lineup once again Thursday night for Boston.

Miller has yet to make his season debut and has missed the first 36 games this season, while Kuhlman has been out for 28 consecutive games since being injured in Toronto on Oct. 19th.

Zach Senyshyn (lower body) was reactivated from long-term injured reserve and assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Wednesday. Senyshyn had been out of the lineup since being injured against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 12th.

Bruce Cassidy announced earlier in the day on Thursday that Connor Clifton would be back in the lineup on the blue line with Matt Grzelcyk on the third defensive pairing while John Moore is out sick.

Cassidy made a few minor changes to his forward lines at morning skate– moving Danton Heinen up to the second line right wing with Jake DeBrusk at left wing and David Krejci at center, while bumping Charlie Coyle back to his third line center role.

Coyle was flanked by Anders Bjork on his left side and Chris Wagner on his right side with Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and David Backes comprising the fourth line.

Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm were the only healthy scratches in the press box for the Bruins against the Islanders.

Bjork (5) kicked things off with an early goal at 1:58 of the first period, giving Boston the, 1-0, lead after the winger scored his first goal in 12 games on a snap shot over Varlamov’s blocker.

Coyle (11) had the only assist on Bjork’s goal.

Moments later, New York had too many skaters on the ice and was assessed a bench minor as a result. Jordan Eberle served the penalty for the Islanders at 6:00 of the first period.

Boston couldn’t convert on the ensuing legal skater advantage.

About a minute after the power play expired for the Bruins, the B’s went on the penalty kill for the first time Thursday night after Clifton caught Anders Lee with a stick and tripped the Isles’ captain at 9:09.

New York was not successful on their first power play of the night.

In the final minute of the opening frame, Casey Cizikas tripped up the NHL’s leading goal scorer, David Pastrnak, at 19:13 and presented the Bruins with another power play that would carry over into the second period if the B’s couldn’t score by the end of the period.

Entering the first intermission, Boston led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, but trailed New York, 4-3, in shots on goal.

The Islanders also led in blocked shots (8-5), takeaways (6-3) and hits (13-8), while the Bruins led in giveaways (6-4) and faceoff win percentage (53-47).

New York was 0/1 on the skater advantage and Boston was 0/2 on the power play heading into the second period.

Former Bruin turned Islanders defender, Johnny Boychuk (2) blasted one of his patented slap shots from the point that beat Rask on the short side with a screen in front of the net.

Eberle (10) and Lee (10) notched the assists on Boychuk’s goal as the Islanders tied the game, 1-1, at 3:26 of the second period.

Midway through the middle frame, Derick Brassard caught Clifton with a high stick and cut a rut to the penalty box at 12:24. Once more, however, the Bruins were unsuccessful on the power play.

Late in the period, Varlamov robbed Bjork on a one-timer opportunity with a diving glove save across the crease to keep the game tied with 3:33 remaining in the period.

About a minute later, Mathew Barzal (14) scored a one-timer of his own after DeBrusk couldn’t score on a breakaway in Boston’s attacking zone.

Barzal stood inside the low slot and went unnoticed by the B’s defense as the Bruins turned the puck over in New York’s attacking zone and Boychuk faked a shot, then fired a hard pass to Barzal for the go-ahead goal.

For the first time of the night, the Islanders led, 2-1, with Boychuk (7) notching the only assist on Barzal’s goal at 18:26 of the second period.

About a minute later, Brandon Carlo tripped up Eberle and went to the box at 19:44.

The Isles did not convert on the ensuing power play opportunity.

Through 40 minutes of play, New York led Boston, 2-1, on the scoreboard despite shots on net being even, 10-10.

The Islanders held the advantage in blocked shots (13-7), takeaways (12-5) and hits (24-14), while the Bruins led in giveaways (12-6) and faceoff win% (53-47).

New York was 0/2 and Boston was 0/3 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Adam Pelech caught Brad Marchand with a high stick at 6:32 of the third period and the Bruins went on the power play early in the final frame of regulation.

It wasn’t long before the skater advantage became a two-skater advantage as Brock Nelson sent the puck clear over the glass and yielded an automatic delay of game penalty at 7:16.

Boston went on the 5-on-3 power play for a span of 1:16, unless they scored before the advantage expired.

Eight seconds after Nelson was sent to the box, the Bruins won the ensuing faceoff back to Torey Krug, whereby the defender worked the puck to Pastrnak, then back to Krug, at which point No. 47 in black-and-gold flipped the puck down low to Krejci.

Krejci finally sent a pass back to Krug (5) for the one-timer as the Bruins defender moved in from the point to tie the game, 2-2, at 7:24 of the third period.

Krejci (17) and Pastrnak (22) picked up the assists on Boston’s first power play goal in five power play opportunities of the night.

Both teams swapped chance after chance, but no penalties and no goals were scored thereafter as the horn sounded on regulation with the game heading to overtime– knotted up, 2-2.

Boston led in shots on goal in the third period alone, 16-9– increasing their total advantage to, 26-19.

Meanwhile New York held the advantage in blocked shots (17-8), takeaways (17-7) and hits (35-22). The Bruins led in giveaways (13-10) and faceoff win% (59-41) after regulation.

The Islanders were 0/2 and the B’s were 1/5 on the power play heading into overtime.

In overtime, both teams swapped a few high quality scoring chances and let thing slip away as Krejci blew a pass at one point and Devon Toews lost control of the puck at another point.

Rask and Varlamov matched each other’s efforts with save after save from the third period throughout overtime.

After five minutes of play in the extra frame, the two teams needed to declare a winner and squared off in a shootout.

Cassidy started Coyle, Bjork and Krug in overtime, while Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz, opted for Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier and Nick Leddy.

There were no goals and no penalties in overtime, but the Bruins outshot the Islanders, 3-2, in the extra frame alone– bringing their final total advantage to, 29-21.

New York finished the effort leading in blocked shots (19-9) and hits (39-24), while Boston held the advantage in giveaways (14-11) and faceoff win% (59-41).

The Isles finished the night 0/2 on the skater advantage and the B’s went 1/5 on the power play Thursday night.

Boston opted to shoot second in the shootout, thereby giving Trotz the first option to kick things off in the shootout.

First up for the Islanders, Eberle deked and scored with a wrist shot over Rask’s blocker.

In response, Cassidy sent out Coyle who stickhandled the puck and sent a shot off the post over Varlamov’s glove side.

Barzal kicked off the second round of the shootout with a big, sweeping deke, then wired the puck off the cross bar and in over Rask’s glove, but the Bruins wouldn’t go down without a fight just yet.

Needing to score to keep the shootout alive, Pastrnak approached the net with speed and creativity– pulling Varlamov out of the crease before deking one final time and finishing his shot on the forehand while wrapping the puck around Varlamov’s outstretched leg pad and into the twine.

Rask needed to make a save to give his team a third and possibly final shot if the Bruins couldn’t score and Rask came up big as he aggressively stayed square to the shooter– Josh Bailey– and made a pad save.

Finally, with the game on his stick– score and continue the shootout in “sudden death” or be denied in any way and go home– Marchand skated in on Varlamov and had the New York goaltender committed to a hybrid stance and an aggressive maneuver, but Marchand chose to go five-hole and was denied.

If only Marchand had elevated the puck in any way.

The Islanders improved to 3-0 in shootouts this season with the, 3-2, shootout victory in Boston.

Meanwhile, the Bruins fell to 0-5 in shootouts this season as a result of the loss.

The B’s also fell to 12-3-1 when leading after the first period this season, 14-5-4 when scoring the game’s first goal this season and 4-5-4 when trailing after two periods this season.

Boston continues their four-game homestand (0-0-2) on Saturday night against the Nashville Predators before finishing it off with their last game before the holiday break against the Washington Capitals on Monday (Dec. 23rd).

DTFR Podcast #177- And A Dollar Short

2020 Winter Classic sweater reviews, a standings update and Top-10 NHL power rankings.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #166- New New New York

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

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

DTFR Podcast #159- Battle For Gloria (Part One)

Nick and Pete recap the Ottawa Senators coaching hire, two extensions, the latest rumors and the 2019 Western Conference Final while teasing their 2019 Stanley Cup Final preview.

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

Bergeron nets two in his 1,000th game, B’s win, 3-1

Patrice Bergeron opened the game’s scoring while crashing the net on a rebound and closed the game’s scoring with an empty net goal, while Peter Cehlarik took home the game-winning goal in the Boston Bruins’, 3-1, victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

It was the 53rd game of the 2018-19 regular season for the Bruins and the 1,000th regular season game in Bergeron’s career.

An alternate captain for the Bruins playing in his 15th NHL season, Bergeron became the 53rd player in NHL history to score a goal in his 1,000th game and the 3rd to do so in a Boston uniform (joining Johnny Bucyk on Dec. 10, 1970 and Jean Ratelle on March 23, 1977).

The 33-year-old two-way center joined Brent Burns, Jason Pominville, Tomas Plekanec and Thomas Vanek as the only players to score in their 1,000th career regular season game so far this season.

Bergeron also became the 6th player in league history to score multiple goals in his 1,000th game.

Tuukka Rask (16-8-4 record, 2.30 goals against average, .924 save percentage in 29 games played) made 28 saves on 29 shots against for the .966 SV% in the win for Boston– his 254th of his career.

In his last 11 starts, Rask is now 8-1-2 with a 1.42 GAA and .945 SV%. Boston is 9-3-3 in their last 15 games as a result.

Robin Lehner (16-8-4, 2.02 GAA, .932 SV% in 29 GP) turned aside 24 out of 26 shots faced for a .923 SV% in the loss for New York.

The Islanders’ eight-game point streak came to an end as a result of the loss in regulation to Boston on Tuesday.

The Bruins improved to 29-17-7 (65 points) on the season and remained in 4th place in the Atlantic Division, while the Islanders fell to 30-16-6 (66 points), but stayed in command of the Metropolitan Division.

Boston also improved to 19-4-5 when scoring first this season and 2-0-0 in the month of February.

Bergeron and Rask were each honored with their own standing ovations during stoppages in the first period for reaching their own milestones (Bergeron, 1,000 games and Rask, 253 wins as a Bruins goaltender– a new franchise record, set on Sunday in Washington in a, 1-0, shutout against the Capitals).

Bruce Cassidy made no changes to the B’s lineup among his forwards, but switched up his defensive pairings– placing Zdeno Chara with Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug with Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelcyk alongside Charlie McAvoy.

For the second straight game, John Moore, Danton Heinen and Steven Kampfer were all healthy scratches for Boston.

Just 18 seconds into the action on Tuesday, David Backes sent the puck over the glass and out of the rink for an automatic delay of game penalty.

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

Almost midway through the first period, Brock Nelson hooked Carlo and the Bruins went on the power play for their first time in the game at 9:43.

Boston did not capitalize on their first skater advantage of the night, nor did they find a way to crack the code all night on the power play, as the B’s went 0/3 on the night after Ryan Pulock‘s slashing minor at 11:51 and Scott Mayfield‘s cross-checking infraction at 15:04.

Entering the first intermission, the game was still tied, 0-0, while the Bruins led in shots on goal, 10-7, and in face-off win percentage (67-33). New York led in blocked shots (7-3) and takeaways (4-3) after 20 minutes of play.

Both teams had four giveaways each and nine hits aside, while the Islanders went 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/3.

Early in the 2nd period, Brad Marchand entered the attacking zone on a two-on-one with David Pastrnak heading to the net.

Marchand flipped a pass over to the 22-year-old Boston winger for the one-timer, but Lehner made the initial save. He also gave up a rebound.

While crashing the net, Bergeron (17) found the loose puck and buried it in the twine to give the B’s the lead, 1-0, at 2:32 of the second period.

Pastrnak (33) and Marchand (39) notched the assists as Marchand quickly skated after the puck and collected it for Bergeron’s mantle at home, having scored in his 1,000th game.

As a result of the goal, Pastrnak had been involved either directly by scoring or indirectly by assisting on eight straight goals for the Bruins, but fell shy of the team record of nine straight goals later in the game.

Anders Lee drew a string of a couple of penalties against Boston, first when Carlo tripped up Lee at 10:08, then again when Chris Wagner slashed the Islanders forward at 15:45 of the second period.

Almost a minute into the power play while Wagner was in the box, Jordan Eberle (12) squeaked a shot past Rask on the short side from about the goal line at 16:40 to tie the game, 1-1.

Mathew Barzal (32) and Nelson (16) had the assists on Eberle’s power play goal.

Both teams entered the dressing room for the 2nd intermission tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard, but Boston led in shots on goal, 19-18, despite being outshot by New York, 11-9, in the middle frame alone.

The Isles led in takeaways (8-5), as well as giveaways (8-5), through two periods, while the B’s led in face-off win% (54-46). Both teams had 12 blocked shots and 17 hits each through 40 minutes of action.

Entering the third period, New York was 1/3 on the power play, while Boston remained 0/3.

Cal Clutterbuck thought he gave the Islanders their first lead of the night at 4:52 of the third period with snipe past Rask, however, Cassidy used his coach’s challenge wisely and sent the play to review.

After review, it was determined the Devon Toews and Clutterbuck connected on the play while offside, meaning the call on the ice was overturned and the Islanders hadn’t actually scored. No goal.

A couple minutes later, Cehlarik (3) followed up on a rebound and banked the puck off Lehner and in the net as the New York goaltender dove across the crease in desperation after turning aside the initial shot.

Miller (4) had the only assist on Cehlarik’s goal at 6:34 of the third period and the Bruins led, 2-1.

Past the midpoint of the final frame of regulation, Grzelcyk was charged with two minor penalties against Eberle– one for slashing and another for tripping– resulting in a rare four-minute power play for the Isles.

Rask and his penalty killers stood tall, limiting New York to just three shots on goal through the first half of the extended power play opportunity and successfully killing off Grzelcyk’s minors.

Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz, pulled his goaltender with about 1:15 left in regulation for an extra attacker to try to tie the game, 2-2, but it just wasn’t written in the cards on an otherwise beautifully scripted night for Boston sports fans (the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots were honored for their, 13-3, win in Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams and participated in a ceremonial puck drop prior to Tuesday night’s action).

Marchand sent a pass to Pastrnak as No. 88 broke free of the New York defenders and entered the attacking zone with an empty 4-by-6 frame in front of him and the chance to put the game away.

Instead, Pastrnak unselfishly looked behind himself and dropped the puck back to an approaching Bergeron (18) for his second goal of the game and the empty net goal that secured the, 3-1, victory for Boston at 19:05 of the third period.

Pastrnak (34) and Marchand (40) were tabbed with the assists on the goal.

With his second assist of the night, Marchand reached the 40-assist plateau for the third consecutive season as the usual scoring suspect for Boston has reshaped his game into scoring goals and being a playmaker.

At the final horn, the Bruins won, 3-1, and led in blocked shots (17-15) and hits (25-23) after 60 minutes of action. The Islanders led in shots on goal (29-27) and giveaways (15-9), while both teams were 50-50 in face-off win%.

New York finished the night 1/5 on the power play, while the B’s went 0/3.

In his last six games, Bergeron has 4-3–7 totals with 21 shots on goal and a plus-two rating. He ranks 5th in games played in franchise history behind Ray Bourque (1,518 games played in a Bruins sweater), Bucyk (1,436), current General Manager Don Sweeney (1,052) and Wayne Cashman (1,027).

Current teammate and captain, Chara is 6th in franchise history with 927 games played on the Boston blue line.

Bergeron is just the 5th player to reach 1,000 games played with the franchise and 12th player this season to reach the milestone. He has 307 goals and 473 assists (780 points) in that span.

Among the four major North American men’s professional leagues, only Tom Brady of the Patriots has played in more seasons in New England than Bergeron.

Brady’s 19 seasons tops the list among all four organizations with Bergeron (15) 2nd, Boston Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia 3rd (13) and Boston Celtics star Marcus Smart (5) rounding out the list.

Boston travels to Madison Square Garden for an 8 p.m. ET puck drop against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night before returning home for a 1:00 p.m. ET matinee matchup with the Los Angeles Kings and another afternoon battle with the Colorado Avalanche (3 p.m. ET) on Sunday in back-to-back games on back-to-back days.

The Bruins wrap up their short three-game homestand against the Chicago Blackhawks next Tuesday night at TD Garden.

Bergeron will be honored with a pregame ceremony prior to the game on Saturday against Los Angeles.

That was Nifty! B’s retire Middleton’s No. 16, win in shootout, 2-1 over Islanders

Brad Marchand tied the game on the power play in the second period and Ryan Donato had the only goal in the shootout to secure the 2-1 victory for the Boston Bruins on Thursday at TD Garden against the New York Islanders.

Tuukka Rask (6-4-2, 2.54 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 12 games played) turned aside 28 out of 29 shots against (.966 SV%) in regulation and all four shots he faced in the shootout in the win for the Bruins.

Meanwhile, Robin Lehner (4-6-1, 2.79 GAA, .918 SV% in 12 GP) made 35 saves on 36 shots against in regulation (.972 SV%) and went three-for-four on shots against in the shootout in New York’s loss.

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Prior to Thursday night’s matchup, Boston retired Rick Middleton‘s No. 16 and raised his jersey banner to the rafters in a ceremony that pushed back puck drop about an hour later than usual.

Middleton is the 11th player to have his jersey number retired by the Bruins, joining Nos. 2 (Eddie Shore), 3 (Lionel Hitchman), 4 (Bobby Orr), 5 (“Dit” Clapper), 7 (Phil Esposito), 8 (Cam Neely), 9 (Johnny Bucyk), 15 (Milt Schmidt), 24 (Terry O’Reilly) and 77 (Ray Bourque) in the rafters at TD Garden.

He ranks 3rd all-time in franchise history in goals (402) and 4th all-time in assists (898) with the Bruins, while leading the club record in shorthanded goals with 25 (Derek Sanderson had 24, Brad Marchand has 23) and spent 12 seasons with Boston from 1976-88 after being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers.

One of the many highlights of the ceremony was when Middleton quipped in his speech about not inviting a lot of former teammates to his special night because he didn’t want to have too many men on the ice again (Middleton then gave a glance over to former Bruins head coach, Don Cherry, who was in attendance).

B’s fans alive during the 1979 Stanley Cup Playoffs will remember. Keep reading on if you don’t and/or weren’t alive then.

With Thursday night’s shootout victory, the Bruins improved to a 14-7-4 record (32 points) on the season. The Islanders fell to 12-9-3 (27 points) on the year.

Prior to the matchup, Ryan Donato was recalled from a stint with the Providence Bruins (AHL), while Anders Bjork was assigned to Boston’s AHL affiliate after his less than stellar play just over a quarter of the way through the regular season.

Kevan Miller will be reevaluated after five weeks, having sustained a cartilage injury to the larynx, per Bruce Cassidy earlier in the week and Brandon Carlo may rejoin the Bruins blue line on Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Charlie McAvoy remains out with a concussion, but participated in Thursday’s morning skate in a red non-contact sweater.

Cassidy inserted Donato on the third line in place of Bjork alongside Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari, while the rest of the forwards remained unchanged.

On defense, however, Torey Krug was paired with Connor Clifton on the first pairing, John Moore played alongside Steven Kampfer and Jeremy Lauzon was matched with Matt Grzelcyk on the bottom defensive pair.

Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body) and Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) joined Carlo, McAvoy and Miller in the press box up on level nine out of the lineup with injuries.

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Anders Lee (8) kicked off the game’s scoring past the midpoint of the first period, giving the Islanders a, 1-0, lead on a garbage goal in stereotypical fashion from Lee after an odd carom off the end boards went his way into the low slot.

Mathew Barzal (18) and Scott Mayfield (8) had the assists on Lee’s goal at 12:17 of the first period.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were outshooting New York, 13-7, and held an advantage in blocked shots (8-7), hits (15-13) and face-off win percentage (56-44). The Islanders led in takeaways (6-5) and both teams had three giveaways each.

Almost midway through the second period, Acciari tripped up Islanders forward, Anthony Beauvillier, and gave New York their first and only power play of the night at 8:05 of the second period. It was not successful.

Moments later, Nick Leddy, caught David Backes with a stick up high and received a minor infraction for high-sticking at 11:43. Boston converted on the ensuing power play thanks to the quick work of Krug to David Pastrnak and a cross-ice pass to Brad Marchand (7) for the one-timer past Lehner at 12:09 of the second period.

Marchand’s power play goal ended a seven-game goalless drought for No. 63 in black-and-gold and tied the game, 1-1. Pastrnak (10) and Krug (11) were credited with the assists and the score remained tied throughout the remainder of the period.

Heading into the dressing room for the second intermission, the score was tied, 1-1, and the Bruins led in shots on goal (25-16), as well as face-off win% (61-39). The Islanders had the advantage in takeaways (14-8), giveaways (9-7) and hits (26-22), while both teams had 11 blocked shots apiece.

New York went 0/1 on the power play on the night, while the B’s went 1/1.

Neither team could breakthrough on the scoreboard in the third period– or in overtime, for that matter– so here’s a quick glance at the stats from the back-and-forth battle over the final 20 minutes of regulation, plus five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime.

After Three: Shots on Goal, 34-27 BOS (9-7 in the 3rd period alone for BOS), Blocked Shots, 16-16, Takeaways, 23-12 NYI, Giveaways 11-8, NYI, Hits 35-30 NYI, Face-off Win% 61-39 BOS

After Overtime: SOG (36-29 BOS, 6-2 in OT for NYI), BS 16-16, Takeaways (27-12 NYI), Giveaways (11-8 NYI), Hits (35-32 NYI), Face-off Win% (62-39 BOS)

In the shootout Barzal shot first for the Islanders and was denied by Rask. Jake DeBrusk had the first attempt for Boston and was denied by Lehner. The remaining rounds went as such:

Round 2: NYI, Brock Nelson (saved), BOS, Pastrnak (hit post)– (0-0 after two rounds of the shootout)

Round 3: NYI, Valtteri Filppula (saved), BOS, Marchand (saved)– (0-0 after three rounds)

Round 4: NYI, Josh Bailey (saved), BOS, Donato (goal)– (1-0 BOS after four rounds)– Bruins win shootout, 1-0, and the game, 2-1

The shootout victory was Boston’s first shootout win of the season in their first shootout appearance of the regular season– in just their 25th game on the schedule.

Boston takes on the Red Wings on home ice this Saturday before traveling to Sunrise, Florida for the start of a quick, two-game, road trip against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday (Dec. 4th) and heading up to Tampa, Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning next Thursday (Dec. 6th).

2018 Offseason Preview: New York Islanders

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the New York Islanders and their outlook for the summer.

New York Islanders Logo

The 2017-18 New York Islanders were a vast disappointment. They went 35-37-10 for 80 points on the season and finished 7th in the Metropolitan Division under head coach and former Islanders star, Doug Weight.

John Tavares is the hotly contested prize this summer on the free agent market– if he makes it to the open market by July 1st.

Meanwhile, New York’s owner Jon Ledecky did not “Weight” around as Garth Snow and Weight were removed from their positions with the organization last month.

After jumping ship from the Toronto Maple Leafs– having completed his three years as General Manager– Lou Lamoriello was hired by the Isles and ultimately promoted to the GM position. The search for a new head coach is ongoing after Weight joined the team midseason in 2016-17 and missed the playoffs both years with the club.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Lamoriello holds on to the 11th and 12th overall picks in the 2018 Draft currently.

If the Islanders are looking to move forward, they’ve got a few players to let go this offseason and a couple, like Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, that could be traded in a miracle maneuver by Lamoriello in an attempt to protect the future with guys like Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle as pending free agents in 2019 looking for a raise.

Evan Bouchard, Rasmus Kupari, Adam Boqvist, Isac Lundestrom, Joel Farabee, Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joseph Veleno will likely be availble around the 11th and 12th overall picks and by that point New York would be wise to select the best available.

It’s not a full-on rebuild, but Lamoriello has a bit of a mess on his hands– too much, perhaps, to fix in one offseason, but if Tavares is willing to stick around…

Pending free agents

New York has about $28.300 million to spend this summer with the 27-year-old Tavares likely to take up almost $10.000 million AAV on his next deal– if he re-signs with the Islanders.

Past that, Lamoriello has to contemplate where Chris Wagner, 27, and Nikolai Kulemin, 31, fit in with the organization (if they do) as pending-UFA forwards and Ross Johnston, 24, Brock Nelson, 26, Alan Quine, 25, and Shane Prince, 25, sort themselves out as pending-RFA forwards.

Johnson had six points in 24 games. Wagner had 16 points in 79 games. The former shouldn’t be re-signed if you’re expecting him to be an NHLer next season, whereas Wagner could hold his own on the fourth line.

Kulemin spent most of 2017-18 with an upper body injury that limited his totals to one goal and two assists (three points) in 13 games. He’s been stagnant around 20-points on a good year and could play a role as a bottom-6 forward, provided he signs for a lot less than what he was making ($4,187,500) the last four seasons.

While attracting another top-six forward would certainly sell Tavares on sticking around (hello, Ilya Kovalchuk), Nelson is a key part of New York’s top-two lines, having amassed 40-plus points in three out of his five career seasons in the league.

Yes, he only had 19-16–35 totals in 82 games this season, but the overall production of the Isles was down. Keep him around.

Quine and Prince present challenges to Lamoriello’s overarching plan for the organization. Both players had five goals and 13 assists (18 points) in 2016-17. Quine did so in 61 games, while Prince did it in 50 games played.

This season, Quine had three assists in 21 games and Prince had one goal and one assist (two points) in 14 appearances. Both players are 25-years-old and running out of time as NHLers that have never cracked the 20-point plateau. Make of that what you want.

Along with the Tavares decision, the biggest questions for the Islanders reside on the blueline and in net.

Calvin de Haan, 27, and Thomas Hickey, 29, are both pending-UFA defenders that should stick around, while 36-year-old Dennis Seidenberg‘s run in the NHL appears to have met its end.

de Haan will see something around $3.300 million (what he made on his one-year bridge deal this season) despite injuries, while Hickey could rival Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy money (somewhere in the range of $5.000-6.500 million).

That could force Lamoriello to trade the aging Boychuk, if the 34-year-old would agree to waive his no-movement clause, or Lamoriello would have to send Leddy packing.

Brandon Davidson, 26, and Ryan Pulock, 23, are the only pending-RFA defenders. Pulock has to be kept while Davidson might see the door as a journeyman making the rounds between Edmonton and Montreal, then back and forth again before landing in Brooklyn.

So that’s the defense, then there’s the goaltending.

Jaroslav Halak, 33, is a pending-UFA coming off a 20-26-6 season in 54 games played with a 3.19 goals against average and .908 save percentage. Not great.

Thomas Greiss, 32, has two-years remaining on his current contract with a $3.333 million cap hit and a 3.82 GAA and .892 SV% in 27 games played in 2017-18. Also not great.

Halak’s four seasons with the Islanders have ranged in goals against average and save percentage with a 2.43 and .914 in 2014-15 (59 games played), 2.30 and .919 in 2015-16 (36 GP), 2.80 and .915 in 2016-17 (28 GP) and his 2017-18 results.

Greiss has posted similar numbers with New York with a 2.36 and .925 in 2015-16 (41 GP), 2.69 and .913 in 2016-17 (51 GP) and his 2017-18 stat line. His best season came as a backup in 25 games played with the then Phoenix Coyotes in 2013-14, compiling a 2.29 GAA and amassing a .920 SV%.

The answer is clear. Find a legitimate goaltender.

Despite brief stints as a starting goaltender, Greiss cannot maintain quality play over the course of a season and unless Lamoriello mends the wounds with Halak and rebuilds his confidence magically over the summer (while also providing him with a defense that limits shot attempts against), then Halak’s out of town and New York is desperate.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Kane Lafranchise (UFA), Connor Jones (UFA), Kyle Burroughs (RFA), Kyle Schempp (RFA), Christopher Gibson (UFA), Devon Toews (RFA), Stephen Gionta (UFA), Seth Helgeson (UFA), Kristers Gudlevskis (UFA)