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Calgary Flames 2018-19 Season Preview

Calgary Flames

37-35-10, 84 points, 5th in the Pacific Division

Additions: F Austin Czarnik, D Noah Hanifin, F Elias Lindholm, RW James Neal, RW Anthony Peluso, C Alan Quine, C Derek Ryan, LW Kerby Rychel

Subtractions: RW Troy Brouwer, LW Micheal Ferland, LW Tanner Glass, D Cody Goloubef, D Dougie Hamilton, C Rod Pelley, C Matt Stajan, RW Chris Stewart, RW Kris Versteeg

Re-signed: G Jon Gillies, RW Garnet Hathaway, C Mark Jankowski, LW Morgan Klimchuk, D Brett Kulak, G David Rittich

Offseason Analysis: Armed with one of the most potent top line/top defense pairing combos in the league, and with newly-acquired Mike Smith in net, hopes were high for the Flames to make some noise coming into the ’17-’18 campaign. Unfortunately, the noises they made were somewhat akin to a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat.

In a season that the term ‘streaky’ could possibly be defined by, Calgary often swung from appearing unbeatable to looking as if they had no idea what they were doing (and anywhere in between) on a game-by-game, week-by-week, and month-by-month basis. Managing to hang around in the wild card conversation through February, they’d finish the year with a dismal 6-13-1 record in their last 20 games, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.

Head coach Glen Gulutzan (along with assistants Dave Cameron and Paul Gerrard) was promptly sacked at season’s end and replaced with the newly-resigned Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. It wouldn’t be the only Carolina-linked theme of the offseason, either.

Faced with a draft stock that featured no picks until the 4th round, GM Brad Treliving had to use the phone at his table rather than his scouting staff to try and make an immediate impact on his team on draft weekend in Dallas. In one of the bigger trades in recent memory, Calgary dealt blue-chip defender Dougie Hamilton, hard-nosed winger Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for young d-man Noah Hanifin and versatile scoring forward Elias Lindholm.

Now, I was one of few to take a stand in defending this trade as equal (most found it to be heavily in Carolina’s favor on face value). While I admittedly know little about Fox (I’m told he projects as possibly a decent complimentary player at the NHL level), everyone else in this trade is a fairly proven commodity. Hamilton is admittedly probably the better all-around defenseman, but Hanifin might be a better fit for Calgary, as his game is traditionally a bit more reliable. With Ferland’s departure, they do lose some grit and complimentary goal scoring, but they still have no shortage of snarl, and it’s doubtful his 21-goal, 41-point campaign last year will ever be bettered. Lindholm, while not a natural goal scorer, is a skilled playmaker and has already twice surpassed Ferland’s career-best numbers, while being three years his junior. His ability to play the right side if needed also bolsters a thin depth chart at the position.

Treliving would make another splash soon after the draft, snagging sniper James Neal on the opening day of free agency, and signing him to a five-year, $5.75 million contract. The contract is probably a bit long for a 31-year-old already showing signs of losing foot speed, and Neal’s production has dipped a bit in recent years, but he’s still a near-lock for 25 goals and 45-50 points. Plus, playing alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau never hurt anybody.

The Flames would nab a few other pieces in free agency, in particular bolstering their center depth with adds like Tyler Graovac, Alan Quine, and Austin Czarnik. Perhaps their biggest under-the-radar move was acquiring another former Hurricane in Derek Ryan. The 31-year-old journeyman center finally found an NHL home in Carolina the past few years, blossoming into a solid 3C capable of consistent ~35 point production in addition to reliable PK work and a sublime faceoff record. With the departure of Matt Stajan, the Flames took advantage of Peters’ prior experience with Ryan to fill the hole. They also added some depth on the wings in Kerby Rychel (via trade) and Anthony Peluso, along with notable re-signings Garnet Hathaway, Morgan Klimchuk, and Mark Jankowski.

The prospect pool is a bit thin, but Morgan Klimchuk stands out as a threat to potentially grab himself a roster spot with a strong camp.

I have the forward corps looking something similar to this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Neal
Tkachuk – Backlund – Lindholm
Bennett – Ryan – Frolik
Jankowski – Quine – Hathaway
Extra forwards Curtis Lazar and Austin Czarnik

On defense, things have shaken up a bit with the breakup of one of the league’s best pairings. Fleet-footed T.J. Brodie looks poised to grab the No. 2 defense slot next to captain Mark Giordano, though his sometimes-risky style of play could be of concern for top pair minutes.

Outside of the Hanifin/Hamilton deal, the Flames changed little about their defense corps in the offseason. Brett Kulak being awarded a one-year deal in arbitration was probably the biggest news. Longtime SHL stalwart Marcus Hogstrom was signed to a one-year, two-way deal to add some depth, and towering Viktor Svedberg, who saw some time with the Blackhawks last year, is heading to training camp on a PTO.

The defensive prospect pool is much deeper and more intriguing than the forwards. Juuso Valimaki is a highly touted prospect and Calgary’s ’17 1st round pick, but has yet to play North American pro hockey, so it’s likely he’ll spend the year in Stockton getting adjusted. Josh Healey brings a solid defensive game, but struggled to find the offensive touch he had at Ohio State in his first pro season last year. Oliver Kylington is a smart, if slightly undersized two-way defender that has shown well so far in the AHL. My personal pick to sneak his way onto the opening night roster, though, is Rasmus Andersson. He’s had no trouble adapting his offensive game to the pro level (nine goals and 39 points in Stockton last year) and his 215-pound frame bodes well for holding up to the rigors of the NHL. His right handed shot and offensive abilities bode well as a potential Hamilton replacement should the Flames find themselves in need of some extra defensive scoring.

The defense looks a little something like this:
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone
Extra defender either Dalton Prout or the aforementioned Andersson

In net the depth chart looks to remain the same as last year after the re-signing of backup David Rittich to a one-year deal. Calgary will likely just hope for steadier play from Mike Smith (really from the entire team in general) to improve their fortunes as they continue to groom all-world prospect Jon Gillies for the eventual No. 1 job. Smith will turn 37 this year and is in the last year of his contract, so expect another year in the AHL for Gillies before taking the reigns in ’19-’20.

Offseason Grade: C-

They made a coaching change. They fired the coach of their 21st-place team and hired the coach of the 20th place team. C-

They got Noah Hanifin. They probably gave up a bit too much to get him. C-

They signed James Neal. They signed him for too long. C-

They didn’t lose most of their expiring contracts. They were all pretty average players. C-

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Daily Matchup

February 1 – Day 105 – Get your brooms ready

Last night was beyond busy in the NHL. While those types of evenings are fun, sometimes it’s nice to only have a few games to keeps tabs on. Tonight is one of those nights, as only six teams drop the puck. Boston at Washington (NBCSN/TVAS) gets things started at 8 p.m., and is basically the only game going on during that time-frame. The next game to get underway is Minnesota at Calgary (SN360), but that isn’t until 10 p.m. The nightcap is right behind, as Colorado at Los Angeles (NBCSN) gets started only half an hour later. All times eastern.

Not only do I not like repeating teams twice in a row (sorry Washington!), tonight’s contest in Calgary could act as a playoff preview. Off to Cowtown we go!

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It’s hard to argue with those that believe Minnesota is the best team in the Western Conference. Riding a three-game winning streak, their 33-11-5 record is five points better than second-best San Jose, and they’ve been led by an impressive goaltender that has allowed only 109 goals this season, the second-fewest in the NHL.

Since Darcy Kuemper played last night in Edmonton, 27-8-3 Devan Dubnyk will be more than ready to go this evening. That’s bad news for the Flames, as his .936 save percentage and 1.88 GAA are both the best marks in the league.

What makes Dubnyk’s season so impressive is that the bluelines playing in front of him are nothing more than average, as they allow 30.6 shots to reach his crease per night – tied for the 12th-most in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon and his 90 shot blocks have been at the head of the defensive front and tie for 32nd-most against the rest of the league.

Combine those two aspects of the defensive end, and you find a club that has the sixth-best penalty kill with a 83.8% success rate. Mikael Granlund has been the most effective skater on that effort, as he leads the Wild with 13 shorthanded blocks.

The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also the home of the 10th-best power play in the league (ok, they’re technically tied for 10th), finding success 21.3% of the time. Granlund is apparently the Wild‘s special teams ringer, as his 12 power play points are tops in the dressing room, but Nino Niederreiter has been the one scoring all the goals. He has six man-advantage tallies to his credit, the most in Minnesota.

Playing host this evening are the 25-24-3 Flames, the ninth-best team in the Western Conference thanks to Los Angeles beating Arizona last night. That being said, simply making it to overtime tonight would move them back into playoff position.

The reason Calgary finds itself on the bubble is due to its lackluster defense and goaltending, which has allowed 147 tallies so far this season, the ninth-most in the NHL. That starts with 16-12-1 Chad Johnson, who has a .913 save percentage and 2.5 GAA – the (t)27th and (t)18th-best effort, respectively, among the 49 goalies with at least 15 appearances.

A decent GAA paired with a below-average save percentage is usually the mark of a decent defense, and that’s exactly the case the Wild will find this evening in the Saddledome. Led by Mark Giordano‘s 116 shot blocks (tied for sixth-most in the league), the Flames allow only 28 shots to reach Johnson’s crease per game – the sixth-best effort in the game.

Although they’re the ones currently sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in, it’s been the Flames that have dominated the season series between these clubs so far this year. Calgary has yet to drop a game to the Wild even if their most recent meeting on December 2 required a shootout to determine the 3-2 result.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Mikael Backlund (34 points [leads the team]), Troy Brouwer (98 hits and .16 shot percentage [both lead the team]), Giordano (116 blocks [leads the team]), Dougie Hamilton (144 shots and 25 assists [both lead the team]) and Sean Monahan (16 goals [leads the team]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.88 GAA on a .936 save percentage [both best in the league] for 27 wins [second-most in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Dumba (+22 [eighth-best in the NHL]), Granlund (+26 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+26 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+28 [tied for third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+30 [tied for the NHL-lead]) and Jason Zucker (+30 [tied for the league-lead]).

Vegas has marked Calgary a slight underdog, placing a +105 next to their name. Personally, I’d take that bet. Not only do they have the history beating Dubnyk this season, they’re playing at home after a nice long All-Star break, compared to the Wild who just played last night. I like the Flames to complete the season-sweep and get back into the playoff bracket.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mark Recchi (1968-) – Although drafted in the fourth round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by rival Pittsburgh, this right wing spent most his career in Philadelphia. That being said, none of the seven-time All-Star’s three Stanley Cups were with the Flyers.
  • Kyle Palmieri (1991-) – Another right wing, Palmieri was drafted 26th-overall by Anaheim in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Ducks before moving on to New Jersey before the 2015-16 season.

The wins just keep rolling in for the Islanders. They won their third-straight game 3-2 last night against the league-leading Capitals in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It’s only made sweeter by the fact that it was a comeback victory. That’s because Evgeny Kuznetsov (Justin Williams and Brooks Orpik) was able to bury his snap shot only 4:41 after the game’s initial puck drop. That was the lone tally of the first period.

With a power play slap shot 2:41 after returning to the ice for the second period, Second Star of the Game Alan Quine (Third Star Andrew Ladd and Calvin de Haan) leveled the contest for New York. Once again, it was the lone score of the frame to set up a deciding third period.

The Isles responded well coming out of intermission, with their surge completed by First Star Ryan Strome‘s (Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier) wrister to give them the lead. The game remained 2-1 until Johnny Boychuk (Casey Cizikas and John Tavares) took advantage of an empty net with 68 seconds remaining in the contest. Impressively, Alex Ovechkin (Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov) was able to make it only a one-goal differential with his slap shot, but the Capitals were unable to level with the remaining 47 seconds.

Thomas Greiss earns the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Philipp Grubauer, who saved 26-of-28 (92.9%).

Not only is the Islanders‘ victory their third-straight, it is also the second-straight win by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That advances the hosts’ record in the series to 56-35-16, seven points better than the roadies.

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Daily Matchup

October 25 – Day 14 – Moose comes home

It’s been too long since we’ve had a busy schedule. Cue tonight, which has 11 games taking place. As you’ve come to expect, the action gets started at 7 p.m. with three of them (Minnesota at Boston, Arizona at New Jersey and Florida at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by another trio (Buffalo at Philadelphia [NBCSN], Tampa Bay at Toronto [SN1/TVAS] and Carolina at Detroit). Calgary at St. Louis drops the puck at 8 p.m. and Winnipeg at Dallas follows suit 30 minutes later. The west coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with two contests (Ottawa at Vancouver [RDS2] and Anaheim at San Jose [NBCSN]), and Columbus at Los Angeles rounds things out half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Calgary at St. LouisTroy Brouwer and Brian Elliott make their first return to the Scottrade Center since making their way to Alberta in the offseason.
  • Anaheim at San Jose – No friends here, and that often yields some of the best hockey.

I enjoy an AnaheimSan Jose meeting as much as the next, but since Calgary‘s second visit isn’t until March – a month most have no expectations of them being relevant in – we’ll catch Brouwer and Elliott’s return to the Gateway to the West.

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Elliott’s career in St. Louis began in the 2011-’12 season, back in the days of Jaroslav Halak. They found immediate success,  taking home the William M. Jennings Trophy for that campaign.

Over the next five seasons, he amassed a 104-46-16 record, averaging a .925 save percentage (best Blues-career among players with more than one appearance) and 2.01 GAA.

His 164 starts are most recorded by a St. Louis goaltender, but the record that he truly hangs his hat on is the franchise record for shutouts – 25, five more than the man he was originally charged with backing-up. One more shutout was recorded last season during the playoffs, as he led the Blues to qualify for the Western Finals for only the seventh time in team history.

Helping Elliott and the Notes to the Western Finals was Brouwer. Only in town for a year as a result of the trade that sent T.J. Oshie to Washington, the right wing made good use of his time, notching 21 assists, the second-highest mark of his career, and 18 goals, tying for third-most on the team.

He scored eight goals in the playoffs with the Notes last season (the most of his career), including a Game 7 winner in Chicago during the Western Quarterfinals to eliminate the team that drafted him in 2004.

Be it by trade or free agency, both have found their way to the struggling 2-4-1 Calgary Flames. Before last night, their only other victory was a 4-3 overtime win against the Sabres last Tuesday.

As Colby documented Saturday, goaltending and defense has been the problem for Calgary so far this season. In only seven games played, they’ve already allowed 28 goals against, by far the most in the league. That averages out to four-per-game, tied for the second-worst rate in the NHL with Carolina and Ottawa.

Much of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the goalies. Together, Elliott and Chad Johnson have saved only .871 percent of shots faced for a 3.78 GAA – in other words, not good, as their combined save percentage trails the league average by .032. These stats collected before the completion of Monday’s game.

St. Louis has picked up right where they left off a season ago. Their 4-1-1 record is best in the Central Division, with their lone pointless game occurring five days ago in Edmonton when they lost 3-1.

After the last few days of focusing on some defensive teams, the Blues provide a lot of scoring. Of course, could you expect anything less of a team led by Paul Stastny, Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko with seven points apiece? The right wing of that group is on a mission every time he takes the ice, and already has a team-leading four goals to show for it.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Calgary‘s Brouwer (five points, including three goals [both tied for team lead]), Michael Frolik (three goals [tied for team lead]), Mark Giordano (five points [tied for team lead]) and Sean Monahan (three goals [tied for team lead]) & St. LouisJake Allen (three wins [tied for second-most in the league]) and Tarasenko (four goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] for seven points [tied for ninth-most in the league]).

Tonight’s game is actually the second half of a home-and-home series between these squads… Well, kind of. That holds true for the Blues, who have been waiting for the Flames in St. Louis probably since Sunday morning. The Flames made a quick stop in Chicago last night, winning 3-2 in a seven-round shootout.

The Blues beat the Flames 6-4 Saturday in the Saddledome. Vegas is predicting more of the same, as St. Louis is favored -190 this evening. I’ve picked against the gamblers and been right a few times already this season, but tonight is not a game I’m willing to take that bet. The Notes should win this one.

Hockey Birthday

  • Rejean Houle (1949-) – This right wing spent his entire 11-year NHL career in Montréal, playing 635 games en route to five Stanley Cup championships.
  • Mike Eruzione (1954-) – We usually reserve this section for NHL alumni, but this left wing deserves an exception, seeing as he captained the American hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. For those who are bad at remembering dates, maybe the game-winning goal in the Miracle on Ice means something to you?
  • Wendel Clark (1966-) – The first pick of the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, Clark played 608 of his 793 career games with Toronto, the team that drafted him. Interestingly, it took him three stints with the club to reach that number.
  • Josef Beranek (1969-) – Beránek was a center drafted 78th overall in 1989 by Edmonton. Although he bounced around the league a little bit, his 208 games with the Oil were the majority of his 531-game NHL career.

Yesterday’s Game of the Day went exactly as expected, with the Montréal Canadiens beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1.

Second Star of the Game Shea Weber (First Star Alexander Radulov and Artturi Lehkonen) opened the scoring 25:28 into play with a slap shot, but Jakub Voracek (Claude Giroux and Brandon Manning)  drew the Flyers level with 8:13 remaining in the second period.

With 6:52 remaining in regulation, Brendan Gallagher (Radulov and Weber) scored a game-winning power play goal with a tip-in for the Habs. Radulov capped his three-point night with an insurance goal (Alexei Emelin) on an empty net with 63 seconds remaining.

Third Star Carey Price earns the victory after saving 31-of-32 (96.9%), while Steve Mason takes the loss after saving 30-of-32 (93.8%).

Montréal‘s victory set the DtFR Game of the Day series at 10-5-1, favoring the home sides by six points.

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Daily Matchup

October 14 – Day Three – Everyday I’m Russellin’

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between Washington and Pittsburgh was exactly what we’d hoped it would be. Exciting. Tight. Competitive. It took a shootout for Pittsburgh to earn two points on a 3-2 victory that improved their record in banner-raising games to 3-0-1.

Third Star of the Game Andre Burakovsky (Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) scored five-hole on First Star Marc-Andre Fleury only 59 seconds after the opening puck drop to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

The Pens leveled 8:47 into the second frame with a power play tally when Patric Hornqvist (Kris Letang and Second Star Evgeni Malkin) deflected a shot from the point to score on Braden Holtby. With 1:08 remaining in the frame, they took the lead when Malkin (Conor Sheary) faked out Holtby to sneak the puck behind his left skate.

Washington returned the favor with another Burakovsky (Backstrom and Matt Niskanen) tally to level the game with 13:47 remaining in regulation. That score held until the clock read zeroes, forcing three-on-thee overtime and, thanks to some incredible saves by Fleury, the shootout.

Pittsburgh elected to shoot first.

  1. Nick Bonino found glass.
  2. T.J. Oshie? Bueno.
  3. Malkin: Tickled the twine, top-shelf.
  4. Evgeny Kuznetsov: Fleury makes the stop.
  5. Letang: Lit the lamp.
  6. Backstrom: Keeps the shootout going.
  7. Phil Kessel: Rang one off the post. Originally called no good, it bounced out that fast.
  8. Alex Ovechkin: Rejected to give the Penguins the win.

Fleury saved 39-of-41 (95.1%) in his first victory of the season, while Holtby saved 28-of-30 (93.3%) in the shootout defeat.

With that result, the home teams improve to 4-1-0 in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

There’s three games going on this evening – a nice, light schedule. Chicago at Nashville kicks things off at 8 p.m. (NBCSN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Edmonton at Calgary (SN1/SN360). Philadelphia at Los Angeles clean things up at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

All three are great contests, but I’m drawn to the Battle of Alberta for the second time in three days. Not only is it a serious rivalry (any rivalry that has a name is serious), but it’s also Kris Russell‘s first game in Calgary since being traded to Dallas at the deadline last season.

Unknown-5Unknown-4This is both teams’ second fixture of the season, as well as their second meting of the three-day-old season. Wednesday night, the Oilers defended home ice 7-4 with Leon Draisaitl (A), Jordan Eberle (G), Zack Kassian (G), Oscar Klefbom (A), Adam Larsson (A), Patrick Maroon (G), First Star of the Game Connor McDavid (2G/A), Darnell Nurse (A), Tyler Pitlick (G), Jesse Puljujarvi (G), Second Star Russell (2A) and Andrej Sekera (A) all getting on the score sheet.

Who else to seal the Oil‘s first victory of the year than newly-christened Captain McDavid. His second goal of his sophomore season was an unassisted breakaway goal during four-on-four play in the middle frame.

Scoring for Calgary in the game was Third Star Mikael Backlund (2A), Lance Bouma (A), T.J. Brodie (A), Troy Brouwer (G), Alex Chiasson (G), Michael Frolik (G), Mark Giordano (A), Matt Stajan (A) and Dennis Wideman (G).

The shared province of Alberta is physically represented this season by defenseman Russell, who as of Wednesday has played for both clubs. Three seasons ago, Russell moved from St. Louis to Calgary. While there, he helped lead that 2014-15 Flames team to the Western Semifinals, a team that turns more into an aberration instead of foreshadowing by the game. He scored two goals and seven points that postseason, the most of any playoff appearance in his career, but the Flames were unable to build off that success and missed the playoffs last year.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Calgary‘s John Gaudreau (78 points last season [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Edmonton‘s McDavid (two goals [tied for second in the league] and three points [tied for fifth in the NHL]), Russell (+3 [tied for seventh in the league]) and Cam Talbot (a win [tied for second-best in the league] on a .902 save percentage [10th-best in the NHL]).

Calgary enters the game favored by Vegas anywhere from -125 to -130, but I have a hard time thinking the Flames can pull out the win given the seven goals McDavid and co. put up the other night. Oilers improve to 2-0-0.

Hockey Birthday

  • Dave Schultz (1949-) – The Hammer was not simply an enforcer, he was an enforcer on the Philadelphia FlyersBroad Street Bullies teams of the 70s. An enforcer for enforcers, if you will. It’s not something he puts on his résumé anymore, even if he still holds the distinction of most penalty minutes in a season (472).  Nowadays, he’s a successful businessman.
  • Sylvain Lefebvre (1967-) – Most known for his days in Colorado, the defenseman played 14 seasons and hoisted one Stanley Cup. He’s still involved in hockey, specifically coaching the St. John’s IceCaps within Montréal‘s system, the first club he played for.
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Playoff Recaps

San Jose at St. Louis – Game 5 – Sharks score six goals to pull within a win of the Stanley Cup Finals

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The two highest scoring postseason teams went at it again Monday night, and did not disappoint as the Sharks won 6-3 to pull within a win of the Stanley Cup Finals.

St. Louis started the night with three straight shots before the Sharks could register their first almost four minutes into play.  It didn’t matter though, as Shot No. 2 found the back of the net on a Tomas Hertl backhander, assisted by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and First Star of the Game Joe Pavelski.  Third Star Joe Thornton won the face-off at the far dot, which was collected by Pavelski heading towards the point.  He passed back to the far boards to Vlasic, who fired a slap shot towards Jake Allen’s net before Troy Brouwer could apply pressure, but Hertl redirected the puck before it reached the crease to get past Allen’s glove.

Following that tally, the Sharks certainly took control of the game, as they had another great scoring opportunity around the 6:30 mark.  A San Jose forward collected a rebound in front of a fairly open net, but he elevated the puck too much and it sailed over the cross bar.

Jaden Schwartz leveled the game at the 7:04 mark with a wrister, assisted by David Backes (his seventh helper of the postseason) and Patrik Berglund.  Off an initial shot from Kevin Shattenkirk, Berglund collected the rebound around the near face-off dot.  He turned around and shot again at Martin Jones’ net, which was once again blocked.  From his usual spot right in front of the crease, Backes passed along the goal line to Schwartz, who fired past Jones’ stick side to tie the game at one-all.

With 4:52 remaining in the frame, Brouwer fired a wrister out of midair to give the Blues their second tally.  He was assisted by Paul Stastny (his ninth playoff helper), who had fired the initial shot that became the airborne rebound off Jones’ pads, and Alexander Steen.  Steen advanced the puck into the zone before running into Hertl, but passed just in time to Stastny who fired from between the face-off dots.  Brouwer one-timed his shot from the near face-off circle to beat Jones stick side.

Just like San Jose, the Blues fed off the momentum of that tally to keep the puck almost predominantly in the offensive zone.  Although it did not turn into their third goal, the Notes were certainly happy to keep the Sharks off the board for the remainder of the frame, sending the game into intermission at 2-1.

Although St. Louis led on the scoreboard, San Jose statistically had the advantage through the first frame.  Their 10 shots were one more than the Blues‘, helped by winning 56% of face-offs.  Defensively, their five blocks were two more than St. Louis‘, the same differential as their takeaways (the Sharks had three of those).  Giveaways and hits also favored San Jose, as the Sharks committed one fewer turnover and threw four more blows.

The first power play of the game occurred at the 2:38 mark, but it was three players earning seats.  Tommy Wingels hit an unaware Shattenkirk, who didn’t take kindly to it and initiated a fight.  He was also charged with roughing, which was served by the innocent Second Star Robby Fabbri.  The Blues were two seconds from killing the penalty, but Joel Ward was able to score a wild puck to tie the game again at the 4:37 mark.  He was assisted by Vlasic and Paul Martin.  Martin received a pass at the point and passed to Vlasic, waiting at the top of the near face-off circle.  His initial shot on Allen’s net was saved, but wildly bounced off the crossbar and the net-minder’s back.  Ward’s quick stick was able to complete the score to level the game at two-all.

St. Louis earned their chance at the power play at the 8:03 mark when Justin Braun held Fabbri, partially because he had thrown a solid hit and fired a quality in the preceding seconds.  The Sharks‘ penalty kill stood tall though, so the score remained tied at two.

The second fight of the night was between Roman Polak and Dmitrij Jaskin.  The two were tumbled together in the St. Louis offensive zone and, while they were still on the ice, Polak threw a right punch at Jaskin’s head, and again once they’d gotten  up.  Polak was charged with roughing, and both with fighting, giving the Blues a second power play.

In their first power play attempt, the Blues didn’t notch a shot on goal.  They learned from their mistakes and scored on this one with 8:02 remaining in the frame.  Fabbri takes credit for the tally, assisted by Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo (his seventh playoff helper).  Fabbri begins the play retreating back to the blue line before passing across the zone to Pietrangelo.  After getting to the near face-off dot, he passed across the zone to the rookie defenseman in open ice, who found Fabbri at the point to score five-hole on Jones, making him only the second Blues rookie with 15+ points in a postseason.

With 2:52 remaining, Shattenkirk earned a seat in the sin bin for hooking Hertl as he was streaking towards Allen’s crease, although I would guess that many folks in the Bay Area would have been inclined to award a penalty shot.  The net result was the same, as the Sharks struck on their second power play with their second power play goal with 1:27 remaining in the frame to level the score again.  Pavelski takes credit with a slap shot, assisted by Thornton and Logan Couture (his 14th playoff assist).  Patrick Marleau collected the puck along the near boards and dumped further into the goal to Couture, who won a scrum against Carl Gunnarsson to pass behind the net to Thornton.  Thornton centered a pass to Pavelski, setting him up to beat Allen over his glove.

Three more shots in the period turned into an extra goal for the Sharks, especially when paired with eight takeaways, only two giveaways and 30 hits through 40 minutes.

The Sharks took a 4-3 lead only 16 seconds after returning to the ice when Pavelski tipped-in his second goal of the game, assisted by Brent Burns (his 13th postseason helper) and Hertl.  Off another face-off win (this one courtesy of the goalscorer), Thornton collected and dumped off to Burns, who fired a shot on Allen.  Allen blocked the attempt into the near corner where it was collected by Hertl, who returned the puck to Burns at the top of the zone.  Burns fired once again from the blue line, which Pavelski redirected under Allen’s glove.

A bad situation got worse for St. Louis when they were caught with too many men on the ice, giving the Sharks the opportunity to go three-for-three on the power play this game.  Vladimir Tarasenko took the seat in the box for the Notes at the 4:52 mark.  It lasted only 41 seconds before Marleau tripped Parayko, setting the game at four-on-four for 1:19 and ending that opportunity.  The four-on-four was exciting, with both teams having solid opportunities, but no score.

St. Louis‘ 41 seconds of the power play was equally as unsuccessful as the Sharks‘, so the score remained 4-3.

With 54 seconds remaining in the regulation, Chris Tierney scored a wrap-around goal on an empty net to secure the victory, assisted by Thornton (his 14th playoff helper).  Another empty netter was struck from mid-ice 21 seconds later by Ward, his fourth of the playoffs, setting the score at the 6-3 final.

Jones earns the win after saving 18 of the 21 shots he faced (85.7%), while Allen takes the loss, saving 21 of 25 (84%).

Game 6 will take place on May 25 in San Jose at 9 p.m. eastern.  It may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

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San Jose at St. Louis – Game 2 – Martin and the Sharks level the series with a 4-0 victory

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With the combined efforts of Second Star of the Game Martin Jones and Paul Martin’s three blocks, the Sharks shutout the Blues 4-0 in St. Louis to level the Western Conference Finals at a game apiece.

The Sharks struck quickly, as Tommy Wingels scored a wrister only 2:07 into the contest, assisted by Dainius Zubrus and Justin Braun (his fourth helper of the playoffs).  Heading back towards the blue line along the far boards, Wingels pass to Braun, who dumped back into the zone to Zubrus.  Zubrus advanced to the far face-off dot and found the attacking center, who scored on Brian Elliott’s stick side.  Elliott made the initial save on Wingels’ attempt, but was unable completely contain the trickling puck that proved to be the winning tally.

It was only the second shot faced by Elliott, but it foretold the way the night would go for the Notes.

With 8:34 remaining in the frame, David Backes was charged and found guilty of tripping Tomas Hertl in the Sharks‘ attacking zone.  His sentence: two minutes in the sin bin.  The Blues continued the trend they set in the first game with their fourth straight penalty kill against the Sharks, allowing only three shots against.

Almost immediately after Backes returned to the ice (12 seconds later, to be exact), Chris Tierney returned the favor by tripping Kevin Shattenkirk, but the Notes‘ power play was equally successful as San Jose‘s, failing to score on three shots on goal.  Due in part to that, the contest entered the first intermission with San Jose leading 1-0.

The game certainly began favoring the Sharks, made evident by their tally, but the Blues started getting their skates under them to get the game to be more of back-and-forth, even affair.  The Sharks led the frame’s shot totals (10 to nine), but the Blues actually led in face-off wins (60%), blocks (seven to two), takeaways (seven to three) and hits (14 to 11).

After resuming the back-and-forth nature in the second, Third Star Logan Couture was caught holding Jori Lehtera at the 4:45 mark.  Fortunately for him and his squad, San Jose earned their second straight penalty kill of the night to keep the Notes off the board.

A second after completing the kill, the Sharks went to the power play on a Troy Brouwer slashing penalty against First Star Brent Burns.  Burns took offense to that and made him pay only 18 seconds later with a wicked snap shot, assisted by Joe Pavelski (his sixth helper of the playoffs) and Couture. This play was especially lopsided, as Alexander Steen was in the process of returning from the bench with a replacement stick.  Just before receiving a hit from Steen (on his way to the bench) at the blue line, Burns passed across ice to Patrick Marleau, who dumped into the zone to Couture.  Couture centered into the center of the zone for Pavelski, who found the crashing Burns at the left face-off dot to set up his snapper that set the score at 2-0.

The Sharks got their third attempt at the power play at the 8:03 mark when the wily Steve Ott interfered with Pavelski along the far boards.  Luckily for the Blues, they were able to complete this kill to maintain the score differential at two tallies.

Patric Berglund took a rough hit into the open door jam at the completion of that kill that forced him to the dressing room.  He did return to the ice with a little over four minutes remaining in the frame.

Once again, only one goal was struck in the period, and this frame was decidedly more in San Jose‘s favor even though Brouwer had a great opportunity stopped by the goal post.  They led the period in shots (nine to six) and giveaways (one to three), while the Blues had face-offs (52%), blocks (14 to six), takeaways (eight to five) and hits (30 to 20) to their credit.

Off a face-off only 32 seconds into the third period, Marleau hi-sticked Carl Gunnarsson and drew blood, earning him a double minor.  San Jose was once again up to the challenge, making their fourth kill of the night.  They were further rewarded at the five minute mark when Jay Bouwmeester slashed Joe Thornton, but were unable to take advantage.

As would be expected, the Blues certainly increased their offensive pressure in the third period.  With 8:24 remaining in the frame, the Notes had already notched eight shots on goal to San Jose‘s three.

Those attempts came to a grinding halt at that mark though, as Brouwer took his second seat in the penalty box of the night for hi-sticking Martin.  Just like the first time, Burns made him pay, this time with a slap shot assisted by Marleau and Couture (his 12th helper of the postseason).  The play looked like a basketball “extra pass” motion wrapping around the three-point arc.  Couture collected a pass along the near boards and passed to Marleau at the point, who found Burns waiting outside the far face-off circle, scoring over Elliott’s glove hand.

Ex-Blue Roman Polak gave the Blues some life with 6:41 remaining when he interfered with Backes, made even worse for San Jose when Martin slashed Brouwer, giving St. Louis 24 seconds of 5-on-3.  After Polak served his complete time, Ken Hitchcock summoned Elliott to the bench for an extra attacker for a 6-on-4 advantage, but it wasn’t enough to get the Notes on the board.

Elliott remained on the bench to give the Blues a 6-on-5, but it was not the Notes that took advantage.  With 19 seconds remaining, Zubrus scored his first goal of the postseason setting the score at the 4-0 final.

Jones earns the shutout victory after saving all 26 shots he faced, while Elliott takes the loss, saving 20 of 23 (87%).

The series now leveled at a game apiece, the action relocates to the SAP Center.  Game 3 takes place Thursday at 9 p.m. eastern and may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

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St. Louis at Dallas – Game 7 – Blues score six en route to Western Finals

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Led by the Troy Brouwer, Second Star of the Game Robby Fabbri and Third Star Paul Stastny line scoring three goals, the St. Louis Blues beat the Dallas Stars 6-1 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The first power play of the night was caused by Alex Goligoski at the 4:31 mark for hooking Vladimir Tarasenko in front of Kari Lehtonen’s net.  Fabbri made him pay 52 seconds later when he forced the puck across the goal line through a scrum in the crease, assisted by Brouwer and Stastny (his fifth helper of the playoffs).

Jori Lehtera returned the favor at the 9:38 mark, as a cross check against John Klingberg earned him a seat in the sin bin.  Klingberg seemed to be injured on the play after taking a David Backes clear off an ankle, but returned to the ice for his next shift.  First Star Brian Elliott only needed to make one save on the Stars‘ man-advantage, catching the puck right when Lehtera exited the box, ending the power play.

The Blues headed to their second power play with 5:01 remaining in the frame when Radek Faksa cross checked Steve Ott following another of his violent, but legal hits.  This time, the Stars‘ penalty kill was up to the task, allowing only one shot to reach net that was saved by Lehtonen.

The Blues thought they had scored 40 seconds after Dallas returned to even-strength, but would-be goalscorer Tarasenko was ruled to be offside after taking his skate off the ice an instant too soon.

They obviously weren’t phased though, as Stastny scored on a wrister with 1:38 remaining in the frame, assisted by Brouwer and Fabbri (his ninth helper of the playoffs).  Stastny collected a pass along the near boards from Fabbri and advanced to the goal line before dumping behind the goal to Fabbri again.  The rookie rounded the net and passed to a waiting Brouwer in front of the crease, who dumped to Stastny along the goal line ready to fire over Lehtonen’s stick shoulder.

With four seconds remaining, Patrik Berglund scored again for the Notes on a wrist shot, assisted by Lehtera and Backes (his sixth helper of the postseason).  Berglund received a pass at the point and quickly rifled his shot past Lehtonen’s stick side.

Through one period, St. Louis led not only on the scoreboard, but also at the face-off dots (57%), shots (eight to seven), blocks (10 to two) and giveaways (one to two).

An always important statistic for the Blues is their hits (even though they trailed the first period 11 to 10), and Ott threw quite a few of them.  Somehow, the official stat sheet only gave him credit for one, but he was flying across the ice and making his presence known.

After giving up three goals in the opening 20 minutes, Lehtonen was replaced by Antti Niemi.  He waited 3:50 before giving up a goal, a Backes wrister (his sixth tally of the playoffs) assisted by Berglund and Colton Parayko.  Bergluned received Parayko’s at center ice and flipped into the offensive zone for his captain, who collected and advanced on Niemi’s net from the near face-off dot to set the score at 4-0.

Five seconds before the halfway point of the contest, Ott’s aggressive plays caught up with him, as he earned a seat after being called for interference against Jamie Benn, but the Blues held strong to keep them scoreless.

St. Louis scored yet again with 4:54 remaining in the period on a quick transition attack.  Brouwer gets credit for the tally, assisted by Fabbri and Stastny.  Stastny collected a listing puck at center ice and attacked the offensive zone along the far boards.  He dumped a pass back to Fabbri, who crossed the puck in front of the crease for Brouwer, beating Niemi glove side to set the score at 5-0.

The Stars headed back to the power play with 3:49 remaining in the frame when Jaden Schwartz was charged with hooking Cody Eakin, but St. Louis made it three for three in successful penalty kills.

After two periods, it was actually Dallas playing the more aggressive game, firing 18 shots to set their game total at 25 in addition to winning the face-off dot (63%), takeaways (nine to eight) and hits (17 to 16).

Dallas finally got on the board after 45:15 of play when Patrick Eaves connected on a wrister, assisted by Goligoski and Johnny Oduya.  After a save rebound, Oduya received the puck along the blue line and passed to Goligoski across the point.  Goligoski fired a slap shot at Elliott, who made another save, but this rebound was collected by Eaves on the far side of the crease, who easily buried the puck in a virtually empty net.

With 4:40 to go and an empty net ahead of him, Tarasenko set the score at 6-1 with an wrister, assisted by Schwartz and Lehtera.  Schwartz flipped the puck into the neutral zone for a streaking Tarasenko, who had only one Star to beat before reaching the empty net to easily score.

Elliott earns the victory after saving 31 of the 32 shots he faced (96.9%), while Lehtonen takes the loss, saving five of eight (62.5%).  For no decision, Niemi saved eight of 10 (80%) in the remaining 40 minutes.

The Blues have advanced to the Western Finals, but don’t yet know who they’ll be playing.  That side will be determined tomorrow night at 9 p.m. eastern when Nashville makes their final visit of the year to San Jose for another Western Game 7.  That game may be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.

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Dallas at St. Louis – Game 6 – Early mistakes too much for Blues; Stars force Game 7

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The Stars‘ three first period goals were all they needed to force a Game 7 in Dallas, as they won in St. Louis 3-2.

The Blues didn’t get a shot on goal until almost five minutes into the game, but it was Dallas‘ second shot that stole the show when Mattias Janmark connected on a wrist shot at the 4:53 mark (his second tally of the postseason), assisted by Valeri Nichushkin.  It was a breakaway goal caused by Colton Parayko when his pass from the blue line to the center of the offensive zone was intercepted by Nichushkin, who immediately found a steaking Janmark who had already cleared both St. Louis defensemen to set up a one-on-one with Brian Elliott.  After advancing to approximately the far face-off dot before firing over Elliott’s stick shoulder.

The Stars doubled their lead 20 seconds later, courtesy of Vernon Fiddler, who was assisted by Third Star of the Game Colton Sceviour and Kris Russell (his fourth helper of the playoffs), caused by yet another Blues turnover.  Elliott was attempting to clear the puck, but his dump was intercepted by Russell, who immediately sent the puck back behind goal for Sceviour.  Sceviour had intentions of a wrap-around attempt, but Robert Bortuzzo, playing in his first game of the Western Semis, forced him into a backhanded centering pass that Fiddler redirected past Elliott’s stick shoulder.

The Blues had a great opportunity to get a goal back just past the 10 minute mark, as they fired three different shots that First Star Kari Lehtonen only blocked but did not freeze, but the important thing for the Stars is that none found the back of the net.

Jason Demers committed the first penalty of the night for a hi-stick on Jori Lehtera with 7:59 remaining in the frame.  The Blues certainly applied some pressure, but the Dallas penalty kill stood strong to keep the Notes scoreless.

Troy Brouwer returned the favor with 3:46 remaining with a blatant cross check against Radek Faksa.  Unlike the first power play, this one counted as Jason Spezza connected on a wrister, assisted by Jamie Benn and John Klingberg.  Klingberg made a kick steal on an attempted pass from Dmitrij Jaskin, collected and dumped back towards his offensive zone for Benn.  Benn completed the advance along the near boards under pressure from Jay Bouwmeester… until he fell down, allowing Benn to center the puck for Spezza, who advanced towards Elliott’s crease and scored through traffic over the netminder’s glove.

It was the needle that broke the camel’s back, as Ken Hitchcock pulled Elliott in favor of Jake Allen, earning his first minutes of the 2016 playoffs.  He completed the frame without giving up any goals, leaving the score at 3-0.

Although they trailed on the scoreboard, the Blues actually played a decent period beyond their mistimed mistakes, leading the Stars in shots (nine to seven), face-off wins (57%), takeaways (four to two), giveaways (one to three) and hits (11 to nine).

St. Louis finally got on the board at the 7:29 mark of the second period with a Second Star Alexander Steen wrister, assisted by Bortuzzo and Vladimir Tarasenko.  The left wing’s initial shot was blocked by Demers and eventually sent towards the near boards by Tarasenko where it was collected by Bortuzzo, who immediately fired a slap shot on Lehtonen’s net.  With Lehtonen still collecting himself, Steen collected the rebound and scored on the basically empty net.

It was the lone tally of the back and forth period, leaving the Stars with a 3-1 lead going into the final period.

After 40 minutes, the Blues had a commanding lead in shots on goal (23 to 12) in addition to leading face-off wins (51%), takeaways (nine to six), giveaways (four to five) and hits (19 to 15).

2:41 into the third period, Russell earned a seat in the sin bin for a delay of game penalty, giving the Blues their second power play opportunity of the contest, but just like the first it yielded no goal.

The Notes pulled within a goal at the 8:59 mark when Patrik Berglund scored his third goal of the postseason, assisted by Lehtera and David Backes (his fifth helper of the playoffs).  Backes received a pass from Alex Pietrangelo and then found Lehtera hanging around near Lehtonen’s crease.  Lehtera turned with the puck and passed between his legs to Berglund, who tipped-in his score past the goalie’s right skate.

St. Louis was unable to level in the remaining 11:01, which means these teams will meet one more time in North Texas on Wednesday.

In summary, after a poor first period for the Blues, this was an incredible game by St. Louis, as they fired 37 shots on goal to Dallas‘ 14 (the most they ever had in one period was seven), earned 17 takeaways and threw 21 hits.  Given how well they handled the Stars in the final 40 minutes, it is difficult to tell who carries the momentum into the deciding game.

Lehtonen earns the win after saving 35 of 37 shots faced (94.6%), while Elliott takes the loss, saving four of seven (57.1%).  After coming into the game as relief, Allen saved all seven shots he faced for no decision.

Wednesday’s game at the American Airlines Center will drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern, and may be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.

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Dallas at St. Louis – Game 3 – Steen headlines St. Louis’ 6-1 victory

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Three goals in the second period proved to be too much for the Stars, as St. Louis won 6-1 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

Until approximately the 2:15 mark, the beginning of the game took place almost entirely in the neutral zone before the Blues finally registered a shot on net.  Any momentum they tried getting off those attempts ended though, but it wasn’t due to anything the Stars did – the same pane of glass damaged in Game 7 of the Chicago series proved to be an issue.

In fact, that delay in play actually benefited Dallas, who quickly fired two quick shots following the return to play.  Soon after, they scored the first goal of Game 3 – a Colton Sceviour wrister at the 4:44 mark.  His second tally of the postseason was assisted by Jason Spezza (his sixth helper of the playoffs) and Johnny Oduya.

Fifty-seven seconds later, First Star of the Game Alexander Steen leveled with a wrister of his own, assisted by Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer.

Scottie Upshall committed the first penalty of the night when he hi-sticked Oduya in front of Antti Niemi’s net with 6:52 remaining in the period.  Dallas entered the night 0 for seven on the power play in the Western Semifinals, and once again the Blues completed the kill.

Thirty-seven seconds after completing the kill, Vernon Fiddler and the Stars returned the favor by committing a slashing penalty against Jaden Schwartz, which St. Louis converted not even half a minute later when Third Star David Backes connected on a tip-in to give the Blues a 2-1 lead, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk and Second Star Vladimir Tarasenko.

The Stars almost tied the game again with 1:19 remaining in the period when Jason Demers collected the rebound of an Elliott save, but the puck hit the crossbar and did not cross the red line, leaving the Blues with the one-goal differential going into the dressing room.

Not only did St. Louis end the frame with the lead on the scoreboard, but they were also winning the dot (58%), blocked shots (eight to four), takeaways (three to two) and, most importantly for their game, hits (19 to eight).

2:34 after returning to the ice for the second period, Brouwer scored his third goal of these playoffs on a wrister, assisted by Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo (his sixth helper of the postseason).  That tally is the one that chased Niemi, who was replaced by Kari Lehtonen for the remainder of the game.

St. Louis continued the onslaught 1:16 later when Tarasenko scored a wrister assisted by Patrik Berglund and Robby Fabbri (his seventh helper of the playoffs).

Jamie Benn began taking his frustrations out Blues skaters, and was sent to the box after tripping Bouwmeester at the 4:47 mark.  The ensuing power play did not go St. Louis‘ way, so the score remained at 4-1 when Benn returned to the ice.

The Blues returned to the power play at the 8:47 mark when two Stars (Demers and Fiddler) were sent to the box, but it was a five-on-four due to Ryan Reaves also earning two minutes in the sin bin for responding with a roughing penalty of his own against Fiddler.  St. Louis‘ power play fell to one for three in the game as they were unable to score with the advantage.

Those penalties are just one example of how Fiddler and the Stars have been trying to get under Reaves’ skin since he has entered the series.  Known for being an aggressive enforcer, When he entered play, an opposing physical Dallas skater was usually quick to follow, and almost every stoppage was followed by a skirmish along the boards.  Even when Fiddler wasn’t on the ice, Reaves was still a focus for the Stars, hoping for any attempt to get their first power play goal of the series.

Antoine Roussel made his fourth trip to the penalty box in the last two games for a delay of game penalty, and the Blues made sure to make him pay.  Only 10 seconds after the infraction at the 17:53 mark, Steen scored his second goal of the night with a power play wrister to set the score at 5-1, assisted by Tarasenko and Schwartz.

Bouwmeester earned himself a break with 63 seconds remaining in the second period when he tripped Spezza in the corner, but the period ended with the Blues leading 5-1.

After two periods, the Blues still led on shots (26-19), as well as face-offs (59%), blocks (12 to five), takeaways (seven to four) and hits (28-17).

St. Louis killed the remaining 57 seconds of the power play at the beginning of the third period to continue their streak of penalty kills at eight straight over the Stars.

Benn committed the first penalty of the final period at the 9:07 mark when he cross checked Pietrangelo, and the Blues followed suit 3:35 later when Colton Parayko was caught roughing Radek Faksa.  Dallas ended their power play 41 seconds early when Cody Eakin hooked Shattenkirk.  After all of that, neither team altered the 5-1 score.

Reaves finally got tired of the Stars late in the third and scrapped with Curtis McKenzie with three minutes to go.  After his bout, he blew a kiss to the Dallas bench before heading to the dressing room, probably not making many friends in the process.

Backes’ fifth goal of the playoffs and second of the game was a shorthanded wrister, due to a Brouwer slash against Faksa, with 1:54 remaining in the game to seal the deal at 6-1.  He was assisted by Carl Gunnarsson.

Elliott earns the win after saving 25 of the 26 shots he faced (96.2%), while Niemi takes the loss, saving nine of 12 (75%).  The goaltending questions continue for Dallas, as Niemi’s replacement saved 24 of 27 (88.9%) for no decision.

After taking a 2-1 lead in the series, the Blues will once again host the Stars Thursday at 8 p.m. eastern.  That contest can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

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St. Louis at Dallas – Game 2 – Backes and the Blues make it a five game series

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The St. Louis Blues may have only managed 25 shots on goal, but they were able to level their series against the Dallas Stars by beating them 4-3 in overtime, thanks to Captain David Backes.

Only 3:36 into Game 2, Cody Eakin collected a puck along the near boards and passed to Second Star of the Game Jamie Benn, who was positioned behind Brian Elliott’s net.  He set up a centering pass towards the left face-off dot for Alex Goligoski, who top shelfed his slap shot into the back of the net.

The Blues took offense to that, and 35 seconds later Third Star Backes carried the puck into the neutral zone before passing to Patrik Berglund, who completed the advance into the attacking zone before passing off to Robby Fabbri.  Fabbri dumped back to the attacking Berguland, who scored a slap shot past Kari Lehtonen’s glove hand to level the game at a goal apiece.

At the 7:02 mark, First Star Troy Brouwer and Scottie Upshall connected with Joel Edmundson to give him his first goal of the playoffs, and more importantly, a St. Louis lead.

With 80 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Brouwer scored the Blues‘ final goal of regulation on a power play wrister, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk and Fabbri.

At the beginning of the second period, it was not Lehtonen in Dallas‘ net, but instead Antti Niemi, who did not yield a goal on 10 shots faced in his opening 20 minutes of work.  Similarly, Elliott saved all six shots he faced, holding the score at 3-1 going into the final frame.

The fifth goal of the game wasn’t scored until the 4:35 mark of the final frame, courtesy of Mattias Janmark, his first of the playoffs.  His wrister was assisted by Eakin and Colton Sceviour.  Eakin dumped the puck out of the defensive zone to Janmark, who had only one Blue to beat on his way to the crease before sneaking the puck past Elliott’s left skate.

Dallas‘ offensive push was certainly made evident 13 seconds later, when a Dallas power play shot was fired so hard it broke Elliott’s mask, but he made the save to maintain the one-goal differential.

With 2:36 remaining in regulation, Benn scored a wrister to level the game, assisted by Eakin and Kris Russell.  Eakin won the face-off from the far dot, which he sent back to the blue line for Russell to collect and fire on net.  Elliott made the save, but Benn collected the rebound to slide the puck past the sprawling goaltender’s glove hand.

Neither team was able to break the draw before the clock struck zeroes, so the game required 10:58 of overtime before Backes’ power play wrister proved to be the winner.  After providing the screen on Alexander Steen’s initial shot and literally jumping over the puck, he collected the rebound and scored behind Niemi’s left skate.

Elliott earns the win after saving 31 of 34 shots faced (91.2%), while Niemi takes the overtime loss, saving 19 of 20 (95%).  Lehtonen takes credit for the poor first period, where he saved only two of five (40%).

Now a best-of-five series, the locale shifts to Scottrade Arena in St. Louis, MO.  Game 3 will occur on a busy Tuesday, May 3 at 9:30 p.m. eastern and can be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.