Tag Archives: Callahan

Vasilevskiy makes ECF a best-of-three series

 

By winning Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 at Capital One Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reclaimed home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals by leveling the series at two victories apiece.

With Washington out-shooting the visiting Lightning 38-20, no Bolt deserves more credit for the victory than First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy. After allowing the first goal of the game to D Dmitry Orlov (F T.J. Oshie and D Matt Niskanen) only 4:28 into the contest, Vasilevskiy proceeded to post a 36-for-38 effort (.947 save percentage) despite facing no fewer than nine shots against per frame. In particular, Vasilevskiy stood extremely tall when taking on Washington’s four power plays, as he saved all nine shots faced while his club was shorthanded.

Meanwhile, G Braden Holtby only wishes his play looked anywhere near as good as Vasilevskiy’s. His 16-for-19 performance (.842 save percentage) was borderline disastrous, especially given the incredible help his offense was providing him.

Wait, offense?

Yes, it was not the Capitals’ defense, but their offense that truly kept Holtby’s workload light. Not only did they more than double Tampa’s shots on goal in both the first and second periods (15-7 and 14-6, respectively), but the Caps also held extended possessions in their offensive zone. Pair that with Oshie’s two takeaways and W Devante Smith-Pelly‘s six hits, and you find a team that made life so easy on its goaltender that he just might have grown complacent.

That’s not to say the goals he allowed were soft. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Take for example Second Star F Brayden Point‘s (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson) tic-tac-goal only 1:10 after Orlov’s that tied the game at one-all. Holtby was forced to shade towards his left post when he saw Gourde – who scored 25 goals this season, the fourth-most among all rookies – all by himself inside the near face-off circle, but some deft passing across the slot to Point was all the second line needed to take advantage of a sloppy pass by D Michal Kempny.

Similarly, it’s hard to blame Holtby for his second goal allowed in the first period, registered only 2:54 after Point’s. This time, he was tasked with keeping Tampa’s lethal power play off the scoreboard thanks to C Lars Eller‘s holding penalty against RW Nikita Kucherov 1:05 before.

A power play that had scored at least once in eight previous contests is obviously in a groove, and that groove continued at the 8:32 mark of the game when C Steven Stamkos (Point and F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-1 with a one-timer from the slot.

For those keeping track at home, the Lightning now sport a 30.8 percent power play conversion rate that is tops among the four teams still competing for the Stanley Cup, trailing only Boston – their opponent in the previous round – for the mark of best power play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the score never changed, the remaining 11:28 of the first period was far from uneventful. However, the previously mentioned shots on goal were not the only activity as even the missed shots drew many a Capitals fan to his or her feet. In particular, W Alex Ovechkin had more than his fair share of salivating shots on net – both in this frame as well as the entire game – but many of those whizzed past the wrong side of the post and harmlessly crashed into the endboards.

Just when it seemed like Vasilevskiy was going to be unbreakable for the remainder of the tilt, Third Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and RW Tom Wilson) sprung hope anew in Washington with his wrist shot 5:18 into the second period.

With the exception of Kuznetsov’s path taking him along the left boards instead of between the face-off circles, this goal was eerily reminiscent of the marker that eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs for the first time since April 2015. A long pass from Ovechkin sprung his countryman for a breakaway opportunity against the goaltender (who, by happenstance, is also a fellow Russian), who he beat five-hole.

Thanks to some incredible defense played by both clubs (RW Ryan Callahan matched Smith-Pelly’s six hits and D Ryan McDonagh blocked a game-high four shots), that 2-2 tie lasted 26:39 before Tampa third-liner F Alex Killorn (W Ondrej Palat and D Mikhail Sergachev) provided the game-winning goal.

Struck six seconds after Eller was released from the penalty box (his second foul of the night, this time for hooking the eventual goalscorer), Killorn showed some impressive puck-handling skills inside the crease to convert a forehanded shot that would likely be stopped by Holtby’s left leg into a backhand that sneaked between the netminder’s wickets.

With 2:09 remaining in regulation, Head Coach Barry Trotz was forced to pull his goaltender for the second consecutive game. Tampa Bay was unable to convert on the empty net in Game 3, but rookie C Anthony Cirelli bested that effort with 62 seconds remaining to cement the Bolts’ series-evening victory.

Now that they’ve given up the home-ice advantage they worked so desperately to win in Florida, the Capitals must now find a way to win at least one more game at Amalie Arena. A good first step towards doing that – especially for Eller – will be to avoid the penalty box, as the Caps’ 73.7 percent successful penalty kill is the worst remaining in the playoffs.

Saturday is the day for the Eastern Conference Finals’ all-important Game 5. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Eastern (right after the Preakness Stakes) and may be viewed on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

A (forked) Tale of 3 Periods: Devils drop Game 2 to Lightning, but can build on strong play.

 

Often times, hockey games can be looked at as stories. Three separate periods of play strung together as a single narrative, often carrying a common theme among them.

Then, there are games like this one. Games where each 20 minute segment is entirely its own, almost entirely unrelated to one another. In a way, Game 2 could be considered a short story compilation.

Chapter 1: The Slow Start

After dropping Game 1, the Devils and young goaltender Keith Kinkaid (who had not lost back-to-back starts since February) were hungry for redemption, knowing a win before heading back to home ice for Games 3 and 4 could swing momentum greatly in the underdogs’ favor.

With some bad blood boiling over at the end of the first contest, it wasn’t surprising to see the two teams again start their fourth lines, and it didn’t take long for the action to pick up, as Tampa’s Cedric Paquette and Jersey’s Stefan Noesen had a coming-together at the end of an energetic first shift. Unfortunately, the tensions stalled out as when the first set of line changes were made, one of the Lightning bench doors suffered a broken latch and play had to be halted for about five minutes for a repair. When play resumed, Dan Girardi (apparently not a fan of the tempered tone) laid a booming hit on Miles Wood around three minutes in to get the crowd back in it.

A few minutes later it would be Girardi’s former-turned-current teammate Ryan McDonagh firing a wrister in from the point that took a dramatic change of direction right in front of Kinkaid, who somehow managed to stretch out his left pad to deny J.T. Miller‘s bid, having had the deflected shot come right to his tape for a prime scoring opportunity.

This seemed to briefly turn things in the Devils’ favor, as they’d kill off a Tampa power play shortly after, and have two quality chances in quick succession. First it would be Taylor Hall taking a hail mary pass for a partial breakaway, then John Moore stepping up to intercept an attempted clear to walk in and make a strong backhanded bid on the following shift. Unfortunately for the Devils, Andrei Vasilevskiy was equal to the task on both occasions.

After the Vasilevskiy save on Moore, the puck would make it’s way to center ice, where Ondrej Palat would corral the bouncer in traffic and feed a quick pass to Brayden Point breaking in on the right wing. Point walked in and patiently waited for Kinkaid to go down in the butterfly before shelving a quick shot crossbar – left post – and in to put the Lightning on top 12:15 into the period.

Jersey would quickly turn things back in their favor though, first with a quality chance for Travis Zajac on an oddman rush with Blake Coleman. Coleman would take an extra whack at Vasilevskiy as he covered the puck, causing Victor Hedman to come over and have a few words with the young Devils forward.

On the next shift, just 1:23 after the Point goal, a dominant shift by the New Jersey top line would be capped off by Nico Hischier scoring his first career playoff goal, gathering up the rebound of a Damon Severson shot and burying it over top of a sprawled Vasilevskiy.

The two teams would grind out the final 6 minutes and head to the first intermission tied at 1-1. New Jersey limited Tampa to just six shots, firing 10 of their own at the Lightning goal.

Chapter 2: The Wheels On The Bus Are Falling Off

After going 1-for-1 in Game 1, the Tampa power play was held shotless on their only first period opportunity in this one. In the second period, however, they went off.

First it was a Steven Stamkos one-timer ripping just wide of the cage, bouncing off the end boards directly to the tape of Nikita Kucherov on the opposite wing, and #86 would quickly fire a pass to Alex Killorn waiting in the slot to tip home the 2-1 goal at 3:14, moving Tampa’s power play to two-for-three in the series.

The Bolts’ fourth line followed up the power play with a strong shift that would see Ryan Callahan ring a shot off the goalpost to Kinkaid’s right, narrowly missing the 3-1 goal. However on the next shift it would be the dominant second line making up for Callahan’s miss when Tyler Johnson slipped into the high slot to perfectly redirect a McDonagh point shot past Kinkaid at 4:35.

Hall would attempt to negate some momentum on the following shift, flying in and using a Tampa defender as a partial screen to rip a wicked wrister at Vasilevskiy, who flashed the left leg and stopped the puck with the toe of his skate, before having to cover up when the rebound careened dangerously off the stick of teammate Anton Stralman.

Hall’s efforts were rendered all-for-not when again on the very next shift it would be Kucherov dangling Sami Vatanen at the blueline, retrieving the puck and throwing it at the front of the net, where the chasing Vatanen would accidentally kick the puck past Kinkaid into his own net, putting the Lightning up 4-1 with 13:59 still to play in the second. Ironically, this goal did not count as a shot on net, giving the Bolts four goals on 10 shots.

The Lightning then turned their focus to physical play, first with Miller leveling Ben Lovejoy twice in a sub-10 second span, then Ondrej Palat throwing a big hit on Moore on the shift after.

With 6:48 to play in the second, Killorn would tally his second power play goal of the period (third goal in two games after scoring two in the final 15 of the regular season), again after a Kucherov feed, this time fighting off multiple checkers to lift it over a scrambling Kinkaid. John Hynes had seen enough and pulled his young netminder in favor of Cory Schneider.

Whether it was the Lightning slowing down, or the Devils being reignited by the goaltending change, it was at that coaching decision where the tide began to turn. The final six minutes and change saw Tampa held without another shot, as New Jersey began to pour it on.

Finally with just 25 seconds left, Vatanen would rip home a beautiful wrist shot from the high slot after leading the rush himself. It was a solid redemption shift for Vatanen, who made up for his earlier gaffe by leveling Callahan (who would not return to the game after the hit) to create the turnover that eventually led to his goal.

Outscored 3-1 in the period, New Jersey still managed to widen their advantage on the shot clock to 25-17 after their dominant final six minutes.

Chapter 3: Off The Schneid

The third period was all-out domination by New Jersey at both ends of the ice.

Early in the frame it was Schneider showing spectacular form (and likely laying claim to the starting job from here on out) by first stopping a beautiful tip play orchestrated by Stralman and executed by Kucherov, then making a pair of spectacular stops a few minutes later on a Chris Kunitz redirect and follow-up attempt by a driving Paquette.

Then it was basically an uninterrupted offensive assault by the Devils for the final 15 minutes.

Wood found a goalpost at one point, and lost the puck on a breakaway forehand-backhand move at another. Vasilevskiy made a handful of sparkling saves on a Jersey power play. Maroon and Hall linked up on a two-on-one that was denied, followed up shortly after by a great redirect from Pavel Zacha on a Will Butcher slap shot which was again gobbled up by the big Tampa netminder.

Zacha got another golden opportunity with 8:45 to play but was handcuffed by a cross-ice pass that had him staring at a yawning cage. Luckily for both him and his team, later in that same shift it would be Blake Coleman finally beating Vasilevskiy with a laser of a one-timer from the top of the left circle to make the score 5-3 with just over eight minutes remaining.

After the third goal the attack only strengthened for New Jersey. Hischier rang one off the post at the four minute mark, and Miles Wood thought he scored on the very next shift, but video review showed no conclusive evidence of the puck (tangled in the gear of Vasilevskiy) ever crossing the line.

Pat Maroon made a great save on a Stamkos bid for the open net right after Schneider made his way to the bench, keeping hope alive for the Devils, but they just couldn’t solved #88 in net.

Things got scrappy with nine seconds left when everyone piled on Taylor Hall after he took an aggressive charge at the net when Vasilevskiy stopped a Vatanen blast, and it took a few minutes to get things settled down before the final nine seconds could pass without incident.

So, to review:

A closely-contested, grind-it-out first period where both teams looked very evenly matched.

Tampa blows the doors open in the second until the goaltending change turns the momentum.

Schneider lays claim to his net and New Jersey shows that Tampa is very mortal in the third.

The Lightning may lead this series 2-0 on two multi-goal difference victories, but there’s much more to this story. If Schneider plays the way he did in this one, and the Devils can get a boost from their home crowd, they have a lot to build on after this game. This could definitely be a series to watch going forward.

For those wondering, Game 3 will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, and @kephartc will have our recap coverage for you.

March 21 – Day 153 – So much Atlantic, so little time

Monday is over, so that means one of the busier days in the week is today. In total, 11 games will be played tonight, starting with four (Ottawa at Boston [RDS2], Pittsburgh at Buffalo, the New York Rangers at New Jersey and Calgary at Washington) at 7 p.m. and three more (Detroit at Montréal [RDS], Arizona at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Carolina at Florida) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Philadelphia at Winnipeg, with a pair of contests (San Jose at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Vancouver at Chicago) waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. St. Louis at Colorado acts as tonight’s nightcap, starting at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Boston: Chris Kelly spent six seasons with the Bruins, but returned to Ottawa for this season.
  • New York at New Jersey: The Battle of the Hudson River rages on tonight in Newark.
  • Detroit at Montréal: For those that love Original Six rivalries, here’s your game of the night.
  • Vancouver at Chicago: Remember when this was a heated rivalry? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

As someone who is not a fan of any teams in the Atlantic Division, I can understand why regular readers might be annoyed by tonight’s featured matchup. But we must simply focus on the Senators‘ first visit of the season to Boston, as it will act as a playoff preview  and have huge implications on determining home ice when they meet.

 

 

 

 

 

This is actually Kelly’s second stint with the Senators, as he was selected by the club in the third round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. His first tenure lasted 463 games over seven seasons between 2003-2011, and he registered 188 points.

In mid-February of the 2010-’11 campaign, the wing was shipped off to Boston for a draft pick that became Shane Prince (currently playing for the Islanders). It proved to be an effective swap for the Bruins, as he provided 13 points, including five goals (tied for sixth-most on the squad) in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs en route to Boston‘s first title in almost 40 years.

He was originally expected to become a free agent in the 2012 offseason, but instead signed a four-year extension to stay in Boston. In all, he registered 101 points over his six seasons with the Bruins, including his career-best 20-goal, 39-point effort in 2011-’12.

Unfortunately, Kelly’s career with the Bruins ended with a tremendous dud. In only his 11th game last season, his season came crashing to an end when he broke his femur. Making matters worse, it was a contract year for the then 35-year-old skater. Not surprisingly, the Bruins were cautious about offering a contract to an aging player coming off rehab, so Kelly entered free agency for the first time of his career.

Kelly and Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz seem to share one main mantra: “There’s no place like home.” Kelly returned to Ottawa this season on a one-year contract, but to limited success. Although he’s played every game this year, he’s managed only 12 points – easily the worst production of his career.

Kelly’s 39-24-8 Senators currently occupy second place in the Atlantic, trailing the division-leading Canadiens by the exact total they lead third-place Boston: four points (Ottawa has a game-in-hand to boot, so keep that in mind as the last couple weeks of the season play out).

The Senators‘ claim to fame this year is goaltending, even though it has not been an easy season in the slightest for 21-9-2 Craig Anderson. It’s an impressive record in its own right, but when the situation regarding his wife’s cancer treatment is added in, it’s arguably among one of the best performances in the NHL this season (hint: I like him to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy this year). He’s marked a .928 season save percentage and 2.3 GAA – the fifth and (t)13th-best performances, respectively, among the 54 goalies with at least 16 appearances.

Not to keep heaping the praise on Anderson, but he’s been stellar this year even in light of a below-average defense playing in front of him. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s league-leading 194 shot blocks, the Sens have allowed 30.4 shots-per-game to reach Andreson’s crease, which ties for the 13th-highest rate in the league.

In addition to struggling defensively, the power play has also not been a strong point for the Senators this year. Successful on only 17.6% of its attempts, Ottawa ranks 10th-worst in the league. Although both Mike Hoffman and Karlsson have 23 power play points to their credit, goals have been hard to come by. Hoffman is the biggest contributor in that department, with 12 on the man-advantage to lead the team, but that total doubles the second-best scorer. In essence, the next step for the Sens this offseason is to develop or add another scoring threat to make their power play less predictable.

Losers of their past two games, the 38-28-6 Bruins are trying to both keep pace with the Senators as well as fend off the Maple Leafs (that didn’t go so well for them last night, as you’ll see below).

When Boston has been at its best this season, it’s been when the defense and goaltender are playing lights out. As indicated by his record, that’s been more often than not for 33-17-4 Tuukka Rask. He’s marked a .912 season save percentage and 2.32 GAA, the (t)25th and (t)10th-best efforts, respectively, among the 38 goalies with at least 28 appearances.

A poor save percentage but an excellent GAA? Looks like the mark of a solid defense. That’s exactly what you’ll find wearing the black-and-gold this evening, as Captain Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid have paired to block a total of 238 shots and limit Rask’s workload to only 26.6 shots-per-game, the second-lowest mark in hockey.

As you’d expect, that adds up to a solid penalty kill. Led mostly by Rask and his .894 save percentage when his club is shorthanded (that ties for the seventh-best effort in the NHL), the Bruins have effectively neutralized 85.2% of their opponent’s power plays to rank second-best in the league.

Boston‘s power play is also one that strikes fear into their foes. Led by Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak‘s 21 power play points apiece, the Bruins have registered a goal on 20.7% of their man-advantages to rank 10th-best in the NHL. Pastrnak has been exceptional on the power play with his team-leading nine extra-man tallies.

The Bruins hope that bringing this series to the TD Garden will yield better results, as both their visits to Ottawa have resulted in losses. The Senators last hosted Boston to a 4-2 victory on March 6.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [second-most in the NHL] for 79 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (.928 save percentage [third-best in the NHL] for a 2.3 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) or Mike Condon (five shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) and Karlsson (51 assists [third-most in the league]).

Given the fact that the Bruins just played last night on the road in a tight game, I’m worried about their chances tonight – and that doesn’t even factor in the success the Senators have had against them this year. If Ottawa doesn’t win tonight, I’ll be surprised.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ryan Callahan (1985-) – In his fourth season with the Lightning (although he had surgery on his hip and is not expected to return this year), this right wing was part of the Martin St. Louis trade in 2014 after being selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
  • Erik Johnson (1988-) – St. Louis selected this defenseman with the top-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent most of his career with his current club: Colorado. Johnson is another player who’s had a tough go this season, as he broke his fibula in early December and missed at least 2.5 months of action.

Don’t let the 4-2 final score deceive you, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day between Boston and Toronto was played by two fantastic goaltenders.

Although they ended up losing the game, David Backes (Marchand) got the Bruins on the board first with a snap shot 7:26 after the game began. They couldn’t get to the first intermission with the lead though, as Morgan Rielly (Mitch Marner and James van Riemsdyk) scored with 4:55 remaining to tie the game at one-all.

Although not the game-winner, a Second Star of the Game Tyler Bozak (van Riemsdyk and Nikita Zaitsev) power play goal with 1:57 remaining in regulation was the tally that tipped the scales in the favor of the Maple Leafs. Since it was scored so late in the game, it forced Bruce Cassidy to pull Third Star Rask for an extra attacker.  That strategy did not work last night for the Bruins, as William Nylander (Auston Matthews) and Nazem Kadri (Connor Brown and Roman Polak) both scored on the empty net in the span of 22 seconds to set the score at 4-1. Dominic Moore (Noel Acciari) scored a snapper with 10 seconds left in the game, but it was too little, too late to impact the final result – a Toronto victory.

First Star Frederik Andersen saved 33-of-35 shots faced (94.3%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Rask after he saved 26-of-28 (92.9%).

For the fourth game in a row in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the home team has earned at least a point. That streak has pulled homers within a point of the 78-55-22 roadies.

March 11 – Day 143 – Governor’s Cup

As we get closer to the conclusion of the regular season, every Saturday gets more intense.

Of course, Saturdays are some of the busiest days in the league schedule, and today is no different. 11 games will be played today, starting with Philadelphia at Boston (NHLN/SN360) at 1 p.m. The other afternoon matinee drops the puck three hours later with Nashville at San Jose (SN). With both of those contests out of the way, five matchups (Ottawa at Colorado [CITY/TVAS], Calgary at Winnipeg [SN], Columbus at Buffalo, Florida at Tampa Bay and Toronto at Carolina [CBC]) get started at the usual 7 p.m., followed an hour later by two more (New Jersey at Arizona and the New York Islanders at St. Louis [NHLN]). Today’s festivities start wrapping up at 10 p.m. with Pittsburgh at Vancouver (CBC/SN), and that sets up tonight’s 10:30 p.m. nightcap – Washington at Los AngelesAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Nashville at San Jose: It’s a rematch of one of last season’s Western Semifinals, and it seems like the streaky Predators are on one of their down-swings.
  • Calgary at Winnipeg: Rivalry night in Manitoba should be jumping since the Jets are still in the playoff fight.
  • Florida at Tampa Bay: Speaking of playoff implications, the Governor’s Cup should be an exciting game too, hearkening back to the last season’s Sunshine State series.
  • Pittsburgh at Vancouver: Tom Sestito could have made his first return to Rogers Arena tonight after three seasons of service to the Canucks, but a boarding suspension will delay that until at least next season.

Neither may currently be qualifying for the postseason right now, but I expect the Governor’s Cup to provide one of the best games of the night. To Amalie Arena we go!

 

Things looked dire at one point this season, yet both the Sunshine State-based clubs have fought back within range of playoff contention. Even if Florida, the worse of these two clubs in the standings, trails the Islanders by six points for eighth in the Eastern Conference, things were far worse at one point this season.

At the midway point of their season, the Panthers had a 17-16-8 record. Since then, they’ve improved to 29-26-11  – good enough for sixth in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference. It sounds bad, but Florida did break into a playoff spot for a day or two, yet was unable to maintain that spot due to its anemic offense – which is also the reason for its three-game losing skid.

The Panthers have scored only 162 goals in 66 games, which ties for the sixth-worst scoring rate in the NHL. Vincent Trocheck has tried to pull his club along with his team-leading 47 points, but to no avail. That’s part of the reason his 22 goals leads the squad: nobody else on the team has had much success burying the puck. Only three skaters have more than 14 goals, an alarming number for a team that considered itself a buyer at the trade deadline.

The Panthers‘ offensive inefficiencies are no more apparent than when they’re on the power play. Successful on only 17% of attempts, Florida is the sixth-worst in the league with the man-advantage. When Florida does manage to convert an opponent’s penalty into a goal, Jon Marchessault is usually involved in the play. Normally a third-liner, he gets promoted to the first power play unit where he’s been involved in 16 scores to lead the team. Similar to Trocheck, Marchessault does a lot of his own work, as he also leads the squad in power play goals with seven.

Where the Panthers fail on the power play, they more than make up for it on the penalty kill. Led by Mark Pysyk‘s 17 shorthanded shot blocks, Florida properly defends 86.6% of their penalties – the best mark in the league.

Florida‘s comeback has been good, but Tampa‘s has been better. After their 41st game, the Lightning had a 19-18-4 record. Nowadays, they’re 31-26-9, which is good enough for fifth in the Atlantic and 10th in the East.

The similarities continue when we analyze the weakness of Tampa Bay‘s team: it’s their offense. The Bolts have managed only 179 goals so far this season, the 13th-fewest in the NHL. That’s what happens when both Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos – who combined for 46 goals and 92 points a season ago – have been sidelined for almost the entire year.

Nikita Kucherov has tried to take responsibility of the team during Stamkos’ absence, and he’s done a good job of it. He leads the side with 30 goals and 66 points, but has struggled to find a consistent dance partner. The injured Tyler Johnson has the second-most goals on the squad, but his total of 19 tallies is indicative of what the rest of the offense behind him provides.

No matter how good the Panthers are at defending against the extra attacker, they’d be wise not to push their luck with Tampa‘s power play. Headlined by Victor Hedman‘s 26 power play points, the Bolts have scored on 22.3% of their man-advantages – the fourth-best rate in the NHL. Per the usual, Kucherov has been the one scoring most the goals: he’s buried 13 power play markers.

Although they trail in the standings, the Panthers actually have the lead in the race for the 2016-’17 Governor’s Cup, as they have a 2-0-1 record against Tampa Bay. These clubs last met on January 26 and played to a 2-1 overtime game decided by Florida‘s Marchessault.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Florida‘s Michael Matheson (91 blocks [leads the team]), Trocheck (22 goals for 47 points [both lead the team]) and Keith Yandle (30 assists [leads the team]) & Tampa Bay‘s Peter Budaj (seven shutouts [second-most in the NHL] and a 2.16 GAA [fifth-best in the league] for 27 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]), Hedman (44 assists [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Kucherov (30 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL] for 66 points [10th-most in the league]).

I don’t know about you, but everything’s coming up Tampa Bay for me. While not exactly a model offense, it is better than Florida‘s, and the addition of Budaj has been fantastic in bolstering their defensive team. I think  the Bolts win by at least two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Martin Rucinsky (1971-) – Although selected 20th-overall by Edmonton in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing played most of his career in Montréal. A journeyman that wore eight crests with seven organizations (he moved with the Nordiques to Colorado), he earned one All-Star appearance over his 16 seasons.
  • Paul Bissonnette (1985-) – A fourth-round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing played all but 15 of his 202 career games with the Coyotes. Currently playing for Los Angeles‘ AHL team, he hasn’t made an NHL appearance since the 2013-’14 season.
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani (1987-) – This defenseman was selected 87th-overall by Buffalo in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent most of his career. Currently playing in the KHL, his best NHL season was in 2011-’12 when he notched 15 points between the Sabres and Canucks.

They may have needed a shootout to get it done, but the Penguins earned a 3-2 victory in Edmonton in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Both of Pittsburgh‘s goals were struck in the first period. Nick Bonino (Scott Wilson and Justin Schultz) takes credit for the first, a wrist shot 5:42 into the game. Evgeni Malkin doubled the Pens‘ differential to two by burying his shot 2:35 before the end of the period.

The Oilers‘ comeback began 4:55 into the second period when David Desharnais (Zack Kassian and Kris Russell) scored his fifth goal of the season, a wrister. That was the only tally of the frame, leaving the score at 2-1 going into the second intermission.

Edmonton finally pulled even with 7:15 remaining in regulation, and it’s partially Chad Ruhwedel‘s fault. He committed a hooking penalty to end up in the sin bin, setting up First Star of the Game Connor McDavid (Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl) for a power play snap shot to force a scoreless three-on-three overtime period.

That left us with only one way to determine a winner: the shootout.

  1. As the home team, Edmonton‘s Draisaitl took the first shot. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t find the back of Second Star Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net.
  2. Of course, his effort was a little better than Malkin’s. The Penguins didn’t even test Third Star Cam Talbot as his shot bounced off the post.
  3. Mark Letestu was next up for the Oil, but his attempt found the same fate as his teammates.
  4. Sidney Crosby was the first to score in the shootout, beating Talbot. That forced a miss-and-lose situation for Edmonton.
  5. He may only be an NHL sophomore, but McDavid doesn’t shy away from pressure. He found the back of Fleury’s net to prolong the shootout.
  6. The shootout turned out to last only one more shot, as Phil Kessel provided the game-winner.

Fleury earned the victory after saving 40-of-42 shots faced (95.2%), leaving the shootout loss to Talbot, who saved 28-of-30 (93.3%).

Pittsburgh‘s victory is yet another for the 73-50-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Due to that, visitors in the series now have a three-point lead on the hosts.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh – Game 7 – Rust scores both goals en route to the Eastern Title

Unknown-1Pittsburgh Penguins Logo

 

 

 

 

With a 2-1 Game 7 victory, the Pittsburgh Penguins earn a date with the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Steven Stamkos made his first return to the ice after recovering from his blood clots.  That malady had kept him sidelined since the last day of March, almost two full months.

The easiest thing to say about the first period is that it was just about even, not favoring one team or the other.  Although Tampa Bay almost certainly won the possession metric and effectively used those efforts to apply pressure on Second Star of the Game Matt Murray, Pittsburgh had more quality chances.

That being said, it was the Lightning who had the first quality chance.  It was a breakaway with one more skater to beat – defenseman Olli Maatta.  Before the Bolt could rear back and fire, the third-year Penguin performed a quality poke check to neutralize the attack.

Third Star Evgeni Malkin was busy in the period, but not always for Pittsburgh’s benefit.  He had at least two strong opportunities, but both times his efforts did not yield a goal.

He was also the first penalty of the contest, interfering with Ondrej Palat at the 6:52 mark.  The Bolts‘ power play lasted only 31 seconds, cut short when Brian Boyle slashed Nick Bonino.

Pittsburgh led the first frame in hits (eight to five), face-offs (56%), blocks (seven to six) and takeaways (three to two), while Tampa was the better squad in the giveaway (one to four) and hit (16 to 10) departments.

The second period had many more goals than the first, made true by First Star Bryan Rust’s snap shot only 1:55 after resuming play.  He was assisted by Chris Kunitz (his sixth helper of the postseason) and Malkin.  Waiting at the offensive blue line, Geno received a long pass from Maatta in the defensive zone.  Almost immediately after crossing into the zone, he left the puck for Kunitz, who found the rookie streaking towards Andrei Vasilevskiy’s crease.  He scored from between the face-off dots over the netminder’s glove.

A minute later, play transitioned into a four-on-four scenario once again as tempers started flaring, with Ian Cole (elbowing) and Cedric Paquette (roughing) both earning a seat in the sin bin.  During this time, the ice was certainly slanted towards Vasilevskiy’s cage, as Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took advantage of the less-congested ice to fire three quality shots (two by the captain) over two opportunities, all saved by the Lightning netminder.

Even once Cole and Paquette returned to the rink, Pittsburgh still maintained heavy pressure in their own offensive zone.  It wasn’t until the 8:43 mark that Tampa had a real opportunity on Murray’s net, but was able to make the save on only the second shot he’d faced in the frame.

That effort was important though, as the next Lightning attack leveled the game.  Sophomore Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth tally of the playoffs on a top-shelf wrister at the 9:36 mark, assisted by Valtteri Filppula and Victor Hedman (his 10th postseason assist).  Drouin collected a puck in the neutral zone from Filppula and advanced into the offensive zone in a three-on-three situation.  He crossed from far to near face-off zones before shooting over Murray’s glove.

The tied game didn’t last long though – only half a minute, to be exact.  Rust took credit for his second goal of the night (this on the game winner) on a wrister of his own, assisted by Ben Lovejoy and Malkin (his 11th helper of these playoffs).  Malkin found the puck in the near corner and shoved it up the boards to Lovejoy to reset the play.  The defenseman fired a shot off the boards behind the net, which Rust collected and shoved between the near post and Vasilevskiy’s left skate.

All of this was a result of increased offensive pressure.  Although Tampa Bay was successful in scoring on 20% of their shots this period, the Penguins preferred to do things the old-fashioned way with tons of shots – 21 to be exact, leading the Lightning‘s second period attempts by 16 shots.

Ryan Callahan was the next Bolt to take a seat on the wrong side of the ice, charged with hi-sticking Lovejoy with 7:37 remaining in the period.  Pittsburgh quickly took to peppering Vasilevskiy’s net, but try as they might, including an incredible opportunity for Conor Sheary stopped by Hedman, the Pens couldn’t register an insurance goal.

The Penguins once again headed to the power play with 5:06 remaining in the second period when Drouin held Tom Kuhnhackl’s stick, but just like Tampa‘s man-advantage, it ended early.  Like he has been so many other times this postseason, Kris Letang was the guilty party for tripping Palat only 19 seconds into the advantage.

Just like the other four-on-four this period, the Penguins took advantage of the open ice to put quick pressure on Vasilevskiy, but Stamkos and the Lightning took notes and returned the favor.  Both keepers made the necessary saves to keep the score differential favoring Pittsburgh by only a tally.

Right when Drouin exited the box, Hedman took a seat for slashing Malkin.  19 seconds later, the Penguins went to work on the power play for 101 ticks on the clock.  Phil Kessel almost scored on a rebound with half a minute remaining on the advantage, but once again Anton Stralman and the Tampa Bay defense stood tall to hold the score at 2-1.

Although Pittsburgh led the frame’s shots and takeaways (four to none), Tampa was actually better at the face-off dot and in blocks (six to three) and giveaways (two to three).  The teams both threw 12 hits in the frame, meaning Tampa was still the more physical team after 40 minutes (28 hits to 22).

As would be expected, Tampa Bay came out of the dressing room with a mission.  They applied almost constant pressure to Murray’s net for the first five minutes of the frame.  During the attack, Bonino performed a block that left him dazed, requiring him to be helped to the dressing room.  He returned to the bench approximately five game minutes later.

Nikita Kucherov put a kink in that offensive though when he fired a puck over the glass, earning him a two minute break.  The Penguins did well to earn Murray a break, but they could not expand their lead.  Just as soon as Kucherov returned, they resumed their attack on Murray’s crease with a Coyle breakaway chance, stopped by the goaltender’s right pad.

Thanks to some spectacular offensive pressure by the Pens, Vasilevskiy didn’t make his way to the Tampa bench until only a minute remained in regulation.

That minute was the loudest CONSOL Energy Center had been all night.  Tampa Bay took their timeout with 44 seconds remaining in regulation.  The ensuing face-off was in Pittsburgh‘s defensive zone, who won the restart and got the puck out of the zone twice… well, kind of.  The second one was an icing penalty with 14.9 seconds to go.

The Penguins then took their timeout, won the restart and tried to clear, but the puck hit Lovejoy’s stick.  The problem with that?  He was on the bench, meaning the next face-off was once again in Murray’s end.  Tampa Bay could not fire a shot in the remaining time, meaning that Pittsburgh won the Prince of Wales Trophy for the first time since 2009, taking it from the Eastern Conference runner-up.

Murray earns the victory after saving 16 of 17 shots faced (94.1%), while Vasilevskiy takes the loss, saving 37 of 39 (94.9%).

The Penguins will host the Western Champion San Jose Sharks this Monday, May 30.  Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. eastern and may be viewed on CBC, NBC or TVAS.