Tag Archives: Chris Kunitz

Chicago Blackhawks 2018-19 Season Preview

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Chicago Blackhawks

33-39-10, 76 points, 7th (last) in the Central Division

Additions: D Andrew Campbell (acquired from ARI), F MacKenzie Entwistle (acquired from ARI), F Chris Kunitz, F Marcus Kruger (acquired from ARI), F Jordan Maletta (acquired from ARI), D Brandon Manning, G Cam Ward

Subtractions: F Lance Bouma (signed, Switzerland), F Michael Chaput (acquired from VAN, not tendered a qualifying offer and signed with MTL), D Adam Clendening (signed with CBJ), F Christopher DiDomenico (signed, Switzerland), F Anthony Duclair (signed with CBJ), G Jeff Glass (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Vinnie Hinostroza (traded to ARI), F Marian Hossa (contract traded to ARI), F Tanner Kero (traded to VAN), D Jordan Oesterle (traded to ARI), F Patrick Sharp (retired)

Still Unsigned: D Cody Franson, F Tomas Jurco, D Michal Rozsival, D Viktor Svedberg, F Jordin Tootoo

Re-signed: None

Offseason Analysis: It was bound to happen. The shine was going to wear off. All good things must come to an end. All things must pass.

Throw whatever cliché you want at it, but the Chicago Blackhawks tumbled in 2017-18. The 2010, 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup champions missed the playoffs for the first time in the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era– and they missed it by a lot.

Granted, injuries ravaged the lineup from the crease to one of the game’s most prolific Slovakian scorers.

Marian Hossa’s contract was traded this offseason as part of a seven-player deal with the Arizona Coyotes. His last NHL game came in 2016-17 and he’ll be sidelined for the remainder of his contract due to a skin disease.

Corey Crawford, Chicago’s starting netminder for the 2013 and 2015 Cup runs, sustained multiple injuries during the 2017-18 regular season, leaving him on injured reserve since about a year ago now.

His upper body injury– while not officially disclosed– has kept him sidelined with General Manager Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks hoping he’ll be ready to go for training camp. Crawford doesn’t sound as optimistic.

The fact that Cam Ward is likely going to be Chicago’s starting goaltender for however long it takes for Crawford to return is cause for concern.

Tight against the cap through their Cup runs, the Blackhawks decimated their roster in the “non-essential” roles to keep their Cup winning core together.

There’s just one problem. Those “non-essential” roles have become exposed holes.

Duncan Keith, 33, and Brent Seabrook, 35, aren’t getting any younger with no clear-cut future top-pair defender to be found on the depth chart. Toews (a minus-1 in 74 games last season) all but disappeared from his prominent star-status as the ‘Hawks went from scoring more goals than they allowed to a minus-27 goal differential in 2017-18– their worst goal differential in the Kane and Toews era.

And Crawford is hurt.

No amount of Scott Foster can salvage the wreckage of time that takes a toll on Cup contending competitors.

Alex DeBrincat remains a bright spot, while Kane remains a face of the organization–  but all expectations should be set on resetting. Expendable assets should be moved before the true foundation of a rebuild sets in.

One chapter closes, but the next one begins.

In the meantime, Marcus Kruger is back (does playing for the Blackhawks count as starring in a soap opera where the characters never die and come back from time to time?), Chris Kunitz was brought in as the new Patrick Sharp (Sharp retired, Kunitz fills a roster spot for the time being) and MacKenzie Entwistle is totally a real person that was involved in the Hossa trade and not a made-up player from a video game.

Offseason Grade: C-

There’s not much to sell, but pieces will once again be worth selling at the trade deadline. Unlike the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks are just starting to enter a rebuild, so there’s a little leniency towards filling roster holes with grizzled veterans (even if they do have four Cup rings to back them up). Also because Chicago did the smart thing and only signed Kunitz to a one-year deal– no more, no less.

2018 NHL Free Agency– July 1 Signings Recap

This post will be updated throughout the day as signings are officially announced. Be sure to check our Twitter account (@DtFrozenRiver) for all of the latest signings, news, and analysis throughout the day.

Free agency begins at noon (technically 12:01 PM ET) on July 1st. All that is known is shown and will be updated throughout the day. More analysis will come later as the day wraps up.

Reported free agent signings

These are reported agreements in place leftover from the interview period/yet to be confirmed and/or announced by a playing club.

F Zac Rinaldo and the Nashville Predators have come to terms on a two-way contract. Confirmed– announced by club on July 2nd.

Free agent signings

These are confirmed/announced signings.

F Ilya Kovalchuk officially signed his three-year, $6.250 million AAV, deal with the Los Angeles Kings.

D Mike Green signed a two-year contract extension with the Detroit Red Wings worth $5.375 million per season.

D Martin Fehervary signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals.

F Paul Stastny agreed to a three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights worth $6.500 million per season.

The Philadelphia Flyers and F James van Riemsdyk agreed top a five-year contract worth $7.000 million per season.

D Thomas Hickey and the New York Islanders have agreed on a four-year, $2.500 million per season, contract extension.

F Ryan Reaves signed a two-year, $2.775 million per season, contract extension with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Minnesota Wild re-signed D Nick Seeler to a three-year contract worth $2.175 million ($725,000 cap hit).

The Boston Bruins signed G Jaroslav Halak to a two-year contract worth $2.750 million per season.

F Chris Kunitz signed a one-year, $1.000 million, contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago also signed G Cam Ward to a one-year deal and D Brandon Manning to a two-year contract.

G Jonathan Bernier signed a three-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

Detroit also signed F Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract worth $3.000 million.

D Roman Polak agreed to terms with the Dallas Stars on a one-year, $1.300 million contract.

The Montreal Canadiens signed F Tomas Plekanec to a one-year deal worth $2.250 million.

D Eric Gryba signed a one-year contract with the New Jersey Devils worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

D Xavier Ouellet signed a one-year, two-way, $700,000 contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

F Brian Flynn signed a one-year, two-way, deal with the St. Louis Blues worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Joakim Nordstrom agreed to a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.000 million per season.

F Valeri Nichushkin signed a two-year contract ($2.950 million cap hit) with the Dallas Stars.

The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed D Ryan McDonagh to a seven-year contract extension worth $47.250 million ($6.750 million AAV).

F Matthew Peca signed a two-year, $1.300 million per season, contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

F Jared McCann signed a two-year extension with the Florida Panthers.

D Oliver Ekman-Larsson signed an eight-year extension with the Arizona Coyotes.

F Josh Jooris signed a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

F Adam Cracknell (one-year, $650,000) and D Jordan Subban (one-year, two-way, $650,000 at the NHL level) signed deals with Toronto as well. The Leafs also re-signed D Martin Marincin (one-year, $800,000).

D Nick Holden signed a two-year contract worth $2.200 million per season with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Arizona Coyotes signed F Michael Grabner to a three-year deal worth $3.350 million per season.

G Petr Mrazek signed a one-year, $1.500 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.

G Harri Sateri signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

Dallas signed G Colton Point to a three-year, entry-level contract.

F Tyler Bozak agreed to terms on a three-year contract worth $5.000 million per season with the St. Louis Blues.

The Chicago Blackhawks signed 2018 first round pick, D Adam Boqvist, to a three-year entry-level contract.

F Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Montreal Canadiens.

G Chad Johnson signed a one-year, $1.750 million contract with the St. Louis Blues.

F J.T. Brown signed a two-year, $1.375 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.

F David Perron agreed to a four-year, $16.000 million ($4.000 million AAV) deal with the St. Louis Blues.

D Matt Bartkowski signed a one-year, two-way, contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with Minnesota.

The Washington Capitals signed F Nic Dowd to a one-year contract worth $650,000.

D Tommy Cross signed a two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

G Carter Hutton signed a three-year contract ($2.750 million cap hit) with the Buffalo Sabres.

The Capitals re-signed F Travis Boyd to a two-year contract with an $8000,0000 cap hit.

Montreal signed F Kenny Agostino to a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

The Canadiens also agreed to terms on a two-year, two-way deal with F Michael Chaput.

F John Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million ($11.000 million AAV) contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Minnesota Wild signed F Mike Liambas to a two-year, two-way contract.

G Andrew Hammond signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Minnesota Wild.

G Michael Hutchinson signed a one-year, $1.300 million deal with the Florida Panthers.

D John Moore signed a five-year contract with the Boston Bruins.

D Ian Cole agreed to terms on a three-year, $4.250 million per season, contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

D Jack Johnson signed a five-year contract worth $3.25 million per season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh also signed F Matt Cullen to a one-year contract worth $650,000.

Buffalo signed D Brandon Hickey to a two-year entry-level deal.

Detroit signed F Wade Megan and D Jake Chelios to one-year contracts and F Chris Terry to a two-year contract.

The Vancouver Canucks agreed to terms with F Jay Beagle on a four-year contract worth $3.000 million per season.

G Anton Khudobin and the Dallas Stars agreed on a two-year deal worth $2.500 AAV.

The Stars also signed F Michael Mersch to a two-year, two-way deal and D Joel Hanley to a one-year, two-way contract.

G Scott Wedgewood signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Buffalo Sabres.

F Antoine Roussel and the Vancouver Canucks agreed on a four-year deal worth $3.000 million per season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed D Cameron Gaunce to a one-year, two-way contract.

The Columbus Blue Jackets signed D Adam Clendening to a one-year, two-way contract.

F Logan Couture signed an eight-year extension with the San Jose Sharks.

F Eric Fehr signed a one-year, $1.000 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.

F Matt Calvert signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche with a $2.800 million cap hit.

G Maxime Lagace re-signed with the Vegas Golden Knights to a one-year, two-way contract. Vegas also signed G Zachary Fucale to a one-year deal.

F Tobias Rieder signed a deal with the Edmonton Oilers.

D Dillon Simpson signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

F Daniel Carr signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.

F Derek Ryan signed a three-year deal with the Calgary Flames worth $3.125 million per season.

Calgary also signed F Austin Czarnik to a two-year contract worth $1.250 million per season.

The Flames re-signed D Dalton Prout to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

The Winnipeg Jets signed G Laurent Brossoit to a one-year, $650,000 contract.

F Matt Hendricks signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Minnesota Wild.

D Tyler Wotherspoon signed a one-year, two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

Edmonton signed D Kevin Gravel to a one-year contract.

D Stefan Elliott signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Dallas Stars agreed to terms with F Blake Comeau on a three-year, $2.400 million AAV, deal.

F Tim Schaller signed a two-year, $1.900 million cap hit, deal with the Vancouver Canucks.

D Fredrik Claesson signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the New York Rangers.

The Rangers also re-signed F Vladislav Namestnikov to a two-year deal worth $4.000 AAV.

F Erik Condra signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Dallas Stars.

Pittsburgh signed F Jimmy HayesD Zach Trotman and G John Muse to one-year contracts. All three deals are worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Ottawa Senators signed G Mike McKenna to a one-year, two-way contract.

F Riley Nash signed a three-year, $2.750 million AAV contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

F Kyle Brodziak agreed to a two-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

F Paul Carey signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.

Boston signed D Cody Goloubef and F Mark McNeill to one-year, two-way contracts worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Bruins also announced the signing of their 2018 second round pick, D Axel Andersson to a three-year entry-level contract with an annual cap hit of $825,833.

F Chris Wagner signed a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.250 million per season.

F Leo Komarov signed a four-year, $12 million ($3.000 million per season) deal with the New York Islanders.

F Sven Baertschi re-signed with the Vancouver Canucks on a three-year deal ($3.367 AAV).

Vegas signed F Brandon PirriF Alex GallantF Curtis McKenzie, and D Jimmy Oligny.

The Winnipeg Jets signed F Dennis EverbergF Seth Griffith and re-signed D Cameron Schilling to one-year, two-way, $650,000 contracts.

In their first official signing of the day, the Nashville Predators and F Connor Brickley came to an agreement on a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Rocco Grimaldi signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Nashville Predators.

The Calgary Flames signed F Tyler Graovac and F Alan Quine to one-year, two-way contracts. Graovac’s cap hit is $650,000 and Quine’s is $700,000 at the NHL level.

Nashville signed D Jarred Tinordi to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

New Jersey signed D John Ramage to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Joel L’Esperance signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars.

G Jared Coreau signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Valtteri Filppula signed a deal with the New York Islanders.

2018 Offseason Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Tampa Bay Lightning and their outlook for the summer.

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General Manager Steve Yzerman added Mikhail Sergachev at the expense of Jonathan Drouin last June in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, added some veteran leadership in four-time Stanley Cup champion, Chris Kunitz, and the Tampa Bay Lightning never looked back*.

*In the regular season, that is. The fun came to a halt in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.

Jon Cooper out-coached the entire Eastern Conference in the regular season, leading his Lightning club to 1st place in the Atlantic Division with 113 points on the season and a 54-23-5 record.

The Bolts cruised through the New Jersey Devils in five games in the First Round, then lost Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in the Second Round. Tampa didn’t let another game slip away, winning four straight to eliminate the Bruins and advance to their third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years.

But then the Lightning caught up with the Washington Capitals and the Caps stole their thunder.

Washington won Games 1 and 2, Tampa stormed back for Games 3, 4 and 5. Braden Holtby and the Capitals settled in for Game 6 and Steven Stamkos still has yet to produce a point in a Game 7 after the Lightning were shut out 4-0 on home ice.

Just like that, one of the best teams in the NHL was eliminated.

For all of Yzerman’s magic, Tampa has only been to the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2015.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Speaking of Yzerman’s magic, the Lightning GM acquired J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers in exchange for Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Vladislav Namestnikov, a 2018 first round pick (28th overall) and a conditional 2019 second round pick.

If you thought Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins overpaid for the services of Rick Nash, well….

Miller is a pending-RFA and the numbers– barring any trades– don’t look good at the forward sticking around long-term. But let’s ignore that trade for a second and focus more on the fact that Tampa doesn’t have a first round pick in Friday’s first round of the 2018 Draft.

Only time will tell if the Bolts find a way into the top-31 picks.

In defense of Tampa and Boston, sometimes these trades work out and are the difference maker between an exciting Stanley Cup champions DVD or not and sometimes they don’t pan out at all.

Pending free agents

Yzerman and Tampa’s front office staff have about $7.210 million to spend this summer with a mixture of talent and skill levels to re-sign.

Andy Andreoff, 27, was recently acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for backup goaltender Peter Budaj, which all but assures one of the pending free agents will be replaced heading into 2018-19.

In an evolving game where the emphasis on youth, speed and skill is more than ever before, logic indicates that 38-year-old, Chris Kunitz, will be on his way out the door, despite his 13-16–29 totals in 82 games.

For all that Kunitz did in the regular season, however, he only had one assist in 17 games this postseason.

Tampa has three pending-RFA forwards to re-sign this offseason in Adam Erne, J.T. Miller and Cedric Paquette.

Erne, 23, had three goals and one assist (four points) in 23 games with the Lightning this season and 6-1–7 totals in 49 career NHL games. Tampa’s 33rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has yet to see full-time status at the NHL level and shouldn’t need a raise if Yzerman is set on keeping him around as a bottom-6 forward.

Miller, 25, is a little more complicated.

The durable forward had a $2.750 million cap hit on his most recent contract– a two-year extension signed with the Rangers– and 23-35–58 totals in 82 games with Tampa and New York this season, setting career-highs in goals, assists and points.

He’s going to need a bigger piece of the salary cap pie, having reached the 50-point plateau for the second time in his career and fourth season in-a-row of 40-points or more.

Unless the Lightning can convince Ryan Callahan to waive his modified no-trade-clause/no-movement-clause and dump his $5.800 million cap hit, there’s not a lot of wiggle room.

Yzerman’s roster is filled with NTCs, NMCs and modified versions of the two. It’s not as bad as the Detroit Red Wings, as most players with the aforementioned clauses in Tampa have one-year remaining on their contract and, again, a modified version of a no-trade clause (in which the player lists teams he can/cannot be traded to).

Tyler Johnson, in the meantime, is only 27, has a $5.000 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season and a no-trade-clause that doesn’t go into affect until July 1st.

If desperate times call for desperate measures any Johnson transaction would be a clear measure of Yzerman’s skill as a GM. The return wouldn’t be as much of a home run as Sergachev was for Drouin, but Yzerman would have to find a way to get it there.

Finally, the 24-year-old fourth line center in Cedric Paquette is due for a new deal.

Since amassing 19 points in 64 games in 2014-15 with Tampa, Paquette’s production has faltered to just five goals and four assists (nine points) in 56 games this season.

Anything more than a million dollars and longer than three years could come back to bite the Bolts, if they offer an extension.

27-year-old Andrej Sustr might have been bumped out of the Lightning’s top-6 defenders, considering he only played in 44 regular season games and appeared in zero postseason games.

Sustr’s next best deal is going to come from another team after spending the last six seasons in Tampa.

Slater Koekkoek, 24, had four goals and four assists (eight points) in 35 games with the Lightning this season, but was held out of postseason play. The pending-RFA should see another go around with the Bolts, especially if Yzerman pulls of a trade, but stranger things have happened and Koekkoek could end up looking elsewhere for employment.

In goal, the Lightning have 23-year-old starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy locked up for two more years at a $3.500 million cap hit. After that, they’re looking for one of their AHL guys to step into the backup role or searching the market.

Buyouts on the books: Matthew Carle at $1.833 million through the 2019-20 season.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Alex Gallant (RFA), Erik Condra (UFA), Jamie McBain (UFA), Louis Domingue (RFA), Matthew Peca (UFA), Mat Bodie (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Ottawa Senators

Continuing our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams, today we begin with the Ottawa Senators and continue working our way through the 2018 NHL Entry Draft order (if every team still had their first round pick).

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After reaching the 2017 Eastern Conference Final and succumbing to the eventual 2017 Stanley Cup champion, Pittsburgh Penguins, in double-overtime in Game 7, the 2017-18 Senators were quite a disappointment.

Ottawa was one goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history and first time in ten years, but Chris Kunitz‘s game-winning goal ended the Sens magical 2017 postseason run.

A rocky start in October led to a dismal November after acquiring the services of Matt Duchene.

Though the team’s effort was not Duchene’s fault alone, trading away Kyle Turris in the three-team Duchene deal– and later sending Derick Brassard to the Vegas Golden Knights Pittsburgh Penguins (after making a pitstop in Vegas) as part of a three-team deal leading up to the 2018 trade deadline– didn’t do much to help Ottawa’s cause as Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 was ripped to shreds on a night-to-night basis.

The Sens finished 2017-18 with a 28-43-11 record, notching 67 points and finishing 7th in the Atlantic Division.

Erik Karlsson‘s displeasure with the organization has the trade rumor mill searching for a new home for the defender with one-year remaining on his current contract, while Thomas Chabot and Filip Gustavsson show promise for a hopeful future on the current roster and in the system, respectively.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Between Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk and Oliver Wahlstrom, there’s bound to be a top-quality prospect that could make quite a world of change for the organization. Zadina or Tkachuk could very well be selected 3rd overall by the Montreal Canadiens leaving the Senators with the next best available player to select.

But anything’s possible, as we’ve come to see time and time again in the draft.

Ottawa could trade their pick, take someone off the board that they’re more comfortable and confident with or be predictable and select the “best available” player.

Despite this year’s draft being deeper than recent drafts, one player alone isn’t going to fix the Senators (on-ice product, at least– we’ll save their front office for another day).

Pending free agents

With almost $15 million in cap space this offseason, Ottawa has a chance to make a dent at attracting one of the better players testing the market this July. However, the Senators have a couple of important names that are worth holding onto in Mark Stone (a pending-RFA) and Chris Wideman (a pending-UFA).

Other pending free agents currently on the NHL roster in Canada’s capital include the likes of Fredrik Claesson and Cody Ceci. Both are pending-RFA blueliners that are arbitration eligible if they are not tendered qualifying offers or already re-signed by July 1st.

In terms of priorities, keeping Stone and Wideman could play vital roles for Ottawa’s second/third line (Stone) and top-4 defensemen (Wideman). Neither are stellar standouts so somewhere around $3.000- 4.000 million AAV deals seem reasonable– at most– considering the 2019 crop of pending free agents Ottawa will have (including Duchene, Karlsson and others).

But Ottawa has bigger needs with six forwards over the age of 30 and nobody to match Karlsson’s playing style on the first defensive pair.

It wouldn’t be unwise for General Manager Pierre Dorion to find some trading partners to take on 37-year-old Alex Burrows, 36-year-old Marian Gaborik and the contract of Clarke MacArthur (if MacArhtur’s playing days are indeed over and the Senators no longer wish to place him on the long term injured reserve from season-to-season).

If Karlsson is to be traded, then the Senators will have to hit a home run on the package in return. But the real home run for the organization might be finding someone to take on Bobby Ryan‘s $7.250 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season in a trade, as Ottawa’s owner, Eugene Melnyk dreams.

The Sens need to get younger, more skilled and faster. They’re almost figuring that out on the blueline, but even then, they’ve got some decisions to make– keep either Claesson or Ceci and find a new defender or two via trade or free agency.

Likewise, Craig Anderson isn’t getting much younger (he’s 37) as the starting goaltender, while Mike Condon, 28, has stalled in development as an average backup.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Chris Driedger (RFA), Tyler Randell (UFA), Nick Moutrey (RFA), Mike Blunden (UFA), Nicholas Paul (RFA) and Max Reinhart (UFA)

Down the Frozen River Podcast #107- Stanley Cup Final Preview (Not Live in Vegas)

Nick and Connor contemplate going to Vegas in addition to a complete breakdown, preview and predictions for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Burakovsky and Holtby lead Caps to Cup Finals

 

With his second-straight shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning, First Star of the Game G Braden Holtby lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-0 Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Capitals entered this game with a 7-2 record away from Capital One Arena this postseason, but a 4-11 all-time record in Game 7s for their franchise history.

One of these records had to give.

Doing his best to turn the tables in Washington’s favor, Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (F Evgeny Kuznetsov and RW Tom Wilson) provided one of his patented slap shots from above the left face-off circle only 62 seconds into the contest to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage.

That goal proved to be the game-winner, due in large part to the excellent performance of Holtby. He saved all 29 shots he faced during regulation, with 22 of those being struck in the first two periods.

While Holtby is certainly deserving of credit, it is not without some fortuitous bounces that he held on to his clean sheet. There were more than a few occasions in this tilt that a puck initially beat him between his legs or rang off the post, but he was fortunate that his defense was there to keep the Lightning from scoring off the rebound.

D John Carlson‘s unbelievable five shot blocks (a game-high) played a major role defensively for Washington, as did Ovechkin’s five hits (tied with D Victor Hedman and LW Chris Kunitz for a game-high) and C Lars Eller‘s two takeaways (you guessed it, another game-high).

Additionally, all this talk about Holtby is not to discredit the work done by G Andrei Vasilevskiy. Playing in the second Eastern Finals Game 7 of his young career, the Russian’s 19-for-22 stat line (.864 save percentage) is not reflective of his performance, as he made more than his fair share of awe-inspiring saves.

In fact, the two insurance goals scored in the second period by Second Star W Andre Burakovsky could largely be pinned on Vasilevskiy’s defense, as both were buried as a result of one-on-one matchups.

At the 8:59 mark of the second period, Burakovsky took advantage of D Dan Girardi mishandling the puck in his own zone to register his first playoff tally since May 8, 2017 – another two-goal performance. After wrapping his way around the defenseman, the Austrian slid towards Vasilevskiy’s crease before sneaking a wrist shot under the netminder’s right arm to the far post.

7:32 later, Burakovsky was on the receiving end of another play by a defenseman, but this blueliner was one of his own. Carlson intercepted a Lightning pass off the boards in his own defensive zone and quickly sprang his waiting teammate at the red line, setting Burakovsky up for his second breakaway opportunity of the frame. Just before D Ryan McDonagh caught up to him, the winger slid his wrister past Vasilevsky five-hole, setting the score at 3-0 with 23:29 remaining in regulation.

The final goal of the game belonged to C Nicklas Backstrom, who scored an empty netter with 3:43 remaining in the Lightning’s season.

No Game 7 is complete without tempers flaring, and that box was checked early. With 7:01 remaining in the first period, a seemingly innocent meeting of the minds in Vasilevskiy’s crease – following an incredible save, no less – proved to be nothing of the sort, as the ensuing shoving match between D Braydon Coburn and Kuznetsov resulted in the former possessing two sweaters: the one he was wearing and his opponent’s.

That ignited the fury of Wilson, who tried his hardest to rush Coburn but was intercepted by an official. Both Coburn and Wilson were charged with matching unsportsmanlike penalties, setting play at even-strength four-on-four for two minutes.

However, this was not a simple cool-down period in the penalty box. Immediately upon their release, Coburn and Wilson elected to engage in an exciting bout of fisticuffs. Coburn won by virtue of Wilson falling first, but both earned “five for fighting” major penalties and were sent to their respective dressing rooms for the remainder of the frame.

If Coburn elected to fight Wilson to inspire his club, it did little to do that. After his bout, the Bolts managed only one more shot on goal in the frame, and only 20 for the remainder of the game. Throw in the excellent form that Holtby was sporting, and there was little Tampa – the preseason favorite in many’s eyes – could do to stave off elimination.

With the Prince of Wales Trophy in hand, Washington will wage war against the Vegas Golden Knights in a Stanley Cup Final that features two teams searching for their first title. Game 1 is scheduled for Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern from the theatrical confines of T-Mobile Arena and will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN1 and TVAS.

An early note regarding these Finals in relation to these playoffs: In the First Round, the Boston Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, but were eliminated in the Second Round. Similarly, the Second Round featured the Winnipeg Jets besting the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7, but falling in the Western Conference Finals.

After the Caps required seven contests to eliminate Tampa Bay, will they suffer a similar fate against Vegas? Or will they buck yet another trend?

Only time – and at least four hockey games – will tell.

Lighning Strike Fast at Home due to 4th Line

Unknown-3The Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 on home ice by a score of 3-2. It was the first win by a home team in the series. A big part of the game was the matchups used by Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, and having a fast start to the game.

The Lightning started the game the best way possible scoring a goal just 19 seconds into the game. Cooper was playing the matchup and started his 4th line. They were able to force Dmitry Orlov into a turnover and Ryan Callahan made a great play to get the puck to Cedric Paquette who fired the puck past Braden Holtby. For his first of the playoffs.

Tampa continued the dominance in the first period by creating the majority of the chances. They doubled their lead just before the halfway mark of the period. Another turnover by Orlov, led to Ondrej Palat with a stick wrister past Holtby for a 2-0 lead. It was Palat’s 6th goal of the playoffs.

Tampa out played the Capitals in the first period, with the 4th line of Callahan, Paquette and Chris Kunitz leading the way. Tampa outshot the Capitals 13 to 4.

The second period started as well as the first for the Lightning. 33 seconds into the period Stralman made a great move to take the puck to the net while Callahan crashed in and the puck went off his upper body and into the net for a 3-0 lead. It was Callahan’s second point of the night and his 2nd goal of the playoffs

It seemed Washington wasn’t going to have an answer to break down Tampa. They did find a goal five Washington Capitals Logominutes into the second period with Matt Niskanen letting a shot go from the point that was deflected by Evgeny Kuznetsov to make it a 3-1 game. It was Kuznetsov’s 22nd point of the playoffs.

This seemed to spark the offense of Washington as they began to pepper Andrei Vasilevskiy, but he stood tall. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 13 to 5 in the second period.

The third period was a back and forth period with both teams getting chances. Vasilevskiy and Holtby were both strong making saves they should make and some they had no right making. Washington took over late in the closing minutes of regulation. Tampa received some luck as Alex Ovechkin and his other Caps teammates hit the post a number of times.

Ovechkin did find his goal with less than two minutes left in the game and the extra attacker on the ice. He was a little above his signature spot, but his one timer blew by Vasilevskiy to make it a 3-2 game.

It was too little too late though, as Vasilevskiy robbed John Carlson as time ran down. Tampa held on to win on home ice and lead the series 3-2. Game 6 will be Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Caps stun Bolts 6-2 in Game 2

Washington Capitals LogoUnknown-3

 

 

 

 

The Washington Capitals rolled through the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in Game 2 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final Sunday night at Amalie Arena, earning their 7th road win this postseason (tying a franchise record set in 1998— which is also the last time the Capitals made the Stanley Cup Final).

Braden Holtby made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in the win, while Tampa netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 out of 37 shots faced for an .838 SV% in the loss.

It didn’t take long for Game 2 to look a lot like Game 1 with the Capitals grabbing an early lead. So early, in fact, that it was only 28 seconds into the action when Tom Wilson (3) redirected a shot from the point past Vasilevskiy.

Wilson’s goal was all thanks to Matt Niskanen’s stellar job keeping the puck in the attacking zone and haphazard shot towards the net that Wilson deflected. As a result, Niskanen (4) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (10) had the assists on the goal that made it, 1-0, Washington.

The noted agitator of the Capitals, Wilson subsequently took the game’s first penalty (a minor for goaltender interference) at 6:48 of the first period after he bumped into Vasilevskiy.

Tampa converted on the power play with a little puck luck as Niskanen blocked a shot, Brayden Point (5) scooped up the loose puck and capitalized on the man advantage with Holtby out of position.

Steven Stamkos (8) and Victor Hedman (8) had the assists on the goal that tied it, 1-1, at 7:08 of the first period.

About a minute later, T.J. Oshie got a stick up high on Hedman, though replay confirmed the Washington forward only grazed the glove of the Lightning defender and that it was actually the puck that caught Hedman in the face. Nevertheless, Oshie was penalized for high-sticking and Tampa went to work on the ensuing advantage.

As the power play was winding down, Nikita Kucherov worked a pass across the ice to Stamkos (5) for a stereotypical Stamkos power play goal— a one-timed slap shot while falling to one knee. The Bolts grabbed a one-goal lead with Stamkos’s power play goal, 2-1, at 10:22 of the first period.

Kucherov (8) and Point (7) had the assists on the goal.

Minutes later, Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz mixed things up a bit after the whistle and received matching roughing minors.

Entering the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 13-10. The Caps had an advantage in blocked shots (5-4) and hits (15-14), while the Bolts led in takeaways (4-3), giveaways (2-1) and faceoff win percentage (64-36). Washington had yet to see any time on the power play and the Lightning were 2/2 on the skater advantage.

In keeping with the theme of early goals in the period, Devante Smith-Pelly (3) sent a one-timer past Vasilevskiy on the heels of a tremendous saucer pass from Alex Chiasson at 2:50 of the second period to tie the game, 2-2.

Chiasson (1) and John Carlson (10) had the assists on Smith-Pelly’s goal.

Jay Beagle and Cedric Paquette took matching roughing minors 6:33 into the second period and play resumed, 4-on-4, for a couple minutes.

Midway through the second frame, the Capitals finally went on the power play for the first time Sunday night as Yanni Gourde was guilty of hooking Lars Eller. Washington did not convert on the power play and took the game’s next penalty— a minor for interference.

After killing Michal Kempny’s interference minor, the Capitals surged in momentum in the closing minutes of the second period.

Eller (5) scored on a point blank redirected pass from Jakub Vrana and Washington pulled back in front, 3-2, leading for just the second time of the night. Vrana (4) had the assist on Eller’s goal at 18:58 of the period.

Almost a minute later, Vasilevskiy was guilty of tripping Andre Burakovsky behind the play and Ondrej Palat was sent to the sin bin to serve the Lightning netminder’s minor.

With ten seconds left on the clock until the second intermission, Washington only needed seven of them to pocket a power play goal and make it a two-goal game.

Kuznetsov (8) threw the puck towards the goal from the goal line to the left of Vasilevskiy as the Lightning goaltender attempted to poke the puck free from the low slot. Instead, Tampa’s goalie actually caught a chunk of the puck off the blocker and the rubber biscuit had eyes of its own, sliding through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole into the twine for the power play goal.

Alex Ovechkin (9) and Eller (5) had the assists and the Caps led, 4-2, at 19:57 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, Washington was ahead, 4-2, on the scoreboard and, 23-21, in shots on goal. Both teams had nine blocked shots aside and three giveaways each. The Capitals also led in hits (27-23), while Tampa led in takeaways (7-3) and faceoff win percentage (63-37) after two periods. Washington was 1/2 on the power play and Tampa was 2/3 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

The Capitals have outscored the Lightning, 5-0, in second periods alone so far this series.

Washington got out to a quick start in the third period, finishing a two-on-one to go up three-goals when Ovechkin (10) notched his tenth goal of the postseason courtesy of a pass from Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov (11) and Wilson (6) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it, 5-2, Capitals at 3:34 of the third period.

Shortly thereafter, Kempny cross checked Paquette, but the Lightning were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Brett Connolly (3) scored in the vulnerable couple of minutes after the Tampa power play, giving Washington a four-goal lead, 6-2 at 12:57 of the third. Eller (6) and Carlson (11) had the assists on Connolly’s goal.

Halfway through the final frame, Alex Killorn and Connolly got into a shoving match, resulting in matching minor penalties for roughing at 13:09.

After being a victim to a questionable, uncalled, trip by Connolly, Kucherov retaliated on his way to the bench in the final minute of regulation and was handed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

At the final horn, the Capitals had sealed the deal on a 6-2 victory on the road, taking a 2-0 series lead back home for Game 3 at Capital One Arena on Tuesday. Washington dominated Game 2, leading in shots on goal (37-35), blocked shots (16-10) and hits (38-33), while the Lightning led in faceoff win percentage (56-44). The Caps finished the night 1/3 on the power play, while Tampa went 2/4.

Washington has outscored the Lightning, 10-4, through the first two games of the series.

Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can watch the action on CBC, SN or 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.

Deal(t) with the Devil: Tampa fends off scrappy New Jersey to take Game 1

 

Funny thing, hockey.

In one corner we have the Atlantic Division champion Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that for long stretches of the year looked nigh-on immortal, and made ritual of beating basically everyone who dared stand in their path.

In the other corner stands a New Jersey squad that just squeaked into the playoffs in a wild card spot, have a roster with almost as many ‘misfit toys’ as the upstart Golden Knights, and… went undefeated against the Lightning in the regular season?

Well. Color me interested.

The Devils made a season of being the eternal underdogs. Apart from Hart Trophy favorite Taylor Hall, they really don’t possess much in the way of name value. Goaltender Cory Schneider spent much of the year hurt, and struggled upon his return. But career-backup Keith Kinkaid won 26 games this year (he’d won just 23 in four previous seasons combined) and stole the starting job heading into the playoffs.

New Jersey headed into Amalie Arena as perhaps the biggest underdogs in all the playoffs, and for good reason. Tampa Bay is as deadly a hockey team as you’ll find in the NHL today, boasting four stellar lines, six quality defensemen, and a Vezina candidate goaltender. For the first half of this game, the script went just as the numbers suggested it should.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper elected to start the game with his fourth line, and John Hynes elected to follow suit. It gave the start of the game some energy, and showed that neither coach is afraid to try something a bit off-the-beaten-path.

Apart from a follow-through on an attempted shot by Miles Wood treating Bolts defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a bloody nose, the first few minutes passed without many notable incidents or quality chances, but saw Tampa controlling a good portion of the play. As the clock neared halfway point of the period, Tampa began to settle in and the chances started coming.

First it was Yanni Gourde chipping a loose puck past a pinching defender to create a two-on-one. The winger streaked into the zone and put Kinkaid out into about the fourth row of seats with a beautiful move, but just couldn’t quite direct the puck into the yawning cage as it rolled off the end of his stick. He wouldn’t need to wait long for another chance, as on his line’s next shift he corralled a loose puck out of a netfront scramble, but Kinkaid was able to track it through the mess of sticks and skates to shut the door on #37.

The very next faceoff saw a bouncing puck lure Kinkaid out of the blue paint while attempting to cover up, and the puck ended up coming right to – you guessed it – Gourde who wasn’t quite able to control it and get a shot away.

Finally at the 15:00 mark it would be Tampa’s second line going to work down low in the zone and Tyler Johnson would feed Ondrej Palat from below the goal line, and after a quick set of dekes the 2016 playoffs standout lifted a backhand shot over the pad of Kinkaid to put the Lightning up 1-0.

Still, the Bolts kept coming. Anthony Cirelli nearly scored on a wraparound with 2:30 to play, but the toe of Kinkaid was equal to the task.

Finally New Jersey got a quality chance, as Vasilevskiy turned the puck over attempting to play it behind his net, but was able to recover in time to cover up as everyone crashed the net and a scrum ensued.

With 28 seconds left to play, it would be Tampa’s second line again making plays deep in the offensive zone, this time with Palat and Brayden Point forcing a turnover, and Palat sending a perfect pass to the tape of a driving Johnson who made no mistakes and buried it over the glove of Kinkaid.

Shot clock only read a two-shot advantage (13-11) to Tampa at the end of one, but the quality chances were all on one end of the ice.

The momentum would continue in Tampa’s favor at the beginning of the second period, as an early power play opportunity presented itself and they made sure to cash in. Gourde, on what by my count was about his 42nd quality scoring chance of the game, hammered home a slam-dunk after a ridiculous kick-pass across the netmouth by Palat to put the home team up by three.

The very next shift is when things began to change, as Michael Grabner and Pat Maroon would combine for about three legitimate bids in quick succession, but Vasilevskiy was able to turn them all aside. Later in the frame it would be New Jersey with a power play opportunity, where they’d get three or four high-quality chances that Vasilevskiy had the answers to.

Finally with just over six minutes to play in the second, Hall (because who else?) would crack the goose egg and get his team on the board, pouncing on an egregious defensive zone turnover by Palat and burying the opportunity before Vasilevskiy could get set.

The Devils didn’t let up, nearly scoring again with just over a minute remaining on a big-time deflection (chest height to the ice in the blink of an eye) on a Mirco Mueller point shot that Vasilevskiy somehow managed to track and react to, kicking out the right pad in a flash and gobbling up the rebound to prevent further chaos.

Capitalizing on the big momentum shift, New Jersey heavily outshot the boys in blue to lead on the shot clock 26-20 after 40 minutes, hoping to carry it into the third and try to close down the two-goal margin.

Carry it into the third they did not. The Bolts would tally the first seven shots of the period, and at one point briefly thought they had scored when Alex Killorn tipped a shot at the side of the net that Kinkaid just barely managed to keep out (Killorn even momentarily raised his arms in celebration). The third line kept the Devils hemmed in their own zone after the near-miss, and finally a dominating shift came to an end when Gourde (obviously) took a cross-ice pass from Cirelli off of a turnover and ripped a one-time blast just over the crossbar and out of play. New Jersey would not register a single shot until nearly 9:30 into the third period.

But, at 9:35 of the third, Jersey’s second shot of the period was a power play goal by Travis Zajac (one of only two players on either roster to have played the last time these two teams met in the playoffs 11 years ago*) who deflected a beautifully-sold shot-pass by Hall just over the glove of Vasilevskiy to drag the visitors to within one.

*The other was Andy Greene

Now Tampa is on the back foot. New Jersey is charging. Can they complete the comeback? How will the Lightning survive the onslaught?

Oh hey look, it’s that Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde line again.

Yes, the unstoppable force known as Tampa’s third line did it again, this time with Gourde forcing a turnover by Maroon at the blueline, then leading his linemates on a three-on-two rush up the ice, eventually feeding it to the trailer Killorn in the high slot. Cirelli drove the net to create the diversion, but Kinkaid was never catching up to this one anyhow. PING goes the crossbar, an absolute laser by the Harvard grad restores the two-goal lead just under two minutes after it had been erased.

Tampa followed their goal with a solid fourth-line shift, capped off by a thundering check on Hall by the playoffs’ only four-time Cup winner Chris Kunitz, and the Devils star would be slow to his feet, though he would finish the game.

Kinkaid retreated to the bench with 2:30 to play, but it would be all-for-not, as with 1:12 left Nikita Kucherov (who had been mostly silent until that point) dangled a Devils defender and waltzed in to bury the dagger.

At the final horn, a good deal of pushing and shoving came about, with the Devils hoping to set a tone heading into Game 2 (which I’ll just so happen to be covering, as well) on Saturday afternoon.

The story of this game was really a tale of two major plots.

First was simply the unbridled speed of Tampa Bay. New Jersey is arguably one of maybe two teams in the league that have a legitimate shot at keeping up with Tampa’s pace, and in this one they were totally outclassed. If they can’t find a way to clog things up and slow the Bolts down, they are going to be in trouble.

Second, and probably the even more daunting challenge, is the sheer depth of the Lightning lineup. The Devils did a spectacular job of silencing Tampa’s lethal #1 line of J.T. Miller – Steven Stamkos – Kucherov, but the Devils simply don’t have the same top-to-bottom quality that the Bolts depth chart possesses.

Palat-Point-Johnson is a top line on probably a third of other NHL squads.

Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde is an impossible speed/skill matchup for nearly any other third line.

Kunitz-Paquette-Callahan will forecheck whatever is left of you into the ground.

Tack on one of the best one-through-six defense corps in the league, and it’s borderline impossible for any club to gain a matchup advantage, especially on the road where the home team gets last change.

Nothing is impossible in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but New Jersey is going to need some help from the hockey gods from the looks of things.