Tag Archives: Conor Sheary

February 2 – Day 114 – An overflow of goals

Happy Friday to you and yours! Celebrate the last day of the work week with some hockey!

To help you in that process, the NHL has scheduled four games this evening, including three at 7 p.m. (Washington at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS], Detroit at Carolina and San Jose at Columbus). Vegas visits Minnesota (NBCSN) an hour later to close the evening out early. All times Eastern.

Obviously, the game that sticks out above the rest is going down in the Steel City this evening. Even though we just featured the Capitals Wednesday, there’s no way we’re missing this one!

 

No matter the time of season, these tilts between the Capitals and Penguins always seem to mean just a little bit more, don’t they? Having W Alex Ovechkin and C Sidney Crosby on these respective teams is probably a big reason for that.

In fact, it’s to the Metropolitan Division-leading 30-15-5 Capitals’ offense that I was about to turn, so we’ll consider that as good a transition as any.

There are few attacks in the league that have been better than Washington’s since January 12, and it’s not really that close. In their past six outings, the Caps have scored an average of 3.17 goals per game – a mark that is tied for fourth-best in the NHL in that time.

As you might have guessed, Ovechkin has been a big part of that charge. Since mid-January, the 13-year veteran has posted a team-leading 3-4-7 totals to improve his season numbers to 30-23-53, the most goals in the league.

But it’s not just Ovi. D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov have been incredible lately as well, as they have both averaged a point-per-game over their last six showings. Carlson and Ovechkin have been meshing particularly well of late, as the defenseman has provided the primary assist on two of Ovechkin’s three most-recent markers.

Of course, Washington also has the luxury of 26-9-2 G Braden Holtby manning the pipes in the defensive end. As a result of his .916 save percentage and 2.67 GAA, his 26 victories on the season are the (t)second-most in the league.

Meanwhile, the 28-21-3 Penguins – who occupy third place in the Metropolitan – have dreams of capping their four-game home stand with their fourth-straight victory.

Offensive struggles have been one of the issues facing Pittsburgh for most of the season, but if this home stand is any indication, those concerns are in the rear-view mirror. The Pens have scored a whopping 4.67 goals-per-game during this three-game winning streak, an effort that tops the league during this time frame.

A total of six players are averaging at least a point-per-game (including D Ian Cole, even though he wasn’t a part of the 3-1 victory against the Hurricanes on January 23) during this run, but none stand out quite like F Evgeni Malkin. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the man whose 26 goals are (t)fifth-most in the league knows what to do with the puck, but Malkin has posted a 5-1-6 effort to improve his season numbers to 26-29-55 totals.

Of course, success should be a given when Malkin has the supporting cast of Cole, Crosby, RW Phil Kessel, W Bryan Rust and F Dominik Simon – all of whom join the Russian in posting at least a point-per-game. With teammates that include the player that’s (t)fourth in points and 10th in assists in Kessel (21-38-59 totals) and the skater that’s (t)eighth in assists and (t)ninth in points in Crosby (17-39-56), losing is a hard thing to do.

Tonight’s tilt is the third in the four-game regular season series, and the title of victor is still very much up for grabs. Both the previous games took place at Capital One Arena, with the Pens winning 3-2 on October 11 (W Conor Sheary provided the deciding goal) and the Caps exacting revenge November 10 with a 4-1 victory (Holtby took First Star honors). Pittsburgh and Washington will tangle for the final time this season on April 1 at PPG Paints Arena.

Holtby and 16-12-1 G Matthew Murray will have to be in their best form tonight if they want to earn their respective club two points, but who will find the save to slow down these potent onslaughts? The Penguins may have home ice, but I’m leaning towards Washington taking the victory considering its defense has been performing better than Pittsburgh’s of late.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Boston Bruins successfully defended TD Garden by beating the St. Louis Blues 3-1.

As far as the scoreboard was concerned, this game was a slow starter as only one goal was struck in the first two periods. That tally belonged to Second Star of the Game C David Krejci (LW Jake Debrusk and F Ryan Spooner), who buried his backhanded shot with 7:28 remaining in the first frame to give the hosts a one-goal advantage.

However, the scoreboard never tells the whole story. Even though Krejci scored in the first period, it was actually the Blues that out-shot the Bruins in the first frame 14-9. The game then turned on its head during the intermission, as Third Star G Jake Allen had to fend off a whopping 22 Boston shots in the second while his offense managed only six shots on goal at the other end.

Things leveled out in the third period as far as shots on goal were concerned (15-13 in favor of Boston), but the Bruins still outscored St. Louis 2-1 in the frame for the 3-1 final score. The first goal belonged to C Patrice Bergeron (RW David Pastrnak and Spooner), who took advantage of RW Vladimir Tarasenko serving a penalty for hooking D Torey Krug to bury a power play snap shot from the right face-off dot that proved to be the game-winner over Allen’s right shoulder. F Jaden Schwartz (F Brayden Schenn and Tarasenko) managed to pull the Notes back within a tally on a wrist shot with 1:32 remaining in regulation, but F David Backes completed the victory against the team he used to captain with an empty-netter with one tick left on the clock.

First Star G Tuukka Rask earned the victory after saving 32-of-33 shots faced (.97 save percentage), leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 43-of-45 (.956).

It seems all the 62-37-15 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series was the All-Star Break to resume control, as they’ve won three out of the last four contests to take a 21-point advantage.

January 5 – Day 90 – Break out the Beastie Boys

It’s the first Friday of 2018! Whether you worked all week or haven’t started back yet, you deserve to watch some hockey tonight!

The festivities begin at 7 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits the New York Islanders (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by a pair of contests (San Jose at Ottawa [RDS2] and Florida at Detroit). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Buffalo at Winnipeg, while tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Chicago (SN1) – waits 30 minutes before getting underway. All times Eastern.

There’s only one rivalry game on the schedule today, and with both participants having fallen outside the playoff picture, it should be an exceptionally competitive and important matchup. We’re off to Brooklyn!

 

Oh boy, where to start with this game? Both clubs have had reason for optimism at different points this season, yet – if things stay the way they currently stand – they could be scheduling tee times on April 8.

Of course, after winning two consecutive titles, 20-19-3 Pittsburgh figured to be in far better position than 10th in the Eastern Conference. Playoff qualification was supposed to be a given! Adding insult to injury, if they had simply beat Carolina at home last night instead of lose 4-0, the Pens would at least be in the postseason picture as the second wild card.

There’s reasons galore for why the reigning champs find themselves in the position they do, ranging from front office decisions to injuries and performance to plain bad luck, but we don’t have time to tackle all those things.

The biggest thing that is missing from this Penguins team is the very thing that has made the club so dominant for the last decade: offense. Pittsburgh averages only 2.71 goals per game through 42 games, the 10th-worst in the NHL.

However, the issue isn’t that simple. This offense has proved it is still capable of figuring things out, because the Penguins’ power play is actually the best in the league. Similar to the Sabres of the last two years, Pittsburgh can convert when the game is supposedly at its easiest – converting 25.7 percent of its man-advantage opportunities – but has only a league-worst 56 five-on-five goals to its credit.

That’s right, the Penguins were just compared to the Sabres. That hasn’t happened since the ’90s, and it was a compliment then.

So where did the offense go?

The easiest person to point at is C Sidney Crosby and his 14-22-36 totals. Managing only .857 points per game (regardless of the number of players on the ice), he’s on pace for the worst season of his career. Even his 36-49-85 effort in 2015-’16 season is superior, as he managed 1.06 points per game that year.

Oh yeah, and the Pens did more than simply qualify for the playoffs that year.

So far this season, Crosby has posted 17 points at even-strength and another 19 on the power play. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too far off the pace of RW Phil Kessel, who’s managed 17-27-44 totals to lead the team. 19 of Kessel’s points have come at even-strength (only two more than Crosby’s) and 25 on the power play, a total that actually leads the league.

But points are very different than goals, and that’s where Crosby has slipped. He’s scored only eight goals at even-strength (compared to Kessel’s 11), a total that is tied with F Jake Guentzel for third-most on the team (13-10-23 totals) and one fewer than W Conor Sheary‘s – who’s having an absolutely miserable 11-5-16 third year while occupying a spot on the top line – nine.

Before we pick on the Islanders, don’t think F Evgeni Malkin escapes judgement. He’s posted 14-24-38 totals through 38 games played this season, which in and of itself is stellar. Averaging at least a point-per-game is the goal of all elite players in this league.

However, when we start breaking his stats down, he follows the same trend as Crosby. Eight of Malkin’s 14 tallies have been struck on the power play, meaning he’s scored only six times at even-strength. Centering Kessel’s second line has elevated his even-strength point total (20 of his points have come in five-on-five situations), but the fact that both of Pittsburgh’s franchise players aren’t finding the back of the net in the very situation most of the game is played is having ripple effects throughout the roster.

Road trips are hard, and the 20-17-4 Islanders – who currently sit in ninth place and two points outside playoff position – just got back from a tough one. New York has played three of its last four games away from the comforts of Barclays Center, and it returns home riding a four-game losing skid.

For most of the season, the Isles’ top line of F Josh Bailey (12-38-50 totals), F Anders Lee (24-15-39) and C John Tavares (22-28-50) has worked miracles to cover for the sins of their teammates, but it seems even they have run out of whatever secret sauce was keeping them on the scorecard.

Now that they aren’t bearing the load as well, New York’s atrocious defense is getting lit up. Since December 29, the Islanders have allowed a league-high 155 shots against, and that’s resulted in a whopping 21 goals against in four games played (5.25 per game), far and away the worst effort over that stretch.

It’s hard to blame 11-11-2 G Jaroslav Halak for his poor performance of late considering his insane workload, but he hasn’t been able to keep the Isles competitive during this run, managing only a .881 save percentage and 4.94 GAA in his last three starts.

What’s truly alarming about New York’s defense is that four defensemen – Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech – are managing at least two blocks-per-game over this losing skid. If I were Halak, I’d be truly frightened imagining my workload without their efforts.

Tonight’s tilt is the second in a four-game season series. Game 1 on December 7 went the way of the Penguins, who needed an overtime goal from D Matt Hunwick to beat New York 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena. Meetings 3 and 4 won’t take place until March, so both clubs will want to leave a positive impression on the other before diverging paths for two months.

Who wins a game between a sputtering offense and an anemic defense? Probably the team that can find success on the other end of the ice. Given the Isles’ home ice and their usually dynamic offense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see New York earn two points in the standings tonight.


Though they needed the shootout to get it done, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though two goals were struck in the first period, they were both scored in the last two minutes before intermission. The first tally belonged to First Star of the Game C Auston Matthews (D Connor Carrick and F William Nylander) with 1:23 remaining on the clock, followed only 31 seconds later by D Brenden Dillon (D Brent Burns and W Timo Meier) leveling the game with a snap shot, his first goal of the season.

Two more tallies were struck in the second period, but C Nazem Kadri (F Mitch Marner and D Morgan Rielly) didn’t wait until until the end of the frame to make his mark. He buried a power play tip-in with 7:20 remaining before intermission to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. However, San Jose would once again manage to find a leveling goal, this one courtesy of C Chris Tierney taking advantage of Second Star G Frederik Andersen misplaying the puck in front of his crease 5:38 later.

As no goals were struck in the third period or three-on-three overtime, the game was thrust into the shootout. As hosts, the Maple Leafs elected to go first.

  1. Who else is Head Coach Mike Babcock to send out than Matthews? The second-year stud converted the fourth shootout opportunity of his career, setting his mark as a pro at 4-for-12.
  2. Facing an early hole, F Logan Couture was the first Shark to participate. However, his backhanded shot was saved by Andersen, giving Toronto a 1-0 advantage through the first round.
  3. With the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for San Jose, Marner’s wrist shot was saved by Third Star G Martin Jones.
  4. Unfortunately for the Sharks, F Joe Pavelski‘s wrister met the same fate: saved by Andersen. Toronto led 1-0 through two rounds.
  5. What a weird situation for F Patrick Marleau to be in: if he scored a goal, he’d defeat the very club he played with for 19 years. Whether he wanted that honor or not, he found iron, giving San Jose the opportunity to continue the shootout.
  6. And that’s exactly what RW Kevin Labanc did. He beat Andersen to tie the shootout 1-1 through three rounds, forcing extra frames.
  7. You probably noticed that the goaltenders played pretty well tonight. That trend continued when Jones saved Nylander’s wrister.
  8. With his back against a wall, Andersen duplicated Jones’ performance by saving RW Joonas Donskoi‘s wrister to maintain the 1-1 tie.
  9. Consider this a ditto for Jones, but this time against a LW James van Riemsdyk wrister.
  10. Make it a double for Andersen as well, as he saved Burns’ wrister to extend the shootout to six rounds.
  11. Finally someone found the back of the net! C Tyler Bozak sneaked his shot past Jones to force a sudden death situation for San Jose.
  12. Tierney came as close as he could to continuing the shootout, but his attempt found iron to give the bonus point to Toronto.

Both goaltenders performed marvelously, but only one could come away with the victory. That proved to be Andersen, as he saved 33-of-35 (.943 save percentage) through 65 minutes of play. That left Jones with the shootout loss after he stopped 26-of-28 (.929).

Home ice has been a big deal in the DtFR Game of the Day series this year, as the 51-28-11 hosts, who have earned points in seven of the last eight games, have a 24-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #81- Turkey Day 2K17: As Gudas It Gets

Nick checks in with Colby Kephart and Frank Fanelli (of Student Union Sports) on Radko Gudas’s suspension, the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Chance The Rapper’s SNL skit for the ages. Also discussed, the overabundance of outdoor games featuring teams that are obviously stuck in a revolving door of outdoor games.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

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

And be sure to check out our newest extension of the product, DTFR Overtime, this week where Nick retroactively wrote about a topic from last week’s episode.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2017-’18 Season Preview

Pittsburgh Penguins

50-21-11, 111 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Beat Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals

Additions: D Matt Hunwick, G Antti Niemi, RW Ryan Reaves

Subtractions: C Nick Bonino (signed with NSH), F Matt Cullen (signed with MIN), D Trevor Daley (signed with DET), G Marc-Andre Fleury (drafted by VGK), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with CBJ), D Ron Hainsey (signed with TOR), LW Chris Kunitz (signed with TBL), C Kevin Porter (signed with BUF), D Mark Streit (signed with MTL), C Oskar Sundqvist (traded to STL), D David Warsofsky (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: After hoisting the Stanley Cup the past two seasons, is it ok to just write the Penguins into their third-straight Finals appearance?

To the joy of 30 other fan-bases, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

Don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh is still the class of the Eastern Conference and has its eyes set on a three-peat. Though they had their fair share of departures this offseason, the Penguins return the “Sid and the Kids” line (Jake Guentzel, Captain Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary) as well as the dominant second line of Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, so last year’s best offense will expect to continue its scoring ways.

However, the potential chinks in the armor start appearing in the bottom-six as GM Jim Rutherford had to replace Bonino, Cullen and Kunitz – all of whom appeared in 91 or more regular and postseason games last season. In particular, I’m most concerned about the Pens’ third line center.

What needs to be remembered about recent Penguins third lines is that they don’t fit the typical mold. Few third lines are counted on to provide many goals, instead preferring to slow down the opposing offense. But in Pittsburgh, scoring depth extends beyond the top two lines. Bonino and Kunitz provided a combined 66 points last season from the third line, including 27 markers.

Something tells me Head Coach Mike Sullivan will expect their replacements to perform similarly, but who will they be?

As expected, Sullivan has played around with his bottom two lines throughout camp. In Pittsburgh’s most recent preseason contest, Tom Kuhnhackl, Greg McKegg and Bryan Rust made up the third line with the fourth including Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney and Reaves.

Rust can certainly continue the tradition of this new-age third line, but I have my doubts about Kuhnhackl’s career .37 points-per-game and McKegg’s nine points in 65 NHL games. Unless Sullivan gets pleasantly surprised by their performances or accepts a more typical third line, Rutherford might be testing the trade market early.

Considering Hainsey and Streit were trade deadline rentals, Pittsburgh’s main defensive loss was soon-to-be 34-year-old Daley, who managed 5-14-19 totals last season, but 32-year-old Hunwick should be a serviceable replacement having earned 19 points of his own in Toronto last year.

The Penguins also have the luxury of D Kris Letang returning to play. Letang managed only 41 games last year before his campaign was cut short by a mid-season neck injury. Though his 11-year career has been dotted with injuries, Letang has been a potent force when on the ice. He manages .83 points-per-game, including .259 power play points-per-game, for his career and will be a welcome reintroduction to a defensive corps that scored 177 points last season – the most of any Eastern Conference blue line.

Pens fans, you know what we have to discuss next. Ready tissues.

We turn our attention to Pittsburgh’s crease, a spot the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft will no longer occupy. Instead, it is his protégé Matthew Murray that will assume the true starting role with Niemi as his backup as compared to last year’s “1A-1B” tactic.

Though it’s a bizarre idea to question a goalie that won two Stanley Cups before playing his second NHL season, I’m intrigued to see how Murray responds to undoubtedly being “the guy” for Pittsburgh. Gone are the days of a more-than-competent backup (sorry Niemi, but you’re not impressing anybody with your 2016-’17 .892 save percentage) to fall back on, so all the responsibility rests firmly on Murray’s shoulders. Judging from his 32-10-4 record last season, he’ll react just fine.

Offseason Grade: D

If a “C” is average, the Penguins have to score below it for simply not doing enough to solidify their third line. Maybe McKegg can surprise, but a team trying to win its third-straight Stanley Cup should not be taking such a risk on one of the main things that separates it from the competition. If Rutherford misses on his roll of the dice, the selling price for a viable piece could have dire consequences for the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlantic Hockey

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

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

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

Preseason Favorite – Air Force Falcons

Big10

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

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

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

Preseason Favorite – Penn State Nittany Lions

ECAC

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

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

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

Preseason Favorite – Quinnipiac Bobcats

HockeyEast

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

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

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

Preseason Favorite – Boston University Terriers

NCHC

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

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

To put it simply, these teams are good.

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

Preseason Favorite – Denver Pioneers

WCHA_2

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

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

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

Preseason Favorite – Minnesota State Mavericks

Home ice continues to pay off; Pens a win away

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 5

 

After giving up its two-game advantage on the road, Pittsburgh stomped the Predators 6-0 at PPG Paints Arena Thursday to pull within a victory of hoisting its second-straight Stanley Cup.

Whether it was the friendly confines of the Steel City or the extra day of rest, everything went right for the Penguins. Pittsburgh’s most noticeable success was converting a quarter of its 24 shots on goal into tallies, especially when six different skaters scored the markers.

One of those proved especially important – and not only because it proved to be the game winning-goal. With a slap shot from the blue line, Justin Schultz (First Star of the Game Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist) revived the Penguins’ dormant power play only 91 seconds into the contest by scoring between Austin Watson and Pekka Rinne‘s legs.

The extra-man opportunity was a direct result of the Pens’ early offensive onslaught. Even though Rinne faced only two shots on goal before Schultz’ marker, the first 50 seconds of play all took place in Nashville’s defensive zone. That prolonged Penguins possession directly led to Ryan Ellis holding Crosby to stop play at the cost of a seat in the penalty box. 31 seconds later, the Pens found themselves with a lead.

That man-advantage goal proved to simply be the tip of the iceberg for the Penguins. Bryan Rust (Chris Kunitz and Trevor Daley) doubled Pittsburgh’s lead 5:12 after Schultz’ marker, and Evgeni Malkin (Second Star Phil Kessel and Third Star Ron Hainsey) took advantage of a four-on-four situation with 11 seconds before the first intermission to set the score at 3-0.

The cause of the four-on-four play was another chapter in the Crosby-P.K. Subban saga. With 1:32 remaining in the first period, both were officially charged with coincidental holding penalties when they fell to the ice behind Matthew Murray‘s net and – instead of getting up and rejoining play – continued their shenanigans.

First it was Crosby repeatedly shoving Subban’s head into the ice. Once the defenseman finally could separate himself, he did his best to repay the favor before play was stopped and they received early dismissal to their respective dressing rooms.

More than simply scoring pucks was involved in this effort. Aside from giving the puck away five times (due in large part to Smashville living up to its name and throwing 41 hits, including seven by Watson), the defense also played a major role in stopping a Predators club that was trailing for basically the entire game.

Led by Mattias Ekholm‘s four shots on goal, Nashville managed just as many shots on Murray as the Pens did against Rinne: 24. That number could have been significantly larger in favor of the Preds if not for the excellent play of the blue liners. Led by Schultz’ three rejections, the Pens blocked an impressive 16 shots to keep Murray’s workload relatively minimal.

Not that Murray needed much help. He saved all 24 shots he faced – including a few stops with his suspect glove – for his second shutout of the postseason. Pittsburgh has now won four games by shutout – two apiece by Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury – to double the effort of any other 2017 playoff team.

Murray’s solid play in net, especially in comparison to his performances in Nashville, was more than enough motivation for the Penguins to keep applying pressure offensively. After notching three goals in the opening frame to chase Rinne, Pittsburgh matched its effort in the second with tallies from Conor Sheary (Crosby and Jake Guentzel), Kessel (Olli Maatta and Crosby) and Hainsey (Malkin and Kessel) against Juuse Saros.

In particular, Sheary’s tally was important due to rookie Guentzel’s involvement in the play. With another secondary assist for his 21st point, the youngster has tied Dino Ciccarelli and Ville Leino for most playoff points by a rookie.

He’ll have at least one more opportunity to break the record and help his club hoist the Stanley Cup in Game 6 this Sunday at Bridgestone Arena. Just like all the others in this Finals series, that contest is scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time and will be televised on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Penguins rout Predators 4-1 in Game 2

2017 Stanley Cup Final– Game Two Recap

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Rookie Jake Guentzel continued to dominate the Stanley Cup Final spotlight as he scored two goals— including the game winner— en route to a 4-1 victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Nashville Predators goaltender, Pekka Rinne, continued to live in the midst of a nightmare at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday night and was chased in the 3rd period.

Penguins goaltender, Matthew Murray, made 37 saves on 38 shots faced for a .974 SV% in the win, while Rinne surrendered four goals on 25 shots against (21 saves) for an .840 SV% in 43:28 played. Juuse Saros made 2 saves on 2 shots faced in the remaining 16:32 of regulation for Nashville.

Continuing the recent string of lackluster officiating and dumb penalties, Craig Smith earned the first penalty of the night for cross checking Ian Cole, but Pittsburgh wasn’t able to convert on the man advantage.

Matt Irwin got away with a non-call shortly thereafter, when he delivered a hit from behind to the numbers of Pittsburgh’s Matt Cullen. The nastiness exchanged in that hit would reverberate throughout the rest of the game.

Chris Kunitz cross checked P.K. Subban in the head while Evgeni Malkin earned a minor penalty for tripping Subban’s defensive partner, Mattias Ekholm, with 10:24 to go in the 1st period. Nashville failed to convert on their short-lived 5-on-3 power play, thanks to captain, Mike Fisher’s interference infraction against Cole less than a minute into the two-man advantage.

The Penguins were not successful on their short power play.

Almost 13 minutes into the 1st period, Pontus Aberg (2) skated in on a breakaway, dragged Murray out of position and fired the puck top shelf to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. Viktor Arvidsson (9) and Fisher (3) had the assists on what became Nashville’s only goal of the game.

Roman Josi got a little carried away and promptly cross checked Conor Sheary a little over 90 seconds after Aberg scored.

In keeping with the theme of the night for Pittsburgh’s special teams, the Pens were unsuccessful on the ensuing power play, however, Guentzel (11) found the twine on a soft goal four seconds after the man advantage had expired. Sheary (5) and Kunitz (6) shared the assists on the goal that made it a 1-1 game heading into the first intermission.

Nashville led in shots on goal, 18-12, hits, 18-11, and won 74% of the faceoffs drawn in the first 20 minutes. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots, 6-3, takeaways, 2-1, and giveaways, 1-0 entering the first intermission.

The 2nd period was a long battle for puck possession and quality shots, but Murray and Rinne stood tall through 40 minutes of play.

With the score still tied, 1-1, entering the 3rd period, something was about to give, though nobody could’ve imagined the game unfolding the way it did for the Preds, considering their 32-19 shot advantage after two periods.

Just ten seconds into the 3rd period, Guentzel (12) scored his 2nd goal of the game. Bryan Rust (2) and Ron Hainsey (5) were credited with the assists on the goal that had made it 2-1 Pittsburgh. Guentzel’s two-goal night gave him 19 points this postseason— the most in NHL history among U.S. born rookies. Additionally, he is two goals shy of Dino Ciccarelli’s record of 14 goals as a rookie in one postseason set back in 1981 with the Minnesota North Stars.

Scott Wilson (3) made it a 3-1 game on a fluke goal at 3:13 of the 3rd period. Phil Kessel (13) and Cullen (7) had the primary and secondary assists.

Nearly 20 seconds later, Malkin (9) snapped a wrist shot past Rinne to make it 4-1 Penguins. Nashville head coach, Peter Laviolette, made the decision to pull Rinne in favor of Saros after Pittsburgh scored just their second goal in 19 seconds (and third of the 3rd period). The assists on Malkin’s goal went to Kunitz (7) and Cole (8).

For the remainder of regulation, Aberg picked up a slashing minor at 4:51 of the 3rd, Sidney Crosby was assessed an interference infraction at 9:20, Malkin and Subban fought 12:14 into the 3rd, Cody McLeod interfered with Trevor Daley with less than two minutes remaining in the game and Kunitz slashed Ekholm once more for good measure.

To summarize, a bunch of penalties were called, but neither the Penguins nor the Predators were able to capitalize on their special teams chances.

At the final horn, the Penguins had secured the 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win on home ice. Nashville finished the night with more shots on goal (38-27), hits (41-35) and giveaways (4-3), while Pittsburgh led in blocked shots, 20-8.

The visiting Predators were 0/4 on the power play in Game 2, meanwhile the Penguins were a dismal 0/7 on the man advantage, Wednesday night.

Rinne’s struggles from Game 1 translated into Game 2, having allowed four goals on six scoring chances in the loss and amassing a .778 SV% through two games of this year’s Stanley Cup Final. No indication has been made as to whether or not Laviolette is considering a goaltending change for Game 3.

The series now shifts to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where Game 3 is set to take place on Saturday night. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in to NBCSN for coverage. Fans in Canada will have their array of CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports to choose from once again, so check your local listings.

Penguins trounce Predators 5-3 in Game 1

2017 Stanley Cup Final– Game One Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 25

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 7

With First Star of the Game Chris Kunitz‘ slap shot at the 85:09 mark of a winner-takes-all Game 7, Pittsburgh beat the Senators 3-2 in double-overtime at PPG Paints Arena to clinch its second-straight Prince of Wales trophy and the corresponding berth to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Receiving the puck at the far point, Second Star Justin Schultz crept down the boards before passing into the corner for Sidney Crosby. Chris Wideman was immediately on the Pens’ captain, so Crosby was forced into the far face-off circle instead of towards the goal crease. Once he reached the dot, he passed to a waiting Kunitz at the top of the circle, who fired his one-timer over Third Star Craig Anderson‘s right arm to clinch the series for Pittsburgh.

The Senators never led in regulation, but they never trailed for long. In total, Ottawa played from behind for only 3:17 of play.

Similar to Game 6, both teams took a slow approach to the first period to combine for only 11 shots on goal. None of those offerings got past Anderson or Matthew Murray, leaving the score tied at nil.

Instead, the attack began in full during the second frame. By the middle of the period, both Pittsburgh and Ottawa had managed at least seven shots on goal, but it was a supple Kunitz (Conor Sheary and Matt Cullen) wrister at the 9:55 mark that snapped the scoreless draw.

After receiving a quick pass along the neutral zone’s far boards from Cullen to get the play out of the defensive zone, Sheary bumped a pass towards center ice for Kunitz to create a Pittsburgh two-on-one opportunity. Kunitz returned the offering to Sheary when they both entered their offensive zone, but the youngster returned the favor from the far side of the slot. The maneuver was too quick for Anderson to respond and seal the near post, and Kunitz was more than willing to complete the play for his first goal of the 2017 postseason.

The Penguins held on to their 1-0 lead for a whopping 20 seconds before Mark Stone (Erik Karlsson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau) tied the game once again with a wicked top-shelf wrister.

Each player involved in the play was responsible for tackling one zone. Though a forward, Pageau was the one to get the puck out of Ottawa’s defensive zone. He passed from his far defensive point to Karlsson at the red line along the near boards. The star defenseman attacked into Ottawa’s offensive zone, driving towards the near face-off circle before passing across Olli Maatta to Stone in the near slot. A goalscorer 22 times during the regular season, Stone knew exactly what he needed to do to beat Murray and level the game.

After the blitz of tallies, the arena’s scoreboard operator had an opportunity to take a rest as no more markers were registered until 8:16 remained in regulation. Taking advantage of the Senators’ lone penalty of the game – an interference call on Dion Phaneuf against Phil Kessel – Schultz (Kessel and Kunitz) scored a snap shot 25 seconds later to reclaim the lead for Pittsburgh.

Schultz started at the near point with the puck, but passed to Kessel at the far face-off circle. Kessel tried to move towards the crease but was cut off by Cody Ceci, forcing him to return the puck to Schultz at the center of the offensive zone, a spot that is uncannily similar to where Kunitz would eventually bury his series-winner from. Schultz saw his opportunity and fired the puck towards the top-right corner of Anderson’s goal.

Though Kunitz earned an assist on the play, his primary role was as a goaltender screen. In particular, Marc Methot took notice and tried to move Kunitz out of Anderson’s way, but his attempt corresponded with Schultz’ shot and effectively doubled the size Kunitz’ screen to make it impossible for Anderson to see the play.

The Penguins managed to hold onto this lead a little bit longer than their first, but Ryan Dzingel‘s (Karlsson and Kyle Turris) response 2:57 after Schultz’ marker was too quick for Murray to handle.

The play began with Turris possessing the puck in the near corner of Ottawa’s offensive zone. With Cullen approaching him, he passed towards the top of the zone to Karlsson, who lined up a slap shot that passed everyone and everything except Murray’s crossbar. The goaltender incorrectly guessed where the rebound landed, leaving Dzingel with an exposed puck at the far corner of the crease and a gaping net.

Neither club could find its third goal in the remaining 5:19 of regulation, leading to the first overtime period.

To put it simply, the Penguins absolutely dominated those 20 minutes. Though they only had eight shots to show for their efforts, they possessed the puck for most of the play to limit Ottawa to only two shots on net.

One play of particular excitement occurred just minutes before the fourth intermission. Many Pens fans in the arena grew furious – to the point of unwisely throwing their golden rally towels onto the ice in protest – with an apparent uncounted goal.

But they did not have the benefit of a clear replay. It looked to them that the puck entered and exited the goal faster than the eye could see – and a poor in-house camera angle broadcast on the video board seemed to support their claims – but a television replay proved that the puck hit the rear bracket of the goal post on the wrong side of the crossbar – above it instead of below.

Of course, Kunitz’ goal approximately half an hour later in real time made all those worries for naught.

He earned only Third Star honors according to the members of the PPG Paints Arena Media, but Anderson was easily the player of the game – if not the entire Eastern Conference Finals. He saved an incredible 39-of-42 (92.9%) shots faced in Game 7, including all eight in the first overtime period (compared to Murray’s two).

For the entire series, he registered an even better .936 save percentage and 2.07 GAA on 242 shots faced (34.6 per game) to keep the Sens within reach of the Penguins with incredible saves or smart stoppages of play on multiple occasions.

Now that the Penguins have reclaimed the Prince of Wales Trophy, everything is set for the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nashville Predators are en route to Pittsburgh for Game 1, which is scheduled for Monday, May 29 at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Of note, this will be the first ever Stanley Cup Finals contested between two American-born head coaches, as both Nashville’s Peter Laviolette and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan are Massachusetts natives.

Those intending to catch the action in America should tune to NBC, while Canadians have their choice of CBC, SN or TVAS.