Tag Archives: Evgeni Malkin

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Western Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Western Conference Qualifiers, while the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars sort themselves out.

All Western Conference games will be at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, including the Western Conference Final and all of the Stanley Cup Final.

(5) Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, 83 points) vs (12) Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8, 72 points)

Edmonton: 71 games played, .585 points percentage, 31 regulation wins.

Chicago: 70 games played, .514 points percentage, 23 regulation wins.

The Edmonton Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division with 83 points– three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the division lead. That’s how good the Oilers were at times and/or how far behind the Pacific Division was at times leading up to the premature end of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing is for sure about the always home-ice even without fans in the bubble Oilers team, their top players were much better than they were last season.

2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner and Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Leon Draisaitl had 110 points this season in 71 games played. He was on pace for 126 points had the regular season reached its original conclusion.

That would’ve been 21 points better than his previous high of 105 points in 82 games last season. Luckily for Draisaitl, he still set a new career-high in a pandemic– two new career-highs, actually.

Though 43 goals this season did not top the 50 goals he scored in 2018-19, Draisaitl set career-highs in assists (67) and points (110)– and yet, somehow he still was a minus-seven on the season.

Is it worth exploring moving Draisaitl out of Edmonton? MY COLUMN:

(If you’re wondering, that’s four consecutive seasons of at least 70 points and back-to-back 100-plus point seasons for Draisaitl, so no, he’s not going anywhere.)

Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, had 34 goals and 63 assists (97 points) in 64 games this season, which was 19 points shy of his career-high 116-points last season in 78 games in 2018-19. McDavid was on pace for 124 points this season at the time of the stoppage.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was third in scoring for Edmonton with 22-39–61 totals in 65 games this season, then the next highest skater had 34 points in 59 games (Zack Kassian). This season marked back-to-back 60-point seasons for Nugent-Hopkins for the first time in his career.

In goal, Mike Smith (19-12-6 in 39 games played, 37 starts, 2.95 goals against average, .905 save percentage and one shutout) split time with Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3 in 38 GP, 34 starts, 2.75 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout in that span) this season.

The 38-year-old veteran goaltender, Smith, has a 2.17 GAA, a .938 SV% and four shutouts over 24 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Koskinen has yet to appear in a postseason NHL game.

Smith’s .938 SV% in the playoffs, however, is league-leading among active NHL goaltenders with a minimum of 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games played.

Oilers head coach, Dave Tippett, might be smart to start Smith over Koskinen in Game 1, considering Smith’s career playoff numbers, but he did post a 3.20 GAA and a .917 SV% in five games with the Calgary Flames in the 2019 First Round en route to Calgary’s defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.

Smith did record one shutout in last year’s playoffs, however, and faced 205 shots against in those five games against the Avs.

That was about 34% of the number of shots he faced (602) in 16 games with the then known as Phoenix Coyotes en route to their 2012 Western Conference Final appearance against the eventual 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

At the other end of the rink, Patrick Kane led the way for the Chicago Blackhawks this season with 33-51–84 totals in 70 games, which was 24 points more than Jonathan Toews’ 60-point effort in 70 games for Chicago this season.

2019-20 Calder Memorial Trophy finalist, Dominik Kubalik, was third in Blackhawks scoring with 30 goals and 16 assists (46 points) in 68 games played.

For Kane, the pandemic shortened 2019-20 regular season marked five consecutive seasons with at least 70 points, while he was on pace for about 98 points had the regular season witnessed a full 82-game conclusion.

For Toews, he has never had a season with 82 games schedule below 50 points (though he had 48 points in 47 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season), but he did see a decrease in production from 81 points in 82 games last season to 60 points in 70 games this season. He was on pace for 70 points over an 82-game schedule in 2019-20.

In goal, Corey Crawford led the Blackhawks with a 16-20-3 record in 40 games played (39 starts), a 2.77 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout this season.

Prior to being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline via the Toronto Maple Leafs in a three-team trade– in which Chicago acquired, in part, Malcolm Subban– Robin Lehner served as Crawford’s tandem goaltender with a 16-10-5 record in 33 games played (31 starts), a 3.01 GAA, .918 SV% and no shutouts in that span with the Blackhawks.

Subban, on the other hand, made one appearance with Chicago after the trade and played in one minute as a Blackhawk. He had a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% in 20 games (19 starts) with the Golden Knights this season, however.

Should Blackhawks head coach, Jeremy Colliton, be given any reason not to opt for Crawford as his Qualifier starter, then there’s cause for concern as to whether or not Chicago can upset the Oilers if Subban can’t right the ship from his worst season as an NHL backup goaltender.

Four months off with plenty of rest to get in the right mindset might have been a good thing for his rhythm, however, as Crawford and Subban made a combined shutout effort in Chicago’s, 4-0, win over the St. Louis Blues in their exhibition matchup.

What’s more, the Blackhawks went 2-1-0 in three games against the Oilers this season, but before you start thinking there’s a chance Chicago upsets Edmonton with a sweep or anything, take caution as the Hawks had ten goals for and nine goals against in their season series.

This will be Colliton’s first appearance behind the bench as head coach in a postseason (but also not technically postseason) appearance for the Blackhawks– and Chicago’s first postseason action without Joel Quenneville at the reigns since before Quenneville was hired four games into the 2008-09 season.

It truly is a new era for Chicago, despite much of the core remaining from their three Cup championships in a five-year span.

Look for the Oilers to get the job done in four games with Tippett looking to punch his ticket back to the postseason since leading the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, while The Hockey Gods favor Edmonton since the tragic loss of their teammate, Colby Cave, in April after the 25-year-old forward suffered a brain bleed and died days later after being placed in a medically induced coma.

Regular season outcomes:

3-1 CHI at United Center on Oct. 14th, 5-3 EDM at Rogers Place on Feb. 11th, 4-3 CHI at United Center on March 5th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 CHI @ EDM 3 PM ET on NBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 CHI @ EDM 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/5- Game 3 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/7- Game 4 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 CHI @ EDM*

*If necessary

(6) Nashville Predators (35-26-8, 78 points) vs (11) Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8, 74 points)

Nashville: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 28 regulation wins.

Arizona: 70 games played, .529 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

There’s something in the water in Nashville– and it’s not just catfish. Predators defender– and 2019-20 James Norris Trophy finalist– Roman Josi led the Preds in scoring this season with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games.

He was on pace for 77 points at the time of the stoppage and trailed Washington Capitals defender– and fellow Norris finalist– John Carlson by ten points for the most points by a defender this season.

It was a career-season for Josi in goals, assists and points, by the way.

Nashville’s top-three in scoring, in fact, nearly contained two defenders as Josi led the way and Ryan Ellis notched 38 points in an injury-riddled 49-game season (a 64-point pace had the full 82-game schedule been completed if the pandemic never happened).

Ellis trailed Filip Forsberg (21-27–48 totals in 63 games) and Matt Duchene (13-29–42 totals in 66 games) in scoring on the Predators roster.

Juuse Saros finally emerged as a de facto starting goaltender for Nashville after amassing a 17-12-4 record in 40 games played (34 starts), as well as a 2.70 GAA, .914 SV% and four shutouts on the season.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, had an 18-14-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), which wasn’t bad, but his numbers past his overall record were actually a career-worst with a 3.17 GAA and an .895 SV% in 2019-20.

Rinne previously had a 3.80 GAA in a season, but that was only when he played in two games in 2005-06.

This was a season to forget for Rinne, but perhaps a larger indicator of more worries to come for Nashville in the net– especially more so after Saros didn’t exactly light it up as a starter with a goals against average that would even make a backup goaltender look, well, average.

The Arizona Coyotes enter the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier with a new owner, as well as a new Interim General Manager in Steve Sullivan, as well as Nick Schmaltz leading the way in scoring with 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 points in 70 games played.

Not ideal, ideally speaking.

Clayton Keller had 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games and was on pace for 52 points had the pandemic not cut the regular season short.

Meanwhile, Conor Garland was third on the team in scoring with 39 points in 68 games, while establishing career-highs in goals (22), assists (17) and points (39) in the process.

Christian Dvorak and Phil Kessel each had 38 points in 70 games. Over an 82-game schedule, that’s about a 45-point pace, which would’ve still been a career-season for Dvorak and a disappointment for Kessel in his first season in the desert.

Granted, Kessel’s not playing with guys like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in his new home in Arizona.

He failed to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time since the 2007-08 season, in which Kessel scored 19 goals in 82 games for the Boston Bruins in his sophomore season.

Kessel also failed to reach 30-assists for the first time since his first season as a Toronto Maple Leaf in 2009-10, in which he had 25 helpers in 70 games.

Finally, No. 81 on Arizona’s roster failed to amass at least 40 points in a season for just the third time in his career (29 points in 70 games while missing time battling testicular cancer with the Bruins in his rookie season in 2006-07, and 37 points in 82 games the following season in 2007-08 with Boston).

Granted, Kessel likely could have passed the 40-point plateau had the COVID-19 pandemic not interrupted plans for him and his Coyotes teammates.

In goal, Antti Raanta appeared in 33 games (32 starts) and had a 15-14-3 record, as well as a 2.63 GAA, a .921 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Darcy Kuemper went 16-11-2 in 29 games played (all starts) and amassed a 2.22 GAA, while putting up a .928 SV% and two shutouts this season for the Coyotes.

If there’s any doubt Rick Tocchet has over deciding which goaltender to start in Game 1 against Nashville, there shouldn’t be any question– it has to be Kuemper.

Simply put, it’s Kuemper’s net to lose right now in Arizona and a little healthy competition isn’t a bad idea to try to spur Raanta in the right direction if he wants to be a starter in this league.

Boy, home ice advantage really would be something in this series by default, right? After all, each team won their only home game in their regular season matchups prior to the premature conclusion to the 2019-20 regular season due to the pandemic.

Since home ice is without fans in Edmonton for all Western Conference teams in the 2020 postseason, there’s not much to go off of in terms of these two clubs’ head-to-head meetings.

But the Predators have more than a few things going in their favor among their forwards and defenders who could also play forward, arguably.

The one thing Arizona has that Nashville hasn’t seen much of this season is a consistent starter in the crease.

If the Coyotes win the series, it’ll likely have something with Kuemper stealing a few games.

If the Preds sweep Arizona, it might have something to do with the sheer fire power in a last-ditch effort at what’s otherwise a closing window for a potential Cup contending roster.

At the very least John Hynes probably doesn’t have to worry about getting the same treatment as Peter Laviolette– who Hynes replaced in January– if the Predators dropped the ball in this series.

Let’s say Nashville in three, but give props to Kuemper for honing in his talents to tend the crease this well in his career. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s arrived and here to stay, unlike former Coyotes GM John Chayka.

Regular season outcomes:

5-2 ARI at Gila River Arena on Oct. 17th, 3-2 NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 23rd

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN360

8/4- Game 2 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1, SN360

8/5- Game 3 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN360

8/7- Game 4 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(7) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points) vs (10) Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 77 points)

Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.

Minnesota: 69 games played, .558 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Entering the 2019-20 season, Vancouver Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning, added J.T. Miller to the fold in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Benning then went out and got Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings leading up to the 2020 trade deadline.

As a result, the Canucks are much improved from last season to this season.

Miller led the team in scoring with 27-45–72 totals in 69 games played and was on pace for about 86 points at the time of the stoppage due to the pandemic.

Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games), Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) and Quinn Hughes (53 points in 69 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring for Vancouver.

Horvat and Hughes were tied for the third most points on the team as Hughes left his mark on the 2019-20 season by earning Calder Memorial Trophy finalist honors.

Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom led the Canucks in the crease with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games played (all starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Thatcher Demko made 27 appearances (25 starts) as the backup goaltender and went 13-10-2 on the season with a 3.06 GAA and a .905 SV% in that span.

Louis Domingue also appeared in one game (one start) in the regular season for the Canucks and had a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV%.

Markstrom will be the starter for Vancouver’s postseason run, but he’ll have to be a tad better in cutting down his goals against average for a deep run.

For Canucks head coach, Travis Green, it’s more of the same game plan to try to spur the Canucks back into the playoffs for the first time since their 2015 First Round appearance and elimination at the hands of the Calgary Flames in six games.

The Minnesota Wild removed the “interim” tag from their head coach, Dean Evason’s title since the pause in play and are looking to upset the Canucks and get back into the playoffs since missing the postseason last season.

Kevin Fiala led the way for the Wild in scoring with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 64 games played. He was on pace for 69 points had the season gone all 82 games, but still established career-highs in goals, assists and points in the shortened season regardless.

Ryan Suter led defenders and was second in scoring on the roster with 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 69 games, while Eric Staal was ahead of Zach Parise by one point for third in scoring with 47 points in 66 games.

In goal, Alex Stalock (20-11-4 in 38 games played, 36 starts, 2.67 goals against average, .985 save percentage, four shutouts) outplayed Minnesota’s usual starter Devan Dubnyk (12-15-2 in 30 GP, 28 starts, 3.35 GAA, .890 SV%, one shutout) and will likely backstop the team in Game 1 against Vancouver.

Kaapo Kahkonen also made his NHL debut this season in the crease for the Wild in five games– amassing a 3-1-1 record, as well as a 2.96 GAA and a .913 SV%.

Both teams had nine goals for and nine goals against one another in their season series. They also each had 89 total shots on goal against one another in the 2019-20 regular season.

Though the Wild made strides this season at potentially avoiding a rebuild, it’s still an uphill climb for Minnesota against the Canucks on paper– regardless of their head-to-head matchups from the season.

Vancouver has the right combination of speed, skill and youth to limit Minnesota’s chances and, at times, lackluster offense.

The Canucks core is more defined than Minnesota’s fluid situation as Wild GM Bill Guerin evolves the roster over the next season or two.

It’s a transition period, nonetheless.

Benning and the Canucks are emerging from their transition and look to be ready to get back into the playoff hunt with what should be a four-game series win against the Wild.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 VAN at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 12th, 4-2 MIN at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 6th, 4-3 F/SO MIN at Rogers Arena on Feb. 19th

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 2 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:45 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 3 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton TBD

8/7- Game 4 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(8) Calgary Flames (36-27-7, 79 points) vs (9) Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, 80 points)

Calgary: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 25 regulation wins.

Winnipeg: 71 games played, .563 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

The Calgary Flames were led in scoring this season by their hottest controversial player, Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk ruffled some feathers en route to re-igniting the “Battle of Alberta” and managed to amass 23-38–61 totals in 69 games played in 2019-20.

He was on pace for 72 points this season at the time of the stoppage, but still had back-to-back seasons with at least 60 points nonetheless.

Johnny Gaudreau was second on the roster in points with 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games played, which was down from his 99 points in 82 games last season. That said, Gaudreau was still on pace for about 68 points when the regular season was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Instead, his streak of consecutive 60-plus point seasons was over at five seasons thanks to the pandemic.

Finally, Elias Lindholm managed to set a new career-high in goals (29), while scoring 54 points in 70 games this season– ranking third on the team in scoring.

In the crease, Calgary was saved by David “Big Save Dave” Rittich, who went 24-17-6 in 48 games played (all starts), had a 2.97 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and two shutouts this season.

Actually, on second thought, maybe that’s not very good numbers to have for a *checks notes* starting goaltender.

Alright, let’s check the backup…

Cam Talbot went 12-10-1 in 26 games played (22 starts), had a 2.63 GAA, a .919 SV% and two shutouts this season. Hmm, not much better.

Oh and did you remember that interim head coach, Geoff Ward, replaced Bill Peters after everyone found out Peters is racist?

The Winnipeg Jets landed in fifth place in the Central Division with 80 points this season– two points behind the Dallas Stars, who were the fourth best team in the Western Conference by points percentage and have earned themselves home ice in at least the First Round, which only matters so much in a bubble, but still, this was meant to show how close the Jets came to being a Round Robin team instead of playing in a Qualifier series.

Anyway, Kyle Connor soared as a Jet this season– establishing new career-highs in goals (38), assists (35) and points (73) in the process while playing in 71 games until the pandemic cut the regular season short.

Connor was on pace for 84 points this season if the full 82-game schedule could’ve occurred uninterrupted.

Meanwhile, Mark Scheifele actually tied Connor for the most points on the roster with 73, as Scheifele tallied 29 goals and had 44 helpers in 71 games. Not quite a career-season, but still respectable after setting career-high totals (38-46–84) last season in all 82 games.

Winnipeg’s captain, Blake Wheeler, contributed more than just actions and words in defense of the Constitution and human rights this season, scoring 22 goals and amassing 43 assists for third place on the roster in points (65) in 71 games played.

Patrik Laine, for those wondering, was fourth on the team with 63 points, which was back to his usual self, albeit with more assists (35) than goals (28) in 68 games.

Laine hasn’t been a bust for the Jets– he’s never had a season with fewer than 50 points (last season, 82 games) and was on pace for about 76 points had the season been played in full.

This was, however, the first season he failed to reach the 30-goal plateau, but he only missed it by two goals and, hello, the pandemic? Remember it? Yeah, that’s why he missed the mark, otherwise he would’ve (probably) scored a pair of goals in the remaining 11 games for Winnipeg on the 2019-20 regular season schedule at the time of the pause.

In goal, Paul Maurice relied on old reliable to bail him out even more so in the wake of Dustin Byfuglien’s decision to sit out the 2019-20 season and eventual mutual termination of his contract with the club.

2019-20 Vezina Trophy finalist, Connor Hellebuyck, held the fort down with a 31-21-5 record in 58 games played (56 starts), amassed a 2.57 goals against average and had a .922 save percenrage– as well as a league-leading six shutouts this season.

Yeah, it was kind of a big season for Hellebucyk and if he’s not the favorite among the NHL GMs that vote for the Vezina, well, who knows what games they were watching (presumably their own).

Laurent Brossoit went 6-7-1 in 19 games (15 starts) this season and had a dismal 3.28 GAA and an .895 SV% in that span. Yikes.

The defense looks different without Byfuglien, but Hellebuyck remained stable as their primary alternative to keeping the puck away from their own net.

That might not pay off against some of the powerhouses in the league, but luckily the Jets have enough time to let Maurice come up with a plan and enact it to cut down on Hellebuyck’s workload in the Qualifier if they want a chance to advance.

Oh, speaking of the Winnipeg and Calgary series– nobody knows what to expect!

The Jets and Flames met once this season– back in the 2019 Heritage Classic outdoors at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Winnipeg won in overtime in comeback fashion that night, 2-1.

They peppered Rittich with 45 shots (43 saves) and kept Hellebuyck to an ideal workload of 30 shots faced (29 saves).

If the Jets don’t win this series, it’ll be a huge disappointment– perhaps even bigger than making the First Round and getting stomped out by their next opponent after the phenomenal performance by Hellebucyk in the crease all season.

Then again, momentum no longer exists since everyone had about five months off.

Let’s say this one goes all five games for one reason or another and that Winnipeg can pull it off and advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/OT WPG at Mosaic Stadium, Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 26th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, CBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 3 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton 4:45 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 4 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton*

*If necessary


2020 Western Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Western Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Western Conference are in Edmonton this year and all times Eastern.

St. Louis Blues

42-19-10, 94 points, 71 GP, .662 PTS%, 33 RW

Aug. 2nd @ COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 6th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. DAL in Edmonton, TBD

Colorado Avalanche

42-20-8, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 37 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. STL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 5th @ DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 8th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Vegas Golden Knights

39-24-8, 86 points, 71 GP, .606 PTS%, 30 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 6th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 8th @ COL in Edmonton, TBD

Dallas Stars

37-24-8, 82 points, 69 GP, .594 PTS%, 26 RW

Aug. 3rd @ VGK in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 5th vs. COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 9th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

DTFR Podcast #203- Hockey Christmas In August

The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin tournament are almost underway, but this episode has almost nothing to do with that!

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

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

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

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

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

Look To The Rafters: Carolina Hurricanes (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Carolina Hurricanes might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of PNC Arena someday.

Carolina Hurricanes Current Retired Numbers

2 Glen Wesley

10 Ron Francis

17 Rod Brind’Amour

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! But that could change as soon as current Minnesota Wild forward, Eric Staal, eventually decides he’s had enough and calls it a career. Not just could, it should and (probably) will.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

9 Gordie Howe

Let’s keep this one short and sweet– it’s “Mr. Hockey”. Howe spent his final year in the NHL (1979-80) with the Hartford Whalers and subsequently had his number retired by both the Detroit Red Wings and the Whalers, but when Hartford relocated to North Carolina, the Hurricanes chose not to honor any of the retired numbers from their Whalers days.

As such, Howe’s No. 9 is technically available, but it has never been worn in Carolina. Why not go all out sometime on Whalers Night and re-retire Howe’s No. 9 out of a formality?

12 Eric Staal

From the 2003-04 season through part of the 2015-16 season, Staal was a fixture on the Hurricanes roster. In 909 games with Carolina, he scored 322 goals and had 453 assists (775 points), which ranks 2nd on the all-time scorers list in franchise history (behind only Ron Francis, of course, who had 1,175 points as a Hartford Whaler/Carolina Hurricane).

Staal had a massive 100-point season in his sophomore campaign in 2005-06, en route to Carolina’s Stanley Cup championship over the Edmonton Oilers in seven games. He notched career-highs in goals (45), assists (55) and points (100) that season in all 82 games played and only had one season below 70 points– his rookie season, in which Staal had 11-20–31 totals in 81 games in 2003-04– until an injury in 2013 disrupted his prolific playing ability.

As time moved on, it became more clear that Staal would need a change of scenery and the Hurricanes would be wise to cash in on what they could still get for him at a high rather than let him walk away for nothing. 

After three consecutive seasons of at least 50 points from 2012-13 through 2014-15, Staal entered the 2015-16 season with Carolina, but finished the season with the New York Rangers.

On Feb. 28, 2016, the Hurricanes dealt Staal to the Rangers for Aleksi Saarela, New York’s 2016 2nd round pick and New York’s 2017 2nd round pick.

Staal had ten goals and 23 assists (33 points) in 63 games for Carolina at the time of the trade that season. He had three goals and three assists in 20 games for the Rangers down the stretch.

The Hurricanes won the trade, which had seen the departure of their first true “homegrown” star, having drafted Staal 2nd overall in 2003.

And there’s still connections to the Staal trade with the Rangers on the roster to this day.

Saarela was later packaged with Calvin de Haan on June 24, 2019, in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg. You might recognize Forsberg as one of Carolina’s many goaltenders this year after David Ayres made his NHL debut back in February.

The 2016 2nd round pick (50th overall) was packaged with a 2017 3rd round pick (originally belonging to Chicago) in a trade with the Blackhawks before the de Haan deal on June 15, 2016, in which the Hurricanes received Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell.

Finally, the 2017 2nd round pick (52nd overall) was used by Carolina to draft a right-shot defender from the University of Michigan named Luke Martin.

Staal played more than one vital role in the ever changing landscape of the Hurricanes from Cup winner to modern day playoff contender on the upswing after making an appearance in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final (albeit losing in four games to the Boston Bruins).

20 Sebastian Aho

Entering the 2015-16 season, Carolina kicked things off by drafting Aho in the second round (35th overall) in 2015. Little did anyone know, but it was poetic selection as Staal later was traded that season and Aho made his NHL debut the following season– proving to perhaps be the heir to Staal’s legacy as the current face of the franchise.

In his rookie season of 2016-17, Aho had 24 goals and 25 assists (49 points) in all 82 games. He followed that up with a sophomore campaign of 29-36–65 totals in 78 games in 2017-18, then set a career-high in assists (53) and points (83) in 82 games last season.

Up until the shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season, Aho had a new career-high in goals (38) and 66 points in 68 games played. He was on pace for another 80-point season.

It’s truly a shame we didn’t get to see what might have panned out– and that’s ignoring the cutthroat Eastern Conference playoff berth race.

At the very least, Aho is no flash in the pan. He’s the real deal in terms of skill, consistency and the true direction of where the franchise is going.

Only four seasons into his NHL career, it looks like he’s destined to be honored for eternity in Hurricanes lore one day with a jersey retirement night.

37 Andrei Svechnikov

Svechnikov just wrapped up a sophomore season that was cut short due to the pandemic, but improved on his 20-17–37 totals in all 82 games in his rookie season last season.

This year, Svechnikov had 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) as well as two lacrosse wraparound goals henceforth referred to as “The Svech”.

Gifted, young, crafty Russian wingers are sometimes hard to predict, but Svechnikov appears to be the real deal– especially since he was the 2nd overall pick in 2018.

Sure, the Hurricanes have had a young Russian first round product before in Alexander Semin, but whereas Semin was drafted by the Washington Capitals 13th overall in 2002, Svechnikov was drafted at the same overall position as Pittsburgh Penguins center, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was a 2004 Draft product and look how he turned out for Carolina’s division rival.

It might be early to say that Svechnikov’s No. 37 will be hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena one day, but it’s not too late to admit that you really liked “The Svech” and you won’t moan about “the disrespect for goaltenders and the game that it has caused”.

What’s not to love?

Final Thoughts

Carolina has their best chance in franchise history at winning a Cup and remaining an annual Cup contender in the process. The first (and only) time they won in 2006, the Hurricanes utilized assets picked up via trades and otherwise to push them over the edge and into eternal glory as names like “Staal”, “Williams”, “Cole”, “Brind’Amour” and others were etched onto Lord Stanley’s chalice.

But this time around, something’s different.

This time, the Canes have been built primarily from within and over the years via the draft. While Aho has a great chance at being a cornerstone for the franchise, players like Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Teravainen have been around for at least a few years and could cement their names in franchise lore by winning a Cup in Raleigh.

If they’re able to win multiple Cups in Raleigh, then they just might move themselves up into consideration for having their numbers hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena. 

The hard part is, however, that the accolades of Slavin and Pesce, for example, may otherwise go unnoticed by the rest of the league. Real Caniacs will know the impact they’ve had on the blue line for the franchise, but how much of the impact will be measured in twine on a pulley that brings their last name and number to the ceiling forever?

Finally, guys like Martin Necas, well, he just had his rookie season, so it seems a bit premature to run around just yet and declare him a player destined to have his No. 88 retired by the Hurricanes (but he just might someday, so you heard it here first if it happens and don’t quote me unless I’m right).

Penguins rally for four unanswered in, 4-3, win over Boston

For the third time this season, the Boston Bruins blew a three-goal lead and lost, 4-3, on Sunday– this time to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.

Matt Murray (15-6-4 record, 2.84 goals against average, .900 save percentage in 27 games played) made 34 saves on 37 shots against for a .919 SV% in the win for the Pens.

B’s goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (11-6-6, 2.49 GAA, .918 SV% in 23 games played) stopped 18 out of 22 shots faced for a .918 SV% in the loss.

Boston fell to 28-10-12 (68 points), but remained in command of the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh improved to 31-13-5 (65 points) and maintained their 2nd place status in the Metropolitan Division.

The Bruins also fell to 12-8-3 on the road this season and dropped to 2-1-0 in the season series against the Penguins (won, 6-4, at Boston on Nov. 4th, won, 4-1, at Boston on Jan. 16th and lost, 4-3, at Pittsburgh on Jan. 19th).

The Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee), Connor Clifton (upper body), Tuukka Rask (concussion) and David Krejci (upper body) on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.

Miller has yet to make his season debut, while Clifton and Krejci are considered “day-to-day”. Rask, on the other hand, remains on the injured reserve since sustaining a concussion in Columbus on Jan. 14th.

B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his lineup from Thursday night’s, 4-1, win over the Penguins in Boston, but Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney, made a couple minor transactions.

First, Sweeney placed David Backes on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Friday. Backes had one goal and two assists (three points) in 16 games with Boston this season and cleared waivers on Saturday.

The Bruins saved about $1.075 million in cap space as a result of the transaction.

Finally, Sweeney made paper transactions over the course of Friday and Saturday assigning Dan Vladar to Providence and recalling Maxime Lagace on an emergency basis before reassigning Lagace and calling up Vladar on an emergency basis ahead of Sunday’s matinee.

Vladar once again served as the backup goaltender for Halak against Pittsburgh.

Steven Kampfer and Anton Blidh were the only healthy scratches for Boston on Sunday.

Shortly after puck drop, Patrice Bergeron (21) waltzed into the attacking zone and fired a shot through Murray’s five-hole after Brad Marchand connected on a pass with Bergeron.

Bergeron’s goal gave Boston the, 1-0, lead 11 seconds into the first period and was assisted by Marchand (44) and David Pastrnak (33).

Less than two minutes later, Anders Bjork (8) sniped a shot over Murray’s glove into the top-corner of the twine to make it, 2-0, for the Bruins at 2:02 of the first period.

Charlie Coyle (17) and Jake DeBrusk (14) notched the assists on Bjork’s goal as the B’s scored two goals in a span of 1:51.

Murray received a “Bronx cheer” from his home crowd after stopping an ensuing dump-in by Boston and was nearly spotless until late in the first period when Pastrnak (37) spun and threw a puck towards the net hoping to connect on a pass to Marchand, but instead deflected the puck off of Jack Johnson and behind the Penguins goaltender.

Pastrnak’s goal was unassisted and gave Boston a three-goal lead, 3-0, at 15:07 of the first period.

About 90 seconds later, the Pens responded and showed a sign of life when Sidney Crosby sent a pass from behind the net to Dominik Simon (6) for a one-timed shot from the goal line that beat Halak on the glove side– cutting into Boston’s lead and putting Pittsburgh on the scoreboard, 3-1.

Crosby (16) and Patric Hornqvist (8) tallied the assists on Simon’s goal at 16:34.

Almost two minutes later, Teddy Blueger was sent to the penalty box for hooking against Brandon Carlo and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the afternoon at 18:23.

Boston didn’t convert on the ensuing power play, which spilled over into the second period.

After one period in Pittsburgh, the Bruins led the Penguins, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 13-6, in shots on goal.

The B’s also held the advantage in takeaways (1-0), hits (12-11) and faceoff win percentage (72-28), while the Pens led in blocked shots (8-3) and giveaways (3-0).

Pittsburgh had yet to see time on the skater advantage, while Boston was 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission.

Early in the middle frame, Marchand turned the puck over to the Penguins– giving Kris Letang a free puck that he sent off the endboards for Crosby to scoop up and send between his legs to Blueger (7) for the goal that cut Boston’s lead to one.

Crosby (17) and Letang (21) had the assists on Blueger’s goal 33 seconds into the second period and the Pens trailed, 3-2.

Despite amassing five shot attempts on the power play, the Bruins failed to record a shot on goal while on the advantage.

Midway through the second period, Chris Wagner was penalized for interference at 12:09 and presented Pittsburgh with their first power play of the afternoon.

Less than a minute later, Letang and Marchand got tangled up and received matching roughing minors at 13:00 of the second period, but Pittsburgh’s 5-on-4 advantage was unchanged.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins still led the Penguins, 3-2, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 23-18– despite being outshot by the Pens, 12-10, in the second period alone.

Pittsburgh held the advantage in blocked shots (13-5) and giveaways (8-1), while Boston led in takeaways (4-2), hits (24-22) and faceoff win% (58-42).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the final frame.

Just 20 seconds into the third period, Letang was sent to the sin bin for elbowing Marchand, but instead of capitalizing on the ensuing power play, Boston’s special teams was powerless and allowed a shorthanded goal against.

Johnson (3) blasted a shot from the point and beat Halak under the blocker on the short side while the Bruins defense looked on and watched it unfold as Bergeron had to draw back and defend alongside Torey Krug.

Brandon Tanev (12) had the only assist on Johnson’s goal at 1:41 of the third period and the Penguins tied it, 3-3.

Midway through the third, despite Boston doing everything they could to slip another puck past Murray, Pittsburgh made the most of their opportunities as Bryan Rust (21) sent home a one-timer goal over Halak’s blocker while Halak was lost and the B’s defense was out of position.

Evgeni Malkin (35) forced the initial turnover by Charlie McAvoy and sent the pass to Rust for the only assist on the game-winning goal as the Penguins led, 4-3, at 12:35 of the third period.

With 2:19 remaining in regulation Cassidy pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Matt Grzelcyk received a tripping infraction at 19:04.

Despite using his timeout with 55.5 seconds left in the game, Cassidy’s crew couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone and struggled to free Halak from his crease for an extra skater in the dying dozen seconds or so as the final horn sounded and the Penguins had completed the comeback.

At the end of the afternoon, Pittsburgh had won, 4-3, despite trailing in shots on goal, 37-22– including a, 14-4, advantage for Boston in the third period alone.

The Pens finished the game leading in blocked shots (22-7), giveaways (12-3) and hits (37-28), while the Bruins led in faceoff win% (58-42).

Both teams went 0/2 on the power play on Sunday.

Boston fell to 18-7-8 when scoring the game’s first goal, 17-5-3 when leading after the first period and 15-1-6 when leading after two periods this season.

The B’s have won six out of their last ten games against Pittsburgh, but are on a six-game losing streak at PPG Paints Arena.

The Bruins fell to 200-2-6 when leading by at least three goals since 2010-11.

Boston returns home for their last game prior to the All-Star break next Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Bruins resume play on Friday, Jan. 31st in Winnipeg thereafter.

B’s complete effort yields, 4-1, win over Pens

Four different players scored for the Boston Bruins in their, 4-1, victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night at TD Garden.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (11-5-6 record, 2.42 goals against average, .921 save percentage in 22 games played) made 29 saves on 30 shots against for a .967 SV% in the win.

Penguins goaltender, Tristan Jarry (16-7-1, 2.16 GAA, .929 SV% in 24 games played) stopped 26 out of 29 shots faced for an .897 SV% in the loss.

Boston improved to 28-9-12 (68 points) on the season and remained in command of the Atlantic Division, while Pittsburgh fell to 29-13-5 (63 points), but maintained their status in 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division.

The B’s also improved to 16-2-9 at home this season.

Boston was without the services of Kevan Miller (knee), Connor Clifton (upper body), Tuukka Rask (concussion) and David Krejci (upper body) on Thursday.

Rask was placed on the injured reserve and likely will not play again until after the All Star break, while Krejci was a game-time decision, but didn’t participate in pregame warmups.

Brett Ritchie was placed on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Wednesday and cleared waivers without any issues on Thursday. He had two goals and four assists (six points) in 27 games with Boston before being sent down to Providence.

As a result, Karson Kuhlman was recalled from Providence and suited up in his first game with Boston since being injured in Toronto on Oct. 19th.

Kuhlman missed 32 games with a fractured tibia before being assigned to Providence and amassing 2-1–3 totals in four games with the P-Bruins since returning to play. He had no points in eight games with Boston this season entering Thursday.

With Rask out for at least a week, Dan Vladar was called up from Providence to be Halak’s backup for the time being.

Vladar has a 6-5-2 record with a 1.84 GAA, a .935 SV% and two shutouts in 12 games with Providence so far this season. He has yet to make an NHL appearance in his career since being drafted by Boston in the 3rd round (75th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, had to make some adjustments to his lineup from Tuesday night’s, 3-0, loss in Columbus to Thursday night’s matchup with Pittsburgh.

Cassidy left his first and fourth lines alone, but bumped up Charlie Coyle to center the second line in Krejci’s absence, while Par Lindholm was re-inserted in the lineup as the third line center in Coyle’s spot.

Danton Heinen remained on the third line left wing, while Kuhlman made his return to the B’s lineup on the right side of Heinen and Lindholm.

On defense, Matt Grzelcyk returned to the left side of the third pairing with John Moore on his right, while Steven Kampfer went back up to the press box on level nine of TD Garden as a healthy scratch.

Kampfer was joined by David Backes and Anton Blidh as Boston’s trio of healthy scratches against the Penguins while Blidh looks to return from an injury sustained in the preseason.

Prior to the action, the Bruins held a ceremony to honor Rask for surpassing 500 career NHL games earlier in the season.

Shortly after puck drop, Sidney Crosby (7) received the puck, broke into the attacking zone and rocketed a slap shot under Halak’s glove to give the Penguins a, 1-0, lead 24 seconds into the first period.

Dominik Simon (14) and Jack Johnson (7) had the assists on Crosby’s goal. Johnson’s secondary assist was the 300th point of his NHL career.

Boston allowed the game’s first goal on home ice for just the 13th time this season in the process.

Less than a minute later, Zach Aston-Reese received a roughing minor for trying to engage Charlie McAvoy in a battle after McAvoy hit Brandon Tanev along the boards.

The Bruins went to the power play at 1:16, but did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

About seven seconds after resuming even strength play, the Penguins were shorthanded again when John Marino boarded Chris Wagner at 3:23.

Boston’s power play was powerless on their second opportunity of the game.

Moments later, Kris Letang and Wagner each received roughing infractions after Wagner delivered a huge hit on Tanev near the boards at 7:33.

In the vulnerable minute after the ensuing 4-on-4 action, Sean Kuraly (4) squeaked a shot past Jarry to tie the game, 1-1.

Kuhlman (1) and McAvoy (17) had the assists on Kuraly’s goal at 10:03 of the first period and the B’s surged in momentum.

Almost a couple minutes later, Kuhlman was once again involved in a goal when he intentionally shot the puck from the high slot in Lindholm’s direction for Lindholm (3) to redirect the rubber biscuit past Jarry at 12:16.

Kuhlman (2) had the only assist– his 2nd of the night– as Lindholm’s goal gave the Bruins their first lead of the night, 2-1.

Boston managed to score a pair of goals in a 2:13 span, then followed it up with a tripping penalty when Patrice Bergeron got his stick caught under Evgeni Malkin and brought down the Pens forward at 13:19 of the first period.

Pittsburgh was unsuccessful on the resulting power play.

After one period of action on Thursday, the Bruins led the Penguins, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 12-10, in shots on goal.

Boston also held the advantage in hits (14-6) and faceoff win percentage (57-44), while Pittsburgh led in blocked shots (7-4), takeaways (4-2) and giveaways (3-1).

The Pens were 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission and the B’s were 0/2.

Early in the middle frame, Wagner tripped Marino and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction at 1:39 of the second period.

Pittsburgh did not score on the resulting power play.

Midway through the second period, Anders Bjork slashed Dominik Kahun and was sent to the sin bin at 9:47. Once again, the Penguins did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Late in the period, Patric Hornqvist and Torey Krug exchanged words and got into a bit of a shoving match that elicited roughing penalties at 16:08.

A few seconds after each player was released from the box and both teams resumed 5-on-5 action, Hornqvist and Krug dropped the gloves and exchanged fisticuffs in what was just the 9th fight this season for Boston.

Both players received five-minute majors for fighting at 18:11 of the second period and got an early start on the second intermission.

Less than a minute later, Marcus Pettersson was guilty of holding David Pastrnak and presented the Bruins with another power play at 18:41, but the B’s didn’t convert on the ensuing advantage– despite Bergeron’s best efforts of bringing a puck down from mid-air to the ice with his glove.

Bergeron unintentionally gloved the puck over Jarry and across the goal line, but the call on the ice was “no goal” and the call stood after review.

Meanwhile, on the ensuing power play, McAvoy fanned on a shot from the point and had to give chase to a charging shorthanded bid for the Penguins going the other way.

Halak stood tall and denied five quick shots on goal from the Pens in the dying dozen seconds or so of the middle frame.

Through 40 minutes of action in Boston, the Bruins led the Penguins, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 24-20, in shots on goal.

The B’s also led in hits (21-15) and faceoff win% (54-46), while Pittsburgh held the advantage in blocked shots (11-7), takeaways (8-4) and giveaways (10-4).

Both teams were 0/3 on the power play entering the second intermission.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Pastrnak dropped a pass to Bergeron (20) as the veteran first line center entered the attacking zone with speed and sent a wrist shot over Jarry’s glove and into the back of the net.

Pastrnak (31) had the only assist on Bergeron’s goal and Boston extended their lead to two-goals at 3:19 of the third period.

Bergeron’s goal made it, 3-1, for Boston and gave him his 11th season with 20 or more goals in his 16-year NHL career.

Midway through the final frame, the Penguins had too many skaters on the ice and sent Hornqvist to serve the bench minor at 11:42.

The Bruins didn’t convert on the ensuing legal skater advantage.

With 2:28 remaining in the game, Pittsburgh’s head coach, Mike Sullivan, pulled Jarry for an extra attacker in a last ditch effort to score two quick goals to tie the game.

The Pens followed it up with a timeout after a stoppage with 1:14 left, but the B’s held off the Penguins and their late action dominance– eventually working the puck out of the zone whereby Pastrnak had a chance to end it, but selflessly sent the puck over to Marchand (21) for the empty net goal at 19:07.

Pastrnak (32) had the only assist on Marchand’s goal and the Bruins finished off the Penguins, 4-1.

At the final horn, Boston secured the win in regulation and finished tied in shots on goal, 30-30, after Pittsburgh rallied to a, 10-6, advantage in shots on goal in the third period alone.

The Penguins left TD Garden with the advantage in blocked shots (14-12), giveaways (15-6) and hits (30-23), while the Bruins finished the night leading in faceoff win% (53-47).

Pittsburgh went 0/3 and Boston went 0/4 on the power play on Thursday.

With the loss, the Pens fell to 19-3-2 when scoring the game’s first goal this season.

As a result of the win, the Bruins improved to 17-4-3 when leading after the first period and 15-0-6 when leading after two periods this season.

Boston travels to Pittsburgh to wrap up their home-and-home with the Penguins on Sunday before returning home for their last game prior to the All-Star break next Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Bruins resume play on Friday, Jan. 31st in Winnipeg thereafter.

DTFR Podcast #181- Hall-iday Shopping

What’s the right price to pay for Taylor Hall? Plus, Cap’n Cornelius joins the show to talk about new NHL policies and coaching changes.

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DTFR Podcast #180- Turning Over A New Leaf

The Toronto Maple Leafs finally did the thing! Congrats to the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Class and taking a look at who might join them in 2020.

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

DTFR Podcast #179- Short and Sweet Power Rankings

This week’s DTFR Power Rankings are here! A quick look at the standings and a few tidbits of news from the week.

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