Tag Archives: J.T. Miller

Down the Frozen River Podcast #112- Draft, Tavares and Museums

The Original Trio splices together some thoughts on the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees, Dan Bylsma, the 2018 Draft, recent trades and John Tavares. Go check out your local museums while you’re at it. It’s the offseason, surely you have nothing going on.

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

2018 Offseason Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 NHL Entry Draft

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

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

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

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

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

Pending free agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miller, 25, is a little more complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

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

2018 Offseason Preview: New York Rangers

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the New York Rangers and their outlook for the summer.

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It was a bit of a transition year rebuild for the New York Rangers in 2017-18 as the team finished 8th (last) in the Metropolitan Division with a 34-39-9 record and 77 points on the season.

Lias Andersson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner are highlights among newfound Rangers forwards, though Andersson has been with New York for his entire career (he was their first round pick in 2017). Of course, Namestnikov and Spooner are both pending-restricted free agents and were acquired in deals leading up to the 2018 trade deadline that sent Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and Rick Nash packing.

Alain Vigneault is no longer the head coach (fired on the last day of the regular season in April) and David Quinn– most recently of Boston University notoriety as the Terriers head coach– was hired last month to take over behind the bench.

The Big Apple’s king, Henrik Lundqvist, is still dashingly good looking and fashionable as ever before, but still has yet to win a Cup and is 36-years-old.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton has the best case scenario heading into this year’s draft. He has three first round picks to utilize (his own, Boston’s and Tampa’s) on top of two second rounders (NYR and NJ) and two picks in the third round (NYR and BOS), with one pick in each of the remaining rounds except for the seventh round.

The 2018 Draft is a deeper draft than usual. Additionally, the Rangers are pretty much set in their mixture of youth, speed and skill in their retooled offense and defense, thanks to large returns on trades with Boston and Tampa (specifically) leading up to the deadline.

They sent Nick Holden to the Bruins for a third round pick and Rob O’Gara, then later dealt Nash to Boston for Spooner, Ryan Lindgren, Matt Beleskey, a 2018 first round pick and a 2019 seventh round pick.

New York traded Miller and McDonagh to the Lightning in exchange for Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Namestnikov, a 2018 first round pick and a conditional 2019 second round pick.

Gorton can be content to fill his heart’s desires in this year’s first round or he can simply opt for the best available prospect and build a better team that way too. He could also trade a pick or two for some valuable players to add to the roster here and now.

Whatever he chooses, the Rangers have the 9th, 26th and 28th overall picks in the 2018 Draft.

Pending free agents

With almost $25.000 million to spend this offseason, the Rangers are right where they want to be if they’re aiming for a quick rebuild. They might be on the outside of the playoffs again in 2019, but any improvement in the Metropolitan Division standings is an improvement considering they finished last in 2017-18.

Pending unrestricted free agent forwards Paul Carey, 29, and Cody McLeod, 33, might not be brought back on any other team, however, Carey’s seven goals and seven assists (14 points) are good enough as a bottom-six forward to keep him around for another year or two.

McLeod, on the other hand, is getting near the age where players in today’s NHL age themselves out of the game. There’s no offensive spark and New York’s not built around a fight-first mentality– especially as they’re trying to get younger and faster.

Between Carey and McLeod, expect Carey to be brought back somewhere around $1.000 million for another year, at least.

The biggest priority for Gorton to re-sign this offseason resides in Spooner, Namestnikov, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey as all four forwards are pending restricted free agents.

Spooner, 26, rebounded from a 39-point season in 78 games for Boston in 2016-17 to a 41-point effort in 59 games with the Bruins and Rangers this season on a $2.825 million one-year bridge deal signed with Boston late last July. He had 49 points in his rookie season (80 games in 2015-16) and should run New York somewhere around $4.000-6.000 million AAV on his next deal (assuming he’s re-signed) as their top or second line center.

Namestnikov, 25, had a breakout 48-point season with the Lightning and Rangers this season in 81 games played. He’ll likely get a similar deal to Spooner, which Gorton and his front office should see no problem agreeing to as the club moves forward in a new direction.

Hayes, 26, had 25-19–44 totals in 76 games, setting a new career-high in goals in what was otherwise an average season in scoring for the better Hayes brother. Keep him.

Vesey, 25, had every right to spurn the Nashville Predators and Buffalo Sabres by exercising his playing rights as a college prospect, but managed one point better than his rookie season with the Rangers. He had 16-11–27 totals in 80 games played in 2016-17 and 17-11–28 totals in 79 games played in 2017-18. That’s… not great.

New York’s not going to turn on Vesey quite as quickly as some fans might have, but he hasn’t earned a significant pay raise by any means yet.

On defense, the Rangers have one pending-UFA (25-year-old, Ryan Sproul) and three pending-RFAs (O’Gara, 24, John Gilmour, 25, and Brady Skjei, 24).

All of them can be re-signed if the Rangers so desire. Entering 2017-18, New York’s defense was worth tweaking– and they did. Now, perhaps it’s time to assess what they really have for a season.

But if they can dump Brendan Smith anywhere instead of receiving a little over $1.000 million in salary relief by burying him in the AHL, then that’d be pretty great too.

Then again, this is the same franchise that’s paying Dan Girardi $3.611 million through 2020 and $1.111 million through 2023 thanks to their buyout last summer.

Finally, in goal for the Rangers, Lundqvist remains their starter at an $8.500 million cap hit over the remainder of his contract through the 2020-21 season. At 36, Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger and letting him rest has actually been better for his play, which brings up the question of a reliable backup goaltender.

Ondrej Pavelec, 30, is a pending-UFA and posted a 3.05 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 games for New York this season. That’s better than his 3.55 GAA and .888 SV% in 8 games with the Winnipeg Jets in 2016-17, but still not good considering he has a 2.88 career GAA and .907 career SV% in 398 NHL games for Atlanta/Winnipeg and the Rangers.

Gorton should trust a rotation of Brandon Halverson, 22, Alexandar Georgiev, 22, and/or Marek Mazanec, 26, in some sort of backup role or pursue a new short term backup goaltender option to hold the organization over for the time being.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Steven Fogarty (RFA), Boo Nieves (RFA), Chris Bigras (RFA), Adam Tambellini (RFA), Daniel Catenacci (UFA), John Albert (UFA)

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

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

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

Oshie, Holtby and Capitals crew force Game 7

Unknown-3Washington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

For just the third time this postseason, there will be a Game 7, thanks to the Washington Capitals’ 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on home ice in Game 6 Monday night.

Despite plenty of shorter series’s, the league is still averaging one Game 7 per round (Boston defeated Toronto at home in a Game 7 in the First Round and Winnipeg eliminated Nashville on the road in a Game 7 in the Second Round).

The winner of Wednesday night’s Game 7 not only walks away with the Prince of Wales Trophy, but with an appearance in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced and picked up his fifth career playoff shutout en route to the win for Washington, while Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 save percentage in 58:56 time on ice in the loss.

For the first time in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final the score was tied 0-0 after the first period. Neither team found the back of the net as both goaltenders stood tall, despite a bevy of chances thrown at or towards the net.

Washington came out strong, hitting everything in sight and firing off pucks on net. Tampa responded in kind around the halfway point of the period, but the Capitals readjusted and forced their way into the attacking zone for longer periods of time, it seemed.

Tempers flared as Brooks Orpik and J.T. Miller dropped the gloves in favor of squaring off with fisticuffs at 15:48 of the opening period. Both players were handed five minute majors for fighting and sent to the locker rooms early as only a little over four minutes remained in the first period.

Tom Wilson sent a rocket of a pass to Alex Ovechkin in the low slot, point blank, which Ovechkin redirected on the backhand only to be stoned cold by Vasilevskiy.

With less than a minute remaining in the period, the Capitals desperately searched for a little puck luck on rebound after rebound in the low slot, but Vasilevskiy kept coming up big, culminating in a save in which the Lightning netminder dropped his stick and dove on his left side, making a glove save in the process.

After one period the score remained as the game began, 0-0, with Washington leading in shots on goal (8-6), blocked shots (8-6), hits (16-9), takeaways (8-2), giveaways (6-1) and faceoff win percentage (53-47). Neither team had seen any action on the power play as there were no penalties called in the first period.

Jay Beagle opened the second period guilty of hooking Tampa defender, Anton Stralman, 40 seconds into the second frame. The Lightning went on the power play for the first time of the night.

The Capitals came up huge with their biggest penalty kill of the series up to that point, given the circumstances of a scoreless game in a game in which they were facing elimination.

Andre Burakovsky followed the momentum swing with a fast break-in of his own, surging past Tampa’s trade deadline acquisition, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and firing the puck high above the net.

The Bolts subsequently had a two-on-one of their own going the other way with Miller saucering the puck to Anthony Cirelli, but Holtby made the save.

A little past the halfway point of the second period, Braydon Coburn hooked Devante Smith-Pelly and the Caps went on the power play for the first time since Game 4 in the series at 13:49 of the second period.

Shortly after ringing the post, T.J. Oshie got a second chance at redemption.

Acting as the bumper in the low slot, Oshie (6) received a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and blasted a one-timer past Vasilevskiy sending Capital One Arena into a frenzy of euphoria as the home team went up, 1-0.

Backstrom (11) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (12) had the assists on Oshie’s power play goal at 15:12.

With less than a minute remaining in the second period, Washington had yet another two-on-one opportunity that just wouldn’t go past Tampa’s goaltender. Jakub Vrana followed up with a one-timer of his own as a mirror image of Oshie’s goal with about 30 seconds left, but Vasilevskiy made the initial save.

The puck squibbed free from the Bolts goalie and sat in the crease awaiting further direction until Brayden Point poked it clear to the boards as Oshie dove to either get his stick on the puck or break up Point’s last ditch defensive effort.

Nikita Kucherov swept in on an attacking zone faceoff in the final eight seconds of the second period and fired a shot that beat Holtby, but rang the iron.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led, 1-0. Washington also had the advantage in just about everything else, including shots on goal (24-14), blocked shots (15-9), hits (29-13), takeaways (11-4), giveaways (7-3) and faceoff win percentage (59-41). Tampa was 0/1 and the Caps were 1/1 on the power play after two periods.

After trading chances to start the third period, the Capitals still held onto a one-goal lead.

Just past the halfway mark, Smith-Pelly (4) put an exclamation mark on the insurance goal as Beagle beat out the icing call, kept the puck down low in the attacking zone for Chandler Stephenson to dish out to Smith-Pelly on a no-look spin pass as Smith-Pelly was flying in the low slot undetected.

Smith-Pelly followed up with a one-timed wrist shot that beat Vasilevskiy and gave Washington a 2-0 lead at 10:02 of the third period. Stephenson (5) and Beagle (4) had the assists.

A minute later, Backstrom tripped up Ondrej Palat and the Lightning went on the power play for the second time of the night at 11:03.

The Capitals penalty killing unit not only kept the puck out of their own net, but they kept it out of their own zone, sending two shots on goal shorthanded while Tampa failed to record a shot on goal while on the power play.

Washington killed off the penalty and kept charging.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos collided with his own teammate just past the twelve-minute mark in the period, sending J.T. Miller to the ice with an elbow to the head. Miller was slow to get up, but skated off under his own power, sat on the bench and leapt back into the action after the next stoppage in play.

Protocol was definitely followed and your eyes were deceiving you.

Vasilevskiy vacated Tampa’s goal crease with about two minutes remaining in regulation as the Lightning tried to score two quick goals with the extra skater.

Bolts Head Coach Jon Cooper used his timeout 30 seconds later prior to a face-off in the attacking zone to the left of Washington’s netminder to go over every scenario with his team.

Despite winning the faceoff, the Lightning could not get a shot past Holtby and the Capitals worked the puck out of their own zone.

Beagle kept the puck onside as Backstrom held onto the puck to assure his team of the victory, making a selfless pass to Oshie to give the Washington goal scorer an easy layup for the empty net goal.

Oshie (7) scored his second goal, pocketing the rubber biscuit in the gapping 4-by-6 net, and gave the Caps a three-goal lead. Backstrom (12) had the only assist on the goal that sealed the deal for a 3-0 win.

At the final horn, the Capitals had tied the series, 3-3, thanks to a 3-0 victory in Game 6. Washington dominated the final stat sheet, leading in shots on goal (34-24), blocked shots (20-13), hits (39-19), giveaways (10-6) and faceoff win percentage (54-46). Tampa finished the night 0/2 on the skater advantage, while Washington completed the night 1/1 on the power play.

Game 7 is Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Puck drop is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and fans can catch the action on NBCSN, CBC, SN1 or TVAS. The winner will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #106- We Recorded This Before Vegas Won (Unedited)

The Original Trio reunite for a special look at the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, college coaches landing NHL jobs and Conference Finals takeaways. Also, we meant Andrei Svechnikov.

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

Vasilevskiy makes ECF a best-of-three series

 

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

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

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

Wait, offense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caps’ attack too much for Bolts; win Game 1 4-2

 

After a 4-2 victory at Amalie Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Between the actual 2-0 score and the fact that the Caps led 9-2 in shots on goal, we get a rather accurate impression of how the first 20 minutes went down.

The Caps almost exclusively dominated possession from the opening draw to the first TV timeout. They might have managed only two shots on goal in that time (which still exceeded Tampa’s zero), but the fact that they kept the puck in their offensive zone did a lot to wear out the Bolts’ defensemen early.

That pressure paid off in spades at the 7:28 mark when Washington drew first blood in the Eastern Finals. D Michal Kempny (Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov and D John Carlson) did the dirty work with a wrist shot from the blue line, his first-ever North American postseason marker.

Of course, the best weapon against possession is a stellar counterattack. RW Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning though they had done just that with seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, but it was ruled Tampa Bay had too many men on the ice, negating the goal and awarding a power play to Washington.

Entering the game with the best power play in the postseason (converting 30.9 percent of man-advantages into goals), the Caps completed their stellar command of the first frame by burying a man-advantage tally with only six seconds remaining in the frame.

Who else to score that power play goal than First Star W Alex Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and F T.J. Oshie)? Almost unexpectedly, Ovechkin departed from his usual spot in the left face-off circle and scored his patented one-touch slap shot from the blue line on a set play from Oshie’s face-off victory.

Washington picked up right where it left off 2:40 into the second period. Third Star F Jay Beagle (W Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Orlov) beat G Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole from the slot, receiving an unintentional assist from D Braydon Coburn after Connolly’s centering pass bounced off his skate.

4:02 later, the score read 4-0 when C Lars Eller (Oshie and Ovechkin) converted a Kucherov roughing penalty into yet another power play goal – Washington’s final tally of the game.

What started as a 2-0 shot differential early in the first period became a 25-10 domination by the second intermission. It could be argued that LW Jakub Vrana‘s game-high five shots on goal is a major part of that, but I would instead point to Oshie’s two takeaways over the course of the game, as well as both Kucherov and FJ.T. Miller yielding two giveaways by the end of regulation.

Additionally, Washington was also excellent at blocking shots, as it managed 19 before retreating to its hotel that evening. Co-led by Carlson and D Matt Niskanen‘s three blocks apiece, the Caps’ blue line was a major reason for Tampa’s struggle to establish anything close to an offensive presence in the opening 40 minutes.

However, all that turned on its head in the third period when Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to bench Vasilevskiy, who saved 21-of-25 shots faced for a .84 save percentage, in favor of G Louis Domingue.

While Vasilevskiy could have certainly been better in this game, he didn’t give up any blatantly soft goals (looking at you, G Pekka Rinne). Instead, his benching was intended to be a message for his team, and the Lightning certainly responded just as Cooper wished.

It took 43:45 of play and RW Alex Chiasson sitting in the penalty box for slashing F Alex Killorn, but Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard when C Steven Stamkos (Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) did his best Ovechkin impression and scored a clapper from the left face-off circle, pulling the score to 4-1.

That was certainly more than enough to get the positive energy surging in the arena. Tampa out-shot the Capitals 11-7 in the third period, proving just how much of the game was  played in its attacking zone.

Keeping hope alive, another goal trickled by with 6:57 remaining in regulation when W Ondrej Palat (F Tyler Johnson and D Anton Stralman) beat G Braden Holtby short side with a wrister from the slot.

However, hope ran short in that remaining time due in large part to the solid effort of Holtby. Though it wasn’t his best game of the season, Holtby posed an imposing challenge even after the Bolts pulled Domingue for the extra attacker. In all, he saved his last four shots faced in the game, posting an 19-for-21 (.905 save percentage) overall performance.

If the Lightning learned one thing from this game, it is that they cannot continue committing penalties like they have been in these playoffs. Washington’s power play, which converted 50 percent tonight, is just too potent for the Bolts to continue serving the 14:41 penalty minutes per game that they’ve managed through the first two rounds.

Tampa’s first opportunity to resolve that issue is in Game 2, which is right back at Amalie Arena and scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern this Sunday. Fans unable to make it to Western Florida can catch the live broadcasts on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Bolts advance to Eastern Conference Final with 3-1 win in Game 5

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The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Boston Bruins, 3-1, on Sunday, eliminating Boston in five games en route to the third round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Call it an Eastern Conference Finals Appearance Dynasty if you want, but Tampa has one thing in their sight if they can get four more wins this postseason— winning their 2nd Cup in franchise history. This year’s appearance in the Eastern Conference Final marks just the third time in the last four years that the Lightning are a participant (2015 vs NYR, 2016 vs PIT & 2018).

For the first time in the series, the team that scored first in the game lost the game.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves on 28 shots against for a .964 save percentage in the win for the Lightning, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask turned aside 19 out of 21 shots faced for a .905 SV% in the loss.

Tampa got out to a quick start in the overall flow of the game, controlling its pace and puck possession as the Bruins got out to another slow start.

Charlie McAvoy gave a quick cross check to Brayden Point about seven minutes into the first period and gave the Lightning their first power play of the afternoon. The Bolts did not convert on the skater advantage.

Boston outlasted the ten-minute mark in the opening frame, unlike the previous two games in the series where the Lightning held a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period.

David Backes bumped Anthony Cirelli into Boston’s net and was handed a minor penalty for interference at 11:52. Tampa’s 5-on-4 power play was short-lived as defender, Victor Hedman, held Bruins forward, Brad Marchand, and received a minor infraction for holding.

Marchand was also penalized for embellishment on the call, so the Lightning would still be on the power play at 12:04 of the first period.

Late in the first, Dan Girardi, checked Sean Kuraly without the puck and the Bruins went on the power play. About a minute later, Cedric Paquette, tripped David Pastrnak at 18:06 of the first period and Boston’s 5-on-4 advantage became a 5-on-3 advantage for 56 seconds.

Shortly after Girardi’s penalty expired, David Krejci (3) received a pass from McAvoy and fired a one-timer past Vasilevskiy as the Lightning goaltender was moving side-to-side in the crease.

McAvoy (4) and Patrice Bergeron (10) had the assists on Krejci’s power play goal at 19:12 of the first period and Boston jumped out to the lead, 1-0.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were ahead on the scoreboard, 1-0, and in shots on goal, 9-7. Boston also held on to an advantage in blocked shots (6-5), while Tampa was leading in hits (13-9) and giveaways (3-2) after one period. The B’s were 1/2 on the power play and the Bolts were 0/2 on the man advantage through 20 minutes of play.

Much like the start of the game, the Lightning came out of the gates in the second period at full throttle as Boston was making turnover after turnover.

Those turnovers proved to be costly past the halfway mark in the second period, as Krejci gave up the puck to Point (4) who promptly buried a shot in the twine with Rask out of position due to Krejci’s complete redirection of the play.

Point’s goal was unassisted and tied the game, 1-1, at 10:43.

Shortly thereafter, Rick Nash, took a shot from a teammate off the right knee and needed some assistance down the tunnel. The elder Nash on Boston’s roster would return to the action.

J.T. Miller followed through on a hit delivered to Bruins veteran, David Backes, wherein both players collided helmets and Backes fell to the ice, motionless, save for reaching for his head. He did not return to the game.

No penalty was assessed on the play.

Bergeron was sent to the box for tripping Ondrej Palat at 13:31 of the second period and the Lightning capitalized on the ensuing man advantage just 29 seconds later.

Miller (2) fired a shot home at 14:00 of the second period to give Tampa a one-goal lead, 2-1, on what would become the game-winning, series-clinching, goal. Nikita Kucherov (6) and Steven Stamkos (7) notched the assists on the goal.

With the Bolts ahead by one on the scoreboard after two periods, shots on goal were even, 14-14. Both teams had a power play goal and the Bruins had a slight advantage in blocked shots (10-8).

Boston went stride for stride with Tampa in the third period, as Rask kept his team in the game, but the Bruins could not muster a shot on goal that would go past Vasilevskiy and even the score.

Late in the third, Ryan McDonagh tripped up Pastrnak and was sent to the sin bin for two-minutes. Boston could not capitalize on the power play as time ticked down from under five minutes to go to under two minutes left in regulation.

Bruce Cassidy used his timeout with 3:16 remaining in the game and pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with a little over 90 seconds left in the season.

A faceoff in the attacking zone resulted in a defensive zone win for the Lightning, where Anton Stralman had a clear lane to flip the puck the length of the ice into the empty four-by-six frame in Boston’s end.

Stalman (1) scored his first goal of the 2018 postseason and made it, 3-1, Tampa at 18:31 of the third period. Hedman (6) had the only assist on the goal.

Rask vacated the goal again with less than a minute left, but it was all for naught as the Lightning finished the Bruins’s playoff hopes.

After a 60-minute effort, the Bolts had a 3-1 victory, clinching the series, 4-1. Boston finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal, 28-22, while the Lightning led in blocked shots (17-12), hits (37-29), giveaways (9-8) and faceoff win percentage (55-45). Both teams went 1/3 on the power play on the afternoon.

Tampa head coach, Jon Cooper, heads to his third career Eastern Conference Final behind the bench with the Lightning, while the Bruins fall to 0-24 all-time when trailing, 3-1, in a best-of-seven game series.

Boston was without defenseman, Torey Krug, on Sunday as a result of his lower body injury sustained in Game 4. Nick Holden made his Bruins playoffs debut  in Krug’s place.

The Lightning await the winner of the Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins series to find out who they’ll battle in the last playoff round before the Stanley Cup Final. Washington currently leads their series with Pittsburgh, 3-2.

Tampa tops Boston in OT, can win series on Sunday

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The Tampa Bay Lightning thundered along to a 4-3 overtime win in Game 4 at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins on Friday night. Dan Girardi scored the game-winning goal on a deflection and the Lightning will take a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 on home ice.

Bolts goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, turned aside 29 shots on 32 shots faced for a .906 save percentage in the win, while Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask, made 24 saves on 28 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss.

Entering Friday night, the team that scored the game’s first goal went on to win the game in every game so far in this series.

So when Brayden Point (3) forced a turnover, split Boston’s first defensive pair (Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy), fired a shot on Rask, then pocketed his own rebound the fate of Game 4 was thought to be sealed just 4:36 into the action.

And through a series of events– technically speaking– it did as the “first-goal –> win the game” trend continued.

Minutes later, Rick Nash was penalized for tripping Tampa’s captain, Steven Stamkos, despite replay showing what might otherwise be dubbed “another controversial bad call in this, the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs” at 7:17 of the first period.

A little more than a minute later, as the Bruins struggled to get the puck out of their own defensive zone, Chara cleared the puck straight out of the playing surface and over the glass, thereby attaining the automatic minor penalty for delay of game.

The Lightning went to work on their 5-on-3 advantage and Nikita Kucherov (6) gave his team a two-goal lead on a one-timer fired from the faceoff dot to the left of Rask.

Victor Hedman (5) and Stamkos (6) had the assists on Kucherov’s goal (his first point of the series) and Tampa had a 2-0 lead seven seconds short of the halfway mark in the first period at TD Garden.

The Bolts were leading in shots on goal, 8-2, at the 9:53 mark of the first period.

Yanni Gourde followed up with a tripping minor of his own at 11:21 after taking down Bruins defender, Matt Grzelcyk, with his stick. Boston would not convert on their first power play of the night, but a few moments later, Stamkos and Rick Nash just couldn’t keep themselves away from each other (a trend that would continue deep into the night between these two players, let alone entire rosters).

Stamkos caught Nash with an illegal check to the head and was assessed a minor penalty at 14:45 of the first period.

On the ensuing power play, the Bruins generated scoring chance after scoring chance, but just couldn’t beat Vasilevskiy until David Pastrnak (6) worked his Czech magic, batting a puck out of the air, to score a power play goal and cut the Lightning’s lead in half, 2-1.

Torey Krug (8) and Brad Marchand (12) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal at 15:28.

Heading into the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 11-9. The Bolts also led in blocked shots (9-5), hits (13-12) and takeaways (2-0), while both teams had five giveaways each and were 50-50 in faceoff win percentage. Additionally, the Lightning were 1/2 and the Bruins were 1/2 on the power play through one period of action.

Less than a minute— 43 seconds to be exact— into the second period, Tampa’s Tyler Johnson, tripped Pastrnak and Boston went back on the power play.

Fashionably late into the power play, the Bruins converted on a stereotypical power play goal from Patrice Bergeron (5) whereby the veteran center acted as the bumper from reception of the pass by Krug to the ensuing one-timer past Vasilevskiy.

Krug (9) had the only assist on the goal and Boston had tied the game, 2-2, at 2:04 into the second period.

A few minutes later, Nash and Stamkos found each other again, except Nash was the recipient of a controversial tripping minor (though not nearly as controversial as later calls and non-calls that ultimately played a hand in the course of the game, for better or worse).

The Lightning did not score on the power play and the Bruins killed off Nash’s tipping minor.

Through 40 minutes of hockey, the game was tied, 2-2, and the Bruins had rallied to lead in shots on goal, 23-15. Tampa held onto the advantage in blocked shots (14-12), hits (24-23) and giveaways (8-6), while Boston had an advantage in takeaways (9-6) and faceoff win percentage (62-38). After two periods, the Bolts were 1/3 on the power play and the B’s were 2/3.

Noel Acciari led things off on the event sheet in the third period with a phantom hooking call against Hedman at 5:34. This level of consistency would not be upheld later in the third en route to Tampa’s game tying goal, staying par for the course on the level of officiating in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs league-wide.

While shorthanded, Marchand led a break alongside Bergeron and threw the puck towards the Bruins center, whereby Bergeron (6) redirected it into the twine and gave Boston their first lead of the night, 3-2, on a shorthanded goal.

Marchand (13) had the only assist on Bergeron’s second goal of the night at 6:36 of the third period.

Johnson slashed Chara less than a minute later, but the B’s were not able to convert on the resulting player advantage.

Following a hold on McAvoy by Kucherov that went unnoticed, the Lightning worked the puck in the offensive zone from J.T. Miller over to Stamkos (3) for a blast that went past Rask and knotted the game, 3-3, almost a few minutes past the halfway mark of the third period.

Miller (5) officially recorded the only assist on Stamkos’s tying goal at 12:56 of the third.

Regulation time would turn out to not be enough for Boston and Tampa to determine a winner, so for the first time in the series (as well as for both teams in the 2018 postseason), overtime became necessary.

After 60 minutes, the score was tied, 3-3, with the Bruins outshooting the Bolts, 30-26. Tampa led in blocked shots (23-18), hits (32-30) and giveaways (14-13), while Boston led in takeaways (12-8) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The Lightning would finish the night 1/4 on the power play and the B’s went 2/4 on the advantage.

Krug left the third period with what would later be classified as a “lower body injury” per the Bruins PR team and did not return to the action in Game 4.

Just past the three-minute mark in overtime, after Boston had a couple quality scoring chances, Dan Girardi (2) tipped a shot past Rask as a little puck luck went a long way for the Lightning.

Alex Killorn (2) and Gourde (4) notched the assists on the game-winning overtime goal at 3:18 of the overtime period and Tampa finished off Game 4 on the road with a 4-3 victory.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 32-28, and in faceoff win percentage, 62-38. Meanwhile, the Lightning had cemented a 3-1 series lead and led in blocked shots (24-19), hits (33-30) and giveaways (15-13).

Tampa can clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years (2015, 2017 and present) with a win on home ice in Game 5 of their Second Round series with Boston on Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC. Fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC or TVAS.