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NHL Nick's Net

Bruins storm Lightning for, 5-2, win on the road

David Pastrnak scored a pair of quick goals before Brad Marchand added a pair of his own later in a, 5-2, win for the Boston Bruins against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Saturday night.

Linus Ullmark (10-5-0, 2.54 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 15 games played) stopped 27 out of 29 shots faced for a .931 save percentage in the win for Boston.

Tampa netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy (19-6-3, 2.23 goals-against average, .923 save percentage in 28 games played), made 25 saves on 29 shots against in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 18-11-2 (38 points) overall and remain in command of 4th place of the Atlantic Division (nine points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for 3rd place).

Meanwhile, the Lightning fell to 23-9-5 (51 points) and slipped to 2nd place in the Atlantic by virtue of a tiebreaker, having sustained fewer regulation wins (15) than the Florida Panthers (17).

The B’s also improved to 1-0-1 against the Bolts this season with two games remaining in their regular season series (March 24th @ TD Garden and April 8th at Amalie Arena).

Bruce Cassidy told reporters prior to the game that Charlie McAvoy (lower body) would be a game-time decision and the NESN broadcast learned during warmup that if McAvoy wasn’t good enough to suit up, then Urho Vaakanainen would be making his season debut alongside Matt Grzelcyk on the first pairing.

And that’s exactly what happened as McAvoy missed his third game this season due to injury or illness, joining Jakub Zboril (right ACL), Karson Kuhlman (COVID-19 protocol), Jake DeBrusk (COVID-19 protocol) and Tomáš Nosek (COVID-19 protocol) on the list of players out of the lineup for Boston.

Cassidy made no changes to among his forwards from Thursday night’s, 3-2, loss against the Minnesota Wild.

John Moore joined Steven Fogarty and Troy Grosenick on Boston’s taxi squad on Saturday with goaltender, Tuukka Rask, expected to join the team on an NHL contract next week.

Taylor Hall setup Pastrnak (10) with a breakout pass about a minute into the action as No. 88 in black and gold entered the attacking zone from the middle of the ice and flung a shot on net that beat Vasilevskiy on the far blocker side.

Hall (12) and Derek Forbort (3) tallied the assists as the Bruins jumped out to a, 1-0, lead at 1:11 of the first period.

About 90 seconds later, Curtis Lazar tripped up Mathieu Joseph in the neutral zone and cut a rut to the box– yielding the night’s first power play to the Lightning at 2:45, but Boston’s penalty kill stood tall.

Moments later, Hall sent a shot on goal that rebounded off of Vasilevskiy’s pads as Pastrnak (11) crashed the net– kicking the rubber biscuit to his blade before burying the puck low, glove side, as Vasilevskiy was caught looking in the other direction.

The Bruins led, 2-0, as Hall (13) and Erik Haula (7) picked up the assists on Pastrnak’s second goal of the game at 6:10 of the first period.

Midway through the opening frame, Nick Foligno was taken down in front of Tampa’s net and was helped off the ice, clutching his right leg.

The Bruins later tweeted that he wouldn’t return for the rest of the night with a lower body injury and Cassidy ruled him out of the lineup for Monday night against the Capitals in Washington, D.C. while speaking to reporters after Saturday night’s win.

After one period, the B’s led, 2-0, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 13-7, in shots on goal.

The Bolts held the advantage in giveaways (1-0), while Boston led in blocked shots (3-1), takeaways (4-2) and faceoff win percentage (58-42). Both teams managed to amass 11 hits each.

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission, while the Bruins had yet to see any action on the skater advantage.

Boston got off to a fast start in the middle frame as Patrice Bergeron worked the puck to Mike Reilly as the team worked their way around the attacking zone before Reilly sent a shot attempt towards the slot for Marchand (13) to redirect with a backhand deflection past Vasilevskiy– extending Boston’s lead to three goals.

Reilly (5) and Bergeron (15) notched the assists as Marchand’s goal gave the Bruins a, 3-0, lead 26 seconds into the second period.

Midway through the period, Marchand hooked Erik Cernak and cut a rut to the sin bin at 8:39.

Tampa went on a 5-on-3 advantage for 47 seconds when Bergeron caught Victor Hedman with a high stick at 9:53 of the second period.

The Bruins killed off both minor infractions, however.

Late in the period, Oskar Steen forced a turnover in the attacking zone and worked a quick pass to Anton Blidh (2) for a catch and release goal on the short side past Vasilevskiy’s blocker.

Steen (4) had the only assist on Blidh’s goal at 14:54 and Boston led, 4-0, heading into the second intermission.

Through 40 minutes of action, the B’s led, 4-0, despite trailing in shots on goal, 20-19– though Boston held a, 12-7, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

The Bruins dominated in blocked shots (8-1) and takeaways (6-3), while the Lightning led in giveaways (2-0), hits (21-20) and faceoff win% (52-48).

Boston had yet to see any time on the skater advantage, while Tampa was 0/3 on the power play heading into the final frame.

Tampa emerged fresh from the dressing room to kickstart the third period with a goal 24 seconds into the final frame– disrupting Ullmark’s bid for a shutout in the process.

Mikhail Sergachev dumped the puck into the corner on a hard intentional rebound for Cernak to one-touch pass off the carom over to Ondrej Palat (14) for a one-timer goal on a half empty net.

Cernak (4) and Sergachev (14) nabbed the assists on Palat’s goal and the Lightning trailed, 4-1, 24 seconds into the third period.

A couple minutes later, Vasilevskiy tripped Trent Frederic and presented the Bruins with their first power play of the night at 2:28 of the third period.

Boris Katchouk, meanwhile, served Vasilevskiy’s minor infraction while the Bolts killed off the penalty.

Midway through the third period, Brayden Point (13) received a pass from Cernak, stopped and measured up, then wired the puck past Ullmark inside the post to cut Boston’s lead to two goals.

Cernak (5) and Sergachev (15) tallied the assists and the Lightning trailed, 4-2, at 11:20 of the third period– making things exciting for Tampa fans for an inevitable comeback, right?

Except the comeback never came. Not Saturday night, anyway.

Roughly 90 seconds after Point brought more momentum in favor of the Bolts, Anthony Cirelli tripped Bergeron and cut a rut to the box at 12:57– yielding a power play to the Bruins for the second time of the night.

Boston’s skater advantage was cut short, however, as Charlie Coyle hooked Joseph at 14:54 and brought the Lightning forward to the ice.

After four seconds of 4-on-4 action, Tampa went on an abbreviated power play, but the Bruins’ penalty kill handled the surge in momentum well and killed off Coyle’s infraction.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Marchand (14) pocketed his second goal of the game from downtown near the blue line and Vaakanainen (1) picked up an assist in his first game of the season.

The Bruins led, 5-2, at 17:11 of the third period and Cooper didn’t pull his goaltender for the rest of the night as the seconds ticked down and the final horn sounded decisively in favor of Boston.

The B’s had won, 5-2, and finished the game leading in shots on goal, 30-29, after managing to amass an, 11-9, advantage in shots on net in the third period alone.

The Bruins left Amalie Arena with two points in the standings, as well as the lead in blocked shots (9-7) and faceoff win% (54-46), while the Bolts left their home ice leading in giveaways (2-0) and hits (31-26).

Tampa finished the night 0/4 on the power play while Boston went 0/2.

The B’s improved to 12-5-0 (7-2-0 on the road) when scoring first, 13-0-0 (8-0-0 on the road) when leading after the first period and 13-1-0 (9-0-0 on the road) when leading after two periods this season.

The Lightning fell to 9-8-1 (5-3-1 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal, 4-5-1 (2-1-1 at home) when trailing after one and 3-7-1 (0-3-1 at home) when losing through two periods in 2021-22.

The Bruins visit the Washington Capitals next Monday (Jan. 10th) before returning home to host the Montréal Canadiens next Wednesday to kickoff a seven-game homestand in which Boston will host the Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks.

The B’s were originally scheduled to play at Bell Centre on Jan. 12th, but due to the rise of the Omicron variant and capacity limits across Canada, that game has been postponed and instead Boston’s meeting with the Habs originally scheduled for March 21st has been moved up.

Tickets for March 21st in Boston will be honored on Jan. 12th against Montréal.

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NHL Nick's Net

Stamkos sinks Bruins in overtime on the road, 3-2

Steven Stamkos scored the game-winning overtime goal 91 seconds after the extra frame began to hold off a comeback and give the Tampa Bay Lightning a, 3-2, overtime win over the Boston Bruins Saturday night at TD Garden.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (12-4-3, 2.13 goals-against average, .927 save percentage in 19 games played) made 37 saves on 39 shots against in the overtime win for the Lightning.

Bruins netminder, Jeremy Swayman (7-4-1, 2.27 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 12 games played) stopped 22 out of 25 shots faced in the overtime loss.

Boston fell to 12-8-1 (25 points) on the season and remain in command of 5th place in the Atlantic Division– two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, Tampa improved to 14-5-4 (32 points) overall and in command of 3rd place in the Atlantic– five points behind their intrastate rival, Florida Panthers, for the division lead.

Prior to Saturday night, the B’s and Bolts hadn’t met in the regular season since March 7, 2020, due to the ongoing pandemic that temporarily realigned the league’s divisions last season.

In their last meeting, which was also at TD Garden, the Lightning won, 5-3, as Boston cemented a 1-2-1 season series record against the Bolts in 2019-20.

Anton Blidh (upper body) remained out of the lineup on Saturday night as Charlie McAvoy (non-COVID related illness) and Jakub Zboril (lower body) joined Blidh among the sick and injured while head coach, Bruce Cassidy, remains in the National Hockey League’s COVID-19 protocol.

Zboril is set to be re-evaluated on Sunday for an injury that he sustained in Thursday night’s, 2-0, shutout in Nashville.

As a result of McAvoy’s game-time decision status, Jack Ahcan and Oskar Steen were recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL), who had enough players cleared to be called up or assigned in the aftermath of a COVID outbreak among Boston’s American Hockey League affiliate.

Acting head coach, Joe Sacco, made two minor changes to his lineup– inserting Ahcan alongside Derek Forbort on the blue line in place of McAvoy and placing Connor Clifton back on the third pairing with Mike Reilly with Zboril out.

Steen served as Boston’s only healhty scratch on Saturday with Brad Marchand (suspension) serving the final game of his three-game suspension for slew-footing Oliver Ekman-Larsson in Nov. 28th’s, 3-2, win against the Vancouver Canucks.

Nick Foligno hooked Erik Cernak 32 seconds into the first period, yielding the night’s first power play opportunity to the Lightning as a result.

Tampa wasn’t able to convert on the ensuing skater advantage, however, as the Bruins made the kill.

Midway through the opening frame, Bolts defender, Zach Bogosian, caught B’s forward, Craig Smith, with a high stick and cut a rut to the penalty box as a result at 13:19.

Boston couldn’t beat Vasilevskiy and the Lightning’s penalty killing unit on the resulting advantage and even gave up their second shorthanded goal against this season less than a minute after Bogosian set a foot in the sin bin.

Taylor Raddysh received a pass into the attacking zone from Mikhail Sergachev and promptly deked through Reilly by slipping the puck under the Bruins defender’s stick before pulling the rubber biscuit to his backhand and wrapping it tightly around Swayman’s outstretched right leg.

Raddysh (1) scored his first career NHL goal and put Tampa on the board first, 1-0, at 14:13 with his shorthanded goal, while Sergachev (10) recorded the only assist on the tally.

Entering the first intermission, the Lightning led, 1-0, on the scoreboard despite trailing, 12-6, in shots on net.

Boston also held the advantage in hits (11-8) and faceoff win percentage (61-39), while the Bolts led in blocked shots (7-2) and giveaways (5-1).

Both teams had three takeaways each and went 0/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

After ringing the post three times, the Bruins fell victim to the most common play in hockey– the one rush the other way that goes in.

Anthony Cirelli sent a pass up to Ondrej Palat as the Bolts entered the attacking zone, leading to a great chance for Palat to make a play across the slot for a teammate to one-time the puck.

Instead, Palat (6) faked a shot and sent a pass that deflected off of Tomáš Nosek and into the twine as Swayman couldn’t react to Nosek’s unintentional own goal.

Cirelli (8) and Victor Hedman (18) tallied the assists as the Lightning took a, 2-0, lead at 3:36 of the second period.

Late in the middle frame, Erik Haula snagged a rebound from the slot and made a backhand pass through his legs to Charlie Coyle (7) for the one-timer goal while crashing the net– cutting Tampa’s lead in half in the process.

Haula (4) and Smith (4) were credited with the assists on Coyle’s goal and the Bruins trailed, 2-1, at 16:30.

A couple of minutes later, Matt Grzelcyk was sent to the box for hooking at 18:25, but the Lightning weren’t able to convert on the ensuing power play that carried into the final frame of regulation.

Entering the second intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard, despite Boston controlling the advantage in shots on net, 28-13, including a, 16-7, advantage in the second period alone.

The Lightning dominated in blocked shots (13-6), as well as giveaways (10-4), while the Bruins led in takeaways (7-6), hits (24-20) and faceoff win% (63-37).

Tampa was 0/2 and Boston was 0/1 on the power play heading into the third period.

Curtis Lazar (1) tied the game, 2-2, at 4:44 of the third period on a backhand shot that he elevated over Vasilevskiy’s glove as the Bruins surged in momentum.

Brandon Carlo (2) and Grzelcyk (4) notched the assists on Lazar’s first goal of the season, but neither team was able to score thereafter– necessitating the use of an overtime period.

There were also no penalties called in the third period, meaning that Boston finished the night 0/1 on the power play, while Tampa went 0/2 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins completed 60 minutes of action leading in shots on goal, 38-21, including a, 10-8, advantage in the third period alone.

The B’s also led in takeaways (9-8), hits (33-31) and faceoff win% (59-41) after regulation, while the Lightning led in blocked shots (18-10) and giveaways (12-6).

Entering overtime, the Bruins had yet to win or lose a game this season in the extra frame, while the Lightning were 3-2 in overtime alone in 2021-22.

Bolts head coach, Jon Cooper, started Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Alex Killorn and Hedman, while Sacco countered with Coyle, Taylor Hall and Reilly.

The two teams traded chances at both ends before a dramatic shift led to a timely save by Swayman that promptly rebounded out through the slot to David Pastrnak for a clear exit from his own zone all the way into Boston’s attacking zone on a breakaway.

Only Sergachev trailed Pastrnak and the Lightning defender was gaining ground.

As Pastrnak barely got a shot attempt off and wide, Sergachev got enough to tie up the Bruins forward– after which, the Bolts blue liner sent a pass up-ice to Stamkos for a breakaway opportunity heading in the other direction.

Luckily for Boston, Reilly was the only skater within range to get back and defend.

Unfortunately for Boston, Stamkos approached Swayman on a 2-on-1 with Palat by his side.

Instead of lobbing a pass for a one-timer, Stamkos (12) wound up and fired an old-fashioned slap shot past Swayman’s short side to win the game, 3-2, at 1:31 of the overtime period.

Sergachev (11) had the only assist on the goal.

Tampa finished the night with the win on the scoreboard and a, 4-1, advantage in shots on goal in overtime alone, despite trailing Boston, 39-25, overall in total shots on net.

The Lightning exited TD Garden with the advantage in blocked shots (19-11) and giveaways (13-7), while the Bruins finished Saturday night’s action leading in hits (33-31) and faceoff win% (58-42).

The Bolts improved to 4-2 in overtime this season, while the B’s fell to 0-1.

Boston also fell to 4-4-1 (3-2-1 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal, 2-3-1 (2-1-1 at home) when trailing after the first period and 2-5-1 (2-2-1 at home) when trailing after two periods this season as a result of the overtime loss.

Tampa, meanwhile, improved to 9-1-3 (3-0-2 on the road) when scoring first, 9-1-2 (2-0-2 on the road) when leading after one and 8-1-3 (2-0-2 on the road) when leading after the second period in 2021-22.

The Bruins hit the road for a three-game road trip through Western Canada next week, starting on Wednesday (Dec. 8th) in Vancouver before playing the following night in Edmonton with a day off next Friday before visiting the Calgary Flames next Saturday.

Boston returns home to host the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 14th before another three-game road trip thereafter.

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NHL Nick's Net Numbers Game

Slightly late, but better than never 2021-22 standings forecast

Every year on DTFR you may recall seeing division standings forecasts for the National Hockey League from month-to-month and, well, I didn’t forget about it this year, don’t worry.

When the Vegas Golden Knights joined the league in 2017-18, the initial forecast entering October was infused with an educated guess (*ahem*, gut feeling) for each and every team– but especially Vegas since they had never played before– in addition to the usual arithmetic utilized to compile the average of three different forecasts ranging from the last 10, five and three seasons.

Entering the 2021-22 National Hockey League calendar, with the inaugural season of Seattle Kraken hockey set to begin, I shifted my focus on a “gut feeling” projection for the Kraken to that of the standings projections that I’ve done for at least the last few seasons now.

In other words, the forecast you’re about to see uses the forecast function in your spreadsheet of choice (Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets), whereas the standings projections in the link above is based on an expected points totals model using last season’s offense and a whole bunch of other things I won’t bore you with.

As such, Seattle received a projected points total based on the loosely projected offense using a composite of what the Kraken could have had, if every player on their roster entering training camp had scored goals last season for Seattle instead of their respective teams.

But for this edition of standings predictions– using the forecast function– since the Kraken never played a game entering October 2021, they were given an 8th place standing in the Pacific Division with an asterisk– signifying that their results are incomplete until they hit the ice.

Now, of course, entering November, the Kraken have played some games, so the forecast reflects that (albeit limited in the variance of possible outcomes, since they don’t have quite the same backlog as the 31 other NHL franchises).

If you’re confused, let’s move on and talk about how things looked entering October for each division and whether or not things have changed that much entering November– keeping in mind that all 32 teams played anywhere from as few as seven games to as many as 10 games in October.

And remember, my degree is in communication, not statistics.


Entering October, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, Tampa Bay Lightning were a safe bet to lead the Atlantic Division standings over the course of a return to the usual 82-game schedule.

The Boston Bruins, who made quite a few moves in the offseason, would do their usual thing under head coach, Bruce Cassidy, and display a strong effort, though how realistic is this expectation, you ask?

Probably not as spot on as you’d think.

Last season’s temporarily realigned divisions– featuring intra-divisional play only– helped teams like the Bruins beat teams like the Philadelphia Flyers almost every time they squared off.

This season, Boston will have to face a stronger than ever before– if not as good as they were in 1995-96– Florida Panthers roster, for example, which is more likely to be reflected in a later forecast after a couple of months are in the record books.

So that’s actually a perfect explanation for why the Toronto Maple Leafs and Panthers don’t look quite as dominant as they were last season in the forecast entering October.

The reduced schedule alone yielded similar point totals to regular-length seasons in the past, which downplays this year’s projected outcome, logically, right?

Keep that in mind for the Colorado Avalanche later, though there may be more to it than just the fact that the 2016-17 season is still accounted for in both the 10-year and five-year models, which drags down the average.

Anyway, the Montréal Canadiens aren’t a playoff team and the spread between the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres reveals each of those three teams is likely to be more competitive than in season’s past, but like Montréal likely on the outside looking in.

Entering November, the Bruins and Senators have played the fewest games in the division (seven games each), resulting in not that much change, while Florida gained seven points in the current forecast– moving themselves into a divisional playoff berth in the process.

Should the Panthers’ success be of concern to Leafs fans if Toronto isn’t in the top-3 in the Atlantic Division?

No.

The Lightning haven’t had as much spark as they usually do, which can be attributed to the price of winning back-to-back Cups in a span of, what, like, 10 months?

They’re tired, but not too tired, because Jon Cooper will ensure his team bounces back when the real season starts as the trade deadline approaches and the push for the playoffs begins.

Though the Sabres are quick out of the gate, reality should set in as the calendar flips to December and Buffalo will slip out of playoff contention and into being surprisingly somewhere in the middle.

That isn’t to say that Ottawa and Detroit have been that much worse than the Sabres to start the 2021-22 season, but, yeah, things are better than last season for Buffalo, at least.

If you’re going to put stock into anything, invest in the Panthers rising to 1st or 2nd place in the Atlantic by season’s end.

Taking a look at the Metropolitan Division entering the 2021-22 season, it seems like it’s more of the same for the last four or five seasons now.

Somehow the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins win the division, while the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes upset either team in the First Round. I don’t make the rules.

While there’s a lot of optimism for the Islanders to make a significant jump in the standings given their recent runs to the Eastern Conference Final, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re like the Lightning and take a little dip in just about everything.

It’s not a reset, but a refresh with high expectations for a big 2022-23 season to finally get over the hump and reach their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1984.

Maybe by then Tampa will have succumbed to the salary cap era, so they won’t be in New York’s way in the postseason.

As for the other New York team, well, the Rangers are sure to frustrate more than just their own fans as they’ll agitate their opponents, sure, but won’t play much of a spoiler in their quest for whatever it is James Dolan has told General Manager, Chris Drury, to do this offseason.

At the very least, the fact that the Metropolitan Division is a close spread reveals what we already know– that it’s truly anyone’s guess as to who will make the playoffs this year.

The last decade has conditioned us to expect Pittsburgh or Washington to be the top team, but the Philadelphia Flyers or New Jersey Devils could sneak in and disrupt things enough for the Hurricanes to run away with the Metropolitan title in the regular season.

Though the Columbus Blue Jackets are forecasted to have the same number of points as the Flyers in both October and November, it’s worth noting that Philadelphia is forecasted to amass 29 regulation wins to Columbus’ 23 regulation wins in the latest projection, so yeah, they’re a team.

The Blue Jackets could be within striking distance of a playoff spot or they could simply be better than the Rangers and Devils and that’s about it in their attempt to do something.

Is it a rebuild or are they just holding out for the right offseason moves? Time will tell, but the time may be ticking on prolonged irrelevance.

Anyway, Washington and Pittsburgh have cooled off as Carolina got out to the best start among all 32 teams, which, given the eight points between 1st and 3rd in the November forecast, could indicate that the Hurricanes will usurp the Capitals and Penguins for division control.

Meanwhile, the longer the Islanders go without setting a tone, the better chance the Flyers have at making the postseason.

In the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues are expected to return to form entering October from a pure forecast standpoint.

Is it realistic? Probably not, though St. Louis should be better than their 2021 First Round exit in four games at the hands of the Avalanche.

That said, Colorado may surprise you being so low in this forecast.

Again, remember that it’s an average of models based on the last decade, five seasons and three seasons, so the Avs rise to division dominance in recent years is better reflected on the contingency that they continue to play well.

Right now, they aren’t playing that well, but again the graphic above reads “entering October” not “entering November”, so perhaps I should’ve saved that tidbit for a minute.

Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild have all been consistent enough in recent years to earn better praise entering the 2021-22 calendar, but at least one of those teams is sure to reveal themselves as a pretender by about the quarter-mark of the season.

As for the Dallas Stars, Chicago and the Arizona Coyotes, well, if Dallas can stay healthy, they should improve. Chicago hasn’t done themselves any favors in terms of roster makeup and the Coyotes are intentionally steering the ship aground for a top lottery draft pick in 2022.

Not much has changed after one month of NHL action in the Central Division forecast, though it should be noted just how quickly Arizona’s fallen off (even though they were already expected to be a basement team given the immense roster turnover over the summer).

The Wild and Jets flipped positions courtesy of Minnesota gaining a point between October and November’s forecast, as well as the regulation win tiebreaker (entering November, the Wild are forecasted to have 36 regulation wins, while the Jets are forecasted to finish with 31).

The Blues have had a hot start and, as a result, remain atop the Central forecast while nearly every expert analyst’s Stanley Cup favorite not named the Lightning (Colorado) remains in 5th.

Weird times!

Entering the 2021-22 season, the Vegas Golden Knights made a big trade, but looked to be on the verge of contending for the Presidents’ Trophy in back-to-back seasons.

Though they lost the Presidents’ race to the Avalanche last season on a tiebreaker, the Golden Knights could benefit from an overall weaker division they’re in. And yet… (keep reading)

The Calgary Flames are surprisingly hot in the Pacific forecast entering October, but considering the three California teams, the uncertainty of Seattle and the volatile wishy-washiness of the Vancouver Canucks, it kind of makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is the Edmonton Oilers– with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on their roster– seated in 5th place in the Pacific Division.

Then again, to repeat myself, this forecast is an average based on the last 10, five and three seasons, so the Oilers have really only been a consistent playoff contender for the last five seasons or so, which means that they won’t rise in the forecasted standings quite as fast as you’d hope.

It pays to be consistently good over a longer period of time in this model.

Finally, after their first nine games in NHL history, the Kraken have entered the chat in the 2021-22 forecast entering November, but they’re forecasted for a league-worst 64 points.

Seattle isn’t bad, necessarily, they’re just figuring out the chemistry on the ice, in the room and giving Philipp Grubauer plenty of time to learn the system and get acquainted with being the No. 1 goaltender on a new team– both in the brand new expansion team sense and since leaving the Avalanche for the Kraken in free agency.

The Flames are continuing to turn heads by being within striking range of taking the forecasted division lead from Vegas– especially as the Golden Knights roll slowly out of the gate.

Meanwhile, Edmonton’s on course for significant gains in the next forecast entering December, while everything else looks to be about the same because, after all, it is the Pacific Division.

It’s not great!


If you’ve read every word of this, congrats. Give yourself a sticker or something.

Stay tuned for the next forecast in about a month. It should be a little quicker to update the stats, write a few words and hit “publish” than it took this time around.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning repeat as Stanley Cup champions in Game 5 shutout

Ross Colton’s goal was more than enough to seal the deal on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s third Stanley Cup championship in franchise history Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves in a, 1-0, shutout victory on home ice over the Montréal Canadiens as he became the first goaltender since legendary Canadiens goaltender, Ken Dryden, to play in every playoff game en route to winning back-to-back Stanley Cup rings.

It was also the 5th shutout (6th of his postseason career) for Vasilevskiy this postseason as the Lightning goaltender became the first in league history to win all four series clinching games in a shutout.

He’s also won his last five consecutive playoff series’ in shutout fashion as Tampa shutout the Dallas Stars, 2-0, in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final before going on their 2021 run by shutting out the Florida Panthers, 4-0, in Game 6 of Tampa’s 2021 First Round matchup, eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-0, in Game 5 in the 2021 Second Round and beating the New York Islanders and Canadiens, 1-0, in Game 7 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals and Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, respectively.

Colton was also the fourth rookie to score a Stanley Cup clinching goal since 1927, in Wednesday night’s effort.

The Bolts are back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, having won the Cup in 2020 and 2021, as the first repeat champions since the Pittsburgh Penguins did so in 2016 and 2017.

Tampa also did so in a span of about 10 months, since the ongoing global pandemic altered the National Hockey League’s postseason calendar for 2020, and shortened the 2020-21 league calendar to 56 games in the regular season, followed by a postseason that began in May and ended in the first week of July.

Last year, the Lightning raised the Cup as the designated road team at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta at a neutral site as the NHL played through the COVID-19 pandemic in a bubble in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This year, for the first time in 17 years, the Bolts raised the Cup in front of their home fans as 2004 Stanley Cup champion with Tampa, Dave Andreychuk, watched along in attendance to cap the 2020-21 Lightning’s run.

In 2004, NHL on ESPN and NHL on ABC coverage had come to an end with the conclusion of Tampa’s Game 7 victory over the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Final.

The 2004-05 season-long lockout that ultimately canceled all NHL action for the year meant that ESPN could punt their broadcasting rights to the 2005-06 season or opt out altogether.

They chose the latter.

That’s when NBC stepped in and the NHL had games on Outdoor Life Network, then Versus, NBC Sports Network (which shortly rebranded as NBCSN), as well as on NBC.

In 2021, NHL on NBC signed off for the final time as the league shifts its focus back to ESPN/Disney and Turner Sports for the next seven seasons in the United States starting with the 2021-22 season (the 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft and first round of the 2021 NHL Draft will be on ESPN2 this month, if you’re wondering).

Back at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night, Vasilevskiy (16-7, 1.90 goals-against average, .937 save percentage in 23 games played) made 22 saves on 22 shots against en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs’ Most Valuable Player.

Montréal goaltender, Carey Price (13-9, 2.28 goals-against average, .924 save percentage in 22 games) stopped 29 out of 30 shots faced in the loss.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, improved to 9-0 all time in a series when leading 2-0, while the Bolts became the first team to raise the Cup on home ice since Chicago did so in 2015.

Pat Maroon, meanwhile, also became the first player (and fourth overall) since Ed Litzenberger to win three consecutive Cups with two different teams as Litzenberger won with Chicago in 1961, as well as Toronto from 1962-64.

Neither Habs head coach, Dominique Ducharme, nor Cooper, made a change to their lineups for Game 5 on Wednesday.

Alex Killorn remained out of the lineup for the Lightning for fourth game in-a-row after blocking a shot in Game 1. He told reporters after the game that he suffered a broken left fibula in Game 1 and wanted to suit up again if he could play.

Corey Perry kicked things off in Game 5 with a hooking infraction as Perry impeded Mathieu Joseph’s play and presented the Lightning with the game’s first power play at 3:21 of the first period.

Tampa couldn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage, however.

Moments later, the Canadiens got their first chance on the power play as Jan Rutta cross checked Artturi Lehkonen at 7:19.

Montréal’s time on the advantage was unchanged as Erik Cernak earned an interference minor and Perry was assessed an embellishment infraction almost a minute after Rutta cut a rut to the penalty box at 8:15.

About 30 seconds after Cernak and Perry went to the sin bin, though, Josh Anderson hooked Blake Coleman and joined his teammates in Montréal’s box at 8:43 of the opening frame.

The two teams skated at 4-on-4 for 37 seconds before Tampa had an abbreviated power play thereafter.

Just past the midpoint of the first period, the Bolts were outshooting the Habs, 11-2, with 9:53 remaining in the opening period– reminiscent of how the Lightning outshot the Canadiens, 11-1, through the first half of the first period in Game 4.

Entering the first intermission, the score was still tied, 0-0, despite Tampa outshooting Montréal, 13-4.

The Bolts also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-0), takeaways (2-1) and hits (25-16), while the Habs led in faceoff win percentage (52-48) after one period.

Both teams had three giveaways each while the Canadiens were 0/1 and the Lightning were 0/2 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

David Savard sent an errant puck over the glass and out of play and received an automatic minor 21 seconds into the second period, but the Habs couldn’t score on the resulting power play.

Almost midway through the second frame, Mikhail Sergachev tripped up Nick Suzuki and presented the Canadiens with another power play that went by the wayside at 8:32.

Moments later in Tampa’s attacking zone, Ryan McDonagh made a lateral pass along the blue line to Savard, who promptly crashed the slot and slid a shot pass towards the crease for Colton (4) to redirect into the twine.

Savard (5) and McDonagh (8) had the assists on Colton’s goal as the Lightning took a, 1-0, lead at 13:27 of the second period.

Keeping in the trend with the rest of the series– the team that scored first in each game won the game.

Late in the period, Ben Chiarot yanked Brayden Point down on a breakaway, yielding a power play to the Bolts as a result as Chiarot was assessed with a holding infraction at 19:22.

Though the ensuing skater advantage spanned the end of the second period and the start of the final frame of regulation, the Bolts couldn’t find a way to solve Montréal’s penalty kill.

After 40 minutes of action at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night, the Lightning lead the Canadiens, 1-0, on the scoreboard and were outshooting the Habs, 19-14, despite Montréal holding a, 10-6, advantage in shots on goal in the second period alone.

Tampa held the lead in blocked shots (4-3), takeaways (7-3), giveaways (10-3) and hits (44-35), while the Canadiens led in faceoff win% (54-46).

Both teams were 0/3 on the power play heading into the final period.

Early in the third period, Nikita Kucherov had a great chance to score, but Price stood tall and shut him down while losing his stick and making desperation saves.

Montréal responded with a breakaway as Anderson burst into the zone with tremendous speed, was denied by Vasilevskiy and ultimately crashed back-first into the post and briefly went down the tunnel before returning for the rest of the game.

With 1:51 remaining in the third period, Ducharme pulled Price for an extra attacker, but after a stoppage resulted in neutral zone faceoff, the Habs sent Price back into the crease for a few seconds to ensure a little security between the pipes if they lost the draw.

Montréal won the ensuing faceoff as Price once again sprinted for the bench with 1:36 remaining, but Tampa’s defense was too much for the Canadiens– though the Lightning’s offense couldn’t put an exclamation point on the game with an empty net goal.

The Habs used their timeout with 1:24 remaining as assistant coach, Alex Burrows, tried to rally his players for one last push.

At the final horn, Vasilevskiy and the Bolts earned a, 1-0, shutout in Game 5 and clinched their second-straight Stanley Cup ring in as many years.

Wednesday night marked the third time that Tampa won the Cup in franchise history.

The Bolts also improved to 17-3 all time when scoring first in series-clinching games.

Tampa finished Game 5 leading in shots on goal, 30-22, including an, 11-8, advantage in the third period alone.

The Lightning dominated in just about everything else at the end of the night, leading in giveaways (11-6), hits (56-48) and faceoff win% (52-48), while both teams had nine blocked shots each.

Montréal exited the building 0/3 on the power play, but then again, Tampa also struggled on the skater advantage in the action– going 0/3 on Wednesday night as well.

Tampa finished the 2021 postseason 16-7 overall, while the Habs went 13-9.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Habs hold off elimination in overtime victory at home

For the first time since 1993, the Montréal Canadiens won a game in the Stanley Cup Final as Josh Anderson scored the game-winning goal almost four minutes into overtime to lift the Habs over the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2, on Monday night at Bell Centre.

As a result of the loss, the Lightning hold onto a 3-1 series lead with their next chance to clinch back-to-back Cups on Wednesday night in front of their home fans at Amalie Arena in Game 5.

Carey Price (13-8, 2.34 goals-against average, .922 save percentage in 21 games played) stopped 32 out of 34 shots faced in the win for Montréal.

Tampa goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (15-7, 1.99 goals-against average, .935 save percentage in 22 games played), made 18 saves on 21 shots against in the loss.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, replaced Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson in his lineup with Jake Evans, Alex Romanov and Brett Kulak.

Ducharme put Romanov on the left side of Kulak on the third defensive pairing and switched up his top-nine forwards– promoting Tyler Toffoli to the left side of the first line with Phillip Danault at center and Brendan Gallagher on right wing, while Anderson was promoted to the second line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield remaining in place.

Meanwhile, Evans took over at center on the third line with Paul Byron on his left wing and Artturi Lehkonen on his right side.

Alex Killorn entered Monday night as a “game-time decision” according to Tampa’s head coach, Jon Cooper, and took part in warmup for the Lightning– but did not take part in any line rushes, so Cooper made no changes to his lineup from Game 3.

Attendance at Bell Centre was once again limited by the Québec provincial government and local health administrations and officially read as 3,500 fans for Game 4 as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues around the globe.

Past the midpoint of the opening frame, Tampa led Montréal in shots on goal, 10-1.

Unfortunately for the Lightning’s potent offense and shutdown defense, the Canadiens’ second shot on net was a goal.

The Bolts botched an effort to move the puck out of their own zone, while the Habs sustained pressure leading to a give-and-go for Suzuki and Caufield, whereby Suzuki then rid himself of the puck on a pass to Anderson (4) through the low slot from the trapezoid for a one-timer goal and the, 1-0, lead.

Suzuki (9) and Caufield (7) tallied the assists on Anderson’s goal as the Canadiens struck first at 15:39 of the first period and their first at any point in the series– ending a span of 255:39 without trailing for the Lightning since Game 7 against the New York Islanders in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals round.

Less than a minute later, Evans and Brayden Point were off to the penalty box together as Evans was assessed an interference infraction and Point was given two-minutes for roughing at 16:33 of the first period.

The two clubs almost got through a pair of minutes at 4-on-4 without any issue before Joel Edmundson caught Blake Coleman with a slash at 17:59, yielding a 4-on-3 advantage for Tampa for 34 seconds before the remainder of an abbreviated 5-on-4 advantage for the Lightning would commence.

While on the ensuing power play, Point rang the post as the Bolts tried to even things up, but failed to convert on the advantage.

At the horn, both benches converged at center ice as the players were about to go back to the dressing rooms for the first intermission, but first exchanged some pleasantries.

Pat Maroon and Edmundson both received unsportsmanlike minors at 20:00 of the first period, which resulted in 4-on-4 action to start the middle frame.

After one period, Montréal led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite Tampa holding a, 12-5, advantage in shots on goal.

The Habs led in blocked shots (5-3) and giveaways (7-2), while the Bolts held the advantage in takeaways (3-1), hits (15-13) and faceoff win percentage (79-21).

Tampa had the only skater advantage in the opening frame and went 0/1, while Montréal had yet to see time on the power play.

The Canadiens got their first chance on the skater advantage at 5:50 of the second period as Point caught Lehkonen with a high stick and cut a rut to the sin bin as a result.

The Habs failed to convert on the power play.

Moments later, Corey Perry cut a rut to the box for hooking Tyler Johnson at 9:43, but once again the Lightning couldn’t muster anything on the advantage.

Nor could the Bolts get anything going when Joel Armia tripped up Mathieu Joseph at 14:28 and presented Tampa with another power play as a result– despite Victor Hedman ringing the iron on a heavy shot.

Late in the period, Jeff Petry failed to clear the zone on a pass that was broken up by Ryan McDonagh.

The puck deflected off of McDonagh’s stick and sailed through the air to Coleman who worked it to McDonagh in the slot on a short pass as the Tampa defender pinched and dropped the rubber biscuit back to Barclay Goodrow (2) for the one-timer past Price while the Canadiens goaltender was out of position.

McDonagh (7) and Coleman (8) notched the assists as the Lightning tied it, 1-1, at 17:20 of the second period.

Entering the second intermission, the Bolts and Habs were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard despite Tampa leading in shots on net, 20-14, through 40 minutes of action.

Montréal, however, held the advantage in shots in the second period alone, 9-8, and led in giveaways (14-7), while the Lightning led in hits (30-28) after two periods.

Both teams had six blocked shots each, three takeaways each and split faceoff win%, 50-50, entering the final frame of regulation.

Tampa was 0/3 and Montréal was 0/1 on the power play heading into the third frame.

Almost midway into the final frame of regulation, Petry, Ben Chiarot, Anderson, Goodrow, Coleman and Yanni Gourde all received matching roughing minors for a scrum after the whistle at 7:42 of the third period.

The six skaters wouldn’t come out of the box for over six minutes as there weren’t many stoppages before their penalties expired.

About a minute after the six skaters went into the box, Romanov (1) wired a shot through traffic into the twine over Vasilevskiy’s blocker and just under the bar as Lehkonen skated by the Tampa netminder acting as a screen.

Evans (1) had the only assist on Romanov’s goal and the Habs took a, 2-1, lead at 8:48 of the third period, while Romanov became the youngest (21 years, 180 days) Canadiens defender in franchise history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Final.

About five minutes later, Joseph led Maroon on a rush the other way from their own blue line into the attacking zone whereby Joseph setup Maroon (2) for a shot pass redirection goal to tie the game, 2-2, at 13:47.

Joseph (2) and Johnson (3) had the assists on Maroon’s goal.

Moments later, Nikita Kucherov hit the post– the third time of the night that Tampa registered a shot attempt off the iron– as the Bolts almost took the lead for the first time of the night.

Late in the period, off an attacking zone faceoff, Shea Weber caught Ondrej Palat with a stick to the face and drew some blood, yielding a four-minute double minor penalty at 18:59 of the third period.

Tampa’s advantage would spill over into the overtime period, but like the rest of the night, the Lightning couldn’t score on the skater advantage.

After regulation the Bolts and Habs were knotted up, 2-2, on the scoreboard despite Tampa holding the advantage in shots on goal, 30-19, including a, 10-5, advantage in the third period alone.

Montréal held the lead in blocked shots (17-15), takeaways (7-4), giveaways (19-13) and faceoff win% (55-46), while Tampa led in hits (36-34).

As there were no penalties called in overtime, the Lightning finished the night 0/5 on the power play, while the Canadiens went 0/1.

Tampa nearly allowed a shorthanded goal when Hedman blew a tire along the blue line and failed to keep the puck in the attacking zone while Danault and Suzuki were off to the races and generated a one-timer on Vasilevskiy that the Lightning goaltender turned aside.

As the Habs surged in momentum and the Bolts got off to a slow start in the extra frame, Cooper used his timeout after a stoppage with 17:33 remaining in overtime.

Shortly thereafter, Anderson beat Jan Rutta and led a rush the other way with Caufield before the two kept hacking away at the loose puck on a rebound until Anderson (5) slipped it past Vasilevskiy on the short side.

Caufield (8) had the only assist on the goal at 3:57.

Montréal took Game 5, 3-2, in overtime and cut Tampa’s series lead to 3-1 as a result.

Despite losing, the Lightning finished the night with more shots on goal– leading the Canadiens, 34-21, in that department, including a, 4-2, advantage in overtime alone.

The Habs finished Monday night’s effort leading in blocked shots (19-16), giveaways (20-13) and faceoff win% (52-48), while Tampa exited the building leading in hits (36-35).

The Bolts are 1-3 in their first attempts to close out a playoff series this postseason– only beating the Carolina Hurricanes on their first try in Game 5 of their Second Round matchup.

Tampa also had two losses in overtime in games when they had a chance to finish the series, including Game 6 on Long Island against the New York Islanders.

The Lightning are now 0-4 in overtime this postseason, while Montréal improved to 6-1 past regulation in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs– winning their first game in a Stanley Cup Final when facing elimination for the 12th time in franchise history and first since Game 7 against Chicago in the 1971 Stanley Cup Final.

Road teams are now 50-41-3 in a Stanley Cup Final game that required overtime after Monday night’s win for the home team Canadiens.

The most recent team to trail in the Final 3-0 to force a Game 5 was in 2014, when the New York Rangers forced the Los Angeles Kings to a Game 5 at Staples Center that the Kings ended up winning and taking home their second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.

On Wednesday, the Lightning attempt to repeat Los Angeles’ success in a Game 5 on home ice as they’ll host Montréal at Amalie Arena.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning one win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions

The Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from sweeping the Montréal Canadiens– and winning their third Stanley Cup championship in franchise history in the process– after defeating the Canadiens, 6-3, at Bell Centre on Friday night in Game 3.

Friday night marked the first Stanley Cup Final game in Montréal since the Habs won it all in Game 5 of their series against the Los Angeles Kings on June 9, 1993.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (15-6, 1.94 goals-against average, .938 save percentage in 21 games played) made 32 saves on 35 shots against in the win for the Lightning.

Meanwhile, Canadiens goaltender, Carey Price (12-8, 2.36 goals-against average, .921 save percentage in 20 games played) stopped 24 out of 29 shots faced in the loss.

Jon Cooper made no changes to his lineup for the Lightning while Alex Killorn remained out of commission due to an undisclosed injury that he sustained while blocking a shot in Game 1.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, was back behind the bench for the Habs after testing positive for COVID-19 in the last playoff round against the Vegas Golden Knights and self-isolating.

Ducharme made no adjustments to his lineup, while Luke Richardson returned to his usual role as an assistant coach for Montréal after serving as their temporary leader for the last six games.

The Québec provincial government made 3,500 seats available for Bell Centre’s seating capacity for Game 3, though it looked like more fans found a way in somehow on the television broadcast.

Jan Rutta (2) kicked things off with a shot from the point that floated over Price’s shoulder on the blocker side into the twine– giving Tampa a, 1-0, lead at 1:52 of the first period in the process and becoming the first player in NHL history to score a goal (regular season or playoffs) in the month of July.

Ondrej Palat (7) and Victor Hedman (16) tallied the assists on Rutta’s goal.

About a minute later, Eric Staal sent the puck over the glass and out of play for an automatic delay of game infraction at 2:54, yielding the night’s first power play to the Lightning in the process.

It didn’t take the Bolts that long on the skater advantage to convert with a power-play goal from Hedman (2) as the Lightning worked the puck around the attacking zone and back to the defender wearing No. 77.

He sent a slap shot off of Price, under the glove and into the back of the net to give Tampa a, 2-0, lead at 3:27 of the first period, while Nikita Kucherov (24) and Anthony Cirelli (7) picked up the assists.

Hedman became the first player in league history to record at least one goal in all 12 calendar months, while Montréal used their timeout to gather their composure.

Moments later, Blake Coleman went down awkwardly after missing Joel Edmundson on a hit attempt in open ice, but got up under his own power after a whistle and continued to play unscathed for the rest of the night.

Shortly thereafter, Cole Caufield sniped a shot off of the left post behind Vasilevskiy– beating the Lightning goaltender on the lower right pad– but the puck came back out of the crease and away from the attacking zone.

Midway through the first period, Phillip Danault (1) held the puck as he entered the zone and sent a shot off of Vasilevskiy that bounced off the left post and right post before finding its way into the net.

Shea Weber (5) had the only assist on Danault’s goal at 11:16 as the Canadiens cut Tampa’s lead in half, 2-1.

Late in the period, Mikhail Sergachev caught Artturi Lehkonen away from the puck just far enough from being considered a net front presence to yield an interference infraction at 17:29.

The Habs were not able to muster anything on the ensuing power play– their first skater advantage of the night.

Through 20 minutes of action, the Lightning led, 2-1, on the scoreboard, despite the Canadiens holding a, 17-12, advantage in shots on goal.

Montréal also led in blocked shots (5-4), while Tampa led in giveaways (5-4), hits (21-19) and faceoff win percentage (52-48) entering the first intermission.

Neither team had recorded a takeaway through one period of play, while the Bolts were 1/1 and the Habs were 0/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Just like how they got off to a quick start in the first period, the Lightning got off to a fast start in the second period as the Bolts caught the Habs on a poor line change with the long change playing into the end result.

The Canadiens failed to get the puck deep while trying to change things up, which led to a 2-on-0 heading back the other way for Tampa as Palat setup Kucherov (8) for the backhand redirection goal to make it, 3-1, Lightning at 1:40 of the second period.

Palat (8) and Erik Cernak (9) tallied the assists on Kucherov’s goal.

Almost two minutes later, Mathieu Joseph generated a rebound off Price that bounced off of Joseph’s skate right to his teammate in Tyler Johnson as Johnson crashed the net.

Johnson (3) got a backhand shot on the puck and fluttered the rubber biscuit past Price while the Habs goaltender reacted in desperation.

Joseph (1) and David Savard (4) notched the assists on Johnson’s goal as the Lightning extended their lead to, 4-1, at 3:33 of the second period.

Moments later, Cernak sent a shot off the post in the same end that Caufield rang the iron in the opening frame.

Late in the period, Nick Suzuki (7) went end-to-end with speed and sent a shot under Vasilevskiy’s right leg pad from just inside the faceoff dot on a soft goal to cut Tampa’s lead to two-goals.

Jeff Petry (6) and Caufield (6) had the helpers on Suzuki’s goal as the Canadiens trailed the Lightning, 4-2, on the scoreboard at 18:04 of the second period.

Tampa entered the second intermission leading, 4-2, despite trailing in shots on goal to the Habs, 25-21. The Bolts held the advantage in shots on net in the second period alone, however, as they outshot Montréal, 9-8, in the middle frame.

The Canadiens led in giveaways (15-9), while Tampa dominated in everything else– leading in blocked shots (11-8), takeaways (1-0), hits (36-33) and faceoff win% (54-46) after 40 minutes of action on Friday.

As there were no penalties called in the second period, the Habs remained 0/1 on the power play, while the Bolts were 1/1 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame of regulation.

There were no penalties called in the final frame and the action picked up late in the period as Johnson (4) scored on another rebound while crashing the net– shoveling the puck into the twine on Price’s blocker side to make it, 5-2, for the Lightning at 15:19 of the third period.

Johnson’s second goal of the game was unassisted.

With 4:12 remaining in the game, Ducharme pulled Price for an extra attacker and the Habs went to work on cutting into Tampa’s lead.

Corey Perry (4) patiently carried the puck from the corner in the attacking zone to between the goal line and inside the faceoff dot, where he wired a shot over Vasilevskiy’s shoulder on the short side under the bar to bring the Canadiens to within two goals.

Brendan Gallagher (4) and Ben Chiarot (1) had the assists on Perry’s 45th career postseason goal as the Lightning led, 5-3, at 15:58 of the third period.

Once more, Price vacated the net for an extra attacker, but this time Tampa took full advantage of the open frame in the crease as Barclay Goodrow forced Caufield to turn the puck over off of Petry’s skate whereby Coleman (3) scooped up the loose puck and buried it for an empty net goal.

Goodrow (4) had the only assist on Coleman’s goal as the Bolts pulled ahead, 6-3, and sealed the deal on their Game 3 victory at 16:48 of the third period.

At the final horn, the Lightning had taken a 3-0 series lead with a, 6-3, victory despite trailing in shots on goal, 35-30, including a, 10-9, advantage in the third period alone for the Canadiens.

Montréal wrapped up Friday night’s action leading in giveaways (26-15), while Tampa held the advantage in blocked shots (13-11), hits (46-38) and faceoff win% (51-49).

Each team had one opportunity on the power play on Friday with the Lightning going 1/1 and the Canadiens finishing 0/1 on the skater advantage.

The Bolts became the fourth team in the Expansion Era (since 1967-68) to win the first three games in a Stanley Cup Final without trailing, joining the 2012 Los Angeles Kings and the 1977, as well as 1969 Canadiens in doing so.

Los Angeles went on to eliminate the New Jersey Devils in six games in 2012, to capture their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, while Montréal swept the Boston Bruins in the 1977 Stanley Cup Final and the St. Louis Blues in 1969.

Tampa can become the first team to sweep their opponent in the Final since the Detroit Red Wings swept the Washington Capitals in 1998.

The Lightning can win their third Stanley Cup ring in Game 4 on Monday night at Bell Centre in Montréal as the Canadiens look to avoid being eliminated on home ice.

Puck drop is expected to be a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC for the action, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS for coverage.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning yield commanding 2-0 series lead in, 3-1, victory

Though they were outshot, 43-23, on the night, Blake Coleman’s eventual game-winning goal with only seconds to spare in the second period and Ondrej Palat’s insurance marker thereafter in the third period were enough to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a, 3-1, win over the Montréal Canadiens on Wednesday.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (14-6, 1.89 goals-against average, .939 save percentage in 20 games played) made 42 saves on 43 shots against in the Game 2 victory for the Lightning as the Bolts took a 2-0 series lead in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final in front of their home fans at Amalie Arena.

Canadiens goaltender, Carey Price (12-7, 2.23 goals-against average, .926 save percentage in 19 games played), stopped 20 out of 23 shots faced in the loss.

Joel Armia returned to the lineup for Montréal on the Canadiens’ fourth line alongside Eric Staal and Corey Perry after missing Game 1. Armia was cleared from COVID protocol on Monday and flew in a private jet to Tampa and was not quite ready to go ahead of the, 5-1, loss in Game 1.

That was the only change to the lineup for Luke Richardson as Richardson remained at the reigns of the Habs on Wednesday.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, is expected to return behind the bench on Friday in time for Game 3 at Bell Centre in Montréal, where Ducharme has been isolating since testing positive for COVID-19 last month.

At the other end of the rink, Alex Killorn missed Game 2 after blocking a shot in Game 1 and playing in limited ice time thereafter. Tyler Johnson was promoted to Tampa’s second line, while Jon Cooper inserted Mathieu Joseph on the Lightning’s fourth line as a result.

The Bolts hosted 18,600 fans in attendance on Wednesday, which was up from Monday night’s capacity limit of 16,300.

The Québec provincial government informed the Canadiens on Wednesday night that Bell Centre would be limited to 3,500 fans for Game 3 on Friday– despite the large crowd that is sure to gather outside the arena anyway during the game.

Habs defender, Jeff Petry, tripped Brayden Point and presented the Lightning with the night’s first power play at 5:29 of the first period.

Tampa wasn’t able to convert on the skater advantage, however.

The Bolts had another unsuccessful power play moments later when Paul Byron cut a rut to the penalty box for catching Steven Stamkos with a slash at 9:57.

Once more, however, Tampa couldn’t score on the advantage.

Byron later returned to the sin bin for slashing once more at 17:27 of the first period, only this time he took Lightning defender, Erik Cernak, with him as Cernak was assessed a retaliatory cross checking infraction.

Meanwhile, Ryan McDonagh had caught Phillip Danault with a high stick and drew blood, yielding a four-minute double minor penalty at the same time.

As a result, Montréal went on a 4-on-3 power play for a pair of minutes before the Canadiens had a run-of-the-mill 5-on-4 skater advantage for the remainder of McDonagh’s minor (which would spill into the middle frame).

Neither team found the back of the net prior to the first horn of the night to signal the start of the first intermission.

The score remained, 0-0, despite the Canadiens leading in shots on goal, 13-6.

The Habs led in blocked shots (8-1), hits (14-11) and faceoff win percentage (53-47), while the Bolts held the advantage in takeaways (5-1) and giveaways (3-1).

Both teams went 0/2 on the power play through one period on Wednesday.

Tampa was the first to get on the scoreboard as Johnson worked the puck back to Anthony Cirelli at the point whereby Cirelli (5) sent a floating shot from almost downtown through traffic off of Price’s blocker and under the Canadiens’ goaltender’s arm into the twine.

Johnson (2) and Jan Rutta (1) tallied the assists on Cirelli’s goal as the Lightning pulled ahead, 1-0, at 6:40 of the second period.

Cirelli’s goal was just the second shot on net for the Bolts in a span of almost 16 minutes.

Moments later, Mikhail Sergachev was penalized for interference at 10:03 and presented the Canadiens with another power play.

This time, Montréal made quick work of the skater advantage– in part, due to a couple lucky bounces.

Nick Suzuki (6) flipped a backhand shot towards the net as the puck bounced off the ice, caught McDonagh’s stick, changed direction and slipped through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole as Perry acted as a screen in front of the Tampa netminder.

Suzuki’s power-play goal was unassisted and tied the game, 1-1, at 10:36 of the second period.

Late in the period, Armia caught Coleman with a high stick at 16:38 and presented the Lightning with another power play.

Though Tampa wouldn’t score on the skater advantage, they would catch the Canadiens in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as the Habs turned the puck over in the neutral zone.

Barclay Goodrow chipped the rubber biscuit to himself around Ben Chiarot and entered the attacking zone on a rush with Coleman.

Goodrow then sent a backhand pass to Coleman (2) for the one-timed swing while diving to reach the puck– connecting on the mid-air rubber and scoring in the process to give the Lightning a, 2-1, lead at 19:58 of the second period.

It was the first goal for Coleman in 19 games as Goodrow (3) and McDonagh (6) picked up the assists and the Bolts entered the second intermission with the lead on the scoreboard.

Through 40 minutes, Tampa led, 2-1, despite trailing in shots on goal, 29-13. Montréal held a, 16-7, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

The Habs also led in blocked shots (9-6) and faceoff win% (54-46), while the Lightning led in takeaways (9-4), giveaways (4-1) and hits (28-24).

The Canadiens were 1/3 on the power play and the Bolts were 0/3 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame.

Joel Edmundson sent a reverse pass off the boards behind his own net intended for Petry, but Palat (5) intercepted the puck and banked it off of Price into the back of the net as the Canadiens defenders miscommunication proved costly at 15:42 of the third period.

Palat’s unassisted goal gave the Lightning a, 3-1, lead and secured the victory as such.

Moments later, Montréal pulled Price for an extra skater with about two minutes remaining in the game and used their timeout after a stoppage with 46.7 seconds to go, but it was to no avail.

At the final horn, Tampa had won, 3-1, and taken a 2-0 series lead as a result.

The two teams exchanged further pleasantries, yielding a cross checking minor and a misconduct for Cirelli at 20:00 of the third period, as well as a roughing minor and a misconduct for Perry at the same time.

Montréal finished the night leading in shots on goal, 43-23, including a, 14-10, advantage in the third period alone.

The Habs exited the building leading in faceoff win% (53-47), while the Bolts wrapped up Wednesday night leading in blocked shots (14-10), giveaways (6-2) and hits (40-36).

Despite each team receiving a couple infractions to finish off the night, the Canadiens finished 1/3 and the Lightning went 0/3 on the power play in Game 2.

For the first time in four Stanley Cup Final appearances, Tampa had a 2-0 series lead and didn’t split the series 1-1 through Games 1 and 2.

Another interesting stat from the night relates to the fact that the Habs fell to 10-4 this postseason when not giving up a goal in the first period. They dominated in shots on goal and have been the best at comebacks this postseason and yet…

Just not enough on Wednesday, apparently.

The series shifts to Bell Centre in Montréal on Friday night where the Lightning look to go up 3-0 in the series, while the Canadiens look to win Game 3 and cut Tampa’s series lead to 2-1.

Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBC, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning rout Canadiens in Game 1 victory at home

Nikita Kucherov scored a pair of goals as the Tampa Bay Lightning cruised to a, 5-1, victory over the Montréal Canadiens Monday night at Amalie Arena in Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (13-6, 1.94 goals-against average, .936 save percentage in 19 games) made 18 saves on 19 shots against in the win as the Lightning jumped out to a 1-0 series lead in the Final.

Habs netminder, Carey Price (12-6, 2.18 goals-against average, .928 save percentage in 18 games played), stopped 22 out of 27 shots faced in the loss.

Jake Evans returned to the lineup for the Canadiens for the first time since sustaining a concussion on a charge from Mark Scheifele in Game 1 of Montréal’s Second Round series against the Winnipeg Jets.

Evans missed the last nine games for the Habs.

Meanwhile, Joel Armia was cleared from COVID protocol on Monday, flew in a private jet to Tampa and participated in warmup, but was not ready to go as a game-time decision.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, will return to his regular role behind the bench in Montréal for Game 3, since testing positive for COVID-19 on June 18th and self-isolating.

In accordance with Canadian regulations, Ducharme will did not travel to the United States for Games 1 and 2 in Tampa, so he won’t have to quarantine for another 14 days when the series shifts to Montréal for Games 3 and 4.

Luke Richardson remains in command for the Habs until Bell Centre hosts its first Stanley Cup Final game.

16,300 fans filled Amalie Arena on Monday night as Tampa continues to loosen indoor COVID-19 restrictions in attendance in accordance with the NHL’s protocols. It was the largest crowd for a Lightning game since last season.

Bolts head coach, Jon Cooper, rolled out Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Kucherov on his first line, while completing his top-six forward group with Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos on the second line.

Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman comprised Tampa’s third line, while Pat Maroon, Tyler Johnson and Ross Colton carried the fourth line.

On defense, Cooper paired Victor Hedman with Jan Rutta as he’s done all postseason, while Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak served as his second pairing and Mikhail Sergachev was partnered with David Savard on the third defensive pair.

Richardson countered with Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher on his first line, while Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield rounded out Montréal’s top-six forward group.

Paul Byron, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Josh Anderson skated together on the third line, while Evans, Eric Staal and Corey Perry slotted in on the fourth line.

On defense, Ben Chiarot suited up alongside Shea Weber, Joel Edmundson was paired with Jeff Petry and Erik Gustafsson skated with Jon Merrill on the third defensive pair for the Habs.

Cernak (1) opened the series’ scoring with a shot pass redirection goal over Price’s glove to give the Lightning a, 1-0, lead at 6:19 of the first period.

Palat (6) and Point (7) tallied the assists on Cernak’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal in his 46th career postseason game.

Late in the period, Goodrow cross checked Gallagher and presented the Canadiens with the first power play of the series at 15:21 of the first period.

Montréal didn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage, however, as the Lightning remained in command on the scoreboard.

Tampa got a power play at 19:14 after Chiarot roughed up Kucherov, but the Bolts couldn’t muster anything on the power play despite the split ends of the advantage over the remaining time in the first period and a little more than the opening minute of the middle frame.

After one period, the Lightning led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 7-5.

Tampa also held the advantage in takeaways (3-2), while Montréal led in giveaways (3-1), hits (26-19) and faceoff win percentage (56-44).

Both teams managed to have three blocked shots each and were 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission.

Chiarot sent a shot attempt at the goal frame that deflected off of something and caught the iron to the right of Vasilevskiy’s leg pad, but the Bolts remained in command uninterrupted.

Moments later, Gallagher turned the puck over in Montréal’s attacking zone, leading to a rush for the Lightning heading back the other way, whereby Goodrow sent a shot that was blocked before Coleman pounced on the loose puck and threw a shot towards the net.

Coleman’s shot went through Merrill and caught a piece of Gourde (6) as he stood in front of the crease acting as a screen before the rubber biscuit had eyes and made its way through Price’s five-hole to give Tampa a, 2-0, lead.

Coleman (7) and Goodrow (2) notched the assists on the goal as the Bolts took a two-goal lead at 5:47 of the second period.

Late in the middle frame, Chiarot played a little pinball after Tampa turned it over and the Habs worked the puck around the attacking zone.

Chiarot (1) unloaded on a slap shot that deflected off of Cirelli, then McDonagh and slipped behind Vasilevskiy to cut Tampa’s lead in half, 2-1, on the scoreboard at 17:40.

Kotkaniemi (3) and Weber (4) were credited with the helpers on Chiarot’s first goal of the 2021 postseason for the Canadiens.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Lightning led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 19-14, in shots on goal, including a, 12-9, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

Tampa also held the advantage in blocked shots (8-5), takeaways (7-2), giveaways (7-3) and faceoff win% (51-49), while Montréal led in hits (44-41).

As there were no penalties called in the second period, both teams remained 0/1 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Kucherov (6) threw the puck into the slot early in the final frame and Chiarot smacked it out of the air with his glove, but somehow the puck managed to float over Price’s glove and under the bar to give the Lightning a, 3-1, lead at 2:00 of the third period.

Sergachev (3) had the only assist on Kucherov’s first goal of the night.

Minutes later, Staal and Cernak exchanged pleasantries after a stoppage and received roughing minors at 6:30, resulting in a pair of minutes of 4-on-4 action.

Midway through the third period, Kucherov (7) received a pass from Point on an attacking zone faceoff win and sent a laser of a shot past Price high on the glove side to extend Tampa’s lead to three-goals.

Point (8) had the only assist on Kucherov’s second goal of the game as the Bolts made it, 4-1, at 11:25 of the third period.

About a couple minutes later, Coleman took off Gallagher’s helmet after Price froze the puck in Montréal’s own zone and slammed Gallagher into the ice face first, resulting in a bit of a bloody gash on Gallagher’s forehead and yielding a power play to the Canadiens as a result.

Coleman cut a rut to the box for roughing at 13:42, but the Habs weren’t able to score on the ensuing skater advantage.

Shortly after killing off Coleman’s minor infraction, the Bolts went on the power play as Kotkaniemi retaliated with a high stick on Cernak at 15:51.

Edmundson joined Kotkaniemi in the box late in the resulting power play for roughing Gourde at 17:20, yielding a 5-on-3 advantage to the Lightning as a result, whereby Cooper sent out five forwards to make the Habs pay on the scoreboard.

About 90 seconds later, Tampa struck on the power play when Stamkos (8) blasted a one-timer from his usual spot in the faceoff dot to beat Price on the short side.

Kucherov (23) and Point (9) tallied the assists on Stamkos’ power-play goal and the Lightning extended their lead, 5-1, at 18:50 of the third period.

At the final horn, Tampa had taken a 1-0 series lead with a, 5-1, victory over Montréal in Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

The Bolts finished Monday night’s effort leading in shots on goal, 27-19, including an, 8-5, advantage in the third period alone.

The Lightning also wrapped up Game 1 leading in blocked shots (15-5) and giveaways (9-3), while the Canadiens finished the night leading in hits (58-57).

Faceoff win% was split evenly, 50-50, while the Habs went 0/2 and the Bolts went 1/3 on the power play.

Tampa has a chance to take a 2-0 series lead and Montréal’s got a chance to even the series 1-1 on Wednesday night in Game 2 from Amalie Arena.

Puck drop is set for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN for coverage, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Tampa repeats in preview of 2021 Stanley Cup Final

For 29 (soon to be 30) franchises, the calendar’s already flipped from 2020-21 to 2021-22, but for two teams remaining in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs there’s still one goal– winning the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

At one end of the rink, the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Pittsburgh Penguins did it in 2016 and 2017.

Lightning forward, Pat Maroon, is seeking to become the first player in the Expansion Era (since 1967) to win three consecutive Cup rings in as many seasons among two different franchises, having won his first with the St. Louis Blues in 2019, and his second last year with Tampa.

Maroon can also be the first player to win the Cup in three consecutive seasons in general since a bunch of players on the New York Islanders did so during the Isles’ dynasty from 1980-83.

At the other end of the rink, the Montréal Canadiens are seeking to win their first Stanley Cup– and 25th in franchise history– since 1993, which also happens to be the last time a Canadian club won the Cup.

The Habs were the last team to clinch a spot in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and yet, here they are.

Corey Perry lost to the Lightning as a member of the Dallas Stars in six games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and has made it back to the Final for the third time in his career, while Eric Staal is back in Cup contention for the first time since 2006, when he won it all as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Perry won his first Stanley Cup ring with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Meanwhile, Carey Price is making his Stanley Cup Final debut as the greatest goaltender in Canadiens history since some guy named Patrick Roy won it all three years before demanding a trade out of Montréal.

It all comes down to this– four more wins and one team will be crowned as this year’s Stanley Cup champion.

For the first time since 2009, all games in the Stanley Cup Final will be played in the Eastern Time Zone. It’ll also be the first time that Stanley Cup Final games are held in July, much like how last year marked the first time the Final was held in September due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also the first Stanley Cup Final since 1980, to feature teams that are normally in the same conference.

As a result of the ongoing pandemic, the league temporarily realigned to four divisions and no conferences for a 56-game regular season schedule, featuring the top-four teams in each division qualifying for the postseason and no international travel between the United States and Canada until the Semifinals round– which was held in place of the usual Conference Finals round.

Monday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, the 2021 Stanley Cup Final gets underway. Here’s a quick review and more on how each team got here since the dawn of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

(3) Tampa Bay Lightning (40-14-2, 82 points) vs (4) Montréal Canadiens (24-21-11, 59 points)

Tampa: 56 games played, .670 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montréal: 56 games played, .527 points percentage, 20 regulation wins.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to go back-to-back as they defeated the Florida Panthers in six games (4-2) in the First Round, eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games (4-1) in the Second Round and finished off the New York Islanders in seven games (4-3) in the Semifinals before reaching their second-straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

Led by Brayden Point in regular season scoring with 23-35–48 totals in 56 games, teammates Ondrej Palat (15-31-46 totals in 55 games) and Victor Hedman (9-36–45 totals in 54 games) rounded out the top-three in Bolts scoring for 2020-21, while Nikita Kucherov spent the entire regular season on long term injured reserve.

It’s a legal loophole in the salary cap, whether it was exploited or not, Kucherov’s hip needed the time off while the Lightning stockpiled in unlimited playoff salary as the cap ceiling gets turned off when the postseason starts.

Kucherov’s play hasn’t skipped a beat as he leads Tampa with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 18 games thus far in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Point trails Kucherov with 20 points (14 goals, six assists) in 18 games, followed by Alex Killorn (8-9–17 totals in 18 games), Steven Stamkos (7-10–17 totals in 18 games) and Hedman (1-15–16 totals in 18 games) to round out the top-five in team postseason scoring.

The Lightning can strike more than twice per game– in fact, they’re scoring about 3.22 goals for per game thus far, trailing only the eliminated Colorado Avalanche (3.80) for the most goals for per game this postseason.

Tampa trails the Toronto Maple Leafs– who were ousted in the First Round by Montréal in seven games– for the fewest goals against per game. The Bolts have allowed 2.06 goals against per game in 18 contests, while the Leafs had 2.00 in their seven-game postseason stretch.

In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy served as the Lightning’s starting goaltender in both the regular season and playoffs– amassing a 31-10-1 record in 42 games played (42 starts), as well as a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.

A Vezina Trophy Finalist for 2020-21, Vasilevskiy has previously won the award for his 2018-19 season performance.

Curtis McElhinney served as Tampa’s primary backup this season and went 4-6-2 in 12 games (12 starts) with a 3.09 goals-against average, an .875 save percentage and one shutout in that span.

Meanwhile, Christopher Gibson played in two games (two starts) for the Bolts in the regular season and went 1-1-0 with a 2.65 goals-against average and an .875 save percentage.

Entering the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, Vasilevskiy is 12-6 in 18 games (18 starts), has four shutouts and has a 1.99 goals-against average, as well as a .936 save percentage so far.

He earned his first career postseason shutout in Tampa’s, 2-0, victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final– clinching the franchise’s second Stanley Cup ring in the process– and has since become the first goaltender in NHL history to record three shutouts in three series clinching games in one postseason in the Lightning’s ongoing quest for a 2021 Stanley Cup ring.

The Montréal Canadiens overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games (4-3) in the First Round, then swept the Winnipeg Jets in four games (4-0) in the Second Round before upsetting the Vegas Golden Knights in six games (4-2) in the Semifinals to make their 37th appearance in the Stanley Cup Final (including their days before the NHL’s existence).

Tyler Toffoli led the way for the Habs in the regular season in scoring with 28 goals and 16 assists (44 points) in 52 games, while Jeff Petry (12-30–42 totals in 55 games) and Nick Suzuki (15-26–41 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in points on the roster for 2020-21.

Leading up to the trade deadline, Montréal added some depth and veteran experience that’s paid off with some clutch goals in their 2021 postseason run thus far.

Toffoli leads the Canadiens in playoff scoring with 5-9–14 totals in 17 games thus far, while Suzuki (5-8–13 totals in 17 games), Cole Caufield (4-5–9 totals in 15 games), Perry (3-6–9 totals in 17 games), Joel Armia (5-3–8 totals in 17 games) and Staal (2-6–8 totals in 16 games) round out the top-five in points on Montréal’s playoff roster.

In the crease, Jake Allen actually had more playing time than Carey Price in the regular season due to Price having battled a couple of injuries throughout the season.

Allen went 11-12-5 in 29 games (27 starts), amassing a 2.68 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in the process as the expected backup for the Canadiens, while Price produced a 12-7-5 record in 25 games (25 starts), as well as one shutout, a 2.64 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in the regular season.

Cayden Primeau appeared in four games (four starts) for the Habs and went 1-2-1 in that span, recording a 4.16 goals-against average and an .849 save percentage in the process.

Since the start of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Price has not come out of Montréal’s crease to be replaced by another goaltender and has been lights out for the Canadiens in their run to the Final.

Price has a 12-5 record in 17 games (17 starts) thus far and has recorded one shutout, as well as a 2.02 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in that span.


The Canadiens have had no problem upsetting teams thus far in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and– as long as they survive the first 10 minutes of each game and are able to get a lead– have been able to steal pivotal games and suck the life out of their opponents.

The Lightning have thundered their way back to the Final after winning it all last year and are capable of completely dominating games on the scoreboard and stifling the other team’s offensive production– limiting shots on goal and shot attempts in the process.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, Monday night will be the first time these two teams have seen each other in the league’s 2020-21 calendar year.

It’ll also be the 64th unique Stanley Cup Final in league history.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, is in search of solidifying his place as the greatest at his job behind the bench in Tampa’s history, while Dominique Ducharme is trying to nail down the title as Montréal’s next official head coach– despite the fact that he won’t be back until Game 3 after testing positive for COVID-19 during the last series against Vegas.

Luke Richardson’s waited things out in the American Hockey League for several years and already served well as an assistant coach for the Canadiens, but continues to make a well-rounded argument for staking a claim to the Habs’ coaching job on his own.

Montréal won’t only be without Ducharme for the start of the series, however, as Armia also tested positive ahead of Game 1 for the Final and may not be available while the Canadiens are in Tampa.

UPDATE: Armia cleared COVID protocol on Monday and was en route to Tampa via a private jet and will be a game time decision for Game 1.

Not that it’s a big advantage for the Lightning, since the two teams are of great contrast in playing style thus far.

Tampa can out skate, out hit and out score their opponent.

Montréal can defend, latch on and if they’re able to withhold the sustained pressure from the Bolts (and not take any penalties) they’ll get the necessary goaltending out of Price.

That said, Vasilevskiy is equally, if not more so, locked in right now.

Both goaltenders have won the Vezina before and will be the first pair of Vezina Trophy winners to square off in the Final since the days of Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour in, what, 1999?

The Canadiens have been on a Cinderella run, but they’re running into the Lightning– the Lightning— of all teams now.

They might have stood a chance against the Islanders, but Tampa is on another level.

That said, my recent predictions have been the wrong team, but the right number of games, so it looks like the Habs would have to be taking it all right now in five games.

But the Bolts are just too good. It’s their time to shine– as it has been for the last season already. They might not be dynasty material, but they’re pretty close to it and going back-to-back is within reach.

If they lose, it’ll be their own fault.

Tampa has something else on their side and it’s the fact that their Semifinals round lasted one game longer against New York than Montréal’s six-game series against the Golden Knights.

In recent years, the team that’s played more hockey in the round leading up to the Final has won the Final more often than not.

Just going back to 2015, both Chicago and Tampa won their Conference Finals rounds in seven games (Chicago won the Cup). In 2016, Pittsburgh advance in seven, while the San Jose Sharks won in six– the Penguins went on to win the Cup.

In 2017, it was more of the same– the Pens in seven, the Nashville Predators won in six games, but Pittsburgh won the Cup.

In 2018, the Golden Knights beat the Jets in five games, while the Washington Capitals defeated the Lightning in seven games before going on to win the Cup.

In 2019, the St. Louis Blues advanced in six games, while the Boston Bruins swept the Hurricanes. The Blues went on to win the Cup.

And in 2020, the Stars won in five games, but the Bolts advanced in six games and went on to beat Dallas in the Final.

It’s just science.

Besides, the Lightning are 2-1 in all time playoff series’ against the Canadiens, sweeping the Habs in the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinal, losing to Montréal in four games in the 2014 First Round and beating Montréal in six games in the 2015 Second Round.

Tampa is repeating as your Stanley Cup champion in 2020 and 2021, and this time they’ll do it in five games.

Schedule:

6/28- Game 1 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/30- Game 2 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/2- Game 3 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/5- Game 4 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/7- Game 5 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

7/9- Game 6 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

7/11- Game 7 MTL @ TBL 7 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Lightning seeking back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final

There are four teams remaining in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and for the first time since 1981, there are no Conference Finals going on.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the National Hockey League was forced to temporarily realign the divisions and get rid of conferences for a season as the league and it’s players’ union did what they could to get an abbreviated 56-game regular season schedule and a full Stanley Cup Playoffs experience in the history books.

In May, ESPN‘s Greg Wyshynski reported that the league would not award the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to the victors of the equivalent third round, but after the Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Colorado Avalanche in six games to conclude the Second Round of this year’s postseason on Thursday, the league apparently changed its mind.

With a regular all-Eastern Conference matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, as well as 50% of the teams representing the Western Conference in the other Semifinal series, both trophies will be awarded to the third round series winners after all.

The winner of the Lightning and Islanders series will take home the Prince of Wales Trophy, while either the Golden Knights or the Montréal Canadiens will win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

Montréal can join a short list of teams to have won both trophies in franchise history, as only the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and Islanders have won each before.

How is this possible, you ask?

Well, for starters, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was introduced in the 1967-68 season and awarded to the team that finished with the best regular season record in the West Division (the precursor to the Western Conference in the modern era), while the Prince of Wales Trophy dates back to the 1925-26 season and, you guessed it, eventually became the East Division (pre-Eastern Conference days) equivalent.

Ahead of the 1981-82 season, however, the league changed its postseason to include a Conference Finals round, thus involving these trophies in the playoffs and eventually leading to the creation of the Presidents’ Trophy for the team with the best regular season record since the 1985-86 season.

So anyway, the teams mentioned above that won both have changed conferences and divisions over time.

Now let’s talk about one-half of the Semifinal matchups– the Lightning and the Islanders.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (36-17-3, 75 points) vs (3) New York Islanders (32-17-7, 71 points)

Tampa: 56 games played, .670 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

N.Y. Islanders: 56 games played, .634 points percentage, 24 regulation wins.

The Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Florida Panthers in six games (4-2) in the First Round before taking care of the Carolina Hurricanes in a five-game upset (4-1) to represent the Discover NHL Central Division in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

They’re also the defending Stanley Cup champions looking to be the first team to repeat as such since the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

The Bolts have followed the league’s salary cap rules to a “T”, which enabled them to spend almost $99 million as the playoffs began because Nikita Kucherov had been on the long term injured reserve all season long and due to the fact that the cap ceiling disappears for the postseason.

Brayden Point led the Lightning in the regular season with 23-25–48 totals in 56 games, while Ondrej Palat (15-31–46 totals in 55 games) and Victor Hedman (9-36–45 totals in 54 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring on the roster in 2020-21.

Through 11 games this postseason, Kucherov hasn’t missed a beat, leading his teammates with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in that span.

Tampa’s captain, Steven Stamkos, missed the last part of the regular season, but returned in time for the playoffs and has not missed any action due to injury.

As a result, he’s had 5-8–13 totals in 11 games– good enough for the second-most points by a Lightning skater in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Point (8-4–12 totals in 11 games) and Alex Killorn (6-6–12 totals in 11 games) are tied for the third-most on the postseason roster.

In the crease, Andrei Vasilevskiy led Tampa’s netminders with a 31-10-1 record in 42 games played (42 starts), yielding a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in the process.

Curtis McElhinney served as Vasilevskiy’s backup and amassed a 4-6-2 record in 12 games (12 starts), as well as a 3.09 goals-against average, an .875 save percentage and one shutout in that span.

Christopher Gibson even got a little time in net, recording a 1-1-0 record in two games (two starts), as well as a 2.65 goals-against average and an .875 save percentage.

Thus far in the playoffs, Vasilevskiy has yet to be chased from the crease– putting up an 8-3 record in 11 games (11 starts) to go with his 2.24 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

Oh and he’s more than doubled his career postseason shutout total– recording two so far in Tampa’s quest for back-to-back rings.

At the other end of the rink, the New York Islanders beat two teams they’re used to beating in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs– defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games (4-2) in the First Round and the Boston Bruins in six games (4-2), as well, in the Second Round to reach the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals as the MassMutual NHL East Division’s representation.

Head coach, Barry Trotz, is still using his modified trap, though New York’s potent offense is actually leading the way in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 43 goals for thus far.

Vegas is second with 40 goals for, while Tampa sits third with 38 goals for and the best goal differential in the postseason so far with a plus-12 differential.

Mathew Barzal (17-28–45 totals in 55 games) led the Isles in scoring in the regular season. Josh Bailey (8-27–35 totals in 54 games), Brock Nelson (18-15–33 totals in 56 gmaes) and Jordan Eberle (16-17–33 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in team scoring in 2020-21.

Through 12 games this postseason, Jean-Gabriel Pageau has emerged at peak performance at the right time of the year to be on top of one’s game, leading the Islanders in playoff scoring with 3-10–13 totals.

Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier each have 11 points in 12 games, while Nelson has the fourth-most points on the playoff roster with 6-4–10 totals in that span.

In net, Semyon Varlamov led the way as New York’s starter, amassing a 19-11-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), as well as a 2.04 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and tied for the league lead in shutouts with Colorado Avalanche netminder, Philipp Grubauer, blanking opponents on the scoreboard seven times each this season.

Ilya Sorokin’s first season in the NHL was served in a backup role, going 13-6-3 in 22 games (21 starts) and accruing a 2.17 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts in that span.

Though Sorokin ultimately helped the Islanders get over the Penguins in the First Round, his Game 1 performance against Boston left something to be desired, forcing Trotz to hand the keys to the crease back to Varlamov.

Varlamov’s gone on to post a 4-3 record in seven games (seven starts) this postseason, notching a 2.62 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in the process.

Sorokin, meanwhile, has a 4-1 record in five games (five starts), as well as a 2.32 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage.

With the way Varlamov’s been playing as of late– recording 40 saves against the Bruins some nights– it’s not likely that Sorokin will see any action against the Bolts.

Unlike how the Lightning got a key component of their roster in Kucherov back in time for when it counts, New York’s captain, Anders Lee, remains sidelined until the 2021-22 season with a knee injury.


These two teams are meeting for the fourth time in a playoff series, with the Lightning holding a 3-0 all time advantage, having defeated the Islanders in five games (4-1) in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, in five games (4-1) again in the 2016 Second Round, as well as in six games (4-2) in the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.

For the second year in a row, these two clubs are squaring off in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but unlike last year’s neutral site at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, the home crowds may be a factor in 2021.

What’s more, these two teams have yet to play each other thanks to the temporary division realignment for 2020-21, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

If history is any indicator, it’s that Tampa should win the series and extend their all time advantage to 4-0, but New York presented a challenge to the Bolts last year that is sure to be amplified by both rosters’ familiarity with each other, as well as the fact that the Lightning will have to go through the ringer that is known as Nassau Live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

This isn’t to say that the fans in attendance at Amalie Arena won’t be just as boisterous, but there’s something to be said about a Long Island crowd this time of year– especially one that’s been longing for their first Stanley Cup title since 1983.

Not only that, but it’d be a great way to send the building off into retirement as the Islanders move into their new home in Elmont, New York at UBS Arena next season.

That said, the Lightning have home-ice advantage in this series for the first time this postseason and they’ve been pretty good at stealing games on the road– winning two out of three games in the First Round at BB&T Center against Florida and all three games held at PNC Arena in their Second Round series with Carolina.

2020 Stanley Cup winning head coach, Jon Cooper, pitted against 2018 Stanley Cup winning head coach in Trotz (then of the Washington Capitals)– this rematch is sure to be one hell of a battle.

Though the Lightning have cruised thus far, there’s something to be said about the tenacity of the Islanders and the way momentum seems to be working in their favor.

For the first time, it looks like New York will come out on top against Tampa and they’ll likely do it over seven games of some of the best hockey fans desire leading up to the Stanley Cup Final.

If it’s anything shorter, it’ll be because Vasilevskiy continued to stay hot and the Islanders gave up too many power plays to the Lightning, but New York was one of the least penalized teams in the regular season.

If the offense doesn’t sputter, the Isles have their best chance at getting back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1984, when they lost in five games to the Edmonton Oilers.

Schedule:

6/13- Game 1 NYI @ TBL 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/15- Game 2 NYI @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/17- Game 3 TBL @ NYI 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/19- Game 4 TBL @ NYI 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/21- Game 5 NYI @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

6/23- Game 6 TBL @ NYI 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

6/25- Game 7 NYI @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary