Tag Archives: Keith

December 2 – Day 59 – My exes used to live in Texas

Welcome to another Saturday in the NHL. With everybody else watching the college football conference championships, that leaves more hockey for you and me.

Oh, that’s not how television works?

While I get that figured out, the first Saturday of December brings with it a big bag of presents from the NHL, as there’s a dozen games on today’s schedule. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (SN), followed by the only other matinee of the day: St. Louis at Minnesota at 6 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time is chock-full of action with six games (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC/CITY], Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Columbus at Washington and Florida at Carolina) slated to drop the puck, with two more (New Jersey at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville) in tow an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the start of Chicago at Dallas, while tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Calgary – will get underway 60 minutes after. All times Eastern.

What a collection of games! All but two matchups are between teams separated by eight points or less in the standings. As for our Game of the Day, I had a few picked out at the start of season…

  • Boston at Philadelphia: Ever since the Flyers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals to become the first expansion team to win a title, these clubs have not gotten along.
  • St. Louis at Minnesota: Speaking of playoff rematches, this one was far more recent – as in, last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, recent.
  • Detroit at Montréal: To keep the Stanley Cup theme going, no clubs have hoisted the trophy more than these two Original Six teams.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: The Ducks and Predators squared off in a gritty, nasty seven-game series for the right to represent the Western Conference in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Chicago at Dallas: F Patrick Sharp‘s two tenures with the Blackhawks was divided by two seasons spent with the Stars. Tonight marks his first trip back to Texas since moving back to the Windy City.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: In this rivalry, the teams don’t only represent only themselves, but also a stark feud between two Albertan cities.

Let me say it again for everybody in the back: What. A slate. Of games.

This is a tough pick today, because I don’t like featuring the same teams all the time (*cough* take a hint NBC and NHL *cough*). That being said, the contest that attracts my attention the most is taking place in the Lone Star State.

 

For those concerned, I’m not drawn to this game simply because of the Sharp story, though I suppose it is one worth noting.

After being a third-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks during the 2005-’06. He would proceed to play 10 seasons in Chicago, scoring 511 points – including 239 goals – over 679 games en route to three Stanley Cup championships.

As seems to be the case following many championship seasons nowadays, Chicago faced some serious salary cap issues after the 2014-’15 season, which led to Sharp and D Stephen Johns getting shipped to Dallas in exchange for D Trevor Daley and C Ryan Garbutt.

Sharp spent the last two seasons with the Stars, but they only really got one good season out of him. During the 2015-’16 campaign, the forward provided 20-35-55 totals to help get Dallas back to the playoffs for only the second time since the 2007-’08 season when the Stars were Western Conference finalists.

Unfortunately, Sharp’s second season with the club was nowhere near as good as his first. Limited to a measly 48 games, he provided Dallas only 18 points and a -22 rating as the Stars failed to earn a postseason berth. Though I’m not going to argue that Sharp is the reason the Stars struggled last year (*cough* G Kari Lehtonen and G Antti Niemi *cough*), he was not renewed for this season, allowing him to return to his beloved Blackhawks on a one-year contract.

So far, Sharp has been rather uninspiring from Chicago’s third line, as he’s managed only 3-4-7 totals playing alongside young studs F Alex DeBrincat (11-8-19) and F Ryan Hartman (4-9-13). Considering he’ll turn 36-years-old before you hang up your 2018 calendar, his recent bodies of work might force him to consider the dreaded “R” word once this campaign is through.

In the meantime, he’ll try to help his 12-9-4 Hawks get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

Figuring out why Chicago is on the outside looking in is a difficult task. After all, they back up a ninth-ranked offense (3.16 goals-per-game) with an even better defense (2.68 goals against-per-game) that’s ranked fifth-best in the NHL.

One of my biggest complaints with the Blackhawks is their incredibly unsuccessful power play. Converting only 17.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, the Hawks are tied with San Jose for the eighth-worst extra-man attack in the NHL.

This struggle has led Head Coach Joel Quenneville to try some crazy units to resolve his club’s problem. As of Friday’s practice, DeBrincat, D Gustav Forsling, D Duncan Keith, RW Richard Panik and C Jonathan Toews made up Chicago’s top power play team, with F Artem Anisimov, D Cody Franson, F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and F Nick Schmaltz taking second-team duties.

Let’s see, what’s weird about Chicago’s first unit? Oh, maybe that there’s a rookie earning solid power play minutes alongside two defensemen… or maybe that Kane isn’t on the unit…

Like I said, crazy things.

One thing I really like about putting Anisimov, Kane and Schmaltz on the same unit is that it puts Kane in what I’m considering the “joker” position. Take into account that all seven of Anisimov’s power play points are goals (the most on the team), while all five of Schmaltz’ are assists – that makes them a logical pair.

Meanwhile, Showtime has earned a team-leading nine points this season with the man-advantage, but only two of them have been goals. Of course, with 295 career regular season goals to his name, Kane is far from a “pass first” player. Putting Kane with Anisimov and Schmaltz, he’s able to take on the role of goal-scorer or join Schmaltz as another play-maker.

If I’m an opposing goaltender, in this case G Ben Bishop, that versatility is a very scary threat.

Meanwhile, things seem like they’re going 14-10-1 Dallas’ way. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 overtime victory over these Blackhawks Thursday night (more on that later).

We came into the season celebrating what the Stars’ offense could be capable of with LW Jamie Benn, RW Alexander Radulov and F Tyler Seguin combining to form an ultimate super-line. Instead, the story of late has been Dallas’ defense, which has allowed only seven goals since November 24, the (t)second-fewest in that time span.

12-7-0 Bishop has been solid over this run – he’s managed a .925 save percentage in these last three games – but I’ve been much more impressed with the defensive corps playing in front of him.

Behind the unexpected leadership of D Greg Pateryn – who’s thrown eight hits and blocked seven shots during this run – from the second defensive pair, Dallas’ D- corps has allowed only 94 shots to reach Bishop in the past week, the third-fewest in the NHL.

What makes this game especially fun – you know, beyond the Blackhawks trying to get past Dallas for fourth place in the Central Division – is that it’s a rematch of Thursday’s matchup. In that game, F Mattias Janmark scored two goals – including the game-winner – to earn the Stars a 4-3 overtime victory against the Hawks at the United Center. Something tells me Chicago would like to return the favor of sending the home fans at the American Airlines Center away unhappy.

That being said, I’m leaning towards the Stars taking this contest with their excellent defense.


The Los Angeles Kings showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.

In fact, the Kings were so on top of their game that they registered their game-winning goal before a full seven minutes had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game F Tyler Toffoli (C Nick Shore and LW Tanner Pearson) opened the scoring with a wrist shot 1:43 after the opening puck drop, followed 4:29 later by Third Star C Anze Kopitar‘s (F Alex Iafallo and D Jake Muzzin) fourth game-clincher of the year.

The play that led to Kopitar’s goal stretched the entire length of the rink. Muzzin started with the puck in his own defensive zone and fed a quick pass to Kopitar at the red line. Once he established the offensive zone, Kopitar dished to Iafallo along the right boards, who fired a snap shot towards G Carter Hutton. Hutts made the save with his pads, but the rebound bounced right to the Slovenian, who deftly pocketed his wrister in the back of the net.

St. Louis finally got on its shiny new scoreboard with 4:43 remaining in the second period courtesy of a power play deflection from F Patrik Berglund (D Colton Parayko and D Vince Dunn), his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Notes, that positive momentum was erased 3:39 later when F Adrian Kempe (D Alec Martinez and D Drew Doughty) set the score at 3-1 going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, but it was enough to signal defeat to the home fans. Toffoli (Pearson and Muzzin) scored his second goal of the game with a deflection 9:06 before the end of regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.

Second Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hutton, who saved 18-of-21 (.857) before being pulled in favor of G Jake Allen for the third period. Allen saved six-of-seven (857) for no decision.

Los Angeles’ road victory snaps a six-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the visitors still trail the 33-20-6 hosts by 15 points.

November 15 – Day 43 – Heading in opposite directions

We’re halfway through the month of November and only a week away from American Thanksgiving, an important benchmark in the NHL for separating the men from the boys in terms of probable playoff teams. Though it wouldn’t seem it with over four months of play remaining, this is a pivotal week.

Calgary makes its yearly visit to Detroit (SN/TVAS) to get this stretch started at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Chicago (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap of Boston at Anaheim (SN360) will drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

All three games should be very competitive, as they are being contested by opponents separated by only two points or less in the league table. That being said, there’s going to be no game more exciting than the one between Original Six clubs taking place in the Windy City.

 

I apparently really like these Central vs. Metropolitan matchups, because this is the fourth game we’ve featured between these two divisions in the last five days.

9-7-2 New York’s wild ride through the month of November continues since the last time it was featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Starting with Halloween night against the Golden Knights, the Rangers have yet to drop a point in any of their past six contests, including tilts against Tampa Bay (you know, the best team in the NHL) and Columbus.

In fact, the Blueshirts have played so well they’ve converted their goal-differential, which was once an ugly -10 on October 23, into a positive number for the first time this season. And with that success, the Rangers find themselves in a tie with their crosstown rivals for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference.

This may seem elementary, but the best way to improve a goal differential – and by default, win – usually involves burying some goals. Offense has been all the rage at Madison Square Garden lately, as the Rangers have scored a league-high 26 goals since October 31, averaging 4.33 per game.

In the league-wide list of top-10 point earners since Halloween, there is only one defenseman listed: Kevin Shattenkirk. Managing 3-5-8 totals in his past six games, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native and first-year Ranger has been a major driver in this surge. Of note, half his points – both for the season and during this run – have come on the power play (an effort the Rangers rank third-best for the season with a 25.8 percent conversion rate), indicating his impact in all situations.

Not to be overshadowed too much, top-line C Mika Zibanejad has also earned eight points over this stretch, but he’s been earning his pay more as a play-maker than a goalscorer, as he’s buried only one goal in this stretch. His favorite player to assist of late has been sophomore W Pavel Buchnevich, who has scored four goals in six games – an effort eclipsed only by fourth-liner W Michael Grabner.

It’s also been a tale of two months for the 8-8-2 Blackhawks, but they’re not exactly as happy with the change as the Blueshirts. Going back to October 24’s 4-2 loss in Vegas, Chicago is an uninspiring 3-6-0. That includes losses to the Avalanche, Canadiens and Flyers, who among them have a combined 24-24-5 record and a -15 goal-differential.

What should be truly concerning for the Blackhawks is their record in meaningful games since April 1 of last season. They went 0-2-2 to finish out the 2016-’17 regular season campaign, followed by an 0-3-1 performance in the playoffs. Add that in with this year’s record and Chicago has gone 8-13-5 in its last 26 competitive matches.

If this is an April Fools’ Day joke, it should go down in the Guinness World Records as the longest and most convoluted, because this Hawks team should be in much better position than 11th in the Western Conference.

After all, the Hawks boast players such as F Patrick Kane (winner of 2016’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross Trophies), D Duncan Keith (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) and C Jonathan Toews (the 2013 Selke Trophy winner), all of whom have thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup.

What’s most frustrating is that the Hawks aren’t really doing anything wrong statistically. Sure, the offense’s 2.94 goals-per-game for the season could technically be better (it’s only [t]13th-best in the league, after all), but allowing a (t)ninth-fewest 2.72 goals against-per-game should be more than enough to keep Chicago competitive.

Of course, season averages have a way of camouflaging recent momentum – or lack thereof. Since October 24, the Blackhawks have scored only 21 goals, tying Detroit for sixth-fewest in that stretch.

Perhaps the most telling point about this squad during this nine-game stretch is that W Alex DeBrincat, a rookie on the third line, is leading the attack with his 5-2-7 totals (6-5-11 for the season), followed close behind by F Artem Anisimov‘s – a player that’s never scored more than 45 points in a season – 5-1-6 effort. Not Kane; not Toews; heck, not even W Brandon Saad.

DeBrincat and Anisimov.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville will never complain about depth scoring. Depth scoring is one of the top things that separates the best teams in this league from pretenders. But you can’t have depth scorers without stars like Kane and Toews doing their jobs as the primary forwards. Until they rediscover their groove, Chicago will continue to struggle.

It’s with that in mind that I’m forced to favor the Rangers in this contest. Though I’m sure G Corey Crawford – who’s having a Vezina-caliber season so far – will prove a solid test against New York’s red-hot offense, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ offense will be able to break through G Henrik Lundqvist and his defense.


A combined seven goals were struck in the second period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Nashville Predators weathered the storm to beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena.

Though the middle act of this three-ring circus was the wildest, the first period still provided some excitement for the home fans when F Craig Smith (First Star of the Game LW Kevin Fiala and D Anthony Bitetto) scored a tip-in with 8:12 remaining before the first intermission. 5:55 later, Third Star C Nick Bonino (D Roman Josi and F Calle Jarnkrok) doubled the Preds’ advantage to 2-0.

It took only 6:28 of play in the second period for the Caps to level the game. Aided by Jarnkrok earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking him 45 seconds earlier, F T.J. Oshie (D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored Washington’s first goal of the night at the 4:29 mark with a power play tip-in. 1:59 later, RW Alex Chiasson (W Brett Connolly and Carlson) tied the game at two-all with a slap shot. That tie lasted exactly 17 seconds before F Filip Forsberg buried an unassisted wrist shot to reclaim a lead for Nashville.

Scoring subsided for almost two-and-a-half minutes before Fiala (Second Star D Mattias Ekholm) decided to get things ramped back up with a tip-in that proved to be the game-winner at the 9:04 mark to set the score at 4-2, but his tally was quickly answered by Oshie’s (F Chandler Stephenson and C Nicklas Backstrom) wrister 17 seconds later to pull Washington back within a 4-3 deficit.

Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the frame, let’s take a second and recap: five goals have already been scored in this second period! There’s still 10 more minutes to play! Meanwhile, the last three teams to face Wild G Devan Dubnyk have not been able to score even one goal against him.

Hockey is a fickle game.

Anyways, only two more goals were struck in the period, and they both belonged to the Preds. W Miikka Salomaki (C Colton Sissons and D Matt Irwin) scored his second goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the frame, and Ekholm (C Kyle Turris and Sissons) finished the period off with a power play clapper two minutes before the second intermission.

It seems both teams used up all their offense in the second period, because not a single goal was struck in the third period. That left G Pekka Rinne with the victory after saving 26-of-29 shots faced (.897 save percentage) and G Braden Holtby, who saved 19-of-25 (.76), with the loss. Holtby was lifted for G Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third period, and he saved all six shots he faced.

Nashville’s victory is the second-straight by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With their record now improved to 22-16-5, hosts now own a four-point advantage over the roadies.

October 27 – Day 24 – They’re at it again

Thank goodness that work is finally done for the week. Time to sit back and take in the weekend’s hockey!

The weekend starts early in Vegas, as a 3 p.m. local start time against Colorado (TVAS) means a 6 p.m. puck drop on the East Coast. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it two contests (Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS2] and Winnipeg at Columbus), followed by St. Louis at Carolina half an hour later. Nashville pays a visit to Chicago (NHLN/TVAS) at 8:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Dallas at Calgary (SN360) – waiting until 9 p.m. to get underway.

All times Eastern unless otherwise noted.

I was going to complain about featuring the second Nashville at Chicago matchup of a season that is not even a month old, but upon remembering how competitive and entertaining their first meeting was, there’s no other choice! To the Windy City we go!

 

Now, with this being the second time in two weeks that this matchup has been featured, I’m sure I don’t need to rehash how the Predators swept the Hawks in four games by a combined score of 13-3 that included two shutouts. I’m sure I also don’t need to go over how the eighth-seeded Preds went on to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

Oh, I guess I just did anyways. As a fan of one of Chicago’s rivals, I guess I simply couldn’t help myself.

Whether or not that playoff elimination still motivates the Blackhawks against Nashville (I’d bet the house it does), we have more current data to help us preview and predict this game.

For starters, we know that the Hawks needed overtime to secure a 2-1 victory at the United Center the last time these squads met on October 14. You can read a slightly more in-depth recap here, but the main thing to know is, with the help of LW Scott Hartnell and D P.K. Subban, F Filip Forsberg got Nashville on the board late in the second period before F Patrick Sharp (F John Hayden and D Cody Franson) leveled the game in the closing six minutes of regulation and W Brandon Saad (F Patrick Kane and D Duncan Keith) cleaned things up in overtime.

If only everything in life was as simple as a one-sentence game recap.

That low scoring affair proved to be a sign of things to come, as both teams have scored only a total of nine goals in four games played since departing the United Center that Saturday night, tying them for the fourth-lowest goal production in that time span.

For Chicago, the downturn in scoring has been no fault of Kane’s. Showtime has averaged a point-per-game in those four games, including three goals. The Predators have also had their own offensive standouts in Forsberg and D Roman Josi, as both have 2-3-5 totals since October 15.

Instead, Chicago and Nashville have continued their strong defensive efforts to find wins.

The Predators in particular have been studs at keeping opponents off the scoreboard of late. In the past two weeks, they’ve allowed only seven goals against in four games, an effort that’s overshadowed only by Tampa Bay’s 10 goals against in six games played in the same stretch of time.

It’s no secret how good Smashville’s defense is, but D Alexei Emelin has been playing at another level since his last visit to Chicago. He’s blocked two shots-per-game to lead the team while also averaging 3.3 hits-per-contest. Through his bold leadership while D Ryan Ellis is recovering from an offseason knee surgery, the Predators have allowed only 29.8 shots against-per-game for the entire season, the fourth-best mark in the NHL.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s (t)eighth-best 2.6 goals against-per-game is due to the play of only one man: G Corey Crawford. Never before has Crawford posted a season save percentage over .93 percent, but he’s currently in possession of a .936 save rate that is second only to G Jonathan Quick‘s unbelievable .944. Considering the Blackhawks’ defense allows a 35.6 shots against-per-game that is second-worst in the league, Crawford being at the top of his game may be an integral piece to the success of this team both tonight and for the remainder of the campaign.

Even though the Blackhawks have a decent 3-1-1 record at home this season – including their victory over Nashville – I’m actually leaning towards the Preds taking this game. Thanks to Emelin, Nashville looks like it’s finally clicking without Ellis and will be a tough out for a Chicago team struggling to score.


In yesterday’s preview, I predicted a barn-burner would go the Senators’ way. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Ottawa Senators beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 at the Canadian Tire Centre.

There’s no better way to start a game than with three unanswered goals in the first period. That’s exactly what Ottawa did, starting with D Dion Phaneuf‘s (C Filip Chlapik and F Chris DiDomenico) power play slap shot only 91 seconds into the game (what D Brandon Manning was doing slashing DiDomenico only 36 seconds into the game, I’ll never know). D Mark Borowiecki (F Mike Hoffman and First Star of the Game C Jean-Gabriel Pageau) scored his first goal of the season 8:19 later to give Ottawa a 2-0 lead, followed by Pageau (Third Star D Erik Karlsson) burying one of his patented shorthanded wrist shots with 6:32 remaining in the frame to further extend the Sens’ advantage.

Whatever Head Coach Dave Hakstol screamed during the intermission certainly worked, because the Flyers were able to respond with two goals of their own in the second period. RW Jakub Voracek (Second Star C Sean Couturier and D Ivan Provorov) finally stashed his first goal of the season with 5:30 remaining in the second period, followed by F Travis Konecny (D Radko Gudas) only 53 seconds later to pull Philly back within a 3-2 deficit. Much to the delight of the home fans, RW Mark Stone (F Ryan Dzingel and Karlsson) was able to bury a backhanded shot with 2:23 remaining in the period to reclaim a two-goal advantage for the Senators going into the second intermission.

With 9:27 remaining in regulation, F Tom Pyatt (C Nate Thompson and Pageau) scored what proved to be a very important goal. Though Pageau earned the hockey assist, this breakaway goal was almost entirely set up by Thompson. After receiving Pageau’s pass at his own blue line, Thompson immediately connected with Pyatt in the neutral zone, who was screaming up the far boards towards G Michal Neuvirth. With no help, D Shayne Gostisbehere was forced to eliminate the passing lane between Pyatt and Thompson, leaving the forward in a one-on-one situation with the netminder. Pyatt didn’t miss on that opportunity, beating Neuvirth with a pinger off the right post

Pyatt’s tally ended up converting from a brace into the game-winner due to the tremendous comeback effort by the Flyers. With 4:42 remaining in regulation, Provorov (Konecny and Couturier) buried a slapper on G Craig Anderson to pull Philadelphia back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more realistic when Couturier (Gostisbehere and Voracek) scored a deflection to set the score at 5-4 with 106 seconds remaining before the final horn. But, even with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, the Flyers could not find a leveling goal.

Anderson earned the victory after saving 36-of-40 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Neuvirth, who saved 23-of-28 (.821).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are a win away from the business week streak, as they’ve won the last four games. That elevates their record to 14-6-4, which is a solid 10 points better than the visitors.

February 21 – Day 125 – Central showdown

If you’re the type to like weekdays busy with hockey action, today is your day. Nine contests will have been played by the end of the day, and as usual they get started at 7 p.m. (Pittsburgh at Carolina [TVAS], Montréal at the New York Rangers [RDS] and Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS2]). Three more matchups (the New York Islanders at Detroit, Edmonton at Tampa Bay and Winnipeg at Toronto) drop the puck at 7:30 p.m., followed by a pair (Chicago at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Calgary at Nashville [SN1]) at the top of the hour. Finally, Los Angeles at Colorado, tonight’s nightcap, drop the puck at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at New York: There’s nothing better than an Original Six matchup that also serves as a potential playoff preview.
  • Chicago at Minnesota: Although this rivalry doesn’t have the age of an Original Six, that doesn’t take away from the general dislike of one another.

Trailing the Wild by seven points, the Blackhawks seem to be only improving as we get closer to the playoffs. Let’s see how they square up against the best in the West so far this season.

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Chicago makes their second trip of the month to the Xcel Energy Center with a 36-18-5 record, the second-best mark in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. While the Blackhawks have certainly been strong on both ends of the ice, they’ve been most impressive on the defensive end, as they’ve allowed only 150 goals against – the eighth-lowest total in the NHL.

As he has since 2010, 22-13-3 Corey Crawford has been charged with manning Chicago‘s crease, and one again he’s done a good job of it. Crawford has posted a season .917 save percentage and 2.56 GAA, the (t)15th and 21st-best efforts, respectively, among the 47 netminders with at least 19 appearances.

His play has been necessary, as the Hawks‘ defense hasn’t exactly been spectacular this year. Allowing 30.9 shots against per game, Chicago ties for 10th-worst in those regards, even with Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s impressive 151 shot blocks. Hjalmarsson has been quite the standout this season, as those blocks are not only the highest total in the Windy City, but it also ties for most in the NHL with Ottawa‘s Erik Karlsson.

The Blackhawks‘ otherwise shoddy defense catches up with them on the penalty kill, where their 77.1% success rate ties for fourth-worst in the league. Hjalmarsson continues to be a stud when his club is down a man, as his 34 shorthanded blocks nearly double the total of second-place Brent Seabrook‘s, but they are the only two players with more than a dozen penalty kill blocks to their credit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stan Bowman makes a move for another blueliner before the fast-approaching trade deadline.

Playing host this evening are the 39-13-6 Wild, the second-best team in the NHL and best in the West. Winners of their past two games, Minnesota seems dead-set on eclipsing the 48-26-8 mark set by the 2006-07 team, and all signs are pointing towards them doing just that. Of course, they’ll also have intentions of getting past the Western Quarterfinals where that team fell, but that’s a bridge they’ll cross when they get to it.

In the meantime, Minnesota will continue to play the stellar defensive hockey that has gotten it to this point. Spearheading that effort is 32-10-3 Devan Dubnyk. That impressive record is no mistake, as his .934 save percentage and 1.97 GAA are both tops in the league.

Dubnyk’s play is made only more impressive by the fact that he has a below average defense playing in front of him. Even with Jared Spurgeon‘s team-leading 106 shot blocks, the Wild still allow 30.9 shots-against-per-game, which ties for 10th-worst in the NHL.

Say what you want about Minnesota‘s defense, but it certainly knows when to clamp down. Thanks in part to Spurgeon’s team-leading 15 shorthanded blocks, the Wild play the 10th-best penalty kill in the game, successful on 82.9% of opportunities.

To make matters worse for the opposition, the power play is absolutely exceptional. The best in the West, Minnesota ranks fourth in the league with a 21.9% success rate with the extra man. That effort is headed by Mikael Granlund and his 15 power play points, but the real skater Crawford needs to keep an eye on is Nino Niederreiter, as he’s scored eight times with the man-advantage.

Thanks to forcing overtime the last time these two teams met on February 8, the Wild have a one-point edge over Chicago in the season series between these clubs. When Minnesota visited the United Center on January 15, they won 3-2.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.928 save percentage [second-best in the NHL] for a 2.19 GAA [fourth-best in the league]), Patrick Kane (40 assists [fourth-most in the NHL] on 60 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Duncan Keith (36 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.97 GAA on a .934 save percentage for 32 wins [all best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+31 [tied for sixth-best in the league] with 36 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+32 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+33 [third-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+34 [second-best in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked the Wild a -130 favorite to win tonight, and that’s a hard number to argue with. Minnesota has some fantastic special teams and the best goalie in the game to go with home ice, so I expect them to take care of business this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brian Rolston (1973-) – Selected 11th-overall by New Jersey in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, this center played most of his 17 seasons with the Devils. After hoisting the 1995 Stanley Cup in his rookie campaign, his only other major honor was being selected for the 1999 All-Star team.
  • Ryan Smyth (1976-) – This left wing was picked sixth-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton, and he played 15 of his 19 seasons with the Oilers. His greatest campaign was his 2006-’07 effort when he notched 36 goals and 68 points between the Oil and Islanders.
  • James Wisniewski (1984-) – This defenseman has made at least one appearance in the last 11 seasons after being selected by Chicago in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and has spent most of career with the Blue Jackets.
  • Mattias Tedenby (1990-) – The 24th-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing played his entire NHL career for the same Devils organization that drafted him. He appeared in 120 games for Jersey, and scored 10 goals.

Vincent Trocheck, ladies and gentleman! With five seconds remaining in regulation, the First Star of the Game fired a slap shot past Third Star Jake Allen to clinch a 2-1 victory for the Panthers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day!

In addition to scoring the last goal of the night, Florida also took credit for the first. With 9:20 remaining in the first frame, Jon Marchessault (Nick Bjugstad) scored a wrist shot to give the Panthers a lead they held through both intermissions.

The Blues finally leveled the game at the 2:54 mark of the third period on a Kyle Brodziak (Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves) wrister, and it looked like it was going to be enough to earn a point and get to three-on-three overtime, but Trocheck (Mark Pysyk and Reilly Smith) was not interested. His slap shot found the back of the net to send the Predators back to Sunrise in style.

Second Star James Reimer earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (96.3%), leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 31-of-33 (93.9%).

As far as the DtFR Game of the Day series is concerned, what is probably the most impressive thing about the Panthers‘ victory is that the 63-43-21 road teams in the series now have a one-point lead on hosts.

February 10 – Day 114 – Should the Blackhawks be scared of Winnipeg?

It’s not often I say this, but today is not a great day for hockey – no matter how hard Hall of Fame coach Bob Johnson tries to convince us otherwise.

There’s only two games on the schedule today, and they’re both snoozers. Both Tampa Bay at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) and Chicago at Winnipeg drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern this evening.

Of the two, I expect the contest in Manitoba to be the better tonight since it’s a divisional matchup, so off to Canada we go!

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This is the fifth game in 33-17-5 Chicago‘s six-game road trip leading up to their bye week, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak that has propelled them to the second-best mark in the Western Conference. The reason they’ve been so good? Their offense has managed 154 goals in 55 games, which ties for the 10th-best rate in the league.

Remember how Patrick Kane won the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award and the Art Ross Trophy last season for absolutely annihilating the NHL with 106 points? He may not be reaching that number again this year, but he’s still leading the pack for the Hawks. His 53 points are the most on the club. However, it’s not him scoring the puck this campaign. Instead, he’s leaving that responsibility to Marian Hossa, who’s 19 tallies are tops in Chicago (sorry Wade Megan, we’re only counting NHL goals).

The main issue for the Blackhawks continues to be their penalty kill, which ranks fourth-worst in the league and stops only 76.7% of opposing power plays. One of the few bright spots has been the play of Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has blocked 27 shots when facing the man-advantage.

Playing host this evening are the 25-27-4 Jets, who currently occupy fifth-place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, due in part to their two-game losing skid. The biggest struggle in Winnipeg this season is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed 175 goals against – the most in the NHL.

17-13-1 Connor Hellebuyck has gotten most of the starts this season, and for good reason: he has the best save percentage and GAA in Winnipeg. Saving .909 percent of pucks for a 2.78 GAA, he stacks up (t)30th and 32nd in the league against the 47 other netminders with at least 17 appearances.

That being said, it’s been 4-4-0 Ondrej Pavelec that Paul Maurice has charged with manning the crease for the past four games, even though his .888 save percentage and 3.55 GAA are the worst marks by Jets goalies. It’ll be interesting to see who Maurice decides to give the nod against Chicago‘s solid offense.

Unfortunately, the troubles don’t stop there for Winnipeg. Even though Dustin Byfuglien has a decent 95 shot blocks to his credit to lead the squad (ties for 33rd-most in the NHL), the Jets allow 30.7 shots to reach Hellebuyck’s crease per game, the (t)12th-worst rate in the league.

Pair a poor defense with poor goaltending, and you get a miserable penalty kill. That’s the situation Winnipeg finds itself in, as it’s 76.6% kill rate in third-worst in the NHL. Fortunately for the Jets, they do have Toby Enstrom managing the defensive special team with his team-leading 22 shorthanded blocks.

The Blackhawks just got the monkey off their back in Minnesota, beating the Wild for the first time in nine games Wednesday. Now they turn their attention to the Jets, an unusual team that seems to genuinely look forward to playing the Hawks. Winnipeg has already won the first four contests between the clubs by a combined score of 14-5. They last met in Chicago on January 26, where the Jets won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.925 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for a 2.31 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) should he play, Duncan Keith (34 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Kane (36 assists [tied for third-most in the league] among 53 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Mark Scheifele (25 goals among 53 points [both tied for seventh-most in the league]).

This is a tough game to pick. Chicago is the obvious choice given their winning streak and overall superior play, but they are on the tail end of a long road trip. Winnipeg has home ice, and of course has won the last four games against the Hawks in convincing fashion. I wouldn’t bet on this game, but I’ll take the Jets to try to complete the season sweep.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud Poile (1924-2005) – This right win played for every Original Six team but Montréal, but he spent most of his days in a Toronto sweater. His most memorable season was in 1946-’47, when he won the Stanley Cup. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 as a Builder.
  • Randy Velischek (1962-) – The 53rd-overall pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, this defenseman played most of his career in New Jersey. His 1984-’85 campaign in Minnesota was probably his best, as he notched 13 points while only allowing six goals.
  • Peter Popovic (1968-) – Selected by Montréal in the fifth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 485 games over eight seasons in the league – most of which with the Canadiens. His 1995-’96 season was his best, marking a +21 with 14 points to his credit.
  • Mike Ribeiro (1980-) – Currently in his third season in Nashville, this center was selected 45th-overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal. He’s most known for his six seasons in Dallas.
  • Jakub Kindl (1987-) – The 19th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, this defenseman is in his first full season with the Panthers after getting traded from the Red Wings last year.

Three coaching changes: three winning debuts. Bruce Cassidy pushed the right buttons last night in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Boston bested the Sharks 6-3.

Third Star of the Game David Backes (Torey Krug and David Krejci) got things started quickly, burying a slap shot only 52 seconds into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. It only lasted 6:59 though, as ex-Bruin Joe Thornton (Tomas Hertl) scored his wrister to level the game. The next two goals belonged to the home team. First Star Patrice Bergeron (Backes and Brandon Carlo) took his turn first by scoring a tip-in with 4:08 remaining in the period, followed 1:39 later by Second Star David Pastrnak‘s (Bergeron) power play slap shot to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.

Justin Braun (Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau) did his best Backes impression to pull the Sharks within a tally only 1:08 after resuming play, but Boston‘s offense was more than up to the task. With 6:56 remaining in the second period, Tim Schaller (Riley Nash and Dominic Moore) scored the eventual game-winning goal, followed 6:07 later by Pastrnak’s (Bergeron and Brad Marchand) second power play goal of the game, which set the score at 5-2 going into the second intermission.

With 2:37 remaining in the game, Timo Meier (Joel Ward and Hertl) scored a wrister for his third tally of the season, but even that goal didn’t go unanswered. With exactly 30 seconds remaining in the game Marchand (Bergeron and Backes) tacked on one final goal for the Bruins.

Tuukka Rask earns the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (88.5%), while Aaron Dell takes the loss, saving 18-of-20 (90%). He replaced Martin Jones, who’d saved only nine-of-12 (75%), after the first intermission. Jones earned no decision.

Boston‘s win is the second in three days by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series to improve the hosts’ record to 61-37-18, 10 points better than the roadies.

January 20 – Day 97 – Blackhawks in Boston

Loverboy is right: everybody is working for the weekend.

No, not the Weeknd – the weekend, and what better way to get it started than with hockey? The action begins tonight at 7 p.m. with three games (Chicago at Boston [NHLN/SN1/TVAS], Detroit at Buffalo and Pittsburgh at Carolina) and Montréal at New Jersey (RDS) half an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the puck drop of Nashville at Edmonton, with tonight’s nightcap – Florida at Vancouver – waiting an hour before getting underway.

There’s been a lot of Original Six matchups this week, and any involving the Blackhawks are special due to rarity. Given that both are currently in playoff position, let’s head up to the City of Notions.

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The Hawks make their yearly trip to the TD Garden with a 28-14-5 record, good enough for second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. They’ve found that success by scoring a lot of goals, already notching 130 this season, which ties for 10th most in the league.

They call him Showtime for a reason. Patrick Kane has had his hand on an impressive 47 tallies this season to lead the team. That being said, it’s been second-year Hawk Artem Anisimov that has scored the most goals on the team with 18 to his credit.

That offensive success has been necessary for Chicago to cover for their horrendous penalty kill. The Blackhawks‘ 75.2% kill rate ties for second-worst in the NHL and is the worst among squads currently in playoff position. Niklas Hjalmarsson has tried to do all he can with his 19 shorthanded blocks, but him and Brent Seabrook are the only two skaters with more than nine.

Given the fact that usual-starter Corey Crawford‘s .822 save percentage against the power play is third-worst in the NHL among goalies with at least 15 appearances, it goes without saying that the entire team needs to make a stronger effort to keep shots off his net. If not, Stan Bowman will not be afraid to bring in another blueliner to bolster his squad. Fortunately, Scott Darling has been named the starter for tonight’s game, as his save percentage against the power play is slightly better at .898.

Playing host this evening are the 23-19-6 Bruins, the third-best team in the Atlantic Division. They pose a good matchup against the Blackhawks, as they’ve found much of their success on the defensive end. The Bruins have allowed only 121 goals in 48 games, which ties for the seventh-best rate in the league.

With a goaltender like 22-10-4 Tuukka Rask, it’s tough to lose. He’s earned that impressive record on a .919 save percentage and 2.11 GAA, the (t)14th and fourth-best rates, respectively, in the league against the 42 other goalies with 19 or more appearances.

I’ve said it every time we’ve featured Boston, and it’s not going to change tonight: Rask is successful this year because of the incredible defense playing in front of him. He faces only 26.6 shots-per-game, the second-fewest in the league. Zdeno Chara has headed that effort with 84 blocks in 42 games. When combined with Brandon Carlo and Adam McQuaid‘s efforts, a whopping 225 shots have been kept off Rask’s net (4.6875 per game).

It’s not surprising that the second-best defense at even-strength also fields the second-best penalty kill. Led by Chara’s 16 shorthanded blocks (tied for second-most in the NHL), Boston rejects 86.9% of opposing power plays.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Boston‘s Brad Marchand (45 points [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] on 28 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] and a 2.11 GAA [fifth-best in the league] for 22 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Chicago‘s Darling (.924 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Kane (33 assists [second-most in the NHL] among 47 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Duncan Keith (29 assists [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).

It looks like defense and home ice is the key to victory, as Vegas favors the Bruins at -138. It’s a hard formula to argue with, especially given the fact that Boston‘s offense is no slouch. The Bruins should earn tonight’s victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Lou Fontinato (1932-2016) – This defenseman played almost the entirety of his nine-season NHL career with the Rangers. By the time his career was through, he’d notched 104 points to go with his 1247 career penalty minutes.

Although one game is far too small a sample size to make any concrete claims, it seems that Doug Weight can at least handle his own behind the bench, as his Islanders beat Dallas 3-0 in his coaching debut.

First Star of the Game John Tavares (Third Star Anders Lee) is the man responsible for the winning goal, burying his wrister with 6:29 remaining in the first frame.

The first of the two insurance goals did not get struck until only 3:06 remained in regulation. Once again it was Tavares (Nikolai Kulemin) taking credit for the tally, this time a shorthanded wrister. Calvin de Haan (Second Star Thomas Greiss) completed the game’s scoring on an empty net with only four seconds remaining in the game.

Greiss earns the shutout victory by saving all 23 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Kari Lehtonen, who saved 33-of-35 (94.3%).

Mark New York‘s victory as another win for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Hosts now have a 52-33-14 record, seven points better than the visitors.

January 15 – Day 92 – Wild-Hawks rivalry

What better way to close out your weekend than with hockey? The action gets an early start at 1 p.m. with Philadelphia at Washington (NBC/TVAS), with two contests dropping the puck in prime time at 7 p.m. (New Jersey at Vancouver [SN] and Minnesota at Chicago [NBCSN]). Finally, St. Louis at Anaheim (NHLN) gets underway at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at Washington: In addition to being a rivalry, it’s also a rematch from last season’s Eastern Quartefinals.
  • Minnesota at Chicago:  A Wild win tonight would distance Minnesota‘s Central Division and Western Conference lead over their biggest rivals in their first meeting of the year.

Just like yesterday’s rivalry in Ottawa, the matchup in the United Center is just too big to miss. Off to the Windy City we go!

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Way back in the day, the Blackhawks and North Stars had a fantastic rivalry, similar to the Bears and Vikings and the Twins and White Sox. Of course, it died out when the Stars lost the direction from their name and headed to the Lone Star State.

Simply introducing the Wild to the league in 2000 did not completely rekindle the dormant geographical rivalry. That job was completed 13 years later when these clubs met in the Western Quarterfinals. Although the Hawks needed only five games to dispatch the Wild, a playoff meeting paired with Minnesota joining the Central Division that offseason marked the beginnings of today’s rivalry.

For three-straight seasons, these clubs met in the postseason, and the Wild have been eliminated three straight-times. Minnesota does have a big victory over the Hawks though: last season’s Stadium Series matchup at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Wild whipped Chicago 6-1.

What better environment for a statement win? With a win over the Stars last night for their third-straight, Minnesota took control of Central Division and Western Conference by winning the games-played tiebreaker over Chicago. Of course, the Wild would love to create a real point-spread over the Hawks before staking dramatic claims like “Best in the West” or something to that effect.

Minnesota has earned their 27-9-5 record by playing  some phenomenal goaltending that has allowed only 84 goals, the second-fewest in the NHL.

At the midway point of the season, 22-7-3 Devan Dubnyk easily gets my vote (if I had one) for Vezina. His .94 save percentage and 1.77 GAA are both best in the NHL.

Making his effort more impressive is the fact that Minnesota‘s defense is not one of the elite units in the league. Led by Jared Spurgeon‘s 73-block effort, the Wild have allowed 29.5 shots-per-game to reach Dubnyk’s crease, only the 12th-best in the NHL.

Dubnyk’s success has carried into the penalty kill. Thanks to him and Spurgeon’s team-leading 11 shorthanded blocks, Minnesota ranks fifth-best on the penalty kill, refusing to yield a goal on 85.1% of opposing power plays.

Playing host this evening are the 27-13-5 Blackhawks, currently in second place in the Central Division due to losing the games-played tiebreaker to the this tonight’s opponent. They’ve found that success by playing a well-rounded game, but I’ve been most impressed with their goaltending that has allowed only 112 goals over 45 games – the seventh-lowest average in the league.

The man between the pipes more often than not for Chicago has been 16-9-3 Corey Crawford, whose .922 save percentage and 2.47 GAA are (t)12th and 19th-best among the 47 netminders with 14 or more appearances.

While Dubnyk has certainly been better than Crawford this season, Crawford has arguably been more important for his club this season as the Hawks‘ defense allows 31.3 shots-per-game to reach his crease, tied for the eighth-worst rate in the league. Niklas Hjalmarsson is doing all he can to resolve that issue, as his 104 blocks are not only most on the team, but fifth-most in the league.

The biggest issue for Chicago this season has been their miserable penalty kill. Ranked third-worst in the league, the Hawks have stopped only 76.3% of opposing power plays. Once again, Hjalmarsson cannot be lumped into that effort, as his 19 shorthanded blocks are easily the best in the Windy City.

Some players to keep an eye on include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.924 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]), Patrick Kane (33 assists [second-most in the league] among 45 points [fourth-most in the NHL]), Duncan Keith (29 assists [fourth-most in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (42 points [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.77 GAA on a .94 save percentage [both best in the league] for 22 wins, including five shutouts [both tied for second-most in the NHL]), Mikael Granlund (+22 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+22 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+24 [third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+27 [best in the NHL]) and Jason Zucker (+25 [second-best in the league]).

This should be a fantastic game. Minnesota comes into this game riding tons of momentum, while Chicago finally has the goal of reclaiming their position in the standings. Given that the Hawks were inactive yesterday and Minnesota had to travel from Texas, I’m leaning towards Chicago, but that’s not to say I’m picking against a very impressive Wild team.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brett Lebda (1982-) – Although undrafted, this defenseman played 397 games over seven seasons in the NHL, most of which with Detroit. He was a member of the Wings‘ 2008 Stanley Cup squad.

You did it Leafs fans. Toronto‘s 4-2 victory over Ottawa in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day has earned them third place in the Atlantic Division. If they hold onto it, they qualify for the playoffs.

Only 6:26 into the game, Second Star of the Game Nazem Kadri (James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak) got things started with a power play wrister to give the Maple Leafs an early lead that lasted until the first intermission.

Toronto got off to an even faster start in the second period as Bozak (Mitch Marner) buried a wrister only 1:07 after returning to the ice. The Senators pulled back within a goal when Dion Phaneuf (Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson) potted a slap shot 8:08 later. With 110 seconds remaining before the second intermission, Third Star Kyle Turris (Bobby Ryan and Ryan Dzingel) leveled the game with a wrister.

Kadri (William Nylander and Matt Hunwick) takes credit for the winning goal only 2:31 after returning from intermission – yet another quick goal. Connor Brown (Auston Matthews) tacked on an insurance goal 5:21 later to secure Toronto‘s victory.

First Star Curtis McElhinney earned his first victory with the Leafs by saving 35-of-37 shots faced (94.6%), leaving the loss to Mike Condon, who saved 23-of-27 (85.2%).

The Leafs‘ victory is the second-straight by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the series record at 49-31-14 in favor of the homers by six points.

St. Louis at Dallas – Game 2 – Backes and the Blues make it a five game series

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The St. Louis Blues may have only managed 25 shots on goal, but they were able to level their series against the Dallas Stars by beating them 4-3 in overtime, thanks to Captain David Backes.

Only 3:36 into Game 2, Cody Eakin collected a puck along the near boards and passed to Second Star of the Game Jamie Benn, who was positioned behind Brian Elliott’s net.  He set up a centering pass towards the left face-off dot for Alex Goligoski, who top shelfed his slap shot into the back of the net.

The Blues took offense to that, and 35 seconds later Third Star Backes carried the puck into the neutral zone before passing to Patrik Berglund, who completed the advance into the attacking zone before passing off to Robby Fabbri.  Fabbri dumped back to the attacking Berguland, who scored a slap shot past Kari Lehtonen’s glove hand to level the game at a goal apiece.

At the 7:02 mark, First Star Troy Brouwer and Scottie Upshall connected with Joel Edmundson to give him his first goal of the playoffs, and more importantly, a St. Louis lead.

With 80 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Brouwer scored the Blues‘ final goal of regulation on a power play wrister, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk and Fabbri.

At the beginning of the second period, it was not Lehtonen in Dallas‘ net, but instead Antti Niemi, who did not yield a goal on 10 shots faced in his opening 20 minutes of work.  Similarly, Elliott saved all six shots he faced, holding the score at 3-1 going into the final frame.

The fifth goal of the game wasn’t scored until the 4:35 mark of the final frame, courtesy of Mattias Janmark, his first of the playoffs.  His wrister was assisted by Eakin and Colton Sceviour.  Eakin dumped the puck out of the defensive zone to Janmark, who had only one Blue to beat on his way to the crease before sneaking the puck past Elliott’s left skate.

Dallas‘ offensive push was certainly made evident 13 seconds later, when a Dallas power play shot was fired so hard it broke Elliott’s mask, but he made the save to maintain the one-goal differential.

With 2:36 remaining in regulation, Benn scored a wrister to level the game, assisted by Eakin and Kris Russell.  Eakin won the face-off from the far dot, which he sent back to the blue line for Russell to collect and fire on net.  Elliott made the save, but Benn collected the rebound to slide the puck past the sprawling goaltender’s glove hand.

Neither team was able to break the draw before the clock struck zeroes, so the game required 10:58 of overtime before Backes’ power play wrister proved to be the winner.  After providing the screen on Alexander Steen’s initial shot and literally jumping over the puck, he collected the rebound and scored behind Niemi’s left skate.

Elliott earns the win after saving 31 of 34 shots faced (91.2%), while Niemi takes the overtime loss, saving 19 of 20 (95%).  Lehtonen takes credit for the poor first period, where he saved only two of five (40%).

Now a best-of-five series, the locale shifts to Scottrade Arena in St. Louis, MO.  Game 3 will occur on a busy Tuesday, May 3 at 9:30 p.m. eastern and can be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.

Chicago at St. Louis – Game 7 – Brouwer and the Blues advance

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With a 3-2 win in the Scottrade Center Monday night, the Blues are off to Dallas after eliminating the arch-rival Chicago Blackhawks.

Exactly a minute into the game, Jori Lehtera redirected a Jay Bouwmeester shot into the back of Corey Crawford’s net to give the Blues a one-goal lead.  Bouwmeester’s initial shot from the blue line was assisted by Jaden Schwartz.

The Notes doubled their lead with 6:17 remaining in the opening period with a slap shot from Colton Parayko, assisted by Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen.  Steen dug the puck out of the corner and passed to Berglund at the near face-off dot.  Berglund dumped off to the rookie, who fired from almost on the blue line to give the Blues their second goal.

Marian Hossa pulled the Blackhawks back within a goal with a slap shot with 1:30 remaining in the frame.  His third goal of the series was assisted by Richard Panik.  The offensive threat began in the Hawks‘ defensive zone when Schwartz blows an edge and ends up on his back.  Panik collected the puck in the neutral zone and made the cross-ice pass to Hossa just before he crossed the blue line.  Hossa fired his slapper from just outside the right face-off circle.

Just like they have all series, St. Louis made certain to make their presence along the boards known, as they led the Hawks in hits, 20 to seven.

Thanks to a Kevin Shattenkirk hooking penalty causing the first power play of the game, Andrew Shaw leveled the game with a wrister assisted by Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, the only tally of the period.  Keith started the play at the blue line, passing to Toews who quickly dumped to Shaw along the goal line to Second Star of the Game Brian Elliott’s stick side.  In what was probably an attempted pass to Patrick Kane on the opposite side of the crease, Shaw’s puck hit Bouwmeester’s leg as he was sprawled on the ice and trickled past Elliott’s left skate.

Just as Chicago had the only goal in the second, St. Louis had the lone tally of the third to break the tie and win the series.  The series-clinching goal belongs to First Star Troy Brouwer, his first of this postseason, assisted by Third Star Robby Fabbri and Paul Stastny.  The play starts on Erik Gustafsson’s stick, as he is working to advance the puck into the neutral zone before Fabbri throws a full body check to break possession.  Alex Pietrangelo collected the puck and dumped it back into the offensive zone, where Stastny collected.  Working hard to maintain possession, he finally finds Fabbri in the far face-off circle, who dumps to Brouwer waiting in the crease.  Brouwer’s initial shot finds the right post, and the second was a fan, but the third time was indeed the charm, finding the back of Crawford’s net.

Elliott earns his first Game 7 win in his first Game 7 appearance, saving 31 of 33 shots faced (93.9%), while Crawford takes the loss, saving 23 of 26 (88.5%).

As the lower seed, a maximum of only three games will be played in St. Louis next round when they face the Dallas Stars.  No date or time has been released for when that series will begin in North Texas.

St. Louis at Chicago – Game 4 – Shaw’s penalty overshadows his three point night, Blues win 4-3

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The Blues arrived in Chicago tied with the Blackhawks in their Quarterfinal series.  With two impressive road wins, they come home to St. Louis with the opportunity to punch their ticket to the Semis after winning 4-3 in Game 4.

The only goal of the first period was an absolute rifle from First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarasenko on Corey Crawford’s glove side, assisted by Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz with 5:58 remaining in the frame.

Although the Notes had the lead on the scoreboard, it was actually the Blackhawks who led the period in shots with 14, but St. Louis countered by continuing their physical ways with a solid 17 hits in the opening frame.

By deflecting an initial slap shot from Marian Hossa (who was set up by Erik Gustafsson) into net, Andrew Shaw leveled game for the Hawks at the 9:12 mark.  Third Star Duncan Keith struck again 3:57 later on the power play to give Chicago the lead, assisted by Shaw and Patrick Kane.  With 2:29 remaining in the period, Tarasenko struck again to take advantage of an Andrew Ladd interference penalty with a power play wrister assisted by Alexander Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk.  As the last goal of the period, the game entered the second intermission tied at two-all.

After two, Chicago still led the game with 28 shots to St. Louis‘ 15, but the Notes had a 20 hit lead on the home Hawks.

A minute and a second after play resumed, Keith was caught holding Lehtera.  35 seconds later, Schwartz earned the Blues their second lead of the night with a power play wrister assisted by David Backes and Shattenkirk.  Steen waited 3:10 before increasing the Blues‘ lead to two goals.  It was a sweet steal on a pass in Chicago‘s defensive end that he fired over the surprised Crawford’s glove.

Keith pulled Chicago back within a goal with 5:20 to go in regulation with a wrister, assisted by Artemi Panarin and Shaw.

The game effectively ended with 2:04 remaining in regulation when Shaw was called for interference against Jay Bouwmeester.  Before making his way to the box, Shaw was seen choosing two particular fingers to convey a message to the referee, and they certainly weren’t thumbs up.  Following the horn, Shaw initiated a scrum with Pietrangelo in Second Star Brian Elliott’s end, and he continued to fight even after the referee was making every attempt to separate the two.

These actions in addition to some choice words that, if I’m to trust my lip reading abilities, were homosexual slurs directed at the official, Shaw may be receiving at least a fine from the league, if not a suspension.  It is a shame that he allowed the Blues to get to him so much, as he had one of the best games of the night for the Blackhawks before all the debauchery.

Elliott earns the win after saving 39 of the 42 shots he faced (92.9%), while Crawford takes the loss, saving 16 of 20 (80%).

With that win, the Blues return to St. Louis with a 3-1 series lead and the opportunity to punch their ticket to the Western Semifinals on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. eastern.  That contest can be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.