Tag Archives: Kevin Fiala

Game of the week: March 4-10

It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.

Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 4
7 p.m. Edmonton Buffalo 4-3
9 p.m. Toronto Calgary 6-2
Tuesday, March 5
7 p.m. Carolina Boston 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Columbus New Jersey 2-1 (SO)
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders 4-5 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Tampa Bay 2-5
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Dallas Stars 0-1
9 p.m. Detroit Colorado 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. Anaheim Arizona 3-1
10:30 p.m. Montréal Los Angeles 3-1
Wednesday, March 6
7:30 p.m. Washington Philadelphia 5-3
9 p.m. Toronto Vancouver 2-3 (OT)
10 p.m. St. Louis Anaheim 5-4
10:30 p.m. Calgary Vegas 1-2
Thursday, March 7
7 p.m. Florida Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Columbus Pittsburgh 0-3
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Ottawa Senators 4-2
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Detroit Red Wings 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Tampa Bay 3-0
8:30 p.m. Buffalo Chicago 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. Colorado Dallas 0-4
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 2-3
9 p.m. Calgary Arizona 0-2
10:30 p.m. St. Louis Los Angeles 4-0
10:30 p.m. Montréal San Jose 2-5
Friday, March 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Florida 2-6
7 p.m. New Jersey Washington 0-3
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Carolina 8-1
10 p.m. Montréal Anaheim 2-8
Saturday, March 9
3 p.m. Buffalo Colorado  
4 p.m. St. Louis San Jose NHLN
7 p.m. Toronto Edmonton CBC, NHLN, SN
7 p.m. Ottawa Boston CITY, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay  
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Islanders  
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Columbus  
8 p.m. Los Angeles Arizona  
8 p.m. Carolina Nashville  
8 p.m. Chicago Dallas  
10 p.m. Vegas Vancouver CBC, CITY, SN, SN1
Sunday, March 10
5 p.m. Detroit Florida  
7 p.m. Winnipeg Washington SN
7:30 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Vegas Calgary SN1
10 p.m. Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN

As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.

Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.

Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.

In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.

As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.

While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?

Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.

While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.

Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.

Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.

While this new strategy has certainly paid major dividends for Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s side, there is one player who has still shined brighter than the rest: 22-10-3 G Matt Murray.

Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.

Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.

With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).

Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.

Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).

Joining Crosby in averaging a point per game for the Pens during this run are linemates F Jake Guentzel (5-3-8 totals) and F Jared McCann (3-3-6).

Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.

Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.

With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.

Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.

However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.

Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.

In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.

Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.

I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.

DTFR Podcast #147- Trade The Whole Team

It’s the DTFR 2019 Trade Deadline recap! Plus a few other notes from the last week around the NHL.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2019 NHL Trade Deadline Recap

Below is a quick recap of all the trades that officially occurred on Monday prior to the National Hockey League’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.


Early Monday morning the San Jose Sharks acquired F Gustav Nyquist from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 2019 2nd round pick and a conditional 2020 3rd round pick. The 2020 3rd round pick becomes a 2nd round pick if the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final or Nyquist re-signs.

Detroit retained 30% of Nyquist’s salary in the transaction. MORE

The Anaheim Ducks completed a minor swap with the Ottawa Senators exchanging F Brian Gibbons for D Patrick Sieloff.

G Keith Kinkaid was traded by the New Jersey Devils to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a 2022 5th round pick. MORE

The New York Rangers sent F Kevin Hayes to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for F Brendan Lemieux, a 2019 1st round pick and a conditional 2022 4th round pick.

Winnipeg’s 2019 1st round pick in the trade is Top-3 lottery protected. MORE

The Montreal Canadiens sent F Michael Chaput to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for F Jordan Weal.

The Florida Panthers traded F Tomas Jurco to the Carolina Hurricanes for future considerations.

F Cliff Pu was traded by the Carolina Hurricanes to the Florida Panthers for future considerations.

F Derick Brassard was traded by the Florida Panthers along with a conditional 2020 6th round pick to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a 2020 3rd round pick.

If Brassard re-signs with the Avalanche, Colorado will not receive Florida’s 6th round pick. MORE

The New York Rangers traded D Adam McQuaid to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for D Julius Bergman, a 2019 4th round pick and a 2019 7th round pick. MORE

The Calgary Flames acquired D Oscar Fantenberg from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a conditional 2020 4th round pick.

F Mikael Granlund was traded by the Minnesota Wild to the Nashville Predators in exchange for F Kevin Fiala.

F Mark Stone and F Tobias Lindberg were traded by the Ottawa Senators to the Vegas Golden Knights for D Erik Brannstrom, F Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 2nd round pick (originally belonging to DAL).

Stone has agreed on an eight-year extension with Vegas worth $9.500 million per season, but cannot sign it until March 1st. MORE

The Nashville Predators acquired F Wayne Simmonds from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for F Ryan Hartman and a conditional 2020 4th round draft pick.

If Nashville wins one round of the playoffs, the pick becomes a 2020 3rd round pick.

D Michael Del Zotto was traded to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a 2019 6th round draft pick in return to the Anaheim Ducks.

F Marcus Johansson was shipped from the New Jersey Devils to the Boston Bruins in exchange for a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 4th round pick. New Jersey retained 40% of Johansson’s salary in the trade.

The Winnipeg Jets traded a 2020 7th round pick to the Minnesota Wild for F Matt Hendricks.

The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired D Erik Gudbranson from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for F Tanner Pearson.

D Nathan Beaulieu was traded by the Buffalo Sabres to the Winnipeg Jets for a 6th round pick.

Winnipeg also traded a 2021 7th round pick to the Florida Panthers for D Bogdan Kiselevich.

The San Jose Sharks sent F Linus Karlsson to the Vancouver Canucks for F Jonathan Dahlen.

In their sixth trade of the day, the Winnipeg Jets traded F Nic Petan to the Toronto Maple Leafs for F Par Lindholm.

The Florida Panthers traded D Chris Wideman to the Pittsburgh Penguins for F Jean-Sebastien Dea.

F Alex Broadhurst was traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Nashville Predators for future considerations.

Rinne and the Preds shutout Bruins, 1-0

Pekka Rinne celebrated his 36th birthday with a 1-0 shutout Saturday night against the Boston Bruins as the B’s were paying their annual visit to Bridgestone Arena. Roman Josi had the game’s only goal for the Nashville Predators and the Bruins wrapped up their quick two-game road trip, 1-1-0.

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Rinne (5-1-0 in 7 games played with a 1.63 goals against average and a .948 save percentage) stopped all 26 shots he faced for the win– his 2nd shutout of the season– and became the first goaltender in National Hockey League history to record multiple regular-season shutouts on his birthday (he previously shutout the Phoenix Coyotes on November 3, 2011).

The Preds netminder also signed a two-year extension with Nashville earlier in the day on Saturday, keeping him in Smashville through the 2020-21 season.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (4-1-2, 1.45 GAA, .952 SV% in 8 GP), made 39 saves on 40 shots against for a .975 save percentage in the loss.

Boston defender Torey Krug celebrated 400 career NHL games played with a minus-one rating, two hits and two blocked shots in 23:03 time on ice.

As a result of the loss, Boston fell to 7-4-2 (16 points) on the season, which was good enough to remain 3rd in the Atlantic– but tied in points with the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres. Nashville improved to 11-3-2 (22 points) so far this season– maintaining their 1st overall standing in the Central Division, as well as the Western Conference and entire league.

Bruce Cassidy made one change in the lineup after Ryan Donato was assigned to the  Providence Bruins (AHL) on Thursday, re-inserting David Backes on the third line as No. 42 in black-and-gold returned to action for the first time since sustaining a concussion in Edmonton last month.

Matt Grzelcyk (lower body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), Charlie McAvoy (upper body) and Kevan Miller (hand) remained out of the lineup Saturday as McAvoy was retroactively placed on the injured reserve earlier in the week.

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The game began with some quick end-to-end action that slowly became heavily dominated by the Predators with quality chances and zone entries.

Brandon Carlo took the game’s first penalty– a minor infraction for hooking– at 12:02 of the first period after getting his stick tangled up with Nashville forward, Ryan Johansen.

The Preds did not convert on the ensuing power play, but maintained just momentum in the vulnerable minute after the skater advantage expired for Josi (4) to waltz around Bruins forward, Danton Heinen, cut to the goal and fire a shot past Halak from point blank.

Ryan Ellis (8) and Nick Bonino (3) had the assist’s on Josi’s goal at 14:49 of the first period and Nashville led, 1-0. The goal was Josi’s 300th career NHL point.

Yannick Weber was guilty of hooking Joakim Nordstrom less than ten seconds later, but the Bruins didn’t convert on the ensuing power play.

Noel Acciari hooked Mattias Ekholm at 17:10 and Nashville didn’t score on that power play either, because– you guess it– there were no more goals scored in the Predators, 1-0, win.

Brad Marchand stirred the pot with a phantom high-sticking minor infraction at 19:58 of the first period.

It’s one thing if there’s a blown call. It’s another thing for a player to continue arguing and receive an extra unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty– resulting in a 4:00 power play that could’ve drastically changed the game for Nashville– and a ten-minute misconduct without any conceivable warning.

Not to put too much thought into it, but just to sidestep onto a soapbox (since nothing else really happened other than a great goaltender battle all night long) regardless of making a call, professional sports usually work on a one-warning system.

It was not made clear by the broadcast whether or not Marchand faced a warning from the referee or whether that was implied by the penalties handed out, however NHL refs are noted for expressing verbal warnings to players early in a game before handing out unsportsmanlike minors or misconducts after repeated bad behavior (verbally or physically) later in the action.

Like how an umpire in baseball delivers a warning to both dugouts sometimes after a pitcher hits a batter. Whether the next hit batter is intentional or not, the umpire has already made it clear that discipline will be handed out and the subsequent pitcher beaning a batter is ejected from the game.

Anyway, that’ll probably save a few minutes on next week’s podcast.

There’s nothing wrong with the penalties handed out after the blown call, but rather the formality in which they occurred, without a given warning that would otherwise deem them flat-out the right call.

Then again, other league’s issue formal apologies after the game, in which nothing can be changed because it’s after the game and, well, the fact of the matter is– refs are human.

This is sports. Mistakes are made. Play better. Rise above. Insert whatever you want here.

Anyway, Marchand’s 14 minutes in penalties came with two seconds remaining in the first period, so Nashville’s power play would extend into the middle frame.

After one period, the Predators led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 15-10. Nashville also had an advantage in takeaways (3-1), giveaways (5-2) and face-off win percentage (55-46). The Bruins had an advantage in blocked shots (7-2) through 20 minutes.

The Preds entered the first intermission 0/3 on the power play, while Boston was 0/1 heading into the dressing room.

Ryan Hartman hooked Heinen early in the second period and gave the B’s a power play at 4:18. Boston didn’t convert on the skater advantage and had one more chance on the power play at 8:51 of the second period after Kevin Fiala got a stick hooked on David Pastrnak.

The Bruins power play was unsuccessful on that chance too.

Despite controlling the flow of the game more in the second period, the Bruins lacked quality in both shots and zone entries. Everything was moving too quick– too many passes, too much setup– and too many saves piling up in Rinne’s save percentage for the night.

Miikka Salomaki interfered with Acciari at 17:47, giving the Bruins one last chance on the power play, but it was unsuccessful.

Shortly thereafter, Steven Kampfer tripped up Johansen on a scoring opportunity after Johansen appeared to not actually get tripped up at all upon replay. Something about not anticipating the play, thereby calling misled reaction penalties and instead enforcing the rules…

Anyway, Nashville didn’t score on their final power play of the game at 19:56 of the second period. Again, the Bruins would start the subsequent period shorthanded, however, if you reread the previous sentence… they made out just fine.

After 40 minutes Nashville was still leading in shots on goal (23-20), despite being outshot by Boston (10-8) in the 2nd period. The Bruins led in blocked shots (10-9), hits (8-6) and face-off win% (54-46) through two periods, while the Predators held an advantage in takeaways (7-3) and giveaways (8-4).

Both teams failed to convert on the power play, as Nashville finished the night 0/5 on the skater advantage and the B’s went 0/4.

Though some things may have been mismanaged in the first 40 minutes, the on-ice officials put away their whistles in the final 20 minutes, yielding no stoppages for major or minor infractions.

Cassidy pulled his netminder with 2:02 remaining in the third period and called a timeout after a stoppage in the action with 12.0 seconds remaining in the game. Neither strategy worked as time ran out on the Bruins’s hopes for scoring a game-tying goal and the Predators walked away with the 1-0 victory.

Nashville finished the night with a 40-26 advantage in shots on goal (17-6 in the third period), as well as an advantage in giveaways (12-10) and face-off win% (53-47). Boston finished the 60-minute effort leading in hits (17-8) and both teams recorded 14 blocked shots.

Boston travels back home to begin a four-game home-stand with a matchup against former Bruin, Tyler Seguin, and the Dallas Stars Monday at TD Garden. The B’s will face the Stars (Nov. 5th), Vancouver Canucks (Nov. 8th), Toronto Maple Leafs (Nov. 10th) and Vegas Golden Knights (Nov. 11th) over the next four-games.

Preds down Jets, 2-1, in Game 4

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For the first time since February 27th, the Winnipeg Jets have lost a home game. Interestingly enough, that was also a Nashville Predators win.

Nashville evened their Second Round series matchup with the Jets in a 2-1 victory on Thursday night at Bell MTS Place.

Predators netminder, Pekka Rinne, made 32 saves on 33 shots against for a .970 save percentage in the win, while Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck had 27 saves on 29 shots faced for a .931 SV% in 58:09 time on ice.

Peter Laviolette inserted veteran forward, Scott Hartnell, into his lineup in place of Kevin Fiala and the Predators and Jets were just as physical as ever from puck drop on Thursday.

On a delayed penalty to Roman Josi for cross checking Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine retaliated and received a roughing minor at 3:46 of the first period. As such, what was going to be a power play for Winnipeg suddenly evaporated into matching minors.

Shortly thereafter, while the Jets were racking up scoring chance after scoring chance, Rinne— in desperation— stopped a shot with the knob of his stick and the game remained tied, 0-0.

Late in the first period on a faceoff win in the offensive zone, Ryan Hartman (2) made Winnipeg pay on an individual effort for the game’s first goal. Nashville led, 1-0, at 17:20 of the first period.

Through one period of action in Game 4, the Predators were leading, 1-0, on the scoreboard and trailing, 12-9, in shots on goal. Winnipeg led in blocked shots (2-1), giveaways (8-5) and faceoff win percentage (53-47), while Nashville held an advantage in hits (12-10) and takeaways (4-2).

Both teams had yet to appear on the power play entering the first intermission, though Craig Smith’s minor penalty for tripping Winnipeg defender, Adam Lowry, at 20:00 of the first period meant that the Jets would begin their first power play of the night starting from puck drop in the second period.

The two Western Conference powerhouses swapped scoring chance for scoring chance in the second period after the Preds killed off Smith’s minor penalty, but the scoreboard did not change until Nashville got their first power play opportunity of the night.

Jets blueliner, Dustin Byfuglien, slashed Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm and was sent to the box at 13:43 of the second period. Less than a minute later, the Predators converted on the man advantage.

Filip Forsberg worked the puck back to the point where P.K. Subban (3) shot a rocket of a slap shot past Hellebuyck as the Winnipeg netminder was being screened by Viktor Arvidsson in front of the goal.

Forsberg (7) and Ryan Johansen (6) notched the assists on Subban’s goal at 14:36 of the second period and the Predators amassed a two-goal lead.

Late in the second, Lowry hooked Kyle Turris and Nashville went back on the power play, but the Predators were not able to score on the ensuing advantage heading into the second intermission. They did, however, have 39 seconds remaining on the power play to start the third period.

After 40 minutes of play, the Nashville Predators led the Winnipeg Jets, 2-0. Winnipeg held a slight advantage in shots on goal (23-22), blocked shots (6-4) and giveaways (13-9). The Predators held an advantage in hits (20-17) and takeaways (6-2), while the Jets led in faceoff win percentage (53-47).

Nashville was 1/2 on the power play while the Jets were 0/1 after two periods.

The Predators held onto their 2-0 lead deep into the third period and were approaching a mark not seen in Winnipeg since March 11, 2017. That mark, of course, being the last time the Jets were shutout on home ice— regular season or postseason.

With a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation, Paul Maurice pulled his goaltender for an extra skater. Shortly thereafter, things went from 6-on-5 to 6-on-4 for Winnipeg as Subban was penalized for cross checking Scheifele at 17:58 of the third period.

Scheifele fanned on a one-timer on the ensuing power play and almost redeemed himself on a follow up, but Rinne worked his magic once again and covered it up with about a minute left in regulation.

That’s when Maurice used his timeout to draw up a plan to avoid being shutout and attempt to score two quick goals.

Paul Stastny won the ensuing faceoff back to Laine (3), who fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle through Rinne’s five-hole as the puck deflected off of a chunk of the Finnish goaltender.

Stastny (7) had the only assist on Laine’s power play goal at 19:09 of the third period and Winnipeg cut the Predators lead in half, 2-1.

After a couple more stoppages in play and a timekeeping adjustment, the Jets had an offensive faceoff with 1.2 seconds left in the game— plenty of time to win a faceoff and score a goal if they were to execute the perfect play.

It did not go as perfect.

Stastny won the attacking zone faceoff back to Laine, but Laine’s shooting lane was jammed, so the Jets winger had to throw the puck in front of the net as fast as possible as time expired and the Nashville Predators evened the series, 2-2.

After 60 minutes, the Predators won the game, 2-1, and led in blocked shots (9-6) and hits (27-23). Meanwhile, Winnipeg led in shots on goal (33-29), giveaways (19-12) and faceoff win percentage (58-42). Both teams were 1/2 on the power play.

With the series tied, 2-2, the series shifts back to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. ET for Game 5. Viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can tune in on CBC or TVAS. Game 6 will be back in Winnipeg on Monday night.

Fiala, Preds, even series with Jets in 2OT win

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Kevin Fiala scored the game-winning overtime goal at 5:37 of the second overtime period Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena and the Nashville Predators topped the Winnipeg Jets, 5-4, in Game 2. The Second Round series is now tied, 1-1, heading into Game 3 on Tuesday.

Predators netminder, Pekka Rinne had 46 saves on 50 shots against for a .920 save percentage in 85:37 time on ice in the win, while Jets goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, made 36 saves on 41 shots against for an .878 SV% in 84:50 TOI in the loss.

Getting the first goal in a Stanley Cup Playoff game means (almost) everything. Ryan Johansen (3) scored the game’s first goal just 27 seconds into the action and the Predators had a 1-0 lead. Filip Forsberg (3) and P.K. Subban (4) had the assists.

Matt Hendricks bumped into Rinne past the seven minute mark in the first period and received the game’s first penalty as Nashville went on the power play. The Preds did not convert on the man advantage.

Moments later, Ryan Hartman tripped Paul Stastny and the Jets went on their first power play of the night. Winnipeg’s power play was short lived, though, as Blake Wheeler promptly tripped Colton Sissons 52 seconds into Winnipeg’s man advantage opportunity.

As Nashville’s abbreviated power play was wrapping up, Viktor Arvidsson, was guilty of a minor penalty for interference.

Seconds later, after winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, the Jets worked the puck along the wall, around the boards and back to the point, where Dustin Byfuglien was sneaking his way in towards the goal.

Byfuglien (1) fired a shot from close range and snuck the puck through Rinne’s five-hole for his first goal of the postseason and tied the game, 1-1. Mark Scheifele (2) had the only assist on the goal at 12:47 of the first period.

Just 29 seconds after Byfuglien scored, Winnipeg converted on their abbreviated power play with Arvidsson in the box for Nashville.

Scheifele (7) was in the right place at the right time as Stastny collected a rebound that caromed off the glass behind the net and dished a pass to the young Jets forward standing point blank in the slot. Stastny (4) and Patrik Laine (4) notched the assists on the goal that made it, 2-1, Winnipeg at 13:16.

As momentum shifted in Winnipeg’s favor, Laine rang the post about a minute later and almost had what would’ve been three unanswered goals for the Jets.

Instead, after 20 minutes of play, Winnipeg had a one-goal lead as shots on goal were even, 9-9. The Jets led in blocked shots (9-7) and takeaways (4-2), while the Preds led in hits (9-7) and giveaways (3-2). Winnipeg was 1/2 on the power play and Nashville was 0/2 after one period.

Bryan Little tripped up Sissons 4:01 into the second period and the Predators went on the power play for the third time Sunday night.

Subban (1) fired a clapper past Hellebuyck while Arvidsson provided the perfect jump screen in front of the goal to tie the game, 2-2, at 5:04 of the second period. Forsberg (4) and Arvidsson (2) amassed the assists on Subban’s goal.

Mattias Ekholm slashed Wheeler almost midway into the second period, but the Jets were not able to score on the ensuing power play. Neither did the Predators on their own power play six minutes later when Hendricks took another trip to the sin bin for interference.

On a burst of speed into the offensive zone Arvidsson (3) let go of a cannon of a shot that beat Hellebuyck to give Nashville a, 3-2, lead at 18:41 of the second period. Forsberg (5) and Ryan Ellis (5) had the assists on the goal.

At the end of the period, Ellis delivered a cross check to Scheifele in the midst of a scrum and Nick Bonino mixed things up a bit with Scheifele himself. Three penalties were assessed at 20:00 minutes of the second period; Ellis (a minor for cross checking), Bonino (roughing, minor) and Scheifele (roughing, minor).

Through 40 minutes of play, the Preds led the Jets, 3-2, on the scoreboard and were outshot, 22-18, by Winnipeg. Nashville led in hits (18-10) and giveaways (13-7), while Winnipeg led in blocked shots (18-11) and takeaways (8-7). The Jets were 1/3 on the power play and the Predators were 1/4 on the man advantage after two periods.

Brandon Tanev (3) forced his way through the neutral zone on a chip pass from Little and beat Rinne on a breakaway, tying the game, 3-3 at 5:11 of the third period. Little (3) had the only assist on Tanev’s goal.

Johansen (4) scored on a breakaway of his own— destroying Toby Enstrom with one move and beating Hellebuyck bar-down— 34 seconds later, giving the Predators the one-goal lead, once again. Arvidsson (3) had the only assist on Johansen’s second goal of the game and Nashville led, 4-3, at 5:45.

For the longest time, the Predators were leading, 4-3, in the third period, but Paul Maurice’s Winnipeg Jets had more fight in them as time ticked down. Maurice pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with under two minutes remaining in regulation and it quickly paid off as Scheifele (8) nabbed his second goal of the night.

Wheeler (6) and Byfuglien (6) notched the primary and secondary assists on the game-tying goal at 18:55 of the third period.

With the score tied, 4-4, after 60 minutes of regulation, Game 2 went into overtime.

Entering overtime, Winnipeg was leading in shots on goal (36-25), while Nashville led in hits (21-19), takeaways (11-9) and giveaways (15-11). Both teams were 1/4 on the power play.

The Predators peppered the Hellebuyck with a ton of shots in the first half of the first overtime period and were in complete control of the chaotic flow of the game. Then Winnipeg caught the Jetstream and hightailed the rest of the period, generating numerous scoring chances that were tossed aside by Rinne.

After 20 minutes of overtime and 80 minutes of play, the score remained, 4-4, but the Jets led in shots on goal (48-38) and blocked shots (28-26). Nashville kept up with their physical play, leading in hits (26-23) and controlled the faceoff dot— winning 61 percent of all faceoffs taken after the first overtime.

Winnipeg had surpassed their previous longest postseason game in franchise history (dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers) and would quickly pass the record for longest postseason game by any Winnipeg NHL franchise (new or old— a.k.a. the current day Arizona Coyotes) in the second overtime period.

Another milestone passed by the Jets that’s not to be overlooked (given the emergence/existence of the Vegas Golden Knights in Vegas’s inaugural season/postseason) is the fact that entering Sunday night, Winnipeg/Atlanta was the only active NHL franchise that had yet to play a game that required multiple overtimes.

Anyway, Kevin Fiala (3) converted in a two-on-one whereby Craig Smith tossed the puck across the ice, Fiala received it, stickhandled, made Hellebuyck commit, then pulled the puck to his backhand and scored on a largely left open 4×6 frame.

Smith (1) and Kyle Turris (3) had the assists on Fiala’s second career postseason overtime goal and the Predators had won, 5-4, at 5:37 of the second overtime.

Winnipeg finished the night leading in shots on goal (50-41) and blocked shots (30-26). Nashville led in the final scoreboard, 5-4, and in hits (26-23) after 85:37 elapsed time.

With the win, Rinne is now 7-6 all-time in postseason overtime games and Hellebuyck is 0-1 in his first career overtime Stanley Cup Playoff game.

The series is tied, 1-1, heading into Game 3 on Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Viewers in the United States can tune to CNBC at 8 p.m. ET, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC or TVAS.

Hellebuyck steals Game 1 for Winnipeg

 

With 47 saves from First Star of the Game and Vezina finalist G Connor Hellebuyck, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal.

Hockey is a bizarre, incredible game in that one side can absolutely dominate play by out-shooting the opposition 20-4 (yes, you read that correctly: only four shots on goal) in one period, yet it only takes one player to completely neutralize that assault.

Enter Hellebuyck, who came into the Second Round on the coattails of two consecutive shutouts to close out the Jets’ series against Minnesota.

Hellebuyck rejected every single offering that came his way in that first frame, including three power play shots while W Nikolaj Ehlers was in the penalty box for tripping Third Star W Kevin Fiala.

Admittedly, he benefited from the Predators failing to connect on at least two passes that would have provided the recipient a prime scoring opportunity on an open net, but it could also be argued that the Jets defense, though porous, did stand up at the biggest moments to help Hellebuyck keep the Preds at bay – especially by clearing most rebounds off the netminder’s pads.

Making things even better for the Jets, their fourth shot on goal of the game ended up being the first marker of this highly anticipated Central Division showdown series. With 5:09 remaining in the frame, W Brandon Tanev (F Bryan Little) collected the rebound of Little’s shot off G Pekka Rinne‘s stick and right skate, beating the netminder’s blade to the near post to give the Jets a one-goal lead.

A similar storyline continued in the second period. Hellebuyck was charged with making 16 more saves after the first intermission, and he performed beautifully – albeit with the help of his right post when F Filip Forsberg should have buried a power play slap shot on a gaping cage.

And just like in the first frame, the Jets rewarded him with goals at the other end of the rink. 9:01 into the second period, C Paul Stastny (RW Patrik Laine and Ehlers) completed Ehlers’ powerful drive into the offensive zone by scrapping out a wrister in the slot after two Rinne saves.

And only 1:22 after Forsberg missed his opportunity to snap Hellebuyck’s shutout, C Mark Scheifele (RW Blake Wheeler and LW Kyle Connor) turned Winnipeg’s successful penalty kill into a wrister with 2:09 remaining in the period. This goal was a stellar example of Winnipeg’s counterattack, as Wheeler sped into the offensive zone to give the Jets a three-on-three opportunity. After dropping a pass to Scheifele, it was all the center could do but rip his wrister past Rinne’s blocker for the Jets’ third goal.

Following the second intermission, Head Coach Peter Laviolette elected to lift Rinne – who’d saved 13-of-16 shots faced (.813 save percentage) through two periods – in favor of G Juuse Saros to try and send a message to his club.

That message was more than received, as Fiala (C Kyle Turris and D Ryan Ellis) finally squeaked a wrister past Hellebuyck 1:23 into the third frame to end his perfect run. Fiala was the recipient of a stellar centering touch pass from Turris along the goal line, quickly potting his second goal of this postseason to set the score at 3-1.

However, Nashville couldn’t build any positive energy from that tally. Even though the Preds fired another 10 shots at Hellebuyck in the remaining 18:37 of regulation, they simply couldn’t replicate that winning formula to pull any closer to Winnipeg.

That led to Saros departing his crease for an extra attacker, which allowed Scheifele (Wheeler) to close out the match by burying an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining in regulation.

Statistically, there’s few things the Predators did wrong in this game. They dominated the face-off dot (Nashville won 66 percent of draws) and threw more hits (29-22) even though they easily out-shot Winnipeg 48-19.

Instead, Nashville’s focus should be on duplicating Fiala’s goal if it wants any chance of besting Hellebuyck and his 47-of-48 (.979 save percentage) in Game 2.

Speaking of, that contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, April 29. For those that don’t have the pleasure of being in attendance at Bridgestone Arena that night, they may view the game on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

No quit, Avalanche beat Predators, 2-1, force Game 6

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Andrew Hammond, Gabriel Landeskog, Sven Andrighetto and the rest of the Colorado Avalanche stole Game 5 from the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. Hammond was making just his first Stanley Cup Playoff start since he did so in 2015 with the Ottawa Senators.

Oh, and by the way, Hammond was part of November’s Matt Duchene trade. Advantage, Joe Sakic.

Hammond made 44 saves on 45 shots against for a .978 save percentage in his first NHL win in two years, while Nashville’s netminder, Pekka Rinne, made 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the loss.

Early in the first period, Nashville’s Kevin Fiala tripped up Colorado’s Alex Kerfoot and gave the Avalanche the first power play of the night. Colorado was not able to convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Both teams swapped chances back and forth, but neither side was able to put a goal on the scoreboard as the first period ended, 0-0.

J.T. Compher picked up a minor penalty for holding Craig Smith at 20:00 of the first period after the Avalanche failed to touch the puck between when the incident occurred and when time expired. The Predators would begin the second period on their first power play of the night.

After one period, Nashville led in shots on goal (11-8), blocked shots (10-3), takeaways (4-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). Meanwhile, Colorado was 0/1 on the man advantage. Both teams had nine hits aside and four giveaways entering the first intermission.

Much like the first period, there wasn’t a lot happening in the second period.

Nashville started the second frame of the game on the power play, but didn’t convert on the man advantage. Both teams then continued to swap chances until things got uneasy towards the end of the period.

With about three minutes remaining in the second period, Hammond went to play the puck— except he mishandled it. The Predators were not able to capitalize on the Avalanche netminder’s error, but they did sustain the pressure in the offensive zone and got a couple of tremendous rebound opportunities.

The Preds even had a clear sightline to the puck while Hammond was down, but nobody could get it to hit the twine.

Finally, at 17:47 of the second period, Nikita Zadorov slashed Predators captain, Roman Josi, and the crowd at Bridgestone Arena went from already elevated (based on the last few minutes of frantic play) to berserk.

Colorado’s penalty kill, however, was too much to handle for Nashville’s special teams and the score remained, 0-0.

After 40 minutes of play, Nashville led in shots on goal (25-17), blocked shots (15-8), hits (14-13), takeaways (6-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). For the lack of a better word, the Predators were dominating in every possible way, except for on the scoreboard. Both teams had ten giveaways each and neither team had yet to convert on the power play (Colorado was 0/1 and Nashville was 0/2 through two periods).

Fiala was again guilty of a minor penalty early in the third period— this time for holding Colorado forward, Blake Comeau at 1:39.

The Avalanche bungled a line change in the midst of their ensuing power play and were penalized for too many men on the ice. Colin Wilson served the bench minor in the box for Jared Bednar’s Colorado crew.

There would be 20 seconds of 4-on-4 action until the Predators would then see an abbreviated power play. But Nashville’s special teams were to no avail as Hammond stood tall.

Just past the halfway mark of the third period, Mattias Ekholm sent a shot on Hammond that appeared to rebound right into the pathway of an oncoming Predators forward who looked like he kicked the puck into the open goal.

That Predators forward was Nick Bonino (1) who was crashing the net on what was not exactly a rebound, but rather a deflection to the open space to the side of the net— though not a good one— by Hammond.

Bonino’s goal was immediately waved off and reviewed.

Fans inside Bridgestone Arena began singing “Let It Be” by The Beatles in unison while the refs reviewed the play, which, in hindsight, could’ve been bad if the home fans had any influence on officiating. Maybe don’t sing “Let It Be” if you actually want the call on the ice to be the exact opposite (unless Preds fans were implying the refs to “let [the leg motion] be [called a goal on the ice]”).

Upon replay, everyone in attendance and watching from home, could see Bonino shifted his leg into a prime redirection motion and kept skating into the puck. Or at least, that might be a loose explanation for something that many fans assumed wouldn’t be reversed given the track record of NHL officiating and review this season.

But that didn’t happen.

The call on the ice was reversed and Bonino had scored his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the assists credited to Ekholm (5) and Austin Watson (3). Nashville was in command of a 1-0 lead at 10:18 of the third period.

Colorado didn’t let the party in Nashville last too long, though.

Nathan MacKinnon held onto the puck in the offensive zone for just long enough to get Rinne to overcommit and bump into his own defender, failing helplessly to the ice, while MacKinnon slid a loose puck over to Gabriel Landeskog.

Landeskog (4) pocketed the loosed puck on the doorstep of the crease into the gapping goal into front of him to tie the game, 1-1, at 15:49. The Avalanche bulldozed Nashville’s momentum.

MacKinnon (3) and Mikko Rantanen (4) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal and Colorado kept trucking.

Less than three minutes later— on a similar play— Sven Andrighetto (1) found a rebound and Rinne out of position to score on what was otherwise an empty net and give the Avalanche their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 18:32 of the third period.

Compher (3) and Tyson Barrie (4) had the assists on Andrighetto’s first goal of the series and suddenly the Predators were facing a loss on home ice in an elimination game.

Peter Laviolette pulled his goaltender with about a minute remaining in regulation after calling a timeout to instruct his Predators roster what to do as time ticked down.

It did not matter. Colorado held off elimination for at least one more night.

At the final horn, the Avalanche had won Game 5 by a score of 2-1 despite being outshot (45-27). Nashville led in blocked shots (18-14), giveaways (14-13) and faceoff win percentage (61-39), but never got as physical as they have in previous games in the series. In fact, Colorado led in hits (17-16) after 60 minutes.

The Avalanche finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Predators went 0/3 on the man advantage.

For the first time since Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators lost a postseason game at home. Not just to anyone, but to the Colorado Avalanche— last year’s worst team in the league that only amassed 48 points on an 82-game regular season.

But this year’s Avalanche team is different. They had a 47-point increase in standings between last season and this season (tied for 4th best in NHL history) and they’re looking to play spoiler.

The Predators take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on the road Sunday night at Pepsi Center. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN. Meanwhile, fans interested in watching the game in Canada can do so on Sportsnet or TVAS.

Dating back to their days as the Québec Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche are 0-3 lifetime in a series where they have trailed 3-1.

March 8 – Day 148 – Home ice advantage

Thursdays in the NHL never disappoint, as there’s a whopping 12 games on the slate this evening!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with three games (Philadelphia at Boston [NHLN/SN], Winnipeg at New Jersey and Colorado at Columbus), followed half an hour later by four more (Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2], Vegas at Detroit, the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). Next up is Anaheim at Nashville, which drops the puck at 8 p.m. and is trailed half an hour later by Carolina at Chicago and the New York Islanders at Edmonton at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Washington at Los Angeles (SN) and St. Louis at San Jose – drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close the evening out. All times Eastern.

More than a few of tonight’s games were circled on my calendar at the start of the year, including…

  • Philadelphia at Boston: The Flyers are playing their second rivalry game in as many days, traveling into snow-covered Boston.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The Sabres and Senators enjoyed a healthy rivalry in the mid-2000s. Let’s see if it gets revived tonight.
  • Vegas at Detroit: After spending his first seven seasons in Hockeytown, F Tomas Tatar is making his return with the Golden Knights tonight.
  • New York at Tampa Bay: Another deadline deal sent F Vladislav Namestnikov from Tampa – where he’s spent the first five seasons of his NHL career – to the Rangers.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: If playoff rematches get you excited, this is the game for you. The Predators beat the Ducks in six games last May.
  • Carolina at Chicago: G Scott Darling and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were both Blackhawks last season, but tonight they’ll be wearing white at United Center.
  • New York at Edmonton: D Brandon Davidson and RW Jordan Eberle swapped in their blue-and-orange Oilers sweaters for blue-and-orange Islanders sweaters.

What a selection of games! However, only one can be our focus tonight. Since the postseason is just around the corner, let’s look back to the Ducks and Predators’ playoff matchup from a season ago just in case it gets repeated this year.

 

If you’ll remember, Bridgestone Arena was an impassable fortress in favor of the Predators last postseason. They won both home games in the first round to complete their sweep of the Blackhawks and followed it up with three more wins – including the series-clinching Game 6 – against St. Louis to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Then Anaheim showed up and spoiled the fun.

Though they’d surely heard the whispers roars about The Stone, the Ducks didn’t seem too daunted by one of the most impressive home ice advantages in recent memory. Having split the opening two games at Honda Center, the Ducks and Predators played a tight Game 3 to a 2-1 Nashville victory that saw D Roman Josi score the game-winner with 2:43 remaining in regulation, setting up an extremely important Game 4.

In that tilt, Anaheim survive a two-goal third period comeback (capped by F Filip Forsberg‘s game-tying marker with 36 seconds remaining in regulation) by Nashville that eventually led to a W Corey Perry overtime goal that snapped Nashville’s home winning streak and leveled the series at two games apiece.

A home loss like that can take the legs out from under a team, or it can reignite the fire in their competitive drive. It did the latter for the Predators in the conference final, as they headed back west to win 3-1 in Anaheim and pull within a victory of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Home ice didn’t disappoint for the Predators in Game 6, as they cruised to a 6-3 victory on the back of a C Colton Sissons hat trick.

That dominance that got 43-14-9 Smashville to the championship round a season ago is in full swing right now, as the Predators are currently riding an impressive nine-game winning streak.

It’s hard to argue with the offense Nashville has been exhibiting during this winning streak. Since February 19, the Predators have averaged a whopping 4.33 goals per game, the best mark in the NHL.

Managing 6-6-12 marks over this run to improve his season totals to 24-25-49, W Viktor Arvidsson has been a major part of this Nashville attack. However, he’s also had the support of the injured Josi (1-11-12 totals in his last six games played) and D Ryan Ellis (3-8-11 since February 19), as all three are currently averaging at least a point per game.

It is here where we find the dominance of the Predators, as only three of Ellis’ last 12 points have coincided with Arvidsson getting on the scorecard, meaning these two players have played in a combined 21 goals in the past nine games.

Talk about the entire team getting involved on the offensive attack.

Of course, all those goals do no good if the opposition can keep up on the scoreboard. Fortunately for Nashville, it has 36-9-4 G Pekka Rinne at its disposal.

Even though he’s been faced with an average of 32 shots per game during this run (16th in the NHL since February 19), Rinne has performed phenomenally to keep opposing offenses under his thumb. The Finn has posted an incredible .942 save percentage and 1.86 GAA in his last seven starts, improving his season marks to a .928 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

However, Nashville is not the only team in tonight’s game currently riding a win streak. The 34-21-12 Ducks are rolling too, as they’ve won their last three games and have earned points in four-straight.

Just like with the Preds’ winning streak, Anaheim’s has also been sparked by some stellar offense. In all, seven players have averaged at least a point per game since February 25 – none of which have been better than C Ryan Getzlaf, who’s posted unbelievable 1-8-9 totals in his last three games played (he missed Friday’s win over the Blue Jackets due to illness) to average three points per game during this run. Linemate F Rickard Rakell has also been exemplary lately, as his 6-2-8 totals average out to two points per game in his last four showings.

In all, the 4.75 goals per game Anaheim has averaged since February 25 is tops in the NHL in that time.

The similarities between tonight’s opponents continues when we look towards the goal crease, as 25-15-6 G John Gibson has been in peak form in his last three starts. Since last Sunday, Gibson has posted an incredible .955 save percentage for a 1.67 GAA in spite of a defense that has allowed a dismal 38.5 shots against per game (third-worst in the NHL since February 25), improving his season marks to a .927 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.

Even though the Ducks will be in action again tomorrow night in Dallas, it has to be all but assured that Head Coach Randy Carlyle will deploy his best netminder against the best team in the Western Conference and save 8-5-6 G Ryan Miller for the Stars.

Much to the pleasure of the Ducks, who have yet to beat Nashville this season, tonight’s matchup is the finale of the three-game series between these clubs. Their first meeting was on November 3 at Honda Center, where the Preds won 5-3 in large part due to Josi’s one-goal, two-point night. Smashville followed up that victory with a much more competitive 3-2 shootout win at Bridgestone Arena, the site of tonight’s game, on December 2 (W Kevin Fiala took First Star honors).

With the top seed in the Western Conference (and therefore the Central Division) currently in their grasp, there is only one thing left for the Predators to compete for: the Presidents’ Trophy. Nashville’s 95 points are only one point fewer than Tampa’s, and the Preds have a game in hand. In other words, hold off on inscribing this year’s regular-season champion into the record books.

The Ducks could care less about a trophy they’ve never seen, as their sole focus is on holding on to second place in the Pacific Division. Four teams (Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and Calgary) are competing for two division spots and are separated by only four points entering tonight’s action, and the Ducks have no wiggle room given the Sharks and Kings both have a game in hand on the team from Orange County.

This preview started with a recap about home dominance, and I think that’s where the preview must also end. Though the Ducks have been playing well lately – well enough, in fact, to upset many good teams in their own barns – Smashville is an entirely different animal. With their fans behind them, the Predators will simply be too strong tonight for the Ducks to beat them.


With a three-assist night from First Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though a total of seven goals were struck in this game, only one was registered in the first period. It belonged to RW Phil Kessel (F Evgeni Malkin and Crosby) and was a power play wrist shot with 1:25 remaining in the frame.

Facing a 1-0 deficit, the Flyers pulled back even 2:07 into the second period when Third Star RW Jakub Voracek (F Nolan Patrick) scored a tip-in, followed only 3:52 later by F Travis Konecny (F Claude Giroux and D Andrew MacDonald) setting the score at 2-1 with a wrister.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, that was all the offense it could muster, meaning D Jamie Oleksiak‘s (D Justin Schultz and F Jake Guentzel) slap shot at the 9:24 mark leveled the game at 2-2. 5:01 later, Pittsburgh found its game-winner courtesy of Second Star W Conor Sheary (Crosby and Oleksiak).

After Oleksiak slung a pass his way from the left face-off circle in his own zone, Crosby did most of the work setting up a two-on-one advantage while advancing into the Flyers’ zone. The captain fired an initial wrister that G Petr Mrazek blocked, but Sheary was there to collect the rebound and complete the play with a backhanded shot.

The third period ended with a 4-2 score when Sheary (Guentzel and Crosby) scored a wrister 40 seconds before the second intermission. Malkin (LW Carl Hagelin and C Riley Sheahan) completed the game’s scoring with 1:41 remaining in regulation by burying a wrister into an empty net.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

Pittsburgh’s road victory snapped a seven-game winning streak by the 81-48-19 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have only a 29-point advantage in the series.

February 27 – Day 139 – Atop the Central

The GMs had their fun yesterday. Now it’s time to see how their decisions pan out, as most teams have only 20 games separating them from the end of the regular season.

It’s a Tuesday in the NHL, so you know it’s going to be busy. Today’s slate of games includes nine fixtures, including three at 7 p.m. (Carolina at Boston, New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Washington [RDS]) and Toronto at Florida half an hour later. A pair of tilts (St. Louis at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Nashville at Winnipeg) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while Calgary at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas (NBCSN) and Edmonton at San Jose – close out the night at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s two playoff rematches on tonight’s schedule, both involving the Western Quarterfinals from a year ago. The Blues eliminated the Wild in five games last year, while the Oilers needed six to knock off the Sharks.

However, last playoffs are in the rear-view  mirror at this point. Instead, the only game that can qualify as today’s featured is matchup is going down in Manitoba! To Canada we go!

 

Things have certainly been going 38-14-9 Nashville’s way lately, as it is currently riding a four-game winning streak.

The reason? The most imposing offense in the Western Conference since February 19 paired with the indomitable G Pekka Rinne.

Let’s start on the offensive end, where D Roman Josi (1-6-7 totals in his past four games) and D Ryan Ellis (1-5-6) are headlining an offense that has averaged an unbelievable 4.75 goals per game for the past week.

Of course, those first pair blueliners are just providing assists. Important as they may be, someone has to complete those plays.

Enter W Viktor Arvidsson, who’s posted 4-1-5 totals since February 19 to elevate his season marks to 22-20-42 – the best numbers of any forward in Nashville (of course, he has 12 more games played with the same number of points as F Filip Forsberg, but who’s keeping track of those kinds of things?).

What’s most inspiring about Arvidsson is knowing he has so much more to give. In only his third full season in the NHL, he’s coming off a 31-30-61 campaign last season that is statistically superior to the marks he’s earned so far this year in terms of points per game. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Arvidsson that scored 13 points in last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final still has yet to show up, and the rest of the league should be very concerned when the Swede puts his foot firmly on the gas.

In total, six players are averaging at least a point-per-game during this winning streak: Josi, Ellis, Arvidsson, W Kevin Fiala (2-2-4 totals), F Ryan Johansen (1-3-4) and F Craig Smith (1-3-4).

Speaking of excellent players, 32-9-4 Rinne undoubtedly qualifies. He’s started three of Nashville’s last four games and posted an incredible .97 save percentage for a 1 GAA in spite of his defense allowing a (t)13th-worst 33.75 shots against per game since February 19. Not only has he improved his season numbers to a .928 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, but he’s also led the Preds to allowing only 1.25 goals against per game over this run, the best in the NHL in that time.

The 37-16-9 Jets have been pretty good themselves lately, as attested by their 5-1-0 record over their past six tilts.

Just like in Nashville, the primary reason for Winnipeg’s recent success has been an incredible offense. Since February 13, no attack in the Western Conference has been better than the Jets’, as they’ve averaged an impressive 4.82 goals per game in that time.

In that time span, no Jet has been better than American RW Blake Wheeler, who’s earned 4-8-12 totals in his last six showings and is riding an eight-game point streak.

Though Wheeler has been good, it hasn’t been just him providing the offensive sparks. D Dustin Byfuglien (1-10-11), C Mark Scheifele (4-6-10), RW Patrik Laine (6-3-9), D Tyler Myers (1-6-7) and W Nikolaj Ehlers (3-3-6) join the captain in averaging a point per game since February 13, forming three powerful lines of forwards and two stellar blueline pairs.

Where Winnipeg sets itself apart from its Central Division rival is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed only 31.17 shots against per game since February 13, the ninth-fewest in the league in that time. F Matt Hendricks (2.5 hits per game in the Jets’ last six games) and D Josh Morrissey (2.2 blocks per game during this run) have played major roles in that effort, and their success has made life very easy on 32-9-8 G Connor Hellebuyck, who’s been able to post a .934 save percentage and 2 GAA with his lighter work load to improve his season numbers to a .924 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.

There’s a lot on the line in this game. Not only are the Predators interested in putting some distance between themselves and the second-place Jets, but they’re also eyeing the Western Conference’s top seed. Should Smashville win and Vegas lose to Los Angeles in regulation, the Predators will pull into a tie for first place in the West. After taking tiebreakers into account, the Preds would take the lead in the conference based on their game in hand on the Knights.

As for Winnipeg, it can’t take the Central lead with a win tonight, but two points would certainly put even more pressure on the Predators than is already present. The Jets currently trail Nashville by only two points in the standings, but the Preds have a game in hand.

The Predators and Jets have squared off twice already this season, and they’ll meet up two more times after tonight before the end of the regular season. This is Nashville’s first trip to Manitoba this season, as it hosted the first two tilts. Home ice was indeed an advantage on November 20, as the Preds won 5-3 (Johansen took First Star honors with his two-point effort), but the Jets managed to win December 19’s tilt 6-4 (injured F Brandon Tanev scored the game-winner with 1:26 remaining in regulation) to level the season series at 1-1-0.

Big games like these come down to the small details and which team limits the opposition’s opportunities. With that in mind, I think Winnipeg’s defense will play a major role in leading the Jets to a home victory.


Though they needed a shootout to get the job done, the Tampa Bay Lightning defended Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.

Whatever the second round of the playoffs looks like for the Atlantic Division, it’s sure to be a thriller. That much was apparent through only one period of action as a combined 18 shots were fired on goal. Three of those ended up on the scoreboard, starting with LW Chris Kunitz‘ (D Andrej Sustr and C Steven Stamkos) tip-in only 101 seconds into the game. Toronto pulled the score back even 7:08 later when LW James van Riemsdyk (D Ron Hainsey and D Morgan Rielly) buried a backhanded shot, followed by Second Star of the Game F Mitch Marner (D Jake Gardiner and D Nikita Zaitsev) setting the score at 2-1 at the 9:52 mark.

No more goals were struck until the 3:52 mark of the second period when C Tyler Johnson (First Star F Yanni Gourde) leveled the game with a wrap-around shot, and Third Star LW Adam Erne completed the frame’s scoring with an unassisted wrist shot with 4:42 remaining on the clock.

C Tyler Bozak‘s (Marner and Rielly) game-tying wrister was set up by D Braydon Coburn holding F Zach Hyman at the 4:40 mark of the third period. Only 47 seconds later, Bozak was taking advantage of the man-advantage to force three-on-three overtime.

Even the overtime frame lived up to the hype, as a total of seven shots on goal were fired between the two clubs. However, neither G Frederik Andersen nor G Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed one by, leading the game into the dreaded shootout.

  1. As home team, Tampa elected to take the first shot of the shootout, sending RW Ryan Callahan to center ice. Tried as he might, he wasn’t able to beat Andersen.
  2. F William Nylander met a similar fate when challenging Vasilevskiy, leaving the shootout score at 0-0 through the first round.
  3. F Brayden Point went five-for-seven in the shootout during his rookie season. Though he hasn’t quite found that success this year, he did beat Andersen this time to give Tampa the lead.
  4. Though he only has six points to show for his NHL career, RW Kasperi Kapanen was Head Coach Mike Babcock’s choice to level the shootout. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the youngster’s attempt was saved by Vasilevskiy.
  5. That set up a score-to-win situation for the Bolts, and it’s no surprise they turned to Gourde. However, his offering missed the net, setting up a miss-and-lose for Toronto.
  6. Van Riemsdyk was tasked with forcing extra frames, but he met the same fate as his teammates: saved by Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Andersen, who saved 39-of-42 (.929).

Last night’s Game of the Day was the third-consecutive featured matchup to require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. With the 74-46-19 hosts winning, they’ve now earned a 20-point advantage over the roadies in the series.