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Bruins lose close one to Wild on home ice, 3-2

Two quick power play goals on a 5-on-3 advantage turned Thursday night’s action 180-degrees in favor of the Minnesota Wild in their eventual, 3-2, victory over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.

Wild goaltender, Kaapo Kähkönen (5-2-1, 2.60 goals-against average, .906 save percentage in nine games played) made 36 saves on 38 shots against in the win.

Boston netminder, Jeremy Swayman (8-6-2, 2.26 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 16 games played) turned aside 27 out of 30 shots faced in the loss.

The Bruins fell to 17-11-2 (36 points) overall, but remain in command of 4th place in the Atlantic Division, as well as the 2nd wild card in Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, Minnesota improved to 20-10-2 (42 points) on the season and in control of the 1st wild card in the Western Conference, while sitting in 4th place in the Central Division (behind the Colorado Avalanche only in tiebreaker, as the Avs have four more regulation wins than the Wild).

The Bruins were without Jakub Zboril (right ACL), Karson Kuhlman (COVID protocol), Jake DeBrusk (COVID protocol), Tomáš Nosek (COVID protocol) and Charlie McAvoy (lower body) on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask signed a PTO (player training operative) with the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Thursday in an attempt to play at least one game before signing an NHL deal with Boston and returning to action after rehabbing offseason hip surgery.

Providence’s weekend matchups against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were postponed, which could put a wrench in Rask’s return to Boston plans if the B’s aren’t quite ready to go with three goaltenders for the time being.

That said, they did recall and assign Urho Vaakanainen, Steven Fogarty and Troy Grosenick from Providence to the taxi squad– the latter being a goaltender ahead of Thursday night’s loss to Minnesota.

With McAvoy and Nosek out of the lineup, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a few minor tweaks to his lines and defensive pairings.

John Moore returned to action alongside Matt Grzelcyk on the first pairing, while Trent Frederic went from playing wing to centering the fourth line in place of Nosek with Anton Blidh in his usual role at left wing.

Vaakanainen, Fogarty and Grosenick served as healthy scratches on the taxi squad against the Wild.

Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi made their National Hockey League debuts for the Wild, while defender, Jonas Brodin returned to Minnesota’s lineup after a stint in the league’s COVID protocol.

Less than half a minute into the action, Mike Reilly tripped up Rossi and cut a rut to the box– presenting the Wild with the first power play of the game 23 seconds into the first period.

Minnesota failed to convert on their first skater advantage of the night, but it wouldn’t be long before Boston’s undisciplined play came back to bite them.

Early in the action, Kevin Fiala slashed Brad Marchand before Matt Dumba hooked David Pastrnak while falling and attempting to clear the crease as the Bruins forward crashed the net.

Boston went on a 5-on-3 advantage at 4:36, but couldn’t muster anything past Kähkönen before Patrice Bergeron tripped Frederick Gaudreau at 6:11– yielding a 4-on-3 power play for the Bruins for about 26 seconds before the Wild earned an abbreviated advantage.

It didn’t take the B’s long to capitalize on all of the open ice as Erik Haula worked the puck back to Reilly in the high slot diamond formation prior to feeding Taylor Hall (7) with a perfect pass for a one-timer power-play goal off of Brodin’s leg and through Kähkönen’s five-hole.

Reilly (4) and Haula (6) tallied the assists as Hall’s goal put Boston on top, 1-0, at 6:35 of the third period.

The Bruins managed to escape Bergeron’s minor unscathed thereafter.

Late in the period, however, the tides began to turn as a surge in momentum featured dominant possession and rising shot totals for Minnesota.

As the Bruins trailed the play, Marchand yielded a holding infraction, while Brandon Carlo interfered with Mats Zuccarello at 14:49.

The Wild went on a two-skater advantage and didn’t waste time on the 5-on-3 power play– capitalizing on both opportunities they were presented with.

First, Zuccarello sent a pass through the slot to Kirill Kaprizov (14) for a one-timer blast on the power play reminiscent of Washington Capitals forward, Alex Ovechkin, or even Pastrnak’s craft.

Zuccarello (18) and Fiala (15) were credited with the assists on Kaprizov’s power-play goal that knotted things up, 1-1, at 15:25 of the first period.

About a minute later, Nico Sturm (6) deflected a shot from the point by Brodin as Connor Dewar and other traffic screened Swayman.

Sturm’s deflection rose over Swayman’s glove side and put the Wild ahead, 2-1, at 16:48 of the first period.

Brodin (12) and Dewar (1) recorded the assists. Dewar’s secondary assist marked his first career NHL point in the process.

Late in the period, after a stoppage in play Kaprizov and Blidh got into a bit of a shoving match– exchanging pleasantries and picking up roughing minors– while Trent Frederic tried to engage Zuccarello before pulling Zuccarello’s helmet off and yielding an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct minor.

Minnesota, as a result, went on the power play at 18:12 of the first period and would start the middle frame on the skater advantage as the special teams action blended through the first intermission.

After one period, the Wild led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 14-10, in shots on goal.

Minnesota also held the advantage in hits (13-10), while Boston led in blocked shots (2-0), takeaways (2-1) and faceoff win percentage (59-41).

Both teams managed to have one giveaway each entering the first intermission, while the Wild were 2/5 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/2.

Alex Goligoski picked up an interference infraction at 4:27 of the second period, but Boston’s power play went by the wayside without tying things up.

Midway through the period, Kaprizov tried to free the puck from near the boards out of his own zone before bumping into Grzelcyk, causing Kaprizov to fall into a vulnerable position before Frederic came along and made a check that was a bit too strong to cash.

Kaprizov crashed into the boards awkwardly and skated off with the help of a trainer while his right arm remained pretty limp. He would not return for the night with an upper body injury, as the Wild PR team later tweeted.

Frederic was assessed a boarding minor (that Craig Smith ended up serving) and a five-minute major for fighting as Dmitry Kulikov stood up for his fallen teammate and exchanged fisticuffs in what was Boston’s seventh fighting major of the 2021-22 season.

The Bruins’ penalty kill stood tall until they were caught in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Marcus Foligno and Boldy played a little catch as Boldy (1) dished the puck to Foligno entering the zone before receiving a pass back and burying a shot on Swayman’s blocker side to extend Minnesota’s lead.

Foligno (8) and Brodin (13) tallied the assists on Boldy’s first career NHL goal with lots of family and former Boston College teammates in attendance at TD Garden.

The Wild led, 3-1, at 12:26 of the second period as a result.

Less than a minute later, Bergeron made his way to the box for the second time in the game– this time for interference at 13:03.

Shortly after Minnesota’s power play came to an end, however, the Wild ended up shorthanded as Dumba caught Reilly without the puck and picked up an interference minor of his own at 15:10.

This time, the Bruins capitalized on the ensuing power play.

Marchand sent a shot attempt towards the net that was blocked before the B’s continued to work the puck around the attacking zone.

Suddenly, Bergeron made a no-look pass from the slot to where he expected Marchand to be and Marchand (12) buried a one-timer from the dot to bring Boston to within one goal.

Bergeron (14) and Grzelcyk (7) nabbed the assists on Marchand’s power-play goal and the Bruins trailed, 3-2, at 15:35 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of action on Thursday, the Wild led on the road, 3-2, and held an advantage in shots on goal, 24-21, despite trailing, 11-10, in the second period alone.

The Bruins, meanwhile, led in blocked shots (6-2), hits (25-16) and faceoff win% (58-42), while both teams had four takeaways and three giveaways each.

Minnesota was 2/7 on the power play and Boston was 2/4 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame.

After injuring Kaprizov and drawing the ire of the Wild, Frederic had to confront Minnesota’s Foligno brother in an exchange of fisticuffs at 1:12 of the third period.

The trouble is that Frederic couldn’t help himself in making his case any easier for him as he also drew a high sticking minor in addition to the five-minute major– totaling minutes in penalties on Thursday.

It was the second fight of the night and decisively shorted than the first with Foligno getting the takedown and five minutes worth of a fighting major of his own.

Minnesota’s ensuing power play was cut short when Rossi tripped Carlo at 1:24, but Boston couldn’t score during the ensuing abbreviated power play.

In fact, neither team could put one up on the scoreboard in the third period as time ticked away, Cassidy pulled his goaltender with about 1:28 to go, used his timeout after a stoppage with 1:23 remaining, then the final horn sounded– signaling a Wild victory.

Minnesota won, 3-2, despite finishing the night trailing in shots on goal, 38-30, as Boston amassed a, 17-6 advantage in shots in the third period alone.

The Wild exited TD Garden leading in blocked shots (10-9), while the B’s left their own building with the advantage in giveaways (7-5), hits (33-23) and faceoff win% (60-40).

Minnesota finished the night 2/8 on the power play, while Boston went 2/5 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins dropped to 11-5-0 (5-3-0 at home) when scoring first, 3-6-1 (3-3-1 at home) when trailing after one period and 3-8-2 (3-4-1 at home) when trailing after two periods this season.

The Wild improved to 7-8-1 (3-5-1 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 13-0-1 (7-0-0 on the road) when leading after the first period and 12-0-1 (8-0-0 on the road) when leading after the second period in 2021-22.

The Bruins hit the road for a quick two-game trip through Tampa, Florida against the Lightning on Saturday and Washington, D.C. against the Capitals next Monday (Jan. 10th). 

Boston will return home to host the Montréal Canadiens in a game that was originally slated to be at Bell Centre prior to the rise of the Omicron variant prompting the NHL to move up Boston and Montréal’s March 21st game scheduled at TD Garden to Jan. 12th– kicking off a seven-game homestand for the B’s as a result.

Tickets for March 21st will be honored on Jan. 12th and the original game that was slated to be in Montréal is postponed to a later date (TBA).

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Minnesota Wild 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 35-16-5, 75 points

3rd in the Honda NHL West Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Vegas

Additions: F Frédérick Gaudreau, F Dominic Turgeon, D Jordie Benn, D Kevin Czuczman, D Alex Goligoski, D Joe Hicketts, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Jon Lizotte, D Jon Merrill

Subtractions: F Nick Bonino (signed with SJS), F Gabriel Dumont (signed with TBL), F Marcus Johansson (signed with SEA), F Luke Johnson (signed with WPG), F Gerald Mayhew (signed with PHI), F Zach Parise (buyout, signed with NYI), F Dmitry Sokolov (NMHL), D Matt Bartkowski (signed to a PTO with PIT), D Louie Belpedio (signed with MTL), D Ian Cole (signed with CAR), D Brad Hunt (signed with VAN), D Brennan Menell (traded to TOR), D Carson Soucy (expansion, SEA), D Ryan Suter (buyout, signed with DAL)

Still Unsigned: D Ian McCoshen

Re-signed: F Will Bitten, F Nick Bjugstad, F Joseph Cramarossa, F Brandon Duhaime, F Joel Eriksson Ek, F Kevin Fiala, F Kirill Kaprizov, F Kyle Rau, F Mason Shaw, D Dakota Mermis, G Andrew Hammond

Offseason Analysis: It took all summer, but it didn’t linger into the fall as Wild General Manager, Bill Guerin, and forward, Kirill Kaprizov, were able to hammer out a five-year extension worth $9.000 million per season– forcing this entire offseason recap/season preview to be re-written.

Going into Tuesday, Minnesota was bound to receive a letter grade in the “D” range for failing to secure Kaprizov before training camp, despite a few other moves that have actually been pretty good for them– salary cap penalties via buyouts aside.

Late Tuesday, Kaprizov re-signed and all is just about forgiven for the Wild.

Since joining the league as an expansion team in 2000, Minnesota has rarely had a competitive team that can make a deep run into the postseason. They’ve consistently been good, but never good enough.

Marian Gaborik came and went, Mikko Koivu stayed loyal until he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets for a brief stint last season prior to retiring less than a month into the 2020-21 schedule and then the dawn of the Kaprizov Era began.

After spending time in the Kontinental Hockey League for his early development, Kaprizov amassed 27-24–51 totals in 55 games in his debut season with Minnesota as a 24-year-old left wing.

He’s the real deal and the Wild are leaning into it.

Though Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson and others weren’t re-signed as part of Minnesota’s depth that got them all the way to a Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 First Round, Guerin held things down where it counts– the core.

Joel Eriksson Ek signed an eight-year extension worth $5.250 million per season after a breakout season with 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games last season after amassing 8-21–29 totals in 62 games in 2019-20.

If the last two seasons are an indication of what’s to come, then the Wild have a steal of a deal in Eriksson Ek’s cap hit as the 24-year-old emerges in his prime.

Guerin brought back Kevin Fiala on a one-year extension worth $5.100 million– retaining restricted-free agency status over the 25-year-old forward heading into next offseason– after putting up 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists) in 133 games with the Wild in parts of three seasons since he was acquired on Feb. 25, 2019.

In parts of five seasons with the Nashville Predators from 2014-15 through 2018-19, Fiala had 45-52–97 totals in 204 games.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken, because clearly something is clicking in Minnesota and the Wild are reaping the benefits.

Alex Goligoski and Jon Merrill are fine additions to the defense, though as for how efficient they’ll be compared to the loss of Ryan Suter remains to be seen.

Guerin bought out the remainder of Zach Parise and Suter’s matching contracts on July 13, 2021, and in doing so saved Minnesota some valuable cap space to sign Kaprizov and build off of the new core.

That said, Parise and Suter will cost the Wild about $4.744 million in dead cap space for 2021-22, then $12.744 million in dead cap space in 2022-23, before the buyout penalties reach a crescendo with a combined $14.744 million in dead cap money from 2023-24 through 2024-25 before Parise and Suter’s penalties taper off with a combined cost of $1.667 million in 2025-26, as well as 2026-27.

This offseason might have been a breeze, but next offseason is a different story– especially as building and maintaining contender status gets difficult in the next few seasons too.

Ultimately, the cost of buying out Parise and Suter may or may not even be a headache for Guerin to deal with. It all depends on how the team performs between now and a couple of seasons from now.

For now, Guerin has about $3.215 million in cap space to play with for the 2021-22 season.

Over the summer, the Seattle Kraken formed their first roster and did Minnesota a favor without asking.

Seattle could’ve selected Kaapo Kähkönen, since the Wild protected Cam Talbot, but the Kraken went in a different direction and snagged Carson Soucy from Minnesota’s depth on the blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Though it took a little longer than both sides had probably hoped– and with more frustration than expected– Guerin re-signed his No. 1 priority in Kaprizov before the start of training camp.

The biggest challenge for Minnesota– other than improving on last season’s success before a First Round exit– is finding a way to keep the band together next offseason, when Fiala, Jordan Greenway and Kähkönen are on the short list of important pending-restricted free agents.

Meanwhile, guys like Victor Rask, Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau, Nico Sturm, Goligoski, Jordie Benn and Merrill have a little more flexibility to come and go as they please– assuming there’s enough cap space in face of the Parise and Suter buyout penalty crunch on top of what might still be a flat cap for the 2022-23 season due to the ongoing pandemic.

At the very least, 2023-24 should be a bit more optimistic with the latest U.S. broadcasting rights deals for ESPN and Turner Sports inflating league revenue all-around and likely bumping up the salary cap as a result.

For now, Minnesota’s transition continues, but for once there’s a sense of stability given their best players are 25 and under and enjoy being in a Wild uniform.

Though they didn’t bring the alleged “State of Hockey” a Stanley Cup championship in their tenure, Parise and Suter made playing for Minnesota cool as the franchise found its footing now entering its second generation.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Vegas’ five unanswered goals lead comeback victory in Game 3

The Vegas Golden Knights gave up two goals in the first period, then scored five unanswered goals over the remaining 40 minutes to complete a, 5-2, comeback victory on the road at Xcel Energy Center in Game 3 of their 2021 First Round series with the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.

Marc-Andre Fleury (2-1, 1.32 goals against average, .951 save percentage in three games played) made 14 saves on 16 shots faced in the win for Vegas.

Minnesota netminder, Cam Talbot (1-2, 2.32 goals-against average, .936 save percentage in three games played), turned aside 35 out of 39 shots against in the loss.

The Golden Knights were once again without Max Pacioretty as they took a 2-1 series lead in their first road game of the 2021 postseason as Fleury posted his 12th consecutive win with two or fewer goals allowed in the playoffs en route to his 83rd career Stanley Cup Playoff win on Thursday.

Kirill Kaprizov fed Ryan Hartman (1) for a one-timed redirection in the slot to give the Wild a, 1-0, lead at 2:16 of the first period.

Karpizov (1) and Jonas Brodin (2) had the assists on Hartman’s goal as Minnesota got off to a quick start.

Less than a minute later, however, Wild defender, Matt Dumba, was sent to the penalty box for holding, presenting the game’s first power play to Vegas at 2:43 of the first period.

The Golden Knights couldn’t get anything going on the ensuing skater advantage, however.

Almost midway into the opening frame, Joel Eriksson Ek (2) made it a, 2-0, game for Minnesota as Marcus Foligno (2) and Dumba (1) picked up the assists on Eriksson Ek’s goal at 8:30 of the first period.

Less than a minute later, Jonathan Marchessault interfered with Kevin Fiala and handed the Wild their first power play of the night at 9:14, but Minnesota couldn’t capitalize on the 5-on-4 advantage.

Moments later, Hartman slashed Golden Knights defender, Shea Theodore, and cut a rut to the sin bin at 13:31, but Vegas was unsuccessful on the power play.

Heading into the first intermission, the Wild led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 7-4, in shots on goal.

Minnesota also held the advantage in blocked shots (6-5), takeaways (3-2) and hits (13-12), while both teams had two giveaways each and were, 50-50, in faceoff win percentage after 20 minutes of action.

Vegas was 0/2 on the power play while the Wild were 0/1 on the skater advantage entering the middle frame.

Mark Stone (1) caught a pass in the slot from Chandler Stephenson and released a shot in catch-and-release fashion as the Golden Knights cut Minnesota’s lead in half, 2-1, at 8:39 of the second period.

Stephenson (2) and Brayden McNabb (1) notched the assists on Stone’s goal.

About half a minute later, Ian Cole tripped McNabb and presented Vegas with another power play that ultimately went by the wayside for the Golden Knights at 9:09.

Nick Holden sent an intentional shot wide of the net as the puck caromed off the endboards to Patrick Brown in the slot whereby Brown (1) hacked away until he sent the rubber biscuit floating behind Talbot to tie the game, 2-2, at 15:19 of the middle period.

Holden (1) and William Carrier (1) tallied the assists on Brown’s goal.

About two minutes later, Vegas took the lead for the first time of the night and never looked back as Reilly Smith (1) got a deflection, then his own rebound to make it, 3-2, Golden Knights at 17:33.

Holden (2) and William Karlsson (2) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively.

Karpizov then finished the second period with a tripping infraction as Alex Tuch went for a fall at 19:49. Vegas’ ensuing power play would spillover into the final frame.

After 40 minutes, however, the Golden Knights led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and, 26-12, in shots on goal, including an astounding, 22-5, advantage in the second period alone.

Minnesota still dominated in blocked shots (15-12), takeaways (8-4), hits (23-20) and faceoff win% (53-48) despite the Vegas onslaught.

Both teams had three giveaways each, while the Golden Knights were 0/4 and the Wild were 0/1 on the power play heading into the final frame.

After the Wild successfully killed off Kaprizov’s minor, they got a chance on the power play when Tuch interfered with Cole at 2:42 of the third period.

Minnesota, however, couldn’t get anything going as the Golden Knights continued to dominate the game flow.

Vegas couldn’t convert on a power play at 11:18 of the third period when the Wild were handed a bench minor for too many skaters on the ice, but it was of no matter to the Golden Knights as they simply scored later in the period.

First, when Karlsson (1) sent a wrist shot under the bar on the short side with assists from Smith (2) and Fleury (1) at 17:36 and again when Stone (2) pocketed his second goal of the game on an unassisted effort into the empty net at 19:01 of the third period.

The pair of goals had made it, 5-2– giving Vegas five unanswered goals as the final horn sounded and the Golden Knights had won, securing a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 on Saturday in Minnesota.

The Wild wrapped up Thursday night’s loss leading in hits (31-29), while the Golden Knights dominated in shots on goal, 40-16, including a, 14-4, advantage in the third period alone.

Vegas also held the lead in blocked shots (20-18) and faceoff win% (53-47), while both teams managed three giveaways aside in Game 3.

The Golden Knights finished 0/5 and the Wild went 0/2 on the power play on Thursday.

Game 4 is scheduled for Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Viewers in the United States can watch on NBC, while those in Canada can choose from SN360 or TVAS2.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Talbot earns shutout in, 1-0, OT victory for Wild

Cam Talbot stopped all 42 shots that he faced as Joel Eriksson Ek scored the game’s only goal early in overtime to lift the Minnesota Wild over the Vegas Golden Knights, 1-0, in Game 1 of their 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

With the win, the Wild jumped out to a 1-0 series lead on the road as the Golden Knights are the higher seed in the series.

Talbot (1-0, 0.00 goals-against average, 1.000 save percentage in one game) picked up his fifth career postseason shutout– his first with Minnesota– and is tied with six goaltenders behind Curtis Joseph for the most shutouts among different franchises in Stanley Cup Playoff history.

Joseph had at least one shutout in his playoff tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings, while Talbot has now recorded at least one shutout in the postseason with the Oilers, Calgary Flames and Wild.

At the other end of the rink, Marc-Andre Fleury (0-1, 0.95 goals-against average, .967 save percentage in one game) had 29 saves on 30 shots against in the loss for Vegas.

As a result of starting the game, Fleury became the first goaltender in National Hockey League history to play in 15 consecutive postseasons.

Fleury made his NHL debut in the 2003-04 regular season with the Pittsburgh Penguins before appearing in a playoff game with the club in 2007, as the team made the postseason for the first time since 2001.

He’s amassed 15 shutouts in 147 career Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Penguins (10) and Golden Knights (5), which leads all active netminders in the postseason.

The Golden Knights and Wild are meeting for the first time in a Stanley Cup Playoff series as the two teams have never met before the 2021 First Round.

Vegas has never missed the postseason– making their 4th consecutive appearance in the playoffs since joining the league as an expansion team for the 2017-18 season.

Minnesota is making their 11th appearance in franchise history in the postseason, dating back to their founding as an expansion club in the 2000-01 season.

Max Pacioretty (undisclosed) wasn’t available for Game 1, so the Golden Knights clearly missed having one of their prolific scorers in the low-scoring matchup.

Matt Dumba sent the puck over the glass and out of play, yielding an automatic minor infraction for delay of game and presenting the Golden Knights with the first power play of the afternoon at 2:55 of the first period.

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

Late in the opening frame, Kevin Fiala caught Alex Pietrangelo with a slash and was assessed a minor penalty– cutting a rut to the sin bin at 18:38.

Though the resulting power play for Vegas would spill over into the middle frame, the Golden Knights weren’t able to beat Minnesota’s penalty kill.

After one period of play on Sunday afternoon, the score remained even at, 0-0.

The Golden Knights led in shots on goal, 19-5, while also holding the advantage in takeaways (5-1) and faceoff win percentage (65-35).

The Wild held the lead in blocked shots (11-1) and hits (25-23), while both teams had yet to record a giveaway and only Vegas (0/2) had seen action on the power play.

There were no goals in the second period as Fleury turned aside all 18 shots that he faced through 40 minutes and Talbot stopped 30 out of 30 shots against heading into the second intermission.

Late in the middle frame, however, Pietrangelo tripped Nico Sturm, presenting the Wild with their first power play of the game at 19:33 of the second period.

Minnesota’s skater advantage would yield some remaining time with 5-on-4 action to kick off the final frame of regulation.

Though the score was tied, 0-0, the Golden Knights led in shots on goal, 30-18, despite the Wild outshooting Vegas, 13-11, in the second period alone.

Minnesota held the advantage in blocked shots (17-7) and hits (53-40), while Vegas led in takeaways (9-5), giveaways (6-1) and faceoff win% (66-34) after two periods.

The Golden Knights were 0/2 and the Wild were 0/1 on the power play in that span.

Midway through the third period, Dumba hooked Mark Stone and presented the Golden Knights with another power play at 8:36, though Vegas was not able to capitalize on the skater advantage.

After 60 minutes of action, the score remained tied, 0-0, despite Vegas leading in shots on goal, 40-27, including a, 10-9, advantage in the third period alone.

Minnesota dominated in blocked shots (23-12) and hits 69-57), while the Golden Knights led in takeaways (12-10), giveaways (10-4) and faceoff win% (61-39).

Vegas was 0/3 and the Wild were 0/1 on the power play heading into the extra frame.

For the first time in NHL history, the league’s first three games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs all required overtime as the extra frame got underway at T-Mobile Arena Sunday afternoon.

Jonathan Marchessault hooked Ryan Hartman as the Wild forward had a opportunity in the attacking zone, presenting Minnesota with a power play in sudden death overtime at 1:11 of the extra frame.

Though the power play went unresolved, the Wild caught Vegas in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Pietrangelo had a clearing attempt from behind his own goal line broken up.

Minnesota jumped on the loose puck off the boards and cycled it down to the goal line before working it around to Eriksson Ek (1) in the slot for the game-winning goal off of Golden Knights defender, Alec Martinez, and in behind Fleury on the change in direction.

Marcus Foligno (1) and Jordan Greenway (1) had the only assists on the goal at 3:20 of the overtime period.

Vegas finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal, 42-30, though Minnesota held the advantage in overtime alone, 3-2.

The Wild also wrapped up the afternoon leading in blocked shots (23-13) and hits (71-57), while the Golden Knights exited with the advantage in giveaways (10-5) and faceoff win% (62-38).

Vegas finished 0/3 and Minnesota went 0/2 on the power play in Game 1.

The Wild lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday night in Vegas. Puck drop is expected to be a little after 10 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch national coverage on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can tune to SN360 or TVAS for the action from T-Mobile Arena.

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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Western Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

8/8- Game 5 CHI @ EDM*

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not ideal, ideally speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a transition period, nonetheless.

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alright, let’s check the backup…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary


2020 Western Conference Round Robin Action

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

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

St. Louis Blues

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

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

Aug. 6th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. DAL in Edmonton, TBD

Colorado Avalanche

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

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

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

Aug. 8th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Vegas Golden Knights

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

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

Aug. 6th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 8th @ COL in Edmonton, TBD

Dallas Stars

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

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

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

Aug. 9th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

Categories
Podcasts

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

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

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

Categories
NHL Nick's Net

Bruins complete wild comeback over Wild, win, 5-4, in OT

Torey Krug scored the game-winning goal in overtime in his return to the lineup for the Boston Bruins, while Patrice Bergeron contributed four assists in their, 5-4, comeback win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night at TD Garden.

Tuukka Rask (11-2-2 record, 2.18 goals against average, .928 save percentage in 15 games played) made 32 saves on 36 shots faced (.889 SV%) in the overtime win for the Bruins.

Jaroslav Halak was originally slated to start, but was sick and replaced by Rask ahead of warmups Saturday.

Minnesota goaltender, Alex Stalock (5-3-1, 2.79 GAA, .908 SV% in 12 games played) had a season-high 34 saves on 39 shots against for an .872 SV% in the overtime loss.

Boston improved to 15-3-5 (35 points) on the season, while maintaining their top of the Atlantic Division statues.

Meanwhile, Minnesota slipped to 9-11-3 (21 points) on the season and remained last (7th) in the Central Division.

The Bruins improved to 9-0-4 at home this season and the Wild fell to 8-4-1 all time in Boston.

The B’s are now on a three-game winning streak.

Kevan Miller (knee) suffered a setback in his ongoing efforts to return from his injuries near the end of last season and in the offseason and missed his 23rd game this season on Saturday.

Miller and John Moore (shoulder) have yet to make their season debuts for Boston so far.

The Bruins were also without the services of Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia), David Backes (upper body), Zach Senyshyn (lower body) and Par Lindholm (laceration) on Saturday night against the Wild.

Kuhlman’s been out for the last 15 games and is still wearing a boot after being injured in Toronto on Oct. 19th, while Backes participated in Saturday’s optional morning skate in a red no-contact sweater.

Backes’ ongoing upper body injury– likely a concussion suffered in his collision with Ottawa Senators forward, Scott Sabourin, on Nov. 2nd– is one that the Bruins are not looking to rush his return, considering it would be at least his third concussion with the club since signing with Boston on July 1, 2016.

Meanwhile, Senyshyn missed his 5th consecutive game and cannot be reassigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) while injured, so even though most of Boston’s forwards are ready to go and his services are not needed, the focus is on his return to health before he can be assigned as necessary in whatever role the team feels is right for him.

Lindholm sustained a cut in Thursday night’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres, missed most of the first period, but returned and would have been a healthy scratch on Saturday with Brett Ritchie’s return to the lineup.

Now, instead of Lindholm sitting comfortably in the press box on level nine at TD Garden, he is likely doing so while bandaged or stitched up and doing his best to heal while taking in the game.

Bruce Cassidy juggled his lines for Boston’s matchup with Minnesota, moving Chris Wagner to the second line right wing slot with Jake DeBrusk on the left wing and David Krejci at center and returning Charlie Coyle to the third line center position between Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen.

Ritchie’s return to action meant he’d skate on the fourth line right wing with Joakim Nordstrom on the left and Sean Kuraly down the middle.

On defense, Krug returned to the action for the B’s after missing the last five games with an upper body injury and resumed his role as a second pairing defender on the left side with Brandon Carlo as his partner.

Matt Grzelcyk returned to his usual spot on the third defensive pairing, but was matched up with Steven Kampfer on Saturday as Cassidy wanted to keep his veteran 7th defender fresh and scratched Connor Clifton for a night.

As a result of Krug’s return, Urho Vaakanainen was reassigned to Providence.

Jared Spurgeon kicked off the game’s action with a hooking penalty against Bjork at 1:07 of the first period. Boston didn’t convert on the ensuing power play opportunity.

Less than a minute after their power play expired, the Bruins were shorthanded when Zdeno Chara hooked Jason Zucker at 3:55.

Minnesota was unsuccessful on their first skater advantage of the night.

But at 8:46 of the opening frame, Krug slashed Kevin Fiala in retaliation for some stick work that Fiala had initiated on Krug, resulting in the Wild’s second power play of the game.

This time around, Minnesota was sure to notch a power play goal as Zucker (8) collected a goal off a rebound from Brad Hunt’s initial shot from the point to give the Wild the, 1-0, lead at 8:53, while on the skater advantage.

Hunt (6) and Mats Zuccarello (6) tallied the assists on the goal.

It was the 7th time this season that the Bruins gave up the first goal in a game– and for the 2nd consecutive game as the B’s allowed the first goal on Thursday against the Sabres.

Midway through the period, Brad Marchand and Matt Dumba exchanged pleasantries along the wall, yielding roughing minors at 11:25 and resulting in 4-on-4 action.

About 90 seconds later, the Wild went on a rare 4-on-3 power play thanks to Charlie McAvoy’s tripping infraction against Zucker at 12:56.

Minnesota was unable to convert on the resulting abbreviated 4-on-3 and 5-on-4 opportunities.

After one period of play at TD Garden on Saturday night, the Wild led the Bruins, 1-0, on the scoreboard with Minnesota holding the advantage in shots on goal, 15-10.

The Wild also led in takeaways (5-2) and hits (9-7), while the Bruins led in faceoff win percentage (54-46).

Both teams had four blocked shots aside and two giveaways each heading into the first intermission.

Minnesota was 1/3 on the power play and Boston was 0/1 on the skater advantage entering the second period.

Early in the middle frame, Chara blasted a shot from the blue line that was tipped in by DeBrusk (4), tying the game, 1-1, at 4:14 of the second period.

Chara (6) and Ritchie (2) picked up the assists on DeBrusk’s goal, yielding Ritchie’s first assist on a goal since Oct. 19th in Toronto.

Two minutes later, Victor Rask (2) turned and angled his skates flawlessly at a flying pass from Spurgeon to put Minnesota back into command of the scoreboard, 2-1, with a goal at 6:14.

Spurgeon (9) and Ryan Suter (11) nabbed the assists as the Wild regained the lead.

Midway through the period, Chara caught Zucker with a high stick that drew blood and resulted in a four-minute double-minor for Boston’s captain at 12:43.

Eric Staal (7) deflected Suter’s shot on the ensuing power play to the empty space right in front of himself and utilized his hand-eye coordination to whack the loose puck into the twine as the Bruins netminder reacted to the initial shot by the Wild defender.

Suter (12) and Zuccarello (7) each earned their second assist of the night as Minnesota pulled ahead, 3-1, at 14:26.

Moments later, Marchand cross checked Carson Soucy and presented the Wild with yet another power play at 17:14. This time, Minnesota was unsuccessful on the advantage.

With only seconds remaining in the period, Krug sent a shot that caromed off the boards and back into the slot whereby Marchand (16) snagged the rebound and sent the puck into the back of the twine– bringing the Bruins to within one-goal– at 19:56.

Krug (12) and Bergeron (13) had the assists as the B’s trailed, 3-2, entering the second intermission.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Wild led the Bruins, 3-2, on the scoreboard and, 26-23, in shots on goal– despite Boston holding a, 13-11, advantage in the second period alone.

Boston led in blocked shots (12-11) and faceoff win% (52-48), while Minnesota led in takeaways (5-4) and hits (16-13) heading into the third period.

Both teams had three giveaways aside and the Wild were 2/6 on the power play, while the Bruins were still 0/1.

Just 30 seconds into the third period, Bergeron tripped Jonas Brodin and was charged with Boston’s 7th straight penalty of the night.

Minnesota did not score while Bergeron was in the box, but capitalized on a lucky bounce early in the period when Fiala (5) tried to work a backhand deke through the low slow while attempting to shake off a Bruins defender and accidentally sent the puck airborne, deflecting it off of Krug’s stick and into Boston’s own net.

Fiala’s unassisted effort gave the Wild a, 4-2, lead at 5:19 of the third period.

Midway through the final frame of regulation, Minnesota’s Victor Rask, received a holding penalty at 14:39 and ended Boston’s run of seven consecutive penalties in the game.

The Bruins did not score on their second power play of the night.

With 2:22 remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker, which proved successful– not just once, but twice– first on Krejci’s (3) goal at 18:05 and then again on the power play with another goal from Krejci (4) at 18:53.

On Krejci’s first goal of the game, DeBrusk couldn’t redirect an initial attempt into the net, leading to Bergeron’s quick tap of the puck to the veteran No. 2 center for the surefire goal on the unguarded side of the net while Stalock was out of position.

Bergeron (14) and DeBrusk (4) had the assists as the Bruins pulled to within one, 4-3, at 18:05.

Then at 18:29, Minnesota’s Luke Kunin tripped McAvoy, which led to Boston’s third power play opportunity of the game and Minnesota’s 2nd consecutive penalty of the night.

While Kunin was in the box, the Bruins went to work on a 6-on-4 advantage with 1:31 remaining on the gameclock and their goalie pulled.

That’s when, at 18:53, Krejci rocketed a one-timer pass from Bergeron into the back of the net after Bergeron had enough time to retrieve a new stick from the bench and chip in for his third assist of the night, tying the game, 4-4.

Bergeron (15) and Krug (13) tallied the assists on Krejci’s second goal and the B’s forced overtime for the 6th time this season after scoring two goals in 48 seconds.

After 60 minutes, Boston led Minnesota in shots on goal, 38-33, and had a, 15-7, advantage in shots on net in the third period alone.

The Bruins also led in hits (25-23) and faceoff win% (52-48) heading into overtime, but the Wild led in blocked shots (15-13), takeaways (13-6) and giveaways (7-5) as the extra frame began.

Since no penalties were called in overtime, Minnesota finished the night 2/7 on the power play and Boston went 1/3 on the skater advantage.

Cassidy started overtime with Krug, Marchand and Bergeron on the ice while Bruce Boudreau opted for Joel Eriksson Ek, Suter and Spurgeon to kick things off for Minnesota.

Midway through the overtime period, Krug (3) waltzed his way from end-to-end, skating right up the middle of the ice while the Wild players just… let him go by… …and slipped a shot through Stalock’s five-hole to complete Boston’s comeback and seal the deal on a, 5-4, overtime win.

Once more, Bergeron (16) and Marchand (23) had the assists as Bergeron picked up his fourth assist of the game on Krug’s game-winning overtime goal at 2:41 of the extra frame– completing a span of three goals in 4:36 elapsed game time from the third period to the end of overtime for Boston.

The Bruins finished the night leading in shots on goal, 39-36, despite trailing in shots on goal in the overtime period, 3-1, to the Wild.

Minnesota wrapped the night up leading in blocked shots (16-13) and giveaways (7-5), while Boston ended the night leading in hits (25-23) and both teams split faceoff win% (50-50).

The Wild fell to 0-3 on the season in overtime, but the Bruins improved to 1-1 in the extra frame this season, while improving to 2-2-2 when trailing after two periods.

Boston finished their two-game homestand 2-0-0. 

The B’s will begin a two-game road trip with games on back-to-back nights next Tuesday in Montreal and Wednesday in Ottawa before returning home to close out the month of November against the New York Rangers in a Black Friday matinee in the NHL’s 2019 Discover Thanksgiving Showdown.

The Bruins will unveil their new alternate sweaters on Sunday at an event for season ticket holders and likely debut their new threads on the ice in their matchup with the Rangers.

Categories
Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #169- 2019-20 Season Preview: Metropolitan Division

Mitch Marner finally re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins announced a couple key extensions, more RFA deals were signed and the NHLPA decided not to re-open the current collective bargaining agreement as DTFR’s season previews continued with the Metropolitan Division.

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

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Minnesota Wild 2019-20 Season Preview

Minnesota Wild

37-36-9, 83 points, 7th in the Central Division

Missed the postseason for the first time in seven years

Additions: F Gabriel Dumont, F Ryan Hartman, F Luke Johnson, F Drew Stafford (signed to a PTO), F Mats Zuccarello, D Fedor Gordeev (acquired from TOR)

Subtractions: F Pontus Aberg (signed with TOR), F Eric Fehr (NLA), F Landon Ferraro (signed to a PTO with VAN), F Cal O’Reilly (signed with Lehigh Valley, AHL), F Matt Read (signed to a PTO with TOR), F Dante Salituro (signed with Indy, ECHL), D Anthony Bitetto (signed with WPG), D Gustav Bouramman (traded to FLA), D Michael Kapla (signed with Toronto, AHL), D Nate Prosser (signed with PHI), G Johan Gustafsson (DEL), G Andrew Hammond (signed with BUF)

Still Unsigned: F Chase Lang

Re-signed: F Ryan Donato, F Joel Eriksson Ek, F Kevin Fiala, D Brad Hunt, D Carson Soucy, D Hunter Warner

Offseason Analysis: It’s a wild time for the Minnesota Wild on what will likely be a wild ride to the bottom of the standings before things get better.

At the very least, Minnesota tried to jumpstart things and stave off a rebuild by firing Paul Fenton one season after naming Fenton as General Manager and replacing the now former GM of the franchise with Bill Guerin.

Guerin– who spent parts of 18 seasons as winger with the New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins– was most recently the assistant general manager for the Penguins and is just the fourth general manager in franchise history for the Wild.

Bruce Boudreau returns as head coach, despite finishing in last place in the Central Division en route to Minnesota missing the playoff last season for the first time since 2012.

Before Fenton was fired, he signed Mats Zuccarello on July 1st to a five-year, $30 million contract worth $6.000 million per season.

Zuccarello has never scored more than 26 goals in a season– a feat he accomplished in 81 games with the New York Rangers in 2015-16– and is 32-years-old.

He usually amasses at least 50 points a season, however, so it’s not quite an overpay, but rather a bit of a concern due to the long-term nature of the contract, plus the fact that he has a no-movement clause through the first three years and a modified no-trade/no-movement clause in the final two years.

Basically, it’s a great deal for Zuccarello because it protects him from the Seattle Expansion Draft in 2021, which is exactly why it could come back to bite the Wild.

Minnesota’s defense is aging and the entire roster only has three pending-unrestricted free agents at the end of the upcoming season, which means Guerin’s going to have to get creative at restructuring some of the mess left behind without just letting players walk in free agency.

If the Wild are confident this season will be better than last season– it’s make or break.

When things don’t work out, at least the inevitable front office turmoil has already been taken care of (hopefully).

Offseason Grade: F

This offseason, Minnesota pulled the equivalent of making just enough of an effort on an exam to get one or two answers right, but missed the mark on everything else.

Having said that, firing Fenton and hiring Guerin is probably the one or two questions on the exam that they got right. Other than that, there’s not much else that went well for the Wild to assure the Hockey Gods that they’re prepared for the 2019-20 season.

Categories
Daily Matchup

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.