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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern 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 Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

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

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

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

Krug’s rocket leads Bruins to, 2-1, win in OT in Florida

Torey Krug and the Boston Bruins pulled off a, 2-1, comeback win in overtime against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at BB&T Center.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (18-6-6 record, 2.39 goals against average, .919 save percentage in 31 games played), made 32 saves on 33 shots against for a .970 SV% in the win.

Florida netminder, Chris Driedger (5-2-1, 2.29 GAA, .932 SV% in 10 games played) stopped 26 out of 28 shots faced for a .929 SV% in the overtime loss.

The B’s improved to 43-13-12 (98 points) on the season and remain in command of the Atlantic Division, while the Panthers fell to 33-26-8 (74 points) and stuck in 4th place in the Atlantic.

Boston improved to 21-10-3 on the road this season, as well.

The Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee) and Connor Clifton (upper body) on Thursday night, while head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made one change to his lineup among his forwards– moving Sean Kuraly back to center the fourth line with Anders Bjork replacing Par Lindholm at left wing.

Lindholm was joined by John Moore, Anton Blidh and Karson Kuhlman in the press box as Boston’s healthy scratches in Florida.

Midway through the opening frame, Ondrej Kase awkwardly collided with Evgenii Dadonov, leaving Kase on his hands and knees and (somehow) a minor penalty for tripping Dadonov at 11:41 of the first period.

Florida did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

A few minutes later, after Nick Ritchie tried to mix things up with Dadonov for the incidental contact with Kase that sent Kase down the tunnel before re-emerging from Boston’s dressing room moments after Jake DeBrusk served Kase’s minor for tripping Dadonov– Ritchie went square dancing with Riley Stillman.

The two players exchanged fisticuffs and received five-minute majors for fighting at 14:35 in what was the 18th fight this season for Boston– and the 11th since Jan. 1st.

It was Ritchie’s first fight in 46 personal games played this season and Stillman’s second fighting major in 33 personal games this season.

Less than a minute to go in the first period, Mike Matheson tripped up Brad Marchand and was sent to the penalty box as a result at 19:01.

Boston did not convert on their first skater advantage of the night.

Heading into the first intermission, the game was still tied, 0-0, while the Bruins led in shots on goal, 12-4.

The Panthers held the advantage in takeaways (8-4), hits (9-6) and faceoff win percentage (67-33), while the B’s led in giveaways (6-4).

Both teams had six blocked shots aside and were 0/1 on the power play.

Early in the middle frame, MacKenzie Weegar (6) kicked things off with a one-timer from the point that beat Halak over the blocker with net front screen by Lucas Wallmark.

Brett Connolly (14) and Wallmark (13) had the assist’s on Weegar’s goal and Florida jumped out to a, 1-0, lead at 6:55 of the second period.

Moments later, Dadonov threw an errant elbow on a reverse check in the corner, leaving Bruins defender, Brandon Carlo dazed as he was helped off the ice.

Carlo did not return to the game and was ruled out by Boston’s public relations team with an upper body in a tweet during the third period.

Dadonov was originally assessed a five-minute major penalty on the play, but a review lessened the infraction to two-minutes for elbowing at 10:46 of the second period.

The 30-year-old forward is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and has 25-21–46 totals in 67 games with the Panthers this season and has never been fined or suspended in his National Hockey League career (2009-12, 2017-present).

As a result of Thursday night’s loss, Florida is still four points outside of a playoff spot.

Boston’s power play unit didn’t take long while Dadonov was in the box to capitalize on the skater advantage as Krug rocketed a shot from the point that Patrice Bergeron (30) tipped in to reach the 30-goal plateau for the sixth time in his career (2003-present).

In doing so, Bergeron became the sixth Bruin in franchise history to record at least six 30-goal seasons, joining Phil Esposito (eight 30-goal seasons with Boston), Rick Middleton (eight), Johnny Bucyk (seven), Cam Neely (six) and Peter McNab (six).

Krug (39) and Marchand (57) notched the assists on Bergeron’s power play tally at 11:00 of the middle frame and the Bruins tied the game, 1-1.

Less than a minute later, Boston was back on the power play as Aleksander Barkov tripped up DeBrusk at 11:48, but the B’s weren’t able to convert on their third power play of the night.

Shortly after the Panthers killed off Barkov’s infraction, Florida went on the power play after Marchand caught Mike Hoffman with a hook at 15:06.

The Panthers didn’t score on the advantage, however.

With 1:59 remaining in the period, Anton Stralman took a puck to the face off an inadvertent deflection, but remained in the game.

Through 40 minutes of action at BB&T Center, the Bruins and Panthers were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard with Florida holding an edge in shots on goal, 19-17.

Boston led in blocked shots (10-8), hits (16-14) and faceoff win% (57-43), while Florida led in takeaways (10-8) and giveaways (11-9).

The Panthers were 0/2 on the advantage, while the Bruins were 1/3 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Frank Vatrano slashed Jeremy Lauzon at 2:04 of the third period and was sent to the sin bin as a result, but Boston’s power play was cut short when Charlie Coyle tripped Stralman at 2:58.

The two sides escaped 4-on-4 action unharmed, but upon Vatrano’s re-admittance to the game, No. 77 in Panthers red and blue played the puck while one of his legs was still in the penalty box– resulting in an automatic interference minor penalty at 4:06.

Once more, the two clubs skated at 4-on-4 even strength until David Pastrnak got his stick between the legs of Barkov and brought down the Florida captain at 4:54 of the third period.

The Panthers emerged with an abbreviated power play after the two sides went through 4-on-4 action again, but Florida remained powerless on the power play.

At the end of regulation, the score remained tied, 1-1, and the Panthers led in shots on goal, 31-24.

Florida maintained the advantage in takeaways (12-10) and hits (24-21), while Boston led in faceoff win% (53-48).

Both teams had 14 blocked shots and 14 giveaways aside.

As there were no penalties called in overtime, the Panthers finished the night 0/4 on the power play, while the Bruins went 1/4.

In overtime, Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville, opted to start Barkov, Hoffman and Aaron Ekblad, while Cassidy countered the Panthers’ trio with Coyle, DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.

Late in the five-minute overtime period, after both teams swapped chance for chance, Pastrnak worked to retrieve a puck along the end boards that was sent in by Krug.

No. 88 in black and gold sent a pass back to Krug at the point, where No. 47 then wound up and blasted a slap shot past Driedger to end the game in overtime.

Krug’s (9) goal was assisted by Pastrnak (46) and David Krejci (29) at 4:08 of the overtime period and lifted the Bruins over the Panthers, 2-1.

Boston finished the game with victory on the scoreboard, but trailed Florida in shots on goal, 33-28.

The Panthers also held the advantage in giveaways (15-14) and hits (24-22), while the Bruins led in faceoff win% (52-48).

Both teams finished with 14 blocked shots each.

Florida fell to 2-4 in overtime this season and 4-8 overall past regulation, while Boston improved to 6-2 in overtime and 6-12 past 60 minutes overall in the regular season.

The Bruins improved to 13-2-6 (6-1-0 on the road) when tied after the first period, 18-6-4 (8-5-1 on the road) when giving up the game’s first goal and 11-2-2 (6-2-0 on the road) when tied after two periods this season.

Meanwhile, the Panthers fell to 11-9-4 (4-5-2 at home) when tied after the first period, 25-5-4 (14-2-3 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal and 2-4-4 (0-3-2 at home) when tied after two periods this season.

Boston wrapped up their three-game road trip (3-0-0) on Thursday and plays host to the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden on Saturday.

Analysis: What exactly are the Panthers doing?

Carolina Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, made a splash on Monday morning, sending Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Eetu Luostarinen and Chase Priskie to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Vincent Trocheck.

Panthers GM, Dale Tallon, realizes his team is two points outside of an Atlantic Division playoff berth, right?

As a result of trading Haula, the Hurricanes met the requirement on a condition in a previous trade with the Vegas Golden Knights and will now send their 2021 5th round pick to the Golden Knights to complete the Haula for Nicolas Roy swap the teams made on June 27, 2019.

Trocheck, 26, is signed through the 2021-22 season at a $4.750 million cap hit and had 10-26–36 totals in 55 games this season with Florida.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was drafted by the Panthers in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft (64th overall) and has 111 goals and 171 assists (282 points) in 420 career NHL games (all with Florida).

Haula, 28, had 12 goals and ten assists (22 points) in 41 games with the Hurricanes this season and is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

The Pori, Finland native was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the first round (7th overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft, entered the league in the 2013-14 season and has 85–88–173 totals in 398 career games with the Hurricanes, Golden Knights and Wild.

Wallmark, 24, is a pending-restricted free agent at season’s end and had 11-12–23 totals in 60 games with Carolina prior to the trade.

A native of Umea, Sweden, Wallmark was originally drafted by the Hurricanes in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft (97th overall) and made his league debut in the 2016-17.

He has 22 goals and 32 assists (54 points) in 160 games in his career (all with Carolina).

Luostarinen, 21, is from Siilinjarvi, Finland and had one assist in eight games with the Canes this season and was drafted by Carolina in the second round (42nd overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Priskie, 23, had six goals and 25 assists (31 points) in 52 games with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) prior to the trade. He was originally drafted by the Washington Capitals in the sixth round (177th overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft and signed with the Hurricanes as a free agent on August 17, 2019.

He attended Quinnipiac University and played four years of college hockey and is a native of Pembroke Pines, Florida.

Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 Forecast Through 20 Games

Before the action gets going Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, let’s take a quick second to give an updated forecast on the Carolina Hurricanes roster through 20 games played in the regular season.

Carolina currently sits 5th in the Metropolitan Division with a 9-8-3 record (21 points) on the season and has been all over the board in the league’s most tumultuous division thus far. The Hurricanes have been as high as 1st place in the Metropolitan and as low as 7th in the division on Nov. 6th (then again on Nov. 10th and 11th).

The Canes stormed out of the gate, then quickly dissipated around Halloween dropping out of the lead– but still maintaining a divisional playoff spot– before the rise of the Columbus Blue Jackets bumped them out of a postseason berth altogether on Nov. 1st.

They flirted with a wild card spot for a few days before the sinking ship began to carry too much water.

Head coach, Rod Brind’Amour has implemented a new style in the Hurricanes organization, featuring an emphasis on more shots on goal than ever before regardless of the actual scoring outcome.

Carolina is infected with the youth bug. Rookie mistakes and inconsistencies are to be made and a rookie coach trying to avoid the inevitable errors is no small task. Nothing is truly overnight and through the first quarter of the regular season, the Hurricanes are finding that out.

There’s some good news, however, as the Metropolitan Division is separated by a mere eight points from the Blue Jackets (1st) to the Pittsburgh Penguins (8th), so fixing the weak-spots in one’s game should lead to some separation from the competition with enough wins stringed together.

But with good news, there’s always some bad news too and that is what’s to be expected.

No really, as in the expected outcomes for the Hurricanes latest forecast– it’s not great.

Here’s the latest updated forecast for Carolina through the first 20 games of the regular season, keeping in mind there are many variable that will change what’s to come due to injury, lineup changes, etc. unknown to the frontiers of Microsoft Excel’s formulas.

As always, my degree is in communication– not math.

If a player meets the forecasted stats, they’ve met expectations. If they do better, they exceed expectations. If they do worse, they either missed a lot of action or didn’t live up to expectations.

There’s nothing to forecast puck luck, but we can point out trends and general indications from the scoresheet each night.

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Carolina Hurricanes Forecast Through 20 Games (62 Games Remaining)

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If anything, it’s promising that Sebastian Aho is on track for 26 goals and 43 assists (69 points) in his third NHL season. Next to Teuvo Teravainen‘s 17-35–52 expected totals, that’s about as far as it goes for excitement.

Only Aho, Jordan Staal and Micheal Ferland are expected to reach the 20-goal plateau for the Hurricanes this season. To make matters worse, Staal should end up with 22 goals and Ferland with 20, meaning Carolina will barely even have three players past the 20-goal mark. Yikes.

Hey at least Victor Rask is back from injury after missing the first 20 games.

On the blue line, three defenders will reach the 30-point plateau in expected points as Dougie Hamilton (12-26–38 expected totals), Justin Faulk (10-27–37 expected totals) and Jaccob Slavin (6-24–30 expected totals) lead the way in scoring from the point.

Considering the rest of the offense isn’t necessarily there, at least the defense is pretty respectable, all things considered.

If the Hurricanes get things going, they can capitalize on overall improvements and likely end up with at least two blue liners pushing 40 points. If they don’t– they might be worse than middle of the road. Again.

In goal, well, it’s the same old, same old.

Scott Darling (2.97 expected goals against average and .899 expected save percentage) has yet to prove he is a capable starting netminder. In fact, his expected totals as things stand right now wouldn’t even be backup goaltender caliber.

Petr Mrazek (2.73 expected GAA, .907 expected SV%) might have something left in the tank for one last chance at redemption and becoming a starter– if his defense can tighten its game up and limit quality shots against.

As for Curtis McElhinney (2.87 expected GAA, .908 expected SV%), well, he’s a decent backup in a limited role, so if Carolina wants to continue with a three-goaltender rotation, McElhinney is certain to improve his overall forecast, though only to respectable backup numbers.

After 20 games into the regular season, the Hurricanes aren’t looking much different from last season. This, of course, after they traded their best scorer in Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres in the offseason for peanuts (draft picks).

Brind’Amour has improved Carolina’s pace of play, but he can’t do anything about the roster that was dealt to him. That’s where General Manager Don Waddell is going to have to get crafty– and soon, given the perpetual rebuild and playoff drought since 2009.

Marchand’s two goals, Halak’s 42 saves help B’s past Hurricanes, 3-2

Tuesday night at PNC Arena the visiting Boston Bruins defeated a shot-making machine offense in the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, thanks to a two-goal effort from Brad Marchand and goaltender, Jaroslav Halak‘s 42 saves.

Halak (4-0-2 in 7 games played with a 1.52 goals against average and .947 save percentage) made 42 saves on 44 shots against for a .955 SV% in the win, while Carolina’s Scott Darling made his 2018-19 season debut after returning from injury and his conditioning stint with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL).

Darling (0-1-0 in 1 GP) turned aside 28 shots out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in 57:39 time on ice in the loss.

Boston improved to 7-3-2 (16 points) on the season, good enough for 2nd place in the Atlantic Division standings (trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs), while the Hurricanes slid to 6-5-1 (13 points) and 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division (behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders).

Torey Krug made his season debut for the Bruins as he was back in the lineup for the first time since his leg injury in the preseason, while Matt Grzelcyk was out of Bruce Cassidy‘s lineup with a lower body injury.

Early in the first period– like, 35 seconds into the opening frame, early– Jordan Staal tripped Bruins defender, John Moore, and gave Boston their first power play of the night. The B’s did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Late in the first period, Jeremy Lauzon tripped Carolina forward, Brock McGinn, and gave the Hurricanes their first power play opportunity of the night at 17:46 of the first period.

It only took eight seconds for the Canes to score on the skater advantage.

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Micheal Ferland (7) notched the power play goal as a scramble for the loose puck ensued as Halak fell back in desperation, yearning to make a glove save while No. 79 in red pocketed the rubber biscuit in the twine.

Sebastian Aho (13) and Valentin Zykov (3) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Carolina at 17:54 of the first period.

Cassidy used his coach’s challenge on the call on the ice (goal) on the grounds for a goaltender interference review as Zykov had brushed behind Halak in the crease prior to Ferland getting a stick on the puck. After review, the call on the ice stood and the Bruins lost their timeout as a result.

With his assist on Ferland’s goal, Aho became the 3rd player in NHL history to record at least one assist in a season-opening streak of 12 games joining Edmonton’s Wayne Gretzky (7-20–27 totals through 12 games in 1982-83) and Boston’s Ken Linseman (2-19–21, 1985-86).

The goal was also Ferland’s 100th career NHL point.

Less than a minute later, Brandon Carlo earned himself a minor infraction for slashing Andrei Svechnikov and was sent to the penalty box at 18:29. Carolina didn’t score as time expired in the first period, so the resulting power play carried over into the second period.

Entering the dressing room for the first intermission, Carolina held onto a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 12-8 advantage in shots on goal. The Hurricanes also led in blocked shots (3-2), takeaways (4-2), giveaways (3-2) and hits (16-10), while the Bruins led in face-off win percentage (55-46).

Carolina went 1/2 on the power play in the first period and Boston was 0/1 after 20 minutes.

The second period started out much to the tune of a more controlled Bruins effort as Brad Marchand moved in all alone on Darling, only to lose the puck while switching to his backhand as the Hurricanes netminder dove to make a last-ditch effort poke check.

Jaccob Slavin received a slashing minor for his obstruction of Marchand’s ability to get a shot off and Boston went back on the power play 1:01 into the second period.

Moments later it was Marchand himself cutting a rut to the sin bin for slashing Hurricanes blue liner, Dougie Hamilton, in one of those retaliation “chop the stick out of the other guy’s hands” plays at 4:55.

Carolina did not score on the power play.

Just past the halfway mark of the second period, Hurricanes captain, Justin Williams caught Krug up high with a stick to the face and was subsequently penalized for high-sticking at 10:36.

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The Bruins scored on the ensuing power play, tying the game, 1-1, thanks to David Pastrnak (11) and his third time’s a charm effort on a one-timer blast from about the goal line, beating Darling short side.

Krug (1) and Patrice Bergeron (10) were tabbed with the assists on Pastrnak’s power play goal at 12:22 of the middle frame.

Moore later sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game minor infraction, yielding a skater advantage to Carolina at 17:20.

While on a face-off in the attacking zone on the ensuing power play, Jordan Staal won the draw back to the left point where Hamilton (2) blasted a one-timer past Halak, high, blocker-side to give the Hurricanes a power play goal and the lead, 2-1 at 18:33.

Staal (3) had the only assist on Hamilton’s goal against the team that drafted him 9th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft prior to sending him to the Calgary Flames hours before the 2015 NHL Draft in exchange for a 2015 1st round pick (Zach Senyshyn, 15th overall) and two 2015 2nd round picks (Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, 45th overall and Lauzon, 52nd overall).

The Flames, of course, traded Hamilton to Carolina this offseason, along with Adam Fox and Ferland in exchange for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.

Lucas Wallmark tripped Danton Heinen late in the second period and the Bruins went back on the skater advantage at 19:07.

After Bergeron stripped Warren Foegele of the puck on a break-in, No. 37 in black-and-gold sent a pass up-ice to his linemate wearing No. 63 awaiting entry in the attacking zone at the blue line.

From there, Marchand (3) broke in with speed and fired a wrist shot past Darling’s glove hand to tied the game, 2-2, on the power play as the Hurricanes were caught during a bungled line change.

Carolina’s bench was guilty of too many men on the ice and Boston went from ending one power play to beginning a new one at 19:42 of the middle frame.

Bergeron (11) had the only assist on Marchand’s power play goal and Ferland served the bench minor for the Hurricanes as play resumed.

Through two periods of play the score was tied, 2-2, and the Hurricanes were outshooting the Bruins, 36-22. Boston held onto an advantage in blocked shots (8-7), while the Canes led in takeaways (8-6), hits (19-18) and face-off win% (56-44). Both teams had nine giveaways aside after 40 minutes of play and Carolina was 2/4 on the power play, while the B’s were 2/5.

Boston was the only team to score a goal in the third period as Marchand (4) picked up his second of the night on a wraparound goal, having freed himself with speed from Williams behind the net at 5:23 of the final frame.

Darling overcommitted to the right side of the crease as Marchand maintained possession, wrapped around the goalframe and gave the Bruins their first lead of the night, 3-2, at 5:23 of the third period.

Bergeron (12) once again had the only assist on Marchand’s goal.

After a stoppage in play with 2:19 remaining in regulation, Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour used his timeout to hone the focus of his players on the ice on getting the game-tying goal with the extra attacker as a result of pulling his goaltender.

Carolina’s plans didn’t come to fruition and almost backfired when Pastrnak sent the puck wide of the open 4-by-6 frame with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.

At the final horn, Boston defeated Carolina, 3-2, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 44-31, in shots on goal. The Hurricanes led in every other category, including blocked shots (17-12), giveaways (15-12), hits (28-23) and face-off win% (56-44) after the 60-minute effort.

The B’s finished 2/5 on the power play, while the Canes went 2/4.

The Bruins head to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee for a Saturday night matchup with the Predators before returning home on Monday, Nov. 5th against the Dallas Stars.

Among other stats…

Pastrnak led Boston with nine shots on goal. Marchand was the next closest with five. Carlo led his teammates in hits with six and Zdeno Chara recorded a team-high three blocked shots.

Williams and Trevor van Riemsdyk led Carolina with six shots on goal. Brett Pesce had four blocked shots for the Hurricanes, while Justin Faulk and Slavin each had three.

Jordan Martinook had a team-high five hits for Carolina in the loss.

Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 Season Projections

It’s October whateverth, I know, and the regular season is already underway, but transferring data into a new system and (in some cases) building new rosters entirely can take its time in the midst of catching every game on TV, living life, etc.

So without further ado let’s pretend the 5-3-1 (11 points)– 1st place in the Metropolitan Division– Carolina Hurricanes didn’t actually start the season yet and let’s turn back the clocks to before puck drop on the regular season.

Back then, Andrei Svechnikov had yet to play an NHL game as an 18-year-old rookie. The 2nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft’s forecasted stats couldn’t be calculated until he stepped foot on the ice. Though his 2-2–4 totals in his first nine games have him forecasted for 18 goals and 18 assists (36 points) over his first 82 games, we’ll pretend we don’t actually know what we know now.

Anyway, the fact of the matter remains the same–  prior to the start of any regular season, these forecasted stats are merely educated expectations. A player who performs better than their expected outcome exceeded expectations (makes sense). A player who doesn’t live up to the numbers was either injured, a healthy scratch or on a chronic cold streak (or whatever).

Last season’s Carolina Hurricanes finished 6th in the Metropolitan Division with a 36-35-11 record and 83 points on the season. Bill Peters was fired as head coach and former Hurricanes superstar Rod Brind’Amour was hired behind the bench. Don Waddell took over as General Manager in the offseason, going from interim to full-time as owner Tom Dundon embraced a new direction to go along with his new reign.

The annual doldrums in Raleigh, North Carolina might be over sooner rather than later with a stockpile of youth in Sebastian Aho, Warren Foegele, Svechnikov and others, in addition to the quietly shutdown defensive pairings that include Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and newcomers Dougie Hamilton, as well as Calvin de Haan.

Carolina holds the longest playoff drought in the league currently, dating back to their 2009 Eastern Conference Finals appearance against the Pittsburgh Penguins– just three years removed from their 2006 Stanley Cup championship. The Hurricanes haven’t been part of any postseason activity in the 2010s.

Not that this season can necessarily change that, but the end of the drought is soon and the oasis of playoff hockey draws near.

It’s at this point in every forecast where I’d like to remind everyone my degree is in communication– not math– therefore all mistakes are strictly Microsoft Excels fault and for sure not an error of my own. Well, that, and there’s sometimes a little gut-feeling mixed in for players who’ve only played in less than ten games and therefore are projected to score, like, 100 goals or something.

My area of expertise resides in the written, spoken and nonverbal language of communicating– not numbers.

Forecasted stats are to be looked at as an utopian perspective– as though everything were to fall into line and nothing bad could ever happen. Some players will pan out and others will fall flat. These are only suggested (expected) outcomes for a sport that’s highly unpredictable due to its collective nature and sheer puck luck.

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Carolina Hurricanes Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)

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The good news for Carolina heading into 2018-19 is the realistic expectations are low. There’s only three players that are expected to crack the 50-point plateau, but that doesn’t mean any meteoric rise can’t creep up on any member of the Hurricanes and propel this roster into the postseason for the first time in– by the time April rolls around– a decade.

Brind’Amour is behind the bench now and having no prior NHL experience as a head coach, there’s nothing to point to and say “they’re destined to fail”. The Canes might come out of this with one of the best rookie coaches this season if they make the playofs and given all the expectations of the other rookie coaches around the league.

Washington’s Todd Reirden is behind the defending-Cup champions (so there’s high expectations with room only to fail), David Quinn is coaching a rebuilding New York Rangers bunch (so anything goes), Jim Montgomery is in charge of the borderline Dallas Stars (things could go either way) and Brind’Amour, well, he can only go up what with the roster he was given.

As always, we’ll get into goalies and rookies after the first quarter of the season passes, however, he’s a quick look at the expected top-points scorers for the Hurricanes this season.

Valentin Zykov has shown potential before and if Brind’Amour can finally be the one to light a fire under his playing style, perhaps Zykov just might amass 24-35–59 totals and be like William Karlsson was for the Vegas Golden Knights last season– except this time around, Zykov isn’t a new face in town for a new team.

Aho (27-31–58 expected totals) should easily reach, if not exceed, expectations for Carolina as he enters the world of first line minutes in the post-Jeff Skinner on the Hurricanes era.

We’ll neglect the holes in the Skinner trade where Waddell should’ve gotten more, but at least Aho is a positive in the “next man up” category of “players who should live up to being rushed into the spotlight, since there’s nobody else to turn to and have already been part of the organization prior to a rather one-sided trade”.

“Mr. Game 7” himself (Justin Williams) is bound for one last “breakout” year with 22-33–55 expected totals on a rejuvenated Hurricanes roster.

Meanwhile, Micheal Ferland, Warren Foegele and Jordan Staal make themselves as prime candidates for dark horse work horses in Carolina.

On defense, Dougie Hamilton (44 expected points) supersedes Justin Faulk (39 expected points) as Carolina’s top blue liner after being acquired in the Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm trade for Hamilton, Ferland and Adam Fox. In addition, Slavin and Pesce continue to fill-out one of the best kept secrets in NHL defense as pieces of the most underrated top-six blue liners with de Haan now part of the fold.

In goal, well, Brind’Amour has a lot of decisions to make on an almost nightly basis. Neither Scott Darling nor Petr Mrazek look to have goals against averages or save percentages in the starting goaltender range.

In fact, both are in the sub-par backup goaltender range– closer to 3.00 than 2.00– so as long as the Hurricane’s defense limits shots against and lessens the workload, then perhaps the season’s collapse won’t be because of bad goaltending.

Time will tell.

Until then, feel free to look around at how the Golden Knights and Boston Bruins should do this season.

2018 Offseason Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

Picking second in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft are the Carolina Hurricanes, so pack your bags for the Raleigh heat! We’re heading to the Research Triangle for the Canes’ offseason preview!

With a new owner, general manager and head coach in town, the Hurricanes are certainly a difficult team to predict. Will owner Tom Dundon initiate the fire sale many have mused he might after his $420 million toy failed to live up to expectations, or will this newly-formed management team pull their heads together and realize that they truly do – at least in my opinion – have some valuable pieces that, if directed the correct way, could turn into something special?

With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft only 11 days away, something tells me we’ll have our answer sooner rather than later. For sake of argument within this piece, we’ll assume the Canes try to keep their relatively young club together and continue trying to push forward.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

With Buffalo likely drafting D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, new General Manager Don Waddell will have to settle for RW Andrei Svechnikov of the Barrie Colts, the consensus second-best prospect available in this year’s draft.

Fortunately for Waddell, this crop of young players is rife with talent, and Svechnikov is no exception. In 44 games played with Barrie during the 2017-18 season, the 18-year-old Russian scored a whopping 40 goals en route to a 72-point season, both of which led OHL rookies. In fact, Svechnikov’s 1.64 points per game not only led all first-year players in his league, but was also fifth-most among all players.

Svechnikov may be only the second-best player in this draft, but Carolina will be receiving a far from second-rate player.

Pending free agents

Especially given the five pending free agent forwards associated with Carolina, there’s an extremely good chance Svechnikov gets a spot on this Hurricanes roster that fell 14 points short of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

In particular, the youngster has to be licking his chops knowing 35-year-old RW Lee Stempniak has yet to sign a contract with his club of two years. Playing only 37 games to a 3-6-9 stat line, the NHL journeyman did little to convince Waddell – or any GM, for that matter – that he’s worth keeping around, especially at the $2.5 million price the Canes signed him to a couple Julys ago.

Instead, RFA F Elias Lindholm and UFA C Derek Ryan will attract much of the attention among the Canes’ free agent forwards. Should Carolina be interested in the services of either or both, it will certainly have the money to keep them around, as Waddell has a touch over $27 million to play with.

Of the two, 23-year-old Lindholm is undoubtedly the biggest target considering his 16-28-44 totals in 81 games this season. Coming off a contract that saw him earn $2.7 million, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign a three or four-year deal worth a minimum of $3.5 million per year.

Considering he only made $725 thousand last season, RFA Phillip Di Giuseppe will likely also be retained in a bottom-six role, but his performance will need to improve unless he’d like to lose his roster spot to C Martin Necas, Carolina’s first-round pick in last year’s draft, or fellow RFA C Lucas Wallmark, the 2014 fourth-round pick who posted solid 17-38-55 totals in 45 games with the Charlotte Checkers.

Along the blue line, Carolina only has two RFAs to worry about in 21-year-old Noah Hanifin and 26-year-old Trevor van Riemsdyk, and I’m of the opinion that Waddell should do everything he can to keep them with his club. Hanifin in particular played a major role on this squad this season, as his 10 goals led Hurricanes defensemen. However, coming off a $1.775 million contract, he’ll be looking for a significant pay raise. I wouldn’t expect a contract under $4 million per year.

Amassing a career 318-244-84 record all with the Hurricanes, there’s a possibility G Cam Ward‘s 13-year tenure at PNC Arena could be coming to an end. The 34-year-old netminder posted only a .906 save percentage in his 43 appearances this season in a contract year.

Playing in Ward’s favor is the fact that Carolina does not appear to have a netminder ready to jump into the NHL from the minor leagues. Unless Waddell can pull off the Canes’ second major goaltending trade in the past two years or land a young free agent (I like the prospect of G Christopher Gibson playing behind this defense, if anybody’s wondering), Ward just might be able to hold on to his job for a year or two longer.