Tag Archives: Marc-Andre Fleury

Down the Frozen River Podcast #60– Beating a Dead Horse

Nick and Connor discuss the ongoing Conference Finals matchups after Pittsburgh beat Ottawa 7-0 on Sunday. Additionally, the GM of the Year finalists are discussed. A weird trip into horse racing occurs and lends itself to a challenge for Pierre McGuire.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 19

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – Game 4

With their 3-2 victory over Ottawa at the Canadian Tire Centre Friday, the Penguins have leveled the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

The biggest story coming into the game was Mike Sullivan‘s decision to entrust the Penguins’ net to Matthew Murray instead of Marc-Andre Fleury. The choice baffled many Yinzers considering the veteran goaltender had posted a .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA in his 14 postseason games before getting pulled not even 13 minutes into Game 3 after allowing four goals.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Sullivan may not have made the right decision, but it certainly wasn’t the wrong one. Allowing only two goals against, Murray earned his first victory of the 2017 playoffs on a .923 save percentage.

Stopping Ottawa’s attack was only half the battle though. Pittsburgh had only scored a goal-per-game in the first three contests of the series, but it exploded in comparison with three goals in one match – or, more precisely, just over 12 minutes.

It started with Olli Maatta‘s (Second Star of the Game Sidney Crosby and First Star Jake Guentzel) first-ever postseason tally with 46 seconds remaining in the opening frame. After crossing the near face-off circle, the fourth-year defenseman squeezed a wrist shot under Craig Anderson‘s blocker to give the Pens a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

Where the Penguins’ offense truly took command of the game was in the middle frame. Thanks to Jean-Gabriel Pageau earning a roughing penalty for practicing his favorite WWE moves on Pittsburgh’s captain, Crosby (Guentzel and Phil Kessel) himself doubled his club’s lead with a scrappy power play goal 7:41 into the second period, followed 3:49 later by Brian Dumoulin (Ian Cole and Scott Wilson) banking a wrister from the far point off Dion Phaneuf‘s left skate and behind Anderson for what proved to be the deciding tally, the first game-winner of his playoff career.

With the Senators trailing 3-0, Sullivan’s decision was truly put to the test as the Senators upped their attacking intensity in the remaining 28:30 of regulation. In that time, they fired 16 shots at the second-year netminder, including 10 in the third period.

The first evidence came about in the waning moments of the second period. Just as Maatta did for the Pens late in the first period, Clarke MacArthur (Bobby Ryan) did for the Sens in the second. With 98 seconds remaining before the second intermission, he recharged a nervous Canadian Tire Centre with a tip-in that beat Murray top-shelf.

Even with MacArthur’s tally, the Penguins felt comfortable for most of the third period with their two-goal advantage. That lead was trimmed to one with 5:01 remaining when Third Star Tom Pyatt (Erik Karlsson and Pageau) not only acted as a screen on Karlsson’s initial shot, but also deflected it through Murray’s five-hole, making the remainder of regulation that much important in not only deciding Game 4’s victor, but also the momentum of the remaining games in the series.

Murray certainly did his job in those remaining five minutes as he saved all three shots he faced in that time, but it was the Penguins’ defensive efforts that were arguably more impressive – especially since they were on the short side of a six-on-four man-advantage for the final 37 seconds of the game due to having too many men on the ice.

In all, Pittsburgh forced three missed shots after Pyatt’s goal, including two from Kyle Turris, owner of a 14.6% regular season shooting percentage, the third-best on the Senators’ roster.

Shot blocking was also a major focus for the Penguins during Ottawa’s final possession to close regulation. In all, the Senators fired four shots after winning the last face-off of the game with 37 seconds remaining. Two were saved by Murray, and two were blocked by Dumoulin and Nick Bonino to secure the victory.

The Eastern Conference Finals, now a three-game series, return to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh for Game 5 at 3 p.m. Eastern time this Sunday. American viewers should tune their televisions to NBC, while Canadians have the option between CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals– May 17

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators– Game 3

The Ottawa Senators cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday night. Mike Hoffman, Marc Methot, Derick Brassard, Zack Smith and Kyle Turris each had a goal in the Senators’ win. Ottawa takes the 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Friday.

Craig Anderson made 25 saves on 26 shots against for a .962 save percentage in the win, while Marc-Andre Fleury made 5 saves on 9 shots faced in 12:52 of playing time for a .556 SV% before being replaced by Matthew Murray in the loss. Murray made 19 saves on 20 shots faced for the Penguins, amassing a .950 SV% in 46:57 time on ice.

Hoffman (5) kicked off a string of four unanswered goals in the 1st period just 48 seconds into the game for Ottawa. Alexandre Burrows sent a pass to Turris who fired a shot that caromed to Hoffman’s stick before Hoffman sniped a shot past Fleury to put the Sens up 1-0. Turris (4) and Burrows (5) were credited with the assists on the goal.

Although Hoffman’s goal came not even a minute into the game, Peter Regin’s franchise record for the fastest goal to start a playoff game in Senators’ history (18 seconds into Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals) went untouched.

Fleury took a shot off the mask before Methot found the puck in front of the goal for his 2nd goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at 10:34 of the 1st period. Methot’s goal gave Ottawa a 2-0 lead and kicked off a string of three goals in a span of 2:18 for the Senators. Bobby Ryan (7) and Brassard (7) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Methot’s goal.

Brassard (4) took advantage of the fact that the Penguins couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone, resulting in a scoring chance Ryan, who fired a shot that was blocked by a Pittsburgh forward. Clarke MacArthur found the loose puck and slide it across the slot to the awaiting Brassard on the doorstep of the goal. Brassard easily made it 3-0 Ottawa, while MacArthur (5) and Ryan (8) celebrated the helpers on the goal at 12:28 of the 1st.

Almost 30 seconds later, Smith (1) notched his first of the postseason on a wraparound goal that forced Pittsburgh’s head coach, Mike Sullivan, to make a change in goal. Methot (2) and Erik Karlsson (12) had the assists on the goal that chased Fleury just 12:52 into the game. Murray took over for the Penguins in net, trailing 4-0.

Upon the completion of three goals in 2:18, the Senators had set a franchise record for the fastest three goals scored in a playoff game (Methot, Brassard and Smith in 2:18 of the 1st period). Martin Havlat, Radek Bonk and Shane Hnidy had previously held the record (three goals in a 4:00 span) in a 5-0 shutout over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 2, 2002.

After one period, Ottawa led 4-0 on the scoreboard and had dominated just about everything else, including a 74%-26% advantage in face-off wins over the Penguins.

Turris (4) added a goal of his own on a give-and-go rush with Hoffman with 1:42 remaining in the 2nd period. With a quick deke through the Penguins’ defense, Turris slid the puck past a desperate Murray. Hoffman (4) and Fredrik Claesson (2) were credited with the assists on Turris’s goal which made it a 5-0 game for the Senators.

Penalties amassed in the 2nd period, but none more than at the very end of the period, where Smith racked up a goaltender interference minor, Jean-Gabriel Pageau picked up a roughing call and Evgeni Malkin notched a roughing minor of his own. Despite it all, the Penguins would begin the 3rd period with a normal 5-on-4 power play.

In addition to the number of penalties adding up, yet another injury occurred in the series as Burrows left the game with a lower body injury sustained in the 2nd period and did not return. Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz were all kept out of the lineup for Game 3 as announced hours before puck drop due to injuries from the previous game.

The Senators were successful on the penalty kill to begin the 3rd period and were quickly thrust onto the power play when Matt Cullen was sent to the box for slashing at 2:19 of the 3rd. Ottawa was unable to convert on the man advantage and instead committed an infraction of their own moments later when Hoffman was called for tripping.

While on the power play, Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel fired a shot towards Anderson that was redirected by Sidney Crosby and snuck through Anderson’s five-hole. Crosby (5) had ended Anderson’s shutout bid with a Penguins power play goal that was assisted by the red-hot (like a hot dog– okay, jokes aside, he’s been fantastic) Kessel (9) and Mark Streit (1).

Ottawa’s lead was now 5-1 with over 15 minutes left in regulation.

For the second game in a row, Malkin picked up a 10-minute misconduct in the closing minutes of the game after a scrum broke out with 1:56 to go in regulation. Mark Stone amassed two roughing minors, while Scott Wilson also received a minor penalty for roughing. Ryan served one of Stone’s roughing penalties as the Senators finished the game shorthanded.

With the 5-1 victory in Game 3, Ottawa now leads the series 2-1 heading into Game 4 on home ice on Friday. Puck drop at Canadian Tire Centre is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and the game will be televised nationally on NBCSN in the United States and on CBC, as well as TVA Sports, across Canada.

Some final stats from Game 3:

SOG 29-26 OTT, FO% 65-35 OTT, Blocked Shots 17-12 OTT, Hits 34-29 OTT, Giveaways 12-9 OTT, PP 0/4 OTT, 1/3 PIT

Finally, I’m just going to leave this here.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals- May 15

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins– Game 2

Phil Kessel and the Pittsburgh Penguins broke through Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators late in the 3rd period to seal the deal on a 1-0 victory in Game 2 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.

After losing in overtime in Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins were hopeful to knot the series up 1-1 and pressure the Senators to perform for their own crowd heading to Ottawa for Game 3. Pressuring the Senators is exactly what Pittsburgh did for 60 minutes on Monday night.

Marc-Andre Fleury had 22 saves in the shutout win for Pittsburgh, while Anderson made 26 saves on 27 shots faced for a .966 save percentage in the loss.

After a thrilling 1st period witnessed both teams swapping scoring chance for scoring chance and hit for hit, neither team had found the scoreboard.

Bryan Rust was injured on a huge hit delivered by Dion Phaneuf early in the period, but he wasn’t the only Penguin to go down with an injury and not return for the rest of the game in the opening frame as. Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz was sidelined for the night with an injury of his own.

The Senators led the Penguins 10-8 in shots on goal and 8-4 in blocked shots after 20 minutes of play, while Pittsburgh dominated the physical game with 19 hits to Ottawa’s 11. The Penguins also had a slight advantage in face-off wins, having on 53% of them compared to the Senators 47% successful mark on the face-off dot in the 1st period.

The 2nd period saw more of the same with both teams in a tight battle of “which goaltender will be the first to crack?” Still 0-0 after 40 minutes of play, the Penguins led 20-16 in SOG, 34-24 in hits, 59-42% in face-off wins, while Ottawa continued to use the body for more than just hitting, racking up a 13-5 advantage in blocked shots.

It wasn’t until 6:55 remaining in the 3rd period that the game saw its first goal.

Kessel (6) received a pass from Evgeni Malkin on a rush, then shot the puck in the direction of the goal only to be blocked by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. After quickly recovering the rebound, Kessel snuck a wrist shot low and under Anderson’s left pad to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh. Malkin (14) and Olli Maatta (5) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on the game’s only (and game winning) goal.

With less than 15 seconds to go in the game and the goaltender pulled, Ottawa’s skaters could not stay out of trouble on an icing call. Kyle Turris promptly took exception to some words that were exchanged and a shoving match ensued, leaving Turris with a slashing minor and a misconduct. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz (roughing) and Malkin (misconduct) also racked up penalties and the game finished 4-on-4.

Of note, Ottawa failed to record a shot in the 3rd period until 15:06 into the final frame of regulation. Pittsburgh had already fired 8 shots on Anderson by the time the Senators presented Fleury with his first challenge of the 3rd.

The series is now tied, 1-1, with Game 3 set to take place in Ottawa on Wednesday. Puck drop at Canadian Tire Centre is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while Canadian residents can tune to CBC and/or TVA Sports.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 13

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Bobby Ryan‘s overtime winner, the Senators defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 at PPG Paints Arena Saturday to steal home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Ryan was involved in both Senators tallies, as was Jean-Gabriel Pageau – the proud scorer of a wrist shot with 5:28 remaining in the first period. The play was caused when Pageau forced Brian Dumoulin into a giveaway behind Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net. Ryan collected the loose puck and centered a pass to the native Ottawan in the far face-off circle that he was more than able to bury top-shelf.

Though the Senators have been lauded for their defense this postseason, it certainly didn’t hurt that Pittsburgh struggled to find much rhythm offensively for most of the evening. The Pens uncharacteristically gave the puck away a whopping 17 times (Pittsburgh has given the puck away only 109 times this entire postseason, the fewest of the remaining squads), not to mention the 11 times Ottawa intentionally stole the puck.

A lot of that was due to the Sens’ physical play. Led by Marc Methot‘s seven blows, Ottawa threw 32 hits to knock the Penguins off balance. Even when Pittsburgh could manage a shot, the Sens were quick to get in the way, as they blocked an impressive 22 offerings (led by Methot’s four).

And the Penguins’ 28 shots that did manage to reach First Star Craig Anderson? He saved all but one for a .964 save percentage.

But no matter how well a defense and goaltender perform, its tough to keep the mighty Penguins offense off the board. With 5:35 remaining in regulation, Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Chris Kunitz and Ron Hainsey) leveled the game at one-all to give Pittsurgh life. It was a beautiful redirection by Malkin on Kunitz’ initial shot from the near face-off circle to beat Anderson five-hole.

That marker could have rattled the Sens, but they regrouped following regulation to reestablish their dominance. In the 4:59 of extra time, they allowed only two Penguins shots to reach Anderson.

The Senators themselves may have managed only three shots, but their final one ended the game. Assisted by Pageau and Mark Stone, Ryan fended off Bryan Rust in his own defensive zone to set up a breakaway opportunity for himself. Screaming up the near boards, he crossed across the slot to set up a nasty backhander that beat Fleury to the far post.

After a day off, these teams will be right back at it Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern time for Game 2. NBCSN has broadcasting rights withing the 50 United States, while Canada will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round– May 10

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals– Game 7

By: Connor Keith

With a two-goal shutout over Washington at the Verizon Center, the Penguins have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.

If statistics told the whole story (they don’t, much to my chagrin), the first period was only an appetizer of what to expect in the remainder of the first Game 7 of the night. Both teams committed one penalty, both penalty kills rose to the task. Pittsburgh blocked four shots, Washington three. The Penguins stole the puck four times and committed three giveaways, the Capitals made three steals and only two giveaways. Pittsburgh fired 10 shots on net, Washington nine – and all were saved by either First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury or Third Star Braden Holtby.

Things were still looking that way until the 8:49 mark of the second period when Second Star Bryan Rust (Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby) drew first blood. The play started when Ian Cole intercepted Matt Niskanen’s attempted clear at the far point to keep the puck from crossing the blue line. In the same motion he passed to his captain in the center of the offensive zone, who dished to Guentzel en route to the near side of the slot. Instead of firing on Holtby’s net, he slid a centering pass to his right wing that was more than capable of banging home a wrist shot top-shelf for what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Once the scoreless draw was broken, the pressure was on Fleury for the remaining 31:11 of the game. As he’s proved so many other times this postseason, he was up to the task only a year removed from being relegated to the bench during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run. In total, he saved all 29 shots he faced for his first shutout of the 2017 postseason. Included within those attempts was a flurry of action late in the second period.

To start, Alex Ovechkin had a beautiful look at leveling the game at one-all from his usual spot in the left face-off circle with 3:53remaining in the frame, but Fleury managed to get his stick and blocker between Ovechkin’s wrister and the back of his net at the last second to prevent the score from changing.

Fleury’s strong play continued 1:29 later when he fought off three separate shots in a wild scrum in his crease, but he was truly confirmed it was his day when Nicklas Backstrom’s offering from along the goal line with 73 seconds remaining before the second intermission not only bounced off his right skate, but also off the far post and out of harm’s way.

If the Pens have learned anything in these playoffs, it’s that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In the opening five minutes of the third period, Pittsburgh outshot the Capitals seven-to-one. That attack found its reward 4:14 into the frame when Patric Hornqvist (Justin Schultz) sneaked a wrister between Nate Schmidt’s legs and over Holtby’s glove to set the score at 2-0.

While only an insurance goal, it seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Verizon Center crowd. The crowds’ mood significantly soured following Hornqvist’s marker as it realized the Capitals would fall for the ninth time in 10 matchups against Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Pittsburgh will host the Senators for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at PPG Paints Arena. That series is scheduled to start on Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern time. The contest will be televised on NBC in the USA and CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks– Game 7

By: Nick Lanciani

Entering Wednesday night, the Anaheim Ducks had lost four consecutive Game 7s at Honda Center. Entering Thursday morning, they’re moving on to the 2017 Western Conference Finals after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 on home ice thanks to Nick Ritchie’s early 3rd period game winning goal.

Ducks goalie, John Gibson made 23 saves on 24 shots against in just his 2nd career Game 7 appearance for a .958 save percentage en route to the win, while Edmonton goaltender, Cam Talbot made his first Game 7 appearance, stopping 28 saves on 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in the loss.

For just the fourth time in franchise history, Anaheim will contend for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, having appeared in the Western Conference Finals in 2003, 2007 and 2015 before advancing to the 2017 edition of the Western Conference Finals against the Nashville Predators. 

Drake Caggiula (3) kicked off scoring in Game 7 with his unassisted redirection that beat Gibson just 3:31 into the 1st period to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead.

Despite trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes of play, the Ducks were not ready to fold on home ice in yet another Game 7.

Andrew Cogliano (1) tied the game, 1-1, on a backhand shot that slid past a sprawling Cam Talbot after a series of desperation saves almost midway through the 2nd period. Cogliano’s first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs was assisted by Ryan Kesler (6) and Brandon Montour (5) at 8:55 of the 2nd.

With a close battle carrying over into the 3rd period, the Ducks came out flying early in effort to combat the younger, faster skating Edmonton offense that had pestered teams all season long by playing a game that only got better as the minutes passed.

After swapping scoring chances, Anaheim had strong attacking zone possession, firing pucks on Talbot, generating rebounds and odd caroms off the boards behind the goal.

Ritchie (2) collected a loose puck and fired a blocker side shot that clipped Talbot underneath the shoulder and fluttered into the twine to give the Ducks their first lead of the night. Sami Vatanen (1) and Corey Perry (7) collected the helpers on Ritchie’s goal, which made it 2-1 Anaheim, just 3:21 into the 3rd period.

Despite a late surge by the Oilers around two minutes to go in regulation, the Ducks held off on all of Edmonton’s advances with the Oilers having pulled Talbot for an extra skater.

As time expired, Anaheim head coach, Randy Carlyle improved to 2-2 in four career Game 7 appearances, while Edmonton head coach, Todd McLellan fell to 1-3 overall in Game 7s.

With Wednesday night’s 2-1 win, Anaheim has only allowed one goal in their three Game 7 victories in franchise history, having previously defeated Phoenix 3-0 in the 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals and Calgary 3-0 in the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Anaheim plays host to the Nashville on Friday night at Honda Center for Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 9 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can watch the game on NBCSN, while Canadians can tune to CBC or TVA Sports for coverage.

The Ducks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in their most recent trip to the Western Conference Finals (2015) but advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in both 2003 and 2007. 

The Predators will make their Western Conference Finals debut for the first time in franchise history.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 8

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 6

By beating Pittsburgh 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena, the Capitals have forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 for a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Simply put, absolutely nothing was going right for the Penguins. Though the Capitals did throw an impressive 38 hits (led by both Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson‘s five blows), Pittsburgh still should have managed more than 18 shots on goal.

It wasn’t until 7:43 remained in the first period that the Pens managed their first shot on Braden Holtby‘s goal. Unfortunately for them, Third Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Second Star Nicklas Backstrom) was already getting to work on the Capitals’ first goal of the night 24 seconds later, a power play snap shot from the far face-off circle.

Another part of the game the Penguins struggled at was keeping the puck away from Washington. They committed a combined 11 giveaways, the most egregious of which was Ron Hainsey‘s at the 6:32 mark of the second period.

Though it doesn’t go down as a turnover because First Star Andre Burakovsky dislodged the puck with a hit along the far boards, Hainsey brought the contact on himself. At the tail end of what proved to be a long 76-second shift, he tried to maintain possession for his club instead of chip the puck out of the defensive zone, turning back towards Marc-Andre Fleury‘s goal. Burakovsky took advantage of the exhausted defenseman to squeeze a wrist shot between Fleury and the far post to double the Caps’ lead.

But not all of Washington’s goals were results of Penguins mistakes. The game-winner certainly qualifies as one of those, as Backstrom (Oshie and Dmitry Orlov) won the third frame’s opening face-off to bury a snapper only 16 seconds later to set the score at 3-0.

John Carlson (Matt Niskanen and Kuznetsov) and Burakovsky tacked on two more goals within 1:12 of one another to set up a comfortable five-goal advantage for the visiting Caps, more than enough to survive Jake Guentzel (Sidney Crosby) and Evgeni Malkin‘s (Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin) two-goal surge in the remaining 3:22 of regulation.

The series’ deciding game has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, May 10. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canadian hockey fans will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 3

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 4

With a 3-2 victory over the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena Wednesday, Pittsburgh has pulled within a win of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth time in the last decade.

After the events of Game 3, two things could have happened in this contest. The Penguins could have taken to the ice with intentions of revenge for Matt Niskanen unintentionally downing Sidney Crosby with at least the fourth concussion of his career, or they could let the scoreboard do the talking.

Since Mike Sullivan and his club still have intentions of hoisting the Stanley Cup for a second straight season, cooler heads prevailed and they decided on the latter option.

Of course, missing Crosby and Conor Sheary – both first-liners – will put a damper on the offense no matter how brilliant Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin perform. That’s where First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury comes in.

Just like he’s done for most of his appearances this postseason, the veteran goaltender posted another exemplary 60 minutes. Though the Capitals fired 38 shots at him, he saved all but two for a solid .947 save percentage.

As far as scoring is concerned, almost all the action – save Second Star Patric Hornqvist‘s (Olli Maatta and Matt Cullen) marker 4:39 into the game – occurred in the second period when the Capitals scored three goals.

Wait, three?

Officially recorded as Guentzel’s eighth goal of the playoffs, Dmitry Orlov started Washington’s scoring with his right skate at the 3:51 mark. It looks like he intended to catch the puck with his skate then collect with his stick, but the second half of his plan never came to fruition. Because of that, Guentzel’s shot deflected into Braden Holtby‘s net to set the score at 2-0.

But the Caps didn’t waste any time getting that goal back. First up was Third Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson), who buried his wrist shot from the at the 7:21 mark to pull Washington back within a goal. Nate Schmidt (T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk) followed that marker up 72 seconds later to level the game at two-all with his first-ever postseason marker.

After Washington had tied the game at two-all, the Penguins defense clamped down. In the remaining 31:27 of play, they allowed only 17 shots to reach Fleury’s net. That effort was led in large part by Ian Cole, who blocked three Capitals shots in addition to his team-leading six hits by the end of the game.

With that in mind, it’s only fitting then that the game-winning goal belongs to one of Pittsburgh’s blueliners. Buried with 8:36 remaining in the second period, Justin Schultz (Malkin and Guentzel) banged home a power play slap shot over Holtby’s stick shoulder for the final tally of the contest.

The Capitals certainly had their chances to score at least one more goal in the third period to force overtime. They had all the momentum in the final frame and maintained possession in their offensive zone most of the time, but were done in by a questionable penalty with 1:52 remaining in regulation.

On initial look, it seemed like Oshie’s stick caught Nick Bonino in the face when they made contact in the far corner behind Fleury’s net. The penalty for that is, of course, a seat in the penalty box for hi-sticking.

But a replay later, the truth came out: the stick only caught Bonino’s shoulder – the eighth-year center sold/embellished/flopped (pick your favorite) to force the Caps to the penalty kill, effectively neutralizing any chance of an equalizer.

Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Guentzel actually suffered a hi-stick from Andre Burakovsky late in the third period that went uncalled, even though the officials knew he was bleeding.

And of course, this was all played out a year after this same narrative was played out by the exact same players. That time, Oshie was crossing Matt Murray’s crease and Bonino hit him in the chest in Game 5. Though a stick came nowhere near his face, Oshie threw his head back in faux pain to draw a penalty and force off elimination for one more game.

In either case, Penguins fans see the Oshie penalty as a makeup call.

Pittsburgh’s first opportunity to advance to the Conference Finals is scheduled for Saturday at 7:15 p.m. Eastern time at the Verizon Center. American viewers can look for Game 5 on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.

 

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 4

After trailing 2-0 – in more ways than one – the Ducks beat Edmonton 4-3 in overtime at Rogers Place to make their Western Conference Semifinals matchup a best-of-three series.

Third Star of the Game Drake Caggiula (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Patrick Maroon) did so well to tie the game with 102 seconds remaining in regulation. The rookie’s first postseason goal was struck only seconds after Cam Talbot was pulled for the extra attacker.

It was a typical grind-it-out style tally we’ve come to expect in the playoffs. He took advantage of John Gibson being unable to contain Nugent-Hopkins’ initial shot from the far face-off circle and collected the rebound to bury the puck over the netminder’s glove shoulder.

And only 2:27 of action later, it was all for naught.

Following intermission, the Ducks exploded onto the ice. Beyond Ryan Kesler losing the face-off to open overtime, Anaheim did not let the Oilers do anything else. 35 seconds into the fourth period, Adam Larsson tried to fire a puck at Gibson, but his shot was stopped by First Star Ryan Getzlaf.

Getzlaf maintained possession following the block and began Anaheim’s attack into the offensive zone by passing to a streaking Second Star Jakob Silfverberg. Silfverberg couldn’t take control of the puck and lost possession to Oscar Klefbom, who passed to Larsson.

Once again, Getzaf had other plans than letting the Oilers dump the puck into the neutral zone or start a counterattack. He intercepted Larsson’s pass and dished across the face-off circles to a waiting Silfverberg, who absolutely ripped a wrist shot past Talbot to end the game and level the series at two-all after losing both games at the Honda Center.

Making the Ducks’ victory all the more impressive is the fact that Edmonton effectively dominated the first period. Milan Lucic had the Oil riled up as they were hitting in the first period like it was going out of style. In total, Edmonton threw 37 hits before Silfverberg’s game-ending marker, led by both Zack Kassian and Lucic’s five blows apiece.

Lucic (Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu) was eventually rewarded for his physical play by scoring a power play goal with 4:22 remaining in the first period. Similar to Caggiula’s tally to force overtime, it was a hard-nosed goal struck from Gibson’s crease after he didn’t collect Draisaitl’s initial shot.

Only 2:05 after that, Connor McDavid (Draisaitl and Maroon) caught Gibson sprawled on the ice following a botched diving save to set the score at 2-0, the same score that read going into the first intermission.

Then Getzlaf happened.

The Ducks’ captain was involved in all four goals on the evening, starting with his first of two tallies only 97 seconds after the start of the second frame. After receiving a pass from Brandon Montour from the far point,  he rang home a wrister to pull Anaheim within a goal.

Unfortunately for him, that goal was slightly controversial. Talbot was not caught off-guard for this tally, but was instead fighting to see around Corey Perry.

Screens are perfectly legal in hockey, and a very effective way to produce goals. Perry rushed towards the crease from the far boards to act as one, but bounced off Larsson in the process. That slight change of direction changed his course from screening Talbot to making contact with Talbot.

The nudge was enough to force Talbot off his spot and the netminder immediately threw his hands up in frustration. That led Todd McLellan to quickly challenge the play. Though the officials deliberated for a few minutes, they ultimately decided to count the goal even though contact with the goaltender is clearly made.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it should have counted. But then again, I don’t wear black-and-white stripes to hockey games.

The Ducks’ relentless, 21-shot attack in the second period continued 3:56 later when Rickard Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) did his best tic-tac-goal off Getzlaf’s pass from the far post of Talbot’s net. Getzlaf passed across the crease to Rakell, who was waiting in the slot, and the right wing beat Talbot to the near post with his fast hands.

Getzlaf completed the surge on an unassisted slap shot  with 5:35 remaining in the frame for his seventh goal of the playoffs. Of all the goals the Oilers defense allowed in this contest, this is the one they want back the most.

After Talbot had saved Rakell’s initial wrist shot from the slot, Nugent-Hopkins had the puck on his stick near the far corner of the crease. Instead of quickly dumping the puck to allow his team to fight another day, he remained motionless and looked for a pass to start a counterattack. Getzlaf took advantage and attacked the puck through Nugent-Hopkins’ stick to bury it five-hole.

With hosts in this series having yet to successfully defend home ice, these remaining three games will be must-see TV.

Speaking of, the pivotal Game 5 is set for Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time at the Honda Center. Residents of the United States will find the contest on NBCSN, while Canadians should tune to either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 1

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

By beating Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime, the Capitals have pulled within a game of leveling their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup

The tone of this match was set early  – at the 5:24 mark, specifically – when Captain Sidney Crosby was injured after driving towards Braden Holtby‘s crease. While Alex Ovechkin‘s slash across the back appeared to be intentional, his taking Crosby’s left skate out from under him and whacking him across the head with his stick while preparing to play defense was done with no malice.

The contact threw Crosby off-balance and he tumbled across Holtby’s crease. The first thing he came in contact with was Matt Niskanen, and it is here where Crosby probably got hurt.  The defenseman was taken by surprise and raised his hands to fend him off, a reasonable reaction especially since the puck was still in his defensive zone. But with hands come a stick, and Niskanen’s ended up catching Crosby squarely in the forehead. Though conscious, Pittsburgh’s star stayed down following the hit and the play was soon stopped.

Crosby did not see the ice for the rest of the game with an apparent head injury and Niskanen was charged with a five-minute major and a game misconduct, suspending him for the remainder of Game 3. Niskanen probably doesn’t deserve the misconduct he received, but was forced into a penalty befitting one who downs – intentionally or accidentally – a league superstar.

As one would expect, the physical series became only more so after play resumed. 67 hits were thrown in all between the two clubs, led by Pittsburgh’s 36. Chris Kunitz was the Penguins’ most dominant checker with seven hits, with his counterparts Brooks Orpik and Ovechkin both managing four blows apiece.

All the physicality made it difficult for either club to find much rhythm throughout the game, which is why power plays and man-advantages proved to be so important.

The first tally of the game was a wrist shot from Second Star of the Game Nicklas Backstrom (Ovechkin and Justin Williams), but even with the five-on-three power play it was not easy. After receiving Ovechkin’s pass from above the far face-off circle, Backstrom fired his shot from the far corner of the slot. Obviously boucing the puck off Marc-Andre Fleury‘s stick and Ian Cole‘s shaft was the plan, because his shot ended up in in the corner of the goal to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 6:55 remaining in the first period.

No goals were struck in the second period, but the Penguins’ situation became even more dire when Patric Hornqvist accidentally injured teammate Conor Sheary. He bore the brunt of his attempted hit on Lars Eller, and his recoil sent him crashing into Sheary’s head. Similar to Crosby, Sheary did not return for the remainder of the game.

The lack of bodies started becoming apparent late in the frame and through much of the third. Losing two top-line forwards in a game is detrimental to any team, but especially one that is trailing.

Though technically scored at even-strength, Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s (Marcus Johansson and Williams) wrister at the 9:46 mark of the third might as well have been with the man-advantage given his exhausted opponent. Given the circumstances, the Capitals  – and the many Pittsburgh fans that made their ways home early – thought they’d iced the victory away.

Then the Penguins made things interesting.

Knowing his club needed a goal as soon as possible, Mike Sullivan pulled Fleury for an extra attacker with 2:56 remaining in regulation, and Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Phil Kessel and Justin Schultz) capitalized with 63 seconds later on his six-on-five slap shot from the near face-off circle.

There was little to no celebration by Malkin, as he knew there was still work to be done. Sullivan left his piecemeal top-line on the ice for the remainder of regulation and eventually called a wise timeout with 94 seconds remaining before the final horn.

That’s exactly the rest the Penguins needed, as Schultz (Malkin and Kunitz) scored a slap shot with only 65 ticks remaining in regulation to level the game at two-all and force overtime.

That extra period didn’t last long though, due in part to Trevor Daley holding Johansson 2:40 after it began. 33 seconds later, First Star Kevin Shattenkirk (Backstrom and Kuznetsov) took advantage of the man-advantage by ripping a slap shot past Fleury for the first postseason game-winner of his career.

Of course, Washington’s work has only just begun. With the Penguins winning both games at the Verizon Center, they still have home ice in this series. If the Caps truly want to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in franchise history, they’ll need to repeat Monday’s performance in Game 4.

Speaking of, Game 4 is slated for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena. The contest will be televised on NBCSN in the USA and CBC and TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 29

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

 

 

 

 

New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – Game 2

With four goals from First Star of the Game Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa won 6-5 in a wild double-overtime contest to take a two-game lead in its Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Rangers.

Many a young boy in Ottawa dreams of playing for the Senators when he grows up. Not many get that opportunity. Even fewer get to play with the Sens in the playoffs.

Pageau joined that select list in 2013, but he’s created a list all his own by playing arguably the best game of his professional career to lead his hometown team to a come-from-behind victory.

His day started early, but then again, so did the Rangers. Only 4:16 after puck drop, Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) scored a shorthanded snap shot to give the Blueshirts an early lead. Pageau seemed to take exception to that, so he leveled the game at one-all with 6:01 remaining in the frame.

Then came New York’s big period. With the exception of Marc Methot‘s (Mike Hoffman and Ben Harpur) snapper with six minutes remaining in the frame, the Rangers dominated the second period by scoring three goals in 5:12. First up was Chris Kreider (Mika Zibanejad and Ryan McDonagh), who scored a wrist shot at the 10:39 mark. 2:31 later, Derek Stepan (Rick Nash) buried a shorthanded wrister on Craig Anderson. Finally, with 4:09 remaining in the frame, Third Star Brady Skjei (McDonagh and Zibanejad) banged home a wrister to set the score at 4-2 going into the second intermission.

Things were looking grim for the home fans, but Guy Boucher had just the right things to say to his club. That intermission pep talk led to Mark Stone (Second Star Dion Phaneuf and Fredrik Claesson) scoring a snapper just 88 seconds into the frame to pull Ottawa within a goal, but Skjei (Brendan Smith) was quick to reclaim a two-tally lead for the Rangers, burying a snapper of his own 3:42 later.

Skjei’s marker set the score at 5-3, the same differential that read when Pageau took control of the contest. The Senators’ comeback didn’t resume until 3:19 remained in regulation. That’s when the Ottawan scored his second goal (Zack Smith and Phaneuf) of the game on a deflected Smith shot.

62 seconds separated the Rangers from heading back to Manhattan with home-ice advantage, but once again Pageau had other ideas. With the sixth attacker, Kyle Turris took Erik Karlsson‘s pass from the near point to slam home a slap shot from Alex Ovechkin-land toward Henrik Lundqvist‘s net. The netminder probably would have been able to make the save if not for Pageau, who redirected the shot in mid-air to squeeze it between the far post and Lundqvist’s body.

Pageau has only registered one hat trick in his career before Saturday’s effort. It was on May 5, 2013 in Game 3 of the Senators’ Eastern Conference quarterfinals series with Montréal, only his third-ever playoff appearance.

But he’s never scored four goals in a game. Not in the postseason. Not in the regular season.

At least not until Saturday.

The brightest star on the ice decided enough overtime was enough after 22:54 of extra hockey. It was a breakaway goal that started in Anderson’s end. Alexandre Burrows beat Nick Holden to a loose puck at the far end of the goal line and cleared it into the neutral zone. Starting from the blue line, Pageau took chase and claimed possession near center ice along the far boards. Using Tommy Wingels – who entered the offensive zone with him – as a decoy, Pageau made Lundqvist commit to one or the other before cocking his snapper. Once he saw the netminder cash in on saving an attempt from Wingels, he fired his shot over Lundqvist’s glove to pull Ottawa within two victories of the Eastern Finals.

An extra day off has been included between Games 2 and 3, so Madison Square Garden will not come alive until 7 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, May 2. American hockey fans can watch that game on NBCSN, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC and TVAS.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals – Game 2

The Penguins’ offense showed no mercy in their 6-2 beat-down against Washington at the Verizon Center.

Though there were a firestorm of goals, none of them were struck in the first period. For Pittsburgh, it was Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury keeping the Capitals off the board, saving all 16 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes. Meanwhile, it was an extremely physical attack from the Caps’ skaters that kept the Pens off-balance. Both John Carlson and T.J. Oshie were a big part of that effort, as they both ended the game with five hits apiece (Oshie threw two of his blows in the opening frame).

Nothing seems to get an offense humming quite like a shorthanded goal. That’s exactly what happened for the Penguins, as Matt Cullen capitalized on his steal at the blue line to score an unassisted wrist shot on Braden Holtby only 75 seconds into the second period. Though Matt Niskanen (Ovechkin and Third Star Nicklas Backstrom) did cash in on Jake Guentzel‘s hooking penalty to level the game, Pittsburgh’s offense was certainly cooking.

That became brutally apparent when First Star Phil Kessel (Sidney Crosby and Guentzel) and Guentzel (Crosby) scored within 3:10 of each other in the second half of the period. Kessel’s goal was a beautiful wrister to beat Holtby top shelf from the far face-off dot, but Guentzel’s was a low wrister that should have been an easy glove save for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.

Due in part to Guentzel’s marker, Holtby was pulled for the third period in favor of Philipp Grubauer, the Capitals’ backup goaltender with only one previous game of NHL playoff action. Pair his lack of experience with Kevin Shattenkirk sending the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, and it’s no wonder Kessel (Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin) was able to score a power play wrister only 2:19 into the final frame to set the score at 4-1.

Once again Washington had a response to the Pens’ first goal of the period – a wrister courtesy of Backstrom (Ovechkin and Oshie) – but the Capitals couldn’t close the gap any further. 107 seconds after Backstrom’s tally, Malkin (Ian Cole and Kessel) tipped-in his goal that all but ended any chance of a Washington comeback.

Guentzel (Matt Cullen and Olli Maatta) tacked on an empty netter with 43 seconds remaining in the game for his seventh of the postseason.

You could’ve heard a pin drop in the Verizon Center after Malkin’s goal. It fell quiet as fans watched a team destined for greatness begin to lose its edge in the second round of the playoffs.

The Capitals will face an uphill battle if they want to qualify for the Eastern Finals for the first time since 1998. Pittsburgh needs only two more victories to close the series, and it will have three home game opportunities to do just that.

The series will resume at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. with Game 3 on Monday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. Residents of the United States can watch that game on NBCSN, while Canadians will be able to choose between CBC or TVAS.