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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Vegas’ five unanswered goals lead comeback victory in Game 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuch ties series against former team in, 3-1, Vegas victory

Alex Tuch had a pair of goals– including the game-winner– as the Vegas Golden Knights tied their 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup with the Minnesota Wild in a, 3-1, win at T-Mobile Arena in Game 2.

The series is now tied 1-1 as Marc-Andre Fleury (1-1, 0.98 goals-against average, .969 save percentage in two games played) made 34 saves on 35 shots faced in the win for Vegas on Tuesday.

Wild goaltender, Cam Talbot (1-1, 1.48 goals-against average, .957 save percentage in two games played) turned aside 25 out of 28 shots against in the loss.

Once more, the Golden Knights were without the services of Max Pacioretty on Tuesday.

No goals were scored in the opening frame, but there was one thing on the event sheet thanks to Alec Martinez’s hooking penalty at 4:13 of the first period.

Minnesota did not convert on the ensuing power play, however.

After 20 minutes of action, the score still read, 0-0, while the Wild led in shots on goal, 17-10.

The Golden Knights held the advantage in takeaways (4-2), giveaways (3-2), hits (20-14) and faceoff win percentage (53-47), while Minnesota led in blocked shots (6-5).

Only the Wild had seen any time on the skater advantage, though they were 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission.

Midway through the middle frame, Matt Dumba (1) opened the game’s scoring with a shot from the point that beat Fleury over the blocker while Marcus Foligno acted as a screen in front of the crease.

Jonas Brodin (1) and Jordan Greenway (2) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on Dumba’s goal as the Wild jumped out to a, 1-0, lead at 12:07 of the second period.

It wasn’t long before Vegas evened things up, however.

In fact, just 18 seconds after Dumba notched his fourth career Stanley Cup Playoffs goal, the Golden Knights shifted momentum their way as Reilly Smith fed Jonathan Marchessault while entering the zone.

Marchessault (1) snapped a shot over Talbot’s glove, off the post and into the back of the twine to tie the game, 1-1, at 12:25.

Smith (1) and William Karlsson (1) had the assists on Marchessault’s goal.

Less than a few minutes later, Ian Cole tripped William Carrier and presented the Golden Knights with their first power play of the night at 15:04 of the second period. Vegas did not convert on the resulting skater advantage, however.

Minnesota was caught in the vulnerable minute after special teams play, though, as Alex Pietrangelo kickstarted a rush, whereby Mattias Janmark found Tuch (1) for his first goal of the night– giving the Golden Knights their first lead thus far in the series.

Janmark (1) and Pietrangelo (1) had the assists as Vegas took the lead, 2-1, on Tuch’s first goal of the game at 17:19.

Heading into the second intermission, the Golden Knights led, 2-1, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 27-22, in shots on goal (Vegas had the advantage in second period shots on goal alone, though, 12-10).

The Wild led in blocked shots (21-10), while Vegas dominated in takeaways (8-4), giveaways (8-5), hits (44-32) and faceoff win% (52-48).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the final frame Tuesday night.

Dumba and Pietrangelo got tangled up almost midway through the third period and received roughing infractions at 7:50 of the final frame, yielding 4-on-4 action for a pair of minutes.

With 1:53 left in the action, Wild head coach, Dean Evason, pulled Talbot for an extra attacker only to lose the 6-on-5 advantage shortly thereafter when Kirill Kaprizov got a stick underneath Marchessault and tripped up the Golden Knights forward at 18:30 of the third period.

It didn’t take Vegas long for Chandler Stephenson to to pinch along the boards, work the puck below the goal line, then send a pass to Tuch (2) in the low slot for a one-timer off of Talbot’s pad and through the short side.

Stephenson (1) and Mark Stone (1) tallied the assists on Tuch’s power-play goal and the Golden Knights led, 3-1, at 19:07.

Talbot vacated the crease once again with 52.3 seconds left but it was to no avail as the seconds ticked down until the final horn sounded and Vegas had officially sealed the deal on a, 3-1, win in Game 2– tying their best-of-seven series with Minnesota 1-1.

The Wild finished the night leading in shots on goal, 35-28, including an, 8-6, advantage in the third period alone.

Minnesota also held the advantage in blocked shots (26-20), while the Golden Knights dominated in just about every other category, including giveaways (11-7), hits (63-46) and faceoff win% (60-40).

Vegas finished 1/2 on the power play, while the Wild went 0/1 on the skater advantage on Tuesday.

The series is tied 1-1 heading into Minnesota for Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 9:30 p.m. ET and fans in the United States can tune to NBCSN for national coverage, while those in Canada can catch the action on SN360 or TVAS2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Playoff Recaps

Whiteout Whitewashing: Jets take the series with Game 5 shutout victory

 

For the first time since the birth of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise 19 years ago, the team will see the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the city of Winnipeg, a 31-year wait has ended with thunderous applause.

For Minnesota, however, an arduous struggle has ended in back-to-back blankings at the hands of a Jets squad that far outclassed them. The Wild fought as best they could, but with the absence of Ryan Suter on defense, and the loss of Zach Parise after Game 3, the tools for them to compete with a stacked Winnipeg roster just weren’t there. Pile on some notably lackluster performances from key players like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle (all held scoreless in the series) and there was really no hope to overcome the juggernaut Jets.

The Wild knew to have any shot at surviving Game 5 they’d need to play the perfect road game and try to keep the Jets from building momentum and getting the raucous crowd involved. This strategy lasted all of 31 seconds.

A strong opening shift was capped off when Jacob Trouba received a cross-ice pass from Mark Scheifele at the top of the right circle, took a few strides towards the net and ripped a wrist shot past Devan Dubnyk to ignite Bell MTS Place in the first minute.

A Winnipeg penalty shortly after the goal threatened to kill the energy, but strong work on the PK kept the tide in the Jets’ favor, and shortly after the conclusion of the penalty Trouba (who had himself a game) nearly scored on an odd-man rush, before nearly tipping home a follow-up shot right after. Dubnyk was trying desperately to keep his team alive and settle things down.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota netminder, his efforts were for nothing, as on the following faceoff Dustin Byfuglien let go a wrist shot from the right point that Bryan Little redirected beautifully past an unsuspecting Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead, still just 5:42 into the game.

Still the Jets kept coming, and the Wild had no answer. A Brandon Tanev shot nearly went in off the skate of Dubnyk after bouncing off of the end boards. Then Niederreiter tried to create a scoring opportunity by dancing around one Winnipeg defender only to get blown up by Big Buff as he attempted to let the shot go. Then Tanev, apparently upset at his previous failure, stripped a fumbling Jonas Brodin of the puck at his defensive blueline and fired a quick turnaround wrister through Dubnyk before he had time to react, Winnipeg taking a 3-0 lead with 8:50 to play. Tanev’s first career playoff goal.

Just 49 seconds later things went from calamity to catastrophe when an initial attempt from Andrew Copp rebounded out high to a locked and loaded Byfuglien, who proceeded to unload a bomb that redirected off of Joel Armia (his first playoff goal, just to stick with the theme) and into the net.

It was now 4-0 with 8:01 to play in the first period, and a mercy pulling was in order. Bruce Boudreau sent Alex Stalock in to relieve Dubnyk of his nightmare, and he returned to the bench to a standing reception from his teammates. Captain Mikko Koivu walked down to the end of the bench after Dubnyk sat down, seemingly to say “We’re sorry, this is on us.” to his visibly emotional goaltender.

Winnipeg fans, however, did not share in Koivu’s sympathies, as a chant of “We Want Dubnyk” rang out not long after the resumption of play. Apparently even after a long, cold winter, Winnipeg still has plenty of salt to go around.

The period ended with the Jets outshooting Minnesota 13-7, but the play was even more lopsided than that would indicate.

Early in the second Minnesota got their proverbial “This one just isn’t going to go your way” sign from the hockey gods, as a Mikael Granlund rush drew Connor Hellebuyck out of his net, giving Granlund an open cage to tuck a wraparound into, only to see the puck sail across the crease along the goal line and bounce off of multiple Winnipeg skates just inches from paydirt, only to be cleared away.

Minnesota did finally gain some offensive traction to their credit, though the second notable opportunity was a Niederreiter rush that was met with a shot block and subsequent leveling hit by Trouba. Ironically even though they controlled a lot of the play early in the second, the Wild would not record a shot for nearly eight minutes of play.

The game’s only real notable save came from the left pad of Stalock who denied a seemingly sure-thing one-timer right on the doorstep at the bottom of the left circle from Scheifele just past the game’s halfway mark.

A Wild power play around the 11:00 mark brought some more offensive traction to the visitors, who had a few quality chances on the power play followed up by a Niederreiter breakaway all turned aside. Jason Zucker found iron on a later power play, but Hellebucyk simply couldn’t be solved.

The Jets put a stamp on the game just 32 seconds into the third with a beautiful high-low-high passing sequence from Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny, and Scheifele capped off by a beautiful one-time rip from #55 into the net from the low slot.

Sensing victory was now firmly in hand, the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd started to take over the third period. Multiple renditions of Bananarama’s ‘Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye’ were belted out in perfect harmony at numerous points in the frame, starting with the initial performance just after the puck had dropped following the 5-0 goal.

When Hellebucyk made a great stop on Matt Cullen off of a Marcus Foligno rebound, the crowd responded with the wave, then some more Bananarama.

Blake Wheeler nearly made it 6-0 on a beautiful backhand tip of a Scheifele centering pass, but the hockey gods had decided enough was enough, so it found the crossbar and vacated the goal crease without further incident.

‘We Want Nashville!’ is now the chant. Bold, Winnipeg. Bold.

Later in the period a fan took a deflected puck to the face, only to be tossed a towel by Matt Hendricks (making his series debut) and signal to everyone in attendance that they were still very much alive, drawing a rousing round of applause.

The standing ovation started with 2:30 to play, and was only interrupted by an obligatory singalong to ‘Sweet Caroline’ at 2:10. The final minute of play was basically just one long explosion of noise as the city erupted into a party that I assume will still be occurring when the sun rises. On Monday.

In the end, Connor Hellebucyk posted his second-consecutive shutout to seal the series, and the Parise-less Wild fail to score a single goal. It’s hard for Minnesota to argue that injuries were the only reason they couldn’t climb this mountain, as Winnipeg faced games without Tyler Myers, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey among others, and played the entire series without Toby Enstrom. It just speaks to their incredible depth that even when missing key contributors they could still trounce Minnesota with relative ease.

Now with a long rest ahead of them to get healthy before a likely (at least as of this writing) Second Round matchup for the ages with Nashville, the Jets have a little time to celebrate before looking towards what lay ahead.

Special shoutout to 20-year veteran and three-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Cullen, who may have just played the final game of a fantastic career.

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Playoff Recaps

Snowed Under: Wild fall 2-0 to Jets, face 3-1 series defecit

 

In the midst of a Minnesota snowstorm, the hometown crowd watched their hopes all but buried as the Wild were simply unable to overcome their laundry list of injuries and a suffocating Winnipeg defense.

Already without Ryan Suter, the Wild took another hammering blow late in Game 3 when Zach Parise got sandwiched by Mark Scheifele and Ben Chiarot and suffered a fractured sternum (side note: ouch) that rules him out of the rest of the playoffs. Parise’s spot in the lineup would be filled by Tyler Ennis, seeing his first NHL playoff action since 2011 when the diminutive forward was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Winnipeg was not without their own injury problems, losing Tyler Myers after an awkward collision with Marcus Foligno in Game 3. Though not as key an element to his team as Parise is to the Wild, Myers still eats a lot of quality minutes on the Winnipeg blueline. Young Tucker Poolman would taste his first ever playoff action as he filled in for the towering Myers.

The game started much the same as it ended…and middle-d…you know what I mean.

Tight checking, excellent stick position, and a near-complete lack of offensive chances were a theme in this one. Not to say that there wasn’t action, as from the opening puck drop the two teams continued the series’ main theme: That is, both teams spent every shift actively trying to kill each other. Arguably 2018’s roughest series so far, it isn’t even so much the quantity of hits we’ve seen in this one, but moreso that every hit we do see is thrown with seemingly as much force as it can possibly be delivered with. No great wonder why so many players are nursing injuries.

Other than a brief flurry by Winnipeg that Devan Dubnyk answered with three or four quality stops about 8:30 into the frame, the opening 10 minutes had little to speak of in terms of scoring opportunities.

Finally it was Minnesota who started to find some traction, first coming from an unlikely source in their fourth line of Foligno – Joel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik, who deployed an effective dump and chase strategy, sending two forecheckers in hard and fast to get the Winnipeg defense in deep, then working the puck free to a second wave usually of the third forward and a pinching defenseman. All Minnesota lines adopted the strategy for a solid few minutes in the late first, and all had decent chances, including Nino Niederreiter feeding Eric Staal right in the goal mouth, only to have an excellent backhand chance waffled away by Connor Hellebuyck. Shortly after, Minnesota’s sustained pressure forced the Jets into a penalty, and on the resulting power play Josh Morrissey got away with an egregious cross-check to the face/neck of Staal, who lay on the ice for a few seconds before slowly making his was to the bench all while play continued around him. The Minnesota crowd was…less than pleased.

To continue their displeasure, shortly after the penalty concluded, it would be Morrissey starting a breakout to Scheifele, who played a give-and-go with Kyle Connor beautifully, taking Connor’s drop pass in the low slot and ripping a snapshot through traffic and over Dubnyk with just 28 seconds left to play, sending the Minnesota crowd into a symphony of boos so loud I think P.K. Subban actually might have heard them.

Minnesota ended the period leading 10-7 in shots, but down on the board. Shot blocking was a major theme of the first period, and the game, really. It also contributed to the growing list of banged up players, as both Mathew Dumba and Dustin Byfuglien left the ice at different points in the first because of shot blocks.

The second started with a bang, as on the opening shift the Wild jumped on a turnover by Jacob Trouba and flew up the ice on a three-on-one lead by Mikael Granlund. #64 in green showed Hellebucyk shot all the way, but with just inches to spare sent a pass across the crease to Dumba who looked to have a sure goal, before the glove of Hellebucyk robbed him blind. A few minutes later Jonas Brodin sprung Niederreiter on a breakaway with an unbelievable stretch pass (that frankly I have no idea how Nino even managed to corral on his stick) but just before he could get the shot off a desperate Morrissey poked the puck off of his stick and clear of danger.

Dubnyk would see little action of serious consequence in the middle frame, a few whacks at a centered puck in the blue paint by Adam Lowry the only real threat of the second 20 minutes. The Wild did, however, lose Granlund for a few minutes in the middle of the frame, but he would return to finish the game. Also of note was Dumba taking a run at Byfuglien, which worked out about as well as you’d expect.

Late in the period Brodin nearly played hero himself, absolutely dancing a Winnipeg defender at the blueline and walking in to label a wrist shot for the high blocker side of Hellebucyk, but the newly-elected Vezina candidate had the answer, as was the case all night.

By the end of the second the Wild lead 20-19 on the shot clock, but struggled to find room to construct any serious chances.

The Jets took the attack to Minnesota for stretches of the third, attempting to prevent them from even having the chance to tie the game. An early chance by Joe Morrow found a goal post, and later Scheifele found one of his own, which created some chaos around the Wild goal that Dubnyk had to tidy up. Laine then got a breakaway opportunity in the dying minutes of the third that was harassed just enough by Spurgeon to allow Dubnyk to poke the puck away before any harm could come.

It took Minnesota until just under two minutes remaining to gain enough solid puck possession to get Dubnyk off, but the extra attacker still couldn’t help them solve the labyrinth that was Winnipeg’s defensive scheme, and Scheifele buried the 2-0 dagger with 10 seconds remaining to seal Minnesota’s fate.

Outshot 30-28, the Jets took the first road victory of the series, giving them the chance to win the first playoff series in franchise history in front of what will surely be a raucous Winnipeg Whiteout crowd on Friday night (DTFR coverage brought to you again by yours truly).

How Minnesota finds a way to extend this series is beyond me. The injuries to key players just seem to be too much for them to overcome. They’ll need nothing short of a miracle to make it back to Xcel Energy Center for Game 6.

Categories
Playoff Recaps

Winnipeg Dominates Game 2

The Winnipeg Jets take Game 2 over the Minnesota Wild by the score of 4-1 Friday night. The Jets currently hold a 2-0 lead in the series.

The first period was a well-balanced period with both teams getting equal chances. Winnipeg got an early two-on-one with Blake Wheeler on the puck. Instead of shooting he tried to force the pass. This seemed a little costly as Winnipeg didn’t get their first shot on goal until seven minutes into the game.

The tempo was set in the first period as well, as both teams were throwing hits. Marcus Foligno, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers had some big hits throughout the game, but the first period ended goalless.

When the second period began, Winnipeg started taking over. The best chance for Minnesota came shorthanded as Mikko Koivu had an individual effort denied by Connor Hellebuyck, but that was about it for Minnesota as the Jets started the take-over, doubling the Wild in shots.

The Jets opened the floodgates around the halfway mark of the second. Tyler Myers, with a nice individual play, deked Jason Zucker and found the twine off the far post. The second frame finished 1-0 in favor of the Jets.

The Jets found their second of the game seven minutes into the third with Paul Stastny taking advantage of the forward on him in front of Devan Dubnyk. Byfuglien tossed the puck right to Stastny who found the back of the net.

It got better from there for the Jets. Andrew Copp found himself a deflection goal at the midway point of the third when Bryan Little threw the puck to the net, where Copp deflected over Dubnyk’s pad.

At this point the game started to get chippy and we started to see more dirty play. That didn’t stop Patrik Laine from hammering home a one-timer to give the Jets a 4-0 lead.

While all this was happening, Minnesota was still looking for its first shot on goal of the period. They got their first shot with roughly five minutes left in the game, ending a run of over 20 minutes that the Wild went without a shot on goal.

The Wild did get a late power play that they used to get on the board. Zach Parise scored a nice deflection off Koivu’s shot with less than a minute left in the game, ending Hellebuyck’s shutout bid. The game also apparently hit its boiling point as two fights broke out before the final horn.

Game 3 is Sunday in Minnesota at 7 p.m. Eastern on USA Network in the States, while Canadians can tune their televisions to SN or TVAS.

Categories
Daily Matchup

April 4 – Day 175 – Which team will Wild Wing pull for?

There’s not much happening in the world of hockey tonight, as there’s only three games on the schedule in anticipation of an important busy weekend.

First up is Ottawa at Buffalo (SN1/SN360/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN). Finally, Minnesota visits Anaheim (SN1/SN360) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

In terms of percentages, there’s rivalries galore tonight. That will play an especially important role in Missouri, as there’s nothing more the Blackhawks want to do than spoil St. Louis’ playoff push.

However, the tilt that deserves the most attention this evening is taking place on the West Coast between two teams that, though they may not be rivals, are hoping to meet in the Western Conference Finals.

 

You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the Pacific Division than 41-25-13 Anaheim, currently the Western Conference’s first wild card. The Ducks have posted a 7-1-1 record over their past nine games to keep pace with the Kings in the race for third place in the Pacific.

As would be expected by a team with such an impressive record over the last three weeks, there’s been little Anaheim has done wrong during this run. With five skaters having scored at least six points in their last nine games, the Ducks’ offense is averaging an impressive 3.22 goals per game since March 14 to rank 12th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, the Ducks’ attack has paled in comparison to their effort on the defensive end. Led by D Francois Beauchemin (1.6 blocks per game since March 14), C Ryan Getzlaf (13 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Josh Manson (3.6 hits per game during this run), Anaheim has allowed only 30.22 shots against per game since March 14, the eighth-lowest mark in the NHL in that span.

A major note concerning Anaheim’s defense this evening is the absence of D Cam Fowler, who took a strong hit from W Blake Comeau along the boards in Sunday’s game against Colorado. He’d been averaging two blocks per game during the Ducks’ impressive streak and will leave a sizable hole for whoever fills his spot on the blue line.

That being said, it’s not like 31-18-7 G John Gibson has needed all that much help to find success. Having posted a .926 save percentage and 2.43 GAA for the entire season, his defense playing so well in front of him lately has helped him manage an even better .936 save percentage and 1.9 GAA in his last nine starts.

Between Gibson and his defense, Anaheim has allowed only 2.11 goals against per game since March 14, the third-best mark in the NHL over the past three weeks.

Unfortunately, Gibson was another victim of the Avalanche on Sunday, and his upper-body injury is going to make him unavailable for at least tonight’s game. That puts 9-6-6 G Ryan Miller, who completed the 4-3 overtime victory against the Avs, in the spotlight for the undetermined future. Miller has managed a .925 save percentage and 2.51 GAA for the season.

Based on those marks being comparable to Gibson’s and the defense the Ducks have been playing lately, I’d assume it will be business as usual on The Pond this evening provided Fowler’s replacement can perform half as well as he usually does.

Another team playing some spectacular hockey of late are the 44-25-10 Wild, the Central Division’s third place club. Minnesota has posted a 5-1-3 record over its past nine showings, including wins over Vegas and Nashville.

Both the Golden Knights and Predators are certainly capable of lighting up a scoreboard, yet they combined for only three goals in their losses to Minnesota. That’s been a normal occurrence for the Wild during this run, as they’ve allowed only 1.89 goals against per game since March 16, the (t)best mark in the league in that time.

Minnesota’s incredible defense has been a major reason for that success, as it has allowed only 28.33 shots against per game during this run – the third-lowest average in the NHL since March 16. Whether it’s been D Jonas Brodin (two blocks per game since March 16), LW Marcus Foligno (2.6 hits per game during this run) or W Jason Zucker (eight takeaways in his past nine games), the Wild excel at making life extremely difficult on opposing attacks.

Just like Anaheim, Minnesota will also be missing a vital part of its defense for the extended future. D Ryan Suter is out indefinitely with a fractured fibula suffered in Dallas Saturday night. D Carson Soucy made his NHL debut filling in for Suter in the Wild’s first game without him (a 3-0 win over the Oilers), firing three shots and throwing two hits in 15:26 of play on the third pair.

Part of the reason the Wild aren’t in terrible shape without Suter is because they have 34-15-7 G Devan Dubnyk manning the pipes. Though this campaign has been far from the 2015 Masterton-winner’s best – he has a .918 save percentage and 2.52 GAA on the season – Dubnyk has been exemplary when it matters most. In his last seven starts, Dubnyk has managed a .939 save percentage and 1.68 GAA, and he’ll be called upon tonight to stop a hungry Anaheim attack.

With the Wild making the trip into Los Angeles tomorrow night, there were questions whether Dubnyk or 10-10-3 G Alex Stalock, would be in net this evening. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic yesterday at 6 p.m. Eastern, Dubnyk has been confirmed as tonight’s starter.

Not only have the Wild already clinched a spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they need only one point in their remaining three games (or one St. Louis loss of any variety in its last three games) to be locked into third place in the Central Division.

That 5-7-2 record was a long time ago, wasn’t it Minnesota?

If only the future were so certain for the Ducks. Currently the Western Conference’s first wild card, there’s still a chance Anaheim could miss the postseason altogether.

Of course, two points tonight can make the Ducks’ footing a little more certain, as they would jump Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division with only two games to play for both clubs.

Both of the first two meetings between these sides were so close, they required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.

Game 1 took place on December 8 at The Pond, where the Wild claimed a 3-2 overtime victory (D Mathew Dumba scored the game-winner). However, Minnesota couldn’t successfully defend home ice when the Ducks came to St. Paul on February 17, as Anaheim stole a 3-2 shootout win (LW Nick Ritchie claimed First Star honors for ending the 11-round shootout).

The fact that the Ducks have an offense that is playing slightly better lately paired with home ice advantage leads me to thinking Anaheim should earn two points tonight. However, as well as Minnesota’s defense has been performing, it just might be able to force overtime to lock in its playoff position.


Led by First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s 33-save shutout, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Boston Bruins 4-0 at Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Between Tampa’s defense holding the Bruins to only eight shots on goal and G Tuukka Rask saving all 17 shots the Bolts managed to send his way, this game had the looks of a tight affair after the first period ended scoreless.

That all changed in the second period, as Tampa registered three of its four goals in the span of 9:26, starting with F Brayden Point‘s (RW Nikita Kucherov and Second Star D Braydon Coburn) game-winning wrist shot at the 5:01 mark.

Kucherov deserves a lot of credit for setting up this goal, as the way he skated circles around LW Brad Marchand and C Patrice Bergeron to get the puck into the offensive zone would probably be a suitable audition for hockey’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters. Once Kucherov reached the left face-off circle, he flung a pass across the zone to Point, who proceeded to rip his wrister from above the right face-off circle. Though it was a long distance, Point’s dart to the far post sneaked under Rask’s right arm and into the back of the net.

But the Lightning were far from done with that tally. D Victor Hedman (Coburn and Third Star RW Ryan Callahan) doubled Tampa Bay’s advantage 5:58 later with a slap shot, followed by LW Chris Kunitz‘ (Callahan and D Dan Girardi) wrister setting the score at 3-0 with 5:33 remaining in the frame.

Even though the Bruins out-shot the Bolts 12-3 in the third period, F J.T. Miller was the only player to score in the final frame. He buried his unassisted snap shot 2:34 into the period to set the 4-0 final score.

While Vasilevskiy was busy earning his eighth shutout of the season, Rask saved 32-of-36 shots faced in the loss (.889 save percentage).

With Tampa’s victory at Amalie Arena, the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a 100-54-21 record that is 48 points better than the roadies’.

Categories
Daily Matchup

January 10 – Day 95 – There’s no place like home

There’s only two games on the schedule today, but for once I’m not complaining about either failing to live up to NBC’s promotion of “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”

The action starts in Toronto when Ottawa pays the Maple Leafs a visit at 7:30 p.m. (SN/TVAS) and Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN) cleans up the evening’s festivities half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas.

Is there any question of which game we’re featuring tonight? The winner of the Wild-Blackhawks game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference! It’s off to the Windy City with us!

 

Tonight’s tilt is Game 4 in a five-game series between these clubs. Chicago owns a 2-1-0 record against the Wild so far this season, and another win tonight would clinch the season series – an important note considering it is the second tiebreaker at the end of the season and both of these clubs are currently competing for the last wild card.

Obviously, the 23-17-4 Wild, who currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference due to losing a games-played tiebreaker with both Chicago and Calgary, will have high hopes of leveling the series this evening. But do they have much of a chance of pulling it off?

I’m worried for them the answer is no. Minnesota has lost five of its last six road games (including one at United Center less than a month ago), including an active skid of four-straight. That run since December 17 makes the Wild the fourth-worst road team in the league, and it’s all because their defense simply doesn’t travel well.

Given, it’s not like Minnesota’s defense is all that spectacular in and of itself. The Wild allow 2.91 goals against per game for the season as a whole, the 14th-worst mark in the league.

However, in their six road games since December 17, the Wild have allowed a league-worst 25 goals against, or a second-worst 4.17 per game (the Wild would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islanders for allowing 16 goals in only three road games).

A major problem is Minnesota, even with LW Marcus Foligno throwing three hits per game, D Jared Spurgeon blocking 2.67 shots per game and W Jason Zucker averaging a takeaway-per-game, has allowed an average of 35 shots in each contest away from Xcel Energy Center since mid-December, a mark that is sixth-worst in the NHL in that time.

While Foligno’s, Spurgeon’s and Zucker’s efforts are impressive on their own, it seems to me to be a lack of commitment by the rest of the team on the defensive end – especially in terms of physicality. Foligno has not been afraid to rough up the opposition along the boards, but Matt Dumba has averaged the second-most hits-per-game during this section of games with only 1.67 to his credit. While physicality is only one aspect of playing defense, it seems to be lacking from Head Coach Bruce Boudreau‘s squad.

The icing… err, frosting, since icing is a penalty… on the cake though is the fact that the Wild’s defense has allowed all these shots of late against 7-8-2 G Alex Stalock. Most of this run came while 15-9-2 G Devan Dubnyk was recovering from his lower-body injury. Given how much he was getting peppered while filling in, I’d say Stalock did pretty well in his five most recent road starts. He posted a .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA.

Dubnyk will be in goal tonight in only his second road game since returning to action. His first was that drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche where, due in large part to posing a .813 save percentage and 7.61 GAA, he lost his cool and tried to smash F Alexander Kerfoot‘s face into the ice. Perhaps the former Masterton Trophy-winner can keep his cool tonight, because his team desperately needs him to cover up for its defensive inefficiencies.

If last night’s 8-2 performance in Ottawa is any indication, it seems the 21-15-6 Blackhawks are starting to figure things out. Having won four of their past six games and earned a point in one of those losses, Chicago has surged into the second wild card and has pulled within three points of first wild card Dallas.

Since December 29, no offense has scored more goals than Chicago. The Hawks have managed an impressive 28 goals in six games, which averages into a second-best 4.67 per game behind Boston’s unbelievable 5.5 (for those that care, three of the top-five teams in goals-per-game since December 29 are in the Central Division).

While the usual suspects of C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Kane have been impressive over this run, posting respective 5-4-9 and 3-6-9 totals, the Blackhawk that truly takes the cake is sophomore C Nick Schmaltz, who’s currently riding a four-game goal streak. He’s done it all for the Hawks lately, posting 5-5-10 totals to elevate his season marks to 12-19-31. Having already surpassed last year’s numbers, Schmaltz is poised to join the ranks of recent dominant Chicago forwards. How does one club get W Alex DeBrincat, Kane, LW Artemi Panarin (well, last season), Schmaltz and Toews all on the same team?

Just like Minnesota saved its top goaltender for the Hawks, 2-1-1 G Jeff Glass will probably be in net tonight for Chicago after 3-5-3 G Anton Forsberg played yesterday against the Sens. Playing his rookie season at 32-years-old, Glass has posted a .908 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in his first four NHL starts.

The United Center hasn’t been the imposing threat to road teams as it was only a year or two ago, but with an 11-6-2 record at home this season, I think the Blackhawks can find a way to pull this one out.


Though the Carolina Hurricanes gave them all they had, First Star of the Game F Tyler Johnson and the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 5-4 at Amalie Arena.

Johnson was an unstoppable force throughout the entire game, as he registered a goal in each frame. However, before he struck his tally for the first period, three others found the net. First was LW Brock McGinn (RW Justin Williams and D Jaccob Slavin), who gave Carolina the advantage 3:23 into play with a power play wrist shot. Tampa pulled the game back even 6:39 later courtesy of a wrister from D Victor Hedman (RW Nikita Kucherov and C Steven Stamkos). The exchange of goals continued with 7:50 remaining in the period when W Sebastian Aho bagged an unassisted wrister, but Johnson (D Anton Stralman and Second Star F Brayden Point) set the score at 2-2 on a tip-in 4:16 later.

In terms of playing time, Johnson didn’t have to wait too long to find his second goal of the night. Only 1:58 into the second period, he (Third Star D Jake Dotchin and Point) gave Tampa its first lead of the night with a backhanded shot. However, Carolina continued to show its resilience when D Justin Faulk (F Teuvo Teravainen and F Jordan Staal) scored a power play wrister 8:38 later, leveling the game at three-all.

The 3-3 tie held for a considerable time, even though both clubs combined to fire 26 shots in the second period. However, the draw was finally broken when Dotchin (Point and W Ondrej Palat) tickled the twine with a snap shot. 5:27 later, the Bolts went up what proved to be an insurmountable two goals when Johnson (Hedman) completed the hat trick with a wrister.

Johnson’s final goal was simply a pure spectacle of his superior speed to that of D Noah Hanifin. Hedman dumped the puck towards center ice from his defensive zone to enact a line change, but Johnson decided to race Hanifin to ensure there was no chance for icing. Once he realized he could take possession, Johnson squeezed past the defenseman, upending him in the process, to set up a one-on-one battle with G Cam Ward. The netminder fended off the first backhander from within his crease, but he couldn’t stop an immediate second try by Johnson: a wrister over his left blocker.

That’s not to say the Canes gave up on the remaining five minutes of regulation. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as F Elias Lindholm (Faulk and Teravainen) pulled Carolina back within a one-goal deficit with 1:18 remaining in the frame, but even with six attackers the Hurricanes couldn’t find a leveling marker.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 28-of-32 shots faced (.875 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).

It’s no surprise, but the 52-29-12 home teams are absolutely dominating the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts’ record in the series is 26 points better the roadies’, the same advantage Tampa Bay has on the Oilers for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Categories
Daily Matchup

November 30 – Day 57 – Ain’t no Haulaback girl

Nothing is better than Thursday night in the NHL! Grab your favorite brew and head to the rink to watch your favorite crew!

That may have been forced, but I don’t really care.

Anyways, the NHL has lined up seven games for our viewing pleasure this evening, starting with Los Angeles at Washington at 7 p.m. and Montréal at Detroit (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Two more contests (Vancouver at Nashville and Vegas at Minnesota) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while Dallas at Chicago gets underway 30 minutes after. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Arizona at Calgary [SN360] and Toronto at Edmonton [TVAS]) see the green light at 9 p.m. to close out the night’s – and the month’s – action. All times Eastern.

Like I usually do, let’s highlight a couple of the games that might strike your fancy:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Did someone say Original Six?
  • Vegas at Minnesota: It’ll be a trip down memory lane tonight for F Erik Haula, as he’s returning to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time since being picked by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

The Stars-Blackhawks game also merits considerable attention since they’re tied for fourth place in the Central Division, but it’s not being considered for Game of the Day status due to Chicago being featured nine times already this season – as recently as two days ago.

As such, let’s make the trip to St. Paul and see if the Wild can do anything to slow down the best offense in the Western Conference.

 

 

 

 

 

Before we get started, I know what you’re thinking: no, I’m not all that interested in the game between the Maple Leafs and Oilers. I get that C Auston Matthews and C Connor McDavid are squaring off, but I don’t have it in me to make my loyal readers watch the Oil’s horrendous defense. That game will probably end with some ridiculous 7-3 score or something like that.

Instead, let’s focus in on Minnesota’s defense that is only a little bit better!

Ok, more on that in a minute. First, let’s recap the first four years of Haula’s NHL career.

The Finn was a seventh-round selection from the USHL’s Omaha Lancers by the Wild in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but he didn’t start his NHL rookie season until the 2013-’14 campaign after a year with the Lancers, three seasons at the University of Minnesota and 37 games in the AHL.

Of Haula’s four campaigns with the Wild, his latter two were easily the most successful of his Minnesotan tenure. During the 2015-’16 season, he posted a career-high in points with 14-20-34 totals, and followed that up last campaign with a 15-11-26 effort – the most goals he’s scored in a season since his junior year of college.

Playing between RW Nino Niederreiter and RW Jason Pominville, Haula completed the Wild’s solid third line in what proved to be his final season with the club. Unfortunately, the good work that trio did was not enough to keep Haula on the squad, as General Manager Chuck Fletcher arranged a deal with Vegas GM George McPhee to ensure Haula would be selected during the expansion draft.

While his selection may have been choreographed to ensure Minnesota retained all the pieces it wanted, selecting Haula has only come up spades for the 15-7-1 Golden Knights. Haula has been promoted from lowly third-liner to Vegas’ top center and acclimated very well to his new role, averaging a career-high .68 points-per-game on the season with his 7-6-13 totals.

Of course, it’s hard to struggle with a linemate like W James Neal (12-7-19 totals), especially when they have the luxury of W Reilly Smith (6-13-19), C William Karlsson (13-9-22) and F Jon Marchessault (8-13-21) playing behind them as a brilliant second line. As such, the Pacific Division-leading Knights sport a nasty 3.52 goals-per-game average that trails only the Islanders and Lightning for best in the NHL.

Given the unenviable task of trying to slow down Vegas’ attack is 11-10-3 Minnesota, the worst team in the Central Division and third-worst in the Western Conference.

Hinted at before, the Wild’s biggest struggle this season has been keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. They allow 3.04 goals against-per-game, the (t)11th-worst effort in the NHL. Since I’m struggling to determine if responsibility for this issue falls on G Devan Dubnyk or his defense, I’m led to believe both share in the blame.

Let’s start with Dubnyk, who’s struggling to replicate last season’s .923 season save percentage and 2.25 GAA that earned him the fifth-most votes towards the Vezina Trophy. So far this year, he’s managed a .911 season save percentage and 2.85 GAA, which are 17th- and 14th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts (read: Dubnyk’s been average).

Unfortunately, he’s not getting all that much help from his d-corps. Even with LW Marcus Foligno‘s three hits-per-game, C Mikko Koivu‘s team-leading 18 takeaways and D Jared Spurgeon‘s 2.2 blocks-per-game, Minnesota is allowing a 12th-worst 32.2 shots against-per-game.

It is probably very telling that D Jonas Brodin, the team’s leader in individual goal-differential with a +8, is the only blueliner with a +/- better than +1. Meanwhile, defensemen like Spurgeon and Ryan Suter that have at least 14 points to their name have been neglecting their defensive duties, as neither have positive goal-differentials even though they’re among the Wild’s top-six point earners.

Unless Dubynk stands on his head – which is something he hasn’t done since his 30-for-30 performance against Philadelphia over two weeks ago – it’s hard to believe that the Wild will have much luck slowing down the Golden Knights’ offense.


With two goals in the span of 2:20, the Montréal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 at the Bell Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Senators had a hot start to this game, as Second Star of the Game RW Mark Stone scored an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot only 4:36 into the contest to quiet the loudest arena in the NHL.

Ottawa’s lead lasted until the 2:56 mark of the second period. That’s when First Star F Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the season, a penalty shot that pinged off G Mike Condon‘s right goalpost. 2:18 later, F Phillip Danault (F Andrew Shaw and LW Max Pacioretty) set the 2-1 final score with a wrist shot.

This goal was a result of some lightning-fast puck movement. Pacioretty and Shaw were busy behind Condon’s net, scrapping with C Derick Brassard and D Cody Ceci for possession. The moment Shaw had the opportunity, he forced the puck back above the goal line to Danault, who was screaming towards Condon’s right goalpost. Before the goalkeeper could get turned the right way, Danault sent his one-timer into the back of the net.

Though I was unable to watch the game, I’m led to believe that Third Star D Karl Alzner played a major role in keeping the Sens off the scoreboard after Stone’s first period tally. In 21 minutes of ice time, he threw three hits, blocked four shots and tacked on an additional takeaway to help the Habs earn two points.

G Carey Price earned the victory (his third-straight since returning from injury) after saving 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage), leaving the loss to Condon, who saved 29-of-31 (.935).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite the roll, as they’ve won the last five games. Tonight’s victory improves their record to 32-19-6, 15 points better than the roadies’ effort.