The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.
As the Boston Bruins (47-23-9, 103 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division) continue their three-game road trip (0-1-0) with a visit to Nationwide Arena on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets (45-30-4, 94 points, 4th in the Metropolitan Division), they will do so without the services of Danton Heinen in the lineup.
Boston enters Columbus 18-15-6 on the road this season– coming off a, 6-3, loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday– tied in the season series, 1-1-0, with the Blue Jackets after suffering a, 7-4, loss on March 12th last time in Columbus and winning, 2-1, in overtime at TD Garden on March 16th.
The Bruins finished the month of March, 9-6-0, while the Blue Jackets– winners of their last five games– went 9-6-1 last month.
Columbus returns home Tuesday night after a, 4-0, shutout victory– Sergei Bobrovsky‘s league-leading 9th shutout of the season– over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Sunday.
The B’s have lost nine games in regulation since Jan. 1st and are looking to clinch home ice in their First Round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs with a win against Columbus and a loss for Toronto in any fashion against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday or an overtime/shootout loss to the Blue Jackets and the Maple Leafs lose in regulation on Tuesday.
If Boston doesn’t clinch home ice on Tuesday, their next chance to do so would be Thursday night. More on that as it develops.
With the exception of Wagner in for Heinen, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, isn’t expected to make any other lineup changes despite the current two-game losing streak Boston is on.
Tuukka Rask (26-12-5 record, 2.43 goals against average, .914 save percentage in 44 games played) will get the start in the crease for Boston against Columbus.
The Blue Jackets can clinch a playoff berth with a win Tuesday night in their final home game of the regular season and a Montreal Canadiens loss in regulation against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Columbus has the tiebreaker in regulation-plus-overtime wins over the Canadiens and Hurricanes with 44 ROWs to Carolina’s 41 and Montreal’s 40 this season.
Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, will go with Bobrovsky (36-23-1, 2.55 GAA, .914 SV% in 60 GP) in net as the two clubs close out their regular season series.
It’s past the quarter mark of the 2018-19 regular season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but thanks to the way the calendar (and life) works out, I’m a few games behind on presenting my latest forecast for Columbus.
Thankfully, the Blue Jackets have a couple of days between their game on Monday (a 7-5 victory against Detroit) and their next matchup against Minnesota on Thursday.
As such, here’s a quick look at what to expect through the remaining 58 games this season.
Keep in mind, there’s many unknown variables that will change what’s to come due to injury, lineup changes, roster moves and whatever else Microsoft Excel doesn’t already know. My degree is in communication– not math– and I’d like to keep things as brief as I can in John Tortorella fashion so you can look things over, get a gist of it and go back to watching the game.
If a player meets the forecasted stats I’ve updated, they’ve met the latest expectations. If they do better, they’ve exceeded expectations. Of course, if they do worse– they just didn’t live up to expectations– it’s that simple. Well, either that or they missed a lot of action due to injury or something.
Anyway, you can’t forecast puck luck, but you can indicate general trends and estimated hunches based on what the scoresheet indicates each night.
Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 24 Games (58 Games Remaining)
Good news, Blue Jackets fans, Artemi Panarin should reach the 80-point plateau this season. Bad news, Blue Jackets fans, Panarin’s still a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and still doesn’t seem intent on sticking around in Columbus.
Other than that, Cam Atkinson is expected to amass 62 points this season (35 expected goals, 27 expected assists) and lead the team in goals, while Pierre-Luc Dubois sits one goal shy of reaching 30 this season.
Newcomer Anthony Ducliar continues his career revival with respectable 19-18–37 expected totals and Zach Werenski should lead all defenders in expected goals (14), assists (32) and points (46).
Meanwhile, noted top-pairing blue liner Seth Jones, should amass 10-28–38 totals from the point with Werenski beating out Jones in goals from the blue line by four.
Scott Harrinton’s expected 18 points fit perfectly behind Ryan Murray (30), Markus Nutivaara (25) and David Savard (24) as the Blue Jackets defensive corps continues to improve at moving the puck out of their own zone and into quality scoring opportunities.
Other than Panarin’s uncertain future, the only other concern for Columbus revolves around the franchise’s stability in net.
Sergei Bobrovsky‘s expected goals against average has worsened after the first quarter of the season. It’s now set to be a 2.46 GAA by season’s end. Yeah, that’s not great.
In fact, it would be Bobrovsky’s worst GAA since he posted a 2.75 in 37 games played in 2015-16. To begin with, he’s at a 2.74 currently with a .912 save percentage in 16 games this season.
At least Bobrovsky’s save percentage is expected to improve to a .920 SV% by the time 2018-19 wraps up.
Backup netminder, Joonas Korpisalo should end up with a 2.61 GAA and .919 SV% by season’s end, which would be significant improvements from last season’s 3.32 GAA and .897 SV% in 18 games.
As is it, Korpisalo has a 3.73 GAA and .886 SV% through nine games played this season, so things can only get… better? That’s the hope anyway.
Columbus has to work on suppressing shot attempts against, let alone shots on goal, since they’re evidently overworking their goaltenders and it’s showing (remember, a goalie has to move around and “make the save” regardless of whether or not the puck actually hits the net as an official shot on goal).
It’s either that or maybe Bobrovsky isn’t worth as much as some might think he is (because he’s also a pending-UFA in July)– especially in a contract year.
Somehow the Blue Jackets find themselves 2nd in the Metropolitan Division with 30 points on the season and a 14-8-2 record on the season and a plus-six goal differential.
So has Columbus been under the radar and quietly good? Or are they just quietly lucky and surviving in a volatile division (whereby the Pittsburgh Penguins– remember them? they won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017– are currently 6th in the division outside the playoff picture)?
Time will tell or @capncornelius and/or @vanekatthedisco might fill you in on their outlook sometime.
Hello Columbus Blue Jackets fans, I’m not Cap’n Cornelius, but since we know each other and I visited your wonderful city in August, I was determined to deliver some Blue Jackets forecasted stats throughout the season.
Alas, the regular season started almost a month ago, but I promised I’d have some forecasted stats for Columbus’ entire roster for the entire season by the end of the month and I have finally gotten around to it.
These things take time when you’re transferring data into a new system and trying to watch every game on TV, as well as exist on Earth among its people.
For now, let’s pretend the season hasn’t started or that we’ve all jumped into a time machine and gone back to October 1st. How would things play out for the Blue Jackets this season?
Based on last season’s results– a 45-30-7 record, good enough for 97 points on the season and 4th place in the Metropolitan Division as the first wild card team in the Eastern Conference– Columbus is poised for a bit of a bounce-back in the division standings.
Why? Because the other teams ahead of them got worse– namely the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.
The Flyers are
off to their usual slow start (wait, I forgot, we’ve time travelled back to the beginning of October) just overall worse and the Capitals look to be dethroned by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan crown at the end of the regular season.
Last season’s Blue Jackets won two playoff games on the road against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, then lost the next four games to extend Columbus’ misery as the only NHL franchise without a playoff series win.
That’s the major storyline to the Blue Jackets this year– will it be one last hurrah or will Panarin and/or Bobrovsky leave the city in the dust among the cornfields on its outskirts in what might become the franchise’s greatest departure(s) since trading Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in 2012?
If this season is a failure, is it head coach, John Tortorella’s fault, a roster problem or General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen‘s inability to construct the necessary components of a successful organization?
Critics will be sure to point out all the flaws that mar the franchise, but one thing’s for certain– there’s a lot of expectations.
One way to generate an unnecessary buzz about expectations is to believe your educated guesses about how players should perform this season makes any difference to what actually goes on the ice.
Fear not, for I am about to do just that.
Before I do, however, I’d like to remind those of you in the audience that are familiar with my roster forecasts before and inform those of you that are new here for the first time of my actual area of expertise.
It’s words. My degree is in communication.
There’s nothing that I will present here that you cannot do yourself, better and/or read anywhere else. All of this is an educated guess– an educated expectation– thanks to one of my sport management classes from college.
A player who performs better than their expected outcomes here is merely exceeding these presented expectations. A player who doesn’t meet the expectations could’ve been injured, a healthy scratch or on a chronic cold streak that’s technically unpredictable.
Anything else is just an error outside my expertise and/or Microsoft Excel’s fault.
That, or there’s a little gut-feeling added for players with substantially fewer career NHL games played than the rest of the data shows (basically, if someone’s projected to score 100 goals and has only played in nine games, I might tweak the result until they’ve played a quarter of the season and have either proven themselves as Wayne Gretzky 2.0 or nothing like “the Great One”).
Take a look at the charts below as though everything were to fall in line and nothing bad could ever happen– an utopian view, if you will. Some things may pan out, some things may not– it’s just a suggested (expected) outcome in a sport that’s highly unpredictable thanks to its collective nature and sheer puck luck.
Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)
As has been the custom since his arrival via trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is expected to lead the Blue Jackets in points with 30-49–79 expected totals. The next best player on the team? Cam Atkinson.
Atkinson’s bound for 27 goals and 24 assists (51 points) this season, while the third best forward on the team, Pierre-Luc Dubois, is expected to match his rookie season totals with another 48-point season, at least.
In the meantime several other forwards fall within the 40-point range, while free agent signing, Riley Nash isn’t expected to break into the 30-point plateau after amassing a career-high 41-point season with the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.
Werenski’s expected totals tops Jones (9-28–37 expected totals) by seven points and is in a league of his own compared to his teammates on the blue line.
In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky is looking for redemption with an expected goals against average of 2.37 and an expected save percentage of .923 over the course of 2018-19. Backup netminder, Joonas Korpisalo seeks to provide healthy competition with an expected 2.68 GAA and .917 SV% prior to puck drop on the season.
Of course, now that we’re a month into the regular season, it’ll be time to update this entire forecast once Columbus is about a quarter of the way through their 82-game schedule.
Columbus Blue Jackets
45-30-7, 97 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division
First Wild Card in the East, lost in First Round to Washington (4-2)
Subtractions: LW Matt Calvert (signed with COL), D Taylor Chorney (signed with HC Lugano), D Ian Cole (signed with COL), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with TB), D Jack Johnson (signed with PIT), C Mark Letestu (unsigned UFA), RW Thomas Vanek (signed with DET)
Offseason Analysis: The Jackets enjoyed a successful, if not slightly underwhelming ’17-’18 campaign, where all-time high hopes were somewhat cooled by some notable underachieving seasons from players like Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and even captain Nick Foligno. Fortunately these were offset somewhat by terrific years from players like rookie standout Pierre-Luc Dubois, emerging Norris Trophy candidate Seth Jones, and superstar Artemi Panarin. They’d close out the regular season on a 15-4-2 run over their final 21 games to lose out to Philadelphia for the final Metropolitan Division spot by a single point, instead drawing the first Wild Card spot and a date with the Washington Capitals.
The Jackets shocked everyone by taking Games 1 and 2 of the series in Washington, both in thrilling overtime fashion, to head back home with a 2-0 hold on the series. Then came “The Promise”. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told the media they’d be back in Washington for Game 5 with the series tied. They did just that, and rode the momentum on through the Blue Jackets, and everyone else in their way as they went on to grab the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. This was no consolation prize in the minds of Jackets fans, though, as losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions is sort of a calling card in Columbus’ recent history. *throws another dart at a poster of Sidney Crosby*
Now, with another disappointing playoff performance on their record, a list of notable pending free agents on their plate, and the ever-looming Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin contract situations on their hands, the Columbus brass faced a rather trying offseason. But, as has been his MO over the years, GM Jarmo Kekalainen wasn’t about to panic. Or really show any sort of human emotion of any kind. I think that’s just a Finnish thing.
First came the NHL draft, where once again ‘J.K.’ and his staff went a bit off the board for their first round pick, drafting speedster Liam Foudy 18th overall. Generally projected as a very-late first or early second round pick, Foudy caught the eye of the CBJ scouting staff for his ability to inject speed into their lineup, something it could definitely use. While likely to spend at least another year in Juniors, Foudy did ink his entry level contract over the summer.
When free agency opened, the Jackets very quickly lost longtime roster stalwarts Jack Johnson (fans weren’t that upset) and Matt Calvert (fans held memorial services), along with rentals Thomas Vanek, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu. Kekalainen quickly nabbed penalty-killing specialist Riley Nash to replace Letestu’s bottom-six depth. Initially his $2.75 million cap hit over the next three years seemed slightly steep for a guy who projects as a third-line center at best, but with the raised cap and resulting numbers we saw on some other signings/re-signings over the summer, the deal has aged fairly well. A few days later the Jackets would pick up troubled youngster Anthony Duclair on a league-minimum $650 thousand, one-year deal. Likened to the ‘show me’ contract given to Sam Gagner by the Jackets a few years ago that paid dividends, Columbus is hedging bets on Duclair’s willingness to shed some of the baggage he’s accumulated over the past few seasons and work hard to get back to being the player that scored 20 goals and 44 points as a 20-year-old. If he can, he’s an absolute steal. If he can’t, he’s barely even a blip on the salary cap radar, and could be placed on waivers without much concern.
Kekalainen decided to let his organizational depth fill the rest of the vacancies in the roster (which has definitely created one of the more intriguing training camps to watch). Instead, he invested a good portion of his time and effort over the summer into attempting to secure the future services of Artemi Panarin and, to a lesser extent, Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky only recently broke his silence about his situation, revealing that management knows his plans after his contract expires next summer, but declined to make public that information.
The Panarin situation was much more public, and highlighted by Kekalainen flying to France to visit with Panarin and his agent while the dynamic winger was on vacation. No real progress was made on a contract extension, as Panarin seems likely to either test the waters of free agency or possibly even return to Russia after this season. Some reports indicated he’d prefer to play in a larger market than Columbus, or perhaps at least a market with a beach (he did spend the last month or so of the offseason training with friends Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa), but no solid proof of any of this ever emerged.
The prospects of a future in Columbus that include neither their most potent offensive weapon nor their multi-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender are not fun to consider for the fanbase, but they do appear to be looming. In net, the Jackets do at least boast one of the strongest goaltending prospect pools in the league, but that’s far from a sure thing. Apart from possibly young Vitaly Abramov, they certainly don’t have anyone currently in the pipeline that could replace Panarin’s offensive production.
Getting away from the doom and gloom, let’s circle back to the earlier claim of a very interesting training camp.
The Jackets’ camp roster includes over 60 players, and there are some very tight battles for more than a few roster spots. The race for bottom-six wing minutes is hotly contested. Players with Blue Jackets tenure like Sonny Milano, Markus Hannikainen, and Lukas Sedlak now find themselves being challenged by newcomer Duclair, along with a serious pool of prospects like Sam Vigneault, Kevin Stenlund, Eric Robinson, Jonathan Davidsson, Paul Bittner and even 2018 draft picks Foudy and Traverse City tournament standout Trey Fix-Wolansky.
While I don’t see the 2018 picks making the roster (more time in Juniors would serve their development better than limited fourth-line NHL minutes), the rest are interesting. Duclair obviously adds an element of offense and speed, but has also shown he’s not afraid to play with an edge as well. Vigneault and Stenlund are both every bit of 6-foot-5 and well over 200 pounds, but lack some speed and are both natural centers, a position that should be filled on the roster. Bittner is a superior skater to either of the ‘Twin Towers’, still comes in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and is a natural wing, but has struggled to adapt his offensive game to the pro level to this point. Robinson played one game with the Jackets last year coming in as a free agent after captaining the Princeton Tigers in his senior year where he put up 31 points in 36 games. His pro game has yet to really be seen, so training camp and preseason will be important for him. To me, the most interesting name at forward is the Swedish RW Davidsson. An effortless skater, he brings plenty of speed and agility to the lineup, and has shown to be an extremely intelligent playmaker, but he’s definitely not a physical presence nor a defensive stalwart, so not who you’d normally have in a bottom-six role. He could probably use another year in either the SHL or AHL to continue his physical and defensive development, but if he impresses in camp he could at least get a look.
My projected forward lines are:
Panarin – Dubois – Atkinson
Jenner – Wennberg – Bjorkstrand
Milano – Dubinsky – Foligno
Sedlak – Nash – Anderson
Extra forwards Hannikainen and Duclair
On defense, Columbus has the luxury of one of the best top pairs in the league, with Seth Jones alongside blueline sniper Zach Werenski. Werenski set the franchise record for goals as a defenseman last year while playing basically the entire year with a destroyed shoulder. Offseason surgery will keep him slightly limited in camp and likely out of all preseason games, but he’s projected to be 100 percent ready to go for the beginning of the season. After the top pair, though, things are pretty fluid, with approximately seven players vying for the four remaining spots. Three of the four (David Savard, Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara) are pretty well locked into the lineup, just more a question of where exactly they’ll sit on the depth chart. But the competition for the No. 6 spot and final roster spot as the seventh man is tight. Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington both saw limited NHL action with the Jackets last year, with Kukan putting up a respectable 4 points in 11 games and Harrington proving to be a reliable No. 6 down the stretch run. Adam Clendening only saw five games with Arizona last year, and has bounced between the leagues a lot in the past few seasons, but his last full season in the AHL saw him put up 59 points in 74 games. He’s not always the most defensively reliable guy, but he’s the best puck mover of the contenders. My personal pick for not only the Jackets roster but also for the No. 6 slot is 6-foot-5 Gabriel Carlsson. While still working to put some bulk on his lanky frame, Carlsson has already adapted well to the North American game, being a steady presence on the Cleveland blueline last year in the AHL. While certainly not an offensive producer, he’s very poised with the puck and is a confident passer. He skates well and uses his lengthy reach to make sure he’s always in good position. He’s also capable of playing either side of the ice.
I have the defense shaping up like this:
Werenski – Jones
Murray – Savard
Carlsson – Nuutivaara
Extra defenseman Harrington
In net, things are unlikely to look any different than last year. While J.F. Berube was brought in to challenge for the backup position after Joonas Korpisalo had a bit of regression last year, he’ll likely head to Cleveland as Korpi’s deal is one-way. Elvis Merzilikins and Daniil Tarasov are both top goaltending prospects, but they’ll continue their development overseas for the time being.
Offseason Grade: C+
Though there seems to be a general sense that more should have been done to improve the team over the summer, the handful of moves made were smart. The big thing here is that there is a lot of potential turmoil brewing heading towards next year. Kekalainen was likely smart not to hedge any knee-jerk bets on this season and instead rely upon his strong organizational depth to improve the team.
If the youngsters make an impact, and you get a rebound season from a vet or two, suddenly even the prospect of losing your two Russian dynamos seems less daunting. Panarin is definitely trade bait for a big return before the deadline if you need to go that route, and if the team gets better from within, that leaves big chunks of cap space to bring in other pieces if necessary.
While they’ll obviously look to improve their fortunes (particularly in the playoffs) this year, it will really be next offseason where the brass will have to earn those shiny new contracts they received this month.
By: Nick Lanciani
The Lake Erie Monsters defeated the Hershey Bears 5-3 on Friday night in Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals on road ice at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Monsters goalie, Anton Forsberg made 27 saves on 30 shots against in the win, while Justin Peters managed just 24 saves on 28 shots faced for the loss. Lake Erie now leads the series 2-0.
Zach Werenski kicked off scoring just 3:05 into the first period with a power play goal that gave Lake Erie a 1-0 lead on an impressive snipe from the 18-year-old defenseman.
The goal was Werenski’s 5th of the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs and was assisted by Ryan Craig and T.J. Tynan.
After one period the Bears lead in shots on goal 10-9, despite trailing to the Monsters 1-0 on the scoreboard.
Oliver Bjorkstrand made it a 2-0 game for the Monsters almost four and a half minutes into the second period with his 6th goal of the playoffs. Markus Hannikainen had the only assist on Bjorkstrand’s goal at 4:29 of the period.
Hershey cut Lake Erie’s lead in half on a power play goal from Zach Sill at 8:48 of the second period. Sill found his own rebound and powered it behind Forsberg for the goal. Carter Camper and Aaron Ness were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Sill’s 6th goal of the postseason. The Bears had now made it a one goal game, albeit trailing 2-1.
But it seemed as though just as quickly the Bears got back into the game the Monsters pulled away once again shortly thereafter. Actually, it didn’t seem that way– it was that way.
Lukas Sedlak added his 9th of the playoffs at 13:51 of the period and put Lake Erie back up by two. Kerby Rychel and Hannikainen picked up the assists on Sedlak’s goal, which made it 3-1 Monsters heading into the second intermission.
Hershey, again, outshot Lake Erie 13-7 in the second period, despite trailing 3-1 on the scoreboard after forty minutes of play.
Bjorkstrand picked up his 2nd goal of the night with a power play goal at 2:04 of the third period. Michael Chaput and Daniel Zaar assisted on Bjorkstrand’s 7th goal of the playoffs. With the goal, the Monsters were ahead by the same margin of victory in Game 1 (4-1).
But Tyler Lewington had other plans for the Monsters as he worked his way past Lake Erie’s defense and snapped one past Forsberg for his 4th of postseason. Chris Bourque and Ness assisted on the goal that made it a 4-2 game at 9:57 with plenty of time left in the third period for Hershey to make things interesting.
Lexington’s goal provided just enough momentum for the Bears to start to swing things their way as Liam O’Brien picked up his 4th playoff goal on a no look pass from Aaron Ness. Travis Boyd was also credited with an assist on O’Brien’s goal at 11:51 of the third.
In a close 4-3 battle the Monsters held the Bears off long enough for Hershey to make the tough decision of pulling Justin Peters with 1:01 to go in regulation for an extra attacker.
Despite their man advantage, the Bears were unable to tie the game and force overtime as Zaar crushed Hershey’s remaining hopes and dreams in Game 2 with an empty net goal at 18:59 of the period. Craig and Chaput added assists on Zaar’s 6th goal of the postseason.
At the final horn, Lake Erie had won 5-3 and outshot Hershey 13-7 in the third period. With a 2-0 series lead as a result of Friday’s win, the Monsters are hungry for more on home ice in Games 3 and 4. If necessary, Game 5 is also in Lake Erie, so momentum could be vastly on their side should they slip up in one of the next two games.
For Hershey, the loss was bittersweet– unlike their chocolate in town– but they have history on their side, as the last team to win the Calder Cup after trailing 2-0 in the series in 2010 against the Texas Stars. That Bears team was also the only team in Calder Cup history to win it all after dropping their first two games on home ice.
Friday’s loss was also the first back-to-back loss for Hershey since March 19-20th (and first consecutive losses at home since January 17th and 25th).
Game 3 is scheduled for Monday night at 7:00 PM ET in Lake Erie, where the Monsters stand a chance to go up 3-0 in the series.
Down the Frozen River is now covering the AHL! If you don’t know what the AHL is I will let you know! The AHL (American Hockey League) is called the minor league. The reason why it is called this is because it is a level below the NHL (National Hockey League). Each team in the NHL and the AHL are affiliated with each other. This means that every single NHL team signs a contract with an AHL team. A player can either be called up by the NHL team or sent down to the AHL team during the season as well.
Both the Hershey Bears and the Lake Erie Monsters will begin their quest for the 2016 AHL Calder Cup. It features the Bears (who’s NHL affiliate is the Washington Capitals) out of the East Coast and the Monsters (who are affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets) out of the West Coast. This is the Bears first appearance in the finals since the 2009-2010 season when they won it all beating the Texas Stars 4 games to 2. While this is Lake Erie’s first Calder Cup Final appearance in franchise history.
The game started out with both teams gaining equal chances but no one could get the momentum they needed to score. This would change with just 4:28 into the opening frame. Lake Erie would gain the puck at their own blue line, center T.J. Tynan would receive a beautiful stretch pass. Tynan would go in all alone on a breakaway from the attacking blue line in. Tynan would skate right into the slot fake a slap shot and opened up to his forehand trying to go upstairs for the goal. Well, Bears goalie Justin Peters was having none of this and stretched out with his left pad to rob Tynan with the tip of his pad. This save kept the game scoreless.
Lake Erie was all over Hershey front to back controlling most of the first period. This relentless pressure resulted in the Monsters second prime scoring chance of the first period.
with 7:28 into the period Monsters winger Sonny Milano would make a great defensive play Bears defender Ryan Stanton at the right dot just outside Hershey’s zone. Milano picked pocketed the puck right off Stanton’s stick and went in all alone for their second breakaway of the period. Milano would fancy his luck opting to go to his right just like Tynan did before. The result was the same for Milano and Peters stood tall and stopped his shot with his left pad/blocker to keep the game scoreless.
This provided a HUGE boost for the Bears as 3:10 later Hershey would grab the game’s first goal.
Bears winger Chris Bourque would burst into the offensive zone on the right side, stop on a T at the tops of the circle, and skate back up to the tops of the blue line. Bourque would find a cutting Jakub Vrana with a rifle of a pass while Vrana was barreling into the zone. Vrana would receive the pass at the top of the high slot and roof a laser of a wrist shot beating Monsters goalie Anton Forsberg high over his blocker for the 1-0 lead. This was Vrana’s 8th goal of the playoffs tying him for the league lead.
Lake Erie would end the period down a goal which they were not happy about. The Monsters were controlling a majority of the first with a lot of pressure in the o-zone. They also did a solid job limiting the Bears shots to the outside despite giving up the opening goal.
The start of the second period was no different than the start of the first. What I mean by this was that both teams, again, had a couple chances but none of them were big. Both goalies came up big, especially Anton Forsberg of the Monsters.
Finally, after all, the pressure to start the period Lake Erie was able to get past Hershey’s defenders and tie this game up. With just about eight minutes gone in the middle frame, Monsters’ Daniel Zaar would get a pass from fellow linemate Alex Broadhurst in the neutral zone. Zaar would take the tape to tape pass at center ice and speed past Bears defender Tyler Lewington and in on another breakaway. Zaar would speed into the slot and rip a wrister under the glove hand of Justin Peters and just inside the right post for his 4th goal of the playoffs and leveling the score at one goal apiece.
Surprisingly, after Zaar’s goal to tie the game, neither Hershey or Lake Erie were able to gain any momentum back to their side. Both goalies again acted like brick walls and did not let another goal get by them and the middle period ended 1-1.
The start of the third period was much different. The Bears were in on the attack looking for the goal to break the tie. Their pressure paid off as we would get the first penalty of the game just 58 seconds into the third. Monsters center Alex Broadhurst would get called for two minutes after he hooked a Bears player. This sent Hershey to their first PP of the game but was unable to break the deadlock after some solid saves from Forsberg.
Then just about four minutes and change later Lake Erie would grab the go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal thanks to winger Trent Vogelhuber. Captain Ryan Craig would feed Vogelhuber behind Hershey’s net. Vogelhuber would corral the pass, skate behind the net, and come out from behind the right side of the net. He would skate right to the right dot, turn around, and whip (what looked like to be a harmless shot) on net. The puck took a deflection off Bears defender Aaron Ness’ stick and through the 5 hole of Justin Peters for the 2-1 lead.
The play would then settle down for the next five minutes of play as both teams settle down into their roles. Lake Erie defending and Hershey pressing for that tying goal.
Hershey would go back to their second and last man advantage of the game as winger Josh Anderson got the gate for roughing. Hershey would once again, gain a little momentum with a flurry of shots but the Monsters were able to kill off the pressure.
Then with 6:27 remaining in the last period the Monsters were back on the offensive prowl and tallied a very important insurance goal. Bears defender Ryan Stanton looked to keep the puck, step around the forecheck and start a rush from his own zone. This was a bad idea as Lake Erie’s first goal scorer Daniel Zaar would make another beautiful defensive pick and steal the puck right from Stanton’s stick at the left-hand dot. Zaar would then be all alone for a small breakaway where he took full advantage. Bears goalie Justin Peters looked to poke check the puck away but failed. In doing this, he opened up his 5 hole and Zaar finessed the puck right through his legs for the two-goal lead at 3-1. This was Zaar’s second goal of the game.
Just 1:36 later the Monsters would strike again! Lake Erie’s winger Oliver Bjorkstrand would feed the puck over to D-man Dean Kukan at the right side blue line. Kukan would put a helpless wrister towards the net that was deflected by winger Markus Hannikainen in the slot and sneaked past Justin Peters for the 4-1 lead with just four minutes. The Bears were unable to muster any offensive after this deflecting goal and the score ended with the Monsters’ easily taking the game 4-1.
Lake Erie’s goalie Anton Forsberg stopped 26 out of 27 shots for a stunning .963 SV% while Hershey’s goalie Justin Peters turned away 22 out of 26 shots for a terrible .846 SV%. The Bears led in shots (27-26). There were only 2 penalties in the game with both of them going to Lake Erie. The Bears were 0/2 on the man advantage while the Monsters did not get a chance.
Lake Erie now leads the series 1-0. These two teams will suit up again Friday night for Game 2 in Hershey with puck drop at 7 pm.