Tag Archives: Mike Babcock

Bruins beat Leafs, 5-1, advance to Second Round

Depth scoring was ridiculed all season for the Boston Bruins, but the bottom six forwards got the job done in Boston’s, 5-1, win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup.

The Bruins improved to 4-1 in Game 7s against Toronto and have now won the last six consecutive series meetings between the two franchises dating back to 1969.

Maple Leafs head coach, Mike Babcock, fell to 3-7 all-time in Game 7s (0-2 with Toronto), while Boston’s bench boss, Bruce Cassidy, improved to 2-0 in Game 7s (both with the Bruins).

B’s goaltender, Tuukka Rask (4-3-0 record, 2.31 goals against average, .928 save percentage in seven games this postseason) made 32 saves on 33 shots against (.970 SV%) in the win.

Leafs goaltender, Frederik Andersen (3-4-0, 2.75 GAA, ,922 SV% in seven games played this postseason) stopped 27 out of 30 shots faced (.900 SV%) in the loss.

The B’s clinched the series, 4-3, and advance to the Second Round of the postseason for the second year in a row.

Zdeno Chara tied Scott Stevens and Patrick Roy for the most career Game 7 appearances all-time with his 13th on Tuesday. Patrice Bergeron is the next highest on the Bruins with 11 Game 7 appearances.

With Connor Clifton (upper body) and Kevan Miller (lower body) still out of the lineup due to injury, Cassidy made no changes to his lineup from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday night.

Zane McIntyre was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL)– while his teammate, Dan Vladar, tends to the crease for Providence in their First Round Calder Cup Playoff matchup with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL)– and served as a healthy scratch on the depth chart for Boston.

McIntyre joined Chris Wagner, Paul Carey, David Backes and Steven Kampfer as the healthy scratches for the home team on Tuesday.

Toronto dominated possession through the first half of the opening period, but Boston was first to get on the scoreboard late in the opening frame.

Joakim Nordstrom (2) followed up on a rebound from point blank and pocketed the puck short side on Andersen and into the twine to give the Bruins the lead, 1-0, after the B’s sustained solid pressure in the offensive zone.

Matt Grzelcyk (4) and Sean Kuraly (1) recorded the assists on Nordstrom’s goal at 14:29 of the first period.

Moments later, Marcus Johansson (1) picked up a loose puck behind the net and wrapped around the frame to fire a shot off the far post and in while Charlie Coyle was screening the Maple Leafs goaltender.

Johansson’s goal was unassisted and gave Boston the two-goal lead, 2-0, at 17:46 of the first period.

The Bruins amassed two goals in a span of 3:17 as they entered the first intermission with the lead on the scoreboard, but trailed Toronto in shots on goal, 12-11.

Toronto also held the advantage in takeaways (2-1) and hits (12-9), while Boston led in blocked shots (6-1), giveaways (6-4) and face-off win percentage (54-46) after one period.

Entering the second period, both teams had yet to see any time on the power play.

Early in the middle frame, Tyler Ennis worked the puck out from deep in the attacking zone and dropped it back to John Tavares, whereby Tavares (2) sniped a wrist shot past Rask from close range to cut the lead in half, 2-1.

Ennis (2) had the only assist on Tavares’ goal at 3:54 of the second period.

Almost midway through the period, Brandon Carlo cross checked Andreas Johnsson and was assessed a minor penalty at 8:22. Toronto did not convert on their first skater advantage of the night.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Bruins led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and the Maple Leafs led, 25-19, in shots on goal– including a, 13-8, advantage in the second period alone.

Heading into the second intermission, Boston led in blocked shots (14-2), giveaways (15-9) and face-off win% (57-44), while Toronto led in takeaways (7-5) and hits (25-15).

The Leafs were 0/1 on the power play after two periods and the B’s had yet to see any action on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

After knocking the puck out of his own zone with his stick, Kuraly (1) slipped through the neutral zone and fired a shot past Andersen from the face-off circles in Boston’s attacking zone to give the Bruins another two-goal lead.

Noel Acciari (1) and Nordstrom (1) tabbed the assists on Kuraly’s goal at 2:40 of the third period and the B’s led, 3-1.

Moments later, Boston’s fourth line was on the ice again, but so was David Pastrnak and the home team’s bench was charged with a minor penalty for too many men at 5:19 of the third period.

Pastrnak served the infraction in the box, while the Maple Leafs went back on the power play for the second time of the night.

Once again, Toronto couldn’t muster anything on the skater advantage.

With a little over three minutes remaining in regulation, Babcock pulled Andersen for an extra attacker. It backfired.

David Krejci worked the puck deep in the offensive zone and over to Coyle (3) for the empty net goal to make it, 4-1, Bruins at 17:26. Boston’s bottom-six forwards had scored four goals in a game after facing scrutiny in the regular season for their lack of depth scoring.

Meanwhile, Krejci (3) notched the only assist on Coyle’s goal.

With about two minutes remaining in the game, Toronto pulled their goaltender again, then shortly thereafter iced the puck and had to pull Andersen all over again about a minute later.

This time, as the final second ticked off the clock, Bergeron (3) had the final say as he so often does for Boston against Toronto with the Bruins’ second empty net goal of the night to clinch the victory, 5-1, at 19:59.

At the final horn, the Leafs had been eliminated and their 15-year streak of failing to advanced past the First Round of the playoffs extended.

Toronto finished Tuesday night leading in shots on goal, 33-32, as well as in hits, 32-26, while the B’s finished off Game 7 leading in blocked shots (17-4) and giveaways (17-13).

Both teams went 50-50 in face-off win% and the Maple Leafs finished the night (0/2) with the only power play opportunities in the game.

The team that scored the first goal in a Game 7 improved to 129-44 (.746) all-time, while Boston also improved to 15-12 overall (14-8 at home) in an NHL record 27 Game 7s.

Toronto fell to 12-12 in franchise history in Game 7s and 5-11 while on the road for the seventh and deciding game in that span.

The Boston Bruins will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and have home ice advantage for as long as they remain in Cup contention.

It will be the first time both clubs face each other in the postseason.

Game 1 is Thursday at TD Garden with the rest of the Second Round schedule to be officially announced upon the conclusion of all the First Round matchups.

Bruins force Game 7 with, 4-2, win in Toronto

For the second time in as many years, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are going to a Game 7 at TD Garden after the Bruins defeated the Leafs, 4-2, on Sunday afternoon at Scotiabank Arena.

Jake DeBrusk scored the defacto game-winning goal midway through the second period, while Tuukka Rask (3-3-0 record, 2.54 goals against average, .921 save percentage in six games this postseason) made 22 saves on 24 shots against (.917 SV%) in the win for Boston.

Maple Leafs goaltender, Frederik Andersen (3-3-0, 2.70 GAA, .925 SV% in six games this postseason) stopped 37 out of 40 shots faced (.925 SV%) in the loss.

The two franchises are just the third pair in NHL history to require a Game 7 in three consecutive head-to-head postseason matchups (2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, 2018 First Round and 2019 First Round).

Additionally, Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, is set to take part in his 13th career Game 7 appearance, tying Scott Stevens for the most all-time.

Boston has won the last five postseason series matchups against Toronto. The Maple Leafs last defeated the Bruins in the 1959 Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinal– yes, back when the league had six economically stable franchises.

Connor Clifton (upper body) and Kevan Miller (lower body) remained out of the lineup due to injury for Game 6, while Bruce Cassidy juggled his bottom-six forwards– inserting Karson Kuhlman on the third line right wing and moving Sean Kuraly to center on the fourth line, with Joakim Nordstrom back in the lineup on the left wing after being a healthy scratch for Game 5.

Noel Acciari slid over to the right wing on the fourth line, with David Backes and Chris Wagner joining Paul Carey, Steven Kampfer and Dan Vladar as the healthy scratches for the Bruins in Game 6.

Early in the first period, Chara sent the puck over the glass and out of play for an automatic delay of game minor penalty at 5:21.

Toronto did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Moments later, after the Maple Leafs kept the puck in the attacking zone on a turnover by the Bruins, Morgan Rielly (1) blasted a shot from the point past Rask as the Boston goaltender was screened by Leafs forward, Connor Brown, at 9:42 of the first period.

William Nylander (2) and Patrick Marleau (2) tallied the assists on Rielly’s first goal of the postseason and Toronto led, 1-0.

Less than a minute later, Tyler Ennis took a trip to the penalty box for holding at 10:25 of the first period.

Almost a minute into the resulting skater advantage for Boston, Patrice Bergeron won a face-off to the right of Andersen and squibbed the puck over to Brad Marchand (3) for the shot on goal that deflected off of Toronto defender, Ron Hainsey, and slid through the five-hole of Andersen.

Bergeron (2) had the only assist on Marchand’s power play goal at 11:23 of the first period and the game was tied, 1-1.

While being brought down in the corner over a minute later, Nordstrom got a stick up high on Travis Dermott and was assessed a high-sticking infraction at 12:37.

The B’s managed to kill off the penalty with ease and resumed even strength action without difficulty.

About a minute after their power play, Toronto found themselves going down a skater thanks to Dermott’s tripping infraction against DeBrusk at 15:36.

Late in the power play, Boston worked the puck around the horn and back across the ice to Torey Krug (1) for the one-timer rocket that beat Andersen for the game’s first lead change.

The Bruins led, 2-1, with David Pastrnak (3) and Marchand (5) earning the assists on Krug’s power play goal at 17:02.

After one period of play, Boston led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 14-6, in shots on goal. The B’s also led in hits (13-9) and face-off win percentage (57-44), while the Maple Leafs led in takeaways (4-3) and giveaways (5-4).

Both clubs managed seven blocked shots aside entering the first intermission, while Toronto was 0/2 on the power play and Boston was 2/2 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Almost midway through the second period, after a hairy couple of minutes in their own zone, the Bruins went back the other way on the attack with DeBrusk sending the puck across to David Krejci for the give-and-go back to DeBrusk (1) for the redirection into the twine.

Krejci (2) and Pastrnak (4) notched the assists on DeBrusk’s goal at 7:57 of the second period and Boston led, 3-1.

Almost a minute later, Charlie Coyle tripped up Frederik Gauthier at 8:47, but the Leafs were not able to capitalize on the ensuing power play opportunity.

Through 40 minutes of play the Bruins led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and outshot the Maple Leafs, 2:1, with a, 30-15, advantage in shots on goal.

Toronto maintained an advantage in blocked shots (17-11) and hits (29-22), while Boston led in face-off win% (58-43). Both teams amassed seven takeaways each and ten giveaways aside.

The Leafs entered the third period 0/3 on the power play, while the B’s were 2/2 on the skater advantage.

After returning to the ice for the final frame of regulation with an extra skip and a jump in their step, the Maple Leafs won a face-off in the offensive zone and worked the puck around to Auston Matthews (5) for the wrist shot goal– off the far post and in– to cut Boston’s lead to one-goal.

Jake Gardiner (2) and Dermott (2) had the assists on Matthews’ goal at 4:15 of the third period and Toronto trailed, 3-2.

Save after save was made all night by both goaltenders, leaving Maple Leafs head coach, Mike Babcock, with no choice but to pull his goaltender for an extra attacker.

Perhaps, though, pulling Andersen with 2:04 remaining in regulation left too much time for those pesky, Big Bad Bruins.

After jumping on a puck in his own zone, Marchand (4) worked it loose and fired away from the neutral zone to pocket the empty net goal to seal the deal on the, 4-2, victory for Boston at 18:06 of the third period.

Chara (1) and Charlie McAvoy (2) tallied the assists on the goal as the B’s assured themselves of a Game 7 on Tuesday.

Andersen vacated the crease once more with about 1:42 to go in the game, but Toronto could not find a way to score two quick goals to tie and force overtime.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won, 4-2, and finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal (41-24) and face-off win% (52-48). The Maple Leafs wrapped up Sunday afternoon with the advantage in blocked shots (19-15), giveaways (19-16) and hits (40-34).

There were no penalties called in the final frame, leaving Toronto 0/3 on the power play for the day and Boston, 2/2, on the skater advantage.

For the third time in their last three series matchups against each other, Boston and Toronto will square off in a decisive Game 7 at TD Garden. Puck drop is expected a little after 7 p.m. on Tuesday and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN.

Canadian residents can watch the game on CBC, SN or TVAS.

Bruins hold on for, 6-4, win in Game 4, tie series, 2-2

Ten combined goals in 60 minutes of action tipped the way of the Boston Bruins, 6-4, over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 4 of their 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.

With the win for the Bruins, the series is now tied, 2-2.

David Pastrnak had a pair of goals Boston, while Auston Matthews matched Pastrnak’s effort and had a pair of goals for Toronto.

Tuukka Rask (2-2-0 record, 2.77 goals against average, .921 save percentage in four games this postseason) made 38 saves on 42 shots against (.905 SV%) in the win for the B’s.

Maple Leafs goaltender, Frederik Andersen (2-2-0, 3.03 GAA, .917 SV% in four games this postseason) stopped 25 out of 30 shots faced (.833 SV%) in the loss.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, re-inserted John Moore and Marcus Johansson into his lineup after Moore (upper body) missed the first three games of the series and Johansson (illness) missed Games 2 and 3.

Cassidy also juggled his lines, starting Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Danton Heinen on the first line and dropped Pastrnak to the second line right wing with Jake DeBrusk at his usual spot at left wing and David Krejci in his usual role as the center.

Johansson suited up on the left side of the third line with Charlie Coyle at center and David Backes on the right wing.

The fourth line trio of Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner was left alone, as were the top-four defenders.

On the third defensive pairing, Matt Grzelcyk was partnered with Moore in Moore’s first game back from injury.

As a result of the returning players to Boston’s lineup, forward Karson Kuhlman and defender Steven Kampfer joined Paul Carey, Jakub Zboril and Dan Vladar as the healthy scratches for the Bruins, while Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand), Connor Clifton (upper body) and Kevan Miller (lower body) remained out of the action.

Early in the action, Connor Brown held Nordstrom and was assessed a minor infraction at 1:08 of the first period.

Late on the ensuing power play, the B’s sent the puck around the horn as Charlie McAvoy (1) snuck into the slot to receive a pass and one-timed a shot past Andersen to give the Bruins the lead, 1-0.

Coyle (1) and Grzelcyk (3) tallied the assists on McAvoy’s power play goal at 3:03 of the first period.

Moments later, Marchand (2) capitalized on the momentum swing as Boston again maintained tremendous pressure in the offensive zone, yielding the two-goal lead from Marchand.

McAvoy (1) and Heinen (2) notched the assists on the goal that made it, 2-0, for the Bruins at 6:38 of the first period as the B’s pocketed a pair of goals in a span of 3:35.

Midway through the opening frame, Bergeron tied up Mitch Marner and was penalized for interference at 13:29.

Boston managed to kill off their first shorthanded bid of the evening, but was not as successful in the vulnerable minute after McAvoy was also penalized for interference at 15:44.

Just 11 seconds after making the kill on McAvoy’s minor infraction, the Bruins failed to clear the zone and the Maple Leafs pounced.

Morgan Rielly fired a shot from the point that Zach Hyman (1) tipped past Rask and cut the lead in half, 2-1, as Toronto got on the scoreboard for the first time of the night at 17:55 of the first period.

Rielly (2) and John Tavares (3) were credited with the assists on Hyman’s first goal of the postseason.

Entering the first intermission, Boston led on the scoreboard, 2-1, and in shots on goal, 14-12.

The Bruins also held the advantage in blocked shots (6-5), while the Maple Leafs led in takeaways (3-1), giveaways (4-3), hits (15-13) and face-off win percentage (53-47).

Heading into the second period, Toronto was 0/2 on the power play and Boston was 1/1 on the skater advantage.

Despite trailing by a goal at the end of the first period, Toronto emerged rejuvenated for the second period with a stretch pass off the boards that yielded a break-in for Matthews about a minute into the middle frame.

Matthews (2) scored as the Bruins bungled a line change and tied the game, 2-2, at 1:07 of the second period.

Andreas Johnsson (2) and Ron Hainsey (1) collected the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on the goal as the Leafs surged.

A couple minutes later, Marchand entered the attacking zone for Boston with Pastrnak (1) speeding to the net to redirect the pass in front of the crease past Andersen– reminiscent of the days of Mark Recchi scoring grungy goals in an NHL rink– to give the Bruins the lead once again, 3-2, at 3:16 of the second period.

The game was tied for a span of 2:09 before Boston pulled back into the lead.

A little over a minute later, Matthews caught McAvoy with a high-stick in front of the Bruins net and was penalized at 4:37, yielding a Boston power play for the second time of the night.

Less than 20 seconds into the resulting power play, Marchand worked a pass through the low slot for the one-timer goal from Pastrnak (2) as No. 88 for the black-and-gold acted as a bumper and gave Boston a two-goal lead, 4-2, at 4:51 of the second period.

Marchand (4) had the only assist on the goal and collected the primary assist on back-to-back goals from Pastrnak for his third point of the game.

Through 40 minutes of play, Boston led, 4-2, on the scoreboard.

Toronto held the advantage in shots on goal (26-22) after two periods– including a, 14-8, advantage in the second period alone. The Maple Leafs also led in takeaways (6-2) and hits (30-24), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (20-8) and face-off win% (54-46) entering the second intermission.

Both clubs had nine giveaways each as the Leafs were 0/2 and the B’s were 2/2 on the power play heading into the third period.

Early in the third period, after keeping the puck in the zone, Zdeno Chara (1) rocketed a shot from the point that beat Andersen as Bergeron screened the Maple Leafs goaltender.

Chara’s goal was unassisted at 5:39 of the third period and gave the Bruins a three-goal lead, 5-2.

With the goal, Chara (42 years, 30 days), became the second-oldest defender in NHL history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, trailing Chris Chelios (45 years, 86 days) for the record.

Midway through the period, McAvoy’s stick rode up Hyman’s shaft and caught the Maple Leafs forward in the face, yielding a high-sticking infraction and presenting Toronto with their third power play of the night at 11:42.

Ten seconds into the ensuing skater advantage, after working the puck around the zone, Marner floated the puck through the low slot for the redirection from Matthews (3) past Rask for the power play goal and Matthews’ second goal of the game.

Marner (2) and Rielly (3) tallied the assists as the Leafs pulled to within two-goals, 5-3, at 11:52 of the third period.

With momentum on their side, Travis Dermott (1) unloaded a shot from the point past the Bruins goaltender to make it a one-goal game at 13:27.

Jake Gardiner (1) and Brown (1) notched the assists as Boston’s lead was cut to one, 5-4, after Toronto scored a pair of goals in a span of 1:35.

Maple Leafs head coach, Mike Babcock, pulled his goaltender for the extra attacker with 1:55 remaining in regulation.

Despite every last effort by the Leafs, Boston held the line and mustered the puck out of the zone, including the final drive initiated by Krejci up to Nordstrom (1) for the empty net goal at 19:58 of the third period to put the game away, 6-4, on the road.

Krejci (1) had the only assist on the goal– Nordstrom’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal.

At the final horn, the Bruins had secured the victory, despite trailing in shots on goal, 42-31.

Boston finished the night leading in blocked shots (25-12) and face-off win% (59-41), while Toronto led in giveaways (14-13) and hits (37-35).

The Maple Leafs finished 1/3 on the power play on Wednesday and the B’s finished 2/2 on the skater advantage.

With his ninth and tenth career postseason goals in 22 career Stanley Cup Playoff games (all with Boston), Pastrnak trails only Gregg Sheppard (14 games), Barry Pederson (15 games) and Derek Sanderson (19 games) for the fastest to reach 10 career postseason goals.

The two clubs square off in Game 5 at TD Garden in Boston on Friday night with the series tied, 2-2. Viewers in the United States can tune in for puck drop at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, while Canadian fans can catch the action on CBC, SN, or TVAS.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Eastern Conference

*cue Andy Williams*

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned and all is right with the world (unless your team missed the postseason).

In the past, we here at Down the Frozen River have covered every game of every series.

This year, we’re mixing it up a bit– starting with this preview of every First Round series in the Eastern Conference, continuing with a followup preview of every First Round series in the Western Conference and as much analysis as possible on the DTFR Podcast in addition to the blog.

Ch-ch-ch-changes are inevitable and yours truly cannot cover all 16 teams in the postseason alone.

A1 Tampa Bay Lightning (62-14-6, 128 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)

The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the President’s Trophy (for the first time in franchise history) by mid-March and finished with the 4th most points in a season in NHL history, while star forward, Nikita Kucherov, amassed 128 points (the most by a Russian born player in a season) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4 record, 2.40 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 53 games played) turned in a Vezina Trophy worthy performance in the crease.

Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.

The Bolts also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season (62).

Backup goaltender, Louis Domingue (21-5-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV% in 26 GP) posted respectable numbers as well in the Lightning’s thunderous run through the season.

Tampa has home ice throughout the playoffs and kicks things off with a First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 3-2, shootout victory over the New York Rangers last Friday– eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from postseason contention in the process.

Columbus was all over the Metropolitan Division this season, but went all-in at the trade deadline, adding Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid for the stretch run.

Duchene and Dzingel quickly fit in to their respective top-nine roles, while McQuaid struggled to find a suitor on the blue line at first in his return to the organization that originally drafted him 55th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and broke into the league with the B’s in 2009-10.

Kinkaid was added solely for goaltending depth as pending-unrestricted free agent, Sergei Bobrovsky (37-24-1, 2.58 GAA, .913 SV% in 62 GP) led the league with nine shutouts on the season.

Blue Jackets backup goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo (10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% in 27 GP) hit some rough patches at times, but found a way to dig his team out from the backend when necessary.

In the grand scheme of things, the Bolts won the season series, 3-0-0, and outscored Columbus, 17-3, in that span.

While many consider Columbus as a Stanley Cup Playoffs pushover– given the franchise has never won a series– Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella always poses a tough challenge that can wear down his opponent.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, earns his own merit in his ability to keep his players cool, calm, collected and always in comeback mode, but it’s not unfathomable to see the Blue Jackets pestering Tampa about as much– if not more than– Columbus did to Washington in last season’s First Round matchup.

After all, the Blue Jackets did lead that series, 2-0.

That said, this is Tampa’s year for a Cup run or bust. The Lightning should win the series in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

5-1 TBL at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 18th, 4-0 TBL at Amalie Arena on Jan. 8th, 8-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on USA , SN360, TVAS

4/12- Game 2 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*

4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*

4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*

*If necessary

A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)

For the second season in a row, the Boston Bruins are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Despite being without Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara at one point this season, the Bruins rallied from their 12th defenseman on up through the rest of the lineup to finish one win shy of consecutive 50-win seasons in Bruce Cassidy‘s third season (second full season) as head coach.

Speaking of Bergeron, however, the perfect two-way center finished the season with a career-high in points (79) and matched his career-high in goals (32) while battling injury early in the season. Bergeron’s 32-47–79 totals came in just 65 games. That’s only one more game played than last season for No. 37 in black-and-gold.

Meanwhile, his linemates, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each reached milestones of their own. Marchand reached the 100-point plateau this season and became the first Bruin to do so since Joe Thornton recorded 101 points in 2002-03.

The “Little Ball of Hate” also set a career-high in assists (64) and was not suspended in 79 games played this season (he was rested for the final two games in the regular season and missed one game due to injury).

Pastrnak set a career-high in goals (38) and points (81) despite missing time due to a left thumb injury and being limited to 66 games played.

The B’s were led in net this season by Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 SV% in 40 GP) in a 1A/1B scenario. For the first time since the 1989-90 season, Boston had two goaltenders with 20-plus wins.

Back north in Toronto, the Maple Leafs added a formidable center in John Tavares in free agency and his presence was immediate, notching career-highs in goals (47 ) and points (88) in 82 games.

Auston Matthews (37-36–73 totals in 68 games) and Mitch Marner (26-68–94 totals in 82 games) continued to their thing as the $11.634 million man (starting next season) and the soon to be at least $10.000 million boy wonder man.

Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, added Jake Muzzin in January in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in effort to shore up his blue line, however, questions remain as to how head coach, Mike Babcock will limit time on ice for veterans, like Ron Hainsey, and mix in more opportunities for Morgan Rielly (20-52–72 totals in 82 games) in his breakout season.

Boston won the season series, 3-1-0, outscoring Toronto, 16-10, in that span.

Some experts are picking the Bruins in five games. They also said similar things in 2013 and 2018. This series is going six games (at least), with Boston overcoming the Maple Leafs defense in Game 7, once again.

To their credit, Toronto always makes things interesting in what’s likely to be the most unpredictable First Round matchup.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 BOS at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 12th, 6-3 BOS at TD Garden on Dec. 8th, 4-2 TOR at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 26th, 5-1 BOS at TD Garden on Nov. 10th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 TOR @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 TOR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*

4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*

4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*

*If necessary

M1 Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)

Just as everyone expected, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 104 points after Barry Trotz left for the head coaching job on Long Island. Did I mention the Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions?

Anyway, Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals and collected his 8th career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as a result– though Edmonton Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, was hot on his tail with 50 goals this season.

After the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for what seemed like forever, it’s important to note the Metro was actually anybody’s game from puck drop in October. Here’s the thing, the Carolina Hurricanes were near the top of the division– they’ve been surging all season.

Speaking of surging, Carolina introduced their “Storm Surge” post-win celebration and the Caniacs loved it.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the club in Raleigh, Brett Pesce is good. Also, Sebastian Aho (30-53–83 totals in 82 GP), Andrei Svechnikov (20-17–37 totals in 82 GP) and Teuvo Teravainen (21-55–76 totals in 82 games)– they’re pretty good too.

Washington was led by Braden Holtby (32-19-5, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV% in 59 GP) between the pipes this season and is comforted to know Pheonix Copley (16-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% in 27 GP) is quite capable of playing this season’s role of Philipp Grubauer (since traded to the Colorado Avalanche after last season’s Cup celebrations).

The Canes were led by a duo of goaltenders who were once thought of as an after thought in Curtis McElhinney (20-11-2, 2.58 GAA, .912 SV% in 33 GP) and Petr Mrazek (23-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV% in 40 GP).

Though his record might not show it, Mrazek has been hitting his stride for the last month and is locked in. Ride that wave until it crests.

The Hurricanes had a league-leading ten skaters play in all 82 games. There’s no such thing as playing too much hockey– especially when it’s the first postseason appearance since 2009.

Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the Caps some interruptions coming out of the gate.

Despite Washington having swept the season series, 4-0-0, the Hurricanes kept things close in their most recent matchup with a, 3-2, loss at PNC Arena on March 28th.

Carolina almost pulled off the victory in a shootout on Dec. 14th, but lost, 6-5, on home ice to the Capitals.

Washington is beatable. Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour knows that, his team just hasn’t done it yet. Caps head coach, Todd Reirden, is also making his postseason debut at the reigns behind the bench for his respective team.

Though they won the Cup last season– that was then. This is now.

This series is going seven games and the Hurricanes will make sure there’s no repeat Cup winner this year.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 WSH at PNC Arena on March 28th, 4-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on March 26th, 3-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on Dec. 27th, 6-5 F/SO WSH at PNC Arena on Dec. 14th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 CAR @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on USA, SN360, TVAS2

4/13- Game 2 CAR @ WSH 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/18- Game 4 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on TBD, SN360, TVAS

4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*

4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*

4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*

*If necessary

M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points)

Barry Trotz figured out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trotz is the key. Trotz knows the secret stuff to beat Mike Sullivan and his Penguins.

That’s why the William M. Jennings Trophy winning duo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% in 46 GP) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV% in 43 GP) will backstop the New York Islanders past Pittsburgh in their First Round matchup in six games.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.

New York split the season series with the Pens, 2-1-1, with their most recent result against Pittsburgh coming in a, 2-1, shootout loss on Dec. 10th at NYCB Live (that’s the Nassau Coliseum, if you haven’t already heard. The Isles will host their First Round games there).

Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello put together a team without John Tavares. Trotz figured out how to get the most out of his players– guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and even Andrew Ladd (until Ladd got injured)– while playing the trap.

That same trap won the Cup last season.

This season, Trotz has Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee as his main attractions instead of names like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Long Island residents have long memories– the Penguins are one of their greatest rivals– and the added energy of Tavares’ departure has only fueled more passion all season long.

Can New York flip the switch from their late season bumps in the road?

Obviously, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby. They also have Evgeni Malkin. Crosby and Malkin are ready to go for another deep postseason run after watching their biggest rival not only beat them in the Second Round last year, but go on to take the Cup out of the hands of the Penguins’ recent streak of dominance in 2016 and 2017.

Patric Hornqvist is also another silent killer option for Sullivan when his team needs a clutch goal– and that’s on top of Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel throughout the rest of the lineup.

The Penguins were led in the crease by Matt Murray (29-14-6, 2.69 GAA, .919 SV% in 50 GP) this season with some helpful bailout backup goaltending from Casey DeSmith (15-11-5, 2.75 GAA, .916 SV% in 36 GP). If Murray shows any signs of wavering, Sullivan shouldn’t have a hard time going to DeSmith to push his team over the edge.

How will Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann play into the fold as Jim Rutherford‘s biggest prize acquisitions this season? Who might be the breakout star for Pittsburgh that outshines Crosby in the Conn Smythe Trophy vote?

Aren’t these questions supposed to be answered in an editorial preview? Sure.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/SO PIT at NYCB Live on Dec. 10th, 6-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6th, 3-2 F/SO NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 1st, 6-3 NYI at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 30th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*

4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*

4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*

DTFR Podcast #152- One Week Left

The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show onPatreon.

DTFR Podcast #148- Regrets-ing

The DTFR Duo honors Ted Lindsay, addresses a potential outdoor game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, talk John Tavares’ “welcome” back to Long Island, can’t figure out the Ottawa Senators coaching change circus and more.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show onPatreon.

DTFR Podcast #144- (The Other) Auston City Limits

Auston Matthews signed an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What does this mean for the Leafs? Alex Stalock, Jordan Martinook and Pheonix Copley all signed extensions with their clubs, as Tuukka Rask became the winningest goaltender in Boston Bruins history, Alex Ovechkin became the highest scoring Russian-born NHL player and Paul Maurice reached 1,500 games behind the bench as a head coach.

The DTFR Duo also reviewed all 31 NHL teams as buyers and/or sellers at the 2019 trade deadline.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #143- Overage Fees

The Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins swapped familiar assets, while the Toronto Maple Leafs added a defender in a deal with the Los Angeles Kings. Red Kelly’s number is going to be retired (again– this time by the Detroit Red Wings) and we now know the opponents in the 2020 Winter Classic and 2020 Stadium Series games.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Second period comeback, defense, solidifies B’s, 3-2, victory in Toronto

After defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2, at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night, the Boston Bruins are 8-3-0 in their last 11 games– including five straight wins from their starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask.

David Pastrnak scored the game-winning goal in the final minute of the second period as Sean Kuraly had his first career three-point night with a goal and two assists in his fourth career multi-point game.

Rask (13-8-2 record, 2.41 goals against average, .921 save percentage in 23 games played) made 30 saves on 32 shots against for a .921 SV% in the win for the Bruins, while Michael Hutchinson (3-4-2, 3.27 GAA, .887 SV% in nine GP) stopped 26 out of 29 shots faced for an .897 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 16-3-2 when scoring first this season and beat Toronto in their season series, 3-1-0, outscoring the Leafs, 16-10, in that span. Boston also improved to 26-14-4 (56 points) on the season and remained in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division.

The Maple Leafs fell to 28-14-2 (58 points) so far this season and continue to hold a two-point lead over the Bruins for 2nd place in the Atlantic.

With Charlie McAvoy back in the lineup for the first time since missing the last seven games due to a lower body injury, Bruce Cassidy‘s only lineup change was to his defensive corps.

McAvoy suited up alongside Zdeno Chara on the first pairing, with Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo shutting down the remainder of the top-four defensemen.

Matt Grzelcyk was paired on the third defensive pairing with Kevan Miller as Cassidy made John Moore a healthy scratch. This decision would prove to be helpful upon what was an otherwise surefire goal, only to be blocked by Grzelcyk, later in the game.

Cassidy made no other changes and went with Rask in goal as opposed to Jaroslav Halak as Rask has won back his starting job for the time being.

Joining Moore in the press box on the shortlist of healthy scratches were Colby Cave and Steven Kampfer, while Joakim Nordstrom (non-displaced fibula fracture) remained in Boston for the duration of this short road trip.

Late in the first period, David Krejci (9) blasted a shot past Hutchinson to open up the game’s scoring, 1-0, for Boston at 18:21.

Kuraly (7) and Zdeno Chara (2) had the assists on Krejci’s goal.

About a minute later, John Tavares was sent to the penalty box for hooking Pastrnak at 19:38, but the Bruins couldn’t convert on the power play heading into the first intermission– even though it would overlap the start of the second period.

After one period, Boston held onto a, 1-0, lead, despite being outshot by Toronto, 15-9. The Maple Leafs dominated possession in the first period, leading in takeaways (2-0), giveaways (8-4) and face-off win percentage (59-41), as well.

The B’s led in blocked shots (8-4) and hits (13-10) entering the first intermission.

Early in the second period, Andreas Johnsson was guilty of boarding Carlo at 2:40, resulting in Boston’s second power play of the night. The Bruins couldn’t muster anything on the power play, as momentum started to swing more in Toronto’s favor.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Johnsson (10) redeemed himself with a goal that took an odd bounce from up high, down low and through Rask’s five-hole to tie the game, 1-1, at 7:37 of the second period.

Kasperi Kapanen (12) and Auston Matthews (20) had the assists on Johnsson’s goal.

Less than a minute later, Miller cut a rut to the sin bin for holding William Nylander at 8:59 and the Maple Leafs went on their first power play of the night.

It only took about 30 seconds for Mitch Marner (17) to unload his cannon of a shot on Rask and beat the Bruins netminder cleanly, giving Toronto its first lead of the night.

Marner’s goal was assisted by Nazem Kadri (17) and Kapanen (13) at 9:30 of the middle frame and was the first lead change in the season series between Boston and Toronto this season.

In all three games entering Saturday night, the team that scored first went on to win the game.

The Bruins made sure to make that stat ring true, rendering it four-for-four with their comeback late in the second frame.

Late in the period, Kuraly (5) finagled his way to the low slot as Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner freed the puck to the eventual Boston goal scorer that made it, 2-2, at 14:47.

Wagner (4) and Acciari (3) were credited with the assists.

Kuraly now has four goals in his last 10 games (he had four goals in 84 games prior to this recent stretch).

Less than two minutes later, Patrice Bergeron bungled a clearing attempt and sent the puck clear over the glass, resulting in an automatic delay of game penalty and putting the Maple Leafs back on the power play for the second time of the night.

This time, Rask and his penalty killing unit in front of him stood tall and killed off Bergeron’s minor.

As the seconds were ticking off the clock in the second period, Kuraly worked the puck to Pastrnak in the low slot after capitalizing on a weak pass attempt from one Maple Leafs skater to another.

Pastrnak (26) buried the puck behind Hutchinson at 19:45 and gave the B’s the lead, 3-2.

Kuraly (8) had the only assist on the goal and earned himself a three-point night.

With the goal, Pastrnak tied Barry Pederson for the most career goals (with 120) in Bruins franchise history by a player before their 23rd birthday.

Heading into the second intermission, Boston led Toronto, 3-2, on the scoreboard, despite the Maple Leafs holding an advantage in shots on goal (26-19).

The Leafs also led in takeaways (5-1), giveaways (14-9) and face-off win% (55-46) prior to the start of the third period, while the B’s led in blocked shots (11-9) and hits (23-19).

Both teams would stay out of the box for the final period of play, resulting in Toronto’s final power play stat line reading as 1/2 and Boston’s skater advantage going 0/2.

Maple Leafs head coach, Mike Babcock, pulled his netminder with about two minutes remaining in regulation for an extra attacker, but unlike his own skaters on the ice, the Bruins brass played tight defense in their own zone.

The final horn sounded and Boston had sealed the deal on a 3-2 victory, despite trailing in shots on goal (32-29), giveaways (18-12) and face-off win% (52-48).

The Bruins finished the night leading in blocked shots (20-11) and hits (29-28) with Rask picking up his fifth straight win and 251st career win with Boston as both teams played the final 5:56 of regulation without a stoppage.

Rask is one win shy of tying Tiny Thompson‘s franchise record for most wins by a goaltender in Bruins history with 252. Frank Brimsek, the goaltender who upended Thompson from his job with Boston in the 1938-39 season, is third on the list with 230 career wins as a Bruin.

The Bruins return home to take on the Montreal Canadiens Monday night at TD Garden before traveling to Philadelphia for a Wednesday night matchup with the Flyers in the first of back-to-back game days.

Boston hosts the St. Louis Blues on Thursday before facing the New York Rangers next Saturday in the B’s final game before the All-Star break.

Game of the week: December 10-16

With the holiday season and the league’s December 19 roster freeze on the horizon, the NHL schedule rages on with 51 fixtures scheduled for this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 10-16
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 10
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders 2-1 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Detroit 1-3
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Tampa Bay Lightning 3-6
10:30 p.m. New Jersey San Jose 2-5
Tuesday, December 11
7 p.m. Arizona Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Los Angeles Buffalo 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Toronto Carolina 4-1
7 p.m. Vancouver Columbus 3-2
7:30 p.m. Detroit Washington 2-6
8 p.m. Florida St. Louis 3-4
8 p.m. Ottawa Nashville 1-3
8 p.m. Montréal Minnesota 1-7
8 p.m. Chicago Winnipeg 3-6
9 p.m. Edmonton Colorado 6-4
Wednesday, December 12
7 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights New York Islanders 3-2
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Chicago 3-6
8:30 p.m. Philadelphia Calgary 5-6 (OT)
10 p.m. Dallas Anaheim 3-6
Thursday, December 13
7 p.m. Arizona Buffalo  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Columbus  
7:30 p.m. Carolina Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Toronto Tampa Bay TVAS
8 p.m. Vancouver Nashville  
8 p.m. Florida Minnesota  
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg  
10:30 p.m. Dallas San Jose SN1
Friday, December 14
7 p.m. Vegas New Jersey  
7 p.m. Arizona Coyotes New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh TVAS
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Detroit RDS
7:30 p.m. Washington Carolina  
8 p.m. Colorado St. Louis  
8:30 p.m. Winnipeg Chicago  
9 p.m. Philadelphia Edmonton  
Saturday, December 15
1:30 p.m. Calgary Minnesota  
7 p.m. Ottawa Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto Florida CBC, CITY, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Red Wings New York Islanders  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Pittsburgh NHLN
7 p.m. Buffalo Washington  
7 p.m. Anaheim Columbus  
8 p.m. New Jersey Nashville  
9 p.m. Dallas Colorado  
10 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 16
12:30 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights New York Rangers NHLN, SN
1 p.m. Arizona Carolina  
3 p.m. Calgary St. Louis  
5 p.m. Buffalo Boston NHLN
7 p.m. San Jose Chicago  
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Winnipeg SN, TVAS
10 p.m. Edmonton Vancouver  

In terms of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns, this is a quiet week in the NHL. Only four rivalries will be contested – highlighted by the Penguins visiting the Islanders on Monday and Edmonton at Winnipeg tonight.

Speaking of the Islanders, they’re heading back to Nassau Coliseum for two of their three games this week. The previously mentioned tilt against fellow Metropolitan Division side Pittsburgh will take place in the old barn, as will Saturday’s matchup against Detroit.

Finally, the weekly homecoming list is headlined by D Mike Reilly making his first trip back to St. Paul on Tuesday since being traded to Montréal on February 26.

Considering Reilly is a third-pair defenseman, that might be a liberal use of the word “headlined.”

Instead, I’m immensely more interested in tonight’s game from Florida that features the top two teams from the Atlantic Division.

Ontario’s (wait, you’re telling me there’s another team in the same province?) beloved Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 21-9-1 record good enough for second place in the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and the entire NHL.

News flash for those that have been living under a rock for the last six months: yeah, the Leafs are legit.

The Maple Leafs boast a solid 6-1-1 record in their past eight showings, including impressive victories over the Bruins and Sharks – not to mention a thrilling overtime win in Buffalo on December 4.

With the defense blatantly struggling during this run (Toronto has allowed 36.38 shots against per game since November 24, the second-worst mark in the NHL behind Ottawa’s 37.22 in that time), the offense has taken full command of Head Coach Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs’ game plan.

On the season, Toronto averages 3.65 goals per game – the third-highest mark in the league. Most teams would be happy maintaining that success, but the Leafs have found an even higher gear of late, averaging 4.38 goals per game in their last eight showings.

Leading that charge has been exactly who you’d expect: C Auston Matthews. While his 6-5-11 totals since November 24 technically trail F Mitch Marner’s 13 assists (Marner, of course, ranks second in the league with 35 assists and is tied with Tampa’s F Brayden Point for sixth in points with 41 apiece), it must be remembered that Matthews has only played six games in that time as compared to his teammate’s eight.

Joining Marner and Matthews in averaging a point per game or better during this eight-game run are W Andreas Johnsson (5-5-10 totals) and D Jake Gardiner (1-7-8). And, don’t forget about C John Tavares, whose 19 goals are tied for ninth-most in the NHL with Colorado’s LW Gabriel Landeskog.

A final note in regards to Toronto’s attack is in regards to its deadly power play. For the season, the Leafs rank seventh best in the league with a 25.9 percent success rate. However, goals have been coming far more often since November 24, as they have lit the lamp on six of their last 18 man-advantage situations for a 33.3 percent power play that ties Tampa Bay for second-best in the NHL in that time.

Tonight’s game against Toronto is the finale of a four-game home stand for the 24-7-1 Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s top team. Not only are the Bolts attempting to win all four of those games at their barn, but they’re also trying to continue their current seven-game winning streak that started on November 29 against the Sabres.

Notable victories during this winning streak came against the aforementioned Sabres, Bruins and Avalanche.

Just like the Leafs, the key to Tampa Bay’s domination is its overpowering offense. During this winning streak, the Bolts have scored an average of 5.14(!) goals per game, far and away the best in the league in that time and a massive improvement on the league-leading four goals per game they’ve averaged for the entire season.

Every skater that has taken to the ice during this winning streak has at least two points to his credit, but only four have averaged at least a point per game. C Steven Stamkos (8-4-12 totals since November 29) leads that group, joined by RW Nikita Kucherov (3-9-12), Point (3-6-9) and D Victor Hedman (0-7-7).

Of course, it’s not as if its any surprise which players are leading the charge for the Lightning. Point’s 21 goals on the season are tied for second-most in the league, while Kucherov’s 33 assists and 45 points are both third-most in the NHL.

An added benefit of the Bolts’ commanding offense is its impact on the defensive end of the ice. While D Dan Girardi (1.7 blocks per game since November 29), Kucherov (six takeaways in his last seven showings) and F Cedric Paquette (3.9 hits per game during this winning streak) should certainly be commended for their defensive efforts – especially in light of 9-3-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy’s foot injury that had kept him out of the crease since November 10 – the fact that they are leading the team in their statistics with average numbers shows just how much the Lightning are dominating possession. During this winning run, Tampa Bay has allowed only 27.29 shots against per game, the sixth-lowest mark in the league in that time.

With Vasilevskiy returning to the ice tonight, it goes without saying that he’d likely appreciate that trend continuing while he gets back into the swing of play.

So who wins this clash of offensive titans?

For me, this game boils down to the goaltenders. How well Vasilevskiy performs in his first action in a month will be a major factor. Before going down with injury, he was managing a solid .927 save percentage and 2.29 GAA. While he does have the benefit of playing behind a solid team, the Leafs are good enough on the attack that they will still be able to test him significantly throughout this game.

Meanwhile, 17-8-0 G Frederik Andersen will not have the benefit of any solid defense playing in front of him this evening, but that has not been a problem yet this year. Despite facing an average of 33.12 shots against per appearance (compared to Vasilevskiy’s 31.69), Andersen has still posted a .928 save percentage and 2.44 GAA to earn the second-most wins in the NHL.

With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Leafs taking this one in a wildly back-and-forth barn-burner of a game. I think Vasilevskiy will show just enough rust that Toronto can escape Tampa Bay with a 4-3 victory.