Tag Archives: Mikko Rantanen

Avalanche mount third period comeback, beat B’s, 6-3

The Colorado Avalanche’s first line was more prominent than the Boston Bruins’ first line in Wednesday night’s, 6-3, loss for Boston as the two top-line superpowers collided at Pepsi Center in Denver.

Mikko Rantanen (1-2–3 totals), Nathan MacKinnon (1-1–2) and Gabriel Landeskog (1-0–1) combined for six points on the night for Colorado, while Boston’s David Pastrnak (1-1–2), Patrice Bergeron (0-1–1) and Brad Marchand (0-0–0, minus-1) combined for three points.

Semyon Varlamov (6-5-2 with a .926 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average in 13 games played) made 20 saves on 23 shots against for an .870 SV% in the win for the Avs, while Jaroslav Halak (6-2-2, .932 SV%, 2.16 GAA in 12 GP) made 19 saves on 25 shots faced for a .760 SV% in the loss for the B’s.

Boston maintained 3rd place in the Atlantic Division with a 10-6-2 record (22 points) on the season, while Colorado improved to 4th place in the Central Division with a 9-6-3 (21 points) record.

The Bruins had been on a two-game winning streak coming off of a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and a 4-1 win on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Head coach, Bruce Cassidy, kept the same lineup from the weekend for Boston, but with the added advantage of Tuukka Rask back with the team as a backup goaltender Wednesday night in his return from a personal leave of absence.

Rask will get the start against the Dallas Stars on Friday or Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.

Defenseman, Jakub Zboril, was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) the other day as Dan Vladar was sent back down to Providence.

Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and Urho Vaakanainen may join the team at some point on the road trip, but did not make the initial journey to Colorado on Tuesday. Fellow injured blue liner, Kevan Miller traveled with the team to Denver, but is aiming to return on the road in Detroit against the Red Wings on Nov. 21st.

Cassidy indicated that Jeremy Lauzon and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson would remain on the roster as regular recalls on Tuesday.

Wednesday night’s scratches for Boston were as follows: Carlo (upper body), Noel Acciari (healthy scratch), Vaakanainen (concussion), Zboril (healthy scratch), McAvoy (concussion) and Miller (hand).

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The Battle of the Best First Lines began with Gabriel Landeskog (12) striking first at 10:16 of the first period as the Bruins couldn’t clear the puck out of their zone.

Zdeno Chara‘s turnover led to Mikko Rantanen finding Joakim Nordstrom out of position and sending Landeskog a pass without pressure for the snipe and a 1-0 lead for Colorado. Rantanen (12) had the only assist on Landeskog’s goal.

Avalanche defender, Mark Barberio, was guilty of cross checking Bruins forward, David Backes, at 14:50 of the first period and received a minor penalty– sending Boston on their first power play of the night.

Late in the ensuing power play, David Krejci worked a slap pass from the face-off circle on Varlamov’s right side along the dasher to David Pastrnak (17) in the low slot for the redirection and power play goal that tied the game, 1-1.

Backes (1) tipped the puck in the midst of Krejci’s (14) pass to Pastrnak, thereby lending the Three Davids to collect all of the possible points on the goal (Backes and Krejci the assists and Pastrnak the goal) at 16:43.

Moments later, on a turnover, turned breakaway opportunity, Jake DeBrusk (6) capitalized on an unassisted effort by getting Varlamov to commit and roof the puck into the the twine at 19:20 of the first period– giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

As both teams entered the dressing room for the first intermission, the B’s led in shots on goal (10-7) and on the scoreboard, 2-1. Boston also led in shot attempts that hit the post, 4-0, as well as hits, 8-4. Colorado had the advantage in takeaways (2-1), giveaways (3-1) and face-off win percentage (92-8) after the first period.

Both teams had three blocked shots each and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play after one period. The Avs had yet to see time on the skater advantage.

Colin Wilson hooked Matt Grzelcyk 77 seconds into the second period and put Boston on the power play for the second time Wednesday night in Colorado.

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DeBrusk (7) scored his second goal of the night (and first on the power play) after Grzelcyk kept the play alive in the offensive zone, completing a pass to Bergeron for the bumper back to Pastrnak who then one-timed a shot from the point that redirected off DeBrusk in front of Varlamov to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead.

Pastrnak (8) and Bergeron (17) were credited with the primary and secondary assists at 3:05 of the second period.

Pastrnak later hooked Barberio at 7:52 of the middle frame and the Bruins were shorthanded as a result for the first time in the action Wednesday night.

The Avalanche matched Boston’s puck moving efforts on their first power play of the evening with Tyson Barrie working the puck to MacKinnon for a cross-ice pass to Rantanen.

The young Colorado forward then snapped a shot past Halak’s blocker side to make it a one-goal game on the power play.

Ranatnen’s (7) goal at 8:47 of the second period was assisted by MacKinnon (14) and Barrie (14) and gave the Avs a distinct swing in momentum for the rest of the period.

With Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, unable to return to the game having sustained a lower body injury in the first period, Colorado pounced on the already weakened Boston blue line.

This, even after Nikita Zadorov had a brief visit to the penalty box for interfering with Bruins forward, Chris Wagner at 9:14. Colorado killed off Zadorov’s minor infraction with ease and kept the momentum going, leading in just about every statistical category by the end of the period.

Late in the second period, Bergeron hooked Rantanen who then embellished the infraction and received an unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty himself and the teams would see 4-on-4 action at 19:11 of the second period.

Both teams would start the third a skater short for a little over a minute into the final frame.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Colorado Avalanche looked more and more like the complete 60-minute game playing style team that they have been so far this season and the Boston Bruins were looking like they were on the brink of collapse.

Boston still led the game, 3-2, entering the second intermission, but shots on goal were even, 14-14, with the Avs leading, 7-4, in the second period alone. The Bruins led in blocked shots (10-6), but the Avalanche led in everything else including, takeaways (6-5), giveaways (5-1), hits (13-10) and face-off win% (69-31).

Colorado was 1/1 on the power play, while Boston was 2/3 with the extra skater.

Early in the third period, Matt Calvert (2) converted on his second goal of the season after following up with the original play and crashing the net for a haphazardly taken backhand spin-o-rama that eyes set for the twine after a wacky bounce resulted off of Halak.

Calvert’s goal was unassisted at 2:11 of the third period and tied the game, 3-3.

From there, it was all Avalanche as the Bruins tumbled down the mountain that is the immense comeback capability of Colorado.

MacKinnon (12) added a goal of his own with a wrist shot that beat Halak cleanly from about the blue line on a rush into the attacking zone, giving the Avs their 2nd lead of the night, 4-3, at 9:02.

Rantanen (22) and Ian Cole (5) had the assists on what would become MacKinnon’s game-winning goal.

Krejci was guilty of holing Tyson Jost at 13:40 of the third period and with one second remaining on the ensuing power play, Jost (3) made the Bruins pay as former Bruin, Carl Soderberg, initially swiped at the puck through the legs of the Boston netminder, leaving the puck sitting at the goal line behind Halak, whereby Jost tapped it into the empty net.

Samuel Girard (7) and Alexander Kerfoot (10) had the assists on Jost’s power play goal at 15:39 and Colorado led by two-goals, 5-3.

With about three minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker. Jared Bednar’s Avalanche were too much for the Bruins to handle, narrowly missing the empty net goal if it weren’t for Krejci’s heroics by the time the loose puck reached the crease on one empty net attempt.

However, while in the offensive zone on a last-ditch effort, Bergeron hooked his stick around MacKinnon and was penalized with a two-minute minor infraction at 18:57.

The Avalanche completed the hat trick on the power play with their third power play goal of the night on the ensuing skater advantage when Kerfoot (8) tipped a blast from Soderberg past Halak at 19:45 of the third period.

Soderberg (6) and Girard (8) had the assists on the goal and Colorado secured the 6-3 win as time expired.

At the final horn, the Avs led in shots on goal (25-23), giveaways (6-2), hits (22-15) and face-off win% (59-41), while the B’s led in blocked shots (20-18). Colorado was 3/3 on the power play and the Bruins were 2/3 on the skater advantage.

The Avalanche outscored Boston, 10-3, in their two meetings last season.

Boston is now 0-1-0 to begin a four-game road trip that swings through Dallas (Nov. 16th), Arizona (Nov. 17th) and Detroit (Nov. 21st)– after Wednesday night’s loss in Denver– before heading back home for a Black Friday (Nov. 23rd) matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

DTFR Podcast #129- Top Line Stars

Nick and Connor talk Alex Tuch’s extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, superstars Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as well as Charlie McAvoy extension options, the New York Rangers, Boston’s first line vs. Colorado’s top line and the week’s biggest matchup.

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

Colorado Avalanche 2018-19 Season Preview

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Colorado Avalanche

43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division

2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2

Additions: F Cody Bass (signed to a PTO), F Matt Calvert, D Ian Cole, G Philipp Grubauer (acquired from WSH), F Scott Kosmachuk, F Logan O’Connor

Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)

Still Unsigned: F Joe Colborne, F Reid Petryk, D Duncan Siemens, F Trent Vogelhuber

Re-signed: G Joe Cannata, D Ryan Graves, D Mason Geertsen, G Spencer Martin, D Patrik Nemeth, D Matt Nieto

Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.

The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.

But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.

Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.

While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.

On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.

Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.

Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.

To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.

Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.

A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.

Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.

Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.

With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.

Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.

As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.

Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.

Preds beat Avs, 5-0, win series, 4-2

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Nick Bonino and the Nashville Predators reached the top of the mountain in their series with the Colorado Avalanche, defeating their opponent, 5-0, in Game 6 and, 4-2, in the series to advance to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Predators goaltender, Pekka Rinne, stopped all 22 shots he faced for a shutout in the win, while Colorado netminder, Andrew Hammond, made 32 saves on 37 shots against for an .865 save percentage in the loss.

For the second game in a row in the series, the Predators got on the scoreboard first. Even after they thought they had scored, but it was waved off.

With a little over 13 minutes remaining in the first period, Nashville thought they had made it, 1-0, after a puck got past Hammond. But in the eyes of the officials, Kyle Turris was guilty of having interfered with Hammond’s ability to get back and make a save— even though Hammond was outside of the crease and Turris was nudged by Colorado blueliner, Samuel Girard.

The call on the ice was confirmed after review. No goal. No penalty. No harm, no foul. Except for the loss of a timeout for the Predators, since it was technically a coach’s challenge on behalf of Peter Laviolette.

Nonetheless, Nashville didn’t back down.

Just 16 seconds later, Mattias Ekholm (1) fired a slap shot past Hammond and gave the Predators their first legitimate 1-0 lead of the night. Ekholm’s goal was the first by a Preds defender in the series and came as Austin Watson was screening Hammond.

Colton Sissons (3) and Nick Bonino (2) notched the assists on the goal after Sissons found Ekholm in open ice for the shot.

A few minutes later, the Sissons-Bonino-Watson line was making waves again for the road team.

Hammond challenged Sissons and dove to poke check the puck away, but the Avalanche netminder’s futile efforts resulted in Sissons easily wrapping himself around the outstretched goalie with a wide open net to aim for.

Sissons hit the post, but Watson (4) buried the rebound and Nashville went up, 2-0. Sissons (4) and Bonino (3) each picked up their second assists of the night on the goal at 10:19 of the first period.

Late in the period, Colorado captain, Gabriel Landeskog was guilty of slashing Predators defender, P.K. Subban. Nashville went on their first power play of the night that would last into the second period, given the official assessment of the penalty at 18:07 of the first period.

After one period, the Predators led, 2-0. Nashville also led in shots on goal (14-7), blocked shots (8-3) and faceoff win percentage (58-42). Colorado finished the first period leading in takeaways (2-1) and had yet to see any time on the power play. The Preds were 0/1 on the man advantage through 20 minutes played.

Colorado successfully killed off the minor penalty to Landeskog seven seconds into the second period, but then allowed Filip Forsberg and the Predators to enter the offensive zone on a two-on-one.

Forsberg (4) sent a laser of a shot past Hammond for his fourth goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 38 seconds into the second period. Nashville went ahead, 3-0, as a result of Forsberg’s unassisted goal.

Shortly thereafter, Nikita Zadorov was penalized for interfering with Nashville forward, Viktor Arvidsson. Sven Andrighetto swiftly cross checked Arvidsson after the whistle and Arvidsson received a minor penalty for embellishment. Zadorov’s penalty was questionable, considering the timing and where the puck was relevant to Arvidsson, but Andrighetto’s cross check was rather balatant.

All three penalties were assessed at 6:13 of the second period and the Predators ended up with a power play as a result. Nashville failed to convert on the man advantage.

Bonino (2) wired one into the twine 13 seconds after the power play concluded for the Preds and gave Nashville a four-goal lead. Calle Jarnkrok (1) and Ryan Ellis (3) had the assists on the goal that made it, 4-0, Predators at 8:26 of the second period.

Zadorov thought he scored with a little over two minutes remaining in the period, but Carl Soderberg had entered the crease well ahead of the puck and the goal was waved off immediately.

Avalanche head coach, Jared Bednar, used his coach’s challenge, but the call on the ice was confirmed after review. No goal, no penalty. Colorado lost their timeout. Rinne’s ongoing shutout remained in tact.

Ellis tripped Mikko Rantanen in a leg-on-leg collision with 29 seconds left in the second period and was promptly jumped by Zadorov after the whistle. In addition to a roughing minor, Zadorov received a ten-minute misconduct at 19:31 of the second period.

Instead of being on the power play, Colorado ended up on the penalty kill.

After 40 minutes of play, the Predators led, 4-0, on the scoreboard. Nashville also led in shots on goal (25-16), blocked shots (11-9), hits (28-26), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (3-1) and faceoff win percentage (68-32). The Avs had not been on the man advantage through two periods and the Preds were 0/2.

Arvidsson (2) caught an aerial pass from Subban at center ice and drove to the net, scoring a highlight reel goal, given his low placement of his hands on the stick (as though it were a mini-stick game in someone’s basement). Subban (3) picked up the only assist on the goal that made it 5-0 Nashville at 2:36 of the third period.

Colorado’s Mark Barberio interfered with Predators forward, Craig Smith, around the halfway point of the third period. Nashville failed to convert on the ensuing power play.

At the final horn, the Predators had won the game, 5-0, and led in shots on goal, 37-22. Blocked shots were even at 13 blocked shots apiece. Meanwhile, Nashville finished the night leading in hits (36-30) and faceoff win percentage (63-37). Neither team was successful on their respective special teams play after 60 minutes (Colorado finished 0/1 on the power play and Nashville went 0/3).

With the First Round series win, the Nashville Predators will play host to the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No quit, Avalanche beat Predators, 2-1, force Game 6

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Andrew Hammond, Gabriel Landeskog, Sven Andrighetto and the rest of the Colorado Avalanche stole Game 5 from the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. Hammond was making just his first Stanley Cup Playoff start since he did so in 2015 with the Ottawa Senators.

Oh, and by the way, Hammond was part of November’s Matt Duchene trade. Advantage, Joe Sakic.

Hammond made 44 saves on 45 shots against for a .978 save percentage in his first NHL win in two years, while Nashville’s netminder, Pekka Rinne, made 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the loss.

Early in the first period, Nashville’s Kevin Fiala tripped up Colorado’s Alex Kerfoot and gave the Avalanche the first power play of the night. Colorado was not able to convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Both teams swapped chances back and forth, but neither side was able to put a goal on the scoreboard as the first period ended, 0-0.

J.T. Compher picked up a minor penalty for holding Craig Smith at 20:00 of the first period after the Avalanche failed to touch the puck between when the incident occurred and when time expired. The Predators would begin the second period on their first power play of the night.

After one period, Nashville led in shots on goal (11-8), blocked shots (10-3), takeaways (4-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). Meanwhile, Colorado was 0/1 on the man advantage. Both teams had nine hits aside and four giveaways entering the first intermission.

Much like the first period, there wasn’t a lot happening in the second period.

Nashville started the second frame of the game on the power play, but didn’t convert on the man advantage. Both teams then continued to swap chances until things got uneasy towards the end of the period.

With about three minutes remaining in the second period, Hammond went to play the puck— except he mishandled it. The Predators were not able to capitalize on the Avalanche netminder’s error, but they did sustain the pressure in the offensive zone and got a couple of tremendous rebound opportunities.

The Preds even had a clear sightline to the puck while Hammond was down, but nobody could get it to hit the twine.

Finally, at 17:47 of the second period, Nikita Zadorov slashed Predators captain, Roman Josi, and the crowd at Bridgestone Arena went from already elevated (based on the last few minutes of frantic play) to berserk.

Colorado’s penalty kill, however, was too much to handle for Nashville’s special teams and the score remained, 0-0.

After 40 minutes of play, Nashville led in shots on goal (25-17), blocked shots (15-8), hits (14-13), takeaways (6-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). For the lack of a better word, the Predators were dominating in every possible way, except for on the scoreboard. Both teams had ten giveaways each and neither team had yet to convert on the power play (Colorado was 0/1 and Nashville was 0/2 through two periods).

Fiala was again guilty of a minor penalty early in the third period— this time for holding Colorado forward, Blake Comeau at 1:39.

The Avalanche bungled a line change in the midst of their ensuing power play and were penalized for too many men on the ice. Colin Wilson served the bench minor in the box for Jared Bednar’s Colorado crew.

There would be 20 seconds of 4-on-4 action until the Predators would then see an abbreviated power play. But Nashville’s special teams were to no avail as Hammond stood tall.

Just past the halfway mark of the third period, Mattias Ekholm sent a shot on Hammond that appeared to rebound right into the pathway of an oncoming Predators forward who looked like he kicked the puck into the open goal.

That Predators forward was Nick Bonino (1) who was crashing the net on what was not exactly a rebound, but rather a deflection to the open space to the side of the net— though not a good one— by Hammond.

Bonino’s goal was immediately waved off and reviewed.

Fans inside Bridgestone Arena began singing “Let It Be” by The Beatles in unison while the refs reviewed the play, which, in hindsight, could’ve been bad if the home fans had any influence on officiating. Maybe don’t sing “Let It Be” if you actually want the call on the ice to be the exact opposite (unless Preds fans were implying the refs to “let [the leg motion] be [called a goal on the ice]”).

Upon replay, everyone in attendance and watching from home, could see Bonino shifted his leg into a prime redirection motion and kept skating into the puck. Or at least, that might be a loose explanation for something that many fans assumed wouldn’t be reversed given the track record of NHL officiating and review this season.

But that didn’t happen.

The call on the ice was reversed and Bonino had scored his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the assists credited to Ekholm (5) and Austin Watson (3). Nashville was in command of a 1-0 lead at 10:18 of the third period.

Colorado didn’t let the party in Nashville last too long, though.

Nathan MacKinnon held onto the puck in the offensive zone for just long enough to get Rinne to overcommit and bump into his own defender, failing helplessly to the ice, while MacKinnon slid a loose puck over to Gabriel Landeskog.

Landeskog (4) pocketed the loosed puck on the doorstep of the crease into the gapping goal into front of him to tie the game, 1-1, at 15:49. The Avalanche bulldozed Nashville’s momentum.

MacKinnon (3) and Mikko Rantanen (4) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal and Colorado kept trucking.

Less than three minutes later— on a similar play— Sven Andrighetto (1) found a rebound and Rinne out of position to score on what was otherwise an empty net and give the Avalanche their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 18:32 of the third period.

Compher (3) and Tyson Barrie (4) had the assists on Andrighetto’s first goal of the series and suddenly the Predators were facing a loss on home ice in an elimination game.

Peter Laviolette pulled his goaltender with about a minute remaining in regulation after calling a timeout to instruct his Predators roster what to do as time ticked down.

It did not matter. Colorado held off elimination for at least one more night.

At the final horn, the Avalanche had won Game 5 by a score of 2-1 despite being outshot (45-27). Nashville led in blocked shots (18-14), giveaways (14-13) and faceoff win percentage (61-39), but never got as physical as they have in previous games in the series. In fact, Colorado led in hits (17-16) after 60 minutes.

The Avalanche finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Predators went 0/3 on the man advantage.

For the first time since Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators lost a postseason game at home. Not just to anyone, but to the Colorado Avalanche— last year’s worst team in the league that only amassed 48 points on an 82-game regular season.

But this year’s Avalanche team is different. They had a 47-point increase in standings between last season and this season (tied for 4th best in NHL history) and they’re looking to play spoiler.

The Predators take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on the road Sunday night at Pepsi Center. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN. Meanwhile, fans interested in watching the game in Canada can do so on Sportsnet or TVAS.

Dating back to their days as the Québec Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche are 0-3 lifetime in a series where they have trailed 3-1.

Preds survive Colorado comeback; win away from Second Round

 

With a 3-2 victory at Pepsi Center, the Nashville Predators have taken a commanding 3-1 advantage in their First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche.

All three periods had a very distinct character in this tilt. Act One featured the Predators team that many were predicting could win the Stanley Cup during the offseason, followed by a second period that saw both clubs’ emotions boil over. Finally, Colorado mounted an exciting comeback in the third frame that fell just short of forcing overtime.

Let’s tackle them in that order, shall we?

Perhaps the most boring of the three periods was the first, but that is more a compliment to the second and third frames than it’s an insult to the opening 20 minutes.

G Jonathan Bernier in particular experienced a very quick introduction to Game 4, as he took a W Viktor Arvidsson slap shot to the mask only 22 seconds into the match. In fact, the clapper was so forceful that it damaged the cage through which Bernier peers, forcing him to swap his mask for his blank head gear worn at practice while Avalanche Head Equipment Manager Mark Miller made the necessary repairs.

However, Miller was far from the center of attention while he was working, as the Avs unwisely ended up with D Patrik Nemeth (closing hand on puck) and F Carl Soderberg (hi-sticking against C Nick Bonino) both occupying the penalty box at the same time whilst he was working, resulting in a 2:41 Predators power play that included 1:19 of five-on-three action.

It seems that Bernier’s blank mask is his good luck charm when it comes to facing such tough tasks, as the scoreless draw that was on the scoreboard when Nemeth entered the sin bin remained when Soderberg was released. However, for fear of wearing out any positive juju the mask may contain, Bernier swapped out masks once again for his usual duds at the next stoppage of play.

If you’re one to buy into any sort of thing like that, then perhaps you’d think Bernier should have stuck with the white headgear considering First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (F Ryan Johansen and Third Star D Mattias Ekholm) scored a wrist shot with 4:27 remaining in the first period to score Nashville’s first game-opening goal of the series.

That being said, I highly doubt Bernier’s mask played too much into Forsberg’s strike, as D Duncan Siemens – playing in only his third-career Stanley Cup Playoff game after being one of Colorado’s first-round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – was little more than dead weight in his attempt to slow down his opposition. The forward dragged Siemens along as he drove toward Bernier’s crease before patiently depositing his wrister behind the netminder’s left skate.

Due in large part to the extended power play, the Predators dominated the first period in a far stronger fashion than a 1-0 score hints at. Nashville out-shot the Avs 15-8 – nearly doubling the hosts’ offensive offerings.

Inversely, even though the Predators added two more goals in the second frame, it didn’t seem like either team had much of an upper hand on the other in the middle 20 minutes.

That was due in large part to the Predators taking five penalties to Colorado’s three, including a 24-second five-on-three opportunity that effectively amounted to a 3:36 extended power play for the Avalanche.

Just like the Preds, Colorado was unable to convert neither that two-man advantage nor any other second period power play into a goal, which played right into the hands of Nashville. 47 seconds after F Colton Sissons was released from the penalty box (he was guilty of playing the puck with his hand at the face-off dot), he (Forsberg and Ekholm) scored a wrister at the 7:18 mark of the frame to double the Predators’ advantage to two goals.

Just in case Colorado didn’t learn the error of its ways the first time in losing track of penalized players returning to action, F Craig Smith (F Austin Watson) reiterated the lesson with 8:11 remaining in the third period. Having been released from serving RW Ryan Hartman‘s roughing penalty against W Sven Andrighetto only seven seconds before, Smith collected a loose puck at center ice and proceeded to rip a wrister over Bernier’s glove.

Speaking of Hartman, he kind of went berserk at the 9:41 mark of the frame – hence the reason he roped Smith into the box with him to help serve his penalties. Just seconds before the the events leading up to the infractions, Andrighetto borderline speared Smith near his midsection while both were working their ways towards G Pekka Rinne‘s zone. This sent Hartman well over the edge, as he dropped the gloves at the next stoppage of play and pounced on Andrighetto without waiting for the Swiss to agree to fight.

As a result, Hartman was charged with holding the stick and roughing, while Andrighetto only took a roughing penalty to give Colorado the two-minute power play that featured RW Mikko Rantanen getting severely cut below the eye by F Nathan MacKinnon‘s stick (Rantanen returned to play before the end of the frame) and led to Smith’s goal.

To complete our conversation about unruly penalties, it wasn’t only Andrighetto and Hartman allowing their tempers to get the best of them. Ekholm and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog were charged with negating penalties with 6:32 remaining in the period (slashing and roughing, respectively), and F Alexander Kerfoot‘s roughing infraction against Rinne held over into the third period.

It’s Kerfoot’s penalty that really made Head Coach Jared Bednar’s reluctant decision to replace Bernier with G Andrew Hammond –  another product of the F Matt Duchene trade, for those keeping track at home – even harder to make. However, it was announced that Bernier suffered a lower-body injury, meaning it was time once again for the Hamburglar to take over the NHL.

If only one period of action is enough evidence (it isn’t), the Avs are no worse off defensively in Game 5 with Hammond than they were with Bernier. After the backup-turned-starter saved 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage) in the first two frames, the former Senator saved all eight shots that came his way in the final period.

Colorado finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:20 mark of the third period when Landeskog (F Tyson Jost and D Tyson Barrie) buried the lone power play goal of the game, a five-on-three wrister with Hartman and Sissons in the penalty box for charging Soderberg and tripping F J.T. Compher, respectively.

The comeback continued with 8:59 remaining in regulation when Kerfoot (W Matthew Nieto and D Nikita Zadorov) pulled the Avs back within a goal on a wrister. Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette challenged for goalie interference against W Blake Comeau – and likely should have won the challenge considering Comeau’s skate made contact with Rinne before the puck even reached him – but the NHL is the NHL and decided to keep the marker on the board.

Regardless, even though the Avs fired a total of 11 shots at Rinne in the third period, he did not yield the game-tying goal. In all, Rinne saved 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage) to earn his first road playoff victory since Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Anaheim on May 20, 2017.

Speaking of road wins, Colorado’s offense cannot afford to fall in another 3-0 hole in Game 5 in Nashville if it wants to extend its postseason any further. After all, the Avs have only won one of the three games in which they scored the first goal.

After a quick plane ride from the Rocky Mountains to the Smokies, Game 5 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, April 20 and will take place at Bridgestone Arena. The match can be viewed on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS.

Avs score three in first period, take Game 3

 

The old saying goes that a team is never behind in a playoff series until it loses a home match. With that in mind, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to win Game 3 and pull within a victory of leveling their First Round series.

The good news for the Predators is that G Juuse Saros saved all 18 shots he faced in his 33:34 of action.

The bad news is, of course, that he didn’t start the game.

Instead, that honor was bestowed upon G Pekka Rinne, who saved only 11-of-15 (.733 save percentage) before being lifted at the 4:25 mark of the second period.

Going back to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, this was the third-consecutive road playoff game that saw Rinne get chased from the crease, not to mention his fourth-consecutive road playoff loss.

The Avs have made a living in this series pouncing on Rinne early, and that trend was only magnified with the luxury of home ice when they buried three markers before the first intermission.

Just like in Games 1 and 2, the Avs scored the first goal when Third Star of the Game W Blake Comeau (F Carl Soderberg and W Matthew Nieto) buried a tip-in only 1:50 into play – Colorado’s first shot on net in the contest. That advantage doubled to two goals with 6:36 remaining in the frame when W Gabriel Bourque (D Patrik Nemeth and F J.T. Compher) scored another tip-in from a similar position as Comeau’s tally: right in front of Rinne’s crease.

Not to be outdone by his own bottom-six, First Star F Nathan MacKinnon made sure to get on the scoreboard 4:43 after Bourque’s marker by scoring a wrist shot with a breakaway-springing assist from Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog.

MacKinnon’s next act not only proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Rinne, but it also ended up as the game-winning goal by the time the Predators’ comeback attempt was said and done.

4:22 into the second period, RW Mikko Rantanen did his best Serge Savard spin-o-rama impression to fire a centering pass from along the goal line. However, Landeskog was not able to corral the pass and the puck trickled towards the high slot. C Kyle Turris had an opportunity to take possession of the loose puck, but it bounced over his stick to MacKinnon, who was sure to pocket his wrister over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Now with a comfortable 4-0 advantage, Colorado made it its job to weather whatever resurgence Nashville was going to assuredly muster up. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work to perfection when Nemeth and D Nikita Zadorov were both sent to the penalty box at the 9:27 mark of the second frame for respective cross checking and hooking penalties.

Handed a full two minutes of five-on-three play, the Preds did exactly what any good squad would do and took advantage of that opportunity. Nashville finally got on the scoreboard with 9:37 remaining in the second period to pull within a 4-1 deficit courtesy of a F Ryan Johansen (F Filip Forsberg and D Ryan Ellis) wrister.

While Nemeth was serving up the remainder of his penalty, G Jonathan Bernier decided it would be really neat to make a save with his neck. Ellis’ shot rode up on him and would have sneaked by had the netminder not squeezed the puck between his head and shoulder pads. As would be expected, Bernier took a second to recover from the play, but he stayed in the game.

Even though no more scoring occurred in the second frame after Johansen’s marker, Pepsi Center’s scoreboard operator still had much to do. Four more penalties occurred before the second intermission. Three of those infractions were against the Predators, including negating holding penalties between MacKinnon and D P.K. Subban. What doesn’t make the scorecard is why MacKinnon was holding Subban in the first place, as the Nova Scotian was on the receiving end of a questionable elbow. These teams are growing increasingly displeased with each other, and that is made even more apparent when the heavily-favored Predators struggle to get past Bernier and the Avs.

The closest Nashville got to a third period comeback occurred at the 7:12 mark when F Colton Sissons (D Roman Josi and Ellis) buried a wrister, but the Predators couldn’t make anything more out of that positive energy. That forced Head Coach Peter Laviolette to pull Saros for an extra attacker, allowing Landeskog (Rantanen and D Mark Barberio) to score an empty-netter with 1:36 remaining in regulation.

F Austin Watson did score a wrister 21 seconds later that was challenged for goaltender interference, but Toronto ruled it to be a good goal. Of course, it didn’t ultimately matter, as the Predators were unable to score two goals to level the game.

The Avalanche’s comeback is far from done, however. Game 4 is still an important match in this playoff series, as the Predators could go home with either a 2-2 tie or needing only one more win to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 4 is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, April 18 at Pepsi Center. Fans can catch the game on NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Nashville routs Colorado, 5-2, in Game One

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While the National Hockey League may, in fact, be getting younger, the Nashville Predators do not care. Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville beat the youngest team in the league in their first-ever postseason matchup, defeating the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 5-2 in Game 1 of their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round best-of-seven game series.

Filip Forsberg’s two-goal third period effort yielded the game winning goal as well as some Predators franchise history as Pekka Rinne recorded 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 save percentage en route to the win. Forsberg’s 17-11—28 career Stanley Cup Playoff totals tied Nashville’s franchise record for most career playoff points with the Preds.

With one more point in this postseason, Forsberg will surpass David Legwand and Shea Weber— who both had 13-15—28 totals in their time with the Predators in the postseason.

Avalanche goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, turned aside 26 shots out of 30 shots against for an .867 SV% in the loss.

Nikita Zadorov (1) kicked off the game’s scoring with his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal at 6:36 of the first period, giving Colorado an early 1-0 lead, surprising everyone but the Predators faithful at Bridgestone Arena, given Nashville’s sheer dominance at home in the regular season as well as their numerous comebacks at home in last year’s edition of the playoffs.

Mikko Rantanen (1) and Nathan MacKinnon (1) were credited with the assists on Zadorov’s goal.

Despite many attempts to put the puck past Bernier, this season’s President’s Trophy winners were held scoreless through 20 minutes of play. If that’s not surprising enough, Nashville’s sloppy start resulted in two minor penalties near the end of the first period, though Colorado was unable to convert on their man advantages.

Early in the second period, however, Nashville came alive.

Austin Watson (1) pocketed his first goal of the postseason 3:16 into second period action. Colton Sissons (1) and Ryan Johansen (1) had the assists on Watson’s goal that tied the game, 1-1.

But not even two minutes later, the Predators found themselves in a hole when a Carl Soderberg shot was redirected by Blake Comeau (1) past Rinne at 4:51. Comeau’s goal put the Avs back in front, 2-1, and was assisted by Soderberg (1) and Matt Nieto (1).

Almost midway through the second period, Hart Trophy candidate, Nathan MacKinnon was called for slashing Preds defenseman, P.K. Subban.

It only took ten seconds for Nashville to convert on the power play.

Craig Smith (1) made it a 2-2 game with a power play goal and threw momentum by the wayside. Johansen (2) notched his second assist of the night as the Predators began to dominate the action.

After 40 minutes of play, with the score tied, 2-2, Nashville was leading in shots on goal 21-17 and was 1/1 on the power play.

Just past six minutes into the third period, Filip Forsberg (1) scored a nifty goal to put the Predators ahead for the first time in the game, 3-2. Preds captain, Roman Josi (1), and forward, Viktor Arvidsson (1) assisted on Forsberg’s first goal of the night.

Mark Barberio was called for a slashing minor against Miikka Salomaki at 7:58 of the third period, but Bernier and the Avalanche were able to hold off on the Nashville onslaught and kill the penalty.

Then Forsberg wowed everyone.

First he put the puck between his own legs and then he went through the legs of Samuel Girard and beat Bernier with a good shot. It’s worth mentioning that Forsberg was moving at full speed, too, making Girard look like molasses. The irony, of course, is that Girard was part of Nashville’s package sent to Colorado in the three-team Matt Duchene trade back in November.

Forsberg notched his 2nd goal of the night on a beautiful individual effort and made it 4-2 Nashville with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation.

Kyle Turris (another product of the aforementioned Duchene trade) was guilty of a slashing penalty (against Girard, no less) 12 seconds after Forsberg’s goal, but at that point everything was coming up Predators.

With time ticking down, Avalanche head coach, Jared Bednar, pulled his goaltender for an extra skater. Sadly it was too little, too late.

Colton Sissons (1) put home the empty net goal at 18:03 of the third period to solidify the victory for Nashville. Watson (1) snagged the only assist on the goal that made it 5-2.

At the final horn Arvidsson played until the end, firing a shot a second too late— or rather, not to Zadorov’s liking, as Zadorov swiftly gave him a cross check and was assessed two penalties at the conclusion of the game, as is an annual tradition (always) somewhere in playoff hockey.

Zadorov’s cross checking minor and misconduct penalties read as being handed out at 20:00 of the third period. Not enough time to see what else Nashville could have done, given there was no time left on the clock.

Nashville finished the game leading in shots on goal (31-27), blocked shots (18-17), hits (36-24) and giveaways (9-7). Colorado led in faceoff win percentage, 53-47%. The Avalanche were unsuccessful on the power play all night (0/3) and Nashville went 1/2 on the man advantage.

The Predators take their 5-2 victory in Game 1 and 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Saturday afternoon for a 3 p.m. ET puck drop at Bridgestone Arena. Depending on your location, United States national viewers can tune to NBC or CNBC for coverage, meanwhile fans in Canada can flip to SNW, SNP or TVAS.

April 2 – Day 173 – King of the mountain

Today marks the final Monday of regular season NHL action. Do with it what you will, but I’d strongly recommend watching hockey.

Buffalo at Toronto gets the evening underway at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Winnipeg at Ottawa [RDS] and Carolina at Florida). Two more puck drops (Washington at St. Louis [NHLN/TVAS] and Edmonton at Minnesota) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Colorado at Los Angeles (SN/SN1) – waits until 10:30 before getting started. All times Eastern.

I’d originally marked today’s DtFR Game of the Day as the Battle of the QEW, but Buffalo extending its streak of missing the postseason to a seventh season puts a damper on that option. Instead, let’s make the trip to Hollywood to see if Colorado can keep its playoff hopes alive.

 

 

 

 

 

There were major concerns surrounding 42-28-9 Colorado’s playoff chances when 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov was shut down with a lower-body injury, but 18-11-3 G Jonathan Bernier put a damper on that last night with a 38-save performance against the Ducks.

Bernier’s performance in Anaheim, albeit an overtime loss, shouldn’t have really been all that much of a surprise. After all, Varlamov missed the entire month of January due to injury, and Bernier posted a 9-2-1 record in his stead with a .936 save percentage and 2.17 GAA – both marks that are even better than the solid .913 save percentage and 2.86 GAA that he has to show for the entire season.

Bernier seems to relish at the opportunity to be the starter, and he’ll be relied upon this week to once again prove his worth and complete Colorado’s playoff push.

However, since he was in action last night, it remains to be seen if he’ll man the pipes this evening or if 0-1-0 G Andrew Hammond – yes, the Hamburglar from the Senators’ 2015 playoff push – will be called into action for only his second NHL start of the season. Hammond commanded the Avalanche’s crease on March 28, posting a .939 save percentage in a 2-1 home loss to the Flyers.

Of course, part of what makes the Avs so great is not even what they have to offer on the defensive end, but instead their solid attack. Colorado has averaged four goals per game in its last two games, with seven different players averaging at least a point per game in that span.

Of those seven, no player has shone quite as bright as F Tyson Jost. People that don’t regularly watch Colorado might think I misspelled F Nathan MacKinnon (MacKinnon does, after all, rank fifth in the NHL in points and 10th in goals and assists), but Jost has scored three goals in these last two games to improve the second-liner’s season totals to 12-10-22.

Joining Jost in posting at least a point per game in Colorado’s last two outings include D Tyson Barrie (1-2-3 totals since March 30, 13-42-55 overall), F Alexander Kerfoot (1-2-3 since March 30, 18-24-42 overall), W Sven Andrighetto (2-0-2 since March 30, 8-13-21 overall), RW Mikko Rantanen (1-1-2 since March 30, 28-54-82 overall), MacKinnon (0-2-2 since March 30, 38-56-94 overall) and LW Gabriel Landeskog (0-2-2 since March 30, 24-35-59 overall).

The 43-28-8 Kings enter tonight’s tilt as the Western Conference’s first wild card and riding a three-game point streak. As has been a characteristic of Los Angeles and the three California teams for years now, the Kings have found that success by playing some spectacular and physical defense.

Since March 26, Los Angeles has allowed only 26 shots against per game. That’s the second-best mark in the NHL in that time, bested only by Edmonton allowing one fewer shot in its last three games. D Derek Forbort (3.3 blocks per game since March 26) and C Anze Kopitar (five takeaways in his last three games) have led that defensive charge, but the Kings have also had the luxury of four players (LW Kyle Clifford, Forbort, F Trevor Lewis and LW Tanner Pearson) imposing their wills along the boards and averaging two hits per game during this run.

This defensive success has kept 31-27-3 G Jonathan Quick‘s workload light, and that’s just fine by him as he’s managed a .964 save percentage and .96 GAA in his last two starts to lead the Kings to allowing only 1.33 goals against per game since March 26 – the lowest mark in the league in that time.

Quick, the (t)ninth-most winningest goaltender on the season, has a .923 save percentage and a 10th-best 2.37 GAA for this campaign, not to mention a (t)fourth-best five shutouts.

The Kings have certainly had the upper hand in their last two meetings with the Avs, as they’ve earned four points in comparison to Colorado’s one. Just like tonight’s tilt, December 21’s contest took place at Staples Center, where Los Angeles earned a 2-1 overtime victory (W Dustin Brown provided the game-winner). Meanwhile, the March 22 matchup in Denver was a much more lopsided affair, as the Kings posted a dominating 7-1 score (Kopitar earned First Star honors with his four-goal performance).

Should that winning trend continue tonight, the Kings will jump back into third place in the Pacific Division, but they’ll be giving a game-in-hand to Anaheim in the process that – should it convert it into a win of its own – could return the table to how it currently stands.

Meanwhile, as the Western Conference’s second wild card, Colorado has much to gain by pulling off the road upset tonight. A regulation win would propel the Avalanche over Los Angeles into the first wildcard spot, a much more certain position that also has the luxury of avoiding the dreaded Predators in the first round of the playoffs.

However, similar to Los Angeles’ situation with Anaheim, the Blues still have a game-in-hand on Colorado even though they’re also in action tonight at home against the Capitals. If the Avs are lucky, they can expand their lead on St. Louis to three points with a win and a Notes regulation loss, but it’s possible that Colorado could end the night further from playoff qualification than it started – that happens if the Avs lose in regulation and St. Louis earns at least one point, as the Blues would jump into the second wildcard in that situation due to the aforementioned game in hand.

With the top two lines playing remarkably well for Colorado, the Avs are going to be a tough out tonight regardless of who they have in net. However, Los Angeles’ success against against the Avalanche so far this season has me thinking it will be the Kings that come away with two points tonight.


In a penalty-riddled meeting that is just begging for a follow up in the postseason, the Washington Capitals clinched their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title by downing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A whopping 38 combined penalty minutes were distributed in this game, with the hosts taking 10 more than Washington due in large part to F Evgeni Malkin and Assistant Coach Mark Recchi both getting called for misconducts with 61 seconds remaining in regulation. Surprisingly, neither side could capitalize on its five power play opportunities.

One player that went unaffected by all this commotion was First Star of the Game G Philipp Grubauer. Though a late goal by Third Star RW Patric Hornqvist (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) cut his dreams of a career-high fourth shutout 3:45 short, his 36-of-37 performance (.973 save percentage) was more than enough to earn the victory.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an offense scoring a goal per period in support. Washington registered all three of its tallies before Hornqvist got the Penguins on the scoreboard, starting with F T.J. Oshie‘s (W Andre Burakovsky and D John Carlson) wrist shot 6:25 into the first period.

Second Star D Dmitry Orlov (F Evgeny Kuznetsov) provided the game-winner on a wrister with 6:14 remaining in the second period. After the Pens had dumped the puck into their offensive zone at the end of a power play to get an even-strength line on the ice, Orlov ended up with possession and began driving through the center of the ice towards G Matt Murray. With D Olli Maatta left to beat, Orlov decided to use him as a screen and fire his wrister through the Finn’s legs, beating Murray’s blocker.

While Orlov does get credit for his second game-winner of the season, the biggest goal in this contest just might have been RW Tom Wilson‘s (D Matt Niskanen) tip-in only 23 seconds into the third period. The Toronto native’s 14th marker of the season set the score at 3-0, meaning Pittsburgh needed far more than a relatively late goal from Hornqvist to seriously cast doubt into the hearts and minds of the Capitals.

Murray took his 16th regulation loss of the season after saving only 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage).

In addition to clinching their third-consecutive division title, the Capitals’ road win also snapped an eight-game winning streak and 10-game point streak by the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts in the series now have a 98-54-21 record that is 44 points superior to the roadies.

March 26 – Day 166 – Potential playoff preview?

If you’re a fan of a team outside the Eastern playoff picture, your club is in action tonight.

Get excited.

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a trio of tilts (Buffalo at Toronto, Florida at the New York Islanders and Ottawa at Carolina [RDS2]), followed half an hour later by three more (Washington at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], Detroit at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Arizona at Tampa Bay). San Jose at Chicago drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., while Colorado at Vegas (SN1) waits until 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Calgary at Los Angeles – gets underway at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few games I was looking to at the beginning of the season on today’s schedule, including…

  • Buffalo at Toronto: With the regular season series tied at 1-1-0, Game 3 of the Battle of the QEW goes down tonight!
  • Washington at New York: Another rivalry involving a club from the Empire State, this one takes place in the shadow of the Empire State Building.
  • Detroit at Montréal: Original Six. Need I say more?

If I had to choose one game out of that group of three, the Washington-New York game certainly has the best chance of being a real thriller. However, that tilt should pale in comparison to what’s going down in The Silver State tonight!

 

 

 

 

 

What makes this matchup exciting is that, as the playoff picture currently stands, this tilt is operating as a first round preview between the Pacific Division’s top team and the Western Conference’s first wild card.

But the playoff allusions don’t stop with simply the matchup, though. The Avalanche and Golden Knights tangled only two days ago in Denver to an extremely competitive result headlined by 23-15-6 G Semyon Varlamov, who saved 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage) – plus three more in the shootout – to earn the Avs a narrow 2-1 victory.

With neither team playing yesterday, emotions from Saturdays meeting will surely spill into the back half of this home-and-home series. The Golden Knights will surely want to find more success against Varlamov with their home fans behind them, and the Avs are no doubt trying to keep the pressure on Minnesota for third place in the Central Division (more on that later).

Since the 41-26-8 Avalanche won Saturday, let’s start with them. Colorado has been playing some excellent hockey this March, as it has posted an impressive 7-2-3 record since March 2.

No matter how you slice it, offense is the resounding name of the game in the Avalanche dressing room. Since March 2, the Avs have averaged an impressive 3.58 goals per game, the fifth-best performance in the NHL in that time.

F Nathan MacKinnon has been dominating all hockey-related headlines out of Colorado all season (well, at least since that trade), and that’s been no different this month with his dominating 9-12-21 totals in 12 games played to improve his season marks to 38-54-92. Currently (t)third in the league in points and (t)eighth in goals, MacKinnon will be among the top vote-receivers for the Hart Memorial Trophy – it just remains to be seen if he can actually bring the award back to Denver for the first time since C Peter Forsberg did just that in 2003.

Joining MacKinnon in averaging more than a point per game are the severely underrated RW Mikko Rantanen (7-14-21 totals since March 2, 27-53-80 overall) and D Tyson Barrie (5-8-13 since March 2, 12-40-52 overall). Since February 10, every single one of Barrie’s 23 points have been recorded with either MacKinnon or Rantanen (often both) also registering a point, so his chemistry with Colorado’s first line is not to be taken lightly.

As made evident by Saturday’s game, another major component to Colorado’s turnaround this season and success over the past month has been Varlamov. Despite the lackluster effort by his defense (he’s faced an average of 35.58 shots per game since March 2, the third-highest mark in the NHL in that time), Varlamov has kept opposing offenses under his thumb by posting an impressive .935 save percentage and 2.31 GAA in his last 11 starts. In total, the 2.5 goals per game the Avalanche have allowed since March 2 is (t)eighth-fewest in the NHL in that time.

On the season, Varlamov now has a .919 save percentage and 2.73 GAA, the ninth and 16th-best efforts in the NHL, respectively, among the 34 goalies with at least 30 starts.

However, the Avalanche aren’t the only team March has treated nicely. 47-21-7 Vegas has also had its share of success this month, posting a 5-2-2 record since March 8.

As important as Varlamov has been for Colorado, 27-11-4 G Marc-Andre Fleury has been even bigger for the Golden Knights lately. Allowing 33.78 shots against per game since March 8, the Knights’ defense has below average lately to rank 12th-worst in the NHL in that time.

However, you wouldn’t know that by looking at Vegas’ last nine scores, as the Knights have allowed an average of only 2.11 goals against per game over this run, the (t)fewest in the league since March 8.

That success is due entirely to Fleury, who has posted an impressive .95 save percentage and 1.61 GAA in his last eight starts. With a .93 save percentage and 2.15 GAA on the season (both second-best in the league among qualified goaltenders), Fleury should certainly be in the running for this season’s Vezina Trophy. While I worry he’ll be passed over due to missing so much time this season with injuries, it would be his first individual award should he get enough votes to win the award.

If Fleury does win the Vezina, does that and his three Stanley Cups make him a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame? At 33-years-old, these sorts of conversations about Fleury are going to become more and more common.

Just like I stated in Saturday’s preview, there’s very little the Golden Knights have left to achieve this regular season. The top seed in the Western Conference is virtually out of reach since the Predators have a six-point advantage, and Vegas has effectively locked up its first Pacific Division title in its debut season with its six-point lead on San Jose. The Knights’ focus now is getting healthy, conserving energy and preparing for the postseason.

If only life were so easy for Colorado.

The reemergence of the Blues, who trail Colorado by one point from their spot in the second wildcard, paired with the steady pressure from Los Angeles (tied with St. Louis in points, but with one more game played) has put the Avs in a fistfight to not only qualify for the postseason, but also avoid Nashville in the first round.

Obviously, a win tonight is a step in the right direction for the Avs putting those troubles behind them, but they’re also within range of knocking Minnesota out of third place in the Central (why they’d want to is beyond me – I’d rather stay as far away from Nashville and Winnipeg as possible this postseason). The Wild have 93 points – three more than Colorado – in just as many games played, so that will be a race worth keeping an eye on over the next two weeks.

One thing the Golden Knights have in their back pocket today is an impressive home ice advantage. Colorado has already fallen victim to that once this season, falling 7-0 on October 27 (G Oscar Dansk led the way with his 32-save effort). However, the Avalanche coming to town tonight are playing approximately one million percent better now than they were at the beginning of the season, so I wouldn’t expect such a lopsided result in the finale of this regular-season series.

With two hot goalies squaring off for the second time in three days, this game is going to boil down to which offense has the upper hand. Since MacKinnon is leading his red-hot Avalanche attack, its hard to pick against Colorado. However, the Knights have averaged 3.62 goals per game at home this season, so I’d expect a better result by them tonight compared to Saturday’s one-goal performance.


With a 5-4 overtime win at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Pittsburgh Penguins completed the season sweep of their arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers.

As made evident by the necessity of extra time, that victory did not come without its challenges. In fact, the Flyers led after the first period thanks to goals from D Travis Sanheim (Third Star of the Game F Jordan Weal and W Wayne Simmonds) and D Brandon Manning (Weal and F Valtteri Filppula), though it was only by one tally due to C Derick Brassard‘s (W Conor Sheary and RW Phil Kessel) wrist shot registered in between the Flyers’ markers.

Another three-goal frame was in store in the second period, but the score read 3-3 by the time the Flyers and Penguins retreated to their dressing rooms for the second intermission. RW Patric Hornqvist (Kessel and First Star D Justin Schultz) scored a power play wrister only 37 seconds into the period to level the game at 2-2, followed exactly two minutes later by F Evgeni Malkin (Schultz and D Brian Dumoulin) scoring a snap shot to give Pittsburgh its first lead of the game. However, with 2:50 remaining in the frame, Weal (D Shayne Gostisbehere and LW Oskar Lindblom) managed only his eighth goal of the season to tie the game for the Flyers.

Second Star C Sidney Crosby (Schultz and F Jake Guentzel) was apparently motivated to outdo Hornqvist, because he returned a one-goal advantage to Pittsburgh only 17 seconds into the third period. That 4-3 score held for exactly 19 minutes before C Sean Couturier (Gostisbehere and F Claude Giroux) scored a wrister with the extra attacker to level the score at 4-4 and force three-on-three overtime.

The five-minute overtime period nearly reached its midway point before disaster befell the visitors, as W Bryan Rust (Crosby and D Kris Letang) scored a tip-in at the 2:25 mark to register his third game-winning goal of the season.

Crosby started the play by advancing the puck into the offensive zone, but all three Philadelphia skaters were already in front of him to slow his offensive charge. Surprisingly, Crosby’s usually sure stick-handling skills failed him in his charge towards G Petr Mrazek‘s net, as Gostisbehere never physically influenced the reigning Richard Trophy-winner before the puck ended up in the left corner. The Captain was able to recollect his error, though, and reset the play to Letang at the blue line, who ripped a centering pass for Rust that he was unable to score due to Mrazek’s left pad.

If at first you don’t succeed, try an try again – just ask Rust. Crosby collected the rebound and fired another quick centering pass, and Rust tucked this puck where Mama hides the cookies to earn Pittsburgh the bonus point.

G Matt Murray earned the victory after saving 41-of-45 shots faced (.911 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Mrazek, who saved 19-of-21 (.905). Mrazek entered the game at the 2:37 mark of the second period following Malkin’s goal that set the score at 3-2. G Alex Lyon saved eight-of-11 (.727) for no decision.

That is the third-straight match in the DtFR Game of the Day series to require extra time, and the second in a row to end as a home winner. As such, the 92-53-21 hosts in the series have reclaimed a 36-point lead on the roadies.