Zdeno Chara surpassed 1,500 career games, Claude Julien reached 1,200 games behind the bench, the Toronto Maple Leafs are facing injuries and backup goaltender struggles, Taylor Hall reportedly won’t sign an extension with the New Jersey Devils, the 2019 NHL Global Series happened and the 2020 NHL Global Series was announced.
The Colorado Avalanche handed the Boston Bruins their first loss of the season as the Avs downed the B’s, 4-2, at Pepsi Center Thursday night.
Andre Burakovsky scored the game-winning goal in the third period for Colorado after two goals by Boston were overturned by virtue of the coach’s challenge early in the second period and early in the third period.
Philipp Grubauer (3-0-0, 2.33 goals against average, .931 save percentage in three games played) made 39 saves on 41 shots against for a .951 SV% in the win for the Avalanche.
Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (1-1-0, 1.53 GAA, .957 SV% in two games played) stopped 32 out of 35 shots faced (.914 SV%) in the loss.
Boston fell to 3-1-0 (6 points) on the season and remained tied for 2nd in the Atlantic Division with the Detroit Red Wings (though Detroit holds the tiebreaker not in games played or record this season versus Boston, but in goal differential).
Meanwhile, Colorado improved to 3-0-0 (6 points) and remained tied for 2nd in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets (Colorado holds the tiebreaker, having played fewer games than the Preds and Jets).
Bruce Cassidy moved David Backes up a line from the fourth line right wing to the third line right wing alongside Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle as a result of Joakim Nordstrom making his season debut.
Nordstrom returned from a foot injury and took his usual spot on the fourth line left wing with Sean Kuraly at center and Chris Wagner on the right side.
Kevan Miller (knee) and John Moore (shoulder) were still out of the lineup due to injury on Thursday, while Brett Ritchie joined Par Lindholm and Steven Kampfer as the healthy scratches for Boston.
Almost midway through the first period, Brad Marchand wrapped around the net and tossed the puck to David Pastrnak (1) for a one-timer from the low slot that beat Grubauer and gave the Bruins the first lead of the night.
Marchand (2) and David Krejci (1) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal as Boston led, 1-0, at 7:58 of the first period.
With the primary assist on the goal, Marchand pulled to within one assist from 300 assists in his career.
Late in the opening frame, Zdeno Chara (1) rocketed a slap shot from the point that deflected off of Avalanche forward, Gabriel Landeskog’s stick and found its way behind the Colorado netminder to give the Bruins a two-goal lead.
Pastrnak (3) and Patrice Bergeron (3) recorded the assists on Chara’s goal at 15:34 and the B’s led, 2-0.
Shortly after Chara’s goal, the Bruins botched a line change and had too many skaters on the ice.
Boston’s bench was assessed a minor penalty at 18:28 and the Avs went on the power play for the first time of the night.
Less than a minute into the ensuing skater advantage for Colorado, Landeskog waltzed into the attacking zone and rang a shot off the post on Halak’s short side– generating enough of a rebound for Nathan MacKinnon (1) to tap home with his stick and cut the lead in half, 2-1, at 19:04.
MacKinnon’s goal was assisted by Landeskog (2) and Cale Makar (3) and gave the Avalanche at least one goal in seven consecutive periods this season.
After one period in Denver, the Bruins led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 15-12.
Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (6-3) and faceoff win percentage (52-48), while Colorado led in giveaways (6-3) and hits (9-6).
Each team had three takeaways aside entering the first intermission, while the Avalanche were 1/1 on the power play.
Less than two minutes into the second period, Karson Kuhlman thought he scored his first goal of the season after sniping a shot off the bar and in, but Colorado’s head coach, Jared Bednar, used his coach’s challenge to argue that Krejci had interfered with Grubauer prior to the goal.
After review, it was determined that Krejci had indeed given Grubauer’s left leg the slightest tap with his stick and the call on the ice was overturned– no goal.
Moments later, Backes tripped Avs forward, Tyson Jost, and was sent to the penalty box as a result at 6:19 of the second period.
Colorado failed to convert on their second power play of the night, but caught Boston in the vulnerable minute after special teams play.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2) scored on a loose puck that was redirected in the low slot– catching Halak out of position.
Matt Calvert (3) had the only assist on Bellemare’s goal at 9:43, as the Avalanche extended their record for goals in consecutive periods to eight periods thus far this season.
In the final seconds of the middle frame, Nikita Zadorov was penalized for inference when he collided with Jake DeBrusk at 19:41.
Through 40 minutes of action in Colorado, the score was tied, 2-2, while the Bruins led in shots on goal, 29-24 (including a second period shots on goal advantage of 14-11).
Boston also maintained an advantage in blocked shots (9-6), hits (14-11) and faceoff win% (60-40), while the Avalanche led in giveaways (12-7).
Both teams had six takeaways aside as Colorado was 1/2 on the skater advantage and the B’s were 0/1 on the power play heading into the third period.
DeBrusk thought he had scored after roofing a shot past Grubauer’s glove side while the Avalanche goaltender dove from one side of the crease to the other, but despite his best efforts, Colorado utilized another coach’s challenge to argue the call on the ice (goal) was incorrect as the Bruins had entered the attacking zone offside.
After review– and for the second time of the night– the call on the ice was overturned. No goal.
One of the four Bruins entering the offensive zone had been just ahead of the puck and therefore offside, thus the Avs succeeded in yet another coach’s challenge.
Midway through the third period, Burakovsky (1) snatched a loose puck in Colorado’s attacking zone, then fired a shot off the far post to Halak’s left side and in while Burakovsky’s teammate, Joonas Donskoi, was acting as a screen in front of the Boston goaltender.
Burakovsy’s goal was unassisted at 12:54 of the third period and gave Colorado their first lead of the night, 3-2.
The goal also extended the Avs’ consecutive periods with a goal streak to nine.
With a little over 90 seconds left in the action, Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail.
Landeskog (2) pocketed the empty net goal at 18:59 to seal the deal on a two-goal lead, 4-2, and the victory for the Avalanche.
Mikko Rantanen (2) and MacKinnon (4) had the assists on the goal.
At the final horn, the Avalanche had won, 4-2, despite trailing in the final shots on goal total, 41-36.
Both teams had 12 shots on net in the third period, while the Bruins finished Thursday night’s action leading in blocked shots (13-11), hits (19-13) and faceoff win% (57-43).
Colorado finished the night leading in giveaways (13-8) and 1/2 on the power play. The B’s went 0/1 on the skater advantage.
Boston finished their four-game road trip to start the season 3-1-0 and haven’t started a season 4-0-0 since the 1990-91 season (4-1 win vs. PHI, 7-1 win vs. QUE, 5-2 win @ QUE, 4-2 win @ WPG).
The Bruins face 2019 1st overall pick, Jack Hughes, and the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night in Boston’s first home game of the season.
38-30-14, 90 points, 5th in the Central Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by San Jose
Additions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F Andre Burakovsky (acquired from WSH, then re-signed), F Joonas Donskoi, F Nazem Kadri (acquired from TOR), F Jayson Megna, F Valeri Nichushkin, F T.J. Tynan, D Kevin Connauton (acquired from ARI), D Jacob MacDonald (acquired from FLA), D Dan Renouf, D Calle Rosen (acquired from TOR)
Subtractions: F Andrew Agozzino (signed with PIT), F Sven Andrighetto (KHL), F Gabriel Bourque (signed with WPG), F Derick Brassard (signed with NYI), F Alexander Kerfoot (traded to TOR), F Scott Kosmachuk (traded to WSH), F Max McCormick (signed with CAR), F Julien Nantel (signed with Colorado, AHL), F Carl Soderberg (traded to ARI), F Dominic Toninato (traded to FLA), D Tyson Barrie (traded to TOR), D Mason Geertsen (signed to a PTO with NYR), D Patrik Nemeth (signed with DET), D David Warsofsky (signed with PIT), G Joe Cannata (Sweden), G Spencer Martin (signed with TBL), G Semyon Varlamov (signed with NYI)
Still Unsigned: F Mikko Rantanen
Re-signed: F J.T. Compher, F Sheldon Dries, F A.J. Greer, F Vladislav Kamenev, F Colin Wilson, D Ryan Graves, D Anton Lindholm, D Nikita Zadorov
Offseason Analysis: Pencil in Joe Sakic for General Manager of the Year 2019-20, because the Colorado Avalanche are a legit team on paper.
Sakic still has about $15.615 million in cap space, but even that should be enough to satisfy– current restricted free agent– Mikko Rantanen’s needs and then some.
Regardless, Sakic went to work on improving a roster that was one win away from the franchise’s first Western Conference Final appearance since 2002.
First, Colorado traded Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for Kevin Connauton and a 2020 3rd round pick on June 25th.
Then the Avs followed it up by acquiring Andre Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2020 2nd round pick and the 2020 3rd round pick previously acquired in the Soderberg trade on June 28th.
Burakovsky was quickly signed to a one-year deal worth $3.250 million as a “prove it” contract. The 24-year-old winger is finally free from the shadows of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Co., but now he can’t hide anymore.
It’s a make or break year as he’s never scored more than 38 points in a season.
Sakic made a minor move with the Florida Panthers a day after the Burakovsky trade, then made a big splash on July 1st and it wasn’t of the free agent variety.
Colorado shipped Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 6th round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 3rd round pick.
The Avalanche retained 50% of Barrie’s salary ($2.750 million) in the transaction, leaving Toronto with the uneasy task of balancing their checkbooks now that Mitch Marner is re-signed.
Barrie is a versatile defender that will give the Maple Leafs some added flavor to their special teams, but he’s a pending unrestricted free agent at season’s end. That’s not Sakic’s problem, however.
Instead, Sakic is focused on continuing to trust in Colorado’s head coach, Jared Bednar, and Bednar’s process.
Bednar has a plethora of new faces that he’ll have to get onboard with his plan.
For starters, Kadri won’t have to face the Boston Bruins in the First Round (assuming Colorado makes the playoffs in 2020, which is a pretty safe bet), so Bednar shouldn’t have too much of a problem reigning him in.
Overall the Avs are relying on their youth, a revamped defense and a stronger top-nine presence with Joonas Donskoi having signed a four-year deal at $3.900 million per season in addition to Sakic’s trade work.
Some experts are picking the Avalanche to win the Cup in 2020, but that might be too much of a stretch too soon.
Colorado is starting to open a championship window, however, so it’d be a major disappointment if they don’t at least get to the Stanley Cup Final in the coming years.
Offseason Grade: A
If there’s a team that’s a dark horse to win the Cup this season out of all the playoff teams from last season, it’s the Avalanche, for sure. That said, Sakic’s moves in the offseason may take a full year to gel (a la Erik Karlsson’s transition from Ottawa to San Jose– East to West), so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Colorado’s knocked out before the Final.
But in terms of fixing holes and building off of what’s already on the roster, Sakic hit it out of the park. The Avs are good and should be good as long as they don’t have to rely solely on goaltending (Philipp Grubauer is one deep postseason run away from proving his legitimacy as a starting goaltender in the NHL).
As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)
The projected standings below are only a forecast.
They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).
There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.
As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.
Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.
A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.
Projected Standings After ZERO Months
- z-Nashville Predators, 103 points
- x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points
- wc2-Minnesota Wild, 93 points
- Chicago Blackhawks, 92 points
- Dallas Stars, 92 points
- Colorado Avalanche, 86 points
Nashville Predators: Pros and Cons
Before you continue reading, it’s important to remember that this is the most unpredictable division in the league currently. Seriously.
Nashville is more than likely going to take the division in the regular season thanks to their minor moves in the offseason and major gains in the long haul, but everything else?
That’s to be determined.
Matt Duchene’s cap hit ($8,000,000) costs the Preds a million dollars less than P.K. Subban ($9,000,000), but there’s 10 pending UFAs on the roster after this season. If a legitimate one-two duo down the middle can’t get the Predators a Cup, then this window may be closing– and fast.
Pekka Rinne isn’t getting any young and the crease will soon be Juuse Saros’ before you know it.
The good news?
The Preds are still one of the most impressive teams on the blue line with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Dante Fabbro.
How would the Predators fail?
Somehow 30 points in a season gets you a seven-year contract (*ahem* Colton Sissons), but kudos to General Manager David Poile on doing so at a $2.857 cap hit though. That being said, this is dangerous logic that’s tempting fate at the hands of the Hockey Gods, which might only further weaken Nashville’s goaltending when it counts in the postseason.
St. Louis Blues: Pros and Cons
Glue guys score important goals in the playoffs and glue guys come in all shapes and sizes– including dadbod, a la Pat Maroon.
But there’s just one problem, the hometown hero that lifted St. Louis over Dallas into the Western Conference Final has left the Blues for the Tampa Bay Lightning– a product of the salary cap era, a big postseason performance and a… wait, he’s not making a huge salary?
Why did Maroon leave? Because Ivan Barbashev– the younger, better, faster, stronger more long-term approach player– is still an unsigned RFA and the Blues have less than $2.000 million in cap space currently.
St. Louis still has its core, however, and will now find out if Jordan Binnington is truly “The One” or a one hit wonder over the course of a full season of having Binnington as their starter.
When all is said and done, the defending champs have a great chance to continue to make noise in the regular season and, well, we’ve never experienced the Blues winning the Cup before, so… can it happen again? Is that a thing?
How would the Blues fail?
The cliché Stanley Cup hangover. It’s a long, grueling, season that takes its toll– even with all sorts of proper training and nutrition.
Winnipeg Jets: Pros and Cons
The Jets are in trouble. Sure, they might have a decent season and finish in a divisional spot heading into the playoffs, but they’ve got about $16.150 million in cap space and currently unsigned RFAs in Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Eric Comrie right now.
Not to mention the fact that they traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in the offseason for Neal Pionk, but at least Winnipeg got back their 2019 1st round pick in the transaction (previously dealt to New York in the Kevin Hayes trade).
Yes, a team that should see a bounce-back season in the crease from Connor Hellebuyck leading the way to a potential deep postseason run, might not even make it past the First Round if two of their prominent players (Laine and Connor) are still unsigned by the start of the regular season.
Other than that, Dustin Byfuglien is aiming for a strong run without any more injuries and the rest of Winnipeg is looking to quietly do their thing under the tremendous leadership of their captain, Blake Wheeler.
How would the Jets fail?
If Laine and/or Connor miss any part of the regular season, the Jets aren’t going to be soaring all that far without the fuel to get them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Minnesota Wild: Pros and Cons
What an offseason for the Wild and their fans, right? I mean, things are really wild in Minnesota.
First, Mats Zuccarello lands a five-year, $30.000 million contract in the State of Hockey, then (now former) General Manager Paul Fenton is fired and now Bill Guerin has his first job as an NHL GM.
Welcome to the club, Mr. Guerin, now undo all of this mess that was done by the last guy and the guy before him dating back to July 4, 2012.
At least a full season of Ryan Donato in a Wild sweater should be exciting.
Joel Eriksson Ek signed a two-year extension and Ryan Suter’s play wasn’t too terrible last season, but the wheels fell off in the crease because of how bad puck possession was in front of Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock.
Though they’re forecasted as a wild card berth (the forecast formula accounts for more than just last season), Minnesota’s not looking like they’re really going to be much better than they were last season– if at all.
Unless Guerin has any big plans up his sleeve and can get to work patching the holes left and right.
How would the Wild fail?
If they add another player over the age of 30 to their roster, then you know it’s a full-on rebuild (which might actually be for the better at this point).
Chicago Blackhawks: Pros and Cons
Patrick Kane had a tremendous season in 2018-19, amassing 44-66–110 totals in 81 games while the Blackhawks failed to make the postseason for the second straight year.
In the meantime, those that remain from Chicago’s three Cups in five years core are another year older. Jonathan Toews is 31, Kane is 30, Brent Seabrook is 34, Duncan Keith is 36 and starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, is 34.
While incredibly talented, time is not on the Hawks’ side.
That’s why General Manager Stan Bowman has been working to make the team younger with Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat and newcomer Olli Maatta (acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer) taking on larger roles on the Original Six squad.
Even better, 28-year-old defender in his prime, Calvin de Haan, bolsters Chicago’s blue line and provides some much needed time on ice relief for Seabrook and/or Keith as second-year head coach, Jeremy Colliton, sees fit.
Winning the 3rd overall pick in the draft in June, brought Kirby Dach into the equation– whether he’ll be ready for NHL stardom behind Toews and Strome immediately or not.
Though the Blackhawks are forecasted to narrowly miss the postseason for the third straight season, they aren’t going to miss out on the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs by much and will be the team to knock out one of the teams higher up in this outlook (*ahem* Minnesota).
How would the Blackhawks fail?
Age continues to chip away at the memories of yesteryear. That, or injuries, probably.
Dallas Stars: Pros and Cons
The Stars weren’t happy with the production from their best players despite the fact that they were– in fact– their best players. Who would’ve thought?
But now Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are joined by veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry among Dallas’ forwards, while Andrej Sekera has taken a supporting role on the defense in place of the current unrestricted free agent Marc Methot (who may retire altogether).
On the bright side, Dallas’ defense contains Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, John Klingberg and one of the most underrated aspects in the league– itself.
The Stars defense– combined with the superb duo of Ben Bishop as the starting goaltender and Anton Khudobin as their backup– is really solid.
Unfortunately, the team with the most goals at the end of the game always wins and sometimes Dallas just couldn’t score.
That’s where General Manager Jim Nill has looked to Pavelski’s prowess and Perry’s ability– should he rebound– to try to fill the cracks in their offensive game and start winning games even if they only give up a goal or two when it matters most (the playoffs).
Should the Stars beat the aging curve, they’ll make it back to the playoffs. But don’t think it’s easy– they coasted into the postseason last season and shouldn’t make a habit out of that if they’re looking to play their best hockey deep into June.
How would the Stars fail?
Somehow bringing in Pavelski (35-years-old), Perry (34), Sekera (33)– thereby increasing your overall average age– and expanding your list of no-trade and/or no-movement clauses to seven players on your roster just doesn’t always seem to payout. But at least Perry and Sekera are on one-year, $1.500 million contracts.
Colorado Avalanche: Pros and Cons
Pro: This forecast doesn’t take into account how much of an outlier the 2016-17 season was for the Avs.
Con: Unfortunately, the 2016-17 season has to be included in the dataset to “accurately” predict the upcoming season’s outcome until the 2026-27 season or so.
Pro: Colorado has one of the best first lines in the NHL.
Con: Mikko Rantanen is still an unsigned RFA (and he’s a vital part of the first line).
Pro: Joonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and Andre Burakovsky are all newcomers to the Avalanche with something to prove. GM Joe Sakic was busy on the phone(s)!
Con: If the team doesn’t gel by January, it’s going to be a long season.
Pro: Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.
Con: The number of games Gabriel Landeskog will be suspended for at some point in the season.
Pro: This is a very exciting team to watch and a surefire dark-horse to make the Stanley Cup Final.
Con: Now I’ve jinxed them.
How would the Avalanche fail?
By proving this forecast right and inexplicably regressing to their 2016-17 season ways. Otherwise, they’re definitely not actually finishing last in the Central Division… right?
How’s your bracket doing? Not great? Well, you should have taken my advice for the last round (except for Calgary and Tampa). Maybe you’ll nail the Second Chance Bracket the NHL is offering.
Or maybe you won’t.
Regardless, the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is over and the Second Round starts on Thursday. As such, let’s take a look at every matchup like we did for the last round.
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
San Jose went 3-0-0 in their regular season series against Colorado, but the Avs were 0-2-1 against the Calgary Flames entering their First Round matchup. In short, the regular season doesn’t mean much. Seriously.
Calgary had home ice advantage and lost two out of their three home games in the First Round to the Avalanche.
The Sharks trailed, 3-1, in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, then Tomas Hertl guaranteed things would go seven games and they did.
Then the Sharks pulled off an improbable comeback in Game 7, overcoming a three-goal deficit in the third period to win in overtime a la the 2013 Boston Bruins in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs that postseason.
Colorado’s first line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen is back firing on all cylinders, while Philipp Grubauer (4-1-0 record, 1.89 goals against average, .939 save percentage in five games played this postseason) has locked down the crease in the Mile High City.
Martin Jones (4-2-0, 3.20 GAA, .904 SV% in seven games played this postseason) has been all over the place in the crease for the Sharks.
With Erik Karlsson amassing nine assists in the last series, San Jose’s defense is quite the two-way prowess in the wake of Colorado’s mostly “shut-down” blue line.
This series is going to come down to whether the Avs can get out to a lead and withhold the inevitable Sharks comeback or if San Jose can limit Colorado’s scoring chances and will the scoreboard to their advantage.
After six games, expect the Avalanche to come out on top of the mountain and make their first Western Conference Final appearance since 2002 when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
5-2 SJS at SAP Center on April 6th, 4-3 SJS at SAP Center on March 1st, 5-4 SJS at Pepsi Center on Jan. 2nd
4/26- Game 1 COL @ SJS 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/28- Game 2 COL @ SJS 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/30- Game 3 SJS @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/2- Game 4 SJS @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/4- Game 5 COL @ SJS*
5/6- Game 6 SJS @ COL*
5/8- Game 7 COL @ SJS*
C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
Despite facing the Stars solely in the second-half of the regular season– whereby the Blues went on an incredible run to the postseason backstopped by rookie sensation, Jordan Binnington (4-2-0, 2.63 GAA, .908 SV% in six games played this posteason)– St. Louis went 1-3-0 against Dallas in 2018-19.
Of course, as already noted, the regular season series record doesn’t mean much when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start, but is it possible the Stars are the only team that could make Binnington nervous?
Surely St. Louis’ roster can’t be too nervous, what with Jaden Schwartz notching the natural hat trick in Game 6 against the Winnipeg Jets– almost single handedly eliminating the Jets himself– and the rest of the Blues, like David Perron, overcoming Winnipeg’s speed and skill to get to the Second Round.
But the sheer fire power of the Stars was hard to contain by one of the best defenses on paper in the Nashville Predators. Alexander Radulov had a two-goal game en route to Dallas heading home to clinch their series against the Preds in six games.
Then there’s the best goaltending of the Western Conference to consider. The real wild card that could steal the Vezina Trophy this season (as he is a finalist).
Ben Bishop (4-2-0, 1.89 GAA, .945 SV% in six games this postseason) has been lights out in the regular season and playoffs so far.
There’s no way this series isn’t going seven games. If it falls short, then that’s an abomination on behalf of The Hockey Gods.
That said, St. Louis has the all-important home ice advantage should it come down to– when it comes down to a Game 7. Because of that, the Blues will meet the Avalanche in the 2019 Western Conference Final.
Regular season outcomes:
4-1 DAL at Enterprise Center on March 2nd, 5-2 DAL at American Airlines Center on Feb. 21st, 3-1 STL at American Airlines Center on Jan. 12th, 3-1 DAL at Enterprise Center on Jan. 8th
4/25- Game 1 DAL @ STL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/27- Game 2 DAL @ STL 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS
4/29- Game 3 STL @ DAL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
5/1- Game 4 STL @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
5/3- Game 5 DAL @ STL* 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, TVAS
5/5- Game 6 STL @ DAL*
5/7- Game 7 DAL @ STL*
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
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.
The DTFR Duo breaks down Jimmy Howard’s one-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings, Gritty’s allegiance in the 2019 NHL Global Series, the New York Islanders’ bottom-six dilemma, Ilya Kovalchuk’s relationship with the Los Angeles Kings, more awards and a look at how things should stack up in the Metropolitan Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.