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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Eastern Conference

*cue Andy Williams*

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*

4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*

4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*

4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*

4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*

4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*

4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*

*If necessary

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

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

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

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.

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

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

That same trap won the Cup last season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*

4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*

4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*

Team effort lifts Bruins over Islanders, 5-0

Sean Kuraly scored two goals in the Boston Bruins’, 5-0, victory over the New York Islanders to kick off Boston’s four-game road trip on Tuesday night at NYCB Live.

Tuukka Rask (25-10-5 record, 2.39 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 41 games played) made 13 saves on 13 shots against for his 4th shutout of the season in the win for Boston.

Islanders goaltender, Robin Lehner (20-12-5, 2.27 GAA, .925 SV% in 39 GP) stopped 34 out of 39 shots faced for an .872 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 44-20-9 (97 points) on the season and remain 2nd in the Atlantic Division, while New York fell to 42-24-7 (91 points) and 2nd in the Metropolitan Division.

The B’s are now 16-13-6 on the road this season and 8-0-0 in their last eight trips to New York against the Isles. In addition to dropping their last eight games on home ice to the Bruins, New York is 1-11-0 in their last 12 games and 2-11-1 in their last 14 games against Boston.

Boston is also 29-6-5 when scoring first this season and 26-1-3 when leading after two periods.

Bruce Cassidy provided several updates on his long list of injuries before Tuesday night’s action, revealing that Kevan Miller (upper body) would not travel with the team, while Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) and Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) would rejoin the lineup sometime on the road trip.

Torey Krug (concussion) was feeling better and will travel with the team, but has not been cleared to return to action.

David Pastrnak, in the meantime, was back in the lineup since having surgery on a tendon in his left thumb and was placed in his usual spot on the first line right wing with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

As a result of Pastrnak’s return, Danton Heinen slid down to the third line left wing alongside Kuraly at center and Chris Wagner on the right side.

Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Charlie Coyle remained a trio on the second line and Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari and David Backes were unchanged.

On defense, Cassidy left belated birthday boy (who turned 42-years-old on Monday), Zdeno Chara, with Charlie McAvoy on the first defensive pair, while moving Connor Clifton up to the left side of Brandon Carlo on the second blue line pair.

John Moore suited up alongside Steven Kampfer to round out the defense.

Kuraly (7) kickstarted the action early on the road with his first goal in 23 games as he sent the puck past Lehner to give the Bruins a, 1-0, lead at 1:12 of the first period.

McAvoy (19) had the only assist on Kuraly’s first goal since Jan. 17th.

Boston came out of the gates roaring and dominated the pace of play, outshooting New York, 14-2, after 20 minutes of action.

The Islanders led in blocked shots (9-5), giveaways (6-3) and face-off win percentage (53-47) heading into the first intermission, while the Bruins led in takeaways (5-1) and hits (11-10).

Both teams had yet to see any time on the skater advantage entering the second period.

Four seconds into the middle frame, Chara squared off with Matt Martin and the two veteran NHLers exchanged fisticuffs. The 42-year-old captain of the B’s became the first player 42 or older to earn a fighting major since Mark Recchi (42 years, 285 days old) did so on Nov. 13, 2010 with the Bruins.

Chara’s birthday was on Monday.

After Cal Clutterbuck turned the puck over in his own defensive zone, Acciari (4) scooped up the rubber biscuit and sent it past Lehner’s left pad to give Boston a two-goal lead at 2:52 of the second period.

Acciari’s goal was unassisted and made it, 2-0, Bruins.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Pastrnak was penalized for high-sticking Adam Pelech— in Pelech’s 200th career NHL game– at 7:27.

The Islanders did not convert on the ensuing power play and recorded one shot on goal.

Late in the period, Kuraly (8) delivered again with his second goal of the game off a wraparound pass from Heinen.

The Bruins led, 3-0, at 16:17 of the second period and Heinen (21) had the only assist on the goal.

A little over a minute later, Pelech hooked Chara and received a minor infraction at 17:46. Boston did not score on the resulting power play opportunity.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 24-8, in shots on goal. Boston also held the advantage in takeaways (8-4) and face-off win% (53-48), while New York led in blocked shots (16-6), giveaways (17-7) and hits (20-18).

Both clubs were 0/1 on the power play entering the third period.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Bergeron (28) received a pass from Nordstrom and sniped a shot into the twine to make it, 4-0, Boston.

Nordstrom (4) and Moore (8) tallied the assists on Bergeron’s goal at 6:32 of the third period.

Less than a couple minutes later, DeBrusk was guilty of hooking Islanders forward, Anthony Beauvillier, and cut a rut to the penalty box at 8:11.

Upon leaving the box, DeBrusk capitalized on a flubbed play back to the point for New York and had a quick breakaway entering the attacking zone for Boston.

DeBrusk (23) scored top shelf on Lehner’s glove side to give the B’s a five-goal lead, 5-0, at 10:20 of the third period on an unassisted effort.

There were no more goals or penalties thereafter as the Bruins downed the Islanders, 5-0, at the final horn.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 39-13, as well as face-off win% (53-47). New York wrapped up the blowout loss with the advantage in blocked shots (20-9), giveaways (22-12) and hits (23-20).

The Islanders went 0/2 on the power play on Tuesday, while the Bruins finished 0/1 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins swing through New Jersey on Thursday, Florida on Saturday and Tampa next Monday before returning home to face the New York Rangers on March 27th. Boston hosts the Florida Panthers on March 30th before traveling to Detroit on the 31st to close out the month.

In their head-to-head season series, Cassidy’s crew swept Barry Trotz and his Islanders bunch, 3-0-0, in the regular season.

Bruins at Islanders Preview: 3/19/2019

Coming off a, 2-1, overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, the Boston Bruins (43-20-9, 95 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division) pay a visit to NYCB Live to take on the New York Islanders (42-23-7, 91 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division).

The Bruins lead the season series against the Islanders, 2-0-0, this season as the two clubs are set to meet for the final time in the regular season Tuesday night.

Boston beat New York, 2-1, in a shootout on Nov. 29th and, 3-1, on Feb. 5th.

Bruce Cassidy provided some updates on Monday after practice in regards to the long list of injuries the Bruins have had. The B’s head coach indicated while David Pastrnak was back at full practice on Monday, he could be ready to play on Tuesday or on Thursday if he is not ready to go after Tuesday’s morning skate.

Cassidy also gave updates on Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) and Marcus Johansson (lung contusion), indicating the two players could play at some point on the latest road trip for Boston, but not likely on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Torey Krug (concussion) was feeling better and will travel with the club on the trip, but is not set to return to the lineup yet.

Finally, Kevan Miller (upper body) will not travel with the team on their four-game road trip.

If Pastrnak is indeed back in the lineup for the Bruins on Tuesday, Cassidy plans on reinserting him on the first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Charlie Coyle would likely remain together as a unit on the second line, while Danton Heinen would slide down to the third line left wing alongside Sean Kuraly and David Backes.

Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner would fill out the fourth line as they have done so for the last couple of games.

Cassidy will start goaltender, Tuukka Rask (24-10-5 record, 2.45 goals against average, .916 save percentage in 40 games played), in the crease for Boston against the Islanders.

New York is 0-5-1 in their last six games and has not beaten the Bruins on home ice in seven games dating back to 2013 (0-7-0). The Isles are 1-10-0 in their last 11 home games, while the Bruins are 15-13-6 on the road this season.

Not only would a win for New York mark an impressive feat, but it could give them a two-point lead over the Washington Capitals (42-23-7, 91 points) who sit 2nd in the Metropolitan Division– tied in points with the Islanders, but trailing by virtue of having a worse record against New York this season as both teams are tied in points, games played and regulation-plus-overtime wins.

A win for Boston could help spur a large cushion over the 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, Toronto Maple Leafs (43-24-5, 91 points). The Bruins cannot surpass the Tampa Bay Lightning in the standings as the Bolts have a 21-point lead over the B’s with 10 games remaining in the regular season for Boston.

As a result, Tampa (56-13-4, 116 points) has clinched the President’s Trophy and Atlantic Division regular season title.

Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz, has not indicated which of his goaltenders will get the start on Tuesday, but Robin Lehner (20-11-5, 2.19 GAA, .927 SV% in 38 GP) has been the backup to Thomas Greiss (22-12-2, 2.21 GAA, .928 SV% in 40 GP) in the last three games since returning from an upper body injury.

Lehner could likely get the start if Trotz is looking to balance this week’s workload with Greiss against much hungrier playoff bubble teams, such as the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday or Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday as the Islanders head out on a two-game road trip following the game against Boston on Tuesday.

Adam Pelech and Tom Kuhnhackl are set to appear in their 200th career NHL games, while Casey Cizikas is a game-time decision according to Trotz.

Former Bruin, Johnny Boychuk, missed Sunday’s game– his fourth straight– for the Islanders with an upper body injury.


Boston took home the, 2-1, overtime win on Saturday night at TD Garden against the Blue Jackets thanks to Brad Marchand’s 31st goal (assisted by Patrice Bergeron, 40) of the season at 3:30 of the overtime period.

Bergeron (27, assisted by Marchand, 56, and David Krejci, 44) also had a goal for the Bruins and reached 800 points in his NHL career, while Matt Duchene (30, assisted by Markus Nutivaara, 13, and David Savard, 12) had the lone goal for Columbus.

Jaroslav Halak (19-10-4, 2.29 GAA, .925 SV% in 36 GP) made 24 saves on 25 shots against for a .960 SV% in the overtime win for Boston, while Joonas Korpisalo (9-6-3, 2.91 GAA, .901 SV% in 24 GP) stopped 31 out of 33 shots faced for a .939 SV% in the overtime loss for the Blue Jackets.