Tag Archives: Patric Hornqvist

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals– May 17

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators– Game 3

The Ottawa Senators cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday night. Mike Hoffman, Marc Methot, Derick Brassard, Zack Smith and Kyle Turris each had a goal in the Senators’ win. Ottawa takes the 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Friday.

Craig Anderson made 25 saves on 26 shots against for a .962 save percentage in the win, while Marc-Andre Fleury made 5 saves on 9 shots faced in 12:52 of playing time for a .556 SV% before being replaced by Matthew Murray in the loss. Murray made 19 saves on 20 shots faced for the Penguins, amassing a .950 SV% in 46:57 time on ice.

Hoffman (5) kicked off a string of four unanswered goals in the 1st period just 48 seconds into the game for Ottawa. Alexandre Burrows sent a pass to Turris who fired a shot that caromed to Hoffman’s stick before Hoffman sniped a shot past Fleury to put the Sens up 1-0. Turris (4) and Burrows (5) were credited with the assists on the goal.

Although Hoffman’s goal came not even a minute into the game, Peter Regin’s franchise record for the fastest goal to start a playoff game in Senators’ history (18 seconds into Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals) went untouched.

Fleury took a shot off the mask before Methot found the puck in front of the goal for his 2nd goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at 10:34 of the 1st period. Methot’s goal gave Ottawa a 2-0 lead and kicked off a string of three goals in a span of 2:18 for the Senators. Bobby Ryan (7) and Brassard (7) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Methot’s goal.

Brassard (4) took advantage of the fact that the Penguins couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone, resulting in a scoring chance Ryan, who fired a shot that was blocked by a Pittsburgh forward. Clarke MacArthur found the loose puck and slide it across the slot to the awaiting Brassard on the doorstep of the goal. Brassard easily made it 3-0 Ottawa, while MacArthur (5) and Ryan (8) celebrated the helpers on the goal at 12:28 of the 1st.

Almost 30 seconds later, Smith (1) notched his first of the postseason on a wraparound goal that forced Pittsburgh’s head coach, Mike Sullivan, to make a change in goal. Methot (2) and Erik Karlsson (12) had the assists on the goal that chased Fleury just 12:52 into the game. Murray took over for the Penguins in net, trailing 4-0.

Upon the completion of three goals in 2:18, the Senators had set a franchise record for the fastest three goals scored in a playoff game (Methot, Brassard and Smith in 2:18 of the 1st period). Martin Havlat, Radek Bonk and Shane Hnidy had previously held the record (three goals in a 4:00 span) in a 5-0 shutout over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 2, 2002.

After one period, Ottawa led 4-0 on the scoreboard and had dominated just about everything else, including a 74%-26% advantage in face-off wins over the Penguins.

Turris (4) added a goal of his own on a give-and-go rush with Hoffman with 1:42 remaining in the 2nd period. With a quick deke through the Penguins’ defense, Turris slid the puck past a desperate Murray. Hoffman (4) and Fredrik Claesson (2) were credited with the assists on Turris’s goal which made it a 5-0 game for the Senators.

Penalties amassed in the 2nd period, but none more than at the very end of the period, where Smith racked up a goaltender interference minor, Jean-Gabriel Pageau picked up a roughing call and Evgeni Malkin notched a roughing minor of his own. Despite it all, the Penguins would begin the 3rd period with a normal 5-on-4 power play.

In addition to the number of penalties adding up, yet another injury occurred in the series as Burrows left the game with a lower body injury sustained in the 2nd period and did not return. Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz were all kept out of the lineup for Game 3 as announced hours before puck drop due to injuries from the previous game.

The Senators were successful on the penalty kill to begin the 3rd period and were quickly thrust onto the power play when Matt Cullen was sent to the box for slashing at 2:19 of the 3rd. Ottawa was unable to convert on the man advantage and instead committed an infraction of their own moments later when Hoffman was called for tripping.

While on the power play, Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel fired a shot towards Anderson that was redirected by Sidney Crosby and snuck through Anderson’s five-hole. Crosby (5) had ended Anderson’s shutout bid with a Penguins power play goal that was assisted by the red-hot (like a hot dog– okay, jokes aside, he’s been fantastic) Kessel (9) and Mark Streit (1).

Ottawa’s lead was now 5-1 with over 15 minutes left in regulation.

For the second game in a row, Malkin picked up a 10-minute misconduct in the closing minutes of the game after a scrum broke out with 1:56 to go in regulation. Mark Stone amassed two roughing minors, while Scott Wilson also received a minor penalty for roughing. Ryan served one of Stone’s roughing penalties as the Senators finished the game shorthanded.

With the 5-1 victory in Game 3, Ottawa now leads the series 2-1 heading into Game 4 on home ice on Friday. Puck drop at Canadian Tire Centre is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and the game will be televised nationally on NBCSN in the United States and on CBC, as well as TVA Sports, across Canada.

Some final stats from Game 3:

SOG 29-26 OTT, FO% 65-35 OTT, Blocked Shots 17-12 OTT, Hits 34-29 OTT, Giveaways 12-9 OTT, PP 0/4 OTT, 1/3 PIT

Finally, I’m just going to leave this here.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round– May 10

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals– Game 7

By: Connor Keith

With a two-goal shutout over Washington at the Verizon Center, the Penguins have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.

If statistics told the whole story (they don’t, much to my chagrin), the first period was only an appetizer of what to expect in the remainder of the first Game 7 of the night. Both teams committed one penalty, both penalty kills rose to the task. Pittsburgh blocked four shots, Washington three. The Penguins stole the puck four times and committed three giveaways, the Capitals made three steals and only two giveaways. Pittsburgh fired 10 shots on net, Washington nine – and all were saved by either First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury or Third Star Braden Holtby.

Things were still looking that way until the 8:49 mark of the second period when Second Star Bryan Rust (Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby) drew first blood. The play started when Ian Cole intercepted Matt Niskanen’s attempted clear at the far point to keep the puck from crossing the blue line. In the same motion he passed to his captain in the center of the offensive zone, who dished to Guentzel en route to the near side of the slot. Instead of firing on Holtby’s net, he slid a centering pass to his right wing that was more than capable of banging home a wrist shot top-shelf for what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Once the scoreless draw was broken, the pressure was on Fleury for the remaining 31:11 of the game. As he’s proved so many other times this postseason, he was up to the task only a year removed from being relegated to the bench during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run. In total, he saved all 29 shots he faced for his first shutout of the 2017 postseason. Included within those attempts was a flurry of action late in the second period.

To start, Alex Ovechkin had a beautiful look at leveling the game at one-all from his usual spot in the left face-off circle with 3:53remaining in the frame, but Fleury managed to get his stick and blocker between Ovechkin’s wrister and the back of his net at the last second to prevent the score from changing.

Fleury’s strong play continued 1:29 later when he fought off three separate shots in a wild scrum in his crease, but he was truly confirmed it was his day when Nicklas Backstrom’s offering from along the goal line with 73 seconds remaining before the second intermission not only bounced off his right skate, but also off the far post and out of harm’s way.

If the Pens have learned anything in these playoffs, it’s that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In the opening five minutes of the third period, Pittsburgh outshot the Capitals seven-to-one. That attack found its reward 4:14 into the frame when Patric Hornqvist (Justin Schultz) sneaked a wrister between Nate Schmidt’s legs and over Holtby’s glove to set the score at 2-0.

While only an insurance goal, it seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Verizon Center crowd. The crowds’ mood significantly soured following Hornqvist’s marker as it realized the Capitals would fall for the ninth time in 10 matchups against Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Pittsburgh will host the Senators for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at PPG Paints Arena. That series is scheduled to start on Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern time. The contest will be televised on NBC in the USA and CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks– Game 7

By: Nick Lanciani

Entering Wednesday night, the Anaheim Ducks had lost four consecutive Game 7s at Honda Center. Entering Thursday morning, they’re moving on to the 2017 Western Conference Finals after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 on home ice thanks to Nick Ritchie’s early 3rd period game winning goal.

Ducks goalie, John Gibson made 23 saves on 24 shots against in just his 2nd career Game 7 appearance for a .958 save percentage en route to the win, while Edmonton goaltender, Cam Talbot made his first Game 7 appearance, stopping 28 saves on 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in the loss.

For just the fourth time in franchise history, Anaheim will contend for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, having appeared in the Western Conference Finals in 2003, 2007 and 2015 before advancing to the 2017 edition of the Western Conference Finals against the Nashville Predators. 

Drake Caggiula (3) kicked off scoring in Game 7 with his unassisted redirection that beat Gibson just 3:31 into the 1st period to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead.

Despite trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes of play, the Ducks were not ready to fold on home ice in yet another Game 7.

Andrew Cogliano (1) tied the game, 1-1, on a backhand shot that slid past a sprawling Cam Talbot after a series of desperation saves almost midway through the 2nd period. Cogliano’s first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs was assisted by Ryan Kesler (6) and Brandon Montour (5) at 8:55 of the 2nd.

With a close battle carrying over into the 3rd period, the Ducks came out flying early in effort to combat the younger, faster skating Edmonton offense that had pestered teams all season long by playing a game that only got better as the minutes passed.

After swapping scoring chances, Anaheim had strong attacking zone possession, firing pucks on Talbot, generating rebounds and odd caroms off the boards behind the goal.

Ritchie (2) collected a loose puck and fired a blocker side shot that clipped Talbot underneath the shoulder and fluttered into the twine to give the Ducks their first lead of the night. Sami Vatanen (1) and Corey Perry (7) collected the helpers on Ritchie’s goal, which made it 2-1 Anaheim, just 3:21 into the 3rd period.

Despite a late surge by the Oilers around two minutes to go in regulation, the Ducks held off on all of Edmonton’s advances with the Oilers having pulled Talbot for an extra skater.

As time expired, Anaheim head coach, Randy Carlyle improved to 2-2 in four career Game 7 appearances, while Edmonton head coach, Todd McLellan fell to 1-3 overall in Game 7s.

With Wednesday night’s 2-1 win, Anaheim has only allowed one goal in their three Game 7 victories in franchise history, having previously defeated Phoenix 3-0 in the 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals and Calgary 3-0 in the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Anaheim plays host to the Nashville on Friday night at Honda Center for Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 9 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can watch the game on NBCSN, while Canadians can tune to CBC or TVA Sports for coverage.

The Ducks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in their most recent trip to the Western Conference Finals (2015) but advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in both 2003 and 2007. 

The Predators will make their Western Conference Finals debut for the first time in franchise history.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 3

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 4

With a 3-2 victory over the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena Wednesday, Pittsburgh has pulled within a win of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth time in the last decade.

After the events of Game 3, two things could have happened in this contest. The Penguins could have taken to the ice with intentions of revenge for Matt Niskanen unintentionally downing Sidney Crosby with at least the fourth concussion of his career, or they could let the scoreboard do the talking.

Since Mike Sullivan and his club still have intentions of hoisting the Stanley Cup for a second straight season, cooler heads prevailed and they decided on the latter option.

Of course, missing Crosby and Conor Sheary – both first-liners – will put a damper on the offense no matter how brilliant Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin perform. That’s where First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury comes in.

Just like he’s done for most of his appearances this postseason, the veteran goaltender posted another exemplary 60 minutes. Though the Capitals fired 38 shots at him, he saved all but two for a solid .947 save percentage.

As far as scoring is concerned, almost all the action – save Second Star Patric Hornqvist‘s (Olli Maatta and Matt Cullen) marker 4:39 into the game – occurred in the second period when the Capitals scored three goals.

Wait, three?

Officially recorded as Guentzel’s eighth goal of the playoffs, Dmitry Orlov started Washington’s scoring with his right skate at the 3:51 mark. It looks like he intended to catch the puck with his skate then collect with his stick, but the second half of his plan never came to fruition. Because of that, Guentzel’s shot deflected into Braden Holtby‘s net to set the score at 2-0.

But the Caps didn’t waste any time getting that goal back. First up was Third Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson), who buried his wrist shot from the at the 7:21 mark to pull Washington back within a goal. Nate Schmidt (T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk) followed that marker up 72 seconds later to level the game at two-all with his first-ever postseason marker.

After Washington had tied the game at two-all, the Penguins defense clamped down. In the remaining 31:27 of play, they allowed only 17 shots to reach Fleury’s net. That effort was led in large part by Ian Cole, who blocked three Capitals shots in addition to his team-leading six hits by the end of the game.

With that in mind, it’s only fitting then that the game-winning goal belongs to one of Pittsburgh’s blueliners. Buried with 8:36 remaining in the second period, Justin Schultz (Malkin and Guentzel) banged home a power play slap shot over Holtby’s stick shoulder for the final tally of the contest.

The Capitals certainly had their chances to score at least one more goal in the third period to force overtime. They had all the momentum in the final frame and maintained possession in their offensive zone most of the time, but were done in by a questionable penalty with 1:52 remaining in regulation.

On initial look, it seemed like Oshie’s stick caught Nick Bonino in the face when they made contact in the far corner behind Fleury’s net. The penalty for that is, of course, a seat in the penalty box for hi-sticking.

But a replay later, the truth came out: the stick only caught Bonino’s shoulder – the eighth-year center sold/embellished/flopped (pick your favorite) to force the Caps to the penalty kill, effectively neutralizing any chance of an equalizer.

Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Guentzel actually suffered a hi-stick from Andre Burakovsky late in the third period that went uncalled, even though the officials knew he was bleeding.

And of course, this was all played out a year after this same narrative was played out by the exact same players. That time, Oshie was crossing Matt Murray’s crease and Bonino hit him in the chest in Game 5. Though a stick came nowhere near his face, Oshie threw his head back in faux pain to draw a penalty and force off elimination for one more game.

In either case, Penguins fans see the Oshie penalty as a makeup call.

Pittsburgh’s first opportunity to advance to the Conference Finals is scheduled for Saturday at 7:15 p.m. Eastern time at the Verizon Center. American viewers can look for Game 5 on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.

 

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 4

After trailing 2-0 – in more ways than one – the Ducks beat Edmonton 4-3 in overtime at Rogers Place to make their Western Conference Semifinals matchup a best-of-three series.

Third Star of the Game Drake Caggiula (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Patrick Maroon) did so well to tie the game with 102 seconds remaining in regulation. The rookie’s first postseason goal was struck only seconds after Cam Talbot was pulled for the extra attacker.

It was a typical grind-it-out style tally we’ve come to expect in the playoffs. He took advantage of John Gibson being unable to contain Nugent-Hopkins’ initial shot from the far face-off circle and collected the rebound to bury the puck over the netminder’s glove shoulder.

And only 2:27 of action later, it was all for naught.

Following intermission, the Ducks exploded onto the ice. Beyond Ryan Kesler losing the face-off to open overtime, Anaheim did not let the Oilers do anything else. 35 seconds into the fourth period, Adam Larsson tried to fire a puck at Gibson, but his shot was stopped by First Star Ryan Getzlaf.

Getzlaf maintained possession following the block and began Anaheim’s attack into the offensive zone by passing to a streaking Second Star Jakob Silfverberg. Silfverberg couldn’t take control of the puck and lost possession to Oscar Klefbom, who passed to Larsson.

Once again, Getzaf had other plans than letting the Oilers dump the puck into the neutral zone or start a counterattack. He intercepted Larsson’s pass and dished across the face-off circles to a waiting Silfverberg, who absolutely ripped a wrist shot past Talbot to end the game and level the series at two-all after losing both games at the Honda Center.

Making the Ducks’ victory all the more impressive is the fact that Edmonton effectively dominated the first period. Milan Lucic had the Oil riled up as they were hitting in the first period like it was going out of style. In total, Edmonton threw 37 hits before Silfverberg’s game-ending marker, led by both Zack Kassian and Lucic’s five blows apiece.

Lucic (Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu) was eventually rewarded for his physical play by scoring a power play goal with 4:22 remaining in the first period. Similar to Caggiula’s tally to force overtime, it was a hard-nosed goal struck from Gibson’s crease after he didn’t collect Draisaitl’s initial shot.

Only 2:05 after that, Connor McDavid (Draisaitl and Maroon) caught Gibson sprawled on the ice following a botched diving save to set the score at 2-0, the same score that read going into the first intermission.

Then Getzlaf happened.

The Ducks’ captain was involved in all four goals on the evening, starting with his first of two tallies only 97 seconds after the start of the second frame. After receiving a pass from Brandon Montour from the far point,  he rang home a wrister to pull Anaheim within a goal.

Unfortunately for him, that goal was slightly controversial. Talbot was not caught off-guard for this tally, but was instead fighting to see around Corey Perry.

Screens are perfectly legal in hockey, and a very effective way to produce goals. Perry rushed towards the crease from the far boards to act as one, but bounced off Larsson in the process. That slight change of direction changed his course from screening Talbot to making contact with Talbot.

The nudge was enough to force Talbot off his spot and the netminder immediately threw his hands up in frustration. That led Todd McLellan to quickly challenge the play. Though the officials deliberated for a few minutes, they ultimately decided to count the goal even though contact with the goaltender is clearly made.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it should have counted. But then again, I don’t wear black-and-white stripes to hockey games.

The Ducks’ relentless, 21-shot attack in the second period continued 3:56 later when Rickard Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) did his best tic-tac-goal off Getzlaf’s pass from the far post of Talbot’s net. Getzlaf passed across the crease to Rakell, who was waiting in the slot, and the right wing beat Talbot to the near post with his fast hands.

Getzlaf completed the surge on an unassisted slap shot  with 5:35 remaining in the frame for his seventh goal of the playoffs. Of all the goals the Oilers defense allowed in this contest, this is the one they want back the most.

After Talbot had saved Rakell’s initial wrist shot from the slot, Nugent-Hopkins had the puck on his stick near the far corner of the crease. Instead of quickly dumping the puck to allow his team to fight another day, he remained motionless and looked for a pass to start a counterattack. Getzlaf took advantage and attacked the puck through Nugent-Hopkins’ stick to bury it five-hole.

With hosts in this series having yet to successfully defend home ice, these remaining three games will be must-see TV.

Speaking of, the pivotal Game 5 is set for Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time at the Honda Center. Residents of the United States will find the contest on NBCSN, while Canadians should tune to either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 1

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

By beating Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime, the Capitals have pulled within a game of leveling their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup

The tone of this match was set early  – at the 5:24 mark, specifically – when Captain Sidney Crosby was injured after driving towards Braden Holtby‘s crease. While Alex Ovechkin‘s slash across the back appeared to be intentional, his taking Crosby’s left skate out from under him and whacking him across the head with his stick while preparing to play defense was done with no malice.

The contact threw Crosby off-balance and he tumbled across Holtby’s crease. The first thing he came in contact with was Matt Niskanen, and it is here where Crosby probably got hurt.  The defenseman was taken by surprise and raised his hands to fend him off, a reasonable reaction especially since the puck was still in his defensive zone. But with hands come a stick, and Niskanen’s ended up catching Crosby squarely in the forehead. Though conscious, Pittsburgh’s star stayed down following the hit and the play was soon stopped.

Crosby did not see the ice for the rest of the game with an apparent head injury and Niskanen was charged with a five-minute major and a game misconduct, suspending him for the remainder of Game 3. Niskanen probably doesn’t deserve the misconduct he received, but was forced into a penalty befitting one who downs – intentionally or accidentally – a league superstar.

As one would expect, the physical series became only more so after play resumed. 67 hits were thrown in all between the two clubs, led by Pittsburgh’s 36. Chris Kunitz was the Penguins’ most dominant checker with seven hits, with his counterparts Brooks Orpik and Ovechkin both managing four blows apiece.

All the physicality made it difficult for either club to find much rhythm throughout the game, which is why power plays and man-advantages proved to be so important.

The first tally of the game was a wrist shot from Second Star of the Game Nicklas Backstrom (Ovechkin and Justin Williams), but even with the five-on-three power play it was not easy. After receiving Ovechkin’s pass from above the far face-off circle, Backstrom fired his shot from the far corner of the slot. Obviously boucing the puck off Marc-Andre Fleury‘s stick and Ian Cole‘s shaft was the plan, because his shot ended up in in the corner of the goal to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 6:55 remaining in the first period.

No goals were struck in the second period, but the Penguins’ situation became even more dire when Patric Hornqvist accidentally injured teammate Conor Sheary. He bore the brunt of his attempted hit on Lars Eller, and his recoil sent him crashing into Sheary’s head. Similar to Crosby, Sheary did not return for the remainder of the game.

The lack of bodies started becoming apparent late in the frame and through much of the third. Losing two top-line forwards in a game is detrimental to any team, but especially one that is trailing.

Though technically scored at even-strength, Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s (Marcus Johansson and Williams) wrister at the 9:46 mark of the third might as well have been with the man-advantage given his exhausted opponent. Given the circumstances, the Capitals  – and the many Pittsburgh fans that made their ways home early – thought they’d iced the victory away.

Then the Penguins made things interesting.

Knowing his club needed a goal as soon as possible, Mike Sullivan pulled Fleury for an extra attacker with 2:56 remaining in regulation, and Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Phil Kessel and Justin Schultz) capitalized with 63 seconds later on his six-on-five slap shot from the near face-off circle.

There was little to no celebration by Malkin, as he knew there was still work to be done. Sullivan left his piecemeal top-line on the ice for the remainder of regulation and eventually called a wise timeout with 94 seconds remaining before the final horn.

That’s exactly the rest the Penguins needed, as Schultz (Malkin and Kunitz) scored a slap shot with only 65 ticks remaining in regulation to level the game at two-all and force overtime.

That extra period didn’t last long though, due in part to Trevor Daley holding Johansson 2:40 after it began. 33 seconds later, First Star Kevin Shattenkirk (Backstrom and Kuznetsov) took advantage of the man-advantage by ripping a slap shot past Fleury for the first postseason game-winner of his career.

Of course, Washington’s work has only just begun. With the Penguins winning both games at the Verizon Center, they still have home ice in this series. If the Caps truly want to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in franchise history, they’ll need to repeat Monday’s performance in Game 4.

Speaking of, Game 4 is slated for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena. The contest will be televised on NBCSN in the USA and CBC and TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 27

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

 

 

 

 

New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

Second Star of the Game Erik Karlsson‘s third period wrist shot proved to be the difference in Game 1 at the Canadian Tire Centre, as Ottawa beat the Rangers 2-1.

It seems like it’s said every time Henrik Lundqvist is involved, but this was a stunning goaltending matchup.  The Swede saved a brilliant 41-of-43 shots faced (95.3%), but was out-dueled by First Star Craig Anderson, who allowed only one tally on 35 attempts (97.1%).

This contest’s scoreless draw was not broken until 27:10 had ticked off the clock, though what set up the play occurred a little bit before that. 6:54 into the second period, Cody Ceci earned a seat in the penalty box for tripping Michael Grabner, and the Blueshirts made sure he paid. Captain Ryan McDonagh (Mats Zuccarello and Pavel Buchnevich) took advantage of the man-advantage only 16 seconds later by pinging a strong slap shot from the far point off the near post.

But as happens so often in sports, what comes around goes around. Brady Skjei got caught holding Ryan Dzingel with 2:23 remaining in the frame, followed 62 seconds later by the Third Star himself (Alexandre Burrows and Kyle Turris) cashing in on the power play with a wrist shot from the slot. Dzingel’s goal leveled the contest at one-all with only one period of regulation remaining.

Karlsson is one of the most clutch players for the Senators and he proved that once again tonight with his first goal of the 2017 playoffs. The play reset at the far point when Marc Methot battled Rick Nash to keep the puck in the Sens’ offensive zone. Mike Hoffman collected that victory and carried the puck to the face-off circle before rolling it along the boards behind Lundqvist’s net to Karlsson at the opposite end of the goalline. There’s not much room to score from there by usual means, but the two-way defenseman proved his mastery at scoring by banking the puck off the back of the netminder’s head and into the net.

What a way to score the first postseason game-winning goal of your career.

As made evident by tonight’s action, it’s going to take a talented – or otherwise opportunistic – goalscorer to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Be on the lookout for New York’s Grabner and J.T. Miller (both earned a .167 shooting percentage in the regular season) or Ottawa’s Mark Stone (scored on 16.4% of shots) to be the determining factor in future games.

Game 2 will drop the puck at 3 p.m. Eastern time this Saturday. Residents of the 50 States can catch the contest on NBC, while those that salute the red maple leaf will be serviced by CBC and TVAS2.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals – Game 1

The first round of this best-of-seven bout between Metropolitan Division rivals went to the visiting Penguins, who beat Washington 3-2 at the Verizon Center Thursday.

Before the offensive performances by the two captains, this series proved to be shaping into exactly what it was expected to be. Both defenses were flying in Game 1, leading to only 56 combined shots being fired. Pittsburgh’s blue line made its presence known with its 29 blocked shots (led by Ian Cole‘s eight), while the Capitals preferred a more personal approach: sparked by Third Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin‘s six hits, Washington threw an impressive 41 blows to disrupt the Pens’ attack.

But no matter how well a defensive corps plays, there’s not much that can ensure these clubs don’t bury the puck. Braden Holtby stopped all four shots he faced in the first period, but couldn’t keep Second Star Sidney Crosby (Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist) off the board a dozen seconds into the middle frame. Crosby (Hornqvist and Olli Maatta) followed that up 52 seconds later with another wrist shot to give Pittsburgh a quick two-goal lead.

The game cooled – offensively, at least – following Crosby’s blitz, but the period wouldn’t end without Ovechkin (Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie) having some fun. With 103 seconds separating him from the second intermission, the captain scored a wrister of his own on Marc-Andre Fleury to pull his Caps back within a tally.

Washington’s comeback was completed 8:05 into the third period courtesy of Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored a wrister from the slot off a beautiful cross-slot setup from former Penguin Matt Niskanen to set up a thrilling finish.

Unfortunately for fans clad in red, that finish is not what they were hoping for. That result is due in large part to the existence of First Star Nick Bonino, who has scored the last two game-winning goals for Pittsburgh in playoff games against the Capitals.

This one was a wrister struck with 7:24 remaining regulation with assists from Scott Wilson and Cole. After receiving a Justin Schultz from behind Fleury’s net, Cole dished to Wilson along the far boards into the offensive zone. The left wing one-touched a pass to his trailing center who was tearing towards Holtby’s crease. When he reached the slot, he ripped his wrister glove-side before the goalie could react.

These clubs will drop the puck again Saturday night at 8 p.m. Eastern time. The game will be televised on NBC in the USA and CBC and TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 18

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer – unless noted otherwise – is Nick Lanciani.

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Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers— Game 4

For the first time in the last seven home playoff games, the New York Rangers won at Madison Square Garden. Tuesday night’s victory was a 2-1 triumphant win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens and tied the series with the Habs, 2-2. Rick Nash recorded just his second career game winning goal in his 69th Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance.

Henrik Lundqvist had 23 saves on 24 shots against for a .958 save percentage in the win for New York, while Carey Price made 30 saves on 32 shots against for a .938 SV% in the loss for the Canadiens.

After struggling to score until it was too late in Game 3, New York struck first in Game 4 on home ice. Jesper Fast (1) notched his first of the 2017 postseason on an unassisted goal at 11:39 of the 1st period to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Almost seven minutes later, Canadiens forward, Torrey Mitchell (1) fired one past a sprawling Henrik Lundqvist as Montreal caught New York on a poorly executed line change. Shea Weber (2) and Alexander Radulov (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on the goal that tied the game, 1-1 at 18:37 of the 1st period.

Nash (2) continued to show his impressive hands in the series with his backhand-through-the-five-hole goal that would become the eventual game winning goal at 4:28 of the 2nd period. Ryan McDonagh (2) recorded the sole assist on Nash’s goal.

With the win, the series now effectively becomes a best-of-three games scenario. Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday night at Bell Centre in Montreal. Puck drop will be a little after 7 p.m. ET and the game can be viewed on USA in the United States, as well as CBC and TVA Sports in Canada.

pittsburgh_penguins_logoColumbus Blue Jackets Logo

Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets— Game 4

By: Connor Keith

With a 5-4 victory over the Penguins, Columbus avoided elimination from its Eastern Conference Quarterfinal and pulled the series to a two-game, 3-1 deficit.

Many coaches – regardless of sport – prescribe to some variation of the theory that winning the game is all about winning a majority of the smaller time increments. Be it three quarters in football or two periods in hockey, the mentality seems to make sense (of course, don’t tell that to Monday’s four blown two-goal leads).

With that strategy in mind, it would seem that Columbus earned its first victory of the postseason in the first period, as the Blue Jackets owned a 2-0 lead over the visiting Penguins going into the first intermission. With 8:14 remaining in the frame, it was Jack Johnson (David Savard) drawing first blood by burying a snap shot from the top of the near face-off circle by way of bouncing the puck off Sidney Crosby’s right skate. That right skate would prove to be important in quite a few plays in this game, but more on that later.

Josh Anderson (First Star of the Game William Karlsson and Kyle Quincey) took credit for the other goal, a snapper buried with 64 seconds remaining before the first scheduled game break. He raced up the near side of the offensive zone right to Marc-Andre Fleury’s doorstop to squeeze the puck five-hole.

Though Pittsburgh won the second period, it was not before Second Star Markus Nutivaara (Third Star Boone Jenner and Brandon Saad) was able to give the Jackets a three-goal shutout lead. 4:45 into the contet, Fleury blocked the rookie’s first shot of the game, followed two seconds later by Jenner collecting the rebound and firing a shot of his own from the top of the far face-off circle. That too was saved by the experienced netminder, but Fleury couldn’t stop the next one: a Nutivaara snapper shot from far corner of the crease.

Only 1:55 later, the postseason’s best offense finally got on the board thanks to a Patric Hornqvist power play snapper. Officially, the assists belong to Justin Schultz and Phil Kessel, though I think the scorebook should be altered to read Crosby and Schultz. The Penguins went to work quickly after Quincey was sent to the sin bin for interfering with Evgeni Malkin at the 5:29 mark. Schultz fired a slap shot from the blue line towards the far post, but his attempt found a different metal object. That’s right, Crosby’s right skate once again came into play, as the shot banked off his foot and towards Bobrovsky’s crease. The puck lost a lot of speed off the deflection, which gave Hornqvist the opportunity reach out and bang it home.

Over his 14 years in the NHL, there have been a few things missing from Ron Hainsey’s career. One of those was accomplished in Game 1, as he made his first appearance in the postseason. Another box was checked with 3:36 remaining in the second period when he registered his first goal (Kessel and Malkin) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After receiving a Kessel pass in the near corner, he pulled Pittsburgh within a one-goal deficit by burying a snapper five-hole from the near face-off circle.

It seems Karlsson took offense to the Pens winning the second period because he came out of the dressing room after the intermission at the top of his game. First, he won the opening face-off of the third period, followed 11 seconds later by a wicked snap shot Fleury barely managed to save. Karlsson tried to put another shot on net 25 seconds into the game, but that one was blocked by Ian Cole into the glass.

The third time was the charm, though his stick wasn’t the last thing to touch the scoring shot. Karlsson collected the puck sent behind Fleury’s crease from Cole’s block and began a wrap-around fade-away goal towards the far post. In the extremely short time between the center’s backhanded shot leaving his stick and entering the crease, it looks like Crosby’s right skate barely touches the puck to alter its course enough beat Fleury’s right pad.

The Jackets had one more goal in them too, courtesy of a Jenner (Saad and Nutivaara) tip-in that proved to be the game-winner. Saad did much of the work, firing an initial snap shot from the near slot right at Fleury’s chest that the goalie was not able to catch. The rebound came right back to his stick, which the left wing tried to poke towards the far post. He succeeded in doing just that, but three Penguins skaters were in the crease to try to help their off-balance netminder. That’s why Jenner completed the play. His stick was the first to touch the puck, and he made sure it was also the last.

Pittsburgh was able to hold serve throughout the third frame, but I watch enough tennis to know that holding serve is not enough to win when trailing. 103 seconds after Karlsson scored his backhander, Tom Kuhnhackl (Matt Cullen and Cole) scored a snap shot and Jake Guentzel (Kessel and Malkin) was able to convert a shorthanded snapper of his own with the extra attacker with 28 seconds remaining in regulation, but it was too little too late to prevent a Game 5.

In essence, the Jackets did everything right to continue their season, due in part to playing with house money. Alexander Wennberg dominated at the dot by winning two-thirds of his face-offs. Nick Foligno led the team to 27 hits with his five blows. Quincey registered four of Columbus’ 19 shot blocks. But maybe the most impressive stat is the fact that the Jackets only gave the puck away twice to a team trailing for almost the entire game.

The Jackets had little to lose Tuesday night, but they’ll face a far tougher test in Game 5 when the series transitions back to PPG Paints Arena where the Penguins will have all intentions of advancing to the Eastern Semifinals. That contest will drop the puck at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday and may be viewed on NHL Network stateside or SN and TVAS2 if in Canada.

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Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks— Game 4

If you’re an Oilers fan, avert your eyes from looking at the score for a moment and I’ll give you a quick recap. Edmonton lost.

If you’re a Sharks fan, well then the rest of this is for you…

Six San Jose Sharks players recorded multiple points in Tuesday night’s 7-0 shutout victory over the visiting Edmonton Oilers at SAP Center. Joe Pavelski (2-1=3 totals), Patrick Marleau (1-1=2), Logan Couture (0-2=2), Joel Ward (0-2=2), Brent Burns (0-3=3) and David Schlemko (1-1=2) all had two or more points en route to the win in Game 4.

Martin Jones amassed 23 saves in the shutout win, which— coincidentally— was the same number of saves Edmonton goaltender, Cam Talbot, had in his shutout victory in Game 3. In fact, Game 4 marked the third shutout in a row in the series.

Talbot made 19 saves on 24 shots against for a .792 save percentage in 32:52 time on ice before being replaced by Laurent Brossoit. Brossoit went on to stop six out of the eight shots on net he faced in the remaining 27:08 of regulation.

Pavelski (1) kicked off scoring 15 seconds into the game with his first of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs on a redirected shot from Justin Braun. Braun (1) and Marleau (1) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Sharks.

Couture (1) added his first of the postseason at 11:02 of the 1st period with the first of four power play goals on the night for San Jose. Pavelski (2) and Burns (1) had the assists on Couture’s goal.

Marleau (1) opened up 2nd period scoring with a wrist shot that beat Talbot’s glove side 2:02 into the period on another power play for the Sharks. Burns (2) had the only assist on the goal and his second of three assists on the night.

Marcus Sorensen (1) found the twine and made it 4-0 in favor of San Jose almost halfway into the 2nd frame of the game. The goal was Sorensen’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and the helpers went to Schlemko (1) and Ward (1) at 9:46 of the 2nd period.

Oilers head coach, Todd McLellan, did not pull Talbot in favor of Brossoit until he absolutely had to, which was apparent after Couture (2) scored his second goal of the night 12:52 into the 2nd. Jannik Hansen (1) and Ward (2) collected the assists on the goal that had made it a 5-0 game. Edmonton had let their starting netminder down.

With Brossoit in goal it only took a little less than four minutes before Pavelski (2) hit the back of the net on a rush to the goal for the third power play goal of the night. Burns (3) and Joe Thornton (1) were given the assists on Pavelski’s second goal of the night.

After a four goal outburst in the 2nd period, the Sharks took a 6-0 lead into the 2nd intermission.

But they wouldn’t let off the gas pedal in the 3rd period.

Almost seven minutes into the final frame of regulation, Schlemko (1) registered his first goal of the postseason on another San Jose power play. Tomas Hertl (2) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (3) assisted on the Sharks’s fourth power play goal of the night at 6:45 of the 3rd period.

The final horn sounded after 60 minutes of play and the Sharks had beaten the Oilers 7-0 and the series was tied 2-2.

In a now best-of-three battle, Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday night in Edmonton and can be viewed across the United States on NBCSN and on Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada. Puck drop is set for a little after 10:30 p.m. ET.

Of note, San Jose set or tied four postseason franchise records in Game 4’s victory.

The San Jose Sharks won by a touchdown (plus a PAT) and Jerry Rice was in the building. Coincidence? I think not.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 12

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer – unless noted otherwise –  is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 1

On nights like these, it doesn’t matter who the goal comes from. All that matters is that it goes in the net. That was the case for the Rangers, who bested the Habs 2-0 at the Bell Centre to take an early lead in their playoff series.

After collecting a face-off Tomas Plekanec had originally won for Montréal, Second Star of the Game Tanner Glass sneaked an unassisted backhanded shot over Third Star Carey Price‘s glove shoulder at the 9:50 mark of the first period for what proved to be the netminder’s only goal allowed on the night. Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) provided the lone insurance tally on an empty net with 70 seconds remaining in regulation.

We knew coming into this series it was a matchup between two incredible goaltenders in 31-20-4 First Star Henrik Lundqvist and 37-20-5 Price, and they didn’t disappoint, combining for 59 saves. Lundqvist saved all 30 he faced for the 10th postseason shutout of his career.

New York truly took command of this game after the first intermission, limiting the Canadiens to only 15 shots over the remaining 40 minutes. Even when the Habs were able to control the posession, the Blueshirts would not let them get a shot on Lundqvist’s net, managing 24 blocks – led by Dan Girardi‘s four.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

By: Nick Lanciani

After going 0-3-1 against the Ottawa Senators in the regular season, the Boston Bruins opened up their edition of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 victory on road ice.

Fresh off of his two-game suspension for the last two games of the regular season, Brad Marchand scored the game winning goal with 2:33 to go in the 3rd period– capping an almost two-minute long shift.

Ottawa Senators goaltender, Craig Anderson, played a stellar game despite the loss. Anderson made 23 saves on 25 shots faced for a .920 save percentage.

Both teams swapped tremendous chances in the first 20 minutes, but neither Boston’s David Pastrnak, nor Ottawa’s Derick Brassard could score on back-to-back breakaway chances. After an eventful 1st period which nearly witnessed Bruins forward– and Ottawa native– Ryan Spooner pocket one in the twine with about four seconds to go, the score remained tied at 0-0.

The Sens kicked off the series’s goal scoring in the 2nd period with a goal from Bobby Ryan (1) at 10:28. Ryan crashed the net and followed up on one of his own chances, firing the puck short side by Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask. Erik Karlsson (1) notched the only assist on the goal.

For the first time since May 10, 2014 an NHL team was held without a shot in a single period in a Stanley Cup playoff game, as Boston did not record a shot on goal in the 2nd period. The Anaheim Ducks, by the way, were the last team to do so in their matchup with the Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks wound up winning the game 2-0, however.

After going without a goal in his last 15 games of the regular season, Frank Vatrano (1) found the back of the net with 15:05 to go in the 3rd period in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game. Riley Nash (1) and Adam McQuaid (1) were credited with the assists on the goal.

Vatrano became the 6th Bruin since 1999 to score in his playoff debut and Boston tied the game, 1-1.

Late in the 3rd period, Marchand (1) put the Bruins ahead for the first time in the game with the game-winning goal off of a blocked shot by Dion Phaneuf. Patrice Bergeron (1) and Pastrnak (1) collected the assists on Marchand’s 17th career NHL playoff goal.

Boston’s Rask made 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .936 save percentage in the win. The Bruins lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Saturday at Canadian Tire Centre and can be viewed on NBC/TVAS/SN at 3 p.m. ET.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

When Matthew Murray went down in warmups, things were looking grim for the Penguins, at least for their playoff opener. Instead, First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury saved all but one shot faced to lead Pittsburgh to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena.

Just like Pierre McGuire said during the broadcast, sometimes the best trade a club can make is the very one they don’t. Trade rumors swirled about the Penguins’ former first-overall pick all season, but he turned in a 31-save performance and a Game 1 victory for First Star honors.

Jeff Zatkoff, anyone? Maybe Fleury has too much playoff experience to be the Pens’ new “Mr. Game 1,” but the story is beginning to sound eerily similar to last year’s Cup run.

Offensively, the Pens showed one period of greatness after a sluggish opening frame. The Jackets held them to only three shots on the opening 20 minutes – including none in the last 14:49 – due in large part to their 23 first period hits .

The Penguins came out on fire after the intermission, notching all three of their tallies. Only 1:15 after returning from the dressing room, Bryan Rust (Second Star Phil Kessel and Third Star Evgeni Malkin) broke the ice with a snap shot. Kessel’s assist was especially impressive, as he used his skate to pass to the right wing.

Rust’s tally was followed only 2:30 later by Kessel’s (Justin Schultz and Malkin) eventual game-winner. Kessel’s tally was a strong power play wrist shot from the near face-off dot over Sergei Bobrovsky‘s glove shoulder.

Nick Bonino (Patric Hornqvist and Olli Maatta) provided Pittsburgh’s final tally with 3:35 remaining in the frame.

Columbus finally got on the board with 7:19 remaining in regulation courtesy of Matt Calvert (Josh Anderson), but the Jackets couldn’t convert any more of their 32 shots on goal into markers.

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Minnesota Wild – Game 1

Overtime game-winners in the playoffs can come from the most unlikely of sources. In Game 1, it was First Star of the Game Joel Edmundson that gave St. Louis the 2-1 overtime victory over the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

No matter how hard Minnesota’s offense tried, it could not get past Second Star Jake Allen. The Blues’ goaltender saved 43 straight shots faced for an unblemished effort.

That is, until only 23 seconds remained in regulation. Zach Parise (Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund) scored a wrist shot to match Vladimir Sobotka‘s (Alex Steen) snap shot at the 6:21 mark of the second period to force the first overtime period of the 2017 postseason.

Similar to the Notes’ long playoff run a year ago, the Wild found its success when it made its presence known. Led by Jared Spurgeon and Chris Stewart‘s four checks apiece, Minnesota threw an impressive 28 hits in regulation to St. Louis’ 13, which led to 11 takeaways.

In all, Allen saved 51 shots faced before Edmundson (Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz) scored the game-winning wrister. It wasn’t the prettiest play the Blues have ever run, but they aren’t complaining. Tarasenko was crashing Third Star Devan Dubnyk‘s crease, but lost control of the puck before he could manage a shot. Fortunately for him and his club, the loose puck found the defenseman’s stick and he easily scored on Dubnyk’s stick side.

 

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 1

The Sharks arguably entered the playoffs in their worst slump of the season, but those losing ways just might be behind them. San Jose beat Edmonton 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Place to take an early one-game lead in their first round series.

San Jose’s worst fears were realized in the first period, as Edmonton’s offense made it known that it has no trouble picking Martin Jones apart when he’s off his game. Both Oscar Klefbom (Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic) and Lucic (Mark Letestu and Connor McDavid) scored in the opening frame to give the Oil an early 2-0 lead.

Playoff experience is one of the most valuable things a club can have. Whether it was the Oilers’ offense not having much of it or the Sharks’ defense being able to match the hosts’ efforts (Edmonton managed only nine shots on goal after the first period), San Jose was able to fight its way back into this contest by constricting Edmonton’s attack. As a result, Joel Ward (Joonas Donskoi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) took advantage of Drake Caggiula‘s hooking penalty late in the opening period to score a power play wrist shot 1:43 into the second.

Paul Martin (Tomas Hertl) completed the comeback 5:22 into the final frame. He buried the rebound off Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s left pad after Hertl’s inial shot to tie the game at two-all and force the second extra-time game of the night.

It only took 3:22 of extra time, but that playoff experience was truly apparent in that time. San Jose fired six shots to the Oilers’ two, and the final one, a snap shot by First Star Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Valsic), was able to get past Talbot for a Sharks victory.

April 8 – Day 171 – Have mercy on the Leafs, Kessel!

All but two teams are in action today, so the playoff situation could be a whole lot clearer at the end of the night.

Not only are 14 games being played, but they’re spaced throughout the day for our viewing pleasure! The action starts with two 12:30 p.m. matinees (the New York Rangers at Ottawa [NHLN/RDS/SN] and Columbus at Philadelphia), followed by Washington at Boston (NBC) at 3 p.m. The evening’s play starts an hour early, as two contests (Chicago at Los Angeles and the New York Islanders at New Jersey) drop the puck at 6 p.m., trailed an hour after by five more (Nashville at Winnipeg [CITY], Pittsburgh at Toronto [CBC/NHLN], Montréal at Detroit [SN/TVAS], Buffalo at Florida and St. Louis at Carolina). Colorado at Dallas gets underway at 8 p.m., with Minnesota at Arizona waiting an hour for its green light. Finally, our co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Vancouver [CBC] and Calgary at San Jose [NHLN/SN]) drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the day.

Short list:

  • New York at Ottawa: Before they were members of the Rangers‘ high-flying offense, Matt Puempel and Mika Zibanejad spent a combined eight seasons in Ottawa.
  • Washington at Boston: Another player making his return to his former home is Brett Connolly, who played two seasons with the Bruins.
  • Chicago at Los Angeles: Though the rivalry has died off lately, the Hawks and Kings have played some vicious games in the past.
  • Pittsburgh at Toronto: All the Leafs need to qualify for the playoffs is a lone victory. This is the more winnable of their last two games.
  • Montréal at Detroit: Not only is it an Original Six rivalry and the Habs‘ last trip to Joe Louis Arena, but Steve Ott also makes his first return to Motown since being traded at the deadline.
  • Minnesota at Arizona: After 10 years with the Coyotes, Martin Hanzal will play his first game in Gila River Arena as a visitor.
  • Calgary at San Jose: The Flames want to avoid Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, and San Jose still has a chance at home ice against the Oilers. Only one of those things can happen, and it’s decided tonight.

It may not be the fun answer, but we have to go to Toronto to see if the Maple Leafs can lock up a spot in the playoffs. Sorry Connolly, Hanzal, Ott, Puempel and Zibanejad!

 

The 50-19-11 Penguins have already clinched second place in the Metropolitan Division and will host at least the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This game is not about them.

Instead, all eyes are on 39-26-15 Toronto, the club beloved by many that currently occupies the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

As stated before, it’s a simple win-and-you’re-in situation for the Leafs. A victory tonight would give the Maple Leafs an insurmountable 95 points on the season, more than either the Lightning (92 points, one game remaining) or Islanders (90 points, two games remaining) can surpass.

That’s goal number one: qualification.

Of course, there’s plenty more on the table here if the Leafs can sweep their last two games. Third place is certainly an achievable goal, as it is currently occupied by a Boston team with 95 points and only one game remaining – a dreadfully difficult home contest against the Capitals.

Since that game will be done by the time the Leafs drop the puck tonight, they’ll know if they can surpass the Bruins in the standings or not. Toronto already knows it cannot surpass Boston if it wins this afternoon, as the Leafs could only tie the Bruins at 97 points, but lose the regulation+overtime-wins tiebreaker.

Even second place in the division is still on the board should the Bruins lose today and the Senators (96 points) lose both their remaining games and no more than one require overtime.

But that’s probably getting ahead of ourselves. Remember, the first goal is qualification.

Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, April’s schedule is not doing them any favors in achieving that goal. After opening the month in Detroit, Toronto has faced or will face five quality opponents – quality offenses, to be exact –  in a row. They beat the Red Wings 5-4 on April Fools’ Day, followed by a strong 4-2 victory against a sneaky-good Sabres team.

Then started the ill-timed losing skid. Though all skids are ill-timed (Unless you’re Colorado, I suppose. Nolan Patrick won’t fall into just anybody’s lap!), one during a playoff push is especially unwanted.

After returning home for the final four games of the regular season, the Leafs fell to the Capitals 4-1 on Tuesday (Eh, they can handle that. Everybody loses to Washington), followed two days later by another 4-1 loss to the Lightning. That’s the one that caused the most damage, as a victory would have clinched the last spot in the postseason and made this game a little less important.

Obviously there have been issues on both sides of the puck. The easy answer is to crucify the defense and goaltending, but I don’t think that’s the right one. 5-6-0 Curtis McElhinney was in net for the Washington game since it was only a night after the Leafs‘ contest in Buffalo, and 33-16-14 Frederik Andersen reclaimed the crease for the Tampa game.

Sure, you want Andersen to beat the Bolts, but he had been on a five-game winning streak (his longest of the year, if my count is correct) and was bound to drop a game eventually, especially when faced with such a potent offense of late.

And though the defense hasn’t played well recently, when has it this year?  They’ve allowed an average of 32.8 shots-per-game to reach Andersen’s crease on the season, the third-worst rate in the NHL. The fact that they allowed a combined total of only 68 (34 per game) shots against both the Caps and Bolts is almost impressive!

If anything, the only major setback in the last two games for Toronto has been its penalty kill. Usually successfully killing 82.6% of opponent’s power plays (ninth-best in the NHL), that rate has dropped to only 60% of late, which is tied for fourth-worst in the league in that time.

But for a team that has averaged 3.04 goals-per-game, the fifth-highest scoring rate in the league, to score only a goal in both games is alarming. Even more concerning is that Tyler Bozak, a third-liner, took credit for both the tallies, meaning the remaining 17 Leafs skaters – including the top two lines – have been held goalless.

And the cherry on top? Those that follow the Leafs know that Bozak and Auston Matthews do not share ice time in any circumstance (even-strength or power play), meaning the rookie wonder has not registered even an assist during this skid.

Scoring is usually the kid’s thing! Matthews has done it all year. Starting with his four-goal effort to begin his NHL career and all throughout the season, he’s found a way to generate offense. He leads Toronto in points (67). He leads Toronto in goals (39).

Yet it’s that exact reason that I’m not too worried about Matthews. Barring a horrid seven-game run to start March and the five-game drought as he was getting adjusted to the league, the youngster has faced only a three-game pointless skid this season (albeit twice). He is the energy in this Leafs team and will not be kept off the scorecard for long.

One way to get Toronto back to scoring is to take advantage of the man-advantage opportunities it is presented with. On the season, the Maple Leafs have been the second-best power play in the league by converting 24.1% of their opponents’ infractions into goals.

This is where fellow rookie William Nylander can shoulder the burden of providing offense with Matthews, as the Albertan has notched a team-leading 25 power play points. Nazem Kadri can also be instrumental from the second power play unit with his squad-leading 12 extra-man goals.

Though they’re riding a four-game winning streak, the Leafs have a great opportunity to get back on track against Pittsburgh. The Pens have allowed 10 goals during this streak, including four to the lowly Devils on Thursday.

The Penguins defense is fourth-worst in the league when measured by shots allowed-per-game this season (32.7), and that’s been an even worse 36.25 in the month of April. Regardless of who’s in net, be it 32-10-4 Matthew Murray or 18-9-7 Marc-Andre Fleury, they should see a lot of shots coming their way.

Those defensive struggles are especially apparent on the penalty kill of late, as the Pens‘ penalty kill rate of 66.7% in the past week ties Detroit for the sixth-worst mark in the NHL in that time. Since March 31, Murray has faced 15 power play shots, which ties for eighth-most against the 58 other goaltenders in that time.

Of course, to truly beat the Pens is to stifle slow down their offense. Doing that will require a bit of work, as first liners Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel both have six points to their credit over the past four games. The rookie may actually be more impressive than his captain of late, as four of his points have been goals, a total that leads the club.

Pittsburgh is especially potent on the man-advantage, mostly because each member of both power play units is capable of scoring. Eight players in the past week, almost evenly split between the two special teams, have notched a power play point to lead the Pens to a 36.4% conversion rate (third-best in that time). Lately, the stars of the show have been Nick Bonino and Patric Hornqvist, both of whom have registered a power play goal and assist.

In the previous two times these clubs have met, the Penguins have had an upper-hand, as they lead the season series 1-0-1. That being said, the last time they met on December 17 (at the Air Canada Centre, in fact) was when Toronto bested the Pens 2-1 thanks to Jake Gardiner‘s overtime goal.

Some players to keep an eye on include Pittsburgh‘s Ian Cole (+27 [tied for seventh-best in the league]), Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 88 points [tied for second-most in the league]), Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the NHL] for 32 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+27 [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (33 wins [eighth-most in the league], including four shutouts [10th-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (39 goals [tied for third-most in the league]).

I like the Leafs to win this game tonight mostly due to my faith in Matthews. He knows he’s too important to his club to not be effective on the offensive end, and he should be able to take advantage of a poor, uninspired Penguins defense.


Thanks to First Star of the Game Yanni Gourde‘s two-goal night, the Lightning not only beat the host Canadiens 4-2, but they also kept their slim postseason hopes alive in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though every period of play featured two goals, the difference in this game proved to be the first, as both tallies belonged to the Bolts. Gourde (Second Star Nikita Kucherov and Luke Witkowski) fired an ice-breaking wrist shot with 8:18 remaining in the period to give Tampa Bay the lead, and Kucherov (Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point) followed that up with a wrister of his own 10 seconds before intermission.

Dwight King (Third Star Artturi Lehkonen and Nikita Nesterov) pulled the Habs back within a goal a second before the midway point of the contest with a pure wrister, but Alex Killorn (Cory Conacher) was able to score what ended up being the game-winning wrister only 4:20 later. Tampa took its 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

Only 4:36 into the third frame, Lehkonen took advantage of a Tampa Bay mistake to score a shorthanded backhand shot and pull Montréal back within a tally, but Gourde’s (Conacher and Jake Dotchin) wrister only 21 seconds later put an end to any Habs comeback.

Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (93.1%), leaving the loss to Carey Price, who saved 18-of-22 (81.8%).

With their second 4-2 victory in a row, road teams are trying their darnedest to win the DtFR Game of the Day series. They trail the 87-61-25 home teams by only three points with two days remaining in the regular season.

November 18 – Day 37 – Another Friday brawl in New York?

For a Friday, we have quite a few games on the schedule.

Thanks, Pharrell.

Anyways, three games find their start at the usual 7 p.m. (Pittsburgh at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS], Detroit at Washington and the New York Rangers at Columbus), with Montréal at Carolina (RDS) waiting half an hour before beginning their festivities. This evening’s nightcap is Chicago at Calgary, which drops the puck at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

I know we’ve already featured both these teams this week, but their rivalry game in Brooklyn is the only fixture that really catches my eye.

pittsburgh_penguins_logoNew York Islanders Logo

 

Just in case you aren’t familiar with this rivalry, I’d like to present you with this:

Total, you just witnessed almost six hours-worth of penalties. Bonus material: one of my favorite hockey bouts, the Rick DiPietro v Brent Johnson scrap they were talking about:

For those unfamiliar with this fight, the right-handed Johnson throws one left hook – one- on DiPietro, and breaks his cheekbone. It goes without saying that these teams have a history of not playing nicely with one another. Whether that plays out in fisticuffs or goals remains to be seen.

After the textbook Penguin-demolition by the Washington Capitals Wednesday night, Pittsburgh enters tonight’s game with a 10-4-2 record. While it wasn’t on display in that game, Pittsburgh‘s strength continues to be their high-flying offense that has lit the lamp 48 times.

Evgeni Malkin has statistically been the lead man of the Penguins‘ offense with 15 points to his credit. That being said, Sidney Crosby has been the one burying most of the goals, scoring 10 goals in as many games played after missing six contests due to his presesason concussion.

The Steel City is home to the fifth-best power play in the league, successful on 23.6% of their attempts. Phil Kessel has been the man in charge on the man-advantage, responsible for nine power play points, including six assists. Patric Hornqvist has been the one completing most of the plays, potting four power play goals.

Just like the Penguins, the last time New York was featured in our Game of the Day series was their last game played – a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Lightning. They have a 5-8-3 record for worst in the Eastern Conference, with most of the responsibility, in my opinion, falling on the defense and goaltending.

The Islanders have allowed 51 goals so far this season, with most of those coming against 3-5-3 Jaroslav Halak. He has a .904 save percentage and 3.09 GAA to his credit, which ranks 15th and 12th-worst among all goalies with six or more appearances.

While his performance has been poor, it could be argued that he’s being worked a little bit more than the average goaltender. OK, a lot more. Be it Halak or Thomas Greiss in net, the Isles allow an average of 31.7 shots against per night, the seventh-highest in the league. Johnny Boychuk continues to deserve credit for his 43 blocks – the second-highest total in the league – but he is the only Islander with more than 40 shot blocks to his credit. While blocks are not always the answer, New York‘s defense needs to improve to limit opposing opportunities in a hurry.

As you might expect, the Isles‘ penalty kill is not exactly admirable either. They’ve negated their own infractions only 79.7% of the time, which ties with Los Angeles for seventh-worst in the league. Part of the reason they haven’t been able to find success is because they’re on the penalty kill more often than they should be. They allow 3.8 opposing power plays per night, well over the league average of 3.2. That extra effort not only exhausts the team for future kills, but also during even-strength play as well.

Part of the reason the offense hasn’t been able to find success is they haven’t capitalized on their best opportunities. New York has scored on only 10.4% of their power plays, the fourth-worst rate in the NHL. Captain John Tavares has three power play points to his credit, but only he and Brock Nelson have more than one point on the man-advantage.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include New York‘s Dennis Seidenberg (+10 [leads the team]) and Tavares (five goals for 12 points [both lead the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (10 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) and Matthew Murray (.951 save percentage [leads the NHL] for a 1.62 GAA [third-best in the league]).

Vegas has a +138 next to the Islanders, which might be generous. If my estimations are correct, New York‘s chances of earning even a point out of this one are slim. But hey, it is a rivalry game, so anything can happen.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jocelyn Lemieux (1967-) – St. Louis selected the right wing 10th overall in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually spent a majority of his career with the rival Blackhawks. Nowadays he is working for RDS, so keep an eye out for him in the CanadiensHurricanes broadcast!

St. Louis held serve at home in yesterday’s Game of the Day, besting San Jose 3-2 on a deciding power play.

The Sharks opened the scoring at the 6:16 mark of the first period with a Logan Couture (Joonas Donskoi and Joel Ward) wrister to set the score at 1-0. That lead lasted only 4:22 before First Star of the Game Jaden Schwartz (Alex Pietrangelo) leveled with a wrister of his own. The 1-1 score held into the first intermission.

8:45 after resuming play, Schwartz potted his second goal of the night on another wrist shot, but once again a lead didn’t last long. Kevin Labanc (Joe Thornton and Justin Braun) scored the first goal of his NHL career only 19 seconds later to set the score at 2-2. With 4:04 remaining in the second frame, Second Star David Perron (Third Star Paul Stastny and Robby Fabbri) capitalized on a Mikkel Boedker interference penalty to score the eventual game-winner.

Jake Allen earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (93.5%), forcing Martin Jones to take the loss, saving 22-of-25 (88%).

The second-straight home victory in the DtFR Game of the Day series sets the record at 23-12-4, favoring the home squads by a dozen points over the roadies.

November 16 – Day 35 – It’s just Pittsburgh-Washington. You know, nothing special…

There’s two games being played in the NHL tonight. Two.

I suppose we have no right to complain since there was only one contest Monday…

But I’m still sour about it.

Anyways, Pittsburgh at Washington (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) gets things started at 7:30 p.m., followed by Arizona at Calgary (SN/SN1) at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

You have a 50-50 shot of picking our Game of the Day. Hopefully you’re a good guesser.

pittsburgh_penguins_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

Something tells me you guessed right. A rivalry to this magnitude cannot be missed, no matter how much you want to watch two of the bottom three teams in the Western Conference.

Pittsburgh enters the Verizon Center with a 10-3-2 record. As we’ve come to expect from the Penguins, it has been a solid offense that has led the way to that success.

They’ve been led so far by Evgeni Malkin, who has 15 points to his credit. That being said, Sidney Crosby has been far-and-away the most impressive player on the squad with 10 goals on his resume in only nine games played. I was concerned that his preseason concussion could be the symbolic straw that broke the camel’s back, but it seems to have awoken a Crosby that hearkens back to, if not succeeds, his 2010-’11 form before being sidelined for over a year.

Western Pennsylvania is home to the third-strongest power play in the league, as the Pens are successful on 25.5% of their attempts. Phil Kessel has been the man in charge on the man-advantage, responsible for nine power play points, including six assists. Patric Hornqvist has been the one completing most of the plays, potting four power play goals.

Hosting the Penguins this evening are the 9-4-2 Capitals. What has been most impressive about Washington‘s play so far has not been their offense, but actually their defense and goaltending, which has allowed only 35 goals against this season – the fourth-lowest total in hockey.

Braden Holtby enters the night with a 7-3-1 record on a .922 save percentage and 2.16 GAA, ranking him ninth and eighth-best in the NHL, respectively, among goaltenders with at least 11 appearances.

Holtby doesn’t get all the credit though, as the defense playing in front of him has been pretty spectacular as well. Thanks to Brooks Orpik‘s 26 blocks and the example he sets for his fellow blue-liners, Holtby faces only 27.9 shots per game, the third-lowest average in the game. An under-worked goaltender is usually a good goaltender, which is the case for the man between the pipes in the nation’s capital.

Surprisingly, Washington has yet to find much success on the power play this season. Connecting on only 11.9% of their opportunities, the Caps are tied for sixth-worst in the league with the man-advantage. I’m not too concerned yet though, as the Caps ranked fifth-best a season ago after connecting on 21.9% of their attempts.

This intense rivalry was made only deeper by the occurrences of last postseason. En route to their fourth Stanley Cup title, the Pens upset the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals four games to two in the Eastern Semifinals. The league further rubbed that fact in Washington‘s face by having the Caps be Pittsburgh‘s first home opponent, meaning they had to watch the Penguins hoist their Stanley Cup banner.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (10 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) and Washington‘s Marcus Johansson (12 points [leads the team]).

Vegas doesn’t have a line listed for this game, which only affirms this as the tightly-contested matchup we’ve come to expect. I’m biased towards one of these clubs, but I’m leaning towards Washington taking the victory for no other reason than they have home ice. This should be an absolutely fantastic 60+ minutes of hockey.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pierre Larouche (1955-) – Pittsburgh selected this center eighth overall in the 1974 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest tenure was with Montréal, the team with which he won two Stanley Cups.
  • Kari Lehtonen (1983-) – The second overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Atlanta,  this goaltender is playing his seventh-consecutive season in Dallas.

For the third time in the last four Games of the Day, we needed overtime to determine who walked out of the arena with two points. Last night, it was the visiting Devils who beat Dallas 2-1.

All the regulation scoring action happened before 11 minutes ticked off the clock. New Jersey opened the scoring 7:40 after the opening puck drop when Third Star of the Game Damon Severson (P.A. Parenteau and Beau Bennett) buried a wrister to take a 1-0 lead. It lasted only 2:53 before Patrick Eaves (Antoine Roussel) leveled with a wrister of his own.

After 49:27 of scoreless play, it’s almost ironic that Second Star Adam Henrique (Kyle Palmieri) buried his snap shot only 44 seconds into overtime to end the game for New Jersey.

Cory Schneider earns the victory after saving 23-of-24 shots faced (95.8%), while First Star Antti Niemi takes the overtime loss, saving 31-of-33 (93.9%).

New Jersey‘s victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 21-12-4, still favoring the home squads by eight points over the roadies.