Tag Archives: Phaneuf

Game of the week: October 8-14

Observant, loyal fans of Down the Frozen River have probably noticed the absence of the Game of the Day series to start this season.

For that, as well as the fact that this trend will likely continue throughout the month of October, I apologize.

However, I can offer the next best thing as a replacement until my schedule frees up: instead of a Game of the Day, how about a Game of the Week?

In that case, let’s take a look at all the contests we have/had to choose from this week!

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 8-14
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 8
1 p.m. Ottawa Boston 3-6
1 p.m. San Jose New York Islanders 0-4
3 p.m. Vegas Buffalo 2-4
10 p.m. Detroit Anaheim 2-3 (SO)
Tuesday, October 9
7 p.m. San Jose Philadelphia 8-2
7 p.m. Vancouver Carolina 3-5
7 p.m. Colorado Columbus 2-5
8 p.m. Calgary Nashville 3-0
8 p.m. Los Angeles Winnipeg 1-2
8:30 p.m. Toronto Dallas 7-4
Wednesday, October 10
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Ottawa SN, TVAS
8 p.m. Vegas Washington NBCSN
10 p.m. Arizona Anaheim
Thursday, October 11
7 p.m. Edmonton Boston TVAS
7 p.m. Colorado Buffalo
7 p.m. Columbus Florida
7 p.m. Washington New Jersey
7 p.m. San Jose New York Rangers
7 p.m. Vegas Pittsburgh
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Toronto Detroit
7:30 p.m. Vancouver Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Calgary St. Louis
8 p.m. Winnipeg Nashville
8 p.m. Chicago Minnesota
Friday, October 12
No games scheduled
Saturday, October 13
1 p.m. Edmonton New York Rangers
1 p.m. Vegas Philadelphia SN
2 p.m. Los Angeles Ottawa RDS
6 p.m. Carolina Minnesota
7 p.m. Detroit Boston
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Montréal CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Tampa Bay
7 p.m. Vancouver Florida SN1
7 p.m. Toronto Washington CBC, NHLN
8 p.m. New York Islanders Nashville
8 p.m. Anaheim Dallas
8:30 p.m. St. Louis Chicago
9 p.m. Buffalo Arizona
10 p.m. Calgary Colorado CBC, CITY, SN1
SUNday, October 14
1 p.m. San Jose New Jersey SN
7 p.m. Anaheim St. Louis
7 p.m. Carolina Winnipeg NHLN, SN1, SN360

Out of a list of 42 matchups, surely we can find at least one tilt to take in.

There’s a collection of some great rivalry games (Toronto at Detroit, Chicago at Minnesota, Detroit at Boston and St. Louis at Chicago) and some players returning to their former home arenas (W Matt Calvert and D Dion Phaneuf heading back to the respective capitals of Ohio and Canada stick out in particular), but I’m most drawn to playoff rematches during these opening months of the season.

Yes, the Jets are traveling to Tennessee tomorrow to take on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators, but that rematch is going to take place three more times this season.

Instead, I’m much more excited to see how the Golden Knights’ pent up frustrations from falling in the Stanley Cup Final come into play tonight. Let’s make the trip to the American Capital and dive into that exciting early-season matchup.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s nothing quite like a Stanley Cup Finals rematch, especially when it takes place within the first week or two of the season.

For those that were in a coma for all of last hockey season – or those that simply live under a rock – the Vegas Golden Knights were one of the greatest stories in North American Big Four sports history last season.

After not existing during the 2016-17 season, the expansion Knights rallied around their hurting city and the idea of being a disorganized band of misfits that their former clubs no longer wanted to soar to an unlikely Pacific Division title and unprecedented Western Conference Championship.

A team consisting of the complete package, Vegas regularly scored with ease while G Marc-Andre Fleury was on the shelf with an upper-body injury. Upon his return, the Golden Knights continued winning even when the offense slowed down, as Fleury posted an incredible .927 save percentage in 46 starts – aided in large part by playing behind a defense that yielded only 30.7 shots against per game for the entire 2017-18 season, a mark that ranked seventh-best in the NHL.

Meanwhile, 2017-18 was the first season in a while that the Capitals entered their campaign with outsiders not pegging them to succeed. Too many players were lost as a result of management having to make moves to stay under the cap, and W Alex Ovechkin just didn’t seem to have the ability to get his team past the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Second Round of the playoffs.

Or so we thought. The Caps told the pundits where to shove it as they raced to their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title behind their scoring prowess (Washington averaged 3.12 goals per game last season, good enough for ninth-best in the league), followed by getting past the dreaded Penguins and preseason darling Lighting to secure their second-ever Prince of Wales Trophy.

The Final itself was a quick, but exciting affair. With only a +6 goal differential in the final round, Washington defeated Vegas in five games to get a 44-year-old monkey off its back and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

But all the banners have been raised and all the champagne has been popped. That was last season, and tonight is all about working towards the 2019 championship.

Making the trip to D.C. are the 1-2-0 Golden Knights, the reigning winners of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl even though they currently reside in 11th place in the Western Conference.

If any one part of Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s team is responsible for it’s lone win (notched in Minnesota on Saturday courtesy of the shootout), it’s surely Vegas’ squelching defense. Even with D Nate Schmidt – the club’s best blueliner, if I do say so myself – twiddling his thumbs while serving a 20-game suspension for PEDs, the Golden Knights have continued last season’s stellar play in their own end, allowing only 24 shots per game to reach Fleury.

That effort, which is good enough to tie Montréal for third-best in the league, has been headlined not by defensemen, but by fourth-liners LW William Carrier‘s conference-leading 18 hits and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s team-leading four takeaways.

There’s no denying that Carrier’s efforts have been felt by opposing teams, but Bellemare’s lack of scoring touch (as well as that of linemates Carrier and RW Ryan Reaves) has made his puck-snatching abilities a little less exciting. Though he scored a goal on a takeaway against the Flyers last Thursday, that marker is still the only point in his account for this season.

Of course, Bellemare is not the only one not finding the scorecard. Vegas has registered only five goals in three showings so far this season, pinning it as the fifth-worst attack in the entire league.

With 2-2-4 totals in 19:51 average time on ice, F Jon Marchessault is doing all he can to keep the Knights competitive, but he’s going to need far more assistance from the rest of the top-six forwards if Vegas wants to climb back to the heights it achieved last season. In particular, I’m waiting for some breakout games from Vegas’ second line, consisting of LW Max Pacioretty (227-222-449 career totals in 629 games), C Paul Stastny (220-426-646 in 827 career games) and F Erik Haula (posted a career-best 29-26-55 line in 76 games last season).

The Golden Knights will have exactly the attack to emulate in tonight’s opponent, as offense has been king for the 1-0-1 Capitals through their first two games. Averaging a whopping 6.5 goals per game, Washington is topping the NHL’s scoring charts so far this season and currently resides in seventh place in the Eastern Conference because of it.

A total of six players on Washington’s roster are currently averaging at least a point per game, but none have been quite as spectacular as F T.J. Oshie. In only two games, he’s posted dominant 3-2-5 totals, not to mention a .429 shooting percentage that will surely have Fleury quivering in his skates. The Caps’ top line has been just as lethal too, as C Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have posted matching 2-1-3 totals to start the season and look to already be in mid-season form.

To top things off, Washington’s attack isn’t limited just to forwards. Just like the fourth line is getting involved defensively for Vegas, Capitals defensemen John Carlson (2-2-4 totals) and Brooks Orpik (1-1-2) have also been deadly, as both are averaging at least a point per game in their first two showings.

In strength against strength, I’m leaning towards the hosts’ offense being able to earn its fifth-straight win against Fleury and Vegas’ defense.

However, if the Golden Knights’ attack can show some life, G Braden Holtby has not looked very solid with his .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA. If Pacioretty and Stastny can find some rhythm tonight – not to mention C William Karlsson rediscovering last year’s breakout form – Washington could be in line for another high-scoring affair like its last outing against the Penguins.

March 30 – Day 170 – Freeway Face-Off

The penultimate weekend of the regular season is upon us! There’s not much time left before the greatest postseason in sports can begin!

The night gets started with three games (Toronto at the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay at the New York Rangers [NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Carolina at Washington) at 7 p.m., but Chicago at Colorado waits until 9 p.m. before getting underway. Next up is Los Angeles at Anaheim (SN1) at 10 p.m., followed by St. Louis at Vegas half an hour later to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

After the transactions at this year’s trade deadline, the Bolts’ visit to Madison Square Garden will be a fun game to see considering D Dan Girardi, D Ryan McDonagh and F J.T. Miller are going to be making their first appearance in front of their former home fans.

However, nothing can keep us away from Orange County this evening and witnessing a pivotal Freeway Face-Off.

 

In the spirit of Opening Day taking place yesterday, the second half of March has been very, very good to the 39-25-13 Ducks. Anaheim has posted an impressive 5-1-1 record since March 14, and it’s all been because of some stellar play on the defensive end.

Whether it’s been the solid play of D Cam Fowler (2.4 blocks per game since March 14), C Ryan Getzlaf (11 takeaways in his last six games played) or D Josh Manson (3.6 hits per game in his last five outings), Anaheim’s defense has made it very tough on its opposition to find any sort of offensive rhythm. During this seven-game run, the Ducks have allowed only 30.29 shots against per game – the 10th-best average in the league since March 14.

With the only possible exception being Head Coach Randy Carlyle, no one is happier about that statistic than 30-18-7 G John Gibson, tonight’s projected starter who has been the only goaltender Anaheim has used during this seven-game run. Gibson has certainly earned his spot in the crease lately, as he’s posted a .934 save percentage and 1.99 GAA to improve his season marks to a .925 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.

After paring the Ducks’ solid defense with some stellar play from Gibson, Anaheim has allowed only 2.14 goals per game since March 14, the fifth-best mark in the NHL in that time.

Of course, Anaheim is not the only squad playing well at the right time of year, as the 43-28-7 Kings are also enjoying a nice run of success right now with a 4-1-1 record over their past six showings.

To continue the similarities, Los Angeles is finding success lately in exactly the same way as Anaheim: behind some stellar defense. Behind the impressive efforts of D Derek Forbort (3.5 blocks per game since March 19), C Anze Kopitar (averaging a takeaway per game in his past six outings) and D Dion Phaneuf (2.7 hits per game during this run), Los Angeles has allowed only 27.83 shots against per game since March 19, the fourth-lowest mark in the NHL in that time.

As would be expected from a goaltender like 31-27-2 Jonathan Quick, he has absolutely relished the play of his skaters and made full use of their excellent effort. In his last four starts, Quick has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.73 GAA, both of which are much better than the .923 save percentage and 2.38 GAA he’s managed for the entire regular season.

Quick was intentionally saved for tonight’s game against the Ducks, as it was 2-0-2 G Jack Campbell in action last night in the Kings’ 4-2 victory over the Coyotes. Campbell did his job in earning the victory last night, so now it’s up to Quick to hold up his end of the deal and beat the opponent with much more to play for.

Speaking of the Kings’ win last night against Arizona, Los Angeles has created a slight separation of two points between it and its southeastern neighbor. However, it is that very game that also plays to the Kings’ detriment, as a regulation win by the Ducks tonight propels them into third place in the Pacific Division considering their game in hand on Los Angeles.

Even though the Ducks and Kings have split their four meetings in terms of wins, Anaheim has certainly had the upper hand on its Southern Californian counterparts so far this season by forcing overtime in its two losses.

These clubs first met on November 7 at Honda Center in Anaheim, but it was the Kings that earned the 4-3 overtime victory (C Nick Shore – now a member of the Flames –  scored the game-winner). A similar result occurred a few weeks later on November 25, as Los Angeles successfully defended home ice with a 2-1 shootout win (Quick earned First Star honors with a 25-save performance).

However, the tides have turned in favor of Anaheim in their two more recent meetings. The Ducks took another trip up I-5 on January 13, this time finding a 4-2 victory in Tinseltown (W Ondrej Kase dominated the game with 2-1-3 totals), followed only six days later by a narrow 2-1 home win (all three goals were struck in the third period, but F Ryan Kesler scored the final – and game-winning – marker).

The Ducks have the luxury of playing on The Pond with two night’s rest as compared to Los Angeles playing last night. This result might just boil down to those facts, as neither defense nor goaltender is going to yield very much this evening. It might be a close one, but I think Anaheim can earn two points tonight.


With a 4-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at TD Garden, the Boston Bruins have taken a one-point lead in the Eastern Conference.

Though it looks like the Bruins dominated the first period based on the scoreboard reading 2-0 during the first intermission, Boston didn’t register its opening markers until the final minute of the frame. F Tim Schaller (F Tommy Wingels) took credit for the ice-breaker with 58 ticks remaining in the period, followed only 32 seconds later by Third Star of the Game RW David Pastrnak (D Torey Krug and Second Star C Patrice Bergeron) scoring a power play deflection.

In terms of game time, Boston’s two-goal lasted only 2:10 before Miller (RW Nikita Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) pulled the Bolts back within a goal with a power play deflection 1:44 into the second period. The Lightning had their fist around a penalty-laden second frame (eight different infractions were recorded between the intermission), as they allowed only three Boston shots to reach G Andrei Vasilevskiy.

That 2-1 score lasted throughout the second frame, as well as over half the third. However, Bergeron’s (Krug and LW Brad Marchand) wrist shot with 8:01 remaining in regulation during four-on-four play returned the two-goal advantage to the Bruins and proved to be the game-winner.

What a slick play this tally proved to be. Bergeron actually started the play along the right boards with the puck on his stick, dumping it into the trapezoid to Marchand. Upon collecting Bergeron’s pass, Marchand slid above the goal line to Vasilevskiy’s right, but instead of firing a quick shot, instead dished to Krug in the high slot to the netminder’s glove side. Once again a player would be within his rights to fire a shot, but Krug’s unselfishness led to him returning a backhanded pass across the slot. However, instead of Marchand being in that position, it was Bergeron, who had drifted behind the net from his original spot along the boards and was now near the left goal post. With Vasilevskiy leaning towards his glove side to stop any Krug offering, Bergeron had a gaping net to fire his wrister into.

Tampa still had a lot of fight left in it, as proven by Hedman (F Yanni Gourde and Girardi) scoring his 15th goal of the season to pull the Bolts back within a score, but Marchand’s (Bergeron and Pastrnak) backhanded shot on an empty net with 56 seconds remaining in the game ended any chance of Tampa Bay leveling the game.

First Star G Tuukka Rask earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Vasilevskiy, who saved 26-of-29 (.897).

There’s some serious perks to being the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day lately, as the 96-53-21 hosts have rattled off a six-game winning streak that’s made only better by earning points in eight-straight tilts. Home teams in the series now have a 43-point lead on the visitors.

March 19 – Day 159 – There’s a LA Lakers joke here somewhere…

After a busy weekend, only five games are on today’s NHL schedule.

The evening starts with two tilts (Columbus at Boston [SN/TVAS] and Nashville at Buffalo) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Florida at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN), while Calgary at Arizona – tonight’s nightcap – waits a full two hours before closing out the night. All times Eastern.

Originally, the Kings-Wild game was marked in my list of potential games for the simple fact that D Christian Folin is returning to Xcel Energy Center for the first time since departing Minnesota. While that’s not exactly a story worth covering (sorry Folin, but you’ve spent the last two games in the press box), the matchup should still prove to be the most competitive – and important – of the night. To the Land of 10,000 Lakes!

 

March has not been the month of consistency for 39-27-6 Los Angeles, as it has alternated between winning and losing on a game-by-game basis. While that is a good thing in the sense that they haven’t strung two losses back-to-back since February 22 and 24, the Kings have also failed to follow a win with another victory since February 27 and March 1.

As such, the Kings have only a 4-3-1 record to show for this calendar month, but that is certainly not the fault of any in the defensive end. Led by W Dustin Brown (five takeaways since March 1) and LW Kyle Clifford (3.4 hits per game over this stretch), Los Angeles has allowed only 29.88 shots against per game to reach 28-26-2 G Jonathan Quick since March 1, the 10th-lowest mark in the NHL in that time.

Of course, a goaltender like Quick that is faced with so few shots per game is almost always capable of making the required saves. The story has been no different lately, as he’s posted an impressive .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA over his past seven starts, improving his season marks to a .922 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

Even with the Kings traveling to Winnipeg for a tilt tomorrow night against the Jets, Quick will be in net this evening.

Instead, inconsistency has showed its ugly face within the Kings’ offensive ranks this month. That seems hard to believe considering C Anze Kopitar and D Drew Doughty are both averaging at least a point per game this month with respective 10 and eight points, but it’s how they reached those point totals where we start to get a clearer picture.

It’s a regular occurrence for an offensive defenseman to register far more assists than goals, so it’s no surprise Doughty has 1-7-8 marks over his past eight showings. Similarly, Doughty plays an excellent center role by being a play maker, as evidenced by his 2-8-10 performance this month.

However, it’s the fact that neither of these leaders are finding the back of the net themselves that seems to be the issue. Similarly, the Kings’ two hottest goalscorers – F Jeff Carter and LW Tanner Pearson – can only boast four goals apiece since March 1, but they play together on the second line instead of with Kopitar.

Therefore, it seems that Los Angeles’ top line is in a bit of a rut lately. With F Tobias Rieder and Brown currently listed as Kopitar’s wings, they need to get their act together to solidify the Kings’ playoff run.

In terms of record, 41-24-7 Minnesota has been experiencing a month of March very similar to the Kings, as the Wild can only boast a 5-4-0 record since turning the calendar’s page.

However, the Wild have reached their March record in a very different way than the Kings, as they have already posted a three-game winning streak this month and could match that mark with a victory tonight.

Defense has been a major part of that success, as Minnesota has done well to limit its opponents to only 28 shots against per game since March 1, the third-lowest mark in the entire NHL. D Jonas Brodin (1.9 blocks per game since March 1), D Mathew Dumba (two hits per game over this run) and W Jason Zucker (six takeaways in his last nine games) have all played major roles in that squelching defensive presence.

However, to have a record so close to .500 over this nine-game run, there’s also been more than a few Minnesotan losses this month. Those belong to 31-14-5 G Devan Dubnyk, who has not exactly been spectacular in his last seven starts. Even though he’s earned four victories this month, he’s also posted an .899 save percentage and 2.93 GAA – well below his season marks of a .916 save percentage and 2.61 GAA.

Of these two teams, Minnesota’s playoff chances are all but clinched as it has a five-point advantage on ninth-place Dallas – not to mention a game in hand (technically, tonight’s game is the Wild’s game in hand over the Stars, but it will be returned to them after Dallas plays Washington tomorrow). Additionally, there’s little forward mobility in the Central Division, as Minnesota trails Winnipeg by seven points.

Instead, the Wild are most concerned with holding on to third place in the division to ensure they play the Jets in the first round of the playoffs instead of Vegas. Currently, Minnesota has a three-point advantage on Colorado in the first wild card. With the Avs getting the opportunity to take on the lowly Blackhawks tomorrow night, the Wild need to hold serve with a victory tonight to maintain their slim advantage.

Of course, playoff seeding is the least of the Kings’ worries as they’re currently tied with Dallas at 84 points. Los Angeles needs any points it can get its hands on, but a win tonight would propel it past Anaheim for third place in the Pacific Division, as both sides would have 86 points and the Kings would win the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker.

Tonight’s game is the second of three this regular season between Los Angeles and Minnesota. The first took place December 15 at Staples Center, where the Kings effectively imposed their will to post a convincing 5-2 victory. W Marian Gaborik – now an Ottawa Senator after being traded on Valentine’s Day for D Dion Phaneuf and C Nate Thompson – led the way that night with two third period goals.

If the Kings continue their run of alternating results, they should be in line for a victory tonight considering they fell 3-0 against New Jersey on Saturday. Even facing Minnesota’s impressive defense, I think the Kings can get it done today since Quick playing that much better than Dubnyk lately.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 at Honda Center to propel themselves into third place in the Pacific Division.

Though the Devils twice pulled back within a goal of tying the game, the final result never seemed to be in doubt. Anaheim’s defense squelched almost every attempted attack by New Jersey, as its 36 shots on goals are well more than the Devils’ 17.

Of course, that defense got quite the boost by being spotted a two-goal advantage before even seven minutes had run off the clock. Second Star of the Game C Ryan Getzlaf opened the game’s scoring only 1:14 after the opening puck drop with an unassisted snap shot, and he was followed 5:23 later by W Jakob Silfverberg (D Josh Manson and Third Star D Hampus Lindholm) scoring a tip-in to set the score at 2-0.

Even though they opened the second period with 1:25 of five-on-three play, the Devils’ first comeback attempt didn’t see any real life until 9:29 remained in the second period. With W Corey Perry in the penalty box serving a too many men on the ice penalty, W Kyle Palmieri (C Travis Zajac and F Taylor Hall) buried a slap shot to pull New Jersey back within a 2-1 deficit.

Comebacks are difficult to pull off when Anaheim scores its game-winning goal before Jersey even manages its second. That’s exactly what happened when D Brandon Montour (Getzlaf and First Star F Rickard Rakell) scored a power play clapper 7:55 into the third period.

Montour and co. needed only 26 seconds of D John Moore sitting in the penalty box for cross checking Silfverberg to make the Devils pay. After receiving a pass along the left boards from Cam Fowler at the point, Rakell, moved the puck below the goal line to Getzlaf hanging out just outside the trapezoid. Before New Jersey could get its defense in the right position, Getzlaf centered a perfect pass to Montour at the top-right corner of the slot, who proceeded to rip his clapper past G Keith Kinkaid‘s glove.

Though LW Patrick Maroon (D Sami Vatanen and RW Stefan Noesen) was able to pull the Devils back within a goal with a tip-in against his former team with 9:55 remaining in regulation, a Rakell (Fowler and D Marcus Pettersson) wrist shot only 46 seconds later completed the game’s scoring.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 15-of-17 shots faced (.882 save percentage), leaving the loss to Kinkaid, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

Anaheim’s regulation home victory snaps an eight-game point streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the series’ hosts now have an 88-52-19 record that is 34 points better than the roadies.

March 1 – Day 141 – It’s usually too warm for Jackets in Los Angeles…

In comparison to other Thursdays, today’s slate of eight games seems to be a lighter load. However, don’t read a lower number of games played as an unimportant evening of action.

The festivities finds their start at 7 p.m. with two puck drops (Pittsburgh at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS] and Carolina at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by New Jersey at Florida. Next up is Tampa Bay at Dallas at 8:30 p.m., with two more tilts (Nashville at Edmonton and Minnesota at Arizona) waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago visits San Jose (NBCSN) at 10 p.m., while Columbus at Los Angeles (SN1) – tonight’s nightcap – gets green lit half an hour later to close out the night’s activity. All times Eastern.

Originally, I’d only marked the Columbus-Los Angeles game on my calendar as a potential featured matchup on the off-chance G Jeff Zatkoff would make his first return to Tinseltown.

Though that is extremely unlikely, we’re going to stick with that game due to the Blue Jackets, who are in desperate need of wins, facing the tough task of beating a confident Kings team that is riding a major surge after beating the Golden Knights twice in two days.

 

 

 

 

 

To beat the then conference-leader in such a quick turnaround, it takes a team – in this case, the 35-24-5 Kings – being on top of its game, and maybe a little luck too. After all, they were riding a two-game losing skid coming into the home-and-home series.

Los Angeles certainly had both earlier this week, as it posted a 3-2 overtime victory at Staples Center on February 26, followed by a dominant 4-1 win in Sin City a day later.

Perhaps the biggest component of the Kings’ statement victories were the exemplary play of both of their goaltenders. Even behind a defense that allowed an atrocious 40.5 shots per game (the second-worst of any team in the league since Monday), both 24-23-2 G Jonathan Quick and backup 1-0-0 G Jack Campbell were excellent to allow only 1.5 goals against per game, the (t)sixth-best mark in the past three days.

Of the two, Campbell was easily the most impressive, as he posted a solid .976 save percentage for a 1 GAA in his first NHL win. However, Quick will surely earn tonight’s start after his .949 save percentage, 1.94 GAA performance on Monday that elevated his season marks to a (t)ninth-best in the league .922 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.

Before discussing Columbus, Los Angeles’ offense also deserves a hat tip for averaging 3.5 goals per game against the Knights – the ninth-best attack since Monday. With 2-3-5 totals in the two games against Vegas, C Anze Kopitar deserves much of the credit. However, he’s just one of five players that averaged at least a point per game in that home-and-home series, as F Jeff Carter (2-0-2), W Dustin Brown (1-1-2), F Tyler Toffoli (1-1-2) and D Dion Phaneuf (0-2-2) joined him in that effort, but the fact that Kopitar’s 70 points on the season is 10th-most in the league is a testament to how valuable he is to his club.

Meanwhile, it seems the visiting 32-26-5 Blue Jackets have definitely put their five-game losing skid in early February behind them, as they’ve posted a 3-1-0 record in their last four games, including victories at New Jersey and against the Capitals.

Columbus’ strength all season has been in the defensive zone, and that’s been true during these last four games. Led by F Boone Jenner (3.3 hits per game since February 20), D Jack Johnson (two blocks per game in his last four outings) and D Seth Jones (seven takeaways over this stretch), the Jackets have allowed an average of only 27.5 shots against per game during this run, the third-best mark in the NHL since February 20.

Of course, defense like that makes 27-20-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky almost impossible to beat. Having started all four of Columbus’ last games (and likely to start tonight even with Anaheim on the schedule tomorrow), he’s posted an unbelievable .945 save percentage and 1.51 GAA to improve his season marks to a .92 save percentage and a (t)ninth-best in the league 2.41 GAA.

Pairing Bobrovsky and his defense together, they’ve allowed only 1.5 goals against per game since February 20, which ties division-rival Philadelphia for best mark in the NHL in that time.

The Kings have already made their annual trip to Ohio, but they weren’t very nice house guests. Behind a two-goal (including the game-winner), three-point performance by Kopitar, Los Angeles beat the Blue Jackets 6-4 at Nationwide Arena on October 21.

Pending a regulation loss by San Jose tonight against the visiting Blackhawks, the most noticeable immediate impact on the standings this game can have is if the Kings defend Staples Center to a victory. Should both those results come to pass, Los Angeles would pull into a tie with the Sharks for second place in the Pacific Division, taking the lead on regulation+overtime victories.

That’s not to say Columbus isn’t interested in pulling off the victory tonight, as any points it earns are important in keeping pace with New Jersey for the Eastern Conference’s first wild card, not to mention putting a little bit more space between the Jackets and the ninth-seeded Hurricanes.

With goaltenders and defenses like these, this is going to be a tough, grind-it-out style of game. With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Kings defending Staples Center to a victory due to the fact that they sport a superior offense.


Posting a four-goal period is usually a good way to win, and the Colorado Avalanche did just that to beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 at Pepsi Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Part of the reason for the Avs’ offensive explosion is the fact that they were trailing 2-0 before finding their first goal. C Mikael Backlund scored an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot with 5:41 remaining in the first period, followed by a F Michael Frolik (LW Matthew Tkachuk and Backlund) backhander 2:41 into the second.

That two-goal advantage lasted until the 8:24 mark of the second frame when First Star of the Game F Nathan MacKinnon (LW Gabriel Landeskog and Second Star D Tyson Barrie) scored a power play wrist shot to get Colorado on the board. That seemed to be the spark the Avs’ offense needed, because D Nikita Zadorov (W Blake Comeau and F Carl Soderberg) provided the game-tying goal only 1:08 after MacKinnon’s tally.

Barrie’s second point of the game proved to be the most important, as it ended up being the game-winner. With 7:19 remaining in the frame, Barrie (RW Mikko Rantanen and MacKinnon) took advantage of a slick Rantanen pass through the slot and around D Travis Hamonic – who was trying to block a potential shot from the right face-off circle alongside G David Rittich‘s attempted save – to bury his one-timer into a gaping net.

W Matthew Nieto (Soderberg and Comeau) finished off the assault 1:18 before the second intermission, setting the score at 4-2.

No goals were scored in the final frame until 17 seconds remained in regulation. With Ritich pulled for a sixth Calgary attacker, D Duncan Siemens scored his first NHL goal with a long-range empty-netter.

Third Star G Semyon Varlamov earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Rittich, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

With Colorado’s home victory, it snapped a four-day point streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 75-47-19 hosts now have a 20-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 19

Skater of the Week: Nico Hischier

Boy, what a devil of a week for this kid, huh? HUH? (not even crickets chirp for this pun)

In four games, the 19-year-old centerman put up four goals (one in each game) and three assists for seven points, and is currently riding a five-game point streak overall. A +8 through the first three games was marred slightly by a -2 in the final game of the week, but any coach would gladly take a +6 week for any of his players. Perhaps the best stat in all of this, though, is Hischier’s shooting percentage throughout the four-game goal streak. In those four games, Hischier has only fired seven total shots at the net, leaving him with a ridiculous .57 shooting percentage.

With 39 points in 59 games, the league’s most recent first-overall pick is having himself a very solid year. With his Devils entrenched in the knock-down, drag-out dogfight that is the Metropolitan playoff race, he’ll need to continue his strong play to help New Jersey go from the basement to the playoffs.

Tendy of the Week: Antti Raanta

The Arizona Coyotes have won four consecutive games. This is not a drill.

For the first time since January of 2016, the ‘Yotes have strung together four straight, and Raanta is arguably the entire reason for it. In three starts and one relief appearance throughout the week, Raanta managed to string together a 3-0-0 record with a .976 save percentage and 0.91 GAA. The Finnish netminder started the week stopping 37-of-38 against Chicago, before stopping all 12 shots he faced against San Jose, turned aside 34-of-36 attempts by Montreal, and capped the week with a 40-save blanking of Edmonton.

Obviously Arizona is in no position to even entertain the idea of a playoff run, but they can at least have some confidence in the performance of Raanta this year. He currently holds a .924 save percentage and 2.45 GAA on the season, and is two wins under .500 on a very bad team.

Game of the Week: New Jersey Devils 5 @ Philadelphia Flyers 4 (SO), Tuesday February 13th, 2018

Who would have guessed that two bitter rivals fighting for position in the division standings would produce a fun game?

71 shots and 51 hits in a game that saw no major penalties looks a lot like a playoff stat line. Just good, hard hockey.

Things would get rolling shortly into the opening frame, as Claude Giroux fed a speeding Travis Konecny with a beautiful backhand stretch pass, allowing Konecny to steam past Will Butcher across the New Jersey blueline before firing a beautiful wrister past the blocker of Keith Kinkaid and putting the Flyers up 1-0 just 1:54 into the game.

The rest of the first and first few minutes of the second would pass scoreless, due in part to solid netminding, and arguably moreso to a symphony of goalposts. But 4:06 into the second the Devils finally knotted the scored, as Taylor Hall streaked down the left wing side and found just enough daylight between Michal Neuvirth and the post to squeak in the 1-1 tally. Hall would get absolutely buried by Radko Gudas just as the puck was finding its way into the net, but the hit was clean and Hall shoo’d away the tweetie birds in short order and looked none the worse for wear. Just 43 seconds later the Flyers would reestablish their lead as Michael Raffl took an indirect pass off the end boards from Andrew MacDonald and fed a turnaround pass to Scott Laughton in the slot, who managed to get just enough of it to get it past the pad of Kinkaid and across the goal line. Then about six minutes later a Radko Gudas point shot would redirect off of a New Jersey stick past Kinkaid to put the Flyers up 3-1, before John Moore would answer at the 13:17 mark with a bomb from the point that blurred past the glove of Neuvirth and drew the Devils back within one. Just under three minutes later it would be Philly captain Claude Giroux firing home a power-play goal from the left circle, but just 10 seconds later Nico Hischier would again cut the lead to one heading into the third.

Neuvirth and co. held the fort for nearly the entire third period, but a jam play in front would create a loose puck for a circling Taylor Hall who would pounce and send the game to overtime. The extra frame saw a pair of dazzling glove stops (Neuvirth on Hall just seconds in, and Kinkaid on a Voracek redirect with just over a minute remaining), but no more pucks would find twine until Drew Stafford continued his shootout mastery in the second round of the skills competition, and a Kinkaid stop on Voracek would end the game and give the Devils the victory.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Four ‘Blackhawks fans’ (I use the term loosely, as no one I’ve ever encountered that roots for the Hawks deserves to be lumped in with these lowlifes) were booted from the arena and later issued a permanent ban by the organization for shouting racial taunts at Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly as he was serving a penalty. Personally, I think they should have been invited into the penalty box with DSP as part of their punishment, but that’s just my opinion.

Speaking of the Blackhawks and Capitals, the two teams made a deal that sees defenseman Michal Kempny head to D.C., while a third round pick finds its way back to the Windy City, likely to be turned into a superstar player because Stan Bowman is a wizard.

Also on the trade front are rumors of Petr Mrazek being dealt to Philadelphia, who are currently relying upon third-stringer Alex Lyon after injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. As someone who owned Mrazek on their fantasy team at one point this season, I feel I am qualified to ask the Flyers why in the name of all that is holy they would want to do such a thing.

Editor’s note: Pete’s crystal ball was on point Monday night. Mrazek was shipped to Philadelphia in return for two draft picks: a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 and a conditional third-round pick in 2019. Detroit retained half of the goaltender’s salary. Read our recap here.

Nick Foligno is out for what looks to be a couple of weeks, and I’m not crying, you’re crying.

The Olympic men’s hockey tournament has been even weirder than we could have predicted, but after an early hiccup it looks like the Artists Formerly Known as Russia are set to steamroll everything in their path just as it appeared they should on paper.

Barry Trotz became just the fifth coach in league history to coach 1,500 games. Don’t let his ‘angry Russian mob boss’ looks fool you, Trotz is one of the nicest humans I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and I’d like to extend a sincere congratulations to him.

Dion Phaneuf and Marian Gaborik changed places, in a move that would have been landscape-shifting in the NHL in about 2008. Phaneuf did score in his first game as a King, because the hockey gods are just having all sorts of fun at Ottawa’s expense this year.

 

It’s looking more and more likely (depending on who you ask, anyway) that we could see Erik Karlsson dealt at the deadline. I’m not sure what sort of return that would yield, but considering some believe Jack Johnson is worth a first round pick, I’d have to assume that the Sens would legally own the first-born child of the other involved GM.

October 26 – Day 23 – Growing pains

After yesterday’s two-game schedule, there’s a whopping 11 games on tap this evening!

Like it so often does, tonight’s action starts at 7 p.m. with four contests (San Jose at Boston [SN360], Carolina at Toronto, Arizona at the New York Rangers and Winnipeg at Pittsburgh), followed by another set of four (Los Angeles at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Philadelphia at Ottawa [RDS2], Detroit at Toronto and Anaheim at Florida) half an hour later. After that, the remaining three fixtures start every hour, on the hour. First up is the New York Islanders at Minnesota at 8 p.m., followed by Dallas at Edmonton at 9 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap – Washington at Vancouver – at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

If you like big offseason trades, your featured game is a no-brainer. C Derek Stepan – and maybe G Antti Raanta, if he gets cleared to play – returning to Madison Square Garden with the Coyotes is a must-see for you.

But, considering the Coyotes and Rangers are two of the four worst teams in the NHL, that matchup excites me as much as watching paint dry. Instead, we’re going to make a trip to the Canadian Tire Centre.

 

After making it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, expectations are high for this 4-1-4 Senators club. Considering they play in the same division as the best team in the NHL (Tampa Bay) and they were without the incredible D Erik Karlsson until October 17, third place in the Atlantic is a good enough start to say they’re filling the bill so far.

But re-acclimating to the style of play that is necessitated by Karlsson being on the ice has been a difficult transition for Ottawa. In the defenseman’s first four games back from foot surgery, the Sens have managed a record of only 1-1-2.

Now, 1-1-2 is far from a bad stretch; even the best of clubs have stretches of the season where they average only one point-per-game (just ask the Coyotes if they’d like to average half a point-per-game right now). What’s probably frustrating Head Coach Guy Boucher right now is the poor defensive play that’s being highlighted by not getting much help from his goaltender.

Since Karlsson’s return on October 17, the Senators have allowed a fourth-worst 144 shots against in four games (36 per game), even with D Dion Phaneuf‘s team-leading nine shot blocks in that stretch. For a defensive-minded team like Ottawa that runs a 1-3-1, that is absolutely unacceptable, but I have confidence Karlsson and company, even without the help of D Marc Methot, will start trending towards last season’s (t)13th-best 30.1 shots against-per-game soon enough.

If G Craig Anderson, tonight’s starter, keeps playing the way he has, the defense cannot return to form soon enough. Anderson has started three of Ottawa’s four most recent games to a 1-1-1 record. As mentioned before, he has been under heavy pressure, but a .891 save percentage and 3.67 GAA (ninth and seventh-worst, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least two starts since October 17) simply will not cut it.

Last year’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner had a career year last season, managing a .926 save percentage in 40 starts, but he has not posted consecutive campaigns of save percentages at or above .92 since the 2006-’07, 2007-’08 and 2008-’09 seasons when he was Ed Belfour and Tomas Vokoun‘s backup in Florida. If Anderson can’t become the reliable backstop he became last season, he could waste any positive momentum the Senators brought into this season.

Ottawa’s next chance to rediscover last postseason’s form comes against the 5-4-0 Flyers who – don’t tell anybody – may actually not be as bad as we all thought they’d be.

Dang it, and I was really excited to bust out everybody’s favorite Dennis Green quote. I’ll have to save it for another day.

Here’s another secret about Philly: they’re winning without the help of in spite of F Nolan Patrick, this year’s second-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Highly touted for both his pedigree (he’s the son and nephew of RW Steve Patrick and D James Patrick, respectively) and his 102-point season with the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015-’16, he’s managed only one goal and three points in nine games played on Philly’s third line.

It’s like he wants to see how well the Hobey Baker Award compliments the Calder Memorial Trophy.

Instead, RW Jakub Voracek has been most responsible for Philadelphia’s high-flying offense (See what I did there? I’m so clever. Nobody has ever made that joke before.) with his team-leading 12 points (all assists). Of course, it’s hard to struggle on a top line with the likes of F Claude Giroux (5-6-11 totals) and C Sean Couturier (6-3-9), but Voracek’s group has produced 36.7 percent of the Flyers’ goals for an offense that averages a (t)ninth-best 3.33 goals-per-game.

What should be most alarming for Anderson is that Philly’s favorite way to score is by launching a full-on assault on the goal. The Flyers – Voracek in particular – aren’t shy about shooting the puck (they average 32.6 shots-per-game, which is 11th-most in the NHL), so if Ottawa’s defense isn’t up to snuff, he could be in for a long night.

If these teams aren’t careful, this game could become a barn-burner as both clubs have a knack for finding the back of the net. If that proves to be the case, I like the Senators to win tonight with their (t)fourth-best offense.


In a dominant performance, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the Sabres fired a game-high 14 shots-on-goal in the first period, it was Columbus that registered the lone tally of the frame. It came courtesy of an RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (W Sonny Milano and Second Star of the Game D Seth Jones) power play snap shot with eight minutes remaining before the first intermission.

It was the second period – specifically the last five minutes of the second period – when the Jackets absolutely exploded on their offensive end. First up was Jones (F Brandon Dubinsky and RW Cam Atkinson), who buried what proved to be the game-winning goal with 4:40 remaining in the frame.

Entering the zone with a three-on-two advantage, Atkinson advanced to the top of the right face-off circle before dumping a pass towards the near boards to Dubinsky. While the forward was feeding a pass to Jones, who was near where Atkinson was when he released the puck, F Boone Jenner was busy preparing a perfect screen in front of G Chad Johnson. With Jones falling to a knee to elevate his snapper over Johnson’s glove, the netminder had no chance.

Additionally, NBCSN sideline reporter Pierre McGuire says Head Coach John Tortorella also earned an assist on the goal. I didn’t see that in the box score, but congrats to him for his first apple since the 1986 ACHL playoffs.

2:18 after Jones’ second marker of the season, Third Star F Nick Foligno (D Jack Johnson) added an insurance tally to set the score at 3-0, followed by a wrist shot from LW Matt Calvert (D Markus Nutivaara and D Ryan Murray) with 101 seconds remaining before the second intermission to complete the Blue Jackets’ blitz.

Buffalo finally got on the scoreboard with 2:34 remaining in the game courtesy of a wrister from F Seth Griffith (F Jordan Nolan and F Johan Larsson), but it was too little too late to have an impact on the game – especially since RW Josh Anderson (LW Artemi Panarin and C Alexander Wennberg) tacked on a final tally 39 seconds before the final horn to set the 5-1 final score.

First Star G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the win after saving 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to C. Johnson, who saved 33-of-38 (.868).

Columbus’ victory was the third-straight by the 13-6-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an eight-point advantage over the visitors.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 25

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 7

With First Star of the Game Chris Kunitz‘ slap shot at the 85:09 mark of a winner-takes-all Game 7, Pittsburgh beat the Senators 3-2 in double-overtime at PPG Paints Arena to clinch its second-straight Prince of Wales trophy and the corresponding berth to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Receiving the puck at the far point, Second Star Justin Schultz crept down the boards before passing into the corner for Sidney Crosby. Chris Wideman was immediately on the Pens’ captain, so Crosby was forced into the far face-off circle instead of towards the goal crease. Once he reached the dot, he passed to a waiting Kunitz at the top of the circle, who fired his one-timer over Third Star Craig Anderson‘s right arm to clinch the series for Pittsburgh.

The Senators never led in regulation, but they never trailed for long. In total, Ottawa played from behind for only 3:17 of play.

Similar to Game 6, both teams took a slow approach to the first period to combine for only 11 shots on goal. None of those offerings got past Anderson or Matthew Murray, leaving the score tied at nil.

Instead, the attack began in full during the second frame. By the middle of the period, both Pittsburgh and Ottawa had managed at least seven shots on goal, but it was a supple Kunitz (Conor Sheary and Matt Cullen) wrister at the 9:55 mark that snapped the scoreless draw.

After receiving a quick pass along the neutral zone’s far boards from Cullen to get the play out of the defensive zone, Sheary bumped a pass towards center ice for Kunitz to create a Pittsburgh two-on-one opportunity. Kunitz returned the offering to Sheary when they both entered their offensive zone, but the youngster returned the favor from the far side of the slot. The maneuver was too quick for Anderson to respond and seal the near post, and Kunitz was more than willing to complete the play for his first goal of the 2017 postseason.

The Penguins held on to their 1-0 lead for a whopping 20 seconds before Mark Stone (Erik Karlsson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau) tied the game once again with a wicked top-shelf wrister.

Each player involved in the play was responsible for tackling one zone. Though a forward, Pageau was the one to get the puck out of Ottawa’s defensive zone. He passed from his far defensive point to Karlsson at the red line along the near boards. The star defenseman attacked into Ottawa’s offensive zone, driving towards the near face-off circle before passing across Olli Maatta to Stone in the near slot. A goalscorer 22 times during the regular season, Stone knew exactly what he needed to do to beat Murray and level the game.

After the blitz of tallies, the arena’s scoreboard operator had an opportunity to take a rest as no more markers were registered until 8:16 remained in regulation. Taking advantage of the Senators’ lone penalty of the game – an interference call on Dion Phaneuf against Phil Kessel – Schultz (Kessel and Kunitz) scored a snap shot 25 seconds later to reclaim the lead for Pittsburgh.

Schultz started at the near point with the puck, but passed to Kessel at the far face-off circle. Kessel tried to move towards the crease but was cut off by Cody Ceci, forcing him to return the puck to Schultz at the center of the offensive zone, a spot that is uncannily similar to where Kunitz would eventually bury his series-winner from. Schultz saw his opportunity and fired the puck towards the top-right corner of Anderson’s goal.

Though Kunitz earned an assist on the play, his primary role was as a goaltender screen. In particular, Marc Methot took notice and tried to move Kunitz out of Anderson’s way, but his attempt corresponded with Schultz’ shot and effectively doubled the size Kunitz’ screen to make it impossible for Anderson to see the play.

The Penguins managed to hold onto this lead a little bit longer than their first, but Ryan Dzingel‘s (Karlsson and Kyle Turris) response 2:57 after Schultz’ marker was too quick for Murray to handle.

The play began with Turris possessing the puck in the near corner of Ottawa’s offensive zone. With Cullen approaching him, he passed towards the top of the zone to Karlsson, who lined up a slap shot that passed everyone and everything except Murray’s crossbar. The goaltender incorrectly guessed where the rebound landed, leaving Dzingel with an exposed puck at the far corner of the crease and a gaping net.

Neither club could find its third goal in the remaining 5:19 of regulation, leading to the first overtime period.

To put it simply, the Penguins absolutely dominated those 20 minutes. Though they only had eight shots to show for their efforts, they possessed the puck for most of the play to limit Ottawa to only two shots on net.

One play of particular excitement occurred just minutes before the fourth intermission. Many Pens fans in the arena grew furious – to the point of unwisely throwing their golden rally towels onto the ice in protest – with an apparent uncounted goal.

But they did not have the benefit of a clear replay. It looked to them that the puck entered and exited the goal faster than the eye could see – and a poor in-house camera angle broadcast on the video board seemed to support their claims – but a television replay proved that the puck hit the rear bracket of the goal post on the wrong side of the crossbar – above it instead of below.

Of course, Kunitz’ goal approximately half an hour later in real time made all those worries for naught.

He earned only Third Star honors according to the members of the PPG Paints Arena Media, but Anderson was easily the player of the game – if not the entire Eastern Conference Finals. He saved an incredible 39-of-42 (92.9%) shots faced in Game 7, including all eight in the first overtime period (compared to Murray’s two).

For the entire series, he registered an even better .936 save percentage and 2.07 GAA on 242 shots faced (34.6 per game) to keep the Sens within reach of the Penguins with incredible saves or smart stoppages of play on multiple occasions.

Now that the Penguins have reclaimed the Prince of Wales Trophy, everything is set for the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nashville Predators are en route to Pittsburgh for Game 1, which is scheduled for Monday, May 29 at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Of note, this will be the first ever Stanley Cup Finals contested between two American-born head coaches, as both Nashville’s Peter Laviolette and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan are Massachusetts natives.

Those intending to catch the action in America should tune to NBC, while Canadians have their choice of CBC, SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 19

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – Game 4

With their 3-2 victory over Ottawa at the Canadian Tire Centre Friday, the Penguins have leveled the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

The biggest story coming into the game was Mike Sullivan‘s decision to entrust the Penguins’ net to Matthew Murray instead of Marc-Andre Fleury. The choice baffled many Yinzers considering the veteran goaltender had posted a .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA in his 14 postseason games before getting pulled not even 13 minutes into Game 3 after allowing four goals.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Sullivan may not have made the right decision, but it certainly wasn’t the wrong one. Allowing only two goals against, Murray earned his first victory of the 2017 playoffs on a .923 save percentage.

Stopping Ottawa’s attack was only half the battle though. Pittsburgh had only scored a goal-per-game in the first three contests of the series, but it exploded in comparison with three goals in one match – or, more precisely, just over 12 minutes.

It started with Olli Maatta‘s (Second Star of the Game Sidney Crosby and First Star Jake Guentzel) first-ever postseason tally with 46 seconds remaining in the opening frame. After crossing the near face-off circle, the fourth-year defenseman squeezed a wrist shot under Craig Anderson‘s blocker to give the Pens a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

Where the Penguins’ offense truly took command of the game was in the middle frame. Thanks to Jean-Gabriel Pageau earning a roughing penalty for practicing his favorite WWE moves on Pittsburgh’s captain, Crosby (Guentzel and Phil Kessel) himself doubled his club’s lead with a scrappy power play goal 7:41 into the second period, followed 3:49 later by Brian Dumoulin (Ian Cole and Scott Wilson) banking a wrister from the far point off Dion Phaneuf‘s left skate and behind Anderson for what proved to be the deciding tally, the first game-winner of his playoff career.

With the Senators trailing 3-0, Sullivan’s decision was truly put to the test as the Senators upped their attacking intensity in the remaining 28:30 of regulation. In that time, they fired 16 shots at the second-year netminder, including 10 in the third period.

The first evidence came about in the waning moments of the second period. Just as Maatta did for the Pens late in the first period, Clarke MacArthur (Bobby Ryan) did for the Sens in the second. With 98 seconds remaining before the second intermission, he recharged a nervous Canadian Tire Centre with a tip-in that beat Murray top-shelf.

Even with MacArthur’s tally, the Penguins felt comfortable for most of the third period with their two-goal advantage. That lead was trimmed to one with 5:01 remaining when Third Star Tom Pyatt (Erik Karlsson and Pageau) not only acted as a screen on Karlsson’s initial shot, but also deflected it through Murray’s five-hole, making the remainder of regulation that much important in not only deciding Game 4’s victor, but also the momentum of the remaining games in the series.

Murray certainly did his job in those remaining five minutes as he saved all three shots he faced in that time, but it was the Penguins’ defensive efforts that were arguably more impressive – especially since they were on the short side of a six-on-four man-advantage for the final 37 seconds of the game due to having too many men on the ice.

In all, Pittsburgh forced three missed shots after Pyatt’s goal, including two from Kyle Turris, owner of a 14.6% regular season shooting percentage, the third-best on the Senators’ roster.

Shot blocking was also a major focus for the Penguins during Ottawa’s final possession to close regulation. In all, the Senators fired four shots after winning the last face-off of the game with 37 seconds remaining. Two were saved by Murray, and two were blocked by Dumoulin and Nick Bonino to secure the victory.

The Eastern Conference Finals, now a three-game series, return to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh for Game 5 at 3 p.m. Eastern time this Sunday. American viewers should tune their televisions to NBC, while Canadians have the option between CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 29

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 2

With four goals from First Star of the Game Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa won 6-5 in a wild double-overtime contest to take a two-game lead in its Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Rangers.

Many a young boy in Ottawa dreams of playing for the Senators when he grows up. Not many get that opportunity. Even fewer get to play with the Sens in the playoffs.

Pageau joined that select list in 2013, but he’s created a list all his own by playing arguably the best game of his professional career to lead his hometown team to a come-from-behind victory.

His day started early, but then again, so did the Rangers. Only 4:16 after puck drop, Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) scored a shorthanded snap shot to give the Blueshirts an early lead. Pageau seemed to take exception to that, so he leveled the game at one-all with 6:01 remaining in the frame.

Then came New York’s big period. With the exception of Marc Methot‘s (Mike Hoffman and Ben Harpur) snapper with six minutes remaining in the frame, the Rangers dominated the second period by scoring three goals in 5:12. First up was Chris Kreider (Mika Zibanejad and Ryan McDonagh), who scored a wrist shot at the 10:39 mark. 2:31 later, Derek Stepan (Rick Nash) buried a shorthanded wrister on Craig Anderson. Finally, with 4:09 remaining in the frame, Third Star Brady Skjei (McDonagh and Zibanejad) banged home a wrister to set the score at 4-2 going into the second intermission.

Things were looking grim for the home fans, but Guy Boucher had just the right things to say to his club. That intermission pep talk led to Mark Stone (Second Star Dion Phaneuf and Fredrik Claesson) scoring a snapper just 88 seconds into the frame to pull Ottawa within a goal, but Skjei (Brendan Smith) was quick to reclaim a two-tally lead for the Rangers, burying a snapper of his own 3:42 later.

Skjei’s marker set the score at 5-3, the same differential that read when Pageau took control of the contest. The Senators’ comeback didn’t resume until 3:19 remained in regulation. That’s when the Ottawan scored his second goal (Zack Smith and Phaneuf) of the game on a deflected Smith shot.

62 seconds separated the Rangers from heading back to Manhattan with home-ice advantage, but once again Pageau had other ideas. With the sixth attacker, Kyle Turris took Erik Karlsson‘s pass from the near point to slam home a slap shot from Alex Ovechkin-land toward Henrik Lundqvist‘s net. The netminder probably would have been able to make the save if not for Pageau, who redirected the shot in mid-air to squeeze it between the far post and Lundqvist’s body.

Pageau has only registered one hat trick in his career before Saturday’s effort. It was on May 5, 2013 in Game 3 of the Senators’ Eastern Conference quarterfinals series with Montréal, only his third-ever playoff appearance.

But he’s never scored four goals in a game. Not in the postseason. Not in the regular season.

At least not until Saturday.

The brightest star on the ice decided enough overtime was enough after 22:54 of extra hockey. It was a breakaway goal that started in Anderson’s end. Alexandre Burrows beat Nick Holden to a loose puck at the far end of the goal line and cleared it into the neutral zone. Starting from the blue line, Pageau took chase and claimed possession near center ice along the far boards. Using Tommy Wingels – who entered the offensive zone with him – as a decoy, Pageau made Lundqvist commit to one or the other before cocking his snapper. Once he saw the netminder cash in on saving an attempt from Wingels, he fired his shot over Lundqvist’s glove to pull Ottawa within two victories of the Eastern Finals.

An extra day off has been included between Games 2 and 3, so Madison Square Garden will not come alive until 7 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, May 2. American hockey fans can watch that game on NBCSN, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC and TVAS.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals – Game 2

The Penguins’ offense showed no mercy in their 6-2 beat-down against Washington at the Verizon Center.

Though there were a firestorm of goals, none of them were struck in the first period. For Pittsburgh, it was Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury keeping the Capitals off the board, saving all 16 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes. Meanwhile, it was an extremely physical attack from the Caps’ skaters that kept the Pens off-balance. Both John Carlson and T.J. Oshie were a big part of that effort, as they both ended the game with five hits apiece (Oshie threw two of his blows in the opening frame).

Nothing seems to get an offense humming quite like a shorthanded goal. That’s exactly what happened for the Penguins, as Matt Cullen capitalized on his steal at the blue line to score an unassisted wrist shot on Braden Holtby only 75 seconds into the second period. Though Matt Niskanen (Ovechkin and Third Star Nicklas Backstrom) did cash in on Jake Guentzel‘s hooking penalty to level the game, Pittsburgh’s offense was certainly cooking.

That became brutally apparent when First Star Phil Kessel (Sidney Crosby and Guentzel) and Guentzel (Crosby) scored within 3:10 of each other in the second half of the period. Kessel’s goal was a beautiful wrister to beat Holtby top shelf from the far face-off dot, but Guentzel’s was a low wrister that should have been an easy glove save for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.

Due in part to Guentzel’s marker, Holtby was pulled for the third period in favor of Philipp Grubauer, the Capitals’ backup goaltender with only one previous game of NHL playoff action. Pair his lack of experience with Kevin Shattenkirk sending the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, and it’s no wonder Kessel (Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin) was able to score a power play wrister only 2:19 into the final frame to set the score at 4-1.

Once again Washington had a response to the Pens’ first goal of the period – a wrister courtesy of Backstrom (Ovechkin and Oshie) – but the Capitals couldn’t close the gap any further. 107 seconds after Backstrom’s tally, Malkin (Ian Cole and Kessel) tipped-in his goal that all but ended any chance of a Washington comeback.

Guentzel (Matt Cullen and Olli Maatta) tacked on an empty netter with 43 seconds remaining in the game for his seventh of the postseason.

You could’ve heard a pin drop in the Verizon Center after Malkin’s goal. It fell quiet as fans watched a team destined for greatness begin to lose its edge in the second round of the playoffs.

The Capitals will face an uphill battle if they want to qualify for the Eastern Finals for the first time since 1998. Pittsburgh needs only two more victories to close the series, and it will have three home game opportunities to do just that.

The series will resume at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. with Game 3 on Monday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. Residents of the United States can watch that game on NBCSN, while Canadians will be able to choose between CBC or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 15

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.

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 2

By: DtFR Staff

After trailing 3-1 in 3rd period, the Ottawa Senators completed the comeback with a 4-3 victory on an overtime goal from Dion Phaneuf shortly after the Boston Bruins killed off a delay of game penalty against captain Zdeno Chara.

Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 25 saves on 29 shots faced for an .862 save percentage in the loss, while Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson made 26 saves on 29 shots against for an .897 SV% for the win.

Still tied 0-0 entering the 2nd period, the Bruins struck first on a goal from Drew Stafford (1) at 9:47 of the period. Stafford’s goal was challenged by the Senators, who thought it was offsides, but after review it was determined that there was not enough evidence to overturn the call on the ice. David Backes (1) and Chara (1) tallied the assists on Stafford’s goal.

Clarke MacArthur (1) hit the twine for his first playoff goal since his comeback from injury (and first in two years) on a power play at 10:57 of the 2nd period. MacArthur’s goal tied the game, 1-1, and was assisted by the hot hands of Bobby Ryan (1) and Derick Brassard (1).

Tim Schaller (1) picked up his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal on a shorthanded opportunity at 12:39 in just his 2nd career NHL playoff appearance to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead. Dominic Moore (1) recorded the only assist on Schaller’s goal.

With 3:59 remaining in the 2nd period, it looked like Boston had the game all but put away as Patrice Bergeron (1) redirected a shot from David Pastrnak past Anderson for a two-goal lead for the Bruins. Pastrnak (2) and Ryan Spooner (1) were credited with the assists on Bergeron’s goal.

Boston went into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead, but came out looking flat for the final twenty minutes of regulation. And it ultimately cost them.

Chris Wideman (1) fired a shot past Rask— who had been partially screened by his own rookie defenseman, Charlie McAvoy— to make it a one goal game just 5:28 into the 3rd period. Phaneuf (1) had the only assist on the goal and recorded his first point of a three-point night (one goal, two assists).

A mere 2:20 later, Brassard (1) received a pass from Erik Karlsson and sent it behind Rask on a one-timer goal. Karlsson (2) and Phaneuf (2) notched the assists on the game-tying tally not even halfway into the final period of regulation.

After Chara sent the puck over the glass and earned an automatic two-minute minor penalty for delay of game, the Bruins managed to kill off 1:48 of the remaining time on the penalty kill that had carried over into overtime.

Eleven seconds later, it was all over, however, as the B’s were caught in their own zone, while the Sens pressured their will onto their opponent.

Phaneuf (1) sent one behind Rask on a pass from Mark Stone (1) almost two minutes into overtime and tied the series 1-1 with his game winning overtime goal.

The series shifts to TD Garden in Boston on Monday night with Games 3 and 4 hosted by the Bruins before the now necessary Game 5 will occur in Ottawa on Friday, April 21st.

Again, Game 3 is Monday at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen nationally on CNBC in the United Stats and SN/TVAS in Canada.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals – Game 2

Led by First Star of the Game Kasperi Kapanen‘s two-goal night, the Maple Leafs were able to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Captials at one-all with a 4-3 double-overtime victory at the Verizon Center.

When a playoff game requires overtime, some believe that most of the regulation action doesn’t matter. Kapanen probably doesn’t prescribe to that theory, as his first career postseason goal was almost as important as his second.

With 5:35 remaining in the second period, the rookie right wing (Matt Martin and Brian Boyle) scored a turn-around backhander five-hole on Braden Holtby from right in front of his crease. That tally pulled then the Leafs even at two-goals apiece.

Of course, the one he’ll remember for a long time is the first game-winner of his short NHL career – playoffs or otherwise. To beat the current holder of the Vezina Trophy, you have to be quick, and that’s exactly what Kapanen and co. were. The play started when Martin won a battle near the far corner behind Holtby’s net. He managed to force a pass behind the goal to Boyle, who one-touched the puck with a backhander back towards to far post. Kapanen was streaking towards the crease, so he was more than able to collect the pass and pound it home behind an unsuspecting Holtby, who thought Boyle still had the puck.

This series is turning nasty in a hurry. Though it’s only two games deep, 32 penalty minutes have been served between these two clubs – 24 of which were Saturday night.

All those opposing power plays put pressure on goaltenders, but both Frederik Andersen and Holtby performed rather amicably. Andersen saved 47-of-50 (94%) on the night for the victory, leaving the overtime loss to Holtby, who stopped 47-of-51 (92.2%).

Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks – Game 2

As far as seeding is concerned, the Central Division is an absolute mess in the first round, as the Predators beat Chicago 5-0 Saturday at the United Center to take a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup as the series transitions to Nashville.

Nashville is playing the Blackhawks like a fiddle right now. Led by Austin Watson and his eight blows, the Predators threw 48 hits to get under the top seed in the West’s skin. And as you’d expect, that’s yielded penalties, and lots of them. The Hawks served 16 penalty minutes – almost all of them in the all-important third period.

Nashville was able to convert one of its three power plays into a goal, though it was the ultimately unimportant fifth goal – a Kevin Fiala (Second Star of the Game Ryan Johansen and P.K. Subban) wrist shot from the far face-off dot to beat Corey Crawford stick-side with 107 seconds remaining in the game.

No, the winner came off Third Star Ryan Ellis‘ (Johansen and Roman Josi) stick. Only 3:44 into the contest, he fired a one-timer from the blueline so hard the rebound off Crawford’s pad came right back to him. If at first you don’t succeed… Ellis went right back to work, firing another slap shot to beat the netminder glove side.

Even when Chicago was able to run its offense, it ran into one major problem: First Star Pekka Rinne. The goaltender saved all 30 shots he faced for the third postseason shutout of his career, and second straight.

Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

Thanks to a power play tally late in the third period, Anaheim beat the Flames 3-2 at the Honda Center to take a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup.

No penalty is a good penalty when it turns into a power play goal. Just ask Dougie Hamilton, who was caught holding Corey Perry‘s stick with 5:27 remaining in regulation. Only 41 seconds later, First Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves) miraculously ricocheted a pass-turned-shot off Lance Bouma‘s skate for the freak game-winning goal.

Those Calgary mistakes were further compounded when T.J. Brodie cross-checked Kesler with 2:38 remaining in regulation. Though Mikael Backlund (Michael Frolik) managed to bury a shorthanded wrist shot with 96 seconds remaining in the first period to then pull Calgary back within a 2-1 deficit, goals while down a skater are tough to come by – especially at the end of games.

If not for their 17 penalty minutes and miserable 41% face-off percentage, the Flames were doing a lot of the right things to win. They matched the Ducks’ physicality by throwing 34 hits to their 38, while also managing almost 40 shots on goal. Though it has yet to win a game, Calgary still is a dangerous foe for the Pacific champions.