Tag Archives: Phil Kessel

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 21

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 5

With Pittsburgh’s seven-goal shutout victory over the Senators at PPG Paints Arena Sunday, it has pulled within one victory of hoisting the Prince of Wales Trophy for the second-straight year and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.

This game was over by the first intermission. Olli Maatta (Second Star of the Game Bryan Rust), Sidney Crosby (Trevor Daley and Evgeni Malkin), Rust (Nick Bonino and First Star Carter Rowney) and Scott Wilson (Rowney and Bonino) all joined to set the score at 4-0 in a span of 10:03, chasing Craig Anderson – celebrating his 36th birthday – to the Senators’ bench.

Through the first four games of the Eastern Finals, Pittsburgh had averaged only 29.5 shots-per-game. Based on their explosive 15-shot first period, the Penguins were on pace for 45 before the end of Game 5. Though they didn’t quite reach that mark (they ended the night with a measly 33 shots on goal), it was more than enough to eliminate the Senators’ hope for a victory.

After taking a 1:28 shift between Rust and Wilson’s tallies, Mike Condon assumed the Senators’ net for the remaining two periods. On only his third shot faced in the period and fifth of the day, Matt Cullen (Mark Streit and Rowney) extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-0 at the 1:54 mark of the middle frame.

To close out the Pens’ tab, Phil Kessel (Crosby and Malkin) and Daley (Kessel and Malkin) both buried power play goals before the midway point of the third period to set the score at the 7-0 final.

Of note, the Penguins’ third line was electric. Together, Bonino, Rowney and Rust combined for one goal and six assists for seven points, including playing a part in all four even-strength tallies.

Conversely, almost nothing went right for the Sens in this contest. They managed only 25 shots on goal all game – all of which, of course, were saved by Third Star Matthew Murray. They failed to convert any of their four power play opportunities, due in large part to being out-blocked 19-12 (specifically Ian Cole and his game-high five rejections). They also struggled to maintain possession, losing the giveaway battle five to four.

If they can take anything from this contest, it’s that they’ve figured out the face-off dot. They won 60% of puck drops, including Kyle Turris beating his opponent – typically Crosby – 76% of the time.

While this is the worst playoff loss in the Senators’ modern history (of which their first playoff appearance was in 1997), it is not the Penguins’ strongest playoff victory. Though it ties the home record set in 1993, Pittsburgh did manage an 8-0 road victory in Bloomington, Minn. against the North Stars to hoist its first Stanley Cup in 1991.

The Penguins will have their first opportunity to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals this Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern time when the puck drops for Game 6 at the Canadian Tire Centre. Those in the United States should check NBCSN for coverage, while Canadian residents will be serviced by both CBC and 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: 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: Conference Finals- May 15

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins– Game 2

Phil Kessel and the Pittsburgh Penguins broke through Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators late in the 3rd period to seal the deal on a 1-0 victory in Game 2 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.

After losing in overtime in Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins were hopeful to knot the series up 1-1 and pressure the Senators to perform for their own crowd heading to Ottawa for Game 3. Pressuring the Senators is exactly what Pittsburgh did for 60 minutes on Monday night.

Marc-Andre Fleury had 22 saves in the shutout win for Pittsburgh, while Anderson made 26 saves on 27 shots faced for a .966 save percentage in the loss.

After a thrilling 1st period witnessed both teams swapping scoring chance for scoring chance and hit for hit, neither team had found the scoreboard.

Bryan Rust was injured on a huge hit delivered by Dion Phaneuf early in the period, but he wasn’t the only Penguin to go down with an injury and not return for the rest of the game in the opening frame as. Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz was sidelined for the night with an injury of his own.

The Senators led the Penguins 10-8 in shots on goal and 8-4 in blocked shots after 20 minutes of play, while Pittsburgh dominated the physical game with 19 hits to Ottawa’s 11. The Penguins also had a slight advantage in face-off wins, having on 53% of them compared to the Senators 47% successful mark on the face-off dot in the 1st period.

The 2nd period saw more of the same with both teams in a tight battle of “which goaltender will be the first to crack?” Still 0-0 after 40 minutes of play, the Penguins led 20-16 in SOG, 34-24 in hits, 59-42% in face-off wins, while Ottawa continued to use the body for more than just hitting, racking up a 13-5 advantage in blocked shots.

It wasn’t until 6:55 remaining in the 3rd period that the game saw its first goal.

Kessel (6) received a pass from Evgeni Malkin on a rush, then shot the puck in the direction of the goal only to be blocked by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. After quickly recovering the rebound, Kessel snuck a wrist shot low and under Anderson’s left pad to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh. Malkin (14) and Olli Maatta (5) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on the game’s only (and game winning) goal.

With less than 15 seconds to go in the game and the goaltender pulled, Ottawa’s skaters could not stay out of trouble on an icing call. Kyle Turris promptly took exception to some words that were exchanged and a shoving match ensued, leaving Turris with a slashing minor and a misconduct. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz (roughing) and Malkin (misconduct) also racked up penalties and the game finished 4-on-4.

Of note, Ottawa failed to record a shot in the 3rd period until 15:06 into the final frame of regulation. Pittsburgh had already fired 8 shots on Anderson by the time the Senators presented Fleury with his first challenge of the 3rd.

The series is now tied, 1-1, with Game 3 set to take place in Ottawa on Wednesday. Puck drop at Canadian Tire Centre is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while Canadian residents can tune to CBC and/or TVA Sports.

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 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 20

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 writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

New York Rangers LogoUnknown-1

New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens— Game 5

By: Connor Keith

With the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime victory against Montréal at the Bell Centre Thursday, they are only one victory away from advancing to the next round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the first frame didn’t end scoreless, the battle between two high-caliber goaltenders was immediately apparent. Montréal fired 15 shots at Third Star of the Game Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price faced 10 from the Blueshirts, but only three got past: Montréal exited the first period leading 2-1 thanks to a Artturi Lehkonen (Nathan Beaulieu and Alex Galchenyuk) wrap-around and a power play wrist shot by Second Star Brendan Gallagher (Andrei Markov and Lehkonen).

The Rangers haven’t been able to convert a single man-advantage all series against Price, so it only makes sense that they then leveled the game at one-all with 4:04 remaining in the first period while short-handed courtesy of Jesper Fast (First Star Mika Zibanejad). The Swedish center advanced the puck along the far boards through the neutral zone and across the blue line before splitting Beaulieu and Jeff Petry with a centering pass to his countryman for a wrister from the slot. The tied game lasted only 25 seconds before Gallagher buried his wrister, but the fact that it was the Canadiens’ last tally of the game came to haunt them.

It seemed Fast’s shorthanded effort at the end of the period took all the energy out of the Rangers, as they played terribly for most of the second period. They played defense for most of the frame – including killing two penalties (Ryan McDonagh for slashing and Mats Zuccarello for hi-sticking) – and gave the puck away twice as often as the Habs. To top it off, they were also out-hit by a wide margin, led by Steve Ott’s game-total of eight blows.

That’s what makes it so unbelievable that they exited the frame tied two-all with Montréal. Alain Vigneault inspired his squad to give him three good minutes at the end of the second period, and it yielded Brady Skjei’s (Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey) wrister from the slot, New York’s second game-tying goal of the contest.

A goal can do a lot for a club, made evident by the Rangers holding the Habs without a shot on goal until 9:49 remained in the third period. Only five shots per team could be managed in that back-and-forth frame, and Lundqvist and Price kept all of them from crossing their goal lines to force the second-straight overtime match at the Bell Centre.

If Claude Julien did nothing else during the intermission following regulation, he should have reminded his squad that the Rangers know how to play on the road. Away from Madison Square Garden, New York was an impressive 27-12-2 during the regular season and it notched another victory thanks to Zibanejad’s (Chris Kreider) wrister with 5:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

Kreider took control of the puck at the near point of his defensive zone and quickly advanced up the boards into the attacking third. He didn’t have to do anything special with his pass, but it ended up being one of the best centering passes of the series with just the right pace to allow Zibanejad to one-touch the puck past Price’s glove for the Blueshirts’ third victory of the playoffs.

The Rangers’ first chance to clinch a spot in the Eastern Semifinals will come about Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern time on home ice at Madison Square Garden. United States residents can watch the game on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC and TVAS.

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Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins— Game 5

The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 5-2 victory and eliminated Columbus on home ice at PPG Paints Arena in five games. Marc-Andre Fleury made 49 saves out of 51 shots against for a .961 save percentage in the win, while Blue Jackets goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped just 27 out of 32 shots faced for an .844 SV% in the loss.

Phil Kessel (2) kicked off scoring in Game 5 with a power play goal almost halfway into the 1st period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Kessel’s spectacular wrist shot beat Bobrovsky high on the short side.

Bryan Rust (4) made it a 2-0 game just 67 seconds into the 2nd period scoring on a rebound with the backhand past Bobrovsky. Kessel (6) and Evgeni Malkin (9) picked up the assists on the goal.

Almost three minutes later, Rust (5) added his second goal of the night. Ron Hainsey (2) had the only assist on the goal at 3:50 of the 2nd period.

Just like that the Penguins were up 3-0 and it seemed like they were in the clear, until Columbus’s William Karlsson (2) put the Blue Jackets on the scoreboard and made the game just a little bit closer. Karlsson’s goal cut the lead to two and was assisted by Sam Gagner (2) at 9:30 of the 2nd period.

Boone Jenner (2) swatted the puck out of mid air and past Fleury on a power play to make it a one goal game at 12:24 of the 2nd period. Seth Jones (2) and Cam Atkinson (1) notched the assists on Jenner’s goal and Columbus trailed the Penguins 3-2 heading into the 2nd intermission.

After Alexander Wennberg was sent to the penalty box for goaltender interference, Pittsburgh’s superstar center, Sidney Crosby (2) made Columbus pay with a power play goal that made it 4-2 Pittsburgh at 5:31 of the 3rd period. Malkin (10) notched his 2nd assist of the night and Kessel (7) picked up his third point of the game (one goal, two assists) on Crosby’s insurance goal.

Scott Wilson (1) followed suit with a goal of his own to make it a three-goal game on a no look shot off a rebound about a minute after Crosby’s goal. Trevor Daley (1) and Conor Sheary (2) amassed the assists on Wilson’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Wilson’s goal made it 5-2 in favor of the Penguins at 6:22 of the 3rd.

As the seconds counted down in Pittsburgh, so did the lifespan of the ice in Columbus. With the 5-2 victory firmly sealed after the final horn, the Pittsburgh Penguins had eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games, winning the series 4-1.

The Penguins are the 2nd team to advance to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the winner of the Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs series.

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Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators— Game 4

For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators have swept a Stanley Cup Playoff series, having defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-1, in Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night.

Chicago hadn’t been swept since their 1993 Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup with the St. Louis Blues, which, interestingly enough was also the last time a team with the best record in their conference was swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Predators goalie, Pekka Rinne stopped 30 out of the 31 shots he faced for a .968 save percentage in the win, while Blackhawks goaltender, Corey Crawford made 22 saves on 25 shots against for an .880 SV% in the loss.

Roman Josi (1) scored the game’s first goal (and his first of the postseason) 9:41 into the 2nd period. Ryan Ellis (2) and Ryan Johansen (5) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Nashville.

Colton Sissons (2) scored what would become the game winning goal almost halfway into the 3rd period. Viktor Arvidsson (2) and Ellis (3) tabbed the assists on the goal.

Less than two minutes later, Josi (2) scored his 2nd goal of the game on a pass from Sissons (1) and made it a 3-0 game for the Predators. Austin Watson (1) had the secondary assist on Josi’s goal.

The Blackhawks finally answered with a goal of their own on a power play as Jonathan Toews (1) collected his 40th career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and first of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Artemi Panarin (1) and Patrick Kane (1) were credited with the assists on the goal that cut the lead to 3-1. Yet it was too little, too late for Chicago.

With Crawford on the bench and an extra skater on the ice for the Blackhawks, P.K. Subban freed the puck from his own zone and sent it to Filip Forsberg. Forsberg found Arvidsson in the clear and with a direct shot at the empty net.

Arvidsson (2) tacked on the empty net goal for Nashville at 18:12 of the 3rd period. Forsberg (3) and Subban (2) collected the assists as the Predators went on to win 4-1.

Nashville advances to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they await to face the winner of the Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues series. The Predators are just the third team to punch their ticket to Round Two (and second team to do so on Thursday night, as the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier in the evening).

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San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers— Game 5

It only took almost a full overtime period and nearly 15 shots on goal within that time span, but David Desharnais found the back of the net for the Edmonton Oilers who completed a comeback and defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on home ice at Rexall Place on Thursday night.

Oilers goaltender, Cam Talbot, made 27 saves on 30 shots faced for a .900 save percentage in the win, while San Jose goalie, Martin Jones stopped 44 out of 48 shots against for a .917 SV% in the loss.

Patrick Maroon (1) struck first for the Oilers on a rebound to make it 1-0 Edmonton 5:28 into the opening frame. Matt Benning (1) had the only assist on the goal.

Mikkel Boedker (1) fired a shot past Talbot just past halfway in the 1st period to tie the game, 1-1. Chris Tierney (1) and Marcus Sorensen (1) had the assists on the tic-tac-goal setup.

After Joe Thornton’s shot initially broke through Edmonton’s goaltender, Cam Talbot, Patrick Marleau (2) finished the job by crashing the net and sending the loose puck home to the back of the twine to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead. Thornton (2) and Brendan Dillon (1) were given the assists on Marleau’s 2nd of the series.

David Schlemko (2) found the back of the net for the second consecutive game in the series to put San Jose up 3-1 on a long range wrist shot. The assists went to Boedker (1) and Joel Ward (3) on Schlemko’s goal at 8:38 of the 2nd period.

Not to be outdone, Edmonton blue liner, Mark Letestu (1) snuck in from the point on a power play opportunity to receive a pass from Leon Draisaitl and buried the puck behind Jones. Letestu’s goal cut the lead to one at 18:33 of the 2nd period and was assisted by Draisaitl (1) and Connor McDavid (2).

Entering the 3rd period, 3-2, the Oilers were hungry for more, while the Sharks were hoping to hold on and steal another game on the road.

Oscar Klefbom (2) received a pass from Desharnais and wired a slap shot past Jones with 2:46 to go in regulation to tie the game, 3-3. Desharnais (1) and Benning (2) were credited with the assists on the game-tying goal.

After 60 minutes the Oilers were outshooting the Sharks 34-28, outhitting the Sharks 30-15 and were 1/3 on the power play, compared to San Jose’s 0/1 on the man advantage. But 60 minutes were not enough for there to be a regulation winner in Game 5, and thus sudden death overtime was necessary.

Three colossal saves on three separate rushes by the Oilers were made by Jones before the 10-minute mark in overtime. Jones denied excellent rushes from Edmonton’s best in Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid in a span of minutes.

While the action was tilted on one end of the ice, Thornton recorded the first shot on goal in overtime for San Jose with a wrist shot at 9:37 of the overtime period. Edmonton had already amassed 10 shots on net by then.

With less than two minutes to go in overtime, David Desharnais (1) tipped a shot past Jones to complete the comeback and for his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Draisaitl (2) and Andrej Sekera (1) had the assists on the game-winning overtime goal at 18:15.

The Edmonton Oilers took Game 5 by a score of 4-3 and now lead the series 3-2. Edmonton looks to close things out on the road in San Jose on Saturday in Game 6. American viewers can tune in to NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET and Canadian fans can watch on Sportsnet or TVA Sports.

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.

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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 4 – Day 167 – Who gets Game 7?

After a quiet Monday in the NHL last night, the final Tuesday of the regular season should be absolutely stellar.

Barring some freak weather system or facilities complication, 13 contests will take place this evening. All but four teams will be in action tonight, including the entire Western Conference.

The action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Philadelphia at New Jersey and Columbus at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by two more (Washington at Toronto and Detroit at Ottawa [RDS]). Another trio (Winnipeg at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota) will be contested at 8 p.m., with Arizona at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago at Colorado is the only matchup to start at 9 p.m., which is the same for Calgary at Anaheim (SN1) at 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Los Angeles [NBCSN] and Vancouver at San Jose) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to finish the night.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: Both teams may be eliminated from the postseason, but that won’t take away from the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike, which was already heated before Dalton Prout‘s hit on Radko Gudas.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: While the rivalry status of this matchup is still in the air, one thing is certain: it will have an immediate impact on the Metropolitan Division with only six days remaining in the season.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: With a little help from the Flames, this old-timey rivalry could provide the Oilers a shot at first place in the Pacific Division.

Riding a two-game winning streak, it seems like the Penguins are getting healthy and returning to form just in time for the playoffs. They’ll need all the help they can get tonight to try to retain home ice in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

 

There’s a lot at stake tonight in this game. 48-19-11 Pittsburgh currently has a one-point advantage on 49-21-8 Columbus for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Of course, that second seed is ultra-important in the not-so-new-anymore playoff format the NHL is using nowadways.

Instead of a conference tournament where the best team was paired with the worst team in a given conference until the conference championship (effectively the NBA’s playoffs, except the NHL used to reseed after every round), the league now crowns two division champions, determined by three seven-game playoffs, to play for one of the conference titles.

Whether you’re a fan of the format or not (Hint: I’m not. #TeamOldFormat), it’s the world we live in. And that’s what makes this matchup so integral. As all sports fans know, a home ice/court/field advantage can be wildly important in deciding who wins a Game 7 and advances to the next round, or loses and schedules tee times a week later.

All that aside, this also acts as a week-early preview for a highly-probable first round playoff matchup. Considering what is on the table, I doubt either of the coaching staffs are too concerned about putting too much film in their opponent’s hands. Then again, we are talking about John Tortorella, so who knows?

While I’m in no way implying that I think the Jackets have lost their edge, they have hit a slight rough patch in the past week; since March 30, they’ve amassed only a 0-2-1 record. Given, their two regulation losses are in Chicago and against the Capitals, but beating playoff teams is relatively important when the postseason starts next week.

The Blue Jackets have been one of the best defenses in the league all season long, allowing only 2.28 goals-against per game – the second-best mark in the NHL. In the last three games, they’ve allowed eight goals – well above that mark.

Much of that season success has been due to a solid blueline. Unfortunately for 41-15-5 Sergei Bobrovsky (more on him in a minute), a blueline collapse is not the reason for Columbus‘ recent struggles. They’ve allowed only 28.3 shots-against in the past week, which is actually down from the usual 30.4 they’ve averaged all year.

No, the blame rests on Bobrovsky’s shoulders. While he’s been almost as far from horrible as one can get, he’s not been his usual super-reliable self. On the season, he has a .934 save percentage and 1.99 GAA (both are best in the league among goalies with more than eight games played), but he’s let his numbers drop to .906 and 2.56 in the past six days.

As showcased by Chicago and Washington, that extra sliver of space is all elite offenses need to capitalize.

With the postseason on the horizon, the important thing is that the penalty kill has remained healthy. The fact that the Jackets have allowed only one power play goal against since March 30 is proof enough that nothing needs to be retooled in Columbus; Bobrovsky just needs to focus back in and the Jackets should be set for an effective postseason.

The thing that does need to be checked for life is the power play. Usually successful on 19.9% of attempts – an above-average effort – the Jackets haven’t scored on the man-advantage in their past seven attempts. It is moments like these where Captain Nick Foligno and power play-mastermind Alexander Wennberg need to step up and provide the offensive spark for their club, a squad that desperately needs one with the extra-man.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the Penguins are doing much better of late. Since March 23, they’ve gone 2-2-2, though their last two contests were victories against solid offenses in Carolina and New York.

Though I love statistics, Pittsburgh‘s drop in production can be attributed to one thing and one thing along: injuries. There’s still seven Penguins on the injury report, including the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz, who went down against the Rangers Saturday.

That explains why the best offense in the league has managed only 13 goals in six games, but why has Pittsburgh allowed so many goals of late?

I’m going to give  30-10-4 Matthew Murray a pass here and blame the blueline. Of course, the Penguins‘ defense is hurt too. Trevor Daley, Letang and Olli Maatta have not registered a game since at least February 21, all of whom average more than a shot block per game when healthy.

One of those pieces looks to be coming back soon though. The Penguins‘ official Twitter handle indicated that Daley returned to practice today, so it remains to be seen when he will see game action.

Until then, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to keep shots off Murray. In the past six games, the Pens blueline has allowed 213 shots (35.5) to reach their goaltender, which is worse than their already very bad 32.6 season average.

Both Justin Schultz and Ian Cole have been fantastic in their efforts, as they’ve combined for 26 shot blocks in the past six games. But it’s skaters like Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel that need to improve their effort.

It is hard to have such high expectations for Ruhwedel, who has bounced between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but the fact that he has only one block in five games with the Penguins should be alarming to Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan, and could impact if he gets a contract of any kind this offseason.

Where Murray doesn’t get a pass is the penalty kill. He’s faced seven power play shots in the past six games, and has saved only four of them. Four. As you’d expect, a .571 power play save percentage has dropped the Penguins‘ penalty kill numbers to the bottom of the league in that stretch of time, as they’ve successfully stopped only 76.9% of opposing attempts in the last 13 days.

The current Penguins‘ brightest spot has to be a a power play that has managed to convert 30.8% of its opportunities since March 23, the seventh-best effort in that time. Though Phil Kessel, who has 29 power play points on the season, still leads the team’s man-advantage, it’s been a full-team attack of late as both lines have found the back of the net. In fact, even though the squad has managed four power play goals in this stretch, no player has more than two points to his credit.

Though the Blue Jackets have gone 2-0-1 against Pittsburgh this year, they still have yet to clinch the season series. The Pens could tie it all up tonight if they can best Columbus in regulation.

If February 17 is any indicator, the Penguins will have to work extremely hard to get that done. Columbus needed overtime to best Pittsburgh 2-1 the last time they met (Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winner), though they had that pesky home ice we were talking about earlier in their favor.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (34 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (1.99 GAA on a .934 save percentage [both best in the NHL] for 41 wins [tied for the most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and David Savard (+30 [sixth-best in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 84 points [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]).

Though wounded, Vegas has marked Pittsburgh a -130 favorite going into tonight’s game. I expect a tight game, but I’m actually leaning towards the Blue Jackets. I think their special teams are an even match for those of the Penguins and their offense should take advantage of a struggling Pittsburgh defensive corps.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pat Burns (1952-2010) – It may have been the shortest stop in his 14 years of head coaching, but Burns is most remembered for leading the 2003 Devils to the Stanley Cup.
  • Dale Hawerchuk (1963-) – Winnipeg selected this center with the top pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and it turned out to be a good pick. In addition to winning the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy, this Hall-of-Famer played in five All-Star Games over his 16 seasons.
  • Yanic Perreault (1971-) – Selected 47th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played 14 seasons – most of which with Los Angeles. Though he appeared in only one All-Star Game, he scored 247 goals over his career.
  • Kevin Weekes (1975-) – Before working for NHL Network and starting his clothing line No5Hole, this goaltender was selected 41st-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Florida. He ended up playing 348 games over 11 seasons – most of which with Carolina – for a 105-163-39 record.
  • Roberto Luongo (1979-) – Another goalie, Luongo was picked fourth-overall by the Islanders in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Currently in his second stint with the Panthers, he’s played 494 of his 966 games with Florida. He has a career 453-365-117 record.
  • Evgeny Artyukhin (1983-) – Tampa Bay selected this right wing 94th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his three-year career. He managed only 49 points before returning to Russia.
  • Doug Lynch (1983-) – Another player whose career didn’t last long, this defenseman was selected 43rd-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton. He only played two games with the Oilers, and has since played most of his career in the EBEL.
  • Cam Barker (1986-) – This defenseman was the third-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, and that’s where he spent most of his eight-year NHL career. Most recently, he was playing in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava.

Led by Nazem Kadri‘s two-point effort, the Maple Leafs bested Buffalo 4-2 in the Battle of the QEW, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Toronto took command of this game quickly, as it had a 3-0 lead by the 5:09 mark of the first frame. Third Star of the Game Leo Komarov (Kadri) took credit for the Leafs‘ first tally, tipping-in a shot 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 35 seconds later, First Star Auston Matthews (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) doubled that lead by potting a wrist shot. That surge culminated with Second Star James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak), who notched the game-winner only eight seconds after Matthews’ 39th tally of the season, the most ever by an American rookie.

Buffalo finally got on the board 1:51 into the second period. Though Marcus Foligno still had nine seconds remaining on his cross-checking penalty against Kadri at the end of the first period, Ryan O’Reilly (Brian Gionta) notched a shorthanded snap shot to pull the Sabres within two goals of their Canadian rivals.

That 3-1 score held until the 5:50 mark of the third period. That’s when Kadri (Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev) buried his power play marker to reclaim a three-goal advantage for Toronto. Jack Eichel (Sam Reinhart) buried a backhanded shot with 56 seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little too late to effect Buffalo‘s fate.

Frederik Andersen earned the win after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), leaving the loss to Robin Lehner, who saved two-of-five (40%). He was pulled after van Riemsdyk’s game-winning slap shot in favor of Anders Nilsson, who saved 39-of-40 (97.5%) for no decision.

Toronto‘s victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the 85-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Though hosts have still had more success when featured, their advantage over the visitors is now only three points.