Tag Archives: Philipp Grubauer

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview: Western Conference

How’s your bracket doing? Not great? Well, you should have taken my advice for the last round (except for Calgary and Tampa). Maybe you’ll nail the Second Chance Bracket the NHL is offering.

Or maybe you won’t.

Regardless, the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is over and the Second Round starts on Thursday. As such, let’s take a look at every matchup like we did for the last round.

P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)

San Jose went 3-0-0 in their regular season series against Colorado, but the Avs were 0-2-1 against the Calgary Flames entering their First Round matchup. In short, the regular season doesn’t mean much. Seriously.

Calgary had home ice advantage and lost two out of their three home games in the First Round to the Avalanche.

The Sharks trailed, 3-1, in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, then Tomas Hertl guaranteed things would go seven games and they did.

Then the Sharks pulled off an improbable comeback in Game 7, overcoming a three-goal deficit in the third period to win in overtime a la the 2013 Boston Bruins in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs that postseason.

Colorado’s first line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen is back firing on all cylinders, while Philipp Grubauer (4-1-0 record, 1.89 goals against average, .939 save percentage in five games played this postseason) has locked down the crease in the Mile High City.

At the other end of the ice, San Jose’s seen the re-emergence of Hertl and Logan Couture, while Barclay Goodrow‘s stock is rising with the game-winning goal in Game 7 against Vegas.

Martin Jones (4-2-0, 3.20 GAA, .904 SV% in seven games played this postseason) has been all over the place in the crease for the Sharks.

With Erik Karlsson amassing nine assists in the last series, San Jose’s defense is quite the two-way prowess in the wake of Colorado’s mostly “shut-down” blue line.

This series is going to come down to whether the Avs can get out to a lead and withhold the inevitable Sharks comeback or if San Jose can limit Colorado’s scoring chances and will the scoreboard to their advantage.

After six games, expect the Avalanche to come out on top of the mountain and make their first Western Conference Final appearance since 2002 when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

5-2 SJS at SAP Center on April 6th, 4-3 SJS at SAP Center on March 1st, 5-4 SJS at Pepsi Center on Jan. 2nd

Schedule:

4/26- Game 1 COL @ SJS 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/28- Game 2 COL @ SJS 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/30- Game 3 SJS @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/2- Game 4 SJS @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/4- Game 5 COL @ SJS*

5/6- Game 6 SJS @ COL*

5/8- Game 7 COL @ SJS*

*If necessary

C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)

Despite facing the Stars solely in the second-half of the regular season– whereby the Blues went on an incredible run to the postseason backstopped by rookie sensation, Jordan Binnington (4-2-0, 2.63 GAA, .908 SV% in six games played this posteason)– St. Louis went 1-3-0 against Dallas in 2018-19.

Of course, as already noted, the regular season series record doesn’t mean much when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start, but is it possible the Stars are the only team that could make Binnington nervous?

Surely St. Louis’ roster can’t be too nervous, what with Jaden Schwartz notching the natural hat trick in Game 6 against the Winnipeg Jets– almost single handedly eliminating the Jets himself– and the rest of the Blues, like David Perron, overcoming Winnipeg’s speed and skill to get to the Second Round.

But the sheer fire power of the Stars was hard to contain by one of the best defenses on paper in the Nashville Predators. Alexander Radulov had a two-goal game en route to Dallas heading home to clinch their series against the Preds in six games.

Then there’s the best goaltending of the Western Conference to consider. The real wild card that could steal the Vezina Trophy this season (as he is a finalist).

Ben Bishop (4-2-0, 1.89 GAA, .945 SV% in six games this postseason) has been lights out in the regular season and playoffs so far.

Oh yeah, and those guys that were criticized earlier this season in Dallas (Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn)? They’re chipping in when it matters most. Not that they hadn’t been before now, really.

There’s no way this series isn’t going seven games. If it falls short, then that’s an abomination on behalf of The Hockey Gods.

That said, St. Louis has the all-important home ice advantage should it come down to– when it comes down to a Game 7. Because of that, the Blues will meet the Avalanche in the 2019 Western Conference Final.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 DAL at Enterprise Center on March 2nd, 5-2 DAL at American Airlines Center on Feb. 21st, 3-1 STL at American Airlines Center on Jan. 12th, 3-1 DAL at Enterprise Center on Jan. 8th

Schedule:

4/25- Game 1 DAL @ STL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

4/27- Game 2 DAL @ STL 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

4/29- Game 3 STL @ DAL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

5/1- Game 4 STL @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

5/3- Game 5 DAL @ STL* 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, TVAS

5/5- Game 6 STL @ DAL*

5/7- Game 7 DAL @ STL*

*If necessary

DTFR Podcast #153- Solo Cup Picks

Nick reacts to coaching changes, the draft lottery and the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs already in progress while providing an update.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show onPatreon.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Western Conference

In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.

In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.

P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)

The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.

Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”

Only kidding.

Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.

Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.

Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.

Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.

For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.

Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.

Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.

Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.

In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.

Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.

Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?

Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2

4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*

4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*

4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*

*If necessary

P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)

The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.

Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.

There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.

Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.

Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.

Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.

Reilly Smith put up 53 points in a “down” season, but Alex Tuch (20-32–52 totals) had a breakout year, so everything evens out in the end.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.

For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.

The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.

But this time around feels different.

San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*

4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*

4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*

*If necessary

C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)

A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.

It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.

For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).

Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.

Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.

Their offense was led by Ryan Johansen (14-50–64 totals in 80 GP) this season with Filip Forsberg chipping in 50 points and Viktor Arvidsson reaching the 30-goal plateau (he finished with 34).

Their goaltending… oh. Is this when Juuse Saros (17-10-2, 2.62 GAA, .915 SV% in 31 GP) takes over for Pekka Rinne (30-19-4, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV% in 56 GP) as the regular starter?

Oh. Again. Never mind.

While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.

In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.

Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.

This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?

Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.

On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.

Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.

But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.

Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.

As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.

Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.

Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.

It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2

4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*

4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*

4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*

*If necessary

C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)

After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.

This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.

Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.

Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.

On defense, Jacob Trouba picked up the slack with 8-42–50 totals from the blue line while Dustin Byfuglien was limited to 42 games and 31 points due to injury.

In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).

Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.

Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.

Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.

However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.

The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.

This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.

Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.

Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).

Don’t try to mess with what’s working.

Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.

Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.

For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.

Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.

Regular season outcomes:

1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3

4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2

4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*

4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*

4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*

*If necessary

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Eastern Conference

*cue Andy Williams*

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*

4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*

4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*

4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*

4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*

4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*

4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*

*If necessary

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

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

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

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.

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

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

That same trap won the Cup last season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*

4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*

4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*

Game of the week: March 18-24

As we inch ever closer to Decision Day, every game takes on even more importance. Whether clubs are battling for seeding or their playoff lives, there’s been much excitement to be had this week.

Speaking of, here’s the NHL’s slate of games for this week:

NHL SCHEDULE: March 18-24
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 18
7:30 p.m. Arizona Tampa Bay 1-4
8:30 p.m. Vancouver Chicago 3-2 (OT)
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg Los Angeles 3-2
10:30 p.m. Vegas San Jose 7-3
Tuesday, March 19
7 p.m. Boston Bruins New York Islanders 5-0
7 p.m. Detroit Red Wings New York Rangers 3-2
7 p.m. Montréal Philadelphia 3-1
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Carolina 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Washington New Jersey 4-1
8 p.m. Edmonton St. Louis 2-7
8 p.m. Toronto Nashville 0-3
8 p.m. Colorado Minnesota 3-1
8:30 p.m. Florida Dallas 2-4
9 p.m. Columbus Calgary 2-4
Wednesday, March 20
7 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-2
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Washington 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Ottawa Vancouver 4-7
10 p.m. Winnipeg Anaheim 3-0
Thursday, March 21
7 p.m. Arizona Florida 2-4
7 p.m. Boston New Jersey 5-1
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Carolina 6-3
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Montréal Canadiens 0-4
8 p.m. Detroit St. Louis 2-5
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Nashville 2-1 (SO)
8:30 p.m. Philadelphia Chicago 3-1
8:30 p.m. Colorado Dallas 3-1
9 p.m. Ottawa Calgary 1-5
9 p.m. Columbus Edmonton 1-4
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vegas 0-5
10:30 p.m. San Jose Los Angeles 2-4
Friday, March 22
7 p.m. Minnesota Washington 2-1
10 p.m. San Jose Anaheim 3-4 (OT)
Saturday, March 23
1 p.m. Arizona New Jersey  
1 p.m. New York Islanders Philadelphia Flyers NHLN
3 p.m. Chicago Colorado ESPN+, SN1
4 p.m. Ottawa Edmonton TVAS
7 p.m. Nashville Winnipeg ESPN+, SN360
7 p.m. New York Rangers Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Buffalo Montréal CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Boston Florida  
7 p.m. Minnesota Carolina  
8 p.m. Tampa Bay St. Louis  
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Dallas ESPN+
10 p.m. Calgary Flames Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, ESPN+, SN, SN1, SN360
10 p.m. Detroit Vegas  
10:30 p.m. Anaheim Los Angeles  
Sunday, March 24
12:30 p.m. Philadelphia Washington NBC, TVAS
3 p.m. Arizona Coyotes New York Islanders SN
7 p.m. Montréal Carolina ESPN+, RDS, SN
8 p.m. Colorado Chicago NBCSN
10 p.m. Columbus Vancouver  

There’s no shortage of fun tilts taking place this week, even if we look beyond the standings.

For instance, Vancouver and Chicago squared off on Monday to rekindle their former hatred from the last decade, followed the next day by an Original Six tilt between the Red Wings and Rangers.

Wednesday saw another edition of the Battle of the QEW, while the Wings were back at it in St. Louis on Thursday. Speaking of Thursday, the Battle of California also took place that night to springboard the Sharks into their Friday tilt against the Ducks.

Today’s rivalry action once again features the Rangers in an Original Six bout, this time squaring off against Toronto. Once that game is through, the Freeway Face-Off will be played for the second-to-last time this season, while Philadelphia and Washington’s derby will wait until tomorrow afternoon.

As for playoff rematches of almost a year ago, we saw San Jose get whipped by Vegas once again on Monday, Tampa Bay barely escaped Washington with an overtime victory on Wednesday, Vegas beat the Jets on Thursday and the aforementioned Sharks-Ducks game last night. One more rematch is on the schedule this weekend, as the Predators and Jets will square off tonight in a game that could determine the fate of the Central Division.

As for player returns, there weren’t many that qualified in any way as significant. As a matter of fact, D John Moore‘s return to New Jersey, his former home of three seasons, is the week’s biggest homecoming.

Now, as fun as it would have been to do a big write-up on Moore’s time with the Devils, I thought this weekend’s home-and-home series featuring two Central Division clubs fighting to qualify for the playoffs was a bit more important.

Coming into the weekend with a 32-31-10 record, the Chicago Blackhawks currently occupy seventh place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, but they’re still very much in the playoff race since they trail the Minnesota Wild by only five points and have two games in hand.

Of course, this is not news to the Hawks, as they were on quite a tear before dropping their last two games. Chicago was on a five-game winning streak before losing 3-2 in overtime at home to the Canucks on Monday, and that six-game point streak was snapped Thursday with a 3-1 home loss to the Flyers.

Just like the good ol’ days, one of the Hawks’ most potent weapons during this surge has undoubtedly been their impressive offense. Chicago has averaged 3.29 goals per game since March 7, the fourth-best mark in the Western Conference and seventh-best in the league.

As would be expected, F Patrick Kane has been one of the most important players during this effort, as he’s posted solid 1-6-7 marks in his last seven outings to average a point-per-game. However, he’s been clearly outplayed by second-liner W Brendan Perlini (the Blackhawks’ return alongside C Dylan Strome for trading C Nick Schmaltz to Arizona in November) and his outstanding 6-2-8 effort in that time.

Perhaps it is simply coincidence, but Perlini has not registered a point in his last two games – the same two games Chicago has most recently lost. Whether he buys into the correlation or not, Head Coach Jeremy Colliton certainly won’t complain if Perlini can get back to work this weekend.

Another facet of Chicago’s play that has been absolutely incredible lately has been its goaltending. Despite playing behind a defense that has yielded 35.43 shots per game since March 7 (the fourth-worst in the league in that time), the Blackhawks have allowed only 2.29 goals in that same time frame – the seventh-best in the NHL.

12-16-3 G Corey Crawford has been absolutely fantastic in his last seven starts. He’s posted a .945 save percentage and 1.79 GAA during this run by the Hawks despite playing behind their shoddy defense, and he will be the one that deserves the most praise should Chicago extend its season beyond 82 games.

Just like the Blackhawks, the 33-29-12 Colorado Avalanche are still on the outside of the playoff bubble and looking in, but they can see their path to the postseason even easier than their brethren from the Windy City.

Colorado enters the weekend trailing eighth-place Minnesota by only one point – an incredibly manageable deficit considering the Avs hold a game-in-hand on the Wild.

However, it is that game-in-hand that makes this weekend’s series against Chicago so important for the Avalanche. Since Minnesota is only playing one tilt this weekend, Sunday’s game will spend that game-in-hand.

Coming into Saturday’s tilt, the Avalanche boast a three-game winning streak, including road victories against current playoff teams in Minnesota and Dallas.

The backbone of this three-game run has undoubtedly been 14-9-3 G Philipp Grubauer as, despite playing behind a defense that has allowed an average of 34.67 shots against per game since March 17, he and the Avs have yielded only two goals in their past three games.

Despite boasting only a .911 save percentage and 2.77 GAA for the season, Grubauer has managed an unbelievable .981 save percentage and 0.67 GAA in his last three outings. Of course, New Jersey, Minnesota and Dallas do not boast the offenses that Chicago do, so he will need to be totally on his game either today or tomorrow when he gets his nod.

The German has faced Chicago only twice in his entire career, earning a 0-1-0 record in those outings. Against the Blackhawks, he owns a career .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA. His last outing against the franchise was on December 21 of this season, and the Avs played to a 2-1 home loss.

So, who wins this weekend’s series?

Though they’re riding a two-game losing skid, I like the Blackhawks in this home-and-home. Though Grubauer has been incredible lately, the fact that Crawford has such a strong offense playing in front of him is certainly in his favor. Additionally, offense will be even more important when the backups earn the nod, which should make the ice tilt Chicago’s way even more.

Game of the week: February 4-10

Now that all the bye weeks are behind us, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline at the end of the month. The activity leading up to that date will be majorly influenced by the next couple weeks’ games, including these tilts:

NHL SCHEDULE: February 4-10
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 4
7 p.m. Anaheim Toronto 1-6
7 p.m. Los Angeles Kings New York Rangers 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Vancouver Philadelphia 1-2
8:30 p.m. Arizona Dallas 4-5
Tuesday, February 5
7 p.m. New York Islanders Boston Bruins 1-3
7 p.m. Minnesota Buffalo 4-5 (SO)
7 p.m. St. Louis Florida 3-2
7 p.m. Los Angeles New Jersey 5-1
7 p.m. Carolina Pittsburgh 4-0
7 p.m. Vancouver Washington 2-3
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Montréal 1-4
7:30 p.m. Vegas Tampa Bay 3-2 (SO)
8 p.m. Arizona Nashville 2-5
8 p.m. San Jose Winnipeg 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. Columbus Colorado 6-3
9 p.m. Chicago Edmonton 6-2
Wednesday, February 6
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Toronto 4-5
8 p.m. Boston Bruins New York Rangers 3-4 (SO)
Thursday, February 7
7 p.m. Carolina Buffalo  
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Florida  
7 p.m. New York Islanders New Jersey Devils  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Philadelphia  
7 p.m. Colorado Washington ESPN+
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. Vegas Detroit  
7:30 p.m. St. Louis Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville  
8 p.m. Edmonton Minnesota  
8:30 p.m. Vancouver Chicago  
9 p.m. San Jose Calgary ESPN+, SN1
9 p.m. Columbus Arizona  
Friday, February 8
8 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Rangers NHLN, SN
Saturday, February 9
1 p.m. Los Angeles Boston  
1 p.m. Detroit Buffalo  
1 p.m. Minnesota New Jersey  
1 p.m. Colorado Avalanche New York Islanders  
1 p.m. Anaheim Philadelphia  
2 p.m. Nashville St. Louis  
2 p.m. Winnipeg Jets Ottawa Senators CBC, SN, SN1, TVAS
4 p.m. Dallas Arizona  
7 p.m. San Jose Edmonton SN, SN360
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Montréal Canadiens CBC, CITY, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Tampa Bay NHLN
7 p.m. Florida Washington ESPN+
10 p.m. Calgary Flames Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10 p.m. Columbus Vegas ESPN+
Sunday, February 10
12:30 p.m. St. Louis Nashville NBC, TVAS
3 p.m. Detroit Chicago  
3 p.m. Colorado Boston SN1, TVAS
3 p.m. Winnipeg Buffalo ESPN+
3 p.m. Carolina New Jersey  
3 p.m. Minnesota Wild New York Islanders  
6 p.m. Tampa Bay Florida  
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs New York Rangers NBCSN, SN, TVAS

This week has more than its fair share of derbies with seven on the schedule spread across four days. First up are both of Wednesday’s tilts (the Battle of Ontario and an Original Six tilt between the Bruins and Rangers), followed this evening by Vancouver visiting Chicago (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). Toronto keeps the Original Six fever going into the weekend when it visits Montréal, then continues the trend into Sunday by visiting the Rangers. Joining the Leafs and Blueshirts in rivalry action to close the week will be Tampa Bay and Florida contesting another round of the Governor’s Cup.

In the player homecoming category, there was none bigger than F Jay Beagle‘s trip back to the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Beagle spent 10 seasons with the Caps, departing for the Pacific Northwest after winning the Stanley Cup last summer.

Also making major returns are G Philipp Grubauer and F Nick Bjugstad, both of whom spent six seasons with the Capitals and Panthers, respectively. These homecomings are especially significant for both, as Grubauer will be collecting his Stanley Cup ring and Bjugstad will probably be snagging some more clothes and household items for his new apartment in the Steel City after being traded there Friday.

However, to keep with tradition, let’s totally disregard those tilts and focus on a totally different fixture – specifically, the one featuring F Jeff Skinner taking on his former team.

Boasting a 4-1-1 record in their past six games (including a dominant 4-0 shutout win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday), the 26-21-6 Carolina Hurricanes have pulled within three points of the East’s second wild card with 29 games to play.

After more than half the season has gone by, there’s no surprises any more in the Canes’ style: they play an upbeat style of offense that stresses shots on goal, hoping to wear down opposing goaltenders simply by the mass volume of stops they have to make.

While that strategy has had varied levels of success throughout the campaign, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour‘s crew has certainly been making magic lately, as they’ve been led by their offense averaging 4.33 goals per game during this run – the second-best in the entire NHL since January 20.

Leading that charge is none other than the 35th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, F Sebastian Aho. With 3-6-9 totals in his last six appearances, he’s continued his insane scoring pace to elevate his season marks to 24-36-60 in 53 appearances, putting him only five points away from matching last season’s career-highs in goals and points.

Joining Aho in averaging at least a point per game during this six-game run are F Teuvo Teravainen (2-5-7), D Jaccob Slavin (0-7-7) and new addition W Nino Niederreiter (5-1-6). With Niederreiter’s goal-scoring showing up in Raleigh on January 18, perhaps it’s no mere coincidence the offense has taken off and the Hurricanes are enjoying more of their patented “Carolina Surge” celebrations. Of course, the Canes might be just as surprised with Niederreiter’s success as he is – after all, he only scored nine goals in 46 games with the Wild this season. Since donning Carolina red, he’s already lit the lamp five times in only seven appearances.

But the Hurricanes haven’t been just another pretty offense during this winning run. They’ve also played incredibly well on the defensive end too.

Thanks to the excellent play of late by D Justin Faulk (two blocks per game since January 20) and W Micheal Ferland (3.5 hits per game in his last four outings), the Canes have also boasted the league’s third-best defense as measured by shots against per game, as they’ve allowed only 25.33 per game during this six-game span.

And not surprisingly, that solid defensive work has translated incredibly to the scoreboard. Carolina has allowed only 2.5 goals against per game during this run, the (t)10th-best in the league since January 20. While 11-11-3 G Petr Mrazek‘s (.894 save percentage and 2.83 GAA on the season) stats have been far from incredible during this stretch – he’s actually performed below his already below-average season marks, managing an .874 save percentage and 3.28 GAA behind this defense – the fact that he’s earned five of a possible eight points in his last four appearances indicates he’s doing enough to help the Canes win.

With Carolina heading to Manhattan tomorrow to take on a less offensively-talented Rangers team, it seems likely Mrazek will be in net tonight. Should Brind’Amour instead give 12-6-1 G Curtis McElhinney the nod, he’ll hope to improve on his .918 season save percentage and corresponding 2.37 GAA.

Speaking of New York-based teams, the 26-20-6 Buffalo Sabres also find themselves trailing eighth-place Columbus by three points, but they currently lead the Hurricanes in the standings by virtue of playing one fewer game so far this campaign.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, that is where the positive marks end for a moment, as they’ve had the misfortune of stumbling into a 3-6-0 rut over their past nine games.

The biggest reason for this slump? Struggling goaltending.

Due in large part to an offense that is providing only three goals per game (tied for 13th-fewest in the NHL since January 11) and a defense yielding 31.11 shots against per game (15th-worst in the league in their past nine outings) during this stretch, 11-5-3 G Linus Ullmark has been forced to shoulder the brunt of the Sabres’ mistakes for the past few weeks and has struggled mightily under the pressure.

Despite owning a solid .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA for the season, Ullmark’s stats in his last seven appearances (of which only five were starts, meaning 15-15-3 G Carter Hutton is struggling even more than Ullmark) have showcased just how much Buffalo has been struggling in the middle of the season. Ullmark has only an .882 save percentage and 3.53 GAA in these games, a far cry from the performance Head Coach Phil Housley has come to expect.

Hutton has an even worse .832 save percentage and 5.59 GAA in his last four starts (of which he’s only won one), so I’d be surprised if the 33-year-old is in net tonight against the Canes’ rolling offense.

Regardless of who’s in net, I have a hard time seeing the Sabres breaking out of their funk against the red-hot Hurricanes. With everything coming up Carolina’s way in it’s last few outings, the Canes should escape the Queen City with two more points in their possession.

DTFR Podcast #144- (The Other) Auston City Limits

Auston Matthews signed an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What does this mean for the Leafs? Alex Stalock, Jordan Martinook and Pheonix Copley all signed extensions with their clubs, as Tuukka Rask became the winningest goaltender in Boston Bruins history, Alex Ovechkin became the highest scoring Russian-born NHL player and Paul Maurice reached 1,500 games behind the bench as a head coach.

The DTFR Duo also reviewed all 31 NHL teams as buyers and/or sellers at the 2019 trade deadline.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #141- The Midseasonies

Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.

Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Game of the week: January 7-13

It’s the first full week of 2019! What better way to celebrate than with some hockey?

Here’s this week’s slate of games:

NHL SCHEDULE: January 7-13
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, January 7
7 p.m. Nashville Toronto 4-0
7 p.m. St. Louis Philadelphia 3-0
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Montréal 1-0
8:30 p.m. Calgary Chicago 4-3
10:30 p.m. Los Angeles San Jose 1-3
Tuesday, January 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Boston 0-4
7 p.m. New Jersey Buffalo 1-5
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders 4-3
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 1-5
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Washington 3-5
7:30 p.m. Montréal Detroit 3-2
7:30 p.m. Columbus Tampa Bay 0-4
8 p.m. Dallas St. Louis 3-1
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg 4-7
10 p.m. New York Rangers Vegas Golden Knights 2-4
10:30 p.m. Edmonton San Jose 2-7
Wednesday, January 9
8 p.m. Nashville Predators Chicago Blackhawks NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Colorado Calgary ESPN+
10 p.m. Ottawa Anaheim RDS
Thursday, January 10
7 p.m. Washington Boston ESPN+, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto New Jersey  
7 p.m. New York Islanders New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Dallas Philadelphia  
7 p.m. Nashville Columbus  
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Montréal St. Louis RDS, TSN2
8 p.m. Winnipeg Minnesota NBCSN
9 p.m. Florida Edmonton  
10 p.m. Arizona Vancouver  
10 p.m. San Jose Vegas ESPN+
10:30 p.m. Ottawa Los Angeles RDS
Friday, January 11
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Carolina NHLN
8 p.m. Detroit Winnipeg TVAS
9 p.m. Florida Calgary  
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Anaheim ESPN+, SN360
Saturday, January 12
1 p.m. Philadelphia New Jersey NHLN, SN
1 p.m. New York Rangers New York Islanders ESPN+
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Buffalo  
7 p.m. Boston Bruins Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, CITY, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Colorado Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Washington ESPN+
8 p.m. Detroit Minnesota  
8:30 p.m. Vegas Chicago ESPN+
9 p.m. St. Louis Dallas  
10 p.m. Ottawa San Jose CBC, SN1, TVAS
10 p.m. Arizona Edmonton SN
10:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Los Angeles  
Sunday, January 13
12:30 p.m. Nashville Carolina  
6 p.m. Anaheim Winnipeg  
6 p.m. New York Rangers Columbus Blue Jackets NHLN
7 p.m. Florida Vancouver SN
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Lightning New York Islanders ESPN+
9:30 p.m. Arizona Calgary SN1

Among the week’s biggest games are the usual suspects of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns.

In the rivalry department, the Battle of California reignited Monday when the Kings visited San Jose, followed a day later by Philadelphia at Washington and an Original Six showdown between the Canadiens and Red Wings. The Battle of New York will be waged twice this week, starting in Manhattan tomorrow night and heading to Brooklyn Saturday afternoon. Also taking place Saturday is the Battle of the Turnpikes between Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as another Original Six fixture featuring Boston and Toronto.

As for rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thursday will see Winnipeg make a return to Minnesota in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals, and a Western Semifinals rematch between San Jose and Vegas. The previously mentioned Bruins-Maple Leafs tilt on Saturday is a rematch of the Eastern Quarterfinals, as is Columbus at Washington on the same day.

Making his first trip back to Raleigh since being traded to Buffalo this summer, no player’s homecoming is bigger than Jeff Skinner‘s this week. Drafted seventh overall in 2010, Skinner was a member of the Hurricanes for eight seasons before joining Jack Eichel‘s Sabres. While a Cane, Skinner won the organization’s first Calder Trophy and was named the youngest All-Star in North American professional sports history – both in 2011.

Also making a major homecoming trip is Tanner Pearson, now a member of the Penguins after a mid-season trade ended his six-season tenure in Los Angeles.

However, the game that excites me the most is going down tonight when the Colorado Avalanche make the trip north into Alberta to take on the Calgary Flames.

For much of the season so far, 20-15-8 Colorado – the West’s top wild card – was one of the scariest opponents in the league for any team. They boast a dominant top line and a top-five power play (the Avs’ 26.5 percent conversion rate is second-best in the conference).

However, that has not been the case for the past three weeks, as Colorado has racked up only a lowly 1-5-2 record in its last eight appearances (including regulation losses to Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles – all also-rans in the Western Conference), causing them to give up third place in the Central Division to Dallas.

Averaging three goals per game during this run, the offense is still clicking at a good enough pace that the Avalanche should not be struggling – at least not to this extent. Instead, it has been Colorado’s goaltending that has really dropped the ball.

With 9-5-3 G Philipp Grubauer earning the start last night in Winnipeg (Colorado lost 7-4, for those keeping track at home), it seems likely that 11-8-5 G Semyon Varlamov will get the nod this evening. If that’s the case, he’ll surely have full intention of playing closer to the .912 save percentage and 2.8 GAA he’s managed for the season and not the .891 and 2.97 marks he’s posted in his last two starts.

Of course, even those numbers are improvements over Grubauer’s. In the former Capital’s last six starts, he’s managed only an .87 save percentage and 3.94 GAA – only slightly worse than the .895 and 3.29 he’s shown for the entire season. With numbers like those and the fact that 0-2-0 G Pavel Francouz looked fairly solid in his NHL debut this season (he managed a .943 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in 61 minutes), it’s a wonder the Czech hasn’t had the opportunity to join the Avs full-time if it would mean Varlamov could take more games off.

What makes these recent goaltending numbers so frustrating is the fact that Colorado has been playing some solid defense during this stretch of games. In the Avs’ last eight games, they’ve allowed only 29.75 shots against per game – the ninth-lowest mark in the NHL since December 21. W Gabriel Bourque and C Sheldon Dries (both with 2.3 hits per game since December 21), W Matt Calvert (seven takeaways during this stretch) and D Erik Johnson (2.4 blocks per game in his past eight outings) have all played major roles in that success, but they’ll be pushed to the limit tonight when facing the Flames’ imposing attack.

Speaking of those high-flying Flames, they currently boast the Western Conference’s top record with a 27-13-4 mark – a performance that’s even more intimidating when we keep in mind they have at least one game in hand on the Pacific Division’s two other best teams.

Tonight’s tilt will be the Flames’ first back in Calgary after a four-game Eastern road trip that saw them earn six of eight possible points. In fact, Calgary enters tonight’s game on an impressive 5-1-1 run in its past seven showings, including wins over solid Western foes in San Jose and Winnipeg.

Leading that charge is the Flames’ previously mentioned offense, which has few rivals in the NHL lately. Averaging 4.29 goals per game since December 27, Calgary’s attack is ranked fourth in the league and second in the conference in that time.

An outstanding five skaters are averaging at least a point per game during this run, but none are as intimidating as LW Johnny Gaudreau. With 10-6-16 totals in his past seven games (that’s 1.43 goals and 2.29 points per game), he’s elevated his season marks to 26-38-64, good enough for fourth, (t)fifth and (t)eighth in the NHL in points, goals and assists respectively.

Joining Gaudreau in averaging at least a point per game during this seven game stretch are C Sean Monahan (2-12-14 totals), F Elias Lindholm (3-8-11), LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-5-8) and D Noah Hanifin (0-7-7).

Perhaps the most impressive facet of Calgary’s attack is that the Flames are scoring almost all of their goals at even strength, having converted only four of their last 28 power play opportunities (14.3 percent, 12th-worst in the NHL since December 27. While Head Coach Bill Peters would surely like to see his special teams perform better, the fact that the Flames have scored 21 of their last 30 goals (70 percent) at even strength surely makes that an easier pill to swallow.


A potent attack taking on a slumping goaltending corps is usually a recipe for disaster, but the fact that Colorado boasts a solid offense of its own is what makes this tilt interesting. If the Avalanche want any chance of pulling off the upset, F Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen and co. will need to do their best to beat 15-4-3 G David Rittich to keep up with the Flames. If they can’t, this could get ugly early.

DTFR Podcast #131- Hockey Plague

Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.

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