Tag Archives: Philipp Grubauer

Avalanche tumble over Bruins, 4-2, in Denver

The Colorado Avalanche handed the Boston Bruins their first loss of the season as the Avs downed the B’s, 4-2, at Pepsi Center Thursday night.

Andre Burakovsky scored the game-winning goal in the third period for Colorado after two goals by Boston were overturned by virtue of the coach’s challenge early in the second period and early in the third period.

Philipp Grubauer (3-0-0, 2.33 goals against average, .931 save percentage in three games played) made 39 saves on 41 shots against for a .951 SV% in the win for the Avalanche.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (1-1-0, 1.53 GAA, .957 SV% in two games played) stopped 32 out of 35 shots faced (.914 SV%) in the loss.

Boston fell to 3-1-0 (6 points) on the season and remained tied for 2nd in the Atlantic Division with the Detroit Red Wings (though Detroit holds the tiebreaker not in games played or record this season versus Boston, but in goal differential).

Meanwhile, Colorado improved to 3-0-0 (6 points) and remained tied for 2nd in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets (Colorado holds the tiebreaker, having played fewer games than the Preds and Jets).

Bruce Cassidy moved David Backes up a line from the fourth line right wing to the third line right wing alongside Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle as a result of Joakim Nordstrom making his season debut.

Nordstrom returned from a foot injury and took his usual spot on the fourth line left wing with Sean Kuraly at center and Chris Wagner on the right side.

Kevan Miller (knee) and John Moore (shoulder) were still out of the lineup due to injury on Thursday, while Brett Ritchie joined Par Lindholm and Steven Kampfer as the healthy scratches for Boston.

Almost midway through the first period, Brad Marchand wrapped around the net and tossed the puck to David Pastrnak (1) for a one-timer from the low slot that beat Grubauer and gave the Bruins the first lead of the night.

Marchand (2) and David Krejci (1) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal as Boston led, 1-0, at 7:58 of the first period.

With the primary assist on the goal, Marchand pulled to within one assist from 300 assists in his career.

Late in the opening frame, Zdeno Chara (1) rocketed a slap shot from the point that deflected off of Avalanche forward, Gabriel Landeskog’s stick and found its way behind the Colorado netminder to give the Bruins a two-goal lead.

Pastrnak (3) and Patrice Bergeron (3) recorded the assists on Chara’s goal at 15:34 and the B’s led, 2-0.

Shortly after Chara’s goal, the Bruins botched a line change and had too many skaters on the ice.

Boston’s bench was assessed a minor penalty at 18:28 and the Avs went on the power play for the first time of the night.

Less than a minute into the ensuing skater advantage for Colorado, Landeskog waltzed into the attacking zone and rang a shot off the post on Halak’s short side– generating enough of a rebound for Nathan MacKinnon (1) to tap home with his stick and cut the lead in half, 2-1, at 19:04.

MacKinnon’s goal was assisted by Landeskog (2) and Cale Makar (3) and gave the Avalanche at least one goal in seven consecutive periods this season.

After one period in Denver, the Bruins led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 15-12.

Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (6-3) and faceoff win percentage (52-48), while Colorado led in giveaways (6-3) and hits (9-6).

Each team had three takeaways aside entering the first intermission, while the Avalanche were 1/1 on the power play.

Less than two minutes into the second period, Karson Kuhlman thought he scored his first goal of the season after sniping a shot off the bar and in, but Colorado’s head coach, Jared Bednar, used his coach’s challenge to argue that Krejci had interfered with Grubauer prior to the goal.

After review, it was determined that Krejci had indeed given Grubauer’s left leg the slightest tap with his stick and the call on the ice was overturned– no goal.

Moments later, Backes tripped Avs forward, Tyson Jost, and was sent to the penalty box as a result at 6:19 of the second period.

Colorado failed to convert on their second power play of the night, but caught Boston in the vulnerable minute after special teams play.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2) scored on a loose puck that was redirected in the low slot– catching Halak out of position.

Matt Calvert (3) had the only assist on Bellemare’s goal at 9:43, as the Avalanche extended their record for goals in consecutive periods to eight periods thus far this season.

In the final seconds of the middle frame, Nikita Zadorov was penalized for inference when he collided with Jake DeBrusk at 19:41.

Through 40 minutes of action in Colorado, the score was tied, 2-2, while the Bruins led in shots on goal, 29-24 (including a second period shots on goal advantage of 14-11).

Boston also maintained an advantage in blocked shots (9-6), hits (14-11) and faceoff win% (60-40), while the Avalanche led in giveaways (12-7).

Both teams had six takeaways aside as Colorado was 1/2 on the skater advantage and the B’s were 0/1 on the power play heading into the third period.

DeBrusk thought he had scored after roofing a shot past Grubauer’s glove side while the Avalanche goaltender dove from one side of the crease to the other, but despite his best efforts, Colorado utilized another coach’s challenge to argue the call on the ice (goal) was incorrect as the Bruins had entered the attacking zone offside.

After review– and for the second time of the night– the call on the ice was overturned. No goal.

One of the four Bruins entering the offensive zone had been just ahead of the puck and therefore offside, thus the Avs succeeded in yet another coach’s challenge.

Midway through the third period, Burakovsky (1) snatched a loose puck in Colorado’s attacking zone, then fired a shot off the far post to Halak’s left side and in while Burakovsky’s teammate, Joonas Donskoi, was acting as a screen in front of the Boston goaltender.

Burakovsy’s goal was unassisted at 12:54 of the third period and gave Colorado their first lead of the night, 3-2.

The goal also extended the Avs’ consecutive periods with a goal streak to nine.

With a little over 90 seconds left in the action, Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail.

Landeskog (2) pocketed the empty net goal at 18:59 to seal the deal on a two-goal lead, 4-2, and the victory for the Avalanche.

Mikko Rantanen (2) and MacKinnon (4) had the assists on the goal.

At the final horn, the Avalanche had won, 4-2, despite trailing in the final shots on goal total, 41-36.

Both teams had 12 shots on net in the third period, while the Bruins finished Thursday night’s action leading in blocked shots (13-11), hits (19-13) and faceoff win% (57-43).

Colorado finished the night leading in giveaways (13-8) and 1/2 on the power play. The B’s went 0/1 on the skater advantage.

Boston finished their four-game road trip to start the season 3-1-0 and haven’t started a season 4-0-0 since the 1990-91 season (4-1 win vs. PHI, 7-1 win vs. QUE, 5-2 win @ QUE, 4-2 win @ WPG).

The Bruins face 2019 1st overall pick, Jack Hughes, and the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night in Boston’s first home game of the season.

DTFR Podcast #171- 2019-20 Season Preview: Central Division

All of the (good) RFAs have been re-signed, the Carolina Hurricanes keep making moves, 2020 Winter Classic logos have been revealed and DTFR’s season previews conclude with the Central Division.

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Colorado Avalanche 2019-20 Season Preview

Colorado Avalanche

38-30-14, 90 points, 5th in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by San Jose

Additions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F Andre Burakovsky (acquired from WSH, then re-signed), F Joonas Donskoi, F Nazem Kadri (acquired from TOR), F Jayson Megna, F Valeri Nichushkin, F T.J. Tynan, D Kevin Connauton (acquired from ARI), D Jacob MacDonald (acquired from FLA), D Dan Renouf, D Calle Rosen (acquired from TOR)

Subtractions: F Andrew Agozzino (signed with PIT), F Sven Andrighetto (KHL), F Gabriel Bourque (signed with WPG), F Derick Brassard (signed with NYI), F Alexander Kerfoot (traded to TOR), F Scott Kosmachuk (traded to WSH), F Max McCormick (signed with CAR), F Julien Nantel (signed with Colorado, AHL), F Carl Soderberg (traded to ARI), F Dominic Toninato (traded to FLA), D Tyson Barrie (traded to TOR), D Mason Geertsen (signed to a PTO with NYR), D Patrik Nemeth (signed with DET), D David Warsofsky (signed with PIT), G Joe Cannata (Sweden), G Spencer Martin (signed with TBL), G Semyon Varlamov (signed with NYI)

Still Unsigned: F Mikko Rantanen

Re-signed: F J.T. Compher, F Sheldon Dries, F A.J. Greer, F Vladislav Kamenev, F Colin Wilson, D Ryan Graves, D Anton Lindholm, D Nikita Zadorov

Offseason Analysis: Pencil in Joe Sakic for General Manager of the Year 2019-20, because the Colorado Avalanche are a legit team on paper.

Sakic still has about $15.615 million in cap space, but even that should be enough to satisfy– current restricted free agent– Mikko Rantanen’s needs and then some.

Regardless, Sakic went to work on improving a roster that was one win away from the franchise’s first Western Conference Final appearance since 2002.

First, Colorado traded Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for Kevin Connauton and a 2020 3rd round pick on June 25th.

Then the Avs followed it up by acquiring Andre Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2020 2nd round pick and the 2020 3rd round pick previously acquired in the Soderberg trade on June 28th.

Burakovsky was quickly signed to a one-year deal worth $3.250 million as a “prove it” contract. The 24-year-old winger is finally free from the shadows of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Co., but now he can’t hide anymore.

It’s a make or break year as he’s never scored more than 38 points in a season.

Sakic made a minor move with the Florida Panthers a day after the Burakovsky trade, then made a big splash on July 1st and it wasn’t of the free agent variety.

Colorado shipped Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 6th round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 3rd round pick.

The Avalanche retained 50% of Barrie’s salary ($2.750 million) in the transaction, leaving Toronto with the uneasy task of balancing their checkbooks now that Mitch Marner is re-signed.

Barrie is a versatile defender that will give the Maple Leafs some added flavor to their special teams, but he’s a pending unrestricted free agent at season’s end. That’s not Sakic’s problem, however.

Instead, Sakic is focused on continuing to trust in Colorado’s head coach, Jared Bednar, and Bednar’s process.

Bednar has a plethora of new faces that he’ll have to get onboard with his plan.

For starters, Kadri won’t have to face the Boston Bruins in the First Round (assuming Colorado makes the playoffs in 2020, which is a pretty safe bet), so Bednar shouldn’t have too much of a problem reigning him in.

Overall the Avs are relying on their youth, a revamped defense and a stronger top-nine presence with Joonas Donskoi having signed a four-year deal at $3.900 million per season in addition to Sakic’s trade work.

Some experts are picking the Avalanche to win the Cup in 2020, but that might be too much of a stretch too soon.

Colorado is starting to open a championship window, however, so it’d be a major disappointment if they don’t at least get to the Stanley Cup Final in the coming years.

Offseason Grade: A

If there’s a team that’s a dark horse to win the Cup this season out of all the playoff teams from last season, it’s the Avalanche, for sure. That said, Sakic’s moves in the offseason may take a full year to gel (a la Erik Karlsson’s transition from Ottawa to San Jose– East to West), so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Colorado’s knocked out before the Final.

But in terms of fixing holes and building off of what’s already on the roster, Sakic hit it out of the park. The Avs are good and should be good as long as they don’t have to rely solely on goaltending (Philipp Grubauer is one deep postseason run away from proving his legitimacy as a starting goaltender in the NHL).

2019-20 Metropolitan Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 107 points
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points
  4. wc1-New York Islanders, 91 points
  5. wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  6. New York Rangers, 89 points
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

Washington Capitals: Pros and Cons

Year after year, Washington finds themselves at the top of the Metropolitan Division with or without any sort of logical explanation.

The last time the Capitals didn’t finish 1st in the division? It was the 2014-15 season when the New York Rangers followed up a 2014 Stanley Cup Final appearance with 113 points and the President’s Trophy.

Once again, the Caps will find a way to turn things on late into the season and manage the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, but they’ll be doing so without a long list of members from their 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster.

After matching his regular season goal scoring total in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Devante Smith-Pelly wasn’t able to get back to form and subsequently reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears during the 2018-19 season.

Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent.

Also departing Washington this summer were the likes of Brett Connolly (signed with Florida), Andre Burakovsky (traded to Colorado for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2nd round pick in 2020 and a 3rd round pick in 2020), Nathan Walker (signed with St. Louis), Matt Niskanen (traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Radko Gudas) and Brooks Orpik (retired)

Madison Bowey was traded to Detroit in February. Jakub Jerabek left via free agency last season and is now playing in the KHL. Philipp Grubauer was traded to the Avalanche last June. Jay Beagle signed with the Vancouver Canucks last July. Alex Chiasson joined the Edmonton Oilers last October.

With such a quick turnover in the makeup of their lineup, the Capitals’ championship window may already be closing– and fast.

At least Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin all signed four-year contracts with cap hits under $3.000 million.

How would the Capitals fail?

Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson end up suspended for the entire season somehow and get the rest of the Capitals in trouble for something.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pros and Cons

Phil Kessel is signed through 2021-22 at $6.800 million per season. Alex Galchenyuk is signed through 2019-20 with a cap hit of $4.900 million.

Using the money saved from trading Kessel to Arizona and hoping Galchenyuk will suddenly become a 30 or 40 goal scorer simply because he’s now on the same roster as Sidney Crosby, Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, figured it’d be a smart move to lock up Brandon Tanev in free agency with a six-year contract at $3.500 million per season and a modified no-trade clause one offseason removed from signing Jack Johnson.

If there’s any positives for Pittsburgh, it’s that Crosby still exists and Mike Sullivan remains the head coach. Oh and Evgeni Malkin exists too, though some would find it hard to believe, since he wasn’t included in the top-100 players of the last century list.

As long as Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith can weather the storm of an insufficient defense, injuries and inadequacy from last season, then there’s a good chance the current longest active playoff appearance streak remains alive.

If not, well, just look for Rutherford to continue to move chairs around on the Titanic.

This team is starting to spring a leak. If they’re not careful, they’ll sink in the standings.

But since the season really doesn’t start until January anyway for the Pens, they’ll work their way into a playoff berth as they’ve done for the last dozen years or so.

How would the Penguins fail?

Rutherford trades another goal scorer for a “glue guy” and clones Tanev and/or Johnson. Realistically, Murray continues to cool down from his meteoric rise a couple of seasons ago and won’t cost too much as a pending-RFA.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Pros and Cons

All my ex’s live in… everywhere but Columbus.

The Blue Jackets lost Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers, Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers, Matt Duchene to the Nashville Predators and Ryan Dzingel to the Carolina Hurricanes, but they brought in Gustav Nyquist and brought back Marko Dano via free agency.

Yeah, ok, so it wasn’t a great summer for Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Blue Jackets fans– even if they knew at least one of their big names (Bobrovsky) was never going to re-sign.

But while a lot of armchair GMs think the Blue Jackets are destined for a rebuild, there’s a glimmer of optimism if Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins can carry the weight of the crease, while younger players like Alexandre Texier, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson continue to emerge.

Making it as far as they did into the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was vital to the experience gained by Columbus’ core.

Though they’re likely not going to a be a dominant force in 2019-20, they should be in contention for what would be a fifth playoff berth in seven years under Kekalainen’s reign.

And if they turn heads again like they did when they swept the President’s Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the First Round, then there’s sure to be some interest in lacing up the skates for the Blue Jackets in the future.

Then again, it could be tank city until Korpisalo or Merzlikins becomes a legitimate starter and somebody becomes an 80-point scorer again.

It just takes some time… Oh and someone should probably re-sign Zach Werenski while you’re at it.

How would the Blue Jackets fail?

The Union doesn’t lose. Ok, if everybody leaves, then it might.

New York Islanders: Pros and Cons

Having Lou Lamoriello as your General Manager means some players are going to love him (if they’ve already been with him for many years before) and some players are going to be chased out of the city when they are told they are going in a different direction, but then don’t quite land who they think they’re getting, only to leave you once again for… well, Semyon Varlamov isn’t really an upgrade at this point.

But Robin Lehner’s gone after winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy with the Rangers Islanders last season after having a remarkable career-year in the face of addiction and other struggles.

New York’s only getting older and Anders Lee took a “hometown discount” to stay on Long Island.

Speaking of Long Island, is it too early to start construction on the Belmont Park arena yet?

Something has to distract everyone from the undercutting of several prospect’s development– whether they’ve rightfully had a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level or not.

Barry Trotz is a great head coach, but how much more can he do with a middle of the road team that gives up on prospects too early?

Get them back to the Second Round only to be crushed by a team that’s mixing youth, speed, skill, grit and actually playing 21st century hockey?

It’s almost as though the Islanders learned nothing from 1995-2006.

How would the Islanders fail?

It’s [the] trap!

Philadelphia Flyers: Pros and Cons

Flyers General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, actually hasn’t had that bad of an offseason– at least when it comes to tweaking his roster.

Sure Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun are both 32-years-old, but they’re decent top-4 defenders that should be able to lead from the back end with Shayne Gostisbehere as Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov come into their own.

Speaking of Provorov, he’s still an unsigned-RFA and Philadelphia has more than enough money (about $13.400 million in cap space) to get some sort of a deal done right now. Why wait until the last minute? What’s that? Travis Konecny needs a contract right now too? Oh never mind. Let’s make things complicated!

Besides giving Kevin Hayes a seven-year contract worth $7.143 million per season with a no-movement clause, the Flyers should have– a lot of explaining to do when their experiment doesn’t work out.

The Hayes contract is bad, but just how bad can things get with Hayes back on a team that’s coached by… Alain Vigneault!?!

Vigneault’s the real wild card here as the jury is still out on whether or not his style still fits the game or if the Rangers were just that bad in his final year with New York.

All things considered, Philadelphia should be back into playoff contention. Just not Cup contention in 2019-20.

How much more of this can Claude Giroux take?

How would the Flyers fail?

Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien can’t figure out who is actually the head coach on a night-to-night basis even though Vigneault technically owns the job (Yeo and Therrien are assistant coaches for the Flyers, if you haven’t heard). Oh and goaltending if Carter Hart gets injured.

New York Rangers: Pros and Cons

The Rangers landed the biggest prize in free agency, signing Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract worth $11.643 million per season.

Though they are still in a rebuild, Panarin’s addition to the roster helps make New York more of an attractive destination and speeds things up in the overall plan.

It doesn’t hurt that GM Jeff Gorton had the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft too. Kaapo Kakko is ready for the limelight in Manhattan as Henrik Lundqvist’s reign is in its twilight days.

Lundqvist is under contract through the 2020-21 season and at 37-years-old– it’d take a miracle for the Rangers to win him a Cup at this point.

The Rangers only have one forward over the age of 30 (Matt Beleskey’s 31) and two defenders 30 or older as well (Brendan Smith, 30, and Marc Staal, 32).

Beleskey is likely to bounce around the organization between New York and Hartford (AHL), while there’s a good chance Smith could be buried as well.

But their “veteran presence” is valuable to time on ice management among the younger skaters that might not be quite as NHL ready as Kakko and friends.

Jacob Trouba is new to the Rangers and destined to anchor their new-age defense from the top pairing, while Kevin Shattenkirk joins the long list of buyouts in recent years by New York.

The Rangers are short almost $5.400 million in dead cap space thanks to Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner’s buyouts around the league (Shattenkirk and Girardi were Rangers buyouts, but Spooner had retained salary and was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks this offseason).

Next year, New York faces almost $7.500 million in cap penalties from the trio of buyouts before Spooner comes off the books entirely and the number dips down to about $2.544 million from 2021-22 to 2022-23.

Also another Harvard product– Adam Fox– is the new Jimmy Vesey experiment, but on the blue line. And Vesey? He was traded to Buffalo.

Panarin and Kakko are worth watching this season, while the rest of the team remains to be seen.

How would the Rangers fail?

Henrik Lundqvist stops looking so good all of a sudden. That man is stunning.

Carolina Hurricanes: Pros and Cons

Though the forecast says otherwise, Carolina should actually be closer to playoff contention than you may think coming off their 2019 Eastern Conference Final appearance.

Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, has weathered the storm this offseason. Actually, his job was made pretty easy when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet worth $8.454 million per season.

Considering the value Aho brings and the potential that’s still there– that’s a steal.

Though a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses through the first two years is considered a “hefty” price for an owner to pay, let’s remember that we’re talking about professional sports.

If Montreal really wanted to make things difficult for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, then they should’ve offered something with a larger cap hit, but that would’ve meant a steeper price to pay in compensation had Carolina not matched the deal. #AdvantageCarolina

Aho will be 27 by the time his new contract runs out, which means he’ll be a pending-UFA in 2024, but there’s plenty of time to worry about the next contract when the time comes.

Right now, the Hurricanes have added some much needed top-six/top-nine forward depth in Erik Haula (acquired from Vegas) and Ryan Dzingel (signed via free agency), while adding a 1st round pick in 2020 (or 2021 if Toronto’s 2020 1st rounder is a top-10 overall selection) and swapping Calvin de Haan with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling (there were other pieces involved, like Anton Forsberg going to Carolina too).

The average age of Carolina’s skaters? 25.

Considering how far the core went in 2018-19, that’s beyond impressive and it’s a testament to head coach, Rod Brind’Amour.

In July, Petr Mrazek re-signed with the Hurricanes on a two-year deal and James Reimer was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers as Curtis McElhinney signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Though Alex Nedeljkovic might be another year out from competing for the starting job, the crease is Mrazek’s to lose once again with Reimer looking to rebound from a dismal time in Florida.

Carolina is poised for another deep run, but how soon will it be given the fact that their emergence as a contender means that every other team wants to beat them that much more from night-to-night?

How would the Hurricanes fail?

The Canes have a strong analytics department, so the only thing that could naturally disrupt their plans? Regression (and no WiFi).

New Jersey Devils: Pros and Cons

The Devils won the draft lottery and procured Jack Hughes with the 1st overall pick in June.

New Jersey was third-to-last in overall standings last season.

Though they added P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators in June, drafted Hughes and have Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Will Butcher on their roster, the Devils still need a lot of pieces to improve.

Hall’s a pending-UFA at season’s end. His next deal– whether it’s with New Jersey or not– determines the fate of this team.

Cory Schneider’s still under contract through 2021-22 and Mackenzie Blackwood is only 22-years-old.

Goaltenders are rarely superstars when they’re that young, so while Blackwood may be the starter heading into the season and goalie of the future for the organization– it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some ups and downs before the dust settles.

Now for the good news.

Nikita Gusev was acquired in a trade with the Golden Knights and Ray Shero doesn’t have a lot of no-trade clauses to deal with if the Devils look to sell at the trade deadline.

How would the Devils fail?

If they somehow lose the Taylor Hall trade a few years after winning it.

DTFR Podcast #155- The One Where They’re Divided

Nick, Cap’n and Pete assess the Detroit Red Wings hiring of Steve Yzerman as General Manager and Executive Vice President, as well as recap the trio of Game 7s in the First Round and preview the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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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.