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NHL Nick's Net

Bruins bounce back with, 3-1, win in Pittsburgh

After being shutout, 1-0, on Sunday by the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena, the Boston Bruins got split their two games in the “Steel City” with a, 3-1, win on Tuesday night.

Tuukka Rask (12-4-2, 2.29 goals-against average, .915 save percentage in 20 games played) made 25 saves on 26 shots faced in the win for Boston.

Pittsburgh netminder, Tristan Jarry (21-9-3, 2.71 goals-against average, .911 save percentage in 34 games played) made 28 saves on 31 shots against in the loss.

The Bruins are now 28-14-6 (62 points) on the season and remain in command of 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division, while the Penguins fell to 32-15-3 (67 points) overall and dropped to 2nd place in the division.

Boston won the regular season series against Pittsburgh (5-3-0) in 2020-21’s 56-game schedule due to the ongoing global pandemic.

The Bruins were without the services of Ondrej Kase (upper body), John Moore (hip) and Brandon Carlo (upper body) on Tuesday, while Trent Frederic returned to the lineup for the first time in 11 games after recovering from a non-COVID protocol related illness.

Frederic joined the fourth line alongside Curtis Lazar at center and Chris Wagner on right wing, while Sean Kuraly was promoted to the third line center with Charlie Coyle moved to the right wing and Jake DeBrusk serving as a healthy scratch.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, also re-inserted Connor Clifton o the blue line in place of Steven Kampfer, while Jaroslav Halak served as Rask’s backup with Jeremy Swayman earning the night off.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches, taxi squad members and injured players included Swayman, Greg McKegg, Carlo, Moore, Kase, Kampfer, Jack Ahcan, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Callum Booth, DeBrusk, Anton Blidh, Karson Kuhlman and Jarred Tinordi.

Mike Reilly cut a rut to the penalty box early in the action on Tuesday night as he was assessed a minor infraction for holding the stick while falling near the endboards in a tangle with Jared McCann at 1:32 of the first period.

Pittsburgh’s ensuing power play was powerless, however, as Boston’s penalty kill stood tall.

Midway through the opening frame, the Bruins had too many skaters on the ice resulting in a bench minor at 10:18.

Taylor Hall served the penalty in the box while the B’s penalty kill successfully held the Penguins off the scoreboard during the special teams action.

After one period of play on Tuesday, the Bruins and Penguins were tied, 0-0, on the scoreboard, despite Boston holding a, 14-11, advantage in shots on goal.

The B’s led in blocked shots (10-4), takeaways (4-1), hits (14-7) and faceoff win percentage (80-20), while the Pens held the advantage in giveaways (3-1).

Pittsburgh was 0/2 on the power play, while Boston had yet to see any time on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Kevan Miller slashed Jason Zucker and went to the box at 5:13 of the second period, presenting the Penguins with a power play as a result.

Once more, however, Boston’s penalty kill managed to kill the minor with ease.

Late in the period, the Bruins’ power play units got their first shift of the night as Evan Rodrigues went to the box for roughing at 15:41.

Despite not scoring on the power play, Boston caught Pittsburgh in the vulnerable minute afterward, whereby Charlie McAvoy worked a roughly 200-foot effort down the ice to David Krejci (7) for a backhand shot over Jarry’s pad, but under the Pens goaltender’s glove to make it, 1-0, for the B’s.

McAvoy (22) and Rask (2) had the assists on Krejci’s goal at 18:10 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play on Tuesday, Boston led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 22-17, in shots on goal, including an, 8-6, advantage in the second period alone.

The Bruins also held the advantage in blocked shots (16-5), hits (32-19) and faceoff win% (72-28), while the Penguins led in takeaways (9-5) and giveaways (5-2).

Pittsburgh was 0/3 and Boston was 0/1 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Early in the final frame, Jeremy Lauzon and Teddy Blueger exchanged fisticuffs and received fighting majors at 6:38 of the third period as a result.

It was the 13th fight of the season for Boston and the first since Miller fought Tage Thompson on April 13th vs. Buffalo.

Moments later, Brad Marchand (26) buried a rebound to give the Bruins a two-goal lead.

David Pastrnak (24) had the initial shot that forced a rebound to Marchand for the goal, while Curtis Lazar (6) had the secondary assist as the B’s took a, 2-0, lead at 9:11 of the third period.

About a few minutes later, Hall (6) strolled into the slot after deking past Sidney Crosby and snapped a shot over Jarry’s blocker to make it, 3-0, Boston at 12:18.

Krejci (25) and Reilly (24) tallied the assists on Hall’s goal at 12:18.

Late in the frame, Jeff Carter (11) sent a rocket past Rask’s blocked side to put Pittsburgh on the scoreboard with an old school slap shot from the faceoff dot.

Kris Letang (33) and Kasperi Kapanen (16) had the assists on Carter’s goal as the Penguins trailed the Bruins, 3-1, at 17:39.

With two minutes left in regulation, Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, pulled Jarry for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as the B’s shut Pittsburgh’s 6-on-5 advantage down and pulled off the, 3-1, victory at the final horn.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (31-26), blocked shots (21-7), hits (50-25) and faceoff win% (57-43).

Pittsburgh wrapped up the night with the advantage in giveaways (5-3), while the Penguins went 0/3 and the Bruins went 0/1 on the power play.

The B’s improved to 7-6-2 (4-3-0 on the road) when tied after the first period, 20-5-3 (11-5-1 on the road) when scoring the game’s first goal and 19-0-2 (8-0-0 on the road) when leading after two periods this season.

The Pens fell to 7-3-1 (4-3-1 at home) when tied after one period, 12-11-1 (8-3-0 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal and 4-11-1 (2-2-0 at home) when trailing after the second period in 2020-21.

The Bruins went 3-2-0 on their five-game road trip and head home to finish the month of April and start the month of May with a pair of games against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and Saturday.

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NHL Nick's Net

Jarry earns shutout in, 1-0, win for Pens over Bruins

Tristan Jarry led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a, 1-0, shutout over the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena– earning his first shutout of the season in a 30-save effort.

Jarry (21-8-3, 2.70 goals-against average, .911 save percentage in 33 games played) stopped all 30 shots that he faced en route to his sixth career shutout for the Penguins.

Bruins goaltender, Jeremy Swayman (5-2-0, 1.57 goals-against average, .946 save percentage in seven games played) made 28 saves on 29 shots against in the loss.

Boston fell to 27-14-6 (60 points) on the season, but in command of 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division, while Pittsburgh improved to 32-14-3 (67 points) overall and in command of the division standings (1st place).

The B’s also fell to 4-3-0 against the Pens this season and are now 13-8-3 on the road in 2020-21.

After a, 6-4, loss to the Buffalo Sabres on the road on Friday, the Bruins shifted their focus to Pittsburgh for a pair of games against the Penguins.

Boston was without Ondrej Kase (upper body), John Moore (hip), Brandon Carlo (upper body) and Trent Frederic (non-COVID protocol related illness) on Sunday, but witnessed the return of Patrice Bergeron to the lineup after their captain had missed Friday night’s loss in Buffalo with a lower body injury.

As a result of Bergeron’s return, Charlie Coyle went back to his usual role centering the third line, while Sean Kuraly and Curtis Lazar returned to the fourth line as left wing and center, respectively.

Anton Blidh was the only forward to come out of the lineup, while Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his defensive pairings against the Penguins.

In the crease, Jaroslav Halak served as Swayman’s backup on Sunday with Tuukka Rask earning the afternoon off in the press box as a healthy scratch.

Rask was joined by a long list of names including healthy scratches, taxi squad members and injured players such as Frederic, Greg McKegg, Carlo, Moore, Kase, Jack Ahcan, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Callum Booth, Connor Clifton, Blidh, Karson Kuhlman and Jarred Tinordi.

Not much happened in the opening frame on Sunday.

In fact, neither team scored a goal, nor was there a penalty in the first period as the two teams entered the first intermission tied, 0-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 10-10.

Boston, however, held the advantage in blocked shots (6-0) and giveaways (3-2), while Pittsburgh led in takeaways (1-0), hits (14-9) and faceoff win percentage (59-41).

As there were no penalties called in the first period, both clubs were 0/0 on the power play.

Nothing happened in the second period either, except for a bunch of saves for each goaltender.

Through 40 minutes of play, Swayman had stopped all 21 shots faced, while Jarry made 18 saves on 18 shots as the Penguins led the Bruins, 21-18, in shots on goal, including an, 11-8, advantage in the second period alone.

The scoreboard still read, 0-0, as Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (10-6) and Pittsburgh led in giveaways (7-4), hits (23-21) and faceoff win% (55-45).

Both teams had four takeaways each and were 0/0 on the power play as no penalties were called in the action entering the second intermission.

Jake Guentzel (21) fired a one-timer from the faceoff dot over Swayman’s glove side to give the Penguins the game’s first goal, while Sidney Crosby (36) and Brian Dumoulin (10) recorded the assists as Pittsburgh took a, 1-0, lead at 4:03 of the third period.

It turned out to be the only goal of the afternoon.

With less than two minutes left in regulation, Cassidy pulled his goaltender for an extra skater, but while Boston was defending their own zone, Bergeron caught Guentzel with a high stick and received the game’s first and only infraction at 18:32.

The Bruins used their timeout to come up with a strategy to handle both being shorthanded and what to do should they get possession in the attacking zone and even things up at 5-on-5 with Swayman heading for the bench, but it was to no avail.

The Pens did not convert on the ensuing power play, however.

Time simply ran out for Boston and Pittsburgh as Jarry and the Penguins secured the, 1-0, victory, despite trailing in shots on goal, 30-29, on the afternoon.

Boston held the advantage in shots in the third period alone, 12-8, as well as in blocked shots (14-8), while Pittsburgh led in giveaways (11-7) and faceoff win% (52-48).

The two teams finished the afternoon even in hits, 33-33, while only the Penguins had a power play on the afternoon– going 0/1 on the skater advantage in the process.

The Bruins fell to 8-9-3 (3-3-2 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 6-6-2 (3-3-0 on the road) when tied after one period and 5-6-3 (5-5-2 on the road) when tied after two periods this season.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, improved to 20-4-2 (12-1-2 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal, 7-2-1 (4-2-1 at home) when tied after the first period and 7-3-1 (5-1-1 at home) when tied after the second period in 2020-21.

The B’s close out their five-game road trip (2-2-0) with another matchup in Pittsburgh against the Penguins on Tuesday. Boston finished the month of April at home on Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres.

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NHL Nick's Net

Vladar backstops Bruins to, 2-1, win in Pittsburgh

Dan Vladar made 34 saves on 35 shots against in his first career National Hockey League start as the Boston Bruins beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1, at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night.

Vladar (1-0-0, 1.00 goals-against average, .971 save percentage in one game played) stole the show early in the first period for the B’s while making a save with his paddle, while Penguins goaltender, Casey DeSmith (6-3-0, 2.22 goals-against average, .915 save percentage in 10 games played) stopped 31 out of 33 shots faced (.939 SV%) in the loss.

David Pastrnak opened the scoring for Boston, while Trent Frederic scored the game-winning goal in the third period for the Bruins after Brandon Tanev tied things up late in the opening frame.

Tanev was assessed a major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct for a hit in front of the Bruins bench on Boston defender, Jarred Tinordi, in the second period that forced Tinordi out of the game with an upper body injury.

Boston improved to 15-8-4 (34 points) overall and remained in 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division standings, while Pittsburgh fell to 18-10-1 (37 points), but held onto 3rd place in the division.

The Bruins also improved to 3-1-0 against the Penguins this season.

Boston was without Ondrej Kase (upper body), Kevan Miller (right knee), Jeremy Lauzon (fractured left hand), Brandon Carlo (upper body), Tuukka Rask (lower body) and Zach Senyshyn (upper body) on Tuesday, while Oskar Steen made his NHL debut and Vladar earned his first career NHL start (and regular season debut).

Steen was slotted into the right wing spot on the third line in place of Anders Bjork, who joined Chris Wagner, Senyshyn, Carlo, John Moore, Kase, Rask, Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, Miller, Jeremy Swayman, Jack Ahcan and Greg McKegg on the list of healthy scratches, injuries and taxi squad members.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no other changes to his lineup from Monday night’s, 4-1, loss in Pittsburgh to Tuesday night’s victory.

Pastrnak kicked things off with a boarding infraction 39 seconds into the first period, presenting the Penguins with the first power play opportunity of the night.

Less than a minute later, Pittsburgh’s power play was cut short when Evgeni Malkin cut a rut to the penalty box for holding at 1:26.

The two clubs skated at 4-on-4 for about 1:13 before Boston had an abbreviated skater advantage.

While on the ensuing power play, Pastrnak (13) received a pass from Brad Marchand, deked and slipped the puck through DeSmith’s five-hole on a backhand shot to give the Bruins the, 1-0, lead.

Marchand (21) and Matt Grzelcyk (7) had the assists on Pastrnak’s power-play goal at 3:20 of the first period.

About ten minutes later, Pastrnak was off to the box on a phantom tripping minor after Brian Dumoulin lost an edge, cut a rut or something– the replay indicated that Pastrnak did not, in fact, actually trip the Pens defender, but alas, the B’s forward was sent to the box at 13:13.

Pittsburgh struck in the vulnerable minute after a power play as Tanev (7) tied the game, 1-1, on a rebound that he sent off of Vladar’s skate and into the twine.

Evan Rodrigues (3) and Kasperi Kapanen (13) tallied the assists on Tanev’s goal 1t 15:22.

Entering the first intermission, the score was tied, 1-1, and shots on goal were even, 15-15.

Both teams had four blocked shots each, while the Penguins led in takeaways (6-2) as well as giveaways (4-3), while the Bruins led in hits (17-14) and faceoff win percentage (54-46).

The Pens were 0/2 and the B’s were 1/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Patrice Bergeron was penalized for an illegal check to the head 34 seconds into the second period after catching Jake Guentzel with an inadvertent elbow up high.

Pittsburgh did not convert on the ensuing power play, which was shortened by their own doing once again after a bench minor for too many skaters on the ice was called at 1:36. Anthony Angello served the infraction.

Midway through the action, Marcus Pettersson was penalized for holding at 8:13 of the second period, but Boston wasn’t able to capitalize on the advantage.

Moments later, Tanev checked Tinordi and was dealt a five-minute major for boarding, as well as a game misconduct. The penalty was reviewed and upheld at 12:57.

The Bruins did not score on the major power play.

Through 40 minutes of action at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday, the score remained tied, 1-1, despite the Bruins leading in shots on goal through two periods, 28-24, including a, 13-9, advantage in the second period alone.

The Penguins held the advantage in blocked shots (10-4), takeaways (12-3) and hits (28-27) after two periods, while Boston led in faceoff win% (59-41).

Both teams had six giveaways each, while the Pens were 0/3 and the B’s were 1/4 on the power play entering the final frame.

Marchand caught Guentzel with a high stick 39 seconds into the third period, but Pittsburgh did not score on the resulting power play.

Shortly thereafter, the Bruins tweeted and confirmed that Tinordi (upper body) would not return to Tuesday night’s action.

Almost midway through the third period, Frederic (4) snuck into the attacking zone on a line change, called for a pass and snapped a shot over DeSmith’s glove side from the high slot to give Boston the go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal.

Jakub Zboril (5) and Bergeron (15) had the assists on Frederic’s goal at 7:07 of the third period and the Bruins led, 2-1.

With about 1:45 remaining in the game, Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but Pittsburgh couldn’t even the score.

At the final horn, Boston had won, 2-1, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 35-33, in shots on goal, including an, 11-5, advantage for Pittsburgh in the third period alone.

The Penguins finished the night leading in blocked shots (14-8) and giveaways (10-7), while the Bruins wrapped up the affair leading in hits (46-40) and faceoff win% (58-42).

Pittsburgh went 0/4 on the power play, while Boston went 1/4 on the skater advantage on Tuesday.

The Bruins snapped Pittsburgh’s six-game winning streak, while Vladar became the first Boston goaltender to win in his first start since Niklas Svedberg led the B’s to a, 3-2, overtime victory over the Nashville Predators on Jan. 2, 2014.

Boston improved to 11-3-2 (5-3-1 on the road) when scoring the game’s first goal, while Pittsburgh fell to 10-7-1 (8-2-0 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal this season.

The Bruins also improved to 5-3-1 (3-1-0 on the road) when tied after the first period and 4-4-3 (4-3-2 on the road) when tied after two periods this season.

The Penguins dropped to 5-2-0 (3-2-0 at home) when tied after one period and 6-3-0 (4-1-0 at home) when tied after the second period this season.

For the first time since Dec. 18, 2015, the Bruins beat the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

The B’s continue their four-game road trip (1-1-0) in Buffalo for a pair of games against the Sabres on Thursday and Saturday.

Boston’s next home game on March 23rd against the New York Islanders, will be their first to feature fans at TD Garden since the pandemic began last year. TD Garden will be limited to a 12% seating capacity.

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NHL Nick's Net

Crosby, Jarry and Pens takedown Bruins, 4-1

A late first period comeback with Sidney Crosby’s eventual game-winning goal on top of Tristan Jarry’s 42-save performance led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a, 4-1, victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Jarry (12-7-1, 2.90 goals-against average, .906 save percentage in 20 games played) turned aside 42 out of 43 shots faced for a .977 save percentage in the win for Pittsburgh.

Boston goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (6-4-2, 2.15 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 12 games played) made 22 saves on 25 shots against for an .880 save percentage in the loss.

The Bruins fell to 14-8-4 (32 points) and remained in 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division, while the Penguins improved to 18-9-1 (37 points) and in control of 3rd place in the division.

The B’s also dropped to 2-1-0 against the Pens this season.

Jake DeBrusk returned to the lineup for Boston after missing last Saturday’s, 4-0, loss to the New York Rangers due to COVID protocol in what turned out to be a false positive test.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, re-inserted DeBrusk in his usual role on the second line left wing and made a few other adjustments to his forward lines.

Craig Smith joined DeBrusk as David Krejci’s wings on the second line, while Nick Ritchie and Anders Bjork suited up on the left and right side of Charlie Coyle, respectively.

Sean Kuraly centered the fourth line with Trent Frederic at left wing and Karson Kuhlman at right wing.

On defense, Cassidy replaced Urho Vaakanainen on the third pairing with Steven Kampfer for a night alongside Jarred Tinordi.

The Bruins were without the services of Ondrej Kase (upper body), Kevan Miller (right knee), Jeremy Lauzon (fractured left hand), Brandon Carlo (upper body), Tuukka Rask (lower body) and Zach Senyshyn (upper body) on Monday night.

Rask traveled with the team and skated with the taxi squad members, but won’t be ready for Tuesday night’s rematch with the Penguins, which means Dan Vladar or Jeremy Swayman will make their National Hockey League regular season debut in Pittsburgh.

Vladar made his postseason debut in relief of Halak in Game 3 of Boston’s 2020 Second Round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but has yet to start an NHL game in the regular season.

He has a 2-2-1 record in five games with the Providence Bruins (AHL) so far this season with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in that span, as well as one shutout.

Swayman, meanwhile, is in his first professional season since leaving the University of Maine (2017-20) and has a 7-0-0 record in seven games with Providence this season, as well as a 1.57 goals-against average, a .942 save percentage and one shutout so far.

Jack Ahcan, Kuhlman and Oskar Steen were recalled from the P-Bruins to Boston’s taxi squad ahead of the game on Monday.

Chris Wagner, Senyshyn, Carlo, John Moore, Kase, Rask, Lauzon, Vaakanainen, Miller, Ahcan, Steen, Swayman and Greg McKegg were all out of the lineup due to being listed as a healthy scratch, injured or a taxi squad member for Boston.

Anton Blidh was sent to Providence on Sunday.

Bryan Rust slashed Brad Marchand and presented Boston with their first power play of the night at 6:17 of the first period.

Matt Grzelcyk (1) sent a wrist shot from the point past Jarry while Ritchie screened the Penguins netminder and gave the B’s a, 1-0, lead.

Marchand (20) and David Pastrnak (11) had the assists on Grzelcyk’s power-play goal at 6:47 of the opening frame.

Late in the period, Pittsburgh’s Evan Rodrigues (2) fired a wrist shot off of Halak’s glove before the puck bounced through the Boston goaltender’s five-hole, tying the game, 1-1, in the process at 16:51.

Kasperi Kapanen (12) and Evgeni Malkin (16) tallied the assists on Rodrigues’ first goal since Jan. 17th (he played in nine games between then).

Less than two minutes later, Crosby (11) sent the rubber biscuit to Jake Guentzel as the pair of Penguins forwards entered the zone prior to Guentzel giving it back to the Pens captain for a one-timer off of Halak’s pad– between the Bruins goaltender’s pad and the post– and into the twine.

Pittsburgh took their first lead of the night, 2-1, while Guentzel (15) and Brian Dumoulin (4) picked up the assists on Crosby’s goal at 18:34.

Entering the first intermission, the Penguins led, 2-1, on the scoreboard despite trailing the Bruins, 20-10, in shots on goal.

Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (6-5), takeaways (3-2), hits (19-8) and faceoff win percentage (64-36), while Pittsburgh led in giveaways (4-1) after 20 minutes.

The Penguins had yet to see any action on the skater advantage, while the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Pastrnak opened up the second period with an interference infraction 28 seconds into the middle frame. Pittsburgh did not score on the ensuing power play.

Moments later, Marcus Pettersson sent the puck over the glass and out of play, yielding an automatic delay of game minor at 6:59 of the second period.

Boston did not convert on the resulting skater advantage.

Past the midpoint in the action, Connor Clifton tripped Rodrigues and was sent to the penalty box at 10:31.

A little more than a minute later, Malkin (8) flipped a shot over Halak’s glove side from the slot to yield his 1,100th career NHL point in his 935th career game.

Crosby (17) and Kris Letang (15) had the assists on Malkin’s power-play goal and the Pens led, 3-1, at 11:40 of the second period.

Clifton cut another rut to the sin bin at 12:13 on a roughing minor after getting tangled up with Colton Sceviour after a whistle. The Penguins did not score on the resulting power play.

Through 40 minutes of action in Pittsburgh, the Pens led, 3-1, on the scoreboard, despite trailing the Bruins, 33-18, in shots on goal, including a, 13-8, advantage for Boston in the second period alone.

The B’s held an advantage in blocked shots (10-5), hits (30-18) and faceoff win% (54-46), while the Penguins led in giveaways (6-4).

Both teams had five takeaways aside, while Pittsburgh was 1/3 and Boston was 1/2 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Early in the final frame of the game, Crosby tripped Patrice Bergeron and cut a rut to the sin bin at 2:40 of the third period, but Boston did not score on the resulting 5-on-4 advantage.

Midway through the third, Teddy Blueger hooked Pastrnak and presented the Bruins with another power play at 13:12, but the B’s were powerless on the power play once more.

Jakub Zboril tripped Crosby at 16:24, but Pittsburgh’s power play was no match for Boston’s penalty kill.

With one minute left in the game, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker, but at 19:44, Guentzel (11) pocketed the puck in the empty twine to give the Penguins a three-goal advantage.

Rust (11) and Crosby (18) notched the assists on Guentzel’s empty net goal as Pittsburgh won, 4-1, at the final horn.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 43-26, including a, 10-8, advantage in the third period alone.

The Bruins also wrapped up Monday night’s action leading in blocked shots (15-11), hits (38-26) and faceoff win% (57-43), while both teams finished the action with seven giveaways aside and were 1/4 on the power play.

Pittsburgh extended their winning streak to six games, while Boston fell to 6-5-2 in their last 13 games.

The B’s also fell to 10-3-2 (4-3-1 on the road) when scoring the game’s first goal this season, while the Pens improved to 10-6-1 (8-1-0 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal in 2020-21.

The Penguins also improved to 8-2-0 (6-1-0 at home) when leading after one period and 8-1-0 (6-1-0 at home) when leading after two periods this season, while the Bruins dropped to 2-5-2 (2-4-2 on the road) when trailing after the first period and 2-4-1 (1-2-1 on the road) when trailing through 40 minutes in 2020-21.

The last time Boston won in Pittsburgh was in a, 6-2, victory back on Dec. 18, 2015.

The Bruins continue their four-game road trip (0-1-0) with another game against the Penguins on Tuesday before venturing north to take on the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and Saturday.

Boston’s next home game on March 23rd against the New York Islanders will be their first to feature fans at TD Garden since the pandemic began last year.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

Categories
NHL Nick's Net

Penguins rally for four unanswered in, 4-3, win over Boston

For the third time this season, the Boston Bruins blew a three-goal lead and lost, 4-3, on Sunday– this time to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.

Matt Murray (15-6-4 record, 2.84 goals against average, .900 save percentage in 27 games played) made 34 saves on 37 shots against for a .919 SV% in the win for the Pens.

B’s goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (11-6-6, 2.49 GAA, .918 SV% in 23 games played) stopped 18 out of 22 shots faced for a .918 SV% in the loss.

Boston fell to 28-10-12 (68 points), but remained in command of the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh improved to 31-13-5 (65 points) and maintained their 2nd place status in the Metropolitan Division.

The Bruins also fell to 12-8-3 on the road this season and dropped to 2-1-0 in the season series against the Penguins (won, 6-4, at Boston on Nov. 4th, won, 4-1, at Boston on Jan. 16th and lost, 4-3, at Pittsburgh on Jan. 19th).

The Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee), Connor Clifton (upper body), Tuukka Rask (concussion) and David Krejci (upper body) on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.

Miller has yet to make his season debut, while Clifton and Krejci are considered “day-to-day”. Rask, on the other hand, remains on the injured reserve since sustaining a concussion in Columbus on Jan. 14th.

B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his lineup from Thursday night’s, 4-1, win over the Penguins in Boston, but Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney, made a couple minor transactions.

First, Sweeney placed David Backes on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Friday. Backes had one goal and two assists (three points) in 16 games with Boston this season and cleared waivers on Saturday.

The Bruins saved about $1.075 million in cap space as a result of the transaction.

Finally, Sweeney made paper transactions over the course of Friday and Saturday assigning Dan Vladar to Providence and recalling Maxime Lagace on an emergency basis before reassigning Lagace and calling up Vladar on an emergency basis ahead of Sunday’s matinee.

Vladar once again served as the backup goaltender for Halak against Pittsburgh.

Steven Kampfer and Anton Blidh were the only healthy scratches for Boston on Sunday.

Shortly after puck drop, Patrice Bergeron (21) waltzed into the attacking zone and fired a shot through Murray’s five-hole after Brad Marchand connected on a pass with Bergeron.

Bergeron’s goal gave Boston the, 1-0, lead 11 seconds into the first period and was assisted by Marchand (44) and David Pastrnak (33).

Less than two minutes later, Anders Bjork (8) sniped a shot over Murray’s glove into the top-corner of the twine to make it, 2-0, for the Bruins at 2:02 of the first period.

Charlie Coyle (17) and Jake DeBrusk (14) notched the assists on Bjork’s goal as the B’s scored two goals in a span of 1:51.

Murray received a “Bronx cheer” from his home crowd after stopping an ensuing dump-in by Boston and was nearly spotless until late in the first period when Pastrnak (37) spun and threw a puck towards the net hoping to connect on a pass to Marchand, but instead deflected the puck off of Jack Johnson and behind the Penguins goaltender.

Pastrnak’s goal was unassisted and gave Boston a three-goal lead, 3-0, at 15:07 of the first period.

About 90 seconds later, the Pens responded and showed a sign of life when Sidney Crosby sent a pass from behind the net to Dominik Simon (6) for a one-timed shot from the goal line that beat Halak on the glove side– cutting into Boston’s lead and putting Pittsburgh on the scoreboard, 3-1.

Crosby (16) and Patric Hornqvist (8) tallied the assists on Simon’s goal at 16:34.

Almost two minutes later, Teddy Blueger was sent to the penalty box for hooking against Brandon Carlo and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the afternoon at 18:23.

Boston didn’t convert on the ensuing power play, which spilled over into the second period.

After one period in Pittsburgh, the Bruins led the Penguins, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 13-6, in shots on goal.

The B’s also held the advantage in takeaways (1-0), hits (12-11) and faceoff win percentage (72-28), while the Pens led in blocked shots (8-3) and giveaways (3-0).

Pittsburgh had yet to see time on the skater advantage, while Boston was 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission.

Early in the middle frame, Marchand turned the puck over to the Penguins– giving Kris Letang a free puck that he sent off the endboards for Crosby to scoop up and send between his legs to Blueger (7) for the goal that cut Boston’s lead to one.

Crosby (17) and Letang (21) had the assists on Blueger’s goal 33 seconds into the second period and the Pens trailed, 3-2.

Despite amassing five shot attempts on the power play, the Bruins failed to record a shot on goal while on the advantage.

Midway through the second period, Chris Wagner was penalized for interference at 12:09 and presented Pittsburgh with their first power play of the afternoon.

Less than a minute later, Letang and Marchand got tangled up and received matching roughing minors at 13:00 of the second period, but Pittsburgh’s 5-on-4 advantage was unchanged.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins still led the Penguins, 3-2, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 23-18– despite being outshot by the Pens, 12-10, in the second period alone.

Pittsburgh held the advantage in blocked shots (13-5) and giveaways (8-1), while Boston led in takeaways (4-2), hits (24-22) and faceoff win% (58-42).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the final frame.

Just 20 seconds into the third period, Letang was sent to the sin bin for elbowing Marchand, but instead of capitalizing on the ensuing power play, Boston’s special teams was powerless and allowed a shorthanded goal against.

Johnson (3) blasted a shot from the point and beat Halak under the blocker on the short side while the Bruins defense looked on and watched it unfold as Bergeron had to draw back and defend alongside Torey Krug.

Brandon Tanev (12) had the only assist on Johnson’s goal at 1:41 of the third period and the Penguins tied it, 3-3.

Midway through the third, despite Boston doing everything they could to slip another puck past Murray, Pittsburgh made the most of their opportunities as Bryan Rust (21) sent home a one-timer goal over Halak’s blocker while Halak was lost and the B’s defense was out of position.

Evgeni Malkin (35) forced the initial turnover by Charlie McAvoy and sent the pass to Rust for the only assist on the game-winning goal as the Penguins led, 4-3, at 12:35 of the third period.

With 2:19 remaining in regulation Cassidy pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Matt Grzelcyk received a tripping infraction at 19:04.

Despite using his timeout with 55.5 seconds left in the game, Cassidy’s crew couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone and struggled to free Halak from his crease for an extra skater in the dying dozen seconds or so as the final horn sounded and the Penguins had completed the comeback.

At the end of the afternoon, Pittsburgh had won, 4-3, despite trailing in shots on goal, 37-22– including a, 14-4, advantage for Boston in the third period alone.

The Pens finished the game leading in blocked shots (22-7), giveaways (12-3) and hits (37-28), while the Bruins led in faceoff win% (58-42).

Both teams went 0/2 on the power play on Sunday.

Boston fell to 18-7-8 when scoring the game’s first goal, 17-5-3 when leading after the first period and 15-1-6 when leading after two periods this season.

The B’s have won six out of their last ten games against Pittsburgh, but are on a six-game losing streak at PPG Paints Arena.

The Bruins fell to 200-2-6 when leading by at least three goals since 2010-11.

Boston returns home for their last game prior to the All-Star break next Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Bruins resume play on Friday, Jan. 31st in Winnipeg thereafter.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net

Rask injured in, 3-0, shutout in Columbus

Three players scored their 4th goal of the season as the Columbus Blue Jackets shutout the Boston Bruins, 3-0, Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena.

Elvis Merzlikins (6-6-4 record, 2.53 goals against average, .921 save percentage in 18 games played) made 34 saves on 34 shots against for his 2nd consecutive shutout– becoming the first rookie Blue Jackets goaltender since Steve Mason to record back-to-back shutouts in consecutive appearances (Dec. 27-31, 2008).

Meanwhile, Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (17-4-6, 2.27 GAA, .925 SV% in 28 games played) was injured 1:12 into the action after Emil Bemstrom delivered an elbow to Rask’s head.

Rask sustained a concussion on the play and was replaced by Jaroslav Halak (10-5-6, 2.49 GAA, .925 SV% in 27 games played), who made 24 saves on 27 shots faced for an .889 SV% in the loss.

Boston fell to 27-9-12 (66 points) on the season, but remained in 1st place in the Atlantic Division, while Columbus improved to 23-16-8 (54 points) on the season and remained steady in 6th place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Bruins also fell to 12-7-3 on the road this season.

The Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee) and Connor Clifton (upper body) on Tuesday night as Boston visited Columbus for the first time since defeating the Blue Jackets in Game 6 of their 2019 Second Round matchup.

Bruce Cassidy made no changes to his forwards, but replaced Matt Grzelcyk with Steven Kampfer on the blue line alongside John Moore on the third defensive pairing.

Par Lindholm and David Backes joined Grzelcyk as healthy scratches for the B’s in Columbus, while David Krejci tied Terry O’Reilly for the 7th most games played as a Bruin in franchise history (891 games).

Rask was replaced by Halak at 1:12 of the first period after Bemstrom struck the Bruins goaltender with an errant elbow.

Moments later, Pierre-Luc Dubois was sent to the penalty box with a cross checking infraction, yielding the first power play of the night to Boston at 5:53.

The Bruins did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Almost midway through the opening frame, David Savard thought he scored a goal when he crashed the net and bumped into Halak, but the play was blown dead and there was no goal as a result due to goaltender interference that occurred.

Some harm, no foul– in a way. No goal, but no minor penalty either.

Past the midpoint of the first period, Alexander Wennberg (4) let go of a weak shot that slipped through Halak’s five-hole and reached the back of the twine– giving the Blue Jackets a, 1-0, lead.

Wennberg’s soft goal was assisted by Vladislav Gavrikov (5) and Nathan Gerbe (4) at 13:27.

Late in the period, Charlie McAvoy was guilty of holing against Gustav Nyquist and Columbus received their first power play opportunity at 18:59.

The Blue Jackets did not score on the resulting advantage, despite the fact that the power play overlapped into the second period.

After one period in Columbus, the Blue Jackets led the Bruins, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 9-7, in shots on goal.

The B’s led in takeaways (2-1), hits (11-7) and faceoff win percentage (53-47), while the Blue Jackets had the advantage in blocked shots (5-4).

Both teams had two giveaways aside and were 0/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Boston announced that Rask would not return to the game in a tweet after the puck dropped on the second period.

Midway through the middle frame, Gavrikov held Anders Bjork and was sent to the sin bin with a minor infraction at 9:36 of the second period.

Boston’s power play was powerless as Columbus killed off Gavrikov’s minor with ease.

A few minutes later, Joakim Nordstrom tried to engage Bemstrom in response for his elbow to Rask’s head that knocked Boston’s starting goaltender out of action, but Dubois stepped in between the two skaters and both Nordstorm and Dubois ended up receiving roughing minors at 12:35.

After two minutes of 4-on-4 action, the two teams resumed full strength play for the remainder of the period.

Through 40 minutes at Nationwide Arena, Columbus still held onto their, 1-0, lead over Boston and a, 22-21, advantage in shots on goal– despite the Bruins leading in second period shots alone, 14-13.

The Blue Jackets led in blocked shots (14-6), takeaways (7-1) and giveaways (7-3), while the B’s led in hits (19-14) and faceoff win% (56-44).

Columbus was 0/1 and Boston was 0/2 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Sonny Milano slashed Charlie Coyle at 1:34 of the third period and presented the Bruins with another power play that did not yield a goal on the advantage.

A few minutes later, Brad Marchand caught Gavrikov with a high stick at 4:41 and presented Columbus with a skater advantage.

About a minute into the ensuing power play, Kevin Stenlund (4) blasted a one-timer over Halak’s blocker side and gave the Blue Jackets a two-goal lead with a power play goal.

Nick Foligno (14) and Bemstrom (7) notched the assists on Stenlund’s goal at 5:46 of the third period and Columbus led, 2-0.

Three seconds after resuming play, Eric Robinson interfered with Bjork off the ensuing faceoff and was sent to the penalty box at 5:49.

Midway through the third period, Riley Nash (4) capitalized on an individual effort and gave the Blue Jackets a, 3-0, lead on an unassisted goal over Halak’s blocker side at 13:05.

At the final horn, Columbus had won, 3-0, despite trailing in shots on goal, 34-27.

Though Boston had held the advantage in third periods shots on net alone, 13-5, the Bruins failed to find the back of the net on any of their shots.

The Blue Jackets finished Tuesday night with the advantage in blocked shots (19-8) and giveaways (10-7), while the B’s left Nationwide Arena with the advantage in hits (28-17) and faceoff win% (55-45).

The Blue Jackets went 1/2 on the power play on the night and the Bruins finished 0/4.

Columbus handed Boston their first shutout of the season as the Bruins fell to 1-4-3 when trailing after one period and 4-7-4 when trailing after two periods this season.

Boston finished their three-game road trip (1-1-1) and returns home for a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday at TD Garden and Sunday in Pittsburgh at PPG Paints Arena.

After the Bruins swing through Pittsburgh, the B’s finish their game action before the All-Star break with a home game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 21st. 

Categories
Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #154- Sweep City!

Nick, Colby and Pete assess the Philadelphia Flyers’ hiring of Alain Vigneault, the Los Angeles Kings’ hiring of Todd McLellan, where does this leave the Buffalo Sabres in their search for a head coach, as well as some of the good (CBJ and NYI sweep), bad and ugly from the ongoing First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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

Categories
Nick's Net

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*

Categories
Nick's Net

Penguins end Bruins’ point streak with 4-2 win

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ special teams got the job done in their, 4-2, win over the Boston Bruins on Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena as the Pens scored a shorthanded goal and a power play goal en route to end Boston’s point-streak at 19 games.

Jared McCann had two goals in the effort, while Nick Bjugstad and Jake Guentzel also scored for Pittsburgh. David Krejci and John Moore had the only goals for Boston.

The Bruins suffered their first loss in regulation since Jan. 19th and are now 15-1-4 in their last 20 games.

Matt Murray (23-11-3 record, 2.77 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 38 games played) made 39 saves on 41 shots against for a .951 SV% in the win for the Penguins.

B’s goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (18-10-4, 2.34 GAA, .924 SV% in 34 GP) stopped 33 out of 36 shots faced for a .917 SV% in the loss.

Boston fell to 42-18-9 (93 points) on the season, but remained in control of 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while Pittsburgh improved to 37-23-9 (83 points) on the season and surged into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

Pittsburgh won the season series against the B’s, 2-0-1. The Penguins have also won in their last five home games against Boston as the Bruins fell to 15-11-6 on the road this season and 4-1-0 in the month of March.

Bruce Cassidy indicated that Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) may be nearing returns to the lineup, while it is not likely Kevan Miller (upper body) and David Pastrnak (left thumb) will join the Bruins on their ongoing three-game road trip.

Cassidy adjusted his forward lines, placing Peter Cehlarik at left wing on the second line with Krejci and Lee Stempniak, while bumping up Sean Kuraly to the third line with Charlie Coyle and David Backes.

Joakim Nordstrom was demoted to the fourth line with Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner.

Steven Kampfer remains the only healthy scratch in the Bruins lineup from night-to-night currently.

Bjugstad (10) kicked things off early in the action after the Bruins turned the puck over in their own zone. Patric Hornqvist generated a rebound off Halak and Bjugstad pounced on the loose puck to give the Penguins the lead, 1-0, at 1:33 of the first period.

Hornqvist (16) and Dominik Simon (18) tallied the assists on the goal as the Pittsburgh crowd came to life.

Boston was penalized for too many men on the ice, leaving Cehlarik to serve the bench minor at 3:41.

The Pens did not convert on their first power play chance of the night, nor did they score on their second skater advantage opportunity when Matt Grzelcyk hooked Bjugstad at 9:01 of the opening frame.

Justin Schultz sent the puck over the glass and out of play for an automatic delay of game infraction at 13:07, resulting in Boston’s first power play of the evening. It did not go well.

McCann (15) received a breakout pass and quickly worked his way behind the Bruins defenders and scored on Halak on a breakaway.

Teddy Blueger (2) had the only assist on McCann’s shorthanded goal and the Penguins led, 2-0, at 13:54 of the first period.

Moments later, Wagner went to the penalty box for tripping Marcus Pettersson at 15:19, but was quickly followed by Evgeni Malkin for tripping Charlie McAvoy at 16:12, resulting in 4-on-4 action for about 1:07.

McCann appeared on the event sheet one last time before the first intermission for an inference penalty at 19:26, as the Penguins finished the first 20 minutes of play leading on the scoreboard, 2-0, and in shots on goal, 15-8.

Pittsburgh also led in takeaways (1-0) and hits (12-7), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (7-4) and face-off win percentage (58-42). Both teams had five giveaways aside and were 0/3 on the power play prior to the start of the second period.

Early in the second period, Hornqvist checked Grzelcyk along the boards, leaving the Bruins defender favoring his right arm as it awkwardly collided with the Penguins forward and the glass.

Grzelcyk would not return to the action with an upper body injury.

Former Bruin, Zach Trotman, slashed Acciari at 3:31 of the second period and presented Boston with a power play opportunity.

Similar to how the Pens scored their first goal, the B’s got on the scoreboard and cut the lead in half after Heinen flung a puck off Murray over to Krejci (19) for the rebound and easy tally.

Heinen (18) and Brad Marchand (54) picked up the assists on Krejci’s power play goal at 4:32 of the second period and Boston trailed, 2-1.

Almost two minutes later, Patrice Bergeron sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game minor penalty at 6:43.

Pittsburgh did not score on the ensuing power play, but it was only a matter of time as Boston would find out when Brandon Carlo tripped up Blueger at 16:10.

Just 22 seconds into the resulting power play for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby caught the B’s on a shorthanded turnover and sent the puck to Guentzel (34) for a two-on-one power play goal at 16:32.

Pittsburgh led, 3-1, as Crosby (57) and Pettersson (19) picked up assists on the goal.

After 40 minutes of play, the Penguins led in shots on goal (23-22), takeaways (5-3), giveaways (8-4), hits (19-15) and face-off win% (51-49), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (13-12).

The Pens were 1/5 on the power play after two periods and the B’s were 1/4 heading into the third period.

Trotman trotted to the sin bin for the second time of the night at 4:33 of the third period for interference, but the Bruins couldn’t muster anything on the resulting skater advantage.

Cassidy pulled his netminder with over 2:30 remaining in regulation to try to pull within one-goal, let alone score two quick goals to tie the game.

Pittsburgh struggled to find the open net at first, yielding a slap shot from Moore (4) to find its way past Murray, bringing the game to within one at 18:59.

Coyle (19) and Heinen (19) tabbed the assists on Moore’s goal as the Bruins trailed, 3-2. Coyle’s assist was his first point as a Bruin, but the celebration didn’t last long.

Halak vacated the crease again for an extra attacker, but the Penguins were successful in finding the empty twine at 19:39, as McCann (16) pocketed his second goal of the night to make it 4-2, Pittsburgh.

Guentzel (31) had the only assist on McCann’s empty netter.

Despite losing, 4-2, Boston finished the night with more shots on goal, 41-37, and leading in face-off win% (53-47). Pittsburgh finished the night with the advantage in giveaways (15-10) and hits (28-20).

Both teams had 16 blocked shots each and went 1/5 on the power play.

The Bruins swing through Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets on Tuesday before finishing up their three-game road trip against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. Boston returns home to square off with the Blue Jackets again on March 16th.