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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Take Five: Five Takeaways From Game 3 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

For the first time in this year’s Western Conference Final, a goalie did not record a shutout. Instead, Alexander Radulov scored the game-winning goal 31 seconds into overtime to give the Dallas Stars the, 3-2, win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead.

That’s right, Dallas is two wins away from making the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2000.

The winner of Game 3 in a Conference Finals series that entered the game tied 1-1 holds an all time series record of 32-9. The Conference Final series format wasn’t introduced until 1982, if anyone’s wondering.

Now before the two teams tackle Game 4 on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), let’s review five takeaways from Game 3 that could impact Game 4 and/or the outcome of the series (or might not have to do with anything at all).

1. Folks, we’ve got a goalie battle on our hands.

If you’ve been watching either of the two teams in the Western Conference Final throughout the 2020 postseason, you’d already know about the goaltender “controversy” with the Golden Knights, but this has nothing to do with that.

No, instead, this is about how after the first period, while the game was still tied, 0-0, Vegas had a shutout streak spanning 137:24– dating back to John Klingberg’s only goal in Game 1 of the series at 2:36 of the first period.

Robin Lehner had a personal shutout streak of 151:44 that reached further back into the vault when the Golden Knights shutout the Vancouver Canucks, 3-0, in Game 7 of their Second Round series.

Once Jamie Oleksiak scored a breakaway goal to give Dallas the, 1-0, lead at 19:43 of the second period, Lehner’s shutout streak came to an end at 171:37, which surpassed Marc-Andre Fleury’s previous franchise record for the longest postseason shutout streak of 144:04 in 2018.

After Shea Theodore scored a power-play goal to tie the game, 1-1, at 3:49 of the third period, Dallas’s shutout streak came to an end at 157:17– dating back to late in the second period after the Stars allowed three goals against and lost, 3-0, in Game 2.

NHL.com‘s David Satriano went back and checked the numbers on those stats since he was the one that tweeted them out (maybe you should give him a follow if you’re into that sort of thing).

Oh and Theodore’s goal, by the way, was his seventh of the postseason and brought him to a tie with Tampa Bay Lightning defender, Victor Hedman, for the most goals by a defender this postseason.

Theodore has 7-11–18 totals in 18 games for Vegas, while Hedman has 7-6–13 totals in 15 games for the Bolts.

2. “Sin City” or “Saint City”?

The Golden Knights displayed some good discipline in Game 3 having only given up one power play opportunity to the Stars courtesy of Max Pacioretty’s roughing minor against Klingberg at 11:33 of the first period.

Vegas only had one penalty called against them, whereas Dallas was guilty of four minor infractions.

Who are the bad boys now?

Of course, Klingberg’s penalty at 1:33 of the third period was an automatic minor for delay of game (puck over glass) and interim head coach, Rick Bowness, lost a coach’s challenge at 12:46 of the final frame (Mark Stone’s deflection goal to tie the game, 2-2) and was assessed a bench minor as a result of losing the challenge.

3. Dallas’ defense is their best offense.

Some of you might be thinking this is about to be one of those “defense wins championships” explanations, but it’s not.

Rather, Dallas’ defense is their best offense in quite the literal sense.

Oleksiak scored the game’s first goal (depth!) and Miro Heiskanen recorded his league leading 17th assist this postseason on that same goal.

Only Brian Bellows and Mike Modano had more assists for the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise in one postseason. Bellows had 19 assists in the North Stars’ run to the 1991 Stanley Cup Final and Modano had 18 assists in Dallas’ run to winning the Cup in 1999.

Obviously this means one of two things– at least– that Heiskanen is really good and (two) that the Stars could very well make the 2020 Stanley Cup Final based on this trend.

In any case, Dallas’ defenders have been moving the puck out of their zone with precision and hitting the back of the twine when it matters most with some clutch performances this postseason.

4. Have you tried turning it “off” then back “on” again?

Vegas’ goaltending hasn’t looked bad so far in this series, but the rest of the team appears to have forgotten their legs at times and lacking in the “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps”/”dig deeper in the trenches” playoff mentality.

It’s not a major thing if it happens in a game or two, but the Golden Knights started to show signs of a crack in their foundation in the previous round against Vancouver and it’s not that the Stars are even exploiting it, so much as Vegas just hasn’t been playing their game.

One would expect the Golden Knights to come out a little harder and faster paced in Game 4 and especially try to capture a full 60-minute effort.

Then again, perhaps everything you just read after the fourth headline is actually a lie.

The Golden Knights had 12 shots on goal in the first period (Dallas had four), 10 shots on net in the second period (the Stars had 14) and 18 shots on goal in the third period (Dallas had four once again).

All in all, Vegas outshot the Stars, 40-23, but all it took was one shot in overtime– 31 seconds into the extra frame, I might add– by Radulov to end the game and steal the victory for the Stars.

So maybe the question “have you tried turning it ‘off’ then back ‘on’ again?” really pertains to “have you tried not hitting the goaltender and simply scoring more if you’re going to take a lot more shots a night than the other team?”

Because that’s been a bit of a problem for the Golden Knights at times this postseason and it can be frustrating as hell– not just for the players, but the fans watching at home too.

Kudos to Anton Khudobin, though, he’s on top of his game and getting a workout too.

That’s something not many of us can say in a pandemic. *nonchalantly puts down a bag of chips*

5. Have coaches become drunk with power with the “coach’s challenge” this postseason?

Bowness has made a couple of questionable decisions to use his coach’s challenge at times this postseason, but it seems more and more coach’s this year are quick to try to overrule the call on the ice.

Say what you want about the decisions made when Carolina Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, went unsuccessful in the coach’s challenge department in the First Round or Jon Cooper’s odd petition on behalf of the Lightning in the Second Round, but nothing compares to Alain Vigneault’s three “what are you doing!?!” quality challenges this year in the playoffs.

Maybe it’s not the head coaches who are in too deep over their heads, but the video coach that has to scramble for to rewind the feed from multiple angles and make a split-second decision on what to advise their head coach to do.

Plus, of course, the officiating in the first place.

Sure, they’re human, but they’re always bound to make mistakes as a result and– in theory– a review system would get the calls right 100 percent of the time or something, but then again one team and their fan base is never going to be happy with the end result no matter what.

If anything, that gives us all 21 or older (18/19 or older basically everywhere else in the world) another chance to sit back, grab a beer and watch the hockey unfold.

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Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #206- What’s Kapanen, My Dudes?

The DTFR Duo discuss Photoshop, Todd Reirden’s firing, Arizona Coyotes draft violations, the Kasperi Kapanen trade back to Pittsburgh and the Second Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Krejci, Bruins advance to Second Round with, 2-1, victory over Carolina in Game 5

David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron each scored power-play goals to advance the Boston Bruins to the Second Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 2-1, win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 of their First Round matchup on Wednesday.

With the win, the B’s get to stay in the Toronto bubble and continue playing hockey at Scotiabank Arena during the COVID-19 pandemic for at least another four games.

Jaroslav Halak (3-1-0 in four games, 2.29 goals against average, .912 save percentage this postseason) made 23 saves on 24 shots against for a .958 SV% in the win for the Bruins.

Meanwhile, Hurricanes goaltender, Petr Mrazek (2-3 in five games, 2.08 GAA, .929 SV% this postseason) stopped 25 out of 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 20-2 all time when leading a series 3-1.

Carolina fell to 10-5 all time when scoring first in a game when facing elimination.

David Pastrnak was a game-time decision ahead of Game 5, but took part in warmups as expected and was placed in his usual spot on the first line at right wing in place of Anders Bjork.

No other lineup changes were made by Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, for Game 5.

Andrei Svechnikov missed his second game of the series after being injured in Game 3 and remains out indefinitely for the Hurricanes.

The good news for Canes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, however, is that Jordan Staal was still in the lineup for Game 5 after being hit and going straight down the tunnel in the third period of Game 4.

Boston’s list of scratches for Wednesday’s action included Bjork, Zach Senyshyn, Nick Ritchie, John Moore, Maxime Lagacé, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

Carolina’s list of scratches included Joel Edmunson, Jake Bean, Max McCormick, Svechnikov, Roland McKeown, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Clark Bishop, Steven Lorentz, Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic.

At puck drop, Zdeno Chara tied Wayne Cashman for the 2nd most playoff games in a Bruins sweater (145). Ray Bourque is the franchise leader with 180 playoff games in a B’s sweater.

Bergeron (144 games) and Krejci (140) rank 4th and 5th, respectively.

Almost midway into the opening frame, Haydn Fleury (2) released a shot from the point that rang the far crossbar tucked in the net and came back out, causing everyone to be momentarily confused until the officials reviewed that the puck had, in fact, gone in and out of the twine.

Sebastian Aho (9) and Jordan Martinook (1) notched the assists on Fleury’s goal as the Hurricanes jumped out to the, 1-0, lead at 9:35 of the first period.

Moments later, the Canes were presented with the first power play of the game as Charlie McAvoy was penalized for hooking Warren Foegele at 15:15.

Carolina, however, couldn’t convert on the skater advantage as the B’s made the kill.

Entering the first intermission, Carolina led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite trailing Boston, 9-8, in shots on goal.

The Bruins held the advantage in blocked shots (7-4) and faceoff win percentage (57-43), while the Hurricanes led in takeaways (2-1) and hits (17-8). Both teams had two giveaways aside.

The Canes were 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s had yet to see any action on the skater advantage after 20 minutes of play.

Pastrnak hooked Justin Williams and cut a rut to the penalty box at 1:49 of the second period, but the Hurricanes weren’t able to convert on the ensuing advantage.

Midway through the middle frame, Aho hooked Bergeron on a breakaway and was sent to the sin bin at 13:47, yielding a power play to the Bruins.

Late in the advantage, Krejci (3) was in the right place at the right time for a lucky deflection turned garbage goal from the doorstep for No. 46 in black and gold– tying the game, 1-1, in the process.

Pastrnak (2) and Bergeron (4) had the assists on Krejci’s power-play goal at 15:16.

With 50 seconds remaining in the second period, Martinook roughed Ondrej Kase along the boards and crossed the line in the eyes of the officials– landing a roughing minor at 19:10 and presenting Boston with their second power play of the game.

The B’s wasted no time to convert and take their first lead of the afternoon with what became the game-winning goal from Bergeron (2) after No. 37 for Boston received the puck and twirled it from the edge of the trapezoid behind the goal line off of Mrazek and through the Carolina goaltender’s five-hole.

Pastrnak (3) and Krejci (6) collected the helpers on Bergeron’s power-play goal at 19:56 of the second period and the Bruins led, 2-1, entering the second intermission.

Through 40 minutes of play, Boston was in command, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 22-18, in shots on goal– including a, 13-10, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

The Bruins also led in blocked shots (10-8) and giveaways (8-4), while the Hurricanes led in hits (27-20) and faceoff win% (53-47).

Both teams had five takeaways each, while the Canes were 0/2 and the B’s were 2/2 on the power play.

Foegele was guilty of a hold against Charlie Coyle 44 seconds into the third period and presented Boston with another power play, but this time the B’s wouldn’t score.

In fact, nobody scored in the final frame of regulation as both teams managed a combined 11 shots on goal in the third period alone.

Joakim Nordstrom was sent to the box for interference at 3:18, but the Bruins killed off his minor.

Later, Williams tripped Coyle and was assessed a minor infraction at 7:58 of the third period, but once more Carolina made the kill.

With 2:13 remaining in the game, Brind’Amour pulled Mrazek for an extra attacker, but with 49.9 seconds remaining in the Hurricanes’ season, Brind’Amour was drawing up plans for a last-ditch effort at tying the game and (potentially) forcing overtime after using his timeout during a stoppage.

Time ticked down and the final horn sounded as the Bruins won, 2-1, and clinched the series, 4-1, in Game 5.

Boston finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal (27-24), blocked shots (17-10) and giveaways (10-7), while Carolina wrapped up Wednesday’s effort with the advantage in hits (33-27) and faceoff win% (54-47).

The Canes finished 0/3 and the B’s finished 2/4 on the power play as Boston advanced to the Second Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs– awaiting the results of the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders series’.

The Bruins also improved to 2-2 in the 2020 postseason when trailing after one and 2-0 when leading after two periods. Cassidy also improved to 5-3 behind the bench in Boston when given the chance to finish a series.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

DeBrusk leads B’s in, 4-3, comeback over Canes in Game 4

Jake DeBrusk had a pair of goals as the Boston Bruins scored four goals in the third period to erase a two-goal deficit and win, 4-3, in Game 4 of their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Monday.

For the 11th time in franchise history, the Bruins rallied from a multi-goal deficit in the final period of a playoff game and won as Jaroslav Halak (2-1-0 in three games, 2.73 goals against average, .897 save percentage this postseason) made 16 saves on 19 shots (.842 SV%) in the win.

Hurricanes goaltender, James Reimer (2-1 in three games, 2.34 GAA, .934 SV% this postseason) stopped 29 out of 33 shots faced for an .879 SV% in the loss.

Once again, David Pastrnak (unfit to play) was out of the lineup for Boston ahead of Game 4 and missed his third game this postseason due to injury.

Carolina forward, Andrei Svechnikov (unfit to play), missed his first game of the series after sustaining a lower body injury in the third period of Game 3 last Saturday and is likely out for the rest of the First Round series.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his lineup from Saturday’s, 3-1, win in Game 3 to Monday night’s Game 4.

Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, re-inserted Jake Gardiner on the defense in place of Trevor van Riemsdyk, while Ryan Dzingel was dressed in place of Svechnikov.

Brind’Amour opted for Jordan Martinook on the left side of Sebastian Aho with Teuvo Teravainen in his usual right wing role, while Dzingel fit in on the second line with Vincent Trocheck at center and Justin Williams on the right side.

On the third line, Brind’Amour began the night with Jordan Staal at center– flanked by Warren Foegele at left wing and Brock McGinn at right wing.

Meanwhile, Nino Niederreiter, Morgan Geekie and Martin Necas comprised the fourth line for the Canes.

On defense, Jaccob Slavin was paired with Dougie Hamilton on the first pairing, Brady Skjei suited up alongside Sami Vatanen and Gardiner was flanked by Haydn Fleury.

Boston’s list of scratches for Game 4 included Zach Senyshyn, Nick Ritchie, John Moore, Maxime Lagacé, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Trent Frederic, Karson Kuhlman and Pastrnak.

The Canes were without the services of Joel Edmundson, Jake Bean, Max McCormick, Svechnikov, Roland McKeown, van Riemsdyk, Clark Bishop, Steven Lorentz, Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic.

Dzingel caught Connor Clifton with a high stick and presented the B’s with the first power play opportunity of the night at 1:38 of the first period.

Boston wasn’t able to convert on the ensuing skater advantage, however, and found themselves on the penalty kill shortly after the Hurricanes killed off Dzingel’s minor.

Jack Studnicka cut a rut to the penalty box after slashing Skjei’s stick out of his hands and gave Carolina their first power play of the night at 4:55.

The Canes did not score on the resulting advantage, however.

Almost midway through the opening frame, Williams (1) fired a shot that had eyes through bodies from both teams in front of the net and clunked its way through Halak to give the Hurricanes the game’s first lead, 1-0.

Trocheck (2) and Gardiner (1) tallied the assists on Williams’ goal at 9:17.

Carolina took the, 1-0, lead all the way into the dressing room for the first intermission as neither team found its way onto the event sheet in goals or penalties after Williams opened the scoring.

The Hurricanes led in shots on goal (7-6), takeaways (4-0), hits (15-14) and faceoff win percentage (71-29) after 20 minutes of play, while the Bruins led in blocked shots (4-2) and giveaways (5-3).

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

Teravainen hooked Studnicka and was sent to the box at 9:31 of the second period for the middle frame’s first action on the event sheet, but Boston wasn’t able to convert on the power play.

Less than a minute after Carolina killed off Teravainen’s minor infraction, Martinook (2) snapped a shot past Halak’s glove side on what otherwise looked like a preventable outcome.

Aho (8) had the only assist on Martinook’s goal as the Hurricanes extended their lead to, 2-0, at 12:08 of the second period.

Moments later, Martinook thought he had scored again when he deflected the rubber biscuit into the back of the twine, but his stick was well above the crossbar and immediately negated what would’ve been a three-goal lead for the Hurricanes.

Late in the period, Hamilton was guilty of holding Studnicka and cut a run to the sin bin for a pair of minutes that would extend into the third period at 19:37.

After 40 minutes of action Monday night, the Canes led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even at 17 aside– despite Boston’s, 11-10, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

Carolina led in blocked shots (12-11), takeaways (9-2), hits (27-23) and faceoff win% (62-38) after two periods, while both teams had eight giveaways each.

The Hurricanes finished 0/1 and the Bruins went 0/3 on the power play entering the second intermission, as there were no penalties called in the third period.

Almost midway through the third period, DeBrusk chased after a puck in the offensive zone while Reimer came out of his net to also make an attempt at the loose puck in the high slot before DeBrusk (2) scored a goal while falling in avoidance from a major collision with Reimer as Fleury also bumped into his own goaltender.

Ondrej Kase (3) and Clifton (1) had the assists on DeBrusk’s first goal of the game and the Bruins cut Carolina’s lead in half, 2-1, at 7:26 of the third period.

It was the first five-on-five goal for Boston in a little more than eight periods dating back to Game 2.

With about ten minutes left in regulation, Charlie McAvoy made a huge, clean hit on Staal that forced Staal down the tunnel and out of the game.

Seconds later, Clifton (1) rocketed a one-timer from inside the faceoff dot to Reimer’s left off of a setup by Joakim Nordstrom from behind the goal line to tie the game, 2-2.

Clifton’s shot sailed over Reimer’s blocker, while Nordstrom (2) and Chris Wagner (1) notched the assists on the goal at 10:10 of the third period– marking two goals for the Bruins in a span of 1:44.

Upon giving up two quick goals like that, Brind’Amour used his timeout to ease his team’s nerves and draw up a plan to take the lead back and defender it, but nothing went according to plan for the Canes in the final frame.

Shortly after returning to play, Torey Krug sent Brad Marchand (3) in on a breakaway, whereby No. 63 in black and gold stickhandled the puck as he strolled in, made Reimer open the five-hole and slipped the rubber biscuit through the gaping five-hole to put Boston in command for the first time in the game.

Krug (3) had the only assist and the Bruins led, 3-2, at 11:40.

Less than a few minutes later, DeBrusk (3) scored his second goal of the night from point blank thanks to a great setup from Kase to make it, 4-2, for the Bruins.

Kase (4) and David Krejci (5) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively, as Boston pulled ahead by two goals at 14:17 of the third period– having scored four unanswered goals in a span of 6:51.

With about 1:37 remaining in the game, Brind’Amour pulled Reimer for an extra attacker.

Seconds later, Teravainen (3) scored on a shot that looked like it might have intended to be a pass, but broke through a screen in front of Halak and slid right through the Bruins goaltender’s five-hole on the first shot of the third period for the Canes.

Skjei (2) and Hamilton (1) had the assists on Teravainen’s goal and Carolina pulled to within one, 4-3, at 18:33.

Despite pulling their goaltender again for an extra skater with about 1:10 remaining, the Hurricanes could not force overtime.

At the final horn the Bruins had won, 4-3, and taken a, 3-1, series lead as a result.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 33-19, and had a, 16-2, advantage in the third period alone.

Meanwhile, Carolina finished the night leading in blocked shots (18-15), giveaways (14-11), hits (37-36) and faceoff win% (53-48).

Boston improved to 27-2 all time in a postseason game when Marchand scores a goal, while Clifton earned his first career multi-point playoff game.

The Bruins have the chance to eliminate the Hurricanes and advance to the Second Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 5, which is set for Wednesday afternoon with puck drop set for a little after 4 p.m. ET.

Fans in the United States can catch the game on NBCSN, NESN or FOX Sports Carolinas, while those in Canada can tune to Sportsnet (SN) or TVA Sports (TVAS) for the action.

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NHL Nick's Net

Bruins, Halak, bounce back in Game 3 with, 3-1, win

Charlie Coyle hit a home run and had an assist in the, 3-1, Game 3 victory for the Boston Bruins over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Yes, you read that right. Coyle had a home run. He batted the puck out of mid-air for the game’s first goal and was named the 2020 Boston Red Sox MVP.

Anyway, back to hockey, Jaroslav Halak (1-1 in two games, 2.59 goals against average and a .915 save percentage this postseason) made 29 saves on 30 shots against for a .967 SV% in the win for the B’s.

Canes goaltender, Petr Mrazek (2-2 in four games, 2.08 GAA, .930 SV% this postseason) stopped 36 out of 38 shots faced in the loss.

With the win, the Bruins take a, 2-1, series lead into Game 4 on Monday.

David Pastrnak (unfit to play) missed his second-straight game of the postseason, while Par Lindholm, Jack Studnicka and Connor Clifton made their series debuts for Boston– replacing Nick Ritchie, Karson Kuhlman and Jeremy Lauzon in the lineup.

But none of those lineup changes were the biggest story heading into Saturday afternoon’s matchup between the Bruins and Hurricanes as Boston’s regular starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask, announced he was opting out of the rest of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs to be with his family.

“I want to be with my teammates competing, but at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family.

“I want to thank the Bruins and my teammates for their support and wish them success.”

Statement from Tuukka Rask

Entering Saturday’s game, Halak was 6-6-1 in his career vs. Carolina with a .921 SV% and a 2.61 GAA, as well as two shutouts in that span. He was the goaltender for Boston in their, 2-0, shutout against the Hurricanes on Dec. 3rd and recorded 24 saves that night.

Bruce Cassidy moved Sean Kuraly to the left side of the third line with Coyle at center and Studnicka on the right side, while inserting Lindholm in Kuraly’s usual spot as the fourth line center– flanked by Joakim Nordstrom at left wing and Chris Wagner at right wing.

On defense, Clifton went in for Lauzon as Matt Grzelcyk’s partner on the third pairing.

With Rask heading home to be with his family, Dan Vladar served as Halak’s backup on the bench.

Meanwhile, Boston’s list of scratches for Saturday’s matinee included Zach Senyshyn, Ritchie, John Moore, Maxime Lagacé, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Lauzon, Trent Frederic, Kuhlman and Pastrnak.

Just 12 seconds into the opening frame, Brad Marchand tripped Sebastian Aho and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction, but Carolina did not score on the ensuing power play opportunity– the first of the afternoon for either team.

Vincent Trocheck was penalized for slashing Clifton at 4:27 of the first period and presented Boston with their first skater advantage of the game, but the Bruins did not capitalize on the power play.

Late in the first period, Anders Bjork took the first of three minor penalties on the afternoon with a slashing infraction against Teuvo Teravainen at 15:28.

Once more, however, the Hurricanes weren’t able to beat Halak and Boston’s penalty kill while on the power play.

With a little over two minutes later in the first period, the Canes thought they might have scored when the an errant puck trickled off the post and appeared to have just barely crossed the goal line after Halak covered it with his glove, but there was no goal called on the ice.

After reviewing multiple camera angles for a definitive look at whether or not the puck had indeed gone in, there was “no conclusive evidence to support that [it had] completely crossed the Boston goal line before the Referee blew his whistle to stop play,” according to the League’s situation room.

The score remained tied, 0-0, while Trevor van Riemsdyk caught former teammate, Joakim Nordstrom, with a high stick and drew blood at 17:58.

The B’s had a four-minute power play as a result of van Riemsdyk’s double-minor.

Entering the first intermission, Boston and Carolina were even, 0-0, on the scoreboard, but the Hurricanes led in shots on goal (15-7), blocked shots (8-2), takeaways (4-2), giveaways (7-2) and hits (13-10).

Meanwhile, the Bruins held the advantage in the faceoff dot with a, 58-42, faceoff winning percentage through one period.

The Hurricanes were 0/2 and the B’s were 0/3 on the power play entering the middle frame.

Coyle (2) found the back of the twine 14 seconds into the second period after Marchand made the initial shot that rebounded off of Mrazek and out in the slot where Coyle batted the rubber biscuit out of the air while keeping his stick under the crossbar for the goal.

Marchand (4) and David Krejci (3) recorded the assists on Coyle’s power-play goal and the Bruins led, 1-0.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Dougie Hamilton tripped Lindholm at 8:27 and presented the B’s with another power play.

This time, however, Boston would not convert on the skater advantage.

Moments after resuming even strength, it was the Bruins who found themselves guilty of the next penalty as Bjork slashed Nino Niederreiter and took his second trip to the sin bin that afternoon at 13:03 of the second period.

Carolina’s power play came to an end without any results to show on the scoreboard and was quickly met with some additional work for the penalty killing unit as Haydn Fleury bumped into Ondrej Kase without the puck at 15:49 and was guilty of interference.

Boston’s power play once more couldn’t score, though.

With 29 seconds left before the end of the period, Lindholm cross checked Brock McGinn and was assessed a minor penalty and a free vacation for a two minutes in the penalty box officially at 19:31 of the middle frame.

Carolina’s power play would extend into the third period, but it went unsuccessful nonetheless.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led the Canes, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 27-23, in shots on goal– including a, 20-8, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

The Hurricanes led in blocked shots (14-7), takeaways (10-3) and giveaways (12-4), however, while Boston led in hits (28-24) and faceoff win% (59-42) after two periods.

Carolina was 0/4 and Boston was 1/5 on the power play heading into the final frame of Saturday’s game.

While shorthanded, Kuraly (1) redirected an intentional shot pass from Coyle past Mrazek to give Boston a two-goal lead.

Coyle (1) and Charlie McAvoy (3) notched the assists on Kuraly’s goal and the Bruins led, 2-0, at 1:16 of the third period.

Moments later, Bjork cut his third rut to the penalty box for tripping Teravainen at 5:00, and presented the Canes with yet another power play.

This time, however, proved successful for Carolina at making things interesting after Halak misplayed the puck behind his own net while trying to clear it out of his own zone and errantly lobbing an aerial pass that was intercepted by Niederreiter (1) with his glove before pocketing the puck in the empty twine.

Niederreiter’s power-play goal cut Boston’s lead in half, 2-1, and was unassisted at 6:30 of the third period.

With 4:38 remaining in the game, Jaccob Slavin took a shot that Halak might have gotten a piece of before the vulcanized rubber caught referee, Kevin Pollock, and forced him out of the game.

Standby official, Trevor Hanson, entered the action, but not before Andrei Svechnikov was also tended to after a net front battle with Zdeno Chara resulted in Svechnikov toe-picking the ice with his skate and awkwardly falling before clutching around his knee.

No update was provided on Svechnikov’s injury status immediately after the game when Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, spoke with media members.

After a stoppage with 2:07 remaining, Brind’Amour used his timeout to rally his players and pull his goaltender for an extra attacker, but at 19:29 of the third period, Marchand (2) buried the puck in the empty net after receiving a flip pass from Krejci through the neutral zone to make it, 3-1, for Boston.

Krejci (4) had the only assist on Marchand’s empty net goal.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won, 3-1, and taken a, 2-1, series lead while finishing the afternoon with the advantage in shots on goal (39-30)– including a, 12-7, advantage in the third period alone.

Boston also finished the game leading in faceoff win%, 57-43, while Carolina finished Saturday’s effort leading in blocked shots (19-9), giveaways (13-7) and hits (35-33).

Both clubs went 1/5 on the power play in Game 3’s action.

Meanwhile, Marchand and Krejci each had two points in Saturday’s game, surpassing Cam Neely and Wayne Cashman for eight place (Marchand), as well as Patrice Bergeron (Krejci) for second place on Boston’s all-time postseason points list.

Marchand has 89 points as a Bruin, while Krejci has 109 points in a B’s sweater in their playoff careers.

Game 4 is scheduled for Monday night at 8 p.m. ET at Scotiabank Arena in the Toronto bubble. Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN, NESN or FOX Sports Carolinas, while those in Canada can catch the action on CBC, Sportsnet (SN) or TVA Sports (TVAS).

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Hamilton duels as Hurricanes storm Bruins, 3-2, in Game 2

No, he didn’t throw away his shot– Dougie Hamilton scored the game-winning goal with it in the third period of Thursday’s, 3-2, victory for the Carolina Hurricanes over the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup in the bubble at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

James Reimer (2-0 in two games played, 1.50 goals against average, .959 save percentage this postseason) made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .959 SV% in the win for the Hurricanes.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (1-3 in four games played, 2.58 GAA, .904 SV% this postseason) stopped 23 out of 26 shots faced (.885 SV%) in the loss.

Canes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour made a few adjustments to his lineup from Game 1 to Game 2 by replacing Jake Garidner, Joel Edmundson and Nino Niederreiter with Trevor van Riemsdyk, Sami Vatanen and Justin Williams as Williams and Vatanen made their return to the lineup after being “unfit to play” in the series opener.

B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a couple adjustments to his lineup after the Bruins announced that David Pastrnak was “unfit to play” in Game 2 about a half-an-hour before puck drop.

As a result, Anders Bjork was moved up to the right side of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the first line, while Karson Kuhlman drew into the lineup in Bjork’s spot as the third line right wing.

After the game, Cassidy informed reporters in his media availability that Pastrnak was deemed “questionable” for Game 1 and is expected to be dealing with a short term problem.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches on Thursday included Zach Senyshyn, Par Lindholm, John Moore, Maxime Lagace, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jack Studnicka, Connor Clifton, Dan Vladar and Trent Frederic while Pastrnak was “unfit to play” (and therefore not a “healthy” scratch, technically speaking).

Midway through the opening frame, Jeremy Lauzon responded to a clean hit and received a minor infraction for unsportsmanlike conduct at 11:41 of the first period.

Carolina didn’t convert on their first power play of the night, however, and the Bruins made the kill on Lauzon’s minor.

Less than a minute later, Brady Skjei was sent to the penalty box for catching Ondrej Kase with a hook at 14:26.

Almost midway through their first power play of the game, Boston worked the puck to David Krejci (2) for a shot from the high slot that beat Reimer’s blocker side to give the B’s a, 1-0, lead at 15:41.

Marchand (3) and Torey Krug (2) tallied the assists on Krejci’s power-play goal.

The goal tied Krejci with Peter McNab for sixth place in Bruins franchise history among the most career playoff goals scored with 38 in his career– trailing Johnny Bucyk (40) and Bergeron (41) for fifth and fourth, respectively.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins led the Hurricanes, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite trialing Carolina, 7-6, in shots on goal.

Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (7-5) and faceoff win percentage (54-46), while the Hurricanes led in takeaways (6-0) and hits (13-12).

Both teams had three giveaways each through 20 minutes of action, while the Canes were 0/1 and the B’s were 1/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

After colliding awkwardly with Charlie McAvoy along the boards, Andrei Svechnikov had to answer to Zdeno Chara, who expressed displeasure in seeing his defensive partner get rocked.

Cooler heads (kind of) prevailed and both Svechnikov and Chara received two minute minors for roughing at 6:57 of the second period.

Almost ten minutes later, Chris Wagner elbowed Skjei and was assessed an elbowing penalty at 14:56.

It didn’t take the Hurricanes long to convert on the ensuing skater advantage as Teuvo Teravainen (2) sniped a shot past Rask’s blocker side– tying the game, 1-1, in the process.

Svechnikov (3) and Sebastian Aho (7) collected the assists on Teravainen’s power-play goal at 15:13.

No. 37 in white and red put the Canes ahead, 2-1, with their first lead of the night 1:28 after Teravainen tied it.

Carolina kept the puck in the attacking zone and worked it to Svechnikov (4) on a zig-zag passing play while he caught the rubber biscuit and released a shot from the slot over Rask’s blocker side under the crossbar.

Martin Necas (2) and van Riemsdyk (1) had the assists on Svechnikov’s goal at 16:41 of the second period.

A couple minutes later, Teravainen was penalized for interference after inadvertently colliding with Krug at 18:18.

In the dying seconds of the second period, Marchand (1) redirected a shot pass from Bergeron to knot the game up, 2-2, at 19:55.

Bergeron (3) and Krejci (2) nabbed the assists on Marchand’s power-play goal and the two teams went into the dressing room for the second intermission tied, 2-2, on the scoreboard, despite Boston leading in shots on goal, 20-17– including a, 14-10, advantage in the second period alone.

The Bruins carried the advantage in blocked shots (11-10), giveaways (12-7), hits (30-24) and faceoff win% (51-49) through 40 minutes, while the Canes held the advantage in takeaways (8-2).

Carolina was 1/2 on the skater advantage, while Boston was 2/2 on the power play entering the second intermission.

Early in the final frame, Carolina thought they scored, but Wes McCauley quickly waved it off on the grounds that there was goaltender interference as Teravainen crashed the crease and pushed Rask with his forearm– impeding on Rask’s ability to reset and attempt to make a save on the followup shot.

This did not sit well with Brind’Amour, however– fined $25,000 for criticizing the league and its officials for a lack of calls and blown calls in Game 1– he used his coach’s challenge in effort to reverse the call on the ice.

After review, the call on the ice was confirmed– no goal– and play continued, much to the dismay of Brind’Amour.

As a result of the failed challenge, Carolina was assessed a bench minor penalty for delay of game at 3:32 of the third period. Ryan Dzingel served the infraction and Boston failed to capitalize on the skater advantage.

Almost midway through the final period, Dougie Hamilton (1) blasted a one-timer from the right point over Rask’s glove on the short side and put the Hurricanes on top, 3-2.

Necas (3) had the only assist on Hamilton’s goal at 8:30 of the third period and Carolina held onto the one-goal lead for the remainder of the action.

McAvoy hooked Warren Foegele at 9:30, but the Bruins dominated the ensuing shorthanded play by keeping the puck in the attacking zone and nearly evening the score before McAvoy was free from the box and the Canes let a power play opportunity go to waste.

With 1:16 remaining in the game, Cassidy pulled Rask for an extra attacker.

After a stoppage with 42.7 seconds to go, Boston used their timeout to draw up a last (less than a) minute plan, but Carolina held on for the, 3-2, win at the final horn and evened the series, 1-1, as a result.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-26)– including a, 15-9, advantage in the third period alone– as well as in giveaways (17-8), hits (43-35) and faceoff win% (57-43), while Carolina wrapped up the night with the win and the final advantage in blocked shots (18-15).

The Hurricanes went 1/3 on the power play in Thursday night’s action, while the Bruins finished 2/3 on the skater advantage.

Meanwhile, the game-winning goal for Hamilton was just the second game-winning playoff goal of his career– and his first in more than six years as his only other game-winning goal in the playoffs came with the Bruins in Game 3 of their 2014 First Round at Detroit.

The series shifts to Carolina (metaphorically speaking) for Games 3 and 4 from the bubble.

Game 3 is scheduled for Saturday at 12 p.m. ET and the two teams should have no issues waiting for ice time, as it’ll be the first game on the Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule that day.

Viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC, while those in Canada can catch the game on Sportsnet or TVAS.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Bergeron’s game-winner lifts B’s over Canes, 4-3, in 2OT

Patrice Bergeron ended things much earlier on Wednesday than the National Hockey League’s 4th longest playoff game Tuesday night, but it took double overtime to reach the, 4-3, victory for the Boston Bruins over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup.

Tuukka Rask (1-2 in three games played, 2.41 goals against average, .909 save percentage this postseason) made 25 saves on 28 shots against for an .893 SV% in the double overtime win for the Bruins at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario.

Hurricanes goaltender, Petr Mrazek (2-1 in three games played, 2.09 GAA, .922 SV% this postseason) stopped 36 out of 40 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

Game 1 for Boston and Carolina was delayed from Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET until Wednesday morning at 11 a.m. ET due to Tuesday afternoon’s Game 1 matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning requiring five overtime’s to determine a winner (Lightning, 3-2– puck drop was at 3:00 p.m. ET, but the game ended at 9:22 p.m. ET).

The Hurricanes were without Justin Williams and Sami Vatanen in their lineup as both players were ruled “unfit to play” by Carolina’s head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, about 20 minutes before puck drop.

On a positive note for Canes fans, Dougie Hamilton was back in action for Carolina after sustaining an injury that kept him out of Carolina’s Qualifier between breaking his left fibula in Columbus on Jan. 16th and Wednesday’s Game 1 against Boston.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his lineup from last Sunday’s, 2-1, loss to the Washington Capitals in Boston’s final Round Robin game to Game 1 against Carolina, while Brad Marchand took sole possession of seventh place in franchise history for most playoff games as a Bruin in his 112th career playoff game– surpassing Rick Middleton– at puck drop.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches on Wednesday included Zach Senyshyn, Par Lindholm, John Moore, Maxime Lagace, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jack Studnicka, Connor Clifton, Dan Vladar, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

Boston and Carolina are meeting for the sixth time in the postseason. The Bruins hold the all time series advantage, 4-1, with 19 wins and 11 losses in the process entering Wednesday.

The B’s beat the Hartford Whalers in seven games in the 1990 Adams Division Semifinal and in six games in the 1991 Adams Division Semifinal, then beat the Hurricanes after the Whalers relocated to North Carolina in six games in the 1999 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

In the last 20 years, however, the Hurricanes defeated the Bruins in seven games in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinal, while Boston swept Carolina in four games in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

The Hurricanes made the playoffs after sweeping the New York Rangers in three games in their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier series– marking back-to-back postseason appearances for Carolina for the first time since 2001-2002.

The B’s beat the Canes in the season series 1-0-0 in one prior meeting (a, 2-0, shutout victory for Jaroslav Halak and the Bruins on Dec. 3rd) before the ongoing pandemic shortened the 2019-20 regular season.

Nino Niederreiter caught Torey Krug with an elbow and presented the Bruins with the game’s first power play at 3:24 of the first period.

Carolina’s penalty killing unit successfully kept Boston off the scoreboard, however, and did not allow a power-play goal against.

Almost midway into the opening frame, the Bruins recorded the first shot on goal of the game at 7:03.

A couple of minutes later, Charlie McAvoy tripped up Morgan Geekie and presented the Hurricanes with a power play opportunity at 9:25, but the Canes did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Fear not, however, as Carolina had swung enough momentum in their favor for the game’s first goal after Warren Foegele broke into the attacking zone.

Foegele moved the puck to Sebastian Aho, who then cycled it over to Teuvo Teravainen before No. 86 in white and red set up Joel Edmundson (1) for the one-timer goal as Rask had to work laterally across the crease while his Bruins teammates lacked pressure in front of him and gave up the, 1-0, lead to the Hurricanes.

Teravainen (2) and Aho (6) notched the assists on Edmundson’s first goal of the postseason at 13:02 of the first period.

Late in the period, however, Bergeron won a faceoff back to Marchand in the offensive zone, whereby Marchand cycled the puck around the faceoff dot before making a quick pass to David Pastrnak (1) for a redirection in the slot past Mrazek– tying the game, 1-1, in the process.

Marchand (1) and Bergeron (2) tallied the assists on Pastrnak’s goal at 17:45.

After 20 minutes of play, the the score was tied, 1-1, with the Bruins outshooting the Hurricanes, 9-4.

Carolina held the advantage in blocked shots (9-6), takeaways (1-0) and hits (18-11), however, while Boston led in giveaways (7-2) and faceoff win percentage (63-37) entering the first intermission.

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

Ondrej Kase was assessed a minor penalty for holding against Hamilton at 1:42 of the second period and sent the Hurricanes back on the power play early in the middle frame.

Once more, however, the Canes didn’t convert on the skater advantage, however– a pattern that became a trend all afternoon for both teams.

Moments later, Charlie Coyle (1) buried a loose puck from point blank to give Boston a, 2-1, lead at 4:38 of the second period, except there was just one thing– nobody knew if there had been goaltender interference, a hand pass or if Mrazek had frozen the puck.

Brind’Amour made it clear to Hurricanes beat reporters after his media availability that no official had clarified what was or wasn’t called on the ice and offered Carolina’s head coach to “pick one” if he was interested in challenging the ruling on the ice.

After a failed coach’s challenge by Brind’Amour for a “missed stoppage in the offensive zone”, the call on the ice (goal) was upheld and the Hurricanes were assessed a bench minor for delay of game.

Brind’Amour’s comments regarding the “joke” of a league earned him a $25,000 fine from the NHL, by the way.

In his defense, the league’s policy for clearly indicating and communicating what decision(s) have been made on calls by officials needs work (like, for instance, definitively making a call and alerting both coaches of exactly what call was made and options thereafter).

While shorthanded, however, the Hurricanes benefitted from a blown play from Pastrnak when he tried to force a pass through the neutral zone that Brock McGinn (1) intercepted, made his own breakaway, waltzed into the attacking zone and scored on a backhand over Rask’s glove while Boston’s power play unit trailed behind.

McGinn’s shorthanded goal tied the game, 2-2, at 4:59 of the second period– 21 seconds after Boston had taken their first lead since arriving in the bubble.

Midway through the middle period, Andrei Svechnikov caught Pastrnak with a slash and was sent to the sin bin for two minutes at 11:54, but the Bruins didn’t score on the resulting power play.

Shortly after returning to even strength action, the two teams dropped down to 4-on-4 play for a couple minutes after Jordan Staal and Coyle each received high sticking infractions for antagonizing one another at 14:07.

Neither team had any issue and resumed full strength action at 16:07.

Through 40 minutes of play, the score was tied, 2-2, while the Bruins were leading in shots on goal, 21-9.

Boston held a, 12-5, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone and continued to lead in giveaways (12-6) and faceoff win% (63-37), while Carolina led in blocked shots (16-14), takeaways (5-2) and hits (28-17) entering the second intermission.

The Hurricanes were 0/2 and the B’s were 0/3 on the power play heading into the final frame of regulation.

Less than a minute into the third period, David Krejci (1) received a pass, deked and reached around Mrazek to put the Bruins back into the lead, 3-2.

Kase (2) and McAvoy (2) collected the assists on Krejci’s goal at 59 seconds of the third period.

Less than five minutes later, Jeremy Lauzon was guilty of holding against Niederreiter and was assessed a minor infraction at 5:12, but the Hurricanes were powerless on the ensuing skater advantage and couldn’t storm their way to a goal before Lauzon was released from the box.

They did, however, swing momentum in their favor with sustained pressure in the third period and a shot from Haydn Fleury (1) that had eyes from the point and hit the twine while Carolina worked to screen Rask– tying the game, 3-3, at 9:49 of the third period.

Vincent Trocheck (1) had the only assist on the goal and the score remained even at, 3-3, through the end of regulation.

After 60 minutes of play– and for the second consecutive game in the Toronto bubble– overtime was necessary.

The Bruins were outshooting the Hurricanes, 28-21, and leading in blocked shots (23-20), giveaways (17-9) and faceoff win% (53-48), while Carolina held the advantage in takeaways (8-4) and hits (39-24), as well as shots on goal in the third period alone (12-7).

Both teams were 0/3 on the power play heading into the first overtime period.

Midway through the first overtime, McAvoy briefly headed down the tunnel after an awkward collision and fall to the ice, but the Bruins defender made his return and missed little action in the extra frames.

After letting the players play for quite some time, an official made a call against Carolina when Brady Skjei brought down Coyle with a hold at 18:24 of the overtime period.

Boston’s power play would extend 24 seconds into the second overtime period, however, as the first overtime came to a close with no final result.

The two clubs remained tied, 3-3, on the scoreboard, while the B’s led in shots on goal (39-27)– including an, 11-6, advantage in the first overtime alone– as well as blocked shots (29-28), giveaways (22-14) and faceoff win% (57-43).

Meanwhile, Carolina continued to hold the advantage in takeaways (9-8) and hits (51-32) through 80 minutes of hockey.

As there were no more penalties called in the game thereafter– and with Boston going scoreless on the power play that extended into the second overtime– the Canes finished 0/3 on the skater advantage, while the Bruins went 0/4 on the afternoon in power play tries.

Shortly after Carolina killed off Skjei’s minor, however, the Bruins struck fast and ended the game with a quick zone entry from Marchand led to a pass to Pastrnak who then dished a backhand drop pass to Bergeron (1) for the shot that beat Mrazek on the far side, blocker side, and sealed the deal on a victory for Boston in Game 1.

Pastrnak (1) and Marchand (2) tallied the assists on Bergeron’s game-winning double overtime goal that made the final result read, 4-3, in favor of the Bruins at 1:13 of the second overtime.

The goal was Bergeron’s fourth career Stanley Cup Playoff overtime goal– the second most among active NHL players (Patrick Kane leads Bergeron with five playoff overtime goals)– and Bergeron’s first since double overtime in Game 3 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 5, 2013.

No. 37 in black and gold is now tied with 15 other NHLers for the fifth most career playoff overtime goals, while Joe Sakic’s eight Stanley Cup Playoff overtime goals remain the most all time (Maurice Richard had six and is second, while Glenn Anderson and Kane are tied for third with five).

Bergeron also established a record for the most playoff overtime goals in Bruins franchise history, surpassing Mel Hill and Terry O’Reilly, who each had three Stanley Cup Playoff overtime goals in their careers with Boston.

The league’s current longest tenured alternate captain also passed Johnny Bucyk for fourth among Bruins franchise leaders in all time playoff goals scored with 41.

Cam Neely (55 playoff goals with Boston), Phil Esposito (46) and Rick Middleton (45) sit ahead of Bergeron in that statistical category.

The Bruins finished the afternoon with the lead in shots on goal (40-28), blocked shots (30-28), giveaways (22-14) and faceoff win% (56-44), while the Hurricanes ended the game with the advantage in hits (51-32).

Boston took the, 1-0, series lead with Game 2 scheduled for Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario as part of the NHL’s Phase 4 Return to Play Eastern Conference bubble.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and fans in the United States can tune in on NBCSN, NESN or Fox Sports Carolinas, while those in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SportsNet or TVAS.

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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 Numbers Game

Look To The Rafters: Carolina Hurricanes (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Carolina Hurricanes might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of PNC Arena someday.

Carolina Hurricanes Current Retired Numbers

2 Glen Wesley

10 Ron Francis

17 Rod Brind’Amour

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! But that could change as soon as current Minnesota Wild forward, Eric Staal, eventually decides he’s had enough and calls it a career. Not just could, it should and (probably) will.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

9 Gordie Howe

Let’s keep this one short and sweet– it’s “Mr. Hockey”. Howe spent his final year in the NHL (1979-80) with the Hartford Whalers and subsequently had his number retired by both the Detroit Red Wings and the Whalers, but when Hartford relocated to North Carolina, the Hurricanes chose not to honor any of the retired numbers from their Whalers days.

As such, Howe’s No. 9 is technically available, but it has never been worn in Carolina. Why not go all out sometime on Whalers Night and re-retire Howe’s No. 9 out of a formality?

12 Eric Staal

From the 2003-04 season through part of the 2015-16 season, Staal was a fixture on the Hurricanes roster. In 909 games with Carolina, he scored 322 goals and had 453 assists (775 points), which ranks 2nd on the all-time scorers list in franchise history (behind only Ron Francis, of course, who had 1,175 points as a Hartford Whaler/Carolina Hurricane).

Staal had a massive 100-point season in his sophomore campaign in 2005-06, en route to Carolina’s Stanley Cup championship over the Edmonton Oilers in seven games. He notched career-highs in goals (45), assists (55) and points (100) that season in all 82 games played and only had one season below 70 points– his rookie season, in which Staal had 11-20–31 totals in 81 games in 2003-04– until an injury in 2013 disrupted his prolific playing ability.

As time moved on, it became more clear that Staal would need a change of scenery and the Hurricanes would be wise to cash in on what they could still get for him at a high rather than let him walk away for nothing. 

After three consecutive seasons of at least 50 points from 2012-13 through 2014-15, Staal entered the 2015-16 season with Carolina, but finished the season with the New York Rangers.

On Feb. 28, 2016, the Hurricanes dealt Staal to the Rangers for Aleksi Saarela, New York’s 2016 2nd round pick and New York’s 2017 2nd round pick.

Staal had ten goals and 23 assists (33 points) in 63 games for Carolina at the time of the trade that season. He had three goals and three assists in 20 games for the Rangers down the stretch.

The Hurricanes won the trade, which had seen the departure of their first true “homegrown” star, having drafted Staal 2nd overall in 2003.

And there’s still connections to the Staal trade with the Rangers on the roster to this day.

Saarela was later packaged with Calvin de Haan on June 24, 2019, in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg. You might recognize Forsberg as one of Carolina’s many goaltenders this year after David Ayres made his NHL debut back in February.

The 2016 2nd round pick (50th overall) was packaged with a 2017 3rd round pick (originally belonging to Chicago) in a trade with the Blackhawks before the de Haan deal on June 15, 2016, in which the Hurricanes received Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell.

Finally, the 2017 2nd round pick (52nd overall) was used by Carolina to draft a right-shot defender from the University of Michigan named Luke Martin.

Staal played more than one vital role in the ever changing landscape of the Hurricanes from Cup winner to modern day playoff contender on the upswing after making an appearance in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final (albeit losing in four games to the Boston Bruins).

20 Sebastian Aho

Entering the 2015-16 season, Carolina kicked things off by drafting Aho in the second round (35th overall) in 2015. Little did anyone know, but it was poetic selection as Staal later was traded that season and Aho made his NHL debut the following season– proving to perhaps be the heir to Staal’s legacy as the current face of the franchise.

In his rookie season of 2016-17, Aho had 24 goals and 25 assists (49 points) in all 82 games. He followed that up with a sophomore campaign of 29-36–65 totals in 78 games in 2017-18, then set a career-high in assists (53) and points (83) in 82 games last season.

Up until the shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season, Aho had a new career-high in goals (38) and 66 points in 68 games played. He was on pace for another 80-point season.

It’s truly a shame we didn’t get to see what might have panned out– and that’s ignoring the cutthroat Eastern Conference playoff berth race.

At the very least, Aho is no flash in the pan. He’s the real deal in terms of skill, consistency and the true direction of where the franchise is going.

Only four seasons into his NHL career, it looks like he’s destined to be honored for eternity in Hurricanes lore one day with a jersey retirement night.

37 Andrei Svechnikov

Svechnikov just wrapped up a sophomore season that was cut short due to the pandemic, but improved on his 20-17–37 totals in all 82 games in his rookie season last season.

This year, Svechnikov had 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) as well as two lacrosse wraparound goals henceforth referred to as “The Svech”.

Gifted, young, crafty Russian wingers are sometimes hard to predict, but Svechnikov appears to be the real deal– especially since he was the 2nd overall pick in 2018.

Sure, the Hurricanes have had a young Russian first round product before in Alexander Semin, but whereas Semin was drafted by the Washington Capitals 13th overall in 2002, Svechnikov was drafted at the same overall position as Pittsburgh Penguins center, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was a 2004 Draft product and look how he turned out for Carolina’s division rival.

It might be early to say that Svechnikov’s No. 37 will be hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena one day, but it’s not too late to admit that you really liked “The Svech” and you won’t moan about “the disrespect for goaltenders and the game that it has caused”.

What’s not to love?

Final Thoughts

Carolina has their best chance in franchise history at winning a Cup and remaining an annual Cup contender in the process. The first (and only) time they won in 2006, the Hurricanes utilized assets picked up via trades and otherwise to push them over the edge and into eternal glory as names like “Staal”, “Williams”, “Cole”, “Brind’Amour” and others were etched onto Lord Stanley’s chalice.

But this time around, something’s different.

This time, the Canes have been built primarily from within and over the years via the draft. While Aho has a great chance at being a cornerstone for the franchise, players like Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Teravainen have been around for at least a few years and could cement their names in franchise lore by winning a Cup in Raleigh.

If they’re able to win multiple Cups in Raleigh, then they just might move themselves up into consideration for having their numbers hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena. 

The hard part is, however, that the accolades of Slavin and Pesce, for example, may otherwise go unnoticed by the rest of the league. Real Caniacs will know the impact they’ve had on the blue line for the franchise, but how much of the impact will be measured in twine on a pulley that brings their last name and number to the ceiling forever?

Finally, guys like Martin Necas, well, he just had his rookie season, so it seems a bit premature to run around just yet and declare him a player destined to have his No. 88 retired by the Hurricanes (but he just might someday, so you heard it here first if it happens and don’t quote me unless I’m right).

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DTFR Podcast #181- Hall-iday Shopping

What’s the right price to pay for Taylor Hall? Plus, Cap’n Cornelius joins the show to talk about new NHL policies and coaching changes.

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