Nick and Pete recap the Ottawa Senators coaching hire, two extensions, the latest rumors and the 2019 Western Conference Final while teasing their 2019 Stanley Cup Final preview.
Nick, Colby and Pete assess the Philadelphia Flyers’ hiring of Alain Vigneault, the Los Angeles Kings’ hiring of Todd McLellan, where does this leave the Buffalo Sabres in their search for a head coach, as well as some of the good (CBJ and NYI sweep), bad and ugly from the ongoing First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
*cue Andy Williams*
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned and all is right with the world (unless your team missed the postseason).
In the past, we here at Down the Frozen River have covered every game of every series.
This year, we’re mixing it up a bit– starting with this preview of every First Round series in the Eastern Conference, continuing with a followup preview of every First Round series in the Western Conference and as much analysis as possible on the DTFR Podcast in addition to the blog.
Ch-ch-ch-changes are inevitable and yours truly cannot cover all 16 teams in the postseason alone.
A1 Tampa Bay Lightning (62-14-6, 128 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the President’s Trophy (for the first time in franchise history) by mid-March and finished with the 4th most points in a season in NHL history, while star forward, Nikita Kucherov, amassed 128 points (the most by a Russian born player in a season) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4 record, 2.40 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 53 games played) turned in a Vezina Trophy worthy performance in the crease.
Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.
The Bolts also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season (62).
Backup goaltender, Louis Domingue (21-5-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV% in 26 GP) posted respectable numbers as well in the Lightning’s thunderous run through the season.
Tampa has home ice throughout the playoffs and kicks things off with a First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 3-2, shootout victory over the New York Rangers last Friday– eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from postseason contention in the process.
Duchene and Dzingel quickly fit in to their respective top-nine roles, while McQuaid struggled to find a suitor on the blue line at first in his return to the organization that originally drafted him 55th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and broke into the league with the B’s in 2009-10.
Kinkaid was added solely for goaltending depth as pending-unrestricted free agent, Sergei Bobrovsky (37-24-1, 2.58 GAA, .913 SV% in 62 GP) led the league with nine shutouts on the season.
Blue Jackets backup goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo (10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% in 27 GP) hit some rough patches at times, but found a way to dig his team out from the backend when necessary.
In the grand scheme of things, the Bolts won the season series, 3-0-0, and outscored Columbus, 17-3, in that span.
While many consider Columbus as a Stanley Cup Playoffs pushover– given the franchise has never won a series– Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella always poses a tough challenge that can wear down his opponent.
Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, earns his own merit in his ability to keep his players cool, calm, collected and always in comeback mode, but it’s not unfathomable to see the Blue Jackets pestering Tampa about as much– if not more than– Columbus did to Washington in last season’s First Round matchup.
After all, the Blue Jackets did lead that series, 2-0.
That said, this is Tampa’s year for a Cup run or bust. The Lightning should win the series in six games.
Regular season outcomes:
5-1 TBL at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 18th, 4-0 TBL at Amalie Arena on Jan. 8th, 8-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Oct. 13th
4/10- Game 1 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on USA , SN360, TVAS
4/12- Game 2 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*
4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*
4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)
For the second season in a row, the Boston Bruins are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite being without Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara at one point this season, the Bruins rallied from their 12th defenseman on up through the rest of the lineup to finish one win shy of consecutive 50-win seasons in Bruce Cassidy‘s third season (second full season) as head coach.
Speaking of Bergeron, however, the perfect two-way center finished the season with a career-high in points (79) and matched his career-high in goals (32) while battling injury early in the season. Bergeron’s 32-47–79 totals came in just 65 games. That’s only one more game played than last season for No. 37 in black-and-gold.
Meanwhile, his linemates, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each reached milestones of their own. Marchand reached the 100-point plateau this season and became the first Bruin to do so since Joe Thornton recorded 101 points in 2002-03.
The “Little Ball of Hate” also set a career-high in assists (64) and was not suspended in 79 games played this season (he was rested for the final two games in the regular season and missed one game due to injury).
Pastrnak set a career-high in goals (38) and points (81) despite missing time due to a left thumb injury and being limited to 66 games played.
The B’s were led in net this season by Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 SV% in 40 GP) in a 1A/1B scenario. For the first time since the 1989-90 season, Boston had two goaltenders with 20-plus wins.
Back north in Toronto, the Maple Leafs added a formidable center in John Tavares in free agency and his presence was immediate, notching career-highs in goals (47 ) and points (88) in 82 games.
Auston Matthews (37-36–73 totals in 68 games) and Mitch Marner (26-68–94 totals in 82 games) continued to their thing as the $11.634 million man (starting next season) and the soon to be at least $10.000 million
boy wonder man.
Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, added Jake Muzzin in January in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in effort to shore up his blue line, however, questions remain as to how head coach, Mike Babcock will limit time on ice for veterans, like Ron Hainsey, and mix in more opportunities for Morgan Rielly (20-52–72 totals in 82 games) in his breakout season.
Boston won the season series, 3-1-0, outscoring Toronto, 16-10, in that span.
Some experts are picking the Bruins in five games. They also said similar things in 2013 and 2018. This series is going six games (at least), with Boston overcoming the Maple Leafs defense in Game 7, once again.
To their credit, Toronto always makes things interesting in what’s likely to be the most unpredictable First Round matchup.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 BOS at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 12th, 6-3 BOS at TD Garden on Dec. 8th, 4-2 TOR at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 26th, 5-1 BOS at TD Garden on Nov. 10th
4/11- Game 1 TOR @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 TOR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*
4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*
4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*
M1 Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)
Just as everyone expected, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 104 points after Barry Trotz left for the head coaching job on Long Island. Did I mention the Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions?
Anyway, Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals and collected his 8th career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as a result– though Edmonton Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, was hot on his tail with 50 goals this season.
After the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for what seemed like forever, it’s important to note the Metro was actually anybody’s game from puck drop in October. Here’s the thing, the Carolina Hurricanes were near the top of the division– they’ve been surging all season.
Speaking of surging, Carolina introduced their “Storm Surge” post-win celebration and the Caniacs loved it.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the club in Raleigh, Brett Pesce is good. Also, Sebastian Aho (30-53–83 totals in 82 GP), Andrei Svechnikov (20-17–37 totals in 82 GP) and Teuvo Teravainen (21-55–76 totals in 82 games)– they’re pretty good too.
Washington was led by Braden Holtby (32-19-5, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV% in 59 GP) between the pipes this season and is comforted to know Pheonix Copley (16-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% in 27 GP) is quite capable of playing this season’s role of Philipp Grubauer (since traded to the Colorado Avalanche after last season’s Cup celebrations).
The Canes were led by a duo of goaltenders who were once thought of as an after thought in Curtis McElhinney (20-11-2, 2.58 GAA, .912 SV% in 33 GP) and Petr Mrazek (23-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV% in 40 GP).
Though his record might not show it, Mrazek has been hitting his stride for the last month and is locked in. Ride that wave until it crests.
The Hurricanes had a league-leading ten skaters play in all 82 games. There’s no such thing as playing too much hockey– especially when it’s the first postseason appearance since 2009.
Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the Caps some interruptions coming out of the gate.
Despite Washington having swept the season series, 4-0-0, the Hurricanes kept things close in their most recent matchup with a, 3-2, loss at PNC Arena on March 28th.
Carolina almost pulled off the victory in a shootout on Dec. 14th, but lost, 6-5, on home ice to the Capitals.
Washington is beatable. Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour knows that, his team just hasn’t done it yet. Caps head coach, Todd Reirden, is also making his postseason debut at the reigns behind the bench for his respective team.
Though they won the Cup last season– that was then. This is now.
This series is going seven games and the Hurricanes will make sure there’s no repeat Cup winner this year.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 WSH at PNC Arena on March 28th, 4-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on March 26th, 3-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on Dec. 27th, 6-5 F/SO WSH at PNC Arena on Dec. 14th
4/11- Game 1 CAR @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on USA, SN360, TVAS2
4/13- Game 2 CAR @ WSH 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/18- Game 4 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on TBD, SN360, TVAS
4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*
4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*
4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*
M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points)
Barry Trotz figured out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trotz is the key. Trotz knows the secret stuff to beat Mike Sullivan and his Penguins.
That’s why the William M. Jennings Trophy winning duo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% in 46 GP) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV% in 43 GP) will backstop the New York Islanders past Pittsburgh in their First Round matchup in six games.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.
New York split the season series with the Pens, 2-1-1, with their most recent result against Pittsburgh coming in a, 2-1, shootout loss on Dec. 10th at NYCB Live (that’s the Nassau Coliseum, if you haven’t already heard. The Isles will host their First Round games there).
Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello put together a team without John Tavares. Trotz figured out how to get the most out of his players– guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and even Andrew Ladd (until Ladd got injured)– while playing the trap.
That same trap won the Cup last season.
Long Island residents have long memories– the Penguins are one of their greatest rivals– and the added energy of Tavares’ departure has only fueled more passion all season long.
Can New York flip the switch from their late season bumps in the road?
Obviously, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby. They also have Evgeni Malkin. Crosby and Malkin are ready to go for another deep postseason run after watching their biggest rival not only beat them in the Second Round last year, but go on to take the Cup out of the hands of the Penguins’ recent streak of dominance in 2016 and 2017.
The Penguins were led in the crease by Matt Murray (29-14-6, 2.69 GAA, .919 SV% in 50 GP) this season with some helpful bailout backup goaltending from Casey DeSmith (15-11-5, 2.75 GAA, .916 SV% in 36 GP). If Murray shows any signs of wavering, Sullivan shouldn’t have a hard time going to DeSmith to push his team over the edge.
How will Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann play into the fold as Jim Rutherford‘s biggest prize acquisitions this season? Who might be the breakout star for Pittsburgh that outshines Crosby in the Conn Smythe Trophy vote?
Aren’t these questions supposed to be answered in an editorial preview? Sure.
Regular season outcomes:
2-1 F/SO PIT at NYCB Live on Dec. 10th, 6-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6th, 3-2 F/SO NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 1st, 6-3 NYI at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 30th
4/10- Game 1 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*
4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*
4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There’s only one week remaining in the 2018-19 regular season, so let’s make this quick. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 10th.
The stretch run is almost complete. If you’re mathematically alive, you still have a chance. Already clinched a playoff berth? Isn’t a great feeling to be ahead of things for once?
If you’re not, then there’s a good chance you’re looking forward to the 2019 NHL Draft lottery (unless you’re the Ottawa Senators– you see, they traded their 2019 1st round pick last season to the Colorado Avalanche after opting to keep their 2018 1st round pick instead– it’s a long story).
Without further ado, here’s the latest standings forecast through the end of March 31, 2019– keeping in mind this is not an exact science.
Given recent and season long trends, as well as records from the last few seasons, the forecasted standings that appear below are only an educated guess.
Anything can happen (for teams that aren’t otherwise already elimination from postseason contention and/or division, conference of President’s Trophy winners).
Projected Standings After Six Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 126 points (78 games played entering April 1st)
- x-Boston Bruins, 110 points (79 GP)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 100 points (78 GP)
- Montreal Canadiens, 95 points (79 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 87 points (79 GP)
- Buffalo Sabres, 75 points (79 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 74 points (79 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 65 points (78 GP)
To no surprise, the Tampa Bay Lightning have already clinched the President’s Trophy in real life and come close to a 130-point season. Though the Bolts didn’t set an NHL record for “best regular season ever”, they did become the third team in league history to amass 60-plus wins in a season.
Also, sorry Nikita Kucherov, but you can’t spread out your 120-plus points over the course of the playoffs. Everything is reset to “zero” as if it’s a new season within a season altogether.
Is this the year Steven Stamkos records a point in a Game 7?
Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs keep running into each other as Toronto is looking to avenge last postseason’s seven-game series loss to the Bruins.
Unless David Pastrnak has anything to say about that on the scoreboard.
The Montreal Canadiens come up short of a playoff berth thanks to the current tiebreaker format, whereby both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes had more regulation-plus-overtime wins. If anything, there’s more hope for next season than this time around last season in Montreal.
And if you’re a Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres or Detroit Red Wings fan, for some reason you still think your teams are on the cusp of playoff contention– especially now that you’ve already reset your focus on being tied with all 31-NHL teams for 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff action.
However, unless the Panthers make some serious moves in the offseason, the Sabres find a system (and goaltender) and stick with it and the Red Wings try to speed up their rebuild, it might be Groundhog Day for another season or two.
Finally, Ottawa Senators fans, you exist. You’re real fans.
- y-Washington Capitals, 105 points (79 GP)
- x-New York Islanders, 102 points (79 GP)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP)
- wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 95 points (79 GP)
- wc2-Carolina Hurricanes, 95 points (79 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 83 points (79 GP)
- New York Rangers, 77 points (78 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 70 points (79 GP)
In the Metropolitan Division, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals found a way to once-again reign as the division winner heading into the postseason.
After the New York Islanders charged out of the gate on the heels of Barry Trotz’s defensive masterplan and stellar goaltending from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, things have started to slide in Long Island.
The good news? Trotz is their head coach and is the defending Stanley Cup champion head coach.
The bad news? They’ll suit up against the Pittsburgh Penguins– annual Stanley Cup contenders as long as Sidney Crosby is still playing and Mike Sullivan is within his five-year window of being the game’s best coach in the playoffs– and that’s just the First Round.
In the Eastern Conference wild card race, Columbus entered April with 44 regulation-plus-overtime wins, leading the Hurricanes (41) and Canadiens (40).
Given the forecasted tie and methods in which each team would need to reach 95 points on the season, it appears as though nothing is going to change over the last week of the season.
Nothing should change anyway.
Not to jinx them or anything, but Carolina is looking to end the longest postseason drought in the major four North American professional sports. The Canes haven’t appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009.
For the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, there’s 1) maybe a goaltender you can rely on, 2) a goaltender who still hasn’t won a Cup and is sticking with a team that’s rebuilding and 3) a goaltender that finally won a game this season (Cory Schneider) and a goaltender that should be your starter next season (Mackenzie Blackwood).
- y-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (78 GP)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 98 points (78 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 97 points (79 GP)
- wc1-Dallas Stars, 93 points (79 GP)
- wc2-Colorado Avalanche, 89 points (78 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 85 points (79 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points (78 GP)
Ever hear of a team going from worst to first? Now have you ever heard of a team doing that in the same season? Because the St. Louis Blues are that team this season (at least in the Central Division alone).
However, the point spread in the expected forecast from 1st to 3rd in the Central is only a two-point difference, which means it’s still anybody’s guess as to who will come out with the top-seed in the division.
Should the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators end up in a First Round rematch of last season’s Second Round battle, then you can expect the Jets to take flight. Just a hunch.
Meanwhile, the Western Conference wild card race came down to the wire and– you guessed it– another tiebreaker.
While the Dallas Stars laid claim to the first wild card spot, the Colorado Avalanche came out on top of the Arizona Coyotes for the last playoff spot by virtue of having won their regular season series, 2-1-0.
Things didn’t go so well for the Minnesota Wild this season, both because of injuries and because of a lot of inconsistency (so… injuries?).
For the Chicago Blackhawks, the season started in October, not January.
- z-Calgary Flames, 109 points (79 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 95 points (79 GP)
- Arizona Coyotes, 89 points (79 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (78 GP)
- Anaheim Ducks, 80 points (80 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 80 points (79 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 70 points (78 GP)
The Calgary Flames clinched the best record in the Western Conference for the first time in almost 30 years. Conveniently, the Flames last won the Cup 30 years ago.
Guess it’s about time for another repeat of 2004, even though goal line technology could surely keep that from ever happening again whether you believe it was in or not.
Things are looking like business as usual for the San Jose Sharks as they gear up for another taxing First Round battle– this time around in a rematch from last year’s Second Round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights, by the way, are the 7th team to reach the postseason in their first two seasons of existence.
It’s too bad the Arizona Coyotes couldn’t pull off an incredible run, despite losing their starting goaltender to injury for the season before American Thanksgiving.
The fact that they’re not in the Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko conversation is about as close as you can come to winning the Cup this season when you’ve relied on Darcy Kuemper for over 20-consecutive starts.
That’s not a shot at Kuemper. That’s just [heck-]ing incredible (pardon my French).
Back up north in Edmonton, the Oilers are gearing up for another rebuild? Is it that time already? Probably not, but if it’s what Connor McDavid wants… (it’s not).
Thanks to that good old ROW tiebreaker, the Anaheim Ducks managed to climb above the Vancouver Canucks in the standings. That’s not saying much.
Vancouver should be this season’s Arizona, next season (minus the injuries). If that makes sense.
Anaheim, on the other hand, should sell, sell, sell this summer.
Finally, the Los Angeles Kings were crowned 2014 Stanley Cup champions for the 5th year in-a-row and finished in the basement of the Pacific.
The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ special teams got the job done in their, 4-2, win over the Boston Bruins on Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena as the Pens scored a shorthanded goal and a power play goal en route to end Boston’s point-streak at 19 games.
The Bruins suffered their first loss in regulation since Jan. 19th and are now 15-1-4 in their last 20 games.
Matt Murray (23-11-3 record, 2.77 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 38 games played) made 39 saves on 41 shots against for a .951 SV% in the win for the Penguins.
B’s goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (18-10-4, 2.34 GAA, .924 SV% in 34 GP) stopped 33 out of 36 shots faced for a .917 SV% in the loss.
Boston fell to 42-18-9 (93 points) on the season, but remained in control of 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while Pittsburgh improved to 37-23-9 (83 points) on the season and surged into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.
Pittsburgh won the season series against the B’s, 2-0-1. The Penguins have also won in their last five home games against Boston as the Bruins fell to 15-11-6 on the road this season and 4-1-0 in the month of March.
Bruce Cassidy indicated that Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) may be nearing returns to the lineup, while it is not likely Kevan Miller (upper body) and David Pastrnak (left thumb) will join the Bruins on their ongoing three-game road trip.
Cassidy adjusted his forward lines, placing Peter Cehlarik at left wing on the second line with Krejci and Lee Stempniak, while bumping up Sean Kuraly to the third line with Charlie Coyle and David Backes.
Steven Kampfer remains the only healthy scratch in the Bruins lineup from night-to-night currently.
Bjugstad (10) kicked things off early in the action after the Bruins turned the puck over in their own zone. Patric Hornqvist generated a rebound off Halak and Bjugstad pounced on the loose puck to give the Penguins the lead, 1-0, at 1:33 of the first period.
Hornqvist (16) and Dominik Simon (18) tallied the assists on the goal as the Pittsburgh crowd came to life.
Boston was penalized for too many men on the ice, leaving Cehlarik to serve the bench minor at 3:41.
The Pens did not convert on their first power play chance of the night, nor did they score on their second skater advantage opportunity when Matt Grzelcyk hooked Bjugstad at 9:01 of the opening frame.
Justin Schultz sent the puck over the glass and out of play for an automatic delay of game infraction at 13:07, resulting in Boston’s first power play of the evening. It did not go well.
McCann (15) received a breakout pass and quickly worked his way behind the Bruins defenders and scored on Halak on a breakaway.
Teddy Blueger (2) had the only assist on McCann’s shorthanded goal and the Penguins led, 2-0, at 13:54 of the first period.
Moments later, Wagner went to the penalty box for tripping Marcus Pettersson at 15:19, but was quickly followed by Evgeni Malkin for tripping Charlie McAvoy at 16:12, resulting in 4-on-4 action for about 1:07.
McCann appeared on the event sheet one last time before the first intermission for an inference penalty at 19:26, as the Penguins finished the first 20 minutes of play leading on the scoreboard, 2-0, and in shots on goal, 15-8.
Pittsburgh also led in takeaways (1-0) and hits (12-7), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (7-4) and face-off win percentage (58-42). Both teams had five giveaways aside and were 0/3 on the power play prior to the start of the second period.
Early in the second period, Hornqvist checked Grzelcyk along the boards, leaving the Bruins defender favoring his right arm as it awkwardly collided with the Penguins forward and the glass.
Grzelcyk would not return to the action with an upper body injury.
Former Bruin, Zach Trotman, slashed Acciari at 3:31 of the second period and presented Boston with a power play opportunity.
Similar to how the Pens scored their first goal, the B’s got on the scoreboard and cut the lead in half after Heinen flung a puck off Murray over to Krejci (19) for the rebound and easy tally.
Heinen (18) and Brad Marchand (54) picked up the assists on Krejci’s power play goal at 4:32 of the second period and Boston trailed, 2-1.
Almost two minutes later, Patrice Bergeron sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game minor penalty at 6:43.
Pittsburgh did not score on the ensuing power play, but it was only a matter of time as Boston would find out when Brandon Carlo tripped up Blueger at 16:10.
Just 22 seconds into the resulting power play for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby caught the B’s on a shorthanded turnover and sent the puck to Guentzel (34) for a two-on-one power play goal at 16:32.
Pittsburgh led, 3-1, as Crosby (57) and Pettersson (19) picked up assists on the goal.
After 40 minutes of play, the Penguins led in shots on goal (23-22), takeaways (5-3), giveaways (8-4), hits (19-15) and face-off win% (51-49), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (13-12).
The Pens were 1/5 on the power play after two periods and the B’s were 1/4 heading into the third period.
Trotman trotted to the sin bin for the second time of the night at 4:33 of the third period for interference, but the Bruins couldn’t muster anything on the resulting skater advantage.
Cassidy pulled his netminder with over 2:30 remaining in regulation to try to pull within one-goal, let alone score two quick goals to tie the game.
Pittsburgh struggled to find the open net at first, yielding a slap shot from Moore (4) to find its way past Murray, bringing the game to within one at 18:59.
Coyle (19) and Heinen (19) tabbed the assists on Moore’s goal as the Bruins trailed, 3-2. Coyle’s assist was his first point as a Bruin, but the celebration didn’t last long.
Halak vacated the crease again for an extra attacker, but the Penguins were successful in finding the empty twine at 19:39, as McCann (16) pocketed his second goal of the night to make it 4-2, Pittsburgh.
Guentzel (31) had the only assist on McCann’s empty netter.
Despite losing, 4-2, Boston finished the night with more shots on goal, 41-37, and leading in face-off win% (53-47). Pittsburgh finished the night with the advantage in giveaways (15-10) and hits (28-20).
Both teams had 16 blocked shots each and went 1/5 on the power play.
The Bruins swing through Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets on Tuesday before finishing up their three-game road trip against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. Boston returns home to square off with the Blue Jackets again on March 16th.
It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.
Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 4|
|Tuesday, March 5|
|7 p.m.||Carolina||Boston||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||New Jersey||2-1 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa Senators||New York Islanders||4-5 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Florida||Pittsburgh||2-3 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Tampa Bay||2-5|
|8 p.m.||Minnesota||Nashville||4-5 (SO)|
|8:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Dallas Stars||0-1|
|9 p.m.||Detroit||Colorado||3-4 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||Montréal||Los Angeles||3-1|
|Wednesday, March 6|
|9 p.m.||Toronto||Vancouver||2-3 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||St. Louis||Anaheim||5-4|
|Thursday, March 7|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Ottawa Senators||4-2|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Detroit Red Wings||2-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Minnesota||Tampa Bay||3-0|
|8:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Chicago||4-5 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Los Angeles||4-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Montréal||San Jose||2-5|
|Friday, March 8|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Washington||0-3|
|Saturday, March 9|
|4 p.m.||St. Louis||San Jose||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Edmonton||CBC, NHLN, SN|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Boston||CITY, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Tampa Bay|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Islanders|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey Devils||New York Rangers|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Arizona|
|10 p.m.||Vegas||Vancouver||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1|
|Sunday, March 10|
|7:30 p.m.||Boston||Pittsburgh||NBCSN, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Los Angeles||Anaheim||NBCSN|
As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.
Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.
Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.
In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.
As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.
While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?
Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.
While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.
Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.
Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.
Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.
Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.
With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).
Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.
Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).
Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.
Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.
With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.
Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.
However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.
Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.
In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.
Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.
I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.
The St. Louis Blues just keep on winning (11 straight, to be exact). Can they win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning are not Stanley Cup favorites according to Nick– nobody is! Did the Edmonton Oilers win a trade? Cory Schneider won a game! and other milestones from the last week, as well as whatever happened in the Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game on Monday.