Tag Archives: Stanley Cup Playoffs

A Win-Win Situation for George McPhee

George McPhee is on top of the world right now. Technically speaking maybe it’s just the part of the world that pertains to hockey. Actually, nope, let’s just extend that to all of sports because what the Las Vegas Golden Knights have done under the management of McPhee has never been done before and likely will never happen again. He has taken a team of misfits and turned them into potential Stanley Cup Champions. Just four wins is all that it will take for the Golden Knights to take a drink from the Holy Grail of hockey.

As many have noted, this will be no easy task. Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, and the rest of their crew are not going to simply roll over and die. The Capitals are a very formidable foe. They have been a great hockey team for many years, winning at least 45 games in the past four seasons, including two Presidents’ Trophies in that span. Washington has finally jumped over the so called “playoff hump” and they too have a great chance to raise the Stanley Cup. This brings me back to, George McPhee is on top of the world right now.

When a coach or team manager is fired, I would imagine there are probably a lot of things going through their minds. One of these things would surely be, “When will I get my next chance?” Athletes of any sport want their sunset moment. They don’t want to be removed from the game they love due to a career-ending injury or failing to earn a roster spot because age has taken its toll. General Managers are the same way, in that many of them get fired year after year, but they refuse to let that moment define them. They keep their heads up and work for the next opportunity.

After being relieved of his duties with the Washington Capitals in 2014, George McPhee found a new home with the Golden Knights and he has obviously made the most of it. If this team can win the Stanley Cup to culminate their first year of competition in the NHL, McPhee will be able look proudly upon the accomplishment, knowing he redeemed himself. As he celebrates with his coaches and players, he will experience that sunset moment.

But what if they lose? What if McPhee watches the program he took 17 years to build claim their first Stanley Cup, without him being a part of it? Well, he may not be on the Capitals’ payroll, but McPhee is still a big part of it.

The year is 2004 and a young, talented, Russian winger was first off the board in the NHL Draft. Alex Ovechkin was the first piece of the Capitals’ puzzle, arguable the most important. Two years later, Washington’s staff makes another great first-round selection, picking up Nicklas Backstrom. McPhee continues his hot streak, by drafting John Carlsson, Dmitri Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the following years. The General Manager really showed off his recruiting talent when the Capitals chose Braden Holtby, who was a mid-draft pick at 93rd overall in 2008. There were plenty of other goalies on the board, but Washington picked Holtby, and well, you could say that was a pretty good choice.

George McPhee was fired years later due to lack of playoff success, paired with a couple harebrained schemes that turned out to be complete busts. The act of flipping first-round pick Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat was likely the final straw for his time in Washington, but his legacy has lived on. Roughly 50% of the current roster either played under or were drafted by his staff. Sure Washington has transitioned a bit since 2014, by adding talents such as T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik, but the core of the team hasn’t changed a significant amount and McPhee is responsible for that group of players.

When the Golden Knights and Capitals take the ice for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, you can bet anything that George McPhee will be behind his team. Why wouldn’t he be? Las Vegas can etch their name in the history books with a storybook season that will likely never be matched by another expansion team. But if they do lose, as McPhee watches Washington pass around the Stanley Cup, he can be satisfied knowing he had his hand in building a championship team. One way or the other, he has proven he is one talented General Manager.

Burakovsky and Holtby lead Caps to Cup Finals

 

With his second-straight shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning, First Star of the Game G Braden Holtby lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-0 Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Capitals entered this game with a 7-2 record away from Capital One Arena this postseason, but a 4-11 all-time record in Game 7s for their franchise history.

One of these records had to give.

Doing his best to turn the tables in Washington’s favor, Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (F Evgeny Kuznetsov and RW Tom Wilson) provided one of his patented slap shots from above the left face-off circle only 62 seconds into the contest to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage.

That goal proved to be the game-winner, due in large part to the excellent performance of Holtby. He saved all 29 shots he faced during regulation, with 22 of those being struck in the first two periods.

While Holtby is certainly deserving of credit, it is not without some fortuitous bounces that he held on to his clean sheet. There were more than a few occasions in this tilt that a puck initially beat him between his legs or rang off the post, but he was fortunate that his defense was there to keep the Lightning from scoring off the rebound.

D John Carlson‘s unbelievable five shot blocks (a game-high) played a major role defensively for Washington, as did Ovechkin’s five hits (tied with D Victor Hedman and LW Chris Kunitz for a game-high) and C Lars Eller‘s two takeaways (you guessed it, another game-high).

Additionally, all this talk about Holtby is not to discredit the work done by G Andrei Vasilevskiy. Playing in the second Eastern Finals Game 7 of his young career, the Russian’s 19-for-22 stat line (.864 save percentage) is not reflective of his performance, as he made more than his fair share of awe-inspiring saves.

In fact, the two insurance goals scored in the second period by Second Star W Andre Burakovsky could largely be pinned on Vasilevskiy’s defense, as both were buried as a result of one-on-one matchups.

At the 8:59 mark of the second period, Burakovsky took advantage of D Dan Girardi mishandling the puck in his own zone to register his first playoff tally since May 8, 2017 – another two-goal performance. After wrapping his way around the defenseman, the Austrian slid towards Vasilevskiy’s crease before sneaking a wrist shot under the netminder’s right arm to the far post.

7:32 later, Burakovsky was on the receiving end of another play by a defenseman, but this blueliner was one of his own. Carlson intercepted a Lightning pass off the boards in his own defensive zone and quickly sprang his waiting teammate at the red line, setting Burakovsky up for his second breakaway opportunity of the frame. Just before D Ryan McDonagh caught up to him, the winger slid his wrister past Vasilevsky five-hole, setting the score at 3-0 with 23:29 remaining in regulation.

The final goal of the game belonged to C Nicklas Backstrom, who scored an empty netter with 3:43 remaining in the Lightning’s season.

No Game 7 is complete without tempers flaring, and that box was checked early. With 7:01 remaining in the first period, a seemingly innocent meeting of the minds in Vasilevskiy’s crease – following an incredible save, no less – proved to be nothing of the sort, as the ensuing shoving match between D Braydon Coburn and Kuznetsov resulted in the former possessing two sweaters: the one he was wearing and his opponent’s.

That ignited the fury of Wilson, who tried his hardest to rush Coburn but was intercepted by an official. Both Coburn and Wilson were charged with matching unsportsmanlike penalties, setting play at even-strength four-on-four for two minutes.

However, this was not a simple cool-down period in the penalty box. Immediately upon their release, Coburn and Wilson elected to engage in an exciting bout of fisticuffs. Coburn won by virtue of Wilson falling first, but both earned “five for fighting” major penalties and were sent to their respective dressing rooms for the remainder of the frame.

If Coburn elected to fight Wilson to inspire his club, it did little to do that. After his bout, the Bolts managed only one more shot on goal in the frame, and only 20 for the remainder of the game. Throw in the excellent form that Holtby was sporting, and there was little Tampa – the preseason favorite in many’s eyes – could do to stave off elimination.

With the Prince of Wales Trophy in hand, Washington will wage war against the Vegas Golden Knights in a Stanley Cup Final that features two teams searching for their first title. Game 1 is scheduled for Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern from the theatrical confines of T-Mobile Arena and will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN1 and TVAS.

An early note regarding these Finals in relation to these playoffs: In the First Round, the Boston Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, but were eliminated in the Second Round. Similarly, the Second Round featured the Winnipeg Jets besting the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7, but falling in the Western Conference Finals.

After the Caps required seven contests to eliminate Tampa Bay, will they suffer a similar fate against Vegas? Or will they buck yet another trend?

Only time – and at least four hockey games – will tell.

Fleury off to third-straight Stanley Cup Final

 

The Campbell Bowl is the possession of the Vegas Golden Knights after they beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 at Bell MTS Place in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

Winnipeg did all it could to win this game and prolong its postseason: the Jets matched Vegas in shots on goal (32 apiece), earned four power plays to the Knights’ two and G Connor Hellebuyck saved 30-for-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage).

However, G Marc-Andre Fleury was none too interested in starting a summer without the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2015. Fleury saved 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage). He refused to yield to even one of the Jets’ power plays, making miraculous save after miraculous save.

Pair Fleury’s performance with First Star of the Game RW Alex Tuch‘s (F Ryan Carpenter) wrist shot only 5:11 into the game, and the Jets were facing an uphill battle that was made even more steep by the fact that Third Star D Josh Morrissey‘s giveaway was what directly led to the tally.

Morrissey didn’t successfully corral Hellebuyck’s pass along the boards, leading to Carpenter knocking the puck off his stick to Tuch in the high slot, which he proceeded to squeeze between the netminder’s right arm and the post.

The only flaw in Fleury’s game struck 12:03 later when Morrissey (F Bryan Little) made amends for his giveaway to score off a face-off. Won by Little at the dot to Fleury’s right, Morrissey ended up with the puck above the face-off circles and one-timed a white-hot slap shot over the goalie’s glove.

The resulting 1-1 tie held for almost 20 minutes – 16:07, to be exact – before Second Star RW Ryan Reaves (D Luca Sbisa and F Tomas Nosek) potted what proved to be the series-clinching goal.

Though this goal can’t be blamed on Hellebuyck, that’s not to say that Reaves was truly intending to score on this play. Sbisa fired an elevated initial wrister from the point that likely would have been either blocked by a Jet or saved by Hellebuyck, but Reaves intercepted that attempt and deflected it just under the bar over the goalie’s right shoulder.

If Reaves were only a foot or two closer to the crease, his shot surely would have flown over the crossbar, but the trade acquisition was in the right place at the right time to secure his and his club’s first-ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

In the third period, the Golden Knights clamped down on the talented Jets offense to limit them to only eight shots on goal. D Colin Miller converted one takeaway, while eight different Knights either blocked a Winnipeg third period shot or threw a body check.

Winnipeg also was its own worst enemy by aiming five third period shots to the wrong side of the iron. In particular, RW Patrik Laine was responsible for sending two of those shots wide or over the net.

The Golden Knights await the victor of the Eastern Conference Finals, which the Tampa Bay Lightning currently lead 3-2. Should the Bolts hold on to clinch the Prince of Wales Trophy, Vegas will travel to Florida for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. However, if the Washington Capitals can win two-straight games, they will travel to Vegas for the first games of the series.

Game 6 of the Eastern Finals from Capital One Arena will take place Monday, May 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Fans interested in seeing who the Knights will square off against should tune their televisions to CBC, NBCSN, SN1 or TVAS.

Lighning Strike Fast at Home due to 4th Line

Unknown-3The Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 on home ice by a score of 3-2. It was the first win by a home team in the series. A big part of the game was the matchups used by Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, and having a fast start to the game.

The Lightning started the game the best way possible scoring a goal just 19 seconds into the game. Cooper was playing the matchup and started his 4th line. They were able to force Dmitry Orlov into a turnover and Ryan Callahan made a great play to get the puck to Cedric Paquette who fired the puck past Braden Holtby. For his first of the playoffs.

Tampa continued the dominance in the first period by creating the majority of the chances. They doubled their lead just before the halfway mark of the period. Another turnover by Orlov, led to Ondrej Palat with a stick wrister past Holtby for a 2-0 lead. It was Palat’s 6th goal of the playoffs.

Tampa out played the Capitals in the first period, with the 4th line of Callahan, Paquette and Chris Kunitz leading the way. Tampa outshot the Capitals 13 to 4.

The second period started as well as the first for the Lightning. 33 seconds into the period Stralman made a great move to take the puck to the net while Callahan crashed in and the puck went off his upper body and into the net for a 3-0 lead. It was Callahan’s second point of the night and his 2nd goal of the playoffs

It seemed Washington wasn’t going to have an answer to break down Tampa. They did find a goal five Washington Capitals Logominutes into the second period with Matt Niskanen letting a shot go from the point that was deflected by Evgeny Kuznetsov to make it a 3-1 game. It was Kuznetsov’s 22nd point of the playoffs.

This seemed to spark the offense of Washington as they began to pepper Andrei Vasilevskiy, but he stood tall. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 13 to 5 in the second period.

The third period was a back and forth period with both teams getting chances. Vasilevskiy and Holtby were both strong making saves they should make and some they had no right making. Washington took over late in the closing minutes of regulation. Tampa received some luck as Alex Ovechkin and his other Caps teammates hit the post a number of times.

Ovechkin did find his goal with less than two minutes left in the game and the extra attacker on the ice. He was a little above his signature spot, but his one timer blew by Vasilevskiy to make it a 3-2 game.

It was too little too late though, as Vasilevskiy robbed John Carlson as time ran down. Tampa held on to win on home ice and lead the series 3-2. Game 6 will be Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Vasilevskiy makes ECF a best-of-three series

 

By winning Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 at Capital One Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reclaimed home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals by leveling the series at two victories apiece.

With Washington out-shooting the visiting Lightning 38-20, no Bolt deserves more credit for the victory than First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy. After allowing the first goal of the game to D Dmitry Orlov (F T.J. Oshie and D Matt Niskanen) only 4:28 into the contest, Vasilevskiy proceeded to post a 36-for-38 effort (.947 save percentage) despite facing no fewer than nine shots against per frame. In particular, Vasilevskiy stood extremely tall when taking on Washington’s four power plays, as he saved all nine shots faced while his club was shorthanded.

Meanwhile, G Braden Holtby only wishes his play looked anywhere near as good as Vasilevskiy’s. His 16-for-19 performance (.842 save percentage) was borderline disastrous, especially given the incredible help his offense was providing him.

Wait, offense?

Yes, it was not the Capitals’ defense, but their offense that truly kept Holtby’s workload light. Not only did they more than double Tampa’s shots on goal in both the first and second periods (15-7 and 14-6, respectively), but the Caps also held extended possessions in their offensive zone. Pair that with Oshie’s two takeaways and W Devante Smith-Pelly‘s six hits, and you find a team that made life so easy on its goaltender that he just might have grown complacent.

That’s not to say the goals he allowed were soft. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Take for example Second Star F Brayden Point‘s (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson) tic-tac-goal only 1:10 after Orlov’s that tied the game at one-all. Holtby was forced to shade towards his left post when he saw Gourde – who scored 25 goals this season, the fourth-most among all rookies – all by himself inside the near face-off circle, but some deft passing across the slot to Point was all the second line needed to take advantage of a sloppy pass by D Michal Kempny.

Similarly, it’s hard to blame Holtby for his second goal allowed in the first period, registered only 2:54 after Point’s. This time, he was tasked with keeping Tampa’s lethal power play off the scoreboard thanks to C Lars Eller‘s holding penalty against RW Nikita Kucherov 1:05 before.

A power play that had scored at least once in eight previous contests is obviously in a groove, and that groove continued at the 8:32 mark of the game when C Steven Stamkos (Point and F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-1 with a one-timer from the slot.

For those keeping track at home, the Lightning now sport a 30.8 percent power play conversion rate that is tops among the four teams still competing for the Stanley Cup, trailing only Boston – their opponent in the previous round – for the mark of best power play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the score never changed, the remaining 11:28 of the first period was far from uneventful. However, the previously mentioned shots on goal were not the only activity as even the missed shots drew many a Capitals fan to his or her feet. In particular, W Alex Ovechkin had more than his fair share of salivating shots on net – both in this frame as well as the entire game – but many of those whizzed past the wrong side of the post and harmlessly crashed into the endboards.

Just when it seemed like Vasilevskiy was going to be unbreakable for the remainder of the tilt, Third Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and RW Tom Wilson) sprung hope anew in Washington with his wrist shot 5:18 into the second period.

With the exception of Kuznetsov’s path taking him along the left boards instead of between the face-off circles, this goal was eerily reminiscent of the marker that eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs for the first time since April 2015. A long pass from Ovechkin sprung his countryman for a breakaway opportunity against the goaltender (who, by happenstance, is also a fellow Russian), who he beat five-hole.

Thanks to some incredible defense played by both clubs (RW Ryan Callahan matched Smith-Pelly’s six hits and D Ryan McDonagh blocked a game-high four shots), that 2-2 tie lasted 26:39 before Tampa third-liner F Alex Killorn (W Ondrej Palat and D Mikhail Sergachev) provided the game-winning goal.

Struck six seconds after Eller was released from the penalty box (his second foul of the night, this time for hooking the eventual goalscorer), Killorn showed some impressive puck-handling skills inside the crease to convert a forehanded shot that would likely be stopped by Holtby’s left leg into a backhand that sneaked between the netminder’s wickets.

With 2:09 remaining in regulation, Head Coach Barry Trotz was forced to pull his goaltender for the second consecutive game. Tampa Bay was unable to convert on the empty net in Game 3, but rookie C Anthony Cirelli bested that effort with 62 seconds remaining to cement the Bolts’ series-evening victory.

Now that they’ve given up the home-ice advantage they worked so desperately to win in Florida, the Capitals must now find a way to win at least one more game at Amalie Arena. A good first step towards doing that – especially for Eller – will be to avoid the penalty box, as the Caps’ 73.7 percent successful penalty kill is the worst remaining in the playoffs.

Saturday is the day for the Eastern Conference Finals’ all-important Game 5. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Eastern (right after the Preakness Stakes) and may be viewed on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Vegas escapes whiteout with 3-1 victory

 

With a 3-1 Game 2 victory at Bell MTS Place, the Vegas Golden Knights have leveled their Western Conference Finals series with the Winnipeg Jets at one game apiece.

As would be expected from the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd, all the energy was with the Jets at the opening puck drop. In fact, the fan-power almost resulted in a Jets goal only 33 seconds into the game when C Mark Scheifele‘s backhanded shot leaked through Second Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury and laid exposed in the blue paint, but D Nate Schmidt was there to clean up the situation to keep the game from turning into a potential barn-burner early.

Even though Winnipeg almost got that first laugh, it was the Golden Knights who eventually took command of the first frame. With 6:37 remaining in the period, F Tomas Tatar (D Shea Theodore and F Ryan Carpenter) drew Game 2’s first blood, scoring his first goal of the playoffs to give his side a lead a lead it would not yield.

Tatar’s tally was an excellent example of commitment to a play, as his first shot bounced off G Connor Hellebuyck‘s left post and careened into the end boards. However, Tatar maintained control of the situation by reclaiming possession and returning to the original scene of the crime, this time beating Hellebuyck to the near post.

3:59 later, some incredible defense by the Golden Knights in the neutral zone yielded First Star F Jon Marchessault‘s (W Reilly Smith) first goal of the game. Marchessault was the fortuitous recipient of Smith’s work against Third Star LW Kyle Connor at the red line, eventually earning a breakaway opportunity against Hellebuyck that he buried five-hole.

A scoreless second period was due in large part to some solid defense played by both sides. Both Vegas and Winnipeg fired only eight shots apiece in the middle frame.

In terms of overall stats for the entire game, Winnipeg certainly made its presence known along the boards by throwing 19 hits to Vegas’ seven. Leading that effort was none other than F Adam Lowry, who threw a game-high four checks.

Meanwhile, the Golden Knights made an excellent habit of getting in the way of the Jets’ shots, as they blocked a whopping 21 shots in Game 2. Though D Josh Morrissey led the game with five shot blocks, Smith paced Vegas in the statistic with his three rejections (not to mention his game-high three takeaways).

We all know the expression “third time’s the charm,” and that was true yet again in regards to Winnipeg’s power play. After failing to convert a too many men on the ice penalty in the first period and D Brayden McNabb‘s tripping infraction against RW Blake Wheeler late in the second, the Jets finally got on the scoreboard at the 7:17 mark of the third period.

Taking advantage of D Luca Sbisa tripping W Brandon Tanev 1:38 before, Connor (W Nikolaj Ehlers and D Tyler Myers) flung a prayer of a wrist shot at Fleury’s chest that managed to roll off his chest protector and into the goal, pulling Winnipeg back within a one-goal deficit.

As would be expected, the Whiteout was fully rejuvenated after its club finally showed some offensive life, but the Winnipeg faithful reclaimed their seats only 1:28 later when Marchessault (Smith and C William Karlsson) buried a backhander to set the 3-1 score that held to the end of regulation.

With only one day off to make the approximately three-hour flight from Southern Manitoba to Southeastern Nevada, Game 3 to snap the 1-1 tie is scheduled for 9 p.m. Eastern this Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. Television viewers can catch the contest on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Caps’ attack too much for Bolts; win Game 1 4-2

 

After a 4-2 victory at Amalie Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Between the actual 2-0 score and the fact that the Caps led 9-2 in shots on goal, we get a rather accurate impression of how the first 20 minutes went down.

The Caps almost exclusively dominated possession from the opening draw to the first TV timeout. They might have managed only two shots on goal in that time (which still exceeded Tampa’s zero), but the fact that they kept the puck in their offensive zone did a lot to wear out the Bolts’ defensemen early.

That pressure paid off in spades at the 7:28 mark when Washington drew first blood in the Eastern Finals. D Michal Kempny (Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov and D John Carlson) did the dirty work with a wrist shot from the blue line, his first-ever North American postseason marker.

Of course, the best weapon against possession is a stellar counterattack. RW Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning though they had done just that with seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, but it was ruled Tampa Bay had too many men on the ice, negating the goal and awarding a power play to Washington.

Entering the game with the best power play in the postseason (converting 30.9 percent of man-advantages into goals), the Caps completed their stellar command of the first frame by burying a man-advantage tally with only six seconds remaining in the frame.

Who else to score that power play goal than First Star W Alex Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and F T.J. Oshie)? Almost unexpectedly, Ovechkin departed from his usual spot in the left face-off circle and scored his patented one-touch slap shot from the blue line on a set play from Oshie’s face-off victory.

Washington picked up right where it left off 2:40 into the second period. Third Star F Jay Beagle (W Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Orlov) beat G Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole from the slot, receiving an unintentional assist from D Braydon Coburn after Connolly’s centering pass bounced off his skate.

4:02 later, the score read 4-0 when C Lars Eller (Oshie and Ovechkin) converted a Kucherov roughing penalty into yet another power play goal – Washington’s final tally of the game.

What started as a 2-0 shot differential early in the first period became a 25-10 domination by the second intermission. It could be argued that LW Jakub Vrana‘s game-high five shots on goal is a major part of that, but I would instead point to Oshie’s two takeaways over the course of the game, as well as both Kucherov and FJ.T. Miller yielding two giveaways by the end of regulation.

Additionally, Washington was also excellent at blocking shots, as it managed 19 before retreating to its hotel that evening. Co-led by Carlson and D Matt Niskanen‘s three blocks apiece, the Caps’ blue line was a major reason for Tampa’s struggle to establish anything close to an offensive presence in the opening 40 minutes.

However, all that turned on its head in the third period when Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to bench Vasilevskiy, who saved 21-of-25 shots faced for a .84 save percentage, in favor of G Louis Domingue.

While Vasilevskiy could have certainly been better in this game, he didn’t give up any blatantly soft goals (looking at you, G Pekka Rinne). Instead, his benching was intended to be a message for his team, and the Lightning certainly responded just as Cooper wished.

It took 43:45 of play and RW Alex Chiasson sitting in the penalty box for slashing F Alex Killorn, but Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard when C Steven Stamkos (Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) did his best Ovechkin impression and scored a clapper from the left face-off circle, pulling the score to 4-1.

That was certainly more than enough to get the positive energy surging in the arena. Tampa out-shot the Capitals 11-7 in the third period, proving just how much of the game was  played in its attacking zone.

Keeping hope alive, another goal trickled by with 6:57 remaining in regulation when W Ondrej Palat (F Tyler Johnson and D Anton Stralman) beat G Braden Holtby short side with a wrister from the slot.

However, hope ran short in that remaining time due in large part to the solid effort of Holtby. Though it wasn’t his best game of the season, Holtby posed an imposing challenge even after the Bolts pulled Domingue for the extra attacker. In all, he saved his last four shots faced in the game, posting an 19-for-21 (.905 save percentage) overall performance.

If the Lightning learned one thing from this game, it is that they cannot continue committing penalties like they have been in these playoffs. Washington’s power play, which converted 50 percent tonight, is just too potent for the Bolts to continue serving the 14:41 penalty minutes per game that they’ve managed through the first two rounds.

Tampa’s first opportunity to resolve that issue is in Game 2, which is right back at Amalie Arena and scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern this Sunday. Fans unable to make it to Western Florida can catch the live broadcasts on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Jettisoned: Predators bow out in Game 7, Jets punch Conference Finals ticket

 

Well there you have it, folks. The second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs has come to a close with an almost-fitting end to the series that played out exactly how we thought it would without ever really playing out how we thought it would.

Perhaps the most hyped matchup of the postseason, it was nearly-universally agreed upon that Winnipeg/Nashville would go seven games, but how we got there was anything but predictable. A seven-game series that saw only two games end in one-goal margins (those in fact being the only games that ended with a margin of less than three tallies) and was more a story of attack/counter-attack. Nearly every game swung wildly to one team’s favor, usually on the back of explosive starts that took the wind out of the sails of the opponent before they knew what had happened.

Game 4 was a tight 2-1 affair, though hardly memorable on the back of a 7-4 gongshow victory in Game 3 for Winnipeg on home ice. Game 1 and Games 5-7 were all complete visiting team dominations silencing notoriously loud buildings. Game 2 was really our only look at what many expected from this series, with Nashville grabbing a thrilling 5-4 victory in double-overtime on home ice.

But since we’re here, let’s take a look at how this strange series came to a close.

Winnipeg controlled things early, hemming Nashville on their own side of center ice for most of the opening minutes. The Predators looked to be skating in deep sand, oftentimes unable to advance the puck forward at all, thanks to a stifling forecheck from the Jets and some careless puck control of their own doing. Surely, though, Pekka Rinne would be able to help his team survive the early problems and gain their footing…

Then Tyler Myers sent up a prayer from below the goal line to Rinne’s left that deflected into the net off of the stunned Nashville netminder, and just like that we had a 1-0 game 8:41 into the first period. But, again, no problem. We’re less than halfway through the first period, it’s just a one-goal deficit, Rinne will obviously shake this one off and…

2:06 later Rinne inexplicably abandons the near post after stopping a Paul Stastny stuff attempt, the rebound landing right back on his blade for him to chip over the pad and into the net for a Charmin Ultra-Soft 2-0 goal. Has anyone seen the wheels for this bus lately? We seem to have misplaced them.

Peter Laviolette, either wishing to settle things down without wasting a precious timeout, or knowing enough about his goaltender’s complete inability to recover from shaky starts in playoff games to realize that this ship needed immediate abandoning (third pull in the series for Rinne, you be the judge), yanked the big Finn in favor of the little Finn, inserting Juuse Saros into the net for the remainder of the game.

To their credit, the Predators responded to the move by finally picking up their game. P.K. Subban first drew a penalty, then fired a one-time Howitzer off the post and in on the resulting power play, bringing his team back within one with just over four minutes to play in the first.

Unfortunately for Nashville, this only seemed to fire up the opposition, with the Winnipeg defense vacuum-sealing their end from that point on, and Connor Hellebuyck dispelling any further offensive chances that came his way. The two goaltenders spent the next 20+ minutes countering everything thrown their way (which admittedly was not a lot as the two teams were basically stuck in a neutral zone traffic jam).

Late in the second period the Jets grabbed the momentum back when Blake Wheeler jumped on a turnover (a theme in this one, with the Predators committing 24 vs Winnipeg’s paltry 10) and hung Subban out to dry in no man’s land, sending a pass over to Scheifele who quickly lifted one over the shoulder of Saros to regain the two-goal lead with 2:10 left to play in the second frame.

The second period was really the finest display of a brilliant tactic Winnipeg utilized all night long, essentially using their team speed to actually slow the game down. No matter what Nashville tried to do, every puck carrier was instantly met by at least one, often multiple Jets. Passing lanes were non-existent due to some incredible defensive stickwork, and even when there appeared to be open space, it would close up immediately, leaving the Predators dumbfounded, and holding them to just six shots in the second period.

The Preds did gain some offensive traction in the third, but Hellebuyck always had the answer and the defense in front of him made sure he had a clear line of sight to every shot and limited follow-up opportunities for anything that their goaltender didn’t manage to grab onto. Of note, Dustin Byfuglien played a lights-out game defensively, basically making it impossible for any Predators player to get to the front of the net to set up screens. Toby Enstrom was also stellar, making countless beautiful stick and positioning plays throughout the night to break up some of the few rushes Nashville was able to start.

Nashville fought and clawed for every chance all throughout the third period, but their efforts came to a screeching halt at the 11:59 mark when Paul Stastny tallied his second goal of the game on Winnipeg’s lone power play of the night, banging home the rebound from a Laine blast before Saros could close down the five hole. That was Stastny’s fifth goal of this series, continuing a terrific playoff run for the deadline acquisition (lol remember that time the Blues traded him to the Jets for a lottery-protected first round pick?).

Mark Scheifele would add the 5-1 empty netter to tally his league-leading 11th goal of the playoffs with 2:33 remaining, but even with the extra man on the ice the Predators were just lost trying to find the answer to Winnipeg’s flawless defensive scheme.

So Winnipeg takes the series largely on the strength of winning three-of-four games in Nashville, all by convincing scores (4-1, 6-2, 5-1), and move on to face probably the only team in the Western Conference that can match their speed, the ‘Remember when we didn’t exist last year?’ Vegas Golden Knights in the Conference Finals. Game 1 of that series comes to you this Saturday night (May 12th) at 7 p.m. ET with DTFR recap coverage brought to you by @nlanciani53.

Preds force Game 7 with 4-0 victory

 

With First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg and Third Star W Viktor Arvidsson splitting the goals and Second Star G Pekka Rinne posting a 34-save shutout, the Nashville Predators took Game 6 4-0 at Bell MTS Place against the Winnipeg Jets to force a winner-take-all Game 7 in three days.

Arvidsson wasted no time in finding his first tally, but the path he took to scoring the game-winner could probably be cleaned up a little. Arvidsson advanced into the offensive zone with the puck along the left boards, but his drive towards G Connor Hellebuyck‘s net was cut short by D Dustin Byfuglien, who sent the Swede sliding into the boards from the goal line.

F Ryan Johansen wound up with the puck, skating into the corner before slinging the puck back to D Roman Josi at the point. Josi slung a high snap shot towards the net, but before it could reach Hellebuyck, Arvidsson found a way to get involved in the play once again by falling to avoid the puck in the high slot. While it seemed like he was trying to avoid the shot and protect his face with the middle of his stick, he instead deflected the shot past Hellebuyck’s glove.

Equipment near the face is usually evidence enough for officials to declare a shot was played with a high stick, and that’s the way this play was originally called. However, replay proved that Arvidsson had fallen in time to get his stick under the crossbar, giving Nashville the advantage only 1:02 into the tilt.

After that, the first period was all about Rinne. Even though both sides fired 10 shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes, Predators skaters committed three penalties (including two within 2:28 of each other) to provide the Jets multiple shots at some stellar scoring opportunities. Rinne stood tall though, maintaining his club’s one-goal advantage into the first intermission.

Assigned the role of scoring the insurance goals, Forsberg did his best to make his braces exciting to dissuade the Winnipeg Whiteout from reigniting the Jets. At the 8:06 mark of the second period, Forsberg (F Craig Smith and Johansen) blocked a D Tyler Myers slap shot into the left corner at the cost of his stick. Instead of staying in the defensive zone, he immediately reported to his bench to grab a fresh twig while making sure to stay behind the blue line.

That attention to detail yielded incredible dividends, as he ended up on the receiving end of a breakaway pass from Smith, setting him up for a one-on-one against Hellebuyck that he capitalized on with a wrist shot from the slot.

Instead of the goaltenders, defense proved to be the other major story of the second frame. Winnipeg yielded only six other shots on goal in that period other than Forsberg’s wrister, trailed only slightly by the Preds allowing nine Jets offerings.

Nashville’s defense wasn’t very pretty, but it was certainly effective. Even though the Predators gave the puck away 16 times in this game (D Mattias Ekholm and Josi “leading” the way with four turnovers apiece), they blocked a whopping 23 shots, including Josi’s four.

If Nashville hadn’t yet taken full control of the game, Forsberg’s (Arvidsson and Josi) second goal of the night – struck at the 5:55 mark of the final period -certainly did the trick.

Remember back with me, if you will, to April Fool’s Day. That night, the San Jose Sharks visited the Vegas Golden Knights where C William Karlsson proceeded to score what will likely go down as the goal of the regular season by pulling the puck between his legs to flip a shot behind G Martin Jones.

Forsberg did almost the exact same thing with this marker, but from a stationary position instead of sliding across the crease. That made the direction of where the can-opener shot would go even more unpredictable for Hellebuyck, who could only watch as the puck trickled past him.

Arvidsson (Forsberg) completed the Preds’ scoring with 4:02 remaining, scoring a backhanded shot on an empty net to set the 4-0 final score.

Of note in this game, former-captain C Mike Fisher played only five shifts in the first period before being forced to the dressing room with 5:43 remaining on the clock. Head Coach Peter Laviolette did not have an update on his condition during his post-game press conference, so his status for Game 7 is undetermined.

The seventh and final game of this Western Semifinal will take place Thursday, May 10 at 8 p.m. Eastern inside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Fans have no excuse to miss this game, as it will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

“Highlight Reel” Holtby can’t stop Pens

 

Despite saving 21-of-23 shots faced for a .913 save percentage, G Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals fell 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Game 4 of their Eastern Semifinals matchup, tying the series at 2-2.

After his hit against F Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 that ended with the rookie suffering a concussion and broken jaw, RW Tom Wilson was suspended by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for three games (he’ll be eligible to play in Game 7 in Washington, if necessary). As such, many were interested to see which players would fill those holes in the lineups of their respective teams.

For Washington, the next man up was F Shane Gersich, who saw his Stanley Cup playoff debut after playing only three regular season games with the Capitals this season. He slid onto the fourth line with F Jay Beagle and RW Alex Chiasson, while W Devante Smith-Pelly earned a promotion into Wilson’s vacated role with the top-three.

Some might have been led to think F T.J. Oshie would slide from his second line spot into the vacancy, but Head Coach Barry Trotz elected to keep the Warroad graduate on C Nicklas Backstrom‘s line as he’d been all season.

As for the Penguins, they had the luxury of LW Carl Hagelin‘s upper-body injury healing just in time for him to rejoin the club in Aston-Reese’s place. Hagelin was slotted onto the second line with Third Star of the Game F Evgeni Malkin, who had only returned one match ago.

Of course, none of those lineup changes had any affect on Holtby or his black-and-gold clad counterpart in the first period, as they both refused to yield a goal.

While both Holtby and Second Star G Matt Murray performed valiantly in the opening 20 minutes, their success was due largely to the play of their defenses. Pittsburgh’s blue line allowed only seven shots to reach Murray, trailed only slightly by the nine offerings that came Holtby’s way.

Pittsburgh’s defense was a bit more subtle in its technique, but there was no hiding how the Capitals were keeping Holtby’s crease clean. In the first period alone, the Caps threw a whopping 22 hits- 11 more than Pittsburgh. Oshie was a major part of that effort, as his eight body checks accumulated by the end of regulation were a game-high between both clubs.

While we’re on the subject, one of his hits at the end of the game against D Kris Letang was highly questionable, as he clearly leaped at the defenseman with 61 seconds remaining on the clock. Letang was none too pleased and engaged Oshie in a quick fight, but it will be interesting to see what the Department of Player Safety does with this infraction after it just penalized Wilson.

Anyways, that defensive effort did not carry across the first intermission, as all three goals scored against a goaltender were registered in the middle frame.

First Star F Jake Guentzel (F Dominik Simon and C Sidney Crosby) got the scoring started at the 9:21 mark with the lone even-strength goal scored in the game. Simon attempted a shot on goal from the slot that deflected off D Matt Niskanen‘s knee right to Guentzel, who was waiting next to Holtby’s left goal post. After that, it was all the playoff’s leading scorer could do but sling a wrist shot towards the opposite post before receiving an un-penalized crosscheck frame from D Dmitry Orlov.

That advantage lasted only 3:34 before Oshie (Backstrom and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) converted a Guentzel tripping penalty against C Lars Eller into a power play goal. Backstrom waited and waited near the right face-off dot before sliding a pass to Oshie between the circles, and the former St. Louis Blue ripped a nasty snap shot over Murray’s glove hand to level the game at 1-1.

Pittsburgh’s game-winning goal was struck with 2:29 remaining before the second intermission, and it was due almost entirely to Oshie’s interference penalty against D Brian Dumoulin 1:21 earlier.

Making full use of their man-advantage, the Penguins’ eventual scoring possession spent a pass-filled 23 seconds in the offensive zone before Malkin (RW Patric Hornqvist and RW Phil Kessel) forced home a wrister to set the score at 2-1.

It was a case of deja vu for the Penguins when Malkin’s shot barely squeaked across the goal line before Holtby tried to sell that he’d made the save. Under the impression that he’d frozen the puck, play was halted before the officials, just like in Game 2, went to their monitors for further review.

Making matters even more excruciating for the home fans, even after the puck was ruled to have crossed the goal line, Head Coach Barry Trotz challenged the play once again, but this time for goaltender interference. Hornqvist did make contact with Holtby, but it was ruled he was pushed by D Brooks Orpik, acquitting the Swede of any crime.

Thus effectively ended the second period, but the Capitals were still far from defeated.

Unfortunately for them, the Penguins defense played incredibly in the final 20 minutes, allowing only three shots on goal – the last of which was an Orlov slap shot from the point with 9:11 remaining in regulation.

That forced Trotz to resort to drastic measures and pull Holtby with 1:23 remaining on the clock, but any positive energy the extra attacker was able to provide was swiftly ripped away only a dozen seconds later when the Caps were caught with seven skaters on the ice.

Holtby was pulled once again with 65 ticks remaining on the clock, eventually allowing Guentzel (Crosby and Letang) to score a power play empty netter for his league-leading 10th goal of the postseason.

Aptly scheduled on Cinco de Mayo at 7 p.m Eastern, Game 5 at Capital One Arena will determine which side has two opportunities to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The contest will be broadcast on NBC, SN and TVAS.