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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Western Conference

In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.

In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.

P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)

The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.

Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”

Only kidding.

Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.

Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.

Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.

Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.

For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.

Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.

Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.

Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.

In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.

Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.

Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?

Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2

4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*

4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*

4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*

*If necessary

P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)

The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.

Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.

There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.

Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.

Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.

Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.

Reilly Smith put up 53 points in a “down” season, but Alex Tuch (20-32–52 totals) had a breakout year, so everything evens out in the end.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.

For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.

The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.

But this time around feels different.

San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*

4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*

4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*

*If necessary

C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)

A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.

It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.

For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).

Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.

Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.

Their offense was led by Ryan Johansen (14-50–64 totals in 80 GP) this season with Filip Forsberg chipping in 50 points and Viktor Arvidsson reaching the 30-goal plateau (he finished with 34).

Their goaltending… oh. Is this when Juuse Saros (17-10-2, 2.62 GAA, .915 SV% in 31 GP) takes over for Pekka Rinne (30-19-4, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV% in 56 GP) as the regular starter?

Oh. Again. Never mind.

While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.

In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.

Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.

This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?

Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.

On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.

Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.

But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.

Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.

As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.

Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.

Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.

It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2

4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*

4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*

4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*

*If necessary

C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)

After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.

This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.

Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.

Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.

On defense, Jacob Trouba picked up the slack with 8-42–50 totals from the blue line while Dustin Byfuglien was limited to 42 games and 31 points due to injury.

In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).

Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.

Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.

Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.

However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.

The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.

This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.

Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.

Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).

Don’t try to mess with what’s working.

Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.

Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.

For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.

Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.

Regular season outcomes:

1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3

4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2

4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*

4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*

4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*

*If necessary

Backes’ shootout winner lifts B’s, 3-2, over Vegas

David Backes scored the game-winning shootout goal in the sixth round to lift the Boston Bruins over the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-2, at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday.

As a result, the Bruins are 4-0-0 on their current five-game road trip and a seven-game winning streak.

Jake DeBrusk and Brad Marchand had goals for Boston, while Reilly Smith and Nate Schmidt scored in the loss for the Golden Knights.

Jaroslav Halak (16-9-4 record, 2.33 goals against average, .924 save percentage in 31 games played) made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 SV% in the shootout victory for the B’s.

Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury (29-18-5, 2.60 GAA, .908 SV% in 52 GP) stopped 25 out of 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the shootout loss.

The Bruins improved to 36-17-8 (80 points) on the season and remain in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Golden Knights fell to 32-25-5 (69 points) and remained 3rd in the Pacific Division.

Boston also improved to 9-0-1 in the month of February.

Prior to puck drop in Wednesday night’s action, the Bruins completed a trade with the Minnesota Wild, sending Ryan Donato and a conditional 2019 5th round pick to Minnesota in exchange for Charlie Coyle. If Boston advances to the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the conditional 5th round pick becomes a 2019 4th round pick (originally from the New York Rangers).

The 2019 4th round pick was previously acquired along with Steven Kampfer from New York in return for Adam McQuaid on Sept. 11, 2018.

As a result of the acquisition, since the Bruins were already at the 23-player roster limit, Peter Cehlarik was reassigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) during the first intermission of Boston’s Wednesday night battle with Vegas (at which point, the trade was officially announced).

Bruce Cassidy kept the same lines from Monday night’s, 6-5, overtime win over the San Jose Sharks, while Kampfer joined John Moore as the only official healthy scratches at the arena (as Coyle had yet to join the team and Cehlarik was assigned).

David Pastrnak remains out of the lineup due to surgery on his left thumb.

Early in the first period, Schmidt was penalized for high-sticking when he got his stick up in Marchand’s face at 4:58 of the first period. Boston did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Midway through the first period, DeBrusk (19) struck first on the scoreboard after receiving a pass from David Krejci, spinning past a defending Golden Knight skater and scoring from the low slot to make it, 1-0, Bruins.

Krejci (39) and Karson Kuhlman (1) tallied the assists on DeBrusk’s fifth goal in the last five games at 11:17.

Moments later, Danton Heinen tripped up Vegas defender, Jon Merrill, sending the Golden Knights on the power play at 14:24 of the first period.

Vegas did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Two minutes after the Bruins killed off Heinen’s minor infraction, the Golden Knights were pressing with a shot from the point that rebounded off of Halak’s leg pad.

Smith (10) jumped at the loose puck and pocketed his first goal in 13 games, tying the game, 1-1, at 18:24.

Cody Eakin (17) and Merrill (8) notched the assists on the goal.

After one period, the game was tied, 1-1, despite Vegas leading in shots on goal, 10-6. Boston led in blocked shots (9-6) entering the first intermission, while the Golden Knights led in takeaways (7-2), giveaways (4-2), hits (15-5) and face-off win% (57-44).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the second period.

Vegas was caught with too many men on the ice early in the second period and was charged with a bench minor. Gerard Gallant sent Oscar Lindberg to serve the penalty and the Golden Knights’ penalty kill successfully thwarted Boston’s power play advances.

Brayden McNabb was nabbed for holding Chris Wagner at 12:21 of the middle frame, but the Bruins struck out on the extra skater advantage once again.

Through 40 minutes of play, the score was still tied, 1-1, with the Golden Knights outshooting the Bruins, 22-14.

The B’s led in blocked shots (14-13) and giveaways (8-7) after two periods, while Vegas led in takeaways (14-4), hits (28-16) and face-off win% (52-48).

Entering the third period the Golden Knights were 0/1 on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 0/3.

Just 69 seconds into the third period, Marchand (24) ripped a one-timer past Fleury to give Boston the lead, 2-1, early in the final frame.

Heinen (12) and Charlie McAvoy (14) had the assists on Marchand’s fifth goal in the last seven games for the Bruins.

A mere 27 seconds after Marchand put the B’s ahead, Schmidt (7) waltzed past the B’s defense and roofed the puck past Halak’s glove side to tie the game, 2-2.

Smith (24) and Jonathan Marchessault (22) had the assists on Schmidt’s goal at 1:36 of the third period.

There were no other events on the scoresheet until the final horn in regulation.

With the score knotted up at two goals aside, overtime would commence after the Golden Knights led in shots on goal (30-26) through 60 minutes of play. Vegas also led in blocked shots (18-17), takeaways (15-6), giveaways (12-9) and hits (37-24).

Entering the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime period, Boston led in face-off win% (53-47).

Sean Kuraly, Wagner and Matt Grzelcyk started the overtime period for the Bruins, while Max Pacioretty, Marchessault and Shea Theodore kicked things off for the Golden Knights.

After Boston was sluggish getting out of their own zone almost midway through overtime, they finally managed to change their forwards, leaving Krug behind the play.

While Krug took his time getting off the ice, McAvoy jumped onto the playing surface and received a pass, but the whistle was blown– the Bruins had too many men on the ice.

Cassidy sent Heinen to the penalty box to serve the bench minor at 2:14 of the overtime and Boston dug in deep to kill of the penalty.

After 65 minutes of action, the score was still, 2-2, but the Golden Knights led in shots on goal, 33-27 (3-1 in OT).

The Bruins finished the night leading in blocked shots (20-18) and face-off win% (52-48), while Vegas led in giveaways (12-9) and hits (38-24).

Vegas went 0/2 on the power play, while Boston went 0/3 on the skater advantage Wednesday night.

Gallant elected to have his team shoot first in the ensuing shootout, sending Brandon Pirri to the net against Halak with the first shot.

Halak made the save.

DeBrusk kicked things off in the shootout for Boston with a soft handed shot elevated just enough to ring the crossbar on its way into the net behind Fleury, giving the Bruins the lead in the shootout, 1-0, after one round.

William Karlsson followed up DeBrusk’s goal with a snap shot goal of his own, tying the shootout, 1-1, through two rounds (Patrice Bergeron‘s attempt was denied by Fleury).

Alex Tuch and Marchand were both denied in the third round. The same went for Marchessault and Heinen in the fourth round.

Gallant and Cassidy sent out their defenders in the fifth round, with Theodore getting a chance (denied) and Krug getting a shot off on Fleury (easy save).

In the sixth round, Gallant sent out Lindberg’s skilled hands, but Halak kept the paddle down to block his five-hole and make the save.

Finally, Backes emerged from the Bruins bench and made his way towards the net with the puck casually on his stick.

He unloaded a wrist shot up high on Fleury and scored the game-winning shootout goal, notching the, 3-2, victory for Boston in the sixth round of the shootout.

Boston’s point streak was extended to 12 games as the B’s improved to 2-2 in shootouts this season. Vegas fell to 2-2 in shootouts and lost on home ice for the first time to the Bruins in Golden Knights franchise history.

The Bruins improved to 24-4-5 when scoring first this season and improved to 15-10-5 on the road. They have not lost a game in regulation since Jan. 19th.

Boston travels to St. Louis to wrap up their five-game road trip on Saturday against the Blues. Coyle is expected to make his Bruins debut with the team on the road before his homecoming debut at TD Garden next Tuesday (Feb. 26th) against the team that originally drafted him, the San Jose Sharks.

The B’s close out the month of February with a home matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning next Thursday (Feb. 28th).


Canucks rout Bruins, 8-5

One more goal and the Vancouver Canucks dressing room could’ve been singing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” after Thursday night’s win on the road.

Jaroslav Halak (4-1-2, .936 save percentage, 1.96 goals against average in 9 games played) got the start in goal for the Boston Bruins, but was pulled after allowing five goals in favor of Tuukka Rask (4-4-0, .901 SV% and 3.05 GAA in 8 GP).

Halak stopped 14 shots out of 19 shots faced (.737 SV%) in 34:53 time on ice in the loss, while Rask made 11 saves on 14 shots against (.786 SV%) in 25:07 TOI.

Jacob Markstrom (7-3-1, .921 SV%, 3.28 GAA in 11 GP) made 23 saves on 28 shots faced for an .821 SV% in 60-minutes played en route to the, 8-5, win for the Canucks.

11 players recorded at least a point for Vancouver in the victory, while eight players recorded points for the Bruins. David Krejci had a team-high three assists and Jake DeBrusk also had three points (2-1–3 totals) for Boston.

As a result of the loss, Boston fell to 4th in the Atlantic Division with an 8-5-2 record (18 points) on the season. The Canucks maintained possession of 1st place in the Pacific Division, improving to 10-6-1 (21 points) so far.

Vancouver waltzed to sweep the season series against Boston, 2-0-0, with a 2-1 win on home ice at Rogers Arena in overtime on Oct. 20th in addition to Thursday’s 8-5 win at TD Garden.

Thursday night also marked the first time Vancouver scored eight goals in a game since doing so on Nov. 14, 2009 at Colorado.

Bruce Cassidy kept his lines the same from Monday’s matchup (and 2-1 win in overtime) against the Dallas Stars, while only three Bruins remained out of the lineup due to injury (Charlie McAvoy, upper body, Kevan Miller, hand and Urho Vaakanainen, concussion).

Miller and Vaakanainen have been skating on their own at practice, while McAvoy’s status remains shrouded in mystery (other than being on the injured reserve).

With Alex Edler out of the lineup for the Canucks Thursday night, only five players from the 2011 Stanley Cup Final were in action for both teams– incidentally, all of them still on the Bruins (Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Krejci, Brad Marchand and Rask).

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Early in the action, Bo Horvat (6) broke the 0-0 tie, capitalizing on a bad bounce and firing the puck past Halak’s glove side while his own defender, John Moore, provided a partial screen in front.

Horvat’s goal was unassisted and gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead at 2:46 of the first period.

The Canucks entered Thursday night 4-0-1 when scoring first this season and they would improve to 5-0-1 by the final horn. Meanwhile, the B’s were 3-4-1 when allowing the first goal against so far this season and are now 3-5-1 when doing so.

But for all the blunders that built up to giving up the game’s first goal, the Bruins regathered themselves and fought back in a strenuous first period.

Matt Grzelcyk (1) slapped one past Markstrom for his first goal of the season from the point at 13:41 and tied the game, 1-1.

Krejci (9) and DeBrusk (2) picked up the assist’s on the goal and the score remained tied, 1-1, heading into the first intermission.

After 20 minutes of play, the game was tied, 1-1, and Vancouver was leading in shots on goal (8-5), as well as face-off win percentage (57-44). Boston had the advantage in blocked shots (5-4), takeaways (5-2), giveaways (7-2) and hits (12-8). Neither team had yet to see any action on the skater advantage.

Just 36 seconds into the second period, Bergeron (8) gathered a rebound and pocketed it behind Markstrom to give the Bruins their first lead of the night, 2-1.

Torey Krug (3) had the only assist on the goal as a result of purposefully shooting the puck to generate a rebound with Bergeron standing right in front of the goal ready to collect the garbage.

Bruins defender, Steven Kampfer, checked Vancouver forward, Antoine Roussel without the puck and received a minor penalty for interference at 3:58 of the second period, sending the Canucks on their first power play of the night.

Vancouver was not able to convert on their first power play opportunity, but set the tone for the remainder of their skater advantages for the rest of the game with some quality chances.

Former Bruin, Loui Eriksson (2) struck go[aled] adding a tally at 7:02 of the second period, tying the game, 2-2, when Boston failed to clear the puck out of their own zone and couldn’t even come up with possession as Brandon Carlo was without a stick.

The Canucks smashed a shot wide off the end boards and capitalized on the carom with Halak out of position, thereby letting Eriksson tie the game.

Erik Gudbranson (5) and Markus Granlund (4) had the assists on Eriksson’s first of the night.

Nine seconds later, Grzelcyk cut a rut to the sin bin for high-sticking Vancouver’s Brendan Leipsic at 7:11.

While on the penalty kill, Bergeron and Marchand almost perfected a break-in with a one-timer opportunity from Bergeron to Marchand, but the puck went wide of the goal and the Canucks pounced back the other way.

Ben Hutton (4) sent a wrist shot past Halak from the blue line after the Canucks moved the puck quickly in the attacking zone while on the power play. Hutton’s power play goal gave Vancouver two unanswered goals in 1:26 and the lead, 3-2, at 8:28 of the second period.

Horvat (5) and Nikolay Goldobin (7) had the assists on the goal.

Vancouver’s lead wasn’t for long as the Bruins struck back 32 seconds later, with DeBrusk (4) tipping the puck past Markstrom to tie the game, 3-3, at 9:00.

Krejci (10) and Joakim Nordstrom (1) recorded the primary and secondary assist’s, respectively, on DeBrusk’s first goal of the night.

Kampfer couldn’t get enough of Roussel after his first penalty moments earlier, so he reached out and got just enough of a hold on him to be assessed a minor infraction for holding at 11:30, sending the Canucks back on the power play at 11:30 of the second period.

Eriksson (3) continued to get revenge on his former team by adding his second goal of the night– this time on the power play– with a tip-in goal at 13:23. Hutton (2) and Leipsic (2) had the assists on the goal that put Vancouver ahead, 4-3.

90 seconds later, Roussel (3) added a goal to make it a two-goal lead for the Canucks at 14:53 of the second period. Granlund (5) and Michael Del Zotto (2) had the assist’s on Roussel’s wacky redirection past Halak to make it, 5-3, Vancouver.

Having surrendered five goals against, Cassidy replaced Halak with Rask after Roussel’s tally.

Late in the second period, Horvat was sent to the penalty box with a two-minute minor penalty for slashing Bruins defenseman, Torey Krug, at 16:13.

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Boston converted on the ensuing power play by working the puck to the dashers and sending a saucer pass to DeBrusk (5) for the redirection past Markstrom from right in front of the net.

DeBrusk had his second goal of the night– his first on the power play– and entered his name in the hat trick watch competition with his opponent, Eriksson, though neither player would complete the rarity of a three-goal game Thursday night.

Krug (4) and Marchand (12) had the assist’s on DeBrusk’s goal at 17:18 of the second period and the Bruins pulled to within one, 5-4.

There was little cause for celebration as Gudbranson (1) notched his first goal of the season for Vancouver moments later on yet another embarrassing effort by the Bruins brass on defense and in goal.

Horvat (6) and Eriksson (6) collected the assist’s on Gudbranson’s goal at 19:28 and the Canucks led, 6-4.

Through 40 minutes of play, Vancouver led, 6-4, on the scoreboard and, 22-16, in shots on goal. The Canucks outshot the Bruins, 14-11, in the second period alone, while the B’s held onto an advantage in blocked shots (9-6), takeaways (8-7), giveaways (10-3) and hits (22-9). Vancouver maintained an advantage in face-off win% (53-47).

The Canucks were 2/3 on the power play heading into the second intermission, while Boston went into the dressing room 1/1 on the skater advantage.

Horvat tripped up David Pastrnak 38 seconds into the third period, putting Boston on the power play, but it would be a short-lived extra skater advantage as Marchand retaliated with a slash on Hutton at 1:32 of the third.

Both teams would play 4-on-4 for 1:06, then have an abbreviated 5-on-4 power play for Vancouver.

Horvat went back to the penalty box for the third time of the night when he caught Krug with a high-stick at 7:27 of the third period.

The B’s ended up with a 5-on-3 advantage about a minute later after Hutton slashed Pastrnak at 8:52, but Boston’s power play was powerless on the 35-second two-skater advantage and in the vulnerable minute after when Horvat lucked out with a shorthanded goal of his own individual effort at 9:40.

Rask tried to clear the puck, but sent it awry off of Horvat’s stick as the Canucks forward was pressuring the Bruins netminder. While Rask scrambled to make a last ditch effort play, Horvat buried the puck in the empty twine to make it, 7-4, Vancouver.

Through 10 road games this season, Horvat now has eight goals.

After a stoppage in play at 9:49 of the third period, Troy Stecher and DeBrusk exchanged some words and DeBrusk wound up with the take-down. Both players were assessed roughing minors and went to the penalty box to serve their infractions.

Jake Virtanen (6) added the final goal of the night for the Canucks on a crazy changeup shot that deflected off of Bergeron’s stick and past his own goaltender at 11:12 of the third.

Goldobin (8) and Elias Pettersson (7) had the assists on the goal that made it, 8-4, for the Canucks.

Hutton went back to the penalty box at 11:50 for slashing Bruins veteran, David Backes, and Boston responded on the ensuing power play with Danton Heinen (1) redirecting a slap pass from Grzelcyk past Markstrom at 13:38.

The Bruins once again trailed by three-goals, 8-5, and Grzelcyk (6) and Krejci (11) recorded the assists on Heinen’s first goal of the season– ending his goal-scoring drought at 13 games.

Darren Archibald and Krug mixed things up with an unequal (in size) fight at 17:48 of the third period, as Krug expressed his frustration with a disappointing effort.

No. 47 in black-and-gold picked up an extra two-minutes for instigating and as a result was charged with an automatic ten-minute misconduct.

Anders Bjork served Krug’s minor infraction for instigating, while Krug was sent to the dressing room early. Archibald, meanwhile, was charged with five minutes for fighting.

At the final horn, the Canucks had beaten the Bruins, 8-5, in a high-scoring, wildly all-over-the-place effort form both teams– with only slightly more sparks of brilliance from the team from Vancouver than unfortunate, unlucky, odd bounces and misplays for the team from Boston.

Vancouver finished the 60-minute effort ahead of the Bruins in shots on goal (33-28), despite being outshot in the third period, 12-11. Boston held onto an advantage in blocked shots (12-9), giveaways (14-6) and hits (23-15), while the Canucks led in face-off win% (52-48).

Both teams finished Thursday night 2/5 on the power play.

As a result of the loss, the Bruins faltered to 1-1-0 on their current four-game homestand with the Toronto Maple Leafs in town Saturday night and the Vegas Golden Knights paying a visit on Sunday.

Toronto is 6-0-0 on the road this season, while the Golden Knights are 3-6-0 away from T-Mobile Arena so far this season.

Boston wraps up their homestand against Vegas on Sunday before heading off to begin a four-game road trip with a matchup on the road against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, Nov. 14th.

Capitals raise the Cup for the first time, win Game 5 in Vegas

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

15,948 days after their first puck drop in franchise history, 3,701 games (regular season and postseason combined), 1,124 games played by Alex Ovechkin, 44 years, 20 years between Stanley Cup Final appearances and 1 Stanley Cup championship— their first in franchise history— the Washington Capitals are your 2018 Stanley Cup champions.

The Capitals won Game 5 on the road, 4-3, Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1, in the series.

Washington wasn’t one of the teams expected to win the Cup from day one back in October, unlike the last four or five years, but they won it anyway— clinching every series on the road and as the best road team this postseason.

Oh yeah, in case you haven’t already heard, Ovechkin finally won the Cup in his 13th NHL season. The captain of the Caps, Ovechkin was also named the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— becoming just the 2nd Russian born NHL player in league history to capture the MVP award.

Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 31 shots against for a .903 save percentage in the Cup clinching win, while Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves on 33 shots faced for an .879 SV% in 57:56 time on ice in the loss.

Lars Eller scored the game-winning goal with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the game after Devante Smith-Pelly scored the game-tying goal while falling in what’s sure to become the most iconic photo in D.C. hockey history.

David Perron, Tomas Tatar and William Carrier were in the lineup for the Golden Knights on Thursday, with Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter as a couple of healthy scratches after playing in prior Stanley Cup Final games leading up to Thursday’s Game 5 action.

Tom Wilson bumped into William Karlsson early in the first period with the night’s first big hit of the game, leaving Karlsson a little wobbly on his way back to the bench.

Colin Miller was guilty of the action’s first penalty, having received an infraction for interference against Washington defender, Michal Kempny, at 11:44 of the first period. Vegas killed off the penalty, however, and the score remained, 0-0, despite Ovechkin having dented the post on the ensuing power play.

After one period, the score remained tied, 0-0, with the Capitals leading in shots on goal, 9-7. Both teams had four blocked shots aside and the Golden Knights had the advantage in just about everything else, including hits (18-10), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (62-39).

There was only one penalty called after 20 minutes. As a result, the Caps were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.

Teetering with danger isn’t normally advised, but it’s what Vegas goers live for in forms of entertainment— like magicians, acrobats and the like— but hockey? Maybe not a great idea, though Shea Theodore put the dangerous Capitals power play unit on the ice without him as the Golden Knights defender was guilty of tripping T.J. Oshie 21 seconds into the second period.

Nevertheless, the home team prevailed unscathed.

The Golden Knights went on the power play themselves for the first time Thursday night when Christian Djoos delivered a high-stick to Reilly Smith moments later at 3:19. Vegas did not convert on their first player advantage of the game.

A few minutes later, after Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland fired a shot high over the crossbar, Jakub Vrana had the puck on his stick, transitioning from the center redline into the attacking zone on a breakaway for Washington.

Vrana (3) sniped a shot upstairs— top-shelf, glove side— on Fleury, giving the Capitals the 1-0 lead and scoring the game’s first goal.

Wilson (10) and leading point scorer in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Evgeny Kuznetsov (20), had the assists on Vrana’s goal at 6:24 of the second period. Depth scoring remained a major key to Washington’s success and ultimate victory.

But the Golden Knights weren’t going down without a fight, having reached back into their young franchise history of comebacks and quick responses to being scored on in the postseason.

Nate Schmidt (3) tied the game, 1-1, with a slap shot at 9:40 of the second period. Smith (17) and Jon Marchessault (13) had the assists and Vegas came alive— not just the team, but the entire home crowd.

With their backs against the wall, there was no backing down from the immense pressure of elimination.

But with pressure comes susceptibility to making costly errors.

Brayden McNabb yanked down Ovechkin with a trip on a breakaway 11 seconds after Schmidt scored, giving Washington’s deadly power play another chance. This time the Capitals wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to capitalize on the player advantage.

In stereotypical fashion, it was Ovechkin (15) breaking the hearts of Vegas’s penalty killing unit, rocketing his 15th goal of the playoffs past Fleury on the power play at 10:14. Not only did he set a franchise record for most goals in one postseason with the goal, but he became the first player to score 15 goals in a postseason since his biggest rival, Sidney Crosby, did so in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It seemed like poetic justice. It seemed like fate. Perhaps to the Hockey Gods, it was destiny.

Whatever it was, Nicklas Backstrom (18) and pending-unrestricted free agent, John Carlson (15), had the assists on Ovechkin’s goal that made it 2-1 Washington.

Almost a few minutes later, Vegas was rocking again on a double deflection, ultimately put in the back of the net by Perron (1)— the healthy scratch for most of the Stanley Cup Final, that had yet to score this postseason.

Perron’s goal was challenged for goaltender interference by Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, but after review, the call on the ice was confirmed; it was a good goal.

Video replay indicated Washington defender Djoos pushed Perron into the crease and made no difference on the play as Holtby was already in desperation, scrambling outside of the crease to get back square to the shooter.

The Golden Knights had tied it, 2-2, in part, thanks to the assists on Perron’s goal from Tatar (1) and Miller (4) at 12:56.

Having lost the coach’s challenge, Washington forfeited their timeout.

For the next five minutes, the game descended into organized chaos. Shift changes on-the-fly, shots ringing off the iron, save-after-save was made and bodies were flying either by contact or by propulsion on skates.

Then Ovechkin was guilty himself— guilty of tripping Karlsson late in the period as the Golden Knights were surging.

Vegas’s power play took their time to set up the perfect play. Holtby was out of position as a result of second, third and fourth chances, leaving an open net for Smith (5) to cash in the power play goal on a pass across the low slot from Alex Tuch, giving the Golden Knights their first lead of the night, 3-2.

Tuch (4) and Theodore (7) had the assists on the Smith’s goal at 19:31 of the second period and as the home crowd experienced euphoria, gloves and shoves were being exchanged after the goal horn.

Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Jay Beagle picked up matching roughing minors with Vegas’s Smith and Tuch. Both teams remained at full strength and headed into the second intermission with the Golden Knights holding on to a one-goal lead.

Entering Thursday night, the Golden Knights were 10-0 when leading after 40 minutes this postseason. Exiting Thursday night, they’d finish their Stanley Cup Final run, 10-1.

But through two periods of intense action, Vegas led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 20-20. The Golden Knights led in everything else, including blocked shots (9-6), hits (29-16), takeaways (13-8), giveaways (11-3) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). Both teams had scored a power play goal entering the second intermission. Washington was 1/3 and Vegas was 1/2 on the man advantage.

Tatar opened the third period with a hooking minor against Eller at 5:37.

Once again the Capitals set up Ovechkin on the ensuing power play, but this time Fleury was able to slam the door shut on the prolific goal scorer and keep his team ahead.

Yet Washington’s onslaught lasted longer than the power play, pressing as hard as ever to tie the game and take back momentum as the midway point of the third period approached.

Orpik kept the puck in the zone at the blue line and threw the rubber biscuit to the front of the net where Smith-Pelly (7) gained possession, dangled as Fleury went through the routine of doing the splits to go from one side of the goal to the other, but Smith-Pelly had just enough to muster a shot while falling, past Fleury’s leg pad and in.

The Caps forward tied it, 3-3, at 9:52 of the third period, matching his goal scoring output from the regular season (seven goals in 75 games played) in just 24 postseason games. Orpik (4) notched the only assist on the now iconic goal in Washington sports lore.

Then Eller (7) pocketed the go-ahead goal and game-winner, as a result of yet another scramble in front of the net, traffic, pounding and collecting a garbage goal— Washington led, 4-3, with a little more than seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.

Brett Connolly (3) and Andre Burakovsky (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Eller’s Cup-winner at 12:23.

After a stoppage in play with 2:04 remaining in their season, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used his team’s timeout to rally his troops and pulled Fleury for an extra attacker.

Washington kept getting the puck out of their own zone, sometimes icing it, sometimes just sending it wide of the empty net, but as long as time ticked down and it didn’t end up behind Holtby, nothing else mattered.

Not even a score-clock malfunction inside the arena, whereby (thankfully) the backup timekeeping apparatus was still working and kept the officials on top of everything, right down until the very last second.

For D.C. sports fans, the agony was over. Their Capitals had won.

For the first time in franchise history— dating back to 1974— Washington is home to Stanley Cup champions and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis can celebrate.

After a 60-minute effort in Game 5, the Capitals won, 4-3, and led in final shots on goal, 33-31. Washington also finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-11), while Vegas held the advantage in hits (39-27) and giveaways (15-6). Both teams finished the night scoring a power play goal, with Washington (1/4) and the Golden Knights (1/2).

The teams shook hands, Ovechkin was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the fans wearing Vegas gold and Caps red both booed league commissioner, Gary Bettman, and finally, Ovechkin was presented with the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports— the Stanley Cup— for the first time in his career.

Entering Thursday night, Washington had lost nine out of their last 10 Game 5s on the road. That didn’t matter. Teams leading the series 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final were 32-1 all-time, until the Capitals made them 33-1.

Veteran forward Jay Beagle became the first player to win the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, AHL’s Calder Cup and NHL’s Stanley Cup in a professional career, while Ovechkin became just the first Russian captain to lead his team to a Cup victory in NHL history.

Ovechkin also became the 16th player in league history to play at least 1,000 regular season games before winning his first Cup (joining legendary Detroit Red Wings star and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman, to do so all with one team).

Kuznetsov finished the postseason as the third Russian-born player to lead the NHL in playoff scoring during the league’s modern era (since 1943-44), joining Sergei Fedorov (1995) and Evgeni Malkin (2009, 2017) in doing so.

As for Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals head coach who is now technically a free agent in search of his next contract (and just won his first Cup in his 20th year as an NHL head coach), Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after the game, “if he wants to be back, he’ll be back.”

Other Washington Post helps Capitals secure 3-1 series lead (no Pentagon Papers necessary)

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

After 3,700 total games played (regular season and playoffs) in franchise history, the Washington Capitals will have a chance to hoist the Cup in game #3,701 having defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 6-2 at Capital One Arena on Monday night.

Washington will take a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 in Vegas and the Stanley Cup will be in the building if the Capitals win Thursday.

Braden Holtby amassed 28 saves on 30 shots against for a .933 save percentage in the win for Washington, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 out of 23 shots faced for a series low .739 SV% in the loss for the Golden Knights.

Early in the first period Washington defender, John Carlson, tripped up Vegas forward, Erik Haula, and was assessed a minor penalty.

On the ensuing Golden Knights power play, Vegas had the Capitals penalty killing unit scrambling, yielding an open net opportunity as Holtby was way out of position— caught up in the mass desperation.

James Neal hit the far right post on a one-timer from the low left slot.

The home crowd erupted as Washington killed off the penalty, despite the lively play of the Golden Knights, but the score remained 0-0.

Vegas blueliner, Colin Miller tripped Lars Eller almost midway through the first period, giving Washington their first power play opportunity of the night at 9:22.

It only took 32 seconds for the Washington to capitalize on the player advantage as T.J. Oshie (8) buried a rebound to open the scoring in Game 4.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (16) and Nicklas Backstrom (15) had the assists on the goal that only happened thanks to Kuznetsov’s initial shot rebounding off of Fleury and landing on the stick of Oshie as the Capitals winger was crashing the net. The goal was Oshie’s 6th power play goal of the postseason.

About five minutes later, Tom Wilson (5) made it a two-goal game for the Caps.

Washington fought to come away with the puck on an attacking zone faceoff to the right of the Vegas netminder, then worked a quick pass to Wilson in the low slot for a one-timer. Kuznetsov (17) notched his second assist of the night on Wilson’s goal at 16:26 of the first period.

Late in the closing minute of the opening frame, Devante Smith-Pelly (6) cashed in top shelf on a crazy carom and sent Capital One Arena on an ecstatic euphoria never seen before in D.C. hockey history.

Alex Ovechkin (12) and Matt Niskanen (8) collected the assists on Smith-Pelly’s goal at 19:39.

After one period, Washington led, 3-0, on the scoreboard, while the Golden Knights actually outshot the Capitals (11-10). The Caps also led in blocked shots (7-3), takeaways (5-4), giveaways (4-3) and faceoff win percentage (64-36), while both teams had 14 hits aside. Vegas was 0/1 on the power play and Washington was 1/1 on the skater advantage after 20 minutes.

John Carlson tripped William Karlsson (no relation) early in the second period and the Golden Knights had another chance on the power play. They did not convert.

Moments later, Wilson delivered a cross check up high to Nate Schmidt. Once again, Vegas failed to score a power play goal.

Late in the second period Neal slashed Holtby and the Capitals went on the power play at 14:45.

Carlson (5) sent a cannon of a slap shot past Fleury and gave Washington four unanswered goals to lead, 4-0. Kuznetsov (18) and Oshie (12) had the assists on Carlson’s power play goal at 15:23 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led, 4-0, on the scoreboard and trailed the Golden Knights, 22-15, in shots on goal. Washington held the advantage in blocked shots (16-6), takeaways (10-7), giveaways (13-4) and faceoff win percentage (54-46), while Vegas led in hits (26-22). The road team Golden Knights were 0/3 on the power play and the home team Capitals were a perfect 2/2 on the man advantage after two periods.

Haula slashed Ovechkin 93 seconds into the third period and handed Washington a power play out of the gate in the final frame, but the Caps misfired for the first time on their special teams play and could not convert on the power play.

Kuznetsov then tripped Haula shortly after the Golden Knights forward made his way out of the box, giving Vegas a power play at 3:42.

One second after the power play ended, Neal (6) brought the puck from the hashmarks to the goal and tucked a shot under the short side arm of Washington’s netminder, ending the shutout opportunity, and cutting the lead to three.

Haula (6) and Miller (3) were credited with the assists on Neal’s goal at 5:43 of the third period and the Golden Knights trailed, 4-1.

With a surge in momentum that came much too late, Reilly Smith (4) made it a two-goal game at 12:26 with his 4th goal of the postseason, assisted by linemate Jon Marchessault (12) and teammate Luca Sbisa (4). Vegas’s improbable comeback had brought them to a 4-2 deficit.

Less than a minute later, Ryan Reaves and Wilson went at each other, subsequently receiving roughing minors and yielding 4-on-4 play at 13:03 of the third period. 36 seconds later, Washington put an end to Vegas’s comeback attempt.

Michal Kempny (2) was left all alone for a one-timer past Fleury as Miller was back-checked by Oshie while the Capitals forward was entering the attacking zone and working the puck over to Backstrom.

Backstrom (16) and Oshie (13) notched the assists on Kempny’s goal at 13:39 and the Caps led, 5-2.

Brooks Orpik was on the receiving end of a reverse check from Vegas early in the series and now Oshie had done it to one of Vegas’s own.

After Nate Schmidt was called for tripping Kuznetsov at 16:57, Oshie was back on the ice for his shift on the power play. Brayden McNabb took liberties on the Washington veteran by delivering a cross check after a stoppage in play at 17:44 of the third.

Oshie and Golden Knights defender, Deryk Engelland, exchanged heated words and shoves, leaving the officials on the ice with no other choice but to start handing out 10-minute misconducts (and that’s just what they did).

Both players involved were sent to the showers a few minutes early.

Brett Connolly (6) made sure to cash in on the resulting 5-on-3 power play opportunity.

Kuznetsov sauced a pass across the low slot— deflecting off of Backstrom— to reach Connolly, where the Capitals clutch depth scoring forward held the puck for a second then fired a shot past Fleury on the short side.

Backstrom (17) and Kuznetsov (19) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal that made it 6-2 at 18:51 of the third period. Kuznetsov became the first player to record four assists in a Stanley Cup Final game since legendary Colorado Avalanche center (and current GM), Joe Sakic, recorded four assists against the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.

Washington’s four-goal lead was enough to seal the deal on a Game 4 victory, but not without one more 10-minute misconduct handed to Reaves at 19:17 of the third.

At the end of 60 minutes, the Capitals had not only taken a 3-1 series lead with a chance to win the Cup in Game 5, but had finished their Game 4 effort leading in blocked shots (24-8) and giveaways (18-7). Vegas finished the night leading in shots on goal (30-23), hits (39-29) and faceoff win percentage (52-48) despite trailing in the faceoff dot for the first two periods.

The Golden Knights went 0/4 on the power play, while the Capitals went 3/5 on the power play in Game 4.

At the start of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, hockey fans were guaranteed a first-time Stanley Cup winner and we’re on the verge of seeing Ovechkin and Co. hoist the Cup for the first time in Washington’s franchise history. Unless Fleury and the Golden Knights can rebound and hold off elimination long enough for a Game 7 on home ice.

Fleury’s series save percentage has dipped below an .855, leading some to wonder why current Vegas backup Maxime Lagace wasn’t utilized just to shake things up in Game 4. But for now both Golden Knights and Caps fans will have to wait until Thursday night for all of their last minute Game 5 storylines and history in the making.

Puck drop in Game 5 is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and viewers can tune in on NBC, CBC, SN or TVAS (depending on your location/viewing preferences).

Down the Frozen River Podcast #108- Ron Howard (Probably) Likes Our Podcast

There’s no imminent announcement regarding Seattle, but something’s coming (a vote) this fall or winter. Max Domi and Phil Kessel are back in the rumor mill. The Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals are tied, 1-1, heading to D.C. for Games 3 and 4 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Oh, and Nick and Connor enjoyed Solo and talk Star Wars.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Holtby, Ovechkin and Co. pull off Game 2 heist in Vegas

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

 

For the first time in their 43-year franchise history, the Washington Capitals have a Stanley Cup Final victory, having beaten the Vegas Golden Knights on the road 3-2 in Game 2 Wednesday night.

Of course, Vegas notched their first Stanley Cup Final win in their first Stanley Cup Final game in their inaugural season in Game 1, but for Caps fans— some of whom have waited their entire life— this moment has been a long time coming.

Braden Holtby made 37 saves on 39 shots against for Washington, amassing a .949 save percentage en route to the win. Meanwhile, Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 out of 26 shots faced for an .885 SV% in 58:01 time on ice.

T-Mobile Arena’s pregame show included string instruments and a performance by Imagine Dragons as a means of spicing things up for Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final— fully cranking the energy in the building to 11 (and by a non-expert account, 11 times more than Game 1’s pregame show).

James Neal (5) opened scoring almost halfway into the opening frame on a snapshot that he sniped past Holtby’s glove for the 1-0 lead. Luca Sbisa chipped the puck up ice to Neal who then took it in the attacking zone at full speed and got his shot off quickly.

Sbisa (3) and Colin Miller (2) had the assists on the goal at 7:58 of the first period.

Brayden McNabb caught Evgeny Kuznetsov with a high hit, leaving the Capitals forward hunched over, clutching his left arm. Kuznetsov (11-14—25 totals this postseason) did not return to the action in the first period.

The next stoppage in play brought forth a scrum that resulted in matching minor penalties for T.J. Oshie and Deryk Engelland— two minutes each for roughing at 16:43.

Instead of getting down as a result of losing one of their leading scorers this postseason, Washington pushed back. The Capitals broke in the offensive zone with speed during the 4-on-4 action and nearly tied the game if it weren’t for Alex Ovechkin having flubbed a pass across the ice to an open Nicklas Backstrom.

The puck bounced off of Fleury’s left leg pad with ease as the Golden Knights goaltender kicked it away from his crease. Shortly thereafter, though, Washington would get their second chance— a rare gift of second chances from the hockey gods.

After winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, the Capitals moved the puck quickly around the attacking zone, leading Michal Kempny to pinch in from the point, fake a shot and slide a pass over to a wide-open Lars Eller (6) as Fleury took the bait. Eller capitalized on the mostly empty net with a one-timed redirection and Washington tied the game, 1-1.

Kempny (3) and Andre Burakovsky (2) notched the assists at 17:27 of the first period.

Washington has scored 20 first period goals (the most in the league this postseason) and Vegas scored first in all nine home games this postseason, so it was no surprise heading into the first intermission tied, 1-1.

Similar to Game 1, shots on goal read 11-10, but unlike Game 1 the Capitals held the advantage. Statistically speaking, everything else pretty much read the same. Vegas led in takeaways (10-2), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (63-35), while Washington led in blocked shots (3-2) and hits (22-16) after 20 minutes of play. There were no power play opportunities in the first period.

Washington met Vegas on the ice for the second period without Kuznetsov, as the Capitals PR department had informed beat reporters and fans alike that the forward was “questionable” to return to Wednesday night’s action in a tweet.

Brooks Orpik was handed a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head against Golden Knights superstar, James Neal (despite replay showing the Vegas forward might have caught himself in the face with his own arm). Regardless, Vegas went on the power play at 2:04 of the second period and failed to convert on the advantage.

Alex Tuch let emotions get the best of him, cross checking Capitals defender, John Carlson, shortly after the Golden Knights power play expired. Washington went on the power play at 5:13 of the second period and only needed 25 seconds worth of the ensuing advantage.

Quick puck movement back and forth across the ice leading to an eventual pass through the slot from Eller to Ovechkin led to Ovechkin (13) landing the power play goal for Washington, giving the Capitals a 2-1 lead in Game 2— their first lead of the night. Eller (10) and Backstrom (14) had the primary and secondary assist’s on the power play goal at 5:38 of the second period.

Backstrom then took down Vegas forward, Erik Haula, about a minute later with a hold, but both players were sent to the box as Haula picked up an embellishment minor for holding right back. This time, however, the resulting 4-on-4 play did not yield any goals.

Then the unthinkable happened. Brooks Orpik scored.

Jokes aside, it’s been a long time since Orpik last had a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone regular season and postseason combined. In fact, he broke a 146-game goal-less drought in the postseason and 220-game goal-less drought combined with his shot from the point that beat Fleury thanks to heavy net front traffic.

Orpik (1) made it a 3-1 game for the Capitals with his goal at 9:41 of the second period on just his third career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Eller (11) and Burakovsky (3) notched the assists.

Ryan Reaves made his physical presence known— perhaps too known— when he was called for roughing against Tom Wilson just past the halfway point of the game. Washington’s power play was short lived, however, as Dmitry Orlov made a great defensive play at the cost of taking a penalty— a minor for hooking Ryan Carpenter as the Golden Knights forward was on a breakaway at 11:42 of the second period.

Vegas would have to wait out 28 seconds of 4-on-4 action until they’d go on the power play. The Golden Knights didn’t convert on the man advantage opportunity, but it wouldn’t be long before they’d get another chance.

After taking a hit in the corner from Miller, Oshie retaliated while the puck was far away from the Vegas blueliner. As a result, the Capitals forward was sent to the sin bin with an interference infraction at 17:27.

The Golden Knights responded on the scoreboard 20-seconds into the ensuing power play as Shea Theodore (3) wired a shot past Holtby with many skaters of both home and away clubs screening the Capitals netminder.

Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (8) had the assists on Miller’s power play goal at 17:47 and the Golden Knights pulled to within one, 3-2.

Despite allowing a goal and giving up some momentum, Washington pushed back with a tremendous two-on-one scoring chance from Eller to Jakub Vrana that rang off the post and cast doubt in Vegas’s minds.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Capitals led, 3-2, on the scoreboard. The Golden Knights led in shots on goal (24-20), takeaways (16-4), giveaways (11-1) and faceoff win percentage (60-41), while Washington led in blocked shots (8-4) and hits (35-29) after two periods. The Caps were 1/2 on the power play and Vegas was 1/3 after two periods.

T-Mobile Arena was rocking, despite the home team emerging from the second intermission down, 3-2, for the third period and it looked like Washington was doing everything they could to throw away a solid effort.

Wilson hit McNabb away from the puck, racking up an interference minor at 3:13 of the third period. Shortly thereafter, Eller went to the box for hooking Miller and the Golden Knights wound up with a 5-on-3 advantage for 69 seconds at 4:05.

Vegas couldn’t score.

In fact, Vegas didn’t score for the rest of the game after Theodore’s power play goal late in the second period. Nobody scored.

Not even when— after Tuch elevated the puck on a largely empty net opportunity that was thwarted by a diving stick save made by Holtby with two minutes left in regulation— the Golden Knights pulled their goaltender for an extra skater.

Gerard Gallant used his timeout with 1:59 remaining after Tuch was denied by Holtby to shake it off and rally his players, but it was too little too late as time ticked down to the final horn.

After 60 minutes, the Capitals had evened the series, 1-1, with a 3-2 victory on the road in Game 2. Washington handed the Golden Knights just their third loss this postseason, their second at home and just their first in regulation in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Despite dominating offensive statistics, Vegas couldn’t muster enough high-quality scoring chances to score enough goals to overcome Washington’s lead and win.

Vegas finished the night leading in shots on goal (39-26), giveaways (12-4) and faceoff win percentage (59-42), but the Caps led in the final score (3-2), blocked shots (18-8) and hits (46-39). Both teams scored one power play goal Wednesday night, with Washington (1/2) having operated at a 50% success rate on the man advantage and Vegas (1/5) at 20%.

The series shifts to Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. for Game 3, where the Capitals will have a chance to win their first Stanley Cup Final victory on home ice. Likewise, the Golden Knights will have a chance to steal their first road victory in franchise history in the Stanley Cup Final.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and viewers can tune in on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS depending on their location (NBCSN in the United States, CBC, SN and TVAS in Canada).

Vegas opens 2018 Stanley Cup Final with 6-4 win in wild (Game) One

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Depth scoring proved to matter a lot more than the best goaltending this postseason as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Washington Capitals 6-4 in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final Monday night.

Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves on 28 shots faced for an .857 save percentage in the win, while Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 33 shots against for an .848 SV% in 58:12 time on ice.

T-Mobile Arena was the loudest it has ever been prior to puck drop in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Then again, T-Mobile Arena is only in its first season of NHL hockey and well, you get the point— Vegas was ready for its Stanley Cup Final debut.

Almost six minutes into the action, after swapping chance for chance, Andre Burakovsky boarded Golden Knights forward, Cody Eakin, and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction for boarding.

Vegas made sure to capitalize on the ensuing power play.

Colin Miller (3) received a pass back to the point from Erik Haula and flung a slap shot on goal, beating Holtby on the short side as the Capitals netminder was partially screened by his own defender, John Carlson. The Golden Knights led, 1-0 thanks to Miller’s power play goal.

Haula (5) recorded the only assist on the goal at 7:15 of the first period.

Past the halfway mark of the opening period, Washington only had one shot on goal, but that was about to change.

Michal Kempny tossed the puck on goal where Brett Connolly (5) was standing in the low slot, ready to deflect and successfully redirected the rubber biscuit past Fleury, tying the game, 1-1, at 14:41 of the first period. Kempny (2) and Burakovsky (1) had the assists.

A mere 42 seconds later, the Caps struck again as Nicklas Backstrom (5) pocketed a redirected pass over the leg pad of Vegas’s netminder to give Washington their first lead of the night, 2-1. T.J. Oshie (9) and Jakub Vrana (5) notched the assists on the goal at 15:23.

For the first time this postseason, the Golden Knights trailed on home ice in regulation. It only lasted for about three minutes.

Reilly Smith flew in from the bench and shot one wide of the goal, sending the puck on a crazy carom off the boards where William Karlsson (7) pounced and scored as Holtby was scrambling to go side-to-side in net. Smith (15) and Deryk Engelland (1) had the assists on Karlsson’s goal at 18:19 of the first period and Vegas tied the game, 2-2.

After 20 minutes of hockey, the Golden Knights and Capitals were deadlocked, 2-2, with Vegas holding a slight advantage in shots on goal, 11-10. The home team also led in takeaways (7-2) after one period, while Washington dominated in blocked shots (7-2), hits (19-11) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). Giveaways were even, 3-3, after the first period and Washington had yet to see time on the power play.

Meanwhile, Vegas was 1/1 on the man advantage entering the first intermission.

Early in the second period Smith (3) pounced on a juicy rebound allowed by Holtby on a shot from Engelland, giving the Golden Knights a 3-2 lead. Engelland (2) and Jon Marchessault (11) were credited with the assists on Smith’s goal at 3:21 of the second period.

Minutes later Oshie worked a highlight reel pass over to Carlson (4) who promptly wired one into the open twine behind Fleury as the Vegas netminder had other things in mind. Oshie (10) and Backstrom (13) recorded the primary and secondary assists on Carlson’s goal at 8:29 of the second period, tying the game, 3-3.

The Golden Knights followed up with a bench minor for too many men on the ice about five minutes later, deftly handing Washington a full momentum swing in the action that could have led to a dismal outcome had the home team allowed a power play goal against.

Birthday boy David Perron served the minor in the box at 13:55 and the Capitals did not convert on the advantage.

Through 40 minutes of play the score was tied, 3-3, with the Golden Knights maintaining an advantage in shots on goal (25-18), takeaways (15-5) and giveaways (7-6). Meanwhile the Capitals led in blocked shots (11-6) and hits (28-19). Washington was 0/1 on the power play and Vegas was 1/1 after two periods.

Washington’s Tom Wilson (4) opened third period scoring with a redirection that squibbed through Fleury and eventually was knocked in by the Golden Knights goaltender, giving the Capitals a 4-3. Alex Ovechkin (11) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (14) recorded their first career Stanley Cup Final points 69 seconds into the period with the assists on Wilson’s goal.

Kuznetsov extended his point streak (6-10—16 totals) to 11 games as a result of the assist.

Not to be outdone by the pesky Capitals forward, Ryan Reaves (2) recorded his first career Stanley Cup Final goal— unassisted— on a tremendous follow up after Holtby gave up another costly rebound. Reaves’s goal tied the game, 4-4, at 2:41 of the period.

Shortly thereafter, Wilson took a run at Marchessault while the puck was miles away (slight exaggeration added for emphasis), leaving Marchessault slow to get back on his own feet and the refs with the difficult decision to converse and decide that, after all, there should have been a penalty.

While Wilson went to the box for— blatant— interference, Perron equalized the manpower on the ice with his own cross checking penalty against Ovechkin, yielding 4-on-4 action at 5:53 of the third.

On a chance up ice, Shea Theodore tossed a puck off of Devante Smith-Pelly that not only disrobed the Capitals forward of his skate guard, but landed right back on the stick of the Vegas defender.

Theodore used the opportunity to skate past Smith-Pelly and send a pass cross-ice to Tomas Nosek (2) for the one-timer on one knee that rocketed past Holtby. The Golden Knights led 5-4 thanks to Nosek’s goal and Theodore’s (6) assist at 9:44.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Final history, there were four lead changes in one game. This time Vegas never looked back.

With 1:52 remaining in regulation, Barry Trotz pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker. Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights would not be outplayed, as Washington botched an open net one-timer scoring opportunity with about 45 seconds left on the clock.

Soon enough, Perron cleared the puck off glass and with just enough mustard on it to not be called for icing. Nosek (3) chased the loose biscuit down and finished things off with an empty net goal at 19:57 of the third period. Perron notched the assist (8) and the Golden Knights secured the 6-4 victory in Game 1.

Time expired and Vegas finished the night with a 1-0 series lead— three wins away as an expansion franchise from winning the Cup in their first season. The Golden Knights ended the night leading in shots on goal (34-28), giveaways (9-7) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). Washington ended the night leading in all things related to the physical department (blocked shots, 18-17, and hits, 38-25).

Vegas looks to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night on home ice. Viewers can tune in at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS.

Vegas’s first line lifts Golden Knights to 3-1 series lead in Game 4

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William Karlsson had a goal, Jonathan Marchessault had an assist and Reilly Smith had a goal and an assist en route to the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 4 of the 2018 Western Conference Final. The Golden Knights first liners— along with another strong performance from their goaltender— helped cement a 3-1 series lead.

Vegas is one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final almost a year since their roster was formed via the 2017 Expansion Draft.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 35 saves on 37 shots against for a .946 save percentage in the win for the home team at T-Mobile Arena Friday night, while Winnipeg netminder, Connor Hellebuyck, stopped 26 out of 29 shots faced for an .897 SV% in 58:29 time on ice in the loss.

Penalties are all the more costly in the postseason and the Jets got an early reminder of why that is in the first period when Tyler Myers was called for interference less than two minutes into the action.

William Karlsson (6) buried a shot from one knee off the post and in on the power play and the Golden Knights led, 1-0, 2:25 into the first period. Jonathan Marchessault (10) and Reilly Smith (14) notched the assists on the goal.

Marchessault tied the NHL record for most points by a player in his team’s first playoff appearance (18 points) with his assist on Karlsson’s goal. Igor Larionov was the last player to record 18 points in his team’s first postseason with the San Jose Sharks in 1994, while Jude Drouin was the first to establish the record of 18 points by a player in his team’s first postseason as a member of the New York Islanders in 1975.

A little past the halfway mark of the first period, Mark Scheifele slashed Brayden McNabb and was subsequently sent to the penalty box to serve for a minor infraction. Vegas did not convert on the ensuing player advantage.

After one period, the Golden Knights led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and trailed, 10-9, in shots on goal. Both teams had nine blocked shots and four giveaways aside, while the Jets led in hits (17-15). Vegas led in takeaways (3-2), faceoff win percentage (65-35) and was 1/2 on the power play after 20 minutes of play, while Winnipeg had yet to see any time on the special teams advantage.

Karlsson slashed Jets captain, Blake Wheeler, and was sent to the sin bin early into the second period— less than three minutes into the second frame— but Winnipeg couldn’t will the puck past Fleury on the power play.

Then Tomas Nosek tripped Jacob Trouba at 8:28 of the second period and the Jets went back on the power play.

This time, things were different, as Wheeler had set up Patrik Laine with one of the best chances of the night, only to be denied by Fleury after Laine couldn’t receive the pass cleanly, settle the puck and release one of his patented quick shots in time. No matter, Winnipeg would get another chance.

On the ensuing faceoff in the attacking zone, the Jets won the puck and worked it around the offensive zone before Dustin Byfuglien fed Laine in his comfort zone— the faceoff dot just to the right of Vegas’s netminder.

Laine (5) ripped a shot past Fleury and Winnipeg had a power play goal of their own, tying the game, 1-1, at 9:29 of the second period. Byfuglien (11) and Wheeler (18) had the assists on the goal.

Just like in Game 3, however, the Golden Knights responded on the scoreboard less than a minute later as Nosek found redemption for serving time in the sin bin.

Nosek (1) poked the puck through Hellebuyck after Pierre-Edouard Bellemare nearly scored on a wraparound 10:12 into the second period, giving Vegas a 2-1 lead.

Bellemare (1) and Luca Sbisa (1) were credited with the assists on the Golden Knights goal 43 seconds after Winnipeg tied the game.

Late in the period, Sbisa tripped Nikolaj Ehlers and Vegas went on to kill off the minor penalty without any trouble from the visiting team’s power play.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Golden Knights led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and trailed, 25-22, in shots on goal. Vegas also led in blocked shots (16-15) and takeaways (13-6), while Winnipeg led in hits (32-28) and giveaways (8-6). Faceoff win percentage was even (50-50) after two periods and the Jets were 1/3 on the power play, while Vegas was 1/2 on the skater advantage heading into the second intermission.

A mere 28 seconds into the third period, McNabb was guilty of cross checking Scheifele and was sent to the box. Winnipeg came out of the gates surging and being shorthanded did not help Vegas’s cause, though the Golden Knights were able to kill off the penalty, thanks to Fleury’s stellar goaltending.

But it was Tyler Myers (4) finding the back of the twine in the vulnerable minutes after Winnipeg’s power play, having shot the puck through Fleury’s five-hole and wedging it underneath the net camera.

Jack Roslovic (3) had the only assist on the game-tying goal at 5:34 of the third period. This time the Golden Knights did not immediately strike back and the game remained tied, 2-2, for a little over seven minutes.

A Jets turnover led to a loose puck winding up on Smith’s stick. The Vegas forward charged into the attacking zone and sniped a snap shot past Hellebuyck’s short side going bar down to give the Golden Knights their third lead of the night, 3-2.

Smith’s (2) goal was just his second of the postseason and was unassisted at 13:02.

Time ticked down. Tension grew. Tempers didn’t flare as much as they had in previous games in the series, which didn’t lead to any retaliation penalties that could’ve jeopardized everything for either club.

With 90 seconds remaining in regulation, Hellebuyck vacated the goal for an extra attacker.

Paul Maurice called a timeout at a stoppage in play with 1:13 remaining in regulation to rally his Jets roster, but Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights matched the intensity— clearing the puck, battling along the boards and keeping the vulcanized rubber biscuit away from their opponent.

Vegas won the final faceoff of the game with 6.8 seconds remaining in their own zone. Winnipeg would not get a last second shot away as Marchessault guided the puck through the neutral zone as the final horn sounded.

The Golden Knights won Game 4, 3-2, and are now one win away from advancing to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final— in their inaugural season.

After 60 minutes of play, Winnipeg led in shots on goal (37-29) and giveaways (16-9), but Vegas led in blocked shots (25-18), hits (45-43) and more importantly in the final results column. The Jets went 1/4 and the Golden Knights were 1/2 on the power play Friday night.

Game 5 is Sunday afternoon at Bell MTS Place in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 3:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States have the chance to witness history on NBC. Fans in Canada, meanwhile (assuming the entire country’s rooting for the last Canadian team in the postseason) can cheer for the Jets on CBC, Sportsnet or TVAS.

Fleury stands on his head, but not in Cirque, for 4-2 Vegas win

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The house always wins in Vegas and that was once again apparent as the Vegas Golden Knights took down the Winnipeg Jets, 4-2, on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena.

The Golden Knights lead the 2018 Western Conference Final, 2-1, thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal and their superstar since the 2017 Expansion Draft, Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3.

For the first time in about nine weeks, the Jets have lost back-to-back games (dating back to a string of three losses in mid-March during the regular season).

Fleury made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in the win, while Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck stopped 26 shots out of 29 shots faced for an .897 SV% in 58:58 time on ice in the loss.

Quick goals were a theme Wednesday night as Jonathan Marchessault (7) kicked things off with a beautiful backhand goal, beating Hellebuyck with just a tap-in after the Jets netminder overcommitted 35 seconds into the action.

Brayden McNabb (2) had the only assist on the goal and the Golden Knights led, 1-0.

After taking a wild elbow to the face from a Winnipeg defender, James Neal left the ice for a short period of time in the first period. Neal would return by the end of the opening frame and proved to be a key component in Game 3 in the second period.

Erik Haula served a minor penalty for tripping about midway through the first period and the Jets did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Vegas was unable to convert on two man advantage opportunities of their own late in the third (Josh Morrissey for holding at 14:50 and Mathieu Perreault for tripping at 19:35 of the first period, respectively).

After one period of play, the Golden Knights led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and 10-3 in shots on goal. Vegas also led in takeaways (6-0), giveaways (5-1) and faceoff win percentage (71-29), while Winnipeg led in blocked shots (8-5) and hits (18-9). Both teams had yet to convert on the power play as the Jets were 0/1 and the Golden Knights were 0/2 after the first period.

Winnipeg opened scoring in the second period with a nifty deflection by Mark Scheifele (13) on a shot from Blake Wheeler at the goal line to the left of Fleury. Scheifele’s deflection beat the Vegas netminder on the short side and tied the game, 1-1, at 5:28 of the second period as the Jets looked to soar.

Wheeler (16) had the only assist on the goal and the game did not remain tied for long.

Not long at all, as 12 seconds after the Jets tied it, the Golden Knights untied it with a goal of their own from none other than James Neal.

Neal (4) pocketed the puck in the twine after Hellebuyck butchered a chance to handle the puck and promptly turned it over to Vegas forward, Erik Haula. Haula quickly threw the piece of vulcanized rubber in front of the goal where Neal was awaiting and Vegas took the lead, 2-1, at 5:40 of the second period.

Haula (4) had the only assist on the goal.

Less than three minutes later the Golden Knights were at it again with the same basic principle— get the puck down low, toss it to the guy in front of the net in the low slot, one-time it/deflect it and score.

So it came as no surprise when Neal collected his own rebound, then wrapped around the goal only to toss the puck to Alex Tuch (5) in the low slot for the redirection into the twine. Vegas had a two-goal lead just like that at 8:13 of the second period. Neal (5) and Nate Schmidt (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists and the Golden Knights led, 3-1.

About a minute later, Scheifele slashed McNabb and the home team went on the power play. Unfortunately for T-Mobile Arena goers, the Golden Knights did not score a goal on the ensuing power play.

Moments later, Vegas defender, Luca Sbisa, was guilty of holding Perreault and was sent to the sin bin. Winnipeg did not convert on the ensuing player advantage at 14:39 of the second period.

In the closing minutes of the second frame, a scrum resulted after the whistle had been blown on a routine cover up by Fleury. Every skater on the ice grabbed a hold of an opponent and exchanged some pleasantries while Fleury tickled Wheeler’s ear and Jets defender, Dustin Byfuglien latched on to two Golden Knights at once.

Scheifele, Ryan Carpenter, Wheeler and Cody Eakin were all sent to the box for their respective teams with matching roughing minors at 17:26 of the second period so there was no change in strength on the ice.

Through 40 minutes of play, Vegas held on to a 3-1 lead over Winnipeg. The Golden Knights still had advantages in shots on goal (22-19), blocked shots (14-13), takeaways (11-2), giveaways (8-4) and faceoff win percentage (51-49), while the Jets led in hits (38-24) after two periods. Neither team had scored on the power play, as Winnipeg was 0/2 and Vegas was 0/3 entering the second intermission.

Winnipeg came out strong in the third period.

So strong, in fact, that the Jets scored in the first 18 seconds of the period as Scheifele (14) scored his second goal of the night emulating Tuch on his goal for the Golden Knights.

The Jets won the opening faceoff of the third period and worked the puck down low in the attacking zone, where Kyle Connor then found Scheifele sneaking behind Vegas’s defense in open ice for a one-timer past Fleury as the Golden Knights goalie had to stretch across the crease.

Connor (7) and Wheeler (17) had the assists on the goal and Winnipeg pulled to within one, as the Golden Knights two-goal lead diminished to a 3-2 lead with plenty of time left in regulation.

Scheifele’s second goal of the night set an NHL record for most road goals in a postseason (11), previously held by Sidney Crosby (with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009) and Joe Mullen (with the Calgary Flames in 1989), who each had 10 road goals in their respective postseason runs.

Coincidentally, both the 2009 Penguins and 1989 Flames won the Stanley Cup.

The Jets dominated the pace of play throughout the third period, as Fleury was auditioning for a role in Cirque du Soleil by seemingly standing on his head making save-after-save for Vegas.

Fleury’s play culminated in a split across the crease followed by a desperation dive to deny Winnipeg of two quality scoring chances that for sure would have tied the game otherwise if it were not for Fleury’s superhuman ability.

After Hellebuyck covered the puck for a faceoff, Paul Maurice called a timeout to gather his team, draw up a plan and rally a way to forcing the issue.

Instead, Maruice’s Jets were no match for Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights as the Winnipeg netminder was finally able to vacate the net with about a minute left in regulation.

Despite two blown chances at the empty net with about 25 seconds left in Game 3, Marchessault (8) was the one to get the job done on a wraparound with 2.7 seconds left in the game.

The Golden Knights forward beat out the icing call, raced to the puck and put it away for a 4-2 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead as McNabb (3) and Fleury (1) picked up the assists. Yes, Fleury fittingly got an assist on the empty net goal.

At the final horn, Adam Lowry mixed things up a bit with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the skaters on the ice as both teams found partners in case they needed to go square dancing, but the linesmen got things under control after a shoving match and Vegas celebrated their victory.

Entering Wednesday, Winnipeg had not lost back-to-back games this postseason, nor had they trailed in a series. Until now.

After 60 minutes of play, the Golden Knights walked away with the 4-2 win and an advantage in faceoff win percentage (52-48). The Jets finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-30) and hits (48-41). There were no penalties called in the third period.

Game 4 is scheduled for Friday night at T-Mobile Arena with puck drop a little after 8 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune in once again to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN1 or TVAS.