2020 Winter Classic sweater reviews, a standings update and Top-10 NHL power rankings.
The Boston Bruins third line dominated scoring on Sunday as the B’s defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 6-2, at TD Garden in Game 2 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
Charlie Coyle (three assists), Danton Heinen (goal, two assists) and Marcus Johansson (two assists) led the way for the Bruins while Torey Krug (three assists) chipped in from the blue line in the dominant display of offensive secondary scoring.
Tuukka Rask (10-5 record, 2.02 goals against average, .937 save percentage in 15 games played this postseason) made 21 saves on 23 shots against (.913 SV%) in the win for Boston.
Hurricanes goaltender, Petr Mrazek (5-5, 2.72 GAA, .894 SV% in 11 GP this postseason) stopped 19 out of 25 shots faced for a .760 SV% in the loss.
As a result, Steven Kampfer rejoined the long list of healthy scratches (including Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Jordan Szwarz, Peter Cehlarik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman), while John Moore (upper body) and Noel Acciari (upper body) remain day-to-day. Kevan Miller (lower body) is still out.
Midway through the opening course of the action, Chara tripped up Hurricanes forward, Andrei Svechnikov, and was sent to the penalty box at 11:56 of the first period.
Carolina was not able to convert on the ensuing power play– their first of the afternoon on Sunday.
Less than two minutes after killing off Chara’s minor, the Bruins rallied with a scoring chance of their own after maintaining possession deep in the offensive zone.
Coyle worked the puck back to the point where Johansson flipped a pass over to Matt Grzelcyk as the Boston defender pinched near the face-off circle to the right of Mrazek.
Grzelcyk (2) fired a shot past the Carolina goaltender’s blocker on the short side and the puck trickled past the goal line to give the B’s the lead, 1-0.
Johansson (5) and Coyle (4) tallied the assists on Grzelcyk’s goal at 15:22 of the first period.
A few minutes later, Justin Williams interfered with Heinen in front of the Canes net and was sent to the box at 18:26 with a minor infraction.
Six seconds into the power play, David Pastrnak ripped a shot from the point that Jake DeBrusk (3) tipped on Mrazek, collected his own rebound and pocketed the loose puck into the twine to give the Bruins a two-goal lead.
Pastrnak (6) and Krug (8) had the assists on DeBrusk’s power play goal at 18:32 of the first period and Boston led, 2-0.
Heading into the first intermission, the B’s led on the scoreboard, 2-0, and in shots on goal, 11-6.
The Bruins also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-2), giveaways (4-2), hits (20-14) and face-off win percentage (62-38), while Carolina led in takeaways (4-2).
The Hurricanes were 0/1 on the skater advantage, while Boston was 1/1 on the power play entering the second period.
Patrice Bergeron opened the second period with a tripping penalty 69 seconds into the middle frame and Carolina went on the power play for the second time of the afternoon. They did not score on the resulting skater advantage.
Less than a minute after killing off Bergeron’s minor, the Bruins caught the Hurricanes in the “vulnerable minute” after special teams play as Johansson worked a pass that almost got blown up by Greg McKegg over to Connor Clifton as the Boston defender worked his way in from the point.
Clifton (1) buried the puck in the open net as Mrazek was left diving in desperation across the crease at 3:46 of the second period.
Johansson (6) and Heinen (5) had the assists on Clifton’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and the Bruins led, 3-0.
As a result of his goal, Clifton became the 19th different goal scorer for Boston this postseason– tying their franchise record for most in a single playoff run set in 1988.
Chris Wagner tied up Williams behind the Boston goal midway through the second period and was assessed a minor penalty at 13:36.
Carolina did not score on the following penalty and followed up their skater advantage with a skater disadvantage of their own as Williams held Brad Marchand at 16:07 of the second period.
Late in the ensuing power play for Boston, Krug sent Coyle up ice with a lead pass that led to a drop pass back to Grzelcyk (3) whereby the Bruins defender pulled the puck to his backhand and released a shot past the glove side of Mrazek for his second goal of the afternoon.
Coyle (5) and Krug (9) were credited with their second assists of the afternoon– joining Johansson in the two-assist department for Boston– and the B’s led, 4-0, at 17:56 of the second period thanks to Grzelcyk’s power play goal.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 4-0, on the scoreboard and, 21-17, in shots on goal– though the Hurricanes held the second period advantage by itself, 11-10.
Boston dominated every other statistical category after two periods, leading in blocked shots (6-4), takeaways (8-4), giveaways (8-4), hits (28-26) and face-off win% (54-46).
Entering the third period, Carolina was 0/3 on the power play and the Bruins were 2/2– having scored a goal on four out of their last five power plays in Games 1 and 2.
Boston came out of the second intermission with an early attack and tapped in yet another goal as David Backes (2) scooped up a loose puck and buried it into an empty frame while Mrazek was out of position after David Krejci slid a pass through the crease to Backes.
Krejci (8) and Krug (10) notched the assists on Backes’ goal at 1:10 of the third period and the Bruins led, 5-0.
As a result of the secondary assist on Backes’ goal, Krug tabbed his third helper of the afternoon.
He became the fifth defender in Bruins franchise history to record three assists in a playoff game in multiple outings and joined Ray Bourque (5x), Bobby Orr (5x), Brad Park (3x) and Carol Vadnais (2x) as the only members to do so in a Boston sweater.
About a minute later, Bergeron tripped up Williams and was sent to the box at 2:22 of the third period.
After killing off the penalty, Bergeron was freed from the box and received a lead pass from Coyle, then swerved the puck around former Bruins defender, Dougie Hamilton, and tossed the rubber biscuit to Heinen (2) for the short side goal on a backhand shot while unopposed.
Bergeron (4) and Coyle (6) had the assists on Heinen’s goal and Boston led, 6-0, while Coyle tabbed his third assist on the afternoon at 4:32 of the third period.
Midway through the third period, Williams freed the puck from behind the net in Carolina’s offensive zone and worked it back to the point whereby Justin Faulk unloaded on a shot that Williams (4) deflected to rob Rask of the shutout.
The Hurricanes cut Boston’s lead to five as Faulk (6) and Sebastian Aho (6) picked up assists to trail, 6-1, at 11:17 of the third period.
Late in the final frame of regulation, Rask skated out of his crease to clear the puck, but gave it away to Teuvo Teravainen (7) who pounced on the botched clearing attempt and wired the puck into the empty net as Rask couldn’t get back fast enough at 17:32.
The Hurricanes trailed, 6-2, and that’s all that was written from TD Garden in Game 2.
Boston finished the afternoon with the, 6-2, win and 2-0 series lead, while dominating in shots on goal (25-23), blocked shots (10-7), giveaways (11-7), hits (35-27) and face-off win% (59-42).
Carolina went 0/4 on the power play on Sunday, while the Bruins finished 2/2 on the skater advantage.
The Canes have allowed 11 goals against through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final (they only allowed five goals against in their Second Round sweep of the New York Islanders).
The B’s have won five-straight games and improved to 9-0 when leading after two periods this postseason.
Boston leads the series 2-0 as the 2019 Eastern Conference Final swings to Raleigh, North Carolina for Games 3 and 4 at PNC Arena.
Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday night with puck drop a little after 8:00 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while those in Canada can tune in on CBC, SN or TVAS.
Nick, Cap’n and Pete mourn the Columbus Blue Jackets, review the Vegas Golden Knights front office moves, Ken Holland to the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers new assistant coaches. Finally, the guys preview the 2019 Eastern Conference Final matchup between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the 2019 Western Conference Final matchup between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.
Four unanswered goals in the third period propelled the Boston Bruins over the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-2, in Game 1 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final at TD Garden on Thursday.
Patrice Bergeron scored the game-winning goal while on the power play in the third period before the B’s added two more goals for good measure as the Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 series lead.
Tuukka Rask (9-5 record, 2.02 goals against average, .938 save percentage in 14 games played this postseason) made 29 saves on 31 shots against (.935 SV%) in the win for Boston.
Carolina goaltender, Petr Mrazek (5-4, 2.40 GAA, .907 SV% in 10 games played this postseason) stopped 23 out of 27 shots faced for an .852 SV% in the loss.
Mrazek was back for the Hurricanes for the first time since leaving Game 2 against the New York Islanders in the Second Round with a lower body injury.
John Moore (upper body), Kevan Miller (lower body) and Noel Acciari (upper body) missed the action in Game 1 for Boston, while B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, re-inserted Steven Kampfer on his blue line while Charlie McAvoy served his one game suspension for an illegal hit to the head against Josh Anderson in Game 6 at Columbus in the Second Round.
He made no other changes to his lineup.
Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Jordan Szwarz, Peter Cehlarik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman made up the long list of healthy scratches for the Bruins.
Boston is making their eighth appearance in the Eastern Conference Final since the format was introduced in 1982. The B’s last made the Eastern Conference Final in 2013 (also 1983, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2011). The Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in 2013.
Carolina is making their fourth appearance in the Eastern Conference Final and first since 2009 (also 2002, 2006). The Hurricanes were swept by the Penguins in 2009.
Kicking things off with the first goal of the series was Kampfer (1) in just his second career Stanley Cup Playoff game.
Kampfer scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal at 2:55 of the first period after Marcus Johansson slipped through the neutral zone with speed and dropped the puck back to Kampfer as the Bruins defender pinched in from the point.
Johansson (4) had the only assist as Boston jumped out to the, 1-0, lead.
Just 47 seconds after Boston took the lead, Carolina tied the game with a tip-in past Rask as Sebastian Aho (5) skated through the low slot– point blank– while Andrei Svechnikov threw the rubber biscuit on goal.
Svechnikov (2) and Jordan Staal (6) notched the assists on Aho’s goal at 3:42 and the Canes tied the game, 1-1.
The Bruins did not capitalize on their first skater advantage Thursday night.
After one period, the score was tied, 1-1, while the Hurricanes led in shots on goal (10-8), giveaways (5-3), hits (9-7) and face-off win percentage (61-39).
Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (5-4), as well as takeaways (3-2) entering the first intermission.
Carolina was 1/2 on the power play, while the B’s were 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the second period.
Early in the middle frame, Kuraly got a stick up high on Calvin de Haan and went back to the sin bin for his second time of the night at 4:08 of the second period.
The Canes fired five shots on goal– including an impressive one-timer from Teravainen that was denied by Rask as the Bruins goaltender went from post-to-post– but couldn’t wire the puck into the back of the twine on the skater advantage.
Nonetheless, moments later, Greg McKegg (2) charged into the offensive zone, crashed the net and scored while bowling into the Boston netminder.
Boston had not trailed in a game for a span of 210:42 since Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Second Round prior to McKegg’s goal.
Late in the period, Ferland’s name popped up again on the event sheet– this time for interference against David Krejci— and the Hurricanes forward took a seat in the penalty box with a minor penalty at 16:56.
Boston’s power play could not convert on the late skater advantage as time dwindled down in the second period.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Hurricanes led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 25-18 (including a, 15-10, advantage in the second period alone).
Carolina also led in blocked shots (10-8), giveaways (7-6), hits (19-17) and face-off win% (57-43), while both teams had four takeaways each after two periods.
The Canes were 1/3 on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 0/2 on the power play heading into the third period.
In the final frame of regulation, Staal boarded Chris Wagner 49 seconds into the third period and yielded a power play for the Bruins.
Late on the ensuing skater advantage, Marchand unloaded on a shot and generated a rebound for Johansson (3) to settle in the slot and bury the loose puck after elevating it over Mrazek’s pads to tie the game, 2-2, with a power play goal at 2:26 of the third period.
Marchand (9) and Krejci (7) had the assists on the goal. With the secondary assist on Johansson’s goal, Krejci is now two points away from 100 career Stanley Cup Playoff points.
Less than a minute after allowing a power play goal against, the Hurricanes took another penalty when former Bruins defender, Dougie Hamilton, roughed former Carolina forward, Joakim Nordstrom, at 2:41.
Just 13 seconds into the ensuing power play, after winning an offensive zone face-off, Jake DeBrusk worked the puck from the wall to Marchand across the slot, whereby Marchand found Bergeron (6) acting as the bumper in front of the net for the one-timer past Mrazek.
Marchand (10) and DeBrusk (4) tallied the assists on Bergeron’s power play goal at 2:54 of the third period and the B’s amassed two power play goals in a span of 28 seconds to lead, 3-2, with plenty of time left in the final frame.
Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour used his timeout after Bergeron’s goal to put his players at ease and motivate them to get back on the scoreboard, but the Canes couldn’t muster the confidence– especially after Hamilton went back to the penalty box for interference at 5:29.
Though the Bruins didn’t score on the resulting power play, they did maintain solid puck possession on the skater advantage.
As the clock continued to tick away Carolina pulled their goaltender with 2:38 remaining in regulation to try to knot things up.
Shortly after Mrazek got to the bench, the Bruins cleared the puck from their own blue line as Brandon Carlo got a double deflection off of Niederreiter then his own teammate in Coyle as the puck trickled with enough momentum into the open goal frame for the empty net goal.
Coyle (6) was credited with the marker as Boston went ahead, 4-2, at 17:47. Carlo (2) and Kuraly (2) had the assists on Coyle’s goal.
Wagner (1) got a breakaway 11 seconds later, deked and slipped the puck through Mrazek’s five-hole to give the B’s a three-goal lead, 5-2, at 17:58 of the third period.
The Hurricanes only allowed five goals in four games against the New York Islanders in the Second Round, but they allowed five goals against in Game 1 against Boston as time expired in the series opener.
The Bruins had won, 5-2, and grabbed the 1-0 series lead on Thursday.
Carolina finished the night leading in shots on goal (31-28), giveaways (11-7), hits (27-25) and face-off win% (53-48), while Boston led in blocked shots (11-10) after the dust settled.
Both teams found some success on the power play in Game 1 as the Canes went 1/3 and the B’s went 2/5 on the skater advantage.
The Bruins lead the series, 1-0, and host Game 2 Sunday afternoon at TD Garden. Puck drop is expected for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC to catch the action. Fans in Canada can follow along on CBC, SN or TVAS.
If you didn’t learn your lesson from the First Round to the Second Round, hopefully you’ve learned it by now, because their is no “Third Chance Bracket”.
Yes, it’s time for the Conference Finals in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ladies and gentlemen, and this year in the Eastern Conference it’s an old Adams Division rivalry matchup.
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)
The Boston Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the First Round for the second year in-a-row, then went on to defeat John Tortorella and his pesky Columbus Blue Jackets in six games in the Second Round after turning more than a few heads during the regular season for their resolve during periods of injury.
The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t beat the Washington Capitals at any point in the regular season, but forced the defending Stanley Cup champions to a decisive Game 7– and won– to punch their ticket to the Second Round, then the Canes swept the New York Islanders.
Don Cherry labeled the Hurricanes as a “bunch of jerks” for their post-win celebrations in the regular season. People from Massachusetts are sometimes referred to as “Massholes”– especially when they get talking about their sports teams.
For the first time since 2009, Carolina made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That same postseason, these two organizations collided in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It was just the second time the Hurricanes went head-to-head in the playoffs with Boston since relocating from Hartford, where the Whalers went 0-2 in their postseason series lifetime against the B’s in the days of the Adams Division.
The Bruins eliminated the Canes in six games in 1999.
Ten years later, Carolina eliminated the B’s on road ice– in overtime– in a Game 7. Scott Walker scored the infamous goal after sucker punching former Hurricane defender, Aaron Ward earlier in the series.
Though this will only be the fifth time both clubs have met each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, these teams don’t like each other.
If that wasn’t “old time hockey” enough for you, Carolina was wearing their throwback Whalers sweaters at TD Garden that evening.
The Bruins came back from a two-goal deficit to win in overtime in that game.
Earlier in the season, the Hurricanes donned their Hartford Whalers throwbacks for “Whalers Night” at PNC Arena on Dec. 23rd and both clubs swapped goals until Carolina came out on top– for once in a Hartford sweater– in a whale’s tale of a regular season battle.
Though the Bruins hold a 3-1 advantage in all-time series matchups with the Hurricanes (including their two meetings while still in Hartford), this isn’t your father’s Whalers/Hurricanes.
Rod Brind’Amour is back (remember him?)– this time as the head coach of the team he won the Stanley Cup with in 2006.
When Brind’Amour makes a lineup change, though it may be rare, it’s deliberate. Hell, Greg McKegg had the series clinching goal in the Second Round.
Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, will have to keep adapting throughout each game– let alone the series– as he traditionally has since taking over behind the bench for the B’s in Feb. 2017.
Boston has been looking for the right amount of scoring touch for the last few seasons and General Manager, Don Sweeney, made sure to add without subtracting for this season’s deep run.
Third line center, Charlie Coyle, has proven to fit in just fine with the Bruins’ brass and Johansson even had a goal in Game 6 against Columbus.
Neither of those players were on the roster at the beginning of February, but by the end of it, Sweeney had dealt Ryan Donato and a draft pick to the Minnesota Wild for Coyle, as well as draft picks to the New Jersey Devils for Johansson to assure himself of some much needed– coveted even– depth in the bottom-six.
Secondary scoring hasn’t been a problem in this postseason run for the Bruins.
Coyle is tied for 4th on the roster in points this postseason with 5-3–8 totals in 13 games, while Johansson has chipped in two goals and three assists (five points) in 11 games played.
Leading the way in the top-six forwards, Brad Marchand has 5-8–13 totals in 13 games played. His teammate on the first line, David Pastrnak is starting to get his hot hands back and enters the Eastern Conference Final with six goals and five assists (11 points) in 13 games.
Krejci is three points shy of 100 career Stanley Cup Playoff points (all with the Bruins) and had the game-winning, series clinching, goal at Nationwide Arena in Monday’s, 3-0, shutout over the Blue Jackets.
Speaking of shutouts, Boston goaltender, Tuukka Rask is on fire lately. Rask is 8-5 with a 2.02 goals against average and .938 save percentage in 13 games played this postseason.
Gerry Cheevers holds the franchise record with eight postseason shutouts in his time wearing a black-and-gold sweater.
Though the B’s will be without Charlie McAvoy for Game 1 (McAvoy will be serving a one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head against Josh Anderson in Game 6 against Columbus), Torey Krug (1-7–8 totals) still knows how to move the puck around– especially on Boston’s special teams opportunities.
In addition, the postseason emergence of workhorse, Brandon Carlo, on the blue line has solidified an already stable, experienced, defense with 42-year-old captain, Zdeno Chara (a plus-nine rating through 13 games) leading from his own zone.
But Carolina has a workhorse of their own– with more offensive skill than Carlo. Jaccob Slavin has 11 assists from the point this postseason in 11 games.
No other defenders have had as many assists as Slavin in Whalers/Hurricanes postseason history.
Slavin also leads his team in scoring, while forwards, Teuvo Teravainen, Warren Foegele, Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho and are tied for 2nd place on the roster in postseason scoring– each player has nine points through 11 games of Carolina’s 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff run.
Teravainen leads his team in goals with six so far this postseason, but newcomer Foegele is hot on his tail with five goals and a team-best 31.3 shooting percentage.
Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, didn’t need to add much during the season, but it certainly helped that he was able to flip Victor Rask for Nino Niederreiter, who’s been a versatile addition up-and-down the lineup when Brind’Amour has called his name.
Bringing back a little familiarity in July 2017 didn’t hurt either, as “Mr. Game 7” himself and pending-UFA, Justin Williams, not only reached 100 career playoff points in Game 4 against the Islanders, but has helped lift Carolina over their playoff opponents with 3-3–6 totals in 11 games.
On defense, former Bruin Dougie Hamilton has three goals and four assists (seven points) in 11 games with the Canes this postseason. He leads his fellow defenders in goals, but trails Slavin in points thus far.
Though Carolina looks to be a top-heavy team on paper, their entire lineup was able to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions in the First Round and limit New York to five goals in four games in the Second Round.
Nobody prevents goals against as a last resort more than a goaltender and the Hurricanes have gotten everything they’ve needed and more from their goaltending duo of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney this season.
Mrazek (5-3, 2.22 GAA, .913 SV% in nine games played this postseason) got the Canes past the Capitals in the First Round and went down with a lower body injury in Game 2 against the Isles last round.
That’s where McElhinney (3-0, 1.56 GAA, .947 SV% in three games played this postseason) stepped up and got the job done in relief in Game 2 against New York and as the oldest goaltender to make his first career start in Stanley Cup Playoff history at the age of 35 in Game 3 on home ice against the Islanders.
Brind’Amour doesn’t want to rush Mrazek if he is not 100% and could very well keep going with the upper hand of McElhinney for the time being against Boston to start the series.
The Bruins led the season series 2-1-0, however, regular season success only means so much for the playoffs. Home ice is a great thing, sure, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are an entirely different animal when it comes to predictions based on season performance.
When the Hurricanes beat the Bruins, 5-3, on Dec. 23rd in Carolina, Boston went on to lose to New Jersey on Dec. 27th in regulation.
The B’s did not lose consecutive games in regulation until they lost three games in-a-row on the road from March 10-14th (4-2 loss to PIT on March 10th, 7-4, loss to CBJ on March 12th and a, 4-3, loss to WPG on March 14th).
Since Jan. 1st, Boston went 28-10-5 to finish off the regular season, while the Hurricanes went 31-11-2 from Jan. 1st until the dawn of the postseason.
Both teams have been hot since the turn of the calendar year. There’s no reason why either of them don’t deserve to have made it this far in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, one of them will have to lose in order for the other to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Boston is poised to utilize their roster that’s full of playoff experience, while Carolina is certain to try to continue to their underdog story.
That said, the Bruins are taking the series in six games and heading back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2013.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT BOS at TD Garden on March 5th, 5-3 CAR at PNC Arena on Dec. 23rd, 3-2 BOS at PNC Arena on Oct. 30th
5/9- Game 1 CAR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/12- Game 2 CAR @ BOS 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/14- Game 3 BOS @ CAR 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/16- Game 4 BOS @ CAR 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/18- Game 5 CAR @ BOS 7:15 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*
5/20- Game 6 BOS @ CAR 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVAS*
5/22- Game 7 CAR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS*
*cue Andy Williams*
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned and all is right with the world (unless your team missed the postseason).
In the past, we here at Down the Frozen River have covered every game of every series.
This year, we’re mixing it up a bit– starting with this preview of every First Round series in the Eastern Conference, continuing with a followup preview of every First Round series in the Western Conference and as much analysis as possible on the DTFR Podcast in addition to the blog.
Ch-ch-ch-changes are inevitable and yours truly cannot cover all 16 teams in the postseason alone.
A1 Tampa Bay Lightning (62-14-6, 128 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the President’s Trophy (for the first time in franchise history) by mid-March and finished with the 4th most points in a season in NHL history, while star forward, Nikita Kucherov, amassed 128 points (the most by a Russian born player in a season) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4 record, 2.40 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 53 games played) turned in a Vezina Trophy worthy performance in the crease.
Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.
The Bolts also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season (62).
Backup goaltender, Louis Domingue (21-5-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV% in 26 GP) posted respectable numbers as well in the Lightning’s thunderous run through the season.
Tampa has home ice throughout the playoffs and kicks things off with a First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 3-2, shootout victory over the New York Rangers last Friday– eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from postseason contention in the process.
Duchene and Dzingel quickly fit in to their respective top-nine roles, while McQuaid struggled to find a suitor on the blue line at first in his return to the organization that originally drafted him 55th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and broke into the league with the B’s in 2009-10.
Kinkaid was added solely for goaltending depth as pending-unrestricted free agent, Sergei Bobrovsky (37-24-1, 2.58 GAA, .913 SV% in 62 GP) led the league with nine shutouts on the season.
Blue Jackets backup goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo (10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% in 27 GP) hit some rough patches at times, but found a way to dig his team out from the backend when necessary.
In the grand scheme of things, the Bolts won the season series, 3-0-0, and outscored Columbus, 17-3, in that span.
While many consider Columbus as a Stanley Cup Playoffs pushover– given the franchise has never won a series– Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella always poses a tough challenge that can wear down his opponent.
Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, earns his own merit in his ability to keep his players cool, calm, collected and always in comeback mode, but it’s not unfathomable to see the Blue Jackets pestering Tampa about as much– if not more than– Columbus did to Washington in last season’s First Round matchup.
After all, the Blue Jackets did lead that series, 2-0.
That said, this is Tampa’s year for a Cup run or bust. The Lightning should win the series in six games.
Regular season outcomes:
5-1 TBL at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 18th, 4-0 TBL at Amalie Arena on Jan. 8th, 8-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Oct. 13th
4/10- Game 1 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on USA , SN360, TVAS
4/12- Game 2 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*
4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*
4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)
For the second season in a row, the Boston Bruins are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite being without Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara at one point this season, the Bruins rallied from their 12th defenseman on up through the rest of the lineup to finish one win shy of consecutive 50-win seasons in Bruce Cassidy‘s third season (second full season) as head coach.
Speaking of Bergeron, however, the perfect two-way center finished the season with a career-high in points (79) and matched his career-high in goals (32) while battling injury early in the season. Bergeron’s 32-47–79 totals came in just 65 games. That’s only one more game played than last season for No. 37 in black-and-gold.
Meanwhile, his linemates, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each reached milestones of their own. Marchand reached the 100-point plateau this season and became the first Bruin to do so since Joe Thornton recorded 101 points in 2002-03.
The “Little Ball of Hate” also set a career-high in assists (64) and was not suspended in 79 games played this season (he was rested for the final two games in the regular season and missed one game due to injury).
Pastrnak set a career-high in goals (38) and points (81) despite missing time due to a left thumb injury and being limited to 66 games played.
The B’s were led in net this season by Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 SV% in 40 GP) in a 1A/1B scenario. For the first time since the 1989-90 season, Boston had two goaltenders with 20-plus wins.
Back north in Toronto, the Maple Leafs added a formidable center in John Tavares in free agency and his presence was immediate, notching career-highs in goals (47 ) and points (88) in 82 games.
Auston Matthews (37-36–73 totals in 68 games) and Mitch Marner (26-68–94 totals in 82 games) continued to their thing as the $11.634 million man (starting next season) and the soon to be at least $10.000 million
boy wonder man.
Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, added Jake Muzzin in January in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in effort to shore up his blue line, however, questions remain as to how head coach, Mike Babcock will limit time on ice for veterans, like Ron Hainsey, and mix in more opportunities for Morgan Rielly (20-52–72 totals in 82 games) in his breakout season.
Boston won the season series, 3-1-0, outscoring Toronto, 16-10, in that span.
Some experts are picking the Bruins in five games. They also said similar things in 2013 and 2018. This series is going six games (at least), with Boston overcoming the Maple Leafs defense in Game 7, once again.
To their credit, Toronto always makes things interesting in what’s likely to be the most unpredictable First Round matchup.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 BOS at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 12th, 6-3 BOS at TD Garden on Dec. 8th, 4-2 TOR at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 26th, 5-1 BOS at TD Garden on Nov. 10th
4/11- Game 1 TOR @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 TOR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*
4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*
4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*
M1 Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)
Just as everyone expected, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 104 points after Barry Trotz left for the head coaching job on Long Island. Did I mention the Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions?
Anyway, Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals and collected his 8th career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as a result– though Edmonton Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, was hot on his tail with 50 goals this season.
After the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for what seemed like forever, it’s important to note the Metro was actually anybody’s game from puck drop in October. Here’s the thing, the Carolina Hurricanes were near the top of the division– they’ve been surging all season.
Speaking of surging, Carolina introduced their “Storm Surge” post-win celebration and the Caniacs loved it.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the club in Raleigh, Brett Pesce is good. Also, Sebastian Aho (30-53–83 totals in 82 GP), Andrei Svechnikov (20-17–37 totals in 82 GP) and Teuvo Teravainen (21-55–76 totals in 82 games)– they’re pretty good too.
Washington was led by Braden Holtby (32-19-5, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV% in 59 GP) between the pipes this season and is comforted to know Pheonix Copley (16-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% in 27 GP) is quite capable of playing this season’s role of Philipp Grubauer (since traded to the Colorado Avalanche after last season’s Cup celebrations).
The Canes were led by a duo of goaltenders who were once thought of as an after thought in Curtis McElhinney (20-11-2, 2.58 GAA, .912 SV% in 33 GP) and Petr Mrazek (23-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV% in 40 GP).
Though his record might not show it, Mrazek has been hitting his stride for the last month and is locked in. Ride that wave until it crests.
The Hurricanes had a league-leading ten skaters play in all 82 games. There’s no such thing as playing too much hockey– especially when it’s the first postseason appearance since 2009.
Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the Caps some interruptions coming out of the gate.
Despite Washington having swept the season series, 4-0-0, the Hurricanes kept things close in their most recent matchup with a, 3-2, loss at PNC Arena on March 28th.
Carolina almost pulled off the victory in a shootout on Dec. 14th, but lost, 6-5, on home ice to the Capitals.
Washington is beatable. Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour knows that, his team just hasn’t done it yet. Caps head coach, Todd Reirden, is also making his postseason debut at the reigns behind the bench for his respective team.
Though they won the Cup last season– that was then. This is now.
This series is going seven games and the Hurricanes will make sure there’s no repeat Cup winner this year.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 WSH at PNC Arena on March 28th, 4-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on March 26th, 3-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on Dec. 27th, 6-5 F/SO WSH at PNC Arena on Dec. 14th
4/11- Game 1 CAR @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on USA, SN360, TVAS2
4/13- Game 2 CAR @ WSH 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/18- Game 4 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on TBD, SN360, TVAS
4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*
4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*
4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*
M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points)
Barry Trotz figured out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trotz is the key. Trotz knows the secret stuff to beat Mike Sullivan and his Penguins.
That’s why the William M. Jennings Trophy winning duo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% in 46 GP) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV% in 43 GP) will backstop the New York Islanders past Pittsburgh in their First Round matchup in six games.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.
New York split the season series with the Pens, 2-1-1, with their most recent result against Pittsburgh coming in a, 2-1, shootout loss on Dec. 10th at NYCB Live (that’s the Nassau Coliseum, if you haven’t already heard. The Isles will host their First Round games there).
Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello put together a team without John Tavares. Trotz figured out how to get the most out of his players– guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and even Andrew Ladd (until Ladd got injured)– while playing the trap.
That same trap won the Cup last season.
Long Island residents have long memories– the Penguins are one of their greatest rivals– and the added energy of Tavares’ departure has only fueled more passion all season long.
Can New York flip the switch from their late season bumps in the road?
Obviously, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby. They also have Evgeni Malkin. Crosby and Malkin are ready to go for another deep postseason run after watching their biggest rival not only beat them in the Second Round last year, but go on to take the Cup out of the hands of the Penguins’ recent streak of dominance in 2016 and 2017.
The Penguins were led in the crease by Matt Murray (29-14-6, 2.69 GAA, .919 SV% in 50 GP) this season with some helpful bailout backup goaltending from Casey DeSmith (15-11-5, 2.75 GAA, .916 SV% in 36 GP). If Murray shows any signs of wavering, Sullivan shouldn’t have a hard time going to DeSmith to push his team over the edge.
How will Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann play into the fold as Jim Rutherford‘s biggest prize acquisitions this season? Who might be the breakout star for Pittsburgh that outshines Crosby in the Conn Smythe Trophy vote?
Aren’t these questions supposed to be answered in an editorial preview? Sure.
Regular season outcomes:
2-1 F/SO PIT at NYCB Live on Dec. 10th, 6-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6th, 3-2 F/SO NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 1st, 6-3 NYI at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 30th
4/10- Game 1 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*
4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*
4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*
An incredible pass from Jake DeBrusk to David Krejci harpooned the Carolina Hurricanes’ chances of emerging victorious– clad in Hartford Whalers throwback sweaters– at TD Garden on Tuesday as the Boston Bruins won, 4-3, in overtime.
Jaroslav Halak (18-9-4 record, 2.31 goals against average, .924 save percentage in 33 games played) made 34 saves on 37 shots against for a .919 SV% in the overtime win for the Bruins.
Carolina goaltender, Curtis McElhinney (17-7-2, 2.31 GAA, .921 SV% in 26 GP) stopped 34 out of 38 shots faced for an .895 SV% in the overtime loss.
Boston improved to 40-17-9 (89 points) and remained 2nd in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Hurricanes fell to 36-23-7 (79 points), but remained 3rd in the Metropolitan Division.
Carolina is tied in points with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but leads in regulation-plus-overtime wins (35-34 this season over Pittsburgh).
The Bruins have only dropped three games in regulation since the start of 2019 and have not lost in regulation since Jan. 19th. In fact, since Jan. 1st, the Bruins are 19-3-5 (Carolina is 20-6-2 in that same span).
The B’s are 4-0-0 on their current six-game homestand and 2-0-0 in the month of March. They’re also 8-0-0 in their last eight home games dating back to Feb. 5th.
Kevan Miller remains out of the lineup and is now week-to-week with an upper body injury, while David Pastrnak (left thumb) started skating with a stick in his hands at practice. Pastrnak is closer to a return, but still not yet available for the Bruins.
Sean Kuraly (concussion protocol), in the meantime, is progressing well and should take part in Wednesday’s practice before likely returning to action Thursday night against the Florida Panthers for Boston.
Those updates were provided by B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, prior to Tuesday night’s matchup with the Hurricanes.
Cassidy made no adjustments to his lineup from Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils as Miller (upper body), Pastrnak (left thumb) and Kuraly (concussion protocol) remained out of the lineup due to injury and Steven Kampfer was the only healthy scratch.
Johansson was leveled by the clean hit and nursing his shoulder as he struggled to get up and was helped off the ice by Boston’s athletic trainer, Don DelNegro, about three minutes into the game.
Less than a minute later, David Backes stood up for his fallen teammate and fought Ferland. Both received five-minute major penalties for fighting at 3:53 and Ferland actually left the game with an upper body injury as a result of the fight.
It was Backes’ 3rd fighting major in 54 games this season– including three fights in his last four games.
Things did not settle down after the fisticuffs, however, as both teams exchanged pleasantries during play and after the whistle throughout the remainder of the first period.
Calvin de Haan intentionally fired a shot off of Aho (28) in front of the goal, seeking a deflection and gave the Hurricanes the first lead of the night, 1-0.
Aho’s goal was assisted by de Haan (12) and Trevor van Riemsdyk (11) at 6:30 of the first period.
Carolina went on their first power play of the night, but it was short lived after Williams hooked Brandon Carlo at 7:44 of the opening frame.
The Canes still couldn’t convert on the resulting skater advantage and didn’t take full advantage of Boston’s bench minor for too many men on the ice at 13:49.
After 20 minutes of play, the Hurricanes led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, while the Bruins led, 12-11, in shots on goal.
Entering the first intermission, Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (5-3) and giveaways (6-5), while Carolina led in takeaways (6-4) and hits (13-8). Both teams were even in face-off win percentage (50-50), while the Hurricanes were 0/3 on the power play.
Classic. pic.twitter.com/B2Mzxx7cEo— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) March 6, 2019
Aho (29) had a breakaway about 70 seconds into the second period and pulled Halak far enough out of the crease to expose his five-hole, thereby slipping the puck through the goaltender to give Carolina a two goal lead at 1:10 of the middle frame.
Prior to trailing, 2-0, on Tuesday, the last time the Bruins trailed by multiple goals in a game this season was on Jan. 16th.
Moments after the Canes scored, Bergeron tripped up Jaccob Slavin and was assessed a minor infraction at 3:50 of the second period.
Jordan Staal followed up with a slashing penalty of his own against Bergeron at 9:43 and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the night. They did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.
Boston did respond in the vulnerable minute after special teams play, however, as Carlo threw the puck on goal to generate a rebound while Wagner (10) collected the garbage in the low slot to but the B’s on the board and cut the lead in half, 2-1.
Carlo (6) had the only assist on the goal at 12:28 of the second period.
Wagner now has four goals in his last nine games for Boston.
Late in the period, Krejci moved the puck through the neutral zone and forced a rebound for DeBrusk (22) to bury behind McElhinney and tie the game, 2-2, at 18:12.
Krejci (41) had the only assist on DeBrusk’s goal.
Through two periods of play, the game was tied, 2-2, while the Bruins led in shots on goal (27-21). Boston also led in blocked shots (9-6), while Carolina led in giveaways (14-11), hits (21-13) and face-off win% (52-48).
Both teams had nine takeaways aside, while the Hurricanes were 0/4 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/1.
The Bruins were again penalized for too many men on the ice at 2:14 of the third period.
While shorthanded, Brad Marchand led a two-on-one with Bergeron, whereby Marchand sent a quick pass over to the 15-year NHL veteran for the one-timer goal from one knee.
Bergeron (23) had given Boston their first lead of the night, 3-2, at 2:45 of the third period while shorthanded. The goal was Boston’s fourth shorthanded goal this season (two for Bergeron and two for Marchand).
Marchand (50) had the only assist on the effort and reached the 50-assist plateau for the 2nd consecutive season.
As for Bergeron, the goal was his 794th career point with the Bruins, putting him in sole command of 6th all-time in Bruins franchise history in points ahead of Wayne Cashman (793 points with Boston).
Next on the list to reach for Bergeron is 5th place, Bobby Orr, who had 888 career points in the spoked-B.
Past the midpoint of the final frame of regulation, Williams (19) sent a shot from the face-off circle to left of Halak past the Bruins goaltender as Halak was deep in the crease and certainly not square enough to the shooter.
At the end of regulation, the game remained tied, 3-3, with shots on goal even at 36-36.
Almost two minutes into the 3-on-3 overtime period, DeBrusk shook off a Canes defender, then worked a spin move pass over to Krejci as No. 46 in black-and-gold was crashing the slot– catching McElhinney in desperation.
Krejci (16) deked and pocketed the puck in the empty twine with McElhinney fully out of position to give Boston the overtime victory, 4-3.
DeBrusk (12) had the only assist on the goal at 1:46 of overtime.
At the final horn, the Bruins won the game and finished the night leading in shots on goal (38-37), blocked shots (14-9) and giveaways (16-15). Carolina led the night in hits (28-24) and face-off win% (52-49).
The Hurricanes finished the night 0/5 on the power play, while Boston went 0/1.
Boston improved to 8-6 on the season in overtime and Carolina fell to 4-5 in games that end before a shootout– but past regulation– this season.
The Hurricanes’ five-game winning streak was snapped and the club fell to 27-6-3 when scoring first this season as Boston overcame a two-goal deficit to win in overtime.
The Bruins improved to 13-2-4 when tied after two periods this season.
Boston continues their six-game homestand on Thursday against the Florida Panthers. Boston wraps up their homestand with a Saturday night matchup against the Ottawa Senators before traveling to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena.
The B’s take on the Columbus Blue Jackets next Tuesday (March 12th) and Winnipeg Jets next Thursday (March 14th) before returning home to face Columbus on March 16th.
Evgeni Malkin did a bad thing, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game broke attendance records and more trades happened in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron reached 1,000 games and David Pastrnak is injured for the Boston Bruins leaving Nick in a glass case of emotion.
Plus, Eugene Melnyk plans to spend money, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a new alternate sweater, Randy Carlyle was fired and Scott Niedermayer will have his number retired (again) this week. Finally, Connor has a new segment.
Now that all the bye weeks are behind us, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline at the end of the month. The activity leading up to that date will be majorly influenced by the next couple weeks’ games, including these tilts:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 4-10|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, February 4|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles Kings||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, February 5|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Boston Bruins||1-3|
|7 p.m.||Minnesota||Buffalo||4-5 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Florida||3-2|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||New Jersey||5-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Vegas||Tampa Bay||3-2 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Winnipeg||3-2 (OT)|
|Wednesday, February 6|
|8 p.m.||Boston Bruins||New York Rangers||3-4 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 7|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||New Jersey Devils|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Philadelphia|
|7:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Tampa Bay|
|9 p.m.||San Jose||Calgary||ESPN+, SN1|
|Friday, February 8|
|8 p.m.||Carolina Hurricanes||New York Rangers||NHLN, SN|
|Saturday, February 9|
|1 p.m.||Los Angeles||Boston|
|1 p.m.||Minnesota||New Jersey|
|1 p.m.||Colorado Avalanche||New York Islanders|
|2 p.m.||Nashville||St. Louis|
|2 p.m.||Winnipeg Jets||Ottawa Senators||CBC, SN, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Edmonton||SN, SN360|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||Montréal Canadiens||CBC, CITY, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Tampa Bay||NHLN|
|10 p.m.||Calgary Flames||Vancouver Canucks||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, February 10|
|12:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Nashville||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Colorado||Boston||SN1, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Carolina||New Jersey|
|3 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||New York Islanders|
|6 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Florida|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Rangers||NBCSN, SN, TVAS|
This week has more than its fair share of derbies with seven on the schedule spread across four days. First up are both of Wednesday’s tilts (the Battle of Ontario and an Original Six tilt between the Bruins and Rangers), followed this evening by Vancouver visiting Chicago (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). Toronto keeps the Original Six fever going into the weekend when it visits Montréal, then continues the trend into Sunday by visiting the Rangers. Joining the Leafs and Blueshirts in rivalry action to close the week will be Tampa Bay and Florida contesting another round of the Governor’s Cup.
In the player homecoming category, there was none bigger than F Jay Beagle‘s trip back to the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Beagle spent 10 seasons with the Caps, departing for the Pacific Northwest after winning the Stanley Cup last summer.
Also making major returns are G Philipp Grubauer and F Nick Bjugstad, both of whom spent six seasons with the Capitals and Panthers, respectively. These homecomings are especially significant for both, as Grubauer will be collecting his Stanley Cup ring and Bjugstad will probably be snagging some more clothes and household items for his new apartment in the Steel City after being traded there Friday.
However, to keep with tradition, let’s totally disregard those tilts and focus on a totally different fixture – specifically, the one featuring F Jeff Skinner taking on his former team.
Boasting a 4-1-1 record in their past six games (including a dominant 4-0 shutout win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday), the 26-21-6 Carolina Hurricanes have pulled within three points of the East’s second wild card with 29 games to play.
After more than half the season has gone by, there’s no surprises any more in the Canes’ style: they play an upbeat style of offense that stresses shots on goal, hoping to wear down opposing goaltenders simply by the mass volume of stops they have to make.
While that strategy has had varied levels of success throughout the campaign, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour‘s crew has certainly been making magic lately, as they’ve been led by their offense averaging 4.33 goals per game during this run – the second-best in the entire NHL since January 20.
Leading that charge is none other than the 35th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, F Sebastian Aho. With 3-6-9 totals in his last six appearances, he’s continued his insane scoring pace to elevate his season marks to 24-36-60 in 53 appearances, putting him only five points away from matching last season’s career-highs in goals and points.
Joining Aho in averaging at least a point per game during this six-game run are F Teuvo Teravainen (2-5-7), D Jaccob Slavin (0-7-7) and new addition W Nino Niederreiter (5-1-6). With Niederreiter’s goal-scoring showing up in Raleigh on January 18, perhaps it’s no mere coincidence the offense has taken off and the Hurricanes are enjoying more of their patented “Carolina Surge” celebrations. Of course, the Canes might be just as surprised with Niederreiter’s success as he is – after all, he only scored nine goals in 46 games with the Wild this season. Since donning Carolina red, he’s already lit the lamp five times in only seven appearances.
But the Hurricanes haven’t been just another pretty offense during this winning run. They’ve also played incredibly well on the defensive end too.
Thanks to the excellent play of late by D Justin Faulk (two blocks per game since January 20) and W Micheal Ferland (3.5 hits per game in his last four outings), the Canes have also boasted the league’s third-best defense as measured by shots against per game, as they’ve allowed only 25.33 per game during this six-game span.
And not surprisingly, that solid defensive work has translated incredibly to the scoreboard. Carolina has allowed only 2.5 goals against per game during this run, the (t)10th-best in the league since January 20. While 11-11-3 G Petr Mrazek‘s (.894 save percentage and 2.83 GAA on the season) stats have been far from incredible during this stretch – he’s actually performed below his already below-average season marks, managing an .874 save percentage and 3.28 GAA behind this defense – the fact that he’s earned five of a possible eight points in his last four appearances indicates he’s doing enough to help the Canes win.
With Carolina heading to Manhattan tomorrow to take on a less offensively-talented Rangers team, it seems likely Mrazek will be in net tonight. Should Brind’Amour instead give 12-6-1 G Curtis McElhinney the nod, he’ll hope to improve on his .918 season save percentage and corresponding 2.37 GAA.
Speaking of New York-based teams, the 26-20-6 Buffalo Sabres also find themselves trailing eighth-place Columbus by three points, but they currently lead the Hurricanes in the standings by virtue of playing one fewer game so far this campaign.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, that is where the positive marks end for a moment, as they’ve had the misfortune of stumbling into a 3-6-0 rut over their past nine games.
The biggest reason for this slump? Struggling goaltending.
Due in large part to an offense that is providing only three goals per game (tied for 13th-fewest in the NHL since January 11) and a defense yielding 31.11 shots against per game (15th-worst in the league in their past nine outings) during this stretch, 11-5-3 G Linus Ullmark has been forced to shoulder the brunt of the Sabres’ mistakes for the past few weeks and has struggled mightily under the pressure.
Despite owning a solid .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA for the season, Ullmark’s stats in his last seven appearances (of which only five were starts, meaning 15-15-3 G Carter Hutton is struggling even more than Ullmark) have showcased just how much Buffalo has been struggling in the middle of the season. Ullmark has only an .882 save percentage and 3.53 GAA in these games, a far cry from the performance Head Coach Phil Housley has come to expect.
Hutton has an even worse .832 save percentage and 5.59 GAA in his last four starts (of which he’s only won one), so I’d be surprised if the 33-year-old is in net tonight against the Canes’ rolling offense.
Regardless of who’s in net, I have a hard time seeing the Sabres breaking out of their funk against the red-hot Hurricanes. With everything coming up Carolina’s way in it’s last few outings, the Canes should escape the Queen City with two more points in their possession.
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.