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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

DTFR Podcast #202- What Are Your Qualifications?/Let’s Get Kraken

Using Qualifiers to enhance this postseason (it’s a breakdown of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin action). Plus the Seattle Kraken!

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

Pastrnak scores hat trick as B’s light up Habs, 8-1

Eight is great and eight is the number of goals the Boston Bruins scored en route to their, 8-1, victory over the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Tuesday night.

Oh and by the way, David Pastrnak had a hat trick.

Jaroslav Halak (5-1-3 record, 2.40 goals against average, .930 save percentage in nine games played) made 36 saves on 37 shots against for a .973 SV% in the win for the Bruins.

Canadiens starter, Carey Price (10-7-3, 3.09 GAA, .900 SV% in 20 games played) turned aside six out of ten shots faced for a .545 SV% before being replaced by Keith Kinkaid (1-1-2, 4.29 GAA, .877 SV% in five games played) in the loss.

Kinkaid made ten saves on 13 shots against (.769 SV%) for no decision.

Boston improved to 16-3-5 (37 points) and remained atop the Atlantic Division– in command of 1st place of not just the division, but 1st place in the entire league by virtue of holding a game-in-hand over the Washington Capitals.

Montreal, meanwhile, fell to 11-8-5 (27 points) on the season and stuck in 3rd in the Atlantic.

The Bruins extended their current winning streak to four games and are now 7-3-1 on the road this season.

They’re now also 10-0-2 when leading after two periods, 11-1-0 when leading after one period and 12-2-3 when scoring the game’s first goal this season.

Kevan Miller (knee), John Moore (shoulder), Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia), David Backes (upper body) and Zach Senyshyn (lower body) remained out of the lineup for Boston with Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and Brett Ritchie (upper body) joining the long list of injured Bruins for at least the next two games (Tuesday night in Montreal, Wednesday night in Ottawa).

As a result of Bergeron and Ritchie’s injuries, Boston recalled Brendan Gaunce and Jack Studnicka from the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Monday.

Gaunce, 25, has six goals and five assists (11 points) in 14 games with Providence this season and signed with Boston on July 1, 2019 as a free agent after spending 2015-19 with the Vancouver Canucks organization.

Studnicka, 20, leads Providence in scoring with nine goals and nine assists (18 points), as well as a plus-seven rating in 21 games with the “Baby Bruins” this season. The 6’2″, 175-pound center was drafted by Boston in the second round (53rd overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

He made his NHL debut Tuesday night in Montreal, joining Cameron Hughes as the only other Bruin to make their NHL debuts this season.

Par Lindholm returned to action after missing the last game while resting up after sustaining a cut in last Thursday’s, 3-2, win over the Buffalo Sabres.

With Bergeron and Ritchie out, Bruce Cassidy made some adjustments to his lineup, starting Studnicka as the second line center with Jake DeBrusk on his left wing and Charlie Coyle on his right wing.

David Krejci, in the meantime, was promoted to the first line center role with Brad Marchand and Pastrnak in their usual roles.

Sean Kuraly centered the third line with Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen as his wingers, while Lindholm centered the fourth line with Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner.

Cassidy made one change to his defense, replacing Steven Kampfer with Connor Clifton on the third defensive pairing after keeping Kampfer fresh while in his role as the seventh defender for the B’s.

Gaunce and Kampfer served as healthy scratches for the Bruins on Tuesday.

Early in the opening frame, Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher tripped up Pastrnak while trailing the Boston forward behind his own net and was sent to the penalty box at 6:10 of the first period.

Krejci sent Kuraly deep into the offensive zone on the ensuing power play, whereby Kuraly connected DeBrusk with a bump pass as DeBrusk (5) crashed the slot and sent a shot into the back of the twine to give the Bruins a, 1-0, lead on a power play goal.

Kuraly (4) and Krejci (12) had the assists on DeBrusk’s goal at 8:03.

The Canadiens responded with a goal of their own a little over a few minutes later on a three-on-two rush up the ice that left Shea Weber (8) wide open for a quick one-timer that beat Halak’s blocker side at 12:41.

Gallagher (9) and Tomas Tatar (14) had the assists on Weber’s goal, tying the game, 1-1, midway through the first period.

The score wasn’t tied for long before Nate Thompson “tripped” Clifton at 13:56 and was assessed an infraction for what appeared to be a phantom call.

Boston went on the power play for the second time of the night and quickly converted on the skater advantage with a trademark one-timer blast from Pastrnak (21) at 14:24.

Coyle (8) and Marchand (24) notched the assists on Pastrnak’s first goal of the night as the B’s regained the lead, 2-1.

Eight seconds later, Charlie McAvoy was penalized for interference against Nick Suzuki at 14:32, presenting Montreal with their first power play of the night.

The Habs did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

With less than a minute remaining in the first period, Marchand (17) snagged a loose puck that floated off of Coyle’s stick while the Bruins forward attempted a wraparound, then elevated a backhand shot over Price while the Canadiens goaltender dove in effort to make a save.

As a result, Coyle (9) had the only assist on Marchand’s goal at 19:23 and the Bruins led, 3-1, entering the first intermission.

The goal marked Marchand’s 600th NHL point– becoming the 11th player in Bruins franchise history to record 600 points in a B’s sweater, joining Terry O’Reilly, Krejci, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, Bergeron, Bobby Orr, Rick Middleton, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Ray Bourque (per Ty Anderson of 98.5 The Sports Hub).

Marchand’s also just the 4th Bruins player in the last 45 years to record his 40th point in 24 games or fewer, joining Adam Oates (24 games played in 1992-93), Esposito (22 GP in 1974-75) and Orr (21 GP in 1974-75).

After one period in Montreal, Boston led, 3-1, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 13-8, in shots on net.

The B’s led in blocked shots (6-5) and giveaways (11-8), while the Habs led in hits (14-8) and faceoff win percentage (60-40).

Both teams had three takeaways aside.

The Canadiens were 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 2/2 entering the second period.

Pastrnak (22) entered the attacking zone off the draw, deked past a Montreal defender and sniped a shot over Price’s blocker on the short side to give Boston a three-goal lead eight seconds into the second period.

Marchand (25) and Zdeno Chara (7) had the assists on Pastrnak’s second goal of the game and the Bruins led, 4-1.

Boston added another goal to their immense lead when Bjork (4) capitalized on a breakaway, sending a shot into the twine past Price’s glove side to make it, 5-1, for Boston at 1:10 of the second period.

Kuraly (5) had the only assist on the goal.

The Bruins had a pair of goals in a span of 62 seconds to chase Price out of the crease as Canadiens head coach, Claude Julien, replaced his starter with Kinkaid after Bjork made it, 5-1.

Pastrnak (23) finalized his hat trick less than halfway through the game with a shot that beat Kinkaid at 9:06 of the second period– scoring his 2nd hat trick of the season and 6th of his career.

Brandon Carlo (6) and Krejci (13) had the assists on Pastrnak’s hat trick goal as Boston made it, 6-1, in Montreal.

The 23-year-old right winger for the Bruins, Pastrnak, leads the NHL with 23 goals in 24 team games– the most by any player within 25 team games since the 2005-06 season, when Simon Gagne had 23 goals through this point in the season with the Philadelphia Flyers.

A few minutes later, Clifton caught Tatar with a high stick and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction at 12:43, but the Habs didn’t score on the ensuing power play.

Through 40 minutes of play at Bell Centre, the Bruins led, 6-1, on the scoreboard, but trailed the Canadiens, 27-15, in shots on goal.

Montreal held the advantage in shots on net in the second period alone (14-7) and led in hits (23-15), while Boston had the advantage in blocked shots (12-9), giveaways (18-16) and faceoff win% (51-49).

Both teams had six takeaways aside, while the Canadiens were 0/2 on the power play and the B’s were still 2/2 on the skater advantage (only one penalty was called in the second period and it was against Boston).

Almost midway through the final frame of regulation, Kuraly worked the puck to Torey Krug as Krug broke into the zone heading for the net, before dropping a pass back to Coyle (5) for the one-timer from the slot that beat Kinkaid to make it, 7-1, for Boston.

Krug (14) and Kuraly (6) had the assists on Coyle’s goal at 8:26 of the third period.

Midway through the third, Studnicka reacted to a cross check from Max Domi and the two were sent to the box– Studnicka for rouding and Domi for cross checking at 15:38.

Just 20 seconds after both teams resumed full strength action, Studnicka sent a pass from the trapezoid to Heinen in the slot, whereby Heinen (5) one-timed a shot past Kinkaid.

Studnicka (1) collected the primary assist and his first career NHL point– in his first career game, nonetheless– and Krug (15) tallied the secondary assist on Heinen’s goal as the Bruins led, 8-1, at 17:58.

At the final horn, Boston had finished off Montreal, 8-1, in their first eight-goal game at Bell Centre since Oct. 28, 1998 (a, 9-2, win), as well as their first eight-goal game against the Habs in general since Feb. 9, 2011 (an, 8-6, win at TD Garden).

The Canadiens finished the night leading in shots on goal (37-24)– including a, 10-9, advantage in the third period alone– and in hits (34-19).

The B’s wrapped up Tuesday night leading in blocked shots (16-12) and giveaways (24-18), while both teams split faceoff win%, 50-50.

Montreal finished the night 0/2 on the skater advantage, while Boston went 2/2 on the power play.

The last time a Bruin scored a hat trick in Montreal was on Nov. 30, 1987, when Steve Kasper notched three goals in a, 6-4, loss at Montreal Forum.

Boston finishes their quick two-game road trip (1-0-0) with a Wednesday night matchup in Ottawa against the Senators after traveling by train from Montreal overnight on Tuesday.

The B’s return home after completing games in back-to-back nights with a Black Friday matinee against the New York Rangers in the NHL’s 2019 Discover Thanksgiving Showdown.

Boston will debut their new third jersey in Friday’s matchup.

Habs end B’s winning streak at six, beat Boston, 5-4

The Montreal Canadiens eked out a, 5-4, win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night at Bell Centre thanks to an overturned goal in the third period– snapping Boston’s six-game win streak in the process.

Goaltending was optional as Montreal’s Carey Price (7-4-1 record, 2.75 goals against average, .883 save percentage in 12 games played) made 21 saves on 25 shots against for an .840 SV% in the win.

Meanwhile, Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask (7-1-1, 1.88 GAA, .936 SV% in nine games played), stopped 26 out of 31 shots faced for an .839 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins fell to 11-2-2 (24 points) on the season, but remained in control of 1st place in the Atlantic Division, while the Canadiens improved to 8-5-2 (18 points) and tied the Florida Panthers for 4th in the Atlantic in points (though the Panthers hold the tiebreaker, having played in one fewer game than Montreal).

Kevan Miller (knee) and John Moore (shoulder) have yet to debut this season for the Bruins as both missed their 15th game Tuesday night due to lingering injuries from last spring.

Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia), Joakim Nordstrom (infection), Par Lindholm (upper body) and David Backes (upper body) were all still out against Montreal, with Lindholm as the latest Bruin to join the injured reserve prior to Tuesday’s matchup.

Despite sustaining a nasty cut in Monday night’s, 6-4, win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Charlie McAvoy was in the lineup against the Canadiens, as was Torey Krug (who caught a skate up high and drew some blood Monday night as well).

Zach Senyshyn was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) and inserted into the lineup on the right side of the third line with Anders Bjork and Charlie Coyle.

Senyshyn has three points (two goals, one assist) in 12 games with Providence this season and one goal in two career NHL games (made his NHL debut last season).

With Senyshyn entering the lineup, Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, bumped Brett Ritchie down to the fourth line right wing with Chris Wagner returning to the left side of Sean Kuraly.

After making his NHL debut against Pittsburgh on Monday, Cameron Hughes joined Steven Kampfer as Boston’s only healthy scratches on Tuesday.

B’s captain, Zdeno Chara, played in his 1,500th career game and became just the 21st player and sixth defender in league history to play in 1,500 or more games in their career.

Chara joined Chris Chelios (1,651 career games), Scott Stevens (1,635), Larry Murphy (1,615), Ray Bourque (1,612) and Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564) as the only defenders to play in 1,500 or more games.

Habs head coach, Claude Julien, reached the 1,200th game of his career behind the bench on Tuesday as well.

Julien won the Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and received an ovation from the Bell Centre crowd before Chara’s milestone was acknowledged at the following media timeout in the first period.

Victor Mete (2) kicked things off with a quick start for Montreal as the Canadiens defender jumped at the perfect opportunity to collect the game’s first goal after the puck deflected off of a teammate in front of the goal and rebounded into the low slot unattended.

Mete’s goal was assisted by Joel Armia (4) and Jeff Petry (7) at 1:13 of the first period and the Habs jumped ahead with the, 1-0, lead.

Late in the period, Mete hooked Senyshyn and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction at 14:49 of the first period.

Boston only needed six seconds on the power play for Patrice Bergeron to win the faceoff back to Krug, then slide the puck over to David Pastrnak (15) for the one-timer slap shot power play goal.

Krug (10) and Bergeron (9) tallied the assists as the Bruins tied the game, 1-1, at 14:55.

With the goal, Pastrnak extended his current point streak to 13 games– setting a new career-high in the process. He also became the first Bruin to score 15 goals in their first 15 games of the season since Peter McNab did so in 1976-77.

A couple of minutes later, Tomas Tatar (5) sent a shot off of Rask’s glove and into the twine to put the Canadiens ahead, 2-1.

Brendan Gallagher (6) and Ben Chiarot (2) had the assists on Tatar’s goal at 16:45.

Less than a minute after retaking the lead, Montreal extended their lead to two goals as Paul Byron (1) barely kept the puck in the attacking zone and succeeded on an individual effort– sending a shot through Rask’s five-hole– for his first goal of the season.

Byron’s goal was unassisted at 17:16 of the first period and the Habs led, 3-1.

Entering the first intermission, Montreal led Boston, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 13-6, in shots on goal.

The Canadiens also held the advantage in blocked shots (5-3), while the Bruins led in giveaways (10-9), hits (12-11) and faceoff win percentage (67-33).

Both teams had two takeaways aside and the B’s were 1/1 on the power play, while the Habs had yet to see any action on the skater advantage heading into the second period.

Less than a minute into the middle frame, Bergeron hooked Phillip Danault and presented the Canadiens with a power play 50 seconds into the second period.

Boston killed Bergeron’s minor infraction without any issue, but followed up the special teams action with another hooking infraction– this time for Pastrnak against Shea Weber at 3:58.

Montreal didn’t capitalize on the ensuing skater advantage.

Almost midway through the period, Ryan Poehling blocked a shot by Krug that rocketed off of the side of Poehling’s helmet, sending the Montreal forward to the ice before the whistle was blown for the injured skater to head down the tunnel under his own power.

While Poehling went down with an injury, so did Petry as the Canadiens defender caught the ice in an awkward manor with his leg.

Petry returned from the dressing room shortly thereafter and had no issues. Poehling returned to the action too without any major damage.

Connor Clifton (1) walzted around two Canadiens players, held the puck and sniped a shot over Price’s glove while Coyle screened the Montreal goaltender at 7:17 of the second period, bringing the Bruins to within one goal.

Clifton’s unassisted effort cut Montreal’s lead to, 3-2, and was his first career regular season NHL goal in just his 32nd career game.

Late in the period, Bjork (2) slid a rebound under Price’s pad from point blank to tie the game, 3-3.

McAvoy (4) had the only assist on the goal at 18:13, but the game wouldn’t remain tied for long.

Almost 40 seconds later, Mete (3) tucked in his 2nd goal of the ngiht with a shot from the point that floated over Rask, top-shelf, as Chara bumped Montreal center, Nate Thompson, into the Boston goaltender.

Artturi Lehkonen (4) and Petry (8) collected the assists on Mete’s goal at 18:55 and the Canadiens regained the lead, 4-3.

Through 40 minutes of action in Montreal, the Habs led the B’s, 4-3, on the scoreboard and, 25-15, in shots on goal (including a, 12-9, advantage for Montreal in the second period alone).

The Canadiens also led in blocked shots (14-7) and takeaways (7-5), while the Bruins led in giveaways (16-15), hits (25-22) and faceoff win% (62-38) entering the second intermission.

Montreal was 0/2 and Boston was still 1/1 on the power play heading into the third period.

Weber caught Brad Marchand with a high stick 14 seconds into the third period and was sent to the sin bin for a minor penalty, but the Bruins weren’t able to capitalize on the ensuing power play.

Instead, in the vulnerable minute after special teams action, Boston’s fourth line went to work with Wagner dishing a quick pass to Kuraly (1) for the fourth line center to bank the puck off of Price’s skate and into the net– tying the game, 4-4, at 3:03 of the third period.

Wagner (4) had the only assist on the goal and the B’s had momentum on their side.

Moments later, after Coyle thought he had scored by redirecting a pass from Senyshyn through Price’s five-hole while the Habs goaltender was without his stick, Julien used his coach’s challenge arguing that the Bruins had originally entered the zone offside.

After review, it was determined that Coyle had just barely entered the zone by about half a skate ahead of the puck and was offside prior to the play that led to the goal and the call on the ice was overturned at 5:23.

Instead of rallying against the overturned call, Boston went into a hole and found themselves clamoring towards the end of games in back-to-back nights.

Chiarot (2) sent a shot of Rask’s glove and into the back of the net to give the Canadiens the lead once more, 5-4, at 9:06 of the third period after Montreal sustained tremendous pressure in the attacking zone.

Weber (8) and Tatar (8) each had an assist on the game-winning goal as the Canadiens never looked back for the remaining half-a-period.

After Boston iced the puck with 58.5 seconds remaining, Julien used his timeout to rally his attackers for one last push for a goal before the Bruins could pull their goaltender for an extra skater.

Neither team could score as time expired and the final horn sounded at Bell Centre.

The Canadiens had finished Boston’s six-game winning streak with a, 5-4, victory on home ice.

Montreal wrapped up Tuesday night’s contest leading in shots on goal (31-25), blocked shots (27-11) and giveaways (24-19), while Boston led in shots on net in the third period alone (10-6), hits (36-31) and faceoff win% (60-40).

The Canadiens went 0/2 on the power play and the B’s finished the game 1/2 on the skater advantage.

Boston is now 4-2-1 on the road this season and 1-1-1 when trailing after two periods.

The Bruins face the Detroit Red Wings on Friday at Little Caesars Arena. Boston returns home on Nov. 10th for a two-game homestand against the Philadelphia Flyers (Nov. 10th) and Florida (Nov. 12th).

DTFR Podcast #139- They Ran Out Of Beer!

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.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.

DTFR Podcast #137- His Hart Grew Three Sizes That Day

Nick and Connor review the Vegas Golden Knights draft history, praise Carter Hart’s NHL debut, talk about Scott Gordon’s introduction as interim head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, as well as the Patrik Berglund situation, Whalers Night and a teaser 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship preview.

Merry Gritmas.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

*Editor’s note: Paris is hosting the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles is hosting the 2028 Summer Games. The 2026 and 2030 Winter Games host cities have yet to be selected.

Halak blanks Habs at old home, B’s win, 4-0

Colby Cave (1-1–2 totals), Charlie McAvoy (0-2–2) and David Pastrnak (0-2–2) led the Boston Bruins and their offensive charge as Jaroslav Halak stopped all 22 shots he faced for the shutout in Boston’s, 4-0, victory against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Monday.

Joakim Nordstrom, David Krejci and Brad Marchand (PP) also had goals for the Bruins, while Halak (10-5-2 record, 2.27 goals against average, .929 save percentage in 19 games played) picked up the 22-save shutout win in the building he used to call home from 2006-10.

Halak picked up his third shutout of the season and went 56-34-7 (2.62 GAA, .919 SV%, 5 SO) in his career with the Canadiens.

Carey Price (13-9-4, 2.94 GAA, .901 SV% in 27 GP) will have to wait another day for his 300th career victory in a Habs sweater, as the Montreal netminder made 31 saves on 35 shots against for an .886 SV% in the loss.

The B’s improved to 5-0-0 in their last five road games against the Canadiens, dating back to Dec. 12, 2016 (Montreal is 0-3-2 in that span) and set a new franchise record in doing so for their longest regular season win streak versus Montreal (previous, 4-0-0 from Jan. 11-Dec. 20, 1941).

Boston improved to 18-12-4 (40 points) on the season and surpassed the Canadiens for 4th in the Atlantic Division and the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, while Montreal fell to 17-12-5 (39 points) and 5th place in the Atlantic.

The Bruins take on the Anaheim Ducks this Thursday at TD Garden, while Montreal ventures out to Denver, Colorado for a Wednesday night matchup with the Colorado Avalanche.

Bruce Cassidy made no changes to the Bruins lineup on Monday– save for the goaltender, starting Halak over Tuukka Rask (since Rask played on Sunday)– rolling with the same lines and defensive pairs as the last couple of games with Gemel Smith and Jeremy Lauzon as the only healthy scratches.

Smith and Lauzon remained out of the lineup alongside Zdeno Chara (knee, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (rib/sternoclavicular), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), Jake DeBrusk (concussion) and Kevan Miller (larynx) on Sunday with Bergeron nearing an expected full return to practice on Wednesday.

No. 37 in black-and-gold may return to the lineup in time for Saturday or Sunday’s action against Nashville or in Carolina, respectively.

Nordstom (5) scored the game’s first goal at 2:21 of the first period after the B’s third line worked the puck down low, around the boards and forced a quality backcheck to yield a Canadiens turnover in the attacking zone for David Backes to connect with Nordstrom.

Backes (5) and Cave (3) had the assists on the goal and Boston led, 1-0.

About half-a-minute later, Marchand caught Phillip Danault with a high-stick and was sent to the penalty box while the Habs went on the power play for the first time of the night.

Montreal’s power play entering the game on Sunday was 0/22 in the last seven games and did not convert on the skater advantage opportunity while Marchand was in the box.

The Bruins made the kill.

Past the midpoint of the opening frame, Noel Acciari sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game penalty at 13:32 of the first period.

The Canadiens did not score on the ensuing power play and followed up with a minor infraction of their own at 16:56, when Danault tripped up Pastrnak.

Boston was unsuccessful on their first power play of the evening and went into the first intermission with the, 1-0, lead on the scoreboard and the advantage in shots on goal, 13-5.

Montreal led in blocked shots (7-3), giveaways (14-1) and hits (14-7) after 20 minutes of play, while the Bruins led in takeaways (5-1) and face-off win percentage (60-40). The Canadiens were 0/2 on the power play, while the B’s were 0/1 in the first period.

Early in the second period, Montreal was guilty of too many men on the ice, so Canadiens head coach, Claude Julien, did the only logical thing to do– send your youngest (and perhaps fastest skater) to the box to serve the penalty and hope for a timely breakaway by the end of the penalty kill.

Things did not go as planned.

At 4:29 of the second period, when Jesperi Kotkaniemi emerged from the sin bin, the Canadiens couldn’t connect.

Instead, both teams continued a string of penalties through the middle frame of the game, with Pastrnak cutting a rut to the penalty box at 11:57 for sending the puck over the glass (Boston’s second automatic delay of game infraction of the night) and a pair of matching minors at 17:48 that sent Sean Kuraly and Kotkaniemi to the box.

Kuraly was handed a holding minor, while Kotkaniemi received a minor infraction for interference and the Bruins and Canadiens would play 4-on-4 for two minutes until just about the end of the second period.

In the final minute of the middle frame, Pastrnak worked the puck back to McAvoy as the Bruins defender worked the puck deep into the attacking zone.

As McAvoy was cruising into the zone, he sent a pass back to Cave in the slot whereby Cave (1) pocketed his first career National Hockey League goal in just his 16th career NHL game.

Cave’s goal was assisted by McAvoy (7) and Pastrnak (19) and gave the B’s a, 2-0, lead over the Habs at 19:34 of the second period.

As both teams entered their respective dressing rooms for the second intermission, Boston had doubled their lead on the scoreboard, 2-0, and their shots on goal from 13 in the first period to 26 shots after 40 minutes of play.

The Bruins led in shots on goal (26-12), takeaways (7-3) and face-off win% (53-47) after two periods, while Montreal led in blocked shots (14-7), giveaways (18-6) and hits (23-21).

The Habs were 0/3 on the power play and the B’s were 0/2 prior to the start of the third period.

A mere 46 seconds into the third period, Krejci (6) capitalized on a botched attempt at everything from Montreal to put the Bruins ahead, 3-0.

That’s right, everything was botched on the play leading up to Krejci’s goal.

First the Canadiens were slow-footed out of the gate to start the third period, then they were caught in a line change, which led to a Habs blue liner flying in, colliding and tumbling with Tomas Tatar in the low slow as Pastrnak and Marchand worked the puck to each other in the offensive zone.

Meanwhile, with Price in desperation and the puck finding its way to the Price’s right side, McAvoy found Krejci from the side of the goal to bury the puck in the twine.

McAvoy (8) had his second assist of the night on Krejci’s goal and the Bruins had a three-goal lead.

Montreal defender, Mike Reilly, roughed Pastrnak moments later and was assessed a minor penalty at 3:55 of the third period.

Late in the power play for Boston, the Canadiens had another circus clown act in front of their own goal as one of their defenders bumped Pastrnak while the young Bruins forward deked and sent a quick pass to Marchand.

With Pastrnak and one of Montreal’s own colliding with Price, Marchand (11) pocketed the puck in the de facto empty net for a, 4-0, lead and Boston’s fourth power play goal in the month of December.

Pastrnak (20) and Torey Krug (16) notched the assists on Marchand’s goal at 5:06.

At the final horn, the Bruins had beaten Montreal, 4-0, on the scoreboard and, 35-22, in shots on goal.

The Canadiens finished the night leading in blocked shots (18-17), giveaways (24-11) and hits (46-32), while the B’s led in face-off win% (56-44).

Montreal went 0/3 on the power play, while Boston went 1/3 on the skater advantage.

As a result, the Habs are now 0/25 on the power play in their last eight games and 5/58 in their last 19.

Boston improved to 11-2-2 when scoring first this season and heads back home for a quick, two-game, homestand starting Thursday night against the red-hot Anaheim Ducks and ending with a Saturday matinee against the Nashville Predators.

The B’s head to PNC Arena on Sunday for a matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes on Whalers Night in Raleigh. The Hurricanes will be wearing their Hartford Whalers throwback jerseys in both teams’ final game before the league’s mandatory three-day Christmas break.

Bruins will have some Moore of that, beat Habs, 3-2, in Montreal

The Boston Bruins got out to a two-goal lead in the first period, then the Montreal Canadiens were mounting what looked to be a comeback in the third– until John Moore scored his first goal as a Bruin on a power play thanks to Jonathan Drouin‘s costly high-sticking double-minor penalty.

Boston won, 3-2, in Montreal Saturday night at Bell Centre.

These two rivals will meet again December 17th in Montreal before closing out their season series on January 14, 2019 in Boston with the season series currently tied, 1-1-0 after their 744th all-time meeting (the most among all NHL clubs). The Bruins previously lost to the Canadiens, 3-0, on October 27th.

Tuukka Rask (5-4-2, .913 save percentage, 2.72 goals against average in 11 games played) got the start for Boston after Jaroslav Halak made 36 saves en route to Friday night’s, 2-1, overtime win at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Rask made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 SV% in the win for Boston, while Carey Price (7-6-4, .897 SV%, 3.17 GAA in 17 GP) turned aside 32 out of 35 shots faced for a .914 SV% in the loss.

Boston improved to 13-6-4 on the season (30 points) in 23 games played– good enough to maintain 4th in the Atlantic Division, while Montreal fell to 11-8-5 (27 points) in 24 games played (5th in the Atlantic).

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made one change to his lineup, swapping John Moore on the second defensive pair with Connor Clifton. Moore spent the night paired with Jeremy Lauzon as the bottom-pair, while Clifton was back with Torey Krug on the second pairing.

Cassidy left his forward lines and first pair on the blue line the same from Friday night’s, 2-1, overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Anders Bjork and Steven Kampfer were once again healthy scratches with Brandon Carlo (upper body), Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) and Charlie McAvoy (concussion) still out of the lineup due to injury.

Andrew Shaw was charged with the game’s first minor infraction for elbowing David Pastrnak at 8:26 of the first period, but Boston’s power play would be short-lived as Brad Marchand was penalized for cross-checking Karl Alzner in retaliation to a couple of chops from the Canadiens defender that went uncalled at 9:16.

Nothing happened on either abbreviated power play for both squads.

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Shortly past the midpoint of the first period, David Backes (1) forced a turnover at Montreal’s blue line and broke into the zone, firing a wrist shot past Price to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 13:01.

Backes’ goal was unassisted and was just his second point of the season in 18 games played after missing five games due to a concussion.

After a stoppage in play about a minute later, Marchand again went back to the penalty box, but this time with a Hab in hand as Drouin and Marchand were tabbed with roughing minors at 14:26.

While on the ensuing 4-on-4 action, Krejci sent a pass to Krug down low for the give-and-go back to Jake DeBrusk (10) as DeBrusk was heading for low slot whereby the young Bruins forward wristed a shot past Price to make it, 2-0, Boston at 14:42 of the first period.

Krug (8) and Krejci (16) had the assists on DeBrusk’s goal and the B’s had a two-goal lead, having scored a pair of goals in 1:41 elapsed time.

In the final minute of the opening frame, David Schlemko caught a stick up high and Noel Acciari was sent to the sin bin for high-sticking at 19:28.

Schlemko later sent a shot on goal that actually hit the twine, but time had expired and the first intermission had begun.

As the intermission was getting underway, Brendan Gallagher was busy slashing Kevan Miller below the belt. Miller responded in kind with his own shoves after the horn and both players were assessed minor penalties at 20:00 of the first period– Gallagher for slashing and Miller for roughing.

After one period, Boston led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 14-12, in shots on goal. The Bruins also led in blocked shots (9-5) and face-off win percentage (63-38) heading into the dressing room for the first intermission, while Montreal led in takeaways (4-2) and hits (14-8). Both teams had four giveaways each and the Habs were 0/2 on the power play, while the B’s were 0/1.

There were no goals scored in the second period, but there were plenty of penalties to go around as Max Domi led the string of minor infractions in the middle frame with an interference minor for a late hit on Pastrnak at 4:11.

The Bruins did not convert on the ensuing power play opportunity.

Jeff Petry was guilty of tripping Matt Grzelcyk at 15:30 of the second period as Grzelcyk entered the offensive zone on a rush with a decent scoring chance. Boston’s power play was short-lived as Krug cut a rut to the sin bin for high-sticking Artturi Lehkonen at 17:15.

While on the power play, Montreal couldn’t stay out of hot water as Petry hooked Acciari at 18:51. About a minute later, Krejci was guilty of holding Michael Chaput and the Bruins abbreviated skater advantage came to an end at 19:36 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, Boston held onto a 2-0 lead and led in shots on goal, 26-21. The Bruins also led in blocked shots (14-12), giveaways (10-6) and face-off win% (61-40). Montreal maintained an advantage in takeaways (9-5) and hits (32-22).

The B’s were 0/4 on the power play after two periods and the Canadiens were 0/3.

Early in the third period, Lehkonen thought he had scored a goal as a mad scramble in front of the net led to Lehkonen crashing the crease and pushing the puck in the goal. There was just one problem– he pushed Rask and the puck in the goal, thereby disallowing what would’ve cut Boston’s lead in half.

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But the Canadiens began to mount momentum for what was looking like a surefire comeback as Drouin (9) worked his way to the goal with a soft shot that deflected off of Rask and trickled through the Bruins netminder’s five-hole and into the net to put the Habs on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Alzner (1) and Victor Mete (4) had the primary and secondary assists on Drouin’s goal at 6:46 of the third period.

Less than a couple of minute later, Pastrnak was caught retaliating for a late hit from Andrew Shaw and penalized for slashing at 8:15 of the final frame of regulation.

In the closing seconds of the ensuing power play, Tomas Tatar (10) pocketed one behind Rask on the skater advantage to tie the game, 2-2, at 10:09. Shaw (6) and former Bruin, Kenny Agostino (3), recorded the assists on Tatar’s tying goal.

With a seemingly insurmountable swing in momentum the Bruins kept working the puck back into the attacking zone, but to no avail until Drouin caught Backes well behind the play with a high-stick that drew some blood and resulted in a four-minute double-minor penalty at 14:39.

While on the power play, after finally generating some zone time on offense, Boston fired chances on goal that Price started churning into rebounds as Danton Heinen failed to come up with a loose puck on one of the opportunities.

Price was down and out of position in desperation as Heinen fanned on a rebound and Moore (1) swept in from the point to bury what would become the game-winning goal on the power play.

Backes (2) and Krejci (17) had the primary and secondary assists on Moore’s first goal as a Bruin at 17:03 of the third period.

Montreal head coach, Claude Julien, pulled his netminder with two minutes remaining in regulation for an extra attacker, but it was too little, too late.

At the final horn, Boston had beaten the Canadiens, 3-2, and outshot the Habs, 35-33. Montreal finished the night leading in hits (51-27), while the B’s led in blocked shots (28-17) and giveaways (16-11). Both teams were 50-50 in face-off win% and had one power-play goal aside with the Canadiens going 1/5 on the skater advantage and the Bruins going 1/6.

The B’s improved to 9-0-2 this season when scoring first as a result of their victory at Bell Centre on Saturday.

Boston rolls on to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night before returning home to take on the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Bruins will retire Rick Middleton’s No. 16 sweater prior to Thursday’s matchup with the Islanders.

Vegas Golden Knights 2018-19 Season Preview

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Vegas Golden Knights

51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Pacific Division

Lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH, 4-1

Additions: F Daniel Carr, G Zach Fucale, F Alex Gallant, D Nick Holden, F Curtis McKenzie, D Jimmy Oligny, F Max Pacioretty (acquired from MTL), F Paul Stastny

Subtractions: D Philip Holm (signed, KHL), F James Neal (signed with CGY), F David Perron (signed with STL), F Teemu Pulkkinen (signed, KHL), D Luca Sbisa (signed with NYI), F Nick Suzuki (traded to MTL), F Tomas Tatar (traded to MTL), F Paul Thompson (signed with FLA)

Still Unsigned: D Chris Casto, D Jason Garrison, F Mikhail Grabovski, D Clayton Stoner

Re-signed: F William Carrier, G Oscar Dansk, F William Karlsson, D Colin Miller, F Tomas Nosek, F Brandon Pirri, F Ryan Reaves, D Shea Theodore

Offseason Analysis: Only one team in the NHL’s more than a century of existence has ever won the Cup in their inaugural season. The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights almost joined the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas as the only teams to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Toronto beat the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s (PCHA) Vancouver Millionaires 3-2 in a best of five-game series.

Vegas came up three wins short of winning it all in the modern-day best-of-seven game series against the Washington Capitals that the Stanley Cup Final has become.

The Golden Knights didn’t have an unfair advantage in the 2017 Expansion Draft. General Manager George McPhee worked the trade market to his advantage, primarily building the inaugural season’s core group of players through acquisitions.

Owner Bill Foley has touted the “Cup-in-three” mantra, meaning it’s his goal as an organization to win the Cup in their first three years of existence. Upon league expansion in 1967, it took the Philadelphia Flyers seven years to win their first Cup.

Foley wants to do it in half the time.

McPhee’s already gone to work on improving his roster from year one to year two. He’s added Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.

Stastny, 32, joins the Golden Knights after spending last season with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. In 82 games split between the Blues and Jets, Stastny had 16-37–53 totals.

A deadline acquisition by Winnipeg, he had 13 points down the stretch in the remaining 19 games of the regular season, then had his best career performance in the postseason (15 points in 17 games) en route to the Western Conference Final against (his now current team) Vegas.

Despite Stastny’s playmaking style and ability to elevate the players around him in Patrik Laine and friends in Winnipeg, the Jets were no match for the hard-charging Golden Knights.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

The old saying rings true for Stastny, despite Winnipeg’s intentions on re-signing the veteran NHL center entering his 13th season in the league. He’ll slide in on Vegas’ second line behind William Karlsson and play alongside one of his best friends since they played together at the 2010 Winter Games, Max Pacioretty.

Yes, that’s right, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight– in case you’ve been under a rock since training camp.

At its surface, the price of the Pacioretty trade is one well spent for both teams. Vegas acquired Pacioretty in exchange for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. That’s right about what you’d expect as a going rate for a top-six scorer– one current roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.

But for all that McPhee dealt to the Detroit Red Wings to add Tatar at the trade deadline last season, this Pacioretty deal carries a hefty trade-tree baggage, whereby a lot of assets were ultimately tossed in the pot for Pacioretty’s services.

At the very least, McPhee not only added a five-time 30-goal scorer, but he signed him to a four-year extension right away too. So if things don’t work out this season, the Golden Knights will remain in the hunt for the next few years.

Why’s that?

On top of their solid core group of forwards, Vegas has a crafty defense that’s capable of doing more than turning heads like they did last season. There’s just one catch though– they’ll have to do it without Nate Schmidt for the first quarter of the regular season.

Schmidt will be serving a 20-game suspension for a performance enhancing drug, leaving Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to do the bulk of the work with Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland rounding out the rest of the top-four defenders.

Brad Hunt and Nick Holden, in the meantime, seek to use the first 20 games as an audition for the sixth defenseman role upon Schmidt’s return to the lineup.

Miller signed a four-year extension this summer and Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $5.200 million per season. While seven years might be a bit more than the Golden Knights can chew if Theodore’s play heads south, at least he’s signed to a manageable $5.200 million cap hit– up to 50% of which can be retained in a trade.

With an immense top-nine group of forwards and questions surrounding who will step up on defense in Schmidt’s absence, head coach Gerard Gallant must adjust accordingly as he’s always done– on-the-fly and with the complete buy-in of the dressing room.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury— now signed through the 2021-22 season, thanks to a three-year extension this summer on top of the remaining year on his current contract– must find a way to continue his rejuvenated play in net. Last season’s 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage are more than likely unattainable in back-to-back seasons.

One thing working in Fleury’s favor is his reduced workload. In his second-straight season under 50 games played, Fleury appeared in 46 games last season after battling a concussion.

Malcolm Subban (2.68 GAA, .910 SV% in 22 games played last season) is still in line to become the next Golden Knights starting netminder in the post-Fleury era, but he undoubtedly must see an increase in playing time this season.

It’s not quite a 1A, 1B option for Vegas, but rather a precaution for Fleury and a means of keeping their starter fresh for what could be another long postseason run.

Unless any of the other Pacific Division teams have anything to say about it.

Offseason Grade: B+

McPhee bolstered his top-six forward group this offseason with two simple moves, while preserving the large-scale depth of the Golden Knights prospect pool. They didn’t land Erik Karlsson, John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk, but they did get Max Pacioretty.

And they still have quite an impressive amount of cap space to work with next offseason as the franchise continues to settle into existence.

DTFR Podcast #123- 2018-19 Atlantic Division Season Preview

Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.

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