Analyzing Boston's historic collapse

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It’s rare when you get to do a piece like this. It’s never happened in the NBA. It’s happened once in Major League Baseball and before tonight it’s only happened twice in the NHL. Tonight, however, the Boston Bruins did what only the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 1942 Detroit Red Wings did before them: Lose a seven-game series that they at one time led three games to none.

For the Bruins, the questions will linger about what they could’ve changed, who is at fault, what needs to change to fix things for the future. After all, the Bruins lost in a soul-crippling playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes last year. Coming back from that season with a historical failure like this after fighting so many issues with the team during the season (eg: scoring goals consistently) you have to wonder if general manager Peter Chiarelli will look to make some bench adjustments as well as ones in the locker room. 

The problems this year for the Bruins come playoff time are pretty easy to pick out. Killer instinct managed to completely disappear. After winning in overtime in such a stifling and impressive way in Game 1, the same  could not be said for Game 4’s overtime period. One would think that with the opposing team on the ropes in a game where they could be eliminated you’d want to put things away. Instead, Mike Richards scored and gave the Flyers some life. The Bruins would return home for Game 5 and see the Flyers come out and shut them down for their best game of the playoffs and then hear their home fans in Boston turn on the team. Not exactly inspiring stuff. The rest, as they will now say, is history and history was summed up almost perfectly within the confines of Game 7 by itself.

Often forgotten in all this is the loss of David Krejci to the Bruins lineup while the Flyers re-gained Simon Gagne to theirs. While the sample size is small, the Bruins didn’t win a game in the playoffs without Krejci and the Flyers offense was certainly better and a lot deeper with Gagne in the lineup. But why was Game 7 just a microcosm of the series? Take a look after the jump for that and more about the historical significance of what went down in Game 7.

The Bruins’ game plan in Game 7 was to come out fast, get their crowd involved, and try to put the Flyers away early and roll from there. They sort of did that, jumping out to a 3-0 lead not even 15 minutes into the first period. The crowd was going bonkers, the Bruins were rolling and the game plan was working perfectly. But just like the Flyers did in the series, all it takes is one, and James Van Riemsdyk’s goal, a horrid squeaker past Tuukka Rask, was the one that jump-started the Flyers and began the demise of the Bruins.

Van Riemsdyk’s goal took the crowd out of the game and gave the Flyers the momentum lift they needed as they turned the pressure up in the final minutes of the first period, a momentum shift that would take over the rest of the game. After the Bruins outshot the Flyers 14-8 in the first period, the Flyers would turn the tables and outshoot and outwork the Bruins the rest of the way to a tune of 19-11.

To wrap your head around the historical significance of this, it didn’t just end with collapsing in a series they lead 3-0, it also made itself apparent in the way the game ended up being decided. At 11:10 of the third, the Bruins picked up a penalty for too many men on the ice. While that penalty has been a news story throughout and the Bruins were certainly guilty of the enfraction, its ties to the fate of the 1979 Bruins run deep. In Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals, the Bruins lead the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in the third period before picking up a too many men penalty. Guy LeFleur would score with the man advantage and force the game to overtime where the Canadiens would knock off the Bruins. 

Playing the role of Guy LeFleur this time was Simon Gagne, scoring the eventual power play game winner, firing it past Tuukka Rask. The Flyers would then lock it down defensively and go to great efforts to kill time. Michael Leighton made it all stand up stopping 22 shots and completing the biggest comeback the NHL has seen in 35 years.

As far as trying to compare this to their work during the regular season, the Bruins twice had losing streaks of four or more games. In December they had a stretch of four games, and through January and February they had a run of 10 straight losses. If you’re thinking they were “due” for a run of bad play, well, maybe you’re backed up by those numbers. For the Bruins, history and discussions of truly epic failures will now follow them as long as teams get down 3-0 in a series. For a season that ended on a high note in making the playoffs and looking strong against the Sabres to have it end in such a gut-punching way is one that true Bruins fans would like to forget.

Report: Potential Shattenkirk trade fell apart over contract talks

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 9:  Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues waits for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 9, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Blues defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Kevin Shattenkirk‘s name has been floating around the NHL’s trade rumor mill for sometime now, and according to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the Blues came very close to dealing him six weeks ago only to have the trade fall apart when the new team and Shattenkirk were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.

It is not the first time that has happened over the past year.

According to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues recently had a Shattenkirk trade in place with an Eastern Conference team that was believed to be the Tampa Bay Lightning. But when Shattenkirk turned down a long-term contract extension with the team that would have paid him $42 million over seven years, the trade fell apart.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned on Thursday night that the Arizona Coyotes also had permission earlier this season to speak to Shattenkirk about a new contract but were unable to reach a deal. A similar situation unfolded in the offseason when the Edmonton Oilers also tried to acquire the veteran defenseman.

The Lightning would make a ton of sense as a trade partner for the Blues here because they have been in desperate need of another big-time defenseman to add to their blue line along with Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. They also have several restricted free agents (and a pretty tight cap situation) to deal with this summer that could have been part of a return in a Shattenkirk trade.

If the reported contract terms are correct, it’s a pretty good sign that Shattenkirk thinks he can get a massive payday on the open market this summer as a free agent. And he is probably not wrong. Since the start of the 2011-12 season Shattenkirk has been one of the most productive defensemen in the NHL, currently sitting 10th among all blue-liners in points (241) and posting dominant possession numbers.

A $6 million per year cap hit would put him in the same salary range as Mike Green, Johnny Boychuk, and Erik Johnson.

He outperforms all of them.

Even though Shattenkirk is one of their top players, and the Blues seem on track to make the playoffs, the team still seems determined to move him before the deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing over the summer.

Blackhawks keep rolling with another dominant offensive performance

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Another night, another hat trick, and another dominant offensive showing from the Chicago Blackhawks.

On Thursday night it was Patrick Kane becoming the second Blackhawks forward in as many games to record a hat trick — following the three goal (and five point) effort Jonathan Toews had on Tuesday night — to help lead the Blackhawks to a 6-3 blowout win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Along with Kane’s three goals, Toews picked up to more assists to continue his recent scoring surge that has seen him pick up 23 points in his past 15 games. Keep in mind he only had 21 points in the 37 games prior to that.

Even more than Toews is the fact the entire Blackhawks team is clicking right now offensively.

Their win on Thursday is their eighth in the past nine games and every one of those wins has been a display of total offensive dominance, scoring 40 goals during that stretch. That is more than four goals per game. Everybody is contributing to it at this point as seven players (Toews, Kane, Richard Panik, Artemi Panarin, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Duncan Keith) all have at least eight points during this run.

It’s a stretch that has helped the Blackhawks gain some ground on the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division race, as they now sit three points back of the top spot.

Just about the only bad news for the Blackhawks on Thursday night was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson leaving the game with what coach Joel Quenneville described as an upper body injury.

The Blackhawks knew he wasn’t 100 percent going into the game and dressed a seventh defenseman, Michal Rozsival, as a precaution in case Hjalmarsson could not finish. After skating just four shifts in the first period — a first period that saw the two teams combine for six goals — he exited the game and did not return. Rozsival ended up playing a pretty significant role in the game scoring his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period for what ultimately prove to be the game-winner.

Lundqvist stays hot as Rangers move ahead of Blue Jackets

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers laughs as Kevin Klein #8 misses an attempt at a hattrick during the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden on February 11, 2017 in New York City.  The Rangers defeated the Avalanche 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Remember those few weeks earlier this season when Henrik Lundqvist was struggling, he was losing playing time to Antti Raanta, and everybody in the NHL was freaking out about the Rangers’ goaltending situation?

At this point it seems like an eternity ago.

Lundqvist has been on an absolute roll over the past month and has helped the Rangers finally gain some ground in the Metropolitan Division.

After his 32 save performance — in the Rangers’ 2-1 shootout win in Toronto on Thursday night, the Rangers are now in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, moving ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets who for the time being move down to the top Wild Card spot. The Rangers are now just two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for a spot that would get them home ice in the first round.

Leading the way lately during this recent surge has been Lundqvist as he plays his best hockey of the season. In his past 13 starts the Rangers own a 10-2-1 record, while Lundqvist is carrying a .938 save percentage.

Even though the Rangers took huge steps over the summer to improve their forward depth — and it has absolutely paid off — it is still a team that is weak on the blue line and is only going to go as far as Lundqvist can carry it in the playoffs.

But with the way he is playing right now, and with the way the Rangers can roll four solid lines and score (3.28 goals per game, fourth best in the NHL) this could be a potentially scary team come playoff time.

Islanders shut out Canadiens for huge road win

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18:  Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders in action against the New Jersey Devils on February 18, 2017 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 3-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Overall this season the New York Islanders have really struggled away from the Barclays Center, a point of concern when you consider how many road games they have down the stretch as they try to overcome their miserable start to climb back into the playoffs.

Their current nine-game road trip is off to a promising start with wins in the first two games, including a 3-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to improve their record to 12-4-2 under new coach Doug Weight.

The Islanders received goals from Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and John Tavares in the win, while Thomas Greiss stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.

With the win the Islanders hold sole possession of the second wild card spot in the East for the time being, two points ahead of Florida and Boston (the Bruins are in action right now) and continue their stunning second half turnaround.

But while things are going great for the Islanders right now, the struggles in Montreal continue.

With their loss on Thursday they failed to put any extra distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division that has suddenly closed the gap on them. They remain just two points up on Ottawa and only four points ahead of Toronto. The loss also continues what has been a particularly brutal stretch over the past couple of months that has seen the team win just seven of its past 20 games.

It’s probably too early to start fully panicking in Montreal, but given the way the end of last season went this can’t be a promising development for Canadiens fans.