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.

Under Pressure: Bill Peters

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Bill Peters is a pretty good hockey coach. In his three years behind the Carolina Hurricanes’ bench his teams have always played hard, they have been competitive, they have seen great growth from their young core of players during their rebuild, and they have consistently been one of the top possession teams in the league. There are a lot of positives and a lot of reasons for optimism for what might be there in the coming seasons.

One thing there has not been: A trip to the postseason. There hasn’t been one in Carolina since the 2008-09 season as three different coaches have been unable to reach the playoffs during that stretch. So it hasn’t necessarily been just a coach thing.

It doesn’t seem that Peters is starting the season on the hot seat, and general manager Ron Francis recently gave his coach a vote of confidence heading into the season saying exactly that.

“I think Bill Peters is one hell of a hockey coach, so I would not put him on the hot seat and in that category. Not at all,” Francis said this week, via the News & Observer. “This is guy who has shown he’s a hell of a coach with a very young team. I don’t think you hold him accountable for missing the playoffs the last couple of years, based on the situation we were in and what we were trying to build.”

All fair points, and he specifically points out the playoff drought and what the team was going through.

But professional sports is still a bottom line business, and eventually results will begin to matter. Especially after the offseason the Hurricanes had that saw them bring in Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk and goaltender Scott Darling who can hopefully fix the team’s biggest and most glaring weakness in most recent years (the goaltending position). Combine those additions with a promising young core, led by Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and that defense and expectations are going to start to build.

Peters has also been given a leash that most NHL coaches do not get. Over the past 30 years I found only 12 other examples of coaches that coached a single team to three consecutive non-playoff seasons.

  • Three of those coaches (Terry Crisp, Curt Fraser and Rick Bowness) were coaches of literal expansion teams that were just entering the league.
  • Seven of them were fired just after the third non-playoff season.
  • One of them (Ron Wilson) was fired late in what would have been the fourth consecutive non-playoff season.
  • Wayne Gretzky was given four consecutive non-playoff seasons in Arizona before he was no longer behind the bench. His replacement, Dave Tippett, was given five consecutive non-playoff seasons after some early initial success with the team. That run ended this offseason when he mutually agreed to step away from the team.
  • Lindy Ruff made it through three non-playoff seasons in Buffalo in the early 2000s and managed to stick with the team for another eight years. But his playoff drought followed four consecutive playoff seasons, including three years where the team advanced to at least the second round and one year where they won the Eastern Conference.

The bottom line with Peters is this: A good coach that probably isn’t to blame for the team’s recent lack of success, but given the shelf life of coaches in the NHL and how few of them get to stick around for this many seasons without the playoffs, and the offseason additions made by the front office, the team is going to have to start winning. Soon.

It’s Carolina Hurricanes day at PHT

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The Carolina Hurricanes have been building up some buzz ever since Bill Peters helped transform a young core into an impressive possession machine.

Even so, whether you blame it on goaltending or some other factor, the Hurricanes haven’t made it to the playoffs since the 2009-10 season.

Management took measures to make some key upgrades in the off-season in order to break that slump.

Logically enough, Carolina searched for an answer in net, trading away Eddie Lack and boldly handing a four-year, $16.6 million contract to Scott Darling. With that, they’ll mix the future (Darling) with the past (Cam Ward) as their goalie duo.

Speaking of the past, the Hurricanes also brought back a vestige of their Stanley Cup victory, acquiring Justin Williams as a UFA. They added some additional championship experience by bringing Marcus Kruger into the mix, too.

Some of the biggest transactions come down to keeping players in the fold. The Hurricanes made it clear that, along with Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin figure into their long-term plans with substantial contract extensions.

Of course, the biggest decision may come off the ice, as the Hurricanes’ ownership situation remains fuzzy at the moment.

Switching gears, it’s easy to see why people are so excited about the Hurricanes. Aside from a Williams here and Lee Stempniak there, this roster is brimming with young talent, including players whose peak years are likely ahead of them.

Still, at some point, potential needs to make way for production. PHT will examine where the Hurricanes might be headed in 2017-18 on this fine day.

Lehtera: Trade from Blues to Flyers will be ‘good for me’

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Let’s be honest. Jori Lehtera felt like a bit of an afterthought in the trade that sent Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues and some significant picks to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Just consider the PHT headline: “Flyers send Schenn to Blues, take on Lehtera’s contract.”

That’s certainly a fair way to look at it, as the Flyers received the 27th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft and a conditional first-rounder in the deal. Would they have gotten such a haul for Schenn if they didn’t absord Lehtera’s $4.7 million cap hit, which expires after 2018-19?

Again, it’s easy to lose track of the human factor, as Lehtera was moved from the only NHL team he’s ever suited up for. While he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford that the news brought out both good and bad emotions, the 29-year-old believes that he’ll benefit on the ice.

“I have no idea why (the Blues traded me), but I think it’s better for me that I got traded, so I don’t really care why,” Lehtera said. “That’s the business part of hockey. It’s always tough to leave when you know all of the guys and the city. But hockey-wise, it’s going to be good for me. I didn’t play well at the end, but I think a new start will be really good for me.”

It’s been an interesting few years for Lehtera.

His numbers have dropped from his nifty rookie season (14 goals, 44 points) to 2015-16 (34 points) and finally last season (22 points).

Context matters, naturally, as centering a line of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko inflated his numbers, especially earlier on.

Still, that couldn’t have been a promising trend for both the player and the team.

The challenge will be to really make a mark with Philly. With Claude Giroux, Valtteri Filppula, Sean Couturier, and possibly even Nolan Patrick in the way, Lehtera would have plenty of competition down the middle. It wouldn’t be shocking if he was asked to move to the wing on occasion.

Lehtera certainly has plenty to prove, but he also gets a chance to make a positive first impression. If he can make an impact, then he’ll make Flyers GM Ron Hextall look that much brighter in the process.

Report: Avalanche will soon have AHL affiliate in Colorado

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There are upgrades that improve teams in dramatic ways, and then there are moves that improve quality of life.

Mike Chambers of The Denver Post reports that the Colorado Avalanche will make a tweak that would likely be a big plus in the quality of life category: starting in 2018-19, the Colorado Eagles will be their AHL affiliate. The Eagles will be bumped from an ECHL team to the AHL.

At the moment, the Avs’ affiliate is the San Antonio Rampage (pictured). So, yeah, there will be a nice advantage in a) calling players up and b) management having more opportunities to keep an eye on prospects.

The Budweiser Events Center is about a one-hour drive to the Pepsi Center according to Google Maps, depending upon traffic. So yeah, that’s an easier situation than traveling from Texas.

The Avalanche haven’t made this news official; Chambers cites two anonymous sources. With the change coming for 2018-19, it’s possible that confirmation might not come for a while. More from Chambers:

The Avs, citing their contract with the Rampage, declined comment, but vice president Jean Martineau confirmed the team’s contract with San Antonio ends after the 2017-18 season. Eagles general manager Chris Stewart could not be reached for comment.