During the Thrashers 4-3 overtime win over Ottawa, Thrashers defenseman-turned-forward-turned-defenseman Dustin Byfuglien scored his 11th goal of the season late in the second period. For Byfuglien, that goal set a new Thrashers team record for goals scored by a defenseman.
He’s broken a franchise record in just December, a record that took just 31 games to break. If you’ll recall, we wondered aloud if moving Byfuglien back to his normal position on the blue line, one he played while coming up in the Chicago system, was a good idea. We know that Jeremy Roenick thought it was a really bad decision but perhaps that’s why he’s not a head coach. After being such a success as a forward and taking up space in front of opposing goalies all throughout the playoffs last year, it seemed like new Atlanta head coach Craig Ramsay was taking a risk.
As it turns out, Ramsay knew exactly what he was getting and that by putting Byfuglien back where he felt most comfortable has worked out pretty well for the Thrashers. Ramsay said he envisioned Byfuglien being a 15-goal scorer as a defenseman. That goal total is one that took him virtually a full season to reach in each of his last three years in Chicago. Now, he’s just four goals away from reaching 15 and you have to think that making a run at 20 isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.
Talk about silencing your critics. Byfuglien has been a major part of the rise of Atlanta this season and giving them something they haven’t really had before in team history, a defenseman that can score be a power play threat, is the key. Now Atlanta is in striking distance of the Capitals in the Southeast Division and they’re playing a brand of hockey that’s tough while also getting tremendous goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec. Sounds like the kind of team that might be a real pain in the butt to play in the playoffs, doesn’t it?
The Thrashers are hoping that they’ll be able to keep riding high to make it that far this year and have Dustin Byfuglien’s assistance and experience to rally around for it. For now though, the Thrashers are happy to continue climbing the ladder in the East and with the conference being as wide open as it is, who’s to say they can’t shake things up in the spring.
To the chagrin of the coaches and goalies, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are keeping things hectic during the second period of Game 7.
Kasperi Kapanen seems like he’s perpetually battling for a permanent/more prominent spot with the Maple Leafs, but it’s not for a lack of trying or moxie. He’s been hitting posts on some near-misses lately, but saved some magic for tonight.
You can see that in a 4-3 goal that currently stands as the Maple Leafs’ lead. Kapanen overpowers Brad Marchand and then outwaits Tuukka Rask for an absolutely tremendous shorthanded goal.
(Check out that goal in the video above this post’s headline.)
Impressive, especially considering who that came against. At one point, the Maple Leafs had converted on both of their shots on goal early in the second period to go from being down 3-2 to up 4-3. As mentioned after that wild first period, you have to wonder about both goalies’ confidence, but that’s especially true of Rask right now.
The two teams are also accruing some bumps and bruises, which must be to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s liking.
In the most dramatic instance, Brad Marchand ducked a high Zdeno Chara shot, leaving an unsuspecting Morgan Rielly to take a puck to the face. It’s a scary moment, although the good news is that Rielly was able to return for the beginning of the second period.
Chara also seemed stung by a blocked shot during the first period, as he took a puck to his ankle/foot area. He didn’t appear to miss any time, and it would be tough to imagine him not fighting through it during a Game 7, yet you wonder if the hulking defenseman’s mobility might be hindered after that.
The Bruins and Leafs already put on a show through 20 minutes. We’ll see who’s left standing to face the Bolts, whether this game ends in regulation or hits sudden death in a Game 7.
Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche, Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins and Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights have been named as the three finalists for the 2017-18 Jack Adams Award. The winner of the award, voted on by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association and given to the the head coach who has “contributed the most to his team’s success,” will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.
The Case for Jared Bednar: With a full summer to work with compared to 2016-17, Bednar helped guide the Avalanche to a 47-point improvement and a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014. The production of their youth was key in the resurgence, with Bednar using 11 rookies throughout the season, tied for the most in the NHL. Led by Alex Kerfloot (43 points), J.T. Compher (23 points) and Tyson Jost (22 points), Colorado rookies played an NHL-high 419 games. The offense also posted its best numbers since 2006-07 with the number of goals scored (shootout excluded) increasing from 165 last season to 255 in 2017-18.
The Case for Bruce Cassidy: During his first full season in Boston, Cassidy led the team to 50 wins and 112 points, the Bruins’ fourth-highest total in 40 years. Like Colorado, the Bruins received contributions from their kids with an NHL-best 58 goals from rookies in 2017-18. Cassidy’s impact extends back to when he took over for Claude Julien over a year ago. The Bruins went 18-8-1 in final 27 games of last season to help return to the playoffs following a two-year absence. This season, Boston cruised through the regular season and was in contention until the final few days for not only the top spot in the Eastern Conference but also the Presidents’ Trophy.
The Case for Gerard Gallant: What else can you say about the job Gallant, an Adams finalist for the second time, and the Golden Knights did during an historic inaugural season? Vegas finished with 51 wins and 109 points to become the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four major North American professional sports leagues to win its division. After a hot start, the Golden Knights saw their goaltenders hit with injury, which included losing Marc-Andre Fleury to a concussion for two months. They would use four netminders to stay afloat and set an NHL record on Feb. 1 with their 34th win, most by a team in its first season.