Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, March 24

Pittsburgh 2, Philadelphia 1 (SO)

The Penguins may not have ever had the lead against the Flyers, but there’s no doubt they were the better team for all 65 minutes. Make that 65 minutes plus a shootout. In fact, Pittsburgh was never ahead on the scoreboard until Chris Kunitz buried a beautiful shootout goal to clinch the victory for the Pens.
The Pens held Philadelphia to only 20 shots for the game including a paltry five shots in the final frame of regulation. If it wasn’t for Sergei Bobrovsky standing on his head all night, the scoreboard wouldn’t have even been close. It wasn’t just the volume of saves, but the quality of saves kept the Flyers in the game. The team can thank their goaltender for single-handedly extending their point streak to 8 straight games.

With both teams earning points, the Flyers are sitting at 98 points with 9 games remaining, while the Penguins jump to 94 points with only 8 games left on their schedule. But it wasn’t all smiles for the victorious Penguins. Rookie forward Dustin Jeffrey went down with a lower-body injury (right leg or ankle) and will be re-evaluated on Friday. Aside from that, it was the perfect trip to Philly.

Ottawa 2, NY Rangers 1 (SO)

Looking at the standings, this was one the Rangers felt like they had to win. Win in regulation, win in overtime, or win in a shootout, it didn’t matter; they just had to win. Upon closer review, this game wasn’t the slam dunk people may have thought it was. With the shootout victory, Ottawa is 9-1-1 in their last 11 at Madison Square Garden. How streaks like that happen is another story, but the point is that the Senators have made it a habit of walking into MSG and taking what they want. Even with this sad version that is playing out the string, they still made it happen. Again, you can’t help but wonder where this team would be if they had Craig Anderson playing like this all season. Maybe they’d be a playoff team, maybe they wouldn’t. But they’d certainly be in the conversation.

Things weren’t all bad for the Rangers though. They did get the charity point for losing in a shootout and the team they are chasing (Montreal) was dominated so severely they should have been given TWO losses. The loser-point brings the Rangers to within 2 points of the Habs with 7 games to go. Sure, they have to make the playoffs first—but all the sudden the 6th seed is looking like a possibility.

Atlanta 2, NY Islanders 1

In a bit of symmetry, Andrew Ladd and John Tavares both scored their 27th goals of the season. Rob Schremp scored a power play goal in the 2nd period against his former team that turned out to be the eventual game winner. In the record books it’ll look like a booming slap shot or beautiful deke, but in reality it was a semi-screened wrister that Al Montoya would love to have back. The win improves the Thrashers recent record to 5-2-1 over their last eight games, but it might be too little too late. They’re still in 11th place in the Eastern Conference needing to make up seven points in their final nine games. At least they won the season series against the Islanders by taking 3 of 4.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, they’re going to need more than 15 shots if they’re going to want to win games. They’ve been playing well down the stretch, but there’s no way they should get outshot 34-15 to a team that has been one of the worst teams of 2011.

Boston 7, Montreal 0

The game that was supposed to be the bloodbath of the night never really fully delivered. To clarify, the game didn’t deliver line-brawls, goalie fights, or game misconducts. But what it did deliver was a crazy atmosphere in Boston and a rather large statement from the Boston Bruins to their Adams Northeast Division rival. 7-0 routes have a way of saying things that translate better than anything said in a sound byte or press clipping.

It was the first game between the two teams since Zdeno Chara’s questionable hit on Max Pacioretty in Montreal. Since the hit, Chara has handled the media storm well as he has 2 goals and 8 assists in his last 8 games and owns a +7 rating over the same time span. Against Montreal, he (and David Krejci) picked-up three assists as he did his part to chase Carey Price from the game in the 3rd period. After the game, Mark Recchi explained that his comments this week about Pacioretty embellishing his injury were designed to “take the heat off of Chara.” It must have worked.

St. Louis 4, Edmonton 0

In retrospect, this game will please both teams when they look back on it after the season. The Blues showed resolve and played well in a game that means nothing to them. They’re not going to make the playoffs—but wins like this can help a team grasp onto something to build for next year. TJ Oshie showed that he would have been a huge help if he was healthy all year. Chris Stewart continued to show fans in St. Louis that he can be their power forward of the future and Jaroslav Halak showed flashes of the goaltender they thought they were going to get. Playing with heart down the stretch means something—just ask the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On the flipside, the Oilers lost again on their way to the worst record in the league. Sure, it’s good to win games—but they’ve been looking at one of the top picks in the draft for a few months. No one said “Losing for Landeskog” was going to be easy.

Nashville 5, Anaheim 4

The game was supposed to be the triumphant return of the Ducks’ all-star goaltender in Nashville. Well, it was—for just over 11 minutes, the return of Jonas Hiller. After that, it was the Dan Ellis show as Hiller got the hook after allowing 3 goals on 9 shots. The Preds jumped all over the Ducks who were in the second game of a back-to-back situation. Considering Anaheim won an emotional game the night before and was trying to ease their goaltender back into the mix, Nashville couldn’t have started the game better by putting pucks on the net and putting the Ducks in a hole to start the game. Two goals from Sergei Kostitsyn helped Nashville jump out to a lead they’d never relinquish. The win was the fifth straight for the Predators; and also snapped the Ducks’ own four-game winning streak.

Things weren’t perfect in the Hockey Tonk as they nearly blew a 5-1 lead in the 3rd period. Coach Barry Trotz was happy with the win, but was clearly upset with his team letting the opposition off the hook. Whenever a coach compares a win to the previous year’s playoff loss, it’s never a good thing.

Toronto 4, Colorado 3

The Leafs are still alive. With 78 points and sitting only three points behind the final playoff spot, they’re most definitely alive. They can thank Nikolai Kulemin for his pair of goals. They can thank the rest of the Eastern Conference for making it easier to sneak into the 8th seed. They can thank James Reimer for being this year’s version of “Maple Leafs Savior of All-Time.” Whatever the reasoning, a win is a win and they’re still in the hunt. We’ll know a lot more after Tuesday night’s game when they face the Buffalo Sabres at the ACC. If they can win that game in regulation, fans in Toronto might have reason to plan for the playoffs. Note: plan for the playoffs, not plan a parade. There’s a difference.

Phoenix 3, Columbus 0

This was one of those games where one team needed the win to keep pace in a playoff race while the other is just playing out the string and waiting for April. Check out the score and you tell me which team is playoff bound and which one is heading to the golf course. If the score doesn’t do the trick, then the three goals the Coyotes scored should better tell the story. All three goals were the same: there was a Coyotes player in front of the net, all by himself with as much time to do whatever he wanted to beat Mathieu Garon. The effort was great for the Coyotes as they are 8-1-1 and have only given up 18 goals in their last 10 games. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 28 shots to earn his 7th shutout of the year and 21st of his career.

But in the other locker room, things weren’t quiet as cheery. RJ Umberger and Rick Nash called a players-only meeting to let their teammates know that they still need to have the attitude that these games mean something. Hopefully that translates into some goals since they’ve been shut out three times in their last five games.

Los Angeles 4, San Jose 3 (SO)

Any fans on the East Coast who chose to stay up past their bedtimes were treated to an amazing finish in Los Angeles. In a game that went back and forth, the Kings controlled the play in the first two periods as they outshot their No Cal rivals 27-13. In response, the Sharks came out attacking in the third period and controlled play just like the Kings controlled the first 40 minutes. The game was tied when Dustin Brown scored his second goal of the game with only 1:42 left in the 3rd period. Ordinarily, that would be enough for the victory—but not in the Western Conference this year. The unofficial “home of the 3-point game” lived up to its name as Patrick Marleau buried the game tying goal (his second of the game) with 4.1 seconds left in regulation. Both goaltenders made nice saves in the overtime session before Jonathan Quick improved his shootout record to an amazing 9-0. That’s the kind of crazy game it took to snap San Jose’s 4-game winning streak.

Ducks forward Sorensen signs in Swedish League

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Nick Sorensen, the forward taken 45th overall by Anaheim in 2013, has opted to return to Europe and sign a two-year pact with SHL club Linkoping, the team announced on Tuesday.

Sorensen, 22, returned to North America this season after spending ’14-15 and ’15-16 in Sweden (the latter with Linkoping, so this is a homecoming of sorts).

A former Quebec League standout, Sorensen impressed during training camp and made the Ducks’ opening-night roster, appearing in five games before being dispatched to AHL San Diego.

“Every game, every practice, every day for me, it’s a look to try to stay here,” Sorensen said back in October, per the Daily News. “Even if I play zero, one, five or 20 games, I’m not going to get comfortable up here. It’s the best league in the world.

“I’m just going to try to prove to them every day I want to be here.”

With the Gulls, Sorensen had 10 goals and 22 points in 48 games. He also chipped in with another four in eight playoff contests, but did suffer an injury during the postseason.

Sorensen was a pending RFA, having just wrapped the last year of his entry-level deal.

 

Sens owner: ‘very disturbing’ that tonight’s game may not sell out

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Entire rows in the upper deck of the Canadian Tire Centre still haven’t been sold for tonight’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Not surprisingly, the specter of a non-sellout for one of the biggest home games in franchise history has the Senators’ owner rather concerned.

“It’s very disturbing,” Eugene Melnyk told Postmedia, “however, knowing the players and coaches they will be trying their hardest for Ottawa.”

The Senators’ attendance has been a big story throughout these playoffs. In the second round, a crowd of just 16,744 was announced for Game 1 against the New York Rangers.

It was thought the story would go away once the conference final started. And for Games 3 and 4, capacity crowds were, indeed, announced.

But with no opportunity for the Sens to advance to the Stanley Cup Final tonight, it’s possible the building may not be full.

Via Ticketmaster, the blue dots represent unsold seats, while the pink dots are tickets available for resale:

Flames d-man Smid signs in Czech League

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Ladislav Smid isn’t ready to call it a career yet.

Smid, the 31-year-old defenseman that missed all of last year with a neck injury, has signed with Czech League team Liberec, the club announced on Tuesday.

He just wrapped the last of a four-year, $14 million deal with a $3.5M average annual cap hit.

Smid’s last NHL action came in ’15-16, when he appeared in 22 games for the Flames. The end of his tenure in Calgary was marked largely by injury and lineup absences, this after being acquired from Edmonton in 2013 (and scoring eight points in 73 games in his first full season with the Flames).

At one point considered a high-end prospect — the Ducks took him ninth overall in 2004 — Smid is probably best known as one of the pieces Edmonton acquired in the infamous Chris Pronger-to-Anaheim trade. He leaves North America with over 500 NHL games on his resume, and represented the Czechs at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

‘Our guys know the big picture’: Preds aren’t satisfied with spot in Stanley Cup Final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators, the final team into the NHL playoffs, are headed to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

Coach Peter Laviolette insists they won’t just be happy to be there either.

“Our guys know the big picture,” Laviolette said. “They understand what it is that we’re trying to do here. And when that time comes, we’ll be ready.”

Colton Sissons scored a hat trick with his third goal the game-winner with 6:00 left, and goalie Pekka Rinne made 38 saves as the Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 on Monday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.

Now the team no one outside of Nashville expected to be here is waiting to face either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

No matter what happens next, the Predators already have turned in a thrilling run this postseason as just the third franchise seeded last in its conference to reach the Final since the NHL went to the current conference-based playoff format in 1994. The Edmonton Oilers lost to Laviolette’s Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, while the Kings beat New Jersey in six in 2012.

They also are the eighth team in the past 15 seasons to reach the Stanley Cup Final after finishing the regular season outside the top 10 in the final standings.

Nashville’s magical run started by sweeping the West’s No. 1 seed in Chicago. The Predators downed St. Louis in six to reach their first conference finals, and now they’ve knocked off the Pacific Division champ in Anaheim, which lost for the second time in three years in the Western finals.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne, the Predators’ longest tenured-player at 34, called the victory an amazing feeling.

“It’s a funny thing though,” Rinne said. “Everything that is happening around us, you still feel hungry and now we have a chance to play for the Cup. It’s a pretty amazing feeling and you’re working for that for a long, long time. I feel like the last number of years, we’ve been going in that direction, building this team and having more depth.”

That depth has paid off, particularly the last two games after losing top center Ryan Johansen after Game 4 to emergency surgery on his left thigh. Captain Mike Fisher, the only player on the roster who has played in the Stanley Cup Final with Ottawa in 2007, also missed those two games with an upper-body injury.

Forward Kevin Fiala broke his left leg in the second round.

Laviolette simply tapped Nashville’s pipeline and has tied the NHL’s all-time mark using 18 forwards this postseason. Sissons is the latest to respond. The 23-year-old center was scoreless in the 2016 playoffs and had 10 points in 58 games during the regular season. Now he has 10 points this postseason.

“I don’t think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in the Western Conference clinching game, but I can’t speak enough for just our whole group,” Sissons said. “We’ve been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just always believed and here we are.”

Now Laviolette is the first coach since 1994 and the fourth overall to take three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final , joining Scotty Bowman, Dick Irvin and Mike Keenan.

“Probably means that I got fired a lot,” Laviolette said with a chuckle. “I’m fortunate to be here working and fortunate (general manager) David Poile gave me a job. And when you do that, you’re not thinking about things like that, you’re just thinking about coming to work.”

Now Music City stands ready to show the NHL how to chase hockey’s ultimate trophy in star-studded fashion.

The Predators have had a different national anthem singer for each playoff game ranging from Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan to Trisha Yearwood. The singer’s identity is a well-guarded secret. NFL stars like Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, PGA golfer Brandt Snedeker and former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George have revved up crowds for a raucous party each game.

Fans filled the plaza outside the arena and the park across the street during the game before pouring onto the street lined with honky-tonks to celebrate. Forward James Neal said the Predators’ fans are special and now everyone in the hockey world is getting to see them.

“It’s hard to describe and it’s an amazing feeling to win this, and we’re not done,” Neal said.