Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins - Game Five

Bruins try to put last year’s collapse behind them and finish series in Game 6

If there’s any team that knows how the Vancouver Canucks feel – even if they don’t face the same around the clock criticism in their neck of the woods – it’s the Boston Bruins. After all, they are only about a year removed from dropping a second round series against the Philadelphia Flyers despite building a 3-0 series lead. The Bruins became only the third team in NHL history to author such a collapse after coughing up an all-too-fitting 3-0 lead in the Game 7 itself.

Tonight’s Game 6 in Montreal provides the Bruins an interesting opportunity to get a heavy monkey off their backs. Will they be able to put the Habs away or will they lose their fifth consecutive elimination game?

Let’s face it, the Bruins are going against a franchise that was awfully tough to shake in 2010. The Canadiens fought back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Washington Capitals and dug themselves out of a 3-2 hole against the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. They finally gave way to a Philadelphia Flyers team that was tougher and more talented, but the Habs still made quite the impression by going 5-1 in elimination games last year.

Now, obviously, the Canadiens currently roll with Carey Price instead of Jaroslav Halak in net*. Still, much of that pesky moxie remains.

So the question is: will the Bruins be able to finish them off or will they face another heart-in-your-throat Game 7 challenge? Joe Haggerty gathered the Bruins’ thoughts on the matter.

“It’s human nature to relax, you know, but successful teams – teams that have won – have always been able to play their best games in those situations, and that’s what we’re looking for from our team,” said Gregory Campbell, talking about the natural snooze button that some hockey teams can hit when they’re up in a playoff series. “We have to be at our best. It won’t be easy, but we’re taking the same approach from the last three games.”

(snip)

“We went through a lot in the Philly series last year, but Montreal went through a lot coming back in the Washington and Pittsburgh series,” Lucic said. “They’re not going to quit. There’s still a lot of fight left in that team. They’re a desperate hockey club fighting for their lives, and they’re going to do whatever they can to win.

“We’re prepared for their best game tonight. It’ll be a fun hockey game to be a part of. They’re gonna come out flying with the crowd and the city buzzing. If anything, we want to do whatever we can to have a good start.

“It won’t be easy. The fourth one is always the toughest. There’s a saying, ‘Will over Skill’, and whoever is more willing to win is going to.”

All hackneyed sayings aside, these two teams have delivered the kind of series hockey fans were hoping for once it was clear they’d square off. Some might say that it would only be fitting for it to go the distance, but the Bruins would be happy to finish off their divisional and historical foes tonight. We’ll see if they can get the job done in Game 6.

* – And, to be fair, the Bruins have a different starter this year in Tim Thomas instead of Tuukka Rask.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.