PHT Predicts the Eastern Conference finals

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With the start of the conference finals tonight, the waiting and anticipation is over with and the talk and analyzing of the teams and players before they hit the ice  can end. There is just one more piece of business to attend to here though: The predictions.

With the way these two teams are set up we could be in for a classic, yet potentially defensive-minded, series. You’ve got the two best goalies statistically remaining in the playoffs in Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson, a crushing defense from Boston highlighted by Zdeno Chara, and a skilled offense from Tampa Bay featuring the likes of Martin St. Louis, Steve Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier.

With all that said, it’s time for us to put up or shut up.

James says:

The striking thing about this series is that both teams followed such similar paths to this destination. Each squad faced two-game deficits in the first round (Boston was down 2-0, Tampa Bay fought back from 3-1) against scrappy but over-matched teams then proceeded to sweep talented but messy squads in Round 2. Both teams can bore you to tears with their conservative defensive systems yet heighten your senses with their elderly goalies, whether it be 41-year-old wonder Dwayne Roloson or 37-year-old highlight reel Tim Thomas.

The prospect of the Bruins dealing with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier without the benefit of Patrice Bergeron’s criminally underrated two-way game is a bit stomach-churning. Then again, the Tampa Bay offense hasn’t seen the likes of Zdeno Chara in the playoffs yet, either. Boston doesn’t have the high-end firepower of the Washington Capitals, but they sport what could be a troubling (if diluted) mixture of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ doggedness and the Capitals’ finishing ability. (At least when you consider the Lightning defense, an area of serious – if unexploited – concern.)

The Lightning haven been considerably more productive on special teams, but the Bruins are an absolute bear in 5-on-5 situations. During the regular season, the Bruins scored the third most goals in the East while allowing the fewest, producing a conference-best +51 goal differential to Tampa Bay’s +7. When in doubt, those big picture numbers help me split hairs, especially since Boston took the teams’ season series 3-1 (outscoring them 15-8).

I could very well see the Bolts winning this series, but I cannot shake the feeling that they are this year’s answer to the 2010 Montreal Canadiens while the Bruins are – humorously enough – this year’s 2010 Philadelphia Flyers. My guess is that the forces of puck luck will be stomped out by the big, bad bearers of reality in this series.

Boston wins it in 6.

Joe says:

This series has the high potential to be a defensive stand-off with coaches Claude Julien and Guy Boucher both stressing the finer points of tough strategy. That could mean we end up getting bored to death by how these teams decide to go at it though. That wouldn’t be too fun. Thankfully both of these teams know how to push the pace of the game when needed. For Tampa Bay that means taking advantage of the power play and making opponents pay for reckless play. For Boston, it means hemming the other team into their own end and pounding away with both shots and the body to open up space.

Tampa Bay is loaded with character guys who are melding together into something like Voltron that when they’re all together working as a unit they’re nearly unbeatable. Boston, however, is the robotic beast they didn’t want to run into. Boston’s playing too tough and Tim Thomas will be the difference maker in this series.

I like Boston here and in cardiac fashion.

Bruins in 7.

Flyers edge Red Wings, stay hot in 2018

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At this rate, Travis Konecny might earn the nickname “OT.”

For the second straight game, the young forward scored the OT-winner for the Philadelphia Flyers. In this case, it salvaged a 3-2 overtime win against the Red Wings in Detroit, pushing Philly’s winning streak to four games.

Red Wings fan left the building booing, as Konency just barely avoided being offside on the decisive goal. Such a finish will probably sting a little extra for Tyler Bertuzzi, who was all over the place in the third period but couldn’t seal the Red Wings’ rally.

Three of the Flyers’ four straight wins have come in overtime, so they’re gutting out some close wins lately.

It’s a sweet deal for the Flyers, as they’ll end the night in the Metropolitan Division’s third spot, even if the New York Rangers win their game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Such a rise isn’t just about this four-game winning streak.

After ending 2017 on a down note (losing three of their last four games of the year), the Flyers are now 8-2-0 in 2018. Tuesday was promising for Philly even beyond its own work, as the Carolina Hurricanes (loss to Pittsburgh) and New Jersey Devils (fell to Bruins) both fell in regulation.

Quite the turnaround for a team that once dropped 10 straight games and saw fans calling for head coach Dave Hakstol’s head, huh?

A strong second period played a big role in Philly’s win. Detroit carried a 1-0 lead into the middle frame, but the Flyers scored twice to take a lead that would ultimately get them into overtime. They generated an 18-7 shots on goal advantage in the second period and a 31-21 edge overall.

The Flyers continue to do enough of everything to win games, and such versatility might just earn them a playoff berth. For all we know, that might even end up battling for a round of home-ice advantage.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rough night for goalie injuries: Devils’ Schneider, Panthers’ Reimer

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Tuesday could end up being a tough night when it comes to goalie injuries.

  • The New Jersey Devils have already been struggling, but this high-offense/shaky-defense mix could really crumble without a healthy Cory Schneider. That’s the concern tonight, as he left the Devils’ game against the red-hot Boston Bruins with a lower-body injury.

The Devils were already dealing with Keith Kinkaid being sidelined with a groin issue, so Ken Appleby is taking over, and likely absorbing some outstanding jokes about chain restaurants and/or cheap appetizers.

  • On a similar note, the Florida Panthers were already waiting as Roberto Luongo heals up, and now James Reimer is dealing with something during tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars. While footage of Schneider laboring after moving laterally is not yet available, here’s a GIF of Reimer being shaken up:

Reimer cooled off in January, but he helped keep the Panthers’ playoff hopes at least on life support in December, going 7-3-3 with a sparkling .932 save percentage during that month.

Both the Panthers and Devils were already dealing with some struggles, so possibly being down to the third goalies on their depth charts wouldn’t help matters. Each squad has to hope that their goalies are only dealing with minor issues.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders could play quite a bit at Nassau Coliseum in future (Report)

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The New York Islanders need to wait for what sounds like a better home arena situation at Belmont Park, but in the meantime, why not make a lot of people by finding a happy medium?

Newsday’s Jim Baumbach cites anonymous sources who indicate that the Islanders could end up becoming quite a presence back at Nassau Coliseum from 2018-19 to whenever the Belmont Park arena is ready (Baumbach indicates that would be no earlier than the 2021-22 season).

It sounds like there would be some mixture of Brooklyn (Barclays Center) and Long Island (Nassau Coliseum) dates in this setup. Baumbach reports that talks point to about 12 games at Nassau Coliseum in 2018-19; if that test run goes well, the Islanders could play about half of their home games at their former longtime home on Long Island.

While Baumbach reports that there are certain details that need to be hashed out, an official announcement may come soon.

Baumbach adds this interesting detail that indicates that quite a few parties would love to see more games at Nassau, and not just a significant portion of Isles fans:

Interesting.

On paper, an NHL team in Brooklyn sounded wonderful, but Barclays Center simply wasn’t built with hockey in mind. There have been plenty of complaints about ice quality, obstructed views, and challenges for fans trying to get to games.

That said, it’s interesting that the Islanders have been pretty strong at home so far in 2017-18, going 13-7-3 as of this writing.

If you ask a lot of Islanders fans, the dream is probably to see a lot more of John Tavares, preferably at Nassau Coliseum. Time will tell what happens with their big star, but the locale part might work out for fans.

It almost makes you want to start up a “Yes!” chant, doesn’t it?

(H/T to The Score.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

How will Bruins handle loss of Charlie McAvoy?

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Monday brought rough news for the red-hot Boston Bruins: sensational rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy will miss at least two weeks after undergoing a procedure to treat an abnormal heartbeat.

As you can see in the video above, Keith Jones and Anson Carter discussed McAvoy’s absence, believing that the Bruins will be able to handle it reasonably well.

Tuesday represents the first test, as the B’s take on the New Jersey Devils in a game that’s currently in progress. It’s unclear how much it has to do with McAvoy not being in the lineup, but early on Boston is struggling on defense.

Via Left Wing Lock, it looks like Brandon Carlo slides into the top pairing with Zdeno Chara, while the other pairings look like this:

Chara — Carlo

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Now, Bruce Cassidy deserves credit for taking Claude Julien’s move to a more modern system in 2016-17 to a new level this season, and players like Krug and Carlo boast some promise.

That said, McAvoy’s beyond-his-age impact might be slipping under the radar. So far this season, only Chara (23:26 per game) is averaging more ice time than McAvoy (22:48), with Krug coming in at a distant third of 20:01. McAvoy’s possession stats have, honestly, been pretty brilliant.

While McAvoy undoubtedly benefits from the presence of Chara and what Jones (persuasively) argues is the best offensive line in hockey in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, other blueliners haven’t been this brilliant even while receiving such a plum gig. Via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, you can see that McAvoy has been a beast in transition and in denying opponents entry into his zone:

In other words, McAvoy is off the charts for a 20-year-old by most measures, including a healthy 25 points in 45 games this season. If the Calder Trophy was friendlier to defensemen, he’d probably be getting more hype as one of the best rookies in the NHL.

You don’t have to use “for a rookie” or “for a 20-year-old” qualifiers with McAvoy, though. He’s an important piece by any measure.

Even if McAvoy’s numbers are quite inflated – again, plausible with Chara still being really good – the Bruins could feel the sting from a depth standpoint. Guys who maybe should be in street clothes instead get foisted into the lineup. Someone better suited for a mid-level role might be asked to do too much.

McAvoy is expected, at least initially, to only miss two weeks, which would mean missing somewhere between 5-7 games the way Boston’s schedule falls. Of course, this is a heart-related procedure we’re talking about, so the Bruins need to proceed with caution if the young skater experiences setbacks.

If it’s only two weeks, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal; it might just give the Bruins a chance to realize just how pivotal he’s been in their rise from a team fighting for its playoff life to something more.

Update: The Bruins extended their point streak to 17 games, winning 3-2. Tuukka Rask was forced to make 37 saves, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.