Claude Julien looks to improve his Boston record in elimination games tonight against Guy Boucher

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One of the more curious angles on tonight’s Game 7 between Boston and Tampa Bay centers upon the head coaches. While both Guy Boucher and Claude Julien have had their hands full with trying to strategize ways to beat each other’s teams they’ve each got different histories when it comes to handling things when their team’s season is on the line.

During his tenure in Boston, Julien has a record that’s stellar against the team he used to coach for in Montreal but against others it’s not quite so good. Overall he’s 5-3 in elimination games with the Bruins but he’s gone 3-1 against the Habs in two different playoff rounds. In 2008 his Bruins rallied from down 3-1 to force a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs only to lose 5-0 in Game 7. This year, Boston knocked off Montreal in Game 7 to advance to the second round. We’re sure Boston fans would like to forget Julien’s record in Montreal coaching in elimination games as he went 3-1 that season with all three coming against the Bruins as the Canadiens rallied from down 3-1 in the series to beat Boston that year. Those Habs were then swept out by Philadelphia in the next round.

In 2009, the Bruins again rallied from down 3-1 to force a Game 7 against Carolina in the second round only to see series nemesis Scott Walker beat them in double overtime to knock the Bruins out of the playoffs. Last year we all remember the Bruins blowing a 3-0 series lead against Philadelphia and then a 3-0 lead in Game 7 to the Flyers before losing the game and series.

For Guy Boucher, his only record comes this year and the Lightning have been more than resilient as they rallied from down 3-1 against Pittsburgh to take that series in seven games and then won Game 6 against Boston in this round to give Boucher a nice 4-0 record in elimination games. It’s not much of a history for him, but if nothing else the Lightning have found numerous ways to win including a 1-0 shutout of Pittsburgh in Game 7 this year and an 8-2 win in Game 5 of that series.

Julien has the experience in these situations but Boucher’s ability to get his team to adapt styles when needed makes him more of the wild card. We essentially know what we’ll get out of Boston if they’re on their best game (and they should be) being tough defense, physical play, and quick counter-attack when they get the opportunity, especially when trying to take advantage of Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 defense. The Bruins have had more than a few 2-on-1 situations develop with varied success.

Tampa Bay will figure out ways to slow down the game if they get a lead at all. We saw it happen against an offensively stricken Penguins team in round one and similar play against the Capitals in Game 4 of their sweep in the second round. Boucher’s smart but he knows when it’s time to really buckle things down if they get in front. One way or another either Julien will get to shake off some gut wrenching Game 7 defeats in the past and provide himself with a new legacy to look ahead to or Guy Boucher will make even more fans wonder aloud about why he’s not a finalist for coach of the year.

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.