It sounds strange to say that a game between the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets from MTS Centre in Winnipeg comes with great importance. Tonight’s tilt between the two (8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN) does just that as the Jets hold the eighth spot in the East while the Sabres have crawled out of the basement and sit two back of Winnipeg.
The Sabres rise from the depths comes thanks to their all-world goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller has won six of his last seven starts and has two shutouts in that span while the loss came in overtime to the East-leading Rangers. With how poorly the teams in the race for eighth have played, the Sabres climb has been easy to make, relatively speaking. Perhaps the Sabres trading his friend Paul Gaustad has lit a fire under him.
Making life easier offensively for Buffalo has been newcomer Cody Hodgson. Hodgson’s addition is helping to bring Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford out of their respective shells. Whether Hodgson asked to be dealt is still a mystery, but the Sabres are reaping the benefits. If Buffalo can get their top line of Thomas Vanek-Derek Roy-Jason Pominville back on track, that gives the Sabres two potent scoring lines. Amazing what having two skilled centers can do. Heck, even Ville Leino broke out of his slump with two goals against Vancouver on Saturday night.
The Jets story, meanwhile, is another centered around stellar play of a goalie. In this case it’s Ondrej Pavelec that has often been the show-stealer for Winnipeg. Pavelec has four wins in his last six starts including a shutout in his last game against Florida. Pavelec has had his work cut out for him this season but has played strong.
Offensively, the Jets are getting a big season out of Blake Wheeler. Wheeler leads the team in points and has been a key setup man for breakout goal scorer Evander Kane. Kane’s 26 goals leads the team, six ahead of Andrew Ladd.
Winnipeg is even getting more of that offensive pop from the blue line thanks to Dustin Byfuglien whose 42 points in 50 games has him as a constant threat. They’ll have to go about it without Zach Bogosian though as he’s still saddled with a bum wrist. To say the least, however, the Jets are all in for a playoff push.
Home ice advantage: If there’s one thing that gives Winnipeg a big edge in tonight’s game it’s playing at MTS Centre. The Jets are 20-10-4 at home and they’re finding that having the smallest building in the league has its advantages with a raucous crowd that overwhelms opponents. Just think of what a pain they’d be if they made the playoffs.
This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.
The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.
(Watch that goal in the video above.)
It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.
Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.
To start the seemingly pivotal stretch, Andrei Vasilevskiy made an outstanding save on Evgeni Malkin on what sure looked like a scary chance.
The play swiftly shifted from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ side of the ice, and it seemed like Jonathan Drouin scored a big 1-0 goal in Game 6.
As it turns out, the goal was disallowed thanks to an offside goal review.
Here are a few viewpoints on that moment in GIF form … you can get a fuller view via the video above.
The general feeling among those who don’t have a horse in the race is that it was the right call. (Lightning fans were, uh, not happy.)
At some point, it will probably be kind of boring to hear members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization praise Jonathan Drouin.
At least if Drouin re-signs with the Bolts after quite the affirming postseason and his ascension amid injuries.
These days? It’s still sort of entertaining.
In the latest case, Jon Cooper was asked to compare the development paths for Nikita Kucherov vs. Drouin. After empathizing with the pressure Drouin carries as a high-end pick (vs. Kucherov’s ability to come in under the radar), Cooper had some very positive things to say about No. 27.
” … So many people think, well, you’re just going to step in the league at 18 and be dominant,” Cooper said. “I truly believe Jonathan is going to be dominant in this league, but it’s hard to do at 18. He had to work through it, and that’s it.”
Drouin, now at 21, has 12 points in 15 playoff games.
In other Lightning news, it sounds like the team will roll with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, an alignment that has been working well lately and also came through at times during the 2015 postseason.
The Penguins, meanwhile, replace Beau Bennett with Conor Sheary.
Tonight could be the final game of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (8:00 p.m. ET)
The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Bolts lead the series 3-2.
Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s game:
—Malkin guaranteed a Penguins win in Game 6
—Lightning coach doesn’t seem flustered by Malkin’s guarantee
—Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason
—Marc-Andre Fleury: ‘I should have been better’ in Game 5