Bulletin-board material: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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Consider this a motivational tool for all 16 of the NHL’s playoff teams. Prove us wrong, teams. Prove…us…wrong.

New York Islanders. We’ve got a small, but loyal band of Isles fans who comment regularly on PHT. All year they’ve been talking a big game, saying how nobody should be surprised that this team is in playoff contention. Newsflash: the New York Islanders have missed the playoffs every year since 2007. They haven’t been past the first round since 1993. They’re run on a shoe-string because they play in a dump. They trade for guys who aren’t even playing to get the cap hit. They pick up every third scrub who’s put on waivers. Yes, how outrageous for anyone to doubt the mighty Islanders. John Tavares is pretty good, so they might win a game against the Penguins.

Minnesota Wild. Came oh-so-close to a choke for the ages, but pulled it out of the fire by barely beating a dysfunctional Colorado team that’s probably in the buffet line at the Luxor as you read this. Congratulations! The Wild were terrible down the stretch. They went 5-8-2 in April, with four of their victories coming over non-playoff teams. It’s actually sort of impressive that the Wild can ring up such a huge payroll and you still look at their defense and shake your head. Poor Ryan Suter was forced to play 32:54 against the Avs. These guys have no shot against the Blackhawks. None.

Toronto Maple Leafs. The worst team to make the playoffs. And in a related story, quite possibly the luckiest. The Leafs won two games this season with just 13 shots. On average, they were outshot by six shots per game, by far the worst differential of any of the other 15 playoff teams. If it weren’t for James Reimer, they’d be saved the embarrassment of getting blown away by the Bruins. The other day, Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said his team is at its best when it gets over 50 hits in a game. Because actually possessing the puck isn’t important, apparently.

Ottawa Senators. Credit where credit’s due. The Sens did extremely well to make the playoffs given the injuries they had to contend with. And now that Erik Karlsson is back…well, actually, they’re still screwed. You cannot win the Stanley Cup with an offense that ranks 27th out of 30 teams. And remember, the Sens couldn’t score last year either, so you can’t just chalk up this year to injuries. One more thing: since Craig Anderson returned, he’s been nowhere near as good as he was early this season. Mostly because no goalie alive could sustain that level of play.

Detroit Red Wings. It’s kind of cruel the way Mike Babcock has Wings fans feeling good about the defense again, because it’s only going to lead to disappointment. Remember the way Flyers fans convinced themselves everything would be OK without Chris Pronger? “We’ve got Nicklas Grossmann now!” Yeah, how’d that work out? You do not lose Nicklas Lidstrom, bring in a bunch of youngsters and remain a Stanley Cup contender. There’s nothing wrong with what the Wings are doing. It’s their only option. They just have no shot at winning right now, that’s all.

New York Rangers. Did any team do less with more in the regular season? On paper, the Rangers have a pretty good team. On the ice, they have a pretty average team. Or maybe it’s just a team that’s absolutely terrified to make any mistakes because of its coach. To be fair, New York has been decent down the stretch, but everyone knows what’s coming: John Tortorella will play his best players to the point of exhaustion because he doesn’t trust his lesser guys. And then, when the Rangers are eliminated, he’ll say fatigue was never a factor, as Dan Girardi falls apart like the Bluesmobile.

The blues brothers car collapse - Created at yt2gif.com

San Jose Sharks. This will be their ninth straight postseason appearance. Not once have they made it past the conference finals. Why should it be any different in 2013? Tear down this team, Mr. Gorbachev.

Washington Capitals. Did you hear? The old Caps are back! Running and gunning, racking up pretty goals on the power play, and rolling through the regular season. That Alex Ovechkin sure loves to score. What a treat to watch. Um, everyone remembers the old Caps always choked in the playoffs, right? Not to mention, the old/new Caps got 15 of their 27 wins against Southeast Division opponents, none of which made the playoffs. Can’t wait for the “we’ve just got to learn to play the right way” comments in a couple of weeks.

Vancouver Canucks. It was so cute when they beat the Blackhawks last week and everyone in the city thought it meant something. Sorry, but this team is still broken from 2011. Whatever mojo it ever had, the Boston Bruins stole. Fast forward two years and the Canucks finished the regular season with the 19th-ranked offense. Recently, they even had the audacity to suggest they don’t try to score as much anymore. Nope, no more “blowing the zone” for these defensively responsible guys. Do people buy these excuses? God help them if Roberto “Hey coach, I’m kinda getting torched out here” Luongo has to start. At this point, Cory Schneider – he of the “body” injury and four career playoff starts – is their only hope.

St. Louis Blues. That some fans were scared of their team facing the Blues is absolutely hilarious. Fun fact: St. Louis scored 22 goals in its last 12 games of the season. Six of them came against the Avs, four on the Flames, and three on the Rockford IceHogs. What a terrifying team, indeed. The Blues are also going into the playoffs with Brian Elliott as their starting goalie. Which, on second thought, may explain why they play so conservatively. Elliott’s career save percentage in the playoffs is .887.

Boston Bruins. Take it away Shawn Thornton: “I’m a little sick of talking about two years ago. That was a long time ago. It’s a new team. It’s a new chapter. Just because we accomplished something two years ago doesn’t mean it’s going to be automatic.” No, it doesn’t. Especially considering the B’s enter the playoffs with just two wins in their last eight games. They look either tired or indifferent; probably, it’s both. And oh yeah, they don’t have Tim Thomas anymore. It’s almost like some people have forgotten how good he was in 2011. Yeah, yeah, his politics aren’t for everyone, but without Thomas, Boston doesn’t even get out of the first round that year. (Also, the power play still stinks.)

Montreal Canadiens. In case you missed it, Carey Price had kind of a bad April. On one occasion, he was pulled after surrendering three goals on four shots against Toronto. On another, he let in six goals against the Flyers. There were other bad games, too. When the regular season came mercifully to an end, Price had registered an .876 save percentage for the month and Habs fans were in a complete and totally justified panic. “Quite honestly, I like the way Carey Price has been playing this week,” Habs coach Michel Therrien said Saturday, just to lighten the mood and give everyone a good chuckle. Price’s play wouldn’t be such a concern if goaltending was the Canadiens’ only issue. Except it’s not. The forwards are still too small, the team is shorthanded all the time, and defenseman Andrei Markov looks 54, not 34.

Anaheim Ducks. The fact this team started the season 22-3-4 is testament to the role that luck plays in hockey. The fact it finished 8-9-2 in its last 19 is proof that luck eventually runs out. Bottom line: the Ducks are an average team. Early on, they scored a lot of goals and won a lot of games, but it wasn’t because they were dominating their opposition – the pucks were just going in. Seven goals on 26 shots against Vancouver. Seven goals on 25 shots against Los Angeles. Five goals on 23 shots against St. Louis. It wasn’t sustainable. And neither are the Ducks in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings. Speaking of luck, let’s talk about quite possibly the luckiest Stanley Cup champion ever. Because this isn’t talked about enough. Here’s what the Kings had to do last year: Finish eighth in the Western Conference. Beat a basket-case Canucks team without Daniel Sedin. Beat an inexperienced Blues side with no Jaroslav Halak and a banged-up Alex Pietrangelo. Beat Phoenix…which was Phoenix. And beat New Jersey…which was New Jersey. In case you missed it, the Coyotes and Devils didn’t even make the playoffs this year. No, it wasn’t the Kings’ fault they got such an easy draw. But they probably shouldn’t expect the sea to part like that again. And even if it does, Jonathan Quick has been downright mediocre.

source: Getty Images

Pittsburgh Penguins. The forwards are good; we’ll give them that. The defense and goaltending? Still highly suspect. As well as the Pens have played defensively at times this season (and we stress the phrase “at times”), you simply cannot ignore last year’s loss to the Flyers when the Pens surrendered 30 goals in six games. That’s not just bad – that’s horrendous. Kris Letang leads Pittsburgh on the back end, and his stat line (5 G, 33 A) is impressive. But what percentage of his production is a product of the forwards he gets to pass the puck to? Would anyone put him in the elite shutdown category? Then there’s Marc-Andre Fleury and his .904 playoff save percentage. In fact, Fleury has had a sub-.900 save percentage in each of his last three postseasons, bottoming out last year at a shocking .834 versus the Flyers. Oh, and has anyone noticed the Penguins are always getting hurt.

Chicago Blackhawks. It’s not easy thinking up bulletin-board material for a team that went 36-7-5 and won the Presidents’ Trophy by five points in a shortened season. But there’s a reason the regular season’s best team usually doesn’t win the Stanley Cup, and the reason is this: there are 15 other teams trying to win it, too. Obviously, you need the right players. But you also need a few breaks along the way. Let’s put it another way: Suppose we were to give the Blackhawks a 90 percent chance to beat the Wild, an 80 percent chance to win the second round, a 70 percent chance to win the conference finals  and a 60 percent chance to win the finals. That’s actually pretty generous, given the specter of injuries and the fact Michal Handzus is their second-line center. Multiply those four percentages and the ‘Hawks have a 30 percent chance of winning the Cup, meaning there’s a 70 percent chance one of the 15 other teams somehow flukes their way to a title like the Kings did.

Predators’ Ryan Hartman suspended one game for illegal check to head

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When the Nashville Predators attempt to close out their series against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night they will be without forward Ryan Hartman.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Thursday afternoon that Hartman has been suspended one game for an illegal check to the head of Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg during the Predators’ 3-2 win in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Here is the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

He was given a two-minute minor penalty for charging on the play. It happened early in the third period.

It turned out to be a pretty eventful night for Hartman as he was also penalized in the second period for roughing and holding the stick during a sequence that saw him get speared by Avalanche forward Sven Andrighetto.

Andrighetto was given a roughing penalty during the sequence, but to this point has not received any supplemental discipline for the spearing incident.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This is already the fourth suspension of the playoffs as Hartman joins Drew Doughty (one game), Nazem Kadri (three games), and Josh Morrissey (one game) as players to sit for at least one game.

There was only one suspension during the entire 2017 playoffs.

The Predators acquired Hartman at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Victor Ejdsell, a first-round pick, and a fourth-round pick. In 78 games this season between the two teams he scored 11 goals to go with 20 assists. Three of those goals game as a member of the Predators. So far in the first-round series against Colorado he has scored one goal for the Predators.

Related: Avalanche to start Andrew Hammond in Game 5

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sharks showed in Round 1 they’re not done yet

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For the better part of the past two decades the San Jose Sharks have been a near constant in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, making 18 appearances in 20 years. Because that run has not yet resulted in a Stanley Cup — and at times resulted in some crushing, premature postseason exits — they have usually been more of a playoff punchline than a celebrated success story for being a contender almost every year. With every passing year that does not result in a championship, and with every year that foundational  players like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski get older, we seem to forget about them a little more.

It’s usually the old “their window has closed” situation as we wait for them to fade into obscurity.

Then two years ago, after everyone seemingly gave up on them being a serious threat to ever win it all, they finally had a breakthrough and reached the Stanley Cup Final.

They entered the playoffs this year as somewhat of an afterthought once again (hey, I admit, I was guilty of that too), lost beneath the hype of the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and even their second-round opponent, the Vegas Golden Knights. But after making quick work of an overmatched and hapless Ducks team in round one, outscoring them by an 16-4 margin in a clean four-game sweep, they are now in the second-round of the playoffs ready to take on the Vegas with a trip to the Western Conference Finals on the line. They have done all of this while only getting 47 games out of Thornton who has not played since the end of January.

So what has been the key to their success? For one, they finally have a goalie they can count on in the playoffs.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

One of the biggest issues that plagued some of the great Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau teams in the early-mid 2000s were some truly disastrous postseason goaltending performances from the likes of Evgeni Nabokov and Antti Niemi that completely sunk the team’s chances. Those postseason shortcomings were then hung on the two guys at the top of the lineup (Thornton and Marleau) even though they almost always produced.

Now the net belongs to Martin Jones, and in what is his third playoff run with the team he is once again playing some of his best hockey at the right time of year.

Jones was incredible in the first-round sweep of the Ducks, turning aside 128 of the 132 shots he faced. In his 34 playoff games as a member of the Sharks he now has a .930 save percentage. Of the 18 goalies that have appeared in at least 10 playoff games during that stretch, that would be tied for the third best mark in the NHL. That sort of goaltending will always give you a chance.

For as good as Jones has been, it is not just the goaltending that is sparking the Sharks right now.

They have also managed to reshape their roster a bit and work in some youth and speed, even from what the team looked like just one year ago. The Ducks, a classic rough-and-tumble “heavy hockey” Pacific Division team, were overmatched it by from the drop of the puck in Game 1.

When looking at the skaters that played in the first-round this season versus the first round a year ago (when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers) you can see where the changes come in.

After being a healthy scratch in all six playoff games a year ago, 22-year-old Kevin Labanc not only played in all four games in the first-round, he recorded two assists, was not on the ice for a single goal against, and generally played great two-way hockey. The same was true for 23-year-old center Chris Tierney as he came off what was a breakout regular season performance. Twenty-one-year-old Timo Meier, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2015, saw an increased role this season and after scoring 21 goals during the regular season contributed three points in the first-round against the Ducks.

That influx of young talent has been a great complement to the established veterans already on the roster, including Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl, a trio that combined for six goals against the Ducks. And that doesn’t even include trade deadline acquisition Evander Kane whose two goal effort in Game 1 helped lead the Sharks to their first win of the playoffs.

Including playoffs, the Sharks are 16-6-1 since that trade while Kane has had three multiple-goal games during that stretch.

Given how impressive Vegas was in its first round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings — a series that pretty much mirrored the Sharks’ win, where a faster, more skilled team overwhelmed a slower, bigger, more physical team — the Sharks are certainly going to have their hands full in round two. But they have put themselves in a great position to make another deep run in the Western Conference in another year where everybody kind of forgot about them.

The Sharks are still here. They are still good. Given the makeup of their roster, they are not ready to go away anytime soon.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Andrew Hammond to start Game 5 for Avalanche

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When the Colorado Avalanche hit the ice in Nashville on Friday night they will be facing elimination. They will also need to rely on their third-string goalie to help get them a win if they are going to extend their season.

The team announced on Thursday that Andrew Hammond will be getting the start, replacing Jonathan Bernier who had to leave Wednesday’s game after two periods with a lower body injury. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Bernier’s injury has been a nagging one and that he could still be available off the bench on Friday if needed.

The Avalanche had been starting Bernier because their regular starter, Semyon Varlamov, is out for the remainder of the season due to a lower body injury of his own.

Obviously, this puts the Avalanche in a pretty tough spot. Not only because they have to go on the road against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Predators, but also because they have to turn to a goalie that, including Wednesday’s brief relief appearance, has appeared in just eight NHL games over the past two years. He has faced only 127 shots in those appearances and managed only an .874 save percentage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 Hammond’s career has been a fascinating one to this point.

Late in the 2014-15 season he came out of nowhere as a 25-year-old rookie to lead the Ottawa Senators on an improbable late season run (where Hammond put together a 20-1-2 record) to qualify for the playoffs. Nicknamed “the Hamburglar,” his initial run in Ottawa was highlighted by fans throwing hamburgers on the ice to celebrate his wins.  That run earned him a contract extension with the Senators and a bunch of free hamburgers from McDonalds. It was a crazy year.

After that, though, injuries and a decline in his production have limited him to just a handful of appearances in the NHL.

The Avalanche acquired him from the Senators earlier this season as part of the Matt Duchene trade.

Now he has to jump into the crease in an elimination game.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators’ Ryan Hartman to have hearing after illegal check to the head

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Ryan Hartman had a tough night at the office on Wednesday night and will have to answer to the NHL’s Department of Player Safety because of it.

Hartman’s hearing stems from a charging penalty he was assessed after lining up Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg‘s head with his shoulder at the 4:42 mark of the third period.

Soderberg was forced to leave the game after the play.

Earlier in the game, Hartman tried to line up Sven Andrighetto from a mile out in the second period but missed, prompting the latter to come and give Hartman some business, which included a stick below the belt to Hartman.

The Predators took Game 4 by a 3-2 margin, holding off a third-period comeback attempt from the Avalanche to take a 3-1 series lead.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck