An Original Six showdown, Jagr and more to love for Game 1

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An Original Six matchup for the Stanley Cup Final and Jaromir Jagr back in the Final is just the start of the Game 1 storylines.

NATURAL RIVALS FORM RARE FINAL OPPONENTS

The postseason that featured all six Original Six teams for the first time since 1996 will culminate with the first Stanley Cup Final featuring Original Six teams since 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers in five games.

The Bruins and Blackhawks will meet in the Cup Final for the first time, leaving Blackhawks-Rangers as the only title matchup between NHL founding clubs that has not happened. In fact, the historically sports-mad cities of Chicago and Boston will go head-to-head in a championship final in one of the four major professional sports for only the third time. In 1918, Babe Ruth’s Red Sox defeated the Cubs in six games, and in 1986 (the 1985 season), William “the Refrigerator” Perry and “da Bears” dismantled the Patriots, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX.

Perhaps neither the Bruins nor the Blackhawks feature such an iconic player as the ’18 Red Sox or ’85 Bears, but both teams experienced iconic Game 7 moments versus Original Six opponents in reaching the Cup Final. Boston rallied from 4-1 down in the final 10:42 to shock Toronto in overtime (Patrice Bergeron) in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, while Chicago rallied from three-games-to one down to eliminate Detroit in overtime (Brent Seabrook). It is believed that two teams as deep as the Bruins and Blackhawks could create the same type of drama.

DID YOU KNOW?

Joel Quenneville (CHI, 84) and Claude Julien (BOS, 52) are the first head coaches with more than 50 postseason wins to go head-to-head in a Stanley Cup Final game since Game 7 of the 1994 meeting between Mike Keenan (NYR, 80) and Pat Quinn (VAN, 50).

“Q” NOT SATISFIED WITH STATUS QUO

The Blackhawks made a dent on Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the Western Conference Final series, twice getting four pucks past the defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner and sending him to the showers early in Game 2. The reunion of center Jonathan Toews and right wing Patrick Kane on the top line, with Bryan Bickell on the left side, worked wonders for all three, as they combined for seven goals and eight assists in five games. However, judging by the Hawks’ skate on Tuesday, head coach Joel Quenneville may decide to juggle his top two lines for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, moving wingers Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa up to Toews’ flanks, and bumping Bickell and Kane to the second line outside center Michal Handzus. During media day, Quenneville stated he was looking for “balance” to offset the dominating presence of Zdeno Chara, but that the look could “evolve over the course of the series.”

The bottom two lines could also see slight makeovers, as Brandon Bollig – who has played three games this postseason – is expected to replace Viktor Stalberg on the left wing of the fourth line, while Dave Bolland moves back to the third line alongside Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.

One lineup spot that will not change is goaltender. Corey Crawford, who has won all three Game 1s this postseason while allowing only one goal in each of them, will make his 18th straight start between the pipes for the Blackhawks.

GOALTENDER “TALE OF THE TAPE”

The Stanley Cup Final will feature two goaltenders who have not played in the Cup Final before: Corey Crawford (CHI) and Tuukka Rask (BOS). Rask was the backup to Tim Thomas during the Bruins’ championship run of 2011. Here is a brief look at the goaltender comparison:

TALE OF THE TAPE

Corey Crawford

 

Tuukka Rask

0

Cup Final starts

0

Two or fewer goals allowed in seven of last nine games

Trends

one or fewer goals allowed in last five games (two shutouts)

3-2, 1.49 GAA, .945 save%

Game 1s, career

4-1, 1.64 GAA, .941 save%, shutout

3-0, three goals allowed

Game 1s, 2013

3-0, three goals allowed

1 GP, 0-1, 3 GA, 31-of-34 saves
(Mar. 29, 2011)

Goals: Chara, Boychuk, Horton

vs. opponent, career

1 GP, 0-0, 1 GA, 11-of-12 saves
(Jan. 7, 2010)
Goal: Duncan Keith

JAGR HUNTING FOR ANOTHER TITLE AFTER 21 YEARS

One of the stars of the show on NHL media day was the Bruins’ 41-year-old right winger Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr will make his first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1992, when, as a member of the Penguins, he won his second Cup in successive seasons. The 21-year gap between Cup Finals is the longest interval between championship game or series appearances for an athlete in North American professional sports history.

Jagr came to Boston from the Dallas Stars at the April 3 trade deadline. (He is the only Bruins player who has played against the Blackhawks this season.) The outside consensus was that the 19-year NHL veteran was “Plan B” after a trade to acquire Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames fell through. Jagr scored two goals for the B’s in 11 regular-season games (both game-winners), but has not found the back of the net this postseason, despite playing on a line with playmakers Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. (He is currently riding a 25-game goal drought in the postseason, dating back to 2011-12.) However, he has contributed seven assists, including helpers on four of Bergeron’s five goals.

If the Bruins win the Cup, Jagr will join the late Lester Patrick, as the player with the longest gap between pro hockey titles. Patrick, a defenseman by trade, won the Challenge Cup – which became the Stanley Cup in 1915 – with the Montreal Wanderers of the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, one of the regional pro hockey leagues that helped form the NHL, in 1906 and 1907. He returned to the Cup final with the Victoria Aristocrats in 1914, but lost to the Toronto Blue Shirts. In 1928, while serving as head coach and general manager of the N.Y. Rangers of the NHL, Patrick replaced injured Lorne Chabot in goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, because teams did not usually suit up backup goaltenders, and the Rangers won the first of two Cups in six seasons under Patrick.

PLAYERS WITH MOST SHOTS THIS POSTSEASON, BUT ZERO GOALS

Player Team Shot attempts Shots on goal Goals
Jaromir Jagr Bruins 82 45* 0
Brandon Saad Blackhawks 57 35 0
Nick Leddy Blackhawks 45 25 0
Viktor Stalberg Blackhawks 44 21 0

*Since the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs, only the Carolina Hurricanes’ Joni Pitkanen has registered more shots on goal in an entire postseason without scoring a goal (46). That happened in 2009.

MEDIA DAY QUOTES

“When I had long hair … there were a lot of guys – maybe not that long – but a lot of guys wearing long hair. Now it’s a different style. But it’s going to come back…. 10 years later, you’ll see a lot of guys with long hair.”
Jaromir Jagr

I wore No. 68 when I was playing summer hockey a couple of seasons, I guess. I had his Koho Jagr stick, so I really looked up to him. I was probably 9 or 10, and here I am getting a chance to play against him in the Stanley Cup final.”

Jonathan Toews, on Jagr

“You guys still surprised I am alive? Well, I am. I’m alive.
– Jagr

CONNECTIONS WITH JAGR

  • Michael Frolik (CHI) grew up in Jagr’s hometown of Kladno, Czech Republic. There, as he was working his way up through the HC Kladno club system, he became known as “Baby Jagr” … he was Jagr’s teammate on the Czech bronze medal-winning team at the 2011 World Championships
  • Czechs Frolik, Michal Rozsival (CHI), David Krejci and Jagr (BOS), and Slovaks Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus (CHI) and Zdeno Chara (BOS) were all born in united Czechoslovakia.
  • Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook (CHI) & Patrice Bergeron (BOS) are, like Jagr, members of the Triple Gold Club as winners of the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship gold (as members of Team Canada)
  • Jagr and Rozsival (CHI) were teammates on the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-2001), N.Y. Rangers (2005-07) and gold medal-winning Czech Republic at 2010 IIHF World Championships
  • Pittsburgh natives Matt Bartkowski (BOS) and Brandon Saad (CHI) grew up as Penguins fans during Jagr’s 11-year stint (1990-2001) with the team
  • Three active Blackhawks (Nick Leddy, Andrew Shaw, Saad) and three active Bruins (Torey Krug, Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton) were not even born when Jagr made his NHL debut (Oct. 5, 1990).

 GOVERNORS SUBSTITUTE FEAST FOR PHILANTHROPY

 Title-game wagers between politicians have become the norm these days, but Governors Pat Quinn (Illinois) and Deval Patrick (Massachusetts) have substituted the usual feasting on local culinary delicacies for philanthropy. Following the outcome of the Blackhawks-Bruins series, the loser will volunteer at a food bank of the winner’s choice. If the Blackhawks win, Patrick (who was born in Chicago) will help out at the Greater Chicago Food Depository; if the Bruins win, Quinn will be at the Greater Boston Food Bank.

The Buzzer: Penguins, Predators advance; West second round set

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2017 Stanley Cup Finalists move on

Penguins 8, Flyers 5 (Penguins win series 4-2)

Despite Evgeni Malkin missing Game 6 and Sean Couturier playing through a torn MCL, these two teams still provided plenty of fireworks including big goal totals, some controversial/nasty moments, and ultimately the end of the series. Jake Guentzel ended up scoring four consecutive goals to erase the Flyers’ lead and then give the Penguins enough of a cushion to close things out.

After beating their in-state rivals, the Penguins await another familiar foe, whether that ends up being the Blue Jackets or the Capitals. The Penguins have to breathe a sigh of relief that they avoided a Game 7, as that was far from a foregone conclusion for much of Sunday (despite the odd final score).

See for yourself:

Predators 5, Avalanche 0 (Predators win series 4-2)

While there was plenty of drama before the Penguins advanced, the Predators turned Game 6 into a formality pretty early on. Former Penguins forward Nick Bonino scored a goal and two assists, Austin Watson continued his strong postseason, and some usual suspects (Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson) put the game out of reach. Pekka Rinne only needed to make 22 saves to earn a shutout.

Read more about Nashville’s Game 6 win here.

West second round is set:

Nashville Predators [Central first seed] vs. Winnipeg Jets [Central second]

Vegas Golden Knights [Pacific first seed] vs. San Jose Sharks [Pacific third]

PHT will provide schedule and TV information when it becomes available.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins – At one point, the Flyers were up 4-2 during the second period. Patric Hornqvist made it 4-3, then Guentzel went on a dizzying tear where he scored four unanswered goals. Guentzel also grabbed an assist on that Hornqvist goal, so the 23-year-old generated four goals and one assist to help Pittsburgh advance (and thus avoid a Game 7 against Philly). He was a +5 in Game 6, too.

Guentzel’s clutch credentials continue to climb; he now has 19 goals and 34 points in just 31 career playoff games. Wow.

2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers – You could make a very strong argument that Couturier deserves the first star, but the tie goes to the runner/guy whose team won. If the regular season didn’t serve as a convincing coronation for Couturier to go from a very good player to a bonafide star, then this postseason should remove any doubt.

Generating a hat trick and two assists with your team’s season on the line is already a ridiculous accomplishment. To do so with a torn-up knee is jaw-dropping. And, hey, Couturier drew penalties, and probably should have drawn another one on what ended up being Guentzel’s game-winner:

3. Nick Bonino, Nashville Predators – Sidney Crosby deserves an honorable mention, as both Crosby and Bonino generated one-goal, two-assist games in helping their teams advance to the second round.

Bonino collected assists on the first two goals for Nashville, then he found the net for his first goal of the night/second tally of the series. This marks the first three-point game of Bonino’s postseason career, which is really something considering how much success he enjoyed with Crosby, Guentzel, and the Penguins during his two Cup runs with Pittsburgh.

Factoids

Guentzel’s night was special in many ways. Here’s one historical angle:

The Predators aren’t the only team going for their first Stanley Cup. But you already knew the Golden Knights haven’t won one yet, of course:

Monday’s games

Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)

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.

Predators hammer Hammond, close out Avalanche

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Andrew Hammond hamburgled a Game 5 win for the Colorado Avalanche, but the Nashville Predators ended Colorado’s Cinderella season in rancid way by a score of 5-0 on Sunday.

The Presidents’ Trophy winners flexed their muscles in Game 6, and it must be a huge relief to avoid a Game 7. That’s especially true since the scary-good Winnipeg Jets await them in the second round as a rested bunch.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Early on in Game 6, a toss-up of a goalie interference call didn’t go Nashville’s way. That ended up being a mere footnote, however, as Mattias Ekholm made it 1-0 about 16 seconds later. Ekholm’s goal ended up standing as the game-winner, though the Predators eliminated any doubt about the outcome pretty quickly on Sunday.

After channeling the magic of his “Hamburglar” run with Ottawa in 2014-15 thanks to a 44-save performance in Game 5, Hammond suffered in Game 6. The journeyman goalie might lose some sleep over some of the Predators’ goals, including a deflating 3-0 tally by Filip Forsberg.

Credit the Avalanche for making the Predators sweat overall, even if Nashville made things look pretty easy in Game 6.

It would have been prettier for Nashville to dispatch Colorado casually via a sweep or a quick five-game series, but the Predators may get some value from being tested. They also won games in different ways:

  • Nashville advanced despite a disappointing showing from its second line, with Kyle Turris (just one assist in six games) and Kevin Fiala (one goal, one assist in series) being especially quiet. That’s mostly a bad thing, but it also shows that the team can withstand a cold spell from some notable players.
  • The Predators enjoyed some strong work from supporting cast members including Austin Watson and Colton Sissons. Both players generated at least a point-per-game against the Avs, with Watson contributing four goals (including a key tally in Game 6). Nick Bonino was also fantastic in support for Nashville, generating his first three-point playoff game with a goal and two assists. Depth is a calling card for the Predators, and that came through in the first round, although the specific supporting cast standouts might surprise some.
  • Pekka Rinne experienced ups and downs, yet he seems to be heating up lately.

While the Avalanche’s season ended with a whimper in Game 6, they gave the Predators a tougher fight than many expected. There’s a lot of room to improve, but this scrappy bunch has something to build on during the summer.

That said, the Predators showed their higher gear during the last two games in particular, and Hammond could only steal one game for the Avs.

This was a solid squabble to warm Nashville up for the postseason, but the Predators will need to play at a very high level if they want to cool the Jets. After holding off the underdog Avs, the Preds must steel themselves for a heavyweight bout against Winnipeg.

It should be fun … at least for those of us who get to watch. For those on the ice, the second round is expected to feel more like the main event.

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.

Flyers’ once-deadly power play wilted against Penguins

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No doubt about it, Flyers fans have a beef about the goal that really set the stage for the Penguins to put Game 6 – and the series – out of reach on Sunday.

Perhaps Sean Couturier would have received an embellishment infraction during the exchange, but either way, it sure seemed like Kris Letang took another penalty on Couturier just moments after leaving the penalty box for a different infraction. No call was made, and just moments later, Jake Guentzel scored to push the score to 6-4.

Things got weird after that as the Penguins eliminated the Flyers via an 8-5 score in Game 6, but plenty of Philly fans probably wonder “What if?” on that goal. Flyers players seem to agree that Letang deserved a penalty.

You can debate that call and different breaking points until you’re blue in the face, but the real “What if?” question might revolve around special teams. To be specific, the Flyers’ power play really let them down in that just-expired series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Flyers were held without a power-play goal in five of the six games during this series. The lone exception was Game 2, when the Flyers went 2-for-3 in a 5-1 win.

Philly went 2-for-21 overall during the series, generating a pitiful power-play percentage of 9.5. Only the Kings and Golden Knights were less productive with the man advantage, and that was during a skin-tight four-game sweep where goals were incredibly hard to come by (that series featured 10 goals total, three fewer than the Flyers and Penguins scored in Game 6 alone).

It’s especially remarkable that the Flyers also went 0-for-13 on the power play at home during this series. With their season on the line, that unit only managed two power-play shots on goal in three opportunities in Game 6, looking especially indecisive despite also receiving a 4-on-3 opportunity.

Now, heading into this series, the Penguins were expected to hold an advantage on special teams because of what could be a historically potent PP unit of their own. Still, it’s troubling that the Flyers rarely exploited what was a far from spectacular Penguins penalty kill. Pittsburgh’s PK unit was in the bottom third of the NHL percentage-wise since February, setting the stage for two strong power plays to trade blows. That didn’t happen as much as expected, with the Flyers’ failures ending up being fatal.

A question of personnel?

If you want to point to one factor, ponder Wayne Simmonds‘ lack of involvement.

The fantastic front-of-the-net presence implied that he might be undergoing surgery soon, which probably explains both his limited usage and limited production. Simmonds failed to score a single goal during this series, finishing with two assists in six games.

(Strangely, that matches his production from his last playoff appearance in 2015-16: zero goals, two assists in six games.)

Blame it on struggles or a lack of health, but either way, the Flyers were turning to different players when a man up.

It’s no surprise to see big PP TOI numbers for Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Shayne Gostisbehere. The notable swap is Nolan Patrick, who joins those Flyers in the four minutes per game range, while Simmonds was only logging about two minutes per night.

Patrick has come a long way as his rookie season goes along, yet Simmonds is one of the NHL’s true wizards in the dirty areas right in front of the net. Simmonds has generated at least 11 power-play goals for five straight seasons with the Flyers for a reason.

Would things have been different if Simmonds was truly healthy? It’s a fair question, but you also wonder if the Flyers didn’t make enough adjustments to get their once-potent power play back on track.

***

In looking back at this series, the Flyers will certainly want to solidify their goalie situation, a seemingly eternal conundrum for this franchise.

Sometimes it comes down to getting the right players and goalies in place, something that GM Ron Hextall must wrestle with during the summer. Still, there are also questions about putting the right players in the right situations, and in many cases that comes down to coaching.

Ultimately, a lukewarm power play hurt the Flyers’ chances of trading haymakers with the prolific Penguins. Maybe it’s a mere matter of small sample sizes, yet Philly’s failings in that area should at least prompt some soul-searching over the summer.

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.

Sean Couturier played through torn MCL, still had hat trick in Game 6 loss

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Sean Couturier was the Philadelphia Flyers’ best player in Games 5 and 6 of their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the former, he was a beast on the penalty kill and scored the game-winning goal with a minute to play in regulation. In the latter, he had a hat trick and five total points (factoring in to every single one of the Flyers’ goals) in their 8-5 defeat. He did everything he could have possibly done to try and force a Game 7 in the series.

He did all of that while playing on a torn MCL.

Had this been the regular season that sort of injury probably would have sidelined him for at least four weeks.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Couturier revealed the nature of his injury following the loss on Sunday. He was injured in practice before Game 4 of the series when he was involved in a collision with teammate Radko Gudas. It kept him out of the lineup in what would be a 5-0 loss for the Flyers. He returned for Game 5, and even though he was obviously limited he still played an incredible game.

He was even better on Sunday.

This was a breakthrough season for Couturier as he doubled all of his previous career highs offensively, scoring 31 goals and recording 76 total points.

He is also a finalist for the Selke Trophy which is awarded to the NHL’s top defensive forward. It is the first time he is a finalist for the award.

Related: Guentzel scores 4 goals as Penguins, eliminate Flyers in Game 6

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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.