Devils finally get first win, Sabres sink some more

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The New Jersey Devils finally won their first game of the 2013-14 season on Saturday, pounding the also-slumping New York Rangers 4-0. In the process, New Jersey leapfrogged some of the other grim-looking East teams with five points, including those Rangers (four points) and maybe the bleakest of all: the Buffalo Sabres (three points).

Somber Sabres

Buffalo hosted a team that’s going in a very different direction – the Colorado Avalanche – and lost a game that was arguably more lopsided than the 4-2 score indicates. The Avalanche collected a 4-1 score and 22-14 shot advantage through two periods, then took their feet off the accelerator in the third (Buffalo fired 16 shots to Colorado’s four and brought it to 4-2).

While the Sabres have so little to look forward to that the best news of the night seemed to be that Thomas Vanek probably avoided an injury, the Devils might be able to build some momentum.

Devils see some light

It might be faint praise to say that the Devils are middle-of-the-pack in certain fancy stats, but when you narrow things down to the lowly East, they may be one of the better puck possession teams in the conference. That 4-0 win came against a morbid Rangers squad, but it could also be a sign that the bounces are starting to go in New Jersey’s favor (instead of against the Devils).

Passing the torch

If New Jersey wants to make the playoffs, they might need to make a painful decision to give the majority of the starts to Cory Schneider instead of Martin Brodeur, though.

The numbers are dramatically different so far this season (.927 save percentage for Schneider, .865 save percentage for Brodeur), but most importantly, Schneider has drastically outplayed his colleague the past three seasons:

Schneider
2010-11: 16-4-2, .929 save percentage
2011-12: 20-8-1, .937 save percentage
2012-13: 17-9-4, .927 save percentage

Brodeur
2010-11: 23-26-3, .903 save percentage
2011-12: 32-21-4, .908 save percentage
2012-13: 13-9-7, .901 save percentage

There are plenty excuses you can roll out to explain that away, yet the magnitude of the disparity is pretty tough to deny.

The clock’s ticking

There’s no doubt the Devils owe Brodeur, 41, a lot of gratitude, but are they really going to choose loyalty over what seems to be a better chance at making the playoffs? The plan is clearly to pass the torch to the 27-year-old battling with Brodeur, so why not bite the bullet and do it now?

Making that choice sooner rather than later might just mean the difference between New Jersey making or missing the postseason in a laughably bad division and a weak conference.

Hey, even the Sabres are going with the right guy in net (unless they trade him) …

Sens owner: ‘very disturbing’ that tonight’s game may not sell out

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Entire rows in the upper deck of the Canadian Tire Centre still haven’t been sold for tonight’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Not surprisingly, the specter of a non-sellout for one of the biggest home games in franchise history has the Senators’ owner rather concerned.

“It’s very disturbing,” Eugene Melnyk told Postmedia, “however, knowing the players and coaches they will be trying their hardest for Ottawa.”

The Senators’ attendance has been a big story throughout these playoffs. In the second round, a crowd of just 16,744 was announced for Game 1 against the New York Rangers.

It was thought the story would go away once the conference final started. And for Games 3 and 4, capacity crowds were, indeed, announced.

But with no opportunity for the Sens to advance to the Stanley Cup Final tonight, it’s possible the building may not be full.

Via Ticketmaster, the blue dots represent unsold seats, while the pink dots are tickets available for resale:

Flames d-man Smid signs in Czech League

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Ladislav Smid isn’t ready to call it a career yet.

Smid, the 31-year-old defenseman that missed all of last year with a neck injury, has signed with Czech League team Liberec, the club announced on Tuesday.

He just wrapped the last of a four-year, $14 million deal with a $3.5M average annual cap hit.

Smid’s last NHL action came in ’15-16, when he appeared in 22 games for the Flames. The end of his tenure in Calgary was marked largely by injury and lineup absences, this after being acquired from Edmonton in 2013 (and scoring eight points in 73 games in his first full season with the Flames).

At one point considered a high-end prospect — the Ducks took him ninth overall in 2004 — Smid is probably best known as one of the pieces Edmonton acquired in the infamous Chris Pronger-to-Anaheim trade. He leaves North America with over 500 NHL games on his resume, and represented the Czechs at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

‘Our guys know the big picture’: Preds aren’t satisfied with spot in Stanley Cup Final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators, the final team into the NHL playoffs, are headed to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

Coach Peter Laviolette insists they won’t just be happy to be there either.

“Our guys know the big picture,” Laviolette said. “They understand what it is that we’re trying to do here. And when that time comes, we’ll be ready.”

Colton Sissons scored a hat trick with his third goal the game-winner with 6:00 left, and goalie Pekka Rinne made 38 saves as the Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 on Monday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.

Now the team no one outside of Nashville expected to be here is waiting to face either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

No matter what happens next, the Predators already have turned in a thrilling run this postseason as just the third franchise seeded last in its conference to reach the Final since the NHL went to the current conference-based playoff format in 1994. The Edmonton Oilers lost to Laviolette’s Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, while the Kings beat New Jersey in six in 2012.

They also are the eighth team in the past 15 seasons to reach the Stanley Cup Final after finishing the regular season outside the top 10 in the final standings.

Nashville’s magical run started by sweeping the West’s No. 1 seed in Chicago. The Predators downed St. Louis in six to reach their first conference finals, and now they’ve knocked off the Pacific Division champ in Anaheim, which lost for the second time in three years in the Western finals.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne, the Predators’ longest tenured-player at 34, called the victory an amazing feeling.

“It’s a funny thing though,” Rinne said. “Everything that is happening around us, you still feel hungry and now we have a chance to play for the Cup. It’s a pretty amazing feeling and you’re working for that for a long, long time. I feel like the last number of years, we’ve been going in that direction, building this team and having more depth.”

That depth has paid off, particularly the last two games after losing top center Ryan Johansen after Game 4 to emergency surgery on his left thigh. Captain Mike Fisher, the only player on the roster who has played in the Stanley Cup Final with Ottawa in 2007, also missed those two games with an upper-body injury.

Forward Kevin Fiala broke his left leg in the second round.

Laviolette simply tapped Nashville’s pipeline and has tied the NHL’s all-time mark using 18 forwards this postseason. Sissons is the latest to respond. The 23-year-old center was scoreless in the 2016 playoffs and had 10 points in 58 games during the regular season. Now he has 10 points this postseason.

“I don’t think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in the Western Conference clinching game, but I can’t speak enough for just our whole group,” Sissons said. “We’ve been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just always believed and here we are.”

Now Laviolette is the first coach since 1994 and the fourth overall to take three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final , joining Scotty Bowman, Dick Irvin and Mike Keenan.

“Probably means that I got fired a lot,” Laviolette said with a chuckle. “I’m fortunate to be here working and fortunate (general manager) David Poile gave me a job. And when you do that, you’re not thinking about things like that, you’re just thinking about coming to work.”

Now Music City stands ready to show the NHL how to chase hockey’s ultimate trophy in star-studded fashion.

The Predators have had a different national anthem singer for each playoff game ranging from Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan to Trisha Yearwood. The singer’s identity is a well-guarded secret. NFL stars like Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, PGA golfer Brandt Snedeker and former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George have revved up crowds for a raucous party each game.

Fans filled the plaza outside the arena and the park across the street during the game before pouring onto the street lined with honky-tonks to celebrate. Forward James Neal said the Predators’ fans are special and now everyone in the hockey world is getting to see them.

“It’s hard to describe and it’s an amazing feeling to win this, and we’re not done,” Neal said.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Tuesday, May 23

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The Nashville Predators punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final last night, and the Pittsburgh Penguins will be looking to do the same thing tonight.

The Pens will look to bury the Senators after annihilating them 7-0 on Sunday afternoon.

Here’s what you need to know:

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators (Pens lead 3-2)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Check out the highlights from Pittsburgh’s 7-0 win in Game 5

Related:

Pens redefining defense by committee

Four things the Pens need to do to eliminate the Sens