PHT’s Top 13 of ’13: Leafs finally make playoffs, then collapse

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are by far the richest franchise in the NHL — and when that’s said, no one for even a minute thinks that’s referring to anything other than financial gains.

Despite their financial might, the Leafs endured seven consecutive campaigns of heartbreak from 2005-06 to 2011-12. In some of those seasons they were in a rebuilding mode, but in others they portrayed themselves as legitimate contenders, only to fall short.

During the 2011-12 campaign, the Maple Leafs were poster children for chokers as they went from having a 28-19-6 record in early February to 35-37-10 by the end of the campaign. It was so bad that minority owner Larry Tanenbaum felt the need to issue an apology.

After that, expectations were low for the Maple Leafs. Despite a strong rookie season and the fact that his poor sophomore campaign had been disrupted by a concussion, there was a belief that Toronto desperately needed to find an alternative for goaltender James Reimer. That led to fierce rumors that Roberto Luongo would be sent to Toronto. At the end of the day, even Luongo was surprised when it didn’t happen.

Instead, Leafs ownership shocked the hockey world by firing GM Brian Burke right before the start of the shortened campaign. It was a move that “floored” and “stunned” Burke and, in retrospect, probably left him dwelling on what might have been.

He might have reaped the rewards of Reimer bouncing back and 2009 first-round pick Nazem Kadri breaking out, all while his major acquisitions, Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf led the way. By the end of the campaign, no one was accusing the Maple Leafs of being an great team, but for the first time since 2004, there would be playoff hockey in Canada’s most populous city.

They were the underdogs going into their first-round series against the Bruins, but they weren’t without hope. Boston had been forced to play six games in nine days to end their season, which led to questions about how much energy they still had.

Although the Bruins took a 3-1 series lead, the Maple Leafs countered with back-to-back victories, the second of which involved Kessel netting the game winner against his former squad. Suddenly, Toronto didn’t just look like a team that could make the playoffs; they could compete in them too.

“We’ve grown as a group,” Phaneuf said, going into Game 7. He was arguing that they weren’t the same team that, as coach Randy Carlyle put it, “self-destructed” in their Game 1 defeat.

And they weren’t…for the first 51 minutes of the deciding contest. Then, it happened. The collapse. The huge, immense collapse. Holding a 4-1 lead, they allowed three unanswered goals in the third period. The resilient Bruins went on to win the game, and the series, 6:05 minutes into the overtime period.

“I don’t know what happened to us,” Kessel remarked.

At the very least, the Leafs’ playoff drought was a thing of the past.

And by very least, we mean very least.

The Buzzer: Celebrating genius of McDavid, Bergeron, Karlsson

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Player of the Night: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Nico Hischier collected two goals and an assist in a blistering effort as the Devils beat the Senators in overtime. Erik Karlsson almost ruined things for New Jersey with three assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched an impressive 43-save shutout as the Lightning edged the Blue Jackets. Ben Bishop narrowly kept Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan from even bigger nights, yet each player scored two goals and one assist apiece in a slim Stars win vs. the Coyotes.

Even Bergeron’s teammates made some waves.

There were great choices for player of the night, but ultimately, Bergeron’s return to the Bruins lineup stands tallest. He scored a goal and three assists, soothing injury-bummed Bruins fans as part of Boston’s victory against Vancouver.

Bergeron didn’t ease right in. He won half of his draws, fired six shots on goal, and almost logged 21 minutes of ice time. Maybe he can hold things together for Boston?

Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s ridiculous assist

This post goes into greater detail on that and Edmonton’s win, so we’ll just stick this GIF in here because you need to see it either way:

OK, but to avoid an overly redundant buzzer, check Hischier here, David Pastrnak‘s great goal, and Mikhail Sergachev‘s big night. And, as a bonus, Will Butcher must have nodded to Karlsson after sending this ridiculous outlet pass:

Outstanding.

You know what? Enjoy Bishop robbing Derek Stepan as a bonus bonus.

Misc.

Click here for Erik Gudbranson‘s hit and fight. Zack Kassian‘s hit on Ryan Hartman is mentioned there, but just in case you missed it, here it is one more time:

Factoids of the night

Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators continued their hot streak by blanking the Flyers. Rinne enjoys a milestone moment:

Two impressive bits regarding how dominant McDavid and Karlsson have been:

Scores and more

Bruins 6, Canucks 3 (more)

Devils 5, Senators 4 [OT] (more)

Islanders 4, Rangers 3 [SO]

Predators 1, Flyers 0

Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 0 (more)

Oilers 2, Blackhawks 1 [OT] (more)

Blues 4, Avalanche 3

Hurricanes 2, Flames 1

Stars 5, Coyotes 4

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.

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Should Erik Gudbranson get suspended for boarding Frank Vatrano?

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The Boston Bruins power play made Erik Gudbranson and the Vancouver Canucks pay with three goals during the major for his hit on Frank Vatrano, but the NHL might decide to go further.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety confirmed that Gudbranson, 25, will receive a Friday hearing for the boarding check. The league tends to be vague about this, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that it’s expected to being an interview over the phone, rather than the in-person variety that can bring about harsher punishments.

Vatrano returned to the Bruins’ eventual 6-3 win against the Canucks, yet there’s a chance that he might have a setback. (Knowing Boston’s recent luck, don’t count on good news until you see it.)

Watch the video and Gudbranson’s fight with Tim Schaller in the video above, via Hockey Fights.

Fans responded to that announcement by pointing out one of Thursday’s other questionable hits: Zack Kassian on Ryan Hartman, which only drew a minor penalty:

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.

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McDavid dazzles again, Oilers break slump with OT win vs. Blackhawks

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Update: The Edmonton Oilers ended up needing every bit of Connor McDavid‘s brilliance, as goals weren’t coming easily against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

(Even though, as you can see with that highlight-reel assist, McDavid often makes it look easy.)

McDavid also managed a secondary assist on Mark Letestu‘s overtime-winner, ending the Edmonton Oilers’ losing streak at four games. The Blackhawks continue to be resourceful in getting standings points, in this case falling 2-1 in OT.

Anton Forsberg made 40 of 42 saves, but it wasn’t enough against a driven group led by number 97.

Here’s the OT goal.

If you haven’t seen the more amazing of McDavid’s two helpers, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it.

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Connor McDavid’s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

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.

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Bergeron bombastic in return, but Bruins lose Krejci to injury

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The roller coaster isn’t slowing down for the Boston Bruins.

With Tuukka Rask‘s concussion looming over the proceedings, the Bruins gave fans some reason to celebrate; Patrice Bergeron scored a goal and three assists in an impressive 6-3 output by the B’s top guns against the overmatched Vancouver Canucks.

Even Anders Bjork enjoyed some measure of redemption after bowling over Rask in practice, as the young player scored two goals and an assist despite being limited to 12:29 TOI.

Other big guns like Brad Marchand did their increasingly reliable damage, with David Pastrnak probably providing the most exhilarating goal of the contest:

Yeah, that might get some attention from Canucks coach Travis Green in film sessions, assuming he doesn’t just burn the tape.

Bergeron broke down his night to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy after the game:

The Bruins really made Erik Gudbranson and the Canucks pay for boarding Frank Vatrano, as they scored three power-play goals on the major penalty. Vatrano’s another health situation to watch, although it’s heartening that he returned during the game.

MORE: Gudbranson faces hearing for hit

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So … solid stuff overall, as the Bruins provided ample evidence that they might have the weapons to scrap through all this bad luck.

Then again, if opponents can slow the top-end guys, you wonder what kind of supporting cast the Bruins will have left through this run of attrition. David Krejci is the latest name to land on Boston’s troubling list of walking wounded.

Here’s hoping that it isn’t a big issue for a veteran center who’s dealt with nagging injuries in recent years.

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.

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