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.

A familiar tune: Predators stifle Blues to take back series lead

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The Nashville Predators have snapped their one-game funk in these Stanley Cup playoffs, taking back the series lead over the St. Louis Blues.

For long stretches of Sunday’s contest, the Predators kept the puck away from and stifled the Blues, including a stretch of almost nine minutes at the beginning of the second period in which St. Louis failed to register a shot attempt.

The Predators’ 3-1 victory in Game 3 was eventually secured on an unbelievably dominant shift late in the third period.

Joel Edmundson‘s (costly) turnover led to a dizzying attack from Predators, who had sustained puck possession inside the St. Louis zone for about 1:10.

By the end, Edmundson and Colton Parayko had exhausted themselves as the Predators tossed the puck around with increasing ease before Roman Josi halted the madness with a slap shot to the top corner, giving Nashville a two-goal lead.

That continues an impressive trend for the Predators.

They have scored nine goals in this series, with at least one defenseman contributing directly with either a goal or an assist on eight of those goals. Nashville’s group of blueliners — including Ryan Ellis, who has been on quite a productive roll throughout these playoffs — have combined for 11 points through three games in this series.

This series resumes Tuesday in Nashville, with the Predators leading 2-1.

VIDEO: Ryan Ellis continues his incredible postseason run for Predators

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Playing in Nashville over the years it has been easy for Ryan Ellis to get overlooked, always playing in the shadow of bigger name stars on the team’s blue line.

Shea Weber (before he was traded). Roman Josi. P.K. Subban.

But Ellis has been a major part of the Predators’ blue line and he had a career-year in 2016-17, setting new personal bests in goals (16) and points (38) while matching his previous career high in assists (22).

He has continued that strong play in the postseason and is currently the team’s leading scorer after he netted his third goal of the playoffs (and eighth total point) on Sunday afternoon to give the Predators a 1-0 lead over the St. Louis Blues.

You can see it in the video above.

After being held without a point in the Predators’ first playoff game, Ellis has now picked up at least one point in every playoff game since them and is now riding a six-game point streak.

The first half of Sunday’s game has been a defensive clinic by the Predators, by the way, limiting St. Louis to just 10 shots on goal through the first 34 minutes, and none through the first 14 minutes of the second period.

The Predators extended their lead to 2-0 in the second period when Cody McLeod deflected in his first goal of the playoffs to give the Predators some unexpected scoring depth. He had just five goals in 59 games during the regular season between the Predators and Colorado Avalanche.

The biggest loser in the NHL Draft Lottery? Probably the Vegas Golden Knights

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It’s somewhat fitting that the Colorado Avalanche, coming off of a season where they were one of the worst NHL teams in recent memory, found another way to lose on Saturday night when they dropped all the way down to the No. 4 overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. For a team that needs a ton of help across the board, that is a huge loss.

But they still probably weren’t the biggest losers in the lottery.

That honor has to go to the team that hasn’t even played a game in the NHL yet, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Entering the lottery with the same odds for the first pick as the third-worst team in the league (10.3 percent) Vegas ended up dropping down to the No. 6 overall pick thanks to the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers (probably the biggest winners in the lottery, even without getting the No. 1 overall pick), and Dallas Stars all making huge moves into the top-three.

This could not have possibly played out worse for George McPhee and his new front office in Vegas.

These people are trying to start a team from scratch. From literally nothing. The only player they have right now is Reid Duke and while the expansion draft rules are supposedly going to give them more talent to pick from than previous expansion teams, they are still facing a long building process. Even if they do have a decent amount of talent to pick from, they are not going to find a franchise building block among those selections.

Their best chance of landing that player is always going to be in the draft. Their starting point is going to be the No. 6 overall pick.

That is a painfully tough draw for a number of reasons.

First, if you look at the NHL’s recent expansion teams going back to 1990 this is the lowest first pick any of the past 10 expansion teams have had when they entered the league.

  • San Jose Sharks — No. 2 overall in 1991
  • Tampa Bay Lightning — No. 1 overall in 1992
  • Ottawa Senators — No. 2 overall in 1992
  • Anaheim Ducks — No. 4 overall in 1993
  • Florida Panthers — No. 5 overall in 1993
  • Nashville Predators — No. 2 overall in 1998
  • Atlanta Thrashers — No. 1 overall in 1999
  • Minnesota Wild — No. 3 overall in 2000
  • Columbus Blue Jackets — No. 4 overall in 2000
  • Vegas Golden Knights — No. 6 overall in 2017

Only one of those teams picked outside of the top-four (Florida in 1993, and that was in a year with two expansion teams when the other one picked fourth).

When you look at the recent history of No. 6 overall picks it’s not hard to see why this would be a tough starting point for a franchise. Historically, there is a big difference between even the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in terms of value, and that gap only gets larger with each pick that follows.

Just for a point of reference, here is every No. 6 overall pick since 2000: Scott Hartnell, Mikko Koivu, Scottie Upshall, Milan Michalek, Al Montoya, Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Sam Gagner, Nikita Filatov, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brett Connolly, Mika Zibanejad, Hampus Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Jake Virtanen, Pavel Zacha, Matthew Tkachuk.

Overall, it’s a good list. The point isn’t that you can’t get a great player at No. 6 overall because there are a lot of really good players on there. But there are also some misses, and other than maybe Ekman-Larsson there really isn’t anyone that you look at say, “this is a player you can build a franchise around.”

Just because Vegas is an expansion doesn’t mean they should have been guaranteed the top pick (or even the No. 2 pick). It is a lottery system and it all just depends on how lucky your team is when it comes time to draw the ping pong balls.

But for a team that is starting from scratch, ending up with the No. 6 overall pick in a draft class that is not regarded as particularly a deep one (at least compared to some recent years) is a really tough draw when it comes to starting your team.

If they end up finishing the worst record in the league, as most expansion teams tend to do, they could easily end up picking fourth in 2018.

Just ask the Avalanche what that is like.

WATCH LIVE: Game 3 for Predators-Blues, Ducks-Oilers

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The St. Louis Blues handed the Nashville Predators their first loss of the postseason on Friday night, and will be looking to get the upper hand in their second-round series.

Later, the Edmonton Oilers look to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Anaheim Ducks when their series shifts to Edmonton.

Both games will be televised on the NBC Networks as well as online via our Live Stream.

Here is all of the information you need for Sunday’s games.

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti