The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Holmgren’s can-do attitude, remembering the Cow Palace, those Callahan trade rumors, and more!

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Every Wednesday we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I have to admit I’ve been feeling a little down lately. Just listening to all these general managers saying how hard it’s going to be to make trades before the deadline, it’s really discouraging to hear. I mean, trades and trade speculation is what keeps PHT in business. In terms of importance, it’s right up there with suspension videos and the latest updates on Brooks Laich’s groin. Oh well, at least we still have Paul Holmgren. I liked what he had to say this week: “There are ways we can deal with the salary cap and get around things, if we need to. There will be deals to be made.” That’s the type of can-do attitude we need more of. None of this Mike Gillis pessimism: “It’s tough to find anything but lateral moves and changing the deck chairs.”

Mike Halford: The way the Canucks have looked lately, I’m pretty sure putting a deck chair on the power play would be an upgrade. I too am worried about it being a “dead”-line. (See what I did there? Writing!) Of all the playoff hopefuls, only a few have significant cap space. Most of them are so close to the ceiling they’re licking plaster. I love Holmgren’s “SLRY CAPZ?” attitude. This year, more than ever, GMs are going to need to come up with creative ways to make moves. Putting someone on LTIR with a hangnail? Let’s try it. Suggesting 27 is a good age to retire? It’s an idea. Probably not a good one, but then I’m not a general manager.

JB: At the very least, if it’s a slow deadline, GMs will be coming out of their boots trying to hit home runs in the offseason. All that pent-up frustration combined with another round of compliance buyouts and a rising salary cap? I only hope Holmgren’s still around to partake in the bonanza. If the Flyers miss the playoffs, I’m not sure he will be. And yes, I said the exact same thing about George McPhee last week. By the end of the season, I’ll have checked off every GM in the league and will have a “told you so” post written and ready to publish for each firing. Anyway, say what you will about some of the moves Holmgren’s made as GM — I really didn’t care for that Steve Mason contract, for example — but he’s been a boon for the blogging business.

source:  MH: Which is really all that matters. OK, change of subject: did you see the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls ceased operations? I only bring it up because the Bulls played in my favorite ex-NHL rink — the Cow Palace. Looking back, I almost can’t believe the Sharks called that place home for the first two years of their existence. A livestock pavilion. That held fewer than 12,000 people. And opened during World War II. I will say this, though — the Cow Palace has the kind of history you just don’t get from today’s fancy, newfangled arenas. The Cow Palace lived, man. From Wikipedia: “During a November 20, 1973 concert by The Who, their drummer Keith Moon, passed out from an overdose of horse tranquilizers.” How many current NHL arenas can say they’ve had a horse-tranq OD? The answer is zero. Well, maybe the Saddledome, but only because of all the horses.

JB: It makes me feel old to think of all the rinks that were still in existence when I first started watching hockey. Boston Garden. Chicago Stadium. Maple Leaf Gardens. The Forum. The Aud. St. Louis Arena. Winnipeg Arena. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Oh wait, that one’s still around. Do you remember when the Lightning played in Tropicana Field? Or, as it was known then, the Thunderdome. Which is just fantastic. We don’t need another hero! We don’t need to know the way home! All we want is life beyond…the Thunderdome. Again, I’m not young. I didn’t even need to Google those lyrics. But seriously, that must’ve been a nice intimate setting to take in a game. In 1993, a record crowd of 27,227 watched the Lightning and Panthers play. Little did they know, by the year 2020, over 50 percent of NHL games would be held in baseball stadiums.

MH: I miss the oddities of the old rinks. Like the stairs that players had to climb to get to the Chicago Stadium ice. And the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in Winnipeg. So much nostalgia. Someday, Islanders fans will look back fondly on the asbestos that used to fill their lungs. Moving on: have you seen these Ryan Callahan trade rumors? Not sure what to make of ’em. I feel like the Rangers would be crazy to deal their captain while in a playoff position, but when you look at the big picture…one, the guy is a human band-aid. Always hurt. Two, he turns 29 in March and is no doubt looking for a significant raise. Maybe there’s just no room to keep him.

JB:  Look, if you’re Glen Sather (here, put on this fedora), you at least have to find out what you could get for the guy, otherwise you’re not doing your job. But I’d be surprised if Slats trades him, even if he doesn’t sign him before the deadline. It’s one thing for a non-playoff team to let a player like Callahan walk for nothing. It’s different when you’re 12-5-1 in your last 18 games and could make a deep run this spring. Don’t laugh. If the playoffs started today, the Rangers would play the Flyers in the first round. Winnable, right? If they won that, they’d probably play the Penguins. And we’ve all seen what can happen to Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Meltdown city.

MH: That brings up a good debate: Who has the most pressure to win the Stanley Cup this season? For me, it’s gotta be the Pens — I don’t wanna say they’re in Peyton Manning territory with the “multiple amazing regular seasons, but only one championship” narrative, but it’s pretty startling how little postseason success the Pens have had since winning it all in ’09. Case in point? Here is a list of the teams Pittsburgh has defeated in the last four playoff years: Senators, Islanders. That is all. And when the Pens lose? Whether it’s by collapsing defensively (allowing 30 goals in six games against the Flyers) or drying up offensively (two goals in a four-game sweep versus Boston), they lose badly.

source: Getty ImagesJB: For me, it’s a tie between the Blues and Sharks, with maybe a slight edge to St. Louis. Neither franchise has won the Cup in its history and both have the teams to get it done this year. The reason I might give a slight edge to St. Louis is its proximity to Chicago, home of the defending champs. Blues fans are dying for a championship of their own, and if it finally happens this year, there’s a good chance the Blues will have beaten the hated ‘Hawks along the way. And yes, that’s one of the reasons I’ll keep banging the Ryan Miller-to-St. Louis drum. Jaroslav Halak has been playing well lately, but I still think Miller would give them a better chance.

MH: You’re also going to keep banging that drum for website traffic, aren’t you.

JB: Thomas Vanek trade rumors. Dan Girardi trade rumors.

MH: Shea Weber trade rumors. Edmonton Oilers.

JB: Nazem Kadri trade rumors. Jake Gardiner trade rumors.

MH: Go to work, Google News.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

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Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

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.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

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.

Bruins push Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

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.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

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.