TGIF: Philly’s flying high, led by Giroux

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Saturday: St. Louis at Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET)

Since finishing January with a 26-23-6 record, the Flyers are 11-2-1 and have scored at least four goals seven times in a single game. The same team that started the season with just 11 goals in its first eight games now ranks ninth in NHL offense. Leading the charge? Claude Giroux. Philly’s captain has 22 points in his last 14 games, and the 26-year-old who didn’t score his first goal until Nov. 9 now has 24 tallies on the season. In case you were wondering, this is the team that Paul Holmgren intended to build. A high-scoring, aggressive club that needs good, but not spectacular, goaltending to win. Now, how the Flyers fare in the playoffs is anyone’s guess. And while that may be true of a lot of teams, doesn’t it feel especially true with this one? Just a total wild card.

Saturday: Montreal at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)

Assuming James Reimer is traded this summer — and I think that’s a pretty good assumption at this point — where will he end up? The Islanders are one option, but given how hesitant Garth Snow has been to address his team’s most pressing concern, it’s hard to say how good an option. Other teams that may want to address their goaltending by adding a likeable 26-year-old with a .914 career save percentage include Calgary, Ottawa, and Winnipeg. May be worth noting that Flames general manager Brian Burke was a big believer in Reimer back in their Toronto days together.

Saturday: Washington at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

Adam Oates said the Capitals needed to sweep their three-game trip to California. Karl Alzner said they could afford to lose one. Well, if they beat the Sharks, they’ll split the difference, with two wins and a shootout defeat. Granted, that won’t be easy, given San Jose’s 26-5-4 record at the Shark Tank. But the Caps have definitely shown some backbone lately, and that hasn’t always been something you associate with this team. The Kings racked up 50 hits against Washington Thursday, after which Oates said, “I’m proud of our guys and the way they stood up to it.” The playoffs are still somewhat of a long shot for Washington (18.2 percent, per Sports Club Stats), but there’s more hope today than there was a week ago.

Sunday: St. Louis at Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET)

A “good wake-up call” is what Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Blackhawks. “They’re the Stanley Cup champions for a reason. They know when to turn the temperature up. No matter what happens in the regular season, everybody in the West, to even give (Chicago) a go, you’re going to have to dial it up. They’re getting ready and it’s up to us to get ready. That’s the task. They dialed it up and we didn’t play well.” You almost wonder if the ‘Hawks went into that game with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. With all the talk about the Blues, and how this might finally be the year for St. Louis, the champs appeared pretty motivated to hold on to their crowns.

Sunday: Minnesota at Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

The second of a weekend back-to-back between these two teams. We all know about Detroit’s desperation to make the playoffs and extend its postseason-appearance streak to 23. But Minnesota isn’t exactly sitting safe and clear. The Wild are just 2-2-4 in their last eight, and neither Darcy Kuemper nor Ilya Bryzgalov are going to make fans feel totally secure in the goaltending down the stretch. Oh, and get a load of Minny’s remaining schedule:

source:

Gulp.

Talbot torments Ducks as Oilers take 2-0 series lead

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Those who vehemently argued for Cam Talbot being a Vezina finalist likely felt vindicated tonight (even if postseason results don’t factor into the voting).

In Game 1, Leon Draisaitl stole the show. Talbot was the standout of Game 2, snubbing a steady Ducks threat as Edmonton won 2-1 on Friday.

And, just like that, the Oilers are up 2-0 in their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. Better yet for this young group: the venue shifts to what’s likely to be a rowdy scene in Edmonton for Games 3 and 4.

The tone was set when Andrej Sekera scored just 65 seconds into the contest. That said, the Oilers could have sulked when a would-be 2-0 goal was called off (and they had to kill a penalty). Instead, they just kept battling, even after Jakob Silfverberg ended Talbot’s shutout bit with a laser beam on the power play.

Speaking of the power play, the Oilers managed to match the Ducks (1-for-4 each on the PP), even as Talbot faced 12 shots on goal during Anaheim’s power-play opportunities.

Talbot ultimately made 39 of 40 stops, and while the Ducks kept Connor McDavid from scoring, number 97 sure looked speedy and dangerous at times in Game 2.

Anaheim came into the second round with home-ice advantage through the West side of the playoffs, seemingly enjoying a golden opportunity when other conference powers fell. Instead, it’s looking like the Oilers might just have a chance to prove that they’re big-time contenders, too.

Game 3 airs on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream.

 

Latest goalie interference mess: Oilers get penalty, not goal

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Ah, goalie interference. Does the fun ever start?

Arguably the most irritating facet of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs reared its pesky head once again on Friday, as the Edmonton Oilers saw a would-be 2-0 goal disallowed in the first period of Game 2 against the Anaheim Ducks.

The goal wasn’t just disallowed, either, as Mark Letestu was given a minor penalty.

One would imagine that there are opinions for or against the goal (and penalty counting); there are also many who are just getting a little worn out by the uncertainty surrounding such calls. Tomas Holmstrom is nodding his head so hard right now, everyone.

Here’s one unhappy take:

Moments after this post went up, the Oilers made it 2-0 for real this time. Check out the game here.

Math may help build Vegas Knights, but biggest aim is not being boring

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Unlike Pierre Dorion, it sounds like Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee would rather listen to analytics-minded people rather than … you know, hit them.

As McPhee readies for the expansion draft, he told The Star’s Kevin McGran in Q&A that they’ll at least be factored into decisions.

I’ve been really fascinated by how revealing that data can be. You have these kids speaking a different language. But I’m convinced it has a really important place in this game. You have to pay attention to it, and you have to use it.

Naturally, the real question with McPhee and other executives comes down to how much they will lean on analytics. Some teams seem to pick and choose when to listen to such voices, ending up with an odd mix of moves that please and unnerve the “fancy stats” community.

Owner Bill Foley gave a good idea of how much they’ll lean on stats vs. more traditional approaches in an interview with the Vegas Hockey Hotline back in February, which was transcribed by The Hockey Writers’ Keith Scheessele.

“Analytics is not going to drive how we draft,” Foley said. “Analytics are going to supplement what the scouts are seeing. We’re going to rely on the scouts and what they recommend.”

(Foley also spoke of rating players in 10 different categories, which started to make one think about how old sports video games could only quantify skills in so many ways. Anyway …)

So, it sounds like McPhee & Co. will take a modern approach – a mixture of the old and the new – rather than going full-on bold and revolutionary like, say, the Cleveland Browns or Golden State Warriors.

Considering the mystery of roster quality one faces with the Vegas Knights, it honestly might be most important that McPhee is repeatedly stating that he doesn’t aim to put together a boring hockey team.

Hey, if it takes a while to be good, at least the Vegas Knights might fit with their environment and put on a show.

Tarasenko’s two goals help Blues tie series with Predators

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One of the (many) remarkable things about the St. Louis Blues dispatching the Minnesota Wild was that they didn’t need a ton of production from Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t score a goal until the clinching game of that series.

The Blues needed more from him tonight, and he responded with two huge goals to help St. Louis win 3-2 in Game 2, tying the second-round series at 1-1.

Tarasenko scored the opening goal on that major power-play opportunity from the Vernon Fiddler knee on Colton Parayko, while Joel Edmundson wisely got out of the way to let Tarasenko nab the game-winner.

That ended up being the decisive factor as the Nashville Predators finally lost their first game of the postseason.

St. Louis must be breathing a sigh of relief for a number of reasons. The series shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4, so going down 2-0 might have been lethal.

Even beyond that, the Blues had some breaks go their way that likely won’t repeat to the same degree in future contests. The Predators didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity while St. Louis spent significant chunks of the contest on the man advantage, going 1-for-5 (but again, that includes a major).

The Blues also won despite what must have been a frustrating start. They only managed a 1-1 tie after the first 20 minutes despite holding Nashville to a mere three shots on goal.

The Predators also managed leads of 1-0 and 2-1, yet the Blues kept fighting to get back in this series. Game 3 will air on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App (Click here for the livestream link).

* – That said, he made a lot of commotion to set up Edmundson’s overtime game-winner from Game 1. That connection continued on Friday, as you likely noticed.