Blackhawks take 2-0 series lead against Wild after pulling away in third period

40 Comments

Much like Game 1, the contest was quite a bit closer than the final score might indicate,* but the bottom line is that the Chicago Blackhawks now have a 2-0 series lead against the Minnesota Wild after winning Game 2 by a 4-1 mark on Sunday.

Closer than it appears?

It’s easy to see that the Blackhawks are hot right now. Stretching back to their first-round battle against the St. Louis Blues, they’ve now won six consecutive playoff games.

It’s also a special win for head coach Joel Quenneville, for those counting:

The good news for the Wild is that they’ve been here before. The Colorado Avalanche took a 2-0 series lead against them in round one only to see Minnesota advance after seven games (which included an overtime battle in that decisive game). While the first two games against Colorado were often out of control for Minnesota, these first two losses were tighter until the Blackhawks pulled away in the third period of each game.

The shot totals probably tell the story best: Minnesota limited Chicago to 22 shots on goal in both games.

Not easy for Breezy

For all the good that comes out of those observations, the bottom line is that the Wild have been outscored by a combined score of 9-3 through these first two games.

Fair or not, one must wonder if Minnesota can put much trust in Ilya Bryzgalov. The Russian-born goalie has lost four of five games in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and his lone win came in just 13:15 of game time (from Game 7 after Darcy Kuemper left with an injury). His individual numbers haven’t been very strong, either, so it’s not just a matter of the team in front of him.

It’s probably true that Bryzgalov isn’t the only problem for Minnesota, yet they might just need him to carry them at times. (The goals often haven’t been Breezy’s fault, but his prospects as an unrestricted free agent seem to dip with each start.)

Bickell heats up

While Patrick Kane understandably grabbed the spotlight in Chicago’s Game 1 win, it’s worth noting that the Bryan Bickell – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa line is on fire for the ‘Hawks.

Toews scored the first goal for Chicago, Bickell collected two assists and added a goal in the third period (after clanging the iron on his previous shift) and Hossa had three helpers in Game 2. It’s little surprise that Toews and Hossa are looking strong, but Bickell seems to be on track for a playoff breakthrough for the second straight year. After only managing 15 points in 59 games in the regular season, Bickell has eight playoff points (all in a four-game streak).

If this trio can keep it going, it will be highly difficult for any team to slow Chicago down.

* – In the case of Game 1, it was 5-2.

Preds GM Poile still has work to do, with Johansen in need of a deal

Getty
Leave a comment

David Poile got some work done Saturday.

The Nashville Predators re-signed Viktor Arvidsson on the day the two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled. The new deal? Seven years at a total of $29.75 million — an annual average value of $4.25 million for a player that just scored 31 goals while playing on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg.

The Predators made a run at the Stanley Cup last month, doing so with great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, a top-four group of defensemen that you can argue sets the standard around the league and a talented group of forwards — a number of them with age on their side.

They didn’t win it all, but Poile was recognized for his work by claiming General Manager of the Year.

This is likely among the reasons why.

Roman Josi still has three years left on his deal, while Mattias Ekholm, who was a valuable and reliable top-four d-man playing alongside P.K. Subban, has five years remaining on his deal.

With the Arvidsson contract completed, the priority is now to get Johansen — a restricted free agent — signed. At age 24, he’s Nashville’s No. 1 center coming off a 61-point season, which completed his three-year, $12 million deal.

He was also in the midst of a terrific playoff performance before he suffered a thigh injury and postseason-ending surgery. He’s in line for a significant raise from the $4 million AAV he made on his last contract.

The Predators have about $14.5 million remaining in cap space, per CapFriendly.

Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men

Getty
1 Comment

The Vegas Golden Knights currently have 10 defensemen under contract — and that is without Nate Schmidt signed.

Schmidt and the Golden Knights have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time for them to negotiate a new deal for the restricted free agent blue liner without having a neutral third party decide the matter.

Schmidt’s agent, Matt Keator, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that talks with the Golden Knights have been positive, which lends to optimism that perhaps the club and player will avoid this whole process with a deal.

A new contract between Schmidt — left unprotected by Washington in the expansion draft — and Vegas would put the Golden Knights at 11 d-men less than two months before training camp opens.

Granted, that number is considerably less than what Vegas had following the expansion draft, when they stockpiled 15 defensemen and eventually moved players like David Schlemko, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marc Methot.

While it seems more moves are likely on the back end for Vegas, general manager George McPhee doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry right now, per the Vegas Review Journal.

“We’re at a manageable number right now,” said McPhee. “We’re pretty close to where we want to be and we’re comfortable with the roster we have.”

Their blue line also includes five players — Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland — that are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. As far as Vegas’ defensive group is concerned, this could mean future trades during the season as other clubs, perhaps playoff bound, look to possibly add a rental late in the year.

One thing McPhee has made clear in the past: He planned on keeping Schmidt and fellow d-man Shea Theodore (only 21 years old). Now, they just have to get Schmidt under contract.

Related: Vegas has more ticket revenue than Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh, says Foley

Predators sign Arvidsson to seven-year, $29.75 million deal

Getty
5 Comments

Viktor Arvidsson has cashed in on his impressive, breakout 2016-17 campaign.

Playing in the final year of his entry-level contract — and making $640,000 in total salary, according to CapFriendly — the 5-foot-9 tall Arvidsson erupted for 31 goals and 61 points playing on the top line last season for a Nashville Predators team that eventually made its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Saturday.

From The Tennessean:

Viktor Arvidsson received a new contract Saturday befitting a breakout star, with the Predators signing the energetic forward to a seven-year, $29.75 million contract, Arvidsson’s agent told The Tennessean. 

Few unheralded NHL players last season surprised more than Arvidsson. Expected to be a secondary contributor, Arvidsson erupted offensively with 31 goals and 61 points as part of Nashville’s top line, tying for the team lead in each category. 

Update: The Predators have since confirmed the deal, which pays Arvidsson an annual average value of $4.25 million per season, through the 2023-24 season.

Nashville’s general manager David Poile has work remaining this offseason. The Predators still have restricted free agents Ryan Johansen — another member of that vaunted top line in Nashville — and Austin Watson left to get under contract.

Watson and the Predators have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday. Watson is reportedly seeking $1.4 million in arbitration.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

Getty
Leave a comment

The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.