After a restful couple of days, it’s time to get the Eastern Conference Final started.
The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens each came away with seven-game victories in the second round and for the Rangers that made two consecutive series that went seven. Do the Rangers hit a wall any time soon or do they find a way to put a team away early? It’s only one of 1,000 questions that can be asked in this series.
With the Habs having home ice, they’re hoping things turn more like they did against Tampa Bay than they did with Boston. Hey, at least they’ve already earned the Rangers respect, right?
Game 1: Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers (1:00 p.m. ET — NBC)
There are legitimate curiosities for both teams going into this series, but perhaps the biggest one is how Henrik Lundqvist will fare.
Lundqvist’s history playing in Montreal is legitimately terrible. He hasn’t won at Bell Centre since 2009 and in four appearances there since that last victory, he’s 0-3-1 with an abysmal .862 save percentage. If those numbers don’t change in a hurry, the Rangers are in it deep or need Cam Talbot to play the part of the road game savior. If ever there was a time for King Henrik to figure it out it’s now.
Add in the fact Rick Nash is still looking for his first goal of the playoffs and you’d think the Rangers are doomed, yet here are the Canadiens in their first Eastern Final since 2010 when Jaroslav Halak led them deep into the postseason. Now it’s on Carey Price to be the man and, like Lundqvist, he’s been outstanding in the playoffs.
Unlike the Rangers, however, Montreal doesn’t have a big time player in a big time offensive funk. Their attack has been spread out well through the postseason and P.K. Subban has led the charge with four goals and 12 points. Subban is one of four players with four goals while Thomas Vanek has five.
These teams are separated by just over 350 miles and are Original Six squads that haven’t met in the playoffs since 1996. It’ll be fun to add another chapter to their history.
Overall this season the New York Islanders have really struggled away from the Barclays Center, a point of concern when you consider how many road games they have down the stretch as they try to overcome their miserable start to climb back into the playoffs.
Their current nine-game road trip is off to a promising start with wins in the first two games, including a 3-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to improve their record to 12-4-2 under new coach Doug Weight.
The Islanders received goals from Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and John Tavares in the win, while Thomas Greiss stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.
With the win the Islanders hold sole possession of the second wild card spot in the East for the time being, two points ahead of Florida and Boston (the Bruins are in action right now) and continue their stunning second half turnaround.
But while things are going great for the Islanders right now, the struggles in Montreal continue.
With their loss on Thursday they failed to put any extra distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division that has suddenly closed the gap on them. They remain just two points up on Ottawa and only four points ahead of Toronto. The loss also continues what has been a particularly brutal stretch over the past couple of months that has seen the team win just seven of its past 20 games.
It’s probably too early to start fully panicking in Montreal, but given the way the end of last season went this can’t be a promising development for Canadiens fans.
After taking just four shifts in in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had to leave Thursday’s game with an unspecified injury.
The Blackhawks did not offer any update on what forced Hjalmarsson out of the game, only to say he would be out for the remainder of the evening.
Fortunately for the Blackhawks they dressed seven defensemen for the game when Michal Rozsival drew back into the lineup, so they still have a full lineup of defenders to finish the game. Surprisingly, Rozsival scored his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period, breaking what had been a 3-3 tie following a wild first period that saw the teams combine for six goals.
In 59 games this season Hjalmarsson had five goals and nine assists while playing more than 20 minutes per night, mostly on a pairing with Duncan Keith.
The first period of Thursday’s Blackhawks-Coyotes game had just a little bit of excitement as the two teams combined for six goals, including two by the Coyotes in the final three minutes of the period to erase what had been a two-goal deficit.
All of the action started just 37 seconds into the game when Nick Schmaltz, playing on his 21st birthday, scored his sixth goal of the season (shown above) on a feed from a still white hot Jonathan Toews.
Seven minutes later, Coyotes rookie defenseman Jakob Chychrun scored his second goal in his as many games to get things even at one.
That is when the chaos started to break out. The Blackhawks quickly struck for two more goals when Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane scored six minutes apart to give the Blackhawks what would end up being a very short-lived 3-1 lead. Just one minute after Kane’s goal Ryan White netted his seventh of the season to bring the Coyotes back to within one, a goal that was followed by Radim Vrbata‘s 13th of the season just one minute after that.
Here are the two Coyotes goals that tied it.
Chicago came into the game on Thursday on a goal scoring tear, scoring at least four goals in seven of their past eight games. They are off to a great start when it comes to reaching that mark again on Thursday.
Trouble is, they can not seem to keep the puck out of their net on Thursday.
Winners of seven of their past eight, the Chicago Blackhawks are back home on Thursday night to take on the Arizona Coyotes.
The Blackhawks have been on a roll lately, especially offensively, scoring 34 goals in their past eight games. They have scored at least four goals in seven of those games. Captain Jonathan Toews has been doing a lot of the work offensively lately and is having a huge second half after a disappointing start to the season offensively.
On Thursday they host a Coyotes team that has shown a lot of improvement in recent weeks, putting together an 8-4-1 record since Jan. 20.
Puck drop for Thursday is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and you can catch all off the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.
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Preview: Jonathan Toews looks to stay hot against Coyotes