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Will rest be a big advantage for the Rangers?

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The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings have both wrestled with fatigue during this postseason. The difference is that the Rangers got their biggest headaches out of the way early and should be well-rested on Wednesday.

The question is: how big will that advantage be?

“We just have to reset again. We do it so well,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said. “We did it during the regular season. We did it before the Olympics. We did it after the Olympics. We did it before the playoffs started.  We did it after Game 7 of the first round. We just have to do it again.”

Maxing out

The Rangers played in 20 out of 21 possible games while the Kings played all 21 through the first three rounds. Los Angeles must play on Wednesday after winning the most emotional series of Dustin Brown’s career on Sunday.

To give you a point of comparison, the Kings and Rangers played 41 postseason games through three rounds while last year’s finalists Boston Bruins (16) and Blackhawks (17) required 33 games to get to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. (Remarkably, Los Angeles cleared three rounds in 14 games in the 2012 title run.)

Immediate concerns

So each team has played a lot in this postseason, but one team is coming in with more rest nonetheless. So far, each team managed quick turnarounds quite well.

The Rangers began their second-round series on a Friday after closing out Philadelphia in a Game 7 that Wednesday, yet they won both contests. Maybe New York wore down later on in the series against Pittsburgh, yet they showed some nice resiliency all things considered. This current break is their most luxurious of the playoffs.

The Kings’ transitions look like this:

Round 1 to 2: Game 7 at San Jose (Wednesday, April 30) to Game 1 at Anaheim (Saturday, May 3)
Round 2 to 3: Game 7 at Anaheim (Friday, May 16) to Game 1 at Chicago (Sunday, May 18)
Round 3 to 4: Game 7 at Chicago (June 1) to Game 1 at home (June 4)

The saving grace of those early rounds was limited travel, with things really getting tough in the Western Conference finals. Really, the Kings handled these situations remarkably well; Sutter only believed that the Kings looked tired for a brief chunk of Game 1 against Chicago, for instance.

It still seems reasonable to wonder if it will all catch up to them now, though.

Specific impacts

Neither team runs too many players “into the ground,” which probably factors into their abilities to fight through fatigue.

Ryan McDonagh draws a lot of attention, yet Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are reliable enough to spread the wealth. That probably explains why no Rangers skater averages more than McDonagh’s 24:49 minutes per night.

The biggest beneficiary of the Rangers’ break is likely to be Henrik Lundqvist. With a long Olympic run plus his usual regular season workload (63 games), such a layoff could be very valuable to the 32-year-old netminder.

Los Angeles is deep in its own right, although it’s fair to say that Drew Doughty carries a lot of responsibility on defense. He’s logging just under 28 minutes per night (27:51) and while he’s been mostly fantastic, Keith Jones and Mike Milbury expressed the belief that he looked fatigued in Game 7.

With all apologies to Slava Voynov, there are some weaker spots in the Kings defense that could be exposed if Doughty really is running on fumes.

***

The Kings seem spry enough to grind out another tough turnaround, yet there’s always the question of how many times one team can climb that mountain. It’s the Rangers’ job to exploit whatever advantage this presents, though.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.