Getty

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round matchups

17 Comments

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

Season series: Montreal 3-0-0, New York 0-2-1

This one’s been locked in for a while, with Montreal claiming the Atlantic Division crown and the Rangers locking up the Eastern Conference’s first wild card berth a few days ago. This will mark the first time these two Original Six foes have met in the playoffs since 2014, when the Rangers upended the Habs in the Eastern Conference Final.

That series is perhaps best remembered for the start of the Carey PriceChris Kreider feud. Price suffered a playoff-ending injury on a crease collision with Kreider in Game 1, and exacted a measure of revenge when the two teams met early in the following season.

Watch Rangers vs. Canadiens live on the NBC Sports app

Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins

Season series: Ottawa 4-0-0, Boston 0-3-1

This marks the first time the Sens will face the B’s in a playoff series. Ottawa’s back in the dance after missing last year, while Boston returns following a two-year postseason absence. There’s not a ton of history here, but both enter with some compelling storylines — the Sens, under first-year head coach Guy Boucher, overcame losing Clarke MacArthur to a concussion suffered during the preseason, and were without No. 1 netminder Craig Anderson for long stretches while his wife underwent cancer treatment.

Boston, meanwhile, pulled it together after the midseason dismissal of head coach Claude Julien, and rallied under new bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Several pieces of the ’11 Cup-winning squad still remain — Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand, most notably — and it’s worth mentioning that one of the few Cup winners on the Ottawa roster is Chris Kelly… who won it all six years ago with the B’s.

Watch Bruins vs. Senators live on the NBC Sports app

Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Season series: Washington 1-1-1, Toronto 1-1-1

All the pressure versus no pressure, really. The Caps head into the postseason as the NHL’s top team, boasting an absolutely loaded roster — which includes the blockbuster trade deadline acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk — and firmly in year two of GM Brian MacLellan’s two-year Stanley Cup window.

Simply put, the time in now for Washington.

For Toronto, this season was supposed to be about building for the future. But the future arrived early. The Leafs are in the playoffs after a miraculous turnaround, which saw them go from the worst team in the NHL to one of the league’s most entertaining squads. Three of the club’s top four scorers — Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner — are all rookies, and will make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs live on the NBC Sports app

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Season series: Columbus 2-1-1, Pittsburgh 2-1-1

The Blue Jackets are going to the playoffs for just the third time in franchise history, but will face the Penguins for the second time in three years. Back in ’14, Columbus lost 4-2 to Pittsburgh in the opening round, but the series provided some unforgettable moments at Nationwide, including a pair of OT victories (one of which was Columbus’ first-ever postseason win).

For most of this season, Pittsburgh was a popular pick to repeat as back-to-back champion, but those predictions took a hit when No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang was lost for the year with a neck injury. Letang was a vital cog to last year’s Stanley Cup win, and he’ll be undoubtedly missed. How that absence plays out against Columbus will be a focal point of the opening round.

Watch Penguins vs. Blue Jackets on the NBC Sports app

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

Season series: Chicago 4-1-0, Nashville 1-4-0

This has turned into a pretty healthy playoff rivalry, and will be the third series between the two in the last seven years. Chicago enjoyed another terrific regular season — 50 wins, 109 points — and now looks to get back to another Stanley Cup Final, after bowing out in the opening round to St. Louis last season. The ‘Hawks have never lost a series to the Preds, and they’ll aim to keep that streak going.

Nashville’s had an up-and-down campaign, and it’ll be interesting to see if that trend carries over to the postseason. Something worth keeping an eye on? The Preds were dynamite at home this year, posting a 24-9-8 record at Bridgestone, but weren’t great on the road. No playoff team had a worse away record than Nashville’s 17-20-4 mark.

Watch Blackhawks vs. Predators on the NBC Sports app

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Season series: Minnesota 2-2-1, St. Louis 3-2-0

The big storyline here will be Blues head coach Mike Yeo going up against his former club. The Wild fired Yeo last February after five years at the helm, but he wasn’t unemployed long — St. Louis hired him four months later as the coach-in-waiting behind Ken Hitchcock, who was in his final year behind the bench.

Yeo’s ascendancy happened quicker than expected. Blues GM Doug Armstrong fired Hitchcock on Feb. 1, and the team quickly righted the ship under Yeo, eventually finishing third in the Central Division (thanks in large part to the improved play of goalie Jake Allen).

The Wild have an interesting coaching angle of their own. Bruce Boudreau, who was fired by Anaheim after crashing out in the opening round last year, has done a terrific job in his first season in Minnesota. The Wild won 49 games and racked up 106 points, to finish as the second-best team in the Western Conference.

Watch Wild vs. Blues on the NBC Sports app

Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames

Season series: Anaheim 4-1-0, Calgary 1-4-0

This one was decided late — very late. Anaheim waited until the final night of the regular season to secure top spot in the Pacific Division and for that, they’ll face a fairly familiar foe in Calgary.

The Ducks and Flames met in the second round of the ’15 playoffs, with Anaheim breezing to a relatively easy 4-1 series win. As mentioned above, the Ducks were a major disappointment last year — losing in Round 1 to Nashville — and shook things up by firing Boudreau, and hiring Randy Carlyle. Carlyle is, of course, the same coach that led Anaheim to its first and only Stanley Cup championship back in 2007.

For the Flames, first-year bench boss Glen Gulutzan has one mission: Win a game in Anaheim. It’s been an incredible 11 years since Calgary last tasted victory in Orange County. Given the Ducks have home ice advantage, the Flames will have to win at least one game at Honda.

Watch Ducks vs. Flames on the NBC Sports app

Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks

Season series: Edmonton 3-1-1, San Jose 2-3-0

The NHL’s longest playoff drought is over, as Edmonton will go dancing for the first time since 2006. Led by potential Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid and workhorse netminder Cam Talbot, the Oilers now get to face off against… the defending Western Conference champs.

On paper, a tough draw.

But on the ice, this has all the makings for a really intriguing series. Aside from McDavid’s playoff debut, there’s also Todd McLellan factor to consider. McLellan took the job in Edmonton after an incredibly successful seven-year run in San Jose. He’s still the club’s all-time leader in wins.

Health will be a big factor for San Jose, as both Joe Thornton and Logan Couture were hurt late in the season.

Watch Oilers vs. Sharks on the NBC Sports app

The Buzzer: Marchessault leads Golden Knights; Boeser injures foot

AP
Leave a comment

Player of the Night: Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

Marchessault took over the Vegas scoring lead with a big night during a 5-2 win over his old team, the Florida Panthers. The Golden Knights scored four unanswered goals after falling behind 2-0 early in the first period, and Marchessault played a big part by assisting on the tying and go-ahead goals and then potting the empty-netter to seal things. He now has 29 points on the season.

Reilly Smith, another ex-Panther, chipped in a pair of assists, including one on Marchessault’s goal to ice things for Gerard Gallant’s side. Vegas is now 13-2-1 at home.

Highlight of the Night:

Patrik Laine scored his team-leading 16th of the season for the Winnipeg Jets, and it was beautiful.

MISC:

Patrick Kane scored twice and Corey Crawford made 27 saves as the Chicago Blackhawks downed the Minnesota Wild 4-1 for their fifth win in a row. Kane now has seven points in his last four games. He’s one goal away from 300 for his career and now sits fifth all-time in Blackhawks history.

• Connor Hellebuyck stopped all 24 shots he faced and recorded his eighth career shutout during a 4-0 win over the St. Louis Blues. Adam Lowry, Laine, Mark Scheifele and Josh Morrissey provided the goals as the Jets split their home-and-home with the Blues.

Sam Bennett had four points and Mark Jankowski recorded three as the Calgary Flames drubbed the Vancouver Canucks 6-1. Mark Giordano added a pair of goals and David Rittich stopped 16 of 17 shots he faced for his third career NHL victory.

• The Canucks and Panthers weren’t too fond of the third period Sunday night. Vancouver was outshot 19-4 while Florida mustered only two shots on goal while allowing 18 over the final 20 minutes.

• Oh no. Brock Boeser left the game early in the second period after blocking a Mark Giordano shot. Canucks head coach Travis Green did not have an update after the game. This is not good.

Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche will miss two games after being suspended for boarding Vladislav Namestnikov of the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night.

• Congrats, Erik Karlsson. It’s a boy!

Our hearts exploded with that puck. We can’t wait to meet you baby BOY 💙

A post shared by Melinda Karlsson (@mel.karlsson) on

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Winnipeg 4, St. Louis 0
Chicago 4, Minnesota 1
Calgary 6, Vancouver 1
Vegas 5, Florida 2

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy

Canucks’ Brock Boeser suffers foot injury after blocking shot (Video)

Sportsnet
2 Comments

As the Vancouver Canucks transition their roster and let the kids take over, Brock Boeser has been a real bright spot this season. Well, right now fans are holding their collective breaths hoping that the Calder Trophy candidate isn’t too seriously hurt after blocking a Mark Giordano shot early in the second period Sunday night.

Did you catch that Jim Benning reaction?

Sportsnet

Yup, us too, Jim.

Boeser, who leads the Canucks and all NHL rookies in scoring with 17 goals and 30 points, was ruled out for the rest of the night a short while later with a foot injury.

If you’re keeping track at home, that’s all three members of the Canucks’ BBB line that are currently injured. Bo Horvat is out until January with a foot injury and Sven Baertschi has a similar timeline after fracturing his jaw.

Depending on the severity of the injury could also impact some of Boeser’s potential bonuses in his rookie season. Ryan Biech of The Athletic had a great breakdown on Friday about how much the Vancouver stands to earn this season should he hit certain totals in specific categories. Hopefully this doesn’t keep him out long. The Calder race is better with him a part of it.

UPDATE: Canucks head coach didn’t have an update on Boeser after the game.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Erik Johnson to sit two games for Avalanche after suspension

NHL
1 Comment

It was pretty clear that after receving a slashing minor, boarding major and game misconduct all in the span of about three seconds, Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche still had some punishment coming to him.

And so on Sunday night the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a two-game ban for the veteran defenseman after he boarded Vladislav Namestnikov Saturday night in Colorado.

As detailed in the video, Johnson knows that Namestnikov has already fired his shot on goal and the Tampa Bay Lightning forward isn’t expecting to be shoved like that after his scoring attempt. That, and how far he was from the boards make it all especially dangerous. Fortunately, Namestnikov was able to remain in the game.

“Dangerous play. You just hold your breath on those. Got a little fortunate with Vladdy, obviously didn’t get as fortunate with Callahan,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, referring to Ryan Callahan‘s injury after an awkward collision with Oliver Ekman-Larsson last week.

Johnson will lose out on $64,516.12, which goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Is Alex Ovechkin clutch?

Getty
15 Comments

If you get into a bar argument with a sports fan about Alex Ovechkin, there’s a strong chance that at least one person will argue that the Washington Capitals superstar is “not clutch.”

It’s easy to compile such an argument, whether it’s fair or not. The Capitals won three Presidents’ Trophies in the Ovechkin era, yet they’ve never gotten to a third round with him on their roster. His Olympic struggles are both dramatic and well-documented.

That said, if you extract team successes and failures from the picture – which is difficult for many to do, that’s true – it gets tougher to deny that there’s some “clutchness” there, unless you just start to wrestle with whether “clutch” is even a real thing or not.

(Allow me to not open that pandora’s box.)

Last night, Alex Ovechkin scored his 21st overtime goal, adding to an NHL record he already owned. In the process, he came that much closer to 100 career game-winners in the regular season.

Here’s the goal itself:

As you can see, Ovechkin is one GWG away from joining a club of players who’ve scored at least 100; he’d be the eighth person to do so. It might not take him long to pass Jarome Iginla, and depending upon how his twilight years go, Patrick Marleau.

It’s plausible that Ovechkin may finish his career on the top of that list, though he might fall short of passing kindred spirit/guy he once clobbered in initial play Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr is a kindred spirit because, while he’s currently in the Teemu Selanne phase of his career as an ageless wonder loved by just about any fan interested in the game, number 68 was once a frequent scapegoat in his own right. Plenty of people questioned his character and work ethic, at times to the point of things getting cartoonish. Sometimes stars like these need to go through that period before people embrace them like they always should have.

And the more you look into things, it’s clear that a lot of fans should drop the disdain and enjoy just how special Ovechkin is.

Consider this: Ovechkin is just 32, yet Hockey Reference’s listings show that he’s been in the top-10 in game-winning goals in 10 seasons. Ovechkin led the league in that category three times and was in the top five on seven occasions.

For a guy who takes a beating for not lifting the Stanley Cup (yet?), Ovechkin shows up in the playoffs, too.

During his career, Ovechkin has scored 46 goals and 90 points in 97 career postseason games, close to a point-per-contest. Just about every player sees a dip in regular season versus playoff numbers – it’s the nature of the beast with checking tighter and every goal mattering much more – so being able to generate offense that often sure indicates some “clutchness” to me.

At some point, you just have to tip your cap to a great player, and maybe stop frowning and enjoy his boisterous celebrations and once-in-a-lifetime scoring skills. You might get a chance to do that again soon, as Ovechkin sits at 581 goals. He might just hit the 600 mark in 2017-18, joining 19 other NHL players to cross that barrier.

This post isn’t meant to imply that Ovechkin is totally flawless and it’s unlikely that a mountain of milestones will move his harshest critics.

Then again, if listing some of these resounding accomplishments helps even a few extra hockey fans enjoy a rare talent, it’s well worth it. At 32, Ovechkin could really rack up numbers for a long time, but his window could close as a true goal-scoring phenom.

It wouldn’t be very clutch to come around to Ovechkin once his best days are all behind him, now would it?

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.