Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, March 10

Philadelphia 3, Toronto 2

For most of the year, the Flyers were at/near the top of the hockey world while the Maple Leafs were struggling to find their game. Over the last couple of weeks though, their roles have been reversed. The Leafs had been playing well with points in 14 of 16 games after the All-Star break while the Flyers suffered a season long 4-game losing streak. Well, hope you enjoyed it while it lasted because it looks like things are getting back to normal. The Flyers win was their 2nd in a row; the Leafs loss was their 3rd in a row.

The tone was set early when Mike Komisarek leveled Dan Carcillo with a boarding hit that put the Leafs on a 5-minute PK to start the game. A goal and multiple chances later and the tone had been set. The Flyers eventually jumped out to a 3-1 lead and the Leafs were unable to make the comeback.

Buffalo 4, Boston 3 (OT)

The Bruins are 31-0-3 when leading by two or more goals at any point in the game. But here’s an interesting tidbit: the Sabres represent the 3 losses in extra time. Including the win in Boston, the Sabres have ridden a 6-1-2 streak to the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference. Overtime game-winning goal scorer Brad Boyes is proving to be quite the deadline pickup for the Sabres. He now has 3 goals and 3 assists in only 6 games since coming over from St. Louis.

Zdeno Chara was able to put the Max Pacioretty incident behind him with a 2 assist effort; but the rest of the team had a more difficult time bouncing back from the emotional game in Montreal—not even Tim Thomas’ 41 saves were enough for the B’s. The OT loss means that the Bruins have now dropped 3 in a row.

Ottawa 2, Florida 1

It was only 2 seasons ago that Craig Anderson was making a name for himself as Tomas Vokoun’s capable back-up in Florida. For those people who forgot about him in South Florida, he served up quite a reminder as the Senators rode yet another strong performance to their 6th win in Anderson’s 9th start for the Sens. He now has a 1.44 goals against average in Ottawa with a fantastic .956 save percentage. If he keeps this up, he’s going to mess up the Sens draft pick.

St. Louis 4, Montreal 1

The game was supposed to be the big Jaroslav Halak vs. Carey Price matchup—but turned out to be a hangover game after their teammate Max Pacioretty was carried off the ice in Montreal on Tuesday. Price played well, but the rest of the team looked sluggish and never really gave their goaltender a chance to win.

Andy McDonald had a goal and two assists while the Blues continued to claw their way towards the 8th spot in the West. The win against the Habs was their 3rd straight; they’ll need to continue that kind of play if they want to have a chance to sneak into the top 8.

Nashville 4, Minnesota 0

In an important game for both teams, the Predators jumped all over the Wild at home by scoring 3 goals in the first 13 minutes of the game. The win vaults the Predators to the 9th place spot in the West, only 1 point behind the 8th place Kings. The effort from the Nashville players and crowd were exactly what you’d expect for a team battling for their playoff lives.

The Minnesota Wild’s performance was something different altogether. The Wild failed to show up and never really had any pushback once they fell behind. Worse yet, the game is the first of a back-to-back as they play in Dallas tomorrow and were kicking off a 4-game road trip with the game in Nashville.

Phoenix 3, Calgary 0

The Coyotes haven’t been playing their best hockey of late but they were able to beat the streaking Flames to win their 2nd game in their last 8. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 39 shots he saw to earn his 6th shutout of the season in front of the home crowd in Glendale. The huge win moves the Coyotes ahead of the Flames for the 4th spot in the ever-changing West.

The Flames played much better than the score reflects. All but two players had at least one shot on goal—but it was just one of those nights. If they play like this every night, they’ll win far more games than they’ll lose.

Vancouver 5, San Jose 4 (SO)

Easily the game of the night, the Canucks jumped out to a 2-0 lead only to see the Sharks repeatedly come back to tie the score. The Sharks and Canucks traded goals at the end of the 3rd period before the game went to overtime. Despite outshooting Vancouver 9-0 in OT, the Sharks were unable to get a puck past Cory Schneider—eventually losing in shootout. Even though Schneider gave up 4 goals, the 44 shots he kept out of the net made him Vancouver’s MVP for the night.

Ryane Clowe did his best to keep the Sharks in it as he flirted with a hat-trick, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. The good news for fans in San Jose is they went toe-to-toe with the best in the West and deserved to win. The bad news is that Alex Burrows didn’t let that happen in the shootout.

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    Islanders hire Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations (Update)

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    It’s expected this week that the New York Islanders will officially announce the hiring of Lou Lamoriello to run their hockey operation department, according to Arthur Staple of The Athletic.

    It’s unclear at the moment what specific role the 75-year-old Lamoriello will have within the organization. It’s possible he takes over the role of president of hockey operations or general manager, or potentially both. His son, Chris, is the Islanders’ assistant GM.

    Last month, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that Lamoriello would not return as their GM after three seasons at the helm.

    Staple also confirmed a Hockey30 report that Lamoriello met with Islanders captain John Tavares last week ahead of this move. Tavares is set to become an unrestricted free agent only July 1.

    There are many questions to be answered as we wait for the Islanders to announce this move. First, what does this mean for the beards of Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd, as well as the mustache of Cal Clutterbuck?

    Next, where does current GM Garth Snow stand? He’s been running the show since 2006 and has a contract for at least four more seasons. The team has made the playoffs only four times during his tenure and advanced out of the first round once. The fan base demanded change once this season went off the rails, with billboards purchased in Brooklyn calling for Snow’s firing. During an end-of-season press conference in April, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said Snow and head coach Doug Weight would be staying for now, but that he would be “evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations.”

    The next question is the biggest and that has to do with Tavares. He’s said time and time again that he wants to re-sign, but hasn’t inked an extension and hasn’t given any indication what factors would sway him one way or the other. A new arena on Long Island is coming. But is this change in management and whatever Lamoriello told him in their chat enough to convince him to not explore free agency and commit to staying with the franchise? Only time will tell. But this change could be a good first step forward for the franchise.

    UPDATE: The Islanders made the news official on Tuesday morning, with Lamoriello getting the title of president of hockey operations. “He will have full authority over all hockey matters with the organization” was also noted in the press release. Farewell, Garth?

    ————

    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.

    PHT Morning Skate: How Reaves became a playoff hero; Which non-playoff teams can make 2019 postseason?

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    Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

    • The fact that the Vegas Golden Knights are in the Stanley Cup Final is good for all hockey fans and it’s a great story. (Vice Sports)

    • No American team has sold for merchandise than the Golden Knights. Stores couldn’t keep the Western Conference Champion hats and t-shirts on the shelves. (Vegas Review-Journal)

    • Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was furious that Caps forward Tom Wilson refused to fight Jamie Oleksiak after Wilson broke Zach Aston-Reese‘s jaw with a hit. “When Jamie challenged Wilson, he couldn’t run quick enough to get away from him.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

    Ryan Reaves has had to adjust his game to stick around in the NHL. Things haven’t always worked out for him, but he eventually became a hero for the Golden Knights in the third round. (ESPN)

    • If the Golden Knights were to win the Stanley Cup, Vegas casinos would lose a ton of money. (MLive.com)

    • Hockey Graphs looks at whether or not the NHL has become more competitive by analyzing advanced statistics between 2007-08 and 2017-18. (Hockey Graphs)

    • The St. Louis Blues’ home rink will have a new name going into next season. For the next 15 years, the arena will be named “Enterprise Center”. (NHL.com/Blues)

    • Down Goes Brown looks at which non-playoff teams could make it to the postseason next year and which ones could even get to the conference final. (Sportsnet)

    • Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis has one year remaining on his current deal. What will his next contract look like? Based on some comparables, expect him to earn at least $5.5 million. (On the Forecheck)

    • A young boy who suffered serious injuries in a school bus crash received an incredible gift from the New York Rangers that included a stick signed by Henrik Lundqvist. (NBC New York)

    • The IIHF has voted to allow both the men’s and women’s Chinese hockey teams to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (China.org)

    • Have you ever dreamed of being an NHL scout? Well, take a look at what scouts look for when assessing potential talent. (The Hockey News)

    • Anaheim’s farm team, the San Diego Gulls, have signed head coach Dallas Eakins to a multi-year contract extension. (San Diego Gulls)

    • Despite struggling at the end of the season, Devan Dubnyk had another solid year for the Minnesota Wild in 2017-18. (Hockey Wilderness)

    • Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Capitals and Lightning.

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    Braden Holtby dominated when the Capitals needed him most

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    WASHINGTON — The Washington Capitals weren’t ready for their season to come to an end.

    By playing what might have been their most complete game of the playoffs, they were able to force a Game 7 (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in the Eastern Conference final with a 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night, picking up their first home win of the series.

    While the Capitals were playing a relentlessly physical game and getting big performances from T.J. Oshie (two goals) and Devante Smith-Pelly, it was goaltender Braden Holtby playing what might have been his best and biggest game of the season to help drive the win and extend their season to a winner-take-all game in Tampa.

    After the game Capitals coach Barry Trotz called Holtby “the backbone” of their team, and there were times in Game 6 where they needed him to be exactly that.

    [Related: PHT Three Stars]

    While he didn’t have to face a ton of shots (Tampa managed just 24 shots) he was still tested by a powerful Lightning attack and needed to be called upon to make some massive saves to record his first shutout of the season, a rather stunning stat considering he led the league in shutouts a year ago with nine.

    “The only reason is it is good is you know you won,” said Holtby when asked about not recording a shutout this season until Monday. “Aside from that it’s just another statistic for you guys to write about. For us it is just that ‘W’ that matters.”

    Well, they got that ‘W’ in large part because of Holtby’s play. Even though they ended up with a three-goal edge on the scoreboard at the end of the night, it could have easily shifted in another direction numerous times.

    With the game was still scoreless in the second period, for example, he made a huge pad save on Anthony Cirelli when he broke in all alone on an odd-man rush.

    In the third period, he helped preserve what was at the time a one-goal lead when he made an incredible glove save on a wide open Nikita Kucherov as he flew down the middle of the ice after coming off the bench on a perfectly timed line change.

    Holtby downplayed that save after the game.

    “I think that save probably looks better than it actually is,” Holtby said.” There are some that are more difficult than that. I think it was just the positioning and where the puck was. I was just trying to stay in the moment, focus on the puck, and make the save.”

    It turned out to be a massive save because just a few minutes later Smith-Pelly delivered what was probably the knockout punch of the game when he scored his fourth goal of the playoffs to give the Capitals a two-goal lead.

    Until that second goal was scored the Capitals had spent most of the period leaning on Holtby to stand tall and he was more than up to the task.

    Overall this has been a bizarre season for Holtby.

    In terms of his overall statistics it was probably his worst one since he became the Capitals’ starting goalie. After a so-so start, he struggling mightily over the last two months and then ended up on the bench for Games 1 and 2 of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in place of Philipp Grubauer.

    But after Grubauer struggled and the Capitals were facing a two-game deficit, Holtby reclaimed his starting spot and has done what he has done throughout his career in the playoffs — give his team a chance just about every single night.

    Given how well Holtby has played in his career in the postseason it is downright staggering that his team hasn’t had more success in the playoffs. His career save percentage in the playoffs is the second best all-time and he’s rarely, if ever, had a poor showing over an entire series. It has just always come down to there at times being a goalie at the other end of the ice that has been just a little bit better.

    Goaltending has been the big story of this series and even if it’s oversimplifying things to say, the team with the best goalie has won every game.

    After dropping three games in a row and sending their season to the brink of what could have been another soul-crushing end, the Capitals needed their goalie to be the better one on Monday night.

    He was.

    Now they need him to do it one more time on Wednesday.

    MORE:
    • Conference Finals schedule, TV info
    • NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    Capitals force Game 7 vs. Lightning with all-around effort

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    The Washington Capitals needed the best version of themselves to force a deciding game in the Eastern Conference Final, and that’s exactly what they got at home on Monday.

    Hockey fans will be treated to a Game 7 (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to determine who will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, which will begin Monday, May 28.

    And if that game is half as good as Game 6 was, a treat is exactly what fans will get.

    Yes, Game 6 between the Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning might have been the most exciting game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far — not bad for a 3-0 final score.

    The scoreline was far from indicative of what happened on the ice. Washington was desperate, but not reckless. Calm and composed, they controlled much of the game and were finally rewarded in the second period via T.J. Oshie‘s power-play marker from the slot — Oshie’s first of two in the game as he added an empty-netter to seal the win late in the third.

    The Capitals probably should have won by more, but Andrei Vasilevskiy was in the zone for most of the night.

    Down 3-2 coming into Monday, and losers of three straight after taking a 2-0 series lead, the Capitals needed a hero to avoid another humiliating exit from the playoffs.

    [PHT’s Three Stars: Holtby, Smith-Pelly help Capitals force Game 7]

    Oshie stepped up, for sure.

    Braden Holtby looked determined, evidenced by his 24-save shutout with the stakes never higher.

    And while Alex Ovechkin looked like a man-possessed in early on — finishing with five shots on goal, one of three Capitals players to do so — it was Devante Smith-Pelly who really shined.

    Smith-Pelly put on a physical masterclass early — finishing the game with five hits, including the massacre above.

    Then, Smith-Pelly helped the Caps out on the scoresheet.

    Chandler Stephenson won a race to beat out the icing call. The puck made its way around the back of Tampa’s net, and Jay Beagle pushed it back to Stephenson, whose backhand pass from behind Vasilevskiy found a streaking Smith-Pelly for a 2-0 lead.

    And man, did that goal mean something to DSP. Watch the celly:

    It was a heroic effort from Smith-Pelly, Oshie and Holtby, and they’ll need one more before they can truly say they’ve exorcised their playoff demons.

    They’ll have 48 hours from now to figure out their course of attack for Game 7, and Tampa will have the same amount of time to pick themselves back up again after the beating they took in the game.

    Bring on Game 7, we’re all ready.

    MORE:
    • Conference Finals schedule, TV info
    • NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck