PHT Predicts: Second round of Eastern Conference playoffs

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The second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs kicks off tomorrow night with the top seeded Capitals looking to make the Eastern final for the first time since 1998. Tampa Bay is hoping to make their first return to the East final since 2004.  The Capitals have been off since Saturday so they’ll be well rested. Will there be rust or will they play the role of the machine that never breaks? The Caps are hoping for the latter.

Boston and Philadelphia get to renew hostilities after last year’s incredible second round match-up that saw the Flyers comeback from being down 3-0 in the series to win in seven games. That series win helped them get motivated to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup final. The Bruins are hoping to enact revenge for that colossal failure and keep their Cup hopes alive.

How do we see things shaking out? Well…

1. Washington Capitals vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning

James says:

The Capitals won the season series (4-1-1), but Dwayne Roloson played extremely well (two shutouts in four games) against Washington once he arrived in Tampa Bay. The star power on both sides is downright dazzling, with Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom squaring off against Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne. I cannot help but feel like the Bolts are a work in progress, though.

Both teams showed me something in their first round series, but the Capitals have the Scent of Destiny.

Pick: Washington in five.

Joe says:

It’d be wrong to jump off the Caps wagon considering we picked them to go to the Stanley Cup final, but the fact is they really impressed me with how they handled the Rangers in the first round. What Tampa Bay did to Pittsburgh was impressive on its own right and I wonder if they’ll be able to keep their offensive stars rolling against the Caps’ defense. I’m suspecting no, they won’t.

Pick: Capitals in six

Disagree with us on our take and think the Lightning are going to surprise the Caps? Let us know in our poll.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 3. Boston Bruins

James says:

Did the Bruins really shake that big-game monkey off their backs in that Game 7 win against the Canadiens? They showed impressive resolve in winning in overtime, but shot themselves in the foot repeatedly while blowing 2-0 and 3-2 leads in their own barn. On the other end, the Flyers overcame a 3-1 first period deficit to win Game 6 and then absolutely crushed the Sabres in Game 7. Tim Thomas is a tempting trump card, but Philadelphia is radiating confidence and boast enviable offensive depth. The improving health of Chris Pronger even makes Brian Boucher less of a worry than many would expect. It’s still an awfully interesting series, but I’ll opt for the Flyers’ showy swagger over the Bruins’ slumped shoulders.

Pick: Philadelphia in six.

Joe says:

These teams are eerily similar. They’re both tough, they’re both physical, they both have hulking defensemen, they both have pests that can score big goals. One area where they are different is in goal. Tim Thomas is all world while the three-headed monster the Flyers roll with is virtually interchangeable. How the Flyers defense plays is far more important to their success. With a healthy Pronger out there leading the way and the Bruins offense being as iffy as it has been all year, this series is destined to run long. The Flyers “fixed” their power play in the final game thanks to Ryan Miller going soft. The Bruins are resilient as anything but I’ve changed my mind on them thanks to how bad their power play is.

Pick: Philadelphia in seven

Think James and I are off our rockers and think Boston rolls on to the East final? Vote in the poll and set us straight.

The Buzzer: Skinner ends Sabres’ skid, Ovi’s hat trick, Oilers win again

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals.  What else can you say about him at this point? He scored three goals in the Washington Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night and now leads the league with 25 goals this season. Read about all of it here, including how he has never scored this many goals 30 games into any season.

2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Sabres snapped their five-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a come-from-behind win against the Los Angeles Kings. It was yet another one-goal game that needed overtime, and it was yet another game where Jeff Skinner came through for them when they needed it. Fourteen of the Sabres’ past 16 games have been decided by just one goal, with 10 of them going to overtime. With that many close games the bounces are not always going to go your way, and the Sabres have experienced both the highs and lows of that randomness during this recent stretch with a 10-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak mixed in. On Tuesday, though, things went the Sabres’ way. Skinner’s goal was his already his 21st goal of the season and his fourth game-winning goal. Three of those game-winning goals have come in overtime, with all of three of those coming since Nov. 23 when this recent stretch of close games began.

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers won again on Tuesday night and officially moved back into a playoff spot thanks to their 6-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of the stars of the night for them with three points, including a pair of goals. The Oilers are now 8-2-1 under new coach Ken Hitchcock.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

William Nylander is officially on the stat sheet for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season thanks to a pair of assists in their 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

— The Colorado Avalanche did not get the win on Tuesday night, but Mikko Rantanen became the first player in the NHL this season to hit the 50-point mark with a four-point effort. He and Nathan MacKinnon, first and second in the points race, are still chasing some rare feats this season.

— Elsewhere in that game Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both had three points to continue their outstanding play in the Edmonton Oilers win.

Brad Marchand, playing alongside David Pastrnak and David Krejci on the Boston Bruins’ top line, scored two goals in their 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes. All three players on the top line had three points in the win.

Kyle Connor played a big role for the Winnipeg Jets in their win over the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring two more goals to continue his strong season.

Highlights of the Night

It was another bad performance with yet another slow start by the Chicago Blackhawks but at least Cam Ward made one of the best saves of the season.

Charlie Coyle helped lead the Minnesota Wild to a much-needed 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens by making Shea Weber look really bad on this play.

The Boston Bruins needed Tuukka Rask to make a big save at the buzzer to secure their win over the Arizona Coyotes.

The Vancouver Canucks rallied late for the win in Columbus with Jake Virtanen‘s goal being the game-winner. Just make sure you get it at the net and good things might happen for you.

For some highlights of the weird check out the glass randomly shattering after a fight in Colorado, and the St. Louis Blues having a goal disallowed on the weirdest play of the season so far.

Factoids

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been a huge part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ success over the years, and they made some history on Tuesday night. That was probably the highlight of the night for the team in their 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

Alex Ovechkin is a force that will not slow down.

Big start to the season for Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba.

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Arizona Coyotes 3

Buffalo Sabres 4, Los Angeles Kings 3 (OT)

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Vancouver Canucks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals 6, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 4, Florida Panthers 3

Nashville Predators 3, Ottawa Senators 1

Minnesota Wild 7, Montreal Canadiens 1

Winnipeg Jets 6, Chicago Blackhawks 4

Edmonton Oilers 6, Colorado Avalanche 4

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Glass smacking fan in Colorado accidentally shatters penalty box glass

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The NHL certainly had its share of weird moments on Tuesday night.

In St. Louis, we had the Blues have a goal disallowed because the puck bounced in the net off of referee Tim Peel.

In Colorado, the glass next to the Edmonton Oilers’ penalty box suddenly shattered following a third period fight involving Matt Calvert and Matt Benning.

It’s hard to see what exactly happened, but a fan next to the penalty box appeared to smack the glass only to have it complete shatter into thousands of pieces. It didn’t seem to be a very hard smack so it is entirely likely it was a defective piece of glass that was probably already broken.

But it was still a bizarre scene that briefly delayed the game.

Here is the fight that started the entire sequence.

The Oilers ended up winning the game thanks to three-point nights from Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, and another strong performance in goal from goalie Mikko Koskinen.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

‘Embarrassing’ first period pushes Blackhawks’ losing streak to eight

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Slow starts have been the calling card for the Chicago Blackhawks this season.

They entered play on Tuesday night in Winnipeg having given up at least the first two goals in eight of their previous 10 games, and it of course happened again in an ugly 6-3 loss to the Jets.

And this slow start seemed to be even worse than all of the previous slow starts.

The Blackhawks not only surrendered three goals in the first period (and a fourth goal just one minute into the second period), they were at one point getting outshot by a 14-0 margin before recording their first shot on goal of the game.

“We didn’t have a shot for like the first what, 15, 16 minutes, maybe even more,” said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after the game. “So pretty embarrassing start.”

[Related: Blackhawks hit bottom in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

“If I had a fix I would have fixed it already,” coach Jeremy Colliton said regarding the starts.

“Compete harder early on. I thought we were late to almost every situation in the first period and they have a really good team. They pressure hard and they make a lot of plays. They play like men out there and we just couldn’t match it in the beginning and we paid a price for it.”

With all of those bad starts the Blackhawks have now lost eight games in a row, 10 out of their past 11, and 19 out of their past 22.

This is already their second eight-game losing streak of the season, and as pointed out by The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus, this is their third eight-game losing streak in their past 63 games.

They are also just 3-12-2 since Colliton replaced Joel Quenneville behind the bench. They were 6-6-3 under Quenneville.

Just about the only positive for the Blackhawks right now is the fact that Dylan Strome continued his strong play since arriving in Chicago via trade with the Arizona Coyotes. He scored his seventh goal of the season in Tuesday’s loss and now has four goals and five total points in his first eight games with the Blackhawks. He only had six points in 20 games with the Coyotes before the trade.

Other than that, though, there is nothing going right for this Blackhawks team.

(PHT’s Scott Billeck contributed to this post)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down

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At 33 years old Alex Ovechkin is not supposed to be scoring goals at this sort of pace.

He is not supposed to be scoring goals the way he was when he was in his mid-20s.

The typical aging curve for NHL players, even the elites, says they are supposed to be slowing down at this point in their career and seeing their numbers slide south in a downward trend.

But as Ovechkin has shown throughout his brilliant career, he is not typical.

He is also not slowing down.

With three more goals on Tuesday night in the Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, the game’s greatest goal-scorer added to his league leading total and now sits atop the NHL with 25 goals through his team’s first 30 games.

He also extending his current point streak to 12 consecutive games.

[Related: Capitals among NHL elites in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

These numbers are impressive, even for Ovechkin. Especially when you consider he has never at any point in his career scored more goals through his team’s first 30 games (22 was his previous high at this point) and is currently on a 68-goal pace for the season.

These numbers are downright comical because they are completely unheard for a player this age. They are bordering on absurd.

Since 1987 no player in the NHL at age 33 or older has ever scored this many goals through 30 games (no one had more than 22).

In the history of the league only 13 different players have recorded a 50-goal season over the age of 30, while only three (Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Hull, and John Buyck) have recorded one at age 33 or older.

Ovechkin is now literally halfway there with still 52 games to play this season.

It would not be unfair to say he has had some puck luck on his side so far, and that was especially true on Tuesday night where two of his goals came off of fluky bounces. He also has a 21.5 percent shooting percentage that is seven points higher than his previous career best (14.6 in 2007-08, when he scored 65 goals) and nine points higher than his career average. That sort of pace is unsustainable in the modern NHL, even for somebody as great as Ovechkin.

But even if he shot at his normal career average (12.6 percent) over the rest of the season that would still be another 25 goals based on his current shot output. That would put him at exactly 50 goals for the season, and what very well might be an eighth goal-scoring crown.

It is expecting a lot given that no one has ever really done anything like this at this age, but would you want to bet against him?

The defending champs have now won 11 of their past 14 games and extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division with Tuesday’s win.

(H/T to Hockey-Reference database for historical goal data in this post)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.