PHT Predicts the Eastern Conference finals

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With the start of the conference finals tonight, the waiting and anticipation is over with and the talk and analyzing of the teams and players before they hit the ice  can end. There is just one more piece of business to attend to here though: The predictions.

With the way these two teams are set up we could be in for a classic, yet potentially defensive-minded, series. You’ve got the two best goalies statistically remaining in the playoffs in Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson, a crushing defense from Boston highlighted by Zdeno Chara, and a skilled offense from Tampa Bay featuring the likes of Martin St. Louis, Steve Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier.

With all that said, it’s time for us to put up or shut up.

James says:

The striking thing about this series is that both teams followed such similar paths to this destination. Each squad faced two-game deficits in the first round (Boston was down 2-0, Tampa Bay fought back from 3-1) against scrappy but over-matched teams then proceeded to sweep talented but messy squads in Round 2. Both teams can bore you to tears with their conservative defensive systems yet heighten your senses with their elderly goalies, whether it be 41-year-old wonder Dwayne Roloson or 37-year-old highlight reel Tim Thomas.

The prospect of the Bruins dealing with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier without the benefit of Patrice Bergeron’s criminally underrated two-way game is a bit stomach-churning. Then again, the Tampa Bay offense hasn’t seen the likes of Zdeno Chara in the playoffs yet, either. Boston doesn’t have the high-end firepower of the Washington Capitals, but they sport what could be a troubling (if diluted) mixture of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ doggedness and the Capitals’ finishing ability. (At least when you consider the Lightning defense, an area of serious – if unexploited – concern.)

The Lightning haven been considerably more productive on special teams, but the Bruins are an absolute bear in 5-on-5 situations. During the regular season, the Bruins scored the third most goals in the East while allowing the fewest, producing a conference-best +51 goal differential to Tampa Bay’s +7. When in doubt, those big picture numbers help me split hairs, especially since Boston took the teams’ season series 3-1 (outscoring them 15-8).

I could very well see the Bolts winning this series, but I cannot shake the feeling that they are this year’s answer to the 2010 Montreal Canadiens while the Bruins are – humorously enough – this year’s 2010 Philadelphia Flyers. My guess is that the forces of puck luck will be stomped out by the big, bad bearers of reality in this series.

Boston wins it in 6.

Joe says:

This series has the high potential to be a defensive stand-off with coaches Claude Julien and Guy Boucher both stressing the finer points of tough strategy. That could mean we end up getting bored to death by how these teams decide to go at it though. That wouldn’t be too fun. Thankfully both of these teams know how to push the pace of the game when needed. For Tampa Bay that means taking advantage of the power play and making opponents pay for reckless play. For Boston, it means hemming the other team into their own end and pounding away with both shots and the body to open up space.

Tampa Bay is loaded with character guys who are melding together into something like Voltron that when they’re all together working as a unit they’re nearly unbeatable. Boston, however, is the robotic beast they didn’t want to run into. Boston’s playing too tough and Tim Thomas will be the difference maker in this series.

I like Boston here and in cardiac fashion.

Bruins in 7.

The Buzzer: Couturier’s first hatty; Duchene sticks it to Avalanche

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Three stars

1. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Couts, as some call him, notched his first career hat trick in a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey. Obviously, that’s a great feat for him, but he also helped the Flyers win consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 20, so it was also good for the team that has been mostly in nose-dive mode this year.

Couturier has 19 goals now on the season. A special mention here goes to Carter Hart, the Flyers netminder, who stood tall, stopping 39-of-42 sent his way in a game where the Flyers were outshot 42-19.

Priority No. 1 in Philly is making sure Hart gets some help going forward.

2. Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators

Duchene stuck it to his old team in a 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche.

The 28-year-old, who the Senators badly need to re-sign, scored twice in the game put it out of reach and added an assist on the game-winner.

Duchene has 20 goals on the year now, the seventh time he’s done that in his 10-year NHL career.

3. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres needed this one.

Stuck in a three-game slide, the Sabres were quickly falling down the Eastern Conference standings. And having to play the Calgary Flames, with five straight victories heading into Wednesday — and on the road to boot — wasn’t an easy task.

But Eichel scored with 1:10 into overtime to give the Sabres a much-needed win. The Sabres captain has 16 goals on the year now and 51 points after adding a third-period assist on rookie Rasmus Dahlin‘s fifth.

Highlights of the night

Couturier made the hats fly in Philly:

No panic in Panik:

Get over here!

Ullmark’d:

Chabot threads that needle:

Factoids

Scores

Senators 5, Avalanche 2
Flyers 4, Bruins 3
Sabres 4, Flames 3 (OT)
Oilers 3, Canucks 2 (SO)
Coyotes 6, Sharks 3


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

Ducks make a hat trick of deals Wednesday as re-tooling continues

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When you’ve lost as many games in a row as the Anaheim Ducks have recently — and you’ve publicly backed your head coach — the only thing left to do is throw a stick of dynamite into the locker room to shake things up.

That’s precisely what Bob Murray has done over the last several hours (and the past couple of days). In fact, at the time of writing this, the top three posts on the Ducks’ website are three media releases involving trades. Scroll a little further down, and another trade appears.

That’s four trades in the span of three days. You can’t say Murray isn’t trying (although the debate will rage on whether these trades really move the needle at all).

The Ducks acquired center Justin Kloos from the Minnesota Wild for winger Pontus Aberg late Wednesday afternoon. Kloos, who has only played in one NHL game this season (and the rest in the American Hockey League for Iowa) led the Wild’s farm team in points and was tied for the most goals.

Aberg, meanwhile, has been a healthy scratch recently after initially showing well to start the season. Alas, his 11 goals and eight assists were cutting it, even if he was near the top of the Ducks’ scoring leaders.

[RELATED: Ducks get younger, ship Cogliano to Stars for Shore]

Michael Del Zotto was watching the Vancouver Canucks lose 3-2 in a shootout to the Edmonton Oilers when he was beckoned by Murray in exchange for fellow defenseman Luke Schenn and a seventh-round draft pick in 2020.

Del Zotto was a healthy scratch on Wednesday, something he’s been quite a bit this season. Schenn, meanwhile, has spent most of the season playing for the San Diego Gulls in the AHL.

And the last trade of the day brought a familiar face back to the west coast.

Forward Derek Grant returns to Anaheim after signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent in the offseason. Grant played in 66 games last season with the Ducks, scoring 12 goals and adding 12 assists.

In 25 games with the Pens, he found the back of the net just twice, adding three helpers.

The Ducks sent center Joseph Blandisi the other way. Blandisi was a sweetener in the Adam Henrique-for-Sami Vatanen trade between Anaheim and the New Jersey Devils last season. He only played six games with the Ducks since arriving last winter, an has no goals and no points in those games.

Murray made his biggest splash on the first deal he made on Monday, sending Andrew Cogliano to Dallas for Devin Shore.

MORE: Who has the inside track in the Western Conference wildcard race?


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

Coyotes end Sharks unbeaten run to start 2019

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And then there were none.

The last team to avoid losing in 2019 has now lost. The Arizona Coyotes took advantage of San Jose Sharks team playing the second half of a back to back in a 6-3 win on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, snapping the Sharks seven-game unbeaten run to begin the new year.

The Coyotes looked solid in the game, unlike a team in their lowly position in the Western Conference. The Sharks looked tired at times, despite a late-game push that briefly put them within a goal of tying the game.

Lawson Crouse and Richard Panik gave Arizona a 2-0 lead inside the first five minutes of the game. Panik’s goal proved to be of added significance for the Coyotes, as it was their 12th shorthanded goal of the season to establish a new franchise record.

The scoring frenzy continued, with Kevin Labanc pulling the Sharks within one at 6:53 of the opening frame. But Arizona emerged from the break and fired two more past Aaron Dell, who got the start after Martin Jones engineered a 22-save performance in a 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.

Dell saw 38 shots in the game, ending with 34 saves.

Darcy Kuemper got the start for Arizona, stopping 26-of-29 and has now won four consecutive starts.

Evander Kane Logan Couture brought the Sharks to 4-2 with less than five minutes left in the third, but an unwarranted penalty from Timo Meier (and a horrible giveaway from Erik Karlsson) allowed Alex Galchenyuk to seal it. Josh Archibald flung in an empty netter with less than a minute to go and that was that.

Arizona has been on a bit of a role, despite getting thrashed 7-1 by the Calgary Flames on Sunday. They had won three straight before that and now have wins in four of their past five to keep them within four points of the final wild card in the West.

The Sharks remain two points back of those Flames for tops in the Pacific Division. Calgary has a game in hand and lost to Buffalo in overtime on Wednesday.


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

Couturier’s hat trick, Hart’s 39 saves help Flyers hold on against Bruins

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It’s not a sustainable winning formula — getting wildly outshot — but the Philadelphia Flyers will take wins any way they can get them these days.

It certainly helps when their players are scoring hat tricks, however. And just scoring in general.

James van Riemsdyk notched his hat trick in a 7-4 win against the Minnesota Wild on Monday, and it was Sean Couturier’s turn with his first career hatty in a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN.

And it helps to have Carter Hart, who has now won three of his past four starts (and has seen 35 or more shots in four of his past five).

Hart stopped 39 of the 42 pucks sent his way as the Flyers were outshot 42-19.

Hart’s now responsible for two wins on the trot, something the Flyers haven’t experience since Dec. 20. Winning hasn’t come easy in the City of Brotherly love. It’s been a tough season, so silver linings are are the small victories in what appears to be a lost season.

[RELATED: NASCAR champ Martin Truex Jr. goes between the benches]

The Bruins were largely unlucky in the game after controlling two-thirds of the possession, creating 62 shot attempts five-on-five.

Boston had won six of their past eight coming into the game but lost 3-2 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

With David Backes made a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game, Boston jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period, including the first NHL goal by Backes’ replacement, Peter Cehlarik.

The Flyers would go on to score four unanswered, with Oscar Lindblom getting the ball rolling and Couturier’s natural hat trick putting the Flyers into a 4-2 lead in the third.

Cehlarik added to his impressive debut by scoring with 56 seconds left in the game but wasn’t enough to get the Bruins to overtime.

Meanwhile, Jori Lehtera was tossed from the game at 16:48 of the second period when he drilled Ryan Donato right on the numbers, sending the latter’s face crashing into the glass.

Donato was bloodied on the play and needed to leave the game to get cleaned up.

Lehtera was given a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct (and likely a long, hard look from the league for the non-sensical hit).

The Bruins were only able to get three shots on goal during the man-advantage.


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