Five Thoughts: The strange twists and turns of Game 5 between Boston and Tampa Bay

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Two games in a row between Boston and Tampa Bay we’ve seen one team dominate the first period of play only to get the script flipped on them and the game taken in the other direction. It happened to Boston in Game 4 and Tampa Bay last night in Game 5. With the Bruins overcoming the Lightning in Game 5 to earn a tough win, they’re in control of the series but they’ll need to stay strong to resist Tampa Bay in Game 6 in order to prevent a Game 7.

1. After such a one-sided first period that saw Tampa Bay control the play and pepper Tim Thomas with 14 shots, as opposed to four Boston shots, it looked like Thomas was going to have to break out an otherworldly kind of performance in order to help the Bruins to victory. While the pace of the game swung in Boston’s favor over the final two periods, Thomas still had to be sharp when Tampa Bay got their chances and he did so with aplomb. It’s amazing what a team can pull off when they’ve got a goaltender playing above and beyond the call of duty to help you win. The Bruins rally in the second period can be singled out on how well Thomas held it together in the first. While the Bruins have had their ups and downs, Thomas has been as steady as ever.

2. Speaking of goaltending, it appeared that Guy Boucher put himself in a hole after Mike Smith’s incredible play in Game 5. After all, you couldn’t hang the loss on Smith’s play as he allowed two goals in 19 shots leading many to believe there might be a goalie controversy heading into Game 6. Boucher put all that talk to a stop today by saying Dwayne Roloson would start Game 6.

What we won’t stop talking about here is what kept Roloson from starting Game 5. After all, Roloson was the guy who got the Lightning to the playoffs and held strong for them through the first two rounds of the playoffs, why change that up? We’ll have our own theories all the while but you have to wonder if Roloson at age 41 just maybe needed a night off. There’s some speculating that perhaps Roloson is banged up and others saying that Roloson needed a break after putting up some subpar performances in this series. If it’s an injury we’ll find out about it when Tampa Bay’s playoff run is over. If it’s not… We’ll have even more questions for Guy Boucher.

3. One guy for Boston that’s doing nothing to dispel the talk about his lack of importance is Tomas Kaberle. While Kaberle showed some signs of doing things positively (blocking shots for instance) that’s not the total role he’s there to play for the Bruins. He’s there to generate offense and lead the power play and he’s doing neither of those things, leading to some people wondering if he should be benched.

In Game 5 he had just 13:06 of ice time and 3:43 of that was spent on the power play. The 9:23 of even strength time he had was the fewest amongst Bruins defensemen by a lot and towards the end of the game Claude Julien shortened his defensive bench up excluding Kaberle from situations and opting to double up the minutes for Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference.

In a time when the Bruins were hanging on to a one goal lead that makes some sense, but considering how important Kaberle was meant to be to this Bruins team, it’s a huge disappointment to see him being buried as essentially the team’s sixth defenseman. With Kaberle set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, his marketability is shrinking dramatically in these playoffs.

4. It’s a fascinating study to see what’s going on with Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie just in this series alone. We’ve seen him wrongly get busted for diving in Game 4 and last night we saw him get questionably called for boarding Johnny Boychuk while an obvious trip by Andrew Ference on Downie went uncalled late in the game. We understand that as a player’s career goes on they can earn a bad reputation and not get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to penalties, but Downie this season has been a bit of a different player.

He’s not as abrasive as Sean Avery can be and he’s not the cheap shot artist the way Matt Cooke can be, he’s able to play with an edge and be productive as well. He’s sort of a modern day Pat Verbeek in that way but with the way he acted out early in his career in Philadelphia, he’s not getting any of the breaks. It can be tough to see from a Tampa perspective because when Downie is wronged, there’s no sympathy for him because of past aggressions. That doesn’t make it right that he’s still apparently judged by them.

5. One thing that we never counted on seeing this year is how Tampa Bay would be counting on Marc-Andre Bergeron in all their big offensive need situations. Whether it’s on the power play or late in the game with an extra attacker, Bergeron is being counted upon heavily by Guy Boucher. We know that Guy Boucher has some familiarity with Bergeron previously in his days with the Hamilton Bulldogs, but Bergeron’s been a bit of an NHL nomad existing with a big shot from the blue line and the ability to help produce on the power play. That said, seeing him on the ice in a dire situation with an empty net behind him and the desperate need to get another goal is tough to watch.

Tampa Bay doesn’t exactly have a big offensive producer on the blue line so the job basically falls to Bergeron but as we’ve seen from him in the past he’s got a penchant for turnovers. Seeing him give up the puck that led to Boston’s empty net goal to ice the game wasn’t exactly a shock. If there’s a hole in Tampa’s game it’s that they don’t have that big offensive threat on defense. Perhaps it’d be a bit different if Pavel Kubina were healthy.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

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.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

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.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

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.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

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.