An Original Six showdown, Jagr and more to love for Game 1

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An Original Six matchup for the Stanley Cup Final and Jaromir Jagr back in the Final is just the start of the Game 1 storylines.

NATURAL RIVALS FORM RARE FINAL OPPONENTS

The postseason that featured all six Original Six teams for the first time since 1996 will culminate with the first Stanley Cup Final featuring Original Six teams since 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers in five games.

The Bruins and Blackhawks will meet in the Cup Final for the first time, leaving Blackhawks-Rangers as the only title matchup between NHL founding clubs that has not happened. In fact, the historically sports-mad cities of Chicago and Boston will go head-to-head in a championship final in one of the four major professional sports for only the third time. In 1918, Babe Ruth’s Red Sox defeated the Cubs in six games, and in 1986 (the 1985 season), William “the Refrigerator” Perry and “da Bears” dismantled the Patriots, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX.

Perhaps neither the Bruins nor the Blackhawks feature such an iconic player as the ’18 Red Sox or ’85 Bears, but both teams experienced iconic Game 7 moments versus Original Six opponents in reaching the Cup Final. Boston rallied from 4-1 down in the final 10:42 to shock Toronto in overtime (Patrice Bergeron) in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, while Chicago rallied from three-games-to one down to eliminate Detroit in overtime (Brent Seabrook). It is believed that two teams as deep as the Bruins and Blackhawks could create the same type of drama.

DID YOU KNOW?

Joel Quenneville (CHI, 84) and Claude Julien (BOS, 52) are the first head coaches with more than 50 postseason wins to go head-to-head in a Stanley Cup Final game since Game 7 of the 1994 meeting between Mike Keenan (NYR, 80) and Pat Quinn (VAN, 50).

“Q” NOT SATISFIED WITH STATUS QUO

The Blackhawks made a dent on Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the Western Conference Final series, twice getting four pucks past the defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner and sending him to the showers early in Game 2. The reunion of center Jonathan Toews and right wing Patrick Kane on the top line, with Bryan Bickell on the left side, worked wonders for all three, as they combined for seven goals and eight assists in five games. However, judging by the Hawks’ skate on Tuesday, head coach Joel Quenneville may decide to juggle his top two lines for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, moving wingers Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa up to Toews’ flanks, and bumping Bickell and Kane to the second line outside center Michal Handzus. During media day, Quenneville stated he was looking for “balance” to offset the dominating presence of Zdeno Chara, but that the look could “evolve over the course of the series.”

The bottom two lines could also see slight makeovers, as Brandon Bollig – who has played three games this postseason – is expected to replace Viktor Stalberg on the left wing of the fourth line, while Dave Bolland moves back to the third line alongside Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.

One lineup spot that will not change is goaltender. Corey Crawford, who has won all three Game 1s this postseason while allowing only one goal in each of them, will make his 18th straight start between the pipes for the Blackhawks.

GOALTENDER “TALE OF THE TAPE”

The Stanley Cup Final will feature two goaltenders who have not played in the Cup Final before: Corey Crawford (CHI) and Tuukka Rask (BOS). Rask was the backup to Tim Thomas during the Bruins’ championship run of 2011. Here is a brief look at the goaltender comparison:

TALE OF THE TAPE

Corey Crawford

 

Tuukka Rask

0

Cup Final starts

0

Two or fewer goals allowed in seven of last nine games

Trends

one or fewer goals allowed in last five games (two shutouts)

3-2, 1.49 GAA, .945 save%

Game 1s, career

4-1, 1.64 GAA, .941 save%, shutout

3-0, three goals allowed

Game 1s, 2013

3-0, three goals allowed

1 GP, 0-1, 3 GA, 31-of-34 saves
(Mar. 29, 2011)

Goals: Chara, Boychuk, Horton

vs. opponent, career

1 GP, 0-0, 1 GA, 11-of-12 saves
(Jan. 7, 2010)
Goal: Duncan Keith

JAGR HUNTING FOR ANOTHER TITLE AFTER 21 YEARS

One of the stars of the show on NHL media day was the Bruins’ 41-year-old right winger Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr will make his first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1992, when, as a member of the Penguins, he won his second Cup in successive seasons. The 21-year gap between Cup Finals is the longest interval between championship game or series appearances for an athlete in North American professional sports history.

Jagr came to Boston from the Dallas Stars at the April 3 trade deadline. (He is the only Bruins player who has played against the Blackhawks this season.) The outside consensus was that the 19-year NHL veteran was “Plan B” after a trade to acquire Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames fell through. Jagr scored two goals for the B’s in 11 regular-season games (both game-winners), but has not found the back of the net this postseason, despite playing on a line with playmakers Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. (He is currently riding a 25-game goal drought in the postseason, dating back to 2011-12.) However, he has contributed seven assists, including helpers on four of Bergeron’s five goals.

If the Bruins win the Cup, Jagr will join the late Lester Patrick, as the player with the longest gap between pro hockey titles. Patrick, a defenseman by trade, won the Challenge Cup – which became the Stanley Cup in 1915 – with the Montreal Wanderers of the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, one of the regional pro hockey leagues that helped form the NHL, in 1906 and 1907. He returned to the Cup final with the Victoria Aristocrats in 1914, but lost to the Toronto Blue Shirts. In 1928, while serving as head coach and general manager of the N.Y. Rangers of the NHL, Patrick replaced injured Lorne Chabot in goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, because teams did not usually suit up backup goaltenders, and the Rangers won the first of two Cups in six seasons under Patrick.

PLAYERS WITH MOST SHOTS THIS POSTSEASON, BUT ZERO GOALS

Player Team Shot attempts Shots on goal Goals
Jaromir Jagr Bruins 82 45* 0
Brandon Saad Blackhawks 57 35 0
Nick Leddy Blackhawks 45 25 0
Viktor Stalberg Blackhawks 44 21 0

*Since the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs, only the Carolina Hurricanes’ Joni Pitkanen has registered more shots on goal in an entire postseason without scoring a goal (46). That happened in 2009.

MEDIA DAY QUOTES

“When I had long hair … there were a lot of guys – maybe not that long – but a lot of guys wearing long hair. Now it’s a different style. But it’s going to come back…. 10 years later, you’ll see a lot of guys with long hair.”
Jaromir Jagr

I wore No. 68 when I was playing summer hockey a couple of seasons, I guess. I had his Koho Jagr stick, so I really looked up to him. I was probably 9 or 10, and here I am getting a chance to play against him in the Stanley Cup final.”

Jonathan Toews, on Jagr

“You guys still surprised I am alive? Well, I am. I’m alive.
– Jagr

CONNECTIONS WITH JAGR

  • Michael Frolik (CHI) grew up in Jagr’s hometown of Kladno, Czech Republic. There, as he was working his way up through the HC Kladno club system, he became known as “Baby Jagr” … he was Jagr’s teammate on the Czech bronze medal-winning team at the 2011 World Championships
  • Czechs Frolik, Michal Rozsival (CHI), David Krejci and Jagr (BOS), and Slovaks Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus (CHI) and Zdeno Chara (BOS) were all born in united Czechoslovakia.
  • Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook (CHI) & Patrice Bergeron (BOS) are, like Jagr, members of the Triple Gold Club as winners of the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship gold (as members of Team Canada)
  • Jagr and Rozsival (CHI) were teammates on the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-2001), N.Y. Rangers (2005-07) and gold medal-winning Czech Republic at 2010 IIHF World Championships
  • Pittsburgh natives Matt Bartkowski (BOS) and Brandon Saad (CHI) grew up as Penguins fans during Jagr’s 11-year stint (1990-2001) with the team
  • Three active Blackhawks (Nick Leddy, Andrew Shaw, Saad) and three active Bruins (Torey Krug, Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton) were not even born when Jagr made his NHL debut (Oct. 5, 1990).

 GOVERNORS SUBSTITUTE FEAST FOR PHILANTHROPY

 Title-game wagers between politicians have become the norm these days, but Governors Pat Quinn (Illinois) and Deval Patrick (Massachusetts) have substituted the usual feasting on local culinary delicacies for philanthropy. Following the outcome of the Blackhawks-Bruins series, the loser will volunteer at a food bank of the winner’s choice. If the Blackhawks win, Patrick (who was born in Chicago) will help out at the Greater Chicago Food Depository; if the Bruins win, Quinn will be at the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Sabres fans are fed up with losing, and so is Jack Eichel

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While 24 NHL teams aim to return to play, the Buffalo Sabres will not. Despite seeing a league-leading playoff drought extend to nine consecutive seasons, the Sabres confirmed that GM Jason Botterill will be back. This all translates to deeply frustrating times for Sabres fans — not to mention star Jack Eichel.

And both Eichel and those Sabres fans made some waves with the way they aired their grievances.

Eichel and other Sabres are “fed up with losing”

Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, and other Sabres vented during recent days. In Eichel’s case, he admitted that he’s “fed up with losing.” When you listen to Eichel, you can hear that mixture of fatigue and anger.

Eichel carries a lot of the burden as the Sabres’ biggest star. Yet, as much as Eichel’s suffered through five years of failures, Rasmus Ristolainen absorbed even more over seven. Rumors circulated that Ristolainen wanted out last summer, and he only (kind of) calmed things down later on.

Maybe that sets the stage for some eyebrow-raising comments? Ristolainen told reporters that he realizes that if someone gets traded, he might be the first to go. The defenseman also acknowledged how comments about building toward the future must make everyone sound like a broken record.

No doubt, missing the postseason in such an embarrassing way has to sting Sabres players like Eichel and Ristolainen. The angst also makes it more awkward for Botterill to try to say all the right things.

With cap space opening up and huge needs still lingering, this is a huge offseason for the Sabres. It also could be a long one in a more literal way, if the 2020-21 season starts in, say, December. Clearly, plenty of Sabres players won’t be feeling very patient if the team suffers through another stretch of setbacks.

Fans share discontent — sometimes creatively

It’s clear — and it’s been clear for a while — that Sabres fans are out of patience, too. (Remember Duane?)

Sabres fan Jill Thompson put the team “up for sale” on Craigslist. While the listing was not very surprisingly removed, Thompson shared a screenshot of it on Twitter:

Thompson wrote this in the listing:

For Sale: NHL Hockey Franchise
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Available: ASAP

*Lost team with diehard fanbase looking for wealthy owner who actually understands hockey*

Organization on the cheap. Could be flipped. Major structural damage but few core pieces still in tact.

Non-Negotiable Terms:
-Franchise must stay in current city and is ineligible for relocation.
-Immediate family (i.e. wife) is not eligible for internal position within the organization
-Must provide “team puppy”

Not crazy about the “immediate family” barb personally, but otherwise? Pretty good. Really, all 31 NHL teams should have at least one puppy.

Thompson explained the listing to the Buffalo News, and capturing the mood of many Sabres fans in the process:

“When I post about the Sabres on Twitter, it’s sadly in a negative light and that is because I am upset for the level of disrespect/lack of accountability/neglect of everything down to the smallest details that we are shown from the owners,” Thompson wrote to the Buffalo News. “As one of the most loyal fan bases in all of sports, we deserve better.”

With serious questions lingering regarding goaltending, defense, and forward depth, the Sabres have a long way to go to turn things around. And they might not have a ton of time to win back fans like Thompson.

More on the Sabres

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.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Beleskey helps Ducks’ winning ways in 2015

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This week’s Hockey Happy Hour on NBCSN will feature four notable milestone and record performances.

In the first-ever playoff meeting between these two teams, the series was tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5. Jonathan Toews of Chicago forced an overtime period when he scored two goals with under two minutes left in regulation, but Anaheim’s Matt Beleskey scored the winning goal in overtime for the 5-4 win. With the victory, the Ducks improved to 11-3 in the 2015 postseason, tying the NHL record for the most consecutive games to begin the playoffs without a regulation loss.

Kenny Albert, Joe Micheletti and Brian Engblom had the call from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Thursday, May 28 on NBCSN
• Blackhawks vs. Ducks (2015 Western Conference Final, Game 5) – 5 p.m. ET

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

LA Kings hope late-season surge indicates brighter future

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings were the NHL’s hottest team before the coronavirus pandemic ended the regular season prematurely. They’re hoping they can eventually build on that success whenever they get back on the ice.

The team with the NHL’s longest active winning streak won’t get a chance to extend it this season, thanks to the league’s decision this week to limit its playoff tournament to 24 teams. The Kings’ seven straight victories before the stoppage comprised the franchise’s best stretch since December 2017, and it had even pulled them out of last place in the Pacific Division.

The Kings haven’t lost a game since Feb. 23, and their 10-3-1 surge prior to the pause suggests coach Todd McLellan’s work was finally paying off after Los Angeles mostly struggled through the first four months of a rebuilding season. The Kings’ only public comment on the abrupt end came in a statement from team President Luc Robitaille.

”It’s unfortunate that our season has concluded, but we fully understand this was necessary and support the decision,” Robitaille said. ”At the time of the pause, we had made considerable progress in the second half and were seeing positive results and encouraging signs for the future. We’ll now turn our attention to the NHL draft and player development so that we can continue building our organization for long-term success.”

Despite their late success, the Kings already were all but certain to miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009.

Even after two straight disappointing seasons, Robitaille, general manager Rob Blake and McLellan all appear to be secure in their jobs and locked in on a long-term plan to return the Kings to Stanley Cup contention.

Los Angeles won the trophy twice in three years before entering a slow decline caused by massive veteran contracts and unimpressive talent development, culminating in the struggles that finally showed signs of ending before the coronavirus upended everyone’s plans.

”If we had a chance to finish the season, we’d want to finish the season,” Robitaille said earlier this month. ”Especially the fact that we have a lot of young players, it’s always good experience for them to play.”

CORE GUYS

A championship-winning veteran core remains in Los Angeles, but the Kings must decide whether to keep it together for another year. Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter are all still-productive players locked into big contracts, but Blake knows it’s time to repair the foundation of his franchise to rebuild a winner. Blake values the leadership and experience of those veterans along with longtime depth forward Trevor Lewis, who is the Kings’ most noteworthy unrestricted free agent. Los Angeles already parted ways with stalwart supporting players Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford in February, and while it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect big changes given the contract obstacles, Blake would be foolish not to consider more ways to get younger and more financially flexible.

FIND THE NET

The Kings were among the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams again this season, with Kopitar’s 21 goals and 41 assists easily leading the roster in both categories. Los Angeles had only five 10-goal scorers, while only Kopitar and Alex Iafallo topped 40 points. Despite their offensive struggles, Blake saw progress in the Kings’ implementation of McLellan’s system. ”Clearly we wanted to be a strong-shooting team, a team that got pucks to the net, recovered pucks well and generated offense off that,” Blake said. ”I think the year-end review showed that.”

PING PONG BALLS

The Kings have a 9.5% chance of winning the top pick in the complicated draft lottery this summer. For a franchise that hasn’t drafted a star since Doughty in 2008, a high pick would be an enormous boost. The Kings’ draft carries an added degree of difficulty with the departure of assistant general manager Michael Futa, whose contract expires in June. Still, Los Angeles is in prime position to add another elite talent to a solid pool of prospects including first-rounder Alex Turcotte, Gabe Vilardi, Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo and Tyler Madden.

HIGHLIGHTS

Iafallo’s transformation from an undrafted free agent to a consistent NHL scorer in less than three years has been a rare bright spot for the Kings’ recent record of player acquisitions. Ditto for Sean Walker, an undrafted defenseman who played his way into a regular NHL role. Walker’s 24 points this season nearly matched the prolific Doughty, who had 28.

LOWLIGHTS

Carter has two more years left on his 10-year contract extension, but Blake said earlier this month that the 35-year-old veteran scorer wouldn’t have been able to return from his mysterious core injury even if the NHL season had continued for the Kings. And though Adrian Kempe was the Kings’ fifth-leading scorer, his inconsistency aggravated the front office and coaching staff. The Swede will strive for steadier production in the years ahead.

Killorn, Lightning jet ski their way to NHL return in ‘Bolts are Back’

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During some of the dog days of the pandemic pause, Alex Killorn gathered Lightning teammates for some tremendous-cheesy “Dock Talk” videos. It only makes sense, then, that he gathered the gang (“the boys?”) for the best segment yet to celebrate the NHL’s return to play. Yes, the “Bolts are back,” indeed.*

* – In small groups

Killorn, Steven Stamkos, and other Lightning teammates celebrated this announcement — on jet skis, with humor — to the tune of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are back in town.”

(Warning: that song will probably get in your head if you watch the video above. Maybe it already is?)

Enjoy some of the best moments of Killorn’s great “Bolts are back” video.

Splashy highlights of Killorn, Stamkos, other Lightning players in “Bolts are back”

Killorn makes his “directorial debut” with an honestly very nice overhead pool shot. The video starts strong with Stamkos and Killorn being goofy on their jet skis.

Stamkos "Bolts are Back"
What, Stamkos didn’t spring for fancy airpods? (via Killorn)

In a moment of poor sportsmanship/skismanship, an unnamed Bruin (or, most likely, someone wearing a Bruins shirt?) gets splashed. Figure this one out, Internet. I believe this is the same person who gets dumped in the water (while wearing a Maple Leafs shirt?) later on?

Bruins guy in "Bolts are Back"
Well, that’s rude. (via Killorn)

While there’s plenty of room for debate, I’d argue that Andrei Vasilevskiy (aka “Big Cat”) earns the nod for best cameo. We catch him lifting weights, and grunting something — maybe “you’re the man?” — before spotting his Lightning pals.

Vasilevskiy Big Cat "Bolts are Back"
Do goalies need to be that ripped? Asking for Dominik Hasek. (via Killorn)

Like many great filmmakers, Killorn tackles class when he features Lightning teammate Anthony Cirelli in one of the more memorable sequences of “Bolts are Back.” Notice that Cirelli (“Rocco”) is waiting tables before being summoned. You see, Cirelli is on an entry-level contract. Is his artificially deflated contract being referenced by Killorn?

Clearly.

Judging by Cirelli abandoning his duties, it’s not only good that the Bolts are back, and so seemingly is the NHL. It’s also promising that Cirelli’s due a raise as a pending RFA.

Other cast members

Not every appearance was as strong as a grunting big cat. Then again, maybe it boils down to repeat viewings, because Mikhail Sergachev‘s fanny pack and cat moved up the power rankings over time:

Sergachev cat
Almost a dog-like pose? Not complaining. (via Killorn)

Clearly, Braydon Coburn and/or Killorn are well-schooled on action movie tropes. At least, that’s my headcanon for Coburn being interrupted while cutting wood. Doesn’t that happen in every thriller involving a reluctantly returning hero? Anyway, Coburn joining the group with an open shirt earns one of the bigger laughs:

Braydon Coburn cameo
Alrighty then, “Kobayashi.” (via Killorn)

Killorn isn’t yet at that “obsessive auteur director” level just yet, as I imagine a control freak would have been maddened by the imperfect skiing V:

imperfect V "Bolts are back"
Maddening. (via Killorn)

(Seriously, who is the straggler? Could Cirelli’s jet ski not keep up? Class rears its ugly head again.)

Killorn ties it all together with another great joke: “The Bolts are back” — in small groups.

"Bolts are Back" -- in small groups
(via Killorn)

Killorn actually might be right about the whole “breakout influencer of the year” thing, honestly.

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.