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.

Somehow, Artemi Panarin is in trade rumors again

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One reaction to the head-spinning series of trades that sent Mike Hoffman to the Florida Panthers was that the trade market for big-time forwards dried up considerably. Would the Montreal Canadiens see less interest in Max Pacioretty with Hoffman off the table and the Panthers no longer shopping, for example?

Well, we might not need to worry about the market drying up, depending upon how one very interesting situation plays out.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Columbus Blue Jackets are “testing the market” for Artemi Panarin after Panarin revealed that he’s not yet ready to discuss a contract extension.

Panarin, 26, can become an unrestricted free agent after his $6 million cap hit expires following the 2018-19 season. One can absolutely understand why Panarin would want to maximize his value during the summer of 2019. Despite earning a Calder Trophy in 2015-16 and basically being a star since he entered the NHL following a strong KHL career, Panarin’s been in a tough spot when it comes to leverage, whether it be during his Chicago Blackhawks days or now with Columbus.

So it makes a lot of sense that Panarin wants the freedom to “test the market” himself.

It also is sensible that Columbus wants to gauge its financial future regarding Panarin and others.

The 2019 summer stands as a terrifying obstacle for the Blue Jackets, as Sergei Bobrovsky stands alongside Panarin as a pending UFA who could be in line for a big raise (even more than Bob’s current cap hit of $7.425M).

If that isn’t enough to make you mutter a “yikes,” consider that superstar defenseman Zach Werenski and coveted backup Joonas Korpisalo are both slated to become RFAs next off-season.

To recap: the Blue Jackets don’t know how much it would cost to retain Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Werenski after next season.

/insert another yikes.

By just about every measure, Panarin proved that he wasn’t merely Patrick Kane‘s running mate during his first season in Columbus. Panarin’s 82 points weren’t just a career-high, they also topped all Blue Jackets scorers by 25 points.

(Seth Jones came in second with 57. You have to reach all the way down to rookie Pierre Luc-Dubois’ 48 points to find the next highest-scoring Blue Jackets forward. Yeah.)

Oh yeah, Panarin was also a force during Columbus’ series against the Washington Capitals, scoring an overtime game-winner that oozed swagger:

That skill and swagger will come at a cost, and maybe the Blue Jackets would be forced to cut their losses via a trade? If Panarin is truly available, then any contender should go big to try to land him. His skills and affordable $6M cap hit make him a true game-changer.

Of course “testing the market” doesn’t mean that the Blue Jackets are likely to make a move. This could be more like dipping a toe in the water rather than diving in the deep end.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen provided the response you would expect to Friedman:

Still, it’s fascinating to imagine all of the possibilities. Could the Vegas Golden Knights absorb some of Columbus’ other cap worries to grease the wheels? Might the Penguins improbably move Phil Kessel in some sort of mega-trade? Maybe the San Jose Sharks would get in on the star winger, or could it be the offense-needy Blues? (Remember, Vladimir Tarasenko campaigned enthusiastically for Panarin before he signed his first NHL deal.)

It’s all a lot of fun to think about, as people arguably still don’t realize how great Panarin is.

Well, it’s fun to get your imagination going unless you’re a fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then you’re fearful that your team’s first true “gamebreaking” forward might just break your heart.

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.

Will Hoffman, Panthers get the last laugh?

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Some of the hottest rivalries in hockey intensified on Tuesday.

No, not Penguins – Capitals or Bruins – Canadiens. Not even Matthew Tkachuk versus the Kings or Brad Marchand against that frozen pole in “A Christmas Story.”

Instead, two of Hockey Twitter’s favorite punchlines united – eventually – as Mike Hoffman (who will never want to scroll Twitter again) was traded to the Florida Panthers (who may never stop hearing about sending Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to Vegas … at least on Twitter).

You could almost feel snarky hockey fans thanking the Panthers for efficiently consolidating their jokes into one spot. (Granted, not all of their jokes; the Canadiens and Senators are still reliable for that.)

The juicy part is that maybe, just maybe, Hoffman and the Panthers can band together to get the last laugh against their hecklers?

Let’s dig a little deeper on the shared motivations for the team and their newly acquired top-six winger.

The Panthers finished the season on a tear

Yes, Florida missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, giving them plenty of opportunities to painfully watch the Vegas Golden Knights’ deep run from the comfort of their own homes. (They probably opted to go to the beach or play golf instead, but still.)

It’s easy to forget how strong a push the Cats made for one of the East’s final playoff spots, though.

As a reminder, the Panthers finished with 96 points, leaving them a mere point behind the New Jersey Devils for the East’s final wild card spot after ending 2017-18 on a five-game winning streak. Consider that, since the calendar turned to 2018, Florida went 27-14-3. That tied them for seventh overall in points (57) during that span, and their 27 wins was the fifth-best mark.

(Again, not in the conference, but in the entire NHL.)

Pieces falling into place

While it’s fun to mock GM Dale Tallon’s decisions during the 2017 summer – by all means, keep the chuckles coming – it’s not true to say that every choice was a poor one.

That’s particularly poignant if the Panthers believed that they couldn’t add Evgenii Dadonov without getting rid of Reilly Smith.

During his first NHL season since 2011-12, the Russian winger generated 28 goals and 65 points in 74 games. Smith and Dadonov bring a lot of things to the table, including both forwards standing as strong possession players.

Dadonov wasn’t just a fantastic addition. He was also effective enough that the Panthers were starting to find a better balance among their top forwards.

Eventually, Nick Bjugstad enjoyed some of the best stretches of his career finishing chances created by Dadonov and Aleksander Barkov, as that trio formed one of the league’s scariest top lines. Meanwhile, Jonathan Huberdeau trickled down to the second line, and he really seemed to build something promising with Vincent Trocheck.

Now, the natural joke is to say “Wow, now imagine how great they’d be with all of those guys alongside Marchesssault and Smith?”

That’s fair, but it might not be that simple for a budget team.

And also …

Adding a key piece

… Hoffman could really make things interesting, and dull some of the ache that comes with being a go-to punchline on social media.

Florida (claims to) give Hoffman a clean slate, while Hoffman brings undeniable sniping abilities to a roster that could be downright scary if they don’t need to make any key subtractions this summer.

The 28-year-old scored 22 goals last season, which was actually his lowest total since he began his 20+ goal streak in 2014-15. Hoffman’s 104 goals ranks 24th in the NHL during that timeline, leaving him ahead of players such as James Neal, Taylor Hall, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele.

It’s notable that, with a $5.19 million cap hit, Hoffman also fits into the mix of Panthers forwards who are solid-to-ridiculous bargains (Barkov being the biggest steal as a true star at just $5.9M per year). With two years of term remaining, the Panthers get some cost certainty while Hoffman should be hungry to drive up his value in the market.

Of course, considering all of the things people will be snickering about on Twitter, his value is almost certain to go up.

***

As a veritable scamp, I can’t in good consciousness advise people to stop making jokes about the Panthers and/or Hoffman. That would be like asking Alex Ovechkin not to enjoy his time with the Stanley Cup.

That said, there’s a decent chance that Hoffman and the Panthers could silence at least some of their critics next season. Or at least win enough games to change the tone of some of the mockery.

Update: Hoffman provided this statement on the move.

More on the Mike Hoffman trade

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.

NBC Sports to present exclusive coverage of 2018 NHL Draft, NHL Awards

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NBC Sports will present live, exclusive coverage of the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft this Friday, with NHL Live at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.  In addition, NBCSN will televise the NHL Awards on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET from Las Vegas, as the NHL celebrates the top performers of the 2017-18 season from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

2018 NHL DRAFT FROM DALLAS – FRIDAY AT 7:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

The 2018 NHL Draft is headlined by Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin, a 6-foot-3 defenseman who tallied seven goals and 13 assists with Frölunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League in 2017-18. Dahlin, who is widely considered as the top prospect in the draft, can become just the sixth defenseman taken first overall since 1994.

A trio of forwards – Andrei Svechnikov (Russia) of the Barrie Colts (Ontario Hockey League), Brady Tkachuk (United States) of Boston University (Hockey East), and Filip Zadina (Czech Republic) of the Halifax Mooseheads (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) – are also expected to be early first-round selections. Svechnikov scored 40 goals in 44 games for the Colts in 2017-18, Tkachuk led Boston University with 23 assists and finished fourth on the team in scoring, and Zadina totaled 44 goals and 38 assists for the Mooseheads. Three Americans, including Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes (University of Michigan) and Oliver Wahlstrom (U.S. National Under-18 Team), are projected to be picked early in the first round.

The New York Rangers lead all teams with three selections in the first round (9th, 26th, and 28th), and Original Six teams have a combined nine first-round picks this year.

Liam McHugh and Kathryn Tappen will host coverage alongside Emmy Award-winning analyst Pierre McGuire and NHL Insiders Bob McKenzie, Craig Button and Darren Dreger. Coverage will include a pre-game feature on the friendship formed between Tkachuk and Hughes, and a segment on Wahlstrom, who became famous at the age of nine for a trick shot he performed before a Bruins game at TD Garden.

2018 NHL Draft order

2018 NHL AWARDS FROM LAS VEGAS – WEDNESDAY AT 8 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

The 2018 NHL Awards will recognize the best regular-season players in a variety of categories, including most valuable player (Hart Trophy), outstanding goaltender (Vezina Trophy), outstanding defenseman (Norris Trophy) and outstanding rookie (Calder Trophy). The Ted Lindsay Award, which is presented annually to the “most outstanding player” in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), will also will be awarded. Vegas Golden Knights’ George McPhee and Gerard Gallant are finalists for General Manager of the Year and the Jack Adams Award, respectively. New Jersey’s Taylor Hall, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon are all finalists for the Hart Trophy.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Hart Trophy
Ted Lindsay Award
Jack Adams Award

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
King Clancy Trophy
Calder Trophy

Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy
GM of the Year

Humboldt Broncos to reunite at NHL Awards show

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The Humboldt Broncos will be reuniting in Las Vegas this week, as 10 of the surviving members of the team will be honored at the NHL Awards on Wednesday night.

Nine of the 10 players flew from Calgary to Vegas on Monday, while the 10th person, Ryan Straschnitzki, travelled from Philadelphia, where he’s undergoing physiotherapy.

On April 6th, 16 people were killed and 13 more were injured when a semi-trailer hit the Broncos bus in Saskatchewan. Since then, the hockey community has rallied to help support the wounded players and the families who lost loved ones on the bus. The GoFundMe campaign aimed to raise money for the families affected by the crash raised an incredible $15 million.

“It’s just going to be great to see everyone,” said Xavier LaBelle, per the Canadian Press. “It’ll be pretty emotional, but we’ll be there for each other.”

The NHL Awards will also feature special commemorations for the first responders and survivors of the Vegas shooting that occurred in October and the hockey team of the Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida.

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.