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.

Oilers finally fire GM Chiarelli: report

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It is done.

It would appear that a loss to the last place Detroit Red Wings was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. And man, that camel was a stubborn such and such.

The Oilers reportedly fired general manager Peter Chiarelli late Tuesday after another miserable outing in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday, a move that the club is expected to formally announce on Wednesday.

The move, of course, was a long-time coming.

Chiarelli had failed to move the team forward, and in the eyes of many Oilers fans, only moved the team in the opposite direction.

The Oilers went from the Western Conference Final to one of the most disappointing teams in 2017-18. Perhaps it was just a fluke. Surely, a team sporting the best player in hockey couldn’t be held down for too long.

Tuesday’s loss, Edmonton’s third straight and perhaps most embarrassing of the season, was proof even McJesus can’t save this bunch alone.

The Oilers own a 23-24-3 record, shockingly just three points out of a playoff spot and yet still likely insurmountable.

In his wake, a litany disastrous moves that may take a while to make right after Chiarelli’s three-and-a-half years in northern Alberta.

We’re reminded of Milan Lucic’s contract, that Griffin Reinhart deal and others that saw good players — Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle — leave with less than adequate players coming to replace them.

More recently, the trade of Drake Caggulia for Brandon Manning, and the very recent three-year, $13.5 million deal for Mikko Koskinen, one based on less than 40 NHL games, a career .905 save percentage, and equipped with a limited no-trade clause just so Chiarelli’s legacy will live on in Edmonton all the longer.

Yeah, there’s a mess on a few aisles that need a major cleanup.

But by who? What the future holds is anyone’s guess at the moment.

In the interim, Sportsnet’s John Shannon said a member of the Gretzky family will take the reins in some fashion.

Keith Gretzky will assume many of Chiarelli’s duties in the next few weeks, with Vice Chairman Bob Nicholson being more involved until they find a new GM.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ken Hitchcock, who just took over as head coach earlier this season after the team fired Todd McLellan, take over the post at some point. He appears to want to stay in Edmonton.

It also wouldn’t be surprising to see some recycling, either. That’s kind of par for the course in Edmonton, re-using old parts hoping they work like new again. Canning a GM mid-season isn’t common.

That would be a shame, however.

Edmonton deserves a clean slate, from top to bottom. This isn’t going to be the first “rebuild.” It’s not the second or third either.

Connor McDavid deserves a better fate.

Oilers fans deserve a better team. God knows they’ve been starving for one for a long while.


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

Capitals’ Ovechkin to play Wednesday, sit first game after all-star break

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Alex Ovechkin will serve his punishment for missing the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in the Washington Capitals first game back after the break.

Ovechkin, who could have chosen to sit Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, is choosing to play instead as the Capitals look to end a six-game losing streak before an extended weekend off.

Ovi will now miss the team’s Feb. 1 meeting with the Calgary Flames.

The move appears to be purely based on where the Capitals are at the moment, and that’s in a rut. The six-game losing streak has a seen them fall out of first place with just three wins in their past 10 games.

Despite the back-to-back nature of Wednesday’s game — the Caps blew a two-goal third-period lead in a 7-6 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday — Ovechkin and the Caps will host a Toronto team that’s lost three straight and seven out of their past 10. The game, then, is a better opportunity to snap the winless skid. There isn’t a team hotter than the Calgary Flames, so it makes sense.


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

The Buzzer: Hertl, Ovechkin trade hat tricks in 13-goal game

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Three stars

1. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

In a game that featured 13 goals and two hat tricks, it was Hertl’s night that stood out amongst his peers.

Hertl scored one of the hat tricks and added an assist for his four-point night. Hertl was instrumental in the third period, scoring the goal to bring the Sharks to 6-5 and then assisting on Evander Kane‘s second of the game with one second left in the third period to send it to overtime.

In the extra hockey portion, Hertl finished the hat trick, scoring the game-winner at 1:48. It’s his second hat trick of the season, and second this month.

The Sharks won 7-6.

Here are the highlights:

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

It’s almost as if Ovechkin dangles the thought of someone catching him in the goal-scoring race, only to separate himself every time someone gets close. He’s just playing with those chasing him down.

Ovechkin notched another hat trick on Tuesday, scoring goals No. 34 thru 36 in the Capitals sixth straight loss. That’s 23 career hat tricks for Ovi, which are broken down here:

3. Luke Glendening, Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings will head into their mandated week off on a high (and not in last place in the NHL) after Glendening scored a brace in a 3-2 win over the embattled Edmonton Oilers.

His first of the game came as he slipped in behind the Oilers defense and tapped in a shot past Mikko Koskinen. His second, the game-winner, came on a nice move to the net, slipping the puck past Koskinen.

Highlights of the night

The Hands of Kane:

Talk about cutting it close:

Factoids

Scores

Sharks 7, Capitals 6 (OT)
Coyotes 3, Senators 2
Blackhawks 3, Islanders 2 (SO)
Flames 3, Hurricanes 2 (SO)
Red Wings 3, Oilers 2


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

New contract, same result as Koskinen, Oilers fall to Red Wings

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A shiny new $4.5 million contract couldn’t help Mikko Koskinen stop the puck any better, nor could it help the Edmonton Oilers outscore their opponent on Tuesday night.

A day after the most puzzling contract extension in a long time, Koskinen allowed a couple softies to the basement-dwelling Detroit Red Wings as the Oilers lost 3-2 in another miserable effort on NBSCN.

All eyes were on Koskinen and the Oilers after Monday’s developments. After 40 minutes on Tuesday, Oilers fans were booing their team off the ice. Not a good sign, but perhaps not one that was all that surprising or unfamiliar.

Allowing goals like this was a big part of the problem for the Oilers, and Koskinen — despite the big-money deal — hasn’t been preventing too many of them lately.

Just listen to Ray Ferraro’s reaction on this one:

Koskinen actually made a couple of quality saves in the game, but then there was this sort of thing where he just chucked sound goalie positioning out the window.

After two periods, it was so bad that NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick put the Oilers on blast.

“I’m just sitting here watching this game and shaking my head,” Roenick said. “I’m boggled that this is a professional hockey league team. The Edmonton Oilers are so bad. They can’t put two passes together. Their passing decisions. Their positioning defensively. They look, in all three zones, they looked confused. They have no idea where they are going. They are throwing hope-for passes up the ice hoping that they catch somebody in a rush where they can get an out-numbered situation. They might have good skaters, fast skaters, but their feet and their hands go so much faster than their brains. They have no idea what they are doing out there and it shows so much.

“You’ve got the Detroit Red Wings, and God bless them, the worst team in the National Hockey League by points [with] 43, and they look like the Stanley Cup champions compared to this Edmonton Oilers team. I can understand why Connor McDavid is as frustrated as he is. He’s on the only guy that’s working, the only guy doing something smart with the puck.

“We talk about hockey IQ, and some players with great hockey IQ. This team might have, from 18 players, the lowest hockey IQ I’ve seen in a long time, the way they’re playing this game. It’s embarrassing. I can understand why there were boos for this team going off the ice after the second period. It’s just awful to watch.”

The Oilers responded, scoring twice in the third period, including this one from Leon Draisaitl to give fans some hope.

It wouldn’t be enough, however.

Jimmy Howard continued his dominance against the Oilers, now 14-2-0 in his past 16 starts against Edmonton after making 32 saves.

Koskinen finished with 24 saves on 27 shots for another sub-.900 save percentage outing — his third straight. Koskinen has a .910 save percentage on the year and is .905 in his brief NHL career.

The Red Wings moved out of the NHL’s basement with the win while the Oilers lost their third straight and sixth in their past 10. The crazy thing is Edmonton is just three points back of a playoff spot as of Tuesday night.

The saga continues…


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