PHT Morning Skate: Blackhawks put 2013 Cup victory behind them

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

With their White House visit behind them, the Chicago Blackhawks have closed the books on their 2013 Stanley Cup-winning campaign. (CSN Chicago)

Former Edmonton Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger doesn’t take any pleasure in seeing the team struggle after he was fired over the summer. (Edmonton Journal)

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $3,000 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Tuesday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $600. Starts at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the link.

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland has been asked to serve as a forward lately and has looked “completely comfortable” in that role. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Recently acquired forward Thomas Vanek sees parallels between New York Islanders captain John Tavares and their teammate Kyle Okposo. The 25-year-old forward has surpassed expectations so far with four goals and 17 points in 14 games this season. (Newsday)

Meanwhile Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Hamilton practiced as a blueliner on Monday. Defensemen Justin Schultz and Anton Belov are injured, but Hamilton won’t actually serve as a defenseman on Tuesday. The team summoned Taylor Fedun from AHL Oklahoma to help fill the void. (Edmonton Sun)

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been quietly and vastly surpassing expectations. (ESPN.com)

Highlights from Anaheim’s 2-1 win over the New York Rangers:

Explaining the unpredictable Round 1 results

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The story of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been all about upsets and a bunch of teams you’re not used to seeing this time of year making unexpected runs.

All four division winners lost in Round 1, five lower-seeded teams in total advanced, and a lot of the traditional powers that we have come to expect to be playing this time of year are already finished. Chicago and Los Angeles didn’t even make the playoffs. Pittsburgh, Washington, and Tampa were all bounced and won just three games (all from Washington!) between them. Winnipeg and Nashville, a Stanley Cup favorite for much of this season and a recent Cup Finalist, are also gone.

Other than Boston, San Jose, and St. Louis, we are left with a wide open field that is full of teams that are not normally here.

  • The Carolina Hurricanes are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season, and obviously playing in Round 2 for the first time since then.
  • This is the first time the Columbus Blue Jackets have EVER made it this far in the playoffs.
  • The Dallas Stars are in the playoffs for just the third time since 2009, and in Round 2 for just the second time since then.
  • The Colorado Avalanche have not been in Round 2 since the 2007-08 postseason.
  • This is only the second time since 1993 that the New York Islanders have made it this far.

The two main talking points as to how we got here seem to revolve around the highly controversial playoff format, and just how meaningful the regular season actually is.

Let’s start with the latter point, regarding the regular season and what it means. When you see all four division winners go down in Round 1 it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the 82 games you just played didn’t mean anything and that just getting in is all you need. There might be some element of truth to “just getting in” being important, but let’s not overreact to one year here and just assume the regular doesn’t mean anything. Because it does, and winning your division usually does get you a pretty big advantage in the playoffs because it means you are playing one of the weaker teams in the field.

The results before this season show just how big of an advantage that is.

In the five previous seasons under this current playoff format division winners won their first-round matchup 14 out of 20 times, and usually did so relatively easily. Those division winners won their series in an average of only 5.2 games, and none of them needed a seventh game to advance.

On the six occasions that they did lose, three of them were in a seventh game and two of them were in a sixth. You had the occasional upset, usually in an anything can happen Game 7, but it wasn’t anything like this. 

Obviously Tampa and Calgary are the two big upsets, simply because they were top seeds in their respective conferences and because they went out with such a thud. Tampa was swept, while Calgary managed just one win against the No. 8 seeded Avalanche.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The only thing you can probably say about each one is they were playing teams that probably weren’t your typical “No. 8 seeds” going in to the playoffs.

Columbus loaded up at the trade deadline with rentals to bolster what was an already strong lineup that was probably better than its record had indicated all season (I was high on them around mid-January, even before the trades!) because the goaltending had sunk it so much. Throw in a Victor Hedman injury and a Nikita Kucherov meltdown on the Tampa side and suddenly the gap closes a little. That doesn’t excuse the rest of the Lightning’s no-show performance, but if you dig below the surface “top seed loses four in a row” you can at least start to rationalize it a little (but only a little).

Even though Colorado was 17 points worse than the Flames during the regular season, the Avalanche still have three of the best forwards in the NHL, all of whom can take over a game at any time, and they had the better goalie going into the series. That isn’t to say Mike Smith wasn’t the reason the Flames lost, but Philipp Grubauer was great in the Avalanche net (and the three superstar forwards were also great) and sometimes that is all it takes for an upset.

These are still stunning results, and even more stunning when you add them to the other division winners going out. It’s there that things start to become a little more reasonable (and this also includes Pittsburgh and Winnipeg going out) because the gaps between the teams just weren’t that large.

If they even existed at all.

The Capitals were the defending Stanley Cup champions, but only finished five points ahead of their first-round opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes had been one of the best teams in the NHL since January 1, storming into the playoffs playing on a level that only a handful of other teams in the league were at.

The Predators, Central Division champions, were seven points ahead of the Stars, and that gap had been shrinking for weeks leading up to the end of the regular season as the Predators started to fade and the Stars started to trend upward.

The Islanders finished three points ahead of the Penguins. The Blues and Jets finished with the exact same number of points.

A No. 1 seed going down in Round 1 isn’t unheard of in the NHL. It happens. Not regularly, but often enough that it’s not a total shock when it does happen. We also know that the Stanley Cup Playoffs can be a bit unpredictable because of the nature of the game where a hot or cold goalie can swing a series, an injury can hold a team back, or a couple of forwards can simply shoot the lights out for six or seven games and carry a team.

It is at times a completely random sport.

This postseason has just been a perfect of storm where all of it came together at the same time to produce what has been, so far, one of the weirdest and most unpredictable postseasons we have ever seen. The wild card teams were, in a lot of ways, better than your typical wild card teams we are used to seeing. The division winners were maybe a little more vulnerable for one reason or another (injuries, goaltending).

I don’t think it’s a statement on the league or the format as a whole, I think it’s just a statement on the sport itself in that sometimes weird things happen.

And that might be the simplest way to explain the 2019 playoffs: It’s been a weird year.

MORE Round 2 coverage:
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sharks need the very best of Jones vs. Avs

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Martin Jones can’t have a repeat of Round 1.

The San Jose Sharks could certainly use a few snippets from that seven-game series against the Vegas Golden Knights. Jones allowed just five goals across Games 1, 5 and 6, including a 58-save performance in the penultimate game that ended in double overtime.

It’s Games 2 thru 4 that Jones and the Sharks can’t afford. Going from 1-0 up in a series to 3-1 down. Being the scapegoat for your team’s misfortunes. That sort of thing.

It’s safe to say Jones wore a lot of hats in Round 1.

Getting pulled twice in a playoff series and allow six goals in another game where you weren’t given a mercy tug probably should have ended exactly how you might think — crashing out of the playoffs because bad goaltending doesn’t win championships.

Instead, Jones was able to rally, composing himself after getting benched in Game 4. San Jose did eventually win the series in controversial fashion, and Jones in Game 7 still wasn’t all that great (four goals allowed on 38 shots) despite getting the ‘W’ in an insane 5-4 overtime thriller. But he was able to pull himself back from the dead in Games 5 and 6 to put San Jose in a position to win, and that stroke of luck San Jose got in Game 7 was enough to

Jeykll and Hyde are thrown around too often in sports, but truly, it was Jones’ series to a T.

Games 2-4

• Record: 0-2 (pulled twice with one no-decision)
• .796 save percentage
• 7.62 goals-against average

Games 5-7

• Record: 3-0
• .946 save percentage
• 1.83 goals-against average

Jones is certainly going to have his hands full. The Avalanche put up an NHL high 41 shots per game in Round 1 and were fourth in goals per game at 3.40. Conversely, San Jose gave up the third-most number of shots per game, so the rubber is coming whether Jones likes it or not.

Jones’ five-on-five save percentage was a .924 in the Vegas series. To put that in perspective, it was good for ninth best among goalies in the round. Philipp Grubauer, who Jones will duel in the series, held a .964 save percentage in 5v5 situations — best in the league.

It should be noted that Jones’ expected save percentage was much worse at .913.

Jones’ goals-save above average also got a nice boost from being much worse after Game 6. Grubauer was the best in the category in Round 1, saving 4.74 more goals than what was expected when compared to the average.

And it should be noted that Jones will be facing one of the best lines in hockey in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Jones had his hands full with Mark Stone and Co. against Vegas and there will be no let up in this series.

Colorado walked all over the Calgary Flames, who got slightly better goaltending in that series.

Then there are the tangibles that can’t be calculated on a spreadsheet. Getting pulled twice in three games doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Letting in bad goals is deflating. That said, the Sharks were able to rally around massive bounceback efforts in Games 5 and 6, particularly.

If the Sharks go on to win the Cup, no one will be talking much about Jones’ first-round performance. But given that San Jose is still a long way from that, and they’re getting ready to face one of the – if not the — best line in the NHL, it’s rather timely.

The deeper the Sharks go, the harder the going gets. Jones simply needs to be at the top of his game.


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

Rested Islanders ready to go against Hurricanes in second round

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Islanders are rested and ready to go. The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t had a chance to relax after outlasting the defending champions in a marathon seven-game series.

More than a week after finishing off a sweep in the first round, Mathew Barzal and the defense-first Islanders get set to open the Eastern Conference semifinals at home against the upstart Hurricanes.

”It was a long wait,” Barzal said. ”We’ve been practicing hard, practicing some scrimmage stuff. … We’re just anxious to get it going again.”

New York has not played since dispatching Pittsburgh on April 16, while the Hurricanes took Washington to the limit with the deciding game lasting into a second overtime Wednesday night. Now, less than 48 hours later, the teams will meet in the postseason for the first time.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz didn’t mind the layoff because it allowed some banged-up players like Cal Clutterbuck and Scott Mayfield a chance to heal. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk, however, remains sidelined for several weeks.

”We just want to play,” Trotz said. ”There might be some rust and you can’t duplicate some stuff (in practice), but I know we’re toeing to get stronger and stronger and stronger.”

The Islanders will be back at Barclays Center in Game 1 for the first time in more than two months. They split regular-season games between the Brooklyn arena, where they have played since 2015, and the Nassau Coliseum, their home the previous 43 years. The Islanders last played at Barclays on Feb. 16. Their home games in the first round were in Uniondale, but any subsequent games they host this postseason will be in Brooklyn.

Both teans are here after surprising seasons and stunning victories in the opening round. In the first year under Trotz, the Islanders used a strong defensive system, timely scoring and some stellar goaltending to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence and following the departure of former captain John Tavares in free agency last summer. New York held off Pittsburgh down the stretch to finish second in the Metropolitan Division and then quickly disposed of the Penguins.

Carolina, which missed the playoffs for nine straight years, was 15-17-5 on Dec. 30 and one point out of last place in the East before going 31-12-2 the rest of the way. The Hurricanes then won a grueling series against the Capitals, marking the first time in NHL history all four division winners were eliminated in the first round.

”The biggest challenge is going to be switching gears,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”We’ve been going real hard here for a couple weeks. Obviously all that emotion. To throw that away and focus on a whole new opponent, different style, that’ll be the biggest challenge.”

The teams both use a tenacious defense to try and smother opponents’ chances and generate scoring opportunities for themselves. The Islanders allowed a league-low 2.33 goals per game during the season, while the Hurricanes were tied for seventh at 2.70.

Jordan Eberle led the Islanders in the first round with four goals and two assists, giving him nine goals and three assists in his last 11 games dating back to the regular season. Brock Nelson, who had 25 goals and 28 assists during the season, scored three against the Penguins. Anders Lee (28 goals, 23 assists), Josh Bailey (16 goals, 40 assists) and Barzal (18 goals, 44 assists) also had 50-point seasons.

”They’re patient,” Brind’Amour said. ”(They) play that defensive game and when you crack is when they go.”

Warren Foegele had a team-high four goals in the first round and was tied with Dougie Hamilton and Jordan Staal – who each had three goals and three assists. Teuvo Terraivanen also scored three goals, and Jaccob Flavin had nine assists to lead the team in points.

Some things to know as the teams open the conference semifinals Friday night:

HELLO, AGAIN: Carolina’s Justin Williams and Calvin de Haan will be seeing some familiar faces in this series. The 37-year-old Williams spent two seasons under Trotz with the Capitals before returning for a second stint with Carolina in 2017. Williams had an assist on Brock McGinn‘s series-winning goal against Washington, giving him an NHL-record 15 points in Game 7s of the playoffs.

”A great leader,” Trotz said. ”And he doesn’t get small in the big moments.”

De Haan was selected by the Islanders in the first round of the 2009 draft – the same year Tavares was taken No. 1 overall – and spent the previous five-plus seasons with New York before he signed with the Hurricanes last summer.

GOALIES: Robin Lehner has taken the reins as the lead goalie for the Islanders after splitting time with Thomas Greiss during the season when the duo paired to win the William Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league. Lehner – a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after going 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average and six shutouts – played every minute of New York’s sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round. He limited the Penguins to just six goals on 156 shots.

Carolina’s Petr Mrazek had an uneven first round, He struggled on the road, giving up 13 goals on 78 shots in Hurricanes losses in Games 1, 2 and 5, but was stellar at home while limiting the Capitals to only three goals on 74 shots in wins in Games 3, 4 and 6. In Game 7 back in Washington, he gave up three goals on 18 shots before stopping the last 19 to allow the Hurricanes to rally from two goals down.

SECOND-ROUND STRANGERS: After missing the playoffs in eight of the last 11 years, the Islanders are coming off their second postseason series win since 1993. This is Carolina’s second time in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. The Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals in their last time in the postseason three years later.

SEASON SERIES: The Islanders won three of four meetings, including both visits to Carolina in October. New York also won 4-1 at Barclays Center on Nov. 24, before Carolina took the last meeting 4-3 at the Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 8.

Freelance writer Denis P. Gorman contributed to this report.

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Golden Knights ready to turn page, look toward next season

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Vegas Golden Knights’ second postseason didn’t last nearly as long as their first but general manager George McPhee said ”there will be no pity parties” after the way it ended, and the team is already looking forward to next year.

”We’re going to take the rearview mirror out and move forward and put a real good team on the ice next year and go compete again,” McPhee said Thursday during his season-ending news conference. ”This is a good team; it’s built for the long run.”

After losing in the Stanley Cup Final last postseason, the Golden Knights were eliminated from this year’s playoffs in the first round when the San Jose Sharks came back from a 3-1 series deficit and then erased Vegas’ 3-0 lead in Game 7. The Sharks got a boost when Vegas forward Cody Eakin was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for a cross-check to San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, who was knocked out after crashing to the ice. The Sharks scored four power-play goals and then won the game 5-4 in overtime.

”You always get better from losing like that,” coach Gerard Gallant said. ”It’s tough to swallow for the last couple of days. But today, I’m moving on. We move on, we’re not going to make excuses. We’re disappointed, definitely, because we had a real good hockey team, but I’m not disappointed in the way our hockey team played and competed all year and the playoffs.”

Vegas endured plenty of adversity during the regular season, overcoming a 20-game suspension for defenseman Nate Schmidt and a bevy of injuries, including to Alex Tuch, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and a season-ending lower-body injury to Erik Haula.

”We talk about last year a lot being the perfect season, with no ups and downs; this year we had some,” Gallant said. ”This year we had to battle and compete and find a way to make the playoffs. As we know we got spoiled here pretty good two years in a row in the playoffs and going to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s not easy to make the playoffs.”

But with the acquisitions McPhee has orchestrated, the Golden Knights figure to be a major player in the Pacific Division next year.

The Golden Knights have potent scorers Stastny, Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Stone, Reilly Smith and Tuch locked up for several years, along with three-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Other things to know as the Knights head into the offseason:

MARCHING ON: Marchessault was outspoken after the Game 7 loss about how the league needs to institute video replay for major penalties during the playoffs and had an expletive-laced tirade about the referees.

He offered no apologies Thursday for his outburst and said he was ready to move on.

”We’re at the point where it’s over with, it’s in the past, whatever happened is just going to make us stronger,” Marchessault said. ”We’ll be right up there again, like this year.”

KARLSSON FUTURE: The most crucial offseason decision will be whether forward William Karlsson signs long-term with the team. After scoring a career-high 43 goals and 78 points during the 2017-18 season, Karlsson and the team agreed to a one-year, $5.25 million contract. Now, after a significantly less productive season – 24 goals, 56 points – both camps will be pressed to determine his worth.

”We’ll get to work on it shortly and hopefully get it wrapped up,” McPhee said. ”He had a real good season, he’s a good player. We’d like him to sign long-term with us and we’ll get to work on it.”

Karlsson said he would prefer to sign long-term.

But with the additions of Pacioretty and Stastny prior to the season, and Stone at the trade deadline, the Golden Knights went from having plenty of room under the salary cap to having very little wiggle room.

EAKIN SPEAKS: Eakin spoke for the first time since the last game and was at times borderline emotional when discussing the Game 7 penalty.

”Everyone saw the play and knows what happened and we can’t think about it anymore, really,” he said. ”I think mistakes were made, but it’s a fast game, that kind of stuff happens and that’s all you can say about it.”

HAULA’S RETURN: Haula figured to be an integral part of Vegas’ forward depth until a lower-body injury ended his season just 15 games in. Haula had been seen wearing a knee brace at the practice facility, but McPhee said Thursday it wasn’t Haula’s ACL.

”It’s not something I wish on anybody, things can always be worse,” Haula said. ”You kind of reinvent the wheel when you’re out for that long. It’s kind of an interesting process. I never thought when it happened that I could even be on the ice. I was close to joining the team at practice and that was great.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports