Three first-timers have been named the finalists for this year’s Vezina Trophy.
Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov have been chosen as the three nominees for the award, given annually to the league’s top goalkeeper and voted on by the league’s GMs.
Bishop, in his first season as a full-time starter, set a number of Lightning franchise records and became the first Bolts goalie to be nominated for the Vezina since Darren Puppa in 1996. Bishop finished fourth in the NHL in wins (37), fourth in shutouts (five) and seventh in goals-against average (2.23).
Rask earned his nomination by finishing as the only goalie to finish in the top five of each major statistical category: first in shutouts (seven), second in save percentage (.930), fourth in goals-against average (2.04) and fifth in wins. Rask also allowed two goals or less in a whopping 37 of 58 starts this season and helped the B’s capture their first Presidents’ Trophy since 1990.
Varlamov, who led the NHL with 41 wins and broke head coach Patrick Roy’s Avalanche franchise record in the process, shouldered a massive workload this year and finished tops in the NHL in shots faced (2,013) and saves (1,867). He is also the first Avs goalie to be nominated for the Vezina since Roy finished second to Jose Theodore in 2001-02.
While the Red Wings fell 5-4 in a shootout to the Blackhawks, Mantha was the most impressive part of a great effort by Detroit’s top scorers. Mantha generated a whopping four assists, also firing a robust seven shots on goal. The massive winger’s really been assertive lately, as he’s fired 20 SOG in his past three games. Even Alex Ovechkin thinks Mantha’s being a handful for goalies, right?
(As a bonus, three of Mantha’s four assists were primary ones.)
Dylan Larkin probably ranks as the real second star, but let’s just mention him in the Mantha entry. Larkin scored two goals and one assist, and actually topped Mantha with nine SOG. Lakin now has 58 points in 60 games, leaving him just five away from last season’s career-high of 63.
Andreas Athanasiou rounded out that dominant output from that top Red Wings line with two goals, including the one that sent that game to OT.
You have to grasp straws to make much of a difference between the most productive Avs of the night, as both Soderberg and Tyson Jost enjoyed one-goal, two-assist Wednesday evenings as Colorado crushed Winnipeg 7-1.
Soderberg’s numbers are slightly better, though. Soderberg’s plus/minus (+4) was one up from Jost’s +3, and Soderberg fired five SOG to Jost’s 3.
If the likes of Soderberg and Jost can take the heat off of top scorers Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, that the Avalanche become pretty scary. (That combo was pretty deadly in their own right on Wednesday, though.)
It’s tempting to name Patrick Kane as the third star of the night, at least while “Breaking the Law” here with actually-a-more-than-top-three.
Let’s consider this the last double-starring, then, because Gustafsson generated more points (three, all assists), while Kane scored two nice goals, including a swaggery OT-winner.
We’ll get deeper into Kane’s honestly kind of mindblowing achievements later on, so this seems like a nice opportunity to note that the Blackhawks have unearthed another gem in Gustafsson. The 26-year-old somehow has 41 points in just 58 games this season. While his 12 goals come from some luck (11.4 shooting percentage, which is very high for a defenseman), you can also clearly see that he’s a slick, creative player.
Gustafsson’s assist on Kane’s OTGWG illustrates that, so enjoy these highlights:
Patrick Kane didn’t just extend his point streak to 19 games, he did it with aplomb. Kane scored two goals against the Red Wings, including the overtime game-winner.
When you think of a 19-game point streak, you probably picture quite a few games where a player barely gets there, like having one hit during an epic baseball streak. Instead, Kane keeps knocking it out of the park; he has an astounding 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points. That’s more than he managed during a longer 26-game point streak earlier in his career, when he managed 40.
The Boston Bruins are pushing to begin the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with home-ice advantage, likely against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even if that doesn’t pan out, at least the Bruins have been red-hot on the road, too.
It wasn’t easy, but the Bruins made their four-game road trip a perfect one by slipping by the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in a shootout. This pushes the Bruins’ current winning streak to seven games, and they’ve also generated at least one point in 12 consecutive contests.
Boston generated two one-goal leads in Wednesday’s game, but the pace was often frenetic, and the Golden Knights refused to go down without a fight. This splendid Nate Schmidt goal sent the contest beyond regulation:
The Bruins were whistled for a too many men on the ice penalty during the overtime period, but Patrice Bergeron made some key plays and Jaroslav Halak cleaned up the rest to force the contest to what would end up being a lengthy shootout.
Ultimately, the Bruins won, and strengthened their lead over Toronto for the Atlantic’s second seed, although the Maple Leafs hold games in hand.
Bruins: 36-17-8, 80 points in 61 games, 34 ROW
Maple Leafs: 36-19-4, 76 points in 59 GP, 36 ROW
The Maple Leafs would need to win their two games in hand to tie the Bruins from a points perspective, while they’d lead in ROW even if both of Toronto’s wins came via shootouts. That could very well happen, but this Bruins surge certainly increases the odds of a potential Game 7 taking place in Boston instead of Toronto. For all we know, that could make an impact on what is setting up to be a fantastic first-round series.
Boston made a significant tweak on Wednesday by trading Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-rounder for Charlie Coyle, possibly strengthening their depth in the process. This outcome reminds the hockey world that they’ve been pretty outstanding even when their top-end players have to do most of the heavy lifting.
“We’ve made progress as an organization compared to last year. We’ve been in a position where we’ve been in games,” Botterill said. “I see the results on the ice. I see the communication that we’re going through here. There’s not going to be a coaching change.”
No doubt about it, there are Sabres fans who are frustrated with a team that looks like it will see a playoff drought extend to eight seasons. Buffalo also hasn’t won a playoff series since 2006-07, having lost in the first round in their two postseason appearances since.
Still, Housley hasn’t exactly had a ton of time to turn things around.
That 10-game winning streak and brief spell at the top of the NHL’s standings raised expectations, so seeing Buffalo trail eight-seed Columbus by six points stings. It’s probably not much comfort that the Sabres have already exceeded last season’s 62 points by generating 63 standings points in 59 games.
Such an improvement comes from a lowly point, no doubt, but it’s fair to argue that Housley might deserve one more season.
This is only Housley’s second campaign with the Sabres, and it’s tough to ignore the instability this organization has struggled with. Housley joins Dan Bylsma, Ted Nolan, and Ron Rolston as the fourth coach the Sabres have hired since dismissing mainstay Lindy Ruff in 2013. Botterill’s also only been in place since 2017, so a big front office change would serve as a pretty sudden swerve.
On one hand, you don’t want to keep doing something that isn’t working, and plenty will argue that the Sabres would be guilty of exactly that if they stuck with Housley behind the bench.
On the other hand, when you look at some of the most troubled organizations in sports, a big chunk of them seem to keep changing regimes. For all the benefits that can come with new methods and voices, it can be rough on players, whether that means useful contributors getting shipped out for the sake of change, or merely incumbent players having to learn new systems and connect with new coaches.
With Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin leading the charge, there seems like some light at the end of the tunnel for Buffalo. Like it or not, it seems like Botterill is giving Housley more time to prove that he can be the vehicle who can transport this franchise out of that darkness.
Patrick Kane is unstoppable right now, and he continues to bring the Chicago Blackhawks with him.
Chicago couldn’t have been happy to see a 4-1 lead evaporate into a 4-4 tie against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. Overtime provided another opportunity for Kane to exert his dominance, though, as he netted the overtime game-winner.
Not a bad way for Mike Tirico to end his first NHL foray:
With that, Kane’s now on a 19-game point streak, and even if it was just for a little while, the Blackhawks climbed into a playoff spot. The Avalanche bumped them back out of the top eight by clobbering the Jets 7-1 later on Wednesday, but the difference is small enough that Chicago can gain some confidence.
With two goals, Kane’s ridiculous run is at a mind-boggling 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points in those 19 games. That’s absurd stuff, even by the standards of this high-scoring season.
This isn’t his longest point streak ever, but it is Kane’s most explosive.
Kane’s now at a scorching 92 points in 60 games. Those 92 points stand as Kane’s second-highest ever, and with Chicago having 21 games remaining, his career-high of 106 from 2015-16 being in sight. The milestones continue to pile up, as Kane now sits at 350 career goals and eight OT tallies.
The Blackhawks improved to 26-26-9 on the season, giving them 61 points (25 regulation/overtime wins) in 61 games. The Blackhawks slipped back to outside the second wild-card spot, but the goal is within reach.
As you can see, the Avalanche have the same number of points and ROW, while holding a game in hand over Chicago. The Blackhawks also don’t have much of a buffer ahead of Minnesota, among the other bubble teams.
Even so, it’s pretty surreal that Chicago’s even in this spot, as they’ve won 10 of their last 12 games. You could say they’re almost as hot as Kane himself.