Bulletin-board material: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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This is the third straight year (2013, 2014) we’ve done this, and so far we’ve only been wrong twice. Try and find more accurate NHL predictions than that. 

Calgary Flames: The worst team to make the playoffs. And we’re not even talking about their advanced stats, which are indeed awful. According to the standings, they were the worst team to make the playoffs. In a related story, it’s kinda funny how people are comparing this year’s Flames to last year’s Avalanche. Um, hello? The Avs won the Central and had a Vezina Trophy finalist in goal. The Flames finished third in the Pacific and have Jonas Hiller in goal. On top of that, they’re without Mark Giordano. Good. Night.

Vancouver Canucks: The second-worst team to make the playoffs. Somehow, the Canucks were lucky enough to match up with the Flames in the first round. Their luck won’t last long, though. Vancouver entered the season with the misguided goal of getting back to the playoffs, and can’t stop bragging that it accomplished that goal. While ownership will be happy with a couple of playoff gates, what this team really did was blow its chance to start a much-needed rebuild, and in a draft year with two “generational” talents to boot. Instead, the Canucks think they can “continue to build this team and be a playoff contender every year,” which is another way of saying they’d like to have their cake and eat it too. Question: if Jim Benning is such a genius at identifying talent, how does one explain Luca Sbisa?

Ottawa Senators: It’s hard to criticize these guys after what they did to make the playoffs. True, they got their coach fired because he was too mean to them, but 23-3-3 is 23-3-3. It’ll actually be too bad when Andrew Hammond falls back to earth over the next few weeks. The Hamburglar’s been a great story, from not being very good in college and the minors to what he’s done at the highest level of the game. He will fall back to earth though. The playoffs are a whole different animal, and Hammond — a 27-year-old undrafted rookie — is not the next Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Remember when these guys were going to be the next great dynasty? It was funny then and it’s even funnier now, because we don’t recall the 83-84 Oilers needing to beat the worst team in the NHL on the last day of the season just to make the playoffs. But that’s what the Pens needed. And boy were they completely unconvincing against the Sabres. Talk about zero confidence. Talk about no killer instinct. The Penguins could’ve easily lost that game. “It hasn’t been easy,” said Ben Lovejoy. “I’m proud of the way we were able to close it out tonight.” Yeah, way to go. You showed a lot of heart losing five in a row then barely defeating a historically bad team. Good luck against the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Detroit Red Wings: It’s one thing to bench your big-money goalie for a young guy who’s playing out of his mind. It’s quite another to park him for Petr Mrazek, a 23-year-old with no playoff experience and a save percentage (.918) that isn’t even that great. That’s how poorly Jimmy Howard played down the stretch. And make no mistake, the Wings have issues beyond goaltending. They were a mediocre possession team in the second half of the season, and there’s no way Pavel Datsyuk is 100 percent. Enjoy Mike Babcock while he’s still behind the bench, Wings fans. (Which should be about five, maybe six, more games.)

Winnipeg Jets: You have to be happy for Jets fans. It’s been a long time since meaningful hockey was played in Winnipeg, and it’s going to be a tough assignment to beat the home side at MTS Centre. Except, of course, for the fact the Jets are the least disciplined team in the league, as ably demonstrated here by Dustin Byfuglien. Oh, and they don’t really have an elite center either. Also, Ondrej Pavelec is their goalie. (Other than that, though.) And please, PLEASE don’t argue that Pavelec is good now. Yes, he had a strong finish. But he’s shown flashes in the past too, only to revert back to what he really is — a below-average NHL goalie.

Montreal Canadiens: Unlike Pavelec, Carey Price is decidedly not below average. He’s actually the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, which would make him the first goalie to win the award since Jose Theodore did it for the Habs in 2001-02. Hey, how did that turn out anyway? Oh right, Theodore was just OK in the playoffs and Montreal lost to Carolina in the second round. Goaltending: impossible to predict and incredibly risky to rely on. That’s why teams that are good at possessing the puck are better bets. Puck possession is a team thing, so if one guy falters or gets hurt, it’s not the end of the world. By the way, the Habs were the worst possession team to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

Washington Capitals: One of the most improved teams in the NHL still doesn’t have what it takes to win it all. That’s basically what Barry Trotz admitted a few months ago, and he was absolutely right. Asking Evgeny Kuznetsov to play first- or second-line center in the playoffs is way too much to ask. He’s a 22-year-old rookie. Even if he’s “come a long way over the last two months,” he’s still got a ways to go. The Caps simply aren’t strong enough down the middle, period. (Admit it, you all thought this was going to be a screed against Alex Ovechkin, and how he’s never won anything of meaning and never will. Nah, we’ll wait until they’re eliminated for that.)

Minnesota Wild: Sure, we could point out that Devan Dubnyk got run into the ground by Mike Yeo and, come April, the goalie savior started to show a few cracks. But the reason the Wild won’t win the Stanley Cup is because they won’t score enough goals. The power play stinks, and if they’re counting on Thomas Vanek to produce in the playoffs, well, let’s just say he hasn’t always been at his best in big games. Need another reason? The Wild aren’t deep enough on defense, and that can be big-time problematic in the playoffs.

Anaheim Ducks: The most overrated team in the NHL. Goals per game: 11th. Goals against: 20th. Power play: 28th. Penalty kill: 15th. Those aren’t the numbers of a Stanley Cup champ. In fact, the Ducks (+10) had the worst goal-differential of the 16 teams to make the playoffs. “If you look at teams that have won the Cup, they’re high in the defensive standings — L.A. was the best defensive team last year, won the Cup. Chicago before that, won it. When Boston won … there’s definitely a trend there.” You know who said that? It was Bruce Boudreau.

Tampa Bay Lightning: What seemed like a savvy preseason pick doesn’t seem quite so smart anymore. Yes, the Lightning score a lot of goals, but they don’t keep them out of their net particularly well, ranking 12th in that category. The year after being named a Vezina finalist, Ben Bishop predictably regressed and finished with a so-so save percentage of .916. Also remember that Bishop, 28, has never played in the playoffs. This is a young team that may win a Cup in the future, but it’s not quite ready yet.

New York Islanders: Can the Isles win a playoff series for the first time since 1993? We only ask this question so we can point out the fact that the Isles haven’t won a playoff series since 1993. It’s pretty sad how far the standards have fallen on Long Island. A fan base that once celebrated four straight championships now holds up Jaroslav Halak as some sort of goaltending god for having a .914 save percentage. Meanwhile, everyone’s doing cartwheels because Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, two good-but-not-great defensemen that were deemed expendable by their former teams, actually agreed to re-sign. The Isles finished the regular season with four wins in their last 14. Maybe they’ll raise the bar when they get to Brooklyn.

Nashville Predators: Similar to the Islanders, the Preds got off to a great start and had people debating whether they were legit Stanley Cup contenders. This despite the glaring facts that Mike Ribeiro was their first-line center and they had a rookie by the name of Filip Forsberg who was piling up points at an unsustainably high rate. Yada, yada, yada, the Preds went 8-13-4 in their last 25 games, including six straight losses to finish the season. Bottom line: this team is gonna be done real quick if Pekka Rinne doesn’t find his game. He gave up 17 goals in his last five outings combined.

New York Rangers: Back in March, a handful of Rags faithful got all hot and bothered when we pointed out the Blueshirts were “good but not great” down the middle. As if hockey fans everywhere should marvel at the amazing talent the Rangers had assembled to play center for their spectacular team. Sorry, but Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes, and Dominic Moore are pretty much the definition of “good but not great.” Which, hey, is better than “fine but not good”; however, when you consider the truly great centers that Cup champs almost always possess, not to mention the Rangers’ worrying possession numbers, it’s really not hard to doubt this team. On the bright side, at least Alain Vigneault has another Presidents’ Trophy to his name.

St. Louis Blues: The new San Jose Sharks. Or maybe the Sharks were the new St. Louis Blues. After all, the Blues were choking in the playoffs long before the Sharks started gagging away successful regular seasons. Six times in franchise history have the Blues amassed over 100 points, only to fall well short when the games start counting. This season was their seventh with more than 100 points, so of course they drew one of the league’s hottest teams in the first round. But it’s not a cursed history or tough opponent that will doom the Blues. It’s questionable goaltending (another Blues tradition) and a coach that can’t stop himself from over-coaching.

Chicago Blackhawks: Fun fact about the ‘Hawks: Out of the 16 teams to make the playoffs, only Ottawa and Winnipeg finished with fewer regulation/overtime wins. Another fact: If instead of going 9-3 in the shootout they’d gone 3-9, they’d have made the playoffs by one measly point. And yet the ‘Hawks remain Stanley Cup favorites in the eyes of many. Have people not been paying attention? The simple truth is, these guys have not been playing at an elite level since the Winter Classic. Antoine Vermette hasn’t been the answer, and Kimmo Timonen’s not the answer either, based on the 40-year-old’s dreadful possession stats. Just do us a favor and don’t act surprised when Chicago’s eliminated in the first or second round, OK?

Miracle on Ice team honored before Panthers-Golden Knights

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Amidst a sports-filled weekend that included the heavyweight championship boxing match and a NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, hockey fans were reminded about believing in miracles on Saturday night.

Prior to the game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers, member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team were honored, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the team’s epic run to the gold medal in Lake Placid, New York.

”I think as time has gone on I’ve had a greater appreciation for my good fortune that I had and to be able to make that team and how it all worked out and that I could be a part of that,” John Harrington said. ”I think that as the years have gone on that it’s humbling to think that I was a part of that. I’m humbled because it’s still being talked about 40 years later and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.”

The only missing players were Mark Johnson, who is head coach of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team, Bob Suter, who died in 2014, and forward Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. Also missing was coach Herb Brooks, who was killed in a car accident in 2003.

The ceremony 40 years to the exact day veteran broadcaster Al Michaels asked the world, ”Do you believe in miracles?” culminated a two-day celebration that included President Donald Trump introducing the team during a rally and a meet-and-greet with fans on Friday night.

”Relive the Miracle,” originally planned for UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center on Saturday afternoon, was canceled due to poor ticket sales.

Saturday’s sellout crowd greeted Michaels and the former Olympians with enthusiasm and pride, providing them with a standing ovation and a thunderous ”U-S-A!” chant as they exited the ice after Florida’s Aleksander Barkov and Vegas’ Max Pacioretty took the ceremonial opening puck from Team USA captain Mike Eruzione.

NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton, who became the first US-born hockey player drafted first overall in the NHL Entry Draft when he was taken in 1983 by the Minnesota North Stars, said although the league was not akin to American-born players back then, watching the U.S. team strike gold gave him a bolt of confidence he could play at the next level.

”You could count the number of first-round picks that were American on one hand back then,” said Lawton, who is still the only U.S. high school hockey player to be drafted first overall, and one of only eight Americans to be taken first overall. ”It was Canada’s game and Canada only, and I felt that my first few years in the league. For me it was significantly important. I wasn’t a great player in the NHL, but obviously just by virtue of no one else having done it before -I was the first American ever pick first and all that stuff – in some small way hopefully helped other kids down the road.”

Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said while it was a tremendous sports story – one that was chronicled in several films, most notably the 2004 motion picture ”Miracle” – it was the opening puck drop for the evolution of ice hockey in the United States.

”It was the single most important event in the growth of hockey in the United States, McCrimmon said. ”When you compare the landscape of U.S. players today with what it would have been at that time, it’s incredible how the sport has grown. I just think it was on the front end of tremendous growth in the sport in the U.S.”

Hurricanes’ emergency goalie David Ayres beats Maple Leafs

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The Carolina Hurricanes had to turn to 42-year-old emergency backup goalie Dave Ayres on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He not only held his own against one of the NHL’s most powerful offensive teams, he beat them.

Ayres, a Zamboni driver for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and the emergency backup for both teams on Saturday night, was forced into action midway through the second period after Hurricanes goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer had to exit the game due to injury. He ended up stopping eight out of the 10 shots he faced — while also recording a shot on goal of his own — in a 6-3 Hurricanes win.

The fact that an emergency goalie had to enter the game is fascinating enough.

But that he played as well as he did, and managed to get credit for the win makes it one of the most stunning accomplishments in recent NHL memory.

When Scott Foster, an accountant by day, made his emergency appearance for the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago he only had to play 14 minutes against the Winnipeg Jets. He also did not get credit for the win.

Ayres played double that on Saturday, on the road, against what should have been a desperate Toronto team that fighting to make the playoffs and avoid one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. Instead, it was the Hurricanes that found an extra gear and completely dominated the game from the moment Ayres entered.

The Maple Leafs managed just 10 shots on goal against Ayres, and after scoring on two of their first three in the second period, were completely shutout by him in the third period.

For Ayres it adds another fascinating chapter to an already unbelievable story.

He has dressed as a backup for a number of American Hockey League games, and has also filled in at practice for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He is also a kidney transplant survivor.

The Hurricanes ended up in this situation after Mrazek — who was already filling in for Reimer, the Hurricanes’ starter on Saturday — was leveled in a collision by Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford.

Obviously the big concern for the Hurricanes now is the status of Mrazek and Reimer (there is a report out of Chicago that the Hurricanes already reached out regarding a potential goalie trade), but this is a massive win for the Hurricanes, both in the standings and emotionally. Imagine the boost that has to give them to be facing that situation and not only play the way they did, but also collect two huge points in the standings.

On the other side, well, this is bad.

While the hyperbole around the Maple Leafs can sometimes be way too much, whatever they hear regarding this game is going to be completely justified.

They, too, are in a fight for a playoff spot and not only laid an egg in a huge game, they were thoroughly embarrassed from the time Ayres entered the game until the final horn. They could not generate sustained pressure, they managed just 10 total shots in 28 minutes against a 42-year-old emergency goalie, and they just looked bad. Not only that, but it was also a Hurricanes team that was already playing without one of its top defenseman (Dougie Hamilton) and then lost another one (Brett Pesce) during the game.

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.

NHL stars praise Alex Ovechkin as he hits 700 career goals

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There’s a new member of the 700-goal club and his name is Alex Ovechkin. At 4:50 of the third period against the Devils on Saturday, the Capitals captain fired one by Mackenzie Blackwood to reach the historic mark.

Ovechkin scored goal No. 699 in an OT loss to the Canadiens after five straight games without a point. No. 8 controlled a rolling puck after Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff cleanly in the offensive zone, then fired a wrist shot past Carey Price.

The Washington Capitals captain is now the eighth member of the exclusive NHL club. He joins Mike Gartner (708), Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741), Jaromir Jagr (766), Gordie Howe (801), and Wayne Gretzky (894).

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Ovechkin has been doing this since he broke in the league in 2005 and his peers continue to marvel at his goal-scoring exploits.

NBC Sports recently sat down with T.J. Oshie, Patrick Kane, Eric Staal, Sidney Crosby, David Pastrnak, Max Pacioretty, Nathan MacKinnon, and John Carlson to talk about Ovechkin’s career and his pursuit of Gretzky’s all-time record.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Alex Ovechkin scores 700th goal with a blast

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He did it. Alex Ovechkin scored his 700th career goal on Saturday as the Capitals faced the Devils.

Ovechkin scored his historic goal from the opposite faceoff circle from his typical “office.” It was a significant goal, tying Washington 2-2 with New Jersey a few minutes into the third period. Ovechkin reaching his 700th goal with such gusto really adds to the experience.

(Watch video of Ovechkin scoring his 700th goal in the video above.)

Ovechkin makes history with 700th goal

It marks his second goal in as many games after sitting at 698 goals for five agonizing contests. Well, they were agonizing for those anxiously awaiting number 700. Ovechkin’s response was basically “Whatever.” Ovechkin scored 30 of his 700 career goals against the Devils.

Ovechkin joins an illustrious group including Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708). Ovechkin became the second player to score 700+ goals with a single team, as Howe scored 786 with the Red Wings before continuing a hockey journey that eventually included playing alongside his sons.

Jagr was the most recent player to reach 700 on March 1, 2014.

Ovechkin scored goal No. 699 in an OT loss to the Canadiens after five straight games without a point. No. 8 controlled a rolling puck after Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff cleanly in the offensive zone, then fired a wrist shot past Carey Price.

Ovechkin, 34, became the second youngest and fastest player (1144 games) to score 700 goals, trailing Gretzky who was 29 years old (886 games) when he scored his 700th in January 1991 as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

Earlier this month, Ovi also became only the second player to score 40 goals in 11 seasons, trailing Gretzky’s record of 12. Ovechkin now has 42 goals in 60 games this season, giving himself a shot at another Maurice Richard Trophy.

The Devils ended up beating the Capitals 3-2. Maybe Washington can get back on track now that Ovechkin got this 700th goal out of the way? Their struggles aren’t on Ovechkin, but the Caps are struggling as a team nonetheless. (They have to be pleased with Pittsburgh losing to the Sabres on Saturday, though.)

Ovechkin’s quest for 700th goal:

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.