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NHL Power Rankings: Bruins contenders again

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If you were starting to get worried that sports fans in Boston didn’t have enough good things to be happy about lately I am here to bring you some good news: Their hockey team is looking like a legitimate contender again. Especially now that they are healthy.

The Bruins enter play on Tuesday on a 15-3-2 run over their past 20 games, are one of the best possession teams in hockey, and have three of the best forwards in the league (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak) at the top of their lineup to drive the offense.

One of biggest developments though are the fact they have rebuilt their defense over the past couple of years with an infusion of young talent, including one of the league’s top rookies in Charlie McAvoy. He is not only playing more than 23 minutes per game, but is also playing them at an extremely high level. Once the strength of their roster, the Bruins defense took a significant hit in recent years due to age, the salary cap, and some trades that depleted their depth. With Torey Krug taking a big step forward and the development of McAvoy and Brandon Carlo that unit is once again a formidable one for a contender.

Then there is the resurgence of starting goaltender Tuukka Rask.

It’s not that Rask was necessarily bad the past two seasons, but he wasn’t really the same player we saw when he was helping lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and was one of the top goalies in the league. After posting some league average numbers the past two seasons Rask is back to performing like one of the top goalies in the league and has been nearly unbeatable during the Bruins’ recent hot streak.

Entering play on Tuesday he is 10-0-1 in his past 11 decisions, a stretch where he has allowed just 15 goals. He has allowed more than two goals just once during that stretch and more than one goal just four times.

The Bruins crack the top-five in our power rankings this week.

Let us check in and see where everyone else fits in.

The Best Of The Best

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The Lightning are running away with the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They enter Tuesday with a seven-point lead over the Capitals and have still played two fewer games. What is not to love about this team right now? They deserve their own category at the moment.

The Elites

2. Vegas Golden Knights — At this point they are not just the best expansion team in NHL history, they are on their way to becoming the best expansion team in any of the four major sports. Another long winning streak, 9-0-1 in their past 10 games. Simply the best NHL story in decades.

3. Washington Capitals — Here come the Capitals. After winning just 10 of their first 20 games they have stormed back over the next 20 by going 14-4-2. They enter Tuesday a point ahead of the Devils in the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

4. New Jersey Devils — If it wasn’t for what Vegas is doing these guys would probably be the biggest surprise in the league this season. The biggest individual player surprise? Brian Gibbons is tied for the team lead in goals at the moment.

5. Boston Bruins — Starting to look like a contender for all of the reasons mentioned above.

6. Los Angeles Kings — Still having a great season but have cooled off a bit since we last checked in on the power rankings. The top of the roster is great, but still some questions about the bottom half.

The Strong Contenders

7. Nashville Predators — Their depth is going to be tested for a bit here without Filip Forsberg. He was on pace for another 30-goal season before he landed on injured reserve.

8. Winnipeg Jets — I feel like Patrik Laine isn’t getting enough attention this season. He is on pace for 37 goals and if he gets there would have two 35-goal seasons before his age 20 season in the NHL. That has only been done by four players in NHL history: Brian Bellows, Jimmy Carson, Sidney Crosby and Dale Hawerchuk.

9. St. Louis Blues — They have hit their first slump of the season, winning just three of their past 10 games.  Not time to panic yet. It happens over the course of an 82-game season.

The Rest Of The Best

10. New York Rangers — They don’t always look great, but they keep stacking up points. Their upcoming schedule though is absolutely brutal and is going to be a huge test.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — We’re back the wild, high-scoring games that have to be driving Mike Babcock crazy. Their recent road trip was not particularly kind to them, but they get a lot of home cooking over the next few weeks.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets — They have given up at least four goals in six of their past 10 games, including five games where they have surrendered at least five. Not what we are used to seeing from this team the past couple of seasons.

The Middle Ground

13. San Jose Sharks — Joe Pavelski is on pace for what would be (on a per-game basis) the worst goal-scoring season of his career. Shot volume has taken a bit of a dip, but not as big as the drop in shooting percentage. Little bit of bad luck at play? If that corrects itself could be a huge development or the Sharks in the second half.

14. Carolina Hurricanes — They are right on the playoff bubble with what is, once again, one of the worst team save percentages in the NHL. How does this keep happening every single season no matter who the goalie is? They are so, so, so close. It is almost painful how close they are.

15. New York Islanders — Josh Bailey is on pace for more than 100 points. This probably is not getting the attention it deserves.

16. Dallas Stars — Very hot and cold team. Still should probably expect more given what the top of their roster looks like and how many big moves they make every summer.

17. Minnesota Wild — They are finally getting Zach Parise back. Getting him back healthy, as well as Nino Neiderreiter, could make this a interesting team. They have hung around despite those two major injuries.

18. Chicago Blackhawks — Corey Crawford‘s injury problems are starting to become a concern, especially as the team has only won two games this season with him out of the lineup.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — Very quietly Claude Giroux is on pace for what would be a career high in points. His career high was 93 points (in 77 games) in 2011-12. He is currently on track for 99 if he is able to play in all 82 games this season (and maintain this same pace).

Running Out Of Time To Make A Move

20. Florida Panthers — The Panthers have won five in a row and are trying to make a little bit of a move in the Eastern Conference. But is that winning streak a case of too little, too late? Even with it they are still five points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them.

21. Anaheim Ducks — Getting their centers back healthy might make a pretty big difference. They have won four out of five and are, as of Tuesday, back into a playoff position.

22. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau is amazing but this really is not the way the Flames envisioned this season going, especially after their big offseason moves.

23. Colorado Avalanche — Exciting offense plus bad defense and goaltending can at least make for some fun hockey. If you’re going to miss the playoffs again you should at least be entertaining. Nathan MacKinnon alone has been worth the price of admission this season.

24. Pittsburgh Penguins — The “played a lot of hockey the past two years” excuse is starting to get old. It is simply a flawed team that has too many empty roster spots (like, for example, the entire fourth line and a big part of the third line) at the moment. Out of their 13 games in December they only won two of them in regulation.

25. Edmonton Oilers — They showed some signs of life with a four-game winning streak in mid-December but then followed it up with a three-game losing streak. That gap between them and a playoff spot really is not getting any smaller.

Not Too Early To Start Looking To Next Season

26. Detroit Red Wings — At this point it’s just a matter of watching to see when — or if — they start making trades. Mike Green would probably be an attractive player. Could they find a taker for Jimmy Howard?

27. Montreal Canadiens — Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value.

28. Vancouver Canucks — It was fun for a little bit in Vancouver this season, but it is just not their time yet.

29. Buffalo Sabres — Hey, at least the Bills are going to the playoffs!

30. Ottawa Senators —  Since starting the season 8-3-5 the Senators have gone 4-14-3 and completely fallen apart. Things are looking grim.

31. Arizona Coyotes — Tough situation. Extremely young team that has some talent that you should be excited about but is just overmatched on most nights.

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.

Flames-Jets stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Flames and Jets. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Flames-Jets Game 2 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Flames jumped out to a 1-0 series lead, defeating the Jets 4-1 on Saturday. Andrew Copp opened the scoring for Winnipeg before the Flames scored four unanswered goals.

Calgary outshot Winnipeg 33-18 and went 2-for-4 on the power play and 7-for-7 on the penalty kill.

Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine both left Game 1 early with injuries. Scheifele suffered a leg injury and Laine left after a collision with Mark Giordano.

Scheifele went down awkwardly near the boards after a hit from Matthew Tkachuk. While Tkachuk contends there was nothing malicious about the contact, Jets coach Paul Maurice saw it differently: “It was a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg. He went after the back of the leg. He could have cut his Achilles. He could have ended the man’s career. It’s an absolutely filthy, disgusting hit.”

It was reported late Sunday night that Scheifele’s injury was not long term, but that he and Laine were doubtful for Game 2

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Monday, August 3, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
ON THE CALL: Chris Cuthbert, Louie DeBrusk
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flames-Jets stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (Flames lead series 1-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Canucks’ Ferland, Wild’s Kunin fined for Game 1 altercation

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Monday that Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin and Vancouver Canucks forward Micheal Ferland were fined for an incident that took place in the third period of Sunday’s game. The Wild won the game 3-0.

Kunin was fined $1,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, while Ferland was given a $5,000 fine for spearing Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman on the bench.

“I could see it from Ferland’s standpoint,” Hartman said Monday. “He’s the kind of guy that runs on emotion. Stuff happens.”

The incident took place in front of the team benches just after Ferland finished a check on Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

Ferland started the game by fighting Foligno just two minutes into the first period.

Game 2 of the best-of-five series will take place on Tuesday night (10:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

MORE:
Wild vs. Canucks series preview
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.

Hurricanes-Rangers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Hurricanes and Rangers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Hurricanes-Rangers Game 2 stream at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

In the first shot of the game, Jaccob Slavin scored 61 seconds in for the first NHL goal in an official game in almost five months. Sebastian Aho, who led Carolina in goals (38) and points (66) during the regular season, then scored in the second period to give the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead. The Rangers kept things close but ultimately could not overcome an 0-for-7 showing on the power play as Carolina defeated New York for the first time in five tries this season.

Perhaps the biggest development from Game 1 was the fact that the Rangers all-time winningest goalie was actually the one in net – as many expected newcomer Igor Shesterkin in that position. With Shesterkin, who watched Game 1 from the stands, deemed “unfit to play” – Henrik Lundqvist started his 128th consecutive postseason game with the Rangers – a single-team streak only bettered by Martin Brodeur (194 with New Jersey) and Patrick Roy (133 with Colorado).

Lundqvist will get the Game 2 start as Shesterkin remains out. Alexandar Georgiev will again serve as the backup.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Monday, August 3, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Anson Carter
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Hurricanes-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (Hurricanes lead series 1-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Sopel finds post-NHL purpose in sharing story about dyslexia

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Tears streamed down Brent Sopel’s face as he watched himself on screen, summoning the courage to detail the darkest moments of his lifelong struggles with dyslexia.

The stinging memories of being taunted by classmates. The empty feelings of worthlessness that drained Sopel even while winning the Stanley Cup as a defenseman for the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks.

And then there were his battles with alcohol and drug abuse upon retiring from pro hockey following a 17-career in which he played for six NHL teams, two more in Russia and lastly with the AHL Chicago Wolves in 2015.

Sopel outlined his story in a documentary, ”Brent Sopel: Here to Change the World.” The 25-minute film was recently released to promote his charitable foundation dedicated to helping others deal the challenges and stigma of dyslexia.

”It was tough. I cried through it,” Sopel said. ”It brings back a lot of raw emotions. I’ve got scars that will never go away.”

The film begins with the former player recalling the embarrassment he felt in ninth grade, when asked to read aloud during English class, which Sopel described as being ”probably one of the worst days of my life.” The documentary ends with an uplifting message, with Sopel saying: ”Hi, I’m Brent Sopel, here to change the world.”

This isn’t the first time Sopel has shared his story. Difficult as it might be for him to relive, it most certainly won’t be the last.

”No matter what battle you’re in, alcoholism, depression, dyslexia, when you’re in that battle, you think you’re alone. But I have to tell you, you’re not,” said Sopel, now 3 1/2 years sober. ”I never want another kid to feel the way I do each and every day.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, dyslexia is a learning disorder affecting the brain’s ability to process language, and leads to difficulty reading and writing. Though there is no cure for dyslexia, which affects nearly one in five people, its challenges can be overcome through tutoring, especially when diagnosed at an early age.

Growing up in Saskatchewan, Sopel didn’t know what was wrong with him. He turned to being a class clown and bully at school, something he will always regret. Hockey was his refuge.

”If I didn’t have hockey, I’d be dead,” he said.

Selected by Vancouver in the sixth round of the 1995 draft, Sopel became known for his grit and fearless shot-blocking. ”Petrified” about what his life would be without hockey, Sopel played through numerous injuries, including a broken hand.

The career highlight came with him raising the Cup in 2010, in what proved to be his second-to-last NHL season. And yet, the moment wasn’t entirely fulfilling.

”It felt great, but empty,” Sopel said.

Whatever glory he felt was washed away once his career was over and he spiraled into substance abuse and depression, with little prospect of landing a job because he lacked an education. There were days he couldn’t get out of bed.

”Drugs and alcohol became my best friend,” he said in the documentary. ”I was very close to death.”

Sopel credits family and friends for staying by him and intervening. He now has reason to get out of bed by dedicating himself to helping others, including coaching youth teams in the Chicago area.

”It wasn’t easy. But you know what, I’m here and in a better place,” said Sopel, whose now-teenage daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. ”I have a purpose, and I think this is my purpose, the foundation and I’m telling it the way it is.”

Sopel’s message has been heard by many, and resonated with Kaid Oliver, a 20-year-old Western Hockey League forward, who is dyslexic. Oliver was reluctant to discuss dealing with dyslexia, even with a teammate who has the disability, until an assistant coach introduced him to Sopel.

”For someone to talk openly about it, and be willing to put themselves out there, it’s awesome what Brent’s doing,” he said.

Before encountering Sopel, Oliver could never have envisioned speaking about dyslexia so publicly.

”Even my tutor, she’s basically family and I’ve been working with her since I was super young. She was surprised I’m talking so openly about it,” he said. ”It’s not something I’m proud of, but at the same time, it’s something I have to deal with, and something people should know that they’re not alone.”

He’s taken up reading books for the first time, and signed up for a college course. Once resigned to working in his family’s business after he was done with hockey, Oliver can dare to see other job possibilities now.

”I feel more comfortable with life after hockey, or thinking about that portion,” said Oliver, whose father is dyslexic.

Sopel wouldn’t change a thing about his life by sharing his experiences.

”You take a look at Kaid and Jack (Rodman), who are on the video. They both were alone until they told their stories,” Sopel said. ”That’s why I’m telling them my story. It’s for those two and every other kid and 20% of the population to connect the dots and say, ‘I’m not alone.”’

He wouldn’t trade what he’s doing today for anything – even a Stanley Cup ring, which he once tried selling.

”It was a childhood dream winning a Stanley Cup,” Sopel said. ”But without a doubt, the legacy of me and my foundation, impacting kids’ lives, is way more important.”