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Stanley Cup Playoffs: PHT predicts NHL’s Second Round

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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins

SEAN: Lightning in 6. The bump that Tampa hit towards the end of the season had some thinking that it could result in the New Jersey Devils giving them issues in the first round. That didn’t happen, and now healthy and with a likely less-tired Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, we’ll see a Lightning team that’s going to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins are coming off a tough seven-game series, and Tuukka Rask isn’t playing great, but the scoring depth that helped get them by the Toronto Maple Leafs will allow them to make this a series.

JAMES: Lightning in 6. As a perpetually groggy human, I put great value on rest. The Lightning basically got a bye week while the Bruins needed to grind out a seven-game series. Zdeno Chara is 41 and almost logged 30 minutes of ice time in Game 7, and it ended in regulation. The Lightning boast a comparable top line, better depth, their own behemoth star blueliner in Victor Hedman, and less wear and tear.

(Plus I might as well maintain some pick consistency, right?)

ADAM: Bruins in 6. There was a little too much made of the Lightning’s struggles down the stretch run, and winning round one in five games — even if some of the games were tight and close — was a pretty emphatic statement that they are still great. Still, there is just something about this Bruins team that seems a little better. I think the Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak line is going to be too much and for as great as Tampa Bay is I still think there are some areas that can be exploited there in a short series to be the difference, especially on defense. Don’t like the thought of Dan Girardi, for example, trying to match up with those forwards from Boston.

JOEYLightning in 6: The Bruins have the best line in the series with David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but the Bolts are deeper up front. Tampa is also better on defense with Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Mikhail Sergachev and co. And after watching Boston’s first-round series against Toronto, it’s pretty clear that Andrei Vasilevskiy is playing better than Tuukka Rask right now.

SCOTTBruins in 7. I’m basically staying the course here. I picked the Bruins as my representative in the Stanley Cup Final out of the Eastern Conference, and while they had to grind out a series win in seven games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, I just feel, when running right, no one can beat them in the East — the Atlantic Division champions included. It’s probably less likely given that the Lightning had a week off and the Bruins will get only a couple days of rest. But I dug my grave and now I will lay in it. 

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

SEAN: Penguins in 6. Every time these teams meet in the postseason we do mental gymnastics to find ways to make ourselves believe the Capitals will finally do it. Every time they come up short, and we realize we should have known better. Here we are again. Penguins win until the Capitals break the spell.

JAMES: Penguins in 7Pick consistency helps again here, which is nice because this is a tough call, especially with Evgeni Malkin missing at least Game 1.

It’s tough to pick against the law of averages. Don’t forget that the three Sidney CrosbyAlex Ovechkin series were all close, with one series ending in six games and the other two going the full distance for seven. The Penguins also looked more than a bit leaky against Philly.

Still, the Penguins inspired doubt during the 2016 and 2017 runs, and they still got things done. They tend to create more chances than they allow and enjoy the luxury of rolling out multiple lethal scorers.

ADAM: Capitals in 7. I don’t know, man. They have to win at some point, don’t they? This Capitals team is not as good as the past two Capitals teams that could not do it, but they are still good! Everything seems like it is just there for them this season. Evgeni Malkin is hurt. Carl Hagelin is hurt. I do not think Phil Kessel is 100 percent healthy. Matt Murray has not played as well as he has the past two years. Everything is there on the table for them. The door is open. Just go through it!

JOEYCapitals in 7. Yes, I’m going to be that guy. The Capitals have exceptional depth down the middle, while Evgeni Malkin is banged up for Pittsburgh. He won’t play in Game 1, so he’s clearly hurting. If Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller continue playing well, the Caps will get the job done this time around.

SCOTTPenguins in 7. I took the Pens in six in the first round and they obliged me, and I’m taking them again (don’t let me down). 

Pittsburgh is the better team, despite what the standings suggested at the end of the regular season. Matt Murray is on his game (so is Holtby to a lesser extent, but he worries me). Evgeni Malkin missing Game 1 is a tough pill to swallow, but the Pens have own the Capitals, historically, in their playoff meetings. I don’t see that changing, even if the Caps push them to the limit. 

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Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets

SEAN: Predators in 7. They were my pick in the West and I’m sticking with it, even as they face their toughest test of the season. Last year’s run to the Final helped the Predators this season. They learned what it takes to go on a deep run and now that they’re healthy — for now! — and GM David Poile added depth in Nick Bonino, Kyle Turris, Ryan Hartman and Mike Fisher, they can handle what Winnipeg offer, which is a scary offense with Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheiefele and Paul Stastny, among others.

JAMES: Predators in 7. Ah, now here is where leaning on past picks is especially helpful, as the Predators were my pre-season, mid-season, and pre-playoffs pick as champs. The Predators hold home-ice advantage and a coach I’m personally more confident in. Nashville doesn’t really have any major flaws, at least with Pekka Rinne playing at a high level. Winnipeg’s top-end talent is pretty scary, but this is the one opponent with the defensemen to potentially slow them down. A bit.

This should be an especially fun series, as you could argue this is a clash between the two best teams in the NHL.

ADAM: Predators in 6. They have been my pick in the Western Conference from day one and I just do not see any reason to change it. The Jets are awesome and should continue to be awesome for a long time with the young talent they have, but this Predators team just seems completely loaded and does not really have a significant weakness.

JOEYPredators in 7. The two best teams in the NHL are going head-to-head in the second round, which should make for an incredible series. The Predators arguably have the best defense in the league, while the Jets have one of the more explosive forward groups. There’s not much separating these two teams on the ice, but experience is on Nashville’s side.

SCOTTPredators in 7. Here’s hoping that his series goes the distance because everyone who loves watching hockey deserves that. The matchup is mouthwatering. High-powered offenses, Vezina-caliber goaltending and physicality for days. I picked the Predators to win the Cup this year, so I won’t pivot from that initial pick, but watching the Jets put on a masterclass in the first round has me second-guessing myself. The Jets, outside of Game 3, were simply dominate all over the place. The Predators, on the other hand, looked somewhat pedestrian in their series outside of their series-clinching Game 6 performance. This one is honestly a toss-up. I’m sticking with my initial pick, but wouldn’t be surprised to see the Jets move on either in the same number of games. 

Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks

SEAN: Sharks in 6. I think the magic run ends here. Marc-Andre Fleury needs to post that .981 even strength save percentage during their sweep of the Los Angeles Kings because the Golden Knights only averaged 1.75 goals per game in the first round and all four games were decided by a single goal. The Vegas offense that averaged 3.27 goals per game during the regular season will need to find itself again going up against a Sharks team that destroyed the Anaheim Ducks. San Jose received contributions from up and down the lineup, and that’s with Joe Thornton missing the entire series. Add in the stellar play of Martin Jones (.979 ESSV%) and it could spell the end for Vegas.

This, according to my predictions, will result in a Jets-Sharks conference final, which will bring back all those playful jabs San Jose players threw Winnipeg’s way earlier this season.

JAMES: Sharks in 6. That stuff about consistency carries over here: I keep doubting the Golden Knights, they remain a blast to watch and prove me wrong. Why stop now? The Sharks have been a locomotive lately, rolling over the Ducks in impressive fashion. San Jose has the defenders to inhibit the Jonathan Marchessault line, top scorers who are lighting it up, and a unique weapon in Brent Burns.

ADAM: Sharks in 6. This Sharks team is really underrated and they are going to be a challenge for Vegas in a way that Los Angeles was not. They are fast, they can score, they have some youth, I don’t know if Marc-Andre Fleury can stop every single shot he faces again (well, almost every single shot he faces). I think the Sharks take it and continue to make surprising runs in the playoffs long after everyone gave up on them as a Stanley Cup contender.

JOEYGolden Knights in 7. The Golden Knights’ run will not come to an end in the second round. This doesn’t mean I’m selling the Sharks short, I just believe that the depth that Vegas has up front will make the difference. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Jones have been great for their respective teams, and that’s why this will be a tight series.

SCOTT: Golden Knights in 6. I picked both of these teams — Vegas and the San Jose Sharks — to lose in seven games in the first round. What a mistake that was. Given how well Vegas managed to play in their own zone and how dominate they were in goal to shutdown the Kings, if all stays the same, there’s no reason to think they can’t stop the Sharks in the same manner. The Golden Knights gave up the least number of high-danger scoring chances and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all of them when they did. That’s a hell of a recipe and another addition to the history books. 

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Roundtable: Slowing the Sharks, X-factors

Who’s hockey’s best? McDavid, Matthews, Crosby stir debate

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TORONTO (AP) — Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews? Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid?

With debate ramping up about which player sits atop hockey’s throne – after some remarkable early performances – Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock’s goes in a different direction – Sidney Crosby.

”This is what I think,” Babcock began as he made his case for the Penguins captain before Pittsburgh’s 3-0 victory over Toronto on Thursday. ”I think one guy’s got two Olympic gold medals and three Stanley Cups.”

And the other guys?

”They don’t.”

McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers captain with blazing speed, has won back-to-back NHL scoring titles and the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. Matthews, the Maple Leafs’ deadly sniper, has the most points in the league, 16 in just eight games.

McDavid set an NHL record this week by becoming the only player to either score or assist on the first nine goals of his team’s season.

Matthews has a lethal shot that often leaves a goalie looking up at the replay for a glimpse at a puck that just whizzed by him. He is just the fifth player to have seven straight multipoint games to start a season.

Babcock is quick to acknowledge what these 21-year-old phenoms have done. But he says personal accolades matter only so much.

Crosby is 31 and has been on top of the hockey world for the better part of the last decade. He won the Cup in 2009, 2016 and 2017 to go along with gold medals for Canada at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

Had it not been for the concussions that limited him to 63 of his team’s 164 games between 2010 and 2012, the two-time Hart and Conn Smythe Trophy winner might own even more hardware.

Babcock coached Crosby at the Vancouver and Sochi Games, and again at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, which Canada also won.

”Team success in the end, that’s how you’re measured,” he said. ”When you’ve been the best player on the best team, to me that’s totally different than being the best player on a team that’s not as good. As you’ve got people around you to raise your game and set a standard … to me, it’s not even close.”

Mike Sullivan became Pittsburgh’s coach during the 2015-16 season and immediately grew to appreciate Crosby’s gifts.

”Sid’s the most driven athlete I’ve ever been around,” he said. ”Not only is he an elite player, but he’s willing to put the work in to continue to try to be the best player he can be. … I have the privilege of watching him on a daily basis put the work in to be the player that he is.”

Toronto center Nazem Kadri says it’s tough to pick among Crosby, McDavid and Matthews.

”I still think Sid’s an incredible player and McDavid’s definitely up there,” he said. ”(Matthews) is creeping up there. … To me, McDavid’s speed is just incredible and so hard to stop. You can’t necessarily make a mistake when he’s on the ice because when you’re beside him you’re going to be behind him.”

Maple Leafs center John Tavares went head-to-head with Crosby for nine seasons while with the New York Islanders.

”He doesn’t take anything for granted and his work ethic’s tremendous,” Tavares said. ”He puts a lot of commitment into being the player that he is.”

Crosby has five assists in six games this season playing on a line with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust – the first time he’s gone without a goal this long. But Sullivan’s admiration is undiminished.

”He leaves no stone unturned,” Sullivan said. ”He takes care of himself physically. He trains so hard, both off the ice and on the ice. We learn as much from Sid as I think he does from our coaching staff with just the way he thinks the game.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

PHT Roundtable: Early-season surprises, stand-out stats

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1. Carolina, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago and Anaheim are off to surprise starts this season. Which team(s) do you see being able to maintain that success throughout this season and why?

SEAN: I can see teams like Carolina and Anaheim cooling off, but not to a degree like Ottawa or Montreal where they’ll fall way to the back of the pack. Then there’s Chicago, who now with Corey Crawford back, stand to be able to keep above water the rest of the season. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will do what they do and produce up front. It’ll be a matter of secondary scoring helping out. If Crawford stays healthy and regains the form that made him a Vezina Trophy candidate before suffering a concussion last December, the Blackhawks can find a way back to the playoffs.

JAMES: While the threat of bad goaltending looms like Michael Myers around Halloween, the Hurricanes’ deep defense and young offense gives them a great chance to break their interminable playoff drought. The Blackhawks and Ducks have a strong chance to at least be in the West bubble picture if they get some better health luck (even as Jonathan Toews’ shooting luck is certain to cool off at least a bit). Montreal and Ottawa? No, sorry, but at least the Habs might be fun to watch.

ADAM: Off the top of my head I would say most likely Carolina or Anaheim and maybe — MAYBE — Chicago. Anaheim’s hot start seems like it is entirely based off of John Gibson‘s play, and it pretty much is. But he is an elite goalie that can carry a team and they are going to start getting some of their forwards back at some point, at least as far as Ryan Getzlaf and Ondrej Kase are concerned. That will help. Every year I get fooled and sucked in by Carolina but I really think they have some of the right pieces in place, and that defense is pretty legit. It all depends on what sort of goaltending they get. Speaking of, if Corey Crawford comes back healthy and plays well he could be a huge difference-maker for Chicago. They have had a lot of things go their way in the early going, but Crawford can be a game-changer and Jonathan Toews looks like he might be back on track offensively. Montreal and Ottawa are nice early season stories, but I just do not see how either way sustains it.

JOEY: I think the Ducks can keep this rolling. First, John Gibson has arguably been the best goalie in the NHL from the start of the season. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t be dominant more often than not. Secondly, they’ve been able to have success while dealing with a lot of injuries. Ryan Getzlaf, Ondrej Kase, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves have all missed time early on. At some point, they’re going to start getting healthier which should make them better. The Ducks are in one of the tougher divisions, so they’ll be battling for positioning on a nightly basis, but there’s no reason to think that they can’t keep winning.

SCOTT: Carolina because they have a potent offense that seems to be able to drive possession and put up a pile of shots. That’s a recipe for scoring goals and scoring goals wins games. Their defense seems much improved and if they can get some league average goaltending, book that ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anaheim is the other team, and John Gibsons is a big reason for that. He’s been nothing short of stellar and helps Anaheim pull out some victories when the number of injuries they had might suggest they shouldn’t be winning. And now they’re beginning to get healthy, with names like Getzlaf, Kase, Perry and Kesler all making their way back into the fold. Sure, some of their stars are aging, but there’s still a bevy of talent there to propel them along.

2. What’s the most surprising player/team stat to you so far?

SEAN: Everything Connor McDavid is doing so far this season. I know we shouldn’t be surprised given his all-world talent, but it’s incredible to watch him have an impact on just about every Oilers goal. Edmonton has scored 13 goals through five games and McDavid has been involved in 11 of them with four goals and seven assists. It’s truly maddening to see the Oilers fail to build around him. Let’s hope this trend doesn’t continue as he continues racking up Hart and Art Ross Trophies.

JAMES: Look, the Canadiens boast some nice talent, but their hot start is quite surprising. More than the respectable record is the sheer brilliance of their early play. Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Blues, Montreal averaged almost 10 more shots on goal than they’ve allowed so far (36 vs. 26.6). In other words, their strong start isn’t just a matter of dumb luck.

(I still think they’ll miss the playoffs, though.)

ADAM: Probably the fact that Arizona is near the top of the league in shots on goal per game but somehow has still only scored three total goals (as of Thursday) and has not scored a single one at even-strength. How is that even possible? Even if they were near the bottom of the league in shots you would expect more than three goals in five games, even from a bad team. But to put that many pucks on net and still not score is just incredible. They have also been really good defensively so far, both in terms of shots against and goals against. So, like, there is some positive stuff happening there but the offense just quite literally cannot buy a goal right now. It is remarkable.

JOEY: I knew Sebastian Aho was a talented player, but I never expected him to get off to this kind of start. Only Auston Matthews, Patrice Bergeron and Morgan Rielly have collected more points than Aho, who has 12 points in seven games. The ‘Canes have desperately needed a forward to step in and become a go-to guy and it looks like they finally have that person in place. The 21-year-old won’t hit the 141 points he’s currently on pace to score, but he’s off to a really promising start.

As far as team stats go, how about that Sharks power play that’s clicking at 9.5 percent? Once they acquired Erik Karlsson from the Senators, most people assumed that they’d be clicking at an insane rate. That hasn’t been the case just yet. Of course, it’s nothing to be alarmed about if you’re a fan of the Sharks because they’re six games into their season. It’s only a matter of time before they figure out. With Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Logan Couture and Karlsson on the roster, there’s no reason to think that this power play will continue slumping like it is right now.

SCOTT: New Jersey’s defense and goaltending is very good. Keith Kinkaid has allowed just eight goals in five starts this season. He’s already got two shutouts (and they weren’t against Arizona, either — both came against respectable offenses in Washington and Dallas). He’s arguably the best goalie in the NHL at the moment and I never expected to say that through the first few weeks of the season or, really, ever.

An honorable mention here goes to Carolina. I mentioned them in the first question and they deserve another here. They’re averaging 42 shots a game. A. That’s silly. B. It’s the best in the NHL. And they’re only allowing 25 against, second fewest. It’s no wonder that they’re pacing the Metropolitan Division early on in the season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Coaches win appeal against ban for removing medals at worlds

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ZURICH (AP) — Three coaches who quickly took off their silver medals after last year’s title game at the World Junior Ice Hockey Championship have won appeals against bans.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in favor of Sweden head coach Tomas Monten and assistants Nizze Landen and Henrik Stridh. They faced bans of two or three games at the 2019 junior worlds.

The International Ice Hockey Federation says it ”acknowledges the oversight” in rules which previously required only players to wear their medals ”in respectful manner” for the post-game ceremony and interviews.

The IIHF has updated its rules for the next tournament, which starts in December in Canada.

Sweden lost to Canada for the 2018 title in January in Buffalo, New York.

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

The Buzzer: Huberdeau shootout hero for Panthers; Saros to the rescue

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

A pretty eventful game against the Washington Capitals came to an end thanks to Huberdeau’s winner in the fourth round of the shootout. After the Panthers stormed out to a 4-1 first period lead, the Capitals clawed back in the second to even the score. But it was Huberdeau’s second of the season that gave Florida its lead back. After a Nicklas Backstrom goal late in the third tied it up, we were off to a shootout where Huberdeau ended things to cap off a three-point night in a 6-5 victory.

2. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild

The Wild netminder stopped 33 shots, including 24(!) in the second period during a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars. Matt Dumba and Ryan Suter scored 3:17 apart midway through the third period to erase a Dallas lead and put Minnesota in front for good.

3. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

Pekka Rinne left the game with 14:51 left in the third period and Saros would stop all nine shots he faced in relief to help secure a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames. Zac Rinaldo snapped a 3-3 tie 6:31 into the third period for his first of the year. Saros was tested immediately after entering the game, denying Elias Lindholm in tight.

Highlights of the Night

Ryan Suter went with the bank shot for the game-winning goal against the Stars:

Aleksander Barkov continues to be ridiculous in the shootout:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Panthers 6, Capitals 5 (SO)
Wild 3, Stars 1
Predators 5, Flames 3

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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.