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PHT Second Round Preview: 10 things to know about Bruins vs. Lightning

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The second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has some absolutely massive matchups.

The top two-teams regular season teams in the NHL — the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets — are meeting in the Western Conference.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, with their superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, are meeting in the Eastern Conference.

Then there is also the other Eastern Conference matchup that will feature the third-and fourth-best regular season teams when the Boston Bruins meet the Tampa Bay Lightning, starting Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

This series will have five of the top-30 point per game players in the league from the regular season. It will have top-line defensemen in veterans Victor Hedman and Zdeno Chara, and young stars in Charlie McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev. It will have a Vezina Trophy finalist in Andrei Vasilveskiy and a former Vezina Trophy winner in Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins ended up winning the season series by taking three out of the four games and needed to get through a seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first-round to get here.

The Lightning won the Atlantic Division and earned the top-spot in the Eastern Conference then easily dispatched the New Jersey Devils in five games.

It should be a great series that has the potential to go the distance. Here are the 10 key things you need to know about it.

Schedule

Surging Players

Bruins: When you look at the young talent on the Bruins’ roster it’s kind of crazy to think back to the 2015 draft when they had three consecutive picks in the middle of the first-round and look at the players they didn’t take with those picks and who went right after them. Kyle Connor. Mathew Barzal. Broek Boeser. At the time, the Bruins’ selections were criticized and left a lot of draft observers a little underwhelmed. The jury is still out on two of their selections, but nobody should be questioning the Jake DeBrusk (No. 14 overall) given what he has done this season. After scoring 16 goals and adding 27 assists in his debut season with the Bruins, he has been sensational for them in the playoffs with five goals and two assists in their first-round win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including two goals in their Game 7 win.

Lightning:  How could it be anybody other than Nikita Kucherov? After finishing as the second-leading scorer in the NHL during the regular season he had an absolutely monster first-round performance against the New Jersey Devils, finishing with five goals and five assists in the five-game series. He recorded at least one point in each game and had three games with multiple points. He has been one of the best playoff performers in the NHL during his career to this point.

Struggling Players

Bruins: It would not be the playoffs if it did not feature Rick Nash doing a lot of things except actually scoring goals and recording points. He is the king of being so close in these situations. He had one goal and one assist in the first-round against Toronto and probably should have had more. He might need more in the second round if the Bruins are going to keep winning. As always, it is not that he is a total non-factor in these games. He is getting shots, chances … he just can not score. At all. We go through this every postseason like clockwork. It is truly remarkable.

Lightning: A surprising stat from the first-round from the Lightning side of things is that they scored 18 goals in their five games against the New Jersey Devils and Victor Hedman did not factor into one of them. Zero goals. Zero assists. Only once this season did he go more than four games without recording a point (he had a seven-game pointless streak very early in the season). He still played shutdown defense, but it is his offensive production to go along with that shutdown play defensively that makes him one of the league’s elite player. He probably will not be held off the scoreboard much longer.

Goaltending

Bruins: It seems that no matter what he does Tuukka Rask is always going to be under an intense microscope in Boston. Overall his career postseason numbers are outstanding. He has taken the team to the Stanley Cup Final once before. But he has also had some objectively bad games in big situations. Game 7 against Toronto gave everybody something to argue about because he did enough to get the win but also finished with ugly individual numbers. He managed only an .891 save percentage in the series. That sort of performance may not get the job done against Tampa Bay. He needs to be better, and he has a rather lengthy track record in his career to suggest that he can be.

Lightning: Andrei Vasilveskiy earned himself a top-three spot in the Vezina Trophy voting this season for leading the league in wins, shutouts, and finishing with a .920 save percentage. He seemed to cool down the stretch a bit — perhaps a little fatigue setting in due to a heavy workload and his first year as a full-time starter? — but he really came back strong in the first-round of the playoffs, posting a .941 save percentage against the Devils. The competition gets a little tougher in the second round against a Bruins team that has more than one real threat to score.

Special Teams

Bruins: The Bruins had some of the best special teams in the NHL during the regular season, finishing in the top-five in both power play and penalty kill. The power play was dominant in the first-round against Toronto, converting on eight of its 23 chances. The penalty kill struggled a bit going 11-for-15 against the Maple Leafs, though that is probably too small of a sampling to get overly concerned.

Lightning: Like the Bruins, the Lightning had a dominant power play during the regular season, finishing with the third-best unit in the league. Also like the Bruins that unit was great in the first round, and it wasn’t just the usual suspects finding the back of the net. Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde combined to score four of their five power play goals against the Devils. The key matchup in this series will be the Lightning’s penalty kill — one of the worst in the league during the regular season — against Boston’s power play.

Fancy Stats

Bruins: The Bruins were a dominant 5-on-5 team during the season when it came to possession and shot metrics, finishing the regular season as a 53.2 percent Corsi team (second best in the league) and then came back in the first-round and just absolutely crushed the Maple Leafs in those categories. Goaltending made the series the close. Little better play from Tuukka Rask or a little worse play from Frederick Andersen in his wins turns that series into a laugher.

Lightning: Similar story for the Lightning when it comes to their ability to control the puck and the shot shares. Their Corsi mark was seventh best in the league during the regular season and they were all over the Devils in that area in the first-round. With Vasilevskiy playing great for the Lightning and neither Devils goalie able to consistently withstand the Lightning attack the series was over quickly.

Injuries

Bruins: The big one here for the Bruins is the same one that it has been for a while. Defenseman Brandon Carlos, a 20-minute per night player, has been sidelined since the end of the regular season with an ankle injury that is going to cost him the rest of the season. Patrice Bergeron may not be entirely 100 percent after missing Game 4 in the opening round with an upper-body injury but he did return for the rest of it and had three points (one goal, two assists) in the Game 7 win.

Lightning: The Lightning are entering this series pretty healthy, at least when it comes to injuries that could potentially keep someone out of the lineup.

X-Factor For Bruins

Charlie McAvoy had a magnificent rookie season for the Bruins, stepping right into the lineup and immediately becoming a top-pairing, impact defenseman when he was healthy. For as good as his regular season, he had some struggles in the opening round, recording just a single assist in the seven games. He wasn’t necessarily *bad* in the first round against Toronto, but he also wasn’t the same player he was during the regular season. In other words, he has shown that he has another level he can get to. If he gets back there in the second round, look out.

X-Factor For Lightning

Ryan McDonagh was the headliner in their latest big trade with the New York Rangers, but when it is all said and done we might be remembering that deal as the J.T. Miller trade. Miller was kind of the forgotten player in that deal but he has been incredible since coming over to the Lightning, scoring 10 goals and adding eight assists in 19 regular season games then contributing four points in the five-game series against the Devils. He is a pretty consistent 20-25 goal, 50-55 point forward. Just another offensive weapon up front for a team that is already loaded with them.

Prediction

Bruins in 6. This obviously has the makings of a six-or seven-game series. They are two of the best teams in the league, they have loads of talent — both veteran and young — all over their lineups, they both have goalies that are capable of stealing games, and they are just evenly matched from top-to-bottom. The Bruins took the season series winning three out of the four games and I think that continues in this series. Have liked the Bruins team all season and they have been my pick to come out of the East for a while now. Sticking with them.

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
10 things to know about Golden Knights vs. Sharks
• 10 things to know about Penguins vs. Capitals
• 10 things to know about Predators vs. Jets

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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.

Players hope US-Canada rivalry game helps spawn pro league

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The United States women’s hockey team beat Canada 4-1 on Saturday night, with players hoping the first in a series of five games between the international rivals will help kindle the public’s interest in both their sport and their fight off the ice for better professional opportunities.

Canada’s Victoria Bach and the Megan Keller of the U.S. traded power-play goals in the first period, before Amanda Kessel put the U.S. on top for good with a player advantage in the second. Abbe Roque’s backhand in the period gave the US a 3-1 lead and Alex Carpenter beat Genevieve Lacasse for the final goal 1:15 seconds later.

More than 7,000 fans showed up for the international competition, which comes after more than 200 members of what has since become the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association announced in May they would not play professionally in North America during the 2019-2020 season.

“I think it’s important for people to watch us play and see the level of talent and entertainment that’s out there,” Kessel said. “It’s getting that understanding that we need to help get us a place to play year-round so that people can see us more than five times a year.”

The women are seeking a professional league that provides a living wage, health insurance, infrastructure and support for training. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League shut down in the spring after 12 years of operation, leaving only the five-team National Women’s Hockey League, where most players make less than $10,000 a season.

“The product is there,” Kessel said. “The people to watch it are there. We just need a structure set in place.”

Sarah Nurse, a forward for Team Canada, whose cousin Kia Nurse plays for New York in the WNBA, said players are hoping to get support from the NHL, which has, so far, expressed little interest in investing in a women’s league.

“We can look at (the WNBA) and see that women’s sports have value and they have a place in this world,” said Nurse, who made $2,000 last season playing in the CWHL. “That is definitely a model that we look to.”

The rivalry series was created after the Four Nations Cup in Sweden was canceled when top Swedish players pulled out of national team events due to concerns over their salary and working conditions.

Without a viable pro league, players who are out of college have been training on their own at random rinks across North America in between gatherings of the national teams or training sessions and exhibitions sponsored by the players association.

Canada won two of those over the US in Pittsburgh last month.

But the lack of consistent competition can stunt the players’ development, especially when it comes to be being prepared for world and Olympic competitions, the players said.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Nurse said. “Games are when we truly get better and test out our skills, so it’s unfortunate that we don’t have more games to play.”

Cayla Barnes, who plays defense for the U.S. team and Boston College, said she and the other college players on the national teams understand what is going on and appreciate what the older players are doing.

“They are putting so much on the line for the younger generations,” she said. “Not just for us college kids who are coming up, but for U-8, U-10 girls who are coming up so they have opportunities later on. So I think all of us who are younger are trying to support them in whatever way we can.”

Hundreds of girls wearing their youth hockey jerseys attended the game, chanting “U-S-A” as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“I want to be like them, like in the Olympics when I get older,” said 14-year-old Leila Espirito Santo, of Glastonbury “I started playing when I was in fourth grade and I wasn’t the best, but watching them play made me want to be better. It showed me I could do it.”

The teams will meet again on Tuesday in Moncton, New Brunswick. Other games part of the 2019-20 Rivalry Series are slated for Feb. 3 and Feb. 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Feb. 8 in Anaheim, California.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Duclair; Staal one point away from 1,000

NHL Scores Eric Staal Minnesota Wild
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Three Stars

1. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators. This had to be a satisfying game for Duclair. He showed John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets that he does, in fact, know how to play the game by scoring three goals in a 4-3 win for the Ottawa Senators. That performance includes the game-winning goal in overtime. The 24-year-old Duclair now has 18 goals in 33 games this season and is on pace for more than 40 goals this season. Read all about his day here.

2. Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bjugstad, and Patric Hornqvist out of the lineup the Penguins have more than $35 million in salary cap space sitting in the press box at the moment. They still keep finding ways to win. They picked up a 5-4 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings in Saturday thanks to another huge game from Rust. He scored two goals and picked up an assist in regulation, then scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. Rust now has 12 goals and 22 total points in only 19 games this season for the Penguins. He has always been one of their most versatile — and valuable — players, and he is showing why this season.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild. Staal has been on a roll for the Wild and thanks to his two-goal effort in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, he now has six points in his past five games and is up to 999 for his career. That means with one more point he would become only the 89th player in NHL history to hit the 1,000 point milestone. The Wild are one of the league’s hottest teams since the start of November with a 12-3-5 record in their past 20 games. They were 4-9-0 before in October.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • David Pastrnak extended his lead in the NHL goal-scoring race with a pair of goals in the Boston Bruins’ 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers. He now has 28 goals on the season and is five ahead of Jack Eichel.
  • Warren Foegele scored two goals for the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer stopped all 32 shots he faced and Dougie Hamilton scored against his former team in a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames.
  • Anthony Beauvillier was the overtime hero for the New York Islanders as they topped the Buffalo Sabres.
  • The New Jersey Devils gave Alain Nasreddine his first NHL win as a head coach while the Taylor Hall watch continues. Read all about it here.
  • Frederik Andersen stopped 36 out of 37 shots as the Toronto Maple Leafs sent the fading Edmonton Oilers to their fourth consecutive defeat. It is the 200th win of Andersen’s career.
  • Jonathan Bernier backstopped the Detroit Red Wings to their second consecutive win as they hold off the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Mika Zibanejad‘s two goals are not enough for the New York Rangers as they drop a 4-3 shootout decision to the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Ben Bishop turned aside 37 out of 38 shots to help the Dallas Stars crush the Nashville Predators.
  • Evander Kane and Logan Couture both record two points as the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed win over the Vancouver Canucks. It is the first win for Bob Boughner as head coach of the Sharks.
  • Tyler Bozak scored two goals as the St. Louis Blues stunned the Chicago Blackhawks. Read all about it here.

Highlights of the Night

Timo Meier finishes a great passing play for the San Jose Sharks with an absolute rocket of a shot to beat Jacob Markstrom.

Jonathan Quick has really struggled the past two years, and it came in a losing effort in Pittsburgh on Saturday, but this series of saves in overtime is pretty ridiculous.

Garnet Hathaway score with some style for the Capitals.

Give this fan a contract

This is a $50,000 shot between periods in Montreal.

Factoids

  • The Blues’ comeback is just the second time in franchise history they erased a three-goal third period deficit to win. [NHL PR]
  • Zibanejad’s first goal for the Rangers came just 10 seconds into the game, the fastest goal for the Rangers since the 1985 season. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Eichel extended his point streak to 16 consecutive games, making it the fourth longest in Buffalo Sabres franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • The Wild have earned a point in 12 consecutive home games, the second-longest streak in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Brad Marchand hit the 50-point mark for the season, the first Bruins player since Adam Oates during the 1995-96 season to reach that mark in 34 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic played in his 1,000th career game on Saturday night, making him the 340th player in NHL history to reach that milestone. [San Jose Sharks]
  • Foegele’s two goals for the Hurricanes both came while shorthanded, making him the fifth Hurricanes player to ever accomplish that in a game. [NHL PR]

Scores

Ottawa Senators 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)
New York Islanders 3, Buffalo Sabres 2 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 4, New York Rangers 3 (SO)
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Calgary Flames 0
Dallas Stars 4, Nashville Predators 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Edmonton Oilers 1
Minnesota Wild 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Detroit Red Wings 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
Washington Capitals 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Boston Bruins 4, Florida Panthers 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Los Angeles Kings 4 (SO)
New Jersey Devils 2, Arizona Coyotes 1
St. Louis Blues 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3
San Jose Sharks 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

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.

Devils give Nasreddine first win as Taylor Hall trade watch continues

Devils Taylor Hall Trade Watch
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For the second game in a row the New Jersey Devils held star forward Taylor Hall out of the lineup as they continue to work toward a trade.

They were still able to give interim coach Alain Nasreddine his first win as an NHL coach by defeating the Arizona Coyotes, 2-1, thanks to a late goal from Kyle Palmieri.

Entering play on Saturday the Devils had been 0-4-1 since firing John Hynes and replacing him with Nasreddine.

The win also snapped a seven-game losing streak.

The big story, though, continues to be where Hall ends up as trade talks continue between the Devils and several teams around the league. Trade speculation has followed Hall and the Devils all season and reached a boiling point on Friday night when he was made a late scratch in Colorado for what the team called “precautionary” reasons. The fact he did not play again on Saturday seems to further drive home the point that a trade could be imminent.

At this point it simply a matter of where he ends up.

While the Avalanche remain the odds on favorite to land him, several other teams have reportedly emerged as possible destinations. One of those potential teams: Saturday’s opponent in Arizona.

Other teams that have been rumored to be interested include St. Louis, Florida, and Edmonton.

The Coyotes are an intriguing option because it would be a pretty clear sign that they are ready to try and win right now. Even with Saturday’s loss to the Devils they remain in first place in the Pacific Division and are off to one of their starts in years. They have a good young roster, but are still lacking impact forwards. Phil Kessel was supposed to help address that over the summer, but he is off to a slow start (only one even-strength goal) and has not yet been a difference-maker.

Adding Hall would be a huge win for the Coyotes not only because of the impact to their own roster, but it would also keep him away from a division rival In Edmonton.

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.

 

Blackhawks self destruct, blow 3-goal third period lead to Blues

Blackhawks Blues third period rally
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Just when it looked like the Chicago Blackhawks had hit rock bottom they found a way to keep digging.

Their disastrous three-game road trip came to a brutal end on Saturday night in St. Louis when they allowed a three-goal lead with 16 minutes to play turn into a 4-3 regulation loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.

The meltdown began when St. Louis’ Tyler Bozak scored just 30 seconds after Patrick Kane had given the Blackhawk a 3-0 lead, capitalizing on a terrible turnover by Alex Nylander.

The Blues completed the comeback with three goals in the final six minutes of regulation, including a pair of goals just 12 seconds apart to tie the game.

Just three minutes after that sequence Justin Faulk scored his second goal of the season for the game-winner.

1. The Blackhaws’ problems remain the same

It’s the defensive zone play. It has been the defensive zone play. It continues to be the defensive zone play.

At times the Blackhawks look like a team that has never had to play in the defensive zone before. Turnovers, missed assignments, blown assignments, and just about every possible defensive calamity that can happen to a team in the defensive zone happens to this team on a near nightly basis. All of that was on display in the final 16 minutes on Saturday and it once again left their goalie — in this case Corey Crawford — all by himself on an island.

2. Where they stand now

In last place in the Central Division and next-to-last place in the entire Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. Needless to say, that is a brutal position for a team with one of the league’s largest payrolls to be in.

They are 3-8-2 in their past 13 games (only one of those wins in regulation), are nine points out of the second Wild Card spot and 12 points back of the top-three teams in the Central Division.

They were outscored by a 14-6 margin on their three-game trip that took them through Arizona, Vegas, and St. Louis.

At this point the season is not only getting away from them, it appears to be completely gone.

3. What happens next?

This is the type of stretch, and this is the type of game, that leads to change.

Or at least starts the ball rolling toward change.

Head coach Jeremy Colliton has been on the job for just one year, and firing him that quickly after he replaced a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach would make it seem like the Blackhawks don’t really have much of a plan and don’t really know what they’re doing.

But do you know what? Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing, and maybe they don’t have a plan. General manager Stan Bowman gambled big on his core and that its strong second half a year ago was a sign of what the team was still capable of. That it maybe just needed a few tweaks to compete again. With every passing game this season, and with every defensive meltdown that seems worse than the previous one, it is becoming increasingly clear this team just isn’t very good and the right changes were not made.

In the end something is very wrong with this team and there does not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel.

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.