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Three questions facing Anaheim Ducks

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

Will they be able to improve shot suppression?

Anaheim’s goaltenders know what busy nights look like. Night after night they’ve been facing a ton of rubber from opponents and thanks to the play of the backstops like Frederik Andersen and John Gibson and their offensive weapons, they’ve been able to come out on the winning end of most games. 

The number of shots the Ducks have allowed has increased in each of the last three seasons. From 27.5/game in 2015-16 to 29.6/game (Randy Carlyle’s first season back in charge) to a whopping 33.1/game last season. You probably won’t be surprised to read that in Carlyle’s two full seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs they allowed 32.3 and 35.9 shots per game, respectively. Be prepared, John Gibson and Ryan Miller.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Not much was done this off-season by general manager Bob Murray to help in that area. Andrej Sustr and Luke Schenn were brought in to help the defense. Prospects Marcus Pettersson and Jacob Larsson could lend a hand in the back, but the blue line will again rely heaviest on Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour.

What will be affected most by Murray’s “change” promise?

The Ducks weren’t going to be in the free agent market looking to lure a big fish on a long-term contract. There are enough of those on the roster at the moment; so it was a quiet July on the signing new talent front. Instead, Murray focused on keeping the likes of Adam Henrique and Brandon Montour and working on new deals for RFAs Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie.

The only real big change so far was the firing of assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk after one season.

No big trade or any sort of roster hacking this summer for Murray, but that doesn’t mean the leash is a long one should the Ducks get off to a slow start.

“I think the players better look in the mirror pretty quick,” he told Eric Stephens of The Athletic in June. “Let’s put it this way. Come September, I’m starting with a real hard look at the leadership group. And we’ll work from that.”

Are Caryle and Murray sharing a hot seat?

Over the last four seasons the Ducks have made the Western Conference Final twice and exited in the first round twice. The playoff loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in April was the first time the franchise had been swept in a series since 1999. Carlyle and Murray have presided over much success since they reunited two years ago, but this season they’ll need their youth step up and make themselves known in order to help keep the team competitive going forward.

Murray’s been the GM since 2008 and has a contract through the 2019-20 season. Ownership has stuck by his side through the ups and downs of the last decade, but is another disappointing season one that could finally force a change?

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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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Rantanen pushes Flames to brink; Pastrnak emerges from slumber

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  • Pastrnak awakes, scores twice as Boston even series 2-2
  • Roope Hintz scores a brace as Stars make it rain on Predators to even series 2-2
  • Mikko. Rantanen. Two goals, one to tie the game late in the third, a second to win it in overtime and give Colorado a 3-1 series edge 

Bruins 6, Maple Leafs 4 (Series tied 2-2)

The Bruins responded, just as they did in Game 2. David Pastrnak scored twice and Zdeno Chara became the second oldest defenseman in the NHL to score a playoff goal, one that stood as the game-winner as a 5-2 lead evaporated late for the Bruins. This series shifts back to Boston now.

Stars 5, Predators 1 (Series tied 2-2)

Four goals were scored in the opening 13:45 of the first period. Dallas, of course, scored all of them and Pekka Rinne‘s night was done early. That’s the story of this one as the Stars won the game in the first period and held the Predators at bay for the rest of the night.

Avalanche 3, Flames 2 (Colorado leads 3-1)

A wild third-period comeback. A wild overtime. One hell of a save. One hell of a penalty kill. And one epic comeback.

All these things converged to give the Avs a commanding 3-1 series lead on the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season. Mikko Rantanen starred, scoring the tying goal in the third period late and then converting in overtime.

Three stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche

What can you say about the young Finn that hasn’t been said already?

A game-tying goal on the power play with 2:50 to go in the third period off an incredible pass from Nathan MacKinnon, and then an overtime winner to push Calgary to the brink of elimination.

2. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

‘Pasta’ picked a good game to start cooking with the sauce. He grabbed his first two goals of the series to put the Bruins up 4-2, and they held on to a 6-2 win to even the best-of-7 series 2-2.

3. Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars

Like Pastrnak, Hintz, too, had a brace, scoring his first and second goals of the series as the Stars dropped the Preds 5-1.

Hintz nearly had a hat trick, but his shorthanded attempt rung off the iron.

Highlights of the night

Pastrnak show:

Grubauer with an epic save in OT:

Factoids

  • Old man Chara still doing things, like becoming the second oldest d-man to score a playoff goal. (NHL PR)
  • Pekka Rinne was pulled from a playoff game for the 10th time in his career. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Calgary has never won a playoff series where they’ve trailed 3-1. (Sportsnet Stats)

Thursday’s Games
Game 4: Capitals at Hurricanes (WSH leads 2-1), 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 5: Blues at Jets (Series tied 2-2) 8:30 p.m. ET; USA, (Live stream)
Game 5: Golden Knights at Sharks (Vegas leads 3-1), 10 p.m. ET; NBCSN (Live stream)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Rantanen leads Avalanche in OT comeback win against Flames

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For most of Game 4, it looked like Flames goaltender Mike Smith would be the hero, but just as they did in Game 3, the Colorado Avalanche bombarded him and eventually it worked. Mikko Rantanen played an instrumental role, scoring the game-tying goal late in the third and then the overtime winner in Colorado’s 3-2 victory.

The Calgary Flames were tied for second in the league in goals scored during the regular season, but so far Smith has been their most important player. The 37-year-old goaltender earned Calgary’s only win of the series by posting a 26-save shutout. The Avalanche have made life too difficult for him lately though.

Just one game after the Avalanche managed to blowout Calgary by launching an overwhelming 56 shots at Smith, they sent another 52 shots his way Wednesday night. Smith held firm though for most of the game. His efforts combined with goals from Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan gave the Flames a 2-0 lead by 6:58 of the third period. That’s despite the Avalanche firing 17 shots in the first period and 15 in the second.

Eventually though, their persistence paid off. Barely a minute after Ryan’s goal, Smith made a great save on Matt Calvert, but J.T. Compher picked up the rebound to finally get Colorado on the board. It was a start, but that might have been as close as Colorado got if not for some late penalty troubles by Calgary. Mikael Backlund took a tripping penalty at 16:39 and Noah Hanifin was penalized for a puck over the glass at 17:23.

The Backlund penalty was the one the Avalanche capitalized on, courtesy of Rantanen shoveling a Nathan MacKinnon centering pass into the net. That pushed the game into an overtime period that lasted 10:23 minutes before Rantanen scored again to complete the comeback.

With that, the Colorado Avalanche have a 3-1 series lead despite dropping their playoff opener. At this point, the Flames would have to make franchise history to advance as they’re 0-8 when trailing a series 3-1.

In a Round 1 that’s already featured some major surprises, the Avalanche seem on course to deliver yet another. Of course, hope isn’t lost for the Flames yet, but if they are to bounce back, they’ll need to rely on Smith less. He’s already had to face 173 shots in this series, which is 28 more than any other goaltender.

Avalanche-Flames Game 5 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Friday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Stars chase Rinne early, win big to even series vs. Predators

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Four goals on eight shots in just under 14 minutes in the first period. In as tight of a series as it’s been between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, Wednesday’s aberration on the scoreboard was a byproduct of Dallas squad that simply took advantage of many of their opportunities in a 5-1 win.

Swiss-cheese goaltending and a porous defensive effort certainly didn’t help the Preds as Dallas evened the best-of-7 series 2-2, but Dallas played the game that helped them down the stretch in the regular season, and it was effective.

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

The first three games of the series had been decided by a single goal, meaning every opportunity to fire one into the back of the net had a little extra meaning to it. Both Pekka Rinne, who was yanked after a terrible opening 14 minutes, and Ben Bishop had been superb, a continuation of their stellar regular-season play.

But when the dam cracked in the Predators crease on Wednesday, it didn’t take long before it all came crashing down.

Dallas imposed their will on the Preds from the onset.

In the first five minutes, they had drawn two penalties and converted on both of their power play chances (one by Roope Hintz, the other by Alex Radulov). Their suffocating style kept Nashville struggling to make it through the neutral zone.

Conversely, the Stars had no issues working their way into the Nashville end of the ice, with Andrew Cogliano‘s goal to make it 3-0 a prime example of a great break out and some lazy defending by the Predators. Mats Zuccarello‘s third of the series was another power-marker, a snipe job from the slot that ended Rinne’s night.

Hintz found the net for his second of the playoffs and second of the game in the second. Hintz nearly scored shorthanded, too, but his attempt ringed off the post to deny his hat trick.

Ben Bishop’s shutout bid ended nearing the mid-way mark of the third as Roman Josi sent a seeing-eye wrist shot past the Vezina candidate. It’s some consolation as the series shifts back to Tennessee this weekend, although Dallas mostly sat back on the lead they built in the final 20.

Stars-Predators Game 5 from Bridgestone Arena goes Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

David Pastrnak breaks out, leads Bruins to 6-4 win over Leafs in Game 4

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One of the biggest concerns for the Boston Bruins through the first three games of Round 1 was David Pastrnak‘s lack of offensive contributions. On Wednesday, Pastrnak was the difference in Boston’s 6-4 victory over Toronto.

Down 2-1 in the series, the Bruins got an early opportunity in their quest to even the series when Connor Brown was sent to the sin bin for holding just 1:08 minutes into the game. Initially, the Bruins had trouble getting anything going in their power play, but the end result is all that matters and in this case it was a goal from Charlie McAvoy in the dying seconds of the man advantage. Just 3:35 minutes later, Brad Marchand pushed the Bruins’ lead to 2-0.

Toronto heated up late in the first though and was aided by a couple Bruins penalties in quick succession. Technically Boston killed off both penalties, but Zach Hyman found the back of the net through traffic mere seconds after the second power-play opportunity expired.

Auston Matthews evened the contest just 1:07 minutes into the second period, but that’s when Pastrnak woke up. He scored his first two goals of the series just 1:35 minutes apart to establish another two-goal lead for Boston.

Speaking of players who hadn’t scored yet in this series. Zdeno Chara managed to mash one past Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen at 5:39 of the third to expand the Bruins’ lead to 5-2.

That extra goal proved to be critical. McAvoy was caught hi-sticking. His previous penalty was the one that led to the Hyman goal, even if Boston technically completed its penalty kill just before Hyman scored. This time around Matthews needed just 10 seconds of power-play time to net his second goal of the game. With new life breathed into the Maple Leafs, Travis Dermott scored at 13:27 and suddenly Boston’s lead was just a goal.

It was enough to make the ending interesting, but not change the outcome. Boston held on and Joakim Nordstrom got the empty netter with just two seconds left to close out the game.

For the second time in this series, the Bruins have successfully responded to a Toronto victory. This win also put the onus back on the Maple Leafs to win another game at TD Garden. The Bruins haven’t had the series lead yet, but with two of the final three games at home, they’re the ones in the enviable position going forward.

Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 5 from TD Garden will be Friday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.