Bob the Builder: Panthers’ coach putting his stamp on things

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Bob Boughner’s favorite dinner spot used to be a sports pub in the minor-league hockey hotbed of Glens Falls, New York called Dango’s, a place where the chicken wings were huge and most of the televisions were usually tuned to hockey.

These days, it’s an upscale steakhouse called Mastro’s.

If there’s one constant of Boughner’s life in hockey, it’s that just about everything – from refining a palate, to reaching the NHL, to transforming a hockey team – takes time. And Boughner got a very tough reminder of that last season when the Florida Panthers missed the postseason by a single point in his inaugural year as their coach.

So here the Panthers go again, trying to become a playoff club. But with Boughner leading the charge, there’s real belief that good things are coming.

”He’s even more than advertised,” Panthers president Matthew Caldwell said. ”His diligence, he’s a player’s coach but also very, very technical. He gets into the weeds and I think the players trust him, but he’ll hold them accountable too. His ability to be there for the players but also correct them, not be too friendly with them, have strong standards, that’s been excellent.”

Boughner won the job in Florida by selling Caldwell and the rest of the Panthers’ leadership on a vision.

His message: Be patient.

Boughner played 297 games in three different minor leagues, needing seven years to make the jump from NHL draftee to NHL player. Once he got to the top level, he never left, spending parts of 10 seasons with six franchises and being part of five deep runs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was a hard-nosed defenseman, someone whose pro-career-best of eight goals came during those Dango’s-fueled days with the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings in 1993-94.

His coaching climb took time as well, going from an owner-coach-president of OHL team in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario to some NHL assistant stints and finally getting the head job in Florida in 2017.

”It wasn’t an easy road. It was a hard road,” Boughner said. ”I earned it as a player and I had to work every day to stay there. And it was not like I had a secure spot every year, too. But I always worked hard to be a team guy and that’s what has sort of turned into some of my coaching philosophy. I had to build it from the ground up. I miss playing every day, but coaching, there’s something gratifying when it all comes together.”

He feels that gratification coming in Florida.

The Panthers, who open their home schedule on Thursday against Columbus, won three playoff series in their third season of existence – 1995-96. They’ve won zero series since, missing the playoffs entirely in 17 of the 21 seasons that followed their lone run to the Stanley Cup final. Boughner spent two seasons as part of the Panthers organization as a player, though he never made the NHL club.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon knew it would take time for Boughner’s system to take root. Florida was 25-8-2 in its last 35 games last season, going from near the bottom of the Eastern Conference to just missing the postseason.

”I just like his whole attitude about everything,” Tallon said. ”He’s a straightforward, no-nonsense guy. His technical aspect is terrific. And he gets the player. He has good relationships with all the players.”

Boughner looks back at last season with the obvious tinge of disappointment.

But he also knows the growing pains were vital.

Much of the core from last season remains the core now, and those players know what makes Boughner tick – and what makes his system work. There’s a culture in place now, a level of expectation, a level of accountability.

It’s what Boughner demanded from himself as a player, and it’s his blueprint for what he wants as a coach.

”There’s no more excuses,” Boughner said. ”There’s a point last year, maybe 10 or 15 games in, when we were on a trip and I couldn’t wait to get off our plane and get to the hotel and tell the guys get into the meeting room. I sort of blew up, got a lot of things off my chest, and the guys sort started taking inventory of themselves. I think we’ve turned a corner now. I think we’re ready now.”

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MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Blackhawks keep slim playoff hopes alive; Grubauer gets Avs a point

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It only made sense that Philipp Grubauer finished the weekend laying down, and exhausted.

After leading the Avalanche to their fourth consecutive win on Saturday, Grubauer was asked to beat the Blackhawks again on Sunday. He fell just short of accomplishing that task, too, but Chicago eventually won 2-1 in overtime.

Blackhawks overcome Grubauer

The winning play was really something. First, Duncan Keith was able to thwart Nathan MacKinnon as the two found each other in a one-on-one situation in three-on-three overtime. Keith then looked far younger than a 35-year-old, as he was able to overcome a 23-year-old speedster in MacKinnon and score a thrilling overtime game-winner.

The effort left Grubauer on his belly, on the ice, and you could forgive him if he took an extra breather after going all-out in willing his team to crucial points.

With both Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog out of the lineup, the Avs have been asking a lot of Grubauer, and he’s mostly delivered. The Blackhawks generated a 42-20 shots on goal advantage, including a 15-3 third period, yet Grubauer was often brilliant, basically dragging the game to overtime.

Grubauer has now allowed two goals or fewer in every appearance since Feb. 12. While his personal four-game winning streak ended with Colorado’s own run, he’s shown why the Avs believed in his ability to become a No. 1 goalie in the first place. That’s refreshing, especially since he’s been a bit up-and-down during his first year with Colorado.

Big win for Blackhawks, almost a win for Colorado

Really, both goalies were great, as the regulation goals came via power-play goals that involved deflections. Corey Crawford had a comparatively breezy night, but he was still sharp in stopping 19 out of 20 shots to help Chicago keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

This win leaves the Blackhawks (76 points in 75 games played, 31 regulation/overtime wins) five points behind the Avalanche for the West’s second wild-card spot.

Grubauer can keep his held high, because this all feels close to a win for Colorado. They’ve strengthened their playoff lead with 81 points in 76 GP (33 ROW), giving them two points of cushion. Now, sure, they might wonder “What if?” in falling short again during an overtime period, but when you consider the back-to-back set and injuries, credit the Avs for gutting this one point out.

The Coyotes were blanked 2-0 against the Islanders on Sunday, leaving them with 79 points in 76 games played, with 32 regulation/OT wins. Meanwhile, the Wild (79 points, 76 GP, 34 ROW) were idle after falling 5-1 to the maddening Hurricanes on Saturday.

So, again, this was mostly a great weekend for the Avalanche, while the Blackhawks can at least daydream about an unlikely run. It’s all a fitting reward, considering how grinding and exhausting this affair seemed at times.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face Avalanche on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche head into Sunday in a solid position, as they hold a one-point lead and game in hand on the closest teams behind them vying for the West’s second wild-card spot. That rosy outlook can change in a big way if the Avs can’t beat the Blackhawks, though.

Looking at The Push for the Playoffs, things don’t look very good — at all — for Chicago, but this proud team likely isn’t waving the white flag on the 2018-19 season just yet. Beating the Avalanche (particularly in regulation) would certainly improve their odds of making an unlikely run, too.

With the stakes in mind – not to mention the star power in Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews – this should be a fun one at the United Center.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

AVALANCHE

Derick Brassard — Nathan MacKinnon — J.T. Compher

Colin WilsonCarl SoderbergAndrew Agozzino

Alexander KerfootTyson JostMatt Calvert

Gabriel BourqueSven Andrighetto

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Ryan Graves

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[More: check out this preview for Sunday’s game.]

BLACKHAWKS

Dylan Sikura — Jonathan Toews — Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini

Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDominik Kahun

Chris KunitzDavid KampfMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromErik Gustafsson

Gustav ForslingConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.

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.

Capitals extend Metro lead by beating Flyers

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The Washington Capitals can enjoy the rest of their Sunday knowing that they won’t have to be worried about being overtaken in the race for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

A 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on NBC ensured they’ll have at least a one-point lead on the division. For the time being, it’s a three-point advantage, with the New York Islanders facing the Arizona Coyotes later on Sunday.

Washington had lost two straight coming into this one, including a 5-4 overtime defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey. That game was one of the best of the season between two powerhouses and the Capitals showed they could still run with the dominant Lightning.

Washington then dropped a 2-1 decision to the Minnesota Wild on Friday.

So stopping the bleeding in Sunday’s matinee was paramount.

Tom Wilson‘s deflection put the Capitals ahead 1-0 in the first period, a lead that was padded in the second by Travis Boyd on another re-directed shot.

The Flyers, with their playoff hopes all but mathematically gone, battled back to 2-1 through Jakub Voracek on the power play to keep things interesting into the third. The Flyers put up 20 shots in the second period but Braden Holtby was up to the task, finishing with 35 saves in the game

A breakaway goal nearing the mid-way point of the third period by Jakub Vrana sealed it for Washington.

The pursuit of another 50-goal season for Alex Ovechkin will have to wait, meanwhile.

Ovi has hit a bit of a dry spell as of late, now having gone four games without a marker. With six games remaining, it’s unlikely The Great 8 will be held at bay for the rest of the regular season.

He nearly had an empty netter, but it was defended well by the Flyers and Ovechkin ultimately chose to pass the puck and the play never materialized into anything.

Washington now gears up for a home and home with the Carolina Hurricanes before another test against the Tampa Bay Lightning next Saturday.


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

Surging Avalanche look to keep hold of playoff spot

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

No Gabriel Landeskog. No Mikko Rantanen. And, apparently, no problem for the Colorado Avalanche.

It seems kind of crazy that the Avalanche have strung together four straight wins and put themselves into the second wildcard in the Western Conference without two of the leading scorers. But it’s true.

Already without Landeskog because of an upper-body injury, the Avalanche compiled three Ws and then found a fourth on Saturday against the Blackhawks without Rantanen, who missed his first game of the season with his own UBI after a crushing hit earlier in the week. That’s a combined 64 goals and 157 points removed from the lineup and yet in the first game of a home-and-home, back-to-back mini-series with Chicago, the Avalanche produced a 4-2 courtesy of four different goal scorers.

Talk about stepping up at the right time.

The Avalanche have allowed just four goals across their current winning stretch thanks to Philipp Grubauer‘s play, which includes a .970 save percentage and a shutout in that span. And they’ve found scoring from the likes of Colin Wilson, who’s on a three-game point streak and Tyson Barrie, who has four goals in his past four games.

A win Saturday will keep Colorado in the playoff spot they’ve been chasing for a while now. The Arizona Coyotes, hot on their heels, are also in action on Sunday.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Two points, then, will be vital, especially when you look at what lies ahead.

The Avs will host the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday and then Arizona comes to town for what could be a pivotal game for both teams. Colorado then closes the regular season with games against St. Louis, Edmonton, Winnipeg and San Jose.

It’s a tough slog.

With the way this turtle derby has gone in the Western Conference, a loss along the line probably won’t sting that much. But there’s certainly an opportunity for a team like Colorado, who’ve found another gear, to take control of their own destiny.

Chicago, meanwhile, needs a win and then needs more wins and then needs all the help in the world if they want to qualify.

March started off so well for the Blackhawks after a five-game winning streak, but when you follow that up with three straight losses, it erases most of the good work. Chicago is six points back and a win would make things interesting, for sure.

A loss, however, likely ensures they’ll miss the playoffs for the second straight season. It’s kind of a shame, too. On Jan. 20, the Blackhawks were dead last in the NHL with 41 points. It would have been quite a story, after firing Joel Quenneville, to see them emerge from the rubble.

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.


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