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Saturday was good for Hurricanes, bad for Penguins, ugly for Habs

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As this PHT post argues, the Montreal Canadiens haven’t been particularly lucky lately, but Saturday pushed such thoughts to the extreme.

The Habs fired a robust 48 shots on goal against Corey Crawford, but couldn’t beat the veteran goalie once. With that, the Blackhawks won 2-0, handing Montreal not just a loss, but a defeat in regulation.

The Canadiens can’t even really look on the one broad bright side of Saturday (that a lot of other East teams struggled), either, as the most crucial ones gained ground while Montreal’s running out of time to get its act together.

(That’s particularly true of that putrid power play, which went 0-for-4 on Saturday.)

The Canadiens are now stalling out at 81 points in 72 games played. Here’s a rundown of the rest of today’s most pertinent East action, in order of teams with the most on the line.

Blue Jackets lose, but they get a point

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron made the difference for the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 OT win, as the dynamic duo generated a goal and an assist apiece. While Montreal can’t question its overall effort, Columbus might be at least a bit frustrated with the fact that they only forced Jaroslav Halak to face 25 SOG.

The Blue Jackets gain a step on Montreal, finishing the night with 84 points in 72 GP.

Hurricanes have the best Saturday of anyone at or near the bubble

After former Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner scored early into Saturday’s game, Carolina scored four straight goals to eventually win 4-2. Justin Williams‘ 21st goal of 2018-19 was really something:

Carolina is likely more focused on Tuesday’s opponent slightly ahead of them for the Metro third spot (the Penguins), than the Hurricanes are about the bubble teams behind them. Carolina now has 85 points in 71 GP.

Penguins lose badly

Speaking of Pittsburgh, they had a rough afternoon, falling to the Blues 5-1 despite 41-26 SOG advantage. As rocky as his St. Louis start was, moments like these make you wonder if Patrick Maroon might benefit the Blues more when the games get bigger:

(Nice to see those “NHL 19” moves work out in real life every now and then, huh?)

The Penguins failed to gain breathing room ahead of Carolina (and Columbus, to a lesser extent), and also didn’t give themselves a better chance at the Metro’s second seed, as the Penguins sit at 87 points in 72 GP.

Most likely Metro Division winners idle

Both the Capitals (91 points in 72 GP) and Islanders (89 points in 71 GP) lost in regulation in their respective games, falling short of improving their odds at a division title. The Islanders leave themselves at least somewhat vulnerable to losing a round of home-ice advantage, depending upon how things shake out.

***

So, almost everyone lost, with the Blue Jackets at least salvaging a very, very important point. All things considered, you can’t totally blame the Hurricanes if they’re thinking big — as in at least rising above the wild-card ranks.

Looking at the landscape, the Canadiens must be awfully worried. It doesn’t look great for their chances, so they need to turn things around soon. This crisis of confidence is coming at a terrible time for a team that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations this season.

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.

Sharks eliminate Golden Knights in unforgettable Game 7

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If someone ever snickered at you for claiming that anything can happen in the hockey playoffs, merely direct them to Game 7 of the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks.

At the tailend of a thrilling overtime period (did these two teams really just play a double-OT Game 6?), Barclay Goodrow became the unlikely series-clincher in one of the least likely Game 7 comebacks you’ll ever see. The Sharks advance to Round 2 and a matchup against the Colorado Avalanche after beating the Golden Knights 5-4 in OT. San Jose wins the series 4-3.

But they had to do that after falling behind 3-1 in the series, and carving their way out of a 3-0 deficit in Game 7. It’s the sort of game hockey lovers will pour over for ages, and fans of both teams are unlikely to forget.

All things considered, that unlikely Goodrow goal seems fitting.

How we got to overtime, against all odds

On the strength of great goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, a Cody Eakin goal that required a review for a high-stick, and a groaner of a 3-0 goal for Max Pacioretty, it sure looked like the Golden Knights were going to skate away with Game 7. Then Eakin became a much bigger story than the fellow who scored what seemed, at the time, like a big goal.

In a scary moment, Eakin hit Joe Pavelski, who hit the ice in an extremely scary way. Fair or not, the officials ejected Eakin from Game 7, whistling him for a game-changing major penalty.

The Sharks went on to score an absurd four goals on the power play, flipping a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 Sharks lead. With less than seven minutes remaining in the third period, the Golden Knights had to come to grips with the first lead change of this series.

The Golden Knights failed to score on a power-play opportunity of their own, but Jonathan Marchessault delivered after Vegas showed serious resiliency in trying to come back, and a stunning Game 7 went to overtime.

And the rest is … well, NHL history, and the Sharks will turn to a Round 2 series against the Avalanche. Credit the Golden Knights for forcing this contest to OT, but they couldn’t win it, and now their fans get a taste of something other hockey fans – particularly those of the Sharks – know all too well: the feeling of shock, and also, feeling like they were on the wrong end of the refs’ whistles.

What a game, what a comeback, and what a series.

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.

Pavelski hurt, Eakin ejected, Sharks steal lead on huge Game 7 power play

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At one point, the crowd in San Jose was “you can hear a pin drop” quiet in Game 7, as the Golden Knights built what looked like a suffocating 3-0 lead. Fittingly in a back-and-forth series and a generally wild Round 1, the hockey world should have expected the unexpected.

Update: Then more unexpected happened in Game 7, as the Golden Knights kept pushing after the Sharks built that unlikely 4-3 lead, with Vegas scoring a 4-4 goal to send it to OT. You can watch that game on NBCSN, and also stream it here:

[WATCH LIVE]

In a startling series of events:

  • Joe Pavelski was hurt, possibly badly, on an awkward-looking hit, which drew a five-minute major penalty on Cody Eakin. Video will be added soon, but here it is in GIF form:
  • That was a frightening sight, and the officials responded by ejecting Eakin and charging him with a major penalty. This came after the Sharks began Game 7 going 0-for-4 on the power play.
  • The Sharks took advantage of that five-minute major, and the fact that it doesn’t end when you score a power-play goal. San Jose scored a ridiculous four goals on that major penalty to take a stunning lead.

Here are the goals in video form:

Was this the right call, or did Eakin draw a major penalty because of the optics of Pavelski’s scary injury? That’s a debate that could linger, but the bottom line is that the Sharks are now, somehow, up 4-3 with little time remaining in the third period.

PHT will monitor updates on Pavelski’s condition.

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.

In a series full of questions, Maple Leafs’ Babcock short on answers

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Mike Babcock has done a lot of good things as head coach in the National Hockey League and elsewhere. But coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs won’t be something that he has a long chat with his grandkids about one day.

A second Game 7 loss in as many years against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night only added to Babcock’s (perhaps notorious) inability to push Toronto into the deep waters of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s now 8-12 as a bench boss in the postseason in Toronto and it might have been his worst in terms of decision-making.

How does Auston Matthews play just 15:18 of five-on-five time (18:48 total) in a game where the Bruins led 2-0 after the first period?

How does William Nylander, who finished with 12:55 in the game, not get linked back up with Matthews earlier than midway or so through the third? Why was he hobbled by his linemates?

Why did John Tavares not play in the mid-20s? The guy had 47 goals and was signed for a massive contract for his potential in these situations, right?

Why weren’t lines consolidated sooner so that the young, skilled superstars on the team could go out there and give it their best go?

Why was Patrick Marleau afforded 1:40 of power-play time when his record with the man-advantage was this poor? Why was he playing meaningful minutes in the third when the bench could have been shortened (and should have been) much sooner?

What would Sheldon Keefe do?

How long with this be allowed to go on?

No doubt, that last question is going to be hotly debated over coming days and weeks. Babcock is a great coach with aging ideas that aren’t working when they need to with a youthful lineup.

Never mind their now-52-year Stanley Cup drought — it’s been 15 years since they won a series.

Maybe Babcock has taken the team as far as they can go.

Nazem Kadri has lost his head twice now in the past two playoffs, throwing a massive wrench into the mix. Kadri, when calm, is effective and he showed that prior to losing his cool in Game 2. But getting suspended for the remainder of the series was as about selfish as it gets.

Babcock told the media in Boston after the name that not having Kadri impacted Nylander’s minutes.

That’s a bit of a stretch, however. And it reeks of unimaginative thinking, something that might cost Babcock his job.

Because when you’re staring elimination in the face, playing your eldest players over your younger, more skilled crop just doesn’t produce the same yield it once did.

Matthews et al needed to be playing. The talent suggests it. The investment made in these players suggests it.

Why doesn’t the head coach?


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

Bruins win yet another Game 7 against Maple Leafs

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You could say that history repeated itself as the Bruins once again won a Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, taking this one 5-1.

After all, Maple Leafs fans will suffer through a similar, empty feeling. Their rivals dispatched them from yet another first-round series, and with a cap crunch coming for Toronto, the heartache is real.

And, yes, Jake Gardiner‘s Game 7 nightmares continued. There his blinking, sad face was, as the Bruins stormed off to a 2-0 lead, with both goals coming while Gardiner was on the ice.

Yet, while the 2013 and 2018 Game 7 matchups featured rather epic Maple Leafs meltdown that almost felt Shakespearean, this contest carried a heavier air of inevitability. Yes, the Maple Leafs made a game of it by sanding down a 2-0 deficit to 2-1 through the second period, but Sean Kuraly‘s 3-1 goal minutes into the third really sapped much of the drama from 2019’s Game 7.

(A failed power play by Toronto minutes after Kuraly’s goal really hammered that point home.)

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Unlike in the previous Game 7 contests with Toronto, the Bruins never trailed this time around. You’d think that the Bruins’ lethal top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak would have been doing the heavy lifting, but instead it was Boston’s supporting cast members. (Tuukka Rask played a big role in the lack of drama, by the way, as the Finnish goalie made 32 out of 33 saves.)

  • Marcus Johansson took advantage of sloppy defensive work to score what has to be one of the biggest goals of his career.
  • John Tavares gave the Maple Leafs some life with his goal, but generally Toronto couldn’t really get its top guns going, particularly once the Bruins were able to get in cruise control defensively. (Bold prediction: New York Islanders fans will make a few jokes about their team making it further than Tavares this year.)
  • That Sean Kuraly goal came on what seemed like an innocuous play, and you could practically feel the shock and dismay when the Maple Leafs bench was shown reacting to it. Two empty-net goals added a couple extra pinches of salt in the wounds for Toronto.

With another gutting loss against the Bruins in mind, the Maple Leafs have a lot of soul-searching to do.

Andersen was mostly pretty strong in Round 1, but this hurts — really, really, badly. Again, top stars like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner couldn’t make a mark in Game 7 after gaining some traction midway through Round 1.

And, honestly? It’s fair to wonder how much blame Mike Babcock should carry. Was he too stubborn in not experimenting with different combinations, whether it was trying out Matthews with Marner more often, or giving the higher lines an injection of higher-end talent by moving William Nylander higher up the order? And did the Maple Leafs lack adjustments in the finer points of the game, such as sticking to their tendency to look for stretch passes too often?

[More on Babcock’s coaching job, and the decisions he made.]

Of course, while many – particularly those in the Toronto media – will focus negative attention on the Maple Leafs, you don’t really struggle unless your opponent is playing at a high level.

The Bruins posed a mighty threat to the Maple Leafs all along, so it’s not really that surprising that Boston came through. They’re a very, very good team, particularly when they’re getting offense from players other than that big three of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak.

Boston moves on to an intriguing Round 2 matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It will be a series of many storylines, including rest versus rust, as the Bruins just went the distance against the Maple Leafs while Columbus kicked back and relaxed following that shocking sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s not the series many were expecting, yet both the Bruins and Blue Jackets have been playing at a high level, so it should be a fascinating time.

Maybe John Tortorella will even give us a few more golden quotes?

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.