Youthful Girard-Makar pairing playing like experienced vets for Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche didn’t make a big splash at the 2019 NHL trade deadline (unless you wanted to count Derick Brassard as a big splash) but they did get some significant help for their postseason run during Round 1 when Cale Makar, the 2018 No. 4 overall pick and 2019 Hobey Bakey Award Winner, decided to turn pro and sign his entry-level deal.

It has not taken him long to start looking like the real deal and become a significant part of the Avs’ rapidly improving young core.

Entering Game 7 of their Round 2 series against the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), Makar has already recorded six points in his first nine NHL games and has been even more impressive with the eye test given his confidence, skating, and willingness to make plays with the puck. He just looks exciting, and so far he has the results to back it up. He has been sheltered a little with his overall ice-time and with a lot of offensive zone starts, but he is still only 20 years old and getting what is literally his first taste of NHL action on the biggest possible stage.

It is a huge jump and a big test, and so far he is passing it.

What stands out about the Avs’ usage of Makar against the Sharks is that even though they are sheltering him in terms of where they start him on faceoffs, they are not sheltering him with a veteran partner.

Instead, they have been using him over the past four games almost exclusively with their other young standout defender, fellow 20-year-old Samuel Girard.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It is not only the youngest defense pair any team has used this postseason, Makar and Girard are just two of the six defensemen who have appeared in a playoff game this season who are age 20 or younger. And they are not only playing together, they have been great together. In more than 56 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together against the Sharks the Avalanche have scored four goals with the Makar-Girard duo on the ice and are dominating territorially, controlling more than 56 percent of the shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger chances.

Some of that, again, is due to the deployment as they are being put into situations where they are expected to create offense, and it is very clear how head coach Jared Bednar wants to utilize his three defense pairings. The Tyson BarrieNikita Zadorov and Erik JohnsonIan Cole duos are getting almost all of the defensive zone starts and being leaned on in any defensive situations, which is very understandable given the inexperience of the third pairing.

The Makar-Girard duo, on the other hand, is almost always being put into offensive situations. But there is still something to be said for taking advantage of those situations, especially when it is two of the youngest players in the playoffs playing alongside one other.

What has to be exciting about this for the Avalanche is that no matter what happens in Game 7, or in the rest of the playoffs should they advance, these two will be together for the foreseeable future as a key part of this core’s development and the foundation of their blue line.

The Avalanche are an extremely young team in terms of who is carrying the workload this season and are positioned to become one of the dominant teams in the Western Conference given their current star power at the top of the lineup, the salary cap space they have at their disposal, and the fact they have two first-round draft picks in 2019, including another No. 4 overall pick thanks to the Matt Duchene trade, which was the deal where they acquired Girard.

MORE: Avs in position to build on current success

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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Hurricanes advance, Eberle shines and Maple Leafs get even

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  • Thanks to another big game from Sebastian Aho the Carolina Hurricanes are advancing.
  • The Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vancouver Canucks all get even in their series.
  • The Calgary Flames and New York Islanders get one step closer to advancing.

New York Islanders 4, Florida Panthers 2 (Islanders lead series 2-0)

Jordan Eberle scored a pair of goals for the Islanders in 4-2 win as they take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Florida Panthers. The Islanders were able to feast on a sloppy Panthers effort in the second period to take complete control of the series. This has to be disappointing for the Panthers after spending so much money this offseason to try and build this team into a contender. Now they are in a position where they need to win three in a row to move on.

Nashville Predators 4, Arizona Coyotes 2 (Series tied 1-1)

The Predators stuck with Juuse Saros in net and it turned out to be a bit of a role reversal from what we saw in the first game. This time it was Nashville jumping out to the big early lead and holding off a (very) late push to get the win. The Predators received goals from four different players (Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen, Calle Jarnkrok, and Viktor Arvidsson) while Saros stopped 24 out of 26 shots for the win. He shut the Coyotes out for 59 minutes before allowing two goals in the final minute of regulation.

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 0 (Series tied 1-1)

After a Game 1 clunker the Maple Leafs desperately needed this win. It was not just the fact they were able to bounce back and win, but the way they were able to win. Simply put, they dominated this game from start to finish and had it not been a valiant effort from Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo this could have quickly turned into a blowout. Auston Matthews and John Tavares both scored for the Maple Leafs in the win. The bad news from this game was the scary injury suffered by defenseman Jake Muzzin as he had to be stretchered off the ice late in the third period.

Calgary Flames 6, Winnipeg Jets 2 (Flames lead series 2-1)

The injuries are catching up to the Jets. Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine both missed another game, while Tucker Poolman and Mathieu Perreault were injured in the Jets’ 6-2 loss. It was a huge bounce back game for the Flames as six different players scored goals and Cam Talbot played a great game in net to get them one game closer to advancing.

Carolina Hurricanes 4, New York Rangers 1 (Hurricanes win series 3-0)

The Hurricanes wrapped up a very emphatic and decisive three-game sweep of the New York Rangers on Tuesday night with a 4-1 win to become the first team to advance through the qualifying round. Sebastian Aho scored two more goals including a highlight reel play in the third period (see it below) to finish the series with eight points in the three games. The trio of Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen is going to be a problem for any opponent this postseason.

Vancouver Canucks 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (Series tied 1-1)

The Canucks needed their top-six to come through after a quiet start to the postseason, and they did exactly that on Tuesday night in a 4-3 win. Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, Quinn Hughes, and Alex Edler all had big games to help Vancouver even the series.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. All Eberle has done for the Islanders in his two years with the team is score a bunch of big goals in the playoffs. His two-goal effort on Tuesday helped the Islanders take a commanding 2-0 series lead against the Florida Panthers, while giving him six goals in his first 10 playoff games with the Islanders (dating back to last year’s postseason).

2. James Reimer, Carolina Hurricanes. The last time Reimer started a playoff game he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and on the losing end of an epic Game 7 collapse that saw his team blow a 4-1 third period lead. On Tuesday, he had a much better result on Tuesday. Reimer stopped 37 out of 38 shots — some of them in spectacular fashion — in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 win over the Rangers. It is fitting that this performance took place in, of all places, Toronto.

3. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames. Monahan was the big offensive star for the Flames on Tuesday with a goal and two assists in their win over the Jets. Two of those points (his goal and his first assist) came on the power play as he helped that unit score three goals to drive the offense in the win.

Highlights of the Night

Sebastian Aho had a massive series for the Hurricanes and capped it off with a two-goal effort on Tuesday. This goal is especially beautiful.

This J.T. Miller shot is about as perfect of a shot as you can get off the rush.

This was one of the most incredible sequences for Reimer in his Game 3 performance for the Hurricanes.

Factoids

Wednesday’s Schedule

Game 3: New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Islanders lead 2-0)
Game 3: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 1-1)
Round-Robin: Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Round-Robin: Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)
Game 3: Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)

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.

Canucks top players shine in Game 2 win over Wild

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After getting shut out in Game 1 of their qualifying round series the Vancouver Canucks needed their top players to bounce back with a big game on Tuesday.

They got exactly that type of performance in a 4-3 win to even their series with the Minnesota Wild.

Tanner Pearson opened the scoring for the Canucks just 24 seconds into the first period to get their offense rolling and set the tone for a big night for the team’s top-six group of forwards.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

J.T. Miller‘s goal at the three-minute of the second period — an absolute laser of a snap shot off the rush that picked the corner on Alex Stalock — gave Vancouver 2-1 lead, while Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat all added insurance goals late in the game. Boeser’s goal was the first postseason goal of his career, while standout rookie Quinn Hughes picked up an assist on Horvat’s third period power play goal that would end up going in the books as the game-winner.

Depth is the biggest question mark for this Canucks team and if they are going to have any chance of making any noise this postseason it is going to have to be through their top-six. If that group does not score and carry the offense there really is not much else throughout the lineup that can make up for that.

On Tuesday, Boeser, Miller, Horvat, Pearson, and Elias Pettersson all found the scoresheet, while defenders Hughes and Alex Edler combined for three assists.

Just about the only negative for the Canucks on Tuesday is the fact veteran forwards Micheal Ferland and Antoine Roussel were both injured. Roussel logged just four minutes of ice-time while Ferland played only two minutes.

While the final score looks close, the Canucks were in control of this game for most of the night and held a 4-1 lead until there were two minutes remaining on the clock. It was at that point that Kevin Fiala continued his torrid goal-scoring pace by adding two more goals, giving him 16 goals in his past 15 games dating back to the regular season. He already has three goals in the first two games of the series. His second goal came with just 8.8 seconds to play in regulation.

Game 3 of the series will take place on Thursday afternoon.

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.

Hurricanes complete sweep, eliminate Rangers

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Thanks to their 4-1 win on Tuesday night the Carolina Hurricanes are the first team to advance through the qualifying round.

They eliminated the New York Rangers in a clean three-game sweep in a series that turned out to be a fairly obvious mismatch.

Simply put, the Rangers were no match for Carolina and had no answer for anything they were doing.

The Rangers scored just four goals in the three games and played with the lead for only three minutes in the entire series. Those three minutes came early in the second period of Tuesday’s game when Chris Kreider scored just 12 seconds into the second period to give them a 1-0 lead.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just three minutes later Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen completely an absolutely dominant shift by his line by beating Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin with a backhander from the slot.

It was Shesterkin’s first start of the series after missing the first two games. He played well, but did not get anywhere near enough support from the team in front of him. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort. It was just the simple fact that Carolina is a faster, more talented, and better team and it was on display throughout the entire series.

Given the way they played in this series the Hurricanes are looking like a team that nobody in the Eastern Conference is going to want to play this postseason. They are already coming off of a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final a year ago and have one of the league’s most exciting young cores in place. Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Sebastian Aho all shined in this series and played at a dominant level, while the Hurricanes’ defense was smothering even though it received zero minutes from one of its top players in Dougie Hamilton.

Aho was especially dominant during the season, scoring two more goals on Tuesday to finish with seven points.

His first goal of the game was a highlight reel goal that helped put the game out of reach.

He added an empty net goal later in the game.

James Reimer got his first start of the postseason for the Hurricanes and played brilliantly, stopping 37 shots in the win.

As for the Rangers, they now return home and will have a 12.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall draft pick in the second phase of the NHL’s draft lottery.

This was always going to be a rebuilding year for them, and there were some very promising developments along the way, but it was clear in this series they are not quite ready to be a contender and have some significant holes that need addressed. With Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Adam Fox, and Shesterkin there is a strong core in place, but the depth and the defense need a lot of help.

It also seems entirely possible — if not likely — that their Game 2 loss on Monday could have been the final game Henrik Lundqvist plays for the Rangers.

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (Hurricanes win series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1

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.

Flames bounce back with Game 3 rout, push Jets to brink

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This time the Calgary Flames were able to take advantage of a shorthanded Winnipeg Jets team.

After dropping Game 2 on Monday, the Flames bounced back on Tuesday evening with a 6-2 rout in Game 3 of their qualifying round series to take a 2-1 series lead, pushing the Jets to the brink of elimination.

They will have a chance to close out the series in Game 4 from Edmonton on Thursday.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Jets were once again without the services of star forwards Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, and the lack of firepower caught up with them in a big way on Tuesday. Nikolaj Ehlers did strike with an early goal (his second in as many games) to give them an early lead, but it would prove to be a short-lived advantage as Calgary’s Elias Lindholm scored the equalizer just 14 seconds later.

The Jets would never regain the lead.

The Flames ended up getting goals from six different players, and it was an especially big day for some of their top stars.

Sean Monahan finished with three points (a goal and two assists), while Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane, and Lindholm all had two points, while Matthew Tkachuk and Milan Lucic also added goals.

Starting goalie Cam Talbot stopped 33 out of 35 shots in the win.

This was always going to be a tough series for the Jets to get through even before the injuries started to pile up in Game 1. They have a limited defense and were going to need Conor Hellebuyck to carry them in net. When you take two players as good as Scheifele and Laine out of the equation, it eliminates pretty much any room they may have had for error. Without them recipe is going to have to look exactly like Monday’s Game 2 win with great goaltending and just enough offense to scratch out a win. They did not get either of those elements on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen if Scheifele or Laine will be ready for Thursday’s game.

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.