NHL Rink Wrap: Avalanche sweep Predators; Crosby roasts Rangers

NHL Rink Wrap: Avalanche sweep Predators; Crosby roasts Rangers
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• In a move out of left field even for Lou Lamoriello, the Islanders fired Barry Trotz. Yes, seriously.

• Pierre McGuire’s short, strange Senators tenure ended as well on Monday.

Cale Makar, Roman Josi, and Victor Hedman are the finalists for the 2022 NHL Norris Trophy. That’s all you’ll see of Josi, however, as Makar’s Avalanche completed a sweep of Josi’s Predators.

• The Flames tied their series 2-2 with the Flames, and the Panthers did the same with the Capitals. Meanwhile, the Penguins pushed the Rangers to the brink of elimination.

Game 4: Pittsburgh Penguins 7, New York Rangers 2 (PIT leads 3-1)

Between empty-netters and lucky bounces, a 7-2 score can be leading. It was not misleading for Game 4 between the Penguins and Rangers.

Instead, the Penguins just absolutely dominated Game 4, pushing the Rangers to the brink of elimination. Generally, it might be easier to blame it all on Igor Shesterkin. If that was it, a goalie change could conceivably swing the series.

While Shesterkin hasn’t been a miracle worker, it really wasn’t about that. To avoid a short series, the Rangers must find answers against the Penguins.

Game 4: Florida Panthers 3, Washington Capitals 2 [OT] (Series tied 2-2)

If the Capitals beat the Panthers in Game 4, you could have leaned on several narratives.

  • The Capitals connected on special teams (1-for-5), while the putridity of the Panthers’ power play continued (0-for-4).
  • Yes, Sergei Bobrovsky wasn’t tested often (14 saves). Florida wouldn’t have been fair to pin a would-be loss on “Bob,” though. The Capitals enjoyed some breakaways and semi-breakaways, yet Bobrovsky came through more often than not.
  • In a dizzying sequence of events, T.J. Oshie got away with what sure looked like a hit to the head on Sam Bennett, then Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a pretty 2-1 goal.

 

Should the NHL suspend Oshie for that hit on Bennett? That’s its own debate. But it’s tough for all but the most devoted Capitals fan to admit that the Oshie hit on Bennett warranted a penalty (whether that be a minor or a major). If a penalty was called, that Kuznetsov goal couldn’t have happened.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

It did, though, leaving the Panthers down 2-1 to the Capitals with a bit more than half of the third period left in Game 4. With an empty net, the Panthers scored, and then an overtime goal survived a video review.

Understatement: quite the turn of events for the Panthers and Capitals. Washington’s overall efforts still deserve notice; they actually won the high-danger battle despite Florida’s volume advantage of shots. A tied series gives the Panthers a chance to impose their will against the Capitals (or, you know, at least find some answers on the power play).

Game 4: Colorado Avalanche 5, Nashville Predators 3 (COL sweeps series 4-0)

Give the Predators credit: they gave the Avalanche much more trouble in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville. Yes, Nashville pushed Colorado to OT in Game 2, but that was on the back of Conor Ingram’s wonderful performance. Things were much more competitive from a moment-to-moment basis in Nashville.

All of that aside, it’s telling that the last Predators goal represented their only lead of the playoffs. They simply couldn’t hang with the Avs, and so the Predators follow up an unexpected playoff appearance with a hasty postseason exit.

Game 4: Calgary Flames 4, Dallas Stars 1 (Series tied 2-2)

For a while there, it seemed like Stars netminder Jake Oettinger might “goalie” the Flames in Game 4.

Despite the Flames’ 19-8 shots on goal advantage, they ended the first period tied 0-0 with the Stars. By the end of the second, only one goal went in on 39 SOG, and that Rasmus Andersson tally happened on a 5-on-3 power play.

There’s a long history of teams surviving lopsided stretches and counterpunching to steal a victory.

The Flames avoided that against the Stars in Game 4. In another “sigh of relief” moment, Johnny Gaudreau connected on a pretty penalty shot goal. Gaudreau then assisted on an Elias Lindholm tally, building a 3-0 lead that was as insurmountable as you’d expect in this seriously stingy series.

Three Stars in NHL Playoffs on Monday

1. Sidney Crosby, Penguins

At age 34, the general feeling is that Sidney Crosby is still elite … but maybe not quite the best of the best. Maybe it’s too early to remove Sidney Crosby from the best in the world conversation, though?

Crosby and Jake Guentzel have been dominant for long swaths of the Penguins’ series against the Rangers. In Game 4, Crosby collected a goal and two assists, while Guentzel generated two points (1G, 1A).

When the numbers have been good but not as eye-popping as before, people would look to underlying stats with Crosby. Well, Crosby, Guentzel, and Bryan Rust dominated in that regard, too. With that trio on the ice, the Penguins generated 7 high-danger chances while allowing none at 5-on-5.

Truly, Crosby’s looking like as big of a difference-maker as any player in the NHL so far during the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

2. Cale Makar, Avalanche

Could Sidney Crosby hang with Cale Makar, though? Well, he probably would pass on a straight-head sprint sort of race, if you’re being literal about it.

Makar lays a credible claim to the top spot of the night. He generated his own one-goal, two-assist performance, and did so in a game that wasn’t as wide open. Those points also helped to complete that Avalanche sweep over the Predators.

Wherever you rank two superstar players, Cale Makar keeps making it abundantly clear that he’s an all-world talent in the present, not just the future. The Blues or the Wild will really need to scheme to find ways to slow Makar down (but not over-commit, or they’d leave things too open for other Avalanche stars, like Nathan MacKinnon).

3. Johnny Gaudreau, Flames

This is the sort of playoff performance you’d expect from Johnny Gaudreau after the best regular season of his career. Gaudreau collected an assist, and scored a crucial penalty shot goal that ended up being the game-winner.

Beyond that, he helped the Flames absolutely dominate the Stars at even-strength. Gaudreau bounced back from an injury scare, drew two penalties, collected those two points, and the Flames easily won the high-danger chances battle with him on the ice.

The Stars have squeezed a lot out of their all-defense approach during their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff run, and they’ve been able to grind out two wins against the Flames. Game 4 prompts some concern. With the level of play the way it was, should Dallas be a bit more aggressive?

Gaudreau might force them to seek more offense.

TUESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 5: Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET — ESPN (Series tied 2-2)
Game 5: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m. ET — ESPN2 (Series tied 2-2)
Game 5: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild, 9:30 p.m. ET — ESPN (Series tied 2-2)
Game 5: Los Angeles Kings at Edmonton Oilers, 10 p.m. ET — ESPN2 (Series tied 2-2)

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews

Maple Leafs vs. Lightning
Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Blues vs. Wild
• Avalanche vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings

Flames vs. Stars

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info
First Round, Stanley Cup predictions
• NHL Draft Lottery set: Canadiens have best odds for top pick
Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup

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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.