Roundtable: Binnington’s Calder hopes, Tampa’s challengers, Blue Jackets’ pressure

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Despite his number of games played, will Jordan Binnington garner enough support to win the Calder Trophy?

SEAN: It’s going to be hard to unseat Elias Pettersson as winner for rookie of the years, but certainly Binningon can make a challenge. He’ll likely get around 10 starts the rest of the regular season, putting him in 30 games player territory.

Only four goaltenders have won the award in the last 25 years with Martin Brodeur playing 47 games in 1994, the fewest of any netminder who took home the Calder. Binnington leads all goalies with at least 20 starts in even strength save percentage (.941) and is tied for third in the NHL with five shutouts. That’s all quite good for a guy who wasn’t a regular until Jan. 7.

But when the PHWA submit their ballots, Binnington likely won’t pass Pettersson for the award, but he definitely deserves a trip to Vegas in late June as one of the 2018-19 Calder finalists.

JAMES: The gap is simply too large between Elias Pettersson and everyone else, but I wonder if Binnington’s fantastic season might spark up some conversations about getting more Calder attention for non-forwards in the future.

In a slower season (like, say, when Nail Yakupov won a Calder), Binnington would be getting far more consideration, and Rasmus Dahlin or Miro Heiskanen would also get more hype. When it comes to the main awards, people often sequester goalies to the Vezina and skaters to the Hart, barring a truly transcendent season from a netminder. The Calder doesn’t allow such latitude, and I wonder if we may gradually change the way we measure different accomplishments.

It’s far too easy to dismiss just how enormous an impact Binnington’s made. He’s won 16 games despite being limited to just 20 starts (and 22 games played), which almost feels like it should be impossible. Pettersson’s special, and should probably be a unanimous choice (don’t get weird about it, Buffalo/Dallas/St. Louis beat writers), but Binnington saved the Blues’ season.

JOEY: I just don’t see it happening. Binnington has been terrific since taking over between the pipes for the Blues, but the fact that he’ll likely play in just over 30 games means that he can’t overtake Canucks forward Elias Pettersson in the race for the Calder Trophy. Pettersson has slowed down a bit, but he’s still a point-per-game player in his first season. What Binnington has done definitely puts him in the mix, it just doesn’t put him over the top. He probably won’t mind falling short in this race considering his team will be playing meaningful games in April. The 25-year-old’s short tenure in the NHL has been a huge success regardless of whether or not he’s named rookie of the year. 

ADAM: In any other year where there wasn’t a clear cut favorite that played in significantly more games I would say yes, because he has been that good and has quite literally been the savior of the Blues’ season. Okay, maybe not the savior, but definitely one of them. I just think Elias Pettersson is so far ahead of the pack and so outstanding that it would be really tough to unseat him. Point-per-game in his first full season in the NHL, and as electrifying as he is? Definite rookie of the year for me. Binnington probably definitely gets in the top-three, but the award is Pettersson’s.

SCOTT: He should be considered, but he won’t be because of when his rookie season began. The problem comes down to this all starting in early January and not in early October or November. He’s a victim of things outside of his control, like waiting half a year to give the kid a shot.

I get it, Jake Allen was the guy. Again, it’s just nothing something Binnington could control. But he deserves to be on the ballot and deserves to win the award. Why? Because while Elias Pettersson has been great, he hasn’t single-handedly put his team into the playoffs quite like Binnington has. This raises the prospects of him garnering some Hart votes, too. Call me crazy, but in its purest form, few have been as integral to their team’s success like Mr. Winnington.

[PHT’S PUSH FOR THE PLAYOFFS]

What team in the East poses the biggest threat to the Tampa Bay Lightning come playoff time?

SEAN: It’s not a big list, but you have to believe the Washington Capitals will take what they did last spring in the Eastern Conference Final and use it again against an even better Lightning team. 

If they’re to meet again it will once again be in the third round where the Capitals will have likely use the same approach as Barry Trotz did a year ago. If Todd Reirden keeps the same game plan, it’s slowing down the pace and suffocating the Lightning’s stars. Tampa was blanked in Games 6 and 7 last May, unable to solve Braden Holtby. 

Washington also managed to limit Tampa to only 24.8 shots per game in the seven-game series. As dangerous as their arsenal is, if they aren’t getting shots on goal, it’s hard for them to keep up their explosive offense. It’s a big challenge, but the Capitals know they can do it in a series.

JAMES: I find myself waffling between the Lightning’s likely second-round opponents: the Maple Leafs and the Bruins, a.k.a. my choices for second and third-best in the East.

It’s dangerous to imagine everything going right when it hasn’t always actually come together on the ice, but I just can’t shake the impression that Toronto has the higher ceiling.

With Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri down the middle, they’re one of – maybe the only – teams that could credibly hang with the Lightning’s deadly forwards. Both the Bruins and Maple Leafs have goalie(s) who could conceivably have a better best-of-seven series than Andrei Vasilevskiy, too.

So Toronto has a shot, but it’s not outrageous to look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Lightning as the NHL’s closest answer to a Golden State Warriors-style juggernaut. Luckily for Tampa Bay’s opponents, upsets are more common in the NHL … but the Bolts remain heavy favorites to win it all.

JOEY: The Bruins have been red-hot since the start of 2019. They’ve been just as good as the Lightning and they’ve found a way to do it despite missing David Pastrnak. Boston has one of the top lines in hockey with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak (when healthy), they have secondary scoring with Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and a few others, they’ve got a solid group of defensemen, and they have a great one-two punch between the pipes with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. If anyone can take down the Lightning in a seven-game series, it’s the Bruins. 

ADAM: It is going to either take a great team with superstar talent all clicking at the same time, or a team with great goaltending. Or more likely a team that has both. When it comes to the latter, the Boston Bruins stand out to me as someone that could do it. They may not be able to match Tampa Bay’s offensive firepower or depth, but they have two starting caliber goalies that are both playing at an extremely high level this season. Washington is definitely a threat because of the talent they have at the top of the roster and as we saw last year if Braden Holtby gets on a roll at the right time he can change a series and a season. Then there is Pittsburgh. For as mediocre as they have looked for most of the season they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and presumably come playoff time, a healthy Kris Letang. Matt Murray is playing like a true No. 1 goalie again and they might be a good matchup for one another.

SCOTT: Boston. Tampa made Toronto look like a JV squad on Monday night. Boston beat them 4-1 earlier this year and lost a close 3-2 decision. Simply put, Boston has the experience and the skill to run with Tampa, and with Tuukka Rask playing as well as he is, if there’s anyone that can duel Andrei Vasilevskiy, he’s the guy to do it at the moment in the East.

Now, with that said, can any team in the East (or even the West) go toe-to-toe with the Lightning over seven games and win four of them? I’m not sure that’s possible at this point. Tampa can make the best teams look like they belong in the American Hockey League (no disrespect to the AHL, but you get the point).

Boston has the only outside shot in my opinion, and everything would have to go right.

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If the Blue Jackets’ big gamble doesn’t pay off with a playoff berth, should that be the end for Jarmo Kekalainen and/or John Tortorella?

SEAN: I don’t believe there will be a cleaning of house should the Blue Jackets’ fail to either get in the playoffs or get out of the first round. I do think there will be a shortening of the leash, especially for Tortorella if that happens as we head into next season.

Kekalainen’s big moves at the deadline were one to push the franchise forward and accomplish something they’ve never done in 17 seasons: win a playoff round. It’s a big bet, but one that should be applauded next time we complain about a general manager sitting on their hands and standing pat rather than try and improve their team.

JAMES:  A thought has lingered in my mind this season: what if Artemi Panarin simply wants out because of John Tortorella?

Torts is brighter than his dimmest rants would indicate, but would it be that surprising if players found him gruff and intimidating, maybe leading to embarrassments in the film and locker rooms? Tortorella’s been around forever, and as his successes become more distant in the rearview mirror, I think that missing the playoffs should probably be it for him.
That’s a sad thought from an entertaining quote standpoint, and perhaps the Blue Jackets might flinch on replacing either their coach or GM after giving both of them extensions heading into this season. But what does it say about Columbus’ front office if they view this year as a time to go all-in and then they miss the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs altogether? Kekalainen’s been around since 2013 and Torts has been around since 2015. You have to wonder how many chances they’d need to get things right if they fall short here.
If Columbus misses, I’d move on, despite my belief that Kekalainen’s a pretty good GM.

JOEY: I really didn’t like what the Blue Jackets did at the deadline. I felt like they were in a unique situation given the contract statuses of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Adding more high-end free agents doesn’t make that situation better. If the Jackets fail to make the playoffs, I don’t think Kekalainen or Tortorella lose their jobs, but I feel like they’ll be on the hot seat going into next season. Even if they get into the postseason and lose in the first round, jobs will be on the line going into next season. 

ADAM: Should it? That is a tougher question to answer than “will it?” Because if they miss the playoffs I think it would be awfully difficult for ownership to rest easy looking at this situation. You give up almost your entire draft class for rentals, you may lose some or all of them, you may lose your two best players that were already on the roster, and then you have to deal with the brutal look that is going all in as a buyer and falling on your face. But I also think that would be a knee-jerk reaction to the result more so than the process. Even if they do get in the playoffs they are probably not winning the Stanley Cup, so you are still going to be sitting there at the end of the season with no championship, no draft picks, and maybe a bunch of free agents walking out the door. If you want your GM to be aggressive and “go for it” I don’t see how you can punish him for doing just that, because he theoretically put his team in the best possible position to succeed. If it doesn’t, at that point it comes down to the coaching staff and the players themselves. Truly one of the most fascinating teams to watch down the stretch, because what they do is likely to have huge implications on what the upper management and ownership does in the summer.

SCOTT: I mean, for Kekalainen, he’d be gone as soon the word eliminated appeared beside the name of the Blue Jackets, no?

He went out, kept the two players that would have brought in a decent haul at the deadline, brought in two players who cost them most of this year’s draft and could conceivably have nothing to show for it come July 1… at least the league’s punch line (Ottawa) was able to recoup some goods when they lost everybody.

Torts goes, too. If they don’t make the playoffs and somehow manage to keep Kekalainen, then Torts takes the sword for him. If Kekalainen goes and a new general manager is hired, I assume they look at Torts in the same way — had a bunch of talent handed to him and couldn’t do anything with it. Goodbye.

It’s win or bust for both of them.

Inside the Bruins’ 18-game point streak

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The Boston Bruins train kept rolling on Thursday night, even in the face of what appeared to be sure defeat. Boston trailed Florida 3-2 with under a minute to play, when Matt Grzelcyk tied the game with a power play goal from the point. Moments later, Patrice Bergeron scored with 6.7 ticks left on the clock. Two goals. Thirty seconds. Points in 18 straight games.

It’s so nice to see a Boston sports team doing so well.

The Bruins have not lost a game in regulation since January 19, a 3-2 defeat to the Rangers at TD Garden. Since then, they’ve been the hottest team in the league at 14-0-4, but remarkably have only made up two points on NHL-leading Tampa Bay, since the Lightning has gone 14-3-2 during the same span. Still, no team is playing with more confidence than Boston heading into the stretch run of the season.

As one would expect, especially with David Pastrnak (thumb) out of the lineup, Brad Marchand (27 points) and Bergeron (21 points) have led the way as the top two scorers on the team during the streak. After never scoring more than 61 points during the first seven years of his career, Marchand has now hit 80 points in each of the last three seasons. He is on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 85. Bergeron has been his Selke Trophy self, leading the team with a plus-17 rating over the past 18 contests while also winning 59.2 percent of his faceoffs. He also became just the fifth Bruins player in the last 30 years to score short-handed goals in back-to-back games and the first since Brian Rolston (Oct. 13-16, 2001). Only seven times in NHL history has a player had a short-handed goal in three or more consecutive games, the last being Mike Richards in 2009 with Philadelphia.

David Krejci (18 points) and Jake DeBrusk (16 points) have been the team’s two biggest X-factors. After this current tear – which included a goal against the Panthers – Krejci is flirting with a career season. He is on pace for 70 points, which would be three behind his career-high of 73 set in 2008-09. DeBrusk, meanwhile, did not play Thursday against Florida due to a lower-body injury. Bruce Cassidy said Friday he didn’t believe it was anything major. The Bruins will certainly hope not, since the 22-year-old has lit the lamp eight times in his past 10 games.

Boston’s power play has also gotten hot. They’ve scored at a 25 percent clip during their 18-game streak (13-for-52) and done so without Pastrnak, who still leads the team with 15 power play goals despite being out nearly a month.

Then there’s the last line of defense in Tuukka Rask, who does not have a regulation loss since the calendar turned to 2019. For the second straight season, Rask has been challenged by a backup at the start of the year. Last season there were calls for Anton Khudobin to take over the net for good. This year, there was more of the same for Jaroslav Halak. But Rask has once again proved doubters wrong with a big second half. Since the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on New Year’s Day, Rask is 14-0-3 with a .931 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average. Halak hasn’t been so bad himself, going 5-0-2 with a .941 save percentage and 1.77 goals against average over his past seven games.

Remember, the last three Stanley Cup champions needed contributions from two goaltenders. The Penguins’ repeat in 2016 and 2017 with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury is well documented. But the Capitals also needed backup Philipp Grubauer to be clutch last March to assure Washington the top spot in the division. Braden Holtby would re-take the reins at the start of the playoffs and lead the Caps to the Cup.

The Red Sox are the reigning World Series champions in spring training and the Patriots have entered yet another offseason atop the NFL. There’s no reason to believe the Bruins can’t contend for the Stanley Cup this season and, especially with no LeBron James in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics could win the East in the NBA as well. What a time to be a Boston sports fan.

Ferland hit gave Bruins’ Johansson lung contusion

Unfortunately, Marcus Johansson‘s tough injury luck hasn’t changed with the scenery from New Jersey to Boston.

In just his fourth game since being traded to the Bruins, Johansson suffered a lung contusion stemming from a hard (but seemingly legal) hit by Carolina Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland, which happened during Boston’s 4-3 OT win on Tuesday.

The team announced that Johansson, 28, will be reevaluated in one week, so it’s difficult to tell how long he’ll actually be out. On the bright side, the Swedish winger was released from hospital after being monitored overnight, according to the Bruins.

Check footage of the hit, and more, in the video above this post’s headline.

David Backes challenged Ferland to a fight shortly after the hit. Ferland ended up leaving that game, too, likely from the brief bout (although sometimes the deliverer of a big check can also be hurt, and on occasion, they won’t realize they’re injured until after the fact).

Backes credited Ferland with being held “accountable” for that hit on a “skilled guy.”

As you likely remember, much of Johansson’s days were marred by concussion issues stemming from Brad Marchand, who’s now his teammate. They seemed to smooth things over once Johansson landed with the B’s, but either way, it seems like Johansson can’t catch a break.

(Actually, if he said “give me a break,” I’d fear for his bones.)

Through four games, Johansson had only managed an assist, but promising possession numbers indicated that he might be capable of giving the Bruins the sort of supporting help they need beyond that top line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and (when healthy) David Pastrnak. According to Natural Stat Trick, Johansson’s most common five-on-five linemates had been David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.

Considering Johansson’s pending UFA status – and the injuries he’s already fought through – this setback could hurt Johansson’s wallet as much as it dings the Bruins’ depth.

A cursory Google search indicates that a lung contusion is, essentially, a bruised lung. That sounds pretty rough, but maybe it’s something Johansson can eventually work through?

It doesn’t sound pleasant either way, and it really emphasizes the Bruins’ wider-scale issues with bumps and bruises. How strong will this team be when it’s at full-strength? That’s hard to tell, as we so rarely see the Bruins in that state.

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.

The Buzzer: Carey Price ties Jacques Plante on Canadiens’ wins list

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Three Stars

1. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. The Montreal Canadiens probably did not need Carey Price to be great on Tuesday night — he was still more than solid in their 3-1 win over a hapless Los Angeles Kings team — but he made some history by recording career win No. 314. That win moves him into a tie with legendary goalie Jacques Plante on top of the franchise’s all-time wins list. Any time you can tie Jacques Plante in something you deserve a star for the night. Granted, Price has spent his entire career playing in the shootout era, so the proper context needs to be applied to records and win totals like this, but it is still a huge accomplishment for Price and something that is worthy of some extra attention.

2. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. With every team in the Eastern Conference playoff race gaining at least a point on Tuesday night it was a must for the Pittsburgh Penguins to get two points against the Florida Panthers, especially with a home-and-home against the Columbus Blue Jackets looming later this week. They were able to get the two points thanks to a pair of goals from Jake Guentzel, including a highlight reel winner in overtime. He is now up to a 33 goals on the season and has a real shot at scoring 40 goals. His contract extension he signed earlier this season might prove to be a bargain for the Penguins.

3. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets. He has had probably the worst season of his career, or at least his worst season since joining the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Sergei Bobrovsky is still capable of taking over a game and stealing for his team. He did that on Tuesday night in the Blue Jackets’ 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. The Blue Jackets entered the game having lost three of their past four games and didn’t really play a particularly strong game against a team that is totally out of the race. They still managed to pick up two points thanks in large part to the play of Bobrovsky. Now the big test for the Blue Jackets and Bobrovsky this week — back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Other notable performances from Tuesday night

  • Ben Bishop posted a shutout and John Klingberg scored another game-winning goal to help lift the Dallas Stars to a 1-0 win over the New York Rangers to pick up a huge two points in the standings.
  • The Nashville Predators are back in first place in the Central Division and the Minnesota Wild are sticking around in the playoff race. Read all about it here.
  • Tough night for the Arizona Coyotes as they dropped two important points in the standings and had their six-game winning streak snapped in a 3-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
  • The New York Islanders needed a shootout to top the Ottawa Senators, but they managed to get the win and keep pace with the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division. It was a costly win, however, as starting goalie Robin Lehner had to leave the game with an injury after a collision with Matthew Tkachuk on the play that produced the game-tying goal.
  • Nathan MacKinnon scored the overtime winner to complete the Colorado Avalanche’s late rally to top the Detroit Red Wings and get two points.

Highlights of the Night

The aforementioned Jake Guentzel overtime winner for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk teamed up for a pair of goals on Tuesday night in their win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Krejci’s goal, set up by DeBrusk, came in overtime. It was a costly win for the Bruins as they lost Marcus Johansson to another injury.

The Detroit Red Wings were on the losing end of a 4-3 overtime decision against the Colorado Avalanche but here is a bright spot in another lost season for the Red Wings: Prized prospect and top draft pick Filip Zadina scored his first NHL goal.

Factoids

  • Matt Cullen played his 1,500th game tonight, making him just the second American-born player to ever reach that milestone (Chris Chelios is the other). Crazy thing about that is his career has overlapped 49.1 percent of the players to ever play a game in the NHL. [Penguins]
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning are the first team in NHL history to feature two different goalies that have each had a personal 10-game winning streak in a single season. This team is a machine. It was also a big night for Nikita Kucherov as he tied Vincent Lecavalier’s single season points record with still 15 games to play in the season. [NHL PR]
  • New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz recorded his 800th career win when his team defeated the Ottawa Senators. [Islanders]

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3 (OT)

Columbus Blue Jackets 2, New Jersey Devils 1 (SO)

New York Islanders 5, Ottawa Senators 4 (SO)

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Florida Panthers 2 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Winnipeg Jets 2

Nashville Predators 5, Minnesota Wild 4 (SO)

Dallas Stars 1, New York Rangers 0

Colorado Avalanche 4, Detroit Red Wings 3 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 3, Arizona Coyotes 1

Montreal Canadiens 3, Los Angeles Kings 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.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins more than managing without Pastrnak

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Thursday night’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

A lot of ink has been spilled this year on the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning, and for good reason.

They win basically all of the time, they have the guy who’s running away with the Hart and the other guy who’s running away with the Vezina. They haven’t lost a game in their past 10 outings and have points in their past 14. There’s plenty to write home about here.

But not lost on the rest of the NHL is how well the Boston Bruins have been playing as of late. Sure, the second-place Bruins are 19-points back of the Lightning in the Atlantic Division. There will be no catching them. But Boston, too, has points in their past 14 games. And like the Lightning, they haven’t lost in regulation in February.

And while Tampa has benefitted from a relatively healthy lineup this season, and has been without top names like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, the Bruins have had to forge ahead without their leading scorer (at the time of his injury).

David Pastrnak‘s thumb injury (and subsequent surgery) could have had a devastating impact on the Bruins. He left the team with 31 goals and 66 points in 56 games when disaster struck on Feb. 10. It’s just standard fare to believe the Bruins might struggle without the guy but they’ve done anything but.

The Bruins will enter Thursday’s matchup against the Lightning with a 6-0-1 record since Pastrnak began his absence, and scoring hasn’t hit a snag during that time — the Bruins are average 3.71 goals per game in that span.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The key to any team succeeding in the face of a major injury to one of its best and most productive players is others stepping up to fill the void. For Boston, David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk heard the rallying cries loud and clear.

Krejci had 43 points in 56 games (0.77/game) prior to Pastrnak’s departure but has contributed 12 in the seven games since (1.71/game). Similarly, Jake DeBrusk had 19 points in 40 games (0.40/game) before Pastrnak’s ailment and 11 since then (1.57/game). Not surprisingly, the duo is the team’s two top scorers during that time.

Couple that with no slow down in Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron‘s game and you’ve essentially plugged the hole that could have led to a drastic leak. So you have a Boston Bruins team that has been able to hold off the Toronto Maple Leafs and retain that second-place standing.

And the good news is that Pastrnak is back to skating now as of this past Monday. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Pastrnak would be in a cast for the next two weeks (down to a week and a half at this point) and then will return to the lineup as his comfort level allows.

This is all to say that a very good Bruins team is getting their best player back just in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Mike Milbury (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from TD Garden in Boston, Mass. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.