David Rittich

Roundtable: Round 1 surprising players; toughest road to Stanley Cup Final

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What player surprised you most (good or bad) in Round 1?

SEAN: Entering Round 1, there wasn’t a whole lot of confidence in the Calgary Flames goaltending. They had enough talent to get by the Colorado Avalanche despite the up and down play from Mike Smith and David Rittich during the regular season. While they went out in five games, you can’t place any blame on the play of Smith, who posted a .947 even strength save percentage and a .935 high-danger save percentage, via Natural Stat Trick.

JAMES: Johnny Gaudreau, and frankly, the Flames’ top players overall, Matthew Tkachuk included. It’s one thing for Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen to dominate – they tend to do that when they’re even remotely healthy – but Calgary must be stunned by just how severely the strength vs. strength matchups went in Colorado’s favor. The Lightning getting swept was the biggest upset of Round 1, but the Flames’ play was the most upsetting.

ADAM: I almost think I have to go with Warren Foegele, even though I hate — HATE! —  the play that knocked T.J. Oshie out of the series and thought he was fortunate to not get suspended for it. But if you would have told me at the start of their Round 1 series with the Washington Capitals that not only would the Hurricanes win, but it would be Foegele that ended up leading the team in goals I would have laughed in your face. He only had 10 goals and 15 total points all season and finished the first round with four goals and six points in only seven games. Totally out of nowhere for me.

JOEY: Jordan Eberle had a tough regular season, but he really came to play in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only did Eberle get his name on the scoresheet at least once in every single game but his team also controlled nearly 54 percent of the shot attempts when he was on the ice. He was also on the ice for 21 high-danger chances for compared to just eight against. The Islanders forward picked a heck of a time to put it all together, as he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. They’ll need him to keep performing at this level if they’re going to make it through to the next round.

SCOTT: Oskar Sundqvist. For a long time, Sundqvist was just that got that got pasted by Tom Wilson in the preseason. After watching him for six games in the series against the Winnipeg Jets, you start to see more than just that nasty hit. Against Winnipeg, he was physical, he produced, adding two goals and two assists in the series, and he played meaningful minutes alongside Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn on the second line (including a five-shot effort in Game 6).

RYAN: Warren Foegele had 10 goals and just 15 points in 77 games in the regular season, but he managed to be a factor in the first round. He had two goals and an assist in Game 3, scored just 17 seconds into Game 4, and chipped in another goal in Game 6. With six playoff points, he’s tied for second place in the Hurricanes’ scoring race, though I don’t expect him to be nearly as effective going forward.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Which Round 2 team do you believe faces the toughest route to the Stanley Cup Final?

SEAN: The most immediate challenge for the Colorado Avalanche is facing a San Jose Sharks team coming off the emotional high of a 3-1 series comeback and an epic Game 7 to advance to Round 2. That could benefit them early on in the series if the Sharks are still riding those emotional waves. But if Good Martin Jones is what we’re going to see, then the Avs are in for a challenge. The Blues and Stars would pose a similar challenge in going up against stingy defense and good goaltending. Plus there’s the change in play at how the Blues have played since January and the Stars finally finding an identity under Jim Montgomery down the stretch.

JAMES: The Blue Jackets, by a hair. I don’t think you can emphasize enough how unlikely that Lightning sweep was. We can dig through reasons all day, yet Columbus played at a high level — and the Blue Jackets had to. Next, they face a focused, versatile, and dangerous Bruins team. While a would-be third-round opponent seems less foreboding on paper, Columbus still isn’t in a spot to take anyone lightly. The West is likely to provide a robust opponent in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, too. There are plenty of other arguments because there aren’t many easy outs in this tournament (if Colorado goes deep, they’ll have a case), but the Blue Jackets get my vote.

ADAM: Honestly it is still probably the Blue Jackets for me, just because I think they have to play the most complete team still standing in Round 2. This was always going to be their issue for me in the playoffs, the fact they got stuck in the hardest bracket and that even if they got through Tampa Bay, they were going to have to face another top team in the very next round. If they get through this they will have more than earned their spot in the Eastern Conference Final and it would probably be one of the most impressive postseasons runs we have seen in quite some time.

JOEY: I have to go with the Carolina Hurricanes. Yes, they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first round, but all that did was get them a date with one of the stingiest teams in the league. That’s not to say that Carolina can’t beat the Islanders over seven games, but their journey to the next round definitely won’t be an easy one. Also, if they do find a way to win their second-round series, they’ll have Columbus or Boston waiting for them in the next round. No matter what happens though, they’re playing with house money at this point.

SCOTT: Columbus. Sorry, but can lightning strike twice? The Bruins are going to grind much harder than Tampa, and they likely know that they’re the frontrunners now with Tampa gone and the rest of the division winners. That’s going to provide some extra steam in the engine. Can Columbus beat Boston? After Round 1, anything can be done. But if we’re talking toughest route to the Cup, it’s got to be the team that has to knock off the first- and second-ranked teams in the NHL to get there. It’s an incredible tale to tell if they do. 

RYAN: The Avalanche. Although Martin Jones continues to give me pause, I still believe the Sharks are ultimately going to win the Stanley Cup and the Avalanche will have to go through them to get any further. Even if the Avalanche manage to pull off that, they’ll have to face the winner of the Stars-Blues series. The Blues are a great all-around squad while the Stars have an elite offensive core supported by a Vezina Trophy finalist in goal, so either of those teams would make life very difficult for the Avalanche even if they do manage to get past San Jose.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars
Avalanche vs. Sharks

The Wraparound: Goaltending hasn’t been an issue for Flames

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Even though the Calgary Flames finished right at the top of the Western Conference standings, many hockey fans doubted whether or not they were a serious Stanley Cup contender. The reason for the doubt was pretty obvious, too. No one seemed to believe in either of their goaltenders.

Mike Smith and David Rittich both had difficult stretches at various times throughout the season. In the end, the Flames decided to roll with Smith in the postseason. The 37-year-old finished the campaign with 23-16-2 record, a 2.72 goals-against-average and a .898 save percentage in 42 games.

The belief heading into the series was that if Calgary’s best players could score enough, they could compensate for the shaky goaltending. After all, the Flames had five players surpass the 70-point mark during the regular season. Johnny Gaudreau (99), Sean Monahan (82), Elias Lindholm (78), Matthew Tkachuk (77) and Mark Giordano (74) so offensive production wasn’t a worry.

But after four games against the Colorado Avalanche, the Flames now find themselves on the brink of elimination, and it’s not for the reason we all thought. They have to find a way to stay alive in Game 5 (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, live stream)

Smith hasn’t been the issue at all. He’s actually been really good between the pipes throughout the entire series and if anything, he’s kept them in games. It’s their high-end offensive guys that have let them down. Gaudreau has one assist through four games and Monahan has a goal and a helper. That’s it.

Over the last two games, Smith has stopped 99 of 108 shots the Avalanche have fired his way. The fact that he’s faced that much rubber over the last two games is insane. Yes, that’s a lot of goals to give up over two games, but the team in front of him checked out in Game 3 and they blew a 2-0 lead in Game 4.

“It’s nothing personal,” Smith said after Game 4, per the team website. “It’s about the team winning. I’m just one little cog.

“It’s nice to have personal success, obviously, but when you don’t get the results it doesn’t matter. You need to do more.”

The Flames are in must-win mode. We’ve already seen one no. 1 seed go down, so it wouldn’t be too shocking to see the top team in the West go down, too.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 5: Maple Leafs at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET (series tied 2-2): It’s been a fierce battle between the top line of both teams. John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron have gone head-to-head a lot. In Game 3, the Leafs trio got the better of that matchup, but in Game 4 the Bruins’ top players took their game to another level. Who comes out on top tonight? (NBCSN, Live stream)

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Avalanche absolutely crush Flames in Game 3

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Are we sure that the top teams and bottom seeds of each conferences didn’t switch bodies before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

The Colorado Avalanche now have a 2-1 series lead against the Calgary Flames, which isn’t as extreme as the Blue Jackets’ 3-0 edge on the shocked Lightning. Still, if you only watched the Avs and Flames in Colorado’s lopsided 6-2 win, you’d be convinced that the Avalanche are the dominant force.

While Flames goalie Mike Smith saw some of his playoff magic wear off hear, it’s not as if this was an even contest where Smith simply let his team down, which is how people imagined many Calgary losses would play out entering the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Instead, the Avalanche just bombarded the Flames, basically all night long.

Nathan MacKinnon carried over the adrenaline rush from scoring Game 2’s thrilling overtime-winner, scoring two goals and one assist, all in the first period in helping Colorado build an early 3-0 lead. His assist came on a memorable first-ever playoff goal for Cale Makar, who made a sensational debut.

The Avs rarely relented. Again, it’s fair to ask if the Flames should turn from Smith to David Rittich for Game 4, but they’d be kidding themselves if they thought that a goalie swap would heal all of the things that ail them. After all, it’s not Smith’s fault that Colorado generated a gaudy 56-29 shots on goal advantage, including a 16-9 third period where you’d expect Calgary to make better gains during “garbage time.”

The Avalanche kept the Flames on their heels with speed and skill, but also all-out effort. Gabriel Landeskog is just one of the Colorado players who helped Philipp Grubauer keep more pucks out of the net.

While MacKinnon and the Avs’ other biggest stars delivered in a thunderous way, the Flames’ biggest names are landing with a thud.

Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Mark Giordano all went pointless during Game 3. Gaudreau’s been limited to just an assist through his first three games during this Round 1 series.

The Flames boast the sort of depth that Gaudreau’s line doesn’t have to dominate, particularly when Tkachuk is clicking when “The 3M Line” is together. Yet, so far, the Avalanche’s top players are absolutely dominating this series, and Colorado’s depth players are getting it done. It’s one thing for Mikko Rantanen to get two points; it’s another when Ian Cole and Matt Nieto also enjoy two-point nights.

With Colorado boasting home-ice advantage in an unusual high-altitude environment, the Flames must push through the burning in their lungs to get back into this one. In approaching Game 4, they have a lot of questions to answer, and probably need to take a long, sobering look in the mirror.

Avalanche – Flames Game 4 takes place at the Pepsi Center at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday (NBCSN; livestream)

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 Playoff Buzzer: Dominant Game 1 efforts for Backstrom, Marner, and Smith

  • Mitch Marner did something that only a handful of players in NHL history have done in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ big Game 1 over the Boston Bruins
  • The Carolina Hurricanes put up a great fight against the defending Stanley Cup champions but had just one flaw they have to correct
  • An unlikely hero emerged for the Calgary Flames
  • Capitals defenseman John Carlson tied an NHL postseason record
  • Alex Ovechkin continued to climb another goal-scoring leaderboard

Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 1 (Maple Leafs  lead series 1-0)

The Maple Leafs are already off to a better start in their playoff rematch against the Boston Bruins, jumping out to an early 1-0 series lead thanks to a huge night from Mitch Marner and additional goals from William Nylander and John Tavares. They need their stars to shine, and on Thursday night they did.

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 2 (Capitals lead series 1-0)

The Hurricanes may have been the better team at even-strength and showed they have a chance in this series, but the Capitals’ power play (and penalty kill) was the difference as the defending Stanley Cup champions stole Game 1 away. If the Hurricanes can repeat this effort in Game 2 they stand a great chance to even the series, but they must find an answer for the Capitals’ power play to allow that to happen.

Flames 4, Avalanche 0 (Flames leads series 1-0)

The Calgary Flames’ superstars had a fairly quiet night and they still rolled to a 4-0 shutout win over the Colorado Avalanche. Mike Smith was outstanding in net and the Flames’ defense did a great job shutting down the Avalanche’s big-three, including Mikko Rantanen in his return to the lineup.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Mike Smith, Calgary Flames. All season, and especially leading up to the playoffs, the big question for the Calgary Flames was whether or not they had the goaltending to go on a deep Stanley Cup run. David Rittich is unproven and regressed down the stretch, while Smith had, for the most part, a brutal year. Playing in his first playoff game in seven years, Smith was the best player on the ice and for one night silenced the doubters.

2. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. Backstrom was a beast for the Capitals in Game 1, scoring a pair of first period goals and then coming up with two huge blocked shots late in the third period to help the Capitals hold off a late Hurricanes rally. He is one of the best all-around centers in the NHL and showed why on Thursday.

3. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs. Entering play on Thursday Marner had scored just three goals in his first 13 career playoff games. He scored two in the Maple Leafs’ Game 1 win and proved to be the team’s most dangerous player as they jumped out to an early series lead over the Bruins.

Highlights of the night

Not long after tying the game against the Bruins, Marner gave the Maple Leafs with the lead with what would prove to be the game-winning goal on a penalty shot and what a move it was! According to the NHL’s Public Relations department, this was just the fifth shorthanded penalty shot goal in NHL playoff history.

While Mike Smith was stopping everything, Andrew Mangiapane got the Flames on the board with this beautiful goal against Philipp Grubauer.

Factoids of the Night

John Carlson’s three first period assists tied an NHL postseason record for most assists in a period. [NHL PR]

Alex Ovechkin moved into 27th place on the NHL’s all-time postseason goal-scoring list [NHL PR]

Friday’s schedule

Columbus Blue Jackets at Tampa Bay Lightning, Game 2 (CBJ leads 1-0), 7 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders, Game 2 (NYI leads 1-0), 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
St. Louis Blues at Winnipeg Jets, Game 2 (StL leads 1-0), 9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, Game 2 (SJ leads 1-0), 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)

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.

The Wraparound: Capitals begin quest to become rare repeat champions

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Since 1990, only two teams have ever repeated as Stanley Cup champions.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have done it twice, including being the most recent team to do it, and the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feast in the late 90s with some spectacular teams.

Pittsburgh’s back-to-back triumphs are especially impressive given they’ve done so in a salary cap era, and now the Washington Capitals will begin their journey to try and become one of few teams to hoist Lord Stanley in consecutive years Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes (7:30 p.m. ET; USA; live stream)

“I think that taste that we had last year was pretty incredible and hopefully we’re going to do it again,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We basically have the same team. That experience we have is going to help us a lot.”

Another summer with Stanley for Ovechkin and Co. would make for good theatre in the offseason, but not many are giving them that repeat love.

The Capitals come into the series after taking all four games between the two clubs during the regular season. The Hurricanes are making their first foray into the postseason in a decade, snapping the league’s longest playoff drought.

“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You’re playing the Stanley Cup champs. It’ll be tough, we know that. No matter who we’re playing, it was going to be an uphill battle, we know that. I like the way this group has responded all year to challenges. This is obviously a big one coming up.”

For Carolina, they’re going to need Sebastian Aho and Micheal Ferland to step up. Aho didn’t score in his final 14 games during the run-in to the playoffs, well over a month of action after leading the team with 30 goals and 83 points.

Ferland, too, has struggled with no goals in his previous 17 contests.

“If we don’t have everyone playing at their top, we’re not going to win,” Brind’Amour said. “The best players obviously have to be right up there. You talk to all your guys, whether they’re playing good or bad. I don’t think (Aho and Ferland) are playing poorly. I just think they haven’t been scoring.”

Washington, meanwhile, may have an ace up their sleeve with Carl Hagelin. He won those back-to-back Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, and Reirdan sat down with Hagelin to pick his brain about that very matter.

“Every team is different, but there’s always a couple pointers I can give them,” Hagelin said. “There’s always hard moments throughout the playoffs, but I think the second time there might just be more harder times and you’ve just got to stick with it. You’ve got to realize what you did the year before to be successful and you’ve got to realize it won’t be easier.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 1: Maple Leafs at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream): Can the Maple Leafs live up to the hype? Or more importantly, can the Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins? They meet for the second straight year in the exact same round. Toronto held a 4-3 lead after two periods in Game 7 last year and went on to choke, losing the game 7-4. These teams have met twice in the playoffs since 2013, and both series have gone to Game 7, and both series have ended with the Bruins moving on. It’s time for Toronto to reverse the narrative.

Game 1:  Hurricanes at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET (USA; live stream): As mentioned above, the Capitals are looking repeat as Cup champions. Having the same, battle-hardened team as they did last year is quite the boon, but it remains to be seen if that same hunger is there. They do get what some might see as an easier test in the first round against a Carolina team they beat in all four meetings during the regular season. Carolina makes its first postseason appearance in a decade.

Game 1:  Avalanche at Flames, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream): It’s time to see what the Western Conference champs can do in the playoffs. They’ll face a Colorado team coming in on a high after making the playoffs in the second last game of the season. Philipp Grubauer has been spectacular as of late. What remains to be seen is how Calgary’s tandem of David Rittich and Mike Smith will fare. Calgary has tremendous firepower, it’s the goaltending that has some worried.

FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE
Game 2: Blue Jackets at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Game 2: Penguins at Islanders, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2:  Blues at Jets, 9:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Game 2:  Golden Knights at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets

Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
• 
Roundtable: Goaltending issues, challenging the Lightning
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info


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