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

Roundtable: Goaltending issues, challenging the Lightning

Which team in either conference can give the Lightning the toughest matchup?

SEAN: Still believe it’s the Capitals. Washington was able to do a good job of shot suppression in the Eastern Conference Final last year against the Lightning, and they have mostly the same roster. Losing Michael Kempny will hurt, but they also have Braden Holtby behind the blue line. The same Holtby who posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 a year ago.

JAMES: Honestly, there’s a credible threat every step of the way, including a relatively formidable Round 1 opponent in Columbus. My pick is the Penguins, for two simple seasons: 1) this accounts for two rounds of wear-and-tear and 2) Pittsburgh ranks as one of the few teams with firepower that at least approaches Tampa Bay’s ridiculous arsenal. I believe the Bruins/Maple Leafs are better teams than the Penguins, but I’d wager that Tampa Bay enters Round 2 far fresher than whoever wins that Boston – Toronto slugfest. With Matt Murray quietly finishing the season on a hot streak, the Penguins formula of “potent offense + deeply shaky defense + Murray standings on his head” might just pay dividends for another run.

(But no, the Lightning are winning it all.)

ADAM: The Lightning are clearly the favorites here but no team is unbeatable, and if anyone is going to knock off the Lightning it is going to be a team that has high-end talent at forward that can match them (or at least come close to matching them) and a really good goalie. I see two or three teams that fit that in the Eastern Conference. Boston is definitely one. Washington is one if Braden Holtby can get back to a Braden Holtby level of play. Pittsburgh is one if Matt Murray keeps playing the way he has since returning from injury in December. Those are the teams that I can see giving them the toughest fight. Boston would be the interesting one here because if both teams get through Round 1 you are going to have another situation where you have the two best teams in the league playing in Round 2 (the Bruins were tied with the Flames with 107 points for second best record), and the Bruins were every bit as good as that record indicates. That would be a brutally tough matchup that early in the playoffs for the Lightning.

JOEY: I feel like the Boston Bruins have the best chance of knocking out the Bolts. They’re not as deep as the Lightning (nobody is), but they found a way to overcome adversity throughout the year. The Bruins finished the year in the top five when it comes to man games lost due to injury, so their depth players also had to step up in 2018-19. Getting Tuukka Rask back on his game will be the key though. For the Bruins to sink the Lightning, they’ll need their goaltender to be better than Andrei Vasilevskiy. That might be asking a lot of Rask, but he’s shown that he can elevate his game when his team needs him most. It’s a shame these teams would have to meet in the second round though. Assuming this matchup happens at all, it will be a great series with a lot of high-end offensive players. 

SCOTT: Boston. Cut out the final game of the season for both clubs and two of their four matchups were affairs settled by one goal and the other was Boston winning convincingly 4-1. Sure, Tampa won three of four, but the Bruins showed they could run with the Lightning. Boston is the only team that compares. They ooze talent, too, and a good series featuring stellar goaltending from Tuukka Rask would throw a real wrench into things for Tampa. If Boston can remain disciplined, I think they could do it. And I’ve picked them to win the Cup this year because I believe they can be Tampa’s kryptonite.

RYAN: I picked the San Jose Sharks to win the Cup, but I think Pittsburgh or Washington will give the Lightning a really tough fight in the Eastern Conference Final, assuming that matchup happens.  Honestly, the Lightning don’t have an easy road to the Cup.  Even in the first round, while I fully expect the Lightning to beat Columbus,the Blue Jackets can’t be discounted.  If Sergei Bobrovsky plays at his peak and trade acquisitions Matt Duchene/Ryan Dzingel step up in the playoffs in a way they haven’t since being acquired by Columbus then the Blue Jackets could surprise people.  It’s a big if and the more likely scenario is that Tampa Bay will at least get past Columbus, but the point is despite winning 62 games in the regular season, the Lightning are far from untouchable.

Which team’s goaltending will be the reason they don’t make a Stanley Cup run?

SEAN: It’s hard to choose between San Jose and Calgary, but considering the season they had and expectations, I’d pick the Flames over the Sharks by a hair. Bill Peters has done a wonderful job in making them stronger on both sides of the ice. But the duo of Mike Smith and David Rittich gives me pause about thinking they could challenge for the Cup. You can’t win in the playoffs without having a number of tight, low-scoring games. I don’t see either goalie being capable of stealing a handful of a games to push the Flames ahead.

JAMES: It may actually come down to which coaches would actually change goalies if things went south, and which ones would stubbornly go down with the ship. I feel like the Flames would be quicker to move away from Mike Smith (on an expiring contract) than the Sharks would with Martin Jones (who’s terrifyingly signed through 2023-24). So, the Sharks are the biggest worry to me.

Allow one wild card, though: Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury played to end the season, but he missed quite a bit of time with injury, and I can’t help but worry that Gerard Gallant ran the veteran goalie into the ground. If MAF is some mixture of rusty, injured, and/or beat-up, the Golden Knights could be in big trouble.

ADAM: As much as I do not trust the Calgary Flames’ situation, and for as hit-and-miss as Marc-Andre Fleury has been at times this season, and for as bad as Sergei Bobrovsky’s playoff history is, there can be no other answer here other than the San Jose Sharks. You can not hide from the worst team save percentage in hockey and two of the worst individual goaltending performances in the league. This team has everything to be a Stanley Cup contender this season except for the goalie.

JOEY: I have to go with San Jose. They have all the tools to go on a long run, but Martin Jones’ play has left a lot to be desired this year. If he can go back to playing like he did a couple of years ago, the Sharks would have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Without him, they could get bounced in the first round. That’s how big of a factor he’ll be for them this postseason. He doesn’t even have to be great, but he needs to make sure he’s not the reason his team loses big games. 

SCOTT: San Jose, who edge out the Calgary Flames because the Flames have two goalies they can turn to. Martin Jones had a .896 save percentage this season. Yes, a sub .900 save percentage on a team that finished in second place in the Pacific Division. While that might cut it in the regular season (and really, I don’t know how it did), it won’t in the playoffs. Just ask Sergei Bobrovsky what saving fewer than 90 percent the of shots you face in the playoffs means. Heck, you don’t need him to answer that. It means no playoff series wins.

RYAN: If the Sharks fall short, it will be because of Martin Jones.  He certainly left plenty to be desired in the regular season.  The Calgary Flames are another team that stands out with its questionable goaltending

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Who will be this year’s John Druce, the player who delivers an unlikely scoring surge?

SEAN: It may not last very long, but how about a nostalgic run from Jason Spezza, who only scored eight times during the regular season for the Stars. It was only three years ago he popped in 13 in the postseason for Dallas and 12 years since he scored 20 during the Ottawa Senators’ run to the Cup Final.

JAMES: When you’re looking for the next Chris Kontos/Devante Smith-Pelly/Fernando Pisani, you can do worse to look for someone fighting for a future job. With a cap crunch coming, Ryan Callahan has to know that the Lightning want to get rid of his $5.8 million contract one way or another. Callahan seems like the type who could have one of those inspiring runs where a veteran scores a bunch of unexpected goals.

Bonus choice: Teddy Blueger, because I smile every time I see his name, and is even better when he goes by Theodore. Also, he played a stretch with Phil Kessel on his line, so maybe that would happen again.

ADAM: Just keeping thinking the St. Louis Blues keep this roll they have been on going throughout the playoffs, and Oskar Sundqvist has quietly had a really good season with 14 goals, 17 assists. Maybe he does not reach double digits in the playoffs, but I could see him scoring quite a few big goals in the postseason.

JOEY: I’ll go with Bruins forward Chris Wagner. He found a way to score 12 goals for the Bruins while playing a bottom-six role. He’s a physical player that has 21 games of playoff experience. The Bruins can’t just rely on their top line plus David Krejci to get the job done. They need everyone chipping in, so I expect someone like Wagner to step up along the way. 

SCOTT: I’d like to take David Backes here for fun, but he may not play that much. Since I’ve got he Bruins winning the Cup, however, it’s a good bet that it would be someone on Boston. I’m going to go with Marcus Johannson. He was pretty solid in a couple of the Washington Capitals playoff runs. Teams facing Boston are going to have a tough time with their two top lines, meaning more to feast on for the bottom six. Johansson hasn’t done too much in his time with Boston, so now is the time to introduce himself in a big way.

RYAN: It’s a stretch, but as long as we’re talking about unlikely, I’ll say Derek Ryan.  He’s a 32-year-old late bloomer with 41 career goals and no NHL playoff experience, but he’s something of a hot-and-cold player offensively with some pretty good hot streaks to his name. He’s going into the playoffs on one of those hot streaks with six goals and 13 points in his last 13 games.

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