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Rantanen leads Avalanche in OT comeback win against Flames

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For most of Game 4, it looked like Flames goaltender Mike Smith would be the hero, but just as they did in Game 3, the Colorado Avalanche bombarded him and eventually it worked. Mikko Rantanen played an instrumental role, scoring the game-tying goal late in the third and then the overtime winner in Colorado’s 3-2 victory.

The Calgary Flames were tied for second in the league in goals scored during the regular season, but so far Smith has been their most important player. The 37-year-old goaltender earned Calgary’s only win of the series by posting a 26-save shutout. The Avalanche have made life too difficult for him lately though.

Just one game after the Avalanche managed to blowout Calgary by launching an overwhelming 56 shots at Smith, they sent another 52 shots his way Wednesday night. Smith held firm though for most of the game. His efforts combined with goals from Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan gave the Flames a 2-0 lead by 6:58 of the third period. That’s despite the Avalanche firing 17 shots in the first period and 15 in the second.

Eventually though, their persistence paid off. Barely a minute after Ryan’s goal, Smith made a great save on Matt Calvert, but J.T. Compher picked up the rebound to finally get Colorado on the board. It was a start, but that might have been as close as Colorado got if not for some late penalty troubles by Calgary. Mikael Backlund took a tripping penalty at 16:39 and Noah Hanifin was penalized for a puck over the glass at 17:23.

The Backlund penalty was the one the Avalanche capitalized on, courtesy of Rantanen shoveling a Nathan MacKinnon centering pass into the net. That pushed the game into an overtime period that lasted 10:23 minutes before Rantanen scored again to complete the comeback.

With that, the Colorado Avalanche have a 3-1 series lead despite dropping their playoff opener. At this point, the Flames would have to make franchise history to advance as they’re 0-8 when trailing a series 3-1.

In a Round 1 that’s already featured some major surprises, the Avalanche seem on course to deliver yet another. Of course, hope isn’t lost for the Flames yet, but if they are to bounce back, they’ll need to rely on Smith less. He’s already had to face 173 shots in this series, which is 28 more than any other goaltender.

Avalanche-Flames Game 5 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Friday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

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

Flames’ once-red-hot top line has been ice cold

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For years now, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have gone together like peanut butter and chocolate, so it was startling to see Bill Peters split them up, even briefly.

With the Calgary Flames going through (very much relative) struggles lately, Peters has tried different things. Sometimes that means pushing Elias Lindholm up and down the lineup, trying Michael Frolik with Gaudreau, and most jarringly, placing Monahan as a third-line center, with Gaudreau on Derek Ryan‘s wing.

If morning skate lines stick, the Flames are going back to that combination of Monahan, Gaudreau, and Lindholm on Friday. Let’s take a look at their recent funk, which explains why Peters decided to shuffle up the deck chairs in the first place:

Monahan: Five-game pointless streak, a four-point game against the Devils representing the only time he’s generated points in the last eight games (one goal, three assists from that contest against New Jersey).

Lindholm: Also on a five-game pointless streak, and also not much going on beyond blowing the doors off of the lowly Devils. Lindholm has one assist in his last seven games. He’s failed to generate a point in 11 of his last 13 games. Much like Monahan, getting those four points against the Devils (one goal, three assists in that one) camouflages a big drought to an extent. Overall, he has one goal and four assists for five points in his past 13 games.

Gaudreau: Had an assist in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, but has been slumping by his standards, too. Gaudreau only has two points (1G, 1A) in his last six games. He thumped the Devils for an-even-more-ridiculous six(!) points, making his last 11 games look fine with five goals and four assists for nine points, yet he’s been held without a point in seven of his last 11 games.

Taking it to heart

Gaudreau still tends to pass the “eye test” most nights, and with Lindholm feeling a bit like “found money” as a newcomer with unclear expectations heading into 2018-19, much of the angst seems focused most on Monahan. Even weeks ago, a Flames Nation mailbag seemed to be all about what’s wrong with Monahan.

During his brief demotion, it seemed clear that Monahan is all-too-conscious of his cold streak.

“Yeah, when things aren’t going your way and you’re feeling frustrated, that’s when you tend to tighten up your stick and not make the plays you want to make,” Monahan said, via the Calgary Sun’s Daniel Austin. “When you’re coming into a game without that confidence, usually it tends to be a tough game so you’ve got to be tough-minded and ready to go each and every night.”

The bounces dry up

This is an opportunity for Monahan, Lindholm, and Gaudreau to get on track, but to me, it would be wise if someone emphasized optimism with these players. After all, consider that:

  • Gaudreau’s already at career-highs for goals (35) and points (93), blowing away last season’s career-high of 84 points.
  • Monahan’s tied his career-high of 31 goals, and after peaking with 64 points last season, he’s at a career-best 76 points.
  • Lindholm never had a 20-goal season in Carolina, yet he has 27 in his first go with the Flames. Lindholm has more assists (50) this season than he ever generated points with the Hurricanes (his ‘Canes-high was 45), making Lindholm’s 77 points in as many games a truly profound jump.
  • The Flames already clinched a playoff spot, and seem almost certain to win the Pacific. They can take the time to a) rest and b) regain their confidence, while also avoiding a scary first-round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the grand scheme of things, the Flames’ top line was playing over their heads for much of this season, and regression recently hit them like a cruel bucket of ice water.

Just consider their shooting percentages before and after the All-Star Break.

Gaudreau pre: 29 goals in 51 games, 17.8 percent.
Gaudreau post: 6 goals in 26 games, 7.9 percent.

Lindholm pre: 21 goals in 51 games, 17.6 percent.
Lindholm post: 6 goals in 26 games, 10.3 percent.

Monahan pre: 27 goals in 51 games, 17.1 percent
Monahan post: 4 goals in 24 games, 8.9 percent.

Maybe it’s not very satisfying to say that a lot of this comes down to luck and bounces, but … a lot of this comes down to luck and bounces.

Now, with a playoff spot locked down and their seeding close to guaranteed, the Flames would likely be wise to rest prominent players. Monahan was recently injured, and even if he can play, maybe he’d benefit more from a brief breather? Gaudreau’s a player who uses his elusiveness to avoid some of the grind of the NHL, but an 82-game season wears on everyone.

(And, while Mark Giordano defies age as a strong Norris candidate at 35, the Flames would probably be wise to let him heal up before the big games, too.)

***

None of this totally dismisses the unease that comes from seeing a dominant line’s numbers dry up. That is a little scary. And it’s a bit troubling to realize that, while this trio should give opponents fits, their early numbers might have been a bit of a mirage.

Yet, the Flames have one of the best second lines in the NHL, and chances are, their top line will start moving the needle again soon enough. Nonetheless, it’s something to watch, both as the season winds down and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

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: Mrazek shines for ‘Canes, Kucherov’s unstoppable run

AP

Three Stars

1. Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes. The Carolina Hurricanes moved into a playoff position on Saturday night with a 3-0 win over the Dallas Stars (then celebrated like “a bunch of jerks“). It was Petr Mrazek playing a key role by stopping all 33 shots he faced to recorded his third shutout of the season. It hasn’t been a great season for Mrazek overall, but he came through in a big way for them on Saturday night to help put them in a position that seemed impossible for them to reach a couple of months ago.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. Just another day at the office for Nikita Kucherov, the NHL’s leading scorer. He recorded his fourth consecutive multi-point game and is already up to 94 points on the season in just 59 games played. He is still having a season for the ages. Quite literally for the ages. These are Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux type numbers he is recording this season.

3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. The Arizona Coyotes have a brutal season on the injury front and are trying to hang on in the Western Conference playoff race. Their 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night was a big help on that front and it was driven by a shutout from Darcy Kuemper who turned aside all 22 shots he faced to shut out one of the NHL’s best offensive teams.

Other Notable Performances From Saturday Night

  • The St. Louis Blues winning streak reached nine games thanks to a Jake Allen shutout and another big game for Vladimir Tarasenko, while the Colorado Avalanche continued to fade.
  • The Ottawa Senators’ big-three trade candidates all played big roles in their overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets as Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel all scored goals. Dzingel’s goal was the overtime winner.
  • Erik Karlsson made his return to the San Jose Sharks’ lineup and recorded an assist in their 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Joe Pavelski also had two points in the win.
  • Derek Ryan had three assists for the Calgary Flames in a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • After losing three games in a row and seven of their past nine games the Vegas Golden Knights broke out of their slump with a big 5-1 win over the Nashville Predators.

Highlights of the Night

Check out this snipe by Columbus Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois to open the scoring in their win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask made the save of the night against the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins went on to the game 4-2 to keep pace in the Atlantic Division.

This shot by Ryan Pulock to open the scoring for the New York Islanders in their win over the Edmonton Oilers was an absolute rocket. Perfectly placed, too. An unstoppable shot if there ever was one.

Factoids

  • Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane extended his points streak to 17 games. This is the first time since 2009-10 that more than one player has had a point streak of at least 17 games in a single season. [NHL PR]
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning have three players with at least 70 points through the first 60 games of the season. The most recent team to do that was the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins. [NHL PR]
  • The Winnipeg Jets did not win, but they did collect a point for the overtime loss thanks in large part to a pair of shorthanded goals. [NHL PR]
  • Saturday was the sixth time in Philadelphia Flyers franchise history they surrendered a four-goal lead but still went on to win the game. That is … kind of impressive in a weird sort of way. [NHL PR]
  • Phil Kessel became the 16th American-born player in NHL history to record at least 800 points in the NHL with an assist in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday afternoon. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 6, Detroit Red Wings 5 (OT)

Calgary Flames 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 4

St. Louis Blues 3, Colorado Avalanche 0

Arizona Coyotes 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 0

Ottawa Senators 4, Winnipeg Jets 3 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Montreal Canadiens 0

New York Islanders 5, Edmonton Oilers 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Dallas Stars 0

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Nashville Predators 1

San Jose Sharks 3, Vancouver Canucks 2

Boston Bruins 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

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 Buzzer: Rask’s milestone; former ‘Canes lift Flames over Carolina

AP
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Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. When you move to the No. 1 spot on an Original Six team’s all-time wins list with a shutout over the defending Stanley Cup champions you get the No. 1 star for the day. Read more about Tuukka Rask and the Bruins’ big day here.

2. Elias Lindholm, Noan Hanifin and Derek Ryan, Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames continued to build on their incredible climb to the top of the Western Conference standings with a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. It was a trio of former Hurricanes that were leading the way as Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan, and Noah Hanifin all scored goals in the win. Lindholm and Hanifin were traded to Calgary over the summer in the big Dougie Hamilton trade (Hamilton, for what it is worth, also scored against his former team on Sunday for the Hurricanes) and have played a big role in the Flames’ resurgence. Lindholm has had a career year and been one of the single biggest individual surprises in the league. All three of them get to share a star for their role in the win. Lindholm gets a special star for, well, taking a page out of the Hurricanes’ celebration book.

It is great when the Hurricanes do it, and this is great, too. The NHL needs more personality from its players. More celebrations!

3. Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens. He completed the Canadiens’ come-from-behind win with an outstanding end-to-end rush in overtime to score his 15th goal of the season. The Canadiens trailed by a goal heading into the third period and sent the game to overtime on a late tally from rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi, setting the stage for Drouin’s goal. It is a big goal for Drouin not only because it helped the Canadiens win, but because they could use more production of him this season. Entering play on Sunday he had scored just three goals in his past 19 games but has started to show some signs of snapping out of it with five points, including a pair of goals, in his past eight games. The Canadiens are now 6-1-1 during that stretch following Sunday’s win.

Highlights of the Day

It did not result in a win, but the Carolina Hurricanes opened up the scoring on Sunday with a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play that was completed by Teuvo Teravainen.

Speaking of the Hurricanes, their Storm Surge celebrations may not be embraced by people like Brian Burke but they are definitely having an impact on the young hockey players in the city.

Some of Rask’s biggest saves on his big day for the Bruins.

Here is Jonathan Drouin’s overtime winner.

Factoids

  • Garnet Hathaway scored the Calgary Flames’ 16th shorthanded goal of the season on Sunday afternoon. That total leads the league, is the fourth most in franchise history, and is just seven away from tying the team record for a season. They have a real shot at matching it at this paceP. [NHL PR]
  • Shea Weber‘s goal for the Montreal Canadies on Sunday was the 197th of his career, moving him into a tie with Mark Howe for 22nd on the NHL’s all-time list for goals scored among defenders. [NHL PR]
  • Elias Lindholm’s goal extended his current point streak to 10 consecutive games. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 1, Washington Capitals 0

Calgary Flames 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Montreal Canadiens 4, Edmonton Oilers 3 (OT)

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.