Johnny Boychuk

Rested Islanders ready to go against Hurricanes in second round

2 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Islanders are rested and ready to go. The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t had a chance to relax after outlasting the defending champions in a marathon seven-game series.

More than a week after finishing off a sweep in the first round, Mathew Barzal and the defense-first Islanders get set to open the Eastern Conference semifinals at home against the upstart Hurricanes.

”It was a long wait,” Barzal said. ”We’ve been practicing hard, practicing some scrimmage stuff. … We’re just anxious to get it going again.”

New York has not played since dispatching Pittsburgh on April 16, while the Hurricanes took Washington to the limit with the deciding game lasting into a second overtime Wednesday night. Now, less than 48 hours later, the teams will meet in the postseason for the first time.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz didn’t mind the layoff because it allowed some banged-up players like Cal Clutterbuck and Scott Mayfield a chance to heal. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk, however, remains sidelined for several weeks.

”We just want to play,” Trotz said. ”There might be some rust and you can’t duplicate some stuff (in practice), but I know we’re toeing to get stronger and stronger and stronger.”

The Islanders will be back at Barclays Center in Game 1 for the first time in more than two months. They split regular-season games between the Brooklyn arena, where they have played since 2015, and the Nassau Coliseum, their home the previous 43 years. The Islanders last played at Barclays on Feb. 16. Their home games in the first round were in Uniondale, but any subsequent games they host this postseason will be in Brooklyn.

Both teans are here after surprising seasons and stunning victories in the opening round. In the first year under Trotz, the Islanders used a strong defensive system, timely scoring and some stellar goaltending to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence and following the departure of former captain John Tavares in free agency last summer. New York held off Pittsburgh down the stretch to finish second in the Metropolitan Division and then quickly disposed of the Penguins.

Carolina, which missed the playoffs for nine straight years, was 15-17-5 on Dec. 30 and one point out of last place in the East before going 31-12-2 the rest of the way. The Hurricanes then won a grueling series against the Capitals, marking the first time in NHL history all four division winners were eliminated in the first round.

”The biggest challenge is going to be switching gears,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”We’ve been going real hard here for a couple weeks. Obviously all that emotion. To throw that away and focus on a whole new opponent, different style, that’ll be the biggest challenge.”

The teams both use a tenacious defense to try and smother opponents’ chances and generate scoring opportunities for themselves. The Islanders allowed a league-low 2.33 goals per game during the season, while the Hurricanes were tied for seventh at 2.70.

Jordan Eberle led the Islanders in the first round with four goals and two assists, giving him nine goals and three assists in his last 11 games dating back to the regular season. Brock Nelson, who had 25 goals and 28 assists during the season, scored three against the Penguins. Anders Lee (28 goals, 23 assists), Josh Bailey (16 goals, 40 assists) and Barzal (18 goals, 44 assists) also had 50-point seasons.

”They’re patient,” Brind’Amour said. ”(They) play that defensive game and when you crack is when they go.”

Warren Foegele had a team-high four goals in the first round and was tied with Dougie Hamilton and Jordan Staal – who each had three goals and three assists. Teuvo Terraivanen also scored three goals, and Jaccob Flavin had nine assists to lead the team in points.

Some things to know as the teams open the conference semifinals Friday night:

HELLO, AGAIN: Carolina’s Justin Williams and Calvin de Haan will be seeing some familiar faces in this series. The 37-year-old Williams spent two seasons under Trotz with the Capitals before returning for a second stint with Carolina in 2017. Williams had an assist on Brock McGinn‘s series-winning goal against Washington, giving him an NHL-record 15 points in Game 7s of the playoffs.

”A great leader,” Trotz said. ”And he doesn’t get small in the big moments.”

De Haan was selected by the Islanders in the first round of the 2009 draft – the same year Tavares was taken No. 1 overall – and spent the previous five-plus seasons with New York before he signed with the Hurricanes last summer.

GOALIES: Robin Lehner has taken the reins as the lead goalie for the Islanders after splitting time with Thomas Greiss during the season when the duo paired to win the William Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league. Lehner – a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after going 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average and six shutouts – played every minute of New York’s sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round. He limited the Penguins to just six goals on 156 shots.

Carolina’s Petr Mrazek had an uneven first round, He struggled on the road, giving up 13 goals on 78 shots in Hurricanes losses in Games 1, 2 and 5, but was stellar at home while limiting the Capitals to only three goals on 74 shots in wins in Games 3, 4 and 6. In Game 7 back in Washington, he gave up three goals on 18 shots before stopping the last 19 to allow the Hurricanes to rally from two goals down.

SECOND-ROUND STRANGERS: After missing the playoffs in eight of the last 11 years, the Islanders are coming off their second postseason series win since 1993. This is Carolina’s second time in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. The Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals in their last time in the postseason three years later.

SEASON SERIES: The Islanders won three of four meetings, including both visits to Carolina in October. New York also won 4-1 at Barclays Center on Nov. 24, before Carolina took the last meeting 4-3 at the Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 8.

Freelance writer Denis P. Gorman contributed to this report.

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Playoff lineup, injury notes: Islanders lose Boychuk; Flames scratch Neal

Getty Images
7 Comments

There were quite a few noteworthy lineup notes surrounding teams in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday, so let’s rattle them off.

Thomas Hickey seems to be the most likely immediate replacement for Boychuk. While both defensemen have enjoyed some nice years in the NHL, both have been on the decline. Hickey was limited to zero goals and four assists in 40 games this season after generally coming in at 20-ish points during his previous five campaigns with the Isles, while Boychuk’s ice time was down to 16:16 minute per game during the Islanders’ Round 1 sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. So the loss of Boychuk likely has more name value than on-ice impact.

Speaking of name value, allow a moment to dream. What if the Islanders instead turn to other Sebastian Ahoand the Hurricanes advance with far more famous Sebastian Aho? Would the Internet be forced to come up with something fresher than the Spiderman pointing meme for that? Might want to do some prep with all this time on your hands, Islanders fans.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

  • Maybe the Capitals feel like they need to bring back a playoff hero after seeing their 2-0 series lead against said Hurricanes dissolve into a 2-2 tie? They recalled Devante Smith-Pelly on Friday. Smith-Pelly scored eight points in 54 NHL games with the Capitals this season, and had been fairly productive (14 points in 20 games) with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. His seven goals during the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run matched his seven goals from that 2017-18 regular season, so if DSP can carry over some of that playoff magic starting with Game 5 (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC [livestream]), the Caps would be very pleased. He’ll certainly be fighting to stay at the top level …
  • Could the Predators (another team locked in a 2-2 series tie) get some reinforcements back a lot sooner than anticipated? Both Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds were recently considered week-to-week, and perhaps that was always a nebulous descriptor, as they at least were able to practice on Friday.

Interestingly, each player was wearing regular practice jerseys, which bodes reasonably well for the future, as that indicates that they could take body contact. There’s an enormous gulf between being able to practice and being ready for the sometimes-traumatic damage of playoff hockey, yet this is all pretty promising for the Preds.

With the Flames down 3-1 to the Colorado Avalanche and facing elimination in Game 5 on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, live stream) this team badly needs a spark, and Neal really hasn’t been providing much of one basically since signing with the Flames. Neal failed to score a point through the first four games of this series, suffering through a -3 plus/minus, just 13:49 TOI on average, and not really excelling from a possession stats standpoint, either.

[To be fair, Neal is joined by Johnny Gaudreau and others as struggling Flames.]

One wonders if the Flames need to give Neal a pat on the back and say “We’ll get things back on track soon enough.” As mediocre as he’s been across the board, Neal also suffered from a terrible season luck-wise, managing just a five shooting percentage, way below his career average of 11.6. Maybe some of that is the aging curve, and maybe he’s depended upon some stellar linemates to grab his counting stats, but you’d have to figure that there’s some potential for a rebound … eventually. Perhaps just not this season?

Either way, it looks like Austin Czarnik is replacing Neal in the lineup. Hockey comes at you fast, gang.

For a rundown of Friday’s slate of playoff action, check out The Wraparound.

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.

Islanders looking forward, not taking series lead vs. Penguins for granted

3 Comments

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Barry Trotz is very familiar with the situation the Pittsburgh Penguins face being down 0-2 in their Round 1 series against the New York Islanders.

During opening round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Trotz’ Washington Capitals dropped the first two games of their series with the Columbus Blue Jackets before rebounding to win the next four to advance. The Islanders have a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven matchup with the Penguins following Friday’s 3-1 victory, but as the series shifts to Pittsburgh for Sunday’s Game 3 (12 p.m. ET; NBC), things can quickly take a dramatic shift.

“We understand that we won a couple of games here but you have to win four,” Trotz said after Game 2. “You can’t take anything for granted.”

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk has played 99 NHL playoff games, second-most on the Islanders behind Valtteri Filppula’s 160. He’s played in two Stanley Cup Finals and has been through many roller coaster series. His message to his teammates right now is pretty simple.

“Forget about the last two games,” he said. “They’re going to be coming hard in their building and we have to be ready for them because they’re a good team and have very good forwards and ‘D’. We have to be ready.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Through his vast NHL experience, Trotz will have them ready because his team will be facing a Penguins roster desperate to get back into the series and avoid an 0-3 hole. Like Wednesday night, Game 2 was a tight game, but the Islanders, after getting away from their aggressive forechecking style during portions of Game 1, got back to their successful formula in Game 2, forcing Pittsburgh into a sloppy, turnover-filled night.

“We kind of learned a little bit of a lesson, that first one,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee. “We got away from our game a little bit in that second period and we knew tonight that we can maintain our game plan for as long as possible and put ourselves in a good position.”

Even after a surprising 103-point regular season, some figured the Penguins’ star power would be too much to overcome in the series. Through two games, the script has been flipped. There’s still so much hockey left to play, but the Islanders are hitting the road taking the confidence and chemistry that’s brought them success this season with them.

“This room is a strong room, close room, one that sticks together,” said Lee. “I think we’re showing it there on the ice.”

MORE: Bailey, Eberle help Islanders take commanding 2-0 series lead

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bettman rejects Voracek’s appeal, upholds two-game suspension

22 Comments

To little surprise, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman rejected Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek‘s appeal, thus upholding Voracek’s two-game suspension.

Voracek, 29, sought to appeal that suspension for an interference hit on New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Bettman’s ruling on the suspension revealed that Voracek and his reps were looking to reduce the suspension from two games to one.

Bettman provided his full reasoning in this one-page ruling, with this excerpt being the most noteworthy part:

(See the video above this post’s headline for the hit, and Voracek’s initial reactions.)

This was an unusual process in a few ways.

To start, there were some interesting events in the aftermath of the hit. Boychuk essentially vowed revenge on Voracek, prompting the Flyers winger to accuse Boychuk of cutting a pro wrestling promo on him.

“He’s pointing at me like it’s WrestleMania or something,” Voracek said after the game. “Come on, it’s a hockey game. This is a guy who was sucker-punching 19-year-old Nolan Patrick last year at the end of the game, and he’s going to do that. Give me a break.”

Then, when the league announced the two-game suspension, Voracek’s derision was palpable, and emoji-filled:

In the latest edition of “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman notes that it’s quite unusual for a player in Voracek’s position to appeal a suspension in the first place.

While larger suspensions can go to an independent arbitrator – who frequently reduce the length of suspensions – rulings like Voracek’s stop at Gary Bettman’s desk, so it was unlikely that this would go any further. Friedman wrote about how rare this is:

The last eight appeals this decade involved only one that ended up being fewer than 10 games. (That was Dan Carcillo’s 2014 playoff punishment for physical abuse of an official, shortened to six by Bettman.) I can find only one try for anything as low as Voracek’s two. That was Joe Thornton in November 2010, also trying to lift a two-game suspension — for a hit to the head of David Perron. He failed to move the needle, as Bettman upheld the original decision. So this is rare. In some ways, it is fitting the Flyers would be the ones to charge at the status quo.

Ultimately, that challenge was unsuccessful, as Voracek’s two-gamer stands.

Then again, maybe Voracek was doing this to send a message, although a successful appeal would have left him available for Thursday’s game against the Washington Capitals. Instead, he’ll have to settle for a return against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Friday, after that two-game suspension runs its course.

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.

Flyers’ Voracek to appeal two-game suspension

7 Comments

Jakub Voracek’s feelings on being suspended two games by the NHL for his hit on New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk Saturday night were summed up in five simple emojis:

Voracek was assessed a major for interference. Boycuk did not return to the game and has been ruled out of the Islanders’ game on Monday against Columbus.

The Philadelphia Flyers forward is taking his displeasure with the Department of Player Safety one step forward by appealing the two-game ban, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. Voracek will travel to the NHL’s offices in New York City on Tuesday afternoon in hopes of having the suspension reduced to one game or wiped out entirely.

“He’s pointing at me like it’s WrestleMania or something,” Voracek said after the game. “Come on, it’s a hockey game. This is a guy who was sucker-punching 19-year-old Nolan Patrick last year at the end of the game, and he’s going to do that. Give me a break.”

“I don’t think Jake has any wrong intentions there. He’s trying to protect himself,” said Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon. “The guy is sprinting in on him hard. It’s not like it was a 50/50 puck, where he’s waiting for him to come to him and step into him. He clearly sees that the guy coming and he’s trying to brace himself.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will hear Voracek’s appeal. The process will stop after Bettman’s decision as only suspensions of six games or more allow the player to appeal to a neutral arbitrator.

Voracek will remain out through the duration of the two-game suspension as he appeals.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy