Jonathan Huberdeau

Getty Images

The Playoff Buzzer: Blues eliminate Jets; Capitals, Stars take leads

11 Comments
  • The Blues advanced to Round 2, and while the Jets made the final score look respectable, it wasn’t a great, complete effort by Winnipeg.
  • The Stars’ top line was downright dominant for Dallas in taking a 3-2 series lead, putting the Central-winning Predators on the ropes.
  • Washington’s biggest names flexed their muscles, and the Capitals took a 3-2 series lead by blasting the Hurricanes.

Blues 3, Jets 2 (St. Louis wins series 4-2)

Jaden Schwartz scored all three of the Blues’ goals, and he gave St. Louis a 3-0 lead in doing so. After a pitiful, 1-shot second period, Winnipeg did make things more interesting in shrinking that 3-0 deficit to 3-2, but that final push was pretty late, and the overall (lack of) effort could stick with Jets fans and management for quite some time.

St. Louis gets to rest up and prepare for the winner of the series right below …

Stars 5, Predators 3 (Dallas leads 3-2)

It would be frustrating for Nashville if this all came down to Pekka Rinne struggling. Instead, Rinne was often quite sharp on Saturday, particularly when the game was close but the Predators seemingly couldn’t get anything going. Dallas dominated much of the proceedings. The top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov was the most overwhelming, yet other players are stepping up for the Stars, who’ve carried much of the play lately in Round 1. The Predators have some serious work to do, or they’ll be another division winner who will hit the golf course far earlier than most expected.

Capitals 6, Hurricanes 0 (Washington leads 3-2)

To be fair to Carolina, this game was closer than the score seemed … at least early on. They even kinda, sorta had a chance through most of the second period, at least before that much-discussed Dougie Hamilton icing gaffe opened things up for the 3-0 goal. Still, the Hurricanes couldn’t score a goal in this one, and players like Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin really imposed their will on Game 5. So far, the home team has taken all five games in this series, so the Hurricanes must maintain that trend in Game 6, and then hope they can flip the script if they force a Game 7.

Note: Isabelle Khurshudyan and Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post report that T.J. Oshie suffered a broken collarbone, and will miss the remainder of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. An official announcement is expected, possibly as early as Sunday. PHT will monitor that situation.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom

The Capitals are only five games into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet Backstrom already has many goals (five) as he had during all of their Stanley Cup run. He’s also only one behind his career-high for a single postseason of six. Backstrom’s known for his passing, and that’s still generally how he leans when attacking, but he’s absolutely on fire sniping-wise lately, and that will only make him tougher to contain.

Backstrom scored the first two goals of Game 5, including the game-winner to help Washington off to a blazing start, and also chipped in two assists for a four-point game. That’s the most of any skater on Saturday.

(Alex Ovechkin deserves consideration for player of that game and of Saturday, too, as he was a domineering physical presence, along with scoring one goal and two assists.)

2. Jaden Schwartz

You could make an argument that Schwartz’s strong Game 6 was just as important as Backstrom’s performance, even if Backstrom gets the edge in total points at four.

Schwartz scored all three of the Blues goals to claim a hat trick, and that’s coming off of scoring the Blues’ Game 5 winner with about 15 seconds left to stun Winnipeg, and maybe partially explain why the Jets seemed to lack a spark on Saturday.

Personally, Schwartz has been one of those Jonathan Huberdeau-type players who’s always signaled serious talent, but has sometimes been lost in the shuffle, in part because of bad injury luck. With that in mind, it’s nice to see a high-quality player such as Schwartz get his moment in the sun, and Schwartz is absolutely shining in the spotlight.

3. Jamie Benn

Consider this a collective Stars’ first line award if you’d like, as Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov were too much for the Predators to handle, too.

Benn had the most points of the trio, generating three assists, with two of them being primary.

Jim Lites’ “blanking horse-blank” roast of Benn and Seguin seemed to ignore a number of realities, such as the impact the aging curve can have on any star player, particularly a power forward such as Benn. Yet, Benn was that irresistible force at times in Game 5, particularly when he used his size and senses to muscle the puck away from Ryan Ellis to set up one of Dallas’ goals. (Benn’s three assists all came during a single period, a rare feat.)

The Predators will try their best to find an answer for Benn, Seguin, and Radulov, but performances like these make you wonder if they can be denied.

More Factoids

Sunday’s games

Game 6: Bruins at Maple Leafs (Toronto leads 3-2), 3 p.m. ET on NBC (livestream)
Game 6: Sharks at Golden Knights (Vegas leads 3-2), 7 p.m. ET on 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.

Quenneville sees Panthers roster with right ‘ingredients to win’

11 Comments

As his new players watched from the back of the room, Joel Quenneville had a message to them during his introductory press conference as Florida Panthers head coach.

“I want everyone of you guys to remember where you’re at right now, and remember the feeling that you have today,” Quenneville said Monday. “Next year we want to be right now coming off the ice with our skates on and we’re preparing for our first-round opponent, and you’re going to know that when you’re on that ride it’s the ride of a lifetime and the memories are going to be ever-lasting.”

The Panthers, who have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the last seven seasons, hope that is the reality a year from now. The move to open up the wallet and splash the cash for Quenneville — a reported five-year deal worth north of $30 million — is the first step in an aggressive off-season for the franchise.

“We need to win now,” said team president and CEO Matthew Caldwell.

“This is a great start. This is a good kick off to it, I think,” said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who added he was “giddy like I’ve never been before” after landing Quenneville. “We’re going to put our heads together and we’re going to come together with a great plan. We have a great core of young players and we’re going to take this to another level.”

Quenneville’s resume put him on a level where he would be sought after hard by NHL teams and would have his choice of where he coached next. So why the Panthers? He sees a parallel with his new team that he did in 2008 when Tallon promoted him to the Chicago Blackhawks’ head coaching job.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I believe that this team is close to winning,” said Quenneville, who was fired in November by the Blackhawks. “I was fortunate to be the luckiest guy in the world when I walked into the Chicago situation there — a team ready, sitting on go to win. I feel the same thing here now.”

The young talent is certainly there with Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad, plus the still-developing Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett, among others in the pipeline. Building around that group this summer in free agency could go a long way to realizing the playoff vision the franchise has for next season.

Quenneville has seen it from the outside, saying he believes the Panthers have the “ingredients to win” and that he wasn’t going to return behind a bench if didn’t believe the team was a Stanley Cup contender.

“I meant that, and I believe it,” he said.

————

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.

Panthers fire Boughner, seek ‘transformative’ coach

Getty Images
20 Comments

The Florida Panthers fired head coach Bob Boughner on Sunday, not long after the 2018-19 season ended. The team also parted ways with assistant Paul McFarland.

GM Dale Tallon’s quote in the press release won’t exactly cut off speculation about interest in Joel Quenneville, as the phrase “transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree” sure seems … on the nose? On the ‘stache?

“We made a tough decision today and have relieved Bob Boughner of his duties as head coach,” Tallon said. “We didn’t meet expectations this season and share responsibility for that fact. After careful evaluation, we have determined that this is a necessary first step for our young team and we will seek to identify a transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree to lead our team going forward. We’re grateful to Bob, Paul and their families for their hard work and their dedication to the Panthers organization and we wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.”

The Athletic’s George Richards reports that the Panthers want to talk to Quenneville “officially.” Hmm, interesting.

Tallon’s already called his shot about Florida aiming for the fences when it comes to using cap room, with many wondering if the Panthers might target both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky if the two prominent Blue Jackets indeed make it to free agency.

“We’ll be very aggressive after the season,” Tallon said on Feb. 25, via the Panthers’ website. “We have lots of room now. We have lots of picks. We’ll turn this into a positive thing. We had some bunt singles, to scratch and claw to improve our organization on a daily basis, and then we’ll eventually hit the home run.”

The idea of getting Quenneville and big free agents is alluring, and could represent a symbiotic relationship: getting Quenneville might make those free agents more willing to buy into Florida being legitimate as a contender, while potentially landing big names could make Florida a more desirable destination. This is a huge letdown for Boughner, of course, but it sets the stage for maybe the most interesting summer for the Panthers … ever?

Boughner, 48, coached the Panthers for two seasons. They were unable to make the 2018 or 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Boughner compiling a 79-62-22 record as Florida’s head coach. Considering some of the high-end talent on the Panthers’ roster, it was fair to wonder why the team couldn’t put it all together. If you believe that the Panthers underachieved because of Boughner, then you’re likely in favor of this decision.

Still, two seasons isn’t exactly a long leash for a coach, and this organization’s continued to change course. Richards points out that Jonathan Huberdeau is set to play for his sixth coach, and the 25-year-old has only played in the NHL for seven seasons.

The Panthers appear primed to go bold, and sadly that has already cost people jobs.

More on the Panthers

Is there an easy fix for their woes?

Why they were smart not to tear apart their roster at the trade deadline.

A look at their struggles back in November.

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.

Stunning numbers: It was a terrible March for Sabres

5 Comments

Every month we take a look at some stunning numbers around the NHL.

What is standing out to us lately?

Let’s take a look…

The Buffalo Sabres didn’t win a game in regulation in March

The Sabres are not going to finish the 2018-19 season with the NHL’s worst record, but you could probably put together a pretty convincing argument that they are, in fact, the worst team in the league as their perpetual rebuild continues to go nowhere (read more about that here).

Everything about their early season success was built around a 10-game winning streak that, while impressive, was dominated by overtime and shootout wins. That is no way to sustain success in the NHL, and the Sabres most definitely did not sustain success this season and the month of March may have been their worst stretch of them all.

Their 4-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night, a game where they were booed off the ice after the first period, wrapped up a month where they managed to go just 2-12-2 in their 16 games. The six points they tallied in the standings was the lowest total in the league for the month, four behind the New Jersey Devils and five behind the New York Rangers, the two teams directly ahead of them. What is worse? Buffalo played one more game than both of them. Even the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings managed to pick up 13 points in their 14 games in March.

Even uglier for Buffalo? Neither of their two wins came in regulation, winning one in overtime (their first game in March against the Pittsburgh Penguins) and one in a shootout (against the St. Louis Blues). They went an entire calendar month without winning a game outright in regulation.

Even worse than that? They have only won 19 games in regulation all season, a mark that is currently tied for the worst in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings.

Never before has a 10-game winning streak actually been a bad thing considering all of the flaws it masked with this team.

Panthers’ top players did not go away quietly

The Florida Panthers are going to miss the playoffs for the 16th time in the past 18 season, and sticking true to the form they displayed all season the month of March was a very hit-and-miss month for them with a four-game losing streak, a four-game winning streak, and a bunch of inconsistent results. What was consistent, though, was the play of their top forwards. Aleksander Barkov (24 points) and Jonathan Huberdeau (23 points) were the second and third leading point producers in the NHL for the month, trailing only Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (27 points). Evgenii Dadonov also had a huge month with 19 points, good enough for the seventh most in the league in March.

[Related: Is there quick fix for Panthers’ continued woes?]

Ben Bishop was nearly unbeatable in March

Goaltending has been one of the biggest factors in the Dallas Stars’ push for a playoff spot as Bishop and Anton Khudobin have both been outstanding this year. Bishop was at his best in March as he recorded a .969 save percentage in his nine appearances and only allowed seven total goals in more than 478 minutes of action. That also included four shutouts. Only 15 goalies in the NHL have recorded four shutouts for the season.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored all the goals for themselves

Two of the stranger stat lines in March belong to Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand and Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

In Edmonton, Nugent-Hopkins continued to be one of the few bright spots on an otherwise forgettable Oilers team as he scored eight goals in the team’s 14 games. He only recorded a single assist, the the second most lopsided goal-to-assist ratio in the league for the month.

The only player that had a more lopsided stat line was Bjorkstrand who finished the month with eight goals for the Blue Jackets and zero assists.

Darcy Kuemper takes a lot of penalties for a goalie

Kuemper has been amazing for the Arizona Coyotes this season, stepping in for the injured Antti Raanta and helping to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive. He was incredible in March, and if they make the playoffs he will be a huge reason why. But we need to talk about something here: He has 14 penalty minutes this season, by far the most in the NHL among goalies, and had eight penalty minutes alone in the month of March.

No other goalie in the league has more than six penalty minutes for the season.

The penalty breakdown for Kuemper: Three delay of game penalties and a tripping penalty in March. For the season, he has four delay of games and three(!) tripping penalties!

Only three goalies recorded more than 14 penalty minutes in a season over the past three years.

Then again, considering how good the Coyotes’ penalty kill has been this season and how many shorthanded goals they have scored maybe he is just looking to give his team an edge. (Obviously I am joking about that … I think?)

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: Eberle rallies Islanders, DeBrincat scores 40th, another McDavid highlight

AP

Three Stars

1. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. It has not been Jordan Eberle’s best season, but wow did he come through in a big way for the New York Islanders on Thursday night. He scored two goals in the third period to help the Islanders storm back for a 5-4 win against the Winnipeg Jets. Eberle’s second goal, with less than two minutes to play in regulation, came just 33 seconds after Casey Cizikas tied the game. He is now up to 17 goals and 34 total points on the season as the Islanders took a significant step to securing their first playoff appearance since the 2015-16 season. Read more about tonight’s game here.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Columbus Blue Jackets looked awful in the first period on Thursday night in what was perhaps the biggest game of their season. Then they rebounded over the next 40 minutes to storm back for a massive 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, thanks in part to a pair of goals from Oliver Bjorkstrand. He is now up to 19 goals on the season and helped the Blue Jackets get back into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Read more about tonight’s game here.

3. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks. In hindsight it is absolutely insane that Alex DeBrincat had to wait until the second-round to get selected in his draft year. He is on his way toward stardom in the NHL and reached the 40-goal mark on Thursday night in the Blackhawks’ 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks with a pair of goals. He is now the youngest player in Blackhawks history to score 40 goals in a season, eclipsing the mark that was previously set by Steve Larmer. He and Patrick Kane also became just the second set of American-born teammates to score 40 goals in the same season, joining Joe Mullen and Kevin Stevens who did it as members of the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins.

Other notable games and performances from Thursday 

  • The San Jose Sharks’ late season woes continued on Thursday night with their seventh loss in a row, this time against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks fell behind 3-0, eventually rallied to tie the game 4-4, and then ended up losing on a late Chris Kunitz goal. They are six points behind the Calgary Flames for first place in the Pacific Division, a deficit that seems almost insurmountable this late in the season.
  • The Washington Capitals are back in the playoffs and will continue their defense of the Stanley Cup. They were 3-2 winners over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, spoiling the Hurricanes’ plans for their final Storm Surge celebration of the season. Read more about tonight’s game here.
  • The Dallas Stars overcame a two-goal deficit against the Edmonton Oilers and picked up a 3-2 shootout win. Alexander Radulov scored another goal, Miro Heiskanen continued his incredible rookie season with the equalizer, and Jamie Benn scored the deciding goal in the shootout.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau scored two goals for the Florida Panthers in a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. He has been one of their bright spots this season.
  • Dylan Larkin scored two goals for the Detroit Red Wings to reach the 30-goal mark in their 5-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid is always worth watching. Every. Single. Game.

Warren Foegele continued his impressive season for the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night with what is almost certainly his most impressive goal of the year. It was not enough for the Hurricanes as they fell 3-2 to the Washington Capitals. Still an amazing goal though.

The reason for optimism in Vancouver is the young core of players centered around Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and now Quinn Hughes. Hughes recorded his first career point on Thursday night, setting up Boeser, and it was an absolutely incredible play.

Factoids

  • Aleksander Barkov joins Pavel Bure and Olli Jokinen as the only Florida Panthers players to ever record 90 points in a season. [NHL PR]
  • Leon Draisaitl reached the 100-point mark on Thursday night, joining teammate Connor McDavid. They are the first set of Edmonton Oilers teammates to both score 100 points in a single season since Jari Kurri and Jimmy Carson during the 1988-89 season. They won the Stanley Cup that year. The McDavid-Draisaitl Oilers are going to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. The supporting casts are little bit different [NHL PR]
  • Dustin Brown became the Los Angeles Kings’ all-time leader in games played on Thursday night. [NHL PR]

Scores

Detroit Red Wings 5, Buffalo Sabres 4 (OT)

Washington Capitals 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 6, Montreal Canadiens 2

Florida Panthers 5, Ottawa Senators 2

New York Islanders 5, Winnipeg Jets 4

Dallas Stars 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (SO)

Vancouver Canucks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 (SO)

Chicago Blackhawks 5, San Jose Sharks 4

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.