Cody Eakin

NHL Power Rankings: Six best playoff series of the decade

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What things do you look for in choosing the best NHL playoff series of the past decade?

The nail-biting action of sudden-death overtime? Grudges that inspire handshake line death threats?

(Please don’t say “lots of neutral-zone trap.” Even Jacques Lemaire would probably rather go fishing or something than watch that.)

During the weekend, the NHL and NHLPA made some traction toward a possible return to play, according to Pierre LeBrun. Even so, it’s pretty clear that if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happen, it will require some juggling.

Would it all really be worth it? That’s an extremely fair question to ask. Even so, all of this free time and the possible resumption of play give us a chance to think about how great, baffling, and nerve-wracking playoff hockey can be.

Let’s look at the six best NHL playoff series of the decade. In no way am I combining certain ones and generally cheating, kind of making it more than six series. I would never do that.

6. Sharks, Golden Knights engage in one wild Game 7

Personally, I don’t think it’s out of place to put last year’s Golden Knights – Sharks series on this list. And, yes, it can make it on this list based on the strength of that bewildering Game 7 alone.

In a vacuum, that Game 7 already inspires wonder.

Cody Eakin got whistled for that controversial major penalty when he bloodied Joe Pavelski. In mere minutes, the Golden Knights’ 3-0 Game 7 lead vanished as the Sharks scored a ridiculous four power-play goals. Almost as remarkably, Jonathan Marchessault showed that Vegas wouldn’t just quit, sending it to overtime. Then barely-used Barclay Goodrow scored a tremendous series-winner:

Sprinkle in added context and that Game 7 gets spicier.

Both Eakin and Pavelski are now on other teams. The Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant this season, replacing him with DeBoer, who Gallant called a “clown” during that series. Heck, even Goodrow is out of San Jose now.

5. Flyers complete “reverse” sweep against Bruins, Round 2 in 2009-10

It’s hard to believe it, but Pro Hockey Talk came into existence during the 2009-10 season, forming around the 2009-10 trade deadline. Let me tell you: the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs served as a playoff run that’s tough to top.

Beyond Patrick Kane‘s funky overtime goal becoming the first Stanley Cup-clincher for PHT, Jaroslav Halak and the Habs served up two stunning upsets to the Capitals and Penguins in respective seven-game series.

(The baffled face of Bruce Boudreau became quite the gift for meme enthusiasts.)

But the sheer chaos of the second-round series between the Bruins and Flyers takes the cake.

The Flyers became what was then the third (and now the fourth) NHL team to rage back from a 3-0 series deficit. Even according to those standards, Philly poured in extra drama.

It was almost a little too on-the-nose. Just like in the series, the Bruins took a jarring 3-0 lead in Game 7. Also like the series, the Flyers refused to roll over, eventually winning Game 7 4-3 in overtime thanks to a Simon Gagne goal.

4. Bruins torment Maple Leafs in Game 7’s, especially in 2012-13

Aside from a respectable first-round series loss to the Capitals in 2016-17, every Maple Leafs season since 2005-06 ended in one of two ways:

  • Missing the playoffs.
  • Or losing to the Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.

We didn’t know it yet, but the “it was 4-1” nightmare ended up being the most horrific part of a terrifying trilogy. After serving as the slasher movie villain who wouldn’t die in 2012-13, the Bruins kept hunting down the Maple Leafs in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

(Nazem Kadri definitely served as the horror movie character who investigates that strange noise. Or maybe he was the person who did something last summer? I can’t decide.)

That Game 7 on May 13, 2013 remains dizzying. The Maple Leafs were up 4-1 5:29 into the third period, yet that lead unraveled during a series of events that remains hard to believe. Ultimately, Patrice Bergeron ended the series at 5-4 with an overtime-winner.

Again, repeated Game 7 letdowns open up these old wounds, and create new ones for Maple Leafs fans. Ouch.

3. Another seven-game series between the Capitals and Penguins (2016-17)

How about we just cobble together all of the great series the Capitals and/or Penguins were in during the decade? When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.

After all, they both faced the Lightning in seven-game series. For sheer brutality and inanity, you could absolutely argue that the Flyers beating the Penguins in six games in 2011-12 should be a top-five series. And, of course, it was epic when the Capitals finally slayed the Penguins dragon in 2017-18.

But in boiling down this list to a manageable size, let’s go with another series that went seven between these two teams.

A truly fantastic Capitals team seemed to “choke,” falling behind 3-1 in the series. It’s easy forget that they defiantly forced a Game 7, though, because the Penguins ended up winning 2-0. Some rare tough moments for Braden Holtby set the stage for that redemptive run to win the Stanley Cup in 2018.

2. A riotous 2011 Stanley Cup Final series between the Canucks and Bruins

For a long time, I thought this series should be number one. It tops the list if you weigh memorable moments most heavily.

No doubt, the riots in Vancouver after Game 7 were ugly. It was also hard to look away.

The messiness started before all of the property damage, though. Tim Thomas didn’t want to “pump Roberto Luongo’s tires.” Brad Marchand was, well, Brad Marchand to the Sedin twins. An Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton backfired for the Canucks.

There was just so much going on. And, going by my tiebreaker standards, the Canucks also finally beat the Blackhawks earlier in that postseason.

But the actual hockey was hit-or-miss, at least compared to the best-of-the-best. Just look at the anticlimactic Game 7 itself, which the Bruins won 4-0.

Still, that was some wild stuff.

1. Kings beat Blackhawks in best NHL playoff series of the decade (2013-14)

As tempted as I was to go with riots and deflated tires, the epic back-and-forth between two of the best teams of the decade ultimately swayed me.

From 2009-10 through 2014-15, the Blackhawks and Kings won five of the six Stanley Cups. That 2014 Western Conference Final ended up being the peak of that rivalry.

From a Game 5 that required double overtime, to a Game 7 that also stretched beyond regulation, the hockey was truly sublime.

No doubt, the Kings pulling off the fourth-ever “reverse sweep” helped sway me, too. Los Angeles didn’t just come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks. They absolutely roared back, winning those last four games by a combined score of 19-5.

Drew Doughty claimed he saw fear in the eyes of his Sharks opponents. Can you blame him for saying that after such a rally?

It turned out that the Kings would not be denied that postseason, and I cannot deny that their battle with the Blackhawks was the best of a strong decade of playoff series for the NHL.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
Teams with the best long-term outlook
Looking at the top 2020 free agents
Best 2019-20 free agent signings
The most underrated players
Our favorite classic Costacos Brothers hockey posters
How to spice up a possible virtual 2020 NHL Draft

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.

Long-term outlook for the Winnipeg Jets

Long-term outlook Winnipeg Jets Laine Connor Hellebuyck
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Winnipeg Jets.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

With the exception of Patrik Laine — who they could theoretically extend during the offseason – the Jets locked down most of their core over the years.

Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck possess two of the “shorter” long-term contracts among that core group, and their affordable contracts run through 2023-24. (Blake Wheeler‘s does, as well, but that’s a little more troubling being that the often-underrated winger is now 33.)

Beyond that Wheeler worry, there’s a lot to like, especially since Wheeler is comfortably the highest paid at $8.25M AAV.

(Actually, Bryan Little‘s contract was troubling from day one, but sadly, he might go on LTIR quite credibly.)

If Kevin Cheveldayoff can extend Laine at a reasonable price, this group could be cost-conscious enough for Winnipeg to even take advantage of other teams possibly facing cap squeezes. It makes me wonder: could the Jets go after another core piece in free agency? Signing, say, Alex Pietrangelo would make them stronger and weaken Central Division rival St. Louis.

Even as a “budget” team, the possibilities are intriguing for the Jets to improve upon their long-term core. That said, improvements might be needed for the Jets to truly soar.

Long-term needs for Jets

It’s remarkable that Hellebuyck (and some star scorers) dragged Winnipeg to playoff contention, because that group was rough this season.

Neal Pionk turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise, to the point that he might be able to join the core to an extent. And, for sure, Josh Morrissey is a steady presence. But things dry up quite a bit beyond that, and an ideal contender probably would ask less of both of them, particularly Morrissey.

So, can Ville Heinola eventually be a key defender? How will Sami Niku’s development go?

Getting steps in development, overall, is a long-term key for the Jets. Jack Roslovic strikes me as someone who can do more, but he needs opportunities. What, exactly, is Laine’s ceiling? Will the Jets actually boost him up to reach it?

The Jets have to hope that they can mitigate the eventual drop-off for Wheeler, who’s already sinking a bit at 33. (By his standards.)

They could also use some more depth. It’s probably not a coincidence that, year after year (Paul Stastny to Kevin Hayes to even Cody Eakin), they seem to need to burn assets to add 2C and/or 3C help. Laurent Brossoit had a tough season, casting some doubt on the backup position.

I’ll also endlessly wonder if Paul Maurice is all that far above your average coach. But, hey, give the dude credit for being a long-term bench presence even with … meh results more often than not.

Long-term strengths for Jets

The sheer youth of this team is something to get excited about. Laine just turned 22. Kyle Connor seems to be jumping another level at 23, while Nikolaj Ehlers is a transition menace at 24. Hellebuyck is 26, Mark Scheifele is only 27, and Morrissey is 25.

I mentioned possibly pitching a deal at Pietrangelo because the Jets see a lot of space opening up.

Losing Dustin Byfuglien hurts, but his age was making his contract risky anyway. The Jets signing Kulikov furrowed my brow, yet now they can use that money toward … uh, someone good? (Sorry, Kulikov.)

It’s not always easy to lure free agents to Winnipeg, but a) they’ve become a consistent winner and b) might be one of the only winners with cash to burn during the uncertain, upcoming offseason.

That mixture of prime-age talent, solid maneuverability, and a steady-and-solid front office should put the Jets in a solid position to compete for some time. They do need Cheveldayoff to make the right moves to get back at a high level again, as Hellebuyck camouflaged a steep decline — one that quietly brewed even toward the end of 2018-19.

MORE ON THE JETS:

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: McDavid and MacKinnon miss time; Kings’ royally surprising streak

McDavid MacKinnon illness injury PHT Buzzer
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Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon miss time; unclear if they will be out longer

As of this moment, it’s unclear if anything serious happened to McDavid or MacKinnon. Yet, consider the star power of both centers, the situations are both worth monitoring.

In McDavid’s case, he missed Monday’s significant game against the Golden Knights because of an “illness.” Despite waves of coronavirus jokes splashing around, the specifics remain unclear.

Speaking of unclear, it’s not immediately obvious how badly Nathan MacKinnon is hurt. He left the Avalanche’s loss to the Kings with a lower-body injury and did not return. Injuries are really piling up for Colorado, so the Avs have to hope this is only a minor setback.

“He leaves the game, I’m concerned right away. I have no idea (of the severity),” Jared Bednar said in his postgame press conference, via the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers. “Honestly, I just went (into the coach’s room) and came out here. I know he wasn’t good enough to come back in the game tonight. So, yeah, there’s some concern.”

Here’s hoping that neither this illness for McDavid nor this injury for MacKinnon costs either star much time.

Coronavirus causes disruptions for Sharks, media

Monday’s most noteworthy bits of information often didn’t revolve around Monday’s games.

Santa Clara County called for a ban on meetings involving 1,000 people or more, which puts the Sharks in a pickle. The Sharks provided a statement on the matter, with the basic takeaway being “TBD.”

On a related note, the NHL joined other sports leagues in prohibiting media and other “nonessential” people from locker rooms in hopes of limiting the chances of the virus spreading.

Three Stars

1. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

Ehlers spearheaded a spirited comeback after the Jets fell behind 2-0 to the Coyotes. Ehlers generated one goal and two assists to help Winnipeg earn a crucial win against Arizona, and in regulation to boot.

After failing to score a point in three straight games, Ehlers now has one goal in each of his last two contests, and five points during that two-game span. With 25 goals and 57 points, Ehlers could match or exceed career-highs (29G, 64P).

Cody Eakin (GWG, 1A) and Tucker Poolman (1G, 1A) were also instrumental in the win, while Nick Schmaltz scored two goals in a losing cause for Arizona.

2. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers must have groaned heading into Monday’s game. They didn’t have McDavid in the lineup with a Pacific Division lead on the line against the Golden Knights.

Vegas did indeed dominate Monday’s game, and they ultimately won after Shea Theodore scored the overtime game-winner. Even so, Koskinen made 45 saves to secure a useful standings point for Edmonton. Considering McDavid’s absence and the Golden Knights’ 48-24 shots on goal edge, the Oilers should be thankful.

3. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Dahlin generated two assists despite pretty brief-for-overtime usage (17:16 TOI) and then generated a shootout goal as the Sabres beat the Capitals. You could definitely give some of the credit to Linus Ullmark, too, as he made 33 saves.

Alex Ovechkin was productive in defeat, scoring his 48th goal and adding his (heh) 19th assist to improve to 67 points in 68 games. Ovechkin is right in the thick of the Maurice Richard Race, but it wasn’t enough to get the Capitals a win or Ovechkin a third star nod.

Highlight of the Night

The Kings beat the Avalanche on Monday, giving Los Angeles a most-unexpected six-game winning streak. They aren’t just knocking over (other?) tomato cans, either. The Kings defeats the Avs, Penguins, Wild, Maple Leafs and Golden Knights for five of those wins. Yes, the Devils do account for one of those wins, but even New Jersey’s been scrappier lately.

Jonathan Quick didn’t need to be all that busy as the Avs were shorthanded with MacKinnon out on Monday, but this was quite the sequence:

NHL Standings update

East (after significant win for Panthers)

West (after Jets beat Coyotes in regulation, etc.)

Scores

BUF 3 – WSH 2 (SO)
WPG 4 – ARI 2
FLA 2 – STL 1
VGK 3 – EDM 2 (OT)
LAK 3 – COL 1

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.

Jets swoop into top West wild-card spot after beating Coyotes in regulation

Jets rally beat Coyotes in regulation West wild-card race NHL
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It’s too early to know if the Coyotes squandering a 2-0 lead to lose to the Jets — in regulation — will count as a “defining” moment of Arizona’s crucial 2019-20 season. As of Monday, March 9, it certainly seems like a big game, though.

Nick Schmaltz scored both of the game’s opening goals late in the first period, sending the Coyotes into the intermission on a high note.

Nikolaj Ehlers served as the biggest catalyst in turning that game around from there. To start, he scored Winnipeg’s first goal, then assisted on the tying 2-2 tally late in the second.

Ehlers then supplied the primary assist for the game-winner, which was Cody Eakin’s first goal as a Jet. An empty-netter iced a significant 4-2 win for the Jets in front of an appreciative crowd in Winnipeg.

Standings impact of Jets beating Coyotes in regulation

With that result, the Jets soared to the West’s top wild-card spot, while the Coyotes allowed a vital opportunity to slip through their fingers/paws.

Take a look at the standings, including the Stars as the not-so-far removed third seed of the Central Division:

West wildcard after Jets beat Coyotes in regulation

OK, it’s important to note that the Stars probably are pretty safe, considering games in hand. (Also, the Oilers are in action against the Golden Knights on Monday, so that portion of the standings will change.)

This remains an agonizing defeat for the Coyotes. They now trail the Jets by four points with both having 12 games left on their schedules, while the teams in front of Arizona hold a game or two in hand and have 2-3 more standings points.

Imagining what could have been if the Coyotes might have secured that lead — or at least salvaged a “charity point” — must be a bitter feeling for Arizona fans.

After improving to 25-16-4 on Jan. 7, the Coyotes have really slipped, going 8-13-4 since then.

With that in mind, if the Coyotes wonder about what could have been, they might need to throw the net open wider than merely dropping this regulation loss to the Jets.

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.

NHL Trade Deadline primer: Erik Gustafsson, Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks
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With the NHL trade deadline getting close (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson.

Player: Erik Gustafsson
Current Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Position: Defense
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent this season with a $1.2 million salary cap number.

Why the Blackhawks might trade him. Because the season is a mess, the dynasty is over, and sustained mediocrity has set in to become the new normal in Chicago. Barring some kind of insane miracle over the next 22 games, the Blackhawks are well on their way to a third consecutive non-playoff season. Time to start trading people and looking toward the future.

Gustafsson is an unrestricted free agent this summer and because of his offensive production should be in line for a significant raise over the $1.2 million per season his current contract has paid him. Is he worth what he will command to the Blackhawks?  As is the case with starting goalie Robin Lehner, if the Blackhawks think there is even a 50-50 chance he leaves in free agency, they are doing themselves a disservice if they do not trade him. Even if they think they can re-sign him it still might be for the best to move him before Monday. He is one of the players on the team that does not have a no-trade clause, would not require them to retain salary to move, and could bring back a good return.

Teams that could/should be interested. Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks

What he provides. You are not going to get a traditional top-pairing defenseman that will give you a shutdown role or the type of player you want playing 25 minutes a night against the other team’s best forwards. He will, however, give you a lot of offense from the blue line, especially if you put him into situations where he can focus on the offensive side of the puck. He will probably never duplicate the 17-goal, 60-point performance from the 2018-19 season, but he is still a productive player that should be good for around 10 goals and 30-35 points over an 82-game season with good possession numbers from the blue line. Not a superstar by any means, but a darn good second-pairing option for a playoff team.

The Hurricanes could use some more offense from their blue line with the injury to Dougie Hamilton, while the Golden Knights are apparently still in the market for more help on the blue line even after trading for Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings.

They also cleared some salary cap space on Friday by sending Cody Eakin to the Winnipeg Jets.

Predicted destination. Only winning two out of their past 10 games to all but fall out of the Western Conference playoff race might finally convince Stan Bowman he has to sell, and I think someone is going to offer the first-round pick he will almost certainly want for Gustafsson, and I think that team is Vegas to add more offense to its blue line and try to make a run through a watered down Pacific Division in the playoffs.

More NHL Trade Deadline:

• Trade Deadline primer: Chris Kreider
• Trade Deadline Primer: Ilya Kovalchuk
• Trade Deadline Primer: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
• Trade Deadline Primer: Joe Thornton
• Trade Deadline Primer: Robin Lehner
Trade Deadline Primer: Tomas Tatar
• Teams that need to be active at trade deadline
• PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.