J.T. Compher

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins advance; Avalanche survive

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  • The Blue Jackets were able to sweep the Lightning in front of their home fans in Columbus. Now their season is over as they fell in Game 6 against Boston at that same arena. The Bruins move on to face the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
  • While the East half of Round 3 is set, the West side is still totally unsettled. The Sharks didn’t fall easily on Monday, but the Avalanche grabbed a gutsy OT win to send this series to Game 7.

Bruins 3, Blue Jackets 0 (Boston wins series 4-2)

Charlie McAvoy only receiving a two-minute minor for his hit on Josh Anderson was a big part of the Game 6 storyline, no doubt. But, really, Tuukka Rask strangled any chance for the Blue Jackets to rally around the anger of not getting a call they believed they deserved. David Krejci managed the lone goal of the first 40 minutes of this one, and Sergei Bobrovsky allowed two quick goals in the third period to sap any last-minute drama. Columbus has some things to build on going forward, even with Bobrovsky and others possibly leaving, but the Bruins get the upper hand.

Avalanche 4, Sharks 3 (Series tied 3-3; Game 7 airs at 9 pm. ET on Wednesday on NBCSN [stream here])

This was a fascinating game. The Avs managed leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, yet the Sharks just kept fighting back. When Game 6 went to overtime, there was at least a faint feeling that San Jose was going to stun Colorado in its own building. Instead, Gabriel Landeskog scored the overtime game-winner, forcing a Game 7 in this series. Two unsung heroes loomed large in Game 6, and they follow Rask in the three stars below …

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask

Rask already turned heads with strong work during the Bruins’ Round 2 series against the Blue Jackets, but Game 6 might count as his best performance yet. While Rask enjoyed a little bit of luck from posts hitting his posts, he was still incredibly sharp for Boston, and thus outrageously frustrating for the Blue Jackets. Rask generated a 39-save shutout to close out Columbus, and the occasionally-criticized goalie is cementing his status as a true difference-maker for a Bruins team eyeing a glorious run.

2. J.T. Compher

Heading into Game 6 for Colorado, Compher had one three-point game to his career, yet he scored two goals and one assist at the most crucial time, with the Avalanche facing down elimination. Check these highlights and decide for yourself: is his assist to Tyson Jost to open scoring the best of Compher’s three points, or was it the 3-2 goal where he showed some pretty impressive hands?

That 3-2 goal sure seemed like it would be the game-winner, except an equally unlikely hero forced the issue for San Jose …

3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Again, Vlasic can be a “likely” hero for his work in his own end. And, really, Vlasic was his usual, defensive-defenseman-dynamo self against Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, his most frequent opponents in Game 6. Yes, Landeskog scored an overtime game-winner, but generally speaking, the Sharks did a great job of limiting that dangerous trio’s chances. Vlasic was a big part of that.

Few would have expected Vlasic to be so prolific offensively, though.

Vlasic scored two goals for the Sharks while firing three SOG, blocking four shots, and managing two takeaways in Game 6. Impressive stuff, even if San Jose couldn’t quite close out Colorado.

Oh, by the way, this is only the second two-goal game of Vlasic’s career, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Again, it was a rare night.

Factoids

TUESDAY’S GAME 7

Game 7: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues (series tied 3-3; 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN [stream here])

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.

Compher, Avalanche force Game 7 against Sharks

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Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog scored the overtime-clincher in Game 6 to push the San Jose Sharks to a Game 7. Leave it to the Avs’ captain to cap a night that was often dominated by unsung heroes.

J.T. Compher scored two goals and one assist in Game 6, nearly lined up Erik Karlsson for a big hit, and generally played the game of his life. To give you an idea of how rare nights like these have been for Compher at this level, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes that Compher had just one three-point game in his entire NHL career coming into Game 6.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a bigger name than Compher, what with winning a gold medal for Canada and frequently being named as one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL, at least before slowing down just a bit lately. Still, you wouldn’t expect Vlasic to score two goals in a single contest, but that’s exactly what he did in Game 6, including the tally that sent things to OT.

Landeskog didn’t need much time to score in overtime:

The Avalanche built leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, but the Sharks kept finding ways to tie things up. Colorado didn’t flinch in the face of sudden death, however, and the Avs thus avoided elimination.

There are some lingering storylines and situations to monitor heading into Game 7, which airs at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday (NBCSN; stream here).

  • Will Nathan MacKinnon be able to put his frustrations behind him? The Avs superstar’s scoring struggles have gotten to him at times, as he’s looked furious on the bench and leaving the ice.
  • Is Mikko Rantanen really OK? He returned to Game 6 after a hard hit from Brent Burns, but Rantanen’s mobility looked pretty limited when he returns.
  • Can the Avalanche contain Timo Meier? While Meier was only credited with an assist in Game 6, he created havoc on all of the Sharks’ goals, using his creativity and physicality to really make life miserable for Colorado.

While the 2019 Eastern Conference Final is set at Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes, both West series are heading to Game 7’s, as Dallas Stars – St. Louis Blues is also going the distance. The Avalanche are generally a younger, less proven team than the Sharks, but they’re absolutely playing like they belong. Even the guys not named Nathan MacKinnon.

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.

Avs in position to build on current success

Getty

No matter how far the Colorado Avalanche go in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have all the makings of a long-term powerhouse in the Western Conference.

Assuming, of course, they don’t screw it up.

After dominating the No. 1 seed Calgary Flames and easily dismissing them in five games, the Avalanche head into Tuesday’s Game 3 against the San Jose Sharks tied in their Round 2 series, in a position to grab the upper hand thanks to a fast, skilled roster and an aggressive style of play.

Put it all together and they have been one of the most impressive teams in the playoffs so far.

It is even more impressive when you consider how much they are leaning on youth to get them to where they are.

When you look at the top-10 skaters in ice-time for the Avalanche this postseason, they have an average age of just 24 years old.  That is nearly two years younger than the top-10 players on any other team still going in the playoffs (the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders’ top-10 average is 25.8 years of age; the other seven playoff teams together average 27.2 among their top-10 most used skaters).

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Of the eight teams still playing in the playoffs, none of them are relying on youth as much as the Avalanche are.

That core includes 23 year-old Nathan MacKinnon, who might be the most valuable asset in the NHL when everything is taken into account, 22-year-old Mikko Rantanen, and a pair of 20-year-old defenders in Samuel Girard and Cale Makar.

As good as all of them are right now, it is possible, if not likely, that they still have not hit their peak level of performance in the NHL. Better days should be ahead for almost all of them.

Now, you might be looking at an Avalanche team that barely snuck in the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in a watered down Western Conference and think that it is insane to look them as a long-term powerhouse. Especially with teams like Calgary, San Jose, Vegas, Winnipeg, and Nashville still lurking and not looking like they will be going away anytime soon.

It is not an unfair point to make.

But keep in mind something about this Avalanche team.

MacKinnon and Landeskog both missed at least eight games during the regular season due to injury. J.T. Compher, one of their promising young players, only played in 66 and they still have a player like Tyson Jost that has a ton of untapped potential. Girard was in his first full-year of NHL action and Makar did not play a second of regular season ice-time. The latter two players have the look of a potentially dominant defense duo if they develop as the Avalanche hope they will. They have already seen some time together in these playoffs and have yet to show their age and inexperience. If anything, they have shined and been a big part of the team’s success.

They also have the most important and most difficult pieces to acquire when it comes to building a consistent contender — top-tier, high-end, franchise players at the top of the lineup (MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog).

But it is not just what the Avalanche have on their roster right now that makes their future so bright.

It is the potential for what they can potentially add around what they have on their roster right now that makes their future so bright.

First, the Avalanche have two first-round draft picks in 2019. Their own pick, as well as the No. 4 overall pick in the draft they acquired as part of the Matt Duchene trade (which also landed them Girard).

That No. 4 pick should, if all goes according to plan, result in another high-end talent entering the organization.

Perhaps even more important than that, they also have a ton of salary cap space at their disposal this summer.

Assuming an $83 million ceiling (as it seems that it will be, or at least in that general area) the Avalanche couild have around $36 million in salary cap space this summer with only 10 roster spots to fill.

Now, a healthy portion of that space will have to go to Rantanen who will be due a new contract as a restricted free agent. But even if he ends up getting upwards of $9-10 million, that is still going to leave the Avalanche with at least $25 million in cap space. That should — should! — make them a player for just about any unrestricted free agent that is available in the NHL this summer. That is the advantage they have given themselves by getting MacKinnon and Landeskog on contracts that are, for lack of a better word, steals.

That cap space, combined with their draft assets (two first-round picks, their own second-round pick, and two third-round picks, one of which will be the first pick in the third round, again the result of the Duchene trade with Ottawa) could make them a player for any veteran that enters the trade market.

With the money they have to burn under the cap, they could realistically go after any player they wanted as long as they wanted to spend it.

The Avalanche still have a ton to play for this season and have put themselves in a position where they could really do something special if they can take care of business at home these next two games. So no one on the ice or in their front office is probably looking too far ahead. The eyes are still on the prize in front of them.

That doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead. No matter where this season ends up going, the Avalanche have put themselves in a position where they could become the team in the Western Conference as long as they make the right moves starting this summer. Obviously a lot of this depends on the development of players like Makar, Girard, Compher, Jost, and the yet-to-be-chosen No. 4 overall pick, but everything is there for them to build a championship level team. Now they just have to do it.

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.

Compher scores twice on the same penalty kill

Associated Press

The Arizona Coyotes know a thing or two about scoring shorthanded goals.

In fact, they lead the NHL in shorties with 10, six more than any other team coming into Friday’s full slate of games.

What they don’t know much about is getting shorthanded goals scored against them. Well, that was until Friday night while hosting the Colorado Avalanche.

The Coyotes entered the game as just one of three teams yet to surrender a goal with the man-advantage and it stayed that way until J. T. Compher decided to dazzle.

Compher’s first came on a nice rush up the ice from Matt Nieto, who stopped and found Compher trailing the play. Compher’s well-placed long-range wrist shot beat Antti Raanta.

His second shortie came 1:25 later on the same penalty kill, this time doing it all himself for his second of the game on a breakaway.

Compher has been sidelined with a concussion since Oct. 13, meaning Friday was his return to the lineup. He now has five goals in six games this season.


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

J.T. Compher scores twice as Avalanche down Wild 5-1

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The Colorado Avalanche kept their playoff train chugging along nicely on Tuesday.

Sitting in the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference heading into the game, the Avalanche received some help from the Montreal Canadiens via a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars, and kept up their end of the bargain with a 5-1 win away to the Minnesota Wild to leapfrog the Stars into the first wildcard spot — three points behind the Wild for third place in the Central Division.

The Avs are a healthy 5-0-3 in their past eight games.

While Nathan MacKinnon has been doing much of the heavy lifting to position himself favorably in the Hart Trophy conversation, it was J.T. Compher who took a bit of that load off on Tuesday.

Compher got the ball rolling for the Avalanche, scoring on a nice wrist shot that beat Dubnyk high in the first period.

Colorado’s lead would last well into the second period before Mikko Koivu converted on a odd-man rush to bring the Wild level.

Minnesota — who lost 7-1 the last time these two teams met — came into the game 3-1-0 in their past four, and with the Winnipeg Jets falling 3-1 to the Nashville Predators earlier in the night, the Wild had a chance to close the gap on second place in the division to five points.

But 59 seconds after Koivu notched his 13th, Nikita Zadorov crushed a one-timer from the slot past Dubnyk to restore the 2-1 lead.

Nathan MacKinnon entered the game on an eight-game heater and pushed that number to nine games 11 seconds into the third period to double Colorado’s advantage.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 17 points during his streak and 18 goals and 42 points in his past 25 games.

Compher’s second of the night came in the second half of the third period, a goal that was challenged for goaltender interference but upheld after the review.


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