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This post is talking about The rookies of the Toronto maple leafs that taking the league by storm, during this incredible year they broke the record for rookies in a single season that held since the 60s, also to what my opinion on the future of the team.
Toronto has a core of great and talented young rookies that most of them are barely 20 years old, rookies such as Austin Matthews, Mitchel Marner, Morgan Rielly, Zach Hyman, Nikita Zaitsev. I feel that I witness the birth of young and talented players that in the years to come will only get better and develop their skills that they have, and will take center stage of the NHL. Already when they are talking about Austin Matthew, all the analysts are comparing him to Sidney Crosby that currently is the best player in the NHL, and led the Canada team to win the last three Olympic and tournaments.
All the rookies have great skills and speed that keep the other team on their toes and disrupt their play. Also, they can handle the puck very well which helps them to cause the other team turnovers that a lot of time leading to scoring goals or great scoring opportunities. You can see in the game that Babcock is putting different lines during the game or changing them before the games to adjust it to the opponent, most of the times it works and disrupts their opponents game. Especially, Rielly and Zaitsev and veteran Kadri on defense or Mathew and Marner and Himen on offense. You can see their passion for getting better and learning and adjust their game every game, and Babcock is leading them and help them maximize their potential. It is exciting to see their progress and the success of the team because of this. Also to see during the game the chemistry that they have, in face-offs or how they communicate during the match without almost not talking to each other. Babcock has made them to one fantastic unit that is fascinating to see.
The biggest problem with is the lack of experience and sometimes not enough toughness from the players that leads to making sloppy plays and sometimes unnecessary dangerous passes, that lead to turnovers. Also, they still don"t know how to play with the lead. They are getting push to their zone instead of getting the puck to the offensive zone which will put the pressure on the opponent. Instead, they are letting the other team back into the game. It leads to unnecessary pressure which leading to losing too many points. But I guess that it"s part of the learning curve that they need to go through. Mike Babcock and the management is doing a great job of letting them play through the struggles that they have, this way they will learn how to deal with this situation in the future. The Management is also acquiring veteran players through trades in purpose to help the young core develop their mentality of being a winning team in the NHL.
Toronto has a five-year plan that started last year that means: building a core of young players from draft picks and minor league, establishing around them a group of veteran players that will lead them and teach them from their own experience how is to play in the big league.
The management and Mike Babcock building for the long run and not tempted to do trades only to get to the playoff this year, even though that Toronto is in the playoff picture but still have problems that they need to address. In all the interviews that I read, they are talking about the long run, and I trust them and glad to see that. I think that they are doing the right thing even if it will cost the playoff this year but we will benefit from having a winning team in the next years to come and maybe getting and winning the cup in an another few years.
I just hope that they will continue with the five-year plan and won"t stray from the primary goal that they made in the start of the rebuilding, Of making the Toronto Maple Leaf a winning and fruitful team in the next years to come like they were in the 60s and 70s.
I hope That I will continue to see them as my father saw them when he was young and grow up on them, a winning and fruitful team in the league and win the Stanley Cup.
Here is a link to a short clip about what I talked in the blog: These kids are alright
I want to talk in this post about Sydney Crosby that in my opinion is the best player in Hockey today and is a Canadian, most of the analysts are comparing him to Wayne Gretzky that is the greatest player in Canada Hockey.
Crosby reached this a week a major and significant milestone of 1,000 points that only the largest players in the game did, most of them are in the Hall of Fame. He did it only in 757 games that are faster than a lot of than a lot of legends of the match had. It is an incredible achievement that not all the players are reaching it, this is is an exclusive club of elite players that Crosby joined this week rightfully. This is another achievement in his incredible career, and he still has a couple of more years to play. Crosby had a lot of bad luck during his career with a lot of injuries that made him miss a lot of games, and this affected his stats which could have been greater in his 12th season and could have reached this milestone a couple of seasons ago. I hope that he won"t get injured, and his lack would change which will allow him to add another awards and stats to his already amazing and legendary career. He showed everyone what he could do when he is healthy with an incredible season ago, winning the Stanley Cup and being the MVP of the Finals and winning the gold medal with Team Canada, doing it with style and having amazing performance.
Also of the center stages of the Olympic and world Tournament, he is the primary focus of the Canada teams. From the start of his career, he led the Canada teams to achievements and winning the first place in almost in every big tournament that he was involved. He showed his greatness by that he comes through in a big way every time that Team Canada or Pittsburgh needs a goal or someone to lift them when the struggled.
He has couple more season to play, and I think that he will win the Stanley Cup again and not retire with only two Stanley Cups and will add another Olympic medal or two if they let NHL players participate. This season there is a dispute if to let the NHL players play in the Olympics, the NHL management currently leading to not let them play because of the injuries, that that might occur during the Olympics and it will affect the next season and hurts the teams. It is currently in discussion, and I hope that in the end, they will let the NHL play in the next Olympic.
In my opinion, he is the greatest and best hockey player in the world today because of his devotion to the game and his hard work habits. When I read interviews with his teammates, they always pray him and say how much his desire to win is strong, even in practice he doesn't want to lose. He got the desire always to improve his game and get better every game, he always looking ahead and even when he reached the incredible milestone of 1,000 he took a moment to appreciate the achievement and carried on in the objective to get another Stanley Cup for Pittsburgh.
He also has an attribute that is modesty like the greatest players have, including Wayne Gretzky and other elite players in the league and the Hall of Fame. Which in my opinion, is the most important quality that separates the real greatest players of the game. He got to these amazing achievements in the NHL and on the world stages and considered in the same breath with Wayne Gretzky that is a legend in Canada, but he doesn't brag about it and continues to play hard and to help Canada in the Olympic or Pittsburgh with whatever they need from him. In the interviews that I read he always praise his teammates even when he won the Stanley Cup or in the Olympics with Team Canada. He never took all the credit and always acknowledge his teammate's contribution to the success of the team. He doesn't afraid to play hard and to get hit or to play a tough, physical game that fair, he does what the team need and always come through when it is most critical time for his team or to the Canada team. His Team or Team Canada know that they can trust that when it matters the most, he will come through in a big way.
Another attribute that I love about him is that he is a team player and he never thinks that he is above the team and do what the team needs. He thinks first of the team need and afterward, on his statics. A lot of his points come from his assist to his teammates, and if there is a player that has a better chance to score he will pass to him, he won"t force the shot by himself. Also, he talks a lot to the young players in Pittsburgh and shares his experience with them on how to get better and improve their game. He is a quiet leader that leads by example, and he does all the aspects of the games that they team needs without talking on it. You can see in Team Canada or Pittsburgh that he always talks with his teammates and push them to play hard, he always presses the team forward and if he sees bad games or not enough effort, he will talk to the player gently and in a pleasant and friendly manner. If he has advice for a player, then he will say it lightly. His teammate appreciates him for it, and he is a great teacher to the young players that adore him.
You can see how great he is when you can read all the players in the league and the tremendous respect that he gets from each player and not only his teammates, every player when asked about Crosby respect and pray him. You can"t leave him alone, he is so dangerous that he can score from anywhere and whenever he wants, he doesn't need much to score or to set up a scoring opportunity for his teammates. He is one of the most respected players in the NHL, and you can see it from analysts or anyone that involved in the game and even great players that made it to the Hall of Fame, everyone praise his amazing abilities and skills.
Crosby is already a legend and considered as a great player like Gretzky that is considered the best Canadian player ever. If he would have been healthy most of the time so his number would have been higher, but it"s part of the game the injuries. I excited and glad and blessed to have a chance to see him play. I think that he will add more titles to his amazing and legendary career that he already has, in the NHL and the World stages. For me he is the best player in the world by far and a legend In the Canadian Hockey History, I think that he is giving Canada a lot of pride and a great role model for all the young players.
In this post, I will talk about Connor McDavid who is a Canadian player in his second year that plays at Edmonton Oilers and is taking the league by storm. His numbers are incredible for a player in his second year and are leading in almost all categories. He is leading the league in assists and points. It is probably not the only blog that I will write about him in his career. There will be more in the future.
I see him play in Edmonton and I admire his skill and abilities. He and Matthew from Toronto blessed with amazing skills and abilities.He has an amazing ability to skate and control the puck even in tight spaces. I see him a lot of times taking the puck from his zone and going all the way to the goal without anyone succeeding in taking the puck from him. He also has an amazing ability to steal the puck from the opponents and making scoring opportunities from nothing.
Another quality that I admire in his game is his unselfishness play. He will always think of his teammates, and a lot of his points come from assists because of that. I also, love about him that he doesn't force plays in the offensive zone and he will pass to his teammates if they have a better shot and better scoring opportunity.
He is very dangerous, and you can never leave him alone especially in the offensive zone. He can score or generate a scoring opportunity for his teammates whenever he wants. Most of the time you don’t see him coming. He will sneak in on the opponent and with his speed will steal the puck. Because of that, the opponents need to stay on their toes and always be alert of where he is on the ice all the time. One second that they let their guard down could cost them.
He has an excellent orientation in the offensive zone, and he knows where to stand to get the rebounds or to jump into the play, which leads to a lot of scoring opportunities and goals.
Another quality that I admire about him is his mentality of a team player and that he will do everything the team needs and isn’t afraid of a physical game and also isn’t afraid to take hits for his team. He will do what the team needs from him to gain the win.
He has a quality that all the great ones have, and that is modesty, which in my opinion is the most important thing, just like Wayne Gretzky and Sydney Crosby have. He doesn't brag about his skills and always treats his teammates favorably and acknowledges their contribution. Even with all the success that he has he plays hard and doesn't take all the credit, which is very important in my opinion. I think that this quality is what separates the great one and I see it in him. I saw a couple of interviews with him, and they asked him about his comparison to Sydney Crosby. He was modest and acknowledged to the press that he still has a way to go before he reaches the level of Crosby.
When I see him play, I see a huge resemblance to Sydney Crosby in his amazing abilities and skills. Also, in his style and approach to the game. He has the same devotion to the game and strives to improve his game and help the team win every game that he is on the ice. Also in all the analysts that I read, they are comparing him to Sydney Crosby, and even I remember that Wayne Gretzky said that he has the talent of Sydney Crosby. I couldn't agree more, and I think that he will have an incredible career in the NHL and on the world stage, as part of the Canadian Olympic team.
I am excited and blessed to see him play and his progress and in my opinion, he is on the way to be the next Sydney Crosby, and I predict for him a great career and future. I think that he will emerge to be a superstar in the league and one of the leaders in the Canadian team. He has an incredible talent and personality that I see in all the great players of the game. It's only his second year, but you can already see in his game that he has the mentality and the skills to be the next Sydney Crosby of Canadian hockey.
In this post, I will talk about my passion for hockey that came from my father and was part of the Canadian tradition that I inherited from him. I grew up on Christmas and all the Canadian holidays and traditions.
Hockey is a sport that I started to watch around 15 years ago, and I was addicted to it from the outset. I was and will always be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan as it's my father’s favorite team growing up and he passed the love for them to me. I love this game, and I am crazy about it and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most of the games they don't show in Israel, and the games that they are showing on Fox aren't the Canadian teams, so I usually get up early in the morning to watch the games live and go to work afterward. If I don't work the day after, I usually stay all night to watch it. In this case, I sleep in the morning a few hours.
In Canada, it’s a passion that you are born and grow up into it. It’s the most popular sport there. There is also baseball but now the only Canadian team, Hockey is like a religion, and it has this status in Canada. Is Toronto so I think it isn’t as big as Hockey. As I see it
I try to watch all the Games of the Canadian hockey team in the Olympics because they don't broadcast it on FOX sport in Israel I always need to try to find a site that I can watch through the internet. I love to see the games against the USA or Russia. I think the rivalry between Canada and the USA is one of the biggest rivalries in sports. It’s a rivalry for the prestige of who is better on the continent and in the world as both teams won the most gold medals on the world stages. Also, most of the biggest names in hockey come from these two countries. The rivalry between Canada and Russia is also an excellent one, and the games are taut and exciting, but it’s not like the rivalry between Canada and the USA. I don't think it's even close to it.
These three countries are the best in the world, and also Sweden is emerging to be a great team. In the last world tournaments, they had great performances. They even won the gold medal in Vancouver after they beat Canada in the gold medal game. But the most exciting and tense games are against the USA and every time that Canada wins it makes my day and usually a couple of days after. It’s a unique rivalry, both for the States and Canada. I know they often tease each other about which team will win, and I read about this in the media. Mostly it’s the Canadian team that has won the last big world championship tournaments, but in the last junior world championship tournament, the States beat Canada in the gold medal game. It affected me, and I was in a bad mood afterward.
Because of my love for the game, I have a subscription to the NHL Site that I renew every year. I watch all the Canadian teams and cheer for them as they are a part of Canada, and I want them to succeed. On the world stage, I will always cheer for Canada and try to watch all the games. But most of the time it is a problem to find the site that broadcasts them. I always follow them even if I don't succeed in watching their games and I take it to heart as I am a devoted die hard fan, both for the Canada Olympic Team and the Toronto Maple Leafs. But I want the other Canadians team to succeed, also. Hockey is my religion and passion.
In this post, I want to talk about Auston Matthews who is a rookie that came this year to the league. He is on the Toronto Maple Leafs, taking the league by storm and is only 19 years old. Even though he is an American, I will write a blog for him because he plays for Toronto, that is my team for life.This post is probably not the only one that I will write about him in his career. There will be more in the future.
He has an incredible skating skill and abilities. He has an incredible speed that makes him very dangerous in the offensive zone. He can scores goals anytime, and you need always to keep track of where he is on the ice. Now he is in a little of drought in scoring goals, but I am sure that he will bounce back soon. He is leading the team, and with Mitch Marner and JVR, they are making an incredible front line that makes Toronto a high scoring team and very dangerous. They are the first line and in my opinion one of the most dangerous combinations in the league. The other lines are also great with all the rookies and the veterans but this line I think is the most hazardous one.
He has great orientation in the offensive zone and especially near the net, and he always knows where to be to get the rebounds. He has a great shot, great velocity, and a very accurate one.
He also has an incredible ability to control and hold onto the puck in the offensive zone when it's crowded, and there is a lot of traffic. A couple of times I saw him scoring when he fell or when there were players around him. I also saw a lot of acrobatic goals from him.
From the start when he scored four goals in his debut in the NHL which is a record for a rookie, you could see his potential. All the opposing players respect and fear him because of his abilities in the offensive zone. He has incredible respect from the league which is amazing for a rookie.
What I like about him also is that he is a team player and does what the coach asks him, or whatever the team needs. He isn’t afraid to play a physical game if it’s necessary for the team to get the win. He isn’t afraid to get hit or block shots if needed. He has the mentality of a shooter, but he also plays for his teammate and the team. He thinks first of the success of the team before his own. I believe that it’s an important quality and I admire this quality in him.
He has a mentality that only the great players have which is modesty and devotion to the game. He is also always looking to improve his game. Mike Babcock always praises him and thinks highly of him. He is already a superstar, but he has potential to be one of the best players in the league.
In my opinion, he will emerge as a superstar in the NHL in the years to come. Even in his rookie year, you can see his potential. He has amazing skills and abilities that only will get better in time. He has the mentality and potential to be one of the greatest players in the league and the history of the NHL. I feel blessed to see him develop and I think that he will lead the Maple Leafs to great seasons and to be again at the top of the league. I hope that Toronto will sign him after this year to a long-term contract and he will lead Toronto to success in the years to come.
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 29
NHL Draft Shuffle, Flames/Canes Trade and Top Targets
Debate 1 |NHL Draft – Winners and Losers
Debate 2 |Flames/Canes Blockbuster Trade
Debate 3 |NHL Free-Agents and Trade Targets
Its NHL Draft time and Brad Burud and Blake Friars breakdown the winners and losers, and what players moved up and what players fell in the draft. The Calgary Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes hooked up on a blockbuster trade. Who won this deal, and why did this deal go down? NHL free agency is coming quick. Where will players sign and who is on the trade block?
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 27
Caps Hoist Cup, Island of the Unknown, and Draft Talk
Debate 1 |The Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup
Debate 2 |New Management for the New York Islanders
Debate 3 |Will the NHL Draft be an active trade day
The Washington Capitals have won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. How did they do it? Brad Burud and Blake Friars break it down along with a complete playoff recap. The Islanders are making management moves but will this correlate to success on the ice, and who are the hot draft prospects this year, and will the draft be an active trade day. The NHL season is now over but THE DEBATE Hockey Podcast keeps on rolling.
The Instigator |Episode 14
Draft Lottery a Missed Opportunity
I really like the NHL Draft Lottery process, but I have a huge problem with how it was presented to the public this year. This is a made for television opportunity that the NHL wasted. So what should they have done, and how could they capitalize on this opportunity? Give a listen!
The Instigator |Episode 13
High Scoring = Boring Hockey
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are off and running and goal scoring is at break neck pace. Is this good for the game? Does it make for more exciting games? Or does it make for really, really boring hockey? Fans have been screaming for more goals for years and years. Well you got that in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it just happened to be the worst first round for entertainment in years.
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 26
Off to Round 2 of Stanley Cup Playoffs and Draft Lottery
Debate 1 |Draft Lottery System
Debate 2 |Eastern Conference Divisional Finals
Debate 3 |Western Conference Divisional Finals
It is off to round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Brad Burud and Blake Friars breakdown all four series. The good, the bad and the crazy. Then on to the NHL Draft Lottery. They discuss the system and the winners and losers, and most importantly debate if the Buffalo Sabres can take advantage of the number one draft pick.
Thanks for reading! Stop by www.belowthegoalline.com for exclusive playoff analysis.
NHL players with existing contracts cannot sign a contract extension until the reach the final year of their current contract. Each year, several players are inked to contract extensions when they are eligible on July 1st of the last year of their contract.
While the opening day of free agency will bring a lot of excitement for teams acquiring a new player or two, July 1st can also be a great day for players, as they look to lock up their long-term future with a contract extension with their current team.
Below the Goal Line took a look at the players you should look out for this summer who fit this criteria:
Drew Doughty - Doughty is a legitimate #1 defenseman with the Los Angeles Kings. At 28 years of age, Doughty has won two Olympic Gold Medals and two Stanley Cup championships. Doughty has skated in the last four All-Star Games, and continues to be a top defender in the NHL.
Drew Doughty is enters 2018-19 with a $7,650,000 salary, and a cap hit of $7,000,000. The market for top defensemen in the NHL is going up, and we can expect Doughty to command around $10 million next summer in free agency. The Kings would be wise to lock up one of their best players this year before that happens.
Tyler Seguin - The top center the Dallas Stars, Tyler Seguin will be following along with the John Tavares free agency this summer. Seguin and Tavares are very similar offensive catalysts, and both players will be looking at similar contracts in the near future. Tavares has 621 points in 669 career games, while the younger Seguin has 505 in 590 games.
Seguin will make $6,500,000 next season, but that will likely go up after the 2018-19 campaign, which is his last under contract with Dallas. If John Tavares picks up around $10.5 million this summer, expect Tyler Seguin to find a salary around that same value when it's his turn to hit free agency in the summer of 2019. Seguin could be a candidate for an early extension this summer, but likely will wait until Tavares sets the bar.
Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski - A lot will probably change this summer for the San Jose Sharks, who will be contenders in the John Tavares sweepstakes, but next summer's free agent group will be a good one to watch. Logan Couture and captain Joe Pavelski will hit the market in 2019 if they don't re-sign with San Jose early.
Both players are coming off 6 year, $36 million contracts, and could re-sign this summer if desired. Couture will be looking for a pay increase, likely into the $8 million range. He is a talented two-way center who matches up against the opposing team's top players every night.
Pavelski, on the other hand, will be 34 to start the 2018-19 season, but likely has another two seasons left after his current contract expires. While you cannot expect him to be a huge offensive weapon he has been in his career (eight straight season above 20 goals, on including the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13), he continues to be an effective player, and should be looked at as a good middle-six player going forward.
Artemi Panarin - The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Panarin in the summer of 2017, and will hope to extend him in the summer of 2018 after a 82 point season. Panarin, who makes $6 million dollar a season on his current contract, is the best offensive player in the Blue Jackets' organization, and will be looked upon for continued offensive down the road.
Panarin will almost certainly cross the $7 million threshold, but could command $8.5 million of more.
Nikita Kucherov - The Tampa Bay Lightning forward led the NHL in points for most of this season, but ultimately finished third with 100 points. He is just 24-years-old at the moment, but he will be looking for a new contract after the 2018-19 campaign. Kucherov will certainly earn a contract similar to, or greater than, the contract of team captain and linemate Steven Stamkos, who has an average salary of $8.5 million.
Missed the cut:
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury would be welcome back to the Vegas Golden Knights, but at 34, he might not be in the long-term plans for the organization. They will likely wait to see how Vegas plays next season after a successful first year in 2017-18.
The same can be said about Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, who might be able to play at a high level after his current contract runs out next season. He is 35 at the moment.
Both Erik Karlsson and Matt Duchene are good players for the Ottawa Senators, but talk about a rebuild in Ottawa might scare the two from re-signing this summer, or even at all.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out www.belowthegoalline.com later today for an exclusive look at the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tonight marks the end of the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. Check out the entire first round here.
Toronto Maple Leafs @ Boston Bruins
In the only first round series to go the full seven games, the Boston Bruins will hope their home will secure them a ticket to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 2. First, they must dispatch their first round opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have climbed back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7 in Boston.
If you like scoring, this game was for you. This game featured 11 goals, including just one empty netter, one shorthanded goal, and two powerplay goals. Both goalies combines for 49 saves on 59 shots. That results in a .831 save percentage in this game.
Maple Leaf Patrick Marleau scored 2:05 into the game when he deflected a shot from the point past Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask on the powerplay.
The Bruins would come back with a powerplay goal of their own at 4:47 when Jake DeBrusk deflected a shot past the Toronto goalie, Frederik Andersen.
Marleau would score his second of the game at 6:12. This goal was a quick flick of the wrist from the right faceoff circle. The second goal from Toronto came after the Bruins could not get the puck out of their own zone, and it ended up in the back of their net.
Danton Heinen and Patrice Bergeron would score for the Bruins in the opening period to give them a 3-2 lead. Bergeron's goal was a nifty play from Kevan Miller, who purposefully shot the puck wide of the net, so it would find Bergeron alone on the other side of the net for the easy tap in.
The second period belonged to the Maple Leafs. Rookie Travis Dermott scored his first career playoff goal, and Kasperi scored this filthy shorthanded goal to give Toronto the 4-3 lead heading into the final period.
Tory Krug scored a booming slap shot from the left faceoff circle at 1:10 of the third period to tie the game. It was that goal that seemed to open the flood gate for the Bruins, who would score three more times in the period.
Jake DeBrusk picked up his second goal of the game, and his fifth of the series at 5:25. DeBrusk powers down the right side of the ice when the teams were skating 4-on-4. He fooled Frederik Andersen with a quick wrist shot that went through Andersen's legs for the 5-4 lead.
That goal would end up being the game winner, as the Bruins would add two more in the period for the 7-4 win.
This sets up a Boston Bruins/Tampa Bay Lightning match-up in the second round. For Toronto, this marks the second straight exit in the first round. The meltdown in the third period would lead me to believe they need more help in their defensive zone, but I think Andersen could have been sharper in this game.
Find out more about the second round of the playoffs on the preview coming up later today by Below the Goal Line. Thanks for reading!
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 25
Stanley Cup Round One Disappointment and NHL Coaches Shuffle
Debate 1 |NHL Coaches Shuffle
Debate 2 |Western Conference Round One Recap and Round Two Preview
Debate 3 |Eastern Conference Round One Recap and Round Two Preview
Brad Burud and Blake Friars debate the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Was it what we expected, was it as exciting as usual or was it a flop. They also breakdown the recent coaching changes as Bill Peters is out of Carolina and is now in Calgary. Also openings in NY Rangers, Dallas and Carolina, who will fill these spots?
The first round of the NHL Playoffs is almost over! Be sure to check out the complete NHL Playoff race here.
Boston Bruins @ Toronto Maple Leafs
After a strong regular season, and a quick start to this series, the Boston Bruins had another opportunity to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight in Game 6. Holing a 3-2 series lead, Boston needed just a single victory to advance to the second round to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Toronto, however, has shown signs that they do not want to go home for the summer just yet. The Maple Leafs pulled out the victory in Game 5 on Saturday to stay alive. They were down 3-1 in the series at that point.
Once again, Frederik Andersen would be key for the Maple Leafs to remain in the postseason mix. The Toronto goalie, who stats were inflated by a 5-1 and 7-3 loss in the first two games, has held the high-flying Boston Bruins offense to just nine goals in the last four games of this series.
If you have been following along, you would know that nine goals over Games 3-6 would mean that Andersen only allowed a single goal Monday night in Toronto. Andersen stopped 32 of 33 shots to defeat the Bruins and force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night.
After a scoreless first period, it was the Bruins who found their lone goal. Jake Debrusk picked up his third goal of the playoffs. After David Krejci would the offensive faceoff, DeBrusk ripped home a shot past Andersen, who never saw the shot from the top of the faceoff circle.
That goal was at 1:02 of the second period, but Toronto would come roaring back very soon after. William Nylander picked up his first of the series just 35 seconds later. Nylander sneaks in to the right of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, and is all alone when a rebound pops out to him for a quick shot.
Mitch Marner picked up his second of the series at 13:25 of that middle period. The goal, that would stand up as the game winner, came after a shot from the point was deflected and slowed down in front of the net. The speed Marner grabs the puck from Bruins forward Brad Marchand, and backhands a puck over Rask for the 2-1 lead.
The Bruins still have life in this series, but there was a real sense of momentum shift in this game. The Maple Leafs might be the favorites early in Game 7 simply because they have faced two elimination games already, and have played strong enough hockey to win both of those games.
Be sure to check back at Below the Goal Line for coverage of Game 7 on Wednesday! Follow us on Twitter (@belowthegoaline) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/belowthegoalline) for up to the minute updates.
Washington Capitals @ Columbus Blue Jackets
The Washington Capitals traveled back to Columbus after winning Game 5 on Saturday night. With the Game 5 win, the Capitals held a 3-2 series lead over the Blue Jackets. A win tonight would eliminate Columbus, and send the Capitals on to the second round, where they would meet the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive season.
Washington got off to a good start in this game. Dmitry Orlov would open the scoring in the first period with a big slap shot from the point at 12:12. The Capitals definitely had the energy early in this game, which surprised a lot of people, considering the Blue Jackets didn't seem to get off the plane in Game 5.
But Columbus responded in the second period, pumping 14 shots on goaltender Braden Holtby. One of those 14 shots, quick snap of the puck by captain Nick Foligno, beat Holtby to tie the game in the middle frame.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin would respond, however. Critics have been all over Ovechkin for apparently not showing up when his team needed him the most (something I never understood, considering the guy has 51 goals and 98 points in 103 playoff games), but he came to play in the second period of Game 6.
Ovechkin scored his fourth of the series at 12:50. The backhand shot from in close to the net beat a sliding Columbus goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, for the 2-1 lead. Ovechkin was not done there, and would pick up his second goal of the period at 18:23. The one was a typical one-time slapper from the left faceoff circle that just overpowered Bobrovsky for the 3-1 lead.
The third period featured the most goal scoring in this game. Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois would cut the lead to 3-2 just 2:25 in, but Washington's Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson scored at 3:56 and 5:30 to give the Capitals a 5-2 lead.
Columbus captain Nick Foligno picked up his second goal of the game at 8:22 to cut the lead to 5-3, but that would be as close as the Blue Jackets would get in this game. After an empty net goal, the Washington Capitals picked up the 6-3 win, and the 4-2 series win.
With the series victory, the Washington Capitals set up another date with the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2. While they haven't been able to take down the Penguins in the past two postseason, this year presents another opportunity to defeat their arch-rivals for the right to move on to the Conference Finals.
Stay tuned to Below the Goal Line for a preview of the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, coming your way as soon as the Toronto-Boston series concludes.
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Thirteen NHL teams are still playing in the playoffs for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup. This means that 18 teams have already moved into their off-season process, which will include the NHL Entry Draft and free agency.
Several top story lines have emerged already this "summer" for some of these clubs already in off-season mode.
Much has been made about the Islanders captain John Tavares as he approaches unrestricted free agency on July 1st of this season. I wrote about Tavares late in the season, but the story keeps growing.
The New York Islanders would obviously love to keep their captain and top offensive weapon. Tavares had 37 goals and 47 assists for 84 points this past season. The 27-year-old has 621 points in 669 career NHL games, and is one of the biggest free agents to possibly hit the open market in a long time.
A couple of season ago the Tampa Bay Lightning were in a similar position with captain Steven Stamkos, but he ultimately ended up signing a contract with the Lightning before he even hit free agency.
That does not likely appear to be the case with John Tavares and the Islanders, and the team missed the postseason again this season. The Islanders, as documented in my previous piece, struggle to play defense. They can score tons of goals, but simply cannot keep the puck out of their own net.
If Tavares wants a chance to win a championship, the Islanders don't appear to be the team to be on. Teams like the Montreal Canadiens or San Jose Sharks make sense as teams who are closer to a Stanley Cup.
San Jose will likely not bring back superstar Joe Thornton, and Tavares could be a natural replacement. The Sharks are still in the postseason, and have a strong group of young forwards, a good corp of defensemen, and a good goaltending tandem in Martin Jones and Aaron Dell.
The Canadiens struggled this season, but the addition of Tavares to that group would give Montreal a bona-fide #1 center they have been craving for a long time. Plus, they have one of the best goaltenders in the world in Carey Price (assuming he returns to his Vezina form). Questions rise when you talk about Montreal's depth and defense, but that team would appear to be closer to the ultimate prize than the Islanders.
There have been rumors that the St. Louis Blues could be involved. There is a natural fit with the Blues after they traded Paul Statsny earlier this season. There is plenty of cap space in St. Louis this summer, who should have around $12 million to play with this summer (thanks CapFriendly!) and only depth players in need of new contracts.
I find it hard to image Tavares will end up with the Los Angeles Kings. They simply have two solid centers in Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. The Kings would be better off trying to persuade a winger like Evander Kane or James van Riemsdyk to join their squad.
The fact that Tavares isn't signed to a long-term deal is scary for Islander fans. Losing an elite player like John Tavares would be a significant blow to a woeful team, and it looks like that might happen.
Stay tuned for more.
The Senators' captain Erik Karlsson might be another player on the move. While he is under contract for one more season, the Ottawa Senators don't appear to be anywhere close to competing for a Stanley Cup.
After making the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the wheel came off the Senators, who finished with the second worst record in the NHL. While there has been talk of a new coaching regime (see below), Erik Karlsson might not want to be around if the team needs a lengthy rebuilding process.
It definitely appears that way after the 2017-18 season. The Senators struggled to score goals and to keep the puck out of their own net. While they have some good pieces like Karlsson, Thomas Chabot, etc., this team doesn't have the strong defensive group to.
Their offense is also lacking. I'm still baffled at the idea of trading Kyle Turris for Matt Duchene (I know there was more involved then just those two players). For me, they are very similar players, although Duchene probably has a higher offensive upside. Either way, it seemed like a lot to give up for a guy that isn't much better than they guy you gave away.
There's also the question on if this team has enough offensive firepower or a good enough goaltending situation to be a top team in the NHL.
My instincts are telling me that Karlsson wants out of this situation. He has been made the fool by management and ownership, and the team is honestly pathetic at times on the ice. If he wants to win a Cup, Erik Karlsson might want to demand to be moved this season, something that might be easier said that done.
There are currently four open coaching positions in the NHL, but their could be a few more depending on what happens with the rest of this NHL postseason.
Alain Vigneault was fired by the New York Rangers, but might be the front-runner for the Dallas Stars opening. Ken Hitchcock retired after one season back on the Stars bench. Bill Peters just resigned as the Carolina Hurricanes coach, and many have penciled him into the job with the Calgary Flames, where head coach Glen Gulutzan was relieved of his duties a few weeks ago.
These all seem like natural fits, but then who would jump on the Hurricanes and Rangers jobs? Right now, the word out of Carolina is that Rod Brind'amour might be the guy to step in and take over, but that isn't certain. No front-runners have emerged in the search by the Rangers.
While I don't have answers, coaches like Guy Boucher in Ottawa might be on the way out simply because their teams weren't very good this past season. The coaching carousel is always exciting in the NHL offseason, and I image if there aren't as many coaching changes this year, the excitement will still be there.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out the latest coverage of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as continued coverage of the CHL, NCAA, AHL, and KHL over at www.belowthegoalline.com!
Day 10 of the Stanley Cup Playoff featured three games where each of the series could have ended in Game 5 on Friday night. Check out the entire playoff picture here.
Philadelphia Flyers @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Facing elimination, the Philadelphia Flyers headed into Pittsburgh with a goalie controversy against the Penguins. Michal Neuvirth would make his first start of the series after Brian Elliot could not get the job done in the first four game of this series.
Neuvirth has dealt with injury issues throughout his career, and wasn't even able to back up Elliot in the first few games.
But Neuvirth's return to the net tonight gave the Flyers the boast they needed to pick up the Game 5 win, which forces a Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux scored in the first period to give the road team the 1-0 lead. Giroux's first of the playoffs was the result of the Penguins not playing to their full potential in this game. They were sloppy and didn't seem very interested in this game.
That was until midway through the second period, when the Penguins flipped the switch and dominated the play for much of the middle frame. Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel scored for Pittsburgh in that second period. The Penguins threw 14 shots on Neuvirth in the period.
Neuvirth did hold the Penguins' powerplay off the score sheet in this one. He did not allow a goal in five PP opportunities, including four powerplays in the second period.
While you never want to take penalties, this time it paid off. Valtteri Filppula score a late shorthanded goal that really turned the momentum in favor of the Flyers going into the second intermission.
The Penguins came out in the third period with the same attitude they had to start the game. They had trouble connecting on passes, and didn't really seem engaged in a game that could have eliminated the rival Flyers from the playoffs.
They did pick up their play later in the period, but the difference in the game was the Flyers' Sean Couturier, who grabbed a puck at the blueline of the Penguins zone and banked in a goal off of a Penguins' defender.
That goal made the score 3-2 in favor of the Flyers. Matt Read would pick up an empty net goal to reach our final score of 4-2 in this game. With the win, the Flyers force a Game 6 at home. Pittsburgh now lead 3-2 in the series.
Minnesota Wild @ Winnipeg Jets
Much could have been said about the Winnipeg Jets had they lost this game at home to the Minnesota Wild. Without three of their regular defensemen, as well as impact forwards Nikolaj Ehlers and Mathieu Perreault, everyone probably would have given the Jets a pass for losing this game, especially when they held a 3-1 series lead entering the tilt.
But from the drop of the puck, you could tell the Jets didn't want to play in a Game 6. The Jets dominated the first period with their speed and physicality. The Wild, on the other hand, looked like they had just woken up from their pregame naps.
If you missed the first period, you really didn't need to tune into this game at all. Along with their hard-hitting play, the Jets racked up four goals on start Devan Dubnyk in the first 12 minutes of the opening period.
While I don't particularly blame Dubnyk for the loss in this game, he definitely wasn't his elite playoff goalie self in the first period.
Jacob Trouba scored 31 seconds into the period on a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle. That is the goal Dubnyk needs to save for his team, but the puck finds the top left corner of the net.
With that goal, the flood gates opened for the Jets. Bryan Little picked up his first of the series at 5:42. Brandon Tanev also scored his first, and Joel Armia knocked Dubnyk out of the game with his first of the series at 11:59 of the first period.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau pulled Dubnyk in favor of backup Alex Stalock in hopes that his team would get a jolt from realizing they left their All-Star goaltender down in this game.
But the move was too little, too late, as the Wild would not muster a single goal in this game, despite outshooting the Jets 30-26. The Jets won Game 5 5-0, and ended the series 4-1 for their first ever playoff series victory in franchise history. They now await the winner of the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche.
Colorado Avalanche @ Nashville Predators
Speaking of the Avalanche/Predators series, they also played Friday night in Nashville. With a 3-1 series lead, the defending Western Conference Champions could eliminate Colorado with a win tonight.
This was a spectacular goalie battle, however. Andrew Hammond got the start for the Avalanche, who were looking to avoid elimination for the first time in this series. Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne got the nod once again for Nashville.
Andrew Hammond was great in this game. The Predators peppered Hammond with 45 shots in the game, including 19 in the third period, but the 30-year-old stood tall, allowing just one goal on all of those Nashville shots.
The Predators goal didn't come until 10:18 of the first period, when Nick Bonino deflected a shot past the Colorado netminder. After a review, Bonino was credited with his first playoff goal as a Predator after it was determined he did not kick the puck into the net.
Pekka Rinne was also solid in this game. He stopped all 16 Avalanche shots through the first two period of this one, and looked to take home another playoff victory after the Bonino goal.
It wouldn't be that easy for Rinne, however, because the Avalanche pushed back as they tried to avoid elimination. Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog would tie the game with a little over four minutes left in the game. Nathan MacKinnon skated the puck through the zone and pulled Rinne away from the net. MacKinnon found Landeskog in front, who simply tapped home the pass from MacKinnon to tie the game.
Then, the nightmare set in for Rinne and the rest of his Predator teammates. Sven Andrighetto would score with just 1:28 remaining to give the Avalanche the 2-1 lead. Andrighetto was part of a 2-on-1 coming at Pekka Rinne. After a J.T. Compher shot, the rebound came right to Andrighetto for the easy goal.
That would be all the scoring we would see in this game. The Avalanche shock Nashville for the 2-1 win, and force a Game 6 on Sunday night. Nashville still leads the series 3-2 as it shifts back to Colorado.
Thanks for reading! Check out the latest NHL Playoff action at www.belowthegoalline.com!
The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue with four games on Wednesday night. Check out last night's action here, and the entire playoff bracket here.
Pittsburgh Penguins @ Philadelphia Flyers
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers face off in Philadelphia for Game 4 of their first round series. After winning Game 1, 7-0, and Game 5, 5-1, the Penguins hold a 2-1 series lead.
The Penguins would add to that lead with a strong defensive performance. Goaltender Matt Murray made 26 saves of the Flyers. Murray recorded the shutout of Philadelphia, his second shutout of the series.
Matt Murray has played a strong series. Despite giving up four goals in Game 2, Murray has only surrendered five goals total in this series, with a .948 save percentage.
The Penguins also generated a significant amount of offense. Evegni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby scored and recorded an assist as Pittsburgh put up five goals on Brian Elliot and the Flyers.
Sidney Crosby leads the NHL playoffs in goals with five, and his nine points are tied for the league lead. His second period goal stretched the Penguin lead to 4-0. He picked up a loose puck behind the net and quickly brings it in front and stuffs it home before backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth recognizes the play.
The different in this game was Matt Murray. The Penguins were the fast, more aggressive team for lots of this game, but when they game up several breakaway or dangerous scoring chances, Matt Murray cam up with the big save to keep the Flyers scoreless.
The Penguins, with the win, now have a commanding 3-1 lead in this series as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Friday night.
Tampa Bay Lightning @ New Jersey Devils
If you recall, the story of the night on Monday was that teams that lost both games on the road to start the postseason came home and won on home ice in Game 3. The New Jersey Devils were one such team, winning 5-2 in Game 3 over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Devils got out to a good start in this game when Kyle Palmieri scored his first of this series on the powerplay. The goal, at 8:23 of the first period, came off a big slap shot by Palmieri with the Lightning down to just three skaters thanks to two separate penalties.
Unfortunately for the Devils, that would be all they could muster in this game. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored at 11:30 of the first period. J.T. Miller picked up the goal when he roofs the puck over the shoulder of goaltender Cory Schneider as the Lightning broke into the zone.
The Lightning would pick up two more in this game. Nikita Kucherov would get his third of the playoffs in the first period when he flicks home a rolling puck while he fights off a Devils defender.
Kucherov would add an empty netter in the third to push the score to 3-1. Ironically, the Lightning improve to 3 games to 1 in this series with the victory in New Jersey.
The Devils had a remarkable season after finishing so poorly last season. New Jersey finished 8th in the Eastern Conference this season after finishing 16th last year. It seems like this run will come to an end soon, however, as the Lightning possess a much deeper team. I expect the Lightning to close out this series in Tampa on Saturday afternoon with a dominating performance.
Nashville Predators @ Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche were another team that benefited from returning to home ice in Game 3 of their series with the Nashville Predators. The Avalanche scored five goals on Monday to take a 5-3 win in that contest.
Nashville, however, looked like the better team tonight. The Predators built a 3-0 lead by the 11:49 mark of the second period. They held on for the 3-2 win after Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Kerfoot were able to find the back of the net in the third period.
It was a little bit of redemption for Pekka Rinne, who was pulled in Game 3 after allowing four goals in less than 25 minutes. Rinne stopped 31 shots in this one to pick up his third win of the series.
The Predators will return home with a 3-1 lead for Game 5 on Friday evening. I would again expect the Predators to close out their series in Game 5, but I think that the Avalanche have a better chance of lengthening this series than the Devils do against Tampa Bay.
Anaheim Ducks @ San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks were able to win the first two games of this series in Anaheim. The Sharks won 3-0 in Game 1 and 3-2 in Game 2. San Jose then exploded for an 8-1 win in Game 3 on home ice.
After the Vegas Golden won on Tuesday to capture their first ever series win, the Golden Knights await the winner of this series.
The series returned to its early form of low-scoring, tight hockey games like the first two games of this series.
The Sharks jumped out to the 1-0 lead when depth player Marcus Sorensen scored his third of the playoffs. Sorensen, who has five career regular season goals in 32 games, grabbed the 1-0 lead when he finds himself alone in front of goaltender John Gibson after Gibson made a save off of a shot from the point. Sorensen had enough time to attempt a shot, re-collect his balance, and roof the puck over Gibson on his second shot of the sequence.
After the Ducks lost two goals, it was Andrew Cogliano who scored to tie the game. Ryan Getzlaf scored, but it was determined that the puck wasn't in the net until after the first period and concluded. The Ducks also beat goaltender Martin Jones to open the second period, but that was overturned do to an offsides.
Cogliano did score at 7:53 of the third period. His redirection of a Ryan Kesler pass was just the fourth goal on Martin Jones this series.
Sharks forward Tomas Hertl would get his second of the series just 1:16 later to up the score to 2-1 in favor of San Jose. Hertl deflected a point shot over the Ducks' Gibson for the lead halfway through the final period.
Much like Vegas, the Sharks success in this series was because of great goaltending. Martin Jones stopped 128 of 132 shots in this series for a .970 save percentage. He would not allow another goal in this game, as the Sharks win Game 4 2-1, and the series 4-0. San Jose will meet Vegas in the next round.
The big difference in this series was depth. Logan Couture led the way with 5 points in these four games, but Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, and fourth-liner Marcus Sorensen each had three goals in the four games. 15 different Sharks picked up a point during the series, compared to just seven Ducks skaters.
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 24
Stanley Cup Incidents and 2-0 Series Leads
Debate 1 |Stanley Cup incidents – We review five incidents that took place in week one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Debate 2 |Eastern Conference Series Recap
Debate 3 |Western Conference Series Recap
Brad Burud and Blake Friars are all fired up about week one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They review five questionable incidents, a few of which resulted in suspensions. They also run down each first round series and breakdown who has been good and who has not been good. They also discuss the amount of series that got off to a 2-0 start.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out the latest coverage from the world of hockey at www.belowthegoalline.com.
Before the 2017-18 season, Ken Hitchcock returned to coach the Dallas Stars. Hitchcock coached the Stars from the 1995-96 season until he was fired in the 2001-02 season. Hitchcock went on to coach the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and St. Louis Blues before returning to the Stars for just a single season before announcing his retirement from coaching a couple of weeks ago.
Hitchcock left the NHL coaching ranks as the third winning-est coach in NHL history. He captured the 1999 Stanley Cup with the Stars, but failed to repeat that success in future seasons.
Now with their legendary coach leaving the bench, the Dallas Stars begin their search for their next coach. There will be a number of candidates out there that should be considered, but one stand above the rest in the early search.
The New York Rangers fired head coach Alain Vigneault after their season ended with the Rangers out of the playoffs. Vigneault makes perfect sense as the replacement for Hitchcock.
Vigneault began his coaching career with the Montreal Canadiens in 1997-98. After four seasons with the Canadiens, Vigneault moved to the Vancouver Cancuks, who he took to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. After two more season with the Canucks, Vigneault took the job as head coach of the New York Rangers, where he has spent the last five season.
After 16 season, two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, and three franchises, Alain Vigneault is again looking for work after missing the playoffs for just the fifth time. The Dallas Stars fit the mold of a successful Alain Vigneault team.
There are only two head coaching openings at the moment: the Stars and the Rangers. Vigneault is the best coach available right now, so it makes sense for the Stars to want the best coach available.
Dallas also boasts two prolific scorers in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Vigneault has had a lot of success with two high end players on his teams. The Sedin twins, who retired at the end of this season, highlighted the Vancouver Canucks roster during Vigneault's tenure with the team. Many expect Vigneault to be able bring the most out of the two All-Stars on the Dallas roster.
Many also believe the Stars are just a few components away from competing for a Stanley Cup. While they don't have the deepest lineup, the Stars do have quality pieces in Seguin, Benn, Alexander Radulov, and John Klingberg. With some successful drafting and developing, the depth this roster needs will come in time.
The next question becomes who else would be available to coach the Stars. Dallas strikes me as a team looking for a coach with prior NHL experience. Names like Todd Nelson, Dan Bylsma, and Bill Peters (if he is let go by the Carolina Hurricanes) would all be on the radar of the Stars, but Vigneault tops that list for sure.
The Stars are a strong offensive team, which is a strength of Alain Vigneault's coaching. With a healthy Ben Bishop, this team would have arguably been a playoff team this season. A quality coach like Vigneault would help this team grow next season, and with that healthy goaltending, the Stars could return to the playoffs in 2018-19.
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As the NHL regular season is over, it's time to think about who deserves to win the prestigious awards handed out by the league to its outstanding players.
We'll start with the automatic award winners.
President's Trophy - The President's Trophy is awarded to the team with the best overall regualr season record. This year winner is the Nashville Predators. On the strength of great goaltending from Pekka Rinne and a deep forward and blueline lineup, the Predators finished 53-18-11 with 117 points.
Art Ross Trophy - The Art Ross is awarded to the league's leading point scorer at the end of the season. This would be Connor McDavid for the second consecutive season. McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers captain, recorded 41 goals, 67 assists, and 108 points in the 2017-18 season.
Maurice Richard Trophy - The "Rocket" Richard Trophy is awarded to the leading goal scorer each NHL season. This year, Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin scored 49 goals to win his eighth scoring title.
William M. Jenning Trophy - The Jennings Trophy is awarded each season to the goaltender(s) who played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals allowed. The Los Angeles Kings allow just 202 goals this season, lowest in the NHL. That would mean All-Star goalie Jonathan Quick won the Jennings Trophy.
Then, there are seven NHL trophies I want to go through to discuss and pick the winners for the 2017-18 season.
Calder Memorial Trophy - Awarded annually to the NHL's best rookie, the Calder Trophy is often predicts each year's top NHL player for the years to come. While the trophy is awarded for just the rookie season, winners of the Calder Trohpy historically go on to long, successful hockey careers.
There are a few candidates for the award this year. Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks), Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes), and Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets) represent this year's top rookie forwards in the NHL, While Mikhail Segachev (Tampa Bay Lightning), Will Butcher (New Jersey Devils), and Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins) had strong first season on the blueline.
The top three rookies this season for me were Barzal, Connor, and McAvoy. The other rookies mentioned showed significant promise in the NHL, but were simply outdone by their fellow first year players.
Mathew Barzal lead rookies with 63 assists and 85 goals. He was electrifying at times for the Islanders, who missed the playoffs due to poor play in their own end. Barzal is currently the second line center for the Islanders, but that could change based on what John Tavares decides to do this summer.
Kyle Connor record 31 goals this season, tops among rookies. He is part of a deep and talented Jets corp that is looking to make a long postseason run this season after finishing second in the NHL in points this season. Connor's 57 points were fourth in the NHL among rookies this season, and the forward spent time on all four lines this season.
Charlie McAvoy play in just 63 games this season due to injury, but do log 22:08 per game when he was healthy. This is tops among all rookies who played more than 30 games, and second only to partner Zdeno Chara on a strong Boston Bruins team who looks like they can do some damage in this year's playoffs.
For me, the choice is obvious. While McAvoy will be the best defender out of this group for the next decade, and Kyle Connor will score a lot of goals with the Jets, Mathew Barzal is my winner for the 2018 Calder Trophy. Not only did he have a strong offensive season, he was the reason I tuned into Islander games over other games at times. He is a very fast skater, and incredible talented. Barzal is very deserving of this award.
Vezina Trophy - The Vezina is awarded to the top goalie in the NHL each season. This years race comes down to a couple of strong candidates.
Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellybuyck led the NHL with 44 wins, which is the new record for US-born goalies. He was fifth among starting goalies with a 2.36 GAA, and was a huge reason for the turnaround of the Winnipeg Jets into the second-best team in the NHL this season. Hellybuyck had six shutouts, and a save percentage of .924.
Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators is another good choice for the award. He was second in the NHL with 42 wins. He was third among starters with a 2.31 GAA, and his eight shutouts led the league. Rinne's .927 save percentage fifth in the league among starters as well.
The list of contenders stops here for me. There were other guys like the Tampa Bay Lightning's Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had 42 wins as well, but some of his other numbers didn't match the numbers of Hellybuyck and Rinne.
For me, I have to go with Pekka Rinne. He led Connor Hellybuyck in almost every statistical category, and would have likely lead the NHL in wins if he started more than 59 games. Hellybuyck started 67, so the winning percentage tips in favor of Rinne. I also think Pekka Rinne has deserved much more consideration in the past, and that will add to his votes for the award.
James Norris Memorial Trophy - The Norris Trophy is awarded annually to the top defenseman in the NHL. While some years have had a strong front-runner, this year's Norris race is actually pretty difficult to decide.
Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson led NHL defensemen with 68 points this season.
John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars was first among defensemen with 59 assists.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have the leading goal scoring among defensmen. Victor Hedman tied for the lead with 17 goals. Hedman also had a +/- of +32, which was second in the NHL.
Defenseman like Nashville's Roman Josi don't boast the top-end offensive numbers like a Klingberg, but play a strong game in both ends of the rink. His 53.61 Fenwick percentage (unblocked shot attempts percentage) ranked first of those player mentioned so far in this list.
Then, there is the "eye test." Due to his strong play down the stretch, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones led the Jackets to the playoffs, even though he didn't lead the NHL in any major statistical category. He has entered into the Norris conversation with that strong play this season.
My winner is Victor Hedman. Not only was he a strong offensive player, he was a very good player in this own end. Hedman had a 51.66 Corsi Percentage (total shot percentage). He also played 25.51 minutes per game, fifth most in the NHL. His 63 points were fifth in the league, and only 26 of those points came on the powerplay. Victor Hedman was the best defensemen this season among a host of other strong candidates.
Hart Memorial Trophy - This trophy's winner is another difficult award to hand out this season. Like the Norris, there are several strong candidates for the Hart, which is given to the player most valuable to his team each season.
Connor McDavid led the NHL in points, but his Edmonton Oilers didn't make the playoffs. That almost certainly disqualifies him from the award.
Evgeni Malkin had 98 points this season, fourth in the NHL, but the Pittsburgh Penguins team is deep with talent, and arguable could have made the playoffs without him. Sidney Crosby, who recorded 89 point this season is met with the same argument, as well as Phil Kessel, who had 92 points for the Penguins.
Taylor Hall has my vote for the Hart Trophy this season. Not only did he finish sixth in the NHL with 93 points, he led the New Jersey Devils by 41 points. Hall's 39 goals were tied for ninth in the NHL.
The New Jersey Devils were 28th in the NHL with 70 points last season. Taylor Hall helped the Devils just up 27 points and into a playoff spot.
You can argue that other players deserve consideration as MVP of this NHL season, but Taylor Hall has to be the MVP of the New Jersey Devils. Without Hall, the Devils score just 204 goals. That would be better than only the Buffalo Sabres this season. The Sabres were 25 points out of a playoff spot this season.
Taylor Hall had seven game winning goals this season. Without those seven wins, the Devils would be without 14 points, and 83 points would not have been enough to make the playoffs.
Strong cases can be made for other NHL players for the Hart Trohpy, but Taylor Hall deserves the award this season.
Frank J. Selke Trohpy - The Selke Trophy is awarded to the beset defensive forward each seasons. Patrice Bergeron will win the award again this season. Bergeron is apart of one of the top offensive trios in the NHL playing with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the Boston Bruins.
Bergeron is also one of the elite defensive forwards in the NHL. He won 57.3% of his faceoffs. He was also second in the NHL with a 57.56% Fenwick rating. This means that he was on the ice when his team controlled 57.66% of shots. This is a strong indicator that Bergeron was a strong force in preventing scoring chances from opposing teams.
Jack Adams Award - The Jack Adams is award to the NHL's best coach each season. While I would make a strong case for the Colorado Avalanche's Jared Bednar, who pulled the Avalanche from 48 points last season to 96 and a playoff spot this season, the coach of the year is Vegas' Gerard Gallant. Gallant took a bunch of castoffs to one of the most memorable season's in NHL history. Gallant is the coach of the year for the 2017-18 season because of his ability to transform a group of NHL players from different teams last season into the top team in the Pacific Division.
Ted Lindsay Award - The Ted Lindsay Award is awarded to the NHL's most outstanding player. The fellow members of the NHLPA vote on this award, so this is an award that allows the NHL players to pick who they see as the best NHL player each season.
My money for this award is on Connor McDavid. While he didn't get his team to the playoffs, McDavid led the NHL in points, and was a dominant player on a team that couldn't keep with the rest of the NHL competition. Connor McDavid is one of the three or four top NHL players, and will be awarded with this trophy for the 2017-18 season.
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As the 2018 NHL Playoffs continue into their third night, three teams will look to take a 2-0 series advantage, while three team will look to even up their series at 1-1. These three match-up are Game 2s of Wednesday night's action. Check out the other five series here.
Philadelphia Flyers @ Pittsburgh Penguins
After losing Game 1 by a score of 7-0, the Philadelphia Flyers needed a strong effort to even up the series in Game 2. The Pittsburgh Penguins looked like they would run away with the series with how they dominated the scoreboard in Game 1.
The Flyers would respond, however. Goaltender Brian Elliot finished with 34 saves and the victory over Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. After being pulled in the first game of this series, many wondered if he would even start tonight, but he played extremely sharp in Game 2.
Shane Gostisbehere would get the Flyers on the board late in the first period with a powerplay goal. He lasers one from the point that deflects off a Penguins in front of the net and just squeaks past goalie Matt Murray for the 1-0 lead.
Sean Couturier would add to that lead in the second with his first goal of the series. At 0:47 of the first, Couturier throws the puck in front of Murray. The puck bangs of a Penguins and into the net.
The Flyers picked up three more goals in the third, and give up just one to Patric Hornqvist, for the 5-1 victory. The Flyers played a strong game, but I think the end result was more about the Penguins not being as sharp as they were on Wednesday. Maybe overconfidence set in, but the Penguins will look to bounce back on Sunday in Philadelphia with the series tied 1-1.
Minnesota Wild @ Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets continue to find ways to win hockey games. Winnipeg held Minnesota to just 17 shots on goal in this game, but poured 44 of their own on Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk. That shot differential resulted in a 4-1 win for the Jets, who take a 2-0 series lead into Minnesota on Sunday.
Goaltender Connor Hellybuyck was sharp for the Jets. He held the Wild off the board for the first two periods, and only allowed the single powerplay goal to Zach Parise in the final minute of the third period.
The skaters for the Jets took their game to another level, however. They pumped 44 shots on goal, which resulted in four goals from four different players. They also tried to impose their physical will on the Wild, blasting them for 38 hits in this one.
I think we can tell that the loss of Ryan Suter is really starting to hurt the Minnesota Wild. The loss of their best defenseman is leading to a tough time trying to get out their zone. Their neutral zone play was also a little sloppy.
It's going to be hard for this time to get back into this series without their big defenseman simply because of all the things he does right for them every night. The Wild team just can't get the puck put of their own end at times, and that is how you lose hockey games, not win them.
Los Angeles Kings @ Vegas Golden Knights
The nightcap of the third day of NHL playoff action was a great hockey game. For any of you who didn't stay up for this one, it went into double overtime before Golden Knights forward Erik Haula scored to end the game 2-1 in favor of Vegas.
Easily the best player of this game was Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick. Quick stopped 54 shots in this one, and almost stopped the Haula goal. The Kings netminder saw the Vegas forward breaking in the right side of the zone and sprawled out to break up the puck from Haula's stick. Erik Haula just threw the puck at the net, which found its way under Quick for the game deciding goal.
The Kings were without All-Star defenseman Drew Doughty, who was serving his one-game suspension for his hit on William Carrier in the first game. It was Oscar Fantenberg up pick up the minutes for LA, playing 41:03 in this one. That was second on the team next to Alec Martinez (44:51).
The series now shifts to Los Angeles, where the Vegas Golden Knights will look to improve to 3-0 in this series. Los Angeles desperately needs a win, and maybe the home ice will spark a good game for them on Sunday.
The Instigator |Episode 12
On Friday, April 6, 2018 the hockey world changed. It changed forever. A horrific bus accident that left 16 people dead rocked the hockey world. The Humboldt Broncos SJHL junior hockey team has been devastated. The tragedy has weighed heavily on the hockey community, but to their credit the support for Humboldt has been amazing. Humboldt you are in our prayers. We are there for you.
INSIDE EDGE HOCKEY NEWS – RADIO SHOW | EPISODE 8
Canucks Legends Retire and Humboldt Broncos Tragedy
Brad Burud is joined with guest Blake Friars to discuss Vancouver Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Sedins announced their retirement two weeks prior to the end of the regular season, and the final games were very exciting and the tribute was amazing. We also discuss the horrific tragedy that the Humboldt Broncos suffered. Sixteen members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team lost their lives in a horrible bus accident. We discuss the hockey communities response and support.
LISTEN - PODCAST
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 23
2018 Stanley Cup Preview and Predictions
Debate 1 |2017-2018 Regular Season Prediction Recap
Debate 2 |2018 Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoff Preview/Predictions
Debate 3 |2018 Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoff Preview/Predictions
Brad Burud and Blake Friars are pumped and ready to get the Stanley Cup Playoffs underway. First off we review the NHL regular season and discuss our predictions from opening night. We nailed some and we look like fools on some other picks. Then we dive into the Western Conference and Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoff matchups. We breakdown and argue each matchup, and most importantly tell you who will win and why.
PODCAST - LISTEN
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The NHL Playoffs getting underway this Wednesday, so it's time to take a look at the Eastern Conference match-ups.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the East's top team. They won the Atlantic Division and play the New Jersey Devils, the second Wild Card team from the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning led the NHL with 54 wins in the regular season. Their 290 goals during the season also lead the league. Offense was their main focus this season, which was event by the Lightning sitting 19th in the NHL with 234 goals against this year.
On the other hand, the Devils were around the middle of the NHL in both categories. New Jersey finished 15th in goals against with 240 and 15th with 243 goals. The Devils will look to play decent in both ends in order to have playoff success, unlike their first round opponents who will look to out gun their competition.
The offensive edge has to be with Tampa Bay. Not only did they led the NHL in goals, but their lineup is littered with high scoring potential. Nikita Kucherov lead the team with 100 points, but 11 Lightning players had 10 or more goals and nine players had more than 40 points.
The Devils boast Taylor Hall, who recorded 93 points this season, but don't have the depth scoring that the Tampa Bay Lightning have.
I look to see the Lightning win this series in five or six games. The Devils will put up a fight, but the overall offensive power of Tampa Bay will overpower the Devils, who will be definite playoff contenders next year.
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
With their loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday, the Boston Bruins finished second in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins will face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the third team out of the Atlantic, in the first round.
Boston put on a huge surge late in the season in an attempt to take over the top spot in the Atlantic Division. While they weren't successful in overtaking the Lighting, the Bruins finished 4th in the NHL with 112 points. What was most impressive this season was the depth the Bruins showed.
The Bruins dressed 35 skaters this season, and 18 of those skaters hit double digits in points. That does not include Ryan Donato, who had nine in 12 games since graduating college. They also had just one player, David Pastrnak, play all 82 games this season. Boston just have so many different players who contributed to their regular season success. If the Bruins can stay healthy, they have a chance to make a deep playoff run this year.
The Maple Leafs also boast a deep forward corp. The issue for them has been their defense. While they were 11th in the NHL with 230 goals against this season, the Maple Leafs gave up 33.9 shots/game. That was 4th worst in the NHL. If the Bruins, who were a strong possession team this season, can have long stretches of offensive pressure, goalie Frederik Andersen may have trouble keeping the Maple Leafs in this series.
Toronto will give the Bruins some struggle in this series, but the Bruins will win in six games. The Bruins are simply a stronger defensive team, and their depth will show up more on the scoreboard.
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
After a strong regular season, the Washington Capitals won the Metropolitan Division title. Their reward for their successful season is a match-up with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets were the first Wild Card team in the East.
No team enters the postseason in better form than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Over their last 17 games, the Jackets were 13-2-2. They compiled that strong record with strong play in their defensive end and depth scoring from 18 skaters who recorded 10 or more points this season. Ten different players recorded more than 10 goals this season for the Blue Jackets.
Washington did boast similar depth of scoring that the Blue Jackets had. The Capitals did have four players over 65 point this season, including Alex Ovechkin, who lead the NHL in goals with 49.
Interesting news today, though, as the Capitals announced that Philipp Grubauer would start Game 1. The Capitals employ Braden Holtby who won the Vezina Trophy just two season ago.
The Capitals will win this series in seven games. The difference will be the goaltending, where the combination of Holtby and Grubauer will be better than Sergei Bobrovsky, the Columbus netminder.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The final first round series in the Eastern Conference features two in-state rivals. The Pittsburgh Penguins finished second overall in the Metro, while the Philadelphia Flyers finished third in that same division.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins had the NHL's best powerplay this season with big time players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. With Matt Murray in goal, the Penguins have to be a favorite to win the Cup again this year.
The Flyers have a big-three of their own in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier. The trio combined for 85 goals and 263 points this season, and will have to be equally impressive if they hope to advance to the second round.
I expect the Flyers to win this series in seven games. I think the Penguins will be a tough team to eliminate, but the Flyers will catch some puck luck over their in-state rival
Now, it's time to take a look at the Western Conference.
Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche
The President's Trophy winning Predators draw the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs. The Avalanche, if you recall, were the last place team in the NHL last year. They actually set the record for lowest number of points in a season in 2016-17.
The Predators held the best record in the NHL this season. They accomplished this feat by boasting a depth in all aspects of their lineup that is unmatched by any other NHL team.
The blue line features all-world defenders Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, and Ryan Ellis. They also trot out guys like Mattias Ekholm and Alexei Evelin.
The Predators have one of the best goalies in the NHL in Pekka Rinne. Rinne finished tied for first with eight shutouts and won 42 games, third most in the NHL. Along with a couple other goalie, Rinne is a Vezina Trophy favorite this season as the best goalie in the NHL.
Also in-goal for Nashville would be Juuse Saros. Saros is one of the best backup goaltenders in the NHL with a 2.44 GAA, 13th overall in the league.
Nashville also boasts a deep offense, with 13 different double-digit scorers.
The Avalanche had a good season, especially compared with their struggles a year ago. While the enter the playoffs as the team with the worst record, we saw the Predators win 14 games a year ago as the last seed in the playoffs.
Forward Nathan MacKinnon had an MVP season this year for Colorado with 97 points. He leads an Avalanche that isn't as deep as Nashville in scoring. If the Avalanche want to have any success this season, MacKinnon has to been their best player.
I believe the Predators will win in five games. The Avalanche are trending in the right direction, but aren't ready to compete for a Stanley Cup this season. The Predators are, and will overwhelm the overachieving Avalanche in this series.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
The high-flying Winnipeg Jets finished second in the Central Division and face the third place Minnesota Wild in the first round. The two have not met in the playoffs before, but will meet for a good series this year.
Winnipeg was second in the NHL with 273 goals this season. They boast forwards like Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine who were both in the top 35 in scoring. Laine was second in the NHL with 44 goals this season.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Los Angeles Kings
The Golden Knights won the Pacific Division in their first year since entering the NHL. They draw their division rival, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round.
It has definitely been a historic year for the NHL's newest member. Goalie Marc-Andre Fluery set personal bests in GAA and Save Percentage this season. William Karlsson finished third in the NHL with 43 goals. The team finished fourth in the league in scoring.
This has been just an incredible year. Most people expected the Golden Knights to be terrible this season. While they will not doubt regress next season, the Golden Knights have a legitimate chance to accomplish something no other expansion team in sports history has done: win a championship in their first season.
They could not have drawn a more difficult opponent in the first round, however. The Kings have won two Stanley Cups with their current core of Anne Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, and Jonathon Quick. That playoff experience might be too much for the young Vegas team.
I think the Golden Knights will prevail in this one in seven games. This was one of the hardest match-ups to decide on because on one hand you have the grizzled veterans who know what it takes to get to the ultimate prize, while on the other hand you have a team that no one expected to even be in this position. Vegas will win this series because they have home ice advantage.
Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks
The Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks will renew pleasantries in the playoffs once more in the first round of the 2018 tournament. The Ducks finished second in the Pacific, while the Sharks finished third.
Anaheim has dealt with injuries all season. Ryan Kessler was hurt to start the season. Goalie John Gibson has been in and out of the lineup. Cam Fowler can't play in this series.
But after all that, the Ducks find themselves in a great position to succeed, and have the quality players to make a deep run in the playoffs. While they haven't been able to achieve the success of their 2007 championship, the Ducks are a strong team in both ends of the rink.
The Sharks are a good team as well, although they are dealing with their own injury woes. Joe Thornton has been out for months with a torn MCL, and could return to this series, but isn't a sure thing to appear against the Ducks.
The goaltending tandem of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell are equally as strong as Gibson and Ryan Miller for the Ducks. The addition of Evander Kane has boasted the offense for the Sharks.
In the end, the health of John Gibson could impact the result of this series. I think the Shark will win in six games if Gibson can't stay healthy. Gibson will push the series to seven games if he can play and play well, but in the end, the Sharks will prevail.
Be sure to return to Below the Goal Line for continued coverage of the 2018 NHL Playoffs.
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In St. Paul, Minnesota, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth in the finale of the Frozen Four. Both teams got through two regional match-ups and defeated their Frozen Four semifinal opponents to meet for the national championship. Check out the full tournament bracket here.
The Bulldogs jumped out to the early 2-0 first period lead. After defeating Ohio State in their semifinal game, Minnesota-Duluth showed off its speed in the first period by winning the majority of puck battles.
Senior captain Karson Kuhlman would get the Bulldogs on the board with a wicked wrister from the faceoff circle. Kuhlman broke into the zone and shot around a Notre Dame defender's stick to beat goaltender Cale Morris.
Minnesota-Duluth's young defense played a strong game in the first period. The blueline corps, which consisted of five freshman and one sophmore, smothered Notre Dame's attack in the first period.
But the Bulldogs tenacious forecheck would lead to their second goal of the opening period. A Bulldog forward fought off three different Irish defenders for a shot that snuck past Morris for the 2-0 lead.
Notre Dame picked up their play in the second period. After killing off two penalties, the Fighting Irish got on the board with a powerplay goal. Andrew Oglevie scored his 15th of the season. The goal went five-hole through the Bulldogs goalie off the Oglevie deflection in front of the net, with an assist coming from team captain Jake Evans.
The story of the second period was Hunter Shepard. The Minnesota-Duluth goalie made several incredible saves, including some big saves on the penalty kill to keep the game 2-1 in favor of the Bulldogs at the end of the period. After making seven saves in the first period, Shepard made only allowed the one Irish goal on eight shots in the second period.
Minnesota-Duluth won their only national championship in school history in 2011 over Michigan. Notre Dame is looking for their first ever national championship.
The Bulldogs picked up their play to start the final period. After allowing Notre Dame to control the pace of play for the second half of the middle frame, Minnesota-Duluth came out with a good number of scoring chances, but it was Cale Morris who was aggressive to keep the Fighting Irish in the game. Morris stopped Kuhlman on a breakaway with four minutes left to keep the score 2-1.
Minnesota-Duluth felt comfortable trying to hold a 2-1 lead late in this game. While Notre Dame was the harder hitting team in this one, the Bulldogs were confident keeping the puck deep in the Irish end and away from the their goalie.
In the end, that confidence by the Bulldogs was the difference. Minnesota-Duluth outskated Notre Dame in the final period to keep the score 2-1 to win their second national championship in school history. In the end, it was the relentless pressure by the swift skating Bulldogs that lead the last team to make the tournament to victory.
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Thursday, April 5th featured a number of compelling hockey games around the world, but none more exciting than the two NCAA Men's Ice Hockey National Championship Semi-Final games. St. Paul, Minnesota hosted the two games that would determine the competitors for the national title, which will be held on Saturday.
If you missed the preview of the NCAA tournament, be sure to check out the full tournament preview, or the Frozen Four preview.
In the first game Thursday night, The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs squared off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Minnesota-Duluth, representing the NCHC, are the only team not from the Big Ten left in the tournament. The Bulldogs were in the finals last year, losing to conference rival Denver.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are looking for their first national title. After tying Michigan with the most goals in the first two round, the Buckeyes will hope to outscore their opponents in two more games to capture that elusive championship.
The Bulldogs would get off to fast start. Louie Roehl and Jared Thomas would each score in the opening four minutes, giving the defunct "home" team an early 2-0 lead. Minnesota-Duluth won their one and only national championship in the same building, the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is just two hours from their campus.
Ohio State would score one of their own midway through the third period. Tanner Laczynski deflected a shot off a Bulldog past goalie Hunter Shepard to get the Buckeyes on the board at 10:33 of the final frame.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, this would be the only goal they would score Thursday night. The Bulldogs would not score again, but would hold on to the 2-1 win to advance to their second straight Frozen Four Championship Game. Hunter Shepard made 19 saves in the win.
The Michigan Wolverines would take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the second game. The winner will meet Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday for a chance to win a national title.
Notre Dame competed this year for the first time in the Big Ten. After becoming the conference's seventh team, the Fighting Irish dominated the league, winning both the conference regular season title and the playoff championship. This team has its sights on the school's first national championship after such a successful regular season.
It would be the Michigan Wolverines who would jump out to the lead in this game, however. Michigan, who hasn't qualified for a national championship game since the 2011 game against Minnesota-Duluth, came out hungry for a chance at a rematch.
Tony Calderone would score the lone goal of the first period for the Wolverines. That lead would be doubled by Dexter Dancs just 17 seconds into the second period.
Notre Dame would roar back with three straight goals. Captain Jake Evans would pick up two points in the second period. With an assist on Andrew Oglevie's powerplay goal at 2:41 and a goal of his own skating 4-on-4, Evans stands as the leading scorer among players remaining in the tournament.
At 1:35 of the third period, Notre Dame would score again to take its first lead of the game. That lead would last just 13 minutes, as Michigan's Michael Pastujov added his fifth goal of the season to tie the game.
A dramatic third period would finish with an incredible ending. Notre Dame senior Jake Evans was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 7th round in 2014. While his professional future might not be certain, what is certain is Evans will go down as a legend in Notre Dame hockey history with his 13th of the season with just six second remaining in the final period.
With that goal, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finish off a 4-3 victory over Michigan. This sets up a fantastic final between Notre Dame and Minnesota-Duluth. Check back for a review of the national championship game coming up Saturday at 6:30 pm CT on Saturday. Watch the game on ESPN, but come back to Below the Goal Line for everything need to know about the game.
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The brightest story in the NHL this season is the Vegas Golden Knights. An expansion team this season, the Golden Knights were expected to be among the league's bottom feeders. Most people, including myself, thought Vegas would finish outside of the playoffs, and would look to the 2018 Entry Draft to continue growing towards the future.
It wasn't until the season began that these predictions were proven incorrect. Vegas is in fact heading to the playoffs, and will face a wild card team after clinching the Pacific Division title over the weekend.
This is an incredible feat for an expansion team. No expansion team in NHL history has had more than 83 points in a season. The Florida Panthers were the best expansion team until this season with a 33-34-17 record, and made the playoffs in their in their third season.
But Vegas is a legitimate good team this year, and after building a team of players other teams thought they didn't need, the Golden Knights have a real opportunity to to something else no expansion team in NHL history has ever done: win a Stanley Cup in their first season.
So how did we get here? Can Vegas really win the Cup this season? And what are they Golden Knights going to look like next season?
I'll answer the second question first: yes. Vegas plays a fast, tenacious brand of hockey. If Vegas can keep playing the way they have played in the regular season, there is no reason to suspect they won't challenge for a championship. This year comes with little data to suggest the Golden Knight will or will not succeed. How their players handle the playoffs will dictate how far they go.
How this Vegas team got here is a different story. The Golden Knights were assembled in an Expansion Draft where they acquired one player from every team. They picked up a star goalie in Marc-Andre Fluery. Vegas picked up some talented, young defensemen like Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore. And then, some of their forward acquisitions have played very well, like William Karlsson who sits third in the NHL with 42 goals.
But is their success sustainable into next season? Over the last few years, we have seen teams like the upstart Colorado Avalanche of 2013-14 who won 52 games, struggle to be consistent year-to-year. The following season, those Avalanche missed the playoffs by nine points.
It's really hard to bet against Vegas right now, but I have to believe they will regress a little bit in 2018-19. They received excellent goaltending this season from a number of different players. You simply cannot expect goalie Marc-Andre Fluery to career best season next year. Fluery's 2.14 GAA is below his career average of 2.56, while his save percentage this season is much better than his career average of .913. This year, he's at .931.
I don't believe the Golden Knights will fall off a cliff like the Colorado Avalanche example, but the idea that we are witnessing the next great dynasty is a little far-fetched at the moment.
I simply don't expect William Karlsson to shoot 23.3% next season. He will likely not his 42 goals again, but I do see him as a 30-goal scorer. It's just so hard to score 40 in a season, and Karlsson is just riding the Vegas first year experience with the rest of the club.
What happens to David Perron? The forward sits third on the team with 66 points, but it might be difficult for Vegas to bring him back. I don't know if they want to invest the kind of money he will command this summer in free agency. James Neal's 25 goals this season could also leave town this summer.
The Vegas Golden Knight have the right build for the modern game. They have a fast, physical team capable of playing all styles of hockey. They can outskate you, something they do quite often. They can outscore you. They sit fourth in the NHL with 3.29 goals/game. They also play a strong game in their own end, only giving up 2.66 goals/game (6th best in the league).
I like the Vegas team going forward. I think they have a lot of the ingredients of a Nashville Predators team. They aren't deep down the middle in big-name players like a Pittsburgh Penguins, but they play well in all three zones, and haven't looked overmatched very many times this season.
My guess would be the Vegas Golden Knights will regress next season. How much all depends on how their top players this season play next year, but they likely can't replicate the incredible success they had this season. But at the same time, if you're looking at the Pacific Division, it's their division to lose.
The San Jose Sharks are an older team that isn't going to win any scoring titles. The Los Angeles Kings don't have enough secondary scoring in my opinion. The Calgary Flames are in the same boat as the Kings, and they need to get deeper in goal. The Edmonton Oilers would be a great team in the early 2000s. The Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks are rebuilding. The Anaheim Ducks present the toughest competition in my mind, and would be an early favorite of mine to win the division (depending on the health of the team, of course).
No matter what, this season is a great one for the Vegas Golden Knights, and only time will tell how far they go this season. I think they will be a very competitive team for years to come, something I would not have predicted this time last year.
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