Zdeno Chara back at practice, on track to begin Stanley Cup Final

Zdeno Chara , 42, might not be the same player he was 10 or even five years ago, but he is still an integral part of the Boston Bruins’ success this season and postseason. When the veteran defenseman was forced to sit out Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes, there was some panic from the fan base and likely a little within the organization as well. However, Chara’s teammates buckled down and ended the series in convincing fashion and in doing so bought their captain another 11 days of rest before the Stanley Cup Final. While many assumed that would be enough to get him back on the ice, there was no timeline for his return from an undisclosed injury.

That is until today, when Bruins provided some clarity on Chara’s status. According to NHL.com’s Eric Russo, Chara was back as a full participant in practice today, after only skating and working out over the weekend. Following the full 45-minute session, Chara was feeling good:

It was nice to be out there again, skated [on Sunday] then skated with the team. It was a good practice, good pace. I’m taking it one day at a time. [Tuesday’s] an off day, but get back at it on Wednesday… I’m not gonna lie, watching games is not fun. You want to play them and you want to be involved. For sure it was something that [I] was feeling that kind of anxiousness to play. But guys did a great job, won the game, so that’s great.

Chara is eager to get back in action and, considering his apparent health with a week still to go before puck drop on Game 1, he is well on his way to doing just that. As the respected veteran said, it is “one day at a time” right now, but Chara is certainly on track to be ready for the Stanley Cup Final. As the Bruins wait to see who they’ll be playing, they know that Chara is an important asset regardless. The future Hall of Famer remains one of the more dominating defensive presences in the game and hopes to put his ability and experience to work in pursuit of a second Stanley Cup title.

By: Zach Leach

Original Article

Watch: Brad Marchand taunts Justin Williams over penalty

Boston’s Brad Marchand is known for being arguably the biggest instigator in the NHL, and he was back at it on Sunday during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bruins and Hurricanes.

Marchand took Hurricanes captain Justin Williams down with a high stick late in the second period, and the referees only called a penalty when Williams got in Marchand’s face and yanked his chin strap. Marchand then pointed to the penalty box and taunted Williams by making a “C” with his hand and putting it up to his chest.

In other words, Marchand was ridiculing Williams for taking a dumb penalty as his team’s captain. It proved costly, too, as the Bruins scored on the power play to take a commanding 4-0 lead into the third period.

When compared to some of the things Marchand has done to opponents in the past, that was nothing. Williams is just lucky Marchand didn’t lick him.

By: Steve DelVecchio

Original Article

Ville Pokka, Klas Dahlbeck staying in KHL

An NHL career never did materialize for former Chicago Blackhawks top prospect Ville Pokka. After a trade last season took him to the Ottawa Senators organization, he bolted for the KHL and signed with Avangard Omsk in the summer. Pokka has now signed a one-year extension with his KHL club, ending any chance he was going to return to North America this year. Klas Dahlbeck , who played for Chicago as well as the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes, has also re-upped in the KHL, signing a one-year extension with CSKA Moscow.

Pokka, 25, was originally selected 34th overall by the New York Islanders in 2012, but was one of the big pieces sent to Chicago for Nick Leddy in 2014. At that point, the young defenseman looked like a potential star after putting up 27 points in 54 games during his final year in Finland. Pokka got off to a great start with the Rockford IceHogs, and continued to rack up points throughout his minor league career. Unfortunately, his foot speed and defensive awareness were just never enough to earn a chance at the NHL level. He was traded to Ottawa without ever suiting up for Chicago.

Dahlbeck meanwhile was also a Blackhawks prospect for a time, selected by them in the third round of the 2011 draft. He made his debut for the club during the 2014-15 season but was sent to Arizona along with a first-round pick to bring Antoine Vermette to Chicago. He would end up playing 170 NHL games before leaving last season for the KHL, and won a Gagarin Cup with CSKA recently.

By: Gavin Lee

Original Article

Biggest surprises of the NHL playoffs so far

With the second round of the NHL playoffs underway, the chances of a perfect bracket are slim to none. According to NHL.com, there are only five perfect brackets remaining.

Because of the chaos, there have been many surprises since the first game of the 2019 NHL playoffs. We look at the biggest shockers of the first round.

Lightning sent home thanks to Blue Jackets

  • Led by head coach John Tortorella , the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the President’s Trophy winners, even after Tampa’s historical regular season.
  • The Lightning were one of the best offensive teams in the league this season but were outscored, 19-8, in the series and had scarce offensive output from their best players.
  • With 128 points during the regular season, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov registered only two assists in four games for the Bolts.
  • This is the first time in NHL history that a No. 1 overall seed has been swept in the first round of the playoffs.

The Jets were grounded after six games

  • After making it to the Western Conference finals last season, the Winnipeg Jets were the most favored Canadian squad to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
  • The Jets lost in six games to the St. Louis Blues, who have won 12 of their past 16 games dating back to March 16.
  • All of Winnipeg’s losses came by one goal, as well as both their victories.
  • Even in their own arena during Game 5, the Jets allowed three goals in the third period and lost, 3-2.

Some of the league’s top players were shut down

  • Arguably the best player of the past decade, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby registered one assist in the playoffs — the lowest postseason point total of his career. He finished with a minus-4 in four games, the worst mark of his postseason career.
  • Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau also finished with one assist in five games with a minus-2 rating after scoring 99 points in the regular season.
  • Ryan Johansen had a goal and an assist for the Predators and was not much of a factor, and the Dallas Stars took advantage, taking the series in six games.
  • Steven Stamkos also had a goal and an assist, with a plus/minus of minus-8. You could say he was a defensive liability for the Lightning.

Golden Knights get robbed in Game 7

  • Up 3-0 in Game 7, Vegas’ Cody Eakin cross-checked San Jose’s Joe Pavelski to the ice. Eakin was given a 5-minute major and a game misconduct.
  • San Jose had an unreal comeback, netting four goals on the 5-minute power play to take the lead, with two goals coming from Logan Couture.
  • The Sharks won with two minutes left in overtime thanks to a goal from Barclay Goodrow, who only played two shifts the entire period.
  • On Thursday, the NHL apologized to the Golden Knights and admitted the referees were incorrect on Eakin’s penalty. That does not change anything for the Golden Knights.

A “Bunch of Jerks” beat the defending champs on the road in Game 7

  • One of the biggest underdogs in the playoffs, the Carolina Hurricanes took the Washington Capitals to double overtime and advanced on a goal from Brock McGinn.
  • The Caps’ Alex Ovechkin had seven goals in the series but finished with a minus-2. He was a force in the offensive end but not so much on defense.
  • Warren Foegele led the Canes with four goals. In 77 regular- season games, Foegele had 10 total goals. The third liner has been great in his first playoff series.
  • The Hurricanes advance to the second round for the first time since 2009, when they made it to the Eastern Conference finals.

By: Trevor Drake

Original Article

How close are the Penguins to becoming the Blackhawks or Kings?

Dynasties don’t always fade away. Sometimes they just crumble and collapse into a smoldering pile of ruin that cannibalizes itself and everything around it.

Sure, we sometimes throw the word “dynasty” around in sports a little too loosely, and I admit I am probably doing that here for the purpose of this argument, but hey … I needed a starting point. Even though NHL’s salary cap era has not produced a true “dynasty” comparable to the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, or Montreal Canadiens, there have been three teams that have stood out above the pack and achieved a level of success no other team has come close to matching.

The Los Angeles Kings won two Stanley Cups in three years.

The Chicago Blackhawks won three in six.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won three (with a fourth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final) in 10 years.

Those three teams have combined to win eight of the Stanley Cups in the salary cap era, including eight of the previous 10.

While none of them on their own qualify as a true “dynasty,” they have still been the defining teams of this era.

Two of them, the Blackhawks and Kings, are already in the smoldering pile phase of their franchise progression.

The Kings have missed the playoffs more than they’ve made them since winning their second Stanley Cup in 2014, have not won a playoff series, and just wrapped up a 2018-19 season where they spent the year competing with the Ottawa Senators for the worst record in the league.

The Blackhawks have not won a playoff series in three years since their 2015 Stanley Cup win and have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

Is this sort of bleak stretch in the Penguins’ future? Well, the long-term answer is most certainly yes, it is, because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are not going to play forever, and there is going to come a point even when they are playing that they may not be able to carry the team to the playoffs. Hell, you don’t have to look far to see the track the Penguins have been on the past two years, going from back-to-back Stanley Cups, to a second-round exit, to a first-round sweep after clinching a playoff spot in Game 81 of the regular season.

That is coming down from the top of the mountain, friends, and there is nothing wrong with that. Nobody stays at the top forever, and at least if you are a Penguins, Kings, or Blackhawks fan you have a bunch of banners to show for it.

As the old saying goes: Banners hang forever.

But how close are the Penguins to truly falling to the bottom and living in the reality that Blackhawks and Kings have spent the past few years in (and maybe the next couple, at least)?

It will happen at some point, but I’m not sure the Penguins are there just quite yet.

First, even though the “core” of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, etc. are getting older, I feel like they have more of a graceful decline ahead of them than the core players of the Kings and Blackhawks.

The Kings’ core really wasn’t that impressive to begin with, was it?

Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are great — but that was about it. Their run of championships was never one that was built on skill or remarkably deep rosters. It was built on suffocating, systematic defensive work and hoping that Jonathan Quick could catch fire for a couple of months and rise above his otherwise mediocre track record as an NHL starting goalie. I’m not saying the Kings were frauds as champions (they were a legitimately great for three years!) but they just didn’t seem to have the type of roster that was set-up for long-term, sustained success over a decade or so.

Once their handful of high-level players started to slow down, there wasn’t much left around them to make up for it. When a player like, say, Dustin Brown loses a step, he doesn’t have much else to fall back on.

The Blackhawks are a little tougher to get a read on on where things went so sideways for them.

Corey Crawford’s health issues over the past two years have definitely had a negative impact on their overall performance, and when you lose a really good starting goalie and don’t have anyone to fall back on, that is going to create a lot of problems. I also think a lot of the Blackhawks’ problems are a little self-inflicted in the sense that they stayed too loyal to the wrong players (see: Seabrook, Brent) and made some irrational decisions based on one bad postseason result (trading a first-line player like Artemi Panarin to bring back a lesser player in Brandon Saad — one that they were, again, probably staying too loyal to because of the team success).

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By: Gretz

Watch: Alex Ovechkin with epic celebration after go-ahead goal

Alex Ovechkin was feeling it after pouring in the go-ahead goal Monday night as his Washington Capitals attempted to close out their series against Carolina.

Ovechkin made a brilliant shot before going absolutely wild with an epic celebration in front of the road crowd.

This was Ovechkin’s fourth goal of the playoffs so far. He’s on fire right now, just like his celebration game.

Original Article

By Jesse Reed

Lightning prove the curse of record regular season is real

The fate of the Tampa Bay Lightning proves that there is a curse that follows teams with historic regular-season performances.

The Lightning tied an NHL record with 62 wins in the regular season. Then they went out and got swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets, becoming the second President’s Trophy winner to do that.

Moreover, as this ESPN graphic proves, teams that have had historic regular seasons often falter in the postseason.

There is some logic to this. Everything has to go right for a team to set a record in a regular season for the most wins. On top of that, the team could be so focused on winning in the regular season that it feels a measure of satisfaction for what it has accomplished when it’s over. Contrarily, teams that didn’t achieve as much might be hungrier when the postseason comes around.

Still, seeing the Lightning, with the three 40-goal scorers in their lineup, get swept, is nothing short of shocking.

By: Larry Brown

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Watch: Alex Ovechkin knocks out Andrei Svechnikov in fight

Alex Ovechkin wasn’t looking to get into a fight during Game 3 of the Carolina Hurricanes-Washington Capitals first round playoff series on Monday night, but once he engaged, he looked to end it quickly.

Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov kept dogging Ovechkin, trying to bait him into a fight during the first period. Ovechkin seemed to be declining at first but then dropped gloves.

He took a shot or two and then unloaded two big right hands to drop Svechnikov:

If the sight of Ovechkin fighting seemed odd to you, it should. That was only his fourth career fight, according to HockeyFights.com. His record is now 1-3 with this one knockout.

By: Larry Brown

Original Article

Sharks’ Joe Thornton receives one-game suspension

The Sharks will be without center Joe Thornton for Game Four of their first-round series against Vegas after the Department of Player Safety announced (video link) that he has been given a one-game suspension for an illegal check to the head on Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek.

The incident occurred in the second period on Sunday night when Thornton caught Nosek’s head with his shoulder after Nosek had made a pass. Despite receiving a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head on the play, Thornton told reporters postgame, including Curtis Pashelka of The Mercury News, that he didn’t think it warranted any supplemental discipline:

I honestly thought I barely touched him.  He just came right back; it was just one of those plays that it is what it is. I think my son hits me like that six times a day, it’s just a weird position to put himself in. That’s all.

Original Article

By: Brian La Rose

The biggest storylines in 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs

The 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs are set to begin, so settle in for two months of unpredictable chaos, madness and excitement. Some of the big stories worth watching include the Washington Capitals‘ pursuit of a repeat, Tampa Bay’s quest to finally get over the hump and Sergei Bobrovsky’s attempt to solve his postseason demons. All of these are among our 20 biggest storylines to watch in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Can the Capitals repeat?

Winning the Stanley Cup once is incredibly difficult. Winning it two years in a row is even harder. It is something that has been done only three times since 1990, and the Capitals are going to try to add to that list. They still have all of the superstars that made their 2018 championship possible and made some smart additions at the trade deadline to bring in Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen to sure up the defense. They have all of the ingredients at their disposal to do it.

Will the Lightning finish it this season?

After experiencing repeated playoff heartbreak over the past four years, the Lightning are back and better than ever this season. They completed one of the best regular seasons in NHL history, and they enter the playoffs as the clear favorites to win the Stanley Cup. If they do not reach at least the Stanley Cup Final with this roster, it will be their biggest postseason disappointment yet.

The Golden Knights’ encore performance

So much to watch with the Golden Knights. Will they have their over-the-top pregame performances? Will they be able to make another run to the Stanley Cup Final? Can they actually win it all in Year 2? You have to like their chances not only because of the strength of their roster but also because their path through the Pacific Division bracket features two teams with significant question marks in goal. That is a good position to have an advantage in this time of year.

Joe Thornton’s last ride?

The only thing Thornton’s Hall of Fame career is missing is his name on the Stanley Cup, and this might be his last best shot to do it. He is not getting any younger, it is not known how much longer he is going to play in the NHL, and the San Jose Sharks went all in on this season to try to get a championship. They will need a healthy Erik Karlsson to get there and for Martin Jones to get his act together in net after a miserable regular season.

Will the Stanley Cup return to Canada?

A Canadian-0based NHL team has not won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens did so all the way back in 1993. There are three Canadian teams that have a chance to do it this season with Calgary, Toronto and Winnipeg all punching their tickets to the playoffs. The Flames, having finished the year with the best record in the Western Conference, seem to be the team with the best chance to do it, but they have major questions in goal. The Maple Leafs have to get through their arch nemesis in Boston, while the Jets have been trending in the wrong direction down the stretch.

 

Can the Maple Leafs get out of the first round?

If they do not, there is going to be some intense scrutiny in Toronto. Not only do the Maple Leafs need to win as a team, but coach Mike Babcock also needs to advance for the sake of his own reputation. There have been 23 different coaches who have won a playoff series since a Babcock-coached team has, while he has made it out of the first round just once since 2010. That is not what you want from the highest-paid coach in the NHL

The Islanders return to the playoffs

Nobody expected the New York Islanders to be here. After missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons and then losing John Tavares in free agency, expectations were as low as humanly possible for them at the start of the year. But they defied the odds all year and put together one of the most incredible one-year turnarounds in recent NHL history, going from the worst defensive team in the league a year ago to the best this season. How long can their goalies continue their great play and will they find enough offense? Those going to be the big questions for them.

Full List Here

By: Adam Gretz