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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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.

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By: Adam Gretz

NHL playoff primer: 5 intriguing matchups to watch in the 1st round

It’s playoff season once again.

Before you fill out your postseason bracket, we break down one key matchup across five first-round series that could make or break a team in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Top-line takeover

It’s no secret – for the Leafs to trump the Bruins, they need to find an answer for the three-headed monster of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.

The Leafs were tormented by the Bruins’ top line in their seven-game series last postseason. Bergeron and Co. controlled possession, posting a Corsi rating of 64.90, and dominated Toronto in high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five, 49-26. An encouraging note for the Leafs is that the Corsi number dropped to 54.84 when matched with Auston Matthews and shot up to 75 when going against Tomas Plekanec – suggesting the trio dominated much of the play against a veteran player who is no longer in the league.

Looking at the regular season, both Matthews and Bergeron were out of the lineup for two of the teams’ meetings this season, so we’ll have to see how the coaches choose to deploy their top talent with the pair back in the mix.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders

Goaltending vs. star power

The Islanders claiming home-ice advantage was key, but perhaps their biggest edge sits between the pipes. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss combined to capture the William M. Jennings Trophy this season, and their dominant play must continue for the team to be successful against the Penguins’ offensive arsenal.

Though neither netminder has a ton of playoff experience, the job will likely be Lehner’s to lose. Since returning from injury on March 19, the 27-year-old has posted a 5-2 record with a .942 save percentage.

Barry Trotz’s club allowed a league-low 191 goals on the campaign and posted a record of 38-2-2 when scoring at least three times in a game. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins boasted the fifth-best offense this year and rostered four players with 70-plus points.

Pittsburgh mustered 13 goals in four games against the Islanders during the regular season, with Crosby and Malkin combining for eight points.

Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

Can ‘Johnny Hockey’ outperform MacKinnon?

Calgary’s Gaudreau and Colorado’s MacKinnon each notched a career-high 99 points this season. Though they play different positions up front, the two will be a joy to watch compete as they best embody the speed and skill that will be on display in this series.

The All-Stars have no problem facing the pressure of playoff hockey, either, as MacKinnon has tallied 16 points in 13 career contests, with Gaudreau posting 11 points in 15.

Both men know how to deliver when it matters most, too. “Johnny Hockey” racked up 39 points and 17 goals in the third period or overtime this season, while MacKinnon contributed 37 points and 15 goals in those clutch moments. When the game is on the line, look for one of these two studs to follow through.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Stingy penalty kill vs. Electric man advantage

Special teams will heavily influence this matchup between one of the greatest regular-season teams ever and a franchise looking for its first playoff series victory.

The Lightning’s power play was lethal this season, clicking at a league-leading rate of 28.2 percent. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, deploy the NHL’s top penalty kill.

The Lightning and Blue Jackets posted similar possession numbers with Corsi ratings of 51.59 and 50.21, respectively. The more even-strength hockey Columbus can play, the better its chances of pulling out the upset – in the regular season, the Lightning erupted for six power-play goals on 11 attempts in their three victories over the Jackets this year.

St. Louis Blues vs. Winnipeg Jets

Battle in the crease

This Central Division clash is about as even as any playoff series on the slate. The Jets won 47 regular-season games and sported a goal differential of plus-28, while the Blues won 45 contests and were plus-24. Both teams finished with 99 points, but what may ultimately separate the two in this series is the play in the crease.

The Blues netminder was one of the best stories of the season. In 32 appearances, Binnington posted a .927 save percentage and an unbelievable 1.89 goals-against average en route to setting a franchise record for wins by a rookie goaltender with 24. The 25-year-old has yet to face the Jets this season, perhaps to the Blues’ advantage.

Hellebuyck was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season but will need to regain his form in a hurry after taking a step backward this year. The 25-year-old won 10 fewer games and saw his goals against average spike from 2.36 to 2.90.

With two netminders trending in opposite directions, goaltending will be the deciding factor in this series.

By: Matt Teague

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2019 NHL All-Star rosters announced

The NHL has announced the four rosters for the 2019 All-Star Game today, scheduled to be held on January 26th in San Jose. Earlier today, Alex Ovechkin, who was elected captain of Metropolitan Division squad, told the league that he wouldn’t be attending and will accept the punishment of missing one game either before or after the break. Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Auston Matthews will represent the Pacific, Central and Atlantic respectively, as the other captains. A replacement captain for Ovechkin has yet to be named.

The full rosters are as follows:

Pacific Division

John Gibson (ANA)
Marc-Andre Fleury (VGK)

D Erik Karlsson (SJS)
Brent Burns (SJS)
Drew Doughty (LAK)

Connor McDavid (EDM)*
Johnny Gaudreau (CGY)
Joe Pavelski (SJS)
F Elias Pettersson (VAN)
F Clayton Keller (ARI)

Central Division

Pekka Rinne (NSH)
Devan Dubnyk (MIN)

D Roman Josi (NSH)
D Miro Heiskanen (DAL)

Nathan MacKinnon (COL)*
Mikko Rantanen (COL)
Blake Wheeler (WPG)
Patrick Kane (CHI)

Mark Scheifele (WPG)
F Ryan O’Reilly (STL)

Atlantic Division

Jimmy Howard (DET)
G Carey Price (MTL)

Keith Yandle (FLA)
D Thomas Chabot (OTT)

F Auston Matthews (TOR)*
F Nikita Kucherov (TBL)
F Steven Stamkos (TBL)
John Tavares (TOR)

F David Pastrnak (BOS)
F Jack Eichel (BUF)

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By Zach Leach

NHL Power Rankings: Standout rookies for all 31 teams

Youth continues to be served in the NHL, as almost every team has a first-year player making an impact. For this week’s ESPN NHL Power Rankings — voted on as always by ESPN’s panel of experts — we take a look at some of its best freshmen (or, in some cases, middle schoolers waiting to get the call-up to the big school) of the 2018-19 season thus far.

1. Nashville Predators

Previous ranking: 1

Eeli Tolvanen. There was a time when this talented Finnish winger was being chatted up as a potential Calder Trophy contender, before being demoted to the AHL in the preseason. So far, he has eight points in 14 games with Milwaukee, with four of his seven assists coming on the power play.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous ranking: 2

Anthony Cirelli. The Lightning forward has four points in 15 games, skating 13:50 per night, with a minus-4 goal differential at 5-on-5.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous ranking: 5

Igor Ozhiganov. The 25-year-old KHL import doesn’t have a point in 12 games while skating 13:50 per night. As Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star wrote: “He hasn’t done anything particularly noteworthy — no big goals, or memorable passes. But he hasn’t done anything wrong, and that in itself is often praise-worthy of a defenseman.” So, congrats on not being noteworthy, Igor.

4. Colorado Avalanche

Previous ranking: 3

Vladislav Kamenev. Acquired from the Predators as part of the Matt Duchene trade, Kamenev had his arm broken by defenseman Brooks Orpik last season, limiting him to just three games. He’s played nine games this season with a goal and an assist, skating just 9:05 per game as a fourth-line center.

5. San Jose Sharks

Previous ranking: 6

Antti Suomela. The 24-year-old Finnish center has two goals and three assists in 14 games. His 1.91 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is third best on the Sharks this season.

6. Boston Bruins

Previous ranking: 7

Ryan Donato. One of the most surprising demotions of the season thus far. Donato had one goal in 11 games and was sent down to AHL Providence to work on his offensive game. That’s after his incredible nine points in 12 games debut for the Bruins in 2017-18.

7. Winnipeg Jets

Previous ranking: 8

Brendan Lemieux. The most notable accomplishment for the spawn of Claude Lemieux this season has been a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Vincent Trocheck. Otherwise, he’s averaged 5:32 per game and is a minus-17 in shot attempts at 5-on-5.

8. Washington Capitals

Previous ranking: 10

Travis Boyd. The depth forward, 25, was injured in the preseason and returned on Nov. 5 with two assists against the Oilers.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins

Previous ranking: 4

Juuso Riikola. Injuries on defense for the Penguins gave the 24-year-old Finn some early-season chances. He’s been a bit overwhelmed, to the tune of minus-39 in shot attempts, worst among Pittsburgh defensemen. Yes, including Jack Johnson.

10. Minnesota Wild

Previous ranking: 9

Jordan Greenway. The promising winger was sent down to the AHL after a rough start, playing a couple of games for Iowa. He returned with a rediscovered confidence, and has a goal and two assists in his last four games.

11. Calgary Flames

Previous ranking: 15

Juuso Valimaki. Another Finn! Valimaki, a first-rounder for the Flames in 2017, is skating 14:46 per game. He’s on the plus side of possession but has a minus-5 in goal differential.

12. Vancouver Canucks

Previous ranking: 24

Elias Pettersson. The Canucks star rookie became the first player to record 16-plus points through his first 10 career NHL games since 1992-93, when Dimitri Kvartalnov and Nikolai Borschevsky accomplished the feat. You heard it here first: Elias Pettersson, the new Nikolai Borschevsky.

13. New York Islanders

Previous ranking: 16

Josh Ho-Sang. As usual, interesting things are happening around Josh Ho-Sang. He was on fire for the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, including a 12 points in 12 games run. At the same time, he had to apologize for comments he gave to the New York Post about his lack of premium ice time.

14. Montreal Canadiens

Previous ranking: 14

Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He’s 18 years old, the No. 3 overall pick in June, and has seven points in his first 15 NHL games for the resurgent Habs.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets

Previous ranking: 17

Calvin Thurkauf. He’s missed a bit with an undisclosed injury, but the former Swiss world junior team captain had 24 points in 75 games with Cleveland last season. He’s got some upside, and the Jackets will have an eye on the AHL to see what the winger does in his second pro season.

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By: Greg Wyshynski

Every NHL team’s odds to win the Stanley Cup

Toronto Maple Leafs (13/2)

The pressure for the Toronto Maple Leafs to win this season is going to be immense. They were already a really good team with an embarrassment of riches at forward, and then they went out and signed John Tavares in one of the biggest free-agent moves in recent NHL history. For any team in any other NHL city, this would be pressure. In Toronto, where the Maple Leafs have not won a championship in the post-Original Six era and have not advanced beyond the first round since 2004, the expectation to do something is going to be sky-high. There will be no excuses to be had, either. They have a team willing to spend to the cap, with a couple of superstars, and the highest paid, highest regarded coach in hockey.

Tampa Bay Lightning (15/2)

This team is absolutely loaded on paper with a couple of Art Ross Trophy contenders (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos) at forward, a Norris Trophy contender (Victor Hedman) on defense and a Vezina Trophy contender (Andrei Vasilevskiy) in goal, with a strong supporting cast around all of them. J.T. Miller, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, so on and so on. On paper this is one of the best teams in the league and has been in at least the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past four years. It is not a stretch to think the Lightening could be there again.

Winnipeg Jets (19/2)

They lost Paul Stastny to the team that beat them in the Western Conference Final, which is not ideal, but Stastny was always a luxury on this team. The Jets have one of the best collections of young forward talent in the league, and Patrik Laine could be on the verge of taking yet another step forward this season (50 goals?). The key to their success will be whether or not starting goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, repeats what he did a year ago for them.

Nashville Predators (11/1)

No team in the NHL has a defense that can match Nashville’s. The Predators also are incredibly deep at forward, and they have two goalies capable of starting and playing at a high level. There is no real, clear-cut weakness on this team, and even better, the entire core is locked in place on long-term, salary cap-friendly contracts. The Predators fell a little short in their quest to repeat as Western Conference champions, but they are not going away as Stanley Cup contenders anytime soon.

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Capitals giving Washington fans reason to believe as they take 2-0 lead vs. Lightning h

TAMPA — A running joke for Washington area sports fans for many years has been that every spring, in our nation’s capital, cherry blossoms bloom and the Washington Capitals wilt.

But this season’s Capitals appear determined to break the cycle of postseason failures. The Capitals turned in another strong overall game to down the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 and claim a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.

Two weeks ago, the story was the Capitals hadn’t been to the conference finals in the Alex Ovechkin era. Now, the Capitals are two wins from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.

“We are playing good,” said Brett Connolly, who scored one of Washington’s goals.  “They look like they are a frustrated a little over there, and we have to continue to play hard, keep playing fast, and stay on them.”

Forgive Washington fans if they don’t know how to act on Tuesday when the series shifts to D.C. for Games 3 and 4.

The Capitals aren’t just squeaking by against the Lightning. Despite missing key center Nicklas Backstrom because of an injury, the Capitals have outscored the Lightning 10-4 in the two games in Tampa. This is a Lightning team that boasted the league’s No. 1 offense in the regular season. The Lightning have one even-strength goal against Washington in two games.

Enthusiasm abounds for the Capitals. It’s as if the Washington players, now with a huge weight lifted off their shoulders by escaping the second round, are now playing with unbridled confidence. The Capitals are 3-0 without Backstrom, who is among the NHL’s best centers. They are 7-1 on the road. They overcame a blown officiating call that led to a Lightning power-play goal.

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By. Kevin Allen

 

Capitals vs. Lightning Preview: 3 keys to the series

The Capitals certainly have their work cut out for them in the Eastern Conference Final. They are facing a Tampa Bay Lightning team that has reached this round three times in the last four years and that has a loaded roster.

If they hope to advance on to the Stanley Cup Final, here are three keys to the series.

1. Winning the goalie duel

On paper, Tampa is better on offense and defense. If they get the better of the goaltending matchup as well then…well, there’s not much left for the Capitals to build on. Washington must have the edge in goaltending if they hope to win.

Fatigue is a definite question mark when it comes to Vasilevskiy. He already admitted midseason he was struggling with it and, while you could certainly argue that seemed to affect Braden Holtby as well, the difference is that Holtby got a chance to rest thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Holtby played in 54 games in the regular season as compared to Vasilevskiy’s 65. Both goalies have given comparable performances in the playoffs thus far, but the longer this postseason run goes for Vasilevskiy, the more you have to wonder if fatigue will catch up to him again in much the same way it did during the regular season when his numbers plummeted.

Even if fatigue is not a factor, however, Holtby must still find a way to outperform his counterpart. Goaltending can often be a mitigating factor in the playoffs and it needs to be for Washington given how deep the Lightning’s roster is.

By: J.J Regan

https://www.yahoo.com/news/capitals-vs-lightning-preview-3-032546454.html

Ben Bishop Out For 3-4 Weeks


Written by Alec Nathan at Bleacher Reports.com

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop suffered a lower-body injury during Tuesday night’s matchup against the Detroit Red Wings and was forced to leave the game.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that he will miss three to four weeks because of it, per Erik Erlendsson of LightningInsider.com.

Bishop suffered the injury during the first period after going down into the butterfly position to stop a shot from Red Wings defenseman Nick Jensen.

The injury bug continues to find Bishop, who suffered a left knee injury after falling awkwardly during Game 1 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the ailment was severe enough at the time that he had to be stretchered off the ice.

But before he was forced to bow out of the postseason, the VezinaTrophy finalist was positively superb throughout the 2015-16 campaign. In 61 appearances, the 30-year-old went 35-21 with a .926 save percentage and a league-leading 2.06 goals-against average tally.

But 22 games into the 2016-17 season, Bishop has regressed with a 9-10-2 record with a .907 save percentage and a 2.79 goals against average.

For a team that’s already without Steven Stamkos, who is recovering from a right knee injury that required surgery and will likely hold him out for the remainder of the regular season, Bishop’s loss will provide just another hurdle for the 16-14-3 Lightning.

Andrei Vasilevskiy will be Tampa Bay’s interim starter in net a year after he went 11-10 and posted a .910 save percentage. He’s been better than Bishop this year, going 7-4-1 with a .923 save percentage and 2.41 goals-against average.

Considering that he inked a three-year contract extension over the summer with Bishop’s deal set to expire at the end of the season, a long-term absence like this could open the door for the 22-year-old to make the Lightning his team.

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Penguins Win Game 6, Force Finale in Game 7

Written by Corey Long at NHL.com

The Pittsburgh Penguins extended the Eastern Conference Final with a 5-2, Game 6 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Tuesday.

Game 7 is at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray made 28 saves, 17 in the third period. Murray, who turns 22 on Wednesday, was back in net after Marc-Andre Fleury played in a 4-3, Game 5 overtime loss.

“He doesn’t get rattled,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Murray. “If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. … Usually it takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive. That’s always impressed us about him. Certainly it’s impressed me since I’ve got to know him and watch him as a goaltender but also as a person.”

Murray, who was pulled from a 4-3, Game 4 loss after giving up four goals in two periods, had to survive a push from the Lightning before the Penguins scored two late goals.

“It’s not my job to worry about [coach’s] decision,” Murray said. “It’s my job to be ready if my name is called, and if my name is called, to go out and play my heart out and compete.”

Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino scored for Pittsburgh.

Brian Boyle scored twice for the Lightning, who lost Game 6 in a series for the third consecutive time. Tampa Bay also lost Game 6 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final at home to the New York Rangers before winning Game 7 on the road (2-0).

“We had a great chance tonight and kind of tiptoed around it a little bit,” Boyle said. “We were tentative and weren’t aggressive. We weren’t on top. We weren’t skating.”

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