Scott Taylor

Could Wild Already Be Behind the Eight Ball?

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

November 7, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

 

Those of us old enough to remember the winter of 2015 when Devan Dubnyk arrived in St. Paul, understand that the Minnesota Wild is never out of it.

After all, when the desperate Wild traded with Arizona to acquire the journeyman net-minder, they were pretty much “out of it.” They were 19-19-6 and battling to keep up with Dallas, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Jose in the West. They weren’t doing well. When you consider that L.A. finished 13 games above .500 and still missed the playoffs, the Wild were definitely “out of it.”

But then, Chuck Fletcher dealt a third round pick to the really, really, really out of it Coyotes, and he got a guy who has been the backbone of the team for the past three seasons. Dubnyk got the Wild into the playoffs almost single-handedly in 2014-15 and has played a major role on playoff teams in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Now, however, things are not so rosy for the Wild.

Monday night, they were outshot 34-27 by a banged-up Boston Bruins team at TD Garden in Boston and were beaten 5-3. Dubnyk started and gave up four goals on 24 shots and was replaced by Alex Stalock, who stopped all nine shots he faced (the Bruins fifth goal went into an empty net). Last year, Dubnyk went 40-19-6 with a 2.25 goals against average and a .923 save percentage and led the Wild into the post-season. This year, he’s 4-5-1 with a 3.03 GAA and a .907 save percentage, and that’s not good.

Worse yet, he just doesn’t look comfortable.

Minnesota Wild Goalie Devan Dubnyk

Devan Dubnyk and the Wild are off to a less than stellar start in 2017.

In a recent game in Winnipeg, he gave up four goals on 30 shots and was flopping all over the ice. A tall goaltender who can look awkward at times, he looked like a fish out of water — in front of his family from Regina – that night in the ‘Peg. Slow to react… clumsy. He was down too much and out of position too often. His defensemen have bailed him out more than once, and as Wild fans have witnessed this season, the defense hasn’t been great shakes either.

Now to be fair, the Wild are 5-6-2, have lost two in a row and are 4-5-1 in their last 10. This could simply be an early November slump. Dubnyk could very well light it up in January and February again, and all could be right with the world.

Trouble is, October and November is a good time to pick up wins that will be important in April. NHL observers have long claimed that the best teams in the league don’t start turning it on until the New Year. If you’re ever going to beat Boston in Boston, beat them in early November when they have half a dozen starters out of the lineup.

It simply didn’t work out that way.

“It’s like the Keystone Kops out there,” Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said, candidly. “Guys that know how to play hockey aren’t playing very well. We just weren’t very competitive the first two periods. That was probably the most embarrassing two periods I’ve been involved with on a lot of teams.”

“They (Boston) were doing nothing in the first 10 minutes, and then we give them two goals, and we give them life. And then, all of a sudden we sit back and don’t do anything. It’s embarrassing.”

Granted, the Wild is still without offensive leader Zach Parise, but scoring goals doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue. They’ve scored 40 times which is better than three teams with playoff records in the West. Trouble is, they’ve given up 40.  That’s more than three a game, and that’s not good.

Despite all the problems that their coach sees, it’s apparent that with better goaltending – one extra save every two games, the Wild would be in the early season hunt. If the goaltending doesn’t get better, the Keystone Kops will be playing golf in mid-April.

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Scott Taylor

Wild’s Boudreau Sounds Depressed

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

October 21, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

 

Friday night in the bowels of Bell MTS Place in downtown Winnipeg, Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau sounded depressed. He sounded like a man in need of a Zoloft.

Frowning, Boudreau was as quiet as a mouse during the post-game scrum. He was angry. He never raised his voice above a whisper. His Wild had just been beaten 4-3 by the Winnipeg Jets despite the fact they led the game 3-2 late in the second period and were tied at 3-3 with just seven minutes to play.

The Wild had blown another lead and Boudreau wasn’t angry, he was depressed about it.

The first thing he was asked was about the defense and goaltending.

“Obviously, they got four,” he said softly. “So it’s not as good as you want it…

“You want it better. You want it better if you want to win it. You can’t keep giving up three, four, five goals a game. Just look at the end of the year, look at the teams with goals against that are three-and-over and see where those guys are. They’re never in the playoffs.”

Minnesota Wild Defenseman clears some space for his goaltender Devan Dubnyk

Mike Reilly clears the crease for Dubnyk

The 1-2-2 Wild have played five games this season (most other teams have played at least six, maybe seven, so that’s an odd schedule). They lost 4-2 in Detroit and then 5-4 at home to Carolina in a shootout. They beat Chicago at United Centre 5-2 and then blew a late 4-2 lead and lost 5-4 in overtime at home to Columbus. Friday night, they fell 4-3 to a Jets team that was coming off a 5-2 home loss to the Blue Jackets.

On average, the Wild have given up four goals per game. The defense has been shaky while the goaltending has been really mediocre. In Winnipeg on Friday night, Devan Dubnyk looked slow, clumsy and confused.

“I think you can find fault with a whole bunch of guys,” said Boudreau. “But the guys making the biggest mistakes are the guys we rely on. You can sit and talk about the Mitchells and Kunins and Ferarros, but those guys aren’t making the mistakes. It’s the guys who are supposed to be our better players who are making the mistakes and that’s why we’re losing the games.”

To be fair, the Jets scored two power play goals on Friday night, but Boudreau refused to use that as an excuse.

“(The penalty kill) is frustrating,” Boudreau conceded. “But it’s not the penalty kill itself. It’s how the opposition’s power play goals are going in. How many deflections in the five games have gone in? But again, that’s an excuse. The fact is, they’re going in. We gotta stay out of the box. We only took three penalties tonight, but when two of them go in, that’s not good.”

Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal gathers his momentum to go toward the puck

Eric Staal eyes the puck in the corner…

One reporter tried to give Boudreau an out by suggesting that his team hadn’t played in five days so maybe some rust had sent in. The Wild coach would have no part of that lament.

“I think (the team was flat) for the first 10 minutes and that was it,” Boudreau said. “But after the first 10 minutes we started to find our legs and we took the play to them.

“I thought we took the play to them until we got the lead and then it seems like we’re afraid to win. In all five games we’ve been tied or ahead with less than 10 minutes to go in the third period and you look at our record, it’s just not good enough. When you’re that close it — doesn’t matter who’s in our lineup – but when you’re that close and you come away with nothing you have to do some soul searching.”

Fear of winning? That has to lead to depression and soul searching. If Boudreau’s team doesn’t get things turned around soon, this could be a long winter in the State of Hockey.

Frankly, this Wild team is way too good to be (a) below .500, (b) blowing leads late in the game and (c) playing as confused and as confusing as it has been so far this season.

Nobody really believes that Game 6 in an 82-game season is a big game. However, for this year’s version of the Minnesota Wild, it be bigger than anyone could have imagined back in training camp.

It will definitely be big for the team’s confidence and maybe even bigger for the coach’s mental health.

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Scott Taylor

Blaine’s Hendricks Signs One-Year Deal with Jets

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

September 1, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

 

A National Hockey League team located about seven hours by car north of the Twin Cities has decided that Minnesota hockey players make the best leaders.

In fact the three players considered to be the “leaders” of the Winnipeg Jets are Minnesotans – captain Blake Wheeler from Plymouth, defensive star Dustin Byfuglien from Roseau and now, highly-regarded penalty killer Matt Hendricks from Blaine.

This week, the Jets agreed to terms with the 36-year-old veteran Hendricks on a one-year deal worth $700,000.

Hendricks Tweeted: “Very happy to be joining the @NHL Jets organization. Can’t wait to meet the guys and get the season off to a good start!”

Hendricks spent the last four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. Last year, he had four goals and seven points in 42 games and for the second straight season he led the Oilers in the faceoff circle, winning 132-of-232 draws (56.9 per cent).

photo courtesy: Edmonton Oilers

Hendricks, a left-handed shooting centerman, has also been a staple on the Oilers penalty kill. In fact, he is among the Top 25 NHL forwards in shorthanded time-on-ice during the last five seasons.

He has played 521 career NHL games with Colorado, Washington, Nashville, and Edmonton and has totaled 49 goals and 100 points with 664 penalty minutes and a career faceoff percentage of 53.9 per cent.

Hendricks, who is 6-foot, 205 pounds, was drafted by the Predators in the fifth round (131st overall) in the 2000 NHL Draft. He’s the son of an American Marine and a Swedish mother. He and his wife Kimberly have five-year-old twins, son Gunnar and daughter Lennon.

He represented the United States at the World Championships in 2015.

He has been called, “a great team player,” and “an outstanding leader.” In Winnipeg, that would describe all three Minnesota players.

 

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Scott Taylor

NHL Expansion Draft: The Knights Are Now on the Clock

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

The Las Vegas Draft

The Las Vegas Knights are now on the clock. All 30 National Hockey League teams have released their protected lists and available players for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and the Knights have until 12 Noon (CST) on Wednesday to make their selections.

There are some good players available, depending on their contract status, such as goalies Petr Mrazek and Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Josh Manson, Marco Scandella, Matt Dumba, Jason Demers, Mark Methot, Sami Vatanen and Kevin Shattenkirk and forwards T.J. Oshie, Marcus Kruger, Eric Staal, David Perron, Carl Hagelin, Dustin Brown, Ryan Strome, Marian Gaborik, Vladimir Sobotka, Joe Thornton, Darren Helm and James Neal.

Las Vegas will have plenty of decisions to make. Take a UFA and try to sign him (like 30-year-old Oshie)? Wait until after the draft and take a run at a few UFAs? Claim vets, young unproven players or a combination? Grab some old Wheat Kings like Eric Fehr and Matt Calvert (after all, Kelly McCrimmon is assistant GM)?

The Wild have left Matt Dumba, Erik Haula, Marco Scandella and Eric Staal unprotected. I would not be surprised if one of that group was the player selected by Las Vegas and with McCrimmon’s knowledge of the Western Hockey League, I’d place a large bet that it will be Dumba.

Minnesota Wild Defenseman Matthew Dumba

Matt Dumba is on the Las Vegas Knights “Available List”…

The Knights must take one player from each team and a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.

The selections will be announced at the NHL Awards Ceremony on Thursday night in Las Vegas.

 

The following linked-lists

 courtesy of the National Hockey League:

Anaheim Ducks Arizona Coyotes Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres Calgary Flames Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Blackhawks Colorado Avalanche Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars Detroit Red Wings Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers Los Angeles Kings Minnesota Wild
Montreal Canadiens Nashville Predators New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders New York Rangers Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues Tampa Bay Lightning Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks Washington Capitals Winnipeg Jets

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Scott Taylor

Two Late Goals Give Penguins the Stanley Cup

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Pens Win Cup

The Nashville Predators did not score a goal in the final 123 minutes and 23 seconds of the Stanley Cup final.

And that’s why the Pittsburgh Penguins are the 2017 Stanley Cup champions.

Thanks to two late goals – a bit of a fluke by Patric Hornqvist and an empty netter by the speedy Carl Hagelin – the Penguins won their second straight Cup with a 2-0 win over the Predators in Game 6 of the Championship Final.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also won his second straight individual award – the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the playoff MVP.

Pittsburgh Penguins hoist the Stanley Cup for the second straight year

Pittsburgh wins their second straight Stanley Cup

It was the first time since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings that any team had won two straight Stanley Cups.

“This was our goal at the start of the year, we knew it hadn’t been done in a long time,” Crosby told NBC Sports. “To be able to accomplish it is a great feeling.

“We knew it was going to be tough all year. We just tried to keep with it. We had a lot of injuries and things like that, so we just kept finding ways. That’s really what we did all season, all playoffs, and it’s great to be able to do it.”

On Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena in Smashville, the high-spirited, and yes, magnificent, home crowd couldn’t coax their heroes into a goal. The Predators did not score a goal since Filip Forsberg scored his only goal of the final at the 16:37 mark of the third period of Game 4.

In Game 5, Matt Murray made 24 saves to get the 6-0 shutout in Pittsburgh and then, in Game 6 on Sunday, made 27 saves to get the 2-0 shutout in Nashville. In a series in which every expert claimed that the only way Nashville could win was if their netminder, Pekka Rinne, was significantly better than Murray, the Pittsburgh puck-stopper was clearly the best.

The goals on Sunday weren’t pretty. Of course, they didn’t have to be. The winner was a shot from behind the Nashville net, off Rinne’s back and up into the twine with 1:35 left in regulation time. The winner was a result of Hagelin’s under-rated speed as he won a race to a loose puck and almost skated that puck right through the net.

“It’s going to be the biggest goal I’m ever going to score,” Hornqvist said during a postgame interview on CBC-TV. “I just got lucky to score the first goal.”

“This was a team effort from the first shift to the last shift. This was a battle through the whole series. They played really well Nashville, but we came up big when we needed it.”

It was an amazing scene in Nashville after Hornqvist scored the winner. After all, it was the Predators who made Hornqvist the very last pick, No. 230, in the 2005 NHL Draft. For those who might have forgotten, Crosby was the first pick in the 2005 NHL Draft.

Hornqvist scored 106 goals in 363 games for the Predators before he was traded to the Penguins, along with forward Nick Spaling, for forward James Neal on June 27, 2014. The trade was the very first one made by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford. It’s a crazy world.

Of course, this was a huge series for the three most important players, Murray, Hornqvist and Crosby, but it was also deeply important and even heart-warming for three American players: Virginia, Minnesota’s Matt Cullen is expected to retire today. He won the Cup at age 40. Woodbury, Minnesota’s Jake Guentzel tied a rookie playoff scoring record with 13 goals and 21 points. And Bolton, Connecticut’s Ron Hainsey, in his first NHL playoff at age 36, was the man Crosby handed the Cup to after the captain took the first skate.

One of the great things about hockey, what makes it more, well, player-friendly, than other major professional sport is that this is the only one in which the commissioner hands the trophy to the team captain, not the team owner. When Gary Bettman handed the Stanley Cup to Sidney Crosby for the second straight year, it pretty much solidified Crosby’s place among the greatest players in the game’s history.

The fans in Nashville didn’t like him and there are a lot of hockey fans all over who don’t care for Crosby’s form of passion. However, if you’re going to build a franchise around one player, it would be Sid the Kid. And he proved it again with a second straight Stanley Cup and a second-straight Conn Smythe Trophy.

 

 

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Scott Taylor

Crosby Stars, Kessel and Malkin Show Up

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Penguins Win Big

The Pittsburgh Penguins will head into Nashville on Sunday night with a 3-2 lead in the NHL’s championship series. They will also have good reason to believe they can lock up their second straight Stanley Cup, this time on the road.

The Nashville Predators, meanwhile, have to bounce back from a 6-0 shellacking in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. Of course, in this series they’ve done that before.

Thursday night, Sidney Crosby set up three goals, the heretofore AWOL Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin showed up and scored goals and Matt Murray recorded the shutout as the penguins built a 6-0 lead after two periods and coasted to their third win in the series. They are now just one win away from being the first team in 20 years to win back-to-back National Hockey League championships.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” said Crosby, making sure he sticks with those meaningless, oft-ignored clichés. “Still, the way we played tonight, if we can build off that momentum, that’s important. Yes, we know we’re going to be facing a desperate team and we’ve already played two games there and know the atmosphere and know how much they feed off their fans. So we still have a lot of work to do.”

Ever since that bizarre Game 1 when Pittsburgh built a 3-0 lead, allowed Nashville to tie it up and then won it 5-3 by scoring five goals on 12 total shots; the series has been one blowout after another. The Pens took a 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh in Game 2, then Nashville won 5-1 and 4-1 at home to tie the series and then Pittsburgh whipped Nashville 6-0 in Game 5. Now, now we head back to a place where Nashville is 9-1 in the playoffs and has already outscored the Pens 9-2.

“We’re going into Game 5 with the same approach,” said Nashville coach Peter Laviolette at today’s news conference. “We need to win a hockey game. We came back after losing two and I said at that point that there’s a lot of confidence in our group on how we play the game. We’ve liked a lot of what we’ve done in this series. We don’t like the way we played Thursday. We’re all ready to own that. We’re ready to admit that, and we’re ready to move forward from it.”

They should certainly have confidence on Sunday. After all, they don’t lose very often in Smashville.

However, while Justin Schultz, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Ron Hainsey also scored for the Pens on Thursday night, Woodbury’s Jake Guentzel tied the NHL record for playoff points by a rookie with 21 (13 goals and eight assists). Even more important, Malkin and Kessel made an appearance and that has to be disconcerting for Nashville. The Preds had shut down two of Pittsburgh’s Big 3 for most of this series. If those two are actually ready to go hard in Nashville, it could be tougher than the Predators think.

Meanwhile, there was also a bit of a goaltending worry – again – for Laviolette. While Murray made 24 saves to get the shutout, Laviolette yanked Pekka Rinne after giving up three goals on nine shots. Backup Juuse Saros didn’t fare much better, allowing three more on 15 shots.

Still all five games of the series have been won by the home team (strangely, that’s happened only 12 times since 1939), so Nashville has that going for it in Game 6 on Sunday. However, the Preds need to get off to a good start. Pittsburgh has outscored Nashville 9-2 in the first period of each the five games so far in this final.

Oh, and history says that the team that won Game 5 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup 17 of the last 24 times.

Almost two weeks ago, we picked the Penguins to win this series in six. If Crosby continues to play at the level he’s played at throughout this series, if Malkin and Kessel show up again and if Pekka Rinne struggles one more time, we just might be right.

 

 

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Scott Taylor

Stanley Cup Final Now Best Two-of-Three

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Photo by James Carey Lauder

Preds Win Again

If the 2017 Stanley Cup Final is going to be about home ice advantage, I guess we’re going seven. If it’s about the team that’s playing best, it will be over in six.

And it won’t end in the way in which we originally expected.

On Monday night in Smashville, the Nashville Predators whipped the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 in front of a now-legendary crowd that is right off the hook.

Granted the final goal by the Preds was scored into an empty net, but my point is simple. The Predators were the best team on the ice from start-to-finish for the fourth straight game and while we’re obviously in a 2-2 deadlock, there is this feeling that the 16th seed – eighth in the West – might just be good enough to steal this thing.

Playing in front of that wild and woolly crowd in Tennessee, the Predators dominated the Penguins for the fourth straight night. Calle Jarnkrok opened the scoring for Nashville, but Sidney Crosby tied it for Pittsburgh before the end of the opening period (Crosby is now 20th overall in career playoff scoring).

That’s when Frederick Gaudreau (with his third goal of the final and his second game-winner in two games) and the little speedster, Viktor Arvidsson, scored unanswered second-period goals for Nashville to put the game away. With Pekka Rinne playing like the real Pekka Rinne again, the Preds had all they needed at 3-1. Rinne stopped all 18 shots that he faced in the final two periods, Filip Forsberg finally scored his first goal of the final into the empty Pittsburgh net and the Preds had a 4-1 win on the heels of their 5-1 victory on Saturday.

Now the two teams will head back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday, all even at two wins apiece.

In Nashville, Pittsburgh did not look like defending champions. Much of that had to do with the play of Rinne, who was first star on Monday and the man who made one of the great saves in playoff history off Penguins goal-scoring sensation Jake Guentzel. You’ve probably seen it re-played a thousand times by now. Rinne made 50 saves on 52 shots in the two games in Nashville and is now playing like the best goaltender in Predators history – which is exactly what he is.

On Monday, he earned his 36th playoff win and is now tied with Antti Niemi for most playoff wins by a Finnish-born goaltender. He’s now 14-6 in the 2017 playoffs and 9-1 at Bridgestone Arena (the Preds have outscored the opposition 34-15 in those 10 games at home) where he has a 1.44 goals against average and a .949 save percentage. He has been named first star in each of the last two games.

Of course, the biggest surprise in this final has been the goal-scoring prowess of one Frederick Gaudreau, the 24-year-old journeyman from Bromont, Que., who was playing in the ECHL in 2015. On Monday, he became only the second player in NHL history to score his first three NHL goals in the Stanley Cup Final. The other was John Harms of the Blackhawks, 73 years ago in the spring of 1944.

Nashville Predator Frederick Gaudreau

Nashville Center Frederick Gaudreau

It’s also the first time in playoff history in which the four game-winning goals in the Final were all scored by rookies – Gaudreau has two and Guentzel has two.

“Gaudreau’s been unbelievable for us, the way he’s come in,” said Preds captain Mike Fisher. “He’s been so good, timely goals and composed. He definitely belongs, and he’s been a huge part of our success and it’s good to see for sure.”

Well, it’s amazing to see, that’s for sure.

As we noted, Game 5 goes Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins need to find that magic they concocted in Games 1 and 2. They need to embarrass Rinne again. To do that, it might help if Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel get involved in the offense. They were both invisible in Nashville.

Fact is, Pittsburgh has been outplayed in every game. If Rinne is Rinne, they might just be done in six. Thursday’s game – now the first of a best two-out-of-three – is, without question, the pivotal game of this year’s Final.

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Scott Taylor

Best Team Wins in Smashville

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Photo by James Carey Lauder

Preds Win

The best team won. That is not a statement on the quality of the two small-market teams in the Stanley Cup final, but it is a statement on the team that has played the best hockey in this year’s championship series.

No one doubts the talent or heart of the Pittsburgh Penguins. After all, through three games of this year’s final, the Penguins hold a 2-1 series advantage. However, in every game, the Nashville Predators have fired more shots on goal, have controlled the puck longer, have generated the most scoring chances and, taking everything but the goaltending into consideration, should be ahead in the series.

However, after Saturday night’s 5-1 Nashville shellacking of the defending Cup champions, we know that, clearly, the best team won on Saturday and maybe the best team is about to turn this series around.

Granted, TV ratings haven’t been great for the Stanley Cup final (although they are up from last year’s “historically low numbers”), but the games themselves have been memorable.

Getting home to play in front of the incredible fans of Nashville didn’t make much of a difference early. Jake Guentzel, the Woodbury kid who gets better with every shift and just might steal the Conn Smythe Trophy, got Pittsburgh on the board with his 13th post-season just two minutes into the game, but early in the second period Nashville might have changed everything.

With the sold out crowd at Bridgestone Arena going completely nuts, the Preds scored twice in the first seven minutes of the second period. The momentum switched at the 5:51 mark of the second when Roman Josi and Frederick Gaudreau scored within 42 seconds of each other.

James Neal scored again, just 23 seconds before the second intermission, putting Nashville up 3-1, and then Craig Smith and Mattias Ekholm added insurance goals in the third period to seal the deal. 

The barrage made good on defenseman PK Subban’s guarantee that Nashville would win. It’s unlikely he’ll need one for Game 4 at Smashville on Monday night.

Nashville's PK Subban fire a shot from the blue line...

Predator’s All-Star PK Subban

No doubt, there was a lot of frustration in the Predators room after Game 2. They clearly outplayed Pittsburgh and yet lost 5-3 and 4-1 because All-World goalie Pekka Rinne didn’t play very well. But on Saturday, Rinne was at his best – after a wobbly start – and made 27 saves to get the win. Those rocky first two games in Pittsburgh have been forgotten. At least temporarily.

This has been quite a series. Two teams that were once near bankruptcy – Pittsburgh in 1975 and 1998 and Nashville in 2007 – are now the talk of the National Hockey League.

In fact, the Predators were on the verge of selling to Hamilton, Ont. businessman Jim Balsillie when when a group that includes 59-year-old Calgary businessman Brett Wilson stepped up and bought the team and left them on Broadway in Nashville.

Now, the Predators are beloved. On Saturday, there were thousands of fans both inside and outside the rink as Nashville won its eighth home game in nine outings this spring.

Sure, TV ratings are down in both Canada and the United States and outside Pittsburgh and Nashville there isn’t a lot of buzz for this series. However, the hockey has been intense, physical and interesting and the sub-plots have produced plenty of intrigue.

If nothing else, this year’s Stanley Cup final proves that small-market franchises in a league with clubs in New York, Chicago and L.A. can compete, thanks in no small way to the salary cap and brilliant management.

Monday night’s Game 4 might not produce a record number of TV viewers, but it will be a heck of a hockey game.

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Scott Taylor

Whatever Happened to Pekka Rinne

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Photo by James Carey Lauder

A week ago, everyone in hockey was hailing Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne. He had been almost unbeatable and had carried the Preds to the Stanley Cup final.

Now, after the first two games of the championship round against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette won’t commit to Rinne for Game 3.

What happened to Rinne, a guy who entered the final with a 1.70 goals against average and a .941 save percentage?

Well, first of all, if you can figure it out then you know why the Predators are down 2-0 in the final. However, the numbers don’t lie.

In the first two games at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena, Rinne had a .778 save percentage. In Game 1, he allowed four goals on 12 shots. Despite an almost perfect defensive effort by his teammates, Rinne couldn’t make a save when he needed one.

In Game 2, he gave up three goals in first 3 ½ minutes of the third period in a game that was deadlocked at 1-1. As a result, in nine games, the great Pekka Rinne, one of the three or four best goaltenders in the NHL, has never beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Nashville Predators superstar goalie Pekka Rinne

Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne

For those who love advanced analytics, Rinne’s performance has made those numbers a nightmare for Nashville. In fact, Nashville has dominated possession statistics and high-danger chances in the first two games.

Now, to be fair, there was no way Rinne was going to be as good against Pittsburgh (or anybody else) as he was in the first round against Chicago. Rinne had a .976 save percentage against the Hawks. That’s borderline impossible. He shut out the Blackhawks twice in four games and allowed just three goals on 126 shots. That number fell to .932 against St. Louis and .925 against Anaheim. His save percentage numbers have gone down in every series, but .925 is still pretty damn good. After all, his career save percentage is .916 in 66 playoff games.

Still, nobody thought Rinne would be this bad. There are junior and college goalies who would have stopped nine of 12 shots in the first game. Rinne stopped only eight. He’s better than that.

Regardless, Rinne has stopped just 28-of-36 shots in the five-plus periods he’s played in the final. Meanwhile, Nashville has outshot Pittsburgh 64-39 in the first two games and they find themselves down 2-0.

Sure, Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have been wonderful in these playoffs and it’s likely one of them will win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, but Pekka Rinne was almost a certain winner until he somehow lost his way.

Rinne is a class act. He answered every question directed his way after the loss in Game 2. He’s been that way all season long. Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said on Tuesday that Rinne was, “our team’s MVP this season.”

“Obviously, it’s a mental thing,” Rinne said on Wednesday. “You just have to look back to good games and make yourself feel better.

“It’s very disappointing right now. We have to put it behind you. For me, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I waited a long time and it’s my first time having a chance to play for the Cup. You just have to bury these two games and find a way to have some success.”

Saturday night, the Predators play Game 3 at home. Rinne might or might not play. He should. He’s the guy who got the Preds past Chicago in a series that no one thought they’d win. They not only won, they dominated and now they have a chance to play for the Cup.

Despite two bad games, Rinne is still the Predators MVP. They will not win the Cup without him.

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Scott Taylor

Bizarre Beginning to Stanley Cup Final

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Pens Win Opener

It was, perhaps, the strangest game ever played in a Stanley Cup final. Or, maybe, at any other time of any other season. To put into some kind of orderly fashion, all of this took place:

  1. The defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins took a 3-0 lead into the second period, blew it and came back to win 5-3.
  2. During the Predators comeback, the Penguins – the highest-scoring team in the playoffs this season — went almost two full periods (37 minutes in total) without a single shot on goal.
  3. The Penguins scored their five goals in only 10 shots against the best goaltender in the playoffs this season. In fact, until Monday night, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne was the odds-on favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs.
  4. A man threw a catfish on the ice. He was charged with public mischief, a charge that could result in six years in prison.
  5. The eventual winning goal was scored by Jake Guentzel, a kid from Omaha who played for Hill Murray High School, and spent half of this season with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. When brought up with 40 games left in the season, they put him on a line with Sidney Crosby. He suddenly became a scoring sensation and now has 10 goals and 17 points in 20 playoff games this spring. Guentzel’s winning goal came seconds after Nashville’s James Neal hit the post at the other end.
  6. Nashville’s first goal by PK Subban was called back because the officials (or somebody) decided that Filip Forsberg was a teeny, teeny, tin half-skateblade offside. I still haven’t seen how he was offside and I’ve watched the play two dozen times.

After all that, Nashville forward Colton Sissons put the strange night in perspective.

“Nothing surprises me in this game anymore, honestly,” Sissons said. “You just never know.”

Man, this was a strange one. After Evgeni Malkin (15:32), Conor Sheary (16:37) and Nick Bonino (19:43) scored the first three goals for Pittsburgh in a span of four minutes and 11 seconds at the end of the first period.

Then, in the second period, Ryan Ellis scored to make it 3-1 and then, in the third, Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau, made it 3-3 with just six and a half minutes to play.

But then Guentzel scored his 10th of the playoffs at 16:43 and Bonino tallied his second of the night into an empty net at 18:58 and the Pens had drawn first blood despite the fact they had no shots in the second period, only four in the third and only 12 on the night.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Penguins centre Sidney Crosby said of his team’s lull, which spanned the entire second period. “I think you’re just hoping to get a shot on net and see what happens.”

Teams that win Game 1 of the Final have gone on to win the Stanley Cup in 60 of 77 seasons (78 per cent) since the league introduced the best-of-seven format in 1939. The last team to win the Stanley Cup after dropping the opening game of the series was the 2011 Boston Bruins when they came back to beat Vancouver.
Game 2 will be played Wednesday night at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. If it’s half as crazy as Game 1, it will be just like watching the circus.

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