Nashville knows a good party, but it’s never thrown one quite like this before.
Riding an unlikely run unseen in this newfound hockey town, the Predators will play for the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 18 seasons after defeating the Ducks 6-3 Monday to win the Western Conference finals in six games.
Colton Sissons, a sparsely played role contributor thrust onto Nashville’s top line due to injuries, scored a hat trick, the first of his career. In the absence of Ryan Johansen, lost for the balance of the playoffs, the 23-year-old took over to center Filip Forsberg and Pontus Aberg and the three contributed four goals and combined for seven points.
An onslaught of injuries rendered Anaheim sitting ducks. Jonathan Bernier, starting in net for the first time in his playoff career in place of No. 1 goalie John Gibson, surrendered four goals on 16 shots. Top forward Rickard Rakell and Patrick Eaves didn’t make the trip to Nashville.
The deficiencies were exploited early on by an opportunistic Predators offense, which needed just three shots on net to open a 2-0 lead.
The Knights flipped the No. 24 overall pick to Winnipeg in exchange for the No. 13 overall pick and a third-rounder in 2019, allowing the Jets to keep 22-year-old forward Marko Dano and defenseman Tobias Enstrom. Thorburn is a pending unrestricted free agent.
Through his fair share of postseason struggles, Washington’s prized rental defenseman all but redeemed himself by scoring the biggest goal of the Caps’ season 3:13 into the extra frame for a 3-2 win. The power-play goal, a seeing-eye wrister from the point, throws the second-round series between the NHL’s top two teams into flux.
Cracking one Erik Karlsson is tough enough. But four of him? Good luck.
Talk out of Pittsburgh ahead of Monday’s Stanley Cup Final opener has centered on how, exactly, the high-powered Penguins offense will fare against a vaunted Predators blue line that indiscriminately shut down its opponents’ top forwards while cutting through the Western Conference. It’s the matchup that should make for an intriguing series.
The trade winds have been swirling around the Avalanche and Matt Duchene for some time now. It makes little sense for both player and team to enter another season with a malcontent on the roster, so it’s high time a deal gets done. Yet here we are.
Avs GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot: a young defenseman plus some combination of top prospects or draft picks and possibly the moon.
The Islanders reportedly offered Travis Hamonic and a first-rounder, but that ship has sailed. Montreal remains a suitor, especially after Radulov’s departure, but may no longer have the assets to meet those demands with Mikhail Sergachev now in Tampa. Columbus is in hot pursuit as well and would seem to be the best fit.
Though Sakic has every reason to hold out for the right return for his 26-year-old star, his rivals can play the waiting game, too.
It was a huge win for the Capitals, who were bounced from the playoffs by the Penguins in the second round of last year’s playoffs before Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.
He checks a lot of boxes for us, Flames general manager Brad Treliving said after sending multiple draft picks, including a 2018 first-rounder and a pair of future second-round selections, to New York for the 26-year-old Hamonic.
But the impossible was possible a theme of the Stanley Cup Final so far and the Predators again fed off the unmatched energy of Bridgestone Arena to beat the Penguins 4-1 and even the series at two games apiece as it returns to Pittsburgh.
Unlike Saturday when an early Penguins goal ever so briefly quieted the gold-clad crowd, the Predators struck first when Calle Jarnkrok scored 5:09 remaining in the first period.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan challenged, alleging interference with goalie Matt Murray, but the goal was upheld and Tim McGraw made a second appearance on the jumbotron.
The lone break in Smashville’s newly famous unrelenting chants came 1:06 later, courtesy of Sidney Crosby.
On a breakaway, Crosby deked Rinne on the forehand and tucked a beautiful backhander inside the far post as the Preds goalie was slow to get over in time. It was Crosby’s first goal in a Final game since 2009, a span of 12 such games.
Ryan Poehling (No. 25 overall, MTL): His uncle, Stan Palmer, was drafted 177th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1977 NHL Draft. His older brothers, twins Jack and Nick, played alongside him at St. Cloud State in 2016-17.
Morgan Frost (No. 27 overall, PHI): His father, Andy, is a popular radio host in Toronto and served as the Maple Leafs public address announcer at the Air Canada Centre from 1999 to 2016.
Columbus traded this year’s first-round draft pick (No. 24 overall) and a second-rounder in 2019 as assurance Vegas won’t select forward Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson and backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. The Blue Jackets were also able to dump the contract of David Clarkson on the Knights.
In taking it all in, it’s no wonder the Predators are 8-1 at home these playoffs, a key component to their Western Conference championship. That lone loss came in overtime against the Ducks. They’re outscoring opponents on a 3.33-1.56 average with the backing of the gold-clad, cowboy hat-wearing hockey crazies.
NBC announced a 16.6 local rating for Saturday’s Game 3, an all-time record for the Nashville market.
That figure doesn’t account for the football stadium-sized crowd police said were watching on the jumbo-sized screens outside the arena and the rest of the immediate area. No longer a novelty act, this is the norm in Nashville nowadays.
Since the expansion in 1998, traditions took hold, tailored to the unique country culture befitting a franchise born at the foot of a honky tonk strip. And when it came time to show the rest of the world Saturday, a city long marginalized by hockey purists unabashedly put it on full display to will the Predators back into a Stanley Cup Final that had begun to slip away.
There were free catfish for throwing. Rex and Rob Ryan were among hundreds to take sledgehammer swings at the car parked in front of Bridgestone Arena with a Penguins paint scheme. Alan Jackson, the Country Music Hall of Fame artist whose free pregame concert clogged Broadway, sports the Predators’ Stand With Us mantra as his Twitter avatar.
Before puck drop, Predators players took notice. NHL Network was on in the locker room and some, including PA Parenteau and P.K. Subban, marveled at this never-before-seen energy.
It’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in, said Subban, who along with Parenteau once called Montreal’s Bell Centre home ice.
In total, the Sens have held a lead for just four minutes, 11 seconds in the series. Anderson has given up 12 goals on his last 98 shots.
As the series shifts back to Ottawa, it’s starting to look like the Rangers’ to lose.
3. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers Overshadowed by the fine playoff performances by Karlsson and (insert Predators defenseman here), McDonagh has been an unwavering force for the Rangers. He skated another 25:14 in Game 4 and assisted on New York’s fourth goal, his fourth point of the series and fifth of the playoffs.
2. Oscar Lindberg, Rangers Lindberg’s pair of second-period goals effectively crushed the Sens’ spirits. The bottom-six forward now has three goals in his last two games after going the entire postseason with just one assist. That kind of depth production is what will get the Blueshirts to the conference finals.
1. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers Lundqvist was stellar again to earn his 61st career playoff win, moving into a tie Tom Barrasso for 13th all time. He stopped 22 of 23 shots and would have had a shutout if not for a late Kyle Turris goal.
The other years though: 27th, 23rd, 23rd, 24th, and 22nd in terms of overall rank in 5-on-5 save-percentage, leaving a lot of room for improvement in the blue paint.
The only real constant over that entire stretch was Ondrej Pavelec, the 29-year-old goaltender who had spent his entire 10-year career with the franchise (beginning in Atlanta, continuing with Winnipeg) before he signed with the New York Rangers this offseason. Pavelec struggled badly in 2016-17, even being demoted to AHL Manitoba, and outside of a .920 save-percentage in 2014-15 (that one playoff year for the Jets) he cracked the .910-mark only one time.
Patrick Marleau is old. Not quite Jaromir Jagr old, but in an NHL that is increasingly young, age is important.
That’s why it was so shocking Sunday when the Maple Leafs said they had convinced the 37-year-old Marleau, after 19 seasons with the Sharks, to ditch the Bay Area and finish his Hall of Fame career with a franchise that has won one playoff series since 2004. He doesn’t need them and they don’t really need him. Auston Matthews was 14 days old when Marleau made his NHL debut Oct. 1, 1997, and the Leafs’ ascent was already well underway without him.
On the surface, committing $6.25 million annually over the next three seasons to a graybeard seems counterintuitive and a risk not worth taking.
I think I’ve worn out a few carpets pacing around the house trying to make this decision over the last couple of days, Marleau said on a brief conference call with reporters after the deal was announced.
The Vancouver Canucks wasted no time adding free-agent talent Saturday, reportedly reaching deals with center Sam Gagner, defenseman Michael Del Zotto and goaltender Anders Nilsson. TSN reports Gagner and the Canucks have agreed to a three-year deal worth $3.15 million annually. The center tied a career high with 18 goals and scored 50 points last season for the Blue Jackets. Del Zotto’s deal is reportedly for two years at $3 million per year. He scored 18 points in 51 games with the Flyers last season. The 27-year-old Nilsson, who posted a 10-10-4 record with the Buffalo Sabres last season with a 2.67 goals against average, has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $2.5 million per year deal.
If this is the end for Marian Hossa potentially cut down at the end of his career by an unfortunate skin disorder that will at least force him to miss the 2017-18 season ‘ it’s impossible to imagine a more ill-befitting way for him to go out.
But this isn’t a story about that. Salary cap experts far more ingrained with knowledge of the minutiae of the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement can explain the fallout from an organizational perspective better. Rather, this is about the player, and what is shaping up to be an incredibly disheartening end of what is an undeniably Hall of Fame career. The phrase progressive skin disorder with side effects due to medication couldn’t contrast more with the elegant style of his game if it tried.
The play that stands out above all others as quintessential Hossa took place on Oct. 24, 2008 against his old team, Atlanta. Like many times before, Hossa, then a Detroit Red Wing, read a play at center-ice, and this time saw Thrashers’ defenseman Zach Bogosian confronted by Tomas Holmstrom. The Red Wings forward eventually got a piece of the puck and gently nudged it to Hossa, who was taking off at full speed down the ice.
P.K. Subban in his first Cup Final one year after his acrimonious trade out of Montreal. Peter Laviolette becoming the fourth coach in NHL history to lead three teams into the Final following runs with the 2005-06 Hurricanes (won Cup) and 2009-10 Flyers (lost Cup). Long-suffering veterans Pekka Rinne, Mike Fisher and Vernon Fiddler with a chance to finally hoist the Cup.
For now, though, Nashville has some planning to do. The land of honky tonks and country music is about to become the center of the hockey world.
At least one serial NHL choke artist wasn’t interested in conforming to history.
First of all I’m so proud of Paul’s career also, Selanne, considered a lock in his first year of eligibility, told reporters on a conference call Monday, making a point to deflect credit to his longtime running mate. I had the pleasure to play with him for so many years. I played my best years of hockey with Paul. The chemistry we had was magical.
I learned so much from him as a player and a human being. It’s also a big honor to share this weekend with Paul. We’re still great friends; we have totally opposite personalities, but that’s a great thing. I had a lot of great times, great years with him and I’m so proud.
Niederreiter was sixth among Wild forwards in five-on-five ice time in 2016-17, and eighth among Minnesota forwards in total time-on-ice per game. But Niederreiter also led Minnesota in even-strength points per-60 minutes, effectively navigating his shifts when his name was called.
I have to do the best with the ice time I get and always prepare myself to get more minutes this year, Niederreiter said. If that’s the case then great, and if not, I’ll do whatever I can to be great in the minutes again.
The Jets’ goaltending under head coach Paul Maurice, and really since the team relocated from Atlanta in 2011, has been bad. Over the past six years, the Jets finished in the bottom nine in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage five times. In 2014-15, Jets goaltenders combined to go .927 at evens, good for ninth-best in the NHL, and that also happened to coincide with their one playoff appearance since the Canadian move.
Calvin de Haan and the Islanders avoided arbitration Wednesday, but the one-year agreement could be the beginning of the end of the defenseman’s tenure with the club. A career-long Islander since being selected in the first round, 12th overall, in 2009, de Haan is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The two sides were far apart on their arbitration numbers. de Haan sought $5 million in 2017-18 while the Isles countered at $1.95 million. They reportedly settled at $3.3 million on the one-year deal, close to the midway point.
Thornton had surgery to repair his knee in late April, and his expected recovery time means he’s unlikely to return to the ice until around the start of next season.
Wilson told reporters when the team announced the injuries in April, You see a player play with that type of injury, it tells you all you need to know about him.
That injury situation, along with Thornton’s age and salary, led the Sharks to leave their longtime star unprotected in the recent NHL Expansion Draft. He scored 50 points last season, a far cry from his career-high of 114 points 10 years ago, but his experience not to mention his popularity with fans will continue to be an asset for the Sharks.
Thornton has 1,391 career points, which ranks 23rd in NHL history. His 1,007 career assists rank 13th on the career list and his 937 points in a Sharks uniform ranks behind only Patrick Marleau (1,082 points).
Thornton’s signing comes on the same day Mr. Shark, Patrick Marleau, signed a three-year deal with the Maple Leafs to end his 19-year run in San Jose.
Chris Kreider’s second goal of the playoffs was the back-breaker for the Senators. The pesky power forward struggled in the first round against the Canadiens but now has two goals in three games as the Rangers surge back.
Game 5: Predators at Blues, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Predators lead series 3-1) Nashville is one win from its first Western Conference finals in franchise history. If St. Louis is to live to fight another day, it will have to find a way to get pucks past Pekka Rinne, whose .953 save percentage leads all playoff goalies.
Nashville never before has come so close to the Stanley Cup in nine previous postseason tries. This one has the feel of a team of destiny after sneaking in and pulling off a sweep of the top-seeded Blackhawks in the first round. In winning a war of attrition with the Blues, it’s clear there isn’t a contender remaining playing more complete hockey at this juncture, from the top line down to the bottom defense pair.
And Rinne. The 34-year-old is putting up stellar numbers 1.37 goals-against average, .951 save percentage to lead all playoff goalies. Rinne made 23 saves and assisted on Calle Jarnkrok’s empty-net goal that sealed Game 6, the netminder’s third point of the playoffs.
The three points place Rinne in a tie for 98th among playoff scorers, more than forwards such as the much-maligned Jordan Eberle, who still has just two points in 12 games despite the Oilers putting up a touchdown on the Ducks during a 7-1 blowout in Game 6.
Eberle may soon meet Rinne should Edmonton finish the job in Wednesday’s Game 7.
In that scenario would come the inevitable mercy for one of the two long-suffering franchises at long last.