NHL Playoffs: Underdog Canadiens Face Uphill Battle Against Maple Leafs
The Lightning, Wild and Islanders win the first games of their opening-round series, plus the latest on Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Nathan MacKinnon and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point scored the game-tying and winning goals as his club squeaked past the Florida Panthers 5-4 in Game 1 of their opening-round series. Tampa Bay winger Nikita Kucherov tallied two power-play goals in his first game after missing the regular season recovering from offseason hip surgery. Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists for the Panthers. Game 2 of this series is on Tuesday evening.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was the best game of the playoffs thus far. It could end up being the best series of the first round if the Lightning and Panthers maintain the pace this set in Game 1. Kucherov showed no signs of rust in his first game of this season. The Panthers must play a more disciplined style. Three of the Bolts’ goals came with the man advantage.
An overtime goal by Joel Eriksson Ek gave the Minnesota Wild a 1-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of their first-round series. Cam Talbot kicked out 42 shots for the shutout while Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves. They meet again in Game 2 on Tuesday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was an entertaining game despite the low score. Both clubs had plenty of good scoring opportunities but the goaltenders were superb. The Golden Knights were without sniper Max Pacioretty. He’s been sidelined since May 1 by an undisclosed injury.
The New York Islanders nipped the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on an overtime goal by Kyle Palmieri, who also opened the scoring. Ilya Sorokin picked up the first playoff victory of his career with a 39-save performance while teammate Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a three-point game. Game 2 of this series is also on Tuesday night.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry was shaky in this contest. Every goal beat him high to the glove side. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin missed the game with an undisclosed injury. Sorokin got the start as Isles starter Semyon Varlamov was out with a lower-body injury.
An overtime goal by Elias Lindholm lifted the Calgary Flames over the Vancouver Canucks 6-5 after the Canucks overcame a 5-1 deficit to force overtime. Brock Boeser scored twice for the Canucks. Both clubs face each other two more times before their regular-season schedule is complete.
SPORTSNET: Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and winger Brendan Gallagher have been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate in Laval on a long-term injury conditioning stint. Both are expected to be in the Canadiens lineup for Game 1 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some Canadiens followers freaked out on social media over this decision because they’re afraid one or both could get hurt playing a meaningless AHL game. However, the Habs want both players to get in some game action before Game 1 due to their long absences from the lineup.
THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon will be in the lineup when his club faces off tonight against the St. Louis Blues in the opening game of their first-round series. He missed four of the Avs’ final five regular-season contests with minor injuries.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov returned to the ice yesterday for the Capitals optional practice. Both had been on the COVID-19 protocol list since May 4.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s unclear who will back up Craig Anderson for Game 2 tonight against the Boston Bruins. Anderson replaced Vitek Vanecek in Game 1 when the latter suffered a lower-body injury. Kuznetsov, meanwhile, could be several days away from rejoining the lineup.
TORONTO SUN: Jack Campbell will get the start for the Maple Leafs when they faced the Canadiens on Thursday. Winger Zach Hyman is also expected to return to action after being sidelined since April 18 by a sprained knee.
THE ATHLETIC: John Tortorella reportedly wanted to step down last offseason as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. One of the reasons he stayed was because Nick Foligno convinced him to return for one last season.
A franchise record for Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell, hat tricks for Leon Draisaitl and Kevin Fiala, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jack Campbell set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win to hold off the Montreal Canadiens 3-2. Campbell made 32 saves while teammate Auston Matthews tallied his league-leading 28th goal of the season. Corey Perry scored twice for the Canadiens. The Leafs moved into first place in the league’s overall standings with 58 points as they hold a seven-point lead over the Edmonton Oilers for first in the Scotia North Division. The Canadiens remain in fourth with 43 points.
The Oilers, meanwhile, doubled up the Ottawa Senators 4-2 thanks to Leon Draisaitl’s hat trick. Draisaitl and Connor McDavid (three assists) each finished with four points on the night. The Oilers (50 points) hold a one-point lead over the third-place Winnipeg Jets.
A hat trick by Kevin Fiala (the first of his NHL career) powered the Minnesota Wild to an 8-3 drubbing of the Colorado Avalanche. Fiala finished with four points while Wild rookies Kirill Kapizov scored twice and collected an assist while Victor Rask and Jared Spurgeon each had three helpers. The Wild (50 points) snapped the Avalanche’s 15-game points streak and moved within two points of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights (52 points) in the Honda West Division.
Speaking of the Golden Knights, they dropped a 3-1 decision to the St. Louis Blues and remain four points back of the first-place Avalanche. Jordan Binnington made 50 saves and Vladimir Tarasenko netted his third goal of the season as the Blues (40 points) snapped a seven-game winless skid to move two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks into fifth place.
A three-goal outburst in the third period rallied the Los Angeles Kings over the Arizona Coyotes 4-3. The Coyotes remain in fourth place in the West with 43 points.
THE PROVINCE: The Vancouver Canucks have 21 players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. As the cases spread among the team, the NHL remains committed to having the team complete its schedule. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league has a plan in place to allow the Canucks to complete the season.
TWINCITIES.COM: Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise played his first game last night since March 22 after testing positive for COVID-19. He’s not fully convinced he had the coronavirus as he didn’t feel any symptoms.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars coach Rick Bowness rejoined his team in Chicago after a false positive COVID-19 test forced him into quarantine for the past two games.
TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs’ winger William Nylander was held out of last night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens as a precaution after coming in contact with a potential positive COVID-19 case from outside the team.
Montreal Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher has been placed on long-term injury reserve as he’s expected to be sidelined at least six weeks with a fractured thumb.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That will allow the Canadiens to exceed the cap by almost the equivalent of Gallagher’s $3.75 million cap hit if they decide to acquire another player before the 3 pm ET trade deadline on Monday.
WINNIPEG SUN: Jets captain Blake Wheeler has been sidelined indefinitely by a concussion. It’s believed he suffered the injury after being elbowed in the head by Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk during Monday’s game between the Jets and Senators.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a big loss for the Jets. Wheeler usually skates at right wing on their top line though of late he’s also played on their second line. He’s fourth among their scorers with 10 goals and 32 points.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner is out for six weeks with a broken finger.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A significant blow for the struggling Blue Jackets as they try to stay in playoff contention in the Discover Central Division. Jenner’s a big, hard-working forward who can play center or wing. They’ll miss his energy and physical game.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues winger Mike Hoffman was a healthy scratch from last night’s game against the Golden Knights. Head coach Craig Berube denied it has anything to do with his trade status, claiming it was his decision to put Sammy Blais into the lineup.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hoffman’s come up in recent days as a trade candidate with the Blues’ playoff hopes fading. He could be playing elsewhere by Monday’s deadline.
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: The Blackhawks purchased AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs and signed a new 15-year lease with the club’s arena.
Recaps of Monday’s action, stars of the week, concern over growing COVID numbers on Canucks, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Auston Matthews scored twice and John Tavares picked up his 800th career points as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Calgary Flames 5-3. Matthews has a league-leading 27 goals on the season as the Leafs sit atop the Scotia North Division with 55 points. Leafs goalie Jack Campbell extended his record to 9-0-0. Mikael Backlund scored two goals for the sputtering Flames, who’ve dropped eight of their last nine and sit sixth in the division with 35 points.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stick a fork in the Flames, folks, they’re done. They’re eight points out of a playoff spot in the North and show no sign of reversing their death spiral in the standings.
Eric Staal’s first goal with the Montreal Canadiens was an overtime winner in a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Staal made his debut over a week after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres. It was a costly win for the Habs as winger Brendan Gallagher could be sidelined for weeks with a fractured thumb. With 43 points, the Canadiens sit five points behind the third-place Oilers in the North.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The feisty Gallagher will be difficult to replace. The Habs are pressed against the salary cap. If Gallagher’s out until the playoffs perhaps GM Marc Bergevin will place him on long-term injury reserve. It would free up $3.75 million to put toward pursuing a forward or defenseman before the April 12 trade deadline.
The Winnipeg Jets survived a late push by the Ottawa Senators for a 4-3 victory. Pierre-Luc Dubois tallied twice for the Jets (49 points), who sit one point up on the Oilers for second place in the North Division.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This game wasn’t as close as the score suggests. The Jets dominated the Senators, outshooting them 46-23.
A four-goal second period enabled the Colorado Avalanche to hold off the Minnesota Wild by a score of 5-4. Nathan MacKinnon and Andre Burakovsky each had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche, extending their points streak to 15 games and sitting in first place in the Honda West Division with 56 points. Ryan Hartman had a goal and two assists for the Wild. With 48 points, they are third in the West.
The Vegas Golden Knights picked up their first win in four games by downing the St. Louis Blues 6-1. Alec Martinez scored twice and Alex Pietrangelo picked up an assist in his first game in St. Louis since the former Blues captain signed with Vegas in the offseason. The Golden Knights are second in the West with 52 points while the struggling Blues are sixth with 38 points.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Two years after winning the Stanley Cup and a year after finishing with the best record in the Western Conference, the Blues are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. They’re winless in their last seven (0-6-1), tallying just eight goals in that stretch.
Michael Bunting’s first career NHL hat trick powered the Arizona Coyotes over the Los Angeles Kings 5-2. Adin Hill kicked out 36 shots for his third straight win as the surging Coyotes (43 points) hold a five-point lead over the Blues and San Jose Sharks for fourth in the West.
The Philadelphia Flyers edged the Boston Bruins 3-2 on an overtime goal by Travis Sanheim. The Flyers moved to within three points of the fourth-place Bruins (44 points) in the MassMutual East Division. Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19.
NHL.COM: New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal, San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, and Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand are the NHL’s three stars for the week ending April 4, 2021.
The list of Vancouver Canucks on the NHL’s COVID protocol list grew to 17 players as Nils Hoglander tested positive. The league has extended the postponement of Canucks games to April 10.
TSN: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly expressed concern over the Canucks’ COVID numbers but remains confident the team will be able to complete its 56-game schedule.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That will depend upon how many more Canucks test positive, the severity of their symptoms, how long they’ll be sidelined, and if this outbreak remains contained to the team. The league has a buffer week of May 10-14 to allow for rescheduled games to be completed.
DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars head coach Rick Bowness remains hopeful his COVID test result on Sunday turns out to be a false positive. He’s fully vaccinated and said he feels fine despite the positive test. If his follow-up test is negative he’ll be unable to rejoin the Stars in time for tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks due to the NHL’s COVID protocols.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins forward Brandon Tanev is listed as week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: The Anaheim Ducks have sent rookie forward Trevor Zegras to their AHL affiliate in San Diego. The Ducks were pleased with the promising youngster’s play as a winger but want to give him more experience at center. It’s expected he’ll return to the Ducks before the end of the season.
NEW YORK POST: A Minnesota medical examiner ruled the March 3 death of Mark Pavelich a suicide. The former Team USA and NHL forward was receiving treatment at the Eagle’s Healing Nest in Minnesota as part of his civil commitment for assaulting his neighbor in August 2019. He was diagnosed with a mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury, likely related to repeated head injuries.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Once again, my condolences to Pavelich’s friends, family and former teammates.
Canadiens fire head coach Claude Julien, recaps of Tuesday’s games, the latest on Artemi Panarin, injury updates and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines
The Montreal Canadiens have fired head coach Claude Julien and assistant coach Kirk Muller. Assistant coach Dominique Ducharme has become interim head coach while Alex Burrows has joined the coaching staff.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: After bursting from the gate with a 7-1-2 record the Canadiens were 2-6-2 and in danger of falling out of playoff contention in the North Division. General manager Marc Bergevin was busy in the offseason improving the roster. A coaching change was the next step. It’ll be interesting to see how the Habs respond to this move.
Ducharme spent eight seasons coaching in the QMJHL, guiding the Halifax Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup in 2013. He was also a two-time bench boss of Canada’s World Junior team, coaching them to a gold medal in 2018. He joined the Habs’ coaching staff as an assistant later that year. Following his NHL career, Burrows joined the Canadiens’ farm team in Laval as an assistant coach.
NHL.COM: Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark made 41 saves in a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, handing the latter their third straight loss. Buffalo winger Sam Reinhart collected two assists. Earlier in the day, the Sabres announced defenseman William Borgen will be sidelined up to two months following surgery on Tuesday to repair a broken right forearm.
The Pittsburgh Penguins picked up their third straight win by edging the Washington Capitals 3-2. Kasperi Kapanen tallied the winner in overtime as he and Jake Guentzel each had a goal and an assist. It was a costly win for the Penguins as Jason Zucker and Kris Letang left the game with injuries.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Zucker’s injury looked serious as he had to be helped off the ice after crashing awkwardly into the boards. An update on both players could be made later today.
Patrick Kane scored his 398th career goal and collected three assists as the Chicago Blackhawks nipped the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-5. Alex DeBrincat tallied the game-winner in a shootout while Carl Soderberg had three points for the Hawks. Patrik Laine and Oliver Bjorkstrand each scored twice for the Jackets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kane is playing his way into the Hart Memorial Trophy conversation. He’s the engine driving a Blackhawks team that wasn’t expected to be a playoff contender this season. They’re third in the Discover Central Division with 24 points, two behind the first-place Florida Panthers.
Shootout goals by Tim Stutzle and Josh Norris gave the Ottawa Senators a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, handing the latter their sixth loss in their last eight games. Brady Tkachuk tallied twice for the Senators, including the game-tying goal after the Canadiens overcame a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead. Shea Weber tallied twice for the Habs. Senators center Derek Stepan left the game in the first period with an upper-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher wasn’t happy after his apparent game-winning goal in the dying seconds of regulation was overturned by what he considered a questionable goaltender interference call. Regardless of the validity of Gallagher’s complaint, the Canadiens once again struggled against the worst team in the league. The loss led to today’s firing of Claude Julien as head coach.
Pekka Rinne had a 24-save shutout as the Nashville Predators blanked the Detroit Red Wings 2-0. Filip Forsberg had a goal and an assist as both goals came in the third period.
The Edmonton Oilers scored four unanswered goals (three in the third period) to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3. Dominik Kahun tallied twice and Leon Draisaitl collected three assists for the Oilers. Canucks center Elias Pettersson had a goal and an assist.
NEW YORK POST: Four of Artemi Panarin’s former KHL teammates dispute their former coach’s claim the New York Rangers winger assaulted a young woman in Riga, Latvia in 2011. The allegation by former Vityaz coach Andrei Nazarov forced Panarin to take a leave of absence from the Rangers. Nazarov, a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has publicly criticized Panarin in the past for his outspoken views of the Putin regime.
Larry Brooks reports there’s been no corroboration thus far of Nazarov’s account. Sources say the NHL hasn’t opened an independent investigation and has no intention of doing so due to the lack of credible evidence. There’s no timeline for Panarin’s absence. A source refuted a report the winger sought and was granted two weeks. He remains at his Connecticut home.
Brooks cites a source claiming Nazarov didn’t have a good relationship with Panarin when the winger played for him. Another suggested Nazarov was trying to curry favor with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation in hope of being rewarded with a coaching job.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some have wondered why Panarin needs to take time away from the Rangers after claiming Nazarov’s accusation is baseless. He still has family in Russia and is apparently concerned about the effect of this story on them.
Nazarov reportedly claimed Panarin was detained by local police officials and there were a criminal case and trial. That should be easily verified by local records but nothing has been produced thus far to back up that claim.
SPORTSNET: Henrik Lundqvist is back on the ice less than two months after undergoing open-heart surgery. He was in full gear taking shots.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No indication if this means a return to action for Lundqvist is in the near future. Nevertheless, it’s great to see him back on the ice again as he continues his recovery.
NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: Flyers captain Claude Giroux returned to practice yesterday for the first time after testing positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago. The Flyers will evaluate him in practice today to determine if he’ll face the Rangers tonight. Teammates Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton and Justin Braun remain on the COVID protocol list.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Carolina Hurricanes winger Teuvo Teravainen has been sidelined indefinitely by a concussion. He suffered the injury during last Friday’s game against the Blackhawks.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson suffered a season-ending knee injury during Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings. It could also end his tenure with the Blues as he’s an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
NHL.COM: The league released another update to its schedule to account for games previously postponed by COVID-19 protocols and recent winter storms in Texas.
The Canadiens sign Brendan Gallagher and Jake Allen to contract extensions, Golden Knights owner believes 2020-21 season will begin on Feb. 1, an update on Joe Thornton and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: The Canadiens signed winger Brendan Gallagher and goaltender Jake Allen to contract extensions. Gallagher inked a six-year, $39-million deal while Allen’s is two years with an annual average value of $2.875 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gallagher’s new contract came a day following a report claiming contract talks had broken down. The two sides wasted little time circling back and working things out. Cap Friendly indicates it’s an annual cap hit of $6.5 million, making the 28-year-old winger the Canadiens’ highest-paid forward. It also comes with a modified no-trade clause and a no-movement clause, ensuring he won’t be exposed to next year’s expansion draft.
It’s not surprising the Canadiens locked up Gallagher given his offensive consistency and his status as their heart-and-soul player. It should prove worthwhile through the first half of the deal but could become a salary-cap headache in the latter half as his performance declines.
The Allen deal was a bit of a surprise as it was expected he would only be with the Habs for a year and depart next year via free agency. His new contract is affordable but lacks no-movement protection, meaning he’ll be available in next year’s NHL expansion draft. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin could attempt to cut a deal with Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis to ensure Allen remains a Hab.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski reports Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley told a Las Vegas radio station he sees the 2020-21 NHL season beginning on Feb. 1, a full month after the league’s official target date of Jan. 1. He also believes the schedule could be between 48 to 56 games. Foley feels the fate of next season relies on fans returning to the arenas, citing the NHL’s status as a gate-driven league.
Foley dismissed the possibility of the teams playing in quarantine cities as they did during the 2020 playoffs, calling it unfeasible over the course of a season. He instead mentioned the possibility of some sort of short-term divisional realignment, hinting at an all-Canadian division if the Canada-USA border remains closed by COVID-19.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Foley isn’t saying anything that hasn’t already been speculated by fans and pundits. However, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman could frown on Foley’s remarks. He usually doesn’t stand for owners talking that freely about the league’s plans. Officially, the NHL and NHL Players Association are aiming for a full 82-game regular-season beginning Jan. 1.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said he’s been in frequent contact with Joe Thornton but declined to say if the long-time Sharks center would return with the club next season. Wilson’s comments, however, make it sound as though he’d welcome Thornton’s return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Recent rumors have tied Thornton with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there’s an ongoing belief he could return for another season with the Sharks.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Bruins team president Cam Neely denied the club has imposed an internal salary cap lower than the league’s $81.5 million cap. Recent conjecture suggested financial losses suffered by team owner Jeremy Jacobs’ hospitality empire during the pandemic was behind the club’s limited activity in the free-agent and trade markets.
OTTAWA SUN: The Senators avoided arbitration with forward Nick Paul by signing him to a two-year, one-way contract worth an annual average value of $1.35 million.
CALGARY SUN: The Flames recently signed free-agent goaltender Louis Domingue to a one-year, $700K contract.