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First Impressions

Last night was the opening night for the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs and it sure didn’t disappoint. Every game was a close, low scoring game that saw two Game 1s go into overtime. However, one of the more interesting stats of the night came from the results of all these games. Out of the five games that were played last night, only one team won at home and they are the defending Stanley Cup champions. How did so many road teams win their games? Lets take a look at each road warrior last night and dissect why these results came to be.

St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild

Easily the best game of the night, St. Louis and Minnesota captivated audiences by displaying the grittiness and toughness that playoff hockey requires from each team hoping to make a run at the Stanley Cup. However, you would have thought differently of the game if you only looked at the stat line for the game. Minnesota doubled St. Louis in shots 52-26, won 58.8% of the faceoffs, and beat down the Blues physically, outhitting them 35-18. So how could St. Louis have possibly won? They won because of the stellar play of their goaltender, Jake Allen. Allen played like a man possessed, making unbelieveable saves just like this one:

Allen would go on to make 51 saves in the game, recording the third-most saves in Blues playoff history in the the process. Allen boosted his team due to his phenomenal play and allowed for defenseman Joel Edmundson to create this early playoff moment:

It will be interesting to see if Allen can keep up these kinds of performances for the rest of the series. Game 2 takes place on Friday, April 14, at 7:00 PM on the NBC Sports Network.

San Jose Sharks vs. Edmonton Oilers

This game would have been the best game of the night had St. Louis and Minnesota not stolen the show. This game had it all, the feel good story of the return of playoff hockey to Edmonton, the playoff debut of the next big thing in Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, and the anticipation to see if San Jose can repeat last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. In the first period, it looked as if the Oilers were going to run right through the Sharks, getting 10 shots on goal and scoring two goals to give themselves a 2-0 lead heading into the second.

However, the Sharks defense would rebound very nicely over the score of the rest of the game only allowing a total of nine shots on goal from the second period until the end of the game. Add in the fact that the Edmonton Oilers were playing carelessly the whole night, as evidenced by the six penalties they committed, and San Jose had to feel like they would be able to come back.

After San Jose forward Joel Ward scored on a power play in the second period to cut Edmonton’s lead to 2-1, the Sharks would tie it early in the third thanks to a goal from defenseman Paul Martin:

However, they would not be able to score again in the third, sending this game to overtime. In overtime, forward Melker Karlsson would not take long to put this game away, scoring this goal three minutes into the overtime frame:

Game 2 takes place on Friday, April 14, at 9:30 PM on the NBC Sports Network.

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens 

This game ended up being a microcosm of the outlook of the series, as the winner of the series will be determined by which goalie can outplay the other. The stats prove that as both teams had 31 shots on goal, both teams went scoreless on the power play, and both teams won 28 faceoffs each. In Game 1, it would be Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist that would out duel his counterpart, Carey Price, and get a 2-0 shutout victory as well, becoming the Rangers’ all-time leader in playoff shutouts with 10.

Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens will look to rebound at home from the Bell Centre on Friday, April 14, at 6:00 PM on the USA Network.

Boston Bruins vs. Ottawa Senators

This game featured a lot of fast-paced, back and forth play from both teams. In fact, the score of this game could, and probably should, have been much higher than it was if it weren’t for the inspired play of Bruins goaltender Tukka Rask and Senators goalie Craig Anderson. This was especially evident in one crazy sequence of the game where both goalies stopped breakaways in the same shift:

However, things were not looking good for the Bruins after the second period, as they not only gave up a goal to the Senators in the period, but they also got severely outplayed, giving up 12 shots on goals and recording none for themselves.

In the third period though, the Bruins would get major contributions from their young guys and their veterans as forward Frank Vatrano would score his first career playoff goal with 15:05 left in the game to tie it 1-1. With 2:33 left in the game, the Bruins would score the game-winning goal off a rebound shot from star forward Brad Marchand, much to the elation of the traveling Bruins fans.

The Bruins and Senators will get an extra day of rest before they battle again in Game 2 on Saturday, April 15, at 2:00 PM on NBC.

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Live Tweeting: SCF Edition #2

Tonight is Game 5, which means it’s only fitting that we do another live tweet blog in order to capture such an important instance.

 

Pre-Game

 

During the game

 

Post-game

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Five: Five things to watch for in tonight’s Game 5

The Stanley Cup Final is tied at 2-2. Both Nashville and Pittsburgh have an equal opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. This game will come down to a few factors that, if swung one way or the other, can determine the winner of Game 5, and according to these stats, the winner of the Stanley Cup.

I have broken this game down into five factors that I feel are important to watch for tonight that will affect the outcome of this game.

 

Potential Injuries

Typically, hockey players get hurt and they come back in. It is why many that watch hockey believe that they are the toughest athletes in the world. However, getting hurt and getting injured are two very different things. Near the end of Game 4, Predators’ star defenseman P.K. Subban got hurt. Visually, it looked at lot worse than it might have been as Subban came back and finished the game after some time off the ice.

Watch tonight to see if Subban or any other players for either team that have been taking big hits are hurt or if they are concealing an injury. This is the time of year when you want all your guys playing and an injury, especially to a player the caliber of P.K. Subban, is devastating to a team’s chance to win the Stanley Cup.

 

Nashville’s road warriors vs. Pittsburgh’s hometown heroes

Game 5 will take place inside PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. At home in this postseason, the Penguins have amassed a record of 9-3. While this is very impressive, the Predators have also been very impressive on the road, as Nashville has won at least one road game in every postseason series up to this point.

Clearly, this will be a battle of two teams who are both very comfortable playing in the conditions that each will be in tonight. Whichever team can play their style the most effectively will come out on top tonight. This leads me to my next thing to watch in this game…

 

Pittsburgh’s defensemen

The Penguins’ group of defenders is not well known, but they were a large part of the reason why the Penguins held a 2-0 series lead after the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. When Pittsburgh is at their best, their defensemen are constantly pinching in the offensive zone, creating more offensive zone possession for the Penguins and, as a direct result of that, more goals.

Through the first two games, Pittsburgh’s defensemen recorded five assists. In the next two games in Nashville, they only recorded two assists. At home, Pittsburgh’s defensemen may feel more comfortable pinching in the offensive zone, but it will be something to watch after their two abysmal games, as a group, in Nashville.

 

Pekka Rinne and Matt Murray

The goaltenders for both teams have been hot talking points throughout the entire Stanley Cup Finals. For the first two games in Pittsburgh, Murray looked like he was going to be the better goaltender out of the two after allowing an average of two goals per game, while posting a save percentage of .937. Meanwhile, Rinne was abysmal in those two games, allowing an average of four goals per game with a save percentage of .777. There were talks of benching Rinne for the rest of the series after those two games.

However, after two games in Nashville, the narrative has completely flipped as Rinne has looked unstoppable, allowing an average of one goal per game with a save percentage of .961. Murray, meanwhile, did not fair well allowing an average of three goals per game, while posting a save percentage of .862. There are now talks of Murray being benched for the rest of the series.

While I fully expect Murray to be in goal tonight and for the rest of this series, it will be interesting to see whether these alternating good and bad games from both teams’ goalies is a new trend or just a case of the goalies playing much better when they are at home. If it is the latter, this would favor Pittsburgh, while if the case is the former, Nashville would benefit greatly.

 

Phil Kessel

The final aspect of this game to watch is Phil Kessel. Kessel has not been as good as we are accustomed to seeing him be. As I have mentioned earlier, Kessel needs to play better if the Penguins are to have any chance of winning the Stanley Cup. However, while he didn’t score in Nashville in Games 3 & 4, he was noticeable when he was on the ice. Typically when you notice a player, it means he’s getting chances. At home tonight, look to see if Kessel can turn those chances into actual goals and assists.

Apologies are in order

I apologize. This is not something I say often about my pieces as I typically do not feel that anyone has to apologize for their own opinions. Earlier in the Stanley Cup Finals, I told all of you that the dreams of the Nashville Predators winning the Stanley Cup were over. However, I clearly was mistaken. I believed that Pittsburgh, despite not playing great hockey in Game 1 and capitalizing on a rare bad defensive performance by Nashville in Game 2, that Pittsburgh would put Nashville away by this time, either in the form of a sweep or winning the whole thing in five games.

This is not the case anymore. In fact, it’s now looking like Nashville might win four in a row over the Pittsburgh Penguins and bring Nashville their first professional sports title in front of their home crowd.

While I still firmly believe that sports networks like NBCSN and NBC will tell casual fans anything in order to keep their attention on the Stanley Cup Final, the truth of the matter is that even though Nashville was down 2-0 in the series after two games in Pittsburgh, they were playing well enough against the Penguins to put doubt in their minds.

The Predators capitalized on this in Games 3 & 4 where they thrashed the Penguins 5-1 and 4-1 respectively.

I apologize because I did not see what I currently see now from this team. This might have to do with the fact that I am an unapologetic Hawks fan that still believes that if the Hawks had put any amount of effort into that series, they would have won their first round matchup against Nashville.

However, after watching them play against this Pittsburgh team with all the talent they have on their team, this one fact has become abundantly clear to me:

Nashville is better than Pittsburgh. They were better than Anaheim. They were better than St. Louis. They were better than Chicago.

For not recognizing this sooner, I apologize. While it seems like I am now giving up on Pittsburgh, I’m not, a Stanley Cup victory will be the last piece of validation for the Nashville Predators to assert themselves as one of the powerhouses of the Western Conference and the NHL as a whole.

The importance of Game 4 for Nashville and what the stats say about Game 5

When Nashville won Game 4 by the score of 4-1 and tied the series at 2-2, the Predators not only increased their chances to win the Stanley Cup, they made sure that they had a chance at all. Let’s say hypothetically that Pittsburgh had somehow won that game and the Predators were currently down 3-1 in the series. If Pittsburgh had stolen Game 4 on the road, they would have had a 91.4 percent chance to win the Stanley Cup in five games since they were the team returning home with a 3-1 lead.

By tying the series at 2-2, the Predators gave themselves a 20.9 percent chance to win the Stanley Cup in six games. However, the thought on everyone’s mind is can they steal Game 5 in Pittsburgh and, if they do, what are their odds to win the Stanley Cup.

Let’s first look at the history of Game 5s when the series is tied 2-2. There have 265 Stanley Cup playoff series that have been tied at 2-2. The winner of Game 5 has gone on to win their respective series 210 times, while only losing the series 55 times, giving the winning team a 79.2 percent chance to win the series.

As for each team’s chance to win the all-important Game 5, the stats say the home team will win the game as home teams in series that are tied at 2-2 have won Game 5 169 times.

However, if Nashville finds a way to steal Game 5 on the road, they will have a great chance of winning the Stanley Cup, as road teams that win Game 5 when the series is tied at 2-2 win their series 76 percent of the time.

In short, this Game 5 will be the most important game played for both teams. For Nashville, this is the most important game they have ever played in their franchise’s history. For Pittsburgh, this game is very important because they will have to defend home ice if they want a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

 

Three Takeaways: SCF Edition

After a Game 4 that saw the Nashville Predators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins by the score of 4-1 and tied the series at 2, three facts became abundantly clear about this series

Home is where the heart is

The home team has won every game in this series by at least two goals and has scored at least four goals in each of the games. Also, both goaltenders like to play at home as well, as the worst save percentage of the winning team’s goalie was .895 in Game 1.

While Nashville has all the momentum in the world right now, this trend, if it continues as such, bodes well for the Pittsburgh Penguins, as Game 5 will be on their home ice, as well as a potential Game 7 should the series go that far.

 

Pekka Rinne is back and that’s bad news for the Penguins

Pekka Rinne’s 26 save outing in Game 3 was proven to not be an outlier as he followed up that performance with a 23 save performance en route to a 4-1 win at home. Rinne was making incredible saves all night such as this one:

When Rinne is playing at this level, Nashville is almost unbeatable as they boast one of the best defenses in the NHL and a group of young, skilled forwards.

 

Malkin and Kessel must step up for Pittsburgh

On a night where, despite the outcome, Sidney Crosby was very noticeable, two big names were not. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel were barely mentioned in tonight’s broadcast of the game on NBC. In fact, both have been fairly quiet throughout this series. While Malkin does have two goals at home in this series, on the road he has recorded zero points with a -3 rating. Kessel, for the entire series, has just one assist and  a +/- rating of -2.

In order for Pittsburgh to reclaim the momentum of this series, they are going to need those two men to step up their games in a big way if they want to win the Stanley Cup.

 

 

R.I.P. Nashville’s Stanley Cup Dreams

Last night, the Nashville Predators lost Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins by the score of 4-1 and now find themselves down 2-0 heading back home. Their chance to win the Stanley Cup didn’t end last night though. Their dreams ended at the end of Game 1 on Monday.

In that game, the Nashville Predators did everything right. They were gaining the offensive zone well, they played stifling defense to the point where they didn’t allow a shot on net to the Pittsburgh Penguins for over 37 minutes and only allowed a total of 12 shots in the whole game.

Typically, when a team has that kind of performance, the team with 12 shots gets blown out of the water and they are left questioning how they can play better after such a horrible showing. While Pittsburgh was questioning how bad they played in Game 1, they still pulled through, scoring five goals on those 12 shots, (Pekka Rinne allowed four goals on 11 of those shots), to beat the Nashville Predators 5-3.

After the game, everyone was praising Nashville. The analysts were saying they played so well and that this will end up being a long series. After that game, I said the opposite. That game was the death of the Nashville Predators’ chances to win the Stanley Cup.

I believed this for two reasons. The first reason was that Pekka Rinne had an awful performance. The person on your hockey team that you want to have the most confidence coming out of a game that you dominate but lose is the goaltender and clearly Rinne did not have any of that, as shown by the fact that he gave four more goals in Game 2 and was subsequently pulled from the game.

The second reason was that a team as good as Pittsburgh does not get shut down the way they were in Game 1 for an entire series. Whether it was the next game or a couple games down the road, I had the sense that Pittsburgh would figure out how to handle Nashville’s schemes and would not be as easy to shut down as they were in Game 1. The Penguins proved that idea to be true in Game 2, where they had 27 shots on goal.

Again, the analysts that were covering the game told the world that Nashville played good enough to get the win in this game as well. Sometimes analysts can be cruel people, especially to the Nashville fans in this case.

I am here to honestly tell those same fans the hard, inevitable truth: This series is already over. Yes, you guys do have one of, if not, the loudest crowds and arenas in the entire hockey world. I want all of you to go to Games 3 and 4 and cheer the loudest you can for a team that you and I both agree deserve that kind of ovation.

However, I will not disrespect you the way that the people at NBC and NBCSN are by trying to give the Predators moral victories after every game in an obvious attempt to keep the casual fan tuned into their broadcast as the NBA Finals are about to begin. The Predators, and their fans, deserve better than that.

The Predators deserve to be in the Stanley Cup Finals. However, the analysts and hockey gurus have painted this picture of Nashville as a team that, normally, wouldn’t belong on the same plain as the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is despite the fact that they swept the six-time Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, beat a good St. Louis team in the Western Conference semifinals, and beat a former Stanley Cup champion in the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference finals, to get to this point.

So I will not disrespect you, the Nashville fans, like NBC and NBCSN are by feeding you lies. As I already have written before, and as most of you would agree, the Nashville Predators have taken over Nashville. But the reality remains the same as it stands right now: the Predators’ dreams of winning the Stanley Cup are over.