Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop was stretchered off the ice with an apparent lower-body injury with 7:27 to play in the first period during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night.
The final rosters for The World Cash Grab of Hockey™ are due two weeks from today. They were originally supposed to be submitted June 1, but the league and the NHL Players’ Association decided they didn’t want the World Cup extras to overshadow the Stanley Cup final. The announcement would coincide with Game 7 of the Western Conference final if there is one, but both sides were willing to take that risk.
So for some players, the auditions for the final spots continue through the conference final and World Championship. And there’s no doubt that some players have used those platforms to either cement their spots or make for some very difficult decisions.
Here are players from each team that have willed their way into the World Cup conversation:
Brent Burns: Biggest no-brainer of the whole tournament. In fact, I had to go back to make sure he wasn’t on Canada’s roster already. That’s because Burns might not only be the best Canadian defenseman at the moment, he might be the best in the world. Adding Burns to a right defense corps that already has Drew Doughty and Shea Weber would be frightening.
Kris Letang: Canada plans to go with just four right-handed defensemen and already has two in Weber and Doughty, which leaves the other two spots for Burns and one of P.K. Subban or Letang. This is where the Canadian brain trust is going to have a very, very difficult decision to make.
Logan Couture: It shouldn’t matter that Canada already has nine natural centermen and just two wingers on its roster at the moment. Couture has been one of the best two-way players in these playoffs and despite getting fewer minutes than San Jose’s big guns, scored 11 points in the second round.
Taylor Hall/Matt Duchene: Both are playing well for Canada at the World Championship and if you’re going to get players to go to that tournament to audition for events such as the World Cup, you’d better be prepared to offer them spots when they produce.
Phil Kessel: The Americans might want to bring Nick Bonino along if they choose Kessel, but Kessel has proved he belongs with the best players in the world. The Americans are already well stocked at right wing with the likes of Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie, but there has to be room for a player who has performed as well as Kessel has.
Tyler Johnson: Ask yourself one question. If the World Cup team were being picked at this time last year, would Johnson have been included? You bet he would have. Well, right now he’s playing every bit as well as he did in last year’s playoffs. He deserves to at least grab the spot as the 13th forward.
Robby Fabbri: He’s been a winner and an impact player at every level he’s played and he’s proving to be a huge factor in the Blues’ run to the Western Conference final. He would give this team the speed and grit that will drive its opponents bonkers in the fall.
Jonathan Drouin: He has answered every character question people had of him. The talent has always been there, but there’s a jam to his game that is coming to the forefront. He’s an elite playmaker and is showing it.
Colton Parayko: The St. Louis Blues defenseman is playing 20 minutes a game and seems unfazed by the elevation in competition. And at 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, he’ll give the kids some much-needed size.
Auston Matthews: The consensus No. 1 pick was “in tough” to make the team in the words of team management, but what more can he do to prove he belongs? He has been a beast at the worlds.
Nikita Nesterov: The 23-year-old has been in and out of the Tampa Bay lineup and has not seen a lot of ice time when he has played, but in limited viewing has displayed an ability to move the puck and create offensive opportunities.
Carl Hagelin: After being traded twice in less seven months, Hagelin has found a home in Pittsburgh playing on a line with Bonino and Kessel. One thing we’ve seen in these playoff is that speed kills and Hagelin has all sorts of it.
Radek Faksa: Of course Jaromir Jagr gets a spot if he wants it. But if this team is going to have any success at all in this tournament, it’s going to have to come from their young guys and Faksa did a good job with the Dallas Stars playing with a lot of energy and a competitive edge.
Patrik Laine: The Finns are tied for first in their division at the World Championship and Laine is leading them in scoring. Come on, Finland, make it happen. At the very least, it would give the country’s next big offensive star a taste of what it’s like to play against the best players in the world.
Tom Kuhnhackl: He’s getting a ton of big-game experience playing on Pittsburgh’s fourth line and despite playing only 12 minutes a game, has five points in these playoffs. His shorthanded goal in Game 1 of the first round basically buried the New York Rangers in that game and helped set the tone for the series.
Matt Murray is in the midst of a star-making post-season in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but with a healthy Marc-Andre Fleury sitting on the sidelines for the past four games, there are some questioning which goaltender coach Mike Sullivan will go with for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
And it was maybe safe to assume that Murray, who is 7-2 with a .935 SP, would get the call in Game 1, Sullivan hasn’t done much to stop the questions about which goaltender will be starting. When asked about a potential starter Thursday, Sullivan wouldn’t tip his hand, saying only the Penguins would go with whichever netminder gave the team the best chance at winning.
“I think we’re very fortunate because we have the options that we have,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got very capable people in a lot of positions, but goaltending in particular, we’ve got three guys that have helped us win and have been significant contributors in getting this team to where it is to this point.”
But at the morning skate Friday, it was Murray who was first off the ice, normally a sign of which netminder will be starting the evening’s contest. That means the 21-year-old Murray, who came into this post-season with zero games of NHL playoff experience, will start the opening game of the Eastern Conference final. Read more
The final four is set: Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and San Jose are the last teams left vying for the Stanley Cup. It’s an interesting and exciting group, but it’s also not an unexpected one if you paid attention to the numbers.
Before every round, we here at THN previewed three different sets of predictions: one based on stats, one based on the eye test, and a combination of the two. So far, the stats have come out on top and those four teams were pretty much exactly the predicted final four.
Pittsburgh was the top team in the league. St. Louis was tops in the Central and fourth overall. Tampa Bay was tops in the Atlantic and seventh overall. And San Jose was second in the Pacific behind LA, but third overall in the league.
Not bad for a bunch of numbers, let’s see how they do in the conference final. But first a quick recap of where the stats and eyes differed in opinion for round two, and some adjustments to the method.
SERIES STARTS: Friday, 8 p.m. ET in Pittsburgh.
THE LIGHTNING WIN IF…
Whereas Pittsburgh got one goal from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined in the second round, Tampa’s best players continue to be its best players. The NHL may have to cut the Conn Smythe Trophy into pieces and hand them out to several Bolts if they win the Stanley Cup. Nikita Kucherov has been a monster, ripping off nine goals in 10 games, and Tyler Johnson, last year’s league-leading playoff scorer, has recaptured the magic with 13 points in 10 games.
Two-time Stanley Cup winner Kevin Stevens has been charged with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone, a powerful pain reliever similar to morphine. As reported by the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts native was arrested along with another man and will be held until a hearing on Tuesday. Stevens’ lawyer says he will contest the charges, but this isn’t the first time the former power forward has been in trouble off the ice.
Expressions like “team of destiny” or “peaking at the right time” get thrown around every Stanley Cup playoffs but exist for a reason. The franchise that blooms when it counts sometimes goes go all the way and wins a championship. The 2012 Los Angeles Kings crusaded to a Cup as a No. 8 seed. The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins looked lost in February and hoisted the chalice four months later. The 2000 New Jersey Devils slumped badly enough to fire their coach while in first place, then put it all together in time for post-season glory.
And the 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins have that same positive juju going. It doesn’t seem to matter what obstacle pops up in front of them. They bowl right through it at breakneck speed.
The Pens sat 15-10-3 Dec. 12, the day they fired coach Mike Johnston. They ranked 28th in scoring. They were 20th in 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi. Captain Sidney Crosby had a disastrous six goals and 19 points in 28 games. Hyped off-season acquisition Phil Kessel had nine goals and 17 points in 28 games. He somehow couldn’t seem to make magic with Crosby or Malkin, the best two scoring centers of this generation. Pittsburgh had no first-round pick in the upcoming draft for the third time in four years. It had mortgaged the future for a Stanley Cup push as Crosby and Malkin approached the end of their primes, and it appeared the championship window was closing.
I’ve never been a fan of the puck over glass penalty rule. It’s always felt as though the punishment dwarfs the crime, especially when compared to other infractions that either get penalized with an identical two minute minor or not at all.
Screaming case in point. In Pittsburgh-Washington Game 6, the Pens take three consecutive minors for illegal clears, are faced with consecutive 5-on-3s, and surrender the inevitable game-tying goal. Fast forward to overtime when Jason Chimera is cross-checked in the offensive zone, which leads directly to a golden 2-on-1 opportunity for Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr.
In the puck-over-glass scenarios, the offenders had zero intention of committing an infraction, and their actions did not nullify an immediate scoring opportunity. By contrast, the Capitals would have been eliminated on what appeared to be a non-call against Chimera if not for a strong play by netminder Braden Holtby.