For those who care, they held the NHL Lottery on Thursday night. After dragging it out to the point of exhaustion thanks to all the wasted nonsense, they finally got down to who won.
The winner was again the Sabres. I guess losing has its perks. Even if this upcoming Draft isn’t expected to boast a can’t miss superstar like the past two drafts, the incompetence of Buffalo has been rewarded for the second time. They also won it in 2018 and took Rasmus Dahlin. They’ve also wound up with Sam Reinhart and disillusioned captain Jack Eichel, who sounds like he wants out. Can you blame him?
The expansion Seattle Kraken will pick second behind the Sabres. Is it right that they aren’t picking first over a dysfunctional franchise with bad ownership and virtually no plan? I feel the Kraken should’ve automatically been awarded the top pick. Then the other bottom feeders could pick behind them. Not like the NHL is logical. Oh well.
The Devils will pick fourth. If he’s available, I imagine Luke Hughes would be someone they’d have interest in. The younger brother of Jack Hughes, Luke Hughes is a highly rated defense prospect. Given the state of the New Jersey blue line, it would make sense to select him. It’ll depend on what the three teams decide ahead of them. Expect Matty Beniers to go in the top three. The American center played a key role on Team USA at the World Junior Championship where they won gold. He also had 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 24 games in his freshman year at Michigan. Owen Power ranks as the top North American skater. He’s a defenseman who put up 16 points (3-13-16) at Michigan his freshman year. He’s expected to go first to the Sabres. Other notable prospects to keep an eye on are Dylan Guenther, William Eklund, Kent Johnson, Simon Edvinsson and Mason McTavish.
The Rangers will pick 15th. No miracle this year. Good. I could care less about more prospects. They need to improve the roster and deliver on Garden CEO James Dolan’s playoffs or bust mantra. That means new Team President and GM Chris Drury must be aggressive this summer. If that means using the first round pick along with players to swing a deal for the edgy two-way forward they need, I’m all for it. There’s plenty of young players in the system. Not everyone will be Rangers. Especially on a back end that now should include former first round pick Nils Lundkvist, who finally signed his entry level contract the other day. If he makes the roster, he’ll join Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones and Jacob Trouba. I’m curious to see if Libor Hajek will still have a role following a solid first full season.
One thing about the state of the Rangers on the back end is all the depth they possess. With most of it coming cheap for now, they’ll likely move on from lightning rod Tony DeAngelo. Even though I think his intensity was missed along with the offense he provides, there are more affordable alternatives. Especially if Lundkvist proves himself to be the good offensive D he’s been in Sweden. Plus with DeAngelo passing through irrevocable waivers, the buyout won’t cost much. He’ll be free to sign with another team if there’s interest. Hopefully, he gets another chance after what happened in the Big Apple. As far as the defensive depth, there’s also Tarmo Reunanen, Matthew Robertson and the hard nosed Braden Schneider, who looks to have a bright future. I’m most excited for his arrival. Lindgren and Trouba need help. The D got beat up. You can’t have that.
Moving on, there’s been some compelling hockey in the second round of the playoffs. You had a desperate Golden Knights pull out Game Three last night 3-2 in a crazy third period over the Avalanche to pull within two games to one in that West Final. After Mikko Rantanen scored on the power play to give Colorado the lead despite being largely outplayed, it looked like Philipp Grubauer would steal Game Three. But Jonathan Marchessault banked one in from behind the net to tie it and 45 seconds later, Max Pacioretty redirected a Nick Holden shot for the game-winner before a raucous environment at a capacity T-Mobile Arena. Following the predictable Game One Avalanche rout, that’s been a fun series. We’ll see if Vegas can draw even by holding serve tomorrow.
You also have what’s been a superb East Final between the Islanders and Bruins. Two evenly matched teams who boast four lines, good goalies and hit hard, the hockey has been intense. After Boston took Game One on the strength of a David Pastrnak hat trick, the Islanders responded by taking Game Two in overtime on a Casey Cizikas breakaway goal to gain home ice. However, the Bruins turned the tables in another back and forth Game Three before 12,000 screaming Islanders’ fans at Nassau Coliseum. For most of the game, Boston led on a first period goal from Craig Smith. They outplayed the Islanders and had a huge edge in shots and territorial play. But Semyon Varlamov’s goaltending kept his team in it. Following the second Bruins’ power play that didn’t produce, Mat Barzal finally scored his first goal of this postseason when he stuck with a wrap around by beating Tuukka Rask on the second try. Afterwards, it was all Isles. Anthony Beauvillier had a breakaway try, but Rask denied his backhand bid to help force a second consecutive overtime. Early on, it looked like the Islanders would end it. They got some good chances on Rask, who made two huge stops. On just an innocent looking play, Charlie McAvoy handed off for a changing Brad Marchand. The Rat skated with little room thanks to the checking of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. However, he still was able to get off a seeing eye shot from a tough angle that somehow beat Varlamov far side to give the Bruins a 2-1 win in sudden death. It was stunning. Boston leads the series 2-1 with a pivotal Game Four tonight on Long Island. That should be interesting.
In the other series that’s been closely fought, the Lightning bring a two games to one series lead into this afternoon’s Game Four at home. The strange part is the road team has won all three games of the Central Final. The Bolts took Game One thanks to a go-ahead goal from key depth center Barclay Goodrow to win 2-1. They doubled up their lead in Raleigh by edging a frustrated Hurricanes 2-1. As it turned out following an Alex Killorn turnaround goal from distance through traffic, Anthony Cirelli’s insurance marker proved large. Andrei Svechnikov cut it to one late. In Game Three, the Canes knew they had to win. Switching goalies with Petr Mrazek replacing rookie Alex Nedeljkovic, they got the game’s first two goals courtesy of Brett Pesce and Sebastian Aho. However, penalties allowed the lethal Tampa power play to tie it on goals from Brayden Point and Killorn. The game would require sudden death. In it, the Canes were able to set up a good Aho one-timer from the high slot after he moved into position. It beat Andrei Vasilevskiy at 5:57. Jordan Staal was in front. Replays later confirmed that the Carolina captain got a piece of the shot for the OT winner. It was his third overtime goal of his career. All coming with Carolina. He is now tied for the franchise lead. With Game Four looming large, we’ll see if Vincent Trocheck and Warren Foegle can go. If not, the Canes are running short on bodies. The Bolts are healthier. It should be interesting.
The only series that’s been disappointing is the North Final between the Canadiens and Jets. An ill advised hit from leader Mark Scheifele on Jake Evans that concussed him after he scored a rare wraparound empty netter, has badly hurt Winnipeg. Scheifele was suspended four games for what was ruled a charge and game misconduct by the officials. With the Habs hot following the unnecessary hit even though the principle point of contact wasn’t the head, the league made an example of Scheifele. A clean player who never had been suspended. So, he got four games while Vegas tough guy Ryan Reaves only served two games for intent to injure Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves during a 7-1 blowout loss. Reaves has gotten away with other cringe worthy behavior prior without paying the price. There’s no consistency from George Parros. That’s my issue. I don’t feel Scheifele deserved four games. I felt two would’ve been appropriate. Instead, he can only watch as his team looked punch less in a 1-0 shutout loss in Game Two before 500 Emergency Medical Workers in Winnipeg. The only goal was scored by Tyler Toffoli, who made a great move and beat Connor Hellebuyck for a nice shorthanded goal. Hellebuyck made some big stops to give the Jets a chance. But they could not beat Carey Price, who saved all 30 shots for his eighth career playoff shutout. His biggest coming with time to spare when he headed away a desperation Kyle Connor high riser off his mask to give Montreal the win. They now take a 2-0 series lead back to Bell Centre, which should be rocking. Even if it’s only limited to 2,500 fans, you saw what that crowd did for them in their overtime victory over the Maple Leafs in Game Six. With the Jets playing Pierre-Luc Dubois on their top line and having only scored three times on Price, does Paul Maurice have an answer? We’ll see.
Even though it’s tough without the Rangers, these playoffs have been very good so far. A lot of overtimes. Momentum swings. Heavy hits. Gigantic saves. Huge blocks. Clutch goals like the one Marchand scored to bail out his team when they looked on the ropes before that chaotic atmosphere the other day. Marchand has now scored three OT winners. He’s the definition of clutch. For all the gripes people have about his antics, The Rat 🐀 is a top five player. While he isn’t on the level of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl or Nathan MacKinnon, Marchand has the uncanny ability to make his teammates better. While Pastrnak and the ever clutch Patrice Bergeron receive all the accolades, it’s the play of Marchand that keeps opponents off balance. Not the biggest player, he’s a superb skater who has a knack for making the right play. Whether it be a key pass or shot, it’s Marchand that stirs the drink for the Bruins. It’s about time he gets proper credit for how good he is.
That’ll do it for this updated blog. It’s about time I posted some thoughts. P.S. NBC really sucks. Not having a few postgames after overtimes and shifting games to CNBC. The over promotion of the Olympics when not one hockey fan cares. The force-fed horse racing that’s so gambling driven. It’s nonsense. That Bruins/Islanders game won’t begin until 7:40 PM. False advertising. NBC pulled the same thing with those 12 noon games that usually didn’t drop until 12:25 PM. I’m glad they’re done. I won’t miss that network.