Author: NationalTeamsOfIceHockey (page 1 of 50)

GB storms past Japan, returns to Division 1A

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

In an arena overlooking the shipyard that built the Titanic, Great Britain ensured that its World Championship heartache would go on no longer. A crushing 4-0 victory over Japan earned gold for the host nation and secured promotion to Division IA after four seasons.

For many of the players it was a case of third time lucky. In Eindhoven in 2015, and again in Zagreb 12 months ago, Britain had been within minutes of promotion only to fall at the final hurdle. This time, there was no mistake.

Aided by a couple of early GB penalties, Japan took the early initiative and home hearts were in mouths as a shot dinged off Ben Bowns’ post. But the Japanese suffered a big blow midway through the opening stanza when Hiroki Ueno limped out of the game after taking a hit in front of the benches. Ueno, part of Japan’s free-scoring first line, was replaced by Masahito Nishiwaki, but some of the chemistry that had powered the team’s speedy offence was diluted and Britain began to take control of the game.

The breakthrough came late in the first period as Japan ran into penalty trouble of its own. GB earned a 5-on-3 advantage and Robert Dowd cashed in with the opening goal. Ben O’Connor saw a slap shot come back to him and passed to Robert Farmer on the goal line. Farmer then picked out Dowd in front of the net and the Sheffield Steeler sent the crowd into raptures with his fourth goal of the tournament.

And Dowd was involved again as the host nation doubled its lead on another power play in the 25th minute. His shot from the top of the circle took a touch from Brendan Brooks and went through the five-hole.

Japan thought it had a lifeline in the 28th minute when Kenta Takagi put the puck in the net, only for the on-ice officials to call no goal because the net was off its moorings. After a long look at the video, that verdict was upheld, much to Takagi’s disgust.

Seconds later, Japan trailed by three. Colin Shields, one of the heroes of the tournament for GB, fired in a shot from the point and Matt Myers threw up a huge screen to redirect the puck beyond Fukufuji. The Belfast crowd, which included Rod Stewart, in town to watch his son Liam, went wild.

Then Myers grabbed his second of the night, finishing off an odd-man rush after a superb David Phillips pass sent Evan Mosey off to the races. With a 4-0 lead, the home crowd started the party 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

That confidence was justified. Japan struggled to get its pacey offence into the game, managing just 10 shots on goal through 40 minutes, an astonishing turnaround from the devastating attacking play Takahito Suzuki’s team had produced in its first four games. The loss of Ueno clearly hurt the Japanese, but the home defence deserves credit for the way it denied the opposition the chance to turn over the puck as freely as it had in previous games.

Aside from a spell early in the third period, Britain kept Japan at arm’s length, and when called upon Bowns was alert between the piping to deny Makuru Furuhashi on a power play chance or kick away a dangerous effort from Takagi. The Cardiff Devils goalie made 20 saves for a well-deserved shut-out as Belfast got ready for a party that will run right through the holiday weekend.

Portugal plays in first international tournament

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By National Teams of Ice Hockey

Portugal is not known for ice hockey, they don’t have a rink but they do have a national team and in a effort to be more visible Portugal for the first time enter a international tournament in Grenada, Spain playing against amateur club sides from Spain and Finland .

Portugal is coached by Jim Aldred a former IHL & AHL player and the team is made up of players of all ages.

Portugal finished in 7th, place in a 8 team tournament and at times really struggled on the big ice losing 8-1 and 9-0 but there was a bright spot when they beat Eagles Granada 5-0 for there only win and the teams first ever shutout.

Goaltender Maxim Andreyev who was born in Kazakhstan recorded the blank sheet but  Maurício Xavier president of Federação Portuguesa de Desportos do Gelo said

I wouldn’t make much of it. It was in the game against the weakest team, who didn’t shoot too much. For example Ivan Silva, was much better in the games he played, especially in the last game against the Mr. Taxi team where he kept us in the game. That was an authentic shooting gallery at him.”

The appetite for Ice hockey and winter sports is there but what is really need is an ice rink in the country and for these players they won’t stop until that goal is accomplished.

Korea promoted!

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

It will be the first time in history that the host of the 2018 Olympics will play in the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship next year in Copenhagen and Herning, Denmark, where they will be joined by tournament winner Austria.

“The first and second periods were a little tough but we did our best and skated hard so we could get out with a good result. Now we will be focusing on the top division and will do our best to stay there,” Sanghoon Shin said.

It will be the first time for an Asian team to play in the top division since Japan between 1998 and 2004 when the Asian qualifier had a spot. Korea overtook Japan as the top-ranked Asian nation for the first time in 2016.

Korea finishes the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in second and the World Championship program this year in 18th place overall. The previous best placing was 21st in 2013 and 2016.

“It was a very exciting game until the last shot. The Ukrainian players played extremely hard, they blocked shots, they’re physical, they have individual skill. Their goalie was outstanding all tournament. They took us all the way to the shootout,” Korea head coach Jim Paek said.

“It’s very important for us [to be promoted]. We get to play against top-division teams and get this experience. For many years we haven’t been able to play against such countries so it’s important to get this experience.”

Kazakhstan finishes the tournament in third place ahead of Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. The host earned its first and only point tonight but will be relegated.

“You want to come in and win every game. We played five games. We started the tournament 3-0; then Austria set us back. It was pretty tough today. Ukraine is a top team. They’re good to play against. We knew [if] we win we’re going up so that was in the back of the mind all game. It put a lot more pressure on the guys but we came through. It was a nail-biter but it was fun for the fans,” said Michael Swift, who was credited with the game-winning goal after opening the shootout with a marker.

“The next 12 months that are coming up will be something very special for Korean ice hockey. They’ve never been to the top [division]. We’re there now and we want to stay there. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Korea out shot Ukraine 36-23 during the 65 minutes of play but did too little with its opportunities.

Korea had more opportunities in a scoreless first period also during two power plays and eventually opened the scoring at 4:59 of the middle frame.

Shangwoo Shin got the time and space to patiently wait on the right side of the Ukrainian net before sending a pass to Jin Hui Ahn to the left, who gave Korean the lead. However, Ukraine stepped up in the period and was rewarded.

Sergi Babynets took Korea goalie Matt Dalton the puck away behind the net, skated back and put the puck in to tie the game.

“Our team was doing the best, sometimes even more than they could. There’s of course always the desire to do something magic but it’s not always possible,” Ukraine head coach Olexander Savitsky said after the game. “We have youngsters with good potential and hopefully in the next championship they will be good.”

There were several hot moments in the third period like when defenceman Vsevolod Tolstushko saved a Korean shot with his skate and on the other side a Ukrainian shot missed the net me millimeters.

For the last 29 seconds of regulation time and 71 seconds of the overtime period the Koreans played with a man advantage but Eduard Zakharchenko in the Ukrainian net had a strong night. Korea out shot Ukraine 8-0 in the 3-on-3 overtime. They managed to skate close to the Ukrainian net to shoot several times but missed out from great positions.

However, in the shootout the Koreans were eventually more efficient while Dalton made two great saves to lead Korea to the top division.

Shootout:

Round 1: Micheal Swift (KOR) 1-0, Nikita Butsenko (UKR) save.

Round 2: Minho Cho (KOR) missed, Vitali Lyalka (UKR) save.

Round 3: Sanghoon Shin (KOR) 2-0.

Austria returns to Worlds

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Brian Lebler scored a hat trick, Konstantin Komarek and Lukas Haudum each had two goals and an assist.

With the result Austria is not only promoted but also the tournament winner.  The only open question is which will be the second team and follow the Austrians to the elite level. Korea can do it by beating Ukraine in its last game. If they lose, Kazakhstan will take the second place instead.

“I thought it was a really good game tonight. We started off the game very well. We got a 3-0 lead after the first period. In the end of the night it was a little high. We are happy. We take it as it is and are happy to move to the top division,” Austrian captain Thomas Raffl said.

“It feels nice. We’ve been working hard the last five days. It was different and hard games for us. We struggled too, especially at the start of the tournament. We showed that we have a mentally strong team. We got better every game.”

Austria knew it would be promoted with a regulation-time win while Poland entered the day with small hopes for promotion and these were more or less destroyed with Kazakhstan’s win against Hungary. And if not the by that, then by a strong start of the Austrians, who went up 3-0 after just ten minutes of play.

Martin Ulmer opened the scoring after just 104 seconds. Then Brian Lebler converted a centring pass from Konstantin Komarek at 7:01.

At 10:02 Fabio Hofer made it 3-0 with his second goal of the tournament. Raffl shot from the right side and although Hofer fell down between three opponents, he managed to shovel the puck over the line.

“Of course it helped us to score two quick goals early in the game, our self-confidence grew and we played a great game until the end. We didn’t think about the score or whether it’s a record, we were just thinking about the game and the tournament,” Austria head coach Roger Bader said.

The Poles entered the second period with Rafal Radziszewski in the net replacing number-one goalie Przemyslaw Odrobny but still without success in the offensive zone despite becoming more initiative.

Midway the second period the Austrians extended the lead. Raffl shot at 8:36 and was lucky that the puck was deflected by a Polish stick to find its way into the net. Just half a minute later Lukas Haudum shot for the 5-0 goal, also that one went behind Radziszewski deflected. And at 15:39 Komarek deflected the puck into the net after a pass to the crease from Fabio Hofer to extend the lead to 6-0.

“We lost 11-0, it’s hard to find words. We were not good from the beginning and after they scored the first goals it was really hard,” said Poland head coach Jacek Plachta. “It’s not so easy when you go down 3-0, we started the second period pretty well and had chances but we didn’t score and then the puck went in on the other side. In all I think we played a good tournament.”

Poland’s biggest chance came with 36 seconds left in the period when Damian Kapica was hooked by Heinrich during a breakaway and got a penalty shot but he lost the puck in front of Bernhard Starkbaum, who again had a strong night and earned his shutout with 26 saves. Instead of the Poles, it was Komarek who scored his second goal of the day on the other side nine seconds before the intermission on a rebound.

Steven Strong added another marker in the third period with a shot from the left face-off dot through Radziszewski’s five-hole. Haudum deflecting a long pass toward the goal from Heinrich and Lebler added two more goals in the end for the final score of 11-0.

For Austria it was an important win after a bad year 2016. For the first time since 1991 did the Austrians not earn promotion when playing at Division I level after having gone up in 1992, 1997, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2014. That was in spring at the Division I Group A in Katowice. A few months later Austria underperformed at the Final Olympic Qualification in Riga and missed a spot at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

The results also led to changes in the coaching position. Roger Bader took over in November and ended his first IIHF tournament as Austria’s men’s national team head coach with gold.

Ukraine hopes to build legacy

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

One year ago Japan was relegated from the Division I Group A with zero points and a 7-26 goal record in five games. Ukraine may do slightly better this year but after starting with four losses the home team won’t be able to improve from sixth place and will have to go back to the Division I Group B.

This is certainly not what the hosts were hoping for on their home ice in Kyiv but it mirrors the difficult situation for the country and in general since violent acts in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine destabilized the country and its economy.

Its big neighbour Russia also has a big influence in hockey. Until 2014 relations were better and Donbass Donetsk played in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League. The KHL as the best league in Eastern Europe has always attracted the best Ukrainian players with good salaries and little language barriers and having a KHL team in the country was a good thing for them.

Since separatists took control of areas in Eastern Ukraine and destroyed the ice rink in Donetsk owned by a pro-Ukrainian businessman, little fittingly for these days called Palace of Sports Druzhba (Friendship), the KHL team ceased to exist and after a one-year break HC Donbass relaunched its operation in the government-controlled part of the Donbass region in Druzhkivka and won the last two Ukrainian championships.

For top players that meant moving to other teams namely in the KHL. This caused the next problem for Ukraine. The Soviet-born Ukrainian players can have citizenship in Russia too by law and thus want to play as Russians in the KHL rather than being part of the import contingent. But by the rules in the KHL, Russians with another citizenship only count as Russians if they don’t play for a national team from another nation.

This rule had a massive impact on this year’s roster. Goaltender Sergi Gaiduchenko and forwards Olexander Materukhin, Pavlo Padakin, Olexi Ponikarovsky, and one tier below the KHL Yevgen Belukhin are some of the country’s top player that were missing due to this rule.

But that’s not all. Andri Mikhnov, who had 85 scoring points in the Belarusian league this season, couldn’t come due to injury, same for Oleg Shafarenko, one of the top centremen of the country, and defenceman Denys Petrukhno. One of the country’s top prospects, Igor Merezhko, went the other direction than other Ukrainian players abroad and is busy in the playoffs of the Western Hockey League with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

That leaves Ukraine with a roster exclusively from the domestic UHL, mainly from two clubs, HC Donbass and HK Kremenchuk. But playing internationally against teams like Kazakhstan and Korea is hockey at a very different level.

“We don’t have enough good players for the national team but those players we have, we have to use,” Ukrainian assistant coach Pavlo Mikhonik explained the situation. “With a bit more luck at the tournament we could have scored more goals and maybe even victories but we didn’t have it.”

Ukraine didn’t look out of place. All games were lost by one or two goals. Its scoring efficiency wasn’t good, only Poland had more trouble converting chances. Only one of 20 power plays ended with a goal for the Ukrainians while the penalty kill was statistically the worst of the tournament as well.

“All opponents were difficult for us and the players gave it all, we can’t criticize them,” Mikhonik said. “The players don’t need any extra motivation. They play in their own country, for their fans.”

But Ukrainian hockey can also draw positives from this tournament. Many players from the Ukrainian team are able to compete. Some may be able to play at a higher level elsewhere.

And the Palace of Sports, the country’s most important and storied indoor sporting venue in the centre of its capital, got back ice hockey at the site where many IIHF events took place in the past and where now-defunct Sokil Kyiv was once playing for medals in the Soviet championship.

The arena was full for most of Ukraine’s game and had descent attendance for other games thanks to locals who show genuine interest in hockey and fans from other countries who travelled to Ukraine to loudly support their team and create a hockey party at the arena and around it with a fan zone and music on the stage.

Playing in the heart of Kyiv is important since there’s no club team in the city (but around it) anymore. Now the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine (FHU) plans to expand to a new city, Odessa at the Black Sea. The All-Star Game of the newly created women’s league was the first national ice hockey event at the city that gained in importance for domestic tourism after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Now the federation applied to host the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group B there in competition with bids from Austria, Hungary and Italy.

The support was not only heard at the arena. Ukrainian politicians and athletes took the opportunity to watch the games at the Palace of Sports as hockey was back in downtown Kyiv. And the TV ratings were great including 13 million watching the 1-0 loss against Austria, about one third of the population.

These are all encouraging signs that will hopefully help make hockey bigger in the country that played in the top division between 1999 and 2007.

From Boston to Belfast

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

It’s been a tough week for the Netherlands. With the country’s top team, Tilburg Trappers, still in German playoff action, head coach Chris Eimers is forced to go with a young roster and hope that some of his more experienced guys can get to Northern Ireland in time to help the team’s bid to stay up in Division IB.

But crisis brings opportunity: that youthful line-up gives a chance to run the rule over the next generation of Dutch hockey talent. Among the youngsters who are growing up fast here, 20-year-old Guus van Nes has been one of the most eye-catching.

A year ago, he was scrapping for minutes on the fourth line in Jaca as the Dutch took gold in Division IIA. This time, he’s got a spot on the Netherlands’ top line, replacing injured assistant captain Raphael Joly and looking to supply the cutting edge that can preserve his country’s Division I status.

And, despite a tough tournament so far – three losses, 20 goals against and just three scored – the Boston Bruins junior prospect is enjoying the added responsibility.

“This tournament has been great for me,” he said. “The older guys on the roster – guys like Kevin Bruijsten – have been helping me out and I’m learning a lot. I know I’ll be a better hockey player after this experience. It’s great for my development, adjusting to a different level, playing against guys with a lot of international experience.”

That upbeat attitude typifies the Dutch approach to this tournament: dealt a rough hand by the conflicting schedules of club and international competition, Eimers and his team remain stoic – and optimistic.

“We understand the situation we are in, but there are still two games to go,” van Nes added. “If we can win one of them, we that will probably mean we stay in this division. It’s tough, but we’ll try to make the best of it.”

On a personal level, this season has been something of a break-out for van Nes. Coach Eimers was delighted with his player’s progress since Spain in 2016 and insists that the youngster’s current prominent role is on merit, rather than necessity.

“Guus really developed last year,” Eimers said. “He was with us last year in Jaca and he did well there, but since then he’s had a really good camp. When the situation arose with Joly [and his injury], we felt that Guus deserved to be bumped up to that line alongside Kevin [Bruijsten].

“He’s really grown this year, he’s definitely a young prospect and one of the better U20 guys who came here. Now we’re waiting to see if he can get a scholarship with the NCAA.”

For his part, van Nes credits his progress to a summer of hard work and a big opportunity with the Junior Bruins in the USPHL, a Junior A Tier 3 league. The Dordrecht native is in his third season with the organisation, and this time round he plundered 45 points in 43 games in the Premier Division in his most active and most successful campaign to date.

“Being over there is helping me a lot,” he added. “Playing in America is a totally different game. I’m skating a lot and I feel like I get better day on day. It’s very different to playing in Europe, but the whole thing is just an awesome experience.”

For a young player emerging from a relatively small hockey nation, the Bruins name is also a nice line on the resume – even if it’s some way from the fame and glamour of the world-famous NHL team.

“Obviously you don’t feel the whole Bruins history and mystique when you’re playing on a team at that level, but it’s still a good name to a part of and it attracts more people to come and watch, so it’s quite exciting that way,” van Nes added.

For now, though, the focus is on Division I survival. “We feel our performance is better than our results and we’ll see what we can do about getting that win,” van Nes concluded.

Kuwait Wins DI Challenge Cup of Asia After 13-0 Win

By Steve Ellis – Eurohockey.com

Kuwait easily won the gold medal at the 2017 Division I Challenge Cup of Asia event, beating Oman 13-0 in the final game.

It was an easy game from start to finish, with Kuwait taking a 5-0 lead after 20 minutes of play. Ahmad Al Ajmi scored three of his five goals in the opening frame, eventually earning the top player award for the game. Al Ajmi was also named tournament MVP thanks to posting 11 goals and 17 points in just three games for Kuwait.

Abdulaziz Sheftail was also on top of his game, scoring twice and adding four assists to finish with six points on the night.

Jasem Al Sarraf stopped all 16 shots he faced, resulting in a perfect 2-0 record with no goals allowed on 24 shots overall.

Kuwait was able to secure their second gold medal at the Division I tournament, with the team beating Singapore to win gold back in 2015. India managed to come second place while Oman finished third and Macau came last with zero points.

 

منتخب الكويت لهوكي الجليد يحرز كأس اسيا ٢٠١٧🏆🥇🏒🥅 Kuwait national ice hockey team 🏆🥇🏒🥅

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2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs second-round preview: Blues vs. Predators

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By Jared Clinton – The Hockey News

THE BLUES WIN IF…

The Wild understood following their first-round defeat that the difference-maker in the first-round against the Blues was Jake Allen. Minnesota out shot St. Louis in all but one of the five first-round games, but it was the Blues who emerged victorious thanks to the standout play from their starting netminder. No one should have been surprised ‘Jake the Snake’ played so well, though.

Heading into the post-season, Allen was playing the best hockey of his campaign. Of course, when measured on a personal scale, that’s not saying all that much. Allen was terrible in the early part of the season and even an average performance in the back half would have made him look vastly improved. But the truth is that over the final months of the season, few netminders were as sound as Allen. Since coach Mike Yeo took over on Feb. 1, no goaltender who played at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 had a better save percentage or stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots than Allen. He was outstanding. And if the Blues are going to get through to the Western Conference final, it’s likely going to have to be the Allen show once again.

Nashville, like Minnesota, has a balanced attack with plenty of scoring throughout the lineup. That means beyond Allen, a lot of pressure is going to be on the St. Louis defense to slow things down. In the first round, the Blues had a tough time shutting down a deep Wild team, but the possession numbers in the one meeting between the Predators and Yeo’s Blues seems to indicate the teams are fairly evenly matched. That wasn’t the case against the Wild. It’s also going to be key for St. Louis to stop the counter-attack and odd-man rushes that Nashville generates. As good as Allen has played, he’s going to have a tough time if he’s consistently seeing 2-on-1s or 3-on-2s.

What the Blues do with the opportunities they do get against a stingy Predators club might be what eventually separates St. Louis, though. In shutting down Chicago in the opening round, Nashville showed a smothering, suffocating defensive structure that didn’t offer many — or really any — options to an attacking team. The Blues are going to face a similar structure, no doubt, but if they can break it down and get to the net, chances will arise. At that point, it’s going to be up to the Blues to do what the Blackhawks couldn’t: capitalize. 

THE PREDATORS WIN IF…

One would be hard-pressed to find a single hole in Nashville’s first-round game plan. The execution was perfect. The Predators shut down everything through the neutral zone and made a star-studded Blackhawks team look pedestrian in a four-game sweep of the Western Conference leaders. Beyond that, Nashville showed strength in the possession game, ability to turn the puck up ice in a hurry and the Predators got contributions from up and down the lineup. And if the second round is a continuation of the first, Nashville might be on their way to the first conference final in franchise history.

Defensively, the Predators are going to have their hands full once again. The Blues aren’t lacking for high-end offensive talent, but luckily for Nashville coach Peter Laviolette, his team has a stable of defenders that might be able to do what Minnesota couldn’t and shut St. Louis’ offense down. Laviolette isn’t afraid to trot his top four our regularly, either. In the four-game series against the Blackhawks, the Predators’ top four defenders all averaged more than 25 minutes per game. The combined averages of Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber, fifth and sixth in the rotation, didn’t match that.

It’s going to be important, too, that Nashville somehow manages to beat Allen, who was seemingly impenetrable in the Blues’ first-round win. The best way might not be through the Predators’ most noteworthy stars, however. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen are going to see big minutes against the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester, the best defenders St. Louis has at the ready. The same goes for James Neal and Mike Fisher. They’ll still be important to the attack, but Nashville’s edge might come from the bottom six.

There were a few games during the opening round where Kevin Fiala, who played little more than half the season with the big club, looked like as terrorizing as any other Predators forward. In Game 2, he scored a power play marker and followed that up with a Game 3 in which he put seven shots on goal and scored the overtime winner after having a few chances to end the game. It was proof of the type of offensive punch Fiala can provide when he gets free, and the focus put on Nashville’s top six might give Fiala a shot at making some noise. Don’t sleep on the rest of the third and fourth lines, either. The Predators got nine points out of the bottom half of their lineup. 

X-FACTOR:

Blues: Someone eventually needs to break down the Predators’ defense and who better than Vladimir Tarasenko? Tarasenko has the speed and skill to go around defenders, but the first round was evidence that Nashville won’t let that happen easy. Luckily for the Blues, then, that Tarasenko also isn’t opposed to going right through defenders. He didn’t exactly have an earth-shattering performance against the Wild, but he did score one goal and three points while generating 21 shots. Tarasenko is the perfect example of an attacker that defenders simply hope to contain, but that’s hard to do for long. If he breaks out this series, expect the Predators to be shoveling a few pucks out of the back of the net courtesy of the Russian sniper.

Predators: If the first round was any indication, Allen better get ready for a goaltending duel with Pekka Rinne. Nashville’s veteran netminder didn’t just win all four games against Chicago, he blanked the powerful Blackhawks offense twice and allowed only three goals against across the four-game series. His .976 save percentage and 0.70 goals-against average are the best marks of any starter in the post-season. That said, St. Louis was far better at generating scoring chances during the regular season than Chicago, so Rinne could be set to see more rubber from in close. If he can carry his first-round performance on to the second round, though, Nashville might not have a problem getting past the Blues. 

KEY MATCHUP:

Two young snipers square off and they’ll be the heart of the offense in this series. Both teams are coming in with goalies that stole series and broke hearts in Round 1 and it’ll be up to Vladimir Tarasenko and Filip Forsberg to solve those puzzles in net. They’ve got the skills to do it as they were each one of the league’s best scorers this season. The depth on both these teams at forwards leaves a bit to be desired, but the top lines are amazing and more than make up for it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two teams go power on power here and trade goals in this series, so it’ll fall on these two stars to carry the load. Both look to be close in value, with Tarasenko being the more dynamic offensive threat while Forsberg looks more responsible defensively. That defensive edge might be the difference maker if he can at least match him offensively. Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne had magnificent first rounds, but with these two guys on the ice, I’m expecting some regression in round two. 

THN’s PICK:

PREDATORS in six games.

2017 Stanley Cup playoffs second-round preview: Penguins vs. Capitals

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By Matt Larkin – The Hockey News

THE PENGUINS WIN IF…

The Penguins are the NHL’s best team at sticking to a system. They play endlessly fast under coach Mike Sullivan, relying on their forwards’ superb wheels. Doing so means quick puck movement from the Pens’ defensemen, and that makes the team effective despite having no go-to blue liner right now. Kris Letang is out for the playoffs, yet the Pens ousted the NHL’s No. 6 offensive club in five games. As long as they follow their style, they can get by without Letang and rely on the veteran group of Justin Schultz, Ian Cole, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey. Every one of those blueliners except Hainsey played on the Pens’ 2015-16 championship squad, which eliminated the Capitals in Round 2.

And let’s face it: the Pens’ defense corps only has to be adequate. It’s the forwards pushing the play. Pittsburgh led the NHL regular season and the first round of the playoffs in goals per game. Not even probable Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky could handle the Pens’ blitz in Round 1, which included 11 points from Evgeni Malkin and the usual heroics from Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel, but also some surprising contributions. The Pens just keep unearthing speedy, effective scoring wingers from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust have duplicated last year’s success and then some – and Jake Guentzel enjoyed a coming-out party this season. After racking up 16 goals and 33 points in 40 games, he led the first round of the playoffs with five goals in five games. He became the first rookie since Rocket Richard to score five in his first four post-season contests.

The Penguins overwhelm their opponents with speed, and that’s scary news for the Washington Capitals. The Toronto Maple Leafs gave Washington quite a scare in Round 1, forcing a crazy-close series that included five overtime games and six one-goal games. How did Toronto do it? Wheels. The Leafs were at their best when moving their young, fleet feet and causing chaos. Toronto faltered when the jitters kicked in and caused the young group to stop skating and start watching Washington dominate down low. The Penguins are like a better, more mature, more experienced version of the Leafs. The Penguins play a similar style but won’t be intimidated by the Caps. They’re in Washington’s head, not the other way around. If the Leafs turned out to be a surprisingly dangerous match-up for the Caps, the Penguins are the Leafs on steroids. 

THE CAPITALS WIN IF…

Do we view the Capitals through an optimistic or pessimistic lens? If we choose the former, we see a team that got pushed to the brink in six consecutive nail-biter games, spent very few minutes of the series leading and still ground out four victories. Washington could’ve choked and instead delivered in the clutch more often than not, with three overtime wins, including a series-ender from Marcus Johansson after he tied the game in the latter half of the third period. Washington showed mental toughness.

The Caps also won the Presidents’ Trophy for a reason. They are hockey’s deepest, most complete all-around team. They have a clear advantage in goal with icy-nerved Braden Holtby. They have a powerhouse top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, plus great secondary scoring options in Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and, of course, Justin Williams, ‘Mr. Game 7.’ The bottom-six forward group boasts some big, heavy players, from Tom Wilson to Jay Beagle to shutdown center Lars Eller. The Caps forecheck as well as any team in the game, and that’s the one thing Columbus did pretty effectively against Pittsburgh in Round 1. Washington can hem a team in for many minutes at a time, as Toronto learned the hard way.

The Caps also enjoy a deep defense corps, even if Karl Alzner isn’t healthy enough to return yet. Matt Niskanen was particularly effective in Round 1, and speedy Nate Schmidt held his own replacing Alzner. Brooks Orpik and Kevin Shattenkirk struggled at times but are still an experienced pair that should iron out their game in time. All that and we haven’t mentioned John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov. This is a loaded group. 

X-FACTOR:

Penguins: It doesn’t look like Matt Murray, who sustained a lower-body injury in the Game 1 warmup against Columbus, will return to the Penguins’ crease anytime soon. He hasn’t even resumed skating. That puts Pittsburgh’s fate in Marc-Andre Fleury’s hands again. ‘Flower’ flashed his early-career playoff form in Round 1, with a .933 save percentage against the Jackets, but what if the ugly recent-career playoff Fleury returns against Washington? Holtby gives Washington the edge in goal no matter what, but Fleury has to be at least average to keep the series competitive. If his game goes in the tank, it will change the series dramatically.

Capitals: Justin Williams is so universally revered as an X-Factor that he hardly qualifies as one anymore. He’s not a sleeper. Instead, watch out for Tom Wilson. Because he’s such a brute, 6-foot-4, 217 pounds and known for devastating hits on the forecheck, it’s easy to forget he was a first-round pick in 2012. Wilson can play. He showed that in Round 1 with three goals against the Leafs, earning himself a promotion to the third line from coach Barry Trotz. If Wilson can chip in some offense while putting licks on an already-weakened Penguins D-corps, look out. 

KEY MATCHUP:

The Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry gets all the headlines, but the story of this series might come on the “second” line and that’s in name only as both teams pretty much have two first lines. That’s mostly because of the star centers on both sides, Evgeni Malkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who’d be No. 1 guys on any other team. It’s an Evgeni(y) battle for the ages here, though Kuznetsov is really going to have to step up if he wants to match up to Malkin. He’s been a bit lackluster in the playoffs during his career and had just three points in the first round – nothing compared to Malkin’s 11. Neither is all that great at possessing the puck (though they’re unfairly penalized by being compared to superstar top lines), so it all comes down to production here where there’s a sizeable chasm between the two players. With deficiencies elsewhere throughout the lineups, this is one battle the Pens have to win as their forward depth is the only thing they’ve got on Washington. It starts here with Geno. Let’s see if he’s got some more playoff magic up his sleeve. (Dom Luszczyszyn

THN’S PICK:

PENGUINS in six games.

NHL playoffs: How the Canadian teams stack up in Round 2

https://i.cbc.ca/1.4084464.1493132560!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/karlsson-erik-170309-1180.jpg

By Tim Wharnsby – CBC Sports

Ottawa vs. New York Rangers

This series will be low scoring. Both teams play patient, defensive-oriented systems … The Senators and Rangers swapped key centers last July, with Ottawa sending Mika Zibanejad to Broadway in exchange for Derick Brassard. Both were impactful in the first round. Zibanejad scored the overtime winner in Game 5 of the Rangers’ six-game series against Montreal, while Brassard continued his outstanding playoff legacy with two goals and eight points to lead the Senators in their six-game win against the Boston Bruins … A big concern for the Senators will be how veteran defenceman Dion Phaneuf will deal with the Rangers’ team speed … A big concern for the Rangers has to be their leading goal scorer, Chris Kreider. Although he helped set up Zibanejad’s winner, Kreider had no goals and only 11 shots on goal against the Habs … Senators captain Erik Karlsson and Joel Lundqvist, the twin brother of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, were briefly teammates with Frolunda HC in Sweden during the 2012-13 lockout season … When Senators associate coach Marc Crawford was fired as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks after the 2005-06 season, his replacement was Alain Vigneault, who was coaching the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Winnipeg … It’s difficult not to pull for the Senators and the feel-good stories of goalie Craig Anderson, whose wife battled a rare form of throat cancer this season, and Clarke MacArthur, who successfully returned to action after 18 months on the sidelines with concussion problems.

Player to watch: After an unproductive 13-goal regular season — his lowest output in a non-lockout-shortened regular season — Senators right wing Bobby Ryan has come to play in the playoffs, with four goals, including two game winners, in the first round. Ottawa needs Ryan to continue to produce.

Prediction: Rangers in seven. They have an unrelenting, four-line, grind-it-out mentality that works in the playoffs, plus strong goaltending and speed that can turn a mistake into a goal, and on many occasions a goal is all New York needs with Lundqvist in net.

Anaheim vs. Edmonton

The Ducks are red hot. They finished the regular season with four wins and opened the playoffs with a four-game sweep of the Flames. The last time they suffered a loss was a 3-2 overtime defeat to the Oilers on April 1, when Leon Draisaitl scored 86 seconds into the extra period off a Connor McDavid pass … Draisaitl scored six times in five regular-season outings against the Ducks … When Draisaitl played junior in Prince Albert, his assistant coach was former NHL defenceman Dave Manson. Manson’s son Josh is a Ducks defenceman … Oilers goalie Cam Talbot is showing no signs of slowing down after his league-leading 73 starts and team-record 42 wins. He improved his .919 regular-season save percentage to .927 with two shutouts in the first round … Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf picked up his play in the second half with 11 goals and 44 points in his final 40 games and continued to produce in the playoffs with two goals and five points in four first-round games … The Ducks could get back two of their top defencemen in this series. Cam Fowler has been out with a knee injury and Sami Vatanen suffered an upper-body ailment in the Ducks’ opener against Calgary … Oilers forward Patrick Maroon will have some motivation. The Ducks gave up on him and traded him to Edmonton on Feb 29, 2016. All he did was score six times in 16 playoff games for the Ducks in 2015 … Can Ducks rookie Shea Theodore continue to turn heads after his two goals and five points in the first round? … Theodore, and Edmonton’s McDavid and Darnell Nurse were teammates on Canada’s 2015 gold-medal-winning junior team.

Player to watch: Edmonton second-line center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has to step up. McDavid is going to receive heavy attention from Anaheim’s defensive nuisance Ryan Kesler. Nugent-Hopkins needs to produce to give the Oilers a chance in this series. He led Edmonton with 17 shots on goal in the first round, but was held without a point and had a plus-minus rating of minus-one.

Prediction: Anaheim in six. It’s hard to bet against a team that has Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the way and has gone a combined 15-0-3 in its last 14 regular-season games and four playoff outings.

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