NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly held a blue card as the draft lottery approached its crucial moment in late June."The No. 1 overall selection," Daly began before flipping it over to reveal the league's logo, "belongs to a team yet to be determined."And with that, the second phase of the unique process in a season like no other was triggered, signalling that the first eight franchises eliminated from the NHL's 24-team restart would earn the right to pick prized winger Alexis Lafreniere.The placeholder spot that won the lottery back on June 26, designated as Team E, had a 2.5 per cent chance of winning the draw, making the biggest jump in NHL history for the top selection, going from No. 12 all the way up to No. 1.The eight teams eliminated from the league's qualifying round — the Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs — will be in the mix.Each club has a 12.5 per cent shot at the No. 1 pick, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on Monday.The Los Angeles Kings own the second selection in the draft, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 9 and 10, while the Ottawa Senators will choose third and fifth. The No. 3 pick originally belonged to the San Jose Sharks, but was acquired as part of the Erik Karlsson trade back in 2018. The Detroit Red Wings, who had the best singular odds winning the initial phase of the lottery on June 26, own the fourth selection, while the Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres round out the top-8.After the draw for the No. 1 pick, selections nine through 15 will be determined by the regular-season points percentage of the other seven losers in the qualifying round at the time the league's suspended play March 12 because of COVID-19.The next 16 spots in the first round of the draft will go by the reverse order of playoff results.The league was originally scheduled to hold the 2020 draft at the Bell Centre in Montreal, not far from Lafreniere's hometown of St-Eustache, Que.A winger from the Rimouski Oceanic and NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked North American skater, the 18-year-old is the two-time Canadian Hockey League player of the year. Lafreniere had 35 goals and 112 points in 52 games before the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season was cancelled because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.Lafreniere was also named MVP of the 2020 world junior hockey championship after helping lead Canada to gold in the Czech Republic.Prior to the 2020 draft lottery, no team had ever jumped up more than four spots to pick first, but plenty of teams have beat the odds to get into the top-3. The Philadelphia Flyers went from No. 13 to No. 2 in 2017, the Carolina Hurricanes skipped the line to go from No. 11 to No. 2 in 2018, and the Chicago Blackhawks jumped from No. 12 to No. 3 last year.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2020.___Follow @JClipperton_CP on TwitterJoshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Barely making the cut for the NHL's 24-team return to play, few hockey observers gave the Montreal Canadiens much of a chance in the qualification round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.The Habs used it as motivation and it paid off with a stunning upset that secured their place in the first round of the playoffs.Artturi Lehkonen scored with 4:11 left in the third period and Shea Weber iced it with an empty-netter as Montreal blanked Pittsburgh 2-0 on Friday night at Scotiabank Arena.Carey Price made 22 saves for the shutout as the 12th-seeded Canadiens took the best-of-five qualifier series in four games."I think we all took it with a grain of salt and went out there and just tried to prove everybody wrong," Price said.After 55 minutes without a goal, Montreal took advantage of a costly turnover by Brandon Tanev in the Pittsburgh zone. Ben Chiarot pinched on the play and Tanev swung the puck into the slot.Lehkonen corralled it and fed it to Paul Byron, who drew three Penguins to him as he skated behind the net. Byron backhanded a pass in front to Lehkonen for the one-timer past netminder Tristan Jarry."I just had to tap it in towards the net and luckily it found the net," Lehkonen said.Weber's insurance goal came with 31.8 seconds left. Montreal will play the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.The 12th-seeded Canadiens last reached the first round of the NHL playoffs in 2017, a six-game loss to the New York Rangers. The Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup that year."Everybody was kind of counting us (out) so of course it feels good to win this series," Lehkonen said. "But it was one series. Now we've got to enjoy this for a moment and then move on."Jarry made 20 saves in his first career post-season start. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan turned to the all-star netminder as a replacement for Matt Murray, who has lost eight of his last nine post-season starts.The Penguins were seeded fifth but turned in a surprisingly flat performance in an elimination game. Big guns like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who turned 33 on Friday, were simply shut down."Listen it's a three out of five and anything can happen," Crosby said. "We did some good things but we didn't do enough. Give them credit. They played really well."The lone positive is Pittsburgh now has a 12.5 per cent chance of landing the first pick in the second phase of the NHL Draft lottery on Monday.As the home team, the Canadiens were given the full pre-game video treatment in the fan-free arena. A Kanye West-Depeche Mode mashup provided the soundtrack for a Montreal highlight pack on the big screens.The Penguins were aggressive at the outset and were nearly rewarded when Patric Hornqvist fired a shot from a poor angle that beat Price over the left shoulder but hit the post.Pittsburgh was rather quiet after that and seemed to lack urgency. Montreal pressed on occasion but seemed generally tentative as well.The Penguins had their first power play midway through the second period but seemed completely lost with the man advantage. Montreal actually had the better chances while shorthanded.It was the Canadiens who seemed more motivated to start the third. Brendan Gallagher was sent in alone in the opening minute but he couldn't beat Jarry.Byron sped down the left wing moments later and fired a slapshot that hit the post. Jarry followed that with his best save of the game as he robbed Gallagher with the glove after a brilliant pass from Tomas Tatar.Weber, essentially playing every other shift, anchored the Montreal defence. With the consistent Price between the pipes, the underdog Canadiens played with determination and poise."Just having him back there, he's the backbone for us," Weber said. "He's so solid every night and that allows us to play with confidence and not be worried about giving up chances."The Canadiens got the Penguins' attention with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1. A listless Montreal effort followed as Pittsburgh pulled even with a 3-1 victory.Jeff Petry scored his second game-winning goal of the qualifying round to give Montreal a 4-3 victory on Wednesday. "We're believing in ourselves," said Montreal head coach Claude Julien. "We're having fun with it. I think we're enjoying the success that we're having right now but we also know that the next round will be against a top-seeded team and we're going to have to be even better."We have an opportunity here to grow and we can't ask for a better occasion."Montreal entered the series with a 31-31-9 record, the worst mark of the 24 teams to make the post-season. Pittsburgh (40-23-6), meanwhile, had the seventh-best points percentage in the league (.623) when play was stopped last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.The NHL last used a best-of-five format in 1986.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2020.Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
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EDMONTON — Jacob Markstrom got the shutout and Brock Boeser scored one for a fallen friend Thursday as the Vancouver Canucks pushed the Minnesota Wild to the brink of elimination in NHL qualifying play.Markstrom stopped 27 shots and Boeser's second period goal, his second of the series, held up as the winner in a 3-0 victory.Boeser pointed to the sky after he scored to remember Ty Alyea. It was six years ago to the day that Boeser's friends were in an SUV that lost control and rolled, killing Alyea. Boeser was in Slovakia at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup at the time."It's obviously a tough day for my friends and I," said Boeser."It's crazy how fast time flies, but to be able to get one for him is something special."The Canucks lead the best-of-five series two games to one and can punch their ticket to the round of 16 with a win Friday night.Vancouver hasn't been in the playoffs since 2015."We blocked a lot of shots today. The guys were sacrificing their bodies, blocking shots, and we did a great job cleaning out rebounds," said Markstrom."It's a huge team win."Antoine Roussel and Elias Pettersson also scored for the Canucks.It was chippy, angry, penalty-filled afternoon affair at Rogers Place punctuated by low-probability long-distance shots, a lot of stoppages in play, post-whistle scrums, and loud liberal F-bombs.Boeser broke the ice to score at 13:49 of the second frame, backhanding a rebound off a Pettersson slapshot past Minnesota goalie Alex Stalock.Two minutes into the third frame, Vancouver capitalized on a mistake to take a 2-0 lead.Wild defenceman Brad Hunt bobbled the puck at the Canuck blue line, allowing Roussel to race past him, grab the puck on a breakaway and shovel it on the backhand past Stalock.Petterson scored his first post-season goal late in the third, one-timing a pass from Quinn Hughes on a two-on-one power-play rush. Each team took 11 penalties: hooking, slashing, roughing, tripping, and boarding alongside some highlight moments of thuggery.In the first period, Roussel was penalized after he ran over Stalock behind Minnesota's net.Midway through the second, Vancouver's J.T. Miller went after Minnesota's Ryan Hartman after Hartman laid a dangerous hit on Pettersson, hitting him head first into the boards while Pettersson was bent over.In the third, frustrated Wild forward Kevin Fiala elbowed Backstrom after the whistle, leading to Vancouver's Brandon Sutter racing in to level him in the corner.Wild forward Marcus Foligno said the penalty-palooza really hurt their chances."It's tough. You're trying to get flow in the game, and it just seemed like when you did get something going it was a power play or a penalty kill," said Foligno."We're such a good five on five team and when we can roll five lines we're really good. We definitely just have to calm it down a little bit with the penalties."Stalock made 26 saves going the distance for his third complete game of the series.The Canucks were successful despite injuries taking a bite out of their lineup.Forward Tyler Toffoli didn't dress for a second consecutive game, dealing with an with an undefined foot injury. Forward Micheal Ferland has been sent home for the series, deemed unfit to play. Ferland has had concussion problems this year and played very little in Game 2.The Wild wore their green uniforms as they were the "home" team.There are 12 Western Conference teams playing at Rogers Place, with players in isolation to avoid contracting COVID-19. The Eastern Conference teams are doing the same in Toronto.The Wild missed the playoffs last year preceded by first-round exits in each of the preceding three seasons.Minnesota was 35-27-7 in the regular season, good for 21st overall and the 10th seed in the Western Conference.Vancouver was 36-27-6 (15th, seventh seed).This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 6, 2020.Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press