Thrashers eliminated from playoff contention

It just had to end this way for the Thrashers, didn’t it? Going into a win-or-die game at home against the team they traded their former franchise player to in front of a, to be polite, sparse crowd at Philips Arena and the Thrashers manned up by… Getting shut out 3-0 and being knocked out of the running for the playoffs.1-thrashers.jpg

This isn’t to say the Thrashers played poorly since dealing Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey before the trade deadline, they played admirably and even started cooking up discussion of “Ewing Theory” possibilities for Ilya Kovalchuk just the same.  It’s not as if the fans didn’t get their last shots in on Kovalchuk, they certainly did as much, alas, it was not meant to be for the last of the deep south Southeast Division teams still in the running to join the postseason party.

What now for the Thrashers? Well, for one thing Don Waddell will again be analyzed for the Kovalchuk deal but getting Niclas Bergfors from New Jersey seemed to be a surprisingly solid return given the circumstances.  Also, the man who helped write Greek mythology, Chris Chelios, will now head back to the AHL to help out Atlanta’s farm team in Chicago as they enter their own playoff run.

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    Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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    Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

    Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

    Here’s what it looked like:

    And here’s a fan’s eye view:

    After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

    “It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

    There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

    The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

    This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Brayden Schenn scoring at will as domination continues

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    What’s the limit for Brayden Schenn?

    Curious and inquiring minds, like PHT’s own James O’Brien, want to know. 

    Add Schenn’s opposition to the list of people looking for answers. They surely want the madness to end.

    But Schenn appears disinterested in letting cooler heads prevail. He is, of course, red hot at the moment. And he’s quickly turning into a fearsome goal scorer that is increasingly harder to contain.

    Schenn buried his 16th of the season on Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres some 40 seconds into the game. The goal, which can be seen below, was Schenn’s sixth in his past four games and a marker than extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.

    Some wondered how Schenn would cope with the loss of Jaden Schwartz, who is out for at least six weeks because of an ankle injury. 

    He answered that in under a minute.

    Coming into Sunday’s game, Schenn was on pace for 41 goals and 98 points. He’d crush his previous career highs if his torrid play continues.

    For the time being, Schenn is the leading candidate for the top off-season acquisition in the NHL.

    How bad is Ron Hextall kicking himself at the moment? A few months ago he had Schenn and didn’t have Jori Lehtera.

    The cringe faces must be excellent. Surely.


    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Marc-Andre Fleury set for return after getting taken off IR

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    The Vegas Golden Knights have their starting goaltender back.

    After nearly two months and 25 missed games, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after being pulled off injured reserve on Sunday.

    Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha collided with the 33-year-old as he drove to the net. Fleury was shaken up on the play but saw it through, picking up his first loss of the season after allowing six goals on 27 shots.

    Fleury was solid in the crease in the four games he figured into, going 3-1-0 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.

    Since he went down, the Golden Knights have had four other netminders see the crease after injuries ran rampant through their goaltending stable.

    Their combined record, despite a clear lacking of NHL experience, has been remarkable:

    • Malcolm Subban – 10 GP, 7-2-0, .924 save percentage
    • Maxime Lagace – 14 GP, 6-6-1, .872 save percentage
    • Oscar Dansk – 4 GP, 3-0-0, .946 save percentage
    • Dylan Ferguson – 1 GP, 0-0-0, .500 save percentage

    Remember when Subban was claimed off waivers on the eve of the start of the regular season? Quite the steal.

    That adds up to a 16-8-1 record with Fleury out of the lineup, which is incredible given how banged up Vegas got between the pipes.

    The Golden Knights are on a four-game heater at the moment, and with Subban playing admirably — winning his past three starts — it remains to be seen if Fleury takes the crease on Tuesday.

    If not Tuesday, Fleury is surely a lock to get the start against his former team. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Thursday.


    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Jaden Schwartz’s ankle injury derails career-year pace

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    Jaden Schwartz was on pace to flirt with a triple-digit point total this season.

    ‘Was’ is the keyword here because, for the second time in three years, Schwartz will miss a significant chunk of time with an ankle injury.

    How long he will be on the shelf this time around is undetermined, but Schwartz won’t be evaluated for six weeks after blocking a shot off his right ankle in a 6-1 rout of the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

    The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Schwartz’s ankles. During the 2015-16 season, he was limited to just 33 games after sustaining a broken ankle in practice.

    The fresh diagnosis is a frustrating blow for Schwartz and the Blues, who have watched his line with Brayden Schenn and Alexander Steen turn into one of the top trios in the NHL this season.

    Through 30 games, the 25-year-old had 14 goals and 35 points, placing him second on the Blues, behind Schenn, and ninth in league-wide scoring, tied with Connor McDavid.

    At his current pace, Schwartz, playing roughly 20 minutes a night, would have hit 98 points. And a little lucky bounce or two here and there might have propelled him above the century mark, setting career highs along the way.

    For the Blues, dealing with devastating injuries is all-to-familiar this season.

    But what’s probably most impressive about how successful the Blues have been this season is how they’ve been able to exceed all reasonable expectations despite dealing with a hefty number of major ailments.

    The injury bug has been more akin to a foul beast in the Gateway to the West. From Robby Fabbri gone for the season with a torn ACL and Zach Sanford sidelined for months with a shoulder problem to Jay Bouwmeester missing 20 games to start the year and Steen missing the first six.

    Not many predicted the Blues to be where they are in mid-December: second place the Western Conference standings with 42 points, just two back of top spot in the league.

    And now the Blues, in the midst of a three-game winning streak, will have to navigate another injury to a key piece of their lineup.

    They’ve shown the ability to overcome injury adversity before, but losing a key piece of your top six and a top scorer is never easy.

    If anyone has the formula down, however, it’s the Bluenotes.


    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck