Quick turnaround should help Halak

Halak4.jpgAs we gear up in the final minutes before tonight’s game between the
Penguins and Canadiens, Jaroslav Halak’s incredible performance against
the Capitals is still fresh in all of our minds.With two series in the
first round going to a Game 7, there’s been a fast turnaround to the
next round as the Habs will be playing just two days after eliminating
the Capitals.

It seems that the quick transition would be good
for Halak, as there’s not exactly an abnormal delay between games for
him. Goaltenders get into zones and there’s no doubting that Halak found
himself in one this past week, With just one day off between games, he
gets a rest without the pressure of trying to stay focused across a
number of days; he just keeps on keeping on with what’s been working,
taking the ice once again with his team on his back.

Of course,
the Penguins are expecting for Halak to crack at some point. After all,
this level of play is unsustainable Penguins goaltender coach Gilles
Meloche tells
Chris Stevenson:

“Could be those three games, could be longer,” Meloche told the
Post-Gazette. “I don’t believe you can keep that up for a period of 10,
15, 20 games — not if you keep giving up the kind of chances they gave
up (against Washington).”

You have to wonder if motivation will be a factor for Halak. While
the motivation to win will always be there, this is a goaltender who was
basically laughed at by the Capitals (and the hockey community) after
games 2 and 3. He turned the series into a personal assault on Ovechkin
and this Capitals, playing with an incredible heavy chip on his shoulder
as he set out to prove everyone wrong.

Well, he’s done that much. Now he has to find a way to keep at the
level he was at just days later.

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    Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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    The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

    Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

    It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

    Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

    Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

    Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

    In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

    The promise has been made.


    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

    Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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    One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

    Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

    It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

    Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

    Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

    Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

    The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

    But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

    Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

    For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

    The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


    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

    Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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    We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

    Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

    But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

    Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

    Sometimes it just all works out.


    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

    WATCH LIVE: Lightning, Bruins try to move on to Round 2

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    Game 5: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-1)
    NBC/NBCSN*
    Call: Gord Miller, Joe Micheletti
    Series preview
    Stream

    Game 5: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
    NBC/NBCSN*
    Call: Chris Cuthbert, Ray Ferraro
    Series preview
    Stream

    Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET (Bruins lead series 3-1)
    NBC
    Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
    Series preview
    Stream

    *Regionalized coverage – Florida markets and WNBC in New York metro area will air NJ-TB on NBC and CBJ-WSH on NBCSN; all other markets will receive CBJ-WSH on NBC and NJ-TB on NBCSN

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]