NHL Network to provide exclusive coverage of U.S. National team, will also carry Dec. 23 Caps-Pens game

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While NHL Center Ice and Game Center can really complete the picture, a hockey fan can really cobble together an excellent week of hockey viewing if that person subscribes to Versus, NHL Network, their local stations (and starting with the Winter Classic, NBC).

In fact, I’ve noticed a weird trend: whenever there’s a bigger-than-usual game on a night in which Versus isn’t covering an NHL game, NHL Network often adds coverage of that contest. That’s because the network has a “flex” schedule, making it more than just a great place to find random top 10 lists and the typically strong highlight show On the Fly.

The U.S. version of the NHL Network flexed its programming muscles today, adding two great bits of hockey in the next couple months.

For fans of the pro game only, NHL Network will carry a Winter Classic preview this week, as the league announced that this Thursday’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals game will be televised on the channel. The game takes placed at 7 pm ET on December 23 and will be available in high definition, according to a press release from the league. There also will be a brief pregame show featuring frequent On the Fly hosts Kevin Weekes and Bill Duffy.

Another great bit of news comes for fans of the sport as a whole (and really, with all the high-end talent in these tournaments, any puckhead should give the World Junior Championships a try). The U.S. version of the NHL Network will provide exclusive coverage of Team USA’s journey to win back-to-back gold medals in the 2011 World Juniors in Buffalo, New York. Here’s the lowdown from the press release.

NHL Network U.S. will provide exclusive live coverage of the U.S. National Junior Team games at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. NHL Network also will televise all medal-round games and five additional preliminary-round match-ups, airing a total of 15 games in high-definition from the tournament, and provide nightly re-caps in its signature show “NHL On the Fly.”  All USA games will be NHL Network original broadcasts.

The tournament’s popularity stems from its reputation as a showcase for the game’s best up-and-coming young players from around the world. Many current NHL stars have played in the tournament; an abbreviated list includes Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards and Jarome Iginla for Canada; Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Bobby Ryan for the United States; Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk for Russia; Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and the Sedin twins for Sweden; Martin Havlat, Milan Hejduk and Tomas Kaberle for the Czech Republic; Teemu Selanne and the Koivu brothers for Finland and Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Jaroslav Halak for Slovakia.

Many players who will take to the ice in this year’s tournament are very close to realizing their dream of an NHL career — no fewer than 25 players who played in last year’s competition already have made their League debut.

The broadcasting team will include former ESPN hockey announcer Gary “Goooooal!” Thorne as well as Billy Jaffe, Fred Pletsch and Dave “Please, no David Bowie jokes” Starman.

Along with being a great hockey tournament in a vacuum, the WJC tournament is the closest thing the sport has to March Madness: a preview of things to come for promising prospects in a highly competitive atmosphere.

Personally, I cannot wait for the Winter Classic warm-up or the WJC tournament. It’s the kind of news that makes my next enormous cable bill much easier to digest.

The Buzzer: Penguins rally, Golden Knights dominate again

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Two games to open the second-round on Thursday night

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Washington Capitals 2 (Penguins lead series 1-0)

The Pittsburgh Penguins trailed by two goals with 16 minutes to play in regulation and then scored three consecutive goals to take Game 1 against the Washington Capitals. They did this without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel helped provide the offense while Matt Murray made some huge saves all night in net to keep the game close and help protect the lead in the closing minutes. This is already the third game the Capitals have lost this postseason when leading by two goals. They have only played in seven postseason games to this point.

The Penguins could be getting Malkin back for Game 2.

Vegas Golden Knights 7, San Jose Sharks 0 (Golden Knights lead series 1-0)

They have played in five playoff games so far, they have won five playoff games. After sweeping the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round the Vegas Golden Knights opened the second-round on Thursday night with a systematic dismantling of the San Jose Sharks, scoring four goals in the first period on their way to a 7-0 win. Everything about this team remains incredible. The speed the play with. How relentless they are on the attack. How great Marc-Andre Fleury is playing in net. The way they just overwhelm every opponent they face.

Vegas scored more goals against San Jose on Thursday (three more goals to be exact) than the Anaheim Ducks did in their entire four-game series in the first round. In five playoff games Vegas is now outscoring its opponents by a 14-3 margin. They had seven different players score goals on Thursday while 11 different players recorded at least one point. Seven of them recorded at least two points..

Making matters worse for the Sharks is that they may have to play Game 2 without one of their top forwards, Evander Kane, after he was ejected in the third period for a cross-check to the head.

This game was such a laugher by the end that Fleury was doing the wave in the third period with the fans.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. It will get lost in the fact Vegas won the game 7-0, but Fleury is just playing out of his mind this postseason. He already has three shutouts in five games and has allowed just three goals total. He has a .981 save percentage in the playoffs. When he was healthy the 2017-18 season was one of the best of his career and he is continuing that in the playoffs. With a goaltender playing this well and a deep, balanced offense that can score the way they can this Vegas team is looking like a team that really could win the whole thing this year.

2. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. He has simply been incredible for the Penguins in the playoffs. He has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) so far this postseason and over the past two years is now up to 20 goals and 17 assists, including seven game-winning goals.

3. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins. He did not play great in the Penguins’ first-round series clinching win against the Philadelphia Flyers, giving up five goals including a couple of clunkers. He was outstanding on Thursday and was one of the difference-makers in the game for the Penguins. He stopped 32 of 34 shots including 17 out of 18 in the third period.

Factoid of the Night

Another Marc-Andre Fleury fact for you.

Friday’s schedule

Winnipeg Jets vs. Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Evander Kane ejected for cross-checking Bellemare in the head

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The first game of the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs turned out to be a total dumpster fire for the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.

Not only were they completely dominated from the opening faceoff by the Vegas Golden Knights, they also lost their composure, taking nine penalties and giving Vegas two separate 5-on-3 power plays on the night.

The second two-man advantage happened because Sharks forward Evander Kane got himself thrown out of the game for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the face after the whistle.

You can see the play in the video above.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That came with the Sharks already trailing 5-0 on on the scoreboard. Vegas converted twice on the ensuing major penalty to open up a 7-0 lead.

This could have quite an impact on the series because that will probably get a serious look from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a potential suspension. The league has already issued four suspensions this postseason and we have only completed one round of the playoffs. Keep in mind there was only one suspension throughout the entire postseason a year ago.

Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL trade deadline, Kane entered play on Thursday with three goals and an assist in the Sharks’ first four playoff games. He scored 29 goals and had 54 total points during the regular season in 78 games. Nine of those goals and five of those assists came as a member of the Sharks.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Vegas jumps all over Sharks with four first period goals, wins in rout

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The Vegas Golden Knights magic does not appear to be running out.

After stunning the hockey world by winning the Pacific Division in their inaugural season, Vegas easily dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round with a clean four-game sweep, setting the stage for a second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.

That second-round matchup opened on Thursday night and Vegas continued to do what it has done all season — jump all over teams early and with no mercy and never slow down.

The Golden Knights opened the game with four consecutive goals in the first period on their way to a 7-0 win in Game 1.

They received goals from seven different players while 11 different players recorded at least one point. Seven of those players had at least two points in the win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Alex Tuch‘s goal to close out the first period scoring was especially beautiful as he effortlessly cut through four Sharks defenders

Just in case you have forgotten, the Golden Knights ended up getting Tuch because the Minnesota Wild gave him to them to convince them to take Haula in the expansion draft, and they were able to get Marchessault from the Florida Panthers for taking on Reilly Smith‘s contract. A lot of general managers around the NHL made bad decisions to help build this team.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones was pulled after giving up the fifth goal early in the second period. He was replaced by Aaron Dell who went on to give up a pair of power play goals in the third period after Evander Kane was given a five-minute major penalty — and ejected — for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the head.

Along with the offensive outburst, Marc-Andre Fleury also recorded his third shutout of the playoffs. Vegas has only played five games.

Related: Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins stun Capitals with Game 1 comeback

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins entering Game 1 of their second-round series without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, it looked like a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to jump on them early.

Through 45 minutes it seemed like that was going to happen.

Braden Holtby was stopping everything in net. Alex Ovechkin scored 25 seconds into the third period to give the Capitals a two-goal lead. They were in a great position to take the first game of the series.

Then, for already the third time this postseason, the Capitals allowed a two-goal lead to turn into a loss when the Penguins scored three consecutive goals in four minutes to storm back for a 3-2 win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Pittsburgh comeback started with a Patric Hornqvist deflection of a Justin Schultz shot to finally beat Holtby.

Then the Sidney CrosbyJake Guentzel connection took over.

Crosby tied the game just three minutes after Hornqvist’s goal when he one-timed a shot off the rush that beat Holtby through the five-hole, and then Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead when he was able to get his stick on a Crosby shot to beat Holtby. Both Crosby and Guentzel have seven goals on this postseason, while Guentzel has factored into eight of the Penguins’ past nine goals over the past two games. He has scored five of them. Overall this postseason he has 15 total points (seven goals, eight assists) in seven games. This after after leading the league in postseason goal-scoring a season ago.

The Penguins have now won consecutive games without Malkin after taking Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday. That game also saw the Penguins erase a two-goal deficit thanks to four third period goals. Malkin traveled with the team to Washington, skated with the team on Thursday, and could be available for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. The extra day off between games could be helpful for him.

Meanwhile, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was tremendous when he needed to be on Thursday night and played a huge role in the comeback, even if it might get lost in the third period goal-scoring outburst. The two goals he gave up were on odd-man rushes following defensive breakdowns in front of him (including one just 17 seconds into the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to walk in alone), but other than that he was nearly flawless the rest of the way, stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced.

Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.