Riding the Zamboni – Sunday, December 26th

The gifts are put away, the gingerbread is stale and everyone’s working off some sort of holiday hangover. Tonight, some of the forwards around the league seemed to be playing with the stink of egg nog on their breath while the goalies were sharp as ever. Here’s our look around the league tonight as we see the Penguins finally toss out a stinker while the Caps get back on track and a few teams fight through a blizzard to play some hockey.

Ottawa 3 – Pittsburgh 1

It was about time that Pittsburgh finally played a bad game and the combination of that and Brian Elliott playing out of his mind conspired to take out the Pens. Elliott’s 44 saves  paced Ottawa to a surprising victory. Erik Karlsson’s two goals and assist led the way offensively as the young defenseman had a hand in all of Ottawa’s goals. Sidney Crosby scored his 30th goal of the year and extended his consecutive point streak to 24 games.

Washington 3 – Carolina 2

Alex Ovechkin finally got off the goal scoring shneid. Ovechkin’s goal late in the second period proved to be the deciding goal as the Caps bounced back from their shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Caps needed Ovechkin to get back into the swing of scoring again as his offense has been sorely missed. Washington hopes that this goal is enough to jump start Ovechkin for the second half of the season. Ovechkin also assisted on Dave Steckel’s goal in the second. Tuomo Ruutu had a goal and an assist for Carolina as they weren’t able to get another one past Semyon Varlamov to even the game up. Varlamov made 33 saves to get the win.

Toronto 4 – New Jersey 1

Despite the blizzard outside the arena in New Jersey, the Leafs were able to keep the Devils down in the dumps thanks to Colby Armstrong’s two goals and Jonas Gustavsson’s 29 saves. The Leafs were able to chase Martin Brodeur after two periods of play and three goals on 14 shots. The Devils descent into the basement might be the only thing more embarrassing than having these two teams play the game at all in spite of the horrible weather outside.

NY Islanders 4 – Montreal 1

OK so sure, the Islanders wanted the game to be postponed but it worked out pretty well for them that it wasn’t as they stayed hot beating the Habs. Dwayne Roloson stopped 38 shots while P.A. Parenteau had a goal and an assist to lead the Islanders to victory. The Isles have earned points in three straight games and won two in a row. For a team that was the league’s worst for so long, this makes for an incredible turn of events.

Tampa Bay 3 – Atlanta 2 (F/OT)

Dustin Byfuglien has been tremendous all year for Atlanta, but he made a big mistake he’d like to take back in this one. With the game tied at two late in the third, Byfuglien took a boarding penalty that carried over to overtime. There, Vincent Lecavalier would score his second goal of the game to cinch the win for the Lightning. Steve Stamkos also added his 28th goal of the year to keep him within range of Sidney Crosby for the NHL goal lead.

Chicago 4 – Columbus 1

Marian Hossa made his triumphant return to Chicago’s lineup and looked like the guy that started the season on fire. Hossa had two assists while Patrick Sharp added two goals to lead the Hawks over the majorly slumping Blue Jackets. Marty Turco got the surprise start and made 26 saves in the victory. Mathieu Garon continued Columbus’ bad goaltending ways stopping 21 shots in the loss.

St. Louis 2 – Nashville 0

Jaroslav Halak was the show tonight for the Blues. Halak’s 32-save shutout coupled with David Backes’ two goals were all the Blues would need to turn back the streaking Predators. For Halak it’s his fourth shutout of the season and it vaulted St. Louis into third place in the Central Division.

Detroit 4 – Minnesota 1

Henrik Zetterberg helped lead the Wings past an offensively inept Wild team by scoring a goal and adding an assist. Jimmy Howard had an easy night on his way to his 19th win of the year saving just 16 shots. Kris Draper scored his first goal of the year as the Wings helped control the Wild and break their three-game win streak.

Phoenix 1 – Dallas 0

Jason LaBarbera had himself a night. The usual Coyotes backup goalie has been getting starts thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov’s absence and tonight he made 30 saves on the way to earning his first shutout of the season. Kyle Turris’ rebound goal in the second period was the only one of the game and LaBarbera’s acrobatic effort made it stand up. Kari Lehtonen saved 24 shots in the loss.

Vancouver 3 – Edmonton 2

Kevin Bieksa’s goal with 24 seconds left in the third put Vancouver over the top and completed their comeback over Edmonton. Cory Scheneider held strong in goal for the Canucks making 19 saves as they rallied around him to play a better defensive game. Nikolai Khabibulin made 30 saves for Edmonton in the tough loss. Edmonton did have a 2-0 lead at one point in the second period until Jeff Tambellini’s late goal in the second changed the momentum the rest of the way and the Canucks took advantage.

Los Angeles 4 – Anaheim 1

The Kings exploded for four goals in the second period to seize control of the game over their crosstown rivals. Dustin Brown had a goal and an assist for Los Angeles while Jonathan Bernier made 18 saves to earn the win. Marco Sturm earned his first point as a King getting an assist on Anze Kopitar’s 15th goal of the year. Jonas Hiller was pulled after giving up all four goals in the second, finishing the game with 19 saves. Curtis McElhinney closed it out stopping all seven shots he faced.

The Buzzer: Penguins dominate, Sharks sweep

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Wednesday’s scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Philadelphia Flyers 0 (Penguins lead 3-1):

Pittsburgh dominated from pillar to post in this one. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel each had three points nights. Matt Murray, meanwhile, grabbed his second shutout of the playoffs in the win, which puts the Flyers on the brink of a playoff exit. Philly has just six goals in four games now and five of those came in Game 2.

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning lead 3-1):

Nikita Kucherov was a force in this one, scoring the twice and adding an assist while laying a massive (and controversial) hit on Devils’ defenseman Sami Vatanen, which knocked the latter out of the game. J.T. Miller tied the game in the first period and assisted on both of Kucherov’s goals for a three-point night of his own. Andrei Vasilevskiy, up for the Vezina this year, turned aside 27-of-28 shots.

Nashville Predators 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (Predators lead 3-1): 

The Predators held off a late comeback attempt by the Avalanche to take a 3-1 series lead back to Nashville. Colton Sissons and Craig Smith scored in the second period, following Filip Forsberg‘s highlight-reel first-period marker to give the Preds a 3-0 advantage going into the third. Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Kerfoot brought the Avs back to within one, but that was as far as they’d get. The Avs lost more than just the game as goalie Jonathan Bernier left after the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return.

San Jose Sharks 2, Anaheim Ducks (Sharks win 4-0):

Tomas Hertl scored 1:16 after Andrew Cogliano tied the game 1-1 in the third period to give the Sharks their second sweep in franchise history (they previous swept the Vancouver Canucks in 2013). The Ducks looked better than their Game 3 effort (just showing up would likely do that), but still only managed a single goal (and just four in the series). Martin Jones made 30 saves for the win. The Sharks will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round after Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

Three stars

Matt Murray, Penguins: Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby each had three-point nights, but Murray’s 26 saves made sure the Flyers came nowhere near the Penguins as he picked up his second shutout of the series, sixth playoff shutout of his career and fourth in his past six playoff games. Those are some ridiculous numbers from the Pens’ No. 1.

Nikita Kucherov, Lightning: Two goals — the game-winner and the dagger into the empty net to ensure victory — capped off a big night for Kucherov, who has scored in all four of the series’ games thus far. Kucherov added an assist on the game-tying goal in the first period and laid a massive hit on Sami Vatanen (which could earn him a call from the league).

Filip Forsberg, Predators: Got the Predators off on the right foot with his first-period marker which, as you will see below, was from another world. He also assisted on Colton Sisson’s tally that gave the Preds a 2-0 lead in the second period. Forsberg now has five points through four games in the series.

Highlights of the Night

Forsberg’s theatrics:

Jones was a huge problem for the Ducks, as seen here:

Man deposited into bench:

Vezinalevskiy:

Factoids of the Night

Thursday’s schedule

Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN) — Bruins lead series 2-1
Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (USA, NBCSWA) — Blue Jackets let series 2-1


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

Sharks advance after sweep of hapless Ducks

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Few figured the San Jose Sharks would have had it this easy against the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim came roaring into the postseason, winners of five straight and eight of their past 10 as they worked their way into second place in the Pacific Division

Perhaps they just ran out of gas or, perhaps, the Sharks are quite good at Duck Hunt. Either way, the Sharks made quick work of their California rivals, recording the sweep after a 2-1 win on Wednesday in Game 4.

The truth is the Sharks were far and away the better team in the series and the Ducks — outside of John Gibson — were horribly inept offensively and couldn’t handle the Sharks’ offensive attack, or solve Martin Jones.

After being shutout in Game 1, the Ducks lost a close 3-2 decision in Game 2 only to follow that up with an incredibly embarrassing effort in an 8-1 loss in Game 3.

In Game 4, and on the cusp of being swept, the Ducks managed just a single goal as they went crashing out of the playoffs.

That’s four goals in four games.

Poor John Gibson. The Ducks’ No. 1 faced a combined 69 shots in Games 1 and 2 and then 24 in Game 3 before being pulled, mercifully, in favor of Ryan Miller. In Game 4, Gibson faced a further 24 shots and once again received next to no run support.

The Ducks’ veteran core of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry combined for four points in the series. Perry was shutout entirely and the trio failed to combine for a single goal.

The Sharks were very much the opposite.

Captain Joe Pavelski had a goal and four assists. Logan Couture had two goals and five points. Evander Kane, acquired at the trade deadline, scored three times and added an assist.

And then there was Marcus Sorensen, who in 32 regular season games only scored five times but had three goals and an assist in four games in the series.

Jones got all the run support Gibson didn’t and was equally as good, turning aside 131 of the 135 shots he faced during the four game.

The Sharks will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round after Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings in four games on Tuesday.


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

Avalanche’ Jonathan Bernier forced out of Game 4 loss

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Bad news hit the Colorado Avalanche’s playoff hopes on Wednesday.

The Avs’ woes in the crease suffered another blow when the team announced that Jonathan Bernier would not return for the third period because of a lower-body injury.

It’s not known when Bernier got hurt. Andrew Hammond, the team’s No. 3, replaced the Avs’ starter for the final frame.

Colorado is already without Semyon Varlamov, who was ruled out the playoffs after a late-season injury after a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco.

The Predators lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 after taking Game 4 with a 3-2 win.

Nashville had a scare of their own during the second period when Avs forward Gabriel Landeskog went to hit forward Ryan Johansen with an open-ice hit. As Landeskog approached, Johansen looked up and tried to duck out of the way but took what appeared to be Landeskog’s knee to his head.

Johansen had a tough time getting back to his feet and headed down the tunnel and out of the game once he did.

Johansen was not on the bench to start the third but eventually returned around the mid-way point of the period and played five shifts.


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

Penguins follow Matt Murray’s lead, take Game 4 over Flyers

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers came up short in what head coach Dave Hakstol called the “biggest game of the series, so far.” It was another night where the Pittsburgh Penguins’ offense could not be stopped and their 5-0 victory in Game 4 means they take a 3-1 series lead back home with a chance to close things out Friday night.

It could have been a different game if not for the play of Matt Murray, who stopped 26 shots for his second shutout of the series and fourth shutout in his last seven playoff games. One of the bigger opportunities for the Flyers was a period of extended offensive zone time late in the first, but Murray stood tall, and when the pressure subsided the Penguins transitioned the other way resulting in a Phil Kessel goal.

 

“That’s what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” said forward Carl Hagelin. “There’s going to be momentum swings. You’re going to get pinned in your zone for an extended time and that’s what happened there. But we didn’t give up many Grade A chances.”

That cool demeanor of Murray’s isn’t just effective for him, it also positively affects his teammates.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

“It helps. He’s a confident guy. He calms us down,” said Hagelin. “He’s always a calm guy. It’s one of those things we have a lot of faith in him. He trusts his ‘D’ and his forwards to do the job in front of him.”

“He [makes] saves at key times, too. That’s huge,” said defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. “Not just here and there, but early in the game or when we’re down a goal, he does a good job switching momentum. He’s definitely a special goalie that way.”

Through four games, Murray, who became the fastest goalie in NHL history to reach 25 career playoff wins, is rolling with a .958 even strength save percentage and has allowed only three goals at five-on-five in the series. A hostile Philadelphia crowd wasn’t going to faze the 23-year old goaltender. Before helping the Penguins to the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016, he was thrown into the fire for his first playoff start on the road in Game 3 of their first-round series against the New York Rangers. He’d win both those games at Madison Square Garden and the rest was history.

So with the first period nearing a conclusion and Travis Konecny on a breakaway after leaving the penalty box, the Penguins had no cuase for concern. Murray would make the save and his teammates would add to the lead in the second period, putting the game, and potentially the series, out of reach.

“When you get those types of saves it certainly helps your team’s chances of winning,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “But that’s what Matt does for our group. I thought he was locked in all night long. He made the timely saves for us when we needed him to. Those are big points in the game, but you have to get that save if you’re going to win at this time of year.”

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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.