Mike Milbury’s Hat Trick

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Each week here at ProHockeyTalk, NHL on NBC’s Mike Milbury gives us his take on three hot topics of discussion around the league. We’re happy to have Mike join us and give us his unique and fiery opinions on what’s going on in the NHL.

Who comes out ahead in the Wojtek Wolski-Michal Rozsival trade between New York and Phoenix?

I think both teams got things that they needed. Obviously it’s a positional trade, a winger for a defenseman. Phoenix has needs and a lack of depth at the position they opted for Rozsival despite his age and despite the fact that he’s got a contract that goes for another year. Because of the injuries that have occurred to the Rangers they opt for a one-time goal scorer who’s not playing great hockey right now but he’s young and he’s fitting a pattern the Rangers follow right now. He fills a need and serves their purposes for that and youth.

Skill players like Wolski seem to get a few more passes than then average Joe. A guy that can put the puck in the back of the net is a valuable resource. There are many people that will take a shot at a guy that might need to mature a little bit. It might be his last chance to prove himself but it would surprise me if it is. That all depends on Wolski and how he performs. The Rangers and John Tortorella are hoping that he can get hot once again and do it consistently.

With the teams being announced for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, what are your thoughts on the game itself?

I hate the All-Star Game. It sucks. I wish they’d just throw it away. I hate the Pro Bowl, I don’t like the NBA All-Star Game, I don’t even like what Major League Baseball does, although I will tune in for the home run hitting contest.

We’ve got a spectacular for the sport in the Winter Classic. I don’t like the All-Star Game and I wish we’d be the first sport to get rid of it. I know it’s a chance to shmooze some sponsors. It’s a business decision to show promote the identity of the players and sell it to big sponsors. There’s got to be a better way to do that though. Maybe a golf tournament in the middle of the summer when the guys are relaxed.

But to pull out a four-day weekend in the middle of an 82-game schedule to is nonsensical for me and from the players standpoint. You ask players and they’re honored to be selected whether it’s their first or their 50th time. But it becomes more of a burden than a pleasure to go to these things.

I’ve coached in an All-Star Game and you barely see these guys. Their itinerary is chock full of activities and social events and they barely get time for themselves. They do all this and then they’re back on a plane and back to join their teams for the re-start of the regular season. It doesn’t serve them well and it doesn’t serve the game well in that it tires players out. It adds something to the business side of things, I get that part of it, I just wish they’d find a better way to expose the players to the major sponsors and make them more sociable at that point.

There’s a handful of teams facing struggles right now. What’s out there for Ottawa and Los Angeles to do to change things up?

Ottawa’s missing some key offensive players despite Kovalev’s lack of production and they still believe he’s a bonafide offensive producer and they’re still without Jason Spezza. You take out two ice time eaters and major producers you’re going to suffer. It’s gone way past that.

Brian Elliott looked tough in goal, their defense was shoddy last night, Sergei Gonchar is not the Gonchar that we’ve come to expect, and Daniel Alfredsson is not having a banner year. They look like a team that’s lacking in focus and discipline and in desperate need of a change of some type or another. I’m not close enough to them to say the coach should go or the manager must go, but all in all last night (a 6-0 loss to Boston) was a real rough performance. This is a team that now trails Toronto in points in the Eastern Conference, that’s not a slam on Toronto just showing where they’re at and it’s not good.

As for Los Angeles, Terry Murray has been a good coach for a long time and maybe he’s changed his ways in recent years but he used to be a real stern taskmaster. I’m not there to watch his practices but you wonder if that’s the approach the Kings need at this point.

I don’t think that’s going to happen during the course of this season, but maybe he’s developed, the way Michel Therrien did in Pittsburgh, a work ethic and an identity and a defensive scheme and then that style may not be the right fit now.  I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon though. I’m not saying Terry Murry is a bad coach, he’s a very good coach. It’s just that sometimes the fit is off and you take a team as far as you can take them and then you hand them off. It might be coming to that time in L.A.

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Got a question you’d like for us to ask Mike? Leave one for us in the comments or e-mail us at prohockeytalk@gmail.com to pass it along and share it with you in the future.

Chris Kunitz found the fountain of youth in Game 7

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PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz has put together an impressive and often times overlooked resume during his 13 years in the NHL. He has been a top-line player on three Stanley Cup winning teams, he has an Olympic Gold Medal, and before Thursday’s Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators had scored 275 goals (regular season and playoffs) in the NHL.

By any objective measure that is a fantastic career.

During the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win on Thursday to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, he played what was perhaps the biggest — and best — game of his career.

It could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

Or at a more unexpected one.

Kunitz played a role in all three Penguins’ goals, scoring two of them, including the overtime winner, and providing the key screen on Justin Schultz‘s third period power play goal. As if that was not enough, he also recorded an assist on that Schultz goal.

He was, to say the least, a force and the single biggest contributor in the Penguins’ win. Even if he downplayed his overtime winner as simply being the result of a little bit of luck.

“I was just trying to get into a soft spot,” said Kunitz. “The puck fluttered off my stick a little, I don’t know if it touched [Jean-Gabriel Pageau] or kept going right in, but it looked like there was a good screen on the goalie, it looked like he maybe fell down, it just found its way into the net. Sometimes you just get lucky when you put one on net.”

Lucky or not, Kunitz was the unexpected hero in Game 7 and it came on a night where he seemed to rediscover his game.

Kunitz playing such an essential role in a big playoff win wouldn’t have been that big of a shock four or five years ago.

He has been a core player since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season and spent years skating on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby.  That presence on Crosby’s wing almost did more to hurt his reputation because there was always that belief he was simply a product of skating alongside the best player in the world. But he has always been more than that. He has been a legitimately good top-six winger that had also found success even when away from Crosby.

But on Thursday it was a taste of the old days with Crosby setting up the overtime winner.

“[Sheary] did a really good job bringing it up the wall and walking the blue like, and I think Sid was coming right off the bench,” said Kunitz. “When he drives it deep everyone gets scared and you can find that soft area because obviously Sid has great vision, and he put it right there. I just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.”

What makes his performance such a stunner this season, and in this game, is that it came at a time when his best days were clearly in the past and he had gone from being a top-line, core player, to being more of a bottom-six role player.

At the age of 37 that had to be expected. He was still able to do enough to be a useful contributor, but the consistent impact on the scoresheet wasn’t always there. Entering Game 7 on Thursday night he had yet to score a goal and had recorded just a pair of assists in his first 13 playoff games. Along with that postseason scoring drought he only scored nine goals during the regular season and had not found the back of the net since Feb. 16, a stretch of 78 days.

Then there he is playing the role of hero in what was, to this point, the Penguins’ biggest game of the season.

“He played his best game of the playoffs when it matters the most,” said Penguins forward Carl Hagelin. “That’s the type of guy he is and that’s the reason he has three Stanley Cup rings already. He’s just one of those guys you love having on your team.”

This is pretty much what Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about. Anything can happen when a series and a season all comes down to one game.

It only takes one shot, one bounce, one play, one call or one huge performance from an unexpected player to totally re-write history.

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago it was Bryan Rust, representing the next wave and younger generation of the Penguins, playing the role of hero with his two goal-game.

This year, it was one of their long-time core players rediscovering his past glory for one night.

2017 Stanley Cup Final schedule: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins might celebrate their hard-fought tonight, but they’d probably be wise to rest up. It won’t be long before they’ll face the well-rested Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

That first contest will take place on Monday, May 29. The Penguins ended their series on Thursday (or, maybe Friday if you’re being a stickler) while the Predators get a week of rest after dispatching the Ducks this past Monday (May 22).

NBC and NBCSN will have you covered for what should be a fast and fascinating series with a whole lot of gold/yellow going around. Game 1 will be on NBC, Games 2 and 3 will air on NBCSN and then the remaining contests will take place on NBC.

Here’s the schedule in list form, as that may be easier to follow:

2017 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
Subject to Change/All Times ET

Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks
Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
* If necessary

Penguins end Senators’ magical run, reach second Stanley Cup Final in a row

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The Ottawa Senators put up a resounding fight, but the Sens’ “Cinderella” story came to an end tonight.

The Pittsburgh Penguins needed a double-overtime in Game 7 to write the final chapter, yet that’s what happened; now the defending champions prepare to face a well-rested Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.

An unforgettable night for Kunitz

Hot take: Mike Sullivan made the right move in placing Chris Kunitz on Sidney Crosby‘s line.

Crosby created some chances early on in Game 7, but things just weren’t clicking for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That swap opened up some opportunities for Kunitz – once a constant linemate of Crosby – and the veteran winger provided perhaps the best performance of his impressive career.

As surprising as this turn was, maybe it should have been expected; Kunitz is one of the greatest success stories of any undrafted players, after all.

Plenty of twists and turns

After a scoreless second period, the two teams traded goals within just 20 seconds; Chris Kunitz cashed in on a nice rush while Mark Stone finished a great Erik Karlsson setup to make it 1-1.

More: Video and other details regarding those opening tallies.

The third period featured plenty of drama, even if some of the larger points echoed earlier narratives. To be more precise, the Penguins leveraged their power-play opportunity to a 2-1 lead (via Justin Schultz), but Ryan Dzingel‘s rebound 2-2 goal ensured that the lead wouldn’t last.

Read more about the 2-2 goals and some controversial moments from the third period here. You may also enjoy this Marc Methot hip check on Evgeni Malkin.

The overtime period began with a frantic pace; even fans probably needed the breather. Some great Phil Kessel chances didn’t end the opening overtime period, so things went to double-OT.

Ponder Kessel’s tumultuous times in the first overtime here.

It wasn’t beautiful, but Chris Kunitz’s knucklepuck beat a keyed-in Craig Anderson to end the contest and the series. He came into Thursday with zero goals and two assists in 13 playoff games; he generated the game-winner, the game-opener and an assist, factoring into all three Penguins goals.

Deep playoff runs come down to some combination of stars being stars and unexpected heroes shining in huge moments. The Penguins keep finding ways to get that equation just right.

Penguins – Senators Game 7 goes to double overtime, try to breathe

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Try to breathe. Maybe meditate during this overtime intermission, if you need it.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators didn’t just need overtime to decide who would win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It turns out that, despite an angry Penguins crowd, that they’ll need double OT.

There were plenty of big chances during that span of “free hockey.” You could probably argue that Phil Kessel was the most frustrated player during that frame; he was unable to score but generated some golden opportunities.

One really looked like it might have beaten Craig Anderson:

Wow. This one likely stings more for Kessel, as he had a ton of time and space but missed the net.

Kessel wasn’t the only player to get chances. There were a ton in this first overtime as both teams took thrilling swipes at victory. Still, number 81 provided some of the most memorable moments.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.