Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, January 20th; Brodeur with a shutout, Sabres stun Boston

New Jersey 2 – Pittsburgh 0

We know that the Penguins came into this game a bit beat up. Without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they looked like just a rather ordinary team and the last place Devils were happy to take advantage of that. Brian Rolston and Nick Palmieri’s first period goals were more than enough for Martin Brodeur. Brodeur made 23 saves on the way to a shutout win over the Penguins.

Philadelphia 6 – Ottawa 2

A blowout win by the Flyers erupted into fight night in Philadelphia  between these old school rivals. Mike Richards led the way with two goals and two assists for Philadelphia while Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves to lead the way for the win in goal. Things got ugly in the third period with the Senators well out of the game. Five fights broke out late in the third period and the game resembled a Flyers-Sens game of old. Still, for Ottawa the fights were at the least a moral victory in a game where Sens goalie Brian Elliott was flat out poor stopping just 16 of 22 shots. Mike Brodeur relieved him stopping the one shot he faced in the game. Chris Pronger had two assists and was a +1 in his first game back after a broken foot injury.

Buffalo 4 – Boston 2

After such impressive wins over Carolina in a home-and-home series, the Bruins were flat out outplayed by the Sabres tonight and Thomas Vanek had a big hand in that for Buffalo. Vanek had a goal and an assist to lead the way for Buffalo who are on fire of late and now just six points out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. The one guy who might’ve stole the spotlight away from Vanek was goalie Ryan Miller. Miller saved 38 shots to earn the win for the Sabres who are now 7-2-1 in their last ten games.

Detroit 4 – St. Louis 3 (F/OT)

Detroit had a 3-0 lead at one point in this game with Jimmy Howard back in goal, but the Blues were able to bounce back and send the game to overtime. In the extra session, Darren Helm was able to finish the Blues off with an overtime goal to give the Wings the victory on the road. Howard made 26 saves to earn the win while Jaroslav Halak made 25 saves in the loss. Jiri Hudler was the sneak offensive star for Detroit with three assists while Valtteri Filppula had two helpers. Patrik Berglund continued his hot play of late with a goal and an assist for St. Louis.

Carolina 4 – NY Rangers 1

What a difference a day makes. On Wednesday, the Rangers were solving their offensive woes and whooping up on the Maple Leafs and the following night they’re getting shutdown by the Hurricanes in Raleigh. Cam Ward stopped 37 shots while four different players tallied goals for the win. Chad LaRose and Jeff Skinner each had a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes to lead the offense. Brandon Prust tallied the Rangers lone goal.

Washington 2 – NY Islanders 1

It may not be pretty. but it’s a win for the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist while Alex Ovechkin had two assists to give surprise starter Braden Holtby the 24-save victory over the Islanders. Michael Grabner scored the Isles only goal while Rick DiPietro saved 22 shots in the loss.

Nashville 5 – Colorado 1

David Legwand and Cody Franson each had a goal and an assist for the Predators while Pekka Rinne stopped 32 of 33 shots he saw to pace Nashville to victory. Kyle Cumiskey’s first game back from injury for Colorado didn’t go so hot as he finished with a -2 rating while Craig Anderson stopped just 23 shots in the loss. Nashville has won nine of their last 11 games.

Dallas 4 – Edmonton 2

The Stars continue to roll right along in the West. Jamie Benn and Adam Burish each had a goal and an assist to lead the Stars over Edmonton. Kari Lehtonen had 30 saves on the night to earn the victory. Edmonton’s Jeff Petry scored his first NHL goal while Nikolai Khabibulin saved just 20 shots in the loss.

Tampa Bay 3 – Atlanta 2 (F/SO)

A big win for Tampa Bay as they stayed one point ahead of Washington in the Southeast Division. Steve Stamkos ripped two more goals in regulation giving him 37 on the season. Dominic Moore scored the game-winner in the shootout for Tampa Bay. Dwayne Roloson made 27 saves in regulation for the win. Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves in the skills competition loss. Niclas Bergfors and Anthony Stewart scored for the Thrashers.

Toronto 5 – Anaheim 2

A night after getting ripped 7-0 by the Rangers, the Leafs were able to put that behind them and earn Jean-Sebastien Giguere the win against his former team. Clarke MacArthur had a goal and two assists and Mikhail Grabovsky scored twice to lead the way for Toronto. Giguere saved 26 to earn the victory against the team that traded him last season. Jonas Hiller stopped 32 shots in the loss for the Ducks.

San Jose 2 – Vancouver 1 (F/SO)

It may have come in a shootout, but for the Sharks a win is a win just the same and just the thing they needed against the West-leading Canucks. Logan Couture had the Sharks lone goal in regulation while Joe Pavelski scored the winner in the shootout. Antti Niemi made 36 saves to get the win. Roberto Luongo was outstanding in the loss making 45 saves. Henrik Sedin had the lone regulation goal for Vancouver. The win is San Jose’s third in a row.

Phoenix 2 – Los Angeles 0

In what turned out to be a tight game, Ilya Bryzgalov was brilliant making 36 saves in earning his third shutout of the year. Martin Hanzal and Lee Stempniak each scored for Phoenix but it was Hanzal’s goal that has the Kings and their GM Dean Lombardi steaming mad as it was scored with an apparent high stick. Replay didn’t disallow it and the officials call on the ice stood. For the Kings their losing ways continue and Jon Quick’s 13-save night looks even uglier on paper because of it. The Kings have lost three in a row and 10 of their last 12 games as they continue to slip down the Western standings.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

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Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins push Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.