NBC’s Doc Emrick gives his thoughts on the intrigue of this year’s All-Star Weekend

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NHL on NBC’s lead play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick will be on the mic for the NHL SuperSkills Saturday night and All-Star Game Sunday afternoon for Versus and if you asked him, the way the team draft plays out on Friday night for the NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft at 8 p.m. the real drama kicks the weekend off right.

“It used to be that the first day of All-Star Weekend was a travel day. Now with the draft on Friday it’s arguably the most looked forward to part of it all. During our Winter Classic broadcast, Pierre McGuire, Mike Milbury, and Darren Pang had a sort of mock trial about all this and Mike asked, ‘Do you pick your friends or do you pick the guys you figure will make the best team?’ It’s a great question and it’s a great concept.You know, it makes it so fun especially when it comes down to who ends up getting picked last.”

Emrick is one of the biggest appreciators of the game around and it’s something that you can tell in how he calls a game on the air. While being a professional at what he does at calling the games he finds it’s hard to not be a fan with how the selection process will break down especially with so many possible story lines to go through that may come up suddenly on Friday night, especially with the Staal boys. With the fantasy draft on Friday night, he’s now got an event he’s looking forward to more than an old stand by.

“I always liked seeing Zdeno Chara taking the hardest shot and whether or not he could break his mark from the previous year. But now our thoughts don’t turn to that as much as it does to who’s is going to choose whom and at what point and what statement is being made by that. All this speculation about that, it helps make this meet up that much more fun.”

It’s hard not to be caught in thinking about how the Fantasy Draft will turn out on Friday night. After all, we don’t even have teams and rosters to break down and compare to one another. All we’ve got for now is that Eric Staal has Washington’s Mike Green and Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler as his assistants while Nick Lidstrom has Martin St. Louis and Patrick Kane helping him out. Everything else is up in the air now especially with Sidney Crosby and Ales Hemsky out of the game with injuries.

With all the attention being on these guys for how things will play out on Friday night, some are wondering whether or not it’ll make for good television. Emrick says that rather than hamming it up as showmen, Staal and Lidstrom would be better served to do things the same way they always have.

“I don’t know whether they’re going to turn into showbiz guys. To tell you the honest truth, I’d be a little disappointed if they did because that’s not the personality of either one. They’re decisive guys. If they’re going to end up showboating or anything like that, that would be a bit that’s out of character for them,” Emrick says.

“If they’re going to have fun with it though, that’s great. Their idea of fun might be different than that of somebody who’s in the entertainment business. The good news is they’re going to be making some great hockey. I’m going to be a fan of the whole thing too.”

Often times folks look at the All-Star Game with a bit of a cynical view and while that’s understandable in some cases, it’s also a stress-free way to show off the game and with how things will set up for Sunday via Friday night’s draft you have to be a pretty hardened character to not look at this whole thing with a sense of wonderment and curiosity.

If you’ve ever played a video game or fantasy hockey (or fantasy sports of any kind) you always wondered how the team you’ve picked would shake out. It’s just one game, but if heard it from Doc Emrick, you’d start to see that maybe looking at things so cut and dried is maybe missing the point of it all.

“The players don’t think much about the business side of things when they’re out on the ice. Once that puck drops, they’re going to be doing the absolute best they can with the skill sets they have and probably have a lot of smiles on their faces because they know it doesn’t cost them anything in the standings,” Emrick says.

“That’s the reason the video you see from all-star games shows players laughing. This is not the serious business of moving up in the standings this is just having a little fun on the weekend and let’s see what happens.”

The Penguins know they got away with one

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins have made a habit this postseason out of struggling through games, getting outplayed for long stretches, and then somehow finding a way to scratch out a win. They did it against Columbus. They did it against Washington. They did it at times against Ottawa.

They did it again on Monday.

It hasn’t always been pretty. It hasn’t always been the way they want to play. Heck, it hasn’t always seemed like a sustainable method for winning.

But here they are after their 5-3 win on Monday night sitting just three wins away from winning the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row.

This latest win was perhaps their most absurd the postseason and one of the most bizarre Stanley Cup Final games you will ever see.

They took a three-goal lead after an early Nashville goal was negated on a razor thin offside review, they allowed that three-goal lead to eventually slip away, they managed only 12 shots on goal (the lowest total ever for a winning team in a Stanley Cup Final game) and went an almost unimaginable 37 minutes — nearly two full periods! — without recording a single shot on goal.

The most common question asked after the game simply seemed to be, “how?”

As in, how does a team this good, on this stage, go that long without putting a puck on net?

The most common answer?

They just didn’t play well.

Just ask coach Mike Sullivan.

“We weren’t very good,” said Sullivan. “We weren’t very good. When you’re playing a team like Nashville that has a balanced attack you have to have some pushback, and I don’t think in the second period we had any pushback.

“It seemed like we had a discussion between periods about staying on our toes, and playing the right way, and not trying to defend the lead or sit on the lead, we wanted to go out and try to get the next goal. And this team for the most part is usually pretty good about making sure we continue to play the game the right way. Tonight it wasn’t the case, we just weren’t very good.”

Not very good is probably an understatement.

Other than a five-minute stretch late in the first period where the Penguins were able to score three goals (one on a full two-minute, 5-on-3 power play; another the result of an own-goal off the body of Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm) they spent most of the night defending a relentless Nashville attack while being unable to generate anything against the NHL’s best defense.

The Penguins pointed to not doing enough of the little things to create any sort of a territorial advantage.

“We weren’t hard enough, weren’t skating, just didn’t play the way we normally play or the way we know how,” said defenseman Justin Schultz. “We have to be a lot better the rest of the series.”

Sullivan went into a little more detail.

“I didn’t think we were stiff enough in the battle areas,” said Sullivan. “As far as when we were defending we have to get into peoples bodies, we have to hit and stick, we have to stay engaged.

“It seemed like we were coming off of checks and giving them time and space with a little bit of separation and so we ended up with extended time in our end zone where we had opportunities where if we played a little stiffer we could create separation from the puck and give our guys an opportunity to win a puck battle. So much of this game boils down those thankless jobs, it’s about winning puck battles along the walls and gaining lines and gaining zones and that is how you control territory, if you’re losing your fair share of those it is hard to get to puck the back.”

Forward Conor Sheary, who ended a lengthy goal-scoring drought by scoring his first goal of the playoffs during that five-minute outburst in the first period, acknowledged they may have been a little too comfortable with that early lead.

“We could have been,” said Sheary. “We could have been caught up in that because we didn’t play a great first period but we came out with a 3-0 lead, and we might have come into the locker room a little comfortable, but we’ll move on from that and move forward.”

Still, what’s almost as unbelievable as the Penguins going more than half of a game without recording a shot is the fact they were able to do that and still come away with a win. In a best-of-seven series sometimes you need to steal one, and at this point in the season nobody is going to apologize for the method in which they win.

The Penguins were happy to accept the result but know they can not repeat that performance if they want to keep going.

“Yeah, we’ll take it but we know it wasn’t our best,” said Schultz.

Sullivan was a little bit more direct.

“What I love about about our group is we got a favorable result tonight,” said Sullivan. “But we know we need to be much better in order to continue to get to where we want to go. So none of us in our dressing room are fooled by the score tonight, so that is an important takeaway. We have a mature group, we have great leadership, and they understand it.”

Disallowed goal didn’t ‘deflate’ Preds

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PITTSBURGH — Given all that transpired on Monday night, there were plenty of topics to discuss in the aftermath of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Yet one seemed to rise above the rest.

P.K. Subban’s disallowed goal in the first period — wiped out after Pens head coach Mike Sullivan successfully challenged that Filip Forsberg was offside — was a huge talking point, with several Predators pressed for their thoughts on the matter.

“It never deflated us,” captain Mike Fisher said, when asked if the call took the wind out of Nashville’s sails. “We’ve had that happen twice in one game [versus Anaheim in the Western Conference final].

“It doesn’t change our mindset, but it’s unfortunate — we thought it was a goal.  What do you do? From there, we played solid. We just didn’t find that way to win.”

While Fisher said all the right things, it’s hard to suggest the call didn’t have a profound impact on the eventual 5-3 Penguins victory. The Subban goal seemed a just reward for Nashville after a good start, yet it was taken off the board under somewhat dubious circumstances, depending who you ask. (On social media, arguments are still ongoing as to whether video review showed conclusive evidence that Forsberg was offside.)

Fisher’s coach admitted the call changed the tone.

“The impact of that moment, and the chain of events that happened after that — the penalty kills, I think, changed the course of the game,” Peter Laviolette said. “[But] I thought our guys played well, from start to finish. I thought we played a good game. We hate the score, we hate the result, but we move forward.”

There’s another interesting angle in all this. The Pens certainly reaped the benefits from the overturned goal, and not just because it dug them out of a hole. PPG Paints Arena roared with approval upon hearing the announcement — the in-house video board quickly fired up one of those noise meter things — and, shortly thereafter, Pittsburgh exploded for three goals in a 4:11 span.

It was a turning point in a game filled with them. Afterward, Sullivan took time to praise video coordinator Andy Saucier, who was responsible for spearheading the challenge.

“He does a great job,” Sullivan said. “He’s smart. I think he has a really good eye for some of the challenges versus the no challenges. Those timeouts are really important, so we don’t want to use that challenge frivolously. We’re trying to be calculated about it. We’ve sat as a coaching staff at the beginning of the season, and we discussed the criteria so that we’re all on the same page. Sauce does a terrific job for us.”

Read more: A ‘weird game’ and a tough loss, but Preds feel good about their chances

A ‘weird game’ and a tough loss, but Preds feel good about their chances

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PITTSBURGH — “It was a weird game,” said Pekka Rinne, pretty much nailing it.

The Nashville Predators had just lost, 5-3, after keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins without a shot for almost two full periods of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Just think about that for a moment.

Consider the odds against it.

Rinne, the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite heading into the series, only saw 11 shots the whole night. Four of them beat him, including one that bounced off his own defenseman to put the Preds down, 3-0, in the first period.

Nashville eventually battled back to tie it at three, thanks to a couple of power-play snipes and an even-strength tally by Frederick Gaudreau. But Jake Guentzel‘s goal at 16:43 of the third, on a shot that broke the Penguins’ unfathomably long stretch without one, proved to be the winner. Minutes later, an empty-netter sealed it for the defending champs. 

“At the end of the day, my job is to make the save,” said Rinne, “and at the end of the game I’m disappointed I couldn’t help my team. We showed a lot of character. I thought that we played a great game. I think we have a lot of things that we can take away from this game, a lot of positives.”

Captain Mike Fisher had no idea that his Preds had held the Penguins shotless for 37 minutes, a stretch that went from 19:43 of the first, when Nick Bonino‘s one-handed pass was cleared by Rinne into Mattias Ekholm‘s pads and then into the net, all the way to Guentzel’s winner.

“I knew they weren’t getting too many chances and we were playing pretty strong,” said Fisher. “We found a way to get back in it, but it wasn’t our night.”

Defenseman P.K. Subban, who had a goal called back in the first after video review determined that Filip Forsberg was a hair offside, was characteristically positive afterwards.

“That’s hockey,” said Subban. “That’s just what it is. And if we just play the way we did, minus some of the mistakes that we made, I like our chances. We’ll be better next game, that’s for sure. I’m sure they’re going to be better. … This is going to be a long series.”

Read more: The Penguins know they got away with one

Penguins avoid collapse, beat Preds in crazy Stanley Cup Final opener

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PITTSBURGH — The game of hockey can be crazy at times.

Then you have nights like Monday, when it gets really crazy.

In a game that often made no sense at all, the Penguins built up a 3-0 lead, blew that lead, then rallied late to beat Nashville 5-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

So, uh, where to even begin with this?

Let’s start with the game-winner. Jake Guentzel, who was on the verge of being a healthy scratch for tonight’s affair, scored with less than four minutes remaining to snap an eight-game goalless drought.

Now, consider the circumstances under which this goal was scored.

Guentzel was facing tremendous pressure to get his offense going. And the shot he scored on was Pittsburgh’s first in 37 minutes of action. During that time, the Pens recorded the first zero-shot playoff period since NHL began tracking SOG in 1957-58.

Guentzel’s goal also came after Nashville had staged a furious, wild three-goal rally to even things up.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Preds, with Sissons and Gaudreau finding the back of the net less than four minutes apart in the final frame. Gaudreau, who up until a few weeks ago was playing in the Calder Cup playoffs, looked as though he was primed to become the next unlikely postseason hero.

But it wasn’t to be.

Because there were other equally unlikely developments on the night.

Heck, we haven’t discussed the first period yet. Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino scored in a span of 4:11 in the opening frame, a flurry filled with fortuitous bounces and breaks. Malkin’s tally came on a 5-on-3 man advantage, after Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal were whistled for simultaneous penalties. Bonino’s marker was an own goal, knocked in by Preds d-man Mattias Ekholm.

Oh, and there was that disallowed marker.

Perhaps you heard? It was an ignominious start for the NHL on its biggest stage. Seven minutes in, the Preds looked to have taken a 1-0 lead when P.K. Subban‘s blast beat Matt Murray. But hold on. Pens head coach Mike Sullivan quickly challenged and, upon review, it was deemed that Filip Forsberg entered the Pittsburgh zone illegally.

More, from the NHL’s situation room blog:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesmen, NHL Hockey Operations staff determined that Forsberg preceded the puck into the attacking zone, nor did he have possession and control before crossing the blue line.

This ruling came just hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defended offside challenges in his state-of-the-league address.

Crazy is right. And fitting, given what transpired tonight.