Raleigh shows that hockey in the deep south is doing just fine

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There’s something to be said about how things went down in Raleigh for the All-Star Game. So often we’ve read snarky quips from writers both Canadian and American alike about how having hockey in the south is a joke and that it just doesn’t work out the same way it does everywhere else. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else having yelled in the past about how Gary Bettman’s expansion into the south and into non-traditional markets was about the worst thing that could’ve happened to the NHL and that it failing to catch on there is a mark against the league.

Carolina proves that it works and it works just fine where they’re at.

Many have written about their thoughts on the city’s ability to show off not just the Hurricanes as a tremendous success story but also the burgeoning fan base in Raleigh and elsewhere in North Carolina for the team. Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated and Travis Hughes of SB Nation each had great takes on their experiences there. The amount of love and appreciation for the NHL across the city and the whole area was outstanding.

Every radio station couldn’t help but talk about the events and the fans everywhere were decked out in some brand of NHL gear. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Jeff Skinner was the mayor of Raleigh with the number of Skinner All-Star and Hurricanes jerseys and t-shirts there were. The fans are wild about the team and wild about the league.

After all, find me another fan base in the NHL that embraces the team so much they’re camped out in the parking lots of the arena for hours ahead of time to gather with everyone and tailgate like they’re going to watch the Super Bowl. And they do this for every home game, not just for a special one-off big-time event. This makes me envious for having missed out on the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.

It wasn’t just a win for the team though, the city comes out a huge winner as well. With a downtown that wasn’t overwhelming and very negotiable to get around either on foot or by a short drive in a cab or car, Raleigh proved to provide a solid atmosphere once all the events were through. With restaurants, pubs, and watering holes abounding throughout the downtown area if you weren’t able to find something to do or to eat it was your own fault.

Providing this kind of atmosphere for those of us that rarely get to see it up close and person does wonders for the perception of how hockey is handled in places that haven’t had a team for more than 30 years. Seeing the tailgating, seeing the crazed fans, and seeing the amount of love they’ve got for the team not just at RBC Center but everywhere around the city can make even the most hardened opponents of hockey in the south think twice before opening their mouth or lashing out from behind their keyboard.

Hockey may have issues elsewhere in the south (and in some places north of the Mason-Dixon line too) but in North Carolina, the game is just fine and it’s thriving under the leadership of Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos. We know Carolina is basketball and football country generally, but hockey has caught on and it’s going to catch up fast.

Talbot torments Ducks as Oilers take 2-0 series lead

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Those who vehemently argued for Cam Talbot being a Vezina finalist likely felt vindicated tonight (even if postseason results don’t factor into the voting).

In Game 1, Leon Draisaitl stole the show. Talbot was the standout of Game 2, snubbing a steady Ducks threat as Edmonton won 2-1 on Friday.

And, just like that, the Oilers are up 2-0 in their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. Better yet for this young group: the venue shifts to what’s likely to be a rowdy scene in Edmonton for Games 3 and 4.

The tone was set when Andrej Sekera scored just 65 seconds into the contest. That said, the Oilers could have sulked when a would-be 2-0 goal was called off (and they had to kill a penalty). Instead, they just kept battling, even after Jakob Silfverberg ended Talbot’s shutout bit with a laser beam on the power play.

Speaking of the power play, the Oilers managed to match the Ducks (1-for-4 each on the PP), even as Talbot faced 12 shots on goal during Anaheim’s power-play opportunities.

Talbot ultimately made 39 of 40 stops, and while the Ducks kept Connor McDavid from scoring, number 97 sure looked speedy and dangerous at times in Game 2.

Anaheim came into the second round with home-ice advantage through the West side of the playoffs, seemingly enjoying a golden opportunity when other conference powers fell. Instead, it’s looking like the Oilers might just have a chance to prove that they’re big-time contenders, too.

Game 3 airs on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream.

 

Latest goalie interference mess: Oilers get penalty, not goal

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Ah, goalie interference. Does the fun ever start?

Arguably the most irritating facet of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs reared its pesky head once again on Friday, as the Edmonton Oilers saw a would-be 2-0 goal disallowed in the first period of Game 2 against the Anaheim Ducks.

The goal wasn’t just disallowed, either, as Mark Letestu was given a minor penalty.

One would imagine that there are opinions for or against the goal (and penalty counting); there are also many who are just getting a little worn out by the uncertainty surrounding such calls. Tomas Holmstrom is nodding his head so hard right now, everyone.

Here’s one unhappy take:

Moments after this post went up, the Oilers made it 2-0 for real this time. Check out the game here.

Math may help build Vegas Knights, but biggest aim is not being boring

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Unlike Pierre Dorion, it sounds like Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee would rather listen to analytics-minded people rather than … you know, hit them.

As McPhee readies for the expansion draft, he told The Star’s Kevin McGran in Q&A that they’ll at least be factored into decisions.

I’ve been really fascinated by how revealing that data can be. You have these kids speaking a different language. But I’m convinced it has a really important place in this game. You have to pay attention to it, and you have to use it.

Naturally, the real question with McPhee and other executives comes down to how much they will lean on analytics. Some teams seem to pick and choose when to listen to such voices, ending up with an odd mix of moves that please and unnerve the “fancy stats” community.

Owner Bill Foley gave a good idea of how much they’ll lean on stats vs. more traditional approaches in an interview with the Vegas Hockey Hotline back in February, which was transcribed by The Hockey Writers’ Keith Scheessele.

“Analytics is not going to drive how we draft,” Foley said. “Analytics are going to supplement what the scouts are seeing. We’re going to rely on the scouts and what they recommend.”

(Foley also spoke of rating players in 10 different categories, which started to make one think about how old sports video games could only quantify skills in so many ways. Anyway …)

So, it sounds like McPhee & Co. will take a modern approach – a mixture of the old and the new – rather than going full-on bold and revolutionary like, say, the Cleveland Browns or Golden State Warriors.

Considering the mystery of roster quality one faces with the Vegas Knights, it honestly might be most important that McPhee is repeatedly stating that he doesn’t aim to put together a boring hockey team.

Hey, if it takes a while to be good, at least the Vegas Knights might fit with their environment and put on a show.

Tarasenko’s two goals help Blues tie series with Predators

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One of the (many) remarkable things about the St. Louis Blues dispatching the Minnesota Wild was that they didn’t need a ton of production from Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t score a goal until the clinching game of that series.

The Blues needed more from him tonight, and he responded with two huge goals to help St. Louis win 3-2 in Game 2, tying the second-round series at 1-1.

Tarasenko scored the opening goal on that major power-play opportunity from the Vernon Fiddler knee on Colton Parayko, while Joel Edmundson wisely got out of the way to let Tarasenko nab the game-winner.

That ended up being the decisive factor as the Nashville Predators finally lost their first game of the postseason.

St. Louis must be breathing a sigh of relief for a number of reasons. The series shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4, so going down 2-0 might have been lethal.

Even beyond that, the Blues had some breaks go their way that likely won’t repeat to the same degree in future contests. The Predators didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity while St. Louis spent significant chunks of the contest on the man advantage, going 1-for-5 (but again, that includes a major).

The Blues also won despite what must have been a frustrating start. They only managed a 1-1 tie after the first 20 minutes despite holding Nashville to a mere three shots on goal.

The Predators also managed leads of 1-0 and 2-1, yet the Blues kept fighting to get back in this series. Game 3 will air on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App (Click here for the livestream link).

* – That said, he made a lot of commotion to set up Edmundson’s overtime game-winner from Game 1. That connection continued on Friday, as you likely noticed.