Mario Lemieux’s message to the NHL both right and wrong all at once


When the NHL handed down their punishment for what went down on Friday night at Nassau Coliseum between the Penguins and Islanders, I opined here that while the punishments were severe for the Islanders and for Eric Godard of the Penguins, the NHL seemingly had their hands tied by trying to figure out how to best punish players for the Isles that they weren’t going to miss in the first place.

When Penguins legend and owner Mario Lemieux issued his tersely worded takedown of the NHL for what he felt was the league’s failing to do the right thing and punish the Islanders harder for failing to set an example for how to best protect the other players in the league, the reaction to Lemieux’s words across the hockey landscape was wide ranging.

Nick Cotosonika of Yahoo! Sports said that Lemieux’s words smacked of hypocrisy. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy said that Lemieux’s point is true and that his take on what’s ruining the game has never wavered over his career as a player and now as an executive. Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly echoed Cotsonika’s thoughts in that what Lemieux says rings hollow because he employs noted dirty player Matt Cooke.

If you missed out, Lemieux had this to say about the NHL’s handling of the situation:

“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be,” Lemieux said in a statement. “But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.

“The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.

“We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players.  We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.

“If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”

Lemieux’s takedown has full and complete merit when it pertains to the situation at hand.

The Islanders were dead wrong with how they decided to go about seeking retribution for what they felt was a dirty hit on Blake Comeau by Maxime Talbot. It’s very difficult to ignore the elephant in the room, however, when it pertains to the guys that he employs in the Penguins locker room. Like it or not, Lemieux’s silence when it pertains to Matt Cooke is a similar problem.

If Lemieux’s takedown of the league also includes the punishments given out to Cooke for his malicious actions in the past then all is well and Mario’s words stand out as strong as ever coming from an icon of the game.

Instead, we’re left to assume that Lemieux is looking past the problem child in the Pens locker room and that when Cooke goes out of his way to deliver a knee-on-knee hit to Alexander Ovechkin, charges Fedor Tyutin from behind, or makes it a point to nearly take Marc Savard’s head off that Lemieux is all right with that because Cooke is a good player on his own team.

If Lemieux would open himself up to questions to get to the bottom of his statement to make it abundantly clear who he’s addressing then we’d know just how big of an advocate for player safety he really is. Instead, Lemieux comes off as an angry owner advocating from the bully pulpit that problems only exist when his team is victimized. If that’s what it is in this situation, that’s selfish.

We can take what Super Mario has said and apply it justly, however. Loading up your lineup with thugs to engage in a virtual riot on the ice is no way to go about solving problems and GM Garth Snow doing that on purpose is horrible. If the Islanders are that bothered by what happened, crushing the Penguins on the scoreboard should’ve been message enough for their liking. Seeking redemption through blood and violent disgusting acts taking out players at will is 1,000 kinds of wrong and Snow essentially condoning Gillies’ actions against Eric Tangradi is proof enough as to why the organization was fined $100,000.

Don’t get lost in the discussion here. The Isles are wrong. Wrong in every way possible for what they did. Lemieux coming out from behind the desk to issue his statement made it clear that he’s not happy with how the league is conducting business and that’s good. Given how the league has handled their way of punishing players that have run afoul of the law Colin Campbell and the rest of the front office need a wake up call like that.

We just hope that if/when a Penguins player is put under the microscope that Lemieux will accept the punishment delivered by the NHL and say that while it pains the team it’s best for the league. Otherwise his proud stand ends up just being selfish grandstanding in order to catch a break. That’s not the Mario Lemieux we want to believe in as fans of him and the sport, we’d rather he be Super Mario and do something to affect change for the good of the game.

The Buzzer: Schwartz the hero, Gibson blanks Flames, Bruins clinch

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Players of the Night:

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: The Blues needed a win on Wednesday. They’ll need a few more still if they’re to push for the playoffs, but Schwartz scored a third-period equalizer and then the overtime winner 30 seconds into the extra frame to keep pace with the Anaheim Ducks (who won) for the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson posted his third shutout in his past seven starts — and fourth of the season — saving all 29 shots that came his way in a 4-0 triumph of the Calgary Flames.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin continued his pursuit of the Hart Trophy, netting a goal and adding an assist for his 41st goal (three back of Alex Ovechkin) and 91st point (three back of Nikita Kucherov).

Highlights of the Night:

Sidney Crosby did a thing – a very nice thing:

Jaden Schwartz, end-to-end to end the game:


Factoids of the Night:


Penguins 5, Canadiens 3

Coyotes 4, Buffalo 1

Blues 2, Bruins 1 (OT)

Ducks 4, Flames 0

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blues move closer to playoffs with OT win; Bruins clinch


Maybe the St. Louis Blues aren’t dead in the water after all.

In fact, despite selling off Paul Stastny at the trade deadline following two brutal loses that were part of a larger free fall at the time, the Blues have found another gear with just weeks left in the NHL season.

The Blues pulled themselves to within one point of the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with a 2-1 overtime win against the depleted Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Rivalry on the NHL on NBCSN.

The Bruins held the lead for two periods and change before Jaden Schwartz scored mid-way through the third period to tie the game and then 30 seconds into overtime to seal the win and move one-point behind the Anaheim Ducks (who were still in action against the Calgary Flames.)

That’s three straight OT wins for the Blues, who were without Vladimir Tarasenko due to injury.

The point for the Bruins was important, despite the loss, as they have now clinched a playoff spot, moving four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division lead.

The Bruins were still missing Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash on Wednesday, yet still figured out a way to obtain something despite a stacked infirmary.

And part of that help is coming from a surprising place.

Last week at this time, Ryan Donato was a Harvard student, fresh off a five-goal performance at the Olympics for Team USA.

By Sunday, he was still a Harvard student but had signed an entry-level NHL contract with the Boston Bruins. On Monday, still a Havard student and now an NHLer for 24 hours, Donato scored his first NHL goal and added two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On Tuesday, Donato was back in class — you guessed it — as a Harvard student, an NHL player who had been excused from practice by the team that signed him two days earlier and scored his first NHL goal a night before.

On Wednesday, Donato scored again.

Meanwhile, the NHL could take a deeper look at a second-period hit to the head Brayden Schenn by on David Krejci.

Schenn was handed a two-minute charging penalty on the play, and Krejci stayed in the game, but judging by the above video, there was definite contact to the head and it appears Krejci was fortunate to be able to get up and skate away.

NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones talked about if Schenn deserves to be suspended for the hit.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sidney Crosby scores incredible goal, again (video)

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Oh, Sidney.

Just when you thought you’ve seen everything from Crosby, he has this uncanny knack and making sure you haven’t forgotten who he is and makes sure, once again, that you never will.

Crosby did Crosby things one again on Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. I can save you the explanation of the second-period goal, since it’s pretty incredible and, as a consequence, tough to explain in words.

Let’s roll some of the footage here, shall we?

And another angle:

Carey Price didn’t have a chance.

Crosby has grown pretty good at batting pucks out of mid-air. Poor Antti Niemi:

Remember this from John Tavares?

It was pretty special too and done in similar fashion:

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers hold keys to playoff fate

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Few teams have been hotter than the Florida Panthers down the stretch, something that had to be the case for the Cats to be in the spot they are currently in.

No, they’re not in a playoff spot at the moment — as a Wednesday they sit one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the second and final wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a massive game awaits them on Thursday against one of the few teams that have been hotter than them in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have strung together nine straight wins.

The Panthers hold two games in hand over the Devils, who squandered an opportunity to increase their slim lead in a 6-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. New Jersey has struggled as of late, going 4-6-0 in their past 10, including back-to-back losses now. The Panthers, meanwhile, eviscerated the Ottawa Senators 7-2 to pull within a point of them. Florida is five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points behind their opponents on Thursday in Ohio. To thicken the plot, Florida holds three games in hand on Philly and Columbus.

Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1, have scored more 5-on-5 goals than any other team with 35 and are third in expected goals percentage during that time. The Florida Sun-Sentinel also points out that the Panthers have more points since the ASG out of any Eastern Conference team and the great goal differential (plus-27).

With 11 games to go, the Panthers sit in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own playoff fate.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner slightly downplayed the Columbus game in a conference call with the media on Wednesday.

“This time of year, it’s easy for these guys to get up for games, obviously how important they are,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing over-the-top, extra special than what we normally do to prepare for a team. Obviously, it is an important game, but we have 10 more important games coming in.”

Despite losing key pieces in Jonathan Marchesseault and Reilly Smith over the summer — both are having career years with the Vegas Golden Knights — the current crop for the Panthers appear to have bought into Boughner’s message. And with Roberto Luongo healthy after missing two-and-a-half months with a groin injury, Florida is peaking at the right time.

“I think if you ask the guys, they’re having the time of their lives, having lots of fun,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, we’ve been playing playoff hockey here for the last couple of months, just trying to dig in and scrape for points every night.”

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Luongo had gone 8-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with two shutouts in his past 11 starts — vintage Luongo, who’s been down this road before.

“Lu means everything to our team, obviously,” Boughner said, adding that Luongo will be in the driver’s seat in Florida’s last 11 games.

“He’s going to play a lot of hockey,” he said, saying it will be in the realm of an 80/20 split between Luongo and backup James Reimer.

Boughner said Aleksander Barkov — who has eight goals and 26 points in his past 19 games — is his vote for the Selke Trophy and that Keith Yandle is the glue that helps keep the room together. Evgenii Dadonov, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in his past 19 games, shouldn’t be forgotten.

Boughner said when the team was struggling earlier this season, consistency was the most frustrating part — noting that the team couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row.

“There was too much individual work going on,” he said. “It took us a long time to sort of get the team convinced with sticking with the process and playing as a team… less selfishness and more about the team.”

That changed with a five-game winning streak in the last half of December.

“That’s probably where the light went on,” Boughner said.

It’s burned brightly ever since.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck