Early ride on the Zamboni – Saturday, February 19th

Edmonton 5, Atlanta 3

If the game was only 41 minutes long, the Atlanta Thrashers would have taken their 3-1 victory with a huge smile on their faces. But hockey is 60 minutes and by the time the game was over the Thrashers were left wondering what the heck happened. Four penalties in the 3rd period, a natural hat trick from #1 overall pick Taylor Hall, and the Thrashers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The win was the 3rd straight for the Oilers as they continue to play better in recent games. Hey, even on nights when they don’t win, at least they’re entertaining. On the other hand, the Thrashers’ loss sees them drop to the .500 mark at 25-25-10. Not the best stretch of play for a team trying to find a new owner.

NY Islanders 3, Los Angeles 0

Former King Matt Moulson announced his presence with authority potting 2 goals en route to the Islanders’ 3-0 win on Long Island. Al Montoya looked like he was worth more than a 6th round pick as he earned his second career shutout with 35 saves. From Moulson and Montoya to Frans Nielson and Michael Grabner, the Islanders were in control of the game from the opening faceoff. They must have learned their lesson from their disastrous first period against the Bruins on Thursday night.

The Kings are now 8-1-3 in their last 12 games—this being their first loss in regulation 9 games into their longest road-trip in franchise history. They wrap-up the road trip against the Ducks in Anaheim on Wednesday.

New Jersey 4, Carolina 1

This was the third time the Canes and Devils faced off against one another in the last 12 days. And for the third time, it was the Devils skating away with the victory. But before you get down on the Canes, keep in mind the Devils are now 15-1-2 in their last 18 games, including their current 7 game winning streak.

If you want a reason to hammer the Hurricanes, look no further than the 1st period. Carolina came out flat in their 2nd game of a back-to-back, completely mailed in the first 20 minutes of the game, and were behind 3-0 before they knew what happened.

Patrick Elias had 3 assists, +3 rating for the night, and his 800th career point. Danius Zubrus had 2 goals and Ilya Kovalchuk extended his scoring streak to 10 games. Not bad for a team left for dead 2 months ago.

Florida 3, Tampa Bay 2 (SO)

Mike Santorelli poked in a rebound on the power play with 3:00 left and forced the game into overtime. Oh, but he wasn’t done yet. After a scoreless OT, Santorelli scored the only goal in the shootout to deliver the 3-2 win to the Panthers. It’s Mike Santorelli’s world, we’re just living in it.

Lightning are now 5-3-2 on their current homestand. The 5 wins are good, but for a team competing with the best of the best in the East, they were hoping for more on this season-long homestand. But look at the bright side, at least Steven Stamkos made it through the game without serious injury.

Ottawa 1 , Toronto 0 (SO)

It looks like the Craig Anderson era is off to a flying start. If he can manage to make 47 save shutouts against the Maple Leafs a regular occurence, they’ll be building him a statue outside Scotiabank Place in no time. 65 minutes of play and a shootout and the Maple Leafs are still trying to see a puck enter the net. Things weren’t much better for the Sens, but a shutout game-winner from Jason Spezza has a way of easing the pain.

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    The Buzzer: Bolts send Devils packing, Caps jump ahead, Leafs extend series

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    Three games on Saturday

    Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning win series 4-1)

    The Devils were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, but their 2017-18 campaign officially came to an end on Saturday. They’ll be disappointed, but this season was a success for the group. As for the Bolts, they’ve punched their ticket to the second round after a terrific regular season. The Lightning received point-per-game production from Nikita Kucherov (1o points), Steven Stamkos (6 points) and Alex Killorn (5 points), but they also had 14 different players pick up a point during the series.

     Washington Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (Capitals lead series 3-2)

    Four of the five games in the series have gone to overtime. Game 5 was a typical back and forth affair, as the Jackets scored first before the Capitals went up 2-1. Columbus tied the game, Washington went ahead, again, 3-2, but a dominant third period led to the Blue Jackets forcing overtime. Nicklas Backstrom tipped-home the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Capitals the first home win of the series. This has clearly been the best first-round series of the playoffs.

    Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Boston Bruins 3 (Bruins lead series 3-2)

    The Maple Leafs jumped out to 2-0 and 4-1 leads, but the Bruins managed to make things interesting in the third period. Boston had a number of power play opportunities, but they couldn’t cash in. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they’ll have to go back on the road to try to put the Leafs to bed. The Leafs managed to keep Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand off the scoresheet on Saturday. Replicating that two more times won’t be easy.

    Three Stars

    1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

    Backstrom scored two goals, including the overtime winner against the Blue Jackets in Game 5. He also added an assist on T.J. Oshie‘s go-ahead goal late in the second frame. The win gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. The 30-year-old has two goals and eight points in five games this postseason.

    2. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

    The Capitals had a one-goal lead heading into the third frame, but they were badly outplayed in the third period. Holtby is the biggest reason why Washington was able to make it to overtime at all. The Blue Jackets outshot the Capitals 16-1 in the third frame. Holtby had a rough season, but his play in Game 5 was very encouraging.

    3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

    The Maple Leafs had to kill a number of penalties during their Game 5 win over the Bruins, and Andersen was one of the key reasons they were able to do so. The Leafs netminder faced at least 40 shots for the third time in five games (he’s 2-1 in those contests). If Toronto wants to force a seventh game, they’ll need him to turn in another fantastic performance on Monday night.

    Factoid of the Night

    Sunday’s Schedule

    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 3:00 p.m. ET

    Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 p.m. ET

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to force a sixth game, thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

    The Maple Leafs built up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission with goals from Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They would increase it to a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

    After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

    Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

    The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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    The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

    Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

    It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

    Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

    Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

    Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

    In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

    The promise has been made.


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

    Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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    One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

    Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

    It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

    Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

    Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

    Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

    The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

    But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

    Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

    For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

    The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


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