Tampa Bay Lightning v Boston Bruins

Early ride on the Zamboni – Thursday, March 3

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Boston 2, Tampa Bay 1

This hasn’t been an easy stretch for the Tampa Bay Lightning. On back-to-back nights they’ve been forced to play the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference on the road. In both games, the Lightning did a good job of holding their opponents to only 2 goals. Unfortunately, they only scored a single goal as they lost for the second straight night.

In a battle for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, Milan Lucic scored the eventual game-winner with about 4 minutes left in the game. Lucic netted the goal on a rebound after an unbelievable scramble in front of Lightning goaltender Mike Smith. For his part, Smith had a fantastic game and gave his team a chance to win. They’ll just need to start scoring more than once if they want to win.

Washington 3, St. Louis 2

Welcome to the Capitol, Mr. Arnott. The Caps have been saying for two years that they wanted a 2nd line center, and one game into the Arnott-era it seems they might have found the right guy for the job. Thursday’s win was their third in a row—the first time they’ve won three games in a row since the Winter Classic. In fact, the Caps didn’t have a lead until Arnott’s goal with 5 minutes left in the 3rd period. It was a tough way to lose for the Blues who played a good road game and desperately need the points in the tight Western Conference.

Toronto 3, Philadelphia 2

The good news for the Flyers was Kris Versteeg was able to bury 2 goals against his former team. The bad news is no one else was able to do anything and the Leafs escaped Wells Fargo Center with a 3-2 win. Escaped is really the right word. The Leafs controlled the play for most of the game, but once they scored the go-ahead goal with 4:30 left in the final frame, the Flyers threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Maple Leafs. At the end of the day though, it was the first time the Flyers have lost back-to-back games since the end of December.

The Leafs continued their hot streak as of late. This was the ninth one-goal game in a row with Toronto earning points in all 9 games (6-0-3). Rookie netminder James Reimer played well once again helping the Leafs win another tight game as they make a surprising push for the playoffs.

Minnesota 3, NY Rangers 1

Don’t look now, but the Rangers are in a freefall. Thursday night’s loss is their 11th in their last 15 games, dropping them down to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Once again, they played well enough to win—but fell short on the scoreboard. They got 41 shots on net against the Wild, but Henrik Lundqvist was only able to make 16 saves as the Wild escaped Gotham with a much needed win.

The Wild will take wins any way they can get them—and tonight that included surviving a horrific first period. Even though the Rangers dominated the play in the opening frame, Minnesota kept it close and made enough big plays to earn the win. At this point, it doesn’t matter how they get them. A win is a win.

Carolina 3, Buffalo 2 (OT)

For all of the teams in the East trying to push into the playoffs, this was the worst possible result. A 3-point game between the 8th and 9th place teams is NOT the way to climb the ladder to make any headway.

Defenseman Jaime McBain was able to pot the game-ender for the Canes only 26 seconds into OT. With the overtime win, the Hurricanes are now 11-3-2 in their last 16 at the RBC Center. As Eric Staal said after the game, he could sense the confidence building within the team with youngsters and veterans alike. That’s exactly what Carolina will need if they want to make the playoffs in April.

The loss snaps the Sabres 4-game winning streak even though newcomer Brad Boyes was able to score his 2nd goal in as many games for Buffalo. As a team battling for the final playoff spot, they were at least able to earn the loser point.

Ottawa 3, Atlanta 1

Why in the world didn’t Bryan Murray trade for Craig Anderson months ago? The former Avs netminder played well yet again as his 42 saves led the Sens to their fourth win in his sixth game. Better than that, it was the fifth time he’s only allowed 1 or fewer goals in a game for the Sens.

The 11th place Thrashers lost ground on everyone they were chasing as they lost their 7th game in their last 8. They have one game left on their current 5-game homestand that has seen them go 1-2-1. The loss drops them seven points out of the final playoff spot. Needless to say, this wasn’t the time to lose to the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Montreal 4, Florida 0

Unfortunately, the Panthers are going to have to play the rest of the season. After trading three defensemen and four forwards, the Panthers looked completely overmatched as the Habs jumped all over them in the 1st period. The final score was 4-0, but it seemed much worse than that. Maybe it had to do with the sellout crowd of Habs fans making the BankAtlantic Center their own. Maybe it was Tomas Vokoun getting pulled 9 minutes into the game.

The Canadiens must have been happy with their effort. Two first period goals and a 30 save shutout for Carey Price helped solidify their sixth place standing. Even Hal Gill scored a goal! That pretty much sums it up.

Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 03:  Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New York Islanders in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on May 03, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Lightning defeated the Islanders 5-4 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The bigger the playoff moment, the more Nikita Kucherov shines.

The young Russian has a knack for scoring when Tampa Bay needs it most, which is one of the reasons the Lightning are within one victory of reaching the Stanley Cup final for the second straight year.

Kucherov has found the back of the net a NHL-leading 11 times in 15 games this postseason, seven of them in situations in which he’s either tied the score or given his team a lead.

The 22-year-old’s latest addition to his impressive playoff resume he began compiling last year was a late goal Sunday to force overtime against Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. He also notched an assist on Tyler Johnson‘s winner less than a minute into the extra period.

The 4-3 victory on the road gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 in Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.

“When you’re a rising star in this league, as he is … every team’s got one of those guys at some point,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It just seems the bigger the moment, the bigger they rise to the occasion. He is proving that last year wasn’t a fluke. He’s just a gifted, skilled, determined player. He’s really a pleasure to coach.”

Kucherov had 10 goals in 26 playoff games a year ago, including a pair of overtime winners that helped the Lightning to the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. One more victory and Tampa Bay will become the first team to make consecutive trips to the championship round since the Penguins and Detroit Red Wings did it in 2008 and 2009.

“He keeps climbing the ladder, and he keeps getting better. But what has really been remarkable for me this year in watching him is the timeliness of his game. He’s not scoring one goal in a 6-1 loss or the sixth goal in a 6-1 win,” Cooper said Monday.

“He’s getting the game-tier, game-winner; sets up the biggest of the biggest goals, and that says a little bit about the type of player you are,” the coach added. “When you need him, he’s the one ultimately, more often than not, that’s there for you. I think that’s the one thing that’s remarkable about him.”

Pittsburgh has gone from a 2-1 series lead to facing elimination for the first time this postseason after losing consecutively for the first time since January.

Coach Mike Sullivan said he won’t make a decision on a starting goaltender for Game 6 until Tuesday morning. Marc-Andre Fleury made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, and was unable to protect leads of 2-0 and 3-2.

Rookie Matt Murray started the first four games of this series and is 9-4 with a 2.33 goals-against-average and .923 save percentage.

“I thought Marc made some big saves for us, especially early in the game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, adding it was difficult to gauge how much the long layoff impacted Fleury’s performance.

“It’s a tough circumstance. We believe in the guys we have. We think we have quality people, but it’s an imperfect situation,” Sullivan said before the team flew south to Florida on Monday. “All things considered, we’re trying to make the best decisions we can.”

The Penguins are confident than can rebound Tuesday night and take the series back home for a seventh game.

“I believe in my team. I believe in myself, and we can come back to Pittsburgh for sure,” Penguins star Evgeni Malkin said.

“Every game you shake off, win or lose,” Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said.

“This group has done a terrific job all year of just staying in the moment and not dwelling on the past, not getting ahead of itself, and just trying to focus on that one game in hand,” Sullivan said, “and that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Tampa Bay plans to approach it the same way.

The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to take a 3-2 lead in last year’s conference finals. They returned home and were trounced 7-3 in Game 6.

“You can’t sit here and dictate or guarantee what the result’s going to be, but our mindset going into the game has got to be a heck of a lot different,” Cooper said. “And our group is well aware of that.”

 

PHT Morning Skate: Nobody is better at predicting the Stanley Cup playoffs than actor Will Arnett

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–Will Arnett knows a thing or two about making good Stanley Cup predictions. (Top)

–Some concept jerseys for the Las Vegas Aces. (BarDown)

–Sharks center Joe Thornton really is a nice guy. (ESPN)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues:

–The IIHF’s updated world rankings. (IIHF.com)

Marc-Edouard Vlasic has done a good job against Vladimir Tarasenko.

–Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine put together some solid performances at the worlds. (NHL.com)

Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options,’ says his agent

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 21:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings checks his stick before a face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Pavel Datsyuk‘s future with the Detroit Red Wings and in the National Hockey League has been up in the air for a while now, as he’s linked to rumors of a return to Russia and the KHL.

His agent, Dan Milstein, recently explained to the Detroit Free Press that Datsyuk’s future should become clear in mid-June after meeting with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.

As per General Fanager, Datsyuk has one more year left on his current deal, which comes with a cap hit of $7.5 million.

From the Detroit Free Press:

“He would like to leave, but at the same time, he wants to make sure the Wings have options,” Milstein said. “He wants to help the team any way he can with the salary cap issue.”

Wings general manager Ken Holland has said there are no loopholes. Because Datsyuk signed his last contract after he turned 35, his $7.5 million salary cap hit remains in tact even if Datsyuk departs. The Wings’ only option is to trade his contract to a team such as Arizona or Carolina that could use the hefty cap hit in order to be above the salary cap minimum.

At the age of 37, his career in the league started in 2001-02, and has spanned 953 regular season games in which he’s accrued 918 points.

He’s had a highly decorated career, with two Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings, three Selke and four Lady Byng trophies.

Allen or Elliott? Another goalie decision looms for Hitchcock

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal against Nick Spaling #16 of the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues need to win Game 6 on Wednesday, or their season is over. Who they decide to turn to in net is likely to be a talking point — heated debate, maybe? — leading up to that contest.

Do they go back to Jake Allen for a third consecutive start, despite the fact he allowed four goals on 25 shots in Monday’s Game 5 loss to the San Jose Sharks? Or, will head coach Ken Hitchcock turn once again to Brian Elliott, who started every single game from the series opener of the first round versus Chicago to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

Hitchcock at least felt that going with Allen over Elliott in Game 4 provided the necessary spark for his team, as the Blues evened the series.

But on Monday, the Sharks, on the strength of two Joe Pavelski goals, eventually overpowered the Blues for the win, moving San Jose one victory away from the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought he was fine. I don’t know, those are decisions we make in a day or so. But I thought he was fine today. He stopped some point-blank shots, especially early, three times early,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“I don’t know. That’s stuff we’ll talk about tomorrow.”