Flames turning season around under interim GM Jay Feaster

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Mark Twain may have had hockey and the Calgary Flames in mind when he said, “The reports of (my) death were an exaggeration.” Even though the Flames were left for dead around Christmas, they’ve completely turned things around and have not only disassociated themselves from the Oilers, but they’ve become a good bet to emerge as a playoff team come April. So what is the difference?

Jay Feaster.

The Flames have won their last three games and five of their last six going into tonight’s game in Phoenix. Since Feaster took over the GM position on an interim basis on December 28th, the Flames have a sparkling 20-6-6 record for 46 points in 32 games. Contrast that to the 35 points the Flames had earned under the Darryl Sutter’s 37 games at the beginning of the year. What does that mean? They used to look like a rebuilding team like Florida Panthers; now they’re the Vancouver Canucks. They’ve gone from a team that fans thought should be rebuilding to a team who is competing for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. How did this happen?

There’s been some speculation that the Flames just needed someone else in the GMs chair. In Darryl Sutter, they had a strong personality who—well, has a strong personality. Just like a coaching change can change the atmosphere around a team, it looks like Jay Feaster’s (temporary) persona is wearing off on his team. Then again, winning is fun. So which is it—did the winning cause the improved atmosphere or did the improved atmosphere lead to the wins?

No matter which side of the question you fall on, it’s hard to argue against Feaster and the team’s performance since he took over. It also helps that his best players have been playing extremely well since he took over (that will make anyone look like a genius). Last week, Jarome Iginla became the 5th player in NHL history to score 30 goals in 10 straight seasons. Miikka Kiprusoff has survived a rocky start to the season and is tied with Carey Price with the most wins in the league (32). The rest of the team has been keeping pace and people have been making awful “red-hot Flames” puns for the better part of two months.

One of the secrets to Calgary’s success has been focusing on the here-and-now. Trying to make up that much ground in a short time span can be a daunting task, so they chose to go with a focused attack during their assent in the standings. Feaster relayed their strategy to Adrian Dater at SI.com:

“Our coach (Brent Sutter) put out a challenge to our team before a December 23 game in Dallas. It was: ‘Let’s win two out of three from here on out. Just focus on three-game blocks at a time.’ Since he put that challenge out there, our record is 21-6-6. When you take it out of the realm of ‘Boy, look at all these teams we’re chasing and have to climb over’, that new outlook kind of made it seem less daunting in the bigger picture. Let’s just look at now as a three-game playoff, and you have to win two out of three.”

Sometimes a team will flip a switch and we never really find an adequate explanation. In this case, we have a pretty clear separation between the embarrassing version of the team that started the season and the dangerous version of the team that is tearing through the Western Conference.

Calgary Flames President and CEO Ken King agreed with Jay Feaster before promoting him in December that the GM position would be on an interim basis for the rest of the year and they’d revisit the position at the end of the season. If the team keeps it up, the Flames organization may as well order that nameplate for Feaster’s office. He might be in Alberta for a while.

Keep an eye on Oilers’ Slepyshev (the Ducks certainly should)

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The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.

Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.

In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)

Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:

Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/postsanother theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.

And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:

The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.

Jake Allen takes blame for Predators’ game-winner vs. Blues

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Let’s be honest: the St. Louis Blues owe a lot to Jake Allen‘s work against the Minnesota Wild in that first-round series.

He probably bought himself a significant amount of goodwill for that outstanding work, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. He admitted that “a little mistake by me cost” the Blues the 4-3 decision against the Predators, leaving St. Louis down 1-0 to Nashville.

The goal in question was Vernon Fiddler‘s unlikely 4-3 tally, which came after an unsuccessful poke check attempt by Allen:

Now, to be fair, that wasn’t even the only failed poke check that turned into a goal, as Pekka Rinne also got beat after making such an attempt:

Then again, Allen is wise to score points with teammates for taking the blame. As far as his team, head coach Mike Yeo believes that it was the second period that really made the difference.

Regardless, Allen and the Blues hope to carry over the momentum from their third-period dominance in Game 1 to Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.

That contest airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)

Predators survive Blues’ big late push to win Game 1

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The Nashville Predators’ 4-3 Game 1 win against the St. Louis Blues makes it difficult to use “perfect.”

You could get away with using that word, mind you, as the Predators followed up their surprising sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks by going up 1-0 against the Blues in St. Louis. Still, the ride was so bumpy in the third period, it’s probably wiser to focus on the fact that Nashville is unbeaten.

Because, yikes, that third period was a roller coaster for Nashville.

via Natural Stat Trick

P.K. Subban scored a goal and two assists in the first 40 minutes to help the Predators bring a 3-1 lead into the final frame. The Blues absolutely dominated play in the third, however, briefly tying the game as they put immense pressure on Pekka Rinne & Co.

Ultimately, the Predators received a game-winner from an unlikely source in Vernon Fiddler, gaining a 1-0 series edge.

Even so, few will talk about “mystique” after that shaky finish.

For one thing, both Rinne and Jake Allen allowed goals that they’d like to forget. Also, both squads experienced lopsided periods; Nashville dominated shots in the second (15-8) while the Blues almost doubled-up the Preds in the third (11-6).

Nashville also seems likely to play without rising rookie Kevin Fiala, who was hospitalized after an absolutely horrifying crash into the boards.

It was a weird and often wild – sometimes nasty – contest, with the Predators ultimately coming out on top. There’s plenty of intrigue heading into Game 2, which airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)

WATCH LIVE: Second round begins with Predators – Blues, Oilers – Ducks

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Update: With both games likely to run simultaneously, note that Ducks fans can watch on NBCSN in the Anaheim market while the game is also available via streaming links below.

In addition to that, Ducks – Oilers is slated to begin on NHL Network.

This tweet explains it in additional detail.

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The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

We start with a battle of the hottest goalies in the postseason so far as Jake Allen and the Blues host Pekka Rinne and the Predators. The duo of Game 1’s wraps up when Connor McDavid and the Oilers take on Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online)