Early ride on the Zamboni – Saturday, March 12

Pittsburgh, Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 0

Someone should have told the Penguins this was a matinee tilt. The Habs scored 46 seconds into the game and as the rest of the game would show, that would be enough. In fact, the Pens had difficulties at the beginning of both the 1st and 2nd periods as they gave up early goals. Carey Price bounced back nicely from the Halak/Price hype-fest in St. Louis as he earned his 8th shutout of the season. The best news of the day for the Penguins was that Crosby made it to the rink today. Unfortunately, he was in the press box and not on the bench—they could have used some offense today.

Florida 4, Tampa Bay 3 (OT)

This looked like a game that could have helped the Lightning stop the bleeding. Apparently the Florida Panthers didn’t get the memo.
The Lightning started slow and rallied to come back in the 3rd period and send the game to overtime. But once there, Jason Garrison flipped a backhander over a sprawling Mike Smith for the game-winner with 16 seconds left for the victorious Panthers. The loss dropped the Lightning to 1-4-3 over their last 7 and 3 points behind the Southeast Division leading Washington Capitals. Hey, at least Steven Stamkos scored another goal.

Toronto 4, Buffalo 3

James Reimer made 39 saves, Phil Kessel scored the game winner, and the Maple Leafs pulled within 4 points of the last playoff spot. Not only did they pick the right time to end their 3-game losing streak, but they picked the right team to do it against. Nothing like beating the team you’re chasing to help out in the standings. The Leafs came from behind in the 3rd period as they got two quick goals from Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel to stick the dagger in the Sabres.

The loss was a sour way to end an otherwise successful 7 game road trip. Including the loss in Toronto, they were still able to finish 4-2-1 away from Buffalo. The good news was Carolina lost as well and they were able to hang onto the 8th seed.

Atlanta 5, Philadelphia 4 (OT)

The Flyers took a 3-0 lead into the 3rd period against the Thrashers. Surprisingly, it wasn’t enough. Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom all scored to put Atlanta in a position to make it interesting. Then Andrew Ladd scored with 44 seconds left to tie the game; Ron Hainsey scored on a beautiful top-shelf, backhand redirection early in OT to cap the comeback and sent Flyers fans home disappointed.

If you only saw the first 40 minutes of the game, you may have been tempted to turn the game off in the 2nd intermission. The Flyers were not only leading—but carried the play in the 2nd period and seemingly had control of the game as they looked for their 3rd straight win. Even though Ville Leino contributed a hat trick and the Flyers earned the loser point for 91 on the season (and still in 1st place in the East), there’s no doubt they let a point get away.

New Jersey 3, NY Islanders 2 (OT)

Another game, another Devils win. If this team won any games before January, they’d be the favorites in the Eastern Conference and maybe the NHL to make a run for the Cup. As it is, they’ll have to settle for the title “team no one wants to have to face in the playoffs.” For the Isles, it’s loses like these that absolutely kill their ever dwindling playoff hopes.

The Devils dominated the game outshooting the Isles 35-15, but still needed a 3rd period goal from David Clarkson to force it to extra time. The win pushes their record during this historic run to an incredible 22-3-2 in their last 27. More importantly, the win puts them only 6 points out of the final playoff spot. The only question is if they started too late.

Columbus 3, Carolina 2

Going into the game, the Hurricanes had lost 3 straight and the Blue Jackets were winless in their last 7 games. As they say, something had to give. Luckily for the Blue Jackets, it was their winless streak that went out the window as they escaped Raleigh with a win and held the Hurricanes at 9th place in the standings (2 points behind the 8th seed).

Steve Mason was able to bounce back after losing a night ago at home against the Kings and Derek MacKenzie was able to pot 2 (including the rare game-winning, empty-net goal) as the Jackets did what they could to try to remain within striking distance in the West. Carolina, on the other hand, had a tough night on the power play. More specifically, they had a tough time on the 5-on-3 power play as they failed three separate times on Saturday night. Super-rookie Jeff Skinner finally scored their first goal of the game halfway through the 3rd, but it was too little too late.

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    Barkov, Karlsson, O’Reilly are 2018 Lady Byng Trophy finalists

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    Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, the NHL announced on Friday. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

    The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    The Case for Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers center certainly has the “high standard of playing ability” part down with a season that saw him lead the team with 78 points and finish tied for third in goals with 27. Barkov played the fifth-most minutes (1,743:32) among NHL forwards and only picked up seven minor penalties. This is the second time he’s been named a finalist in the last three seasons.

    The Case for William Karlsson: Karlsson had a monster of a season with 43 goals and 78 points during the Golden Knights’ historic first year. In playing 1,534:47, the 25-year-old forward racked up only 12 PIMs. Should Karlsson win, he would become the first player to win an end-of-season trophy for a team in its inaugural season since Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers won the Byng and Hart Trophy and in 1979-80.

    The Case for Ryan O'Reilly: O’Reilly missed one game this season and logged 1,686:10 of ice time for the Sabres. He recorded only one penalty all season, way back on Oct. 24 versus Detroit, a slashing call. His one penalty is the fewest among NHL players who suited up for at least 41 games this season. He’s a previous winner having taken home the trophy in 2014 while a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

    2018 NHL Award finalists
    Bill Masterton Trophy (Saturday)
    Norris Trophy
    Selke Trophy
    Vezina Trophy

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    WATCH LIVE: Penguins, Jets, Predators look to advance

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    Game 5: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (Penguins lead 3-1)
    NBCSN
    Call: John Forslund, Pierre McGuire
    Series preview
    Stream here

    Game 5: Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (Jets lead 3-1)
    USA
    Call: Dave Randorf, Louis Debrusk
    Series preview
    Stream here

    Game 5: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET (Predators lead 3-1)
    NBCSN
    Call: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Brian Boucher
    Series preview
    Stream

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    Leafs ‘under the gun,’ especially Matthews and Kadri

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    Nazem Kadri told reporters that he didn’t apologize to his teammates about the three-game suspension he received for a hit on Tommy Wingels, explaining that he was sticking up for Mitch Marner.

    An apology might not be necessary, but the bottom line is that Toronto Maple Leafs fans likely expect a lot from Kadri – not to mention star center Auston Matthews – as this team tries to fight back from down 3-1 in their series against the Boston Bruins.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    Letdowns

    The Maple Leafs dropped two of three games with Kadri out of the lineup, prompting plenty of “What if?” questions, even if people merely wondered how different things would be if it was just a one-game suspension.

    Regardless, when it came to last night’s 3-1 loss in Game 4, Mike Babcock didn’t mince words about Toronto failing to exploit the Bruins’ absence in the form of Patrice Bergeron.

    “I’m assuming that he thought he was going to come tonight and dominate the game. That’s what I thought,” Babcock said of Matthews. “That didn’t happen …”

    Auston not scoring often

    Ultimately, Matthews has been limited to one point (the game-winner in Game 3) through the first four games of this series. That’s a disappointment for the NHL’s biggest jersey seller, especially since he showed nicely during his first playoff series, collecting five points during that memorable first-round bout with the Washington Capitals during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    It’s easy to throw Matthews under the bus, and Babcock essentially admits that not enough was there last night.

    Still, quite a bit of this comes down to bounces. Matthews has generated more than four shots on goal per game (17 overall) so far in this series, suffering with a Rick Nash-like 5.9 shooting percentage during this postseason. Such numbers tend to balance out over time; note that Matthews scored four goals in six games during that Capitals series on 16 SOG, good for a 25-percent shooting rate that would be unsustainable during an 82-game regular season.

    There’s also at least some reason to wonder if Matthews is at least somewhat limited by the injury that cost him 10 games from Feb. 22 until his return to the lineup on March 22. As brilliant as he was (six goals, seven assists for 13 points in nine games), maybe he’s missing a few mph on his fastball against unforgiving competition like Zdeno Chara?

    Either way, Matthews (and William Nylander) have struggled while the Bruins’ top-line forwards Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak find ways to feast upon the Maple Leafs’ mistakes.

    Kadri has plenty to prove

    Expectations will be high for Kadri, too, and his offensive numbers have been modest over a small sample size of playoff appearances.

    So far, Kadri has generated two goals and six assists in 14 career playoff games, piling up 35 penalty minutes. At minimum, Toronto would like to see his finishing touch pay off a bit more in the postseason after the agitating center generated 32 goals in each of the past two regular seasons.

    Much of that can be filed under “easier said than done,” particularly when Tuukka Rask is on his game.

    Under the gun

    That said, Babcock believes that players like Matthews and Kadri should “embrace and enjoy” the pressure.

    ” … No pressure means you have no chance. Go to the Olympic games, if you’ve got no chance for a medal there’s no pressure,” Babcock said during Friday’s press conference.

    “Do you want to be that person or the person under the gun? I want to be under the gun. We want to build our program so big that we’re under the gun, we’re supposed to win. Like I said, I talked about those fans, we’ve got an unbelievable fan group. They expect us to be good. We want to be good. Let’s be good.”

    Kadri, Matthews, and the Maple Leafs will get their chance to “be good” enough to keep this series alive in Game 5 on Saturday. You can tune in on NBC, with puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Penguins won’t have Hornqvist; Flyers lineup murky for Game 5

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    If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to eliminate the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 tonight, they’ll do so without Patric Hornqvist.

    The Swedish winger already missed Game 4 with an upper-body injury, and the team ruled him out for Game 5. Hornqvist had been playing quite well lately, including generating a point-per-game (three in as many contests) during this series. He’s also been a pain in the neck, riling up his opponents while amassing 16 penalty minutes in Game 2.

    It’s worth noting that Hornqvist scored the Penguins’ last series-clinching goal. He found the net late in Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, stunning the Nashville Predators as Pittsburgh repeated as champs.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    Kessel gets boost with Hornqvist sidelined

    The Penguins won Game 4 against the Flyers by a score of 5-0 after rearranging lines.

    Hornqvist was lining up with Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, while Phil Kessel climbed to that second-line spot in Game 4 after pairing with Derick Brassard. Brassard’s wingers changed to Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust, while Sidney Crosby anchors a line of Dominik Simon and Jake Guentzel.

    Those configurations worked well, but a desperate Flyers team could provide a different look.

    That’s especially true if Sean Couturier can return to the mix for Philly after missing Game 4 himself. The team considers the Selke finalist a game-time decision, while he was seen wearing a knee brace during this morning’s optional skate.

    Shuffling with Couturier hurt

    The Flyers fiddled around with some interesting combinations with Couturier in doubt. Nolan Patrick centered Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux during much of Wednesday’s loss, while Left Wing Lock indicates that Valtteri Filppula could replace Patrick between Voracek and Giroux if Couturier is out.

    Couturier playing or sitting is pivotal, as he’s been carrying a huge workload for Philly. That was especially true in Games 2 (27:15 minutes of ice time) and Game 3 (26:18), when Couturier logged big minutes. He also benefited the Flyers from a balance standpoint, as they were able to place Giroux and Voracek on different lines at even-strength with Couturier available.

    That’s not the only big question mark for the Flyers (and perhaps for the Penguins’ hopes of prepping for the Flyers). Head coach Dave Hakstol didn’t name the starting goalie for Game 5, generating speculation that Michal Neuvirth may step in for Brian Elliott.

    For all we know, the Flyers are aware of their starting goalie situation, along with Couturier’s status, but we might need to wait to actually find out. Then again, when you consider Patrice Bergeron‘s late scratch for the Bruins in Game 4 of their series, it could indeed be a coin flip for Couturier, too.

    ***

    Game 5 airs on NBCSN tonight, with puck drop set for 7 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.