Rangers crush Canadiens, but Lundqvist questionable for Sunday

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In one of the best settings of the season, the New York Rangers exploded for five goals in the first period to coast to an important 6-3 victory against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. For 57 minutes, all of the news was good for the Rangers and their fans as they solidified their hold on a playoff spot. But with three minutes left, Benoit Pouliot collided with Henrik Lundqvist, forcing the New York goaltender’s neck to snap backwards. He was tended to on the ice by the Rangers’ trainer and finished the game, but admitted the neck started to stiffen in the last few minutes of the game.

The Rangers have been playing well as of late; they’re currently riding a 3-game winning streak at the most important time of the season. But no matter how well the 18 skaters are playing in front of him, the Blueshirts can ill-afford to lose King Henrik for any period of time. Lundqvist described the play to reporters after the game:

“The tough part here is that I really didn’t see him coming,” said Lundqvist, who did not meet with members of the media until a full hour after the game was over. “My head was leaning forward and I took a pretty hard hit there. But we checked everything, X-rays were good, it’s just that my neck is very stiff and sore. We’ll see how it is when I wake up tomorrow, but I’m sure it will be sore for several days.”

Lundqvist said that he never blacked out from the hit, and he did not hit his head when he fell backwards. He admitted that it was difficult for him to play the final three minutes because his neck kept getting stiffer, and it was becoming very hard for him to turn his head.

As to whether or not he will be able to play Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, Lundqvist — who has started 16 consecutive games — said, “My goal is to be ready on Sunday.”

It certainly sounds like the Rangers are taking every precaution with their prized goaltender. In real-time, it looked like the type of incident where a player could suffer whiplash—which possibly explains the stiff neck. Anyone who has ever been in a car crash can tell you a neck injury can be worse the next morning than immediately after the incident. We’ll probably know more about the extent of the injury tomorrow morning.

Quote machine John Tortorella was asked about the play during his post-game press conference on Friday night. He answered with the candor we’ve come to expect:

“He’s OK. It certainly wasn’t intentional, it was just a hockey play, but he’s OK.

You’re talking to a guy who thinks “that’s hockey.” We try to take care of the blue [crease], we try to get to their blue, and when there’s contact, I think that’s part of the game. We certainly don’t want to lose or goalie or (for him) to get hurt, but I’m not going to sit up here and whine about that stuff. I think too much whining goes on. I think that’s a big part of hockey is trying to make plays there.”

The most important thing here is Lundqvist’s health, but it’s refreshing to see a coach in a post-game interview acknowledge an injury can happen in the normal course of a game. Increasingly, coaches are quick to point the finger and campaign for a punishment to settle the score. Tortorella wants his team to play with grit in passion in front of the net and understands when an opponent does the same. We hear over and over with the headshot debate about “players making a hockey play.” It may come off as empty rhetoric, but in this case, a hockey player was just making a hockey play in the crease.

Leafs chase Rask, but Bruins make things interesting

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they turned in a relatively solid performance in the first two periods of the game.

Connor Brown opened the scoring at the 6:36 mark of the first period before Andreas Johnsson, who was a healthy scratch in the first game of the series, made it 2-0 for the Leafs. Nazem Kadri made an immediate impact in his first game back from a suspension, as he fed Johnsson with a great feed.

David Backes got a goal back for the Bruins, but Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk extended Toronto’s lead to 4-2 in the middle frame. That’s when Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy decided to give Tuukka Rask the hook.

After failing to convert on a long 5-on-3 power play, Sean Kuraly scored to make it 4-2 with under three minutes remaining in the second period.

This should be an interesting final 20 minutes at TD Garden. The Maple Leafs need this victory to stay alive in the series.

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

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


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