Ilya Bryzgalov

Coyotes look to take care of business against struggling Avalanche

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Running down the stretch, there are two words that bring a smile to every contender in the Western Conference: Colorado. Avalanche. Tonight, the Phoenix Coyotes get the privilege of facing off against the league’s coldest team. How cold are the Avs? They haven’t won a game in regulation since February 22nd. Unfortunately, that is NOT part of a larger April Fool’s Day joke.

On the other hand, the Coyotes enter the night as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. With all of the teams fighting for playoff spots (and positioning), Phoenix has gone 9-2-1 over their last 12 games. Some people will look at this as a “trap game” for Phoenix, but currently they’re only a single point ahead of both the Kings and Predators for the 4th spot. For a little perspective on exactly how tight the Western Conference standards are, they’re only two points ahead of the 7th place Anaheim Ducks. Needless to say, every win is important at this time of year. When a team in the Coyotes’ position comes across a team performing like the Avalanche have as of late, they need to take care of business. Two points are two points.

Playoff positioning may be up in the air, but it’s looking increasingly more likely that Phoenix will at least make it into the playoffs. With a win tonight, their “magic number” to make the playoffs would drop to 2. If things break correctly for Phoenix, they hypothetically could have a playoff spot wrapped up by tomorrow afternoon (Stars play a matinee in Los Angeles). It certainly would be a nice feeling for the players in the locker room to have it locked up this weekend. After tonight’s game against Colorado, they won’t play another game until Wednesday against the Kings. A lot can happen in the standings while they’re sitting at home waiting for their next game, but Ilya Bryzgalov doesn’t seem concerned:

“If we’re good enough, we’re going to play good enough, we’re going to make the playoffs,” he said. “If we‘re not going to finish strong, and we’re not going to play good enough, we’re not going to make the playoffs. It’s as simple as that.

“If you’re not good enough to make the playoffs, it’s fair. If we going to play good, and we win some games, finish strong, we’re going to make the playoffs; this is fair, too. Everything is in our hands.”

There’s no doubt that head coach Dave Tippett will have the Yotes ready to go tonight. One of the advantages to having a team that gets contributions from everyone is that they aren’t dependent on a single player or a single line to produce. With only four games left in the season, Phoenix still does not have a 20-goal scorer. However, they do have EIGHT players who have scored 16 or more goals on the season. Balanced scoring and superb goaltending tend to show up every night. That’s exactly what Tippett and Co. expect tonight

Sullivan calls it a ‘blindside hit to the head,’ but Marleau doesn’t think suspension’s coming

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PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take long for the first controversial incident of the Stanley Cup Final.

Patrick Marleau‘s illegal check to the head on Bryan Rust — one that earned Marleau a minor penalty, and forced Rust to exit the game — left Rust day-to-day with an upper-body injury, per Pens head coach Mike Sullivan.

When asked what he thought of the hit, Sullivan was blunt.

“It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

Marleau wasn’t saying much about the incident following the game, but did suggest he wasn’t expecting supplemental discipline:

“I just tried to keep everything down,” Marleau added. “I didn’t want to get too high on him.”

It’ll be interesting to see what transpires. There hasn’t been a suspension in the Stanley Cup Final since Vancouver’s Aaron Rome was given a four-game ban for his massive hit on Boston forward Nathan Horton.

Marleau has no history with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

It should be mentioned the DoPS has been fairly active this spring, handing down five suspensions, including a pair of three-gamers to Brooks Orpik and Brayden Schenn.

Bonino scores late, role guys star again as Pens take Game 1

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PITTSBURGH — If this playoff run has proven anything, it’s that the Penguins are more than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Tonight only reaffirmed it.

Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino did all the scoring on Monday, with Bonino’s late marker the winner as Pittsburgh defeated San Jose 3-2 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Bonino’s goal, his fourth of the playoffs, came with just over two minutes remaining, capping off a quality opener in which both teams carried play for long stretches.

Rust and Sheary punctuated a dominant opening period for the Penguins — they out-shot the Sharks 15-4 — but the Sharks replied with a stellar second frame, equalizing on goals from Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau.

That set the stage for a dramatic third, and the Bonino goal.

That he, Rust and Sheary did the scoring for Pittsburgh was fitting. There’d been plenty of talk heading into this series about role players coming up large, to the point where the American Hockey League sent out a press release noting that 23 of 25 Penguins that’ve played in the playoffs thus far came through Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, highlighting this spring’s “big four” of Rust, Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Murray.

Rust etched himself into Pittsburgh lore in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Lightning.

Murray’s exploits are pretty well-known. The 22-year-old was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6 of the ECF, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

He was good again on Monday, with 24 saves on 26 shots.

Sheary, the diminutive speedster, scored his third goal of the playoffs tonight. Kuhnhackl tied a team high with eight hits.

As such, Pittsburgh has to be thrilled about how tonight went. They held up home ice and got contributions from across the board — the only downer has to be the health of Rust, who twice exited the contest after taking a hit to the head from Marleau.

As for the Sharks… well, this one will sting a bit. The club did remarkably well to rally from a two-goal deficit and carried play in the second period, but can’t be pleased.

They were beaten in the possession game and out-shot badly (41-26), things head coach Peter DeBoer wanted to control against Pittsburgh, a team he considers the fastest in the league.

That said, there are positives moving forward. Martin Jones was outstanding in his Stanley Cup Final debut, with 38 saves on 41 shots, and there’s still a chance to get the split on Wednesday night.

Of course, to do that, the Sharks will have to figure out how to slow down Pittsburgh’s role players.

Video: Patrick Marleau gets minor penalty for hit on Bryan Rust

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Patrick Marleau made a big impact with the 2-2 goal in Game 1, yet a hit he delivered on Bryan Rust might draw more attention.

With the score tied 2-2, Marleau was whistled for a minor penalty for “illegal check to the head” on Rust. The Pittsburgh Penguins power play was not able to score on the San Jose Sharks during that two-minute power play.

Rust left the bench for a short period of time, yet he returned to action.

Some believe that Marleau deserves a look from the Department of Player Safety for the check. Others wonder if it should have been a penalty at all.

Watch the video above and check out the GIFs below to decide for yourself:

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.