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Three things to watch for as 2011 Frozen Four begins today

Even when I was a kid and had infinite amounts of time to watch every sport available, college basketball just didn’t do it for me. There’s a part of me that regrets that since I grew up in the days of the “Fab Five” and the last era in which professional stars played a little while before jumping to the NBA, but for whatever reason, it didn’t touch a chord. So let’s just say I didn’t watch a second of that much-maligned horror show between Butler and the University of Connecticut.*

The Frozen Four has been a puck-based counterargument to the Final Four for many years now, even if its profile is much lower. The first two of three matches is set to take place today, as Minnesota-Duluth takes on Notre Dame at 5:00 pm ET while Michigan and North Dakota play a fitting primetime match at 8:30 pm ET.

The best part might be that the games are taking place at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota, one of the places in which all forms of hockey are treated as epic events. If NBC ever ran a “Friday Night Lights” spin-off that focused on hockey instead of football, it would need to take place in Minnesota. ESPN’s David Albright astutely points out that if the Frozen Four ever settled on a single headquarters, it would have to be “The State of Hockey.”

Here are a few storylines to watch in these games.

1. Hobey Baker finalist at play …

While Andy Miele’s Miami of Ohio team is already out of the discussion (and he’s already a member of the Phoenix Coyotes organization) and Boston College’s Cam Atkinson is now playing in the Columbus Blue Jackets system, one finalist for college hockey’s top award will be on display in the primetime game. North Dakota’s star forward Matt Frattin will play tonight.

2. A guaranteed “David and Goliath” final game.

No matter who wins, there will be one mammoth NCAA men’s hockey dynasty going up against a Cinderella team. Michigan is a nine-time champion and North Dakota has seven titles to their name, while Notre Dame and Minnesota-Duluth have never won a championship. If you enjoy rooting for underdogs, you’re in luck in 2011.

3. North Dakota is the biggest Goliath, though.

While Michigan features a storied hockey history and beloved coach Red Berenson, North Dakota is the clear favorite this time around. They have gone a stunning 14-0-1 since January 28th, according to ESPN’s Albright. Albright points out the fact that they are also winning in dominant fashion, as they outscored opponents 12-1 so far in the tournament.

***

While the NHL is our main area of concern here at PHT (hence the “Pro” in Pro Hockey Talk), tournaments like these often showcase future talents and high-level hockey. We’ll keep an eye on the games for you, so stay tuned for results and more.

* – Am I the only one who feels weird about writing “UConn”? Saying it is fine, but actually writing it just feels wrong to me.

Oshie’s hat trick lets Caps just barely squeak by Penguins in OT

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What a start.

This series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might be headlined by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but as many have said in the lead-up to tonight’s opener, there is so much more to this second round matchup than that. Washington’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 tonight could be offered up as Exhibit A.

This game had everything except big offensive showings from Crosby and Ovechkin. They had their moments, but in the end combined for just one assist.

What we got instead was a hat trick by T.J. Oshie that was completed with a game-winning goal that made it past the line by such a narrow margin that it warranted a video review:

This game also featured a sequence of three goals in 90 seconds and yet also some great saves by goaltenders Braden Holtby and Matt Murray. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a controversial hit by Tom Wilson that might lead to a suspension.

There was even some odd stuff. Like how Jay Beagle got a stick stuck in his equipment.

Twice:

If this game sets the tone for the rest of the series, then we should be in for a closely contested, highlight filled affair.

NOTES:

Nick Bonino had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin and Ben Lovejoy accounted for the Penguins’ other markers.

— Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky scored the game’s opening goal. It was his first marker of the 2016 playoffs.

— Washington outshot Pittsburgh 15-9 in the first period, but Pittsburgh ended up with a 45-35 edge.

— This is the first time in the 2016 playoffs that Braden Holtby has allowed more than two goals. He surrendered just five goals in six games to Philadelphia.

— Matt Murray suffered his first career postseason loss after winning three straight contests against the New York Rangers.

Video: Wilson delivers late, knee-on-knee hit to Sheary

Wilson hit
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Tom Wilson has already found himself in a controversy for delivering a late, knee-on-knee hit to Penguins forward Conor Sheary in the third period of Game 1 Thursday night.

You can see that incident below:

Wilson spent two minutes in the sin bin earlier in the contest for crosschecking Evgeni Malkin, but there was no penalty on this play.

Fortunately Conor Sheary was able to stay in the game. The question now is if Wilson’s actions will lead to him being suspended prior to Game 2.

This isn’t Wilson’s first brush with controversy. He delivered a big hit to Brayden Schenn in 2013, but Wilson wasn’t suspended for that incident. Lubomir Visnovsky’s final campaign was cut short due to a check by Wilson that angered the New York Islanders. More recently, Nikita Zadorov was concussed by a crushing blow from the Capitals forward.

In 231 career regular season games, Wilson has 50 points and 486 penalty minutes.

Related: Wilson says ‘I’ve never been a dirty hitter’ after teams voice complaints

Video: Penguins, Caps combine for three goals in 90 seconds

Oshie goal
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For the first 30 minutes of Game 1 between Pittsburgh and Washington it looked like goaltenders Matt Murray and Braden Holtby might outshine these star-studded offenses. Then the floodgates opened up, if only for a moment.

Washington already had a 1-0 lead going into the second frame courtesy of Andre Burakovsky‘s first marker of the 2016 playoffs, but Ben Lovejoy and Evgeni Malkin scored back-to-back goals within the span of 57 seconds midway through the second period to tilt the scale in Pittsburgh’s favor. That lead didn’t last for long though as Capitals forward T.J. Oshie got a breakaway opportunity and took full advantage of it.

In total, there were three goals scored in the span of just 90 seconds and you can see all of them below:

After that sequence, the 2-2 tie held for the remainder of the frame. However, Oshie was able to reassert Washington’s edge just 3:23 minutes into the third period.

Video: Beagle gets stick stuck in visor

Beagle
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Through 40 minutes of action in Game 1 of the second round series between Pittsburgh and Washington and we’ve already seen some big moments, along with a pretty unusual one.

Beagle ended up with a stick lodged into his visor towards the end of the second frame. He tried to get it out himself, but ended up having to go to the bench for assistance. You can see that below: