NHL Extra: Breaking down Blackhawks vs. Red Wings

Looking for the numbers breakdown for how these two teams stack up? Look no further as we’ve got you covered as the Blackhawks take on the Red Wings at 12:30 p.m. ET from United Center in Chicago.

Insider’s Preview

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers breaks down how today’s game for Chicago is “one last biggest game of the year” as Chicago hopes to clinch a playoff berth with a win.

Team scoring

Detroit can score some goals. They’ve tallied 257 times this year, good for third best in the NHL. They also average 3.12 goals per game, an average that sits second best in the league behind Vancouver. One thing working against them is that their leading point man Henrik Zetterberg is out for this game with a knee injury. That moves the point production pressure to 40 year-old defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom is second on the team in points with 16 goals and 46 assists. Not bad for a guy they thought was looking over the hill last year. Pavel Datsyuk (22 goals, 36 assists) will lead them from the forward spot and hope to get Johan Franzen (26 goals) and Dan Cleary (25 goals) going to try and keep the Blackhawks out of the playoffs.

Chicago can score too though. The Blackhawks have scored 255 goals this year, fourth best in the NHL while averaging 3.07 goals per game, also fourth best in the league. They’re led by three guys that have notched over 70 or more points this year in Jonathan Toews (32 goals, 44 assists), Patrick Kane (27 goals, 45 assists), and Patrick Sharp (34 goals, 36 assists). Marian Hossa isn’t doing too bad either with 25 goals and 31 assists of his own. You’ll see combinations of those guys working throughout the afternoon all over the ice.

Goaltending

Chicago is led by Corey Crawford in goal and while that seemed like a bad idea at the beginning of the year it’s been working out great for the Blackhawks all season. Crawford is 33-17-6 this season with a 2.27 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. When Antti Niemi was let go by the team in the offseason, many wondered if the tandem of Crawford and Marty Turco would be able to give them the same kind of great work in goal that Niemi and Cristobal Huet did last year. Turns out Crawford’s been just as dynamic as Niemi. Should Turco have to jump into the game, you know when he’s not busy making cheeky bets with fans, he’s been average. Turco’s 11-11-3 with 3.03 goals against average and a .897 save percentage.

For Detroit, it’s all about Jimmy Howard and whether or not he can get the defense to help him out. After a tremendous rookie season last year Howard’s come back to earth a bit. He’s still getting the wins, obviously, as he’s 36-17-5 this year but with a 2.78 goals against average and a .908 save percentage there’s a bit left to be desired there. Should Howard run into trouble, there’s no Chris Osgood there to bail him out. Instead it’s Joey MacDonald with his 15-5-5 record and a 2.58 goals against average and .917 save percentage. He’s been good since coming up to take Osgood’s spot but he’s not the guy the Wings want playing in a big game.

Special teams

This game features a pair of the NHL’s best power plays. Chicago’s power play checks in scoring 23.4% of the time, a mark good for fourth in the league. Meanwhile Detroit is right behind them in fifth scoring 22.3% of the time with the man advantage. While they’re both good at scoring, stopping the opponents power play presents a different story.

Detroit’s penalty kill is effective 82.2% of the time, a mark good for 17th in the NHL. Chicago’s could use some work as they stop 79.2% of the power plays they face, the sixth worst mark in the NHL. If the Blackhawks have an Achilles’ heel it comes shorthanded. A parade to the box this afternoon for the Blackhawks would not bode well.

Injuries

Both teams come into today’s game dinged up. Detroit will be without forward Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Chicago is all sorts of maligned as they’ll likely be without forwards Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer. Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp are playing through injuries as Sharp recently returned from his own knee injury.

Streaks and standings – Playoff decision edition

The task is simple for Chicago. If the Blackhawks win, they’re in the playoffs. A win of any kind be it in regulation, overtime, or a shootout the Blackhawks will end up fifth after navigating through all the tiebreakers. That would mean they’d face Anaheim in the first round as the Ducks have locked down home ice in the first round.

If Chicago loses in overtime or the shootout, they’ll have to sweat out tonight’s Dallas-Minnesota game as a Stars win would put them in the playoffs over them. If Chicago gets the loser point and makes the playoffs, they’d end up seventh in the West and face San Jose in the playoffs. If Chicago loses in regulation and Dallas loses, then Chicago slots in at the eighth seed.

Detroit is already locked in as the three seed in the West. If Detroit wins, they’ll draw Phoenix in the first round, if they lose they’ll have to face Nashville. Neither of those matchups look to be all that appealing to the Red Wings.

NHL Extra

If you’d like to ask James and I questions and get our thoughts on today’s game, you can join us for NHL Extra online and follow along with the action that way. To join us for NHL Extra click here. We’ll be kicking things off at 12:30 p.m.

Chris Kunitz found the fountain of youth in Game 7

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PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz has put together an impressive and often times overlooked resume during his 13 years in the NHL. He has been a top-line player on three Stanley Cup winning teams, he has an Olympic Gold Medal, and before Thursday’s Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators had scored 275 goals (regular season and playoffs) in the NHL.

By any objective measure that is a fantastic career.

During the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win on Thursday to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, he played what was perhaps the biggest — and best — game of his career.

It could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

Or at a more unexpected one.

Kunitz played a role in all three Penguins’ goals, scoring two of them, including the overtime winner, and providing the key screen on Justin Schultz‘s third period power play goal. As if that was not enough, he also recorded an assist on that Schultz goal.

He was, to say the least, a force and the single biggest contributor in the Penguins’ win. Even if he downplayed his overtime winner as simply being the result of a little bit of luck.

“I was just trying to get into a soft spot,” said Kunitz. “The puck fluttered off my stick a little, I don’t know if it touched [Jean-Gabriel Pageau] or kept going right in, but it looked like there was a good screen on the goalie, it looked like he maybe fell down, it just found its way into the net. Sometimes you just get lucky when you put one on net.”

Lucky or not, Kunitz was the unexpected hero in Game 7 and it came on a night where he seemed to rediscover his game.

Kunitz playing such an essential role in a big playoff win wouldn’t have been that big of a shock four or five years ago.

He has been a core player since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season and spent years skating on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby.  That presence on Crosby’s wing almost did more to hurt his reputation because there was always that belief he was simply a product of skating alongside the best player in the world. But he has always been more than that. He has been a legitimately good top-six winger that had also found success even when away from Crosby.

But on Thursday it was a taste of the old days with Crosby setting up the overtime winner.

“[Sheary] did a really good job bringing it up the wall and walking the blue like, and I think Sid was coming right off the bench,” said Kunitz. “When he drives it deep everyone gets scared and you can find that soft area because obviously Sid has great vision, and he put it right there. I just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.”

What makes his performance such a stunner this season, and in this game, is that it came at a time when his best days were clearly in the past and he had gone from being a top-line, core player, to being more of a bottom-six role player.

At the age of 37 that had to be expected. He was still able to do enough to be a useful contributor, but the consistent impact on the scoresheet wasn’t always there. Entering Game 7 on Thursday night he had yet to score a goal and had recorded just a pair of assists in his first 13 playoff games. Along with that postseason scoring drought he only scored nine goals during the regular season and had not found the back of the net since Feb. 16, a stretch of 78 days.

Then there he is playing the role of hero in what was, to this point, the Penguins’ biggest game of the season.

“He played his best game of the playoffs when it matters the most,” said Penguins forward Carl Hagelin. “That’s the type of guy he is and that’s the reason he has three Stanley Cup rings already. He’s just one of those guys you love having on your team.”

This is pretty much what Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about. Anything can happen when a series and a season all comes down to one game.

It only takes one shot, one bounce, one play, one call or one huge performance from an unexpected player to totally re-write history.

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago it was Bryan Rust, representing the next wave and younger generation of the Penguins, playing the role of hero with his two goal-game.

This year, it was one of their long-time core players rediscovering his past glory for one night.

2017 Stanley Cup Final schedule: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins might celebrate their hard-fought tonight, but they’d probably be wise to rest up. It won’t be long before they’ll face the well-rested Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

That first contest will take place on Monday, May 29. The Penguins ended their series on Thursday (or, maybe Friday if you’re being a stickler) while the Predators get a week of rest after dispatching the Ducks this past Monday (May 22).

NBC and NBCSN will have you covered for what should be a fast and fascinating series with a whole lot of gold/yellow going around. Game 1 will be on NBC, Games 2 and 3 will air on NBCSN and then the remaining contests will take place on NBC.

Here’s the schedule in list form, as that may be easier to follow:

2017 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
Subject to Change/All Times ET

Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks
Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
* If necessary

Penguins end Senators’ magical run, reach second Stanley Cup Final in a row

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The Ottawa Senators put up a resounding fight, but the Sens’ “Cinderella” story came to an end tonight.

The Pittsburgh Penguins needed a double-overtime in Game 7 to write the final chapter, yet that’s what happened; now the defending champions prepare to face a well-rested Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.

An unforgettable night for Kunitz

Hot take: Mike Sullivan made the right move in placing Chris Kunitz on Sidney Crosby‘s line.

Crosby created some chances early on in Game 7, but things just weren’t clicking for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That swap opened up some opportunities for Kunitz – once a constant linemate of Crosby – and the veteran winger provided perhaps the best performance of his impressive career.

As surprising as this turn was, maybe it should have been expected; Kunitz is one of the greatest success stories of any undrafted players, after all.

Plenty of twists and turns

After a scoreless second period, the two teams traded goals within just 20 seconds; Chris Kunitz cashed in on a nice rush while Mark Stone finished a great Erik Karlsson setup to make it 1-1.

More: Video and other details regarding those opening tallies.

The third period featured plenty of drama, even if some of the larger points echoed earlier narratives. To be more precise, the Penguins leveraged their power-play opportunity to a 2-1 lead (via Justin Schultz), but Ryan Dzingel‘s rebound 2-2 goal ensured that the lead wouldn’t last.

Read more about the 2-2 goals and some controversial moments from the third period here. You may also enjoy this Marc Methot hip check on Evgeni Malkin.

The overtime period began with a frantic pace; even fans probably needed the breather. Some great Phil Kessel chances didn’t end the opening overtime period, so things went to double-OT.

Ponder Kessel’s tumultuous times in the first overtime here.

It wasn’t beautiful, but Chris Kunitz’s knucklepuck beat a keyed-in Craig Anderson to end the contest and the series. He came into Thursday with zero goals and two assists in 13 playoff games; he generated the game-winner, the game-opener and an assist, factoring into all three Penguins goals.

Deep playoff runs come down to some combination of stars being stars and unexpected heroes shining in huge moments. The Penguins keep finding ways to get that equation just right.

Penguins – Senators Game 7 goes to double overtime, try to breathe

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Try to breathe. Maybe meditate during this overtime intermission, if you need it.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators didn’t just need overtime to decide who would win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It turns out that, despite an angry Penguins crowd, that they’ll need double OT.

There were plenty of big chances during that span of “free hockey.” You could probably argue that Phil Kessel was the most frustrated player during that frame; he was unable to score but generated some golden opportunities.

One really looked like it might have beaten Craig Anderson:

Wow. This one likely stings more for Kessel, as he had a ton of time and space but missed the net.

Kessel wasn’t the only player to get chances. There were a ton in this first overtime as both teams took thrilling swipes at victory. Still, number 81 provided some of the most memorable moments.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.