Penguins begin playoffs without Sidney Crosby as he continues his comeback

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Penguins superstar captain Sidney Crosby continues to workout and skate with the team as the playoffs begin tonight. The Penguins kick off their first round series against Tampa Bay without Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but with the way Crosby is working out in an effort to get back from a concussion suffered back in early January, many are wondering about when he might be back on the ice.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Kevin Gorman reports from Penguins practice that while Crosby is busy trying to prove he’s ready for full contact practice and then eventually real ice time in a game. Usual Crosby linemate Chris Kunitz says what everyone is thinking in Pittsburgh about Sid the Kid.

“You know he wants to get back,” winger Chris Kunitz said. “You see he’s going out twice a day, trying to get out there. You don’t want to put too much emphasis on it, but it’s definitely nice to see him.”

While Crosby isn’t close to rejoining the Penguins for game action yet, that hasn’t stopped the Lightning from preparing for him one way or another. For Tampa Bay, coach Guy Boucher has made sure that his team is ready just on the off chance that all of Crosby’s skating and drill taking improves to the point that he’s ready to go during their series. Boucher doesn’t want to be caught off guard in case Crosby pulls a Willis Reed moment and comes back suddenly to lead the Penguins to victory.

“To me, he’s playing, period,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher told reporters in Tampa. “But we can’t say if he’s not (playing), they don’t have a great team. They’re a great team. With him, they’re an amazing team.

“We’re playing against a great or amazing team, so we have to be at our best.”

It’s wise for Boucher to be ready for anything, but for now the main thing he’ll have to have the Lightning ready for is stellar goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, staunch defensive hockey, and focusing on Jordan Staal as the focal point of any offense the Pens look to generate. Don’t expect Boucher and the Lightning to be caught off guard by what the Pens are rolling with now.

If Sid comes back though… It’s a whole new game.

‘Hawks were ‘as close to brutal as you can get’ against Blues

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The Chicago Blackhawks have been relatively good this season, but head coach Joel Quenneville was far from impressed by his team’s performance in Wednesday night’s loss to the St. Louis Blues.

The Blackhawks found themselves down 1-0 after one period and 3-0 after two periods. To make matters even worse, they managed just eight shots on Blues goalie Jake Allen through 40 minutes.

They finally managed to score two quick power play goals late in the third period, but it was too little too late.

“That was a bad start and a bad middle,” Quenneville said after the game, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “That was as close to brutal as you can get. They played well and we were brutal.”

Yea, Quenneville wasn’t happy.

The possession chart from the game (via hockeystats.ca) gives us a pretty clear look at how everything unfolded during Wednesday’s game.

The Blues (dark blue) built up a pretty comfortable lead in possession until the ‘Hawks (light blue) turned it on late in the game. Where was that urgency in the first two periods?

After going 3-0-1 in their first four games of the season, Chicago has now dropped two of their last three contests.

They’ll have a chance to get back on the horse right away, but don’t expect it to be easy for them. They’ll host the Edmonton Oilers, who have struggled out of the gate, tonight. Still, stopping Connor McDavid won’t be easy.

They’ll conclude their three games in four nights stretch in Arizona on Saturday night. The ‘Hawks will then head to Vegas on Tuesday before playing back-to-back games against Nashville and Colorado on Friday and Saturday.

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.

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PHT Morning Skate: Islanders make young cancer patient’s dream come true

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–ESPN’s latest power rankings look at each team’s biggest worries this season. The Maple Leafs are number one in the rankings, but they should be concerned that a youngster like Mitch Marner might regress during his sophomore season. (ESPN)

–Earlier this season, Lightning forward J.T. Brown raised a fist during the playing of the American anthem. Now, Brown says he won’t raise his first anymore, but he will get more involved in his community. (Tampa Bay Times)

–Happy belated birthday to Penguins winger Phil Kessel who turned 30 on October 2nd. Unfortunately for Phil, Pens TV caught him struggling to blow out his birthday candles. (BarDown)

–Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman came out with his weekly “31 Thoughts” column on Wednesday. He discussed the pressures of the NHL, the latest in the Matt Duchene saga, the Bruins wanting to re-sign Chara and much, much more. (Sportsnet.ca)

Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier have grabbed a lot of the headlines in New Jersey this season, but allaboutthejersey.com believes that veteran Adam Henrique has been the most important player on the roster. Henrique wins faceoffs, he’s on the first power play unit, the first penalty-killing unit and he’s been productive. (allaboutthejersey.com)

–The Winnipeg Jets signed Steve Mason during the summer so that he could be their starting goaltender for the next two years. That hasn’t exactly worked out. Connor Hellebuyck has been the better of the two goalies and it’s time to make him the starter. (The Score)

–The Mexican Hockey League unveiled their logos and uniforms. They’re pretty unique to say the least. That Olmec Stone Heads logo is…something! (sportslogos.net)

–Now that we’re two weeks into Golden Knights’ inaugural season in the NHL, we know exactly what hockey in Vegas looks like. “With no laws against open containers, it was a tailgate atmosphere in a downtown setting. Instead of fans holding cans of light beers and sitting in patio chairs next to cars in a parking lot, they were on city benches holding half-priced margaritas and towers of frozen alcohol. If you followed the path of a beanbag being tossed during a game of cornhole, your eye would catch an advertisement for a Lady Gaga show.” Sounds like fun! (Vice Sports)

–Ken Holland was a big reason for Detroit’s run of 25 consecutive playoff appearances, but it sounds like a lot of Red Wings fans think he’s become the problem. (metrotimes.com)

–Brandon Bloom, who is an eight-year-old boy suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, got to hit the ice with the New York Islanders. What an experience for the youngster. “When they brought it to our attention, I think everybody was excited about it,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey. “I had a chance to meet the Bloom family a while ago. They’re really quality people and they’re going through a tough time.” Great work by the Isles and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. (NHL.com)

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.

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The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

Highlight of the night:

Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

MISC:

Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

-The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

-Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

Factoid of the night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Canadiens 1

Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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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.