Renewed hostilities dominate tonight’s Game 1 matches

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Last night’s five Game 1 contests began the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs nicely. On one hand, you had familiar foes from 2010 in Coyotes-Red Wings and Blackhawks-Canucks. There was also another meeting between the Rangers and Capitals with an ’09 series fresh on each others minds. Still, there were a couple “getting your feet wet” games as the Predators-Ducks and Lightning-Penguins met each other in a postseason version of a blind date.

There won’t be many stammering self-descriptions and awkward silences in tonight’s three Game 1 matchups, though, as all three series boast an uncomfortable amount of familiarity. Maybe the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks haven’t beaten each other up in a playoff series before, but they obviously know each other well from Pacific Division skirmishes. Let’s take a look at the three games on Thursday night’s schedule.

All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

Montreal @ Boston – 7 p.m. (Versus)

If you’re asking for a continuation of that bad blood theme, it doesn’t get much better than the 33rd playoff meeting between the Canadiens and the Bruins. Anyone who paid attention to the regular season knows that this historic rivalry was given another push based on the controversy surrounding Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty.

Of course, the most dynamic(/dangerous?) reaction to that situation will come when the series shifts to Montreal for Game 3 on Monday, but the vitriol should be there from the first dropped puck tonight.

That being said, the potential carnage must be dialed down a notch or two since so much is on the line. In the end, it might come down to a more palatable story: which goalie will come out on top – Tim Thomas or Carey Price?

Buffalo @ Philadelphia – 7:30 p.m.

This game is even more of a toss-up with Chris Pronger out of the Flyers lineup for at least Game 1.

Without that Pronger-sized security blanket, Philadelphia must find a way to use its superior offensive skill (on paper, at least) to give Sergei Bobrovsky a chance to best world-class goalie Ryan Miller. That’s a pretty tall order for a rookie goaltender, especially with the Flyers’ recent downward trend and the Sabres’ solid finish to the season.

Will Danny Briere torment his former team? Can the Sabres continue their hot run under new ownership? Those and many other questions will begin to receive answers tonight.

Los Angeles @ San Jose – 10 p.m. (Versus)

Thursday night marks the first “Battle of California” in the playoffs between these two teams.

It would have been a tougher one to handicap if Anze Kopitar could play for the Kings, but some think that Los Angeles is bringing a knife to a gun fight in this one. On paper, the Sharks’ star forwards might be too much for the Kings to handle.

That being said, Terry Murray’s troops still include all-world defenseman Drew Doughty (off-year or not), wildcard blueliner Jack Johnson, steady goalie Jonathan Quick and some other solid players. They might have to dumb the games down a bit, but don’t count out the Kings entirely.

I still think the Sharks will manhandle them, though.

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 a most unusual breakaway goal (Video)

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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

WATCH LIVE: Lightning, Bruins try to move on to Round 2

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Game 5: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-1)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Gord Miller, Joe Micheletti
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Chris Cuthbert, Ray Ferraro
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET (Bruins lead series 3-1)
NBC
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Stream

*Regionalized coverage – Florida markets and WNBC in New York metro area will air NJ-TB on NBC and CBJ-WSH on NBCSN; all other markets will receive CBJ-WSH on NBC and NJ-TB on NBCSN

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]