Big Game James: James Neal gives Penguins 3-1 series lead with double OT winner against Lightning

Penguins fans have been hurting to see James Neal struggle so much of late with Pittsburgh. Before tonight’s Game 4 against Tampa Bay, the last time Neal scored a goal was March 8 against Buffalo. Since then he’s epitomized the term “snake bitten” when it comes to generating offense. They often say the one way to cure your ills as a goal scorer is to just throw anything at the net.

Neal took that advice at 3:38 of the second overtime and ripped a shot from the half boards that somehow found a way to get by Dwayne Roloson to give the Penguins a 3-2 win in the game and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. The goal was Neal’s first career playoff goal.

For Roloson, the goal was a cruel twist of fate after making 50 saves in a losing effort. A goalie can’t do much more than that to help his team win a game but you have to get more out of your teammates and Roloson didn’t have that. The Penguins did their damage in regulation with grinders Tyler Kennedy and Arron Asham scoring to put the Pens up 2-0 but the Lightning whittled away. Martin St. Louis scored in the second period while Sean Bergenheim tied the game up late in the third to send it to overtime.

For Pittsburgh the win sends them back home with a chance to end the series and put the Penguins into the conference semifinals. It’s a highly enviable position for them to be in and unless the Lightning can find a way to get through the Penguins defense and generate more offense, they’re in big trouble. Marc-Andre Fleury only had to make 29 saves tonight through 83 minutes worth of game. That kind of offense won’t cut it.

The Penguins just need to keep being tough and keep doing what they do to slow down the Lightning’s best players. With their ability to sustain defensive pressure for a full game, things aren’t shaping up very well for Tampa Bay in Game 5 on Saturday afternoon at 12 noon.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.