Can the Kings rebound from their epic collapse?

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It probably isn’t a stretch to say that the Los Angeles Kings are the most haunted team in any sport right now. With all apologies to Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks, the Vancouver Canucks and any other losing team from Tuesday, no other team is losing more sleep than the Kings. For an in-depth recap of the biggest playoff comeback in 26 years, click here.

Obviously, the question is: can the Kings rebound from this stunning loss? To look at it in the most literal way, I checked to see how the three other teams who lost a playoff game after building at least a four goal lead fared in their series.

  • The Chicago Blackhawks recovered and beat the Minnesota North Stars 4-2 in their 1985 series.
  • The Edmonton Oilers lost that 5-0 game to the Los Angeles in OT and the Kings won that 1982 series 3-2.
  • The 1971  Montreal Canadiens came back to beat the Boston Bruins 7-5 and won that 1971 series 4-3. The Canadiens went on to win the Cup that year, while the Bruins used that tough loss as motivation to win the Cup in 1972.

While I will provide my own take, I asked Chris Kontos from the great Kings blog The Royal Half to answer the same questions. (Here’s his recap, too.)

Possible scapegoats and how they will react.

Honestly, I can’t really blame Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Much like Ilya Bryzgalov against Detroit, Quick’s team hung him out to dry. To be honest, both Kontos and I think that Quick is the kind of goalie who can bounce back. (I mean, if the guy keeps rolling after allowing a half-ice goal, he isn’t easily shaken.)

Beyond blaming the entire team defense, though, someone will be labeled a goat by Kings fans. Kontos shares his choice: recently acquired winger Dustin Penner.

Even though he had an assist, Penner will be remembered for his half-hearted backcheck on Devin Setoguchi’s game winning goal. People only remember the last goal scored in a game like this, so Penner will be seen as a goat for some time.

How the young Kings will react and where they can find hope.

While Ryan Smyth, Willie Mitchell, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll are playoff-tested, most of the Kings’ core young players played their first postseason series last season.

Jack Johnson can be a feast or famine guy for the Kings,  but Drew Doughty is a guy who needs to be a steady force. He’s been his all-world self again for much of this series, but will he bounce back like Danny Boyle did after his infamous own-goal? Kontos thinks Doughty will be fine.

I don’t think the comparison is similar to Boyle’s. Doughty didn’t fail by trying to do too much in this game tonight… he failed by doing too little. He put it into neutral after the four-goal lead and the rest of the defense followed his lead.

Trouble for coach Terry Murray?

For whatever reason, Murray strikes me as a “transitional” coach: a guy who excels at making a bad, young team into a playoff squad but cannot get over the hump. If the Kings fail in this series, I wonder if Murray might get fired. Would the outcome be different with a time out or lineup change?

Kontos provided his insight on Murray.

With Anze Kopitar being out and Justin Williams at 80 percent, I think that Coach Murray has done as well as he could. I don’t think any fault rests on him yet… but after the way Penner played Tuesday, if Coach Murray doesn’t scratch him in favor of Oscar Moller, Kings fans will want his head.

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Many people will question the heart of this Kings team, but I think Los Angeles still have a chance to win the series. As cliched as this statement may be, they just need to treat this like any other game and win three of their next four.

Vegas jumps all over Sharks with four first period goals

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The Vegas Golden Knights magic does not appear to be running out.

After stunning the hockey world by winning the Pacific Division in their inaugural season, Vegas easily dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round with a clean four-game sweep, setting the stage for a second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.

That second-round matchup opened on Thursday night and Vegas continued to do what it has done all season — jump all over teams early and with no mercy.

The Golden Knights opened the game with four consecutive goals in the first period from four different players as Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, Jonathan Marchessault, and Alex Tuch all scored goals.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Tuch’s goal was especially beautiful as he effortlessly cut through four Sharks defenders

Just in case you have forgotten, the Golden Knights ended up getting Tuch because the Minnesota Wild gave him to them to convince them to take Haula in the expansion draft, and they were able to get Marchessault from the Florida Panthers for taking on Reilly Smith‘s contract. A lot of general managers around the NHL made bad decisions to help build this team.

Along with the offensive outburst, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 15 shots he faced in the period.

Related: Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins stun Capitals with Game 1 comeback

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins entering Game 1 of their second-round series without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, it looked like a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to jump on them early.

Through 45 minutes it seemed like that was going to happen.

Braden Holtby was stopping everything in net. Alex Ovechkin scored 25 seconds into the third period to give the Capitals a two-goal lead. They were in a great position to take the first game of the series.

Then, for already the third time this postseason, the Capitals allowed a two-goal lead to turn into a loss when the Penguins scored three consecutive goals in four minutes to storm back for a 3-2 win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Pittsburgh comeback started with a Patric Hornqvist deflection of a Justin Schultz shot to finally beat Holtby.

Then the Sidney CrosbyJake Guentzel connection took over.

Crosby tied the game just three minutes after Hornqvist’s goal when he one-timed a shot off the rush that beat Holtby through the five-hole, and then Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead when he was able to get his stick on a Crosby shot to beat Holtby. Both Crosby and Guentzel have seven goals on this postseason, while Guentzel has factored into eight of the Penguins’ past nine goals over the past two games. He has scored five of them. Overall this postseason he has 15 total points (seven goals, eight assists) in seven games. This after after leading the league in postseason goal-scoring a season ago.

The Penguins have now won consecutive games without Malkin after taking Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday. That game also saw the Penguins erase a two-goal deficit thanks to four third period goals. Malkin traveled with the team to Washington, skated with the team on Thursday, and could be available for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. The extra day off between games could be helpful for him.

Meanwhile, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was tremendous when he needed to be on Thursday night and played a huge role in the comeback, even if it might get lost in the third period goal-scoring outburst. The two goals he gave up were on odd-man rushes following defensive breakdowns in front of him (including one just 17 seconds into the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to walk in alone), but other than that he was nearly flawless the rest of the way, stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced.

Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL reportedly asked Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players

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Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman regals readers with many great nuggets in his regular “31 Thoughts” column, but this bit on how the NHL reportedly responded to Brad Marchand‘s obnoxious kissing/licking of Leo Komarov from Game 1 (see the video above) might just take/taste the cake:

22. After Game 1 of the Toronto/Boston series, the Bruins got a, “We’d prefer if you could tell Brad Marchand to stop licking people” phone call from the NHL.

Seems fair enough?

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That said, you wonder if the NHL might have sent the Boston Bruins pest a better message by, say, handing him a fine for unsportsmanlike conduct? The league could have attached a helpful message, such as: “There are better ways to tell Leo Komarov that you like his cologne.”

(One can only imagine how harsh the discipline might have been if Sean Avery was the one committing this … infraction.)

As a reminder, Marchand addressed his actions after that Game 1 win, not exactly apologizing for his actions:

You could say that Marchand had the last laugh being that the Boston Bruins ended up winning the series in Game 7 thanks to last night’s 7-4 win. Then again, Komarov didn’t get to dress for that game, so it doesn’t seem totally fair.

The bottom line is that Marchand revels in this sort of controversy, even as he’s gone from a good player with bad habits to an elite one who still makes questionable decisions.

Even last night’s Game 7 was an example of the kind of competitor he is. While Kasperi Kapanen shook him off for a memorable shorthanded go-ahead goal, Marchand got the last laugh, celebrating after an empty-netter that sapped any remaining drama from the game.

While Marchand surely gives the Bruins headaches with his antics and sometimes suspensions – don’t forget that there were years of rumors that his behavior might get him traded, at least before he jumped another level or two – he’s a huge part of a dominant line with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. For all we know, Marchand wouldn’t be the same player if he avoided some of the uglier stuff. Hockey is a violent, emotional sport, after all.

Still, if you’re the Tampa Bay Lightning, you must be wondering: “Could we be the team to get the better of Marchand?” Few teams have the firepower to match that top line (not to mention a defender to make life tougher for them in Victor Hedman), so maybe the Bolts will find a way to push Marchand closer to becoming a net-positive?

One thing’s for sure: the NHL will be keeping an eye on what Marchand does, so he better … watch his mouth.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hall, MacKinnon, McDavid are 2018 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, and Connor McDavid were named the three finalists for the 2017-18 Ted Lindsay Award.

This award often stands as a fascinating alternative (or supplement) to the Hart Trophy, as this is essential the players’ choice. The NHLPA votes on who is “most outstanding player in the regular season,” while hockey media (The PHWA) determines the Hart based on wording (“player judged most valuable to his team”) that fuels many obnoxious debates.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Taylor Hall: Hall carried the Devils on his back this season, with the most obvious evidence being the gulf between his point total (93) and the second-best total on the team (Nico Hischier‘s 52). That might carry a bit more weight in Hart discussions, but it’s still very impressive.

Hall didn’t just hit 30 goals for the first time in his career, he nearly hit 40 at 39. His 54 assists also mark a new career-high, and it’s not as though he didn’t light up scoreboards even when he was scapegoated in Edmonton.

Hall brought his team up with him, certainly making life easier for Hischier during his rookie season.

The Case for Nathan MacKinnon: Nathan MacKinnon was right there (1.31) with Connor McDavid (1.32) in putting up point-per-game numbers relative to this era of scoring, generating 97 points in just 74 games. He mixes McDavid’s per-game brilliance with Hall’s “carrying his team to a playoff spot” factor.

The speedy center tied Brayden Point for the NHL’s most game-winning goals at 12.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar rightfully gets kudos for turning the Avs around, but MacKinnon is the guy who made it easier to say goodbye to Matt Duchene (and move on from a historically bad 2016-17 season).

The Case for Connor McDavid: For the second straight season, McDavid broke 100 points, setting a new career-high with 108 (41 goals, 67 assists). Consider how he scored those points, too; while other 100+ point men Claude Giroux (103) and Nikita Kucherov (100) both scored 36 of their points on the power play, McDavid only generated 20 that way.

McDavid instead was an even-strength maestro, and even threw in four shorthanded points on top of that.

Much like Crosby and other star athletes adding wrinkles to their skill sets as time goes along, McDavid keeps getting better. That’s a frightening thing for the league, as he’s already the best.

McDavid was last year’s winner, by the way.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Jack Adams Award
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
King Clancy Trophy
Calder Trophy

Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.