Five Thoughts: Caps toughness, Ryan Miller’s sass talk, Coyotes future all in focus

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A night filled with five games provided us with a lot of talking points this morning. A huge collapse in New York, a stirring shutout from Ryan Miller, a pair of double-overtime thrillers and the playoffs first team eliminated all happened last night. What are we busy thinking about today? Here’s five thoughts to chew on.

1. I realize that a lot of you will want to focus in on a handful of things from the Rangers-Capitals game. You’ll want to talk about the crowd giving it to Bruce Boudreau, you’ll want to talk about the Rangers choking on a 3-0 lead in the third period, you’ll want to pick on Marian Gaborik for having too much of a presence in the game for New York. The part that’s flying under the radar is the guts of this Capitals team.

With how the crowd was and the inspired play of the Rangers through most of that game, it’s a game most teams would fold up under the pressure of. The Caps found another gear in the third period though and fought back to tie it up and force overtime where they went on to win. Caps teams of the past don’t win that game, this year’s version is a lot different and much more hard-headed.

2. Teams in the Eastern Conference may want to start officially worrying about the Pittsburgh Penguins. We’ve talked about their toughness a lot but their offense without the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is an issue. After James Neal scored the game-winner in double overtime last night to put the Pens up 3-1 in their series with Tampa Bay, getting that weight off his shoulders could help their offense turn the corner.

Neal’s struggles to score a goal at all over the last month (Neal hadn’t scored since March 8) had him stressing and perhaps squeezing the stick a bit too tight. Sometimes all it takes is one and Neal’s streakiness is something that could give the Pens the lift they’re looking for.

3. Ryan Miller pitched his second shutout of the playoffs and while he hasn’t been consistently awesome all year for the Sabres, his quotes after the game make him a bit of a quirky folk hero of sorts. After some reporters were challenging his play of late Miller responded saying, “I don’t need to listen to all the B.S. that’s out there from people who don’t know how to play goalie. I really don’t give an expletive.”

No, we didn’t edit his quote, he did actually say “expletive” in making sure that his soundbyte would be able to be heard by anyone without any pesky bleeps. Best part is, when Miller is playing like he did in helping the Sabres tie the series up he doesn’t need to do anything other than point at the scoreboard to show he means business. Of course, if he’s going to keep sounding off like that, we’ll give him a soapbox to stand on whenever he wants.

4. You can’t help but think the Predators feel like they really let a golden opportunity slip away by splitting their two home games with the Ducks. The Ducks went into those games without an offensive weapon like Bobby Ryan to help them out and still the Ducks piled up nine goals on Pekka Rinne in two games and now head back to Anaheim tied 2-2 in the series. With Ryan returning from his stomping suspension and Rinne playing not up to par, the confidence should be beaming from Anaheim, especially with how big Corey Perry stepped up in Game 4 with a goal and two assists in their 6-3 Game 4 win. Seeing Teemu Selanne continue to pile up goals is encouraging as well for what’s a pretty young Ducks team. The Predators have more than a few things to get figured out before Game 5 on Friday night.

5. Detroit’s domination of the Coyotes in spite of injuries (they were without Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen in Game 4) is worthy of further analysis for sure, but the shadow casting a pall over the conclusion of the series in the wake of Detroit’s 6-3 win and sweep is obvious. With the Coyotes future in Arizona in serious doubt and the NHL continuing to say that things are progressing even in the light of even further negative reports is concerning.

At the very least, prospective buyer Matthew Hulsizer was in attendance for Game 4 with a Coyotes hat and jersey on to support the team as the suits in Glendale will now work diligently to get things figured out. You can’t help but feel bad for everyone involved with the team from the players on down to the fans not knowing if this was indeed the last time they’d see them. If the team does head to Winnipeg this summer, the fans in Arizona have every right to be angry at everyone involved for screwing this deal up. Let’s hope they don’t have to move forward as bitter, angry fans with no one left to root for anymore.

The Buzzer: Tuukka Time isn’t running out

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang

Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: Remember when people thought Tuukka Time was running out? Rask stopped 28-of-29 against the Flames in a 2-1 overtime win for the Bruins on Monday. Rask, according to Sportsnet Stats, is now 20-2-2 with a 1.83 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and two shutouts in his last 25 games, 24 of which has been starts.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Rinne stopped 36-of-38 to help the Predators back into a tie first place in the Central Division. Rinne, who has won three of his past four starts, picked up his 30th win of the season, the seventh time he’s done so in his career, and fourth season in a row.

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker notched two tallies in the game, his second and third goals in his past two games, to help the Wild to a much-needed win after dropping their previous two contests.

John Gibson and Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson left after the second period with a lower-body injury. He made 13 saves. Miller came in for a relief stint and stopped 20 third-period shots for the rare combined shutout, just the second occurrence in team history.

Highlights of the Night:

Poor Erik Karlsson:

Brad Marchand uses his head for some good:

The Chronicles of Rittich:

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Wild 5, Islanders 3

Capitals 3, Sabres 2

Bruins 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Predators 5, Senators 2

Kings 3, Blackhawks 1

Ducks 2, Golden Knights 0


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

U.S. beats Slovakia 5-1, will play Czechs in Olympic quarters

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ryan Donato scored two goals, Troy Terry had three assists and the United States beat Slovakia 5-1 in the qualification round Tuesday to advance to face the Czech Republic in the Olympic quarterfinals.

College kids again led the way for the U.S., which scored more against Slovakia then it did in all three preliminary-round games. James Wisniewski, Mark Arcobello and Garrett Roe also scored for the Americans, who took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play for hits on Donato and goaltender Ryan Zapolski.

Shaking off a collision with Ladislav Nagy, Ryan Zapolski had arguably his best game of the tournament, stopping 21 of the 22 shots he faced. Zapolski and the U.S. also beat Slovakia 2-1 in the preliminary round when Donato scored twice. With his second two-goal game, Donato equaled his father, Ted, who scored four goals for the U.S. at the 1992 Games in Albertville.

Slovakia goaltender Jan Laco allowed five goals on 33 shots and Peter Ceresnak scored a power-play goal for Slovakia, which became the first team eliminated from the men’s side.

After a listless first period with no goals and few scoring chances, the U.S. wasted little time getting on the board early in the second. Terry, as he has done all Olympics, used his speed to get to the net, and Donato picked up the loose puck and beat Laco 1:36 into the period.

The Americans got not one but two scares 26 seconds later when Nagy ran over Zapolski and Slovakia defenseman Michal Cajovsky put a shoulder into Donato’s head in the neutral zone. Trainers attended to Donato and Zapolski as backup goaltender Brandon Maxwell stretched and prepared to go in.

Donato got stitched up on the bench and Zapolski took a few minutes before deciding not to leave the net. The ’90s hit ”Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba blared over the speakers when both players got to their feet and provided a fitting soundtrack for the next few minutes.

With Cajovsky given a match penalty – a five-minute major and an ejection – and Nagy in the penalty box for goaltender interference, the U.S. scored 18 seconds into its 5-on-3 power play with Donato screening Laco for Wisniewski’s first goal to make it 2-0 at the 2:20 mark. Terry took advantage of all the time in the world behind the net and found an open Arcobello for a one-timer to put the U.S. up 3-0 at 13:30.

After Jordan Greenway was penalized for slashing, Slovakia scored on the power play 16:54 into the second to cut it to 3-1, but the lightning-fast line of Roe, Brian O’Neill and Broc Little combined for a tic-tac-toe goal to make it 4-1 at 9:52 of the third. O’Neill flashed his speed down the right wing, took a hit while making the pass to Little who found Roe for a tap-in.

Donato scored his second of the game, this time on the power play, 16:46 into the third.

NOTES: St. Cloud State defenseman Will Borgen was a healthy scratch again for the United States. … Veteran forward Jim Slater returned to the lineup, replacing Chad Kolarik. … Former NHL player and coach Craig Ramsay coaches Slovakia.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Desperate for goaltending help, Flyers acquire Petr Mrazek

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The deal: The Philadelphia Flyers acquired goaltender Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Why is Philadelphia is making this deal? Simple: With the injuries to Brian Elliott (out five-to-six weeks with a core muscle injury) and Michal Neuvirth (out indefinitely with a lower-body injury), the Flyers had Alex Lyon, a veteran of just four NHL games, left to shoulder the load. Philly needed help after Neuvirth went down on Sunday and they went out and got it in 25-year-old Mrazek. The Flyers are currently third in the Metropolitan Division. Even with their six-point cushion from the second wildcard spot, relying on a rookie to see out the rest of the regular season could have been met with disastrous consequences.

Why is Detroit is making this deal? Sam Carchidi of Philly.com said Flyers general manager Ron Hextall had spoken with the Red Wings about Mrazek prior to Neuvirth’s injury, but the Detroit Free Press reported that the Flyers turned down a deal that would see a third-round pick go the other way. With the Red Wings being sellers, and with Hextall even more desperate for help after Sunday, he had no choice but to fold to Detroit’s demands.

Who won the trade? Pretty even. The Red Wings get a couple of picks over the next two years as they rebuild their team. The Flyers get immediate goaltending relief and perhaps an upgrade on the oft-injured Neuvirth. And Flyers fans will like that the team didn’t overpay to fix their problems. A good move from Hextall.


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

Blackhawks ban fans after racist chants directed at Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly

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The Chicago Blackhawks took action on Monday, banning a few fans from team home games after their involvement in directing racist chants at Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly on Saturday.

In a post on the team’s website, the Blackhawks said they have “contacted the offending individuals and notified them that they are no longer welcome at Blackhawks home games.”

“Racist comments and other inappropriate behavior are not tolerated by the Chicago Blackhawks,” the Blackhawks said in a post.

Four Blackhawks fans were kicked out of Saturday’s game against the Capitals at United Center after racially-charged taunts were made toward Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly, serving a five-minute major for fighting in the third period, got upset with a fan next to him who, according to the Washington Post, was chanting, “Basketball, basketball, basketball,” toward Smith-Pelly, who is black.

On Monday, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville spoke about the incident.

“Totally unacceptable in our game, in any sport and in society,” Quenneville said. “We have to learn from something like that. (It) can’t happen. I talked to (Capitals coach Barry Trotz) yesterday, apologized to the organization and the player, Devante. We’re sorry about what happened and let’s learn from it.”

Anthony Duclair, who is black, also spoke to the media.

“It’s not ok,” Duclair said. “Whether it happens to Devante Smith-Pelly or a random person on the street, you should be comfortable in your own skin and gender and nationality or religion, your beliefs. Everyone’s equal. Everyone should love each other.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement on Sunday morning:

“Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.

“While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment – free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience.”

February is Hockey is for Everyone month in the NHL.

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.


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