Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Seven

Dwayne Roloson steals spotlight, shuts out Penguins in Game 7

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Going into this series, the story was that the Tampa Bay Lightning held a big advantage in the “star players” category, so Marc-Andre Fleury would need to save the day for the Pittsburgh Penguins. As it turns out, the hockey world should have focused on the other goalie in this series: Dwayne Roloson.

Roloson ended up being one of – if not the – biggest difference makers in Tampa Bay’s comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, underscoring his perfect record in elimination games with a 36-save shutout. (Roloson is now 6-0 in elimination games.)

Tampa Bay 1, Pittsburgh 0; Lightning win series 4-3

This year’s first round seemed to favor road teams, but that trend ended in Game 7s. The Lightning were actually the only away team to win in Game 7, as the Flyers, Canucks and Bruins all took care of business in their buildings when it mattered the most.

In a way, they also beat the Penguins at their own game. The Lightning beat the Penguins by scores of 4-2, 8-2 and 5-0 in their other wins while two of Pittsburgh’s three wins came by one goal. The thing is, anyone who followed the Lightning know that the team has been committed to defense, at least schematically. Just ask Patrick Roy about the defensive-minded tendencies of Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher.

The game’s only goal might be one of the weirdest of the playoffs because Sean Bergenheim scored nearly the same exact way in Game 6. Compare the two goals for yourself.

Bergenheim’s Game 7 goal:

Bergenheim’s Game 6 goal:

Weird, huh?

Ultimately, the Penguins couldn’t overcome Roloson’s outstanding goaltending, Tampa Bay’s superior offensive talent and the Lightning’s passable overall defense.

The outlook for both teams

The Lightning should feel great about themselves, although they face a much more balanced team in the top-ranked Washington Capitals. Obviously, these two teams know each other well after facing each other six times and battling it out for the Southeast Division title. Washington will be well rested and holds home ice advantage, but Tampa Bay should be much looser since the Caps will be under far greater pressure to succeed. Washington won’t see a huge advantage in star power, either, especially with Martin St. Louis remaining perhaps the league’s least-discussed superstar (four goals and four assists for eight points against Pittsburgh). Something tells me that if Steven Stamkos is even close to healthy, he’ll gladly try to one-up Alex Ovechkin.

That series will also feature an interesting goalie duel between 41-year-old Roloson and Michal Neuvirth/whichever early 20’s goalie the Capitals trot out.

Meanwhile, the Penguins must cope with mixed feelings. On the negative side, they failed to make it past the first round for the first time since the Ottawa Senators clobbered them in 2007. It hurts that much more because they used their guile to build a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay. Obviously, Pittsburgh will look back on their 1-for-35 mess of a power play and wonder “What if?”

I don’t think I’m alone in giving Pittsburgh a partial pass, to some extent, though. The team stayed relevant during the second half of the 2010-11 season because of hard work (and a decent sampling of charity points, by the way) but clearly missed the firepower of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

If Crosby and Malkin can eventually be healthy during the 2011-12 season, they’ll join a team that is among the NHL’s leaders in elbow grease. Once the pain of coughing up that series lead subsides, Penguins fans can daydream about Crosby/Malkin setting up James Neal for one-timers next season.

Those visions might look a lot like the feeds St. Louis sends to Stamkos, actually.

Sharks defeat Hurricanes, but Vlasic exits game with lower-body injury

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
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Talk about the ideal start.

Patrick Marleau scored just 12 seconds into the first period and the San Jose Sharks had a 2-1 lead before Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was even four minutes old.

The Sharks held on for a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes, Kevin Labanc‘s goal late in the second period standing as the winner, as the two teams traded three goals in the span of just over three minutes.

It remains awfully crowded in the Pacific Division. The Flames lead with 34 points, while the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers are all one point back.

The victory came with bad news for the Sharks.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game in the second period and didn’t return. He’s now day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to coach Pete DeBoer following the win.

Flames dominate the Jets to take over top spot in the Pacific Division

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 10: Dougie Hamilton #27 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring his team's third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Is there a changing of the guard in the Pacific Division?

It’s the middle of December and the Calgary Flames, now with six straight wins, lead the same division dominated last season by the California powers in Anaheim, San Jose and L.A. The Edmonton Oilers have been inconsistent at times this season but they are right there, too, one point back. Same goes for the Ducks. The Sharks and Kings are definitely in contention.

There is plenty of hockey remaining in the season. Plenty of chances for change in the NHL’s division standings, including in the Pacific. But there’s no denying the Flames are on an impressive run.

Late last month, they had a particularly frustrating loss to Philadelphia and coach Glen Gulutzan voiced his displeasure about it. They followed that up the next day with an overtime loss to the Islanders. Prior to that weekend, there had been rumblings about the future of Gulutzan with the club, despite being only a few months into his tenure.

But since then, the Flames have yet to lose. They continued their winning streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the visiting Jets on Saturday.

Dougie Hamilton — remember all that trade speculation surrounding the Flames defenseman and Brian Burke’s classic response? — had two goals for Calgary. Chad Johnson was solid in net again. It was a pretty dominant performance all around.

Frustrating night for the Jets and it showed when Dustin Byfuglien dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway late in the third period.

There are more difficult tests ahead for Calgary.

The Flames face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and then the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

In previous seasons, a Friday night game between the Flames and Blue Jackets in the middle of December might not garner much interest. But they are both among the hottest teams in the league right now and it’s likely not many would’ve predicted that a short time ago.

Video: Perlini’s first NHL goal helps lift Coyotes over Predators

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes reacts alongside Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators after Perlini scored his first career goal during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes have moved out of last place in the NHL’s overall standings, courtesy a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Minus forward Max Domi, placed on IR and expected to be out on a week-to-week basis, the Coyotes got a 44-save performance from goalie Mike Smith and recently recalled forward Brendan Perlini pitched in with his first career NHL goal.

That goal gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. Thanks to the play of Smith, the Coyotes wouldn’t relinquish the lead, snapping a six-game losing skid.

It wasn’t all good news for the Coyotes.

Defenseman Connor Murphy played only 4:12. He left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. Per reports, Murphy is considered day-to-day at this point.

The Blue Jackets just keep on winning

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring his first career NHL goal during the third period of the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift.

Saad, Sedlak and Jones scored in a 5-minute span to make it 6-2 with 5:37 to go.

New York’s third-string goalie Jean-Francois Berube then replaced Halak and stopped the one shot he faced in his season debut.

The Islanders came out quick and it took Columbus a while to get going. New York took a 1-0 lead 5:59 in when a defensive pass by the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner at the boards was deflected by Bailey, and the popup was bobbled by Bobrovsky into the net. Bailey was given credit for an unassisted goal.

The Blue Jackets tied it up on a power play with 6:01 left in the first when Johnson wound up from just inside the neutral zone and fired a bullet past Halak. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.

Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky and New York’s Travis Harmonic went to the penalty box for 5 minutes each when both threw down the gloves and threw punches near the end of the first quarter.

Columbus took a 2-1 lead when a speeding Atkinson took a pass from Johnson in the neutral zone and beat Halak on the breakaway 10:16 into the second. New York tied with 7:28 left in the period when Tavares lifted the puck over Bobrovsky’s pad from in front of the net.

The Blue Jackets took off in the third period.

After Anderson gave Columbus the lead for good, Saad made it 4-2 on a wrister from the high slot at 9:23.

Sedlak, who scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, scored another when he tapped in a loose puck with 7:21 to go. Jones capped it with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining.