Roberto Luongo, Marcus Kruger

Backing up the buzz: This year’s first round really was special

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Hockey fans can find something to enjoy in almost any playoff year, but there was a feeling – maybe intangible – that this first round was special. Maybe it was the steady stream of overtimes and stunning array of dramatic comebacks. Perhaps it was the intense physicality and exciting style of play.

By my own subjective accounts, there was only series that could be considered a relative “dud”: the Detroit Red Wings’ sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes. Yet even in that case, hockey fans were given the chance to marvel at the sublime skills of Pavel Datsyuk and the locomotive force that is the Red Wings’ offense.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks-Canucks, Canadiens-Bruins and Sabres-Flyers series were everything we hoped they could be while Kings-Sharks and Lightning-Penguins matches exceeded most peoples’ expectations. There was plenty to like in the Predators-Ducks and Rangers-Capitals clashes as well, as the former series was surprisingly wide-open while the latter featured suffocating defense.

Whatever series or factors drew you in, the NHL’s willing to back up our feelings with concrete facts.

* The four Game 7s were the most in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1995.

* Each of the final nine days of the first round featured an overtime game, an unprecedented streak. There were 12 OTs in that span.

* The 14 total overtimes were the most since the record 15 in 2001.

* The 49 total games matched the most ever in the first round.

* There were two Game 7 overtimes, tying the pair in 1997 as the most ever in the first round.

* Seven of the eight series had a game decided in overtime.

* Three of the eight series ended with an overtime goal.

* Road teams posted a winning record (26-23), one victory short of the most ever in the first round.

* Following a 2010 first round in which each of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference were toppled, the top three seeds in both the East and West survived the first round for the first time since 1996.

Obviously, with four series instead of eight, it’s unfair to ask the second round to match the first from a quantity standpoint. With that in mind, the question is: can the semifinals hope to bring the same level of quality hockey? It’s a tough mark to hit, but hockey fans will enjoy finding out.

Oilers say McDavid ‘ahead of schedule’ in broken clavicle recovery

Connor McDavid
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There hasn’t been much good news for the Oilers lately — Connor McDavid‘s hurt, Nail Yakupov‘s hurt, they’ve lost seven of their last nine — so what GM Peter Chiarelli had to say on Thursday qualified as very welcome news.

“He’s ahead of schedule,” Chiarelli said of Connor McDavid and his broken clavicle, per Sportsnet. “He’s been in the pool, been lifting weights… There are no soft tissue injuries, which is important.

“When you get a break like that, oftentimes there is accompanying soft tissue injuries. That slows down the recovery.”

McDavid, who suffered the injury on Nov. 3 against Philly, was originally supposed to be sidelined until early March. But per Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, there’s cautious optimism the star rookie could be back in the Edmonton lineup by “mid-to-late January.”

But even with that cautious optimism, there’s still a long way to go.

McDavid has yet to resume skating and is still at his parents’ home in Newmarket, Ontario. That said, he’s expected to join Edmonton soon — when the Oilers take on the Leafs in Toronto on Monday — and, according to Chiarelli, will want to get back onto the ice way sooner than expected.

“I can tell you that when it comes time,” he said, “[McDavid] is going to want to come back a lot earlier than what we forecast internally.”

There’s another Radulov NHL comeback rumor making the rounds

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It’s been roughly six months since the last one so yeah, time for an Alex Radulov update.

Radulov, who’s spent the last four seasons playing for KHL outfit CSKA Moscow, has reportedly rejected the club’s contract extension offer and is ready to become a free agent, per Russian sports writer Slava Malamud.

Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko also reported the Radulov news, tweeting the ex-Preds forward claimed “there’s nothing” regarding a new deal with CSKA, adding “I’m a free agent after this season.”

Radulov, 29, is having another terrific offensive campaign in Russia, with 37 points in 32 games. This comes one year after he tore up the KHL in ’14-15, with 24 goals and 71 points in just 46 contests — one of the best offensive campaigns in league history.

Rumors of Radulov returning to North America happen with the same frequency as Ilya Kovalchuk comeback rumblings, and always with the same outcome. But it’s hard to ignore them completely.


Well, back in late May, Radulov’s agent told Championat Colorado had been in contact about an NHL return once Radulov’s deal with CSKA expired. Colorado, of course, is coached by Patrick Roy — the same guy that had great success coaching Radulov in the QMJHL.

The two were, at one time, a dynamic force for the Quebec Remparts. During the 2005-06 campaign, Radulov scored a ridiculous 61 goals and 152 points in just 62 games, the nine more in four Memorial Cup contests, helping Roy capture his first and only championship as a head coach.

Radulov, of course, hasn’t played in the NHL since an ill-fated reunion with Nashville in 2012, which included him getting suspended for a playoff game after breaking curfew.

Malamud does note that, should Radulov try to return to the NHL, he’d do so as a unrestricted free agent — meaning he’s no longer Nashville property.

Just a friendly reminder about Friday’s Bruins-Rangers Thanksgiving Showdown, on NBC

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle

If you don’t spend tomorrow eye-gouging someone to save 50 bucks on an iRobot, why not spend it watching hockey?

In case you didn’t know, tomorrow’s a pretty big day. Not only is there an Original Six matchup between the Bruins and Rangers — essentially kicking off the NHL on NBC national broadcast campaign — but there’s also an additional evening game, and a good one at that:

Anaheim hosting the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final.

But before the Ducks and ‘Hawks do battle, the B’s and Rangers will get it on.

This marks the second time in the last three years Boston and New York meet in the Thanksgiving Showdown. Back in ’13-14, the Bruins beat the Blueshirts 3-2, and this Farrelly Brothers commercial went to air:

Tomorrow’s game promises to be a quality affair. The Bruins come in riding a four-game winning streak, which included Wednesday’s 3-2 OT win over Detroit. In that game, Jonas Gustavsson exacted a measure of revenge against his old Red Wings mates, stopping 32 of 34 shots for the win.

The Rangers, meanwhile, come into Friday’s action looking for some redemption.

Alain Vigneault’s club was waxed in Wednesday’s big test against top-seeded Montreal, dropping a 5-1 decision, at home, in front of the MSG faithful. The Rangers allowed five regulation goals for the first time this season, and saw All-Star netminder Henrik Lundqvist get yanked as a result.


New York Rangers at Boston Bruins, 1 p.m. ET, NBC

Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks, 5 p.m. ET, NBCSN

For online viewing information via NBC Sports’ Live Extra, click here.

DeBoer: Sharks ‘need more’ after benching Hertl, Wingels

Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels
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Peter DeBoer didn’t mice words Thursday in discussing Tommy Wingels‘ and Tomas Hertl‘s effort from last night’s loss to Chicago.

“I don’t measure those guys on goals and assists but the intangibles of the game,” DeBoer said, per the Contra Costa Times. “Are you hard to play against? Are you playing in the other team’s end? Are you creating chances to score whether or not they go in?

“That’s a by product. Those are the measurables I use with those guys and we need more.”

Neither Wingels nor Hertl played a single shift in the third period of Wednesday’s game. The pair are both mired in lengthy scoring slumps — 14 games without a goal for Wingels, 19 for Hertl — but DeBoer carefully chose his words in explaining that offense, or a lack of it, wasn’t why the two got parked.

Instead, it was about approach.

DeBoer has been calculating in trying to establish an identity among his bottom-six forward group (Hertl and Wingels are third-liners). Prior to last night’s game, he brought in former Devil Dainius Zubrus — the pair spent time together in New Jersey — and that came after the Sharks tookfull advantage of having their new AHL affiliate in San Jose.

The club has constantly called up and sent down depth forwards to try and give DeBoer different looks.

But it appears the group still remains a work in progress.