David Legwand, Joel Ward

Joel Ward and Ryan Kesler put on a show, Predators edge Canucks 4-3

Going into Game 5, Ryan Kesler was the star and villain of this series. The Vancouver Canucks’ two-way center was outstanding again tonight, but he was forced to make room for a rival star. Nashville Predators forward Joel Ward stole the spotlight to help his team earn its first ever win while facing elimination.

Ward combined with David Legwand and Mike Fisher to absolutely dominate the should-be dominant Sedin line, helping Nashville stay alive with a 4-3 win.

Nashville 4, Vancouver 3; Canucks lead series 3-2

It makes sense that this game followed this series’ pattern of close games. It doesn’t make as much sense that possibly the best line from the regular season is getting torn apart by a group of little-known grinders, though.

The Predators are now 1-5 in franchise history when facing elimination, while the Canucks are 1-4 in elimination games in 2011.

An unexpectedly exciting first period

In a series full of drab opening frames, this game started off with a bang and rarely slowed down.

Things looked grim for Nashville when they took an early penalty, but Mikael Samuelsson* ended up making a boneheaded mistake. He turned the puck over to Ward, who sent a gorgeous pass to Legwand for a gorgeous shorthanded 1-0 tally. That man advantage wasn’t a total disaster for Vancouver, though, as Raffi Torres took advantage of a great takeaway and pass by Jannik Hansen to tie it up moments after the PP expired.

Kesler’s rise to stardom continued late in the first as he made a great play to beat Shea Weber and finish Mason Raymond’s one-timer setup.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

A strange goal leads in to the Ward-Kesler duel

The Predators have scored quite a few weird goals from behind Roberto Luongo’s net, but Legwand’s tying goal might just be the strangest. Let’s just say it wasn’t a great night for Alex Edler. (Note: Highlights of Nashville goals can be found at the bottom of this post.)

The game remained 2-2 going into the third period, which put a huge exclamation point on Ward’s amazing playoff run. The pending free agent finished a beautiful one-timer pass from Fisher to make it 3-2. Ward then he pounced on a turnover to slam home the eventual game-winning goal.

Ward almost made it a three-goal lead when he out-skated Edler for a shorthanded goal attempt, but Luongo made the save to deny his natural hat trick attempt.  Ward’s three-point night ties him for second place in the 2011 playoffs with 12 points. His seven goals is unexpected after he only scored 10 during the regular season.

Kesler continues to dominate, but couldn’t do it by himself tonight.

While Ward was the star of the night, Kesler is earning Mark Messier comparisons with his combination of grit and goal scoring prowess. He scored yet another goal with a little less than four minutes remaining in the game, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Kesler ended the game with two goals, a ridiculous 21-5 record on faceoffs, six hits and plenty of hatred from Nashville. Ward had two goals, one assist, four hits and a +3 rating in Game 5.

A quick outlook for both teams

Nashville gets an opportunity to earn a second round win at home after dropping Games 3 and 4 in their own barn. They just need to stick with it and take advantage of the nothing-to-lose energy they’ll likely take into Game 6. Their support players are coming through while Pekka Rinne remains a difference maker.

Luongo still doesn’t deserve the blame (most of those goals were unstoppable), but the Sedin twins deserve plenty of criticism for their flop tonight. Ward’s line absolutely devoured them in Game 5, leaving Daniel (-4 rating) and Henrik (-3) looking like the nobodies in this contest. The Canucks might not need them to be outright stars, but now they’re getting flat-out embarrassed.

The Canucks now must take another 12 hour flight to Nashville and play at least 60 more grinding minutes against the Predators. Even if they win in Game 6, this was a loss that could haunt them in the near future.

* – Versus reports that Samuelsson won’t travel with the Canucks to Nashville because of a lower-body injury.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Goalie nods: Days after debuting against the Sharks, Martin gets second career start… against the Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 21:  Spencer Martin #30 of the Colorado Avalanche plays in goal against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on January 21, 2017 in San Jose, California. This is Martin's first NHL game.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Haven’t run this one through the folks at Elias yet, but Avs goalie Spencer Martin might be on the verge of history.

Martin, who made his NHL debut in Saturday’s OT loss in San Jose, will be right back in goal as the two teams flip venues — Colorado hosts the Sharks tonight at the Pepsi Center.

So Martin — a 21-year-old rookie — first makes his big-league debut, then gets a second consecutive start, all against the same opponent. Can’t imagine that’s happened too many times.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play beyond the historical stuff, too.

Last week, the Avs shut down Semyon Varlamov until after the All-Star break so he could deal with a lingering, troublesome groin injury. Around the same time, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman speculated that Colorado might look to change its situation in goal, writing “I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.”

Given this season is toast, it would appear the Avs are analyzing what they’ve got in Martin. He does have some pedigree — the 63rd overall selection in 2013 — and has played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year. Of course, gauging Martin will be tough. He’s playing behind one of the worst teams in the league, and is still really inexperienced. In fact, he’s the second-youngest goalie to appear in an NHL game this season.

For the Sharks, Martin Jones is in goal.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist, fresh off a 21-save shutout of Detroit on Sunday, will go back-to-back when the Rangers host the Kings at MSG. No word yet on who starts for L.A.

— Carolina gave Cam Ward a rare night off on Saturday, as Michael Leighton was in for a loss to Columbus. Ward returns to the starter’s crease tonight in Washington, where he’ll face Braden Holtby.

Brian Elliott, who came on in relief of Chad Johnson in Saturday’s blowout loss to the Oilers, gets the start for Calgary in Toronto. The Leafs will counter with Frederik Andersen.

— Ondrej Pavelec looks for his third straight win since being recalled as the Jets host the Ducks. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief of the injured John Gibson on Saturday, appears to be in for Anaheim.

Mike Smith, who made 45 saves in a win over Tampa Bay this past weekend, goes for the Coyotes. No word yet on who starts for the visiting Panthers.

Pavelec, Jets aren’t ruling out return next year

Winnipeg Jets v New York Islanders
Getty
1 Comment

For the longest time, the talk in Winnipeg was how to move on from Ondrej Pavelec.

Amazing what a pair of wins can do.

Since being recalled from the AHL last week, Pavelec has backstopped the Jets to back-to-back victories — stopping 64 of 70 shots, for a .914 save percentage — and now, both he and the organization are being asked about a potential return next season.

From the Free Press:

In the fall, he accepted his demotion to the AHL with humility and class and has been a calming presence since returning to the Jets last week.

A scenario where Pavelec would serve as an experienced, lower cost No. 2 behind the anointed No. 1, Connor Hellebuyck, doesn’t seem completely far-fetched.

Pavelec told the Free Press he’s not thinking about next year, but did admit “I’m gonna be a free agent, I guess, for the first time.”

Head coach Paul Maurice was also vague about the future, but slightly more optimistic.

“Everything is possible,” Maurice explained. “There’s so much that’s transpired, there’s so much good for Ondrej to look forward to — that will be taken care of at that time.”

Maurice added that getting back into the NHL, and winning games, was the “start to the possibilities” for Pavelec’s future.

Look, there’s no denying Pavelec hasn’t been good and, accordingly, faced a ton of heat from fans and media over the last few seasons. But a significant chunk of that was fueled by his five-year, $19.5 million contract — a deal that was came under scrutiny the moment it was signed. As each year passed, the contract looked worse and worse, and things reached a fever pitch back in October, when Pavelec passed through waivers unclaimed and landed in the minors.

The contract expires in July and, without that financial albatross, the narrative around Pavelec changes. Especially if he puts together a decent run over the final three months of this season.

And this is why the aforementioned bring-him-back-on-the-cheap idea was floated. There’s little chance the Jets re-enter next season with the Hellebuyck-Hutchinson tandem, or putting Hellebuyck in tandem with another young, inexperienced guy.

The problem, though, would be location.

While it’s possible Pavelec will emerge as a inexpensive, useful veteran backup, there could be too much history for it to happen in Winnipeg.

No buyer’s remorse for Panthers after giving Yandle big money

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 07: Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers and Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning fight for the puck during a game  at BB&T Center on November 7, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The Florida Panthers may be one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL, but there’s no buyer’s remorse after trading for Keith Yandle and giving the puck-moving defenseman a seven-year, $44.5 million contract.

“He’s fit in terrific,” Panthers GM and interim coach Tom Rowe said Sunday, per the Sun-Sentinel. “He’s such a positive influence on our young guys and in our locker room in general. We targeted him as our No. 1 free-agent signing [because we] thought he’d really complement our forwards. We had figured if he could get the puck up to them on the rush and create more offense, that’s what we’re looking for. He’s on target with what we thought he could do.”

Yandle, 30, has three goals and 20 assists in 48 games. His 23 points are the fifth most on his team — a team that’s been ravaged by injuries to key forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Nick Bjugstad.

Read more: Rowe says no timeline on Barkov, who could be out a while longer

Tonight in Arizona, Florida finishes up a four-game road trip against Yandle’s first NHL team, the Coyotes.

For the Panthers, it’s a prime opportunity to pick up two points — something they failed to do in the first three games of their trip. The only point they gained was in Edmonton, where they lost in overtime. They lost in regulation to Calgary and Vancouver.

Suffice to say, the Panthers really need to start stringing some wins together. Otherwise, the first year of Yandle’s big contract will pass by without getting to use him in the playoffs, and they’ll surely have some regrets about that.

Allen’s mental reset continues, as Blues will start Hutton in Pittsburgh

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen is slow to get up after giving up a goal to Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Getty
Leave a comment

St. Louis is giving Jake Allen more time to sort out his struggles.

Today, the club announced backup Carter Hutton will start tomorrow in Pittsburgh, while Pheonix Copley — the AHL call-up that allowed five goals in Saturdays’ loss in Winnipeg — will serve as the No. 2.

Allen, who didn’t even travel to Winnipeg so he could ‘reset’ mentally, will start on Thursday in Minnesota, which will be St. Louis’ last game prior to the All-Star break. Copley will again serve as the backup.

The decision to go back to Allen comes after a horrific stretch in which he was yanked from three straight games, and four of his past six.

It is noteworthy, though, that Allen isn’t getting the Pittsburgh game. Part of that could be the opponent — the Pens are a force offensively, and lead the NHL in goals per game — but it could also be that Allen needs additional time to sort out his issues.

Whatever the case, the plan may have changed. In explaining why he left Allen behind while the team went to Winnipeg, Blues GM Doug Armstrong suggested Allen could get right back in.

“I think taking a day way, getting a total reset — he could reset traveling with the team, but I wanted a complete reset — and then we come back on Sunday, he’s back in the net and he’s ready to go,” Armstrong said, per the Post-Dispatch. “To me, it’s not a huge story; he’s going to take a day to get a reset with his family — he just had a young baby — but the play needs to improve and I want to give him a fresh start.”

Allen’s struggles this year are well-documented (see here, here, here and here). Per the Post-Dispatch, his .897 save percentage ranks 43rd among 47 goalies who have appeared in 14 or more games this season.