The greatest Game 7 heroes in NHL history (and who might become one tonight)

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A lot of people think that it’s unfair that the playoffs can make or break players’ legacies. It’s reasonable to feel uncomfortable about that since the sample size is so small, but there’s no doubt that lasting memories are made when everyone can focus on one game. The fact that tonight’s Detroit Red Wings-San Jose Sharks match is a Game 7 only intensifies that scrutiny.

The fact that Game 7s are still technically one game means that lesser known players can often steal the spotlight. Maxime Talbot scored two goals against the Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals to win the Pittsburgh Penguins’ third championship. Mike Rupp came out of nowhere to score the game-winning goal and two other assists in the New Jersey Devils’ most recent Cup win. Ruslan Fedotenko scored two goals to help the Tampa Bay Lightning win their only Cup in a similarly surprising fashion.

Still, when The Hockey News named its top 10 all-time Game 7 performances, most of the biggest games were provided by the biggest names. Perhaps it only makes sense that the sport’s most famous star also happened to top the list of performers in the league’s highest profile games:

3. Mark Messier, Rangers, 1994

The Rangers captain famously guaranteed a win against New Jersey in the Eastern Conference final, then followed that up with the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 against Vancouver.

2. Ron Hextall, Philadelphia, 1987

It’s rare to see the Conn Smythe Trophy given to a member of the losing team, but that’s what happened to Hextall in Philly’s Cup final series loss to the Oilers. Hextall made 40 saves in a losing cause in the Flyers’ Game 7, 3-1 loss and was spectacular throughout the series.

1. Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles, 1993

During the Campbell Conference final between Toronto and the Kings, Gretzky put up arguably the best single-game showing of his unrivaled career, recording a hat trick and virtually willing L.A. to victory over a plucky, Doug Gilmour-led Leafs squad.

(If you here some rumbling from Toronto, their words might sound like “high-stick!”)

NHL.com provides its list of three unlikely heroes from each side, but I thought I might throw out a few more anticipated names who might come through for their teams.

Most likely Detroit heroes

Nicklas Lidstrom – He leads the Red Wings in points in Game 7s and factored into some of the team’s most important goals in this series already. Most signs indicate he should be back to play next season, but if he has doubts, he’ll obviously want to keep this run alive.

Pavel Datsyuk – Despite shrugging off an injured wrist, the all-world forward is still an irresistible force.

Henrik Zetterberg – He’s often overshadowed by Datsyuk, but Zetterberg is a dynamic two-way player in his own right and was the team’s top regular season scorer with 80 points.

Niklas Kronwall – Kronwall is showing signs of returning to the form that made him seem like the “next big thing” on the Detroit blueline a couple years ago. He gets most of his attention from those bone-crushing checks, but Kronwall can score points too.

Most likely San Jose heroes

Devin Setoguchi – He scored the OT-winner to clinch the Sharks’ historic comeback against the Kings and already has an OT winner against the Red Wings in this series. This would solidify the belief that he’s a thorn in Detroit’s side.

Joe Thornton – Jumbo Joe already has a playoff series-clinching goal this year. Would another one turn his critics’ volume down that much more?

Joe Pavelski – “The Big Pavelski” has been gold in the last two postseasons for San Jose.

Dan Boyle – The Sharks’ greatest weapon from the blueline has a Stanley Cup ring on his resume and plenty of scoring ability.

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Of course, the Hollywood ending would involve Patrick Marleau either coming up huge for his team or blowing the game in a tragic way. We’ll see what happens tonight, but in the mean time: who do you think will be the biggest difference-maker?

‘A wave of nerves’ — Brian Boyle returns to practice following leukemia diagnosis

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Brian Boyle was back on the ice with his New Jersey Devils teammates on Sunday after getting all cleared to participate in practice following his Chronic Myeloid Leukemia diagnosis last month.

“I got the news yesterday … and a wave of nerves came over me,” Boyle told reporters following the skate. “But it’s exciting to get back on a routine and work towards a goal. I’ve got a lot of work to do, as evidence by that practice.

“Parts of it were not too bad. I was a lot better than I thought in some areas. Some of the battles. Just like hands and feet working together that are a little fatigued. The speed of it. Even just the practice — I’ve been kind of by myself for a month. It was an adjustment. Even throughout the practice I felt better, but still a bit of a ways to go.”

The Devils signed Boyle to a two-year, $5.5 million contract this summer. Despite the diagnosis, Boyle was determined to try not to miss any games in the upcoming season.  New Jersey is eight games into its season and has been one of the big surprises early on with a 6-2 record and 31 goals already scored.

Boyle, 32, has yet to play a game for his new team, and it remains to be seen exactly when he’ll get into the lineup, with the club announcing there is no timetable yet for his return. The Devils last played on Friday against the San Jose Sharks and are in the midst of a week-long break in their schedule.

Their next game is this Friday against Ottawa, which should give Boyle a few days of practice — opportunities to continue to improve on his conditioning — before the Devils play two games in two nights next weekend.

Meanwhile, the Devils placed goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve two days ago, after he was hurt the previous night.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

Report: Golden Knights’ Subban ‘probably out weeks’ after injury versus Blues

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The Golden Knights won again on Saturday, but lost goalie Malcolm Subban to an injury in the third period.

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant, as is often the case immediately following a game in which an injury occurs, didn’t have an update on Subban’s condition. He called it a lower-body injury, and said he would know more by Sunday.

However, John Shannon of Sportsnet, citing a team source, reported that Subban will undergo an MRI on Sunday and is “probably out weeks.”

That isn’t good news at all for a Vegas team already without Marc-Andre Fleury, who is still on injured reserve after suffering a concussion.

The 23-year-old Subban, who was picked off waivers by Vegas following his training camp with the Bruins, had a promising start to the season since joining the Golden Knights. Since the injury to Fleury, Subban has played in three games, winning two of those and allowing six goals on 94 shots against. He allowed only one goal on 38 shots last night before leaving the game.

Oscar Dansk came off the bench last night when Subban was hurt, and stopped 10 of 11 shots faced as the Golden Knights picked up the overtime victory, despite getting outshot 49-22.

But any lengthy injury to Subban would really test the depth of the Golden Knights goaltending. Fleury has already been out for just over week. The 23-year-old Dansk made his NHL debut last night, and Vegas doesn’t have Calvin Pickard anymore, after he was traded to Toronto a few weeks ago. Maxime Lagace is still down with the AHL Chicago Wolves.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

 

Connor McDavid is great, but he can’t do it all for the Oilers

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At the start of the 2017-18 season the Edmonton Oilers had the second best odds to win the Stanley Cup. Even with the NHL’s reigning MVP and scoring champion and even after a wildly successful season that saw them come within a single game of the Western Conference Finals it still seemed to be a little too much, a little too fast.

First, for as good as the Oilers were last season a lot of it was dependent on Connor McDavid putting the team on his back and carrying them as far as he could. They also played Cam Talbot a ridiculous number of games and still don’t have anybody behind him that can be counted on to give him any kind of a consistent break. Add those two factors to a team that still doesn’t have a lot of depth and there are some reasons to maybe want to pump the brakes on the Stanley Cup talk.

It is still early in the season, but so far we are starting to see that play out on the ice.

After their loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday the Oilers are now just 2-5-0 on the season and have the second-worst record in the Western Conference.

McDavid is doing what McDavid always does.

He is in year three of his career and is still a human highlight reel every single time he touches the ice. His speed is unmatched. His creativity is off the charts. He is, at times, an unstoppable force and is once again the single biggest factor driving the Oilers offense.

Right now he is the only factor driving the Oilers’ offense.

With eight points so far this season that means he has either scored or assisted on more than 57 percent of the team’s goals.

He has been on the ice for nine of them, which is more than 65 percent.

Through the first seven games of the season the Oilers have scored only five goals this season when McDavid has not been on the ice. That is not a trend that can continue if the Oilers are going to have any hopes of getting out of this early season slump, let alone competing for a Stanley Cup. There is no one single player in the NHL that can make that much of a consistent impact without some secondary help.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup runs were not just about superstars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. They were also about the complementary players and secondary scoring options that could step up and fill the back of the net when the top tier guys had their inevitable stretches where they would get shut down (and there always comes a time when the top players get shut down for a stretch. Sometimes in the playoffs, too).

Right now the Oilers do not have those secondary options, and if the offense is not coming from Connor McDavid, it is not coming from anybody.

To be fair, they have only had Leon Draisaitl, their second-most important offensive player, for only three games this season. But even a return from him is not a guarantee to be enough based on the makeup of the rest of the roster.

Over the summer the Oilers traded their third-leading scorer (Jordan Eberle) straight up for Ryan Strome, a player that has never had the single-season output that Eberle had a year ago in what was widely considered a down year for him. Strome has two points in seven games.

A year ago the Oilers had big — and mostly unexpected — seasons from players like Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu as they combined to score 43 goals, each of them setting new career highs. Together, they had a combined shooting percentage of 14.5 percent, a nearly five percent increase over their career averages. That increase in shooting percentage was probably worth an additional 10-12 goals between the two.

There is no guarantee they can duplicate that success.

The Oilers are probably not as bad as their early season record indicates, especially when Draisaitl is back. Even so, McDavid is still going to need more help than he is getting from his teammates if the Oilers are going to do anything close to what was expected from them at the start of the season. Whether or not they have the roster around him to do that remains to be seen.

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.

The Buzzer: Kopitar keeps Kings rolling; O’Reilly gives Sabres OT win

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Player of the night: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings. The Los Angeles Kings continued their impressive start on Saturday night with a 6-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, improving their record to a league-best 6-0-1 through their first seven games.

Anze Kopitar was the star of the night as he finished with two goals, an assist, three shots on goal, a plus-five rating while also winning 68 percent of his faceoffs.

His second goal of the game, which came with less than three minutes to play in regulation, proved to be the game-winner for the Kings.

Dustin Brown added an empty net goal (he finished with four points in the win) a minute later.

Kopitar is coming off of a down year offensively in 2016-17 but already has 11 points (six goals, five assists) so far this season for a Kings team that looks to be vastly improved under new coach John Stevens.

Highlight of the night. 

For most of Saturday night it looked like the Buffalo Sabres were on their way to another ugly loss, continuing what has been a miserable start to the season. At one point in the second period they found themselves trailing by a 4-1 margin. But they slowly started to chip away then after Evander Kane scored a late third period goal to tie the game, Ryan O'Reilly ended up winning it in overtime on this beauty of a play to give the Sabres their second win of the season.

Factoid of the Night.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have two superstars at forward. They are playing like it. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are the first pair of teammates in more than 15 years to start a season with matching nine-game point streaks. [NHL]

Misc.

— Three more assists for Erik Karlsson on Saturday night giving him six on the season. He has played in two games. After major ankle surgery. He is not human.

Clayton Keller added to his rookie leading goal total with his sixth of the season. He is the one bright spot for the Arizona Coyotes this season as they remain winless after their 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

— With the first two-goal game of his NHL career Tyler Pitlick was the difference for the Dallas Stars in their 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are both off to tremendous starts for the Boston Bruins. Both players scored a pair of goals for the Bruins on Saturday night in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Both players already have six goals on the season.

James Reimer was great for the Florida Panthers, stopping 41 shots in their 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals. With Roberto Luongo on injured reserve the Panthers are going to need a couple of big games from Reimer over the next week.

Mikhail Sergachev looks fantastic for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is now up to eight points on the season.

Wayne Simmonds was the hero for the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday with a late goal to help lift them to a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. He is now up to six goals on the season. Claude Giroux scored his fifth goal in the win.

Logan Couture‘s hat trick was not enough to help the San Jose Sharks in New York on Saturday night against the Islanders. John Tavares had a goal, two assists in the win.

Scores and recaps

New York Rangers 4, Nashville Predators 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Edmonton Oilers 1

Buffalo Sabres 5, Boston Bruins 4

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Pittsburgh Penguins 1

Ottawa Senators 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 3

New York Islanders 5, San Jose Sharks 3

Los Angeles Kings 6, Columbus Blue Jackest 4

Florida Panthers 4, Washington Capitals 1

Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Arizona Coyotes 2

Minnesota Wild 4, Calgary Flames 2

Vegas Golden Knights 3, St. Louis Blues 2

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.