Chris Higgins, Dennis Seidenberg

Canucks “College Line” bringing American flavor to Canada’s Stanley Cup hopefuls

The Vancouver Canucks run into the Stanley Cup finals and their 2-0 series lead has given fans on the Pacific coast of Canada plenty of reasons to get excited. When you’re two wins away from winning your first Stanley Cup in team history it gives the fans a reason to be happy. For Canada it would be their first Stanley Cup since the Canadiens won it in 1993 and while that brings a point of pride for Canadian hockey if that happens, there’s one line the Canucks are rolling out there that has it’s basis in the United States.

Vancouver’s second line that features Ryan Kesler at center, Mason Raymond on the right wing, and Chris Higgins on the left wing has something in common: They all got their jump on the NHL by playing college hockey. Kesler played one season at Ohio State, Higgins played for two seasons at Yale University, and Raymond played for two years at Minnesota-Duluth. Those college roots aren’t lost on Higgins.

“It’s nice. I think it’s three guys that enjoy the work part of the game. To play with two players like that makes it easier on yourself to blend in with their style,” Higgins said.

That brand of style is a mix of scoring ability, physical play, defensive toughness, and speed. Raymond is one of the fastest skaters on the Canucks roster while Kesler’s two-way play and scoring ability have made him a Conn Smythe Trophy favorite in these playoffs. As for how it is to ride shotgun with Kesler, Higgins says it’s not too bad.

“It’s pretty easy. You know the guy is going to be working every night, same thing with Raymond. You gotta make sure you’re ready to play because those guys are always ready to play. It’s been a pleasure playing with those guys.”

In these playoffs, the “College Line” has done some great work in giving the Canucks a go-to second line that can produce. While Kesler does the bulk of the heavy lifting there with his defensive work, faceoff wins, and goal scoring ability. Kesler’s 19 points in the playoffs is one of the top marks overall. Higgins and Raymond each have countered with eight points of their own with Higgins scoring four goals and Raymond with two. Getting 35 points from a line in the playoffs is a pretty good deal.

With the three guys all hailing from different schools and different conferences (Yale in the ECAC, Ohio State in the CCHA, and UMD in the WCHA) is there any kind of competition or chirping about who’s school or conference is better? Higgins laughs it off.

“No, no… No inter-conference chirping there. I think we’re all happy to be American,” Higgins says. Clearly their line chemistry is so good that Higgins forgot that Mason Raymond is from Alberta, Canada.

With Games 3 and 4 taking place in the home of college hockey in Boston where Boston College and Boston University have won national championships in recent years, they’ll need to bring that college flavor in a big way starting tonight.

Hellebuyck debuts with victory as Jets best Wild

Connor Hellebuyck
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Dustin Byfuglien had a goal and assist, Connor Hellebuyck made 14 saves to win his NHL debut and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled left winger Zach Parise‘s return from a knee injury by beating the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Friday.

Mathieu Perreault added his second goal in two games and Nikolaj Ehlers‘ goal late in the third put the game away.

The Jets won on the road for the first time in their last seven tries and for just the third time in their last 11 games.

Ryan Carter scored for Minnesota, finally getting a shot past Hellebuyck that made it 2-1 midway through the third period.

Hellebuyck was college hockey’s top goalie in 2013-14 and the goaltender on the U.S. team that won a bronze medal in the 2015 world championships.

Minnesota finished with a season-low 15 shots, which was also a season low in shots allowed for the Jets.

Wild fans at the Xcel Energy Center let out a roar when it was announced before the game that Parise would start, but not even his return could spark Minnesota.

After Jason Zucker was whistled for an elbowing penalty behind the net, Perreault took a pass from Byfuglien and zipped it past Devan Dubnyk to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead with 3:34 left in the second period.

Byfuglien made it 2-0 early in the third when his odd-angle shot hit Dubnyk in the back of the skate and went in for his seventh goal.

Carter’s goal bounced off of Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart and past Hellebuyck to give Minnesota some momentum.

The rookie didn’t get rattled, however, stopping a big shot from Jason Pominville with 3:11 to play.

Just 11 seconds later, Ehlers got loose on a breakaway and put the game away.

Winnipeg’s defense came into the game ranked 29th in goals allowed, but had little problem preventing Minnesota from generating quality scoring chances.

The Wild have just one win in their last six games. Parise was Minnesota’s leading scorer when he sprained a knee ligament on Nov. 5.

NOTES: Wild F Justin Fontaine missed his 11th game with a sprained MCL, but has a chance to return for Saturday’s game against Dallas according to coach Mike Yeo. … The Wild went 4-3-1 without Parise. … Jets RW Blake Wheeler had an assist and now has points in 18 of 24 games.

Blackhawks baffle Ducks with late magic; Kane’s streak at 18 games

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The Chicago Blackhawks may not be at peak-level right now, but they’re still a tough team to finish off.

For most of Friday’s game, it seemed like the story would be about John Gibson possibly elbowing into the Anaheim Ducks’ No. 1 role, continuing that franchise carousel.

Instead, it was about yet another tremendous comeback for Chicago, as the Blackhawks scored two goals in the final two minutes of the third period to erase a 2-0 deficit. Artem Anisimov than scored the OT GWG.

Stunning stuff … though definitely not unprecedented.

With less than 30 seconds remaining, Patrick Kane grabbed an assist on Duncan Keith‘s 2-2 goal. Kane extended his point streak to 18 games, tying a record for America-born players.

For the Ducks, it’s yet another gut punch, one that makes you wonder how they’d fare in another playoff series against Chicago (if they can even get there … a big if).

Bruce Boudreau is bummed:

Tyler Johnson’s injury: One of several ominous signs for Tampa Bay

Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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The gloom only seems to lift from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s cloudy season in small drizzles.

Sure, they’re on a three-game winning streak, but the Washington Capitals seem to be on the verge of ending that with a thud (they’re currently up 3-0 going into the third period).

Update: Washington managed a 4-2 win, giving the Capitals a four-game winning streak.

That’s the least of the Bolts’ concerns right now, really, as Tyler Johnson left Friday’s game seemingly injured.

The word seemingly comes into play because details are scarce, as reporters note.

/ominous music plays

If you look at Tampa Bay’s upcoming schedule, things could get downright stormy.

They face the Islanders at home, but they do so tomorrow so they won’t be well-rested. It gets worse from there.

Dec. 2 – 6: Three-game road trip against the California teams

Dec. 10 – 12: Two home games (one vs. Ottawa, one vs. Washington)

Dec. 14-18: Another three-game road trip

Long story short, they close up a back-to-back set at home tomorrow and then play six of eight on the road.

/even more ominous music

The end of 2015 looks friendlier, but for a team that seems to be cratering here and there … things look a bit morbid.

We’ll see if they can keep fighting, perhaps with a comeback tonight?

The ghost is here: Another OT-winner from Flyers’ Gostisbehere

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Here’s an easy way to remember how to spell Shayne Gostisbehere’s maddening last name (and even his first name can trip you up).

Ghost-is-be-here, without the h.

Not too bad, right?

If you’re more of the slogan type, it’s getting to be the point where “Tough to spell, tougher to stop” may be a pretty good one-liner.

The Philadelphia Flyers phenom has made a habit of scoring overtime game-winning goals on the power play lately. Friday’s version was the decisive tally in a 3-2 OT win against the Nashville Predators, which you can watch up top.

As you can see in comparing that goal with the one below (which made the difference against the Carolina Hurricanes), opposing coaches may want to make it a point to emphasize stopping this setup, even if it means writing “Don’t let that Ghost kid free.”

All three of his goals are on the power play so far.

Will he breathe life back into the Flyers’ man advantage at this rate?