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Phil Kessel is the NHL’s First Star of the week

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After posting 5G-3A-8PTS in his first three games, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel was named the NHL’s first star for the opening week of the 2011-12 campaign.

Playing on a line with Joffrey Lupul (2G-3A-5PTS) and Tyler Bozak (0G-3A-3PTS) — a line you can watch tonight as Toronto faces Colorado on Versus — Kessel has been a key figure in getting the Leafs off to their best start since…last year, when they started 4-0!

But then they missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season.

But hey, first star of the week!

Moving along…the second star went to New York Islanders C John Tavares, who also posted 5G-3A-8PTS, but over a four-game stretch. The highlight of Tavares’ week was his hat trick against the Rangers (which would’ve been a natural hatty if not for a goal by Brandon Prust). Another highlight for Tavares was almost single-handedly putting P.A. Parenteau into a tie for the NHL assist lead. Seriously — Parenteau has six assists, which is more than Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton combined. He should buy Tavares a walk-in humidor or something.

Third star went to Dallas netminder Karti Lehtonen, who posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.48 GAA against the Blackhawks, Coyotes, Blues and Blue Jackets. Great start for a guy that, in the past, has been besieged by injuries, bad teams and a general disinterest in physical fitness (which would explain the injuries, says Dr. Halford).

The Stars are hopeful that, at age 27, Lehtonen is finally ready to make good on the potential that made him the 2nd overall pick at the 2002 NHL Draft. Remember, Lehtonen twice won the Urpo Ylonen trophy (Finnish League goalie of the year award; it’s more prestigious than the name suggests) before he turned 20. Past Urpo recipients include Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff and Tim Thomas, so winning it twice is a big accomplisment.

[Random aside: The top goalscorer in the Finnish league gets the Aarne Honkavaara trophy, and one year it was won by Arto Javanainen. I felt like you needed to know that.]

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.