Play NBC Sports’ Hockey Day in America MVP Challenge

Over at the NHL on NBC Sports Facebook page, there’s a new pick’em game available for play — the Hockey Day in America MVP Challenge.

The game rules are as follows:

1) Use the Hockey Day in America Challenge Facebook App.

2) Pick who you think will win the following five games: Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres (NBC, 12:30 PM ET), San Jose Sharks at Detroit Red Wings (NBC, 12:30 PM ET), St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks (NBC, 12:30 PM ET), Boston Bruins at Minnesota Wild (NBC, 3:30 PM ET), New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens (NBC Sports Network, 6:00 PM ET).

3) Choose the number of total goals you think will be scored in all five Hockey Day in America games.

4) Make sure to fill out your picks by Sunday, 12:00 PM ET.

The entrant that correctly predicts each winner and total number of goals scored will be named the MVP and featured on the NHL on NBC Sports Facebook page.

In case you need help making your picks, here are some from PHT’s Mike Halford and Jason Brough:

Pittsburgh at Buffalo

Halford: The Sabres were embarrassed 8-3 the last time they faced the Penguins, so there’s a revenge factor at play. There’s also the fatigue issue — Pittsburgh plays Philly on Saturday — so I’m going with Buffalo.

Brough: Don’t look now, but the Sabres are playing…not terrible. Buffalo wins in a squeaker.

San Jose at Detroit

Halford: I see no reason to pick against a team that’s won 21 straight at home. Detroit.

Brough: The Wings have been unbeatable at the Joe, but I’m going with the Sharks because there’s a small chance I could look like a genius and I’m used to looking dumb.

St. Louis at Chicago

Halford: These two have split the season series (1-1), but both games were at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. This one will be at the United Center, where the ‘Hawks are 19-6-4 this year. I’ll take Chicago.

Brough: Here’s my theory — the ‘Hawks will be so happy to get home after nine straight games away from the United Center that they’ll come out with a ton of positive energy. And if that doesn’t work, the Blues aren’t a great road team anyway. Chicago still wins.

Boston at Minnesota

Halford:The Wild were tops in the NHL on Dec. 10. Today, they’re in 21st. That has a lot to do with the fact they’ve gone 5-16-5 over the last 26 games. As such, I’m rolling with Boston.

Brough: How bad are the Wild? The Wild are so bad they lost at home to Columbus last week. Easy win for the B’s here.

New Jersey at Montreal

Halford: Have to like what Ilya Kovalchuk’s doing for the Devils right now. He’s ninth in league scoring (56 points) while playing almost 25 minutes a night, most among all NHL forwards. Riding the hot hand here, taking New Jersey.

Brough: This one’s a coin toss. So I’m going to toss a coin. And the coin has come up…Habs.

As for total goals scored, both Halford and Brough went with 25.

Hey, it’s a 3-2 league. Just ask Darryl Sutter.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to extend force a sixth game thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs managed to build up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission thanks to goals by Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They also had a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

 

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck