LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 03: Singer Pia Toscano sings the United States national anthem before the Los Angeles Kings take on the St. Louis Blues in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 3, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

NHL on NBC: Kings look to sweep Blues

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During the regular season, Brian Elliott never gave up more than six goals over the span of back-to-back starts. He only surrendered four goals in a single game three times and he never did worse than that. Then he came up against one of the most anemic offenses during the regular season and everything began to change.

Suddenly Elliott is looking like a playoff goat after allowing nine goals in his last two starts and with Jaroslav Halak unavailable, the St. Louis Blues’ goaltending has suddenly become a problem going into Sunday’s game (3:00 pm ET, NBC). They need this issue fixed and fast, because if they don’t win all of their next four games, then their playoff run is over.

This is the second time the Los Angeles Kings have taken a 3-0 series lead. That’s a momentous feat for an eighth seed, but at this point they’ve proven that they’re no underdog.

On paper they’ve always had a good team. Los Angeles has an elite goaltender in Jonathan Quick, some great offensive threats in Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, and Jeff Carter. Throw in Drew Doughty and some nice defensive blueliners in Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell, and Rob Scuderi and it’s not hard to see why they are competing.

All those pieces didn’t really come together as advertised during the regular season, but they’ve improved significantly since Darryl Sutter took over as the team’s head coach.

The challenge for the St. Louis Blues is to succeed where the Vancouver Canucks – and most other teams for that matter – have previously failed. They still have a young core complimented by experienced veterans and a great defense. They’re the type of team you could see going on a long run when they’re hot. But they have to get hot immediately, because they have run out of room for error.

Game 4 Notes:

— Elliott’s current three-game losing streak matches his longest slump during the regular season.
— The Los Angeles Kings have a perfect 5-0 road record, but they have lost one playoff game in the Staples Center.
— Mike Richards had a Gordie Howe hat trick on Thursday.
— St. Louis has been outscored 4-7 in the first period of 2012 playoff games.

Goalie nods: Corey Crawford gets a chance to snap out of slump for Blackhawks

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With starting goaltender Corey Crawford stuck in his worst slump of the season, and Scott Darling coming off of a 30-save shutout on Friday night, it seemed possible that the Chicago Blackhawks would stick with the same goalie arrangement on Sunday evening against the Vancouver Canucks.

If nothing else Darling has at least made an argument that he probably deserves a little more playing time than he is getting, and that is still true today.

He just will not get that opportunity against the Canucks.

Coach Joel Quenneville is going back to his starter, Crawford, for Sunday’s game.

After a great start to the season, Crawford has struggled mightily since returning to the lineup following an appendectomy in December and enters Sunday’s game with only a .902 save percentage in his past 10 appearances. He has allowed at least three goals in seven of those games. Before this most recent he was sitting at .927 on the season and looked like one of the top contenders for the Vezina Trophy.

The Blackhawks are not used to seeing Crawford struggle like this, especially in recent years as he has become one of the league’s top goaltenders, finishing with a save percentage of .924 or better in three of the past four full seasons. He is too good to continue playing the way he has recently. Perhaps Sunday is the day he starts to get back on track against a team that he has a pretty strong track record against.

The Canucks, entering the game one game out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, have yet to announce their starter.

Elsewhere…

— Jared Coureau and Henrik Lundqvist went for the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers in their afternoon tilt on NBC, while Matt Murray and Tuukka Rask faced off in Pittsburgh for the Penguins and Boston Bruins.

— After starting 12 consecutive games Mike Condon goes again for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are expected to go with Joonas Korpisalo.

Thomas Greiss returns to the net for the New York Islanders on Sunday after getting Saturday night off and looks for his third consecutive shutout. He has stopped all 55 shots he has faced in his past two games against the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The Philadelphia Flyers will go with Steve Mason after Michal Neuvirth took the loss against New Jersey on Saturday.

Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the start for the Minnesota Wild when they take on the Nashville Predators. Pekka Rinne goes for the Predators.

Red Wings lose Thomas Vanek against Rangers

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This is not the news the Detroit Red Wings needed on Sunday afternoon.

Forward Thomas Vanek left their game against the New York Rangers following the first period for undisclosed reasons. The team announced that he will not return to the game.

Vanek has been a steal for the Red Wings this season after signing him to a one-year, $2.6 million contract in free agency. When healthy he has been arguably their best, most impactful forward this season and entered play on Sunday tied for the team lead in goals (12) and total points (31) even though he had already missed nine games this season.

He played 6:58 in the first period before exiting the game after being shaken up near the Rangers’ net.

He already missed time this season due to a hip injury.

Given his success this season with the team, as well as the Red Wings’ current spot in the Eastern Conference standings that has them several points out of a playoff spot, he has been a popular name mentioned in trade speculation in advance of the trade deadline, something that he seems well aware of.

WATCH LIVE: New York Rangers at Detroit Red Wings

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings looks to block a shot by Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers during the third period at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2016 in New York City. The Red Wings defeated the Rangers 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Detroit Red Wings are trying to play their way back into playoff contention and have gained points in four consecutive games, including wins in each of their past three home games.

On Sunday they trying to extend that home winning streak against a New York Rangers team that is one of the highest scoring teams in the league, but has had a heck of a time stopping teams in recent weeks giving up 50 goals in their past 12 games.

All of the action starts on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET and you can watch all of it there, or online via our live stream.

It is also a Star Sunday that will focus on Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin and Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

Click here for the live stream

Preview: Red Wings look to take advantage of Rangers’ struggling defense

Who can challenge Dylan Larkin as the league’s fastest skater?

 

Wayne Simmonds takes blame for penalty that resulted in game changing goal

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 05:  Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers waits for the face off against the Montreal Canadiens at the Wells Fargo Center on January 5, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers had a tough second period on Saturday night on their way to a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

It all started when Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas was penalized for clipping Devils forward Miles Wood on a play that the Flyers felt was a legal hip check. Following that call, forward Wayne Simmonds had a brief discussion with referee Dan O’Halloran — the referee that made the call — resulting in Simmonds picking up a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. It wasn’t even a particularly heated discussion (watch it here) and seemed to be similar to ones you see happen in most games across the league on any given night without further incident.

That gave the Devils an extended 5-on-3 power play that resulted in a Kyle Palmieri power play goal to break what had been a 1-1 tie.

Just three minutes later Wood scored his first of two goals on the night to begin putting the game out of reach.

This was the entire sequence that led to the Palmieri goal.

“I’ll take blame for that,” Simmonds said after the game, via CSN Philadelphia when asked about what happened. “I didn’t agree with the penalty, I got an extra two that’s my fault. They score a goal, make it 2-1, that’s a momentum changer, I take all of the blame for that.”

Simmonds would not say what was said between the two, only adding “The referee was talking to me; I was talking to him. I am not commenting on calls; it is what it is. It happened, it’s over with now. I am not going to say anything about that.”

Simmonds has been arguably the Flyers’ best player this season with a team-leading 18 goals entering play on Sunday.

Whether that was what sent the game in the wrong direction for the Flyers or not, the most concerning thing is that was another big loss that continued their recent slump that has seen them win just three of their past 15 games. They remain one point back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference but have already played three more games than them.