NHL on NBC: Penguins, Flyers renew acquaintances

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There will be no love lost on Saturday when the Flyers and Penguins meet at the Wells Fargo Center (3 p.m. ET, NBC.)

The two teams will renew what’s become the NHL’s fiercest rivalry, setting the tone for a condensed regular season in which they’ll meet four times over the next 65 days.

Highlighting the rivalry will be the head-to-head grudge match between Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby and Philadephia’s newly-anointed captain, Claude Giroux.

Giroux’s breakout 2011-12 campaign put him in both the star category and conversation with Crosby for the best player in the game.

Giroux heightened the debate in the playoffs, scoring 14 points in the series win over Pittsburgh, punctuating the victory with this sequence in Game 6:

And…

Afterward, Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette called Giroux “the best player in the world” while Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik admitted he was “the best player on the ice.”

The wild and emotional series hasn’t been forgotten by either party.

During the summer, Giroux told a reporter his surgically repaired wrists were a result of Crosby hacking and slashing him during the playoffs.

Crosby responded by saying he didn’t recall injuring Giroux but that if he did, he wasn’t sorry about it.

As for the impact the loss had on No. 87 — well, it’s still fresh in his mind.

“I remember at different points, just kind of being in shock,” Crosby told the Post-Gazette recently. “A lot of different flashes go through my mind when I think about the series.

“Basically, what it came down to was, we didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play well enough, all the way through.”

Tale of the Tape

Pittsburgh Penguins (2011-12) Philadelphia Flyers (2011-12)
Record: 51-25-6, 108 PTS (2nd in Atlantic; 4th in Eastern Conference) Record: 47-26-9, 103 PTS (3rd in Atlantic; 5th in Eastern Conference)
Leading Scorer: Evgeni Malkin (50G-59A-109 PTS) Leading Scorer: Claude Giroux (28G-65A-93 PTS)
Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (42-17-4, 2.36 GAA) Goalie: Ilya Bryzgalov: (33-16-7, 2.48 GAA)

Projected Lines

Philadelphia:

Scott Hartnell-Claude Giroux-Brayden Schenn
Max Talbot- Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Wayne Simmonds-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Ruslan Fedotenko-Eric Wellwood-Zac Rinaldo

Braydon Coburn-Nicklas Grossman
Kimmo Timonen-Luke Schenn
Andrej Meszaros-Kurtis Foster

Pittsburgh:

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis
Eric Tangradi-Evgeni Malkin-James Neal
Matt Cooke-Brandon Sutter-Tyler Kennedy
Tanner Glass-Joe Vitale-Craig Adams

Matt Niskanen-Kris Letang
Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin
Simon Despres-Deryk Engelland

Reminder: If you’re unable to watch on TV, download NBC Sports Live Extra here or here.

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