Jon Swavely

Back To Class: When surprise results aren’t exactly upsetting

We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET as No. 12 Dartmouth takes on No. 19 Union College.

This weekend turned out to be a bad one if your favorite team was a Top 5 team in the polls. Friday night in particular was brutal as No. 1 Minnesota, No. 3 Boston College, No. 4 New Hampshire, and No. 5 North Dakota all suffered losses. BC wound up being swept by Maine while the others recovered to win or tie to salvage points.

Is that a sign of trouble to come? Not a chance.

As Joe Meloni at College Hockey News put it perfectly, there are no upsets in January. Surprise results, sure, but the grind of the college hockey season is all about getting things right for the run towards the NCAA tournament in March. Working through the bulk of the conference schedule can get, for the lack of a better word, boring for top programs. For those chasing them, they will take full advantage of gunning for the top dogs. That kind of situation makes surprise results more likely.

Think about it: Would you believe Boston College is in trouble while they’ve got some injuries on defense mid-season and coach Jerry York missed a handful of games after having eye surgery? If you’ve seen them steamroll through the Hockey East tournament and NCAAs in recent years, you know what the right answer is.

It’s all about being ready for the stretch run and getting the team in prime shape for the conference tournament and beyond. Dropping a game here or there mid-season is only a big problem for a team if they’re thinking short-term.

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Likely No. 1 with a bullet: I’ve been tracking Quinnipiac and their red-hot play here almost every week and after this weekend’s results through the Top 5, they’re more than likely going to be the new No. 1 in the polls. Fans in the WCHA won’t like seeing an ECAC team atop the pile but keep in mind a couple things: A) Polls are pointless and crying about them is a waste of time. B) Go double-check the Pairwise Rankings and settle down. They’re at the top for a reason.

Penn State winning to get noticed: The Nittany Lions’ first season in Division I has been bumpy. They’ve had some awkward losses to the likes of Arizona State’s club team as well as to Division-III Buffalo State and Neumann College but they’ve shown progress by knocking off some big name schools. This weekend they took out Michigan State and they’ve also earned wins against Vermont, Ohio State, Air Force, and RIT. No one said making the jump to D-I would be easy, but coach Guy Gadowski will get that program rolling sooner than you think.

Bucking Broncos: Western Michigan isn’t a team you think about right away when it comes to college hockey, but Andy Murray’s team is on fire. Over their last 17 games, WMU is 11-3-3. Over the weekend they swept Red Berenson’s Michigan Wolverines sending them spiraling further down in the CCHA. With Notre Dame struggling lately, Western Michigan and Miami University are setting up for quite the rumble down the stretch. That is if the Alaska Nanooks and their polar bear of doom don’t take them all out.

(Photo: Hockey East Online)

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) deflects a puck over the net during the first period of Game 3 against the Washington Capitals in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh, Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Fleury suits up (but won’t start) and other Caps – Pens Game 3 notes

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been out of action with concussion symptoms, participates in a practice session for the NHL hockey playoffs against the New York Rangers, Monday, April 11, 2016, at their practice facility in Cranberry, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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The Brooks Orpik hit on Olli Maatta isn’t the only factor in lineup changes for Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Maybe the most interesting change starts on the Penguins’ bench … where they likely hope that tweak will stay for at least one night.

Marc-Andre Fleury is apparently healthy enough to suit up for the Penguins, although it appears as though Matt Murray will start:

That’s a clear sign that “The Flower” is healthy enough to play, as Murray would be an injury or a coach’s pull away from giving up the net to Fleury. (One would assume.)

Murray has been fantastic for the most part since taking over for Jeff Zatkoff during this postseason, yet you know how the playoffs can be; people may clamor for Fleury after a loss even if it’s not really Murray’s fault.

Circling back to that Orpik hit, the dominoes seem to fall this way:

Penguins: Derrick Pouliot replaces injured Maatta.

Capitals: Dmitry Orlov in for suspended Orpik.

PHT will make note if there are any swerves.