Connor Hellebuyck

Back to Class: Where March Madness is already underway

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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 as Maine host No. 4 New Hampshire at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Hockey East and the WCHA will wrap up their final weekend of conference action this weekend while Atlantic Hockey, CCHA, and ECAC all start their conference playoffs. It’s a veritable full weekend of playoffs for everyone if you want to look at it that way as even those who aren’t yet in their postseason are still jockeying for position.

In Hockey East, the battle for the top spot is on between UMass-Lowell, Providence, New Hampshire, and Boston College. Any of those four teams could wind up in first, while Boston University and Merrimack are just outside the top four. Landing in the top four means getting home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs.

In the race for the No. 1 seed, the series to watch is between Lowell and Providence as they’ll have two games to see if they can figure things out. Lowell, thanks to freshman standout and Winnipeg Jets prospect goalie Connor Hellebuyck, lead Hockey East but Providence sits two points back. BC and New Hampshire are each one point out and they’ve got teams from the bottom end of the conference to deal with.

Boston College faces 7th place Vermont while UNH faces a Maine team trying to solidify their spot in the conference playoffs. Only the top eight move on and Maine is trying to keep UMass out. The Minutemen have a pair of games with Merrimack to contend with. Only Northeastern won’t be making the playoffs.

In the WCHA, there’s no threat of missing the playoffs as all 12 teams make it. Figuring out who wins the MacNaughton Cup (first place in the regular season) isn’t quite so easy. St. Cloud State could’ve wrapped it up last Saturday, but were humbled by Michigan Tech. Now, any one of five teams could win the regular season title.

SCSU has a two-point lead on Minnesota and North Dakota and are four up on Minnesota State and Wisconsin. The two weekend match-ups to watch here feature St. Cloud against Wisconsin and Minnesota St. facing North Dakota. Earning the top spot at the end of the season means getting to face a bad Alaska-Anchorage team in the opening round of the conference tourney.

If that’s not enough to get you juiced up, three conferences have their playoffs getting started on Friday night. Here’s how things shape up for them:

CCHA: The top-five teams here all get byes into the quarterfinals. Only difference being that No. 4 Ohio State gets No. 5 Ferris State there. Miami, Notre Dame, and Western Michigan are the top three teams here. Your first-round best of three matchups see the winners re-seeded. Alaska hosts Michigan State, Michigan hosts Northern Michigan, and Lake Superior State gets Bowling Green.

ECAC: All 12 teams make the playoffs and the top four get byes in the first round. Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, Yale, and Union can rest easy this weekend and wait to see what carnage is unleashed with the other eight teams in their best of three series. Dartmouth hosts Harvard, St. Lawrence faces Colgate, Brown hosts Clarkson, and Princeton takes on Cornell in New Jersey. Winning teams are reseeded for the second round. RPI blog Without A Peer shows off how the second round could play out.

Atlantic Hockey: Top four teams have byes (Niagara, Air Force, Holy Cross, UConn). Winners of the first round are re-seeded. The first-round best of three pairings are: Robert Morris-Sacred Heart, Mercyhurst-Army, Canisius-Bentley, and RIT-American International. Anyone on the NCAA tournament bubble (16th in Pairwise) is rooting for Niagara to steamroll through here without issue.

If, somehow, that’s not all enough for you the Division III NCAA tournament gets underway tonight and winds up on March 16 with the national championship game. St. Norbert will be looking for their third title in a row but this writer would like to see Oswego State take it all. That’s called an “alumni plug.”

(Photo: Lowell Sun)

NHL on NBCSN: After a tough weekend, ‘Hawks look to bounce back vs. Avs

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 15:  Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche chase the puck at the United Center on December 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Colorado Avalanche host the Chicago Blackhawks at 9:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Both the Avalanche and Blackhawks will enter tonight’s game with a two-game losing streaks. The major difference between these two teams is that Colorado’s season has felt like one long losing streak, while the ‘Hawks find themselves comfortably in a playoff spot.

Things are so bad in Colorado that they’re likely looking to move pieces like Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene in an effort to blow the team up and start over.

GM Joe Sakic has already stated that Nathan MacKinnon isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get preferential treatment from head coach Jared Bednar.

During Saturday’s loss to the Preds, Bednar benched the young forward, who acknowledged that he wasn’t playing particularly well.

“I wasn’t playing that good and just needed to sit down for a bit and regroup,” said MacKinnon, per the Denver Post.

“It was a good reminder to stay focused. It’s just in-game stuff that happens in sports. It was like three or four shifts. It wasn’t a big deal.”

As you might imagine, scoring goals has been a problem in Denver this season (keeping the puck out of their own net has been an issue too). They’re currently last in the goals for department with 82, which is nine less than Arizona, who are 29th.

The Avalanche have played 41 games this season and MacKinnon leads them in points with 28. That puts him in tie for 71st in league scoring.

It looks like things will get a whole lot worse, in Colorado, before they get better.

As for ‘Hawks, they’re coming off a rough weekend that saw them lose 6-0 to the Capitals on Friday and 3-2 to the top team in the Central, the Minnesota Wild.

“Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we’re at,” said Patrick Kane, per CSN Chicago. “Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are.

“The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you’re one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might’ve even had more so, just kind of didn’t pull it out. But (when) you’ve played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there’s got to be room for improvement, right?”

The Blackhawks are still a good team, there’s no doubt about that. After all, they’re second in their division and conference. They trail the division-leading Wild by just two points, but they’ve played four games more than Minnesota.

With Hellebuyck and Hutchinson struggling, Jets recall Pavelec from AHL

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Goalie Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets looks on during a break in the action as he defends the goal against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 1-0 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Winnipeg Jets are shaking things up in their crease.

On Tuesday morning, the team announced that they’ve recalled Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL.

Pavelec is earning $4.75 million, but that didn’t stop the Jets from sending him to the minors before the start of the season.

By sending him to the AHL, they basically decided that they would go with the younger duo of Connor Hellbuyck and Michael Hutchison. But with those two struggling badly over the last few weeks, the team decided it was time to give Pavelec another opportunity.

Hellebuyck has been pulled in each of his last two starts and he’s given up three goals or more in eight of his last 12 outings, while Hutchinson has dropped each of his last five decisions. He’s given up three goals or more in four of those five games.

Pavelec, 29, has played in 18 games with AHL Manitoba this season, and he owns an 8-7-2 record with a 2.78 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. Those are mediocre numbers, but it’s hard to judge his body of work when he’s playing behind a mediocre team (15-17-5).

Last season,  he had 13-13-4 record with a 2.78 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage in the NHL.

He’s been anything but consistent throughout his career, but maybe he can get hot and help the Jets climb out of the hole they’re in.

 

PHT Morning Skate: Burns, Thornton take part in hilarious team commercial

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–Canucks forward Bo Horvat went 27 games between his second and third goal last season. After he ended the slump, he seemed to figure out how to produce regularly at the NHL level. “I think the best thing about Bo is that he gets himself better,” said coach Willie Desjardins. “He makes himself better. He doesn’t wait for coaches, he takes onus on his game himself. He works at his game and that’s why he’s improving.” (Sports Illustrated)

–Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser explains why the officials made the right call when they decided that Rick Nash’s goal against Montreal, on Saturday, was in fact a good goal. “Since (Kevin) Hayes’ skate got caught up in (Carey) Price’s pad outside of the crease after the NY Rangers forward made a legitimate hockey play (deke), the contact would be regarded as accidental (incidental). (KerryFraser.com)

–Here’s an interesting piece about how Paul Maurice has rarely received league-average goaltending throughout his career as an NHL coach. “Since Maurice’s career began in 1995, with the exceptions of only Burke, Barrasso, Legace, and Montoya, Maurice has always had below-average goaltending. That’s simply astonishing.” (Sportsnet)

–You can watch the full overtime period from last night’s wild game between the Penguins and Capitals by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the goal Alex Ovechkin scored on his back against the Arizona Coyotes. “It was just luck. Luck? Skill? I don’t know. Call it whatever,” said Ovechkin. (NHL)

–Former NHL defenseman Mike Commodore is living a great life right now, but he still isn’t sure what he’s going to do for work. “Hey, life is good, I’m not going to sit here and complain about it. I don’t have to work, for sure. The flip side is that it might have been good if I did have to work so I would have jumped into something right away. Then I would have been busy, if that makes sense. But overall I can’t complain. I’m not bored … yet.” (Calgary Herald)

Brent Burns and Joe Thornton took part in this hilarious San Jose Sharks commercial:

‘Like a 1988 Smythe Division game’ – Caps, Pens react to wild 8-7 game

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals collides into Brian Dumoulin #8 of the Pittsburgh Penguins after scoring a goal during the second period at Verizon Center on November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s no surprise that Justin Williams, a player who earned the clutch nickname of “Mr. Game 7,” provided the money quote for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ wild 8-7 overtime win against the Washington Capitals.

“It snowballed too quickly for us,” Williams said, according to Caps’ website Dump n Chase. “All around, it was like a 1988 Smythe Division game out there, not something we want to do.”

Penguins-turned-Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen also echoed one of the points from the game’s recap, stating that the contest had “four of five turning points.”

You could probably spend hours pouring through all the oddball stats that sprouted up from this game.

While Williams and Niskanen provided some of the better quotes, most of the players were reduced to using the same word that, frankly, most of us were rolling out.

(Aside from those of us who were spouting expletives at perceived missed calls, particularly on the losing end.)

In admitting that he couldn’t explain the second period, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan probably described the entire game most accurately:

Either way, it was a lot of fun. Let’s do this in the playoffs, too, shall we?

/scans online for a budget defibrillator.