Connor Hellebuyck

Back to Class: Where March Madness is already underway


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)

Kings win ugly with Budaj, making things even uglier for Predators

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to the overtime goal of Jeff Carter #77 to beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 at Staples Center on October 31, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
1 Comment

How would you describe the Nashville Predators’ Stanley Cup bandwagon at the moment? A few flat tires? One of those abandoned school buses at a dump?

An unlikely occurrence – Peter Budaj winning four straight games for the Los Angeles Kings, all in overtime, all seriously in 2016 – puts a spotlight on an unsightly start for Nashville following a 3-2 OT decision.

In other words, it was another night where the Predators (early or not) didn’t look the part of Stanley Cup contenders.

Pekka Rinne has often been the scapegoat for Nashville’s losses, and his recent numbers justify some of the criticisms. Thursday doesn’t fall into that pattern, however. Instead, the Predators wasted a strong performance from their $7 million man, who stopped 42 out of 45 shots.

Budaj? He only needed to make 24 out of 26 stops to keep his unexpected winning streak going.

For the Kings and Predators, very different patterns continued on Thursday night.

Los Angeles has people wondering “How long can they win with Budaj?” and “Is there a team that can finally hog the puck against the Kings enough to expose him?” Don’t blame Kings fans who never want this strange sequence to end.

Nashville devotees, on the other hand, must wonder if they’re stuck in some sort of sick nightmare.

They’ve been a chic pick to win it all, yet they’re now at 2-4-1 with three away contests remaining on a challenging five-game road trip.

It’s early, but the headaches just keep multiplying for the Preds.

Mrazek comes up big as Red Wings win sixth in a row

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Petr Mrazek #34 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on in the first period while playing the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on October 21, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Are the Detroit Red Wings for real or are they headed toward a humbling regression? We might have to wait until their goalies look human before that question can really be answered.

For yet another game, Detroit’s netminder was outstanding, with Petr Mrazek helping the Red Wings beat the St. Louis 2-1 via a shootout (and a pretty stressful shootout in that).

It took eight rounds until Henrik Zetterberg managed Detroit’s second and decisive tally of the “skills competition,” and now Detroit is on a six-game winning streak.

Mrazek made 31 out of 32 games through overtime and was only beaten by Alex Steen in that shootout, stopping seven of eight attempts. He’s faced more than 30 shots on goal in all six of his appearances in 2016-17.

It is not as if there has been a big drop-off when Jimmy Howard has taken the net, either. Howard has only given up one goal in his two games, winning both of them.

Are the Red Wings asking a lot of Mrazek and Howard? Yep. Just take a look a this lopsided possession chart from Natural Stat Trick for another reminder.


You can see why skeptics murmur about this six-game winning streak being fool’s gold, but the Red Wings keep finding a way to win. Usually, it’s their goalies who have been doing the heavy lifting.

It wasn’t pretty, but Coyotes beat Flyers to end five-game skid

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 27: Roman Lyubimov #13 and Chris VandeVelde #76 of the Philadelphia Flyers collide during the second period against the Arizona Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center on October 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Martin Hanzal and Brad Richardson scored the decisive goals to help the Arizona Coyotes beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 on Thursday night to snap a five-game road losing streak.

Jamie McGinn, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan White also scored for Arizona. The Coyotes have their only two wins this season against the Flyers.

The Coyotes salvaged one victory on a season-long, six-game road trip.

Louis Domingue stopped 28 shots and won his first game of the season. He had been 0-4 with a 5.03 goals against average and had stopped only 85 percent of his shots.

Nick Cousins, Brayden Schenn, Andrew MacDonald and Wayne Simmonds scored for the Flyers.

The Coyotes snapped a tie with two straight goals in the third scored in a bit of a bizarre manner.

Schenn leveled defenseman Michael Stone and Coyotes teammate Jakob Chychrun quickly came to his defense. Chychrun and Schenn brawled against the boards as the crowd erupted – and no one paid attention to the puck.

Hanzal made it 3-2 and led to a few confusing moments as officials checked to make sure the goal was scored before the fight. Wildly cheering fans fell silent in a second when the goal was announced.

Chychrun was tossed for instigating the fight.

Richardson made it 4-2 on a goal that was reviewed because the Flyers thought he ran down goalie Steve Mason. Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov took Richardson down and they went into the net together so the goal counted.

MacDonald, having a miserable season, made it 4-3 but the Flyers were out of rallies.

White scored an insurance goal late in third to send fans toward the exits. Simmonds scored with 14.3 seconds left.

The Flyers again had to rally from an early deficit, a troubling theme for a team with playoff aspirations. The Coyotes led 2-0 in the first, the latest slow start for the Flyers. They have been outscored 8-1 in the first period this season and allowed the first goal for the seventh straight game.

Coach Dave Hakstol hoped a line change would boost the Flyers offense. He moved 19-year-old rookie center Travis Konecny to the top line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek after that late-game pairing helped the Flyers come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Buffalo.

“We needed a spark, that’s why we’re trying something a little bit different,” Hakstol said.

Konecny, the Flyers’ first-round pick of the 2015 draft, has been solid since he opened eyes in training camp and scored his first career goal against the Sabres. He entered tied for the rookie lead with five assists and said he would keep the same approach even with the line promotion.

“I’m not going to change anything in my game,” he said. “I’m just going to try and help them and create space for them.”

The Flyers needed help early.

Moments after they honored former great Eric Lindros – in his No. 88 sweater – another 88 got them with a goal. McGinn scored his first goal of the season to beat Mason. Ekman-Larsson followed with a slapper from the point for his fifth goal of the season.

The Coyotes, who last won on opening night against the Flyers on Oct. 15, failed to hold the lead.

Cousins pounded home a rebound for his first goal of the season and Schenn followed with a power-play score to help the Flyers at least tie the game when down two goals for the fifth time this season.

Notes: The Flyers played without a suspended player for the first time this season. … The Flyers honored 14 members of the team’s Hall of Fame, along with the family of six other members, including: Bob Clarke, Ron Hextall, Bernie Parent and Dave Schultz. The Flyers have a variety of nostalgic celebrations planned this season for their 50th anniversary. … Coyotes D Luke Schenn, a former Flyer, played against his brother.


Coyotes: Host Colorado on Saturday.

Flyers: Host Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Video: In case you wonder if Crosby will still score gritty goals

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on April 2, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Penguins shutout the Islanders 5-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Many hockey fans were sad that Sidney Crosby was absent from the start of the 2016-17 season. The New York Islanders probably would’ve preferred that he sit out a few more games.

Crosby’s been back and hasn’t really missed a beat, and Thursday provided a reminder that he’s unlikely to change the way he plays.

To be more specific, he’s a star player willing to score “greasy” or “dirty” goals (depending upon your region). Crosby operated like a power forward while scoring the game-winner against the Islanders on Thursday:

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Islanders 4-2, with the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury receiving a lot of the credit.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have an all-world player willing to get that physical on your side.