Eastern Conference final team capsules: Pittsburgh Penguins

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A rundown of the East’s top seed, which finished the regular season at 36-12-0.

28th appearance
3 Stanley Cup titles (1991, 1992, 2009)

Studs:

  • Sidney Crosby: 7 goals (T-lead in NHL), 8 assists, 15 points
  • Pascal Dupuis: 7 goals (T-lead in NHL)
  • James Neal: 5 goals, 2 assists, 14 shots on goal in last 2 games
  • Evgeni Malkin: 16 points (T-2nd in NHL) … but only 43.0% on faceoffs
  • Kris Letang: 16 points (T-2nd in NHL, most among defensemen)
  • Paul Martin: 30 blocked shots (5th in NHL)
  • Tomas Vokoun: 6-1, 1.85 GAA (3rd in NHL), .941 save % (2nd in NHL), 1 shutout
  • Team: 6-1 at Consol Energy Center
  • Team: 4.27 goals per game (leads NHL) … highest average since 1992-93 (min. 10 games)
  • Team: 28.3% on power play, 13-for-46 (leads NHL)
  • Team: 89.7% on penalty kill, 35-for-39 (3rd in NHL)
  • Team: 203 blocked shots (T-2nd in NHL)

Duds:

  • Marc-Andre Fleury: 2-2, 3.40 GAA, .891 save%, 1 shutout

Stanley Cup winners with 2009 Penguins (11 players, 2 coaches):

  • Craig Adams, Matt Cooke, Sidney Crosby (captain), Pascal Dupuis, Mark Eaton, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin (Conn Smythe winner), Brooks Orpik, Dan Bylsma (head coach), Gilles Meloche (asst)

Cup winners with other franchises (1):

  • Chris Kunitz (2007 Ducks)

Seeking first Cup, have played or coached one+ playoff game this postseason (13 players, 2 coaches):

  • Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass, Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Brenden Morrow, James Neal, Brandon Sutter, Joe Vitale, Deryk Engelland, Paul Martin, Douglas Murray, Matt Niskanen, Tomas Vokoun, Tony Granato (asst), Todd Rierden (asst)

Seeking 2013 postseason debut:

  • Robert Bortuzzo (15 regular season games), Dustin Jeffrey (24)

Most career playoff …

  • Games: Chris Kunitz, 95
  • Goals: Sidney Crosby, 40
  • Points: Sidney Crosby, 105

Last playoff …

  • Hat trick: James Neal, May 24, 2013 (vs. Senators, Game 5, ECSF)
  • 4-point game: James Neal (3 goals, assist), May 24, 2013 (vs. Senators, Game 5, ECSF)
  • Short-handed goal: Pascal Dupuis, May 22, 2013 (at Senators, Game 4, ECSF)
  • Fight: Evgeni Malkin, May 7, 2013 (Travis Hamonic, at Islanders, Game 4, ECQF)
  • Shutout: Marc-Andre Fleury, May 1, 2013 (vs. Islanders, Game 1, ECQF)

Playoff trend:

  • The Penguins made the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
  • The Penguins earned the top record in their conference for the second time (1992-93)

Milestones:

  • With two points, Sidney Crosby (105) will move past Kevin Stevens for 3rd on the all-time points list in Penguins postseason history … Mario Lemieux (172) and Bruins’ Jaromir Jagr (147) are 1-2
  • With three points, Evgeni Malkin (97) will reach the 100-point mark and tie Ron Francis for 5th on the all-time points list in Penguins postseason history
  • In the ECQF, Marc-Andre Fleury tied Tom Barrasso for the most career shutouts (6) by a goaltender in Penguins postseason history
  • Jarome Iginla has played 1,232 regular season games without winning a Stanley Cup, 3rd-most among active players (Roman Hamrlik – 1,395; Shane Doan – 1,246)
  • In the ECSF, the Penguins clinched a series on home ice for the 1st time under Dan Bylsma (1-6)
  • Evgeni Malkin has the most single-postseason points (36, in 2008-09) among active players

2012-13 season

  • Longest win streak: 15 (March 2 – 30), 2nd longest in NHL history (1992-93 Penguins had 17)
  • Longest winless streak: 2 (on five occasions)

Biggest storylines of season & postseason:

  • March 2-30: “The Streak II” or “The March through March” … following the Blackhawks’ NHL-record 24-game unbeaten streak in regulation to begin the season, the Penguins came within two wins of tying the 20-year-old NHL record of 17 consecutive wins (1992-92 Penguins)
  • March 30: A deflected slapshot to Sidney Crosby’s jaw costs the superstar the last 12 games of the regular season
  • Trade deadline acquisitions of veterans Brenden Morrow (Stars), Jarome Iginla (Flames), Jussi Jokinen (Hurricanes) & Douglas Murray (Sharks) helps offset injuries to Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Paul Martin & Kris Letang
  • The Penguins become the only NHL team without an overtime/shootout loss this regular season (5-0) … in the first two playoff rounds, they won their first two OT games (Games 3 & 6 at N.Y. Islanders), but lost in 2OT in Game 3 at Senators
  • May 9: Tomas Vokoun replaces Marc-Andre Fleury in net before Game 5 of the ECQF and posts a shutout
  • May 17 & 24: Sidney Crosby (Game 2) & James Neal (Game 5) score hat tricks in ECSF vs. Ottawa

Award finalists:

  • Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (Perseverance and dedication to hockey): Sidney Crosby

Concussion problems limited Crosby to just 63 games over the previous two seasons. However, he bounced back this season with 15 goals and 56 points in 36 contests.

  • Hart Memorial Trophy (Most valuable player to his team): Sidney Crosby

Despite missing 12 games (jaw surgery), Crosby had 56 points (T-3rd in NHL), 41 assists (2nd in NHL), was a +26 (4th in NHL), played 21:06 per game (6th among NHL forwards)

  • Ted Lindsay Award (Most outstanding player as voted by members of the NHLPA): Sidney Crosby
  • James Norris Memorial Trophy (Top defenseman): Kris Letang

Despite missing 13 games, Letang had 38 points (T-NHL lead among defensemen), was a +16 and played 25:38 per game (7th in NHL)
NHL General Manager of the Year: Ray Shero

The Buzzer: Golden Knights shine, gold from Subban

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Player of the Night: Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers.

It hasn’t been the easiest start to the season for Twitter legend Roberto Luongo, nor has it been for the Twitter debate generators known as the Florida Panthers.

Bobby Lou hasn’t been healthy at times, making it easy to ignore that even at 38, he’s quietly managed a save percentage that climbed to .931 after today’s outstanding performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Luongo made 43 out of 44 stops to help Florida edge Toronto in a 2-1 shootout win, to the amusingly over-the-top celebration of the Panthers, who might have done so because there were probably a ton of Maple Leafs fans in the house:

Nick Bjugstad won the game with this saucy shootout score, by the way:

Honorable mentions go to tonight’s other standout goalies, plus Nathan MacKinnon, who received plenty of praise here.

Fight of the Night: William Carrier vs. Mike Liambas.

Is it fair to call this fight “methodical but entertaining?”

Quip of the Night: P.K. Subban, always entertaining, though he should reduce the height-shaming.

Pest of the Night: Nazem Kadri?

Highlight of the Night: John Tavares continues to impose his will, this time setting up the Islanders overtime-winner:

Factoids of the Night

Another milestone for the Vegas Golden Knights, who lead the Pacific Division:

Brock Boeser is another worthy mention for player of the night, as the young Canuck keeps scoring and scoring, this time helping Vancouver beat Pittsburgh (again).

Connor McDavid continues to impress, and maybe shuts up a critic or two for one night:

The Canadiens? Well, at least they got a point.

Scores

Wild 5, Sabres 4
Oilers 6, Red Wings 2
Panthers 2, Maple Leafs 1 (SO)
Bruins 3, Devils 2 (SO)
Islanders 4, Flyers 3 (OT)
Canucks 5, Penguins 2
Capitals 5, Senators 2
Rangers 6, Hurricanes 1
Blue Jackets 1, Flames 0 (OT)
Lightning 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)
Predators 3, Canadiens 2 (SO)
Avalanche 3, Stars 0
Sharks 3, Coyotes 1
Golden Knights 4, Ducks 2
Jets 2, Kings 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looks like Nathan MacKinnon is going from star to superstar

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Look, it’s not like Nathan MacKinnon has ever really been a “bad” player.

The Nova Scotia-born speed demon carried two 20+ goal seasons and three 50+ point campaigns into 2017-18, which in the tough-to-score NHL, is nothing to sneeze at. This is especially true since the Colorado Avalanche have frequently asked him to do a lot; Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire notes that he’s faced some of the toughest assignments of any centers in recent years.

Still, there was growing concern that the 22-year-old might not make that extra step from “star” to “superstar.” That’s especially true if his shooting skill really was an issue, as it seemed to be in three straight seasons where he shot under 10 percent (and considering his 8.4 career average).

Well, through the first quarter of this season, it seems like MacKinnon is “finally” making that next step, and making us feel silly for worrying too much about a guy who’s still just 22.

(Heck, he’s not even an old 22. MacKinnon’s birthday came on Sept. 1.)

Much like the Avalanche as a whole, MacKinnon’s gone from discouraging in 2016-17 to encouraging so far, and he’s probably the biggest reason to feel happy in Colorado … beyond the Matt Duchene headache being resolved, and depending upon your lifestyle, certain perks.

Wednesday was the latest reminder that the Avalanche aren’t mere pushovers, and that MacKinnon is making that leap we’ve been waiting for to join the best-of-the-best.

The tremendously fast, increasingly versatile center collected assists on every Avalanche goal as they beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Wednesday, improving Colorado’s record to 11-8-1. This actually makes for quite the logjam at “last” in the Central, with four teams at 23 points, and the Avs hold at least a game in hand on the Blackhawks, Stars, and Wild. They’re not far from being a wild card team, either.

Considering the fact that the Avalanche were one of the worst teams of the salary cap era last season with an almost unthinkable 46 points, and MacKinnon languished with 16 goals, this should put a big smile on GM Joe Sakic’s face.

But, again, it’s something fans of the sport as a whole should appreciate.

With tonight’s three assists, MacKinnon now has 25 points in 20 games. This places MacKinnon in a tie for 12th in the NHL in scoring with a pretty illustrious group: John Tavares, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele.

To me, the number that’s maybe most heartening is MacKinnon’s 13.2 shooting percentage (seven goals on 53 shots on goal through 20 games).

It will be interesting to follow this specific trend over the long haul of the season, as he’s firing the puck just a little bit less often; he averages 3.08 SOG for his career according to Hockey Reference, while his current average is 2.65 this season.

That’s not a massive drop, but it’s actually quite noticeable, and you wonder if MacKinnon is being a little more selective with his shot. Again, it’s a small sample size, so we’ll see if that changes. But if MacKinnon either improves his shooting skill or simply finds a way to inch closer to the 24 goals he scored as a rookie while using his speed and smarts to be a difference-maker in every phase of the game, this could be quite the transformation.

The Avalanche probably weren’t going to complain about “the old” MacKinnon, but they should be delighted if he ends up being a truly complete star, and one who can flirt with 20-goal, 70-point seasons.

And you know what? Fans of exciting hockey should be excited about this development, too. Even if he’s using his scary speed and skill to your own team’s dismay from time to time.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Point gets Lightning extra point against Kane, Blackhawks

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The Tampa Bay Lightning edged the Chicago Blackhawks – barely – on Wednesday to leapfrog back over the St. Louis Blues for the top record in the NHL.

The Bolts capitalized on a power-play opportunity in overtime, with Brayden Point scoring the decisive goal in a 3-2 OT win. It was an exciting overtime period, with Point being stopped all in alone earlier in the OT, and the same happening to Patrick Kane on a breakaway.

Kane had been getting the best of the Lightning earlier in the game, scoring the first two goals of the contest in the first period. Not a lot of players can make plays like this off the rush:

Then again, few teams can score a goal this pretty, especially while shorthanded:

Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov collected assists on Wednesday, but the top line (including Nikita Kucherov) failed to score a goal, though they created quite a few chances. The best – at least in regulation – came when Stamkos seized an opportunity against the Blackhawks, but Corey Crawford was game:

Wow.

Again, both goalies made some big stops. Here’s that Kane miss in OT, with Andrei Vasilevskiy depriving number 88 from a hat trick:

So, with that, the Lightning hold a one-point standings edge (34 to 33) over the Blues in the early race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and most importantly, gives them a five-point edge in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay’s impressive start to 2017-18 is especially notable since they’ve played one fewer game than St. Louis and two fewer than the Toronto Maple Leafs (the second-ranked team in the up-and-down Atlantic).

Check out the logjam at second-to-last in the competitive Central for Chicago, as of this writing, with these three teams all at 21 games played:

Dallas Stars: 11-9-1, 23 points
Blackhawks: 10-8-3, 23 points
Minnesota Wild: 10-8-3, 23 points

It has to be a little frustrating for the Blackhawks to see a two-goal lead dissolve, but plenty of teams would struggle to secure such an edge against the powerhouse Lightning. Maybe the Blackhawks will gain some confidence in merely sticking with them (and grabbing a point for their troubles).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Much-needed response from Oilers vs. Red Wings

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One win can’t cleanse the palate of a bitter 21-game start, but beggars can’t be choosers, and the Edmonton Oilers really needed a W tonight.

That’s not to say it would be easy, either, as they faced a rested Red Wings team in Detroit to close off a back-to-back after Tuesday’s humiliating loss to the St. Louis Blues. Edmonton got that sorely needed response, chasing Jimmy Howard and beating the Red Wings 6-2.

While Connor McDavid (two assists) and Leon Draisaitl (one helper) made their typical impacts, it’s especially heartening for the Oilers to see less-obvious names show up in the box score. Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Mark Letestu, and Drake Caggiula ranked among goalscorers, while Ryan Strome collected a pair of assists.

Any bit of confidence gained, particularly for supporting cast members, could be very important for the fledgling Oilers.

It doesn’t take long to ruin the party; now at 8-12-2, the Oilers’ 18 standings points still leave them at second-worst in the West.

Still, all the Oilers can do right now is gradually, slowly dig themselves out of the troubling hole they’ve created for themselves. This won’t be easy, and even this early on, they might need a few other teams to hit a wall.

But, hey, it’s better than the nothing this team showed last night, right?

Catch up on Edmonton’s struggles

Why they’re the NHL’s most disappointing team

The uncomfortable parallels between McDavid and Jack Eichel

These struggles are the results of some bad moves from Peter Chiarelli

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.