The Morning Skate from NBC: A TV primer


For the first time in 68 years, the Stanley Cup champions from the four most recent seasons (Los Angeles Kings, 2012; Boston Bruins, 2011; Chicago Blackhawks, 2010; Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009) are the last four teams standing. Today, they will play Game 1 of their respective best-of-seven conference finals. (Which you can watch live online here.)

The last time the four most recent Stanley Cup champions (Montreal Canadiens, 1944; Detroit Red Wings, 1943; Toronto Maple Leafs, 1942; Boston Bruins, 1941) met in Game 1 of semifinal series, on March 20, 1945, Maurice Richard had just become the first NHL player to score 50 goals in 50 games, the Battle of Iwo Jima was being fought by American and Japanese armed forces, and the “Curse of the Billy Goat” lamenting the Chicago Cubs’ World Series title drought was six months from entering someone’s mind.

Game 1: #5 Los Angeles Kings at #1 Chicago Blackhawks, 5 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online)

Season series: Blackhawks 2-1-0

  • January 19 “Banner Raising”: Chicago 5, at Los Angeles 2 ( Marian Hossa, CHI, 2 goals, assist)
  • February 17: at Chicago 3, Los Angeles 2 ( Brent Seabrook, CHI, goal, assist, 2 hits)
  • March 25: Los Angeles 5, at Chicago 4 ( Dustin Brown, LAK, goal, 5 shots, 6 hits)

Coming off tense seven-game series, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Blackhawks and defending Stanley Cup champion Kings are back at it, as they meet in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at the United Center. Chicago rebounded from a three-games-to-one deficit, defeating their Original Six rivals, Detroit, 2-1 in overtime in Game 7, on a goal by defenseman Brent Seabrook. Meanwhile, Los Angeles maintained their perfect 7-0 home record this postseason by ousting San Jose, also 2-1, on two goals by winger Justin Williams.

The Blackhawks won the regular season series, 2-1-0, outscoring the Kings 12-9. All of the top Hawks players contributed, in particular Jonathan Toews (three goals, three assists), Patrick Kane (two goals, assist), and Marian Hossa (two goals, assist in season opener). Even Michael Frolik chipped in with three goals. On the flipside, three key Kings players compiled forgettable statistics: goaltender Jonathan Quick (1-2-0, 4.05 GAA, .857 save %) and second-line skaters Mike Richards (two goals, -7) and Jeff Carter (0 points, -3).


11 of the Kings’ first 13 games this postseason have been decided by one goal. That’s as many one-goal playoff games as they had played in their previous 31, from Game 2 of the 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals through their 2012 Cup run.


Stephen Walkom wasn’t really focused on it, but the rest of the hockey world was, when Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson [pronounced /YAHL-mahr-sohn/] rifled a slapshot past Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard with 1:47 left in a deadlocked Game 7 on May 29. Not only did the controversial disallowing of the goal prevent Chicago from taking a 2-1 lead, and subsequently get Twitter chirping loudly from Madison Street to Hjalmarsson’s native Småland (Sweden) province; it also extended his personal postseason goal drought to 42 games (since April 24, 2010).

With veteran blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the team, it’s easy for Hjalmarsson to get overlooked, even though he is an integral part of the Blackhawks’ top penalty-kill unit that is an NHL-best 40-for-41 (97.6%) this postseason. That’s efficiency that even IKEA can’t match.

Game 1: #4 Boston Bruins at #1 Pittsburgh Penguins, 8 p.m. ET (on NBC and live online)

Season series: Penguins 3-0-0 … Pens have won five straight meetings since Feb. 4, 2012

  • March 12: at Pittsburgh 3, Boston 2 ( Brandon Sutter, PIT: 2 goals, 3 shots)
  • March 17: at Pittsburgh 2, Boston 1 ( Tomas Vokoun, PIT: 31 saves)
  • April 20: Pittsburgh 3, at Boston 2 ( Tomas Vokoun, PIT: 38 saves)

The top-seeded Penguins and fourth-seeded Bruins will hit the ice for their first competitive games in a week when they meet in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at the Consol Energy Center. Pittsburgh scored 13 of their league-leading 47 goals in Games 4 & 5 to close out the Senators in five games, while Boston played solidly on both ends of the ice to eliminate the Rangers, also in five.

The Penguins swept the season series, 3-0-0, and have won five consecutive meetings vs. the Bruins since February 4, 2012. This season, in the absence of second-line center Evgeni Malkin for all three games (upper-body injury), seven different Penguins skaters lit the lamp, led by Brandon Sutter (two goals on March 12). Tomas Vokoun, then the back-up behind Marc-Andre Fleury, won two starts, posting a 1.50 GAA and .958 save%. Three of the Bruins’ five goals came off the stick of Tyler Seguin, while the line of Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Nathan Horton combined for zero points. Although he lost two of the starts, Tuukka Rask (2.54 GAA) played fairly well against the NHL’s most-explosive attack.

For viewers – live or on television – it will be a challenge distinguishing “oohs” from boos throughout this series. For all the cheering fans at Consol and TD Garden will do in support of their goalies – Vokoun and [Tuukka] Rask, respectively – there will be equal parts jeering when Jaromir Jagr returns to Pittsburgh as a Bruin, and Matt Cooke or Jarome Iginla suit up for the Pens in Boston. Jagr won Stanley Cups in his first two of 11 seasons in the “Steel City” (1991 & 1992), but after leaving the NHL for three seasons, chose to sign with the archrival Philadelphia Flyers in 2011. Cooke became a Boston antagonist after (likely) ending the career of Bruins forward Marc Savard after a hit to the head in 2010. Iginla went from potential Bruins fan favorite to enemy after a trade from Calgary to Boston fell through and he joined Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh.


The streak of nine distinct Stanley Cup champions (2003-12) will end this season. In North American professional sports, MLB has the record for the longest stint of distinct champions, at 10 (1978-1987).

Detroit waives Cleary

Daniel Cleary
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Dan Cleary‘s time as a Red Wing could soon be over.

Detroit placed the veteran forward on waivers Wednesday afternoon, per TSN. The move comes after Cleary signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $950,000 just weeks before training camp, then proceeded to play in four of Detroit’s exhibition contests, scoring two points.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens now.

At 36, Cleary doesn’t have much left in the tank and is coming off a year in which he played just 17 games. But as we noted back in the summer, this seems to all be part of a larger plan.

From the Free Press:

A situation that bears the handprint of former coach Mike Babcock has put the Wings in the position of being honor-bound to keep Cleary, 36, aboard, even as he is coming off a season that saw him play just 17 games, producing two points.

This debacle began two years ago. The Wings had offered Cleary a three-year, $6.25-million contract before he became unrestricted July 1. He declined. The Wings then signed Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, leaving little space under the salary cap. Then Cleary didn’t sign with anyone. September rolled around. The Flyers offered Cleary a three-year deal for $8.25 million, but Cleary then decided he wanted to stay in Detroit.

He ended up flying to Traverse City, where the Wings already had begun training camp. He met in a hangar with Holland and Babcock. Holland pointed to a near maxed-out budget. Babcock pushed hard for Cleary to be signed. What resulted was a one-year, $1.75-million deal with the understanding the Wings would take into consideration what Cleary left on the Flyers table.

After playing out that $1.75 million deal, Cleary re-signed in Detroit last summer to a one-year, $1.5 million pact — so, essentially, the Wings are now in final year of an unspoken three-year agreement that’s (sorta) aimed at repaying what got left on the table in Philly.

Got all that?

If Cleary gets through waivers, the Wings could send him to AHL Grand Rapids. Since he signed a one-way deal, he’d get his money regardless.

There’s also the option of Babcock and the Leafs claiming Cleary off waivers — a scenario that, as unlikely as it sounds, has already made the rounds on social media.

Senators select Kyle Turris as alternate captain

Chris Neil Kyle Turris Dustin Tokarski
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Kyle Turris is gearing up for his fifth season with the Ottawa Senators, but this campaign will be a little different.

Ottawa announced that Turris will be joining Chris Neil as one of the team’s alternate captains. Turris is assuming that role from Chris Phillips as the 37-year-old defenseman remains out indefinitely due to a back injury.

Since being acquired from the then Phoenix Coyotes in 2011, Turris has established himself as one of Ottawa’s top forwards. He tied for second in the team’s scoring race last season with 64 points in 82 contests and gelled with rookie linemate Mark Stone.

With the Senators favoring a youth movement, Turris actually stands out as one of the Senators’ more experienced players at the age of 26. He’s also set to play a big role with the Senators for years to come as he’s locked to an affordable $3.5 million annual cap hit through 2017-18.

Meanwhile defenseman Erik Karlsson is getting ready for his second season as the team’s captain.