The Morning Skate: Can Chicago keep up Quick pressure?

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A quick look at the Western Conference finals and notes from Boston’s win over Pittsburgh.

Game 2: #5 Los Angeles Kings at #1 Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online)Blackhawks lead series, 1-0

In Game 1 last night, the Blackhawks learned that perimeter shooting and net-front presence are the key ingredients to beating Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. Midway through the second period, Patrick Sharp scored off a rebound of a Johnny Oduya slapshot – his league-leading eighth goal of the postseason – and Marian Hossa redirected a Duncan Keith shot from the point less than four minutes later, to lift the Blackhawks past the Kings, 2-1, at the United Center.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville jumbled the top two forward lines before the game, matching the burly Bryan Bickell with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp with Michal Handzus and Patrick Kane. The team responded quickly, outshooting the Kings 17-2 in the first period. For the game, the lines each contributed a goal on a combined 17 shots on goal. Look for those lines to remain intact for Game 2.

The Kings, who came in as the top-hitting team in the league, outhit the Blackhawks, 44-38, in Game 1. However, it was the Blackhawks who seemed to have the more effective hits. Mike Richards took a hard check from Dave Bolland in the last two minutes, and did not return for the final rush. Despite not talking with reporters after the game, Richards is not expected to miss any action. Coach Darryl Sutter quipped in his postgame press conference that he saw his second-line center “arguing with a ref” after the hit.

Jarret Stoll returned to the Kings’ lineup for the first time since Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals (upper-body injury), and won 10-of-19 faceoffs.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Kings fell to 1-6 on the road this postseason (lone win: Game 6 in St. Louis), after going 10-1 during last season’s Stanley Cup run. All six losses have been by 2-1 margins. Their last loss in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final vs. the New Jersey Devils was also by that score.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Boston 3, Pittsburgh 0 (Bruins lead series, 1-0)

David Krejci scored two goals – his sixth and seventh of the postseason – to extend his lead in the NHL scoring race (19 points), and Tuukka Rask stopped all 29 Penguins shots for his first-career postseason shutout, as the Bruins took Game 1 in Pittsburgh, 3-0.

The “HuLK Line” of Nathan HortonMilan Lucic – Krejci continued their torrid scoring pace this postseason, combining for all three goals and three assists. That trio now has 45 points (16 goals), more than each of the the high-flying Penguins’ top two lines, Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyPascal Dupuis (34 points, 18 goals) and James NealEvgeni MalkinJarome Iginla (38 points, 14 goals). The Bruins also won 32-of-48 faceoffs (66.7%), led by Patrice Bergeron (10-for-16) and Chris Kelly (9-for-12), while Crosby (6-for-17), Malkin (one-for-six) and Brandon Sutter (three-for-ten) did not fare as well.

After a week off for both teams following five-game conference semifinal wins, the Penguins tried to set the tone on the physical side. However, the rugged dimension didn’t seem to favor the Pens’ style, and after Matt Cooke took a major penalty for a check from behind on Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid early in the second period, they seemed to lose all offensive flow. (They had only 16 shots on goal in the final 28:28.) Malkin showed his frustration, going after Bergeron at center ice at the end of the second period, while Crosby confronted Rask, then got in an extended shouting match with Zdeno Chara.

In the postgame press conference, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said he thought his stars should not have let emotions get the better of them: “That’s not something we certainly want to be into. [We] don’t want to make the game that way.  We want to play five-on-five.”

Not only did the Bruins seize home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series. They also snapped an eight-game playoff losing streak to the Penguins. Game 2 is in Pittsburgh on Monday evening, on NBCSN.

DID YOU KNOW?

It was the first time in 97 games over exactly 16 months (February 1, 2012 at Toronto) that the Penguins were shut out, and the first time in 75 games (April 27, 2011 vs. Tampa Bay) that they were blanked on home ice.

Sidney Crosby, who was a -2 during 24:21 of ice time, was shadowed by Patrice Bergeron during 14 of 18 even-strength shifts (TSN). The Pens captain, who played without a face guard under his visor for the first time since breaking his jaw on March 30, was also called for interference on Bergeron in the first period, one of two minor penalties on the night.

LINKS

  • Blackhawks will adjust to quick turnaround [CSN Chicago]
  • Kings on a different road than 2012 [L.A. Times]
  • Sidney Crosby says inconsistent officiating “escalated” physical play [NESN]
  • Reformed Matt  Cooke has relapse in Eastern Conference Final opener [CBC]
  • David Krejci keeps piling up points in big games [Boston Herald]
  • Bruins mess with good thing by bringing back Andrew Ference, and it works [Boston Herald]
  • Healthy scratches feel a part of Penguins’ run [Pittsburgh Tribune]

The Buzzer: Bolts send Devils packing, Caps jump ahead, Leafs extend series

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Three games on Saturday

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning win series 4-1)

The Devils were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, but their 2017-18 campaign officially came to an end on Saturday. They’ll be disappointed, but this season was a success for the group. As for the Bolts, they’ve punched their ticket to the second round after a terrific regular season. The Lightning received point-per-game production from Nikita Kucherov (1o points), Steven Stamkos (6 points) and Alex Killorn (5 points), but they also had 14 different players pick up a point during the series.

 Washington Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (Capitals lead series 3-2)

Four of the five games in the series have gone to overtime. Game 5 was a typical back and forth affair, as the Jackets scored first before the Capitals went up 2-1. Columbus tied the game, Washington went ahead, again, 3-2, but a dominant third period led to the Blue Jackets forcing overtime. Nicklas Backstrom tipped-home the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Capitals the first home win of the series. This has clearly been the best first-round series of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Boston Bruins 3 (Bruins lead series 3-2)

The Maple Leafs jumped out to 2-0 and 4-1 leads, but the Bruins managed to make things interesting in the third period. Boston had a number of power play opportunities, but they couldn’t cash in. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they’ll have to go back on the road to try to put the Leafs to bed. The Leafs managed to keep Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand off the scoresheet on Saturday. Replicating that two more times won’t be easy.

Three Stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Backstrom scored two goals, including the overtime winner against the Blue Jackets in Game 5. He also added an assist on T.J. Oshie‘s go-ahead goal late in the second frame. The win gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. The 30-year-old has two goals and eight points in five games this postseason.

2. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

The Capitals had a one-goal lead heading into the third frame, but they were badly outplayed in the third period. Holtby is the biggest reason why Washington was able to make it to overtime at all. The Blue Jackets outshot the Capitals 16-1 in the third frame. Holtby had a rough season, but his play in Game 5 was very encouraging.

3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs had to kill a number of penalties during their Game 5 win over the Bruins, and Andersen was one of the key reasons they were able to do so. The Leafs netminder faced at least 40 shots for the third time in five games (he’s 2-1 in those contests). If Toronto wants to force a seventh game, they’ll need him to turn in another fantastic performance on Monday night.

Factoid of the Night

Sunday’s Schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 3:00 p.m. ET

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to force a sixth game, thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs built up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission with goals from Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They would increase it to a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck