The Morning Skate: Defending champs in familiar spot

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

Game 3: #1 Chicago Blackhawks at #5 Los Angeles Kings, 9 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online) – Blackhawks lead series, 2-0

Up two-games-to-none and riding a five-game win streak since May 25, the Blackhawks will play their first game at Staples Center since Opening Day (January 19), when they spoiled the Kings’ Stanley Cup banner-raising event with a 5-2 win. The Hawks used that dominating performance as a springboard for a 24-game streak without a regulation loss (an NHL record).

The defending champion Kings are in a familiar position. In Round 1 of these playoffs, they returned home down two-games-to-none to the St. Louis Blues. Then, they rattled off four straight wins, beginning with a 1-0 shutout in Game 3, to advance. This postseason, they remain a perfect record at home (7-0), and have outscored their opponents 18-8 in those games.

If the Kings are to avoid dropping into a 3-0 hole, they will need more output from their star forwards. Neither Anze Kopitar (3 shots on goal) nor Dustin Brown (one shot) has registered a point this series. Mike Richards, who was scratched after warmups in Game 2 with an upper-body injury caused by a hit by the Hawks’ Dave Bolland near the end of Game 1, will be a game-time decision. He is the team’s leading scorer this postseason, with 10 points.

Jonathan Quick, who was pulled in Game 2 for only the second time in 47 postseason appearances after allowing four goals in less than two periods, will return between the pipes for the Kings, opposite the Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks are not expected to make any lineup changes. So far this series, the Hawks have gotten points from 12 of their 18 skaters, led by Patrick Sharp (one goal, two assists).

DID YOU KNOW?

Only 10 different Kings players have scored a goal this postseason. That is tied with the San Jose Sharks for the fewest number among all teams that advanced to at least the conference semifinals. Among the other conference finalists, the Bruins and Penguins have gotten goals from 15 different players, the Blackhawks from 12.

WHO ON EARTH IS … TYLER TOFFOLI?

Only five players who have suited up for the Kings this postseason do not have their names etched on the Stanley Cup: defensemen Robyn Regehr, Jake Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby, and forwards Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. Of that quintet, only the 21-year-old rookie Toffoli has scored a goal. In Game 2, the Scarborough, Ontario native took over the left wing spot on the Kings’ second line next to Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner, due to the upper-body injury to center Mike Richards, and he tallied his second goal of the playoffs and assisted on Carter’s goal.

The Kings’ second round pick (47th overall) in the 2010 draft, Toffoli made his NHL debut in March, and scored his first-career NHL goal in his second game, vs. Phoenix. Earlier this season, he scored 28 goals and 20 assists in 55 games with the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. His performance helped earn him the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie, the same award his current coach, Darryl Sutter, won in 1980 as a member of the New Brunswick Hawks.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Boston 6, Pittsburgh 1 – Bruins lead series, 2-0

Brad Marchand scored on a breakaway 28 seconds into the game – the fastest goal scored thus far this postseason – and the Bruins scored on their final three shots of the first period (Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Marchand) on Penguins goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury, as the B’s raced away with a dominating 6-1 win in Game 2 and a two-games-to-none series lead.

Horton, who moved into second place in the NHL postseason scoring race (17 points, three behind his linemate Krejci), had a goal and an assist, his fifth multi-point game of the postseason – all on the road. During the regular season, he had four. Coach Claude Julien (50th career playoff win) and Patrice Bergeron (50th and 51st career playoff points) also hit milestone marks.

The Penguins, who were the NHL’s top-scoring team in the regular season and playoffs, have now been outscored 9-1 in the series, their one goal by Brandon Sutter in Game 2. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have each been held without a point and are -3 on the ice in the two games. The Penguins lost two consecutive at Consol Energy Center for the first time since January 23 and 29, their first two home games of the season. Game 3 is in Boston on Wednesday evening, on NBCSN.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Bruins were the first team this postseason to score a goal in the first minute of play and win in regulation.

GOALS IN FIRST MINUTE OF GAME (ordered by time)

Goal-scorer Team Game, Time Opponent Goaltender Outcome
Brad Marchand Bruins ECF, Game 2, 0:28 Penguins Tomas Vokoun Won
Evgeni Malkin Penguins ECQF, Game 2, 0:43 Islanders Evgeni Nabokov Lost
Justin Abdelkader Red Wings WCQF, Game 2, 0:48 Ducks Jonas Hiller Won (OT)
Brian Boyle Rangers ECQF, Game 5, 0:53 Capitals Braden Holtby Lost (OT)

ECF = Eastern Conference Final      ECQF = Eastern Conference Quarterfinals    WCQF = Western Conference Quarterfinals

LINKS

  • Anze Kopitar and his line are not making points [L.A. Times]
  • Bryan Bickell’s big playoffs may force offseason exit [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Michal Handzus carving unlikely niche for Blackhawks [CSN Chicago]
  • Penguins stars to blame for current predicament [CBC]
  • Goalie decision crucial for Pens in Game 3 [Pittsburgh Tribune]
  • Tuukka Rask enjoys limited challenge from Penguins [Boston Herald]

U.S. women’s hockey team to play NWHL team in Olympic tune-up

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NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s national team will play two exhibitions against some familiar faces from the National Women’s Hockey League next month in a final tune-up for the Olympics.

The games are set for Jan. 13 and Jan. 15 at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Florida, where the national team has been training.

Eleven players currently on the U.S. roster competed in the NWHL during the 2016-17 season, USA Hockey said Thursday. The pro league enters its third season with teams in New York, Boston, Buffalo and Stamford, Connecticut.

”(The NWHL) continues to play at an elite level and does a great job of exposing the game in different markets,” USA Hockey women’s director Reagan Carey said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Megan Bozek and Emily Pfalzer helped the Buffalo Beauts win the NWHL championship last March.

”The NWHL is honored to be welcomed by USA Hockey and to participate in this pair of important exhibition games,” NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said. ”Our players, coaches and staff are excited to have this opportunity.”

U.S. national team captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Alex Carpenter and Amanda Pelkey played for the Boston Pride.

Amanda Kessel (New York Riveters) and Haley Skarupa (Connecticut Whale) also played in the pro league.

Many of the players on both rosters are either ex-teammates or completed against each other in college and the pros.

”The NWHL will do its best to give the players some strong competition so they’re ready to bring home the gold in February,” Rylan said.

The U.S. team won gold at the first women’s hockey event, at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Since then, the team has earned three silvers and a bronze in losses to Canada.

”We want to make sure the ’98 team has some company with the gold medal,” Carey said.

The Americans and Canadians will finish their six-game exhibition series with two games this weekend. The U.S. has a 1-3 record so far, but beat its rivals twice at The Four Nations Cup and won the title.

The teams have drawn good crowds in Canada and U.S. stops in Boston and St. Paul, Minnesota. They drew 9,000 flag-waving fans on Dec. 3 in a 2-1 overtime loss at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.

”It’s been great to see so many young girls and hockey teams,” Carey said. ”You can really see the growing landscape for young girls.”

The U.S. plays Canada on Friday night in San Jose, California. The Americans wrap up the series on Sunday night at Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, in a game televised on NHL Network.

Oilers need healthy Talbot to give them a spark during upcoming crucial stretch

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At the start of the season, the Edmonton Oilers were one of the favorites to win or at least make it to the Stanley Cup Final. But through 32 games, their season has looked more like a train-wreck than a victory parade in-waiting.

Only the Arizona Coyotes are below the Oilers in the Western Conference standings right now, which is still kind of surprising.

One of the biggest reasons they’ve struggled in the first third of the season is because of goalie Cam Talbot. First, he wasn’t very good at the start of the season. Talbot wasn’t providing his team with the solid goaltending he had given them last year.

Second, just as he was rounding into form, he suffered a upper-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since the end of November.

Prior to getting hurt, the 30-year-old had won three games in a row while allowing two goals in each of those outings. During his absence, Laurent Brossoit went 3-4-0. The Oilers backup netminder gave up three goals or more in four of those seven games.

On Friday, the Oilers (finally) got some positive news, as they activated their starting netminder from the injured list. According to head coach Todd McLellan, he’ll be between the pipes for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Now, they just have to hope that he can pick up where he left off before landing on IR.

Earlier this season, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was in a similar situation to Talbot’s. Price was awful out of the gate and the Canadiens were struggling. Nothing was going right for them. But after missing roughly three weeks with an injury, Price returned in tip-top shape. Even though Montreal is still outside of a playoff spot right now, they play of their goaltender has allowed them to get back into the race.

McLellan has to hope that Talbot’s “break” allowed him to get better and re-focus on the task at hand. Connor McDavid is still the face of the franchise, but he clearly can’t get the job done by himself.

Edmonton is about to jump into a crucial stretch of their season. After tomorrow’s game in Minnesota, they’ll play seven of their next eight games on home ice, where they have an ugly 5-10-0 record. If they want to get back in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to start racking up the wins at Rogers Place.

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.

Maple Leafs help SickKids Foundation make giant cookie for Santa (Video)

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It’s always special to see NHL teams give back to their communities in original ways. The Toronto Maple Leafs found a pretty unique way to help out the SickKids Foundation. It even involved putting on a hairnet.

The Leafs made their annual visit to the SickKids Foundation earlier this month and some of them took part in a special tradition that involves making a giant cookie for Santa “no-trade” Claus (sorry).

Mike Babock, Wendel Clark and a few of the current members of the team worked hard to make sure that the finished product was all quality.

Babcock barking out orders in the kitchen is hilarious. Him emphasizing “cream your sugar” is pretty good, too.

“I come here on a regular basis and the people here are stars,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Star. “If you think of your children getting diagnosed with something, let’s say cancer, it’s an awful thing and you want to go to the best place, with the best doctors, so you can feel the best. To me that’s what this place is all about.

“Sometimes when things are going really good in your life you need to take a step back, take a deep breath to understand how lucky you are.”

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.

It’s supposed to be pretty cold during tomorrow’s NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa

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We’re just over 24 hours away from the “NHL 100 Classic” outdoor game between the Canadiens and Senators at TD Place in Ottawa. Don’t forget, you can watch that game online tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. ET via the NBC Sports app.

If you’re considering watching the game at home, that’s probably a wise move considering it’s going to be freezing in Ottawa on Saturday night.

According to the Weather Network, it’s supposed to be mainly clear. It’s also going to be 7 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’ll feel more like minus-4 because of the wind-chill factor.

“There are going to be moments we wish we were inside,” Sens captain Erik Karlsson said, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

And Bobby Ryan is a little confused:

“I can’t even pronounce the thing that goes over your head,” Ryan told TSN Radio’s Ian Mendes. “It’s sounds like a dessert — a balaclava or whatever.”

As fun as this might be, it’s still a huge game between two Atlantic Division rivals. The Canadiens are two points behind Boston for third in the Atlantic and the Sens are five points behind Montreal.

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.