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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]

Eichel makes everyone look silly, Varlamov gets the early hook

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You know, with Connor McDavid hogging so much attention, it’s about time that Jack Eichel provided us with another awesome goal.

That tally came at the Colorado Avalanche’s (and especially Semyon Varlamov‘s) expense as that was the Buffalo Sabres first shot of the game.

Patrick Roy apparently felt like this just wasn’t Varlamov’s afternoon, as Colorado’s head coach decided to pull him after Varly allowed two goals on as many shots. Evander Kane nabbed the other goal for Buffalo.

You can watch the goal in the video above, which reminds us that “Eichel Tower” might not be a unique pun.

Another shot of it:

Check out Kane’s goal, too:

To be fair to Varlamov, Calvin Pickard has already allowed a goal as well. The Sabres are currently off to a 3-0 lead, and maybe a small roll considering how well they played against Montreal on Friday?

NHL on NBC: Red Wings, Bruins fight for Atlantic positioning

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) keeps Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) from the puck in the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins are finding new ways to win these days, and while they might not be as obvious contenders as they once were, each team can still be dangerous.

Sunday’s NBC game proves enticing for plenty of reasons, yet the most obvious is that if the postseason began today, these two squads would face off in an intriguing first-round matchup.

The Bruins have taken the first two games between these teams in 2015-16, but they might be forced to face the Red Wings without crucial forward Patrice Bergeron, who may have been injured during an unlikely fight with Blake Wheeler.

Detroit features Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as usual, although Dylan Larkin is a new, ultra-speedy forward who is worthy of plenty of attention in his own right.

While Jeff Blashill continues to establish himself following up Mike Babcock, Claude Julien recently hit a milestone with his 500th win and earned plaudits from CSNNE.com as one of the best coaches in the league.

(Speaking of milestones, Brad Richards is expected to play in his 1,100th game.)

Boston currently holds the second spot in the Atlantic with 66 points in 55 games played, but Detroit is right behind them with 65 in as many contests. With the Tampa Bay Lightning hovering nearby, each team likely recognizes this as an important game.

Goalie nods: Backups battle as Kinkaid faces Enroth

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, deflects a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings prefer to lean on workhorse goalies Cory Schneider and Jonathan Quick respectively, but Sunday presents a change of pace.

In the Kings’ case, Jhonas Enroth is playing in part because of (what Los Angeles hopes is) a minor injury to Quick.

It’s true that the under-sized goalie sports a mediocre 4-4-1 record, but he’s given the Kings legitimate chances to win games considering his impressive (especially for a backup) save percentage of .925. Perhaps he can earn a few more reps if he plays well in what may be a tight game?

Speaking of earning more reps, Keith Kinkaid must continue to work to prove that he’s able to make the jump from AHL goalie to at least an NHL backup. The Kings aren’t likely to make it easy for him, either.

Elsewhere …

Avalanche at Sabres: Semyon Varlamov vs. Robin Lehner

Bruins at Red Wings: Possibly Tuukka Rask vs. Petr Mrazek

Blues at Lightning: Best guess – Brian Elliott vs. Ben Bishop

Flyers at Rangers: Steve Mason vs. (possibly) Henrik Lundqvist

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.