The Morning Skate: ‘HuLK Line’ thriving for Bruins

A quick look at the Eastern Conference finals and notes from Los Angeles’ big Game 3 victory vs. Chicago.

Game 3: #1 Pittsburgh Penguins at #4 Boston Bruins, 8 ET (NBCSN) – Bruins lead series, 2-0

Having outscored the top-seeded Penguins 9-1 so far this series, the Bruins will look to take a three-games-to-none lead tonight at TD Garden.

The Bruins have exhibited incredible balance this entire postseason, but it is the top line of Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Nathan Horton that has led the way. The “HuLK Line” has combined for five goals and 10 points this series, adding to its league lead in goals (18) and points (49) by a line. In Game 2, a 6-1 Boston win, each member of the second line (Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Jaromir Jagr) had two points, and Johnny Boychuk scored his fifth goal of the postseason, tied with the Kings’ Slava Voynov for the most by a defenseman. With his team playing “the best hockey we’ve played so far this year,” B’s coach Claude Julien is not expected to mess with success by making any roster moves.

Although reiterating during his off-day press conference that his team’s “mental focus” and “mindset” are the areas that need the most improvement, Pens coach Dan Bylsma promised some lineup and combination changes for Game 3. (Those changes have not been confirmed at time of press.) However, those changes will not likely involve goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury. In Game 2, Vokoun allowed three goals on 12 shots before being replaced by Fleury, who was not any better, allowing three goals on 17 shots. For Fleury, it was his first action since May 7, when he gave up six goals to the Islanders in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

PENGUINS GOALIES in BOSTON (career)

  • Tomas Vokoun (w/NSH, FLA, WSH, PIT): 5-5-1, 2.58 GAA, .924 save %, shutout
  • Marc-Andre Fleury: 5-1-1, 1.94 GAA, .939 save %

DID YOU KNOW?

Jaromir Jagr is 11th all-time in career postseason goals (78) and assists (117). Three goals and six assists came in the 1991 and 1992 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston, as a member of the Penguins (10 games). Two assists have come in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final vs. Pittsburgh, as a member of the Bruins (two games).

WHO ON EARTH IS … JUSSI JOKINEN?

Only one player who has suited up for the Penguins in both games this series vs. the Bruins has not been on the ice for any of Boston’s nine goals: Jussi Jokinen. The fourth-line center, who came over from Carolina as the Pens’ fourth and final trade acquisition during a busy period before the trade deadline, had a hand in all three goals (goal, two assists) the last time Pittsburgh visited Boston, a 3-2 win on April 20.

Since his first NHL season, the 30-year-old Finn, who was born on April 1, has made a name for himself by making opposing goaltenders “look like fools” on shootouts. He started out a perfect nine-for-nine when the game-deciding one-on-one was instituted before his rookie year (2005-06), and his 31 shootout goals (in 67 attempts) are tied for third all-time with Brad Boyes, behind Pavel Datsyuk (33) and Zach Parise (32). His 46.3% success rate is fourth all-time among players with 25 or more goals, behind Frans Nielsen (55.6%), Jonathan Toews (49.1%) and Parise (46.4%).

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Los Angeles 3, Chicago 1 – Blackhawks lead series, 2-1

Team

Shots (goals)

Even-strength shots (goals)

Series, Game Opponent Result
Kings

16 (2)

16 (2)

WCQF, Game 6 vs. Blues W, 2-1
Kings

18 (2)

15 (1)

WCSF, Game 7 vs. Sharks W, 2-1
Maple Leafs

20 (1)

16 (0)

ECQF, Game 1 at Bruins L, 4-1
Blackhawks

20 (1)

17 (1)

WCF, Game 3 at Kings L, 3-1
Blackhawks

20 (1)

18 (0)

WCSF, Game 2 vs. Red Wings L, 4-1
Kings

20 (2)

20 (2)

WCSF, Game 1 vs. Sharks W, 2-0

WCQF = Western Conference Quarterfinals   ECQF = Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

WCSF = Western Conference Semifinals   WCF = Western Conference Final

 LINKS

  • Five reasons the Bruins are dominating the Penguins [Boston Globe]
  • Penguins hope to draw from 2009 Stanley Cup run [CBC]
  • Sidney Crosby at center of any potential Penguins comeback [Globe and Mail]
  • Goal may have been fluke, but Slava Voynov isn’t [L.A. Times]

Nasty hits, fights, and a blowout in Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens

Leave a comment

First, the Edmonton Oilers fell 6-3 to the Dallas Stars. Next: the Toronto Maple Leafs absolutely throttled the fledgling Montreal Canadiens in a game that was ugly even beyond the 6-0 score.

It’s been a bad day for embattled GMs of teams who’ve made polarizing moves in hopes of solidifying Stanley Cup contenders. The Oilers (7-11-2) and Canadiens (8-11-2) even finish the night with nearly identical records, just to really hammer home their parallel pains.

You almost wonder if something is in the air this week (spoilers: not love), as nastiness has really ratcheted up since the Calgary Flames – Detroit Red Wings line brawl. The Canadiens and Maple Leafs boast one of the NHL’s richest and bitterest rivalries, and it showed on Saturday.

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Nazem Kadri played a major role in one of the most explosive moments, taking his frustrations out on Shea Weber. Weber and Jordie Benn wasted no time in going after Kadri.

(Criticisms of the hit are totally fair, but it seems strange to go too heavy on “turtling.” Who would be able to stand up to both Weber and Benn? In the heat of the moment, I’d wager most people would go with flight over fight.)

That was the most bombastic moment, but there was also this seemingly unlikely bout between Nikita Zaitsev and Paul Byron:

This absolute dismantling comes after Claude Julien was steaming mad from a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. It’s tough not to read all of this as an indictment of the moves Marc Bergevin has made, especially considering the fact that their rivals dominated them for their sixth win in a row. If you’re the type to draw big conclusions from about a month of a season, you’d look at it as how to build a contender vs. how to waste Carey Price‘s prime.

That’s a little harsh … but either way, these are tough times for Bergevin.

Auston Matthews was definitely part of the fun for Toronto in his return from injury, including scoring this goal:

(You almost wonder if Mike Babcock was rolling the dice even having his star players out there amid all that carnage, but that goal was a sweet reward.)

[MORE: Why Toronto needs Matthews back for a tough stretch]

Yes, this is an 82-game season, and we’re only at about the first-quarter-mark. Still, teams like the Oilers and Canadiens came into 2017-18 with big expectations and big questions, and so far fans and management can’t like the answers.

By the way, asking for a well-dressed GM: what’s the opposite of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”

Yikes.

Ovechkin returns after being badly bloodied by puck to face

Getty
Leave a comment

It’s still relatively early on Saturday night, and both the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals could eventually provide further updates that derail this optimism.

With that out of the way, at the moment, the theme of the night might just be teams dodging big injury bullets, even if the star players in question can’t dodge actual damage.

In the case of Corey Crawford, he bounced back for the Blackhawks after Evgeni Malkin‘s thigh area clipped him in the head. Maybe it looked worse than it was?

Now, any time you see people scrape blood off the ice, you get a reminder of how dangerous – and yeah, occasionally strange – hockey can be. That only becomes more disturbing when that blood is coming from a player as important as Alex Ovechkin:

Remarkably, Ovechkin is returning for the third period of the Capitals’ game against the Minnesota Wild.

So:

  • This is a reminder that Ovechkin is tough, in case you foolishly think he isn’t because … his teams have lost in big games or something? Considering how recklessly he often throws his body around, and how infrequently he misses games due to to injury, you’d think that debate would have died a long time ago. Moments like this make it seem that much sillier.
  • Ovechkin must really want to help the struggling Capitals turn things around.
  • Maybe he wants to hang an L on his old boss Bruce Boudreau?

Anyway, PHT will keep an eye on these situations. Sometimes there are more answers the night of events, and sometimes it takes a little longer.

Right now, it’s reasonable for Capitals fans and Blackhawks fans to feel some relative, even if it’s only in the interim.

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.

Video: Corey Crawford seemingly OK after contact by Evgeni Malkin

4 Comments

The Chicago Blackhawks have been up-and-down so far in 2017-18, but Corey Crawford has been brilliant almost every night he’s been in net. It’s to the point that he might be a little underrated, as people assume that Chicago will keep finding ways to win, possibly missing how big a part he’s playing in its successes.

Crawford’s been able to clean up a lot of messes, so Saturday brought a scare, as he seemed to take head contact from Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

You can see the contact in the video above. It seemed like quite a collision, as part of Malkin (thigh? middle-boy) seemed to connect with Crawford at a fairly high speed.

The penalty call drew at least some complaints from Penguins fans, but the important thing either way is that the Blackhawks took a look at Crawford before allowing him to return to the game.

Now, we’ve seen players return to action only to miss games in the future, so it’s still worth monitoring Crawford. Considering how important he is to the Blackhawks, they have to hope that it was one of those plays that looked more painful than it actually was.

Also, with some justifiable complaints about players not going through concussion protocol lately, a lot of people are pleased with Chicago for at least assessing Crawford. We’ll see if anything changes, but right now, this seems like a dodged bullet (but not a dodged Malkin).

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.

Coyotes are (gasp) on a winning streak

Leave a comment

As of this writing, the Arizona Coyotes have the least standings points in the NHL (11) despite playing a league-leading 22 games.

Things could change for this young team, but for now, it’s about small victories, which makes actual wins that much bigger. Perhaps what they really needed was this road trip through Canada?

After losing to the Jets in Winnipeg 4-1 on Nov. 14 (no real shame, really, as everyone’s losing to the Jets lately … just ask the Devils), the Coyotes left Claude Julien and the Montreal Canadiens fuming by getting their first regulation win of 2017-18 by a score of 5-4.

Arizona couldn’t make it consecutive wins in regulation, but when Anthony Duclair completed a hat trick with the overtime game-winner, they did something rare: the Coyotes won back-to-back games. Yes, gang, those scrappy kids now have their very own winning streak after today’s 3-2 OT win against the Ottawa Senators.

They wrap up this run of Canadian games by facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday.

Just like any self-respecting sports team, the Coyotes get to participate in a ceremony after wins.

One would guess that Zac Rinaldo got the “championship belt” stemming from the rough stuff between the Coyotes and Canadiens, which included a Rinaldo fight (no surprise) and Tomas Plekanec‘s first NHL bout (in his 941st career game).

The Coyotes want to bounce back from their bad start, while Duclair hopes to shed the weight of a lousy 2016-17 season.

At 4-15-3, Arizona might already be in too big of a hole to make any waves. Even so, they can gain some respect, and show that they’re not as bad as their record indicates. Heck, a win in Toronto would give them an undeniably successful road trip, something that’s not always a layup even for established, contending teams.

Now, now, all of that aside … it might be a little too early to take them seriously.

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.