Here are five pleasant scoring surprises so far this season

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Nobody’s shocked that Sidney Crosby leads the NHL scoring race with 12 points in six games, or that Martin St. Louis is second with 10 points in six games. However, the following five guys have been pleasant surprises early in 2013-14:

Tomas Hertl (7G, 2A): You may have heard about this guy already. No player has more goals this season than the Sharks’ 19-year-old rookie. While his shooting percentage is rather high (33.3%) and unsustainable, it’s not so inordinately high to suggest he can’t keep producing at a decent rate. The challenge will be handling the NHL schedule, which is far longer and with far more travel (especially out of San Jose), than he played in the Czech league.

Mason Raymond (4G, 4A): Quite the bargain for $1 million. The speedy Raymond is a former 25-goal scorer whose production fell off the past couple of seasons in Vancouver. He’s been a timely addition for the Leafs though, especially after David Clarkson was suspended for the first 10 games of the season and Nikolai Kulemin ran into injury problems.

Teddy Purcell (4G, 4A): The Lightning winger did have 65 points in 2011-12, so we can’t be too astounded he’s off to a hot start. But there’s no question he’s easy to overlook on a team that also has Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. In addition to his point totals, another Purcell stat that jumps off the page is his average ice time — just 14:01 per game. Among the top 30 scorers, he and Hertl (14:31) are the only ones below 15 minutes.

Jason Garrison (2G, 5A): Second in scoring among NHL defensemen, behind only Montreal’s PK Subban (2G, 6A). Garrison is seeing considerably more time on the power play under new Canucks coach John Tortorella than he did last season, his first in Vancouver, under Alain Vigneault. But that doesn’t explain his increased production; actually, he’s only got one PP point, with two of them coming shorthanded. No Canuck has played more than Garrison this season. The 28-year-old with the booming shot logged a big 28:29 last night in Philadelphia, picking up a second assist on the game-tying goal by Chris Higgins.

Jiri Hudler (2G, 5A): Coming off a frustrating 27-point campaign in 2013, the 29-year-old former Red Wing leads the surprising Flames in scoring after five games. In fact, he hasn’t been held without a point yet. “The way we play, it’s a lot of fun,” he said Saturday, per the Calgary Sun. “Every game is exciting. Everybody’s buying in, playing hard. Of course, we’re going to make mistakes, it’s going to happen and totally normal, but you can tell the bench, everybody’s in.”

Leafs chase Rask, but Bruins make things interesting

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they turned in a relatively solid performance in the first two periods of the game.

Connor Brown opened the scoring at the 6:36 mark of the first period before Andreas Johnsson, who was a healthy scratch in the first game of the series, made it 2-0 for the Leafs. Nazem Kadri made an immediate impact in his first game back from a suspension, as he fed Johnsson with a great feed.

David Backes got a goal back for the Bruins, but Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk extended Toronto’s lead to 4-2 in the middle frame. That’s when Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy decided to give Tuukka Rask the hook.

After failing to convert on a long 5-on-3 power play, Sean Kuraly scored to make it 4-2 with under three minutes remaining in the second period.

This should be an interesting final 20 minutes at TD Garden. The Maple Leafs need this victory to stay alive in the series.

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

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


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