TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Vancouver at Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET)

A solid afternoon affair to get you warmed up for the evening’s action. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins have only lost once in seven tries this season; Thursday night, they beat their biggest rivals, the Flyers, by a score of 4-1, thanks in part to another solid performance from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (6-0-0, .932 SV%). Against Vancouver, Fleury could be staring down a top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler as new head coach John Tortorella continues to experiment with his forward combinations.

Saturday: NY Rangers at New Jersey (7 p.m. ET)

If only to see if the Devils can win a game. So far, all they’ve managed is three shootout/OT losses. Expect Cory Schneider to get the start for the only winless team in the NHL after Martin Brodeur surrendered four goals on 22 shots Thursday in a 5-2 loss in Ottawa. As for the Rangers (who will take on their cross-river rivals minus injured forwards Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin), they’ve still got three road games left before making their season debut at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 28. But hey, at least they got/will get to sleep in their own beds for a few nights following Wednesday’s 2-0 win in Washington that capped a tough, painful-in-many-ways six-game trip.

Saturday: Boston at Tampa Bay (7 p.m. ET)

Atlantic Division foes clash for the second time in 2013-14. The B’s won the first meeting, 3-1, in Boston on Oct. 3. Tampa Bay will no doubt want revenge for that, and the Lightning — with five wins in their last six — have been playing well enough to take it. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis have been providing plenty of offense per usual, with 10 points each in seven games. But just as important to T-Bay’s success has been goalie Ben Bishop, he of the 5-0-0 record and .943 save percentage.

Saturday: Toronto at Chicago (7 p.m. ET)

The toughest test of the season for the 6-2-0 Maple Leafs. We’ve written plenty on Toronto’s struggles to gain consistent puck possession; in the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, the Leafs will face a team that loves a good game of keep-away. They may also face an angry team, given the ‘Hawks failed to take revenge on rival St. Louis Thursday night, falling 3-2 in a shootout at the United Center.

Sunday: Dallas at Anaheim (8 p.m. ET)

We already wrote about the red-hot Ducks here, so let’s talk a bit about their opponents. The Stars have had an inconsistent start to the season, but they got a huge 4-3 shootout win Thursday versus previously unbeaten San Jose. Bruins fans may be interested to know that Tyler Seguin leads all Dallas scorers with eight points in six games. The Stars also play Saturday in Los Angeles, so the Ducks (who get Saturday off after hosting the Coyotes Friday) should have the energy advantage in this one.

Andrew Hammond to start Game 5 for Avalanche

AP
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When the Colorado Avalanche hit the ice in Nashville on Friday night they will be facing elimination. They will also need to rely on their third-string goalie to help get them a win if they are going to extend their season.

The team announced on Thursday that Andrew Hammond will be getting the start, replacing Jonathan Bernier who had to leave Wednesday’s game after two periods with a lower body injury. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Bernier’s injury has been a nagging one and that he could still be available off the bench on Friday if needed.

The Avalanche had been starting Bernier because their regular starter, Semyon Varlamov, is out for the remainder of the season due to a lower body injury of his own.

Obviously, this puts the Avalanche in a pretty tough spot. Not only because they have to go on the road against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Predators, but also because they have to turn to a goalie that, including Wednesday’s brief relief appearance, has appeared in just eight NHL games over the past two years. He has faced only 127 shots in those appearances and managed only an .874 save percentage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 Hammond’s career has been a fascinating one to this point.

Late in the 2014-15 season he came out of nowhere as a 25-year-old rookie to lead the Ottawa Senators on an improbable late season run (where Hammond put together a 20-1-2 record) to qualify for the playoffs. Nicknamed “the Hamburglar,” his initial run in Ottawa was highlighted by fans throwing hamburgers on the ice to celebrate his wins.  That run earned him a contract extension with the Senators and a bunch of free hamburgers from McDonalds. It was a crazy year.

After that, though, injuries and a decline in his production have limited him to just a handful of appearances in the NHL.

The Avalanche acquired him from the Senators earlier this season as part of the Matt Duchene trade.

Now he has to jump into the crease in an elimination game.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators’ Ryan Hartman to have hearing after illegal check to the head

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Ryan Hartman had a tough night at the office on Wednesday night and will have to answer to the NHL’s Department of Player Safety because of it.

Hartman’s hearing stems from a charging penalty he was assessed after lining up Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg‘s head with his shoulder at the 4:42 mark of the third period.

Soderberg was forced to leave the game after the play.

Earlier in the game, Hartman tried to line up Sven Andrighetto from a mile out in the second period but missed, prompting the latter to come and give Hartman some business, which included a stick below the belt to Hartman.

The Predators took Game 4 by a 3-2 margin, holding off a third-period comeback attempt from the Avalanche to take a 3-1 series lead.


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

Seinfeld’s Puddy attends Devils game to ‘support the team’

NJ Devils on Twitter
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The man known affectionately as Puddy (aka actor Patrick Warburton) was in New Jersey last night trying to rile up the Devils prior to Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You’ll remember Puddy, the face-painted Devils fan from the hit TV show Seinfeld, for such lines as, ‘We’re the Devils… The Devils’ and ‘Don’t mess with the Devils. We can beat anybody.’

That’s pretty much it, but he didn’t need to say much else to become an instant cult classic among Devils fans.

Warburton resurrected the character on Wednesdat night, doing his best to get the Devils and their fans amped up prior to the game.

Unfortunately for New Jersey, the tactic didn’t pay off as the Lightning took a 3-1 series lead on the back of a 3-1 win.


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

PHT Morning Skate: Ducks wake-up call; Crosby passes Lemieux

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.
• For Ducks, getting swept should be a wake-up call (Los Angeles Times)

• Takeaways: an unlikely hero emerges as Sharks sweep Ducks (San Jose Mercury News)

Sidney Crosby passes Mario Lemieux for Penguins’ playoff points lead (USA Today)

• The Penguins are still too much for the Flyers (SB Nation)

• Hey, Saint Patrick. It’s a sin you missed how Avs refused to quit in 3-2 loss against Nashville. (Denver Post)

• In defying odds, Golden Knights’ success is not so good for sports books (USA Today)

Marc-Andre Fleury‘s ex-teammates with Penguins happy for his success in playoffs (NHL.com)

• Bodog: Golden Knights are Cup favourites (TSN.ca)

• Foligno brothers savouring first simultaneous NHL post-season (Toronto Star)

Blake Wheeler‘s path to being an elite player in the NHL took a winding road (Winnipeg Sun)

• How a financial advisor became the NHL’s only active black official (Sportsnet)

• Bill Peters has the inside track in Calgary, but there’s a lot of local blood to consider (The Hockey News)

• Von Miller just discovered hockey and he is WAY into it (The Loop)

• Humboldt Broncos tribute concert aims to bring in NHL players, alumni (Sportsnet)

• Town puts ‘giant hockey stick on our porch’ in Humboldt tribute (CBC)

• The case for each Vezina Trophy finalist — and a few snubs (The Hockey News)

• Why the Stanley Cup gets names removed every 13 years (Sportsnet)

• Up top, watch how the Penguins are coming alive in the postseason and the energy being displayed by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should be worrying their opponents.


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