NHL on NBCSN: Red-hot Steen, Doan collide in Blues vs Coyotes

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the St. Louis Blues host the Phoenix Coyotes at the Scottrade Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Coyotes and Blues might not be two of the most popular teams in the NHL, but they are certainly worth of attention. Both of them have been playing exciting hockey and winning in the process.

Phoenix and St. Louis rank seventh and fifth respectively in goals per game after they were mediocre to bad offensively in the 2013 campaign. For the Blues, the big difference has been Alexander Steen.

Related: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Tuesday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the link.

The 29-year-old forward has only been held off the scoresheet once all season and is currently riding a 10-game point streak. He’s never recorded more than 24 goals in a single campaign, but Steen already has 14 goals in 15 games this season. That puts him in a tie with the now injured Steven Stamkos for the NHL goal scoring lead.

Phoenix will counter with a forward that’s been almost as hot lately, its captain Shane Doan. Although the 37-year-old’s season numbers pale in comparison, Doan has scored in five of his last six contests. If the Blues manage to neutralize Doan though, the Coyotes are far from doomed. They have plenty of offensive depth with nine different players that have recorded at least 10 points in 2013-14.

St. Louis goaltender Jaroslav Halak will consequently have his hands full, but he’s capable of rising to the occasion. After enduring a rough and injury-riddled 2013 campaign, Halak has bounced back this season with a 2.19 GAA and .913 save percentage. Phoenix will likely counter with netminder Mike Smith, who has been less than ideal so far, but still typically performs well enough to get the job done.

These two teams have combined for just six regulation losses all season, but the Western Conference has been dominant. As a result, Phoenix just has a four-point cushion between them and fifth place in its division and the Blues’ hold on a playoff spot is only six points.

So as good as they’ve been, neither team can afford to let up.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Monday, May 29

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After going three full days without any NHL hockey, we’ll finally get to see some action, as Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final goes tonight in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins will look to become the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, while the Predators will try to land the first championship in team history.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network NBCSN (Stream online here)

Related:

For Pittsburgh’s defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

Pens can become first repeat in salary cap era

Minus Johansen, Preds have “some big shoes to fill”

On the big stage, Subban can’t espace “The Trade”

PHT Morning Skate: Goalie throws stick at cameraman after losing Memorial Cup

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–Heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Pekka Rinne has the best odds of winning the Conn Smythe trophy at 3.75-1. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray round out the top four. (The Score)

–The Ottawa Senators made a run to the Eastern Conference Final this spring, but that doesn’t mean they won’t face challenges this off-season. Sportsnet looks at six issues they’ll have to deal with over the summer. It starts with re-signing key players like Jean-Gabriel Pageau. (Sportsnet)

–Everyone knows that the Penguins have a huge advantage over the Predators at the center position, especially with the injury to Ryan Johansen. The Hockey News evaluates whether or not Nashville can overcome such a disadvantage. (The Hockey News)

–NHL legends Wayne Gretzky, Nicklas Lidstrom and others explain why the Stanley Cup is “The People’s Cup”. From adult clubs, to Russia, Hollywood, the cup has seen it all. (Top)

–After losing the memorial cup to the Windsor Spitfires on Sunday night, Erie Otters goalie Troy Timpano threw his stick at a cameraman that was filming the Otters bench, while the Spitfires were celebrating. (BarDown)

Timpano later apologized for his actions.

P.K. Subban played the role of reporter during media day at the Stanley Cup Final. The Preds defenseman asked his teammates some pretty interesting questions to say the least. (Sportsnet)

 

Stanley Cup experience ‘doesn’t guarantee anything’ for Penguins

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The dynasty that once appeared so certain is again in the offing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Four victories against the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final would make Pittsburgh the first franchise to win back-to-back championships in nearly 20 years and the first in the parity-driven salary cap era. It would give stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin their third Cup, one more than their boss – owner Mario Lemieux – earned during his Hall of Fame career and check off whatever boxes remain unchecked for a duo that is becoming one of the most accomplished in NHL history.

Yet for all the resiliency the Penguins have shown during their injury-marred title defense, they are taking nothing for granted heading into Game 1 on Monday night.

Not their home-ice advantage. Not their massive edge in Stanley Cup Final experience (156 games vs. just five for the Predators, all by captain Mike Fisher while playing for Ottawa a decade ago). Not their ability under coach Mike Sullivan to thrive under the pressure that once seemed to crush them.

“I think the fact that a lot of guys went through it last year and they can draw from that experience is good,” Crosby said. “But it doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Certainly not against the swaggering and well-rested Predators.

One of the last teams to qualify for the playoffs is now the last one standing between the Penguins and another parade in downtown Pittsburgh. Just don’t call Nashville the underdog. The Predators have hardly played like one while beating Chicago in a lopsided four-game sweep then outrunning St. Louis and outlasting Anaheim to reach the Cup final for the first time.

“I know we were the eighth seed but we didn’t feel like a group that we were,” Fisher said.

Now the guys from the place that calls itself “Smashville” have a chance to become the first franchise to win the Cup in its first try since Carolina did 11 years ago. That team, like this one, is based in a place hardly considered hockey hotbed a generation ago. This team, like that one, was led by coach Peter Laviolette. This team, like that one, has nothing to lose.

“This year we were kind of mediocre in the standings and maybe that’s what we needed just to come into the playoffs not really caring about home ice or who we were playing but just knowing comfortably and confidently as a team we could be in this position,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban.

Read more: Early struggles, injuries made Predators ‘stronger as a team’

A position the Penguins have become increasingly comfortable in under Sullivan.

The core that Crosby and Malkin led to the Cup in 2009 went through seven frustrating and fruitless springs before returning to the top in 2016. Now they’re here again, aware of the stakes but hardly caught up in the hype.

“I think that it’s a tough road no matter how you get here,” Crosby said.

“We found ways all season long and in the playoffs we’ve found ways. We’ve had that same mentality and that’s helped us. I think that’s kind of been our biggest strength.”

Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco leads Windsor Spitfires to Memorial Cup title

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Just over two months after signing his entry level deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, 20-year-old forward Jeremy Bracco left his mark on the Memorial Cup championship game.

Selected by the Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Bracco had a dominant finale on Sunday, with a goal and two assists as the Windsor Spitfires defeated the Erie Otters by a final score of 4-3.

To cap it off, Bracco assisted on the winning goal from Aaron Luchuk early in the third period.

That ends a great season for Bracco, who is listed at five-foot-nine-inches tall, but has produced impressive offensive numbers since coming to the Ontario Hockey League. He had 83 points in 57 games split between the Spitfires and Kitchener Rangers, the team he began this season with.

The Memorial Cup is always a great showcase for NHL prospects. Logan Brown, the towering center and 2016 first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators, also had a pair of assists.

A pair of draft eligible players also had a big day for Windsor.

Gabriel Vilardi, the No. 4-ranked North American skater heading into next month’s draft and a potential top-five pick, had a pair of assists. Michael DiPietro, the No. 4-ranked North American goalie in Central Scouting’s final rankings, made 32 saves. He also had some luck, courtesy his goal posts, which denied Blackhawks high-scoring prospect Alex DeBrincat, among others from Erie’s talented team.

The Spitfires were defeated in the opening round of the OHL playoffs, but made it to the Memorial Cup tournament as the host team.