NHL on NBCSN: Sabres-Penguins, Sharks-Kings doubleheader

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Buffalo Sabres at CONSOL Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET and the San Jose Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings at the SAP Center at 10:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

It’s a doubleheader night on NBCSN and the night begins in Pittsburgh where Sidney Crosby and the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins host the league’s worst team in the Buffalo Sabres.

The Pens are coming off a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Stars. Shutting out Pittsburgh this season has been a rarity (it’s happened two other times) with how much Crosby and Chris Kunitz have produced (52 goals combined). Evgeni Malkin being third on the team in points behind those two goes to show how well things are clicking.

Pittsburgh is atop the East for a good reason and an integral part of that equation is how well Marc-Andre Fleury has played. With a .915 save percentage and a 2.35 goals-against average, he’s been strong this season. That said, things have cooled off a bit of late allowing nine goals in his past three games (two losses).

For the record, the last time the Pens lost two in row was Nov. 23 and 25 on the road to Boston and Montreal and they’ve won 21 of their past 27 games.

Don’t let the Sabres’ current status fool you though, this is a different team with Ted Nolan at the helm. The team plays a more sound defensive game and the Washington Capitals have said the Sabres will “put you to sleep” with their style of play.

After a miserable start to the season offensively, the Sabres have started scoring goals and are averaging over three goals per game in their past six games. They’ve gone just 1-3-2 in those games, however, and have seen the hot play from both Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth in goal cool off. They’ll be looking for Cody Hodgson to stay on a roll to lead the way.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts Monday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Out west, any time the Sharks and Kings get together it’s going to be a good one. L.A. is 2-0-1 this season against San Jose.

source: Getty ImagesAll hasn’t been well of late for the Kings, however, as they’re winless in their past five games and have three wins in their past 15 games. Offense has been the problem as they’ve scored 28 goals in those 15 games. Scoring less than two per game is a good way to guarantee losses. All it’s meant lately is that Jonathan Quick or Martin Jones have had to stand on their head.

Now’s the time for Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown to step it up so Jeff Carter doesn’t have to do all the scoring.

Having to face off against the Sharks won’t help matters much. San Jose has won six in a row and 13 of their past 17. Joe Pavelski has been on fire of late with seven goals in his past five games. He’s second to Joe Thornton on the team in points and tops the Sharks in goals with 28.

With the Sharks able to score goals with seeming ease and the Kings struggling to do that, it’s not lining up well for L.A. to snap their losing streak. That said, these match-ups bring the best out of both teams.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to extend force a sixth game thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs managed to build up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission thanks to goals by Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They also had a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

 

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

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