Blue Jackets gain first-ever playoff win, tie series with Penguins 1-1

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The Columbus Blue Jackets accomplished a lot of playoff firsts, but the most important came when Matt Calvert scored his second goal of Game 2. His overtime-winner early in the second OT gave Columbus a 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, tying the series at 1-1.

The Penguins seemed like they were going to run away with the game on Saturday after taking a 3-1 first period lead and enjoying a 15-4 shot disparity, but Columbus showed its rat-like resiliency to come back. The Blue Jackets generated a 27-15 shot advantage in the second and third periods to send the game to OT, feeding into their scrappy reputation while bringing Pittsburgh’s focus into at least some question.

There’s something oddly fitting about Calvert’s game-winner coming pretty soon after the Blue Jackets killed a Penguins power play. In a way, it was the moment that one team finally scored a big goal at even strength.

Special indeed

As much as the Blue Jackets spoke about making things come down to 5-on-5 play, both games have revolved around special teams work. That was especially true in Game 2.

Before that overtime tally, only one goal (Brian Gibbons’ first of two tallies) came at even strength. Only two of the Blue Jackets’ seven goals have come at even strength while three of Pittsburgh’s seven tallies were outside of special teams. The Jack Johnson goal that sent Game 2 into OT came on the man advantage, for instance:

In other words, both teams have been living and dying by the power play.

Stars factor in

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Through one period, it seemed like Sergei Bobrovsky’s naysayers might be emboldened as he allowed three goals on 15 shots.

The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner really turned things around after that, however, stopping a game’s worth of Penguins scoring attempts (being that the contest went into a second overtime and he didn’t allow a goal since the first period). Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 41 out of 45 shots and often kept the Penguins in the game, although some will still place a lot of blame on Fleury.

As far as the Penguins’ star players go, Sidney Crosby had two assists but Evgeni Malkin couldn’t get on the board despite five shots on goal. While Calvert will garner his fair share of praise, this series might really be a moment for Ryan Johansen to gain some more mainstream attention; the rising star had a goal and an assist in Game 2.

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Ultimately, the Blue Jackets can stop rolling their eyes at most “first” stats and focus on a more legitimate one: their first-ever playoff series win. From Pittsburgh’s perspective, there might be a feeling of deja vu; they saw the upstart New York Islanders tie their first-round series after their long absence from playoff play last year.

Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski

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Last summer, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter stressed that some of the club’s young prospects needed to make an impact at the NHL level.

And now it’s happening.

Following the recalls and NHL debuts of Adrian Kempe and Paul LaDue, the Kings have brought up Jonny Brodzinski from AHL Ontario, the club announced on Thursday.

Brodzinski, 23, made the AHL All-Star team this year and leads the Reign in goals, with 25 through 56 games. The former St. Could State sniper left school early two years ago to join the Kings organization, after L.A. took him in the fifth round of the ’13 draft.

As mentioned above, this recall is in lockstep with what’s developed throughout the year. Kempe, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (29th overall) in ’14 and has fared well since joining the big club, with six points in 16 games.

LaDue, 24, was a sixth-round pick in ’12 that — like Kempe and Brodzinski — fared well in the American League before getting recalled in February. LaDue has appeared in 15 games for the Kings, scoring five points while averaging 16:25 TOI per night.

Los Angeles is still technically in the playoff race, but sits eight points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with just 10 games to play. As such, the focus might now shift to giving some youngsters NHL experience.

Brodzinski will have to wait for his, however. Per LA Kings Insider, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight, when the Kings host the Jets at Staples.

 

 

Polak gets two games for boarding Bjorkstrand

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Roman Polak‘s hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand has drawn more than the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Today, the NHL announced that Polak, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been suspended two games for boarding Bjorkstrand Wednesday in Columbus.

In making the ruling, the league’s Department of Player Safety determined that Polak sent Bjorkstrand “violently” into the boards from behind, causing an injury. The DoPS also noted that the hit was avoidable, with the onus on Polak to “ensure that he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact.”

You can watch the full ruling below:

Wild prospect Kunin leaves Wisconsin, turns pro

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Minnesota is getting one of its prized youngsters in the mix.

Luke Kunin, the club’s first-round pick (15th overall) at last year’s draft, is leaving the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign, per the Star-Tribune. Kunin will reportedly join Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa on an amateur tryout.

Kunin, 19, is coming off a pretty successful campaign. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, scoring four points in seven games.

Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Kunin will play out this year in the minors, and his entry-level deal will kick in next season. That means he won’t be with the Wild at all this year — regular season or playoffs.

As mentioned, Kunin is just one of the many talented prospects Minnesota has in the fold. Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, all showed extremely well at the worlds.

Hurricanes sign Finnish prospect Kuokkanen

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The Carolina Hurricanes have another talented, young Finn under contract.

The ‘Canes announced this morning that they’ve signed forward Janne Kuokkanen to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Kuokkanen was drafted in the second round, 43rd overall, in 2016. The 18-year-old is currently with the OHL’s London Knights. He finished the regular season with 26 goals and 36 assists in 60 games.

“Janne was outstanding in our rookie tournament in Traverse City in September, and stayed in North America to continue his development in the Ontario Hockey League,” said ‘Canes GM Ron Francis in a release. “He’s a smart, skilled forward and we look forward to the start of his professional career.”

The ‘Canes already have two Finnish forwards in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.

Aho and Kuokkanen were teammates in the Karpat (Liiga) development system in Finland.