PHT Morning Skate: Bouncing back from comebacks Game 2 theme

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Three Game 2s get underway today including a matinee special in St. Louis between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The theme of the day for a pair of teams might be how to hold down a lead.

The Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild each had leads in Game 1 only to see their home-standing opponents storm back to win in overtime. The in-between game of the day features the Columbus Blue Jackets hoping to annoy the Pittsburgh Penguins into losing and giving Columbus the franchise’s first playoff win. The Jackets held a 3-1 lead of their own in Game 1 before losing 4-3 and they’d like their collective inexperience not bite them again.

Game 2: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks [St. Louis leads series 1-0] (3:00 p.m. ET — NBC LiveStream)

The Blackhawks thought they broke through and got into Ryan Miller’s head in Game 1. Getting a 3-2 lead after one period will create a comfort zone. Then the Blues realized it’s the playoffs and that means having to defend and they did just that for the next 80+ minutes shutting down the ‘Hawks.

The Blues would like to keep doing what they did through the rest of Game 1 into Game 2. The problem there: They know the Blackhawks will make adjustments and thus goes the chess match between Joel Quenneville and Ken Hitchcock. Patrick Kane had a nice return to action in Game 1 and Jonathan Toews would no doubt like to pot a goal of his own to match.

The Blues had to like the resolve they showed and the offense they got from guys who helped them all season late in the game. Jaden Schwartz and Alex Steen coming up when they were needed most was the exact kind of lift they needed. Game 2 could deliver another instant classic.

Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets [Pittsburgh leads series 1-0] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN LiveStream)

The Blue Jackets did a lot of things the team liked in Game 1. Brandon Dubinsky pestered Sidney Crosby all game long and the Jackets at one point held a two-goal lead in the second period. If Columbus is going to earn their first ever playoff win, they have to not take penalties.

Matt Niskanen was the burr in the side of the Blue Jackets in Game 1. When you spend time worrying about where Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are on the man-advantage, people are going to get open and Niskanen seized the day.

If there’s a guy the Jackets have to get involved in Game 2 it’s Ryan Johansen. After a breakout season, there’s no hiding a 30-goal guy in the playoffs which means it’ s up to both coach Todd Richards and Johansen himself to find ways to get free of the Pittsburgh defense.

Game 2: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild [Colorado leads series 1-0] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN LiveStream)

The Wild looked for a while in Game 1 like they were in charge. Giving the Avalanche an opportunity to play to their strengths and open things up a bit was a recipe for a comeback. Wild coach Mike Yeo had parts to a successful game plan going on Thursday night but not the total package.

If the Wild can take solace out of anything in Game 1, it’s that they can hang with the Avs offensively. Charlie Coyle and Ryan Suter showed a deft touch, but they’ll need more from Zach Parise and Jason Pominville if they want to work the Avs more.

Colorado, on the other hand, got a brilliant game out of their “old man” Paul Stastny and steady as he goes work from Semyon Varlamov. The Avs showed how dangerous they can be and that’s what coach Patrick Roy likes to see. Now if they can keep the Wild from getting the jump on them, they’ll be all set.

The Buzzer: McElhinney with the McShutout, Schenn scores again

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Players of the Night: 

Curtis McElhinney, Toronto Maple Leafs:

McElhinney turned aside all 41 shots that came his way as the Leafs shutout the Edmonton Oilers 1-0. The Leafs backup improved to 3-2-0 on the season and his save percentage jumped from .900 to 9.25. Toronto has now won three straight and six of their past 10.

Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues:

Schenn notched his sixth goal in his past four games and extended his goal-scoring streak to four games with a goal 40 seconds into the game. The Blues are now winners of four straight and six of their past 10.

Eric Stall, Minnesota Wild & Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: 

Both scored twice for their respective teams in an entertaining 4-3 win for the Wild in overtime.

Highlight of the Night: 

Vladimir Tarasenko catches the Sabres defense sleeping in overtime, scoring his first non-empty net goal in nine games:

Factoid of the Night: 

Patrick Kane didn’t score, but his two assists were instrumental in giving the Chicago Blackhawks a victory on Sunday.

Scores: 

Blackhawks 3, Coyotes 1

Blues 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Maple Leafs 1, Oilers 0

Wild 4, Sharks 3


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

Alex Burrows fined $5,000 for roughing

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Alex Burrows won’t be on Dylan DeMelo‘s Christmas card list this year.

Not after Burrows swiped DeMelo in the face with the butt-end of his stick on Saturday night.

Burrows got slapped with a $5,000 fine for roughing on Sunday night, the maximum permissible under the CBA. The money is one thing, but Burrows and the Senators have bigger issues at the moment.

It didn’t help the little incident happened in the third period and the game all but over for the Senators. Here’s the slow-mo shot of the infraction:

DeMelo suffered a scratch cornea and narrowly missed a major eye injury, according to Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. 

DeMelo was in the lineup for the Sharks on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild.

Burrows’ $5,000 goes to the player’s Emergency Assistance Fund.


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

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


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

Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s a fan’s eye view:

After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.