PHT Morning Skate: Jackets, Stars, ‘Hawks seek to tie things up

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It’s just the kind of thing you want on a night filled with playoff games: Three teams with the opportunity to tie things up and force a best-of-three finish. If you’re a fan of the other teams, then you’re hoping they can take a commanding 3-1 lead before heading back home.

Such is the case tonight. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, and Chicago Blackhawks are each hoping to make their series 2-2 and the fun part is, after how they’ve all played in the postseason it could happen.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Wednesday at 7pm ETHere’s the FanDuel link.

Game 4: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins [Pittsburgh leads series 2-1] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Blue Jackets have to be kicking themselves for being down in this series. In the two games they’ve lost, they held 3-1 leads only to see them evaporate into 4-3 losses. Of course, the Jackets’ Game 2 win was also a 4-3 decision so there’s that, but the fact they held two-goal leads in Games 1 and 3 and came away with losses has to sting.

Does the blame fall on Sergei Bobrovsky or the Jackets for pulling back the reins and trying to protect the lead? One thing’s for sure this postseason — trying to sit on a lead hasn’t exactly worked for anyone. After a second tough loss, expect to see the Penguins be out for blood.

One thing that has to make people nervous? Sidney Crosby has yet to be a dominant player. He has four assists in three games, which is fine, but can you say he’s taken a game over yet? Not really and that’s something that won’t last for long.

Game 4: Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks [Anaheim leads series 2-1] (8:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The Stars showed in Game 3 that they can be every bit as tough as the Ducks can be. Jamie Benn exerted his star player status and Antoine Roussel proved to be the perfect playoff irritant as they were able to get Anaheim chasing them on the scoreboard and around the ice looking for payback.

The Stars will need more of that and perhaps a little more Tyler Seguin if they want to send this series back to Anaheim tied 2-2. The Ducks are hoping to see Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry steer away from the extracurricular stuff and get back to scoring goals by the bunches.

If there’s an area the Ducks could use a hand in it’s secondary scoring. Anaheim’s top line has four of their seven goals in the postseason and on the road, it’s a little easier to see them get loaded up against. It’s time for the old guys (Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu) and the young guys (Jakob Silfverberg, Devante Smith-Pelly) alike to step up.

Game 4: Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues [St. Louis leads series 2-1] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Blackhawks found a way to scrape back in Game 3 with a 2-0 win, but it was anything but convincing. Chicago lived on the edge holding onto a 1-0 lead through most of the game while the Blues continued to plug away looking to steal yet another game away late.

Lesson learned by the Blackhawks? They found a way to win it regardless. They may have a boatload of Stanley Cup-winning experience, but losing the first two games the way they did can make the mental game tougher. Now it’s up to Jonathan Toews and company to find another way to break through the Blues’ defense. Another top-notch start from Corey Crawford wouldn’t hurt either.

The Blues don’t exactly have a lot to figure out after Game 3. If anything, it was their best game of the playoffs to this point. Ryan Miller played a strong game and the top scorers (Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko) looked as dangerous as ever. If there’s anything Ken Hitchcock might stress for Game 4 it’s to keep doing what they have been and the breaks will come.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson