Blackhawks take 2-0 series lead against Wild after pulling away in third period

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Much like Game 1, the contest was quite a bit closer than the final score might indicate,* but the bottom line is that the Chicago Blackhawks now have a 2-0 series lead against the Minnesota Wild after winning Game 2 by a 4-1 mark on Sunday.

Closer than it appears?

It’s easy to see that the Blackhawks are hot right now. Stretching back to their first-round battle against the St. Louis Blues, they’ve now won six consecutive playoff games.

It’s also a special win for head coach Joel Quenneville, for those counting:

The good news for the Wild is that they’ve been here before. The Colorado Avalanche took a 2-0 series lead against them in round one only to see Minnesota advance after seven games (which included an overtime battle in that decisive game). While the first two games against Colorado were often out of control for Minnesota, these first two losses were tighter until the Blackhawks pulled away in the third period of each game.

The shot totals probably tell the story best: Minnesota limited Chicago to 22 shots on goal in both games.

Not easy for Breezy

For all the good that comes out of those observations, the bottom line is that the Wild have been outscored by a combined score of 9-3 through these first two games.

Fair or not, one must wonder if Minnesota can put much trust in Ilya Bryzgalov. The Russian-born goalie has lost four of five games in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and his lone win came in just 13:15 of game time (from Game 7 after Darcy Kuemper left with an injury). His individual numbers haven’t been very strong, either, so it’s not just a matter of the team in front of him.

It’s probably true that Bryzgalov isn’t the only problem for Minnesota, yet they might just need him to carry them at times. (The goals often haven’t been Breezy’s fault, but his prospects as an unrestricted free agent seem to dip with each start.)

Bickell heats up

While Patrick Kane understandably grabbed the spotlight in Chicago’s Game 1 win, it’s worth noting that the Bryan Bickell – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa line is on fire for the ‘Hawks.

Toews scored the first goal for Chicago, Bickell collected two assists and added a goal in the third period (after clanging the iron on his previous shift) and Hossa had three helpers in Game 2. It’s little surprise that Toews and Hossa are looking strong, but Bickell seems to be on track for a playoff breakthrough for the second straight year. After only managing 15 points in 59 games in the regular season, Bickell has eight playoff points (all in a four-game streak).

If this trio can keep it going, it will be highly difficult for any team to slow Chicago down.

* – In the case of Game 1, it was 5-2.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

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WATCH LIVE on NBC – 12 PM ET

PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Jakub VoracekNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Michael RafflScott LaughtonJordan Weal
Jori LehteraValtteri FilppulaDale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth

New York Rangers

Forwards
Rick NashMika ZibanejadMats Zuccarello
Michael GrabnerKevin HayesJ.T. Miller
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisJesper Fast
Paul CareyPeter HollandPavel Buchnevich

Defensemen
Brady Skjei – Neal Pionk
Nick HoldenAnthony DeAngelo
John Gilmour – Ryan Sproul

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

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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.

Olympians put hockey seasons on hold as teams play back home

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ryan Donato would love to clone himself so he could play at the Olympics and Harvard at the same time.

He has to be content will trying to win a medal for the United States. Donato is one of a handful of players and coaches in the Olympic men’s hockey tournament who are playing in South Korea while their teams back home continue with their schedule.

European leagues and the KHL took an Olympic break. Like the NHL, the American Hockey League and the NCAA are still going. Donato and others are keeping in touch with members of their team primarily by text, but are immersing themselves in this tournament.

”You put so much time and effort into your team,” said Donato, who will miss at least four Harvard games depending on how far the U.S. advances. ”Those are the guys who are all my brothers. … (But) this team here deserves everything I’ve got, and I’m going to put everything I’ve got into it.”

Beyond Donato, the U.S. has head coach Tony Granato (University of Wisconsin) and assistants Keith Allain (Yale) and Scott Young (Pittsburgh Penguins) and the majority of players putting their seasons on hold: Troy Terry (Denver University), Jordan Greenway (Boston University), Will Borgen (Notre Dame), Chris Bourque (AHL Hershey), John McCarthy (AHL San Jose) and Bobby Butler (AHL Milwaukee). Canada has two: Cody Goloubef (AHL Stockton) and Christian Thomas (AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton).

It’s taking some getting used to.

”It is strange,” Allain said. ”Luckily for me, I’ve got two assistant coaches that I trust completely. We’re on the same page all the time whether I’m there or not there and we talk on a daily basis. Our team swept (last weekend) so things are good back in New Haven.”

When Milwaukee swept a weekend series without him, Butler joked, ”I think they dropped the dead weight.” He said he had heard from a few veteran players via text that some teammates were stepping up in his absence.

Admirals coaches and executives told Butler they hoped he’d make the Olympic team, and now his teammates are motivated by trying to win for him.

”We have a great group back home and I wouldn’t be here without them,” said Butler, who could miss as many as nine games. ”When I left, all the guys gave me big hugs. … They’re a great group of guys and I wouldn’t be here without them. I’ll miss them for the duration.”

Bourque texts with teammates back home, but the 32-year-old veteran is compartmentalizing and not worrying about the Bears for these two weeks.

”I’ve got a huge opportunity to play at the Olympics and I’ve got to give 100 percent of my attention to this team because everyone’s all in,” said Bourque, who could miss seven to nine AHL games. ”I’m invested 100 percent with this team. Obviously I hope my team does well back home, but that’s not my priority right now.”

It was Granato’s priority, too, though he knew going in he would only miss two to four Wisconsin games. While splitting his attention between his college team and preparations for the Olympics, he made sure associate coach Mark Osiecki and the rest of the Badgers’ staff and team were set up to be OK without him.

”Everything that we did leading up to that was preparations knowing that I’d be gone for a few weeks,” Granato said. ”If there’s a hard decision or something happened or there’s an injury back there and they need to talk to me (they can call). I think everything’s under control there and taken care of.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

The Buzzer: Raanta shutout, Brassard showcase, Blackhawks finally win

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes: Raanta shutout Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, stopping all 40 shots sent his way for his first goose egg as a member of the Coyotes.

Derick Brassard, Ottawa Senators: The Derick Brassard Showcase continued on Saturday night. The Senators forward, who has been the subject of trade speculation leading up to the trade deadline in two weeks, scored in his fourth straight game and added two helpers in a 6-3 win against the New York Rangers.

Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights: Smith extended his point streak to seven games, scoring twice and adding a helper in a 6-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Smith has five goals and seven assists during his streak and now has 51 points in 58 games this season.

Anders Nilsson, Vancouver Canucks: Nilsson turned aside 44 of the 45 shots he faced from one of the league’s hottest teams in the Boston Bruins. The Canucks obliged their goaltender, scoring six and chasing Tuukka Rask in a 6-1 win.

Jonathan Toews and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks: Losers of eight straight coming into Saturday, the Blackhawks finally ended the streak, putting up seven goals against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals. Toews had a goal and two assists in the game. It was Chicago’s first win of the month and their seven goals were half of the number they scored in their previous eight games.

Eddie Lack, New Jersey Devils: Lack wasn’t supposed to be playing against the league’s top team. But there he was on Saturday, stopping 48 of 51 shots against Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. He even out-dueled Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will likely win the Vezina in June. Impressive stuff.

Highlights of the Night:

Ryan Hartman, untouchable:

Nikita Scherbak’d:

Matt Murray did this two nights ago. Deja vu:

Two-pad stack alert:

Factoids of the Night:

The season can’t end fast enough for the Oilers:

The Golden Knights are creeping toward another record:

Evgeni Malkin hits 900:

MISC:

Scores:

Kings 4, Sabres 2

Ducks 3, Wild 2 (SO)

Senators 6, Rangers 3

Coyotes 1, Oilers 0

Golden Knights 3, Canadiens 3

Devils 4, Lightning 3

Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 3

Red Wings 3, Predators 1

Blackhawks 7, Capitals 1

Canucks 6, Bruins 1

Panthers 6, Flames 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

Blackhawks fans tossed after racist taunts toward Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly

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Four Chicago Blackhawks fans were kicked out of Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals at United Center after racially-charged taunts were made toward Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly, serving a five-minute major for fighting in the third period, got upset with a fan next to him who, according to the Washington Post, was chanting, “Basketball, basketball basketball,” toward Smith-Pelly, who is black. 

“There’s absolutely no place in a game of hockey, or a country, for racism,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “I think it’s disgusting. There’s no place for it. The athletes in this country don’t deserve that. It just shows ignorance.”

Trotz said he hadn’t spoken with DSP about the incident, but said he was upset and his teammates had been talking with him.

DSP did not speak with the media following the game, which the Capitals lost 7-1.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

The Blackhawks issued a statement following the game

“We were made aware of an incident at tonight’s game involving a small group of attendees who made harmful comments directed at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” a Hawks spokesperson said. “The fans were immediately removed and we apologize to Smith-Pelly and the Washington Capitals organization. We are committed to providing an inclusive environment for everyone who attends our games and these actions will never be tolerated.”

UPDATE: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement on Sunday morning:

“Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.

“While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment – free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience.”

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

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