PHT Morning Skate: Battered Ducks aim to even series

After being dominated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in three straight games, the New York Rangers fought back last night with a decisive 5-1 victory to stay alive. After that, the Wild followed in their footsteps by defending the Xcel Energy Center for the second consecutive contest to even their series with Chicago.

We got another two games ahead of us tonight as we get deep into the second round.

Game 5: Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins [Series tied at 2-2] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The rivalry between Boston and Montreal is as old as it is fierce, and so far the latest chapter of their battle hasn’t disappointed.

Tuukka Rask and Carey Price were locked in a goaltending duel in Game 4 when 23-year-old Bruins forward Matt Fraser, playing in his first NHL playoff game and powered by frozen yogurt, broke the scoreless tie in overtime. In doing so, he became the first player to ever net AHL and NHL postseason overtime winners in the same season.

Will it be remembered as the goal that turned the series? This is now a best-of-three and for the first time since Game 1, the Bruins have reclaimed home ice advantage. That obviously helps, but having two of the final three games in Boston’s TD Garden isn’t a huge edge in a series like this.

“It’s back and forth, it’s been close and so expect another close game (tonight),” Bruins defenseman Gregory Campbell said, per the Bruins’ website.

Game 4: Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings [Los Angeles leads 2-1] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

Winning Game 3 got the Anaheim Ducks back into this series, but it came at a high price. The Ducks lost goaltender Frederik Andersen as well as forwards Matt Beleskey and Mathieu Perreault to lower-body injuries, putting their availability for tonight’s contest in doubt.

The most pressing question is who will play between the pipes for Anaheim. Andersen would probably be the first choice after his strong performance in Game 3 before he was hurt, but obviously he might not be an option.

That makes Hiller the likely pick. After all, he did rise to the challenge despite wasting away on the bench for most of the game. Plus he actually has a solid 1.99 GAA and .918 save percentage in the 2014 playoffs — albeit in limited duties. At the same time, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau hasn’t shown much faith in Hiller and even now, Boudreau isn’t ready to name the veteran goaltender as his starter over 20-year-old call up John Gibson.

“I fully believe that Gibson can play. I fully believe that Hiller can play. It’s quite a gamble to use Gibson but I’ve done them before. You live and die with the way you feel, I guess,” Boudreau told the Los Angeles Times.

Could that be a bit of playoff gamesmanship? Absolutely, but given how many times Boudreau has chosen to go with a less experienced option over Hiller so far in the postseason, it might be more than that.

Either way, the Ducks still aren’t out of the woods and winning back-to-back games at the Staples Center is a tall task.

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 a most unusual breakaway goal (Video)

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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

WATCH LIVE: Lightning, Bruins try to move on to Round 2

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Game 5: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-1)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Gord Miller, Joe Micheletti
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Chris Cuthbert, Ray Ferraro
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET (Bruins lead series 3-1)
NBC
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Stream

*Regionalized coverage – Florida markets and WNBC in New York metro area will air NJ-TB on NBC and CBJ-WSH on NBCSN; all other markets will receive CBJ-WSH on NBC and NJ-TB on NBCSN

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]