PHT Morning Skate: Penguins hope to defend home ice in Game 7

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There may be two games tonight, but all eyes will be on Pittsburgh where the Penguins host the New York Rangers for Game 7.

The Penguins at one point held a 3-1 lead in the series only to see the Rangers storm back with a 5-1 win in Game 5 and a 3-0 win in Game 6. There could be a lot more at stake for Pittsburgh than just staying alive in the playoffs in this game as another playoff collapse and another season without a Stanley Cup may not sit well.

The night’s other game is a possible elimination game as the Minnesota Wild look to force a Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild have hung tough with Chicago but will need to keep holding their own on home ice to keep moving on.

Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers [Series tied 3-3] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Penguins did so much to try and change their mindset for Game 7 they pulled out all the tricks including spending the night in a hotel at home to try and eliminate distractions. That might prove to be a good move because the Penguins are 1-2 in this series at CONSOL Energy Center.

The pressure is on and a lot of that is falling on the shoulders of Sidney Crosby to lift the team on his own. Yes, he’s had trouble putting the puck in the net and he is driving a lot of the play, but it’s the raw stats people are going to remember when it’s over and those aren’t there for him right now.

Considering how coolly the Rangers have played things in the past two games and the spot the Penguins put themselves in, there doesn’t seem to be too much pressure on Henrik Lundqvist. He’s had help in this series from Derick Brassard who has four goals against the Pens.

Game 7 hasn’t been kind to the Penguins recently as they’re 0-2 in their last two after winning two Game 7s during their Stanley Cup run in 2009. The Rangers, meanwhile, have won four straight Game 7s and are 3-0 in elimination games this season.

Game 6: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Chicago leads series 3-2] (9:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

Home-ice advantage has been where it’s at in this series and for the Wild they’ll need it to stay that way to move on. Luckily for them, they’ve been in exactly this spot once already in the playoffs overcoming a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Colorado Avalanche in seven games.

While Zach Parise and Ryan Suter get all the attention, quietly it’s been rookie Erik Haula who’s gotten it done with four points in this series. The pressure may be on Ilya Bryzgalov the most to try and shut down the Blackhawks attack. He’s been better in the past two games, but still has just a .899 save percentage against Chicago.

The Blackhawks will look to Corey Crawford to get his own ship righted against the Wild. Minnesota has put more shots on goal than Chicago and Crawford has stopped them at a .913 rate. It’s good, but not great but it’s been simple for the ‘Hawks in that if Crawford is at his best, they’re going to win.

Thing to look for? Whether or not Mike Yeo can keep Mikael Granlund away from Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks captain made life hard on the Finnish rookie’s line in Game 5. The last change should alleviate those issues for Minnesota.

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