PHT’s 2014 Stanley Cup Final staff picks

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We’re back with another round of scintillating PHT staff picks! Here’s how our band of keyboard jockeys have fared thus far:

Jason Brough: 7-1 in Round 1, 2-2 in Round 2, 1-1 in Conference Finals (and the only guy to take L.A.) — 10-4 overall.

Mike Halford: 5-3 in Round 1, 3-1 in Round 2, 0-2 in Conference Finals — 8-6 overall.

Joe Yerdon: 7-1 in Round 1, 3-1 in Round 2, 0-2 in Conference Finals — 10-4 overall.

James O’Brien: 5-3 in Round 1, 3-1 in Round 2, 1-1 in Conference Finals — 9-5 overall.

Ryan Dadoun: 4-for-8 in Round 1, 2-2 in Round 2, 1-1 in Conference Finals — 7-7 overall.

Cam Tucker: 5-3 in Round 1, 3-1 in Round 2, 0-2 in Conference Finals — 8-6 overall.

Onto the Final we go…

Brough: Kings in 7

I picked the Kings to win the Cup before the season and also before the playoffs, so I can’t really change now. I’m not sleeping on the Rangers by any means — great goalie, emerging star on defense, good depth up front and on the back end, solid mix of youth and experience, healthy, and well-rested — but I don’t think they can match the power of L.A., which has already beaten three very good teams, including the defending champs. Sure, the Kings might be a bit tired, but remember they’ll get two days off before Game 1, then another two days between Games 1 and 2, and there’s a two-day break between Games 5 and 6, if necessary. The key for me is Jonathan Quick. He needs to be better than he was against the ‘Hawks, who it should be noted have made a lot of good goalies look average.

Yerdon: Kings in 7

It’s easy to understand why the Los Angeles Kings are seemingly everyone’s pick. They’ve got everything the New York Rangers have but more of it… except at one position. Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie the Kings will have seen in the playoffs and that means the Rangers have a great equalizer in their favor. That won’t be enough to get the Rangers to win it all, but it will be enough to treat us all to a legendary series.O’Brien: Kings in 6

Heading into the playoffs, I believed that two East teams could make the West’s best sweat: the Bruins and the Rangers. That holds true today; Martin St. Louis generates buckets of chances, Ryan McDonagh keeps climbing the defensive ranks and Henrik Lundqvist is one of the few goalies truly worthy of “elite” designation. Even so, if you apply the “your life depends on it” criteria, I’d pick the Kings every time. They already survived brutal competition and carry themselves like a force that simply won’t be denied. Expect a spirited fight from the Rangers, though.

Dadoun: Kings in 6

The resiliency the Kings have shown makes them hard to bet against. They overcame a 3-0 series deficit and came from behind in Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions. That’s to say nothing of the fact that they now have the all-time points leader in Game 7s (Justin Williams) and have won 10 of 11 series under Kings coach Darryl Sutter — these are just the tip of the iceberg, though, as you could point to almost any player on the team and reference an example of them being the hero in 2014. On paper, they’re hard to top and in practice, keeping them down is almost unheard of.

Tucker: Kings in 6

The New York Rangers have had a great run, especially after coming back to defeat Pittsburgh in seven games in the second round. St. Louis, enduring the tragedy of the sudden passing of his mother, has been an inspirational story for his play. But the Kings … how do you not pick the Kings? Three times in these playoffs, they’ve gone into an opposing team’s building in a Game 7 and won. It started in historical fashion in the first round and their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final was punched with another gutsy effort against Chicago. They also have the benefit of having been to this stage two years ago.

Halford: Rangers in 7

What, you thought I was going to follow the crowd? For all the talk about L.A.s’ resiliency, do remember the Rangers rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history this postseason, and have won two Game 7s to L.A.’s three — one of them coming on the road, in Pittsburgh, to clinch their historic comeback. There’s also the goaltending factor. Lundqvist is playing like a man on a mission this postseason and, as we saw in the case of Tim Thomas during in 2011 and Quick two years ago, one hot goalie can greatly alter the outcome of  the Stanley Cup Final. (And hey, it’s not like Quick has been on fire lately.)

Is Brayden Schenn’s star turn for real?

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For years, hockey nerds and/or experts were waiting for Brayden Schenn to make “the leap.” Eventually, people gave up on that, to the point that the 26-year-old’s trade to the St. Louis Blues seemed more like a curious swap than a tide-turner.

Now, sure, Schenn found a solid niche with the Philadelphia Flyers, but it was in more of a specialist role. Many believed that he was dependent upon a plum gig on the team’s lethal power play and would possibly slip in St. Louis.

Considering that 17 of his 25 goals came on the power play last season, it wasn’t that outrageous to wonder if he might be just “a guy” in St. Louis.

As it turns out, he’s bordering on the guy with the Blues, and it’s been a truly wondrous thing to behold. Wondrous and baffling, to be honest.

On Saturday, it seemed like his hot streak would come to an end … until overtime. In what was very much a solo effort, Schenn beguiled the Vancouver Canucks to secure a 4-3 OT win for his Blues.

Nice. Now, it’s true that Schenn wasn’t the overall star of the night for St. Louis, as that probably goes to Paul Stastny, who piled up three assists. Still, Schenn’s third game-winning goal of the season extended his point streak to seven games, and it’s not like he’s just eking out production, either:

Wow. Overall, Schenn now has 8 goals and 26 points in 21 games during his debut season with the Blues. He’s on a pace to absolutely smash the best work of his career, which came in previous seasons where he collected 55 and 59 points.

So, naturally, the question is: with about a quarter of the season over, how much of this is real and how much of this is a lucky little mirage?

Under normal circumstances, one would lean toward luck, especially with a guy who’s already 26. That doesn’t sound old, and it’s certainly in a scorer’s prime range, but it also strikes as a bit unexpected.

To some extent, this is luck. Frankly, it’s not realistic to expect Schenn to average 1.25 points per game; consider that Sidney Crosby‘s career mark is 1.30, and you realize it’s wise to dial back expectations for a guy whose previous career-high was .74.

That aside, there are some reasons to believe that Schenn could very well remain a bigger scorer with the Blues than he did with the Flyers. Allow me to break it down.

Firing away

Whenever you’re trying to do some hockey myth-busting, shooting percentage is a great place to start. If one-third of the pucks a guy sends toward the net beats a goalie, then ‘ol gravity might not be very kind.

According to NHL.com, Schenn has now connected on 14 percent of his shots on goal this season (eight of 57). That might be a little high, but his career average is 12.5.

Now, assists are a big part of his totals, and that’s where things should cool down. Schenn’s most common linemates have been Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, by quite a margin according to Natural Stat Trick.

So, you can deduce that some of Schenn’s numbers are inflated by those two, especially with Schwartz connecting on 22.2 percent of his SOG so far in 2017-18.

Nurtured

And that’s where things could slide quite a bit. If the Blues get some talent back from that wave of summer injuries, perhaps Mike Yeo might move Schenn away from one or both of Tarasenko and Schwartz?

The overall setup definitely gooses Schenn’s numbers, but it’s not just linemates.

He’s getting way more ice time, in general. Schenn is averaging just under 20 minutes per night after logging almost 18 per evening last season, via Hockey Reference. While Schenn enjoyed fairly cushy zone starts before, it’s even more pronounced now; the 26-year-old’s began a career-high 63 percent of his shifts in the attacking zone entering tonight’s game.

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So, long story short, you can expect some of this success to subside. The Blues, as a team, are on a roll that is likely cool down.

The more interesting queries revolve around how much the Blues and Schenn might slip from these hot streaks. It should be some, but will the slide be as extreme as some expect? It should be fun to find out.

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.

Chance the Rapper plays clueless hockey reporter on ‘SNL’ (Video)

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Chance the Rapper hosted “Saturday Night Live” last night and in skit he played Lazlo Holmes, a New York Knicks reporter for Madison Square Garden network filling in for the usual New York Rangers reporter who’s on paternity leave.

Holmes quickly discovers that the temperature for hockey is a tad different than that of a hoops game, and that some of the names in the sport are pretty tough to say for an outsider, like Brady Skjei, for example.

It’s not quite Tim “Little Hockey” Meadows bemoaning the 1994 NHL lockout, but it was good for some chuckles.

Hopefully next time NBC has a coach mic’d up for a pre-game speech, he lets fly with “let’s do that hockey!”

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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.

USHL goaltender scores goal, makes most of celebration (Video)

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It was a pretty eventful night Saturday in Sioux Falls as the USHL’s Stampede beat the Muskegon Lumberjacks 7-4 to sweep a weekend series.

After falling behind 3-0 in the first period, the Stampede scored five unanswered times en route to the win. Along the way, their first goal started the teddy bear tossing and the game’s final tally came off the stick of goaltender Mikhail Berdin. Not only did the kid make history by becoming the first goalie in franchise history to ever score, he followed it up with an impressive celebration.

Berdin, a 19-year-old sixth-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2016, went with the bench fly-by, did some fist pumps, saluted the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center crowd and ended it with a Vince McMahon strut. That kid knows how to celebrate.

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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.

The Buzzer: Monahan the man, torrid Tavares

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Choice PHT Cuts:

Canadiens, Maple Leafs did NOT play nice.

If you didn’t think Alex Ovechkin was tough …

*Rubs eyes* A winning streak … for the Coyotes?

Connor McDavid and Oilers are sad pandas.

Players of the Night

  • Anthony Duclair‘s hat trick is well-covered here, so check that out. Duclair gets one edge on Sean Monahan in that Duclair scored all of his team’s goals on Saturday, but Monahan combined his first career hat trick with an assist, helping his Flames win in OT much like Duclair did for Arizona.

Monahan slightly upstaged Johnny Gaudreau (one goal, two assists) who was pumped to play in front of a crowd in Philly.

  • Paul Stastny collected three assists to help the Blues beat the Canucks in overtime. Check PHT on Sunday morning for an in-depth look at Brayden Schenn, who kept his hot streak going with the OT-clincher.
  • John Tavares just continues to ride high with a goal and two assists. The real stars might be the Islanders as a whole, however, as they beat the Lightning and kept Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov pointless in a 5-3 Isles win.
  • Frederik Andersen has achieved back-to-back shutouts, helping the Leafs make the Habs extra-miserable. He made 33 saves, so you could argue Montreal deserved better than a 6-0 fate.

Heel of the Night?

While Connor McDavid absorbed an odd portion of the Oilers’ blame in defeat despite a three-point night, Antoine Roussel really played up his villain cred. He collected three points of his own and did this:

Highlight of the Night

Going off script a bit here, let’s go with Alex Ovechkin bouncing back from this:

And Corey Crawford being OK despite this bump from Evgeni Malkin.

Both players helped their teams seal up wins as a bonus. (Feel free to share your favorite highlights from tonight, even if they don’t involve near-injuries.)

Factoid of the Night

Congrats, Antti Niemi. Kind of.

Here’s a free joke regarding that situation.

Scores

Flames 5, Flyers 4 (OT)
Stars 6, Oilers 3
Coyotes 3, Senators 2 (OT)
Jets 5, Devils 2
Kings 4, Panthers 0
Hurricanes 3, Sabres 1
Maple Leafs 6, Canadiens 0
Islanders 5, Lightning 3
Blackhawks 2, Penguins 1
Capitals 3, Wild 1
Predators 5, Avalanche 2
Blues 4, Canucks 3 (OT)
Bruins 3, Sharks 2

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.