Kings haven’t paid for mistakes…yet


LOS ANGELES — It’s true that hockey is a game of mistakes. But this is getting ridiculous.

Just two games into the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and the list of costly, glaring blunders is already a lengthy one, on both sides.

In Game 1, Drew Doughty and Dan Girardi each had gaffes that led to goals for the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, respectively.

In Game 2 – a contest that was played after a two-day break that was supposed to provide a refreshing respite for tired participants – Justin Williams had a turnover that led to a goal, and so did Brad Richards. Matt Greene made a couple of goofs that led to goals. Jonathan Quick and Willie Mitchell had a mix-up that led to a goal. There was a too many men penalty on the Kings, which led to a goal. Oh, and Ryan McDonagh tried to stick-handle when he shouldn’t have. Which led to a goal.

At least the overtime winner, a clever tip by L.A. captain Dustin Brown, was devoid of glaring error.

“You don’t want to do it, but it happens,” Kings forward Anze Kopitar said of all the mistakes. “They have some speedy guys that create turnovers. That’s just what’s going to happen sometimes. It is what it is.”

“Quite honestly, we’re not happy with how we’ve started these two games,” said Mitchell. “At all. It’s the Stanley Cup finals and you know everyone in this room cares. So much. But we haven’t executed, we haven’t executed well in the first half of games. It baffles everyone in here. It’s not a place we want to be in to have to climb out of all the time. Sooner or later it’s going to bite you in the ass.”

“Right now we’re doing a lot of things that aren’t in our game, haven’t been in our game for years here,” said Jarret Stoll. “We’re getting away with it I think right now. … It’s a game of mistakes. We made some mistakes on those goals, they’re in our net. You’re not going to blame your goalie. They made some mistakes that made it into their net. I’m sure that’s what they’ll say.”

“We still have huge room for improvement,” said Williams. “We can only get better. That’s the positive that we need to get out of this.”

The Kings could take solace that both games ended with L.A. victories, putting them just two wins away from their second championship in three years, despite the aforementioned poor starts in both Games 1 and 2.

The Rangers, meanwhile, were once again left to wonder what could have been. In Game 2, they had a 2-0 lead. And a 3-1 lead. And a 4-2 lead. All for naught.

“We blew another two-goal lead,” said New York’s Chris Kreider. “We lost in overtime. I had two Grade-A opportunities and didn’t finish, so I have to execute better.”

“They’ve been in three Game 7’s and come out on top,” said Girardi. “[The Kings] were Stanley Cup champions a couple years ago. They know what it takes to win. They’re getting those good bounces, those good plays in front.

“We’re just going to have to find a way to, when we have the lead, to hold on to it, especially against a team like this. We know they’re going to be coming. They have all that experience over there and we need to be ready for that.”

The good news for the Rangers is they haven’t lost at home yet. And if we’ve learned one thing from these playoffs, it’s that momentum can shift in a series, no matter how in control one team seems and how devastated everyone thinks the other should be.

Game 3 goes Monday at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers will be hoping for a lift from the home crowd.

“I think we’ve played close to nine periods now,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “For the most part I’ve liked a lot of things about our game. Our guys are trying real hard. We’re going to continue to try. I mean, both games we had opportunities. We didn’t get it done.

“We’re going home in front of our great fans. We’re going to be ready for the next game.”

And if there’s one coach who should know about 2-0 leads in the Cup final, it’s Vigneault, whose former Vancouver side looked in control of the 2011 final after two wins at home, before the Bruins stormed back to win four of five, starting with a blowout victory in Boston in Game 3.

History, of course, says teams that lose the first two games of the final on the road are in big trouble. The all-time record of those teams is 3-32.

Related: Kings know they got away with one

The Buzzer: Schwartz the hero, Gibson blanks Flames, Bruins clinch

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Players of the Night:

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: The Blues needed a win on Wednesday. They’ll need a few more still if they’re to push for the playoffs, but Schwartz scored a third-period equalizer and then the overtime winner 30 seconds into the extra frame to keep pace with the Anaheim Ducks (who won) for the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson posted his third shutout in his past seven starts — and fourth of the season — saving all 29 shots that came his way in a 4-0 triumph of the Calgary Flames.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin continued his pursuit of the Hart Trophy, netting a goal and adding an assist for his 41st goal (three back of Alex Ovechkin) and 91st point (three back of Nikita Kucherov).

Highlights of the Night:

Sidney Crosby did a thing – a very nice thing:

Jaden Schwartz, end-to-end to end the game:


Factoids of the Night:


Penguins 5, Canadiens 3

Coyotes 4, Buffalo 1

Blues 2, Bruins 1 (OT)

Ducks 4, Flames 0

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blues move closer to playoffs with OT win; Bruins clinch


Maybe the St. Louis Blues aren’t dead in the water after all.

In fact, despite selling off Paul Stastny at the trade deadline following two brutal loses that were part of a larger free fall at the time, the Blues have found another gear with just weeks left in the NHL season.

The Blues pulled themselves to within one point of the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with a 2-1 overtime win against the depleted Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Rivalry on the NHL on NBCSN.

The Bruins held the lead for two periods and change before Jaden Schwartz scored mid-way through the third period to tie the game and then 30 seconds into overtime to seal the win and move one-point behind the Anaheim Ducks (who were still in action against the Calgary Flames.)

That’s three straight OT wins for the Blues, who were without Vladimir Tarasenko due to injury.

The point for the Bruins was important, despite the loss, as they have now clinched a playoff spot, moving four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division lead.

The Bruins were still missing Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash on Wednesday, yet still figured out a way to obtain something despite a stacked infirmary.

And part of that help is coming from a surprising place.

Last week at this time, Ryan Donato was a Harvard student, fresh off a five-goal performance at the Olympics for Team USA.

By Sunday, he was still a Harvard student but had signed an entry-level NHL contract with the Boston Bruins. On Monday, still a Havard student and now an NHLer for 24 hours, Donato scored his first NHL goal and added two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On Tuesday, Donato was back in class — you guessed it — as a Harvard student, an NHL player who had been excused from practice by the team that signed him two days earlier and scored his first NHL goal a night before.

On Wednesday, Donato scored again.

Meanwhile, the NHL could take a deeper look at a second-period hit to the head Brayden Schenn by on David Krejci.

Schenn was handed a two-minute charging penalty on the play, and Krejci stayed in the game, but judging by the above video, there was definite contact to the head and it appears Krejci was fortunate to be able to get up and skate away.

NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones talked about if Schenn deserves to be suspended for the hit.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sidney Crosby scores incredible goal, again (video)

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Oh, Sidney.

Just when you thought you’ve seen everything from Crosby, he has this uncanny knack and making sure you haven’t forgotten who he is and makes sure, once again, that you never will.

Crosby did Crosby things one again on Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. I can save you the explanation of the second-period goal, since it’s pretty incredible and, as a consequence, tough to explain in words.

Let’s roll some of the footage here, shall we?

And another angle:

Carey Price didn’t have a chance.

Crosby has grown pretty good at batting pucks out of mid-air. Poor Antti Niemi:

Remember this from John Tavares?

It was pretty special too and done in similar fashion:

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers hold keys to playoff fate

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Few teams have been hotter than the Florida Panthers down the stretch, something that had to be the case for the Cats to be in the spot they are currently in.

No, they’re not in a playoff spot at the moment — as a Wednesday they sit one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the second and final wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a massive game awaits them on Thursday against one of the few teams that have been hotter than them in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have strung together nine straight wins.

The Panthers hold two games in hand over the Devils, who squandered an opportunity to increase their slim lead in a 6-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. New Jersey has struggled as of late, going 4-6-0 in their past 10, including back-to-back losses now. The Panthers, meanwhile, eviscerated the Ottawa Senators 7-2 to pull within a point of them. Florida is five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points behind their opponents on Thursday in Ohio. To thicken the plot, Florida holds three games in hand on Philly and Columbus.

Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1, have scored more 5-on-5 goals than any other team with 35 and are third in expected goals percentage during that time. The Florida Sun-Sentinel also points out that the Panthers have more points since the ASG out of any Eastern Conference team and the great goal differential (plus-27).

With 11 games to go, the Panthers sit in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own playoff fate.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner slightly downplayed the Columbus game in a conference call with the media on Wednesday.

“This time of year, it’s easy for these guys to get up for games, obviously how important they are,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing over-the-top, extra special than what we normally do to prepare for a team. Obviously, it is an important game, but we have 10 more important games coming in.”

Despite losing key pieces in Jonathan Marchesseault and Reilly Smith over the summer — both are having career years with the Vegas Golden Knights — the current crop for the Panthers appear to have bought into Boughner’s message. And with Roberto Luongo healthy after missing two-and-a-half months with a groin injury, Florida is peaking at the right time.

“I think if you ask the guys, they’re having the time of their lives, having lots of fun,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, we’ve been playing playoff hockey here for the last couple of months, just trying to dig in and scrape for points every night.”

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Luongo had gone 8-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with two shutouts in his past 11 starts — vintage Luongo, who’s been down this road before.

“Lu means everything to our team, obviously,” Boughner said, adding that Luongo will be in the driver’s seat in Florida’s last 11 games.

“He’s going to play a lot of hockey,” he said, saying it will be in the realm of an 80/20 split between Luongo and backup James Reimer.

Boughner said Aleksander Barkov — who has eight goals and 26 points in his past 19 games — is his vote for the Selke Trophy and that Keith Yandle is the glue that helps keep the room together. Evgenii Dadonov, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in his past 19 games, shouldn’t be forgotten.

Boughner said when the team was struggling earlier this season, consistency was the most frustrating part — noting that the team couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row.

“There was too much individual work going on,” he said. “It took us a long time to sort of get the team convinced with sticking with the process and playing as a team… less selfishness and more about the team.”

That changed with a five-game winning streak in the last half of December.

“That’s probably where the light went on,” Boughner said.

It’s burned brightly ever since.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck