Looking to make the leap: Nathan Beaulieu

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The Montreal Canadiens made some huge investments in re-signing defensemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov while arguably rolling the dice by parting ways with noteworthy names like Josh Gorges. While those alterations make an argument that Subban and Markov will shoulder a lot of pressure, there’s also another consideration: the Habs are opening the door for young defensemen to take the next step.

The first name that comes to mind is Nathan Beaulieu, the main focus of this post.

The 21-year-old may just represent something of a conundrum for the Canadiens going forward: will the team trust blue chips such as himself or will Michel Therrien & Co. lean too much toward veterans who may bring more name recognition than production? Beaulieu bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL last season, but a Habs Eyes on the Prize review makes a strong argument that he should be a fixture with the big club in 2014-15:

Even once the playoffs had begun, it took an elimination situation in the Boston series for Michel Therrien to insert the puck-moving defencemen in the lineup. Beaulieu made an immediate impact, as the difference between he and Douglas Murray turned out to be a game-changer. Montreal would go on to win the series in seven games, partially thanks to Beaulieu’s ability to carry the puck, quick zone clears and crisp passes.

Beaulieu’s skills seems befitting of a first-rounder (17th overall in 2011), leading that same discussion to turn to an interesting thought: he might just be an ideal running mate for P.K. Subban.

(Talk about making the leap.)

As promising as he seems, it’s difficult to totally separate discussion of Beaulieu with the Habs other up-and-coming first-rounder (in this case, 22nd overall in 2010), Jarred Tinordi. While their styles vary, the early word on both is that they could fit right into the Montreal mix last season.

For the sake of comparison, that same great Habs blog provided a guardedly optimistic reading on his work:

Given fairly easy minutes, Tinordi crushed possession last year, especially while the game was close, the second straight year he’s shown himself to be a pretty dominant possession player in soft minutes. With that said, he didn’t have a great goal differential due to a fairly poor PDO. Some of that can definitely be chocked up to poor luck on both sides of the puck, but the fact is that Tinordi is still bleeding scoring chances against at a significant rate. The good thing is, that will change as he polishes his game and adjusts to the NHL.

It’s plausible that these two might need to out-duel each other to make a leap next season, yet there’s also a decent argument that they have the tools to round out what could be a sneaky-good set of defensemen in Montreal.

As with just about any blueliners, there will be mistakes, so the other big factor is whether or not Therrien will roll with their growing pains.

Tortorella admits Jackets ‘laid an egg’ in Game 4

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Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella clearly wasn’t happy about the way his team played in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Washington Capitals. He was pretty clear about it after his team’s 4-1 loss.

His post-game press conference shouldn’t be described as “vintage Torts,” it was more like “Torts classic”.

After a few minutes of answering questions, Tortorella got fed up with the line of questioning.

“We weren’t good,” Tortorella said after the game. “We weren’t good! There’s no sense in asking me things about the game. I’m telling you, we laid an egg. So I’m not going to break it down for you. We sucked! We sucked! So let’s move by it and see if we play better on Saturday afternoon.”

The next reporter tried to ask a follow-up question and was given the same treatment.

“We laid an egg. That’s all I have to say guys, I’m sorry. I’m not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. We have to figure it out and we will.”

Torts walked off after the next question.

After winning the first two games of the series on the road, the Blue Jackets managed to drop both contests at home. This best-of-seven series is tied up at two, with Game 5 coming up in Washington on Saturday afternoon.

They’ve got to be better than they were in Game 4. The stats don’t lie:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: How Marchand became a pest; What are Rangers looking for in new coach?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Sean Couturier, who missed Game 4 against Pittsburgh, could return to the lineup in Game 5. The Flyers could certainly use a boost, especially because elimination is staring them right in the face. (NHL.com)

• Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan admitted that the next coach of the New York Rangers will have to understand how to develop young players. (New York Post)

• All the success the Golden Knights have had in their inaugural season makes absolutely no sense, according to Vice’s Dave Lozo. They’ve used a bunch of cast-offs and they’ve been successful doing so. (Vice)

• Ever wonder how Brad Marchand became a pest? Well, he outlines it for you in this story he wrote for The Players’ Tribune.

• The Hart Trophy doesn’t always go to the player with the best offensive numbers. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

• The Carolina Hurricanes have hired Paul Krepelka to be their Vice President of Hockey Operations. He has NHL experience as a player, attorney, agent and manager. (NHL.com/Hurricanes)

• The Athletic’s Katie Strang wrote an emotional piece about former NHLer David Gove story. Gove was the victim of sexual abuse, and it affected him until the day he died. (The Athletic)

• NHL official Shandor Alphonso didn’t dream of being an official,  but he’s now working in the NHL. Sportsnet wrote an interesting story about how he went from a financial advisor to being an official in the best league in the world. (Sportsnet)

• Devin is an eight-year-old Predators fan that has battled cancer during his young life. Not only have the Preds made an impact on him, but it’s pretty clear that he’s had an impact on some of the players on the roster. (Tennessean)

• After another miserable season in Buffalo, owner Terry Pegula wrote a letter to season ticket holders telling them that the team won’t be raising prices. (Buffalo News)

• Even though he was fired by the Calgary Flames, Glen Gulutzan believes the team’s future is bright. (Calgary Herald)

• The Art Dorrington foundation, which is named after the first black player to sign an NHL contract, is struggling with funding right now. Atlantic City mayor Frank Gilliam is holding back the $25,000 that was supposed to be given to the foundation. (AC Primetime)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

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Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

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.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

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.