Feisty Flames dump Canucks, win first home playoff game in six years

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Prior to tonight, the Saddledome faithful hadn’t seen postseason hockey since 2009.

They, and their Flames, savored the return.

And what a return it was, as the Flames rode a wave of emotion — and some gritty, physical play — to a 4-2 victory over Vancouver in Game 3 of their Western Conference first round matchup.

“It really helped us out tonight,” Flames center Sean Monahan said of the fan support.

“They were unbelievable,” added fellow forward Michael Ferland.

With the win, the Flames took a 2-1 lead in the series.

That win was also Calgary’s first in the playoffs at the Saddledome since defeating Chicago 6-4 in April of 2009. Back then, Mike Keenan was the coach and Jarome Iginla was the club’s veteran leader — a far cry from tonight, which further illustrated that Calgary’s youth movement isn’t just underway.

It’s thriving.

Sam Bennett, the 18-year-old playing in just his fourth NHL contest, scored what proved to be the game winner just 2:14 into the third period. Bennett, the fourth overall pick at the 2014 draft, notched his second point in three playoff games and helped solidify himself as a major contributor for a Calgary team that received plenty of support from the kids tonight.

Monahan, 20, scored an insurance marker for his first goal of the series. T.J. Brodie, 24, led the Flames with two points (1G, 1A). Ferland, 22, led all skaters with a game-high nine hits.

“They had a good forecheck. That’s the bottom line,” Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said. “They got on our D. I thought they played physical all night. We turned over the first goal on the wall, where we couldn’t get it out. They did a good job on us.

“We have to be better. We weren’t good enough. We know that.”

Ferland’s ferocity embodied how the Flames played for most of the evening. They out-hit Vancouver 33-18 on the night and seemed to feed off a frenzied home crowd. They also carried over the emotion from the end of Game 2, when a wild brawl ended with over 130 minutes in penalties; Kris Russell squared off with Alex Burrows late in tonight’s third period, followed by a tilt between Ferland and Kevin Bieksa.

(Burrows was given an instigator penalty for his antics with Russell, and could be subjected to further discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Dan Hamhuis could also be getting a call for a headshot on Bennett in the third period.)

As for Vancouver, tonight might prove a wake-up call. The Canucks controlled proceedings at Rogers Arena on Friday night but were unable to do the same this evening, and often looked to be the older, slower and less energetic team. If there was a bright spot, it was that some secondary scorers — Shawn Matthias and Jannik Hansen — scored their first goals of the series.

But that might be it, as far as silver linings go. Sunday night was all about Calgary.

Notes…

The Flames made a pair of lineup changes tonight: Tyler Wotherspoon drew in on defense for Corey Potter, while Mason Raymond played up front in place of Markus Granlund… Eddie Lack stopped 23 of 27 shots for Vancouver, Jonas Hiller stopped 23 of 25 for the Flames… It was another busy third period for the scorekeepers tonight, as the two teams combined for 57 PIM in the final frame.

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