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Loss to Jets will ‘kind of ruin the break’ for Blackhawks

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CHICAGO (AP) The Winnipeg Jets were just OK for most of the first part of the season. Except for their games against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Against the Blackhawks, they were perfect.

Andrew Copp and Bryan Little scored in a 32-second span in the third period, and Winnipeg continued its dominance against Chicago with a 5-3 victory on Thursday on the final night before the NHL All-Star break.

“For some reason, we elevate our game when we play this team and we always give our best,” Little said. “The big thing for us is having that confidence and having that energy and just will to win against other teams. For some reason, we just have these guys’ numbers.”

Winnipeg (23-25-4) improved to 4-0 against Chicago (30-16-5), outscoring the Blackhawks 13-4. It had dropped four in a row against Chicago coming into the season.

“These are huge points,” said Connor Hellebuyck, who made 38 saves in his first appearance since Jan. 13. “It doesn’t matter what team we’re playing, we need to continue to grow our team and continue to get points and think these two are going to spring us post All-Star break.”

Little, Copp, rookie Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist, helping the Jets to their third win in their last nine games.

The Blackhawks had a 3-2 lead before Copp tipped Josh Morrissey‘s shot past Scott Darling with 4:03 left. Little then blasted a shot by Darling for his 13th of the season, silencing the crowd of 21,746.

Scheifele added an empty-netter at 17:57 for his 22nd goal, moving the center into a tie with Laine for the team lead.

“I thought we had good control of the game,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “They were getting chances, but we were playing well. It was just two sets of two quick goals. It totally changed the game.”

Keith, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero scored for the Blackhawks, who allowed four goals in the third period of a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Darling finished with 28 stops.

Winnipeg also scored two goals in a 42-second span in the first, continuing a disturbing trend for Chicago. The Blackhawks allowed two in 46 seconds against Vancouver on Sunday, and then surrendered a pair of goals in 30 seconds against the Lightning.

“It’s hard to accept these two. Especially this one today,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It’s going to kind of ruin the break a little bit. It’s going to take a little while to swallow the way we’ve lost this one.”

Winnipeg jumped in front in the first when Little made a great pass across the ice to Laine, who drove a one-timer by Darling for a power-play goal at 6:16. Laine returned Tuesday after missing eight games with a concussion.

Jacob Trouba then had a big slap shot go off the right skate of Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell and past Darling, with Shawn Matthias getting his stick on the puck just before it crossed the line. It was Matthias’ seventh of the season.

“There were plays that could have been defended against for sure tonight,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We always talk about important shifts. That’s the first shift after a goal, a key shift in games.”

The Blackhawks, who controlled much of the early action, then got one back after Nic Petan was whistled for hooking at 13:02. Just 5 seconds into the ensuing power play, Keith drove a slap shot by Hellebuyck from the left point with Chicago center Artem Anisimov providing a perfect screen in front.

Schmaltz got the tying goal 4 minutes into the second. While Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart repeatedly checked Chicago center Marcus Kruger in the back while the two were on the ice, Schmaltz picked up the loose puck, skated in and beat Hellebuyck on the short side for his third of the season.

NOTES: Kruger played in his first game since Dec. 30. He was activated from injured reserve on Tuesday after being sidelined by a hand injury. … Blackhawks C Dennis Rasmussen, who is battling an illness, skated Thursday morning, but was scratched. … Hjalmarsson played in his 600th NHL game. … Chicago visits Winnipeg on Feb. 10.

UP NEXT

Jets: Continue a four-game road trip Tuesday night against St. Louis.

Blackhawks: Begin a six-game road trip at San Jose on Tuesday night.

The Buzzer: Bolts send Devils packing, Caps jump ahead, Leafs extend series

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Three games on Saturday

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning win series 4-1)

The Devils were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, but their 2017-18 campaign officially came to an end on Saturday. They’ll be disappointed, but this season was a success for the group. As for the Bolts, they’ve punched their ticket to the second round after a terrific regular season. The Lightning received point-per-game production from Nikita Kucherov (1o points), Steven Stamkos (6 points) and Alex Killorn (5 points), but they also had 14 different players pick up a point during the series.

 Washington Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (Capitals lead series 3-2)

Four of the five games in the series have gone to overtime. Game 5 was a typical back and forth affair, as the Jackets scored first before the Capitals went up 2-1. Columbus tied the game, Washington went ahead, again, 3-2, but a dominant third period led to the Blue Jackets forcing overtime. Nicklas Backstrom tipped-home the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Capitals the first home win of the series. This has clearly been the best first-round series of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Boston Bruins 3 (Bruins lead series 3-2)

The Maple Leafs jumped out to 2-0 and 4-1 leads, but the Bruins managed to make things interesting in the third period. Boston had a number of power play opportunities, but they couldn’t cash in. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they’ll have to go back on the road to try to put the Leafs to bed. The Leafs managed to keep Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand off the scoresheet on Saturday. Replicating that two more times won’t be easy.

Three Stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Backstrom scored two goals, including the overtime winner against the Blue Jackets in Game 5. He also added an assist on T.J. Oshie‘s go-ahead goal late in the second frame. The win gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. The 30-year-old has two goals and eight points in five games this postseason.

2. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

The Capitals had a one-goal lead heading into the third frame, but they were badly outplayed in the third period. Holtby is the biggest reason why Washington was able to make it to overtime at all. The Blue Jackets outshot the Capitals 16-1 in the third frame. Holtby had a rough season, but his play in Game 5 was very encouraging.

3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs had to kill a number of penalties during their Game 5 win over the Bruins, and Andersen was one of the key reasons they were able to do so. The Leafs netminder faced at least 40 shots for the third time in five games (he’s 2-1 in those contests). If Toronto wants to force a seventh game, they’ll need him to turn in another fantastic performance on Monday night.

Factoid of the Night

Sunday’s Schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 3:00 p.m. ET

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 p.m. ET

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.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to force a sixth game, thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs built up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission with goals from Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They would increase it to a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

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.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


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

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


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