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A balanced attack has Preds one win from first conference final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Three years ago, general manager David Poile let the only coach the Predators had ever known in Barry Trotz leave and hired Peter Laviolette to inject more offense into the Nashville lineup.

The payoff is coming with the NHL’s best start this postseason.

The Predators are 7-1 and the only undefeated team on home ice. They have gotten goals from a league-best 13 players, and they’re spreading the wealth around with seven players scoring game-winning goals.

The Predators are led by their top line with Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson combining for 21 points. The Nashville defensive corps also has a league-high eight goals to go with 14 assists. Ryan Ellis leads all defensemen with nine points and has the league’s longest point streak since 1998 at seven games.

Read more: Preds getting offense from the defense

Nashville stands just a win away from the first conference final in franchise history with a 3-1 series lead over St. Louis in their Western Conference semifinal after a 2-1 victory Tuesday night.

“It’s in our own hands, for sure,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said.

Credit Laviolette’s aggressive offensive scheme that lets everyone shoot at the net. The coach also has a knack for plugging players in and out of the lineup at the right time.

“It’s a five-man game in all zones, and conversely the offense won’t work 3-on-5,” Laviolette said of including defensemen in the attack. “If it’s just our three and five of their guys defending, we’re not going to create. There’s a fine line with that, but our guys do a pretty good job defending and taking care of that, and offensively five guys making sure we attack.”

During the regular season, the Predators tied for the league lead with 12 players scoring at least 10 goals. They also tied San Jose for the most points (181) scored by defensemen, led by Roman Josi with 49.

Laviolette has taken advantage of Nashville’s fast-skating blue liners, giving them the freedom to attack the net with the flow of the puck. They love to take advantage.

“Everyone right now is really putting an emphasis on getting up ice and getting those opportunities,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “Both Ryan, P.K. (Subban), Yannik (Weber) and Matt (Irwin) are doing a great job. As a D-corps, we’re just trying to play our game and do it to our strength.”

The final piece came last June when Poile stunned the NHL by swapping captain and star defenseman Shea Weber to Montreal for Subban as part of an effort to add even more offense to the lineup. The former Norris Trophy winner had 40 points in 66 games during his first regular season in Nashville, and Subban has six points in eight games in these playoffs.

Subban said the key to the defensemen scoring so well is the ability to make the smart read in a second.

“Ultimately when you come back to the bench, whether you make a great play or you make a mistake, you got Lavi and you got (Hall of Fame defenseman) Phil Housley … who are correcting us,” Subban said of the Predators assistant coach who is the NHL’s fourth-ranked scoring defenseman. “I feel very confident coming back to the bench to know that if we’re not sure about something or make a mistake that it can be corrected.”

Then there’s Laviolette’s knack for putting in a player at just the right time.

Harry Zolerniczyk had only four points in 24 games during the regular season. Laviolette already has played him in six games in the first postseason of the 29-year-old left winger’s career. Zolnierczyk came through with his first playoff goal in a Game 2 victory over Chicago. He also has an assist and provided a key screen on Josi’s final goal in a 3-1 win in Game 3 against St. Louis.

Laviolette inserted veteran Vern Fiddler into the lineup for the first game against St. Louis, and Fiddler responded with the winning goal. Cody McLeod, who also sat out against Chicago, scored the winner Sunday.

Subban credits a group of players who have bought into what Laviolette wants.

“We don’t care who’s First Star at the end of the night,” Subban said. “Whoever gets the recognition, it’s just about how we’re playing, and everybody pulling in the right direction and we have that.”

 

The Buzzer: McDavid dominates; Fleury’s unlucky return

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Player Of The Night: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers have at least started to show some signs of life in recent games. They were shutout on Sunday night in Toronto, but sandwiched around that game were a convincing 6-2 win in Montreal and then a thoroughly dominating 7-2 win in Columbus on Tuesday night that left Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella completely speechless.

Leading the way for the Oilers was captain Connor McDavid as he went off with a four-point night.

The four points are a season high for him and the fifth time this season he has recorded at least three points.

That performance gives him 39 points in 31 games on the season and currently has him third in the NHL scoring race, three points behind Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

Marc-Andre Fleury Probably Deserved Better In His Return To The Lineup

Marc-Andre Fleury made is return to the Vegas Golden Knights net and looked great, stopping 35 of the 37 shots he faced. Unfortunately that was not enough to get Vegas a win as they fell in a shootout to the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2.

One of those two shots in regulation that beat him? It was this.

That is unfortunate.

Still, that is another point for Vegas as they continue their push for a playoff spot in the Western Conference during their inaugural season in the NHL.

Highlight Of The Night

The Philadelphia Flyers were 4-2 winners over the Toronto Maple Leafs and have now, suddenly, won four games in a row following a 10-game losing streak.

They picked up the winner on Tuesday thanks to this goal that featured a crazy between-the-legs pass.

Highlight Of The Night Part Two

Now let us take a look at Johnny Gaudreau from the Calgary Flames. This came in a losing effort in the shootout but this is still a slick move. Maybe illegal? Either way, it counted.

Factoid(s) Of The Night

— By stopping all 32 shots he faced against the St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his 20th win of the season. He is just the sixth goalie in NHL history to win at least 20 games within his first 25 starts of a season. [NHL Public Relations]

Matt Cullen scored his 250th career goal in the Minnesota Wild’s 2-1 shootout win over the Calgary Flames, making him the 29th American-born player in NHL history to reach that mark. [Minnesota Wild PR]

— Carolina Hurricanes goalies Cam Ward recorded his 300th career win on Tuesday night in their 3-2 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights. He is the fifth active goaltender to reach that mark. [NHL Public Relations]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, Ottawa Senators 2

New Jersey Devils 5, Los Angeles Kings 1

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Washington Capitals 5, Colorado Avalanche 2

Edmonton Oilers 7, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, St. Louis Blues 0

Minnesota Wild 2, Calgary Flames 1

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Florida Panthers 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Vasilevskiy shines again as Lightning take top spot in NHL

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Tuesday’s game in St. Louis was a showdown featuring the top two teams in the NHL.

In the end it was the Lightning picking up the 3-0 win to extend their current winning streak to five games and to reclaim sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the NHL.

Their win improves them to 22-6-2 on the season and puts them two points ahead of the Blues despite having played two fewer games.

It was another impressive showing for Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been one of the underrated stars of this year’s Lightning team. Most of the attention has been directed to forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (and deservedly so!) but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Vasilevskiy, in his first full season as the Lighting’s full-time starter, has been one of the best goalies in the league so far.

Tuesday’s game was his third shutout of the season, and after his 32-save performance against the Blues his .933 save percentage is among the best in the NHL, while his 20 wins (in only 25 starts) are tops in the league. Nobody else in the league has more than 17.

While Vasilevskiy was shining in net again, Kucherov scored his 21st goal of the season to move back into a tie with Alex Ovechkin for the top spot in the league. It was also his 42nd point which moved him into a tie with Stamkos for the league lead.

Brayden Point also continued his breakout season by opening the scoring with his 13th goal of the season. He also added an assist on Tyler Johnson‘s third period goal.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

John Tortorella had no time for questions after blowout loss (Video)

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Since being hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets John Tortorella has seemed to be a kinder, gentler coach.

The blow ups and battles with the media don’t seem to happen as much. We don’t get as many rants.

He just does not seem as angry all the time.

Losing 7-2 at home to the Edmonton Oilers, however, might change a few things.

That it was happened to the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night and Tortorella was in no mood to answer question about the game.

His press conference consisted of him stepping to the podium, saying there is no point in answering questions about the game, then leaving.

Here it is in all of its glory.

The only question we have: Is this shorter than the night he said the New York Rangers “sucked from head to toe?”

(Oddly enough, that game was also against the Edmonton Oilers).

That press conference lasted, roughly, 14 seconds from the time he started talking until the time he walked away (and also included the line “I know you have a job to do”).

Tonight’s comes in at just around 12 seconds. So we might have a record for the shortest John Tortorella press conference of all time.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski has died at age 49, according to the Calgary Flames. No cause of death was given.

Zalapski, a native of Edmonton, played 637 NHL games for Calgary, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal and Philadelphia from 1987 to 2000.

He was with the Flames from 1993 to 1998.

“We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey, made Calgary his home following his playing career, represented our alumni executive and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family,” Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said Tuesday in a statement.

“This is a terrible loss of a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey. We express our sincere condolences to the Zalapski family.”

Zalapski was a member of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

He had 99 goals, 285 assists and 684 penalty minutes in the NHL. Zalapski was named to the all-rookie team in 1989 and participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 1993.

Zalapski played stints in Austria and Switzerland after his NHL career and appeared in 11 games for the United Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Wings in 2004-05.

He was the fourth overall pick by the Penguins in the 1986 entry draft.