Peter Laviolette has ‘brought the best’ out of the Preds

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Peter Laviolette is not one to waste precious time reflecting on how he feels about taking his third different NHL team to the conference finals.

The coach is too busy trying to help the Nashville Predators bring the Stanley Cup championship to Music City.

“We’re excited to get going and start,” he said. “Guys have worked hard to get to this point and just want to keep working hard. Like I said, I think the most important thing is just keep our head down and keep doing the work.”

It’s tough to argue with Laviolette’s approach considering his success.

Now 52, Laviolette is just the third coach since the NHL split its playoffs between conferences in 1994 to take three different teams this far, joining Ken Hitchcock (Dallas, Philadelphia and St. Louis) and Darryl Sutter (Chicago, Calgary and Los Angeles). If the Predators get past Anaheim in the Western Conference finals , which start Friday night, he would be the first in that span to take three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final.

Laviolette won the 2006 Stanley Cup with Carolina and led Philadelphia to the finals in 2010. Earlier this season, Laviolette became just the second U.S.-born coach to win 500 NHL games and the 28th overall to coach 1,000 games. His playoff record is 60-52, including 17-13 in three seasons in Nashville.

Paul Holmgren, now the Flyers’ president, hired Laviolette to take over in Philadelphia in 2009 and watched the coach win the Eastern Conference title in his first season. Holmgren said Laviolette is so positive and such a strong motivator that the coach made him confident the Flyers would win every game. Laviolette’s offensive drills also impressed him.

“Peter brings out offensive confidence to his players …, and I think it’s obvious in all the stops he’s been,” Holmgren said. “His teams, not only do they play well defensively, but they get in the offensive zone they have a concept, an idea of how to get the puck in the back of the net.”

The offensive touch is exactly why general manager David Poile hired Laviolette three years ago . The Predators since have added Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Kevin Fiala to give the coach quality offensive talent.

“We’ve walked pretty much hand-in-hand in terms of what we’re doing to accommodate players to the way he wanted to coach,” Poile said.

How Laviolette asks players to play isn’t easy, demanding that they know the system so well that they don’t have to think on the ice. This is the third season for defenseman Mattias Ekholm, and he said he knows exactly how to react in any given situation with a confidence that flows through the rest of the team.

“We know that we can have a really good chance of winning games,” Ekholm said.

Forward Vernon Fiddler, 37, is back with the Predators after starting his NHL career in Nashville in 2002-03. He credits Laviolette with gauging just what the locker room needs.

“You can just tell he’s been through this before,” Fiddler said. “There’s never any second-guessing. It’s obvious this is the way it’s going to be and that’s how it is. There’s no gray area. It’s one way or no way. I think that’s what’s really driving our team.”

Laviolette certainly has the ability to tap the right player at the right time. The first game he played Fiddler was in the second round against St. Louis, and Fiddler came through with the game-winning goal . Eight different Predators have scored game-winning goals this postseason.

What Laviolette hates is telling someone he can’t play. But he does it because that’s his job.

“Those are different things, but things that have to be done,” Laviolette said.

It helps that Laviolette is a former player himself, though his NHL career as a defenseman lasted only 12 games with the New York Rangers during the 1988-89 season. A native of Franklin, Massachusetts, Laviolette played for the United States in the 1988 and 1994 Olympics with 594 career games in the minor leagues.

“He’s an honest guy,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said. “He’ll tell it like it is. He’s done a great job of communicating to us and what he wants and how we need to be successful. Yeah, he doesn’t pull any punches, for sure, and that’s a good thing. Guys know what you’re getting. I think he’s really brought the best out of a lot of people.”

 

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


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

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


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

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

Associated Press
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The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


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

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.