Predators forecheck giving Penguins’ d-men plenty of problems


For the Pittsburgh Penguins, a magical fix doesn’t appear on the way.

Kris Letang has missed these entire playoffs, which is a tremendous loss. Injuries, particularly on defense and specifically to one of the best blue liners in the NHL, have been an issue for the Penguins throughout the postseason.

In Letang’s case, he was sidelined before the playoffs even began.

Yet, they’ve managed to make it this far — two wins away from winning back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. Game 5 of the series goes Thursday in Pittsburgh.

But it was evident during Monday’s Game 4, a victory for the Predators, who tied the series at two games apiece, that Nashville’s forecheck gave the Penguins’ group of defensemen — Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole and Ron Hainsey — plenty of problems.

At one point during the final seconds of the middle period, after another relentless forecheck hemmed Pittsburgh in its own end and unable to break out, it eventually began to look as if Nashville had a power play. That wasn’t the case, although it might’ve appeared differently at first glance, as the Predators worked the puck around.

“They’re right on top of the puck all time, forcing turnovers and taking away our time and space,” said Penguins goalie Matt Murray. “I think we got a lot better as the game went on, making our decisions a little bit quicker coming out of our zone. I think that helped us out a lot compared to previous games.”

Now, it was interesting following Game 4 that TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger didn’t completely slam the door on the possibility — or at least the notion — that Letang could return late in this series. Letang had neck surgery in April, although the news of his impending operation and playoff absence had been revealed before the postseason.

More from Dreger on TSN:

“I sense that there is a slight chance. Now prior to this series, I reached out to the Pittsburgh Penguins management and asked that very question: ‘If this series was to go deep, is it possible Letang could come back?’ And the response was, ‘No.’ But that’s not necessarily the feeling that I’m getting around the organization right now. I would say that it’s a long shot. It’s highly unlikely, but it’s not impossible. But keep in mind, he had neck surgery for a herniated disc back in early April. The prognosis was four-to-six months, so we’re two months into the recovery. Again, at best, I think it’s a long shot.”

Again, it doesn’t appear that there will be a magical fix on the way. Although, Mark Streit could still be an option if the Penguins coaching staff decides to make a change for Game 5.

Acquired at the trade deadline, as Pittsburgh bolstered its depth on the blue line, the 39-year-old Streit has played only three times in these playoffs, his last game on May 23 versus the Ottawa Senators. He had a pair of assists in three games in that series.

“You know, our blueline crew, they’re a simple bunch,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “They’re trying to make plays to get out of our end zone. They’re trying to help us along that offensive blueline. I don’t think we have anybody back there that wows you offensively.

“You know, they’re a simple bunch and they’re effective. I think they help us at both ends of the rink. I think they’re trying to play the game the right way. What I really like about them is their compete level. As I’ve said all along here, they’re not perfect by any stretch. But these guys are competing.”


For Penguins’ defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

Though sidelined, Letang does best to boost Penguins drive for a repeat

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:


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 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 or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

Associated Press

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 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.