Penguins on the cusp of another Stanley Cup — despite missing Kris Letang for the postseason


The journey back to the Stanley Cup Final hasn’t been easy for the Penguins.

Injuries plague every team during the two-month tournament. But for the Penguins to make it back to this point is truly a wonder considering they’ve been without their No. 1 defenseman for the entire postseason.

Kris Letang hasn’t played a game since Feb. 21 versus Carolina. Neck surgery in April put him out for four to six months, and although there were rumblings of a very, very small chance he may return in the final, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan quickly quashed those.

Letang scored three goals and 15 points in last year’s playoffs, but also led the team by averaging close to 29 minutes of ice time per game. He was the power play quarterback. He played on the penalty kill. No one else on last year’s team even came close his ice time mark, with Trevor Daley second in that category at more than six minutes fewer than Letang.

That is a huge loss for the 2016-17 Penguins.

Missing a top defenseman for the entire playoffs would be a huge loss for any team. It ultimately might even mark the beginning of the end of a team’s chances.

Pittsburgh’s cast of forwards is, of course, impressive. They’re led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, but they’ve also seen a breakout performance from rookie Jake Guentzel. Having great goaltending — a distinction shared by Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray throughout these playoffs — has been a key factor, as well.

Yet, the Penguins have made it by Columbus in the opening round, before outlasting both the Capitals and Senators in grueling seven-game series with Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey — he’s playing in his first postseason at the age of 36 — now leading the way in ice time at 21:49 and 21:06, respectively, and a group that includes Daley, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Ian Cole, Mark Streit and Chad Ruhwedel.

Those are the defensemen Sullivan has called upon throughout these playoffs. It hasn’t been an easy go. The Predators forecheck had given Pittsburgh’s defense plenty of problems moving the puck out of their own end. But they also managed their best game of this series — and, it can be argued, of the entire playoffs — in the blowout Game 5 victory that put the Penguins on the brink of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.

A great deal of attention has been placed on the production Nashville has received from its vaunted blue line in these playoffs, and for good reason. On Thursday, it was the Penguins ‘D’ that contributed in a big way.

It started with a power play goal from Justin Schultz and ended with Hainsey finishing off a great rush up the ice on a pass from Malkin. In the end, the Penguins received five points total from their defensemen in the win.

“I’ve said on a number of occasions throughout the course of this playoffs that our defense group is, in a lot of ways, the unsung heroes of this team,” said Sullivan on Friday.

“I think they fly under the radar, for obvious reasons. You know, we have a lot of dynamic forwards that make a lot of great plays through the course of games, that a lot of times on a lot of nights become the story line. But this team doesn’t have success if that group of defensemen doesn’t play the way that they’ve played throughout the course of this playoffs.”

Now, they’re on the cusp of winning another title. No team in the salary cap era has won back-to-back Stanley Cups. To repeat as champion without a true No. 1 defenseman would be an even greater feat for the Penguins.

The Buzzer: William Karlsson’s wild night; Hart Trophy race intensifies

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Players of the Night: 

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s MVP campaign got a serious boost on Sunday, as he picked up two goals and an assist in a win over the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs forward is now riding a 12-game point streak. He better start making room on a shelf for a Hart Trophy.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: Karlsson continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2017-18 season. His natural hat trick against the Flames puts him at 39 goals on the season. Who would’ve thought that we’d be talking about him as a 40-goal scorer?

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Even though MacKinnon is rolling right now, Kucherov won’t go away quietly in the race for the MVP crown. The Lightning forward picked up two goals in Sunday’s win over the Oilers. Kucherov has 36 goals and 93 points in 70 games this season.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks: DeBrincat scored his third hat trick of the season in a losing effort. The rookie has 25 goals and 45 points in 73 games this season. He has a chance to score 30 this year.

Alex Pietrangelo and Vincent Dunn, St. Louis Blues: The Blues came away with a huge comeback win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrik Berglund scored the game-winner in overtime, but Pietrangelo and Dunn each had four points in the victory.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: Laine has been a scoring machine of late. He found the back of the net twice in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Stars. He’s now scored 43 goals in 72 games this season. Laine’s picked up at least one point in 15 consecutive games.

Highlights of the Night: 

A wicked one-timer from Wild Bill:

That’s an incredible backhander from MacKinnon:

Here’s an unorthodox save from Fleury

Factoids of the Night: 

Dunn Deal


Oh and Laine is a teen sensation

DeBrincat’s having an impressive rookie season:


Avalanche 5, Red Wings 1
Golden Knights 4, Flames 0
Lightning 3, Oilers 1
Hurricanes 4, Islanders 3
Flyers 6, Capitals 3
Blues 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)
Jets 4, Stars 2
Ducks 4, Devils 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blues keep playoff hopes alive with big OT win over ‘Hawks


The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks have played games with more significance, but that didn’t take away from the excitement of St. Louis’ 5-4 win in overtime.

‘Hawks forward Alex DeBrincat opened the game with two first-period goals before the Blues managed to tie the game in the second frame thanks to a pair of power-play tallies by Alexander Steen and Vincent Dunn, who also assisted on Steen’s marker.

The Blues thought they went ahead late in the second, but this goal was called back:

Chicago went up 3-2 heading into the second intermission after David Kampf put them back ahead.

Dunn collected his third point of the night when Vladimir Sobotka scored the equalizer at the 15:24 mark of the third period, but again, DeBrincat scored just over one minute later.

Alex Pietrangelo, who assisted on St. Louis’ first two goals, managed to tie the game with 18:38 remaining in the third period to force overtime. Dunn registered an assist on the game-tying marker to give him four points on the night.

Pietrangelo then helped set up Patrik Berglund‘s game, so he also finished the game with four points when it was all said and done.

Here’s the OT winner:

Despite being sellers at the deadline, the Blues now find themselves just one point behind Anaheim for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. St. Louis has four more regulation/overtime wins than the Ducks, which could be key down the stretch.

As for the Blackhawks, well, they’re done like dinner.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Video: Ben Bishop injured after making terrific glove save
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After missing five games with a lower-body injury, Ben Bishop made his return to the Stars lineup on Friday night against Ottawa. Unfortunately for Bishop, he seems to have run into some more injury trouble tonight.

The veteran netminder was hurt after he made a fantastic glove save on Jets forward Bryan Little on Sunday night. The Stars Twitter account already confirmed that he suffered a lower-body injury and that he wouldn’t be returning to the game.

Kari Lehtonen is now between the pipes for Dallas.

The Stars are currently sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Bruins sign Olympic standout Ryan Donato to entry-level contract

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The Boston Bruins have a plethora of young players coming through the pipeline, including Ryan Donato who they signed to a two-year, entry-level contract on Sunday night.

The Bruins drafted Donato in the second round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The 21-year-old spent each of the last two seasons at Harvard. In 2017-18, he finished the year with 26 goals and 17 assists in 29 games with the Crimson.

Donato also represented the United States at this 2018 Olympic Games, where he had had five goals (tied for the tournament lead) in five games.

The team has already announced that he’ll join them right away. He’s eligible to suit up in tomorrow’s game.

“It came together in pretty short order,” GM Don Sweeney said, per the Bruins’ Twitter account. “We had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school…I think it was an opportunity on both sides to explore with Ryan and see where he’s at.

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details he’s gonna have to work on – all young players do. But he’s a player that has hard skill. We’re looking forward to having him…get immersed and get a taste.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.