‘I’m getting chills just thinking about it’ — Pens revel in joining back-to-back club

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NASHVILLE — It’s often hard to contextualize accomplishments, especially in the immediate aftermath.

It didn’t seem to be a problem for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After Sunday’s thrilling win over the Predators in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins joined some rarefied air. They became the first repeat champion of the salary cap era, and the first back-to-back winner since Detroit turned the trick nearly 20 years ago.

To a man, nearly all the Penguins acknowledged how special this was.

And they had no problem describing how it felt.

“The ’97-98 Wings, who I grew up cheering for being from Michigan,” forward Bryan Rust said. “To be in the same breath as those guys, Stevie [Yzerman] and all them, it’s something that’s irreplaceable.

“I’m getting chills just thinking about it.”

With tonight’s win, the Penguins have sparked a debate about the greatest team of the cap era. They and the Blackhawks are now tied with three titles each — and with all due respect to the Kings and their two Cups, they’re out of the conversation.

The Penguins would, seemingly, have the leg up on Chicago based solely on the last two seasons. The ‘Hawks never advanced past the conference final the year after winning a Cup. With these back-to-back championships, the Pens have done what no other cap teams has and, accordingly, raised the bar.

Head coach Mike Sullivan explained how his group accomplished such a feat.

“Part of the process is listening to all the experts, guys like you guys, telling us we can’t do it,” he said. “And history is telling us we can’t do it, because it hasn’t been done. The very first conversation we had with these guys, I challenged them right away and said, ‘Why not? Why can’t we?’

“Let’s not let someone else write our story.”

Pittsburgh certainly wove its own narrative. It won a title despite having no clear-cut No. 1 defenseman and, per Sportsnet, became the first team to ever win a Cup with a blueline comprised of guys that had never received a Norris vote.

The Pens won with an unheralded first-year player, Jake Guentzel, coming out of nowhere to tie the NHL record for playoff points by a rookie. They won despite losing versatile center Nick Bonino to a broken tibia in Game 2.

Their story had plenty of twists, even more turns, and an unlikely ending. Patric Hornqvist knocked home an ugly game-winner tonight, banking a puck from behind the goal and off Pekka Rinne‘s shoulder.

Put it all together, and Pittsburgh’s story isn’t just unique — it’s historic. The team is now forever etched in in NHL lore, right alongside a Detroit club the players talked about with reverence.

“I remember watching those Red Wings teams,” Ian Cole said. “It was something special to watch those teams, and I remember the way I felt watching those teams win.

“I knew if there was a team that could do it, it would be us.”

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

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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.