Smith shutting out McDavid, Oilers should give Flames hope


When the Calgary Flames once again made wholesale changes to their goalie duo in the summer, focusing on bringing in Mike Smith, there were plenty of skeptics. (Myself included.)

On one hand, the 35-year-old boasts considerable puckhandling skills, and the sort of large frame NHL teams seek – sometimes demand – in a starting goalie. While his stats were up-and-down during his run with the Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes, Smith also showed the ability to stand on his head and stop a barrage of shots.

That said, consistency’s often been an issue for Smith, and that includes being healthy enough to consistently stay on the ice.

So far in 2017-18, both the Flames and their critics have been partially right. GM Brad Treliving targeted Smith, and looked smart in recalling his Coyotes days in doing so, as the big goalie’s been huge for Calgary, generating a .922 save percentage. That said, his latest injury cost him 13 games, leaving Calgary in a predicament where missing the playoffs is a very real fear.

Things didn’t look great in his first game back, as Smith and the Flames fell to the even-more-lost New York Islanders 5-2, with Smith allowing four goals. Luckily, he didn’t wait long to remind people why he’s been so badly missed, as Smith put on quite a performance against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, allowing Johnny Gaudreau‘s lone goal to stand up in a 1-0 win last night.

McDavid set up some great chances for Ryan Strome, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and himself, but Smith denied all of them, and the Flames really took it to the Oilers superstar physically:

The Flames still stand at a disadvantage in the West’s bubble races, but this was a reassuring win, especially in seeing Smith look so brilliant.

Take a look at some of the teams they’re chasing between the wild-card spots and the Pacific seeds within reasonable reach:

Pacific second and third (Vegas out of reach)
2. Sharks: 83 points in 69 games, 33 ROW
3. Kings: 82 points in 70 GP, 36 ROW

First WC- Avalanche: 82 points in 69 GP, 36 ROW
Second WC- Stars: 82 points in 70 GP, 34 ROW

Ducks: 80 points in 70 GP, 30 ROW
Flames: 80 points in 71 GP, 33 ROW
Blues: 79 points in 69 GP, 34 ROW

Again, just about all of those teams have some sort of edge on the Flames, yet they do have some agency in fighting back. They’ll face the Sharks twice, with the next match taking place on Friday in Calgary. The make-or-break stretch will likely come from March 21-26: a home game against the Ducks, then vs. the Kings in Los Angeles and the Sharks in San Jose.

No doubt, the odds are against them. Sports Club Stats, for instance, only gives Calgary a 22.2-percent chance to make the playoffs, and that’s with a 5.9-percent bump from blanking the Oilers.

It’s lot easier to believe in their chances with Smith back in the lineup and on the top of his game, however, so Tuesday had to renew some hope.

And, hey, they might also get some more balance in the forward groups with Kris Versteeg back:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Kopitar scores four, McDavid’s four-point night and Olczyk cancer-free

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Players of the Night:

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Two words: career night. Kopitar scored four goals, becoming the first Kings player in 25 years to do so, and thus, setting his own career-high in the process. The Kings decimated the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 in the process.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky made 33 saves en route to a shutout victory, the Blue Jackets’ 10th in a row in a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers, who have been red-hot themselves.

Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals: Grubauer has been solid in relief of Braden Holtby down the stretch as the Capitals’ No. 1 gets some rest before a playoff push. He won his fourth start out of his past five since March 10, stopping all 39 shots that came his way in the shutout.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He’s not playing for a playoff spot, and he shouldn’t get too many votes for the Hart Trophy. But McDavid still has his eyes set on Mr. Art Ross. McDavid had two goals and two assists in a 6-2 win for the Oilers over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. McDavid’s 94 points  (36 goals, 58 assists) are now just one shy of Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

Highlights of the Night:

Above all else, this:

Hard work pays off:

Kopitar’s fourth:

Not everything is pretty when it comes to the Canucks. This is though:

Factoids of the Night:

Things you don’t see very often:

Poor Cam Ward:


Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 0

Hurricanes 6, Coyotes 5

Flyers 4, Rangers 3

Lightning 7, Islanders 6

Capitals 1, Red Wings 0

Maple Leafs 5, Predators 2

Oilers 6, Senators 2

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 7, Avalanche 1

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (OT)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks drop Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime

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If the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s fixing to be one hell of a series,

Thursday’s meeting cemented that. The game had all the ingredients that make up that playoff feel — tight play, tight checking, great goaltending and low scoring. There was urgency from both teams, despite both being near locks to make the postseason.

And it came right down to the last shot of the game.

Logan Couture scored 39 seconds (ironically, Couture’s jersey number) into overtime to clinch a 2-1 win for the Sharks on Thursday night.

The Sharks gained a single point on the Golden Knights and are seven points back of Vegas for first in the Pacific Division with eight games remaining. Perhaps most important, they remained four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings, who leapfrogged the Anaheim Ducks with a 7-1 win against Colorado. San Jose owns a game in hand on L.A.

Catching up to Vegas seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The two teams play each other for the last time next week.

The loss was bittersweet for the Golden Knights, who set record No. 2321778 for a club in their inaugural season.

Malcolm Subban made 42 saves, a career-high after being thrust into action following an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury.

Tomas Tartar got the ball rolling in the game 3:47 into the first period to give the Golden Knights an early lead.

That lead lasted for roughly a period.

Brent Burns tied the game 1-1 at 3:27 of the second period with the slickest of wrist shots from the point.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Eddie Olczyk declares he’s cancer-free


It’s the news every hockey fan wanted to hear.

On Thursday night’s Chicago Blackhawks broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago, Eddie Olczyk, who was diagnosed last summer with colon cancer, told the hockey world some great news.

“I got the call on March 14 at 5:07 p.m. letting me know my scans were clear,” an emotional Olczyk said as he stood next to long-time broadcast partner Pat Foley. “I’ve never heard a better phrase in my life. I’m now 10 days on with the rest of my life.”

Olczyk, 51, had surgery after his diagnosis and had his last chemotherapy treatment on Feb. 21.

“All the cancer is gone – we beat this thing,” Olczyk said, thanking a handful of people, from colleagues at NBC to the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL to his family members, wife and four kids. “And I say ‘we’ because it has been a team effort. We all beat this and I’m so thankful for all the support and prayers. They worked. I’m proud to stand here before everybody and say we beat this thing.”

Foley called Olczyk’s battle with cancer, “heroic.”

Olczyk was scheduled to have a scan in April to see how his chemo treatments had gone, but that scan was moved up due to emergency hernia surgery, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’ve had enough crying to last me a lifetime,” Olczyk said. “I can’t emphasize enough just the support out there… just the texts, the email, the letters. I’ve received thousands and thousands of mail. I won’t be able to thank everybody, but I just want everybody to know on behalf of Eddie Olczyk and his family, we’re forever grateful for the support and the prayers and well wishes we received over the past seven months.”

Olczyk said one thing he realized through his battle is that he found out he was way tougher than he thought he ever was.

“If I can inspire one person to stay away from this, then I guess it was well worth it going through it,” he said.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings

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If you were looking for a barn-burner, this game wasn’t that.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders combined for 13 goals, and the Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes scored 11 in total, the Washington Capitals and their hosts, the Detroit Red Wings, played 60 minutes with just one goal between them.

It wasn’t nearly as exciting in the goal-scoring department, but the win for the Washington Capitals put a bit of separation between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, who the Caps (93 points) lead by four points now.

Brett Conolly’s third-period marker at 6:41 was all the Capitals needed for their

Andreas Athanasiou appeared to make it 1-0 in the first period on a nice wrister, but a goaltender interference challenge by Washington was successful after Tyler Bertuzzi was judged to have made contact with Grubauer. This one was pretty cut and dry, as far as GI calls go.

The loss for the Red Wings meant they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, something that had been known for a while but hadn’t happened in the mathematical department.

Grubauer was solid, making 39 saves for his third shutout of the season. At the other end of the rink, Jimmy Howard wasn’t too shabby either, stopping 25-of-26. All he needed was a bit of run support.

Prior to puck drop, the Red Wings announced that defenseman Mike Green, who was hampered by a neck injury back in February, will go under the knife, ending his season.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck