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Isles’ Mathew Barzal on the Sedins, NHL adjustment and Calder race (PHT Q&A)

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Nineteen and three. That’s how many multi-point and five-point games, respectively, Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders has recorded this season.

The rookie forward hit No. 19 on Tuesday night with a two-goal, three-point effort during a 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Barzal’s 22nd goal of the season ended up being the game-winner. His 60th assist of the season made him the eighth rookie in NHL history to reach the mark.

It’s been a big deal for the 20-year-old Coquitlam, B.C. native. While his NHL season will come to an end on Saturday night, he’ll continue playing this spring after accepting an invite to represent what’s looking to be a stacked Canada squad at the World Championships in Denmark next month.

“When the best player in the world, at 20 years old, is going, Connor McDavid, it’s pretty easy for a guy like me, being 20, to say yes,” Barzal told Andrew Gross of Newsday this week.

A few weeks after the Worlds end, Barzal will be hopping on a plane to Vegas and picking up his 2018 Calder Trophy, which recognizes the NHL’s top rookie. The finalists won’t be announced until later this month, but it’s been clear that the Islanders forward will take home the honors.

We caught up with Barzal after an Islanders practice earlier this week.

Enjoy.

Q. Being a kid from outside of Vancouver, what did the Sedins mean to you as a young hockey player?

BARZAL: “It was a great. I watched them for 8-9 years and I could remember just being in awe of them cycling the puck and holding it for sometimes a minute, two minutes at a time. They were amazing to watch as a young guy and they were legends in the city.”

You got to participate in the Canucks’ SuperSkills event in 2011. What was it like being around Henrik and Daniel and their teammates?

“They stood out to be just how nice they were and how humble they were. Obviously, they were the two biggest superstars in Vancouver at the time, two most humble guys on the team. It’s such a statement to their character. It’s just kind of the people they are, I guess.”

Nearing the end of your first full season, what took you the longest to adjust to at the NHL level?

“I’d say the lifestyle, just being on your own more, being around older guys. I’m a younger guy, younger soul being around 16 year olds last year, going to being around 30 year olds with kids now. It was a little different at the start, but I love it and every guy is a great guy so they’ve made it easy on me.”

Lot of babysitting and dishes at the Seidenbergs?

“A little bit, yeah.”

Some floor hockey, too?

“Yeah, lot of hockey. Lately, not so much. I kind of just tell [the kids] to go upstairs and get lost, I’m tired today.”

Being in that Islanders room with guys like Seidenberg, Tavares, what are the biggest things you’ve learn off the ice from them?

“I’d say just how hard they work. The routine and just being maniacal about your body and that kind of stuff. Tavares is obsessed about getting better. Same with Seids. They’re so worried about their body and treating it well. That’s the biggest thing I take from it — just every single day you’ve got to take care of your body. You can’t have one good day and think that you’re all of a sudden feeling good. It’s literally eight months of the year that you have to dial in, and every single day they bring it.”

What was the biggest thing that surprised you being up here for a full season?

“The pace of play and how good some guys really are up here. You see them on TV and see Johnny and [Jordan Eberle] on TV growing up and these guys are unbelievable. But you get to see them every day in and out of practice, that kind of stuff. They’re pretty special players. When you go up against a guy like [Sidney] Crosby or [Claude] Giroux, that same thing happens.

“Another thing, maybe not really surprising, but it was just nice to see how the older guys treated a rookie like myself. You hear different things growing up how rookies get treated, but the whole time I’ve been here every guy’s just been really friendly to me and made me feel comfortable and poked me here and there. I love that stuff, so I would say that was a really nice surprise, just feeling like everyone’s got your back.”

Being sent down at the beginning of last year, what kind of motivation did that provide you for this season?

“I’m a pretty motivated guy to begin with so when I got sent back, I didn’t want to go down and just be too cool for a year since I had a little taste in the NHL. I went down and worked hard, had a good coach there [former NHLer Steve Konowalchuk], wasn’t thinking I was smarter or better than anything he said. I think that kind of mindset that the coaching staff and management here wanted me to go back with just really helped my progression last year.”

The rookie race was pretty exciting to watch for most of this season until Brock Boeser got hurt. When it was going back and forth, did you find yourself checking out what the other guys were doing every night?

“Oh yeah, every day. It’s kind of hard to ignore when it’s the TV the whole time and you’re getting Twitter mentions and Instagram [mentions]. It was fun. It was a great. Obviously, we don’t know what’s going to happen come June [Ed. note: I think we do.]. It was fun there when me and Brock [Boeser] had four or five lead changes in the matter of two weeks.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

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Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

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

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

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

Bruins push Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

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

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

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