Everyone’s still upset with NHL Department of Player Safety

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The 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs are two days old and one of the league’s greatest ongoing feuds is already starting to reach its boiling point.

No, not the Penguins and Flyers, I’m talking about everybody in the NHL vs. The Department of Player Safety.

Basically, nobody is happy.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

George Parros and his staff have had plenty of plays to examine over the past 72 hours and have already handed out one suspension, a one-game ban for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty for his hit on William Carrier. It seems like a given that another suspension is coming on Friday when the league conducts its hearing with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri for his reckless run at a completely defenseless Tommy Wingels.

We still do not know what is going to happen with Kadri, but the decisions the league has already made have definitely been met with some resistance.

On Friday, Doughty had a chance to speak about his suspension and seemed pretty frustrating he will not be playing on Friday night. Well, really frustrated.

“There are obviously a lot of things I want to say here, but first off, I hope Carrier’s OK. I see he’s in the lineup, he’s not injured, so he’s OK, and I never intended to hit him in the head,” Doughty said. “As far as the suspension goes, I don’t think for one second that that is suspension-worthy. On the hearing and whatnot, we came to the conclusion that I did not intend to hit the head. I did get his shoulder, and the thing we kind of didn’t agree on was that he didn’t move or alter position to make him vulnerable for the hit, which you can clearly see in the video that he plants on his right leg, going off his left, opens up his left shoulder and tries to jump to the inside, and that’s why he ends up in the middle of the ice. I don’t think it’s suspension-worthy. I think it’s B.S., really. It’s awful, and watching the games last night, I guess he’s got four or five more [suspensions] to give.

“You got to play physical. What, you want me to let that guy go to the net and get a scoring chance? I’m not going to let him do that. Like I said, I did not at all intend to hit him in the head, and I 100 percent got his shoulder first. I definitely hit the head after that, but maybe a penalty call or something like that. But a suspension, and in the playoffs? I don’t think so. Like I said, I saw four hits last night that deserve more games than that, so we’ll see what [Parros] does now.”

His coach, John Stevens, backed him up and said that Doughty defended the play exactly the way they would expect him to defend it, and that as long as he is on the earth he is going to “agree to disagree with the decision” by the league.

But the Kings aren’t the only team that is a little angry on Friday.

The Colorado Avalanche are also pretty displeased after Nashville Predators forward Ryan Johansen was not suspended for his hit on Tyson Barrie on Thursday night.

In the NHL’s view, Barrie’s head is not the principal point of contact and it was simply a body check, as opposed to the Doughty-Carrier hit where the head was the principal point of contact. That results in Doughty missing a game and Johansen being available in Game 2.

The Avalanche, naturally, disagreed with that assessment with general manager Joe Sakic calling for consistency in the league’s rulings, a common complaint and criticism when it comes to the DoPS.

Barrie also shared his thoughts, via the Denver Post:

“I didn’t see him coming at all. He kind of came from the side and he definitely caught my head. I’m not sure if they determined that he hit my shoulder or whatever it was first,” he said. “But it’s part of the game and that’s in the league’s hands so you can’t really control it. I think you move on. If those are the hits you’re allowed to take then maybe you take one or two runs at guys that you might get away with. But you just got to move on. We got a long series here and there’s not much point in dwelling on that.”

That was not the only play from Thursday’s games that received some attention.

Late in the Washington-Columbus game the Blue Jackets lost Alexander Wennberg after he was on the receiving end of a tough hit from Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Wilson was penalized on the play. Given that Columbus tied the game on the ensuing power play and then won it in overtime it was a pretty decisive play in the game and was pretty damaging to the Capitals. But it will not result in a suspension from the NHL, in part because there were no clear camera angles that could allow the NHL to determine whether or not Wilson made direct contact with Wennberg’s head.

Columbus’ Josh Anderson, who was ejected in the first period of that game (resulting in a pair of Capitals power play goals), will also avoided supplemental discipline from the NHL. Given that the NHL seems to weigh playoff games more heavily that regular season games when it comes to supplemental discipline it is not a surprising that Anderson avoided anything further. His ejection happened earlier enough in the game that it was probably deemed enough of a punishment.

When it comes to the rest of the decisions … well, there is always going to be pushback and disagreement when these decisions end up hurting a team, and it’s already been a tough, controversial week for the DoPS. That has to be mildly concerning because at this point the Penguins and Flyers have only played one game and Brad Marchand hasn’t gone full Brad Marchand yet.

The playoffs are still early, though, so there is plenty of time for everything to go completely off the rails.

Good luck everybody when it does.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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.