Bergeron, Couturier, Kopitar are 2018 Selke Trophy finalists

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NHL awards season is upon us and Wednesday brought the finalists for the 2018 Selke Trophy, given to the league’s best two-way forward.

The nominees, who are voted for by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association at the conclusion of the regular season, are Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.

Bergeron is a four-time winner who could become the all-time leader for Selke wins, passing Bob Gainey, if he takes home the hardware in June. Couturier is a first-time finalist, while Kopitar won the award in 2016 and has been a finalist in four of the past five seasons.

The winner will be announced on June 20 at the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case For Patrice Bergeron: This is a record seventh consecutive nomination for Bergeron, passing Pavel Datsyuk’s streak of six seasons.

A perennial contender, Bergeron put together another solid season despite dealing with injuries that limited him to just 64 games — something that could hurt his chances of winning a record fifth trophy.

Still, Bergeron paced the league in CF% (Corsi-for percentage) with 57.68 percent (minimum 600 minutes played). He was also sixth in face-off win percentage (57.3 percent) and was an NHL-best 58.3 percent on faceoffs while shorthanded.

The 32-year-old, who won the award in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017, finished with 63 points, his best season in terms of points per game. Bergeron hit the 30-goal mark for the fourth time in his career.

The Case For Sean Couturier: Couturier had a career-year in terms of goals (31), assists (45) and points (76) playing in all 82 regular season games for the Flyers.

Couturier, getting his first Selke nomination, benefitted from a move to left wing for Claude Giroux, and the line that formed with the duo flourished all season.

Couturier was leaned upon by the Flyers and was second in the NHL in minutes with 1,770:31 and third in average time-on-ice at 21:35 per game.

Couturier’s possession metrics were solid, finishing with a 53.2 percent CF%, which was highest on the Flyers.

A win for Couturier would make him the first Flyers Selke winner since Dave Poulin in 1987 and just the third in franchise history (Bobby Clarke won in 1983).

The Case For Anze Kopitar: The 2016 winner is a finalist for the fourth time in the past five seasons, and he has, arguably, the strongest case this season to return to the podium.

The 30-year-old had a bounce-back season this year, scoring a career-high 35 times on his way to a career-best 92 points, good for seventh in NHL scoring.

Kopitar led all NHL forwards in ice time with 1,810:58, an average of 22:05 per game. This is all the more impressive given that the Kings were the top club in the league in terms of team defense, allowing a league-low 2.45 goals per game.

Kopitar was also a force shorthanded, averaging 2:10 per game on the NHL’s top penalty-killing unit.

And his faceoff prowess has never been better, taking 37 percent of the Kings’ faceoffs, the third-highest percentage in the NHL. His faceoff win rate of 54.1% led the Kings and also marked a career-best.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Vezina Trophy

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 Buzzer: Fleury dominates again, Caps get huge win, Jets push Wild to brink

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Three games on Tuesday night

Winnipeg Jets 2, Minnesota Wild 0 (Jets lead series 3-1)

Well things certainly escalated here, didn’t they? Josh Morrissey might be looking at a suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Eric Staal, while Wild coach Bruce Boudreau argued that the non-call on that play cost the Wild the game. It certainly did not help as it would have given them an extended two-man advantage, while Morrissey stayed in the game to set up the game-winning goal and help make a great defensive play to break up a potential breakaway chance for Nino Niederreiter.

Washington Capitals 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (Blue Jackets lead series 2-1)

Artemi Panarin was the best player on the ice — by a wide margin — with another multiple-point game and some sort of highlight reel play nearly every time he touched the ice. It was not enough for the Columbus Blue Jackets as the Washington Capitals were able to pick up the Game 3 win. It was Lar Eller’s double overtime goal that lifted the Capitals as they finally had a bounce go their way in a playoff game

Vegas Golden Knights 1,  Los Angeles Kings 0 (Golden Knights win series 4-0)

The first team advancing to the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs is the Vegas Golden Knights after completing their four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night with a 1-0 win in Game 4 of their series. If someone had told you that sentence would be possible at the start of the season you would have laughed at them, and rightfully so. Brayden McNabb, the player Los Angeles gave up to Vegas in the expansion draft, scored the only goal on Tuesday night.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. It was, once again, the Marc-Andre Fleury show on Tuesday night. He stopped all 30 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the series, both of them by a 1-0 margin. He was unbelievable in the series, allowing just three goals in the four games. Some of his saves on Tuesday were highlight reel stops, including this late third period save on Anze Kopitar to preserve the one-goal lead.

Then he did it again in the final minute, just getting enough of this Dustin Brown shot.

Remember when Fleury was a concern in the playoffs? Seems like an eternity ago. Since the start of the playoffs a year ago Fleury now has a .935 save percentage in 19 games with four shutouts.

2. Lars Eller, Washington Capitals. Facing the prospect of a 3-0 series hole the Capitals needed somebody to step up in a big situation and Eller just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help them get on the board in their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Was he the best player on the ice? No. Was he the Capitals’ best player? Probably not. He did score the biggest goal of the season for the Capitals — to this point — so that is good enough.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. On the same day that it was announced he is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie, Hellebuyck recorded his first career playoff shutout, stopping all 30 shots he faced in the Jets’ 2-0 win to move them one game closer to winning their first ever Stanley Cup playoff series.

Factoid Of The Night

It has to be all about the Vegas Golden Knights. What they are doing this season is nothing short of amazing.

Wednesday’s Schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils, 7:30 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 10 p.m. ET
Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

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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.

John Stevens ‘bewildered’ at non-call for Haula butt-end on Kopitar

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The Los Angeles Kings were already upset with Drew Doughty’s one-game suspension that saw him sit during their Game 2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. The hits kept on coming in Sunday’s Game 3 defeat when Erik Haula and Anze Kopitar tangled in front of the LA net and ended with Haula hitting Kopitar in the face with the butt end of his stick as he was getting up off the ice.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Haula wasn’t penalized on the play and that led to Kings head coach John Stevens giving ref Dan O’Halloran an earful. After LA dropped Game 3 by a 3-2 score, Stevens vented his frustration with the non-call.

“We get a guy suspended for making a hockey play, and he butt ends one of the best players in the world in the face with the butt end of his stick,” he said. “So, if I was confused before, I’m bewildered now. That’s an intent-to-injure play. I don’t like hard hockey – I love hard hockey. Good, honest, hard hockey, I love it. Kopitar’s about as tough of a guy as you can find. You guys make the judgement, because it’s a bunch of B.S., to be honest with you.”

Even though he stayed out of the box, Haula could be the subject of punishment from the Department of Player Safety, which, given history, would likely result in a fine rather than a suspension, if anything.

[Golden Knights stun Kings, eye first playoff sweep]

But of bigger concern for the Kings is being down 3-0 in the series and facing elimination on home ice on Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). LA has three goals in three games and have been unsuccessful at figuring out Marc-Andre Fleury.

“We’re down, but we’re not out,” Kopitar said. “There’s at least one game left to be played. We’ve got to start with winning one and we’ll go from there”

UPDATE:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Golden Knights stun Kings, eye first playoff sweep

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We’re far beyond the point of debating if the Vegas Golden Knights are “for real,” but the expansion team’s first-year accomplishments keep stacking up to a staggering degree.

The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs haven’t ruined the party. In Game 1, the Golden Knights grabbed their first-ever goal, win, and shutout in beating the Los Angeles Kings 1-0. Game 2 brought great drama, as even though Jonathan Quick played an incredible game, Vegas ultimately broke through for the 2-1 win in the waning minutes of double overtime. The Golden Knights leveraged their home-ice advantage during those first two games, but it turns out that a change of venue couldn’t stop them.

This time around, Marc-Andre Fleury was the goalie who was stealing the show, stopping 37 out of 39 shots on goal as the Golden Knights pushed the Kings to the brink of elimination with a 3-2 in.

Yes, that’s right, the VGK are now up 3-0 in this series. In their first crack at a playoff series, they’re already getting their first opportunity to complete a sweep in the postseason.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

At this point, it’s insufficient to call the Golden Knights “quick learners.” Instead, their prodigies on the Mozartian scale; maybe their mascot should be Doogie Howser?

Speaking of quick, that’s how this game turned, echoing the Penguins running away with their contest and the Wild doing the same today.

The Kings carried a 1-0 lead into the third period, but Cody Eakin buried a great David Perron pass to complete a busy sequence, tying things up 6:10 in. The dizzying turn of events happened later, as James Neal followed up his wonderful assist on the overtime game-winner in Game 2 to a sneaky goal to put Vegas up 2-1 with 5:37 left in the third:

Neal’s goal is the rare one Quick would want back, although maybe that’s only relative to this series, as it was a pretty nifty move and release. Just 21 seconds later, the Golden Knights stunned the Kings as Reilly Smith made an outstanding play to set up William Karlsson for what would end up being the game-winner.

Anze Kopitar gave the Kings a chance with a wonderful showing of hand-eye coordination for his first goal of the series with a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation, yet it wasn’t enough to nullify that two-goal burst.

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The Kings enjoyed a far better showing in Game 3 than in Game 2, demonstrating the difference that Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin can make in a variety of situations. Of course, the Golden Knights’ big addition mattered as well, as Perron generated that sweet assist on the 1-1 Eakin goal.

Vegas isn’t just sticking with the Kings from a finesse standpoint, either. This has been a physical, sometimes grinding series, and the Golden Knights continue to match L.A. halfway. Between the heated exchanges and the controversial suspension, it’s clear that they’ve had Doughty’s attention the entire way.

Now, the next and biggest challenge so far: eliminating a team on the brink of their season ending.

So far, the Golden Knights have been exemplary in passing these tests, although the Kings have provide very little breathing room on the scoreboard. Vegas would be foolish to rest on its laurels, either, as they merely need to ask the San Jose Sharks how dangerous this Kings animal can get when it’s backed into a corner.

Game 4 airs on NBCSN on Tuesday, with puck drop slated for 10:30 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.

Golden Knights beat Kings for first playoff win

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When Shea Theodore scored the first playoff goal in Vegas Golden Knights history, it seemed like it would be the start of a wild Game 1.

Instead, the Golden Knights and Kings played the sort of clamped-down contest that you’d expect to be Los Angeles’ preference. Maybe it was, but Vegas didn’t blink at this “playoff style,” blanking the Kings 1-0 to win Game 1.

With that, they take a 1-0 series lead for their first-ever playoff win. They’re one for one when it comes to passing playoff tests.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 30 shots on goal while Jonathan Quick was perfect after that Theodore tally, making 27 out of 28 saves. This was a physical, nasty contest, with the Kings being credited with 69 hits versus 58 from the Golden Knights.

One hit, in particular, drew controversy. William Carrier clearly drew the Kings’ ire in delivering 10 hits himself, but Drew Doughty‘s check on Carrier might have gone over the line:

The Golden Knights showed that they can win a grinding playoff game against Quick, not to mention battle-tested veterans including Doughty and Anze Kopitar. You wonder, though, if such play would behoove Los Angeles if that style carries through during the remainder of this fascinating first-round series.

Ultimately, that’s a question for Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant to answer, but they didn’t ever seem out-classed.

In fact, the Kings have to feel a little bit discouraged that they didn’t prove much of push during this contest, especially considering the fact that Vegas was nursing that 1-0 lead since early in the first period.

The deeper you dive, the better the Golden Knights look. Take, for instance, this evidence of strong all-around play via Natural Stat Trick:

So far, so very, very good for the Golden Knights. Once again, they look beyond their years as an expansion team for the ages.

Now, the next test: how will Vegas handling a 1-0 series lead? Game 2 airs on NBCSN on Friday, so we won’t need to wait long to find out.

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.