Getty

The Buzzer: Jets move on, Flyers stay in it, Hammond steals one for Avs

5 Comments

Three games on Friday night

Winnipeg Jets 5, Minnesota Wild 0 (Jets win series 4-1)

Technically the original Winnipeg Jets advanced a few times, but these are the new Winnipeg Jets. And the new Winnipeg Jets, after spending nearly two decades without a postseason win, let alone a series win, finally moved on to round two with a rout over a shorthanded, undermanned, and completely overmatched Minnesota Wild team. The Jets now await the winner of the Nashville Predators-Colorado Avalanche series. This game was never close, never competitive, and the Jets look like they are going to be a force to deal with.

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (Penguins lead series 3-2)

Sean Couturier returned, Michal Neuvirth got the start in goal, and together they helped shut down the Pittsburgh Penguins to send the series back to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Sunday afternoon. Couturier did not play his normal workload but he was incredible on the penalty kill and scored the game-winning goal with 1:18 to play in regulation.

Colorado Avalanche 2, Nashville Predators 1 (Predators lead series 3-2)

The Colorado Avalanche are not going away. Thanks to an unbelievable and unexpected performance from, of all people, Andrew Hammond. After the Predators struck first with just under 10 minutes to play in regulation, the Avalanche scored two goals in the final five minutes of regulation. Sven Andrighetto scored the winner with just a minute-and-a-half to play.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Andrew Hammond, Colorado Avalanche. He barely played the past two years, but man did he come through in a big way on Friday night. He stopped 44 of the 45 shots he faced — and the only goal he allowed was a controversial overturn on a Nick Bonino redirection with his skate — to help the Avalanche fight off elimination. It was Hammond’s first ever playoff win.

2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers. How could he not be in here for the game he played? The whole storyline that you want is there. Returning from injury, playing a great game, doing a lot of little things that do not always get noticed, then scoring the game-winning goal to keep his team’s season going for at least one game.

3. Mark Schiefele, Winnipeg Jets. A lot of stars for the Jets on Friday night. Their goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, recorded his second consecutive shutout (more on that in a minute), Paul Stastny and Dustin Byfuglien each had a pair of assists, Jacoub Trouba started everything with all the offense they would need just 31 seconds into the game, but let us go with Mark Schiefele as one of the stars. He set up Trouba’s early goal, scored a goal of his own, and finished with a game-high four shots on goal and six total shot attempts

 

Factoid of the night

The Winnipeg Jets can score goals with the best of them and they also, finally, have a goalie.

Saturday’s schedule

New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Washington Capitalas, 3 p.m. ET
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m ET

————

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.

NHL trade deadline deals deliver for several playoff teams

Getty Images
4 Comments

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman earned accolades for making the boldest moves in improving Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup aspirations at the NHL’s trade deadline in February.

Evander Kane, however, might have been the biggest beneficiary after being dealt by eventual last-place Buffalo to San Jose on Feb. 26. Kane couldn’t contain his glee on his Twitter account a week ago in posting a message which read: ”#playoffmode it’s about time!”

It took him nine years and four cities – from Atlanta to Winnipeg, Buffalo and now San Jose – since being selected with the No. 4 pick by the then-Thrashers in the 2009 draft to finally prepare for his playoff debut. It will happen Thursday, when the Sharks open their Pacific Division first-round series at Anaheim.

Stanley Cup Playoffs streaming, schedule and more

”It makes it easy to come to the rink. It makes it easy to play with this group of guys,” Kane said. ”I’m having a lot of fun right now.”

The Sharks, who gave up a prospect and two conditional draft picks, including a potential first-rounder, might not be in this position without Kane. The 26-year-old picked up the offensive slack on a team that closed the season minus star Joe Thornton. Kane scored nine goals, including two game-winners, and added five assists in 17 games.

In closing the season at 12-7-1, the Sharks’ 25 points ranked in a tie for 10th among NHL teams since the trade deadline.

”He’s a crucial part of our team,” center Chris Tierney said of Kane. ”Just gives us an extra layer of everything.”

Kane wasn’t the only late-season addition to provide his new team a boost.

Yzerman added offense, defense and leadership to an already elite team by acquiring New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller in one of the final trades completed. Miller led all players traded on Feb. 26 by scoring 10 goals and piling up 18 points in 19 games.

”When you add two players like that and give up what they did, it’s you know: They’re in it to win it,” former player and NBC hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk said of the Lightning.

Fellow analyst, Pierre McGuire looked to the moves made by Nashville.

The Predators gave up a first-round draft pick in adding size and versatility to acquire forward Ryan Hartman from Chicago. They welcomed back veteran Mike Fisher, who signed out of retirement. They also signed forward Eeli Tolvanen , after the rookie first-round pick’s Kontinental Hockey League season ended last month.

”You look at everything Nashville has done, they never messed with the roster integrity that was created at the beginning of the year by David Poile and Paul Fenton,” McGuire said, referring to Predators management. ”So I think Nashville quietly, whether it’s at the deadline or just before, did some amazing things.”

The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators (15-4-2), Winnipeg (15-4-1), Columbus (14-4-2) and Boston (13-5-4) led the NHL in points since Feb. 26.

Columbus jumped from 19th in the overall standings to 14th in a run that coincided with the additions of forward Thomas Vanek and defenseman Ian Cole.

Paul Stastny scored four goals and 13 points with playoff-bound Winnipeg, after being traded by St. Louis for a first-round pick. The Blues, by comparison, closed 10-7-2 and missed the playoffs with a season-ending loss to Colorado. And don’t forget Patrick Maroon, who had three goals and 10 points in 17 games for New Jersey, which acquired him from Edmonton.

The Capitals filled secondary defensive needs by adding Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek just before the trade deadline.

”We had holes to fill this year and we filled them with guys that aren’t as high-profile, but are just steady, and provided the things we needed for our team,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said.

After appearing in just 31 games in Chicago, Kempny played 22 in Washington while securing a role alongside Norris Trophy-candidate John Carlson.

In Philadelphia, goalie Petr Mrazek held the fort in going 6-6-4 in place of injured starter Brian Elliott. Elliott returned in time to win the final two games including a 17-save shutout in a season-ending, playoff-clinching 5-0 win over the Rangers.

Not all the trades paid off down the stretch.

Rick Nash missed Boston’s final 12 games with an upper body injury after being acquired in a trade with the Rangers.

Tomas Plekanec managed just two assists in 17 games with Toronto after being acquired from Montreal.

Tomas Tatar had four goals and six points in 20 games with Vegas, which landed him in a deal with Detroit.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno, in Washington, and sports writers Josh Dubow, in San Jose, and Teresa M. Walker, in Nashville, contributed to this report.

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Crunching the numbers for the Stanley Cup playoffs

Getty Images

DENVER (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins right winger Josh Jooris wears No. 16. That happens to be the total wins necessary for the team to retain the Stanley Cup for a third straight season.

There are lots of relevant numbers to be crunched heading into the playoffs, which begin Wednesday night. For instance, zero comes to mind, which is the number of expansion teams that have hoisted the Cup after starting from scratch. That’s a figure the upstart Vegas Golden Knights are aiming to update.

Or Sweet 16 – the amount of teams that still have a shot at that coveted trophy. Here is a by-the-numbers glance at a postseason that will last two action-packed months. Welcome to beard-growing season:

16 – Game-winning playoff goals for Toronto forward Patrick Marleau .

15 – Times Claude Giroux of Philadelphia had at least two assists in a game this season. He and Blake Wheeler of Winnipeg tied for the league lead with 68.

14 – Career playoff goals in 55 games for Winnipeg forward Paul Stastny , who was acquired from St. Louis in February.

13 – Age of New Jersey forward Nico Hischier the last time the Devils made the postseason in 2011-12.

12 – Spot where Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler was picked in the 2010 entry draft . He’s played the third-most NHL regular season games of anyone in that draft class.

11 – :45 p.m. The time Game 2 of the 1951 semifinal series between Boston and Toronto – who meet in the first round this season – was halted at 1-1. Maple Leaf Gardens needed to clear patrons by midnight because of a Toronto ordinance in effect, according to the Bruins website .

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

10 – Postseason shutouts by Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in his career.

9 – Uniform number of Artemi Panarin , who led Columbus with 82 points. No. 9 Filip Forsberg also led his Nashville team in scoring with 64, and No. 9 Taylor Hall led New Jersey with 93. Cloud Nine for sure.

8 – Overtime playoff goals scored by Avalanche Hall of Famer-turned-executive Joe Sakic , the most for a career. Maurice ”Rocket” Richard is next with six.

7 – New teams that weren’t in the playoffs a season ago, matching the biggest year-to-year change. It includes Colorado, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Vegas and Winnipeg.

6 – Approximate length, in inches – or maybe in feet – of the impressive beard grown by Brent Burns of San Jose. The gold standard of whiskers.

5.9 – Goals averaged per game this season, an increase of 7 percent from a year ago. There were 7,552 regular-season goals.

5 – Combined playoff hat tricks for Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (2) and Evgeni Malkin (2), along with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (1). Wayne Gretzky had 10.

4a – Number of times a team has rallied from a 0-3 playoff deficit to win a series. The last occurrence was the Kings over the Sharks during the first round in 2014.

4b – Times since the conference format was introduced in ’74-75 the last-place team from each side earned a playoff spot the next season. New Jersey and Colorado had the distinction in 2017-18, joining the Red Wings/Rockies (finished last in ’76-77), Bruins/Sharks (last in ’96-97) and Maple Leafs/Oilers (last in ’15-16).

3 – Draft picks Vegas surrendered to Detroit at the trade deadline to acquire forward Tomas Tatar , who has three goals and four assists in 17 playoff games.

2 – Number of Canadian teams in the postseason, which is less than California (three).

1.95 – Career goals-against average for Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray in the playoffs.

1a – Number of players born in France in these playoffs (Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of Vegas).

1b – Number of players born in Nebraska in these playoffs (Jake Guentzel of Pittsburgh).

0 – Times Minnesota and Winnipeg have faced each other in the playoffs. The two first-round foes never met in the NHL playoffs when Minnesota had the North Stars (now in Dallas) or Winnipeg had the original Jets (now in Arizona).

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Biggest contract years for NHL playoff teams

Getty
11 Comments

Technically speaking, NHL players only get paid for the 82-game regular season, aside from the pocket change that comes from certain bonuses for playoff wins.

In reality, a player can make a living off of a magical postseason run or two.

A strong couple of months could end up being costly in contract negotiations, yet greed can also be good in helping a team in the short run. Let’s take a look at the biggest contract year situations for all 16 of the teams that made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In several cases, it’s not as much about deals that will expire after this season, but instead core players lining up for their first cracks at extensions in July.

It only seems fair to begin with the Presidents’ Trophy winners, even if their concerns are minor …

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

West

Nashville Predators

Biggest contract year: Nashville’s biggest concerns come down to the guys whose contracts end after 2018-19: Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne.

Still, there are a couple of RFAs who could mop up. Ryan Hartman needs to prove his value after being traded from the Blackhawks, while Juuse Saros could break the bank if something happens with Rinne and he goes on a big run.

Colorado Avalanche

Biggest contract year: Jonathan Bernier is at quite the fork in the road in his career.

The 29-year-old played a key role in keeping things going for the Avalanche earlier this season when Semyon Varlamov went down with an injury, to the point that he probably did enough to earn another backup role. If he can author a big playoff run, then who knows what sort of offer he might be able to command?

With Varlamov’s own deal expiring after 2018-19, a red-hot run from Bernier could even force questions about a changing of the guard.

Winnipeg Jets

Biggest contract year: Connor Hellebuyck is a pending RFA who just broke the single-season wins record for an American goalie, going 44-11-9(!) with a fantastic .924 save percentage. If the Jets make a long-awaited but easy-to-imagine deep run, Hellebuyck will inspire many “buck”-related headlines.

The Jets also have Jacob Trouba and Paul Stastny to consider, while this playoff run will play a role in Patrik Laine‘s extension. Tough to imagine Winnipeg going through the summer without a new deal for Laine, whose rookie deal ends next season.

Minnesota Wild

Biggest contract year: Jason Zucker blew away career-highs in goals (33) and assists (31) this season, generating 64 points. He doesn’t have a huge body of work of scoring at this level (Zucker’s 47 points from 2016-17 were easily his best before this season), so proving it in the postseason could help him earn even more of a boost.

Matt Dumba generated a sneaky-great season of his own, scoring 14 goals and 50 points. The Wild are very lucky that these two players are RFAs.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Vegas Golden Knights

Biggest contract year: The Golden Knights cleared up some concerns, such as handing Jonathan Marchessault a team-friendly extension. Even so, the Golden Knights may lead in greed.

William Karlsson is a pending RFA after leading the Golden Knights in scoring. Some of their biggest names are soon to be UFAs, including James Neal and David Perron. This team has a lot to prove and a lot to gain in the postseason.

Los Angeles Kings

Biggest contract year: For better or worse, most of this Kings team is locked in place. Tobias Rieder could be one of those “flavor of the month” types if he rides some high percentages.

Anaheim Ducks

Biggest contract year: Depth youngsters are looking to earn new contracts in Ondrej Kase and Brandon Montour.

Really, John Gibson might be the guy shooting for the most money in Anaheim. His dirt-cheap $2.3 million cap hit expires after 2018-19, so the Ducks will get their first shot at extending the underrated goalie in July. If he can get healthy and lead a surge, Gibson could drive up his price.

San Jose Sharks

Biggest contract year: Evander Kane generated 14 points in 17 games since being traded to the Sharks, and that includes a three-game drought at the end of the season. Few players had as much to gain or lose as Kane did coming into 2017-18, and that remains true entering the postseason.

Tomas Hertl also approaches free agency as an RFA.

[Want to follow the action? Here’s the full schedule, including where to watch.]

East

Tampa Bay Lightning

Biggest contract year: J.T. Miller could really market himself if he can produce alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

The Lightning stand out as one of the teams with the most interest in how this might grease the wheels for extensions, though. Kucherov’s due for an enormous raise over his almost-insulting $4.767M cap hit, while Ryan McDonagh‘s similar mark also runs out after 2018-19.

New Jersey Devils

Biggest contract year: There are quite a few depth players on expiring deals in New Jersey, yet the most interesting names are imports from the trade deadline in Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon.

So far, Maroon has been especially useful since being traded to the Devils, as he has 13 points in 17 games with New Jersey. It could really help him to prove that he can score without Connor McDavid‘s help.

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Boston Bruins

Biggest contract year: “Ri-Nash needs cash.” Both Rick Nash and Riley Nash are in contract years, with each forward set to be UFAs. Rick Nash probably grades out an “Incomplete” so far in Boston, as he’s only scored six points with the B’s, yet he’s been limited to 11 games played.

Considering how snakebitten Rick Nash has been, it would be pretty funny if he went on a tear in the playoffs. The Bruins wouldn’t mind, even if it would mean that his time would be short with Boston.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Biggest contract year: The Maple Leafs decided to keep rather than trade James van Riemsdyk, even though a lot of signs point to JVR moving on after this season.

For the second time in his career, he passed the 30-goal mark, collecting a career-high 36 goals. Still, this has been far from a fluke, as he’s scored 29 and 27 during other campaigns and has been a reliable 50+ point guy when healthy.

It’s anyone’s guess what kind of deal he’ll command, and that’s doubly true if he helps the Maple Leafs beat the Bruins.

There are other notable names (Tyler Bozak, Tomas Plekanec, and Leo Komarov especially), but JVR is the contract year player to watch for Toronto.

Washington Capitals

Biggest contract year: John Carlson‘s long been a solid scorer for Washington, generating 37 points three times and even hitting 55 once. His contract year’s been one to note, though, as he topped all NHL defensemen with a whopping 68 points, including a career-high of 15 goals.

Carlson is poised for a big raise over his near-$4M cap hit. Piling on big postseason numbers would inflate that even more.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Biggest contract year: Boone Jenner fits the mold of a guy who could blow up for a playoff run, as right now, it’s really tough to truly gauge the value of a one-time 30-goal scorer who only managed 32 points this season.

Thomas Vanek and Jack Johnson both have a lot to play for, even though they’re in supporting roles for CBJ.

The biggest situations to eye are players whose deals run through 2018-19. Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski both could get extensions during the off-season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Biggest contract year: Some of the bigger concerns fall after 2018-19, although Jamie Oleksiak might be the latest member of The Justin Schultz Club: players who landed with Pittsburgh and then revitalized their careers (and paychecks). Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan also need to earn some dough.

Philadelphia Flyers

Biggest contract year: None of the Flyers’ goalies are locked up for all that long. Petr Mrazek‘s deal is expiring this summer, while Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both see their contracts run out after 2018-19. Philly’s goalies pose plenty of questions, yet you’d think that motivation won’t be lacking.

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.

The Buzzer: Kucherov hits 100, Berglund scores 3, another crazy Crosby goal

Getty
4 Comments

Player of the Night: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

It was a big night for Kucherov and the Lightning. Their 7-5 win over the Buffalo Sabres helped them get one step closer to winning the Atlantic Division and claiming the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference, and with a pair of points Kucherov became the second player in the NHL this season to hit the 100-point mark. The 100-point scorer had pretty much disappeared from the league in recent years but with offense seeing a slight increase in the league this season Kucherov and Connor McDavid were both able to hit the century mark this season.

Since the start of the 2011-12 season there have only been seven 100-point seasons in the NHL: Two for McDavid, one for Patrick Kane, one for Sidney Crosby, one for Evgeni Malkin, one for Daniel Sedin, and now one for Kucherov.

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

This is the first time since the 2009-10 season that the NHL has had more than one 100-point scorer in a season.

The Lightning now have 112 points on the season heading into the regular season finale on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

If the Lightning win, they will win the division and get the top seed in the East. If they lose they will need to get some help and hope the Bruins (who play twice this weekend) do not pass them in the standings.

Player of the Night Part 2: Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues

Thanks to their 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night all the St. Louis Blues have to do on Saturday is collect one point against the Colorado Avalanche in order to clinch a playoff spot. A regulation loss knocks them out. The fact they are even in that position is remarkable when you think back to the NHL trade deadline when they were stuck in a terrible losing streak and had traded one of their top players, veteran forward Paul Stastny.

The star of the night for the Blues on Friday was Patrik Berglund for scoring three goals, including the game-winner just 12 seconds after the Blackhawks had tied the game at one.

It was a pretty slick goal, too.

Highlight of the Night

Sidney Crosby doesn’t score normal goals anymore. After scoring a couple of goals where he batted the puck out of mid-air, he was back to scoring goals from his office on Friday night. By office, I mean from four feet behind the goal line. Here he is intentionally shooting the puck off of Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson for his 29th goal of the season. Crosby does this at least two or three times a year. It is 100 percent intentional.

The Penguins were 4-0 winners on Friday night and secured the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division which means home-ice advantage in the first-round. They now await their first-round opponent which could be either the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, or New Jersey Devils. By finishing in second place in the division it is guaranteed they will not play the Washington Capitals in the first round.

Ducks inch closer to home ice

The Anaheim Ducks kept rolling on Friday night with a 5-3 win over the Dallas Stars and are now just one point back of the San Jose Sharks for second place in the Pacific Division. You can read about their win on Friday night here.

Factoid of the Night

It is another tough year for the Buffalo Sabres, but at least their 7-5 loss on Friday night had a bright spot.

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Ottawa Senators 0

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Buffalo Sabres 5

St. Louis Blues 4, Chicago Blackhawks 1

Anaheim Ducks 5, Dallas Stars 3

————

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.