James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Hagelin might be available for Penguins in Game 2

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WASHINGTON (AP) Carl Hagelin could be bringing his trademark speed back to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Hagelin will be a game-time decision to return for Game 2 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night after being out since March 10 with a lower-body injury. The lightning-quick wing took part in a full-contact practice Friday and has progressed far enough in his recovery to be an option to play.

“He brings that element of speed, his ability to stretch the ice, his pursuit game, forces turnovers all the time and we can create a lot of offense off of it,” Sullivan said. “He’s a good penalty killer, he’s a solid two-way player, so we can use him in a number of different capacities, but I think his speed certainly helps us play the type of game that we want to play and we’re a more competitive team when he’s in the lineup.”

Hagelin called it a “step in the right direction” but said it’s difficult to determine if he’ll feel good enough to play.

“You always want to play,” the 28-year-old Swede said. “It’s always hard to say, but out there today it felt good. It felt like I was moving, and I’m excited, that’s for sure.”

Pittsburgh leads the best-of-seven second-round series 1-0. The Penguins are a much stronger team with the return of veteran wing Chris Kunitz and Hagelin, whose speed could make it even more difficult on the Capitals.

“He can put teams back on their heels,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “He doesn’t need a lot of room to make a play. … He can help in a lot of different areas.”

If Hagelin is cleared to return, Sullivan says it will be a difficult decision who comes out. Depth is one of the Penguins’ strengths, so it’s incredible that former first-line wing Conor Sheary could be the odd-man out after being demoted to the third line and struggling in some areas.

“We know Conor has a much better game, and that’s what we’re trying to help him get to,” Sullivan said. “The last couple I don’t think have been his best, but certainly he’s a guy that’s played a lot of really good hockey for this team.”

So has Hagelin, who was part of the famed “HBK” line along with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel during Pittsburgh’s 2016 Stanley Cup run. He had 16 points in 24 games last season.

“Haggy’s a great two-way player,” Kessel said. “He’s a fast player out there. He brings speed, and he’s a smart player out there. Whenever you get a guy like that back it’s big for your team.”

It’s especially big if Hagelin can get his wheels back right away. Being out of the lineup for six weeks makes that a challenge but one he’s eager to undertake.

“Speed should be there,” Hagelin said. “You don’t know that till you’re in the game. “That’s what’s fun about hockey. You go out there and usually you feel like you pick it up right where you left off.”

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Video: Predators’ Fiddler ejected for knee-to-knee on Blues’ Parayko

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Hey, remember when Vernon Fiddler was a feel-good story in scoring an unlikely, lucky goal to seal Game 1 for the Nashville Predators?

That feel-good story didn’t extend very far into Game 2 against the St. Louis Blues.

With about 90 seconds remaining in the first period, Fiddler delivered a knee-to-knee hit on the Blues’ rising star defenseman Colton Parayko, who left the ice after getting some help. The officials responded accordingly, handing Fiddler a game misconduct and five-minute major for kneeing.

Vladimir Tarasenko made the Predators pay with a 1-1 power-play goal as the opening frame was nearing an end, and being that it was a major penalty, the damage may continue. The Blues will begin the second with about 3:30 in man-advantage time.

You can see video of the hit above this post’s headline. PHT will monitor updates regarding Parayko’s condition.

All things considered, the Predators are probably lucky that Game 2 is currently locked up at 1-1.

Video: Did Ovechkin miss opportunity to land big hit on Crosby?

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There are a lot of ways to describe Alex Ovechkin‘s on-ice style. One that probably never comes up is “shy.”

He’s one of the most hard-hitting high-scorers in recent memory, but Keith Jones and Mike Milbury noticed a moment where he passed up a potentially huge hit on Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ eventual Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals.

Both Jones and Milbury admit that Ovechkin probably made the right choice in the moment, as he a) scored a goal soon after and b) would have been whistled for interference (at minimum?).

Even so, they still wonder if it was really the right choice. Watch that interesting discussion in the video above.

And, in the clip below, something most can agree on: Crosby’s on a roll.

Game 2 is on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Predators admit Fiala ‘will be missed’ but must move on

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ST. LOUIS — The Nashville Predators faced the reality Thursday that they will have to play the rest of the playoffs without left winger Kevin Fiala, who sustained a broken left leg on Wednesday night in their series opener against the St. Louis Blues.

“Kev was playing so well for us,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis told NHL.com. “He became a dominant player on the ice, and it’s a big loss for our team. It hurts right now, hurts for Kev, too, but we have to move forward. He’s going to be missed for sure, but we have to find a way to get past it.”

The Predators will try to do that starting Friday night, when they take on the Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference second-round series, trying to stay undefeated in this year’s postseason.

After sweeping the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, the eighth-seeded Predators won Game 1 against the Blues 4-3 on Wednesday. Nashville got a goal and two assists from P.K. Subban and the game-winning goal from Vernon Fiddler with 5:05 left in the third period.

Colin Wilson also scored for the Predators in his first game of the postseason, having missed the Chicago series because of a lower-body injury, and he likely must play a major role if the team is going to overcome the loss of Fiala.

Wilson led the Predators in playoff points a year ago, when they lost in the second round to the San Jose Sharks. They are trying to advance to the first Western Conference finals in franchise history.

“He’s awesome in the playoffs,” Ellis said of Wilson. “He’s been good for us all year, so he’s adapted to his role on the team, and he’s one of the guys we lean heavily on. Now losing Kev, we’re going to rely on him even more than ever.”

Wilson does not believe he will be able to carry the load alone.

“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent, but when we played our game, we were always unstoppable,” Wilson told NHL.com. “We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth. Watching them was fun, but being a part of it is a lot better.”

The Blues saw ways they can be better after the Game 1 loss, primarily by avoiding penalties that helped put them in a 3-1 hole in the second period. Two of the Predators’ goals came on power plays.

“They put us on our heels, put us behind, created a lot of momentum,” St. Louis goalie Jake Allen said. “When we didn’t have to kill any penalties, it changed the game. I thought we played really well five-on-five.”

That performance did not result in a win, however, which is becoming a problem on home ice for the Blues. They are now 1-2 at home this season, compared to a 3-0 record on the road.

“We have to be better at home,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “We put ourselves in a tough position by not coming out and putting our best game in front of us (in Game 1). We have to be a little more focus and committed to playing a 60-minute game. For me, this time of year, you should definitely feel some momentum and energy from your crowd.

“There were some things (Wednesday) we can build off, things we certainly learned about their team and things we need to do to be successful.”

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Hurricanes get Scott Darling from Blackhawks for third-rounder

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If you’re looking at that headline regarding the Carolina Hurricanes nabbing Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in a state of awe, don’t feel too badly.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that even Darling’s representatives didn’t see it coming.

But it did indeed happen, as the Hurricanes sent a third-round pick in 2017 to Chicago for Darling. It sounds like the Blackhawks were going to part ways with Darling one way or another, so they get a decent pick for their trouble.

Darling is scheduled to be a UFA this summer, so the Hurricanes must believe that they can sign a goalie Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman described as “always reliable.”

The Hurricanes could have chosen to keep Darling in their organization, but apparently he didn’t make a huge first impression during this opportunity:

“Reliable” might honestly be selling Darling, 28, a little short. In 75 regular season games, he generated a fantastic .923 save percentage and even excelled when called upon in the playoffs.

With the Hurricanes’ mess in net in mind, you have to credit GM Ron Francis & Co. for being proactive … assuming they can sign Darling to a reasonable deal.

Carolina and Chicago seem comfortable as trade partners, as the two teams also made the Teuvo Teravainen/Bryan Bickell deal fairly recently.