James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Leafs squander a big night for Auston Matthews, again

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Remember when Auston Matthews made NHL history by scoring four goals in his debut? Remember that the Toronto Maple Leafs still managed to lose that game in overtime?

Those memories feel relevant on Wednesday, as Matthews enjoyed a big night in breaking through a personal scoring drought, yet Toronto lost anyway.

Matthews helped the Maple Leafs open the game up with a 3-0 lead thanks to a three-point first period, including two tallies that authoritatively ended a 13-game goal drought.

Things really fell apart quickly. The Devils made it 3-3 with three goals 5:30 into the second period. Still, Matt Martin gave the Leafs another lead at 4-3 just a few minutes later, but that edge wouldn’t hold.

Yohann Auvitu tied things up early in the final frame and Jacob Josefson scored the only shootout goal as the Devils reminded people of their scrappiness with a 5-4 shootout victory.

With that, the Leafs are now on a three-game losing streak, but perhaps Matthews will help Toronto get things back together? If nothing else, he won’t need to answer questions about scoring.

Instead, most reporters will probably focus on the “unable to hold a lead” business.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Sharks – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The Chicago Blackhawks are the ones who keep scooping up the Stanley Cup rings, but the San Jose Sharks have also been in the thick of the West chase for some time in their own right.

All things considered, it’s actually surprising that the two consistent conference contenders only met once in the playoffs (with Chicago sweeping San Jose before winning the 2010 championship).

Even so, it’s reasonable for both teams to look at each other as a measuring stick, especially with the Sharks breaking through much of their playoff malaise last season in making it to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

There’s plenty of snarl and skill on both sides, so this should be a great way to close out the latest edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry. Watch it on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Ovechkin befuddles Blues with hat trick in Caps win

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Chin up, St. Louis Blues: at least you’re not in the same conference as Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

It’s a good thing for St. Louis, too, as he seems to roast the Blues just about every time he sees them.

Wednesday stands as one of his best performances against the Blues – which again, is saying something – as he rattled off a hat trick in Washington’s 4-3 victory. You can watch that impressive trio in the video above.

Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt captures Ovechkin’s dominant work against the Blues: he’s scored almost a goal per game against St. Louis and averages more points against them (seen in PPG below, which isn’t power-play goals in this case) than any other team:

The Blues can rightly say that Ovechkin ultimately scores in buckets against EVERYONE, and plenty of those stats surfaced during another great night for No. 8.

Fittingly, Ovechkin’s third goal of the night ended up being the game-winner, as Vladimir Tarasenko showed why he’s in that next class of snipers with two goals of his own on Wednesday.

Ovechkin, of course, is in a class of his own.

Crosby, Penguins made life miserable for Lundqvist, Rangers

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Sidney Crosby‘s scuffle with Ryan McDonagh turned out to be a mere appetizer for a matchup of one of the hottest players in the NHL vs. one of the league’s hottest teams.

Rick Nash and the New York Rangers managed a 1-0 lead that became a faint memory thanks to a five-goal second period by Crosby and the Penguins, who ultimately won 6-1 on Wednesday.

It was quite the response to the tension built by that Crosby – McDonagh scuffle and that hit on Conor Sheary. It was also the Penguins’ way of replying to the Rangers’ 5-2 victory against the Penguins from Monday.

Crosby’s remarkable work continues with two goals and one assist, all in that dominant middle frame. Astoundingly, No. 87 has 14 goals in as many games (and 19 points overall).

Sheary got a measure of revenge in his own right with a goal while plenty of other Penguins enjoyed nice games, from Phil Kessel (goal, assist) to Nick Bonino (two assists).

Considering Pittsburgh’s 38-17 shots on goal edge, it’s foolish to put this all on Henrik Lundqvist, who made it about halfway through the game before getting the hook for Antti Raanta.

At least this didn’t happen again, though:

However you feel about this scuffle, it’s clear that Crosby and Penguins won this round. Here’s hoping these two teams continue this brewing rivalry with another playoff matchup, eh?

Video: Versteeg, Brouwer combine in best and worst ways

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There’s still some time for the narrative to change between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames, but as of this writing, Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer authored the high and low point of the game.

On the bright side, Versteeg made a pretty magical move to set up Brouwer for the 1-0 goal (the only one as of this moment).

Seriously, this is pretty sweet from one former Blackhawks forward to another:

Unfortunately, the Flames will need to monitor the two forwards’ health rather than rising chemistry thanks to this collision:

Yikes.

Update: The Flames ultimately won 2-0, so that goal stood as the game-winner.