James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Scott Laughton makes playoff debut for Flyers in Game 2

Perhaps the key to beating Braden Holtby comes down to introducing a fresh face.

The Philadelphia Flyers are primed to roll Scott Laughton into the lineup for Game 2, making this the 2012 first-rounder’s first playoff game.*

With Sean Couturier out approximately two weeks, the Flyers will ask other players to step up against the Washington Capitals. Laughton hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard, yet like Couturier, his two-way game ranks as one of his calling cards.

It sounds like Sam Gagner will also get a promotion to the second line. If nothing else, different Flyers -some veterans, some young players – will receive chances to prove themselves.

That’s not to say that there won’t at least be a little of the status quo.

We’ll find out soon enough if these tweaks will pay off.

* – He went 20th overall in 2012.

Rangers beat Penguins at their own game to tie series 1-1


Evgeni Malkin looked dangerous at times during Game 2, but the New York Rangers’ scorers ended up being the lethal force.

From showing impressive burst to forcing mistakes, the Rangers accomplished a lot of the things that made the Penguins so dangerous during their stretch run. In the process, the Rangers tied their first-round series 1-1 thanks to a 4-2 decision.

Phil Kessel scored the first and last goal of the game, but the story revolved around the four unanswered goals New York scored in between.

Three of those tallies came during a second-period stretch that barely lasted more than four minutes. J.T. Miller grabbed three assists during that blistering span; Derick Brassard was right there with him production-wise with a goal and two assists.

(This post goes in-depth on that pivotal second period.)

While offensive fireworks dominate the highlights, Henrik Lundqvist made a difference after shaking off that eye injury from Game 1. He made a number of high-difficulty saves (29 stops total) to make this an easier win for the Rangers.

In case you’re wondering, it’s tough to pin any of the Rangers’ four goals on Jeff Zatkoff. The troubling thing for the Penguins is that few (if any) goalies would have bailed Pittsburgh out of the mistakes that led to those goals.

People seemed curiously eager to attach blame to individual players when things were getting messy for the Penguins. The truth is that there were enough sloppy moments to argue that this team, hot or not, has a lot of work to do as this series shifts to Madison Square Garden.

Really, it’s only predictable that these two teams are going to struggle back-and-forth. If the first two games are any indication, it should be a treat to watch.

As far as bumps and bruises go, it sounds like Derek Stepan may have avoided injury in Game 2:

Rangers survive goal review to stun Pens in second period


Another day, another team left slack-jawed after a borderline offside goal review.

This time around, the goal stood. The New York Rangers’ tally counted a day after the St. Louis Blues saw a potential 2-1 goal disallowed in a very controversial decision.

With Derick Brassard‘s goal counting after review, the Rangers scored two goals in 18 seconds to turn Game 2 upside down against the Pittsburgh Penguins. An impressive Phil Kessel tally (his first in the playoffs with Pittsburgh) feels like an afterthought now that the Rangers are up 3-1.

You can watch Brassard’s goal in the video above.

It really doesn’t get much closer than this:

The Penguins now find themselves down 3-1 without their timeout, as Mats Zuccarello added to what’s becoming a painful second period for the Pens.

Here’s the Keith Yandle goal that began that quick rush of production for New York:

Will borderline offside calls be the story of the playoffs? Not necessarily, but they’re coincidentally becoming the story of this weekend.

Aside: J.T. Miller has assists on all three Rangers goals, by the way.

Kings can play Marian Gaborik in Game 2 (if they choose to)


Marian Gaborik has been medically cleared to play for the Los Angeles Kings in Game 2, but that doesn’t guarantee that he will.

Kings head coach Darryl Sutter explained what will go into the decision to play (or not play) Gaborik against the San Jose Sharks with L.A. down 1-0, as LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen reports.

“He’ll go through warm-up, and he’ll declare himself,” Sutter said. “He’s been medically cleared, so it becomes a coach’s decision [and] a player’s declaration of whether he’s ready or not.”

The Kings might see some other lineup tweaks, as it sounds like Jamie McBain might be called upon to replace Alec Martinez (who didn’t skate this morning, according to Rosen.

Gaborik has been sidelined with a knee injury since Feb. 12. He clearly boosts the Kings’ skill level, but will the rust show in a challenging situation for Los Angeles? At 34, it’s reasonable to ask if Gaborik can jump right into the fire of postseason hockey.

Lightning lose J.T. Brown for the rest of the first round


The injury bug just keeps biting the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The latest loss comes in the form of an upper-body injury for hard-working forward J.T. Brown. The Bolts label Brown out indefinitely; the Tampa Bay Times puts it at least the remainder of their first-round series, if not longer.

Brown got hurt blocking a shot as the Lightning took a 2-0 series lead against the Detroit Red Wings.

Losing Brown obviously isn’t on the scale of losing Steven Stamkos or Anton Stralman, yet Jon Cooper explained his value to the Tampa Bay Times and other media members.

“It’s our third playoffs together, and if you’re going to pull that unsung hero tag, he’s definitely at the top of the list,” Cooper said. “He won’t light the scoreboard up in points, but you’re not going to find too many more bigger gamers than J.T. Brown. That’s a tough loss for us. But in the mantra of the (Steven) Stamkos’ and (Anton) Stralman’s, let’s just keep this going and make sure that wasn’t J.T. Brown’s last game.”