James O'Brien

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

Drouin, Stralman spoil Penguins’ strong start


It sure looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to run away with the first period of Game 2, if not the entire contest.

The Pens came out roaring, creating all sorts of chances while Phil Kessel and Matt Cullen put them up 2-0 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bolts responded to this challenge as they’ve done frequently in 2015-16.

In two different cases, players made amends for previous mistakes to tie Game 2 up 2-2 for the Lightning.

Anton Stralman scored in his first game back since March after being on the ice for a Penguins goal.

Moments later, Jonathan Drouin rebounded from taking a penalty to score a pretty 2-2 tally.

The big question is: can the Penguins shake off their mistakes after seeing the Lightning shrug off their own? Buckle up for the remainder of Game 2.

Some surprises/mishaps before Lightning – Penguins Game 2


Perhaps there will be more curveballs by the time the puck drops for Game 2 (this post will be updated if so), but the pre-game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lighting provided some intrigue.

Some of the details seem as-expected.

Andrei Vasilevskiy will indeed start while Ben Bishop won’t suit up for Game 2. Anton Stralman appears to be ready to go, too.

It’s not all good news for the Lightning, however, as Ryan Callahan was not on the ice and may not play tonight. He’s missing the contest with the flu.

Meanwhile, the Penguins hope that Patric Hornqvist can play after a mishap:

If nothing else, he’s listed on the team’s roster as of moments ago. Also of note: Justin Schultz is indeed replacing Olli Maatta in the Penguins’ lineup.

Again, this post will be tweaked if Callahan does play and/or Hornqvist does not.

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 2


The Stanley Cup playoffs continue on Monday night, as the Lightning take on the Penguins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 2 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Bolts lead the series 1-0.

Here’s some related reading material you might enjoy:

Ben Bishop thought he broke his leg in Game 1

Positive injury news for the Lightning

Is Olli Maatta in Mike Sullivan’s dog house?

Penguins coach to Crosby, Malkin: ‘Play the right way’

Sharks, Blues talk home-ice advantage (or lack thereof)


ST. LOUIS (AP) The rest of the postseason, the St. Louis Blues have home-ice advantage. Now, if they can only capitalize on it.

The Blues are in the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2001 not because of those rip-roaring, standing room crowds, but because they’ve been so good at blocking out the noise elsewhere.

They’re 3-4 in the Scottrade Center and 5-2 in the other two rinks, including the 6-1 knockout blow in Game 7 of the second round at Dallas two days after they fumbled a chance to wrap up the series at home.

Heading into Game 1 Sunday night against the San Jose Sharks, the message from coach Ken Hitchcock to the players is time honored: Keep it simple, get the puck to the open man, avoid heroics.

“One-on-one hockey is for November and February,” Hitchcock said Saturday. “Not now.”

Ensemble work, combined with sterling goaltending by Brian Elliott, has carried the Blues this far. Six players have at least 10 points and five others have at least a half-dozen points.

“I think it doesn’t matter who you are playing now, both teams are going to be good home and on the road,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “So we have to make sure we play our game.”

The Sharks were the NHL’s best road team during the season, although that hasn’t carried over to the playoffs. They were 4-0 at home in the second round against the Predators, and 0-3 in Nashville.

“That’s the playoffs,” San Jose forward Tommy Wingels said. “You’re expected to win at home and hold serve. If we can go in and continue winning games on the road, I’ll be very happy.”

Both teams are strangers in recent years to deep playoff runs, and neither has won a Cup. San Jose, in the Western Conference final for the first time since 2005, took two of three during the season.

But this, every coach and player will tell you, is a different animal.

Some things to watch:

MAKING THE STOPS: The 31-year-old Elliott has thrived in his first extended postseason opportunity, making an NHL-high 441 saves. Elliott was a ninth-round pick in 2003 by Ottawa. “It’s something you wake up in the morning and you just try to have that same winning feeling,” Elliott said.

Goalie was one of the biggest questions facing the Sharks heading into the playoffs given Martin Jones, formerly undrafted, had not made a postseason start. Jones has passed the test so far, posting a 2.16 goals-against average and giving San Jose its first playoff shutout in six years in the Game 7 clincher last round against the Predators. “We’re confident in him,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “He’s been great all year for us.”

CLUTCH COUTURE: It took awhile for Sharks center Logan Couture to regain form after missing about two months early in the season with a broken leg. He’s at the top of his game this postseason, leading the NHL with 17 points, including a franchise-record 11 in the second round. His presence gives the Sharks a second top center behind Joe Thornton and makes it tough for opponents to match up.

X FACTOR: Blues center Patrik Berglund is playing perhaps the best of his career with four goals, four assists and a team-leading plus-9 rating. He missed about half of the regular season, totaling 10 goals and five assists.

“Did you see me in Juniors? I was sick,” Berglund joked. “No, I’m happy with how I’m playing right now but there’s more to go, so I hope I can elevate it even more.”

POTENT POWER PLAY: The Sharks’ top-ranked power-play unit has been together for years and has been a work of art this postseason. With playmaking from Joe Thornton, a big shot from the point from Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski‘s ability to find open space and versatility from Couture and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks have converted at 31 percent – the best of any team that made it past the first round. In its victories, San Jose has converted 41 percent. The best defense against that unit: Stay out of the penalty box.

“It keeps the other team honest,” DeBour said. “Again, you need all the pieces. I think the further you get, you can’t just survive on power play.”

Blues’ success makes Blue Jackets’ execs feel good about their blueprint


Many prominent members of the Columbus Blue Jackets once called a lot of shots in St. Louis, so it makes sense that the Blues’ success can be heartening.

(Especially when Blue Jackets staffers probably want to talk about anything other than the enormous disappointment that was the 2015-16 season.)

Team president John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen discussed the bittersweet feelings that come with seeing the Blues go deep – oh yeah, and also the Blue Jackets’ past season – with the Columbus Dispatch.

“I’m proud of what we did in St. Louis,” Davidson said. “I’m a Blue Jacket now, without question. But it makes me feel good, and Jarmo is the same way … we feel stronger about what we’re doing here, because you see what’s happening there.

“They have had their trials and tribulations in St. Louis. But they have been a really good team for a number of years, and just look at them now.”

You can practically read his mind: He hopes that, soon enough, they’ll say “look at us now.”

Success in sports can be funny, but it must be especially odd for general managers. Sometimes you lay down many of the roots for success, yet someone else might get to take greater advantage of the harvest.

The hope, of course, is that you can pull it off again.

For more, check out the full story.