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The Buzzer: Historic first night of 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Three games on the first night

Penguins 7, Flyers 0 (Penguins lead series 1-0)

Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin lit the scoreboard on fire in Game 1, while Matt Murray shut the door in a lopsided victory for Pittsburgh. The Flyers must do some soul-searching even beyond dealing with the question about who to go with in net. The Pens began their bid for a “threepeat” with style on Wednesday.

Jets 3, Wild 2 (Jets lead series 1-0)

Devan Dubnyk almost stole Game 1 for the Wild, as he kept Minnesota in the game despite a 40-20 shots on goal edge for Winnipeg. Ultimately, Joe Morrow ended up being the unlikely hero for the Jets, who won their first-ever playoff game in this incarnation of the franchise (since the Atlanta Thrashers days).

Golden Knights 1, Kings 0 (Golden Knights lead series 1-0)

Vegas, baby. Game 1 seemingly fell into the Kings’ hands as it was a nasty, grinding affair. It didn’t matter. The Golden Knights protected a 1-0 lead generated just minutes into the contest, and they seemed right at home with the physicality. The expansion Golden Knights won their first playoff game on their first try. Amazing stuff.

3 Stars

1. Jake Guentzel, Penguins: Sidney Crosby deserves a ton of credit for his hat trick, and he’ll likely draw most of the attention for Pittsburgh’s startlingly one-sided win over Philly. Guentzel actually scored more points, though, grabbing a goal and three assists. Guentzel also collected an assist on the game-winner, while Crosby’s hat trick fattened a lead from 4-0 to 7-0.

Nitpicky? Sure, but that’s how you split hairs when it comes to picking the three best players of the night. If you insist, consider Guentzel and Crosby 1a and 1b.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights: “MAF” stopped all 28 of the Kings’ shots in Game 1, and he had to, as Vegas won 1-0. This marks the 11th postseason shutout for “The Flower,” placing him in select company.

3. Matt Murray, Penguins: Matt Murray and Jake Guentzel are both generating reputations for turning things up a notch when the playoffs kick into gear. Things didn’t always go smoothly for Murray during the regular season, but he remains tough to beat in the postseason. He finished the 2017 Stanley Cup Final with two consecutive shutouts and kept his streak going through Game 1. Scroll down the page for more context on Murray’s rare run.

MISC.

  • Shea Theodore scored the first playoff goal in Vegas Golden Knights history, and he didn’t take long to do it, putting Vegas up 1-0 in Game 1 just 3:23 into the contest.

  • The Flyers’ in-net implosion stole the attention from a weird moment from Game 1, as the puck split apart:
  • There’s some concern for the Winnipeg Jets, as Mathieu Perreault left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return. No word yet on how serious the issue might be. Not good for a player who helps them make such a deep, scary team.
  • Ilya Bryzgalov kindly offered his services to a Flyers team with some goalie headaches.

Factoid of the Night

Thursday’s schedule

Lightning vs. Devils, 7 p.m. ET – NHL Network
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Capitals vs. Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET – USA
Predators vs. Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Ducks vs. Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET – USA

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.

Golden Knights beat Kings for first playoff win

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When Shea Theodore scored the first playoff goal in Vegas Golden Knights history, it seemed like it would be the start of a wild Game 1.

Instead, the Golden Knights and Kings played the sort of clamped-down contest that you’d expect to be Los Angeles’ preference. Maybe it was, but Vegas didn’t blink at this “playoff style,” blanking the Kings 1-0 to win Game 1.

With that, they take a 1-0 series lead for their first-ever playoff win. They’re one for one when it comes to passing playoff tests.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 30 shots on goal while Jonathan Quick was perfect after that Theodore tally, making 27 out of 28 saves. This was a physical, nasty contest, with the Kings being credited with 69 hits versus 58 from the Golden Knights.

One hit, in particular, drew controversy. William Carrier clearly drew the Kings’ ire in delivering 10 hits himself, but Drew Doughty‘s check on Carrier might have gone over the line:

The Golden Knights showed that they can win a grinding playoff game against Quick, not to mention battle-tested veterans including Doughty and Anze Kopitar. You wonder, though, if such play would behoove Los Angeles if that style carries through during the remainder of this fascinating first-round series.

Ultimately, that’s a question for Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant to answer, but they didn’t ever seem out-classed.

In fact, the Kings have to feel a little bit discouraged that they didn’t prove much of push during this contest, especially considering the fact that Vegas was nursing that 1-0 lead since early in the first period.

The deeper you dive, the better the Golden Knights look. Take, for instance, this evidence of strong all-around play via Natural Stat Trick:

So far, so very, very good for the Golden Knights. Once again, they look beyond their years as an expansion team for the ages.

Now, the next test: how will Vegas handling a 1-0 series lead? Game 2 airs on NBCSN on Friday, so we won’t need to wait long to find out.

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.

Jets overcome Dubnyk for first playoff win

For the first time in Atlanta Thrashers – Winnipeg Jets history, this team won a playoff game. Doing so was as hard as that previous sentence made it seem.

Devan Dubnyk was truly fantastic for the Minnesota Wild in Game 1, keeping them in the game despite Winnipeg generating a 40-20 shots on goal advantage. Ultimately, a game-winning goal by unlikely hero Joe Morrow helped the Jets grind out a 3-2 win to take a 1-0 series lead.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That Morrow goal might have been a rare moment Dubnyk would want back:

Technically, the previous incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets won playoff games, but this is a special accomplishment for a team many expect to be one of the best teams of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While Dubnyk had a great night, you could see how Minnesota might struggle to steal wins from the high-octane Jets in this series, as the Wild didn’t put much pressure on Connor Hellebuyck despite emptying their net with far more than two minutes remaining in the third period.

That said, it’s worth noting that the Wild actually briefly took the lead. After entering the final frame down 1-0, Matt Cullen and Zach Parise made it 2-1 during a dizzying span four minutes into the third. Less than a minute later, Patrik Laine reminded hockey fans why he’s such a difference-maker, tying things up 2-2 in his first playoff appearance. Morrow then got that game-winner late in regulation.

***

With Ryan Suter on the shelf, the Wild are heavy underdogs. To that extent, they might not be too shaken by being down 1-0 in this series.

That said, these are the types of games an underdog might steal. Dubnyk nearly did that, while Matt Dumba also saw a great effort come up short, as the young defenseman logged a whopping 30:03 of ice time, easily the most of any skater in Game 1.

Bruce Boudreau will probably need to ask them to churn out similar work in Game 2 and beyond, which could be quite the ask. In a weird way, a close 3-2 loss for Wild might actually sting more than the Flyers getting decimated 7-0 by the Penguins in their own Game 1, even if Philly will be far more embarrassed.

Ultimately, Minnesota most hope that Game 1 is how this series looks, only with the Wild coming out on top going forward. If Winnipeg’s work tonight is any indication, that won’t be easy to accomplish.

Game 2 will take place on Friday on USA Network.

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.

Penguins, Crosby blow out Flyers, Elliott in Game 1

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So far, Adam Gretz’s PHT preview is correct: the Pittsburgh Penguins definitely have an advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers when it comes to goaltending.

Many believed that the Flyers would give Brian Elliott the hook after he allowed three goals in the first period. That didn’t happen, nor did Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol make the call after Jake Guentzel made it 4-0. It wasn’t until Sidney Crosby scored another baseball-style goal to make it 5-0 that Elliott finally was pulled/taken out of his misery.

Check out Crosby’s hat trick, which includes that baseball-style goal:

Elliott ended up allowing five goals on 19 shots before Petr Mrazek replaced him. The Penguins ultimately won Game 1 by the humiliating final score of 7-0.

Game 2 takes place on Friday, airing on NBCSN. Check out the series schedule below.

A tough start in the first period

Just 2:38 into the contest, Bryan Rust beat Brian Elliott to score the first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Flyers had an opportunity to make it 1-1, but perhaps because of a brief whiff on a one-timer, Matt Murray was able to get over and generate one of the best early stops of the playoffs. If you’re taking out your “Jump to Conclusions” mat, then maybe you’d say that this is as painful a reminder of the Penguins’ edge in net as any of the goals Elliott gave up:

Carl Hagelin made it 2-0 midway through the first period, but it was Evgeni Malkin who provided that “Oh no” moment for Flyers fans. Shortly after exiting the penalty box, Malkin got the puck, lowered his shoulder, tore through Philly’s defense, and scored the sort of sheer-will goal that typifies “beast mode Malkin.”

Check out the first three goals in this clip:

That third goal came with almost six minutes remaining in the opening frame, yet it almost felt like it was the final nail in the coffin for Elliott’s Game 1. Hakstol obviously disagreed.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

You wonder how healthy Elliott really is, and whether or not he’s rusty. The veteran goalie only played in two games after being sidelined since Feb. 10, and Elliott faced two non-playoff teams in the Hurricanes and Rangers.

***

This can be a “burn the tape” game for the Flyers, as the bottom line is that they’re merely down 1-0 in this series. Still, there are plenty of questions, including “How will Philly bounce back?” and “Who will start in Game 2 for the Flyers.”

The Penguins certainly didn’t welcome their cross-state rivals back to the playoffs in a friendly way.

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.

Lightning vs. Devils: PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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The Tampa Bay Lightning locked up a playoff spot before April even began, and the only real drama they faced boiled down to whether or not they’d win their division. The New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, scratched and clawed their way to their last game of the season.

Maybe that lack of urgency and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s fatigue conspired to make the Bolts’ finish to 2017-18 a little less than inspiring? Tampa Bay went 5-4-1 in its last 10 games, as just one example, with Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov losing significant ground in their respective trophy races.

The Lightning still finished atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, going 54-23-5 for 113 standings points. The Devils finished one point ahead of the Florida Panthers for the East’s final wild card, generating 97 standings points on a 44-29-9 record.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Even with a less-than-spectacular finish to the season, the Lightning are heavy favorites. Tampa Bay ranks among the biggest favorites of any team in the first round on account of its strengths and the Devils’ perceived weaknesses.

Beyond the momentum angle, the Devils might pin their hopes on sweeping the season series against the Lightning. They won once in a shootout and twice in regulation. Maybe New Jersey matches up well with Tampa Bay?

Let’s break this series down.

SCHEDULE

FORWARDS

Lightning: It’s easy to look at the Lightning as just the one-two punch of a successfully returning Steven Stamkos (27 goals, 86 points) and Kucherov, who hit the 100-point mark for the first time in his wildly underrated career. The frightening part is that it’s not even just about them, nor J.T. Miller in Vladislav Namestnikov‘s old spot.

This series might clue in casual hockey fans that Brayden Point is a rising star. He scored 32 goals and 66 points this season, doing so in sometimes spectacular ways:

Yanni Gourde would also receive way more Calder Trophy buzz in a normal season, as he scored 25 goals and 64 points. The Lightning also have some other nice forwards, including Tyler Johnson (21 goals, 50 points), Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat. It should be noted that, while Palat only scored 35 points, he was limited to 56 games.

The biggest injury question revolves around Stamkos, who missed some late-season games. Will he be 100 percent either by Game 1 or merely sometime in this series?

Devils: It’s well-publicized but true: the drop off from Taylor Hall (93 points) to the second-best Devils scorer (Nico Hischier, 52 points) is drastic.

Hall deservedly gets Hart Trophy buzz, and he’s the single player who could will the Devils to upset victories against the Bolts in his first-ever visit to the postseason.

It’s unfair to say that he’s the only weapon for New Jersey. Despite being limited to 62 games, Kyle Palmieri continues to be an under-the-radar gem, scoring 24 goals and 44 points. Patrick Maroon has been a boon via the trade deadline, collecting 13 points in 17 games with the Devils. Michael Grabner‘s been quiet, but his speed and skill could be useful in a short series, especially with the motivation of a contract year hanging over his head.

AdvantageLightning. Few teams possess the arsenal that Tampa Bay boasts.

DEFENSEMEN

Lightning: Victor Hedman may very well win the Norris Trophy this season. You can argue until your face turns blue over who deserves that nod, but he certainly earned the right to be in the discussion, generating 63 points in 77 games while playing great defense.

Mikhail Sergachev might be a work in progress, yet his offense is already formidable, as the rookie collected 40 points this season despite modest ice time (15:21 minutes per game). They can enjoy the best of both worlds as they protect him and then deploy him for scoring situations.

Ryan McDonagh is still adjusting to Tampa Bay. This is the time they got him for, as he could be a key piece in matchups. He’s joined by other former Rangers Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi, though the Lightning probably want to limit Girardi’s exposure (even after a relatively decent season).

Devils: New Jersey still looks weak on defense on paper, but credit the Devils with adding some talent in that area.

Sami Vatanen is developing into a workhorse for the Devils, averaging 22:44 per game while scoring 28 points in 57 games. Will Butcher has a ways to go in his own end, but he already generated 44 points in his first NHL season.

Damon Severson, Andy Greene, and John Moore are among those blueliners who can prove that they’re worth more of a look with a strong playoffs.

Advantage: Lightning, by a significant margin.

GOALIES

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy may still be a Vezina finalist, and it’s easy to see why with a 44-17-3 record, .920 save percentage, and eight shutouts. He’s also proven himself in postseason play before, generating that same .920 save percentage in 12 career playoff appearances.

His recent play is the elephant in the room, as he admitted himself to fatigue late in 2017-18. Consider that he generated a brilliant .931 save percentage in 41 games before the All-Star break, only to slide to a bad-backup-level .902 save percentage in 24 games after the break.

Louis Domingue hasn’t really inspired any confidence as his backup.

Devils: With Cory Schneider seemingly at a career crisis, the Devils turned to Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid proved unexpectedly sturdy for New Jersey, producing a four-game winning streak to help them lock down that playoff spot, and also generating a .913 save percentage over 41 appearances.

AdvantageLightning, even though Vasilevskiy’s energy comes into question.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Lightning: The Bolts’ power play ranks among the NHL’s deadliest, boasting a 23.9-percent success rate on 66 power-play goals and just three shorthanded goals allowed. Their penalty kill struggled, however, with a PK% of just 76.1 percent, fourth-worst in the NHL (64 PPGA, nine shorthanded goals for).

Devils: New Jersey connected on 21.4 percent of its power plays, good for 54 PPG and six SHGA. They excelled on the PK, tying for seventh in the NHL by killing 81.8 percent of their penalties (47 power-play goals allowed, 12 shorthanded goals scored).

Advantage: Devils, as they mix a very nice power play with one of the better PK units, especially when you consider how dangerous they are with 12 shorthanded goals. That said, the Lightning’s power play is so dominant, it might make that balance irrelevant.

X-FACTORS

Lightning: Is Vasilevskiy going to be anywhere close to his best self or his tank truly empty? This Lightning team is balanced and dangerous at the top, but bad goaltending can submarine even the strongest teams.

Devils: Taylor Hall in his first playoff series. It’s a great story, and there’s a solid chance that he’ll be the best player on the ice. Could he be such a force that he tilts this series in New Jersey’s favor?

PREDICTION

Lightning in five games. The Bolts possess the top-heavy talent to nullify Taylor Hall, and even if they lose that battle, they’re likely to dominate from a depth perspective. Vasilevskiy also gives them an advantage in net … at least on paper.

If you’re a Devils fan grumbling right now, consider this: New Jersey seems to thrive on defying the odds. Why not do it in the first round, too?

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.