Antoine Vermette

Associated Press

The Buzzer: Price, Canadiens continue to roll

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Players of the Night:

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: Price made like a brick wall for the third straight game, stopping 27 of 28 shots he faced for his third straight win since returning from injury. Montreal had been a tire fire prior to Price’s return, and Price had been a tire fire before he went down with the mysterious lower-body injury. Price’s revival looks very, very good over the past three games with a 0.67 goals-against average and a .980 save percentage. The Canadiens have won three-straight.

Antoine Vermette, Anaheim Ducks: Vermette picked a good night to end his 11-game goal-scoring drought, netting twice, including the game-winner, as the Ducks beat the St. Louis Blues. Anaheim had lost their previous four games before Wednesday’s win.

Highlights of the Night:

This is just one filthy, filthy pass by Andrew Shaw:

Riley Nash made Andrei Vasilevskiy look pedestrian with this slick wrister:

Steven Stamkos ended a five-game goal-less slump when he finished off this tic-tac-toe play on the power play:

The Mighty Stumble:

The NHL’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams coming into Wednesday night’s action both fell to lesser teams (going by standings, of course).

On Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBSCN, the Boston Bruins topped the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2. Charlie McAvoy had a goal and an assist and played over 28 minutes for the Bruins.

Kyle Brodziak scored twice in the final four minutes for St. Louis, but it wasn’t enough to claw his team back from a 3-0 deficit.

The Winnipeg Jets took a too many men penalty with seven seconds left in regulation in a 2-2 game and paid for it when the game shifted into overtime as Nathan MacKinnon scored 59 seconds into extra time.

The Jets had a chance to move into a tie for the top spot in the Western Conference with St. Louis losing. Alas, it was not to be.

MISC:

  • Tuukka Rask hasn’t had a good start to the year — he has just four wins in 14 starts — but he stopped 19 shots on Wednesday against the league’s top team to end a four-game skid, including this fine save:

  • Bryan Little has eight points in nine games since ending an 11-game goal-scoring drought on Nov. 14.
  • Erik Karlsson continues to starve the scoresheet of his name. He is now seven games without a goal or an assist, this after recording 17 in his previous 10 games.

Factoid of the Night:

And it was a pretty nice goal to boot.

So majestic.

Scores: 

Bruins 3, Lightning 2

Canadiens 2, Senators 1

Ducks 3, Blues 2

Avalanche 3, Jets 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Coyotes sign ’15 first rounder Nick Merkley

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The Arizona Coyotes signed Dylan Strome to an entry-level deal back in July and roughly two months later they have inked their other 2015 first round pick, per the team’s website.

Nick Merkley has agreed to a three-year entry-level contract with Arizona. He was taken with the 30th overall selection.

That draft pick originally belonged to the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Coyotes acquired it along with Klas Dahlbeck in exchange for Antoine Vermette on Feb. 28. Vermette won the Stanley Cup with Chicago before returning to the Coyotes this summer on a two-year, $7.5 million deal.

Merkley had 20 goals and 90 points in 72 games with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets last season. He scored another five goals and 27 points in 19 playoff games to help the Rockets win the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Kelowna went all the way to the Memorial Cup championship game before falling to the Oshawa Generals in overtime. Merkley recorded three goals and two assists in the tournament.

While Strome might make the Coyotes’ opening game roster, it would be more surprising if Merkley did the same. Still, he’s part of an impressive collection of forward prospects that Arizona has assembled in recent years. While Arizona’s offense was a big weakness last season, in a few years it might be the squad’s strength and Merkley could be a significant part of that.

Related: Coyotes sign Dahlbeck, acquired in Vermette trade

Under Pressure: Stan Bowman

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Stan Bowman knew there’d be much change to his hockey club this summer and, as a result, much work to be done.

Wonder if he thought there’d be this much, though.

To recap…

Out: Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, Antti Raanta, Kimmo Timonen.

In: Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Trevor Daley, Ryan Garbutt, Corey Tropp, Jeremy Morin, Artemi Panarin, Viktor Tikhonov.

And Bowman isn’t even done yet.

According to war-on-ice.com, the ‘Hawks are nearly $400K over the $71.4 million salary cap, with the likes of ace penalty killer Marcus Kruger and fellow depth checker Joakim Nordstrom still requiring new deals. Kruger’s said he’s willing to sit and wait for an extension and Bowman suggested he’d like to get it signed before training camp, which means the ‘Hawks will have to shed some bucks within the next three weeks or so.

So, how will they do it?

Bryan Bickell, he of the $4 million average annual cap hit — and multiple healthy scratches during the playoffs — has been bandied about as potential trade bait. The club could also try and do something with Kris Versteeg ($2.2M cap hit).

Or maybe Bowman makes a move he doesn’t want to make.

That was the situation earlier this summer with Saad, when the ‘Hawks were forced to move their promising young power forward to Columbus because the dollars didn’t make sense. Remember, Bowman was at one point very adamant he’d get a deal done with Saad — vowing to keep him in Chicago “for years to come” — only to later realize it wasn’t going to work within the budget.

Bowman’s financial pressure isn’t solely about getting under the cap to start the year, either. The ‘Hawks are built to contend, which means there should be some room for potential acquisitions during the season, most notably at the deadline.

Then, there’s the biggest wildcard of all — the Patrick Kane situation.

Unlike the other dilemmas he’s faced, Bowman has virtually zero control over how this one plays out; there’s no timeline for the ongoing police investigation and no clear picture on what would happen should Kane be charged.

All of which makes for a stressful lead-up to the season. Bowman’s got his hands full.

It’s Chicago Blackhawks day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in June.

Defenseman Duncan Keith, who recorded 21 points in 23 playoff games while averaging over 31 minutes a night in ice time, was the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

After missing the final 21 regular season games due to a broken left clavicle, Patrick Kane returned for the playoffs and finished with a team-leading 11 goals and 23 points.

Despite a slow start to the postseason, Corey Crawford finished with a 13-6 record in 20 appearances while posting a 1.46 G.A.A. and a .924 save percentage.

Chicago finished the regular season with a 48-28-6 record – good for the third seed in the Central Division.

Jonathan Toews led the Blackhawks in scoring with 28 goals and 65 points in 81 games. Despite playing in just 61 games, Kane was right behind Toews in team scoring with 27 goals and 64 points.

Off-season recap

Following the cup win Toews admitted the 2015 win felt a lot like 2010. With new contracts for Toews and Kane set to kick in, and the Blackhawks up against the salary cap, GM Stan Bowman was forced to trade away key pieces.

To get things started, Bowman dealt Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a seven-player trade. Chicago received Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a 2016 fourth round pick in return.

Brad Richards left for Detroit signing a one-year, $3 million deal.

Then Bowman dealt Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars along with Stephen Johns in exchange for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt.

Five days later, Johnny Oduya joined Sharp in Dallas signing a two-year, $7.5 million deal.

Antoine Vermette returned to Arizona signing a two-year contract with the Coyotes.

Chicago also dealt goaltender Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers for Ryan Haggerty.

There are still question marks surrounding the Blackhawks’ roster as training camp gets set to open next month. Kane’s situation remains uncertain, as he is the subject of a police investigation.

Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom remain restricted free agents while Dan Carcillo is pondering retirement, as he remains unsigned.

Poll: Are the Lightning the favorites to win the Stanley Cup?

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Standing still can be better than the alternative. While any improvement the Tampa Bay Lightning see will have to come from within after their quiet summer, they also haven’t endured any major losses.

Chicago was the oddsmaker’s favorites to repeat in mid-June, but since then the Blackhawks have parted ways with Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, Brandon Saad, and Johnny Oduya. To be fair, Chicago has also gotten some noteworthy additions like Artem Anisimov and they have some promising youngsters that might help fill the gaps like Artemy Panarin and Marko Dano.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the Blackhawks have made some considerable sacrifices this summer in the name of cap compliance and that’s without talking about the elephant in the room.

Tampa Bay finished two wins shy of Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, so has the uncertainty created by Chicago’s turnover at least made the Blackhawks not quite as good of a bet as the Lightning?

Of course, even if you’re inclined to say that Tampa Bay is now in a better position than Chicago, that’s not the end of the debate. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens have strong teams led by elite goaltenders and either one is capable of having a standout season. Then there’s the Anaheim Ducks, which came closer to eliminating Chicago than Tampa Bay and the St. Louis Blues, which has fielded a great team for years, but hasn’t been able to put it all together once the playoffs start — yet.

You could bet on a Los Angeles Kings comeback or the Pittsburgh Penguins’ overwhelming squads with Phil Kessel joining Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Even then we haven’t covered all the teams that can legitimately claim to be serious contenders going into the season.

But this isn’t about who could win the Cup, it’s who has the best chance of doing so, even if it is by a narrow margin in a large field. Is Tampa Bay that team?