Riding the Zamboni – Wednesday, December 15th: Hat tricks for everyone!

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Detroit 5 – St. Louis 2

The night of hat tricks starts with a legend getting his first career hat trick. 40 year-old Nicklas Lidstrom had the hat trick to lead Detroit to an impressive win over Jaroslav Halak and the Blues. Considering how long Lidstrom’s been in the league this being his first hat trick is amazing in itself. Lidstrom has had a remarkable year and with a healthy Wings lineup around him, he looks like the multiple Norris Trophy winner once again. We’re not exactly sure that Lidstrom ages the way humans do.

Buffalo 3 – Boston 2

Drew Stafford was healthy for Buffalo tonight and for the Sabres it’s a good thing because his hat trick was all the offense they could muster in taking out Boston. Tuukka Rask and Ryan Miller were equally solid in goal, but it was Miller’s 32 saves that stood taller than Rask’s 32 saves in the end.

Vancouver 3 – Columbus 2 (F/OT)

Much like Drew Stafford did for Buffalo, Ryan Kesler was all that for Vancouver. His overtime winner gave him a hat trick and gave the Canucks a tough win over the Blue Jackets. Roberto Luongo \stopped 28 shots in this one playing the part of a clutch goaltender while Mathieu Garon stopped 27 shots. For Vancouver it’s their third win in their last four games.

Colorado 4 – Chicago 3

Chicago is getting tired of seeing Colorado and tonight it was new Avalanche forward Tomas Fleischmann causing them pain netting a hat trick to lead the Avs to victory. Fleischmann’s trick helped make Chicago goalie Corey Crawford look bad in the loss as the speedy Avs kept giving the Blackhawks fits. Crawford stopped just 19 shots in the loss while Craig Anderson saved 35 for the Avs.

New Jersey 3 – Phoenix 0

From the department of “Headlines the Devils wish they saw all year long” Ilya Kovalchuk had a pair of goals while Martin Brodeur earned his third shutout of the season stopping 29 Coyotes shots. Is it the sign of a breakout coming? Perhaps. Kovalchuk has two goals and three assists in his last three games. It’s baby steps for the Devils but it’s something.

NY Rangers 4 – Pittsburgh 1

It’s only natural that after a 12 game winning streak that things slow down a little bit right? Tonight the Rangers had a four-goal third period to put the Penguins away in Pittsburgh. Erik Christensen and Alexander Frolov scored goals 13 seconds apart in the third to silence the Pittsburgh crowd. The Pens had what they thought was a tying goal disallowed because Pascal Dupuis interfered with Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers then added two more goals from Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle to put it away. The win is impressive since Ryan Callahan left the game in the first period with a broken hand. Lundqvist stopped 27 saves in the win while Brent Johnson ate the loss for Pittsburgh saving 18 shots.

Anaheim 2 – Washington 1 (F/OT)

Seven losses in a row for Washington now. Ryan Getzlaf put the Caps away in overtime with his game winner, but if there’s an upside to things for Washington, they played tough defensively and got solid goaltending out of Semyon Varlamov. That’s a start. The offense continued to suffer, this time at the hands of the posts and the hot game from Jonas Hiller. Hiller stopped 31 shots in the win

Philadelphia 5 – Montreal 3

Another night, another intense game between these two teams. Philadelphia had a 3-0 lead before Chris Pronger left the game with an injury and the Habs stormed back to tie it up at three halfway through the third period on a Brian Gionta goal. It would be James van Riemsdyk’s power play goal with just over five minutes to play that would put Philly ahead for good though. For van Riemsdyk it was his second goal of the night to lead the way for the Flyers. Claude Giroux would score a minute later to provide the final tally of the game. Jeff Carter had a goal and two assists while Sergei Bobrovsky made 38 saves in the win. Habs defenseman P.K. Subban will likely be the center of discussion again as offensively he had a solid game with a goal and an assist, but defensively he made two big mistakes that turned into Flyers goals.

Tampa Bay 2 – Atlanta 1 (F/SO)

Carolina 4 – Florida 3

What started off looking like a Florida romp turned into a great comeback win for the Hurricanes. The Panthers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead scoring two goals in the first 1:42 of the game with Evgeni Dadonov scoring 29 seconds in followed up by a Michal Frolik goal. That chased out starter Cam Ward from the game and Justin Peters would take over to allow just one more goal four minutes later and settle in after that. From then on it was all Carolina with Tuomo Ruutu scoring twice with Jeff Skinner and Sergei Samsonov each adding two assists a piece. Tomas Vokoun would surrender the lead in perplexing manner as he’d go from making outstanding highlight reel saves to making brutal turnovers that ended up in the back of the net. Vokoun finished the game with 30 saves while Peters finished out with 20 and the win.

Nashville 3 – San Jose 2

In case you haven’t noticed, the Predators are on a bit of a roll now. They’ve won their fourth straight game and seven of their last eight games. They’ve done it with rookie goalie Anders Lindback providing all the support they need and tonight he was huge on the score sheet and in stature. The 6’5″ Swede stopped 25 shots to earn the win as the Predators came back from down 2-1 heading into the third to secure the victory. Sergei Kostitsyn and Colin Wilson scored 44 seconds apart with under four minutes to play to pull ahead and secure the win. Dany Heatley scored his 14th goal of the year for San Jose while Antti Niemi was the tough luck loser stopping 32 shots.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning seek Stanley Cup Final berth in Game 6

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Game 6: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-2)
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Capitals have to conquer postseason demons one more time
Lightning ready for a ‘desperate’ Capitals team in Game 6
Vasilevskiy turns East final around for Lightning

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Paul Fenton hired as new Minnesota Wild GM

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Almost exactly one month after firing Chuck Fletcher, the Minnesota Wild have found his replacement as general manager. During a Tuesday press conference, the franchise will introduce Paul Fenton as the man who will take over the job.

Fenton, who was the first person owner Craig Leipold interviewed last month, will also oversee the team’s hockey operations department and act as alternate governor

“It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Paul Fenton as the General Manager of the Minnesota Wild,” said Leipold in a statement. “Paul is uniquely suited for this job having played 10 years of professional hockey and holding 25 years of management experience in the NHL. His gift of evaluating talent is obvious in Nashville’s roster and recent success. My relationship with Paul goes back to my early days in Nashville and I know that Wild hockey fans are going to love Paul’s infectious passion for the game and unsurpassed work ethic. He’s the right person to deliver a Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey.”

It took a while — 20 years to be exact — but Fenton finally decided to leave the Nashville Predators where he spent the last dozen years as the team’s assistant GM. He played a role in building that franchise into a Stanley Cup contender and turning around their minor league system. Now in Minnesota he’ll have his work cut out for him.

The Wild made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but could not get past the second round. This spring they were knocked out in the first round for the third straight season, costing Fletcher his job after nine years.

Fenton will have to deal with restricted free agents Jason Zucker and Mathew Dumba with this summer, as well as face plenty of challenges in carving his roster into something that could look like a perennial contender. The long-term, cap space-eating contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter won’t help things. According to Cap Friendly, the Wild have about $7.5 million in cap space for next season, and that’s before new deals for Zucker and Dumba and potentially a $3 million increase in the ceiling.

“We want to win a Stanley Cup,” Leipold said last month via the Pioneer Press after the Wild’s first-round exit. “That doesn’t mean that that’s going to be next year. I want someone to help me with a plan for the next three or four years to win a Stanley Cup. That’s what I’m looking for.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders to hire Lou Lamoriello to run hockey operations: report

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It’s expected this week that the New York Islanders will officially announce the hiring of Lou Lamoriello to run their hockey operation department, according to Arthur Staple of The Athletic.

It’s unclear at the moment what specific role the 75-year-old Lamoriello will have within the organization. It’s possible he takes over the role of president of hockey operations or general manager, or potentially both. His son, Chris, is the Islanders’ assistant GM.

Last month, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that Lamoriello would not return as their GM after three seasons at the helm.

Staple also confirmed a Hockey30 report that Lamoriello met with Islanders captain John Tavares last week ahead of this move. Tavares is set to become an unrestricted free agent only July 1.

There are many questions to be answered as we wait for the Islanders to announce this move. First, what does this mean for the beards of Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd, as well as the mustache of Cal Clutterbuck?

Next, where does current GM Garth Snow stand? He’s been running the show since 2006 and has a contract for at least four more seasons. The team has made the playoffs only four times during his tenure and advanced out of the first round once. The fan base demanded change once this season went off the rails, with billboards purchased in Brooklyn calling for Snow’s firing. During an end-of-season press conference in April, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said Snow and head coach Doug Weight would be staying for now, but that he would be “evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations.”

The next question is the biggest and that has to do with Tavares. He’s said time and time again that he wants to re-sign, but hasn’t inked an extension and hasn’t given any indication what factors would sway him one way or the other. A new arena on Long Island is coming. But is this change in management and whatever Lamoriello told him in their chat enough to convince him to not explore free agency and commit to staying with the franchise? Only time will tell. But this change could be a good first step forward for the franchise.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Capitals have to conquer postseason demons one more time

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Let’s just start with this statement of fact: Sports fandom is all about dealing with failure and disappointment.

At the end of every season there is only going to be one team that is celebrating a championship which means everybody else is left stuck in the same pit of misery. The odds are overwhelmingly against you and your team. Just consider that there are currently 123 professional sports teams in the four major North American sports leagues, and that over the past 30 seasons only 60 of them (just a little less than half) have actually experienced a championship season. That is over three decades. If you have seen your favorite team win a championship in your lifetime, you are incredibly lucky. If you have seen them win more than one … well … don’t take it granted.

The numbers and that reality do not mean it is any less disappointing when your team loses. Even with that there are different levels of anguish that sports fans can experience in a given season or playoff.

There is the anger that comes from a team that is so incompetently run that it never gives itself a chance to consistently compete for a championship and never gets close to it. Eventually that leads to apathy where you just stop caring and become numb to the losing.

Then there is the soul-crushing disappointment that comes from having a team that is consistently good enough to win, consistently competitive, seems to have all of the ingredients every year, gets right to the edge of winning the whole thing … and then finds a way to completely fall flat on its face for one reason or another.

Sometimes it is bad luck. Sometimes the other team is just a little bit better. Sometimes things just happen that are beyond a team’s control.

No team has done this more to its fan base than the Washington Capitals, and they are on the verge of finding a way to have it happen again if they can not come back in the Eastern Conference Final series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They enter Game 6 on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) facing a 3-2 series deficit, having dropped three games in a row after winning the first two games of the series in Tampa.

It is at times difficult to comprehend just how good the Capitals have been at times throughout their history, and how close they have come to reaching the top of the mountain, and how they can just never seem to get there.

They have won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team three times in the past 10 years. Each time they ended up losing in the second-round of the playoffs. In 2010 they were the superior team only to run into one of the best individual goaltending performances in recent memory. The past two years they lost what were basically coin-flip series to a Pittsburgh Penguins team that has tormented them in the playoffs for more than two decades.

Over the past 10 years the Capitals have won more regular season games than all but one team in the league (Pittsburgh). They are one of just two teams in the top-10 that has yet to reach a Stanley Cup Final during that run (St. Louis being the other). The other teams in the top-five have combined to win seven of the past 10 Stanley Cups.

Their top players have performed admirably in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin is one of the most productive players in the league when it comes his playoff production, while Braden Holtby has some of the best individual numbers of any goalie in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Usually that level of play from two superstars — including a goalie! — and the overall team success in the regular season results in more playoff success.

They have had what seemed to be commanding leads in playoff series time and time again only to have them slip away, losing 3-1 and 2-0 leads with stunning regularity that it leads to a stat like this.

It is remarkable because it is never the same cast of characters involved.

Coaches change. Players change. General managers change. Everything changes. Everything except the result and the heartbreaking method in which it is reached. It is one thing to be a team stuck in a championship drought. It is something else entirely to keep getting that close and losing the same way over and over again. When that happens it builds a reputation. It builds a narrative. It follows that team — and its best players, no matter how well they perform as individuals — around relentlessly until something happens to finally change it.

What has made this run by the Capitals seem so different is that, for once, things finally seemed to be going their way in the playoffs. Everything seemed to be falling in place no matter what obstacle jumped in front of them.

In the first-round they lost the first two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets on home ice (while losing multiple goal leads in both games) and seemed to be teetering on the edge of a disastrous early exit. Then, where past Capitals teams would have totally fallen apart, this group roared back to win four consecutive games setting up yet another second-round matchup with Pittsburgh, the point where their season had come to an end so many times before (10 of the previous 11 postseason matchups with them, to be exact). Then they exorcised that demon in Game 6 when Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s overtime goal sent them to the Eastern Conference Final.

Finally, things were different. This really was going to be the year. But even after all of that the Capitals still find themselves facing their playoff demons one more time and trying to avoid the soul-crushing disappointment that comes with potentially blowing a 2-0 series lead (after winning the first two games on the road), something that only two teams have done in a Conference Final series since 1975.

Already this postseason these Capitals have shown that they have been able to conquer those long-standing playoff demons. They did it in the first-round when they overcame the crushing losses on home ice in the first two games. They did it in the second-round when they finally beat the Penguins. Now they have to do it one more time in the Conference Final against Tampa Bay and avoid what would be another crushing collapse.

They have to start by winning Game 6 on Monday.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.