Game of the Week: Matt Cooke’s ugly hit changes game, Rangers win 5-2 after wild third period

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When it comes to suspension debates, we usually discuss shades of gray rather than black-and-white matters. Yet when it comes to Matt Cooke’s elbow on Ryan McDonagh, it shouldn’t be a matter of whether or not the repeat offender should be suspended. The question should instead be: “For how long?”

Eddie Olczyk said that Cooke might receive an eight-game suspension, while many are wondering if it could be in the double digits. Want isn’t up to much debate is the idea that Mario Lemieux might look a little silly if he doesn’t supplement the league’s decision with an in-house punishment as well.

This was a tightly fought, but mostly in-control 1-1 game before Cooke’s unnecessary elbow on McDonagh. After that, the game spiraled into a sloppy, hateful mess that resulted in a huge win for the New York Rangers. The Pittsburgh Penguins controlled most of the play, but the resulting power plays from an undisciplined play by Cooke and a high stick by Matt Niskanen ultimately doomed them.

NY Rangers 5, Pittsburgh 2

Cooke received a five-minute elbowing major and a 10-minute game misconduct for the hit, putting his team in a terrible position during the third period. At first, it looked like the Rangers were going to let that opportunity slip through their fingers though, as Chris Kunitz scored an impressive shorthanded goal to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

The Rangers couldn’t really make much of a difference on that lengthy single man advantage, but a reckless Niskanen double minor for high-sticking gave New York a 5-on-3 power play. Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan scored power-play goals nine seconds apart to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead thanks to those mistakes, with things only going downhill for Pittsburgh from that point.

McDonagh earned a measure of revenge for the Cooke elbow by setting up a Derek Stepan goal after getting the puck right as he left the penalty box to make it 4-2. Brandon Dubinsky ended up making it 5-2 with an empty net goal, representing a wild flurry that included four unanswered goals.

Both Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan scored a goal and two assists while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 38 out of 40 shots to earn a significant win for the Rangers. This marks Lundqvist’s 31st win of the 2010-11 season. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals on 26 shots in this game, but few will blame Fleury when Cooke is the obvious goat.

How this game affects the Rangers and Penguins:

The Rangers didn’t play their best all-around game this afternoon, but they earned an important two points to strengthen their hold on seventh place. With 82 points in 73 games played, they have a slim lead over the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres (78 points in 71 GP) and a healthy six point margin in front of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes (76 points in 72 GP).

This will be a tough loss for the Penguins to accept, as they remain in fourth place with 90 points in 72 games played. They only hold a one-point lead over the fifth place Tampa Bay Lightning, with both teams having 10 games left this season.

The Rangers ultimately passed a tough test today, even if they didn’t do it with flying colors. The NHL faces a big test in their own right, as they have a chance to send a message with their decision regarding Cooke. The league hasn’t exactly been on the honor roll when it comes to those choices in the past, but we’ll let you know what ends up happening (if anything).

US tops Canada 4-1 to claim bronze at hockey worlds

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The United States topped Canada 4-1 to claim the bronze medal at the world ice hockey championship on Sunday.

Chris Kreider led the U.S. with two goals.

Forward Nick Bonino scored the winner on a rebound during a power play in the final period. Anders Lee and Kreider added empty-net insurance goals to give the U.S. its third bronze in six years.

”It’s important for the team but it’s also important for USA Hockey,” U.S. captain Patrick Kane said. ”Now, we can build up off this level and try to keep being better and better.”

Kane had an assist in the game to finish the tournament with 20 points for eight goals and 12 assists, the first player to do so since 2008.

”Obviously I’m here to produce and try to create offense and make plays out there,” Kane said. ”Overall, I’m happy … it was a fun tournament and a great experience for me and I hope it will help me with my career going forward too.”

Canada had to settle for a disappointing fourth-place finish.

”We wanted to win gold,” Canada forward Bo Horvat said. ”We wanted to be in the final. It’s not a result we wanted. But we have to take the positives from this experience and bring it to next year.”

Kreider scored the go-ahead goal for the U.S. in the second period, capitalizing on a mistake by Canada captain Connor McDavid.

Canada answered with a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot that went in between the pads of goaltender Keith Kinkaid.

Sweden plays Switzerland for gold later Sunday.

Captained by McDavid, the NHL scoring leader, Canada was considered a contender for gold.

Chasing its third title in four years, Canada suffered losses in the preliminary round to the U.S. and Finland and was stunned by Switzerland 3-2 in the semifinals.

The U.S. had a great start to the tournament with six straight wins. It knocked out the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals but was trashed 6-0 by Sweden in the semis.

Jets tweak defense for Game 5 vs. Vegas

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As “stay the course” as Paul Maurice’s message seemed with the Winnipeg Jets facing elimination in Game 5, he’s making quite a few lineup changes against the Vegas Golden Knights.

In particular, their defense will look quite different. Ben Chiarot and Toby Enstrom are being replaced by Joe Morrow and Dmitry Kulikov (pictured). On the offensive side, Joel Armia is returning to the lineup in place of Andrew Copp.

While this might feel like swapping lower-end parts (especially in Armia taking Copp’s spot), it’s worth noting that Morrow is likely to pair with Dustin Byfuglien on what is technically Winnipeg’s first duo, so these changes could make a difference. They also shine a spotlight on the gulf in talent between Winnipeg’s left and right sides on defense.

Winnipeg will ask the two returning defensemen to shake off some significant rust. Morrow, 25, hasn’t played since April 20 during the Minnesota Wild series. Kulikov, 27, has been sidelined and/or scratched since March 8.

No pressure.

At least Morrow’s already contributed a big goal during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Game 5 is about to air on NBC (at 3 p.m. ET). You can also stream the action live here.

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

WATCH LIVE: Vegas eyes Stanley Cup Final berth with Game 5 win

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Game 5: Vegas Golden Knights at Winnipeg Jets, 3 p.m. ET (Golden Knights lead series 3-1)
NBC
Call: Kenny Albert, Joe Micheletti, Brian Boucher
• Stream here
Series preview

• Fleury, secondary scoring biggest issues facing Jets
Nate Schmidt is underrated star of Golden Knights
These playoffs belong to Marc-Andre Fleury
Jonathan Marchessault, Golden Knights enjoying lucky Lamborghini

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

Vegas looks to continue fairy tale with conference title

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Just saying the Vegas Golden Knights are one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final has a magical ring to it.

But what’s even more mystical is thinking the Knights are a mere five wins from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup in its inaugural season.

Five more wins, over a potential 10 games.

And while this might be a first-year team writing a fantastical Hollywood screenplay nobody could’ve scripted last summer when the roster was constructed, the NHL playoffs are nothing new to a core of characters in this cast.

Everybody knows about three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury, a key figure during Pittsburgh’s reign the last two years, and 10-year veteran James Neal, who was with Nashville for last year’s run to the final against the Penguins.

But between guys such as David Perron, Luca Sbisa, Deryk Engelland, Ryan Reaves, Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin and Tomas Tatar, the Golden Knights aren’t as new to the playoffs as people may believe.

The players’ individual postseason pedigree could be part of the reason the team is one game from clinching the Western Conference. Another reason is the eagerness of Fleury and Neal’s co-stars in this feel-good story.

”We don’t see ourselves as an expansion team for a long time now,” said Perron, a 13-year veteran who is playing in his seventh postseason. ”But at the same time, it’s always nice to keep proving people wrong and we know that even at this point, I don’t feel like people believe we’ll close it out. So, we’ve got to find a way.”

Coach Gerard Gallant has shown he has confidence in all his players, as they’ve all experienced pressure situations and performed well in all three round of the playoffs, including seven one-goal games. Not including Fleury’s 129 career playoff games, or Neal’s 94, the players who skated in Friday night’s 3-2 Game 4 victory now have a combined 489 games of postseason experience to their credit.

”It’s not new for those guys, I don’t think you get here if you don’t use your hockey players,” Gallant said. ”We’ve done it from Day One and there’s no reason not to use them because everybody competes, everybody battles and everybody’s a part of our team. That’s what we do. Guys work hard and compete hard and do your job and you’ll play. I feel comfortable putting most of our guys on the ice. There’s no issues there.”

And that’s because the Golden Knights have always done a good job of living in the moment, and not looking past each game.

Erik Haula spent his first four seasons in Minnesota and went to the playoffs every year, but it didn’t take long for him to realize he was with a special group of players.

”We got off to a great start, won two on the road (to open the season),” said Haula, who has three goals and four assists in the postseason. ”Right after that first home game, that was special. It was a special night for the whole community. Right there, I think we came together as a community, as a team. We never looked back. We just kept going.

”We just have a close group. We respect every single person in here. We need every single person in here.”

Luca Sbisa has been in the league nine years and been to the postseason five times. His presence on defense has bolstered the crew on the blueline, helping to neutralize Winnipeg’s depth on offense.

”Coming in I just wanted to help this team and do what I could, especially on the ice,” said Sbisa, who went to the playoffs in four of the five seasons he was with Anaheim. ”I wanted to give our team a chance to win every night and here we are. We can’t look too far ahead, you gotta take it one game at a time. If you think about the next game you’re probably going to shoot yourself in the foot. We just have to find the balance of being aggressive and being smart. It’s been a long and fun ride so far.”

The fun continues Sunday, when the Jets host Game 5 and will look to stay alive against the fairy tale Knights from Vegas.

”I would say that winning and having fun go hand-in-hand,” said Eakin, now in his seventh year and playing in his third postseason. ”I’ve been on a few teams that have been pretty good, won a few times. We know we got to play our best hockey. Especially this time of year, there’s not a team that is going to roll over and die.”