PHT Predicts: Who will win the Stanley Cup?

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You’ve waited for far long enough for the Stanley Cup finals to start and tonight at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Game 1 will drop the puck in Vancouver. Finally we’ll see Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo square off in a Vezina Trophy-worthy battle in goal while Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Ryan Kesler get to square off with Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, and Vancouver boy Milan Lucic.

You know the matchups by now, but you don’t know how we here at PHT are picking things to go down. Buckle in as we give it to you as straight as we can. Remember, back when the playoffs began we picked the Vancouver Canucks to win it all over the Washington Capitals. Will we stick to our guns or jump on the Bruins bandwagon? All will be revealed.

Matt Reitz says:

The Canucks look like they’re getting better with every passing round.  Once they were able to get past their personal nemesis from Chicago, they’ve gone 8-3 and looked every bit like the team that won 54 games and earned 117 points.  For people who think special teams are a big deal in the playoffs, try this on for size: the Canucks had the best power play in the regular season and have continued the strong play into the playoffs.  On the other hand, the Bruins have a PK that looked like they couldn’t stop a bantam team in the Conference Finals.

Tim Thomas is the kind of goaltender who can steal a couple of games and Patrice Bergeron has been one of the most impressive players in the playoffs, but the Canucks just have too much depth.  They have more defensemen who can play big time minutes, more forwards who can score, more forwards who can shutdown opponents, just more of everything.

Canucks in 6.

James O’Brien says:

The Bruins showed a lot of moxie to get this far. They fought off tough starts in their first and third round series but managed narrow victories against the Canadiens and Lightning in Game 7 showdowns. Boston also shook off a serious 2010 demon in the form of the Philadelphia Flyers, sweeping one of the most powerful (if uneven) teams in the Eastern Conference.

That being said, their defense was exposed regularly by the Lightning’s talented forwards and their power play has been bad enough to become a running joke all around the Internet. The Canucks stumbled here and there, but they were the most complete squad in the NHL in 2010-11. Their offense is explosive and aggressive, their deep defense can provide plenty of offense and Roberto Luongo remains one of the best goalies in the league.

Tim Thomas has been so brilliant, it’s reasonable to imagine him stealing a game or two, especially if the Canucks give in to Boston’s likely urge to play this one close to the vest. While the Sedin twins + Alex Burrows line is one of the best in hockey and Ryan Kesler might rank as the best two-way forward in the game, the Bruins have a nice top line of Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton and an impressive Kesler facsimile (minus the snarl) in Patrice Bergeron.

I could see the Bruins putting up a solid fight, but I could also see the Canucks blowing them out of the water. What I cannot see is a Bruins championship in 2011, though.

Vancouver wins it in 5.

Joe Yerdon says:

Boston’s looked impressive at times through their playoff run while Vancouver has gotten better as the playoffs have gone on. Boston’s resilience against both Montreal and Tampa Bay are a credit to their team but they haven’t faced a team like Vancouver yet in these playoffs. Boston’s playing tough and hard hockey but the Canucks are like a Voltron-type of team that’s the best parts of all the teams they’ve faced and a little bit extra on top of it all. Vancouver can score, they’ve got tremendous depth at all positions, and they’re tough both physically and mentally. Throw in their ability to delve into theatrics when needed to get the heel-like edge and you’ve got yourself a series in which the Bruins have to play absolutely perfect in four games to have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup. I don’t like those odds.

If the Bruins can contain the Sedins, then there’s Ryan Kesler to deal with. If they can’t contain the Sedins, they’ve got much bigger problems on their hands. Asking Tim Thomas to be out-of-his-mind good for a long series might be tough. Boston’s going to have to find ways to get Luongo off his game and while that’s entirely possible, the Luongo we’ve seen since after the Chicago series has been beyond solid. The Bruins defense is going to need to be nearly flawless to win this series and I fear that the Canucks speed is going to catch up to them.

Vancouver wins in 6.

Aleksander Barkov can’t stop scoring ridiculous goals for the Panthers

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How’s your week going? For Aleksander Barkov, it’s been quite good.

The Florida Panthers captain has been on an offensive tear, scoring five goals and registering nine points in three games. In each of those three games he’s scored a highlight-reel goal.

Let’s take a look.

Sunday

The 2018-19 goal of the year competition might have ended Sunday afternoon when Barkov drove to the net and went between-the-legs to beat Carey Price.

He would end the night with his second career hat trick.

“I’ve seen those [goals] in the YouTube and in highlights, and I was just dreaming about maybe one day I can score that kind of goal,” Barkov said afterward. “I think I’ve tried that like 17 times in my career. It worked [for] the first time. I’m happy, but, of course, more importantly we got the two points.”

Tuesday

Continuing to add to his highlight reel, Barkov took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and brought it between-his-legs and nonchalantly tucked it under Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark’s pad.

“I was kind of trying to look for a pass until the end,” Barkov said. “Then I just tried to jam it in the goalie’s pads, maybe get a rebound. Then, behind the net, I saw the puck was in the net. I would call it a lucky goal.”

Thursday

In a back-and-forth game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Barkov evened the score after a wild deflection from a Evgenii Dadonov shot-pass that was going very, very wide.

At only 23 years old, we have plenty of years left to enjoy the wonder that Barkov brings to the ice every night.

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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.

Hurricanes’ Justin Williams scores with face, then scores with stick

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Go to the net and good things will happen. Coaches tell players that all the time with the hope that good positioning will result in a goal. Justin Williams learned that the hard way Thursday night, joining a club that Connor Garland of the Arizona Coyotes entered earlier this season.

As the Carolina Hurricanes continue chasing one of the Eastern Conference’s wild card spots, they visited the Florida Panthers and opened the scoring in unusual fashion.

Just a few minutes into the first period, Brett Pesce sent a shot toward the Panthers’ net and it ended up deflecting off Williams’ face and past James Reimer into the Florida net. Williams, as you see, crumpled to the ice in a scary scene.

Williams would leave the game with blood dripping from his face and return only a few minutes. Later in the game the Hurricanes captain, with a nostril full of gauze, would use his stick to score and snap a 3-3 tie:

That second goal would stand as the winner and give the Hurricanes a 4-3 victory and help them move past the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card.

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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.

Kucherov needs only 62 games to reach 100 points

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Nikita Kucherov‘s magnificent season continued on Thursday night when he became the first player in the NHL to hit the 100 point mark this season.

He reached it by scoring his 30th goal of the season to tie their game against the Buffalo Sabres, 1-1, midway through the second period.

This is a big deal for a couple of reasons.

For one, it is the second year in a row Kucherov has hit the century mark and makes him one of just six active players in the NHL to have multiple 100 point seasons, joining a list that includes only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Joe Thornton, and Connor McDavid.

What makes this one so special for Kucherov is that he only needed 62 games to reach it, an unprecedented accomplishment in this era of the NHL. You have to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season to find the last time a player hit the 100-point mark this quickly when it was done by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Before them you have to go back to 1994 when Wayne Gretzky did it for the Los Angeles Kings.

Obviously some pretty good company to be with.

Given the way Kucherov is not only running away with the scoring title, but is also having arguably the best offensive season the league has seen in 25 years, and is doing it for what is by far the best team in the NHL he would seem to be the runaway favorite to win the MVP award this season.

It would be awfully difficult to build an argument against him at this point.

Related: Lightning’s Kucherov is having season for the ages

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.

WATCH LIVE: Predators host Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Nashville Predators could end up being one of the biggest buyers during the impending trade deadline, but as far as Thursday’s concerned, they hope to beat the Los Angeles Kings.

If Nashville wins this game, they’d climb over the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division, at least for a little while.

[More on the Predators having the Central in their sights]

The Kings are on a five-game losing streak, so it will be a challenge to keep their heads high entering a four-game road trip. For all we know, we might see certain Kings players suit up for L.A. for the last time (or last times) before possibly being moved. That thought likely also cross the minds of various low and mid-level Predators, in the event that Nashville has to give up parts in a splashy move.

Fans can also witness the slightly under-the-radar dominance of the Predators’ top line, although it’s possible that Viktor Arvidsson might not be able to suit up alongside Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen on Thursday.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at Nashville Predators
Where: T-Mobile Arena
When: Thursday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Brendan LeipsicJeff CarterTyler Toffoli
Trevor LewisAdrian KempeIlya Kovalchuk
Kyle CliffordMichael AmadioAustin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Oscar FantenbergPaul LaDue
Dion PhaneufMatt Roy

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

PREDATORS
Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Kevin Fiala
Colton SissonsKyle TurrisCalle Jarnkrok
Brian BoyleNick BoninoRyan Hartman
Cody McLeodFrederick GaudreauRocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen with Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones.

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.