Five Thoughts: The tables have turned… For now

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After four games of the Stanley Cup finals we’re right back to where we started from. The series is locked up at 2-2 and now it’s a best of three race to the end. While the Bruins have smacked the Canucks around in the last two games, everyone’s done their part to protect home ice. Still, if momentum is a real thing the Bruins have all of it and then some. As for our thoughts after what turned out to be yet another wild game, there’s enough to pick at.

1. As you might expect, Roberto Luongo wasn’t a happy guy after the game. When you give up 12 goals in two games while your team is outscored 12-1, everyone should be pretty upset about things. For Luongo, he could be hammering away at his teammates on defense but he’s held off on tossing them under the bus. While Luongo isn’t the right guy to light a fire under the defense, someone should.

With an injury to Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Rome getting himself booted from the playoffs, the Canucks are working with guys Alain Vigneault would rather not have out there like Keith Ballard. Ballard had a brutal night but he’s not alone. Andrew Alberts has struggled out there and while he’s been paired up with Sami Salo, there seems to be very little in the way of communication out there between those two and some of the same mistakes kept happening in Games 3 and 4. It’s not as if Vancouver hasn’t dealt with changing defensive situations thanks to injury, they should be better prepared for such upheaval.

2. One reason why teams can win on home ice better is because they get to work the matchups the way they want to thanks to getting the last change at home. Vancouver was able to mix things up at home to tweak some of the Boston defense pairings. Remember when Johnny Boychuk was the unofficial team goat in the first two games?

The games played in Boston showed that either Claude Julien is a brilliant coach to get the matchups he’s looking for or Alain Vigneault isn’t properly doing the things he has to to minimize the mismatches that will happen. Julien did his part in Vancouver by constantly tinkering with his defensemen on faceoffs. It might start off awkward, but once the puck is dropped, the usual pairings get reset thanks to a quick change. That simple move helped keep the games in Vancouver close. The Canucks kept trying to force the issue themselves and with their defense already in disarray… Well you saw the scores.

3. Brad Marchand starting to remind everyone of another diminutive forward that mixed it up with anyone and everyone regardless of the situation. There’s a lot of Pat Verbeek in what Marchand does out on the ice and that kind of sandpaper game and skill set is something every team loves to have. Perhaps the best part of what Marchand does is that he’s able to do all of his annoying either with his words (just watch how players react to him after the whistle, I’d love to have him mic’ed up for a game but it’d likely be R-rated) or his little agitation moves.

Verbeek was known as “the little ball of hate” and we’re pretty sure if you asked anyone on Vancouver they’d say some colorful things about Marchand to back up a similar moniker for him. His play in the playoffs has been something special though as his ability to score goals and be a tremendous penalty killer have been inspiring and the Bruins have really needed that badly over time.

4. Vancouver’s got some soul searching to do and a couple of guys that could use some ethereal guidance are Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. These two showed how great they can be earlier in the playoffs but lately against Boston they’ve gone back to old habits of falling for the petty nonsense and getting mixed up with the ancillary games that lead to nothing but trouble. If they can cut back on that stuff and go back to playing with that right mix of jerky play and high-end hockey skill the Canucks will be better off for it.

5. Ready for a fun coincidence? Before Game 3 the Bruins had Cam Neely start things off as the honorary captain to get the fans all worked up into a lather before the game started. The Bruins did right by #8 by scoring eight goals on Vancouver. Before Game 4 it was all about #4 Bobby Orr as he was the honorary captain of the night. The Bruins then shut down Vancouver by scoring four goals in beating the Canucks. Eight goals for #8 and four goals for #4.

I wonder if the Bruins want to test fate and get Raymond Bourque to do the honors before Game 6. Scoring seven or 77 goals (both numbers worn by Bourque as a Bruin) would be something else. They could just try to nail down the seven by getting both Bourque and Phil Esposito to do the honors as Esposito’s #7 is retired by Boston while Bourque’s #77 also hangs from the rafters.

Hurricanes owner Dundon invests $250M in Alliance of American Football

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By Barry Wilner (AP Pro Football Writer)

Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is investing $250 million in the Alliance of American Football.

Dundon also will serve as chairman of the fledgling eight-team league that began play on Feb. 9. His involvement came together in a matter of days last week, according to Dundon and Alliance co-founder Charlie Ebersol, though Dundon had been monitoring the AAF’s development and debut.

Ebersol dismissed reports Tuesday that the Alliance was getting a financial bailout from Dundon.

”This has been an extraordinary undertaking for us,” said Ebersol, who less than a year ago partnered with Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian to create the Alliance. ”It’s a giant challenge and opportunity, and as a startup you are constantly looking for some peace of mind. When we got out of the first week of games, we saw there was so much interest from investors, and if we had one person who could take care of us for a very long time, that would be great.”

Dundon said the AAF won’t be seeking more investors at this time.

”We won’t bring in anybody for capital. We’re not going to take people’s money,” he said. ”We have to decide who are the partners we want to be in business with. The Alliance already has great relationships with partners such as MGM (Resorts). There won’t be any money-raising. It will be growing the business.

”It’s so early into this. We’re all in the entertainment business, so we’re just making sure to continue to do what they have done, which is put out a quality product people want to watch and consume, and hopefully we have the capital in place to take advantage of new opportunities. Things are a lot easier when you have got the capital and connections to execute.”

Dundon also is the co-founder of Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, home of the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson tournament; the majority owner of Employer Direct Healthcare, a health care services company; and a primary investor in Topgolf, a sports entertainment company.

The Alliance has teams in Atlanta; Phoenix; San Diego; San Antonio; Memphis, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Orlando, Florida; and Salt Lake City. It will play a 10-week schedule before its playoffs, finishing on the final weekend of April.

Early response on TV – it has deals with CBS, Turner and NFL Network – and digitally was positive, Ebersol said.

He also said adding Dundon gives the league extra credibility.

”We think there will be other opportunities,” Ebersol said, ”but the fact we took one of the biggest worries of any startup off the table with a partner who has proven he knows how to build businesses – and not build to sell but build to build – is huge.”

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

NHL on NBCSN: 10 impressive stats on the Blues’ 10-game winning streak

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There’s been no hotter team in the NHL since the end of January than the Blues, who ride a 10-game winning streak into Tuesday’s matchup with the Maple Leafs. Sunday’s 4-0 shutout of the Minnesota Wild continued St. Louis’ rise up the standings as a season that was looking bleak at one point has quickly turned into one that could very well include playoff hockey for the first time since 2017.

A Blues win at Enterprise Center on Tuesday would set a franchise record with their 11th in a row, passing the 10-game streak set by the 2001-02 Blues team that featured Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Chris Pronger, Pavol Demitra, and Al MacInnis.

How important has this streak been to the Blues’ season? When it began on Jan. 23, they sat 13th in the Western Conference. They’re now sixth and reside in the third spot in the Central Division. According to Money Puck, their playoff odds have risen from 40 percent to nearly 97 percent.

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

Since the 10-game winning streak began…

Vladimir Tarasenko leads all NHL players with 10 goals and is second behind Nikita Kucherov with 20 points. Ryan O’Reilly is second on the Blues with four goals. Brayden Schenn is second on the team with 13 points. Tarasenko has 15 goals in his last 19 games and is riding a career-best 12-game points streak.

• Only the Chicago Blackhawks (44) have scored more goals (40) than the Blues. No team has allowed fewer goals (14) than St. Louis.

• Of their 40 goals, 23 have come via a wrist shot, tied for most in the NHL.

• The Blues have scored the most even strength goals with 30, per Natural Stat Trick.

• None of the Blues’ wins have needed the shootout. Only two victories have come via overtime.

• The third period against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 5 was the last time the Blues trailed in a game.

Jordan Binnington’s .964 even strength save percentage is the highest among goaltenders with at least five appearances. His goals against average is also a sparkling 1.24 during this streak.

• No other rookie goalie in franchise history has won eight straight games like Binnington has. Brent Johnson previously held the record by winning seven in a row twice during the 2000-01 season.

• Only Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning has as many shutouts (3) as Binnington. The Blues netminder is now the seventh goalie in NHL history to post four shutouts in his first 14 career starts.

• Binnington and Jake Allen have registered three straight shutouts entering Tuesday night. The shutout streak is at 187 minutes and 16 seconds, which is the fourth-longest in franchise history.

MORE: Winning with Binnington: Blues goalie making most of chance

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

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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.

Sabres’ Okposo sent home 3 days after being punched in face

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo has been sent home for further medical evaluation three days after being punched in the face during a fight with the New York Rangers’ Tony DeAngelo.

Coach Phil Housley gave no details on Okposo’s condition in providing the update after the Sabres practiced in Florida on Monday. Though the nature of the injury is unclear, Okposo did not return after being felled by DeAngelo’s punch during the fight 7:51 into the third period of a 6-2 loss to the Rangers on Friday.

Okposo traveled with the team for the start of its three-game road trip at New Jersey, but did not play in the 4-1 loss to the Devils on Sunday.

The 30-year-old has a history of concussion-related troubles during his 12 NHL seasons.

He missed the final two weeks of the 2017-18 season and spent a week in a hospital after sustaining a concussion during what he called a routine hit in practice. He also missed a week last March after sustaining a concussion following a collision with Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan.

Housley also announced defenseman Marco Scandella is listed week to week with an upper body injury.

The Sabres play at Florida on Tuesday night.

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

UPDATE:

PHT Morning Skate: Stone’s decision; Zibanejad’s season

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• “While the indications are centre Matt Duchene is ready to move on to try to win a title, the Senators tabled a new offer to Stone, the club’s top player, last week and general manager Pierre Dorion is waiting for word from his representatives at Newport Sports for an answer.” [Ottawa Citizen]

• If you’re a seller this deadline it might be best to sit those trade chips before next Monday. [TSN]

• “The Sabres headed for the airport to continue their road trip, but it feels like they’re heading to nowhere other than warm weather. The time for General Manager Jason Botterill to do something to stem the tide seems gone, even though the trade deadline is just seven days away.” [Buffalo News]

• Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving on the trade deadline: “I’m a firm believer that you build your team in the summer. Wholesale changes and major operational changes during the season, for a whole bunch of reasons it’s more difficult to do, I feel.” [NHL.com]

• How will New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello approach the deadline? [Islanders Insight]

• Why a Jonathan Huberdeau for Shayne Gostisbehere deal makes sense. [Featurd]

• Good read on the relationship between Carter Hart and Connor Parkkila, a seven-year-old boy who has autism. [NBC Philadelphia]

• The story behind Roberto Luongo’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas mask, which he wore on the one-year anniversary of the school shooting. [Panthers]

• Another day, another Peter Chiarelli move undone. The Edmonton Oilers placed Brandon Manning on waivers Monday with the purpose of assigning him to the AHL Bakersfield Condors. [Oilers]

Mika Zibanejad is having a memorable season for the New York Rangers. [Blueshirt Banter]

• The battle for the Pacific Division crowd is shaping up to come down to the wire. [NBC Bay Area]

• The Arizona State Sun Devils continue their march toward the NCAA tournament. [College Hockey News]

• Gretzky and Lemieux together again! Trevor Gretzky and Alexa Lemieux have roles in a hockey movie called “Odd Man Rush,” which is being co-produced by former Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin. [USA Today]

Jake DeBrusk of the Boston Bruins is someone you should add to your fantasy team this week. [Rotoworld]

• Finally, here’s the trailer for the upcoming documentary on the Russian Five:

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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.