Playoffs Tonight: Sharks aim to sweep Canucks

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This should be an eventful night. We got two series that have been great clashes at 7:00 p.m. ET and we’ll end the night with the first match of the playoffs that’s a must-win for one of the teams.

Before we go into detail about the coming attractions, keep in mind that you can watch all these games online in addition to the channels listed below:

Game 4: New York Islanders host Pittsburgh Penguins (7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Penguins lead series 2-1

The New York Islanders have shown over the last two games that they’re capable of matching the Penguins goal-for-goal. That’s impressive considering they’re a young, eighth seed team with several core players that had no postseason experience going into this series.

They fell short in Game 3, but at least they kept things interesting.

“If you’re satisfied with just being able to compete, that’s a recipe for losing,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey told Newsday. “We’re not here to try and hang with them and go home having put up a good fight. We’re here to win.”

If the Islanders want something more than a moral victory, they’ll need to play a very disciplined game. Thus far, they’ve been unable to contain the Penguins when Pittsburgh has the man advantage and it’s been the difference in this series.

Game 4: Ottawa Senators host Montreal Canadiens (7:00 p.m. ET, CNBC)
Senators lead series 2-1

These two teams combined for 210 penalty minutes in the third period of Ottawa’s 6-1 victory on Sunday. There were eight game misconducts, a questionable elbowing, more postgame verbal sparring between the coaches, but no suspensions were handed out.

In other words, almost all of the same players will be on hand for what’s likely to be another heated and gritty game tonight. On top of that Ottawa defenseman Eric Gryba is likely to play after serving his two-game suspension for his hit that hospitalized Montreal forward Lars Eller.

How the Canadiens will react to Gryba given everything that’s happened since is something Senators coach Paul MacLean “will be interested to see.”

Of course, as physical as this game might be, Montreal obviously needs a win far more than they need to make a statement.

Game 4: Minnesota Wild host Chicago Blackhawks
Blackhawks lead series 2-1

Minnesota Wild Jason Zucker had just four career NHL goals going into the playoffs. On Sunday, he came up big, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to put the Wild back in this series.

Prior to that contest, Wild coach Mike Yeo talked about his team’s need to get “desperate” and the need to hate the Blackhawks. After suffering their first loss of the postseason, Blackhawks bench boss Joel Quenneville would like to see the same from his club.

“We want to make sure we have more urgency to our game, more directness, and the passion that comes with playoff hockey,” Quenneville told CSN Chicago. “I’d like to see a very intense team. You watch other playoff series, you can see whether it’s the animosity, the hatred, the battles, that’s playoff hockey. That’s the level we have to get to and go from there.”

We’ll see which team is able to play with more urgency tonight.

Game 4: San Jose Sharks host Vancouver Canucks
Sharks lead series 3-0

After coming just one game short of the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Canucks are on the brink of being eliminated in the first round for the second straight year.

It will be interesting to see which goaltender the Vancouver Canucks go with in this contest. Cory Schneider was injured going into this series, so they went with Roberto Luongo, who held his own despite losing the first two games. Schneider was healthy for Game 3, so the Canucks had him start over Luongo, but Schneider ended up getting yanked after allowing five goals.

To pour salt in the wound, Sharks captain Joe Thornton said that they felt “lucky not to play against Lou.”

Of course, who the Canucks go with between the pipes will be moot if the rest of the team doesn’t step up. They’ve scored just four goals in three games.

Ovechkin to play role of NHL ambassador in China

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Alex Ovechkin will be taking a week away from his summer break to play a different kind of role in the NHL next month.

Ovi is heading to China as the NHL’s international ambassador on the week of Aug. 4. He will travel to Bejing, China’s capital, a trip that will include the Russian superstar holding youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings.

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a release from the Caps. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL continues to try and grow the game at the international level in places traditionally not hotbeds for hockey.

China has been seeing a lot of the NHL over the past three seasons. Although no preseason games are scheduled for the 2019-20 season, the NHL has played a total of four since 2017, with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks contesting two games in 2017-18 and the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames playing the other two prior to last season.

The Stanley Cup found its way to the country for the first time last September, as well.

“We are very excited that Alex Ovechkin will be joining us in China this summer,” said David Proper, NHL Executive Vice President of Media and International Strategy. “Alex represents the best in sports, as he epitomizes that combination of great talent, great personality and great sportsmanship. He is the perfect person to represent the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China.”

China, with a population of over 1.3 billion, expects to expand its participation in winter sports, including hockey, to 300 million people by 2022.


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

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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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.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


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

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.