The Morning Skate: Will Vokoun, Penguins rebound vs. Bruins?

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A quick look at the Eastern Conference finals and notes from Chicago’s impressive win against L.A., including Corey Crawford’s NHL first.

Game 2: No. 4 Boston Bruins at No. 1 Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online) – Bruins lead series, 1-0

After a surprisingly dominant performance in Game 1, the Bruins will look to take a firm grip of their Eastern Conference Final series when they meet the Penguins tonight at Consol Energy Center.

In the series opener, David Krejci scored two goals (his first two since posting a hat trick in Game 4 of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series vs. the Maple Leafs), linemate Nathan Horton added another, and Tuukka Rask stopped all 29 Penguins shots for his first-career postseason shutout. The Penguins got nine shots on goal combined from top centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the team as a whole appeared unfocused and largely frustrated by the Bruins for the last two periods. The captain told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the gameplan shouldn’t change too much in Game 2: “We have to do a lot of the same things. If anything, just eliminate a couple of mistakes and make sure our focus is in the right place.”

Coach Dan Bylsma was coy in his off-day press conference yesterday when referencing his starting goaltender. Tomas Vokoun was shaky at times in Game 1, allowing three goals on 30 shots, but there is no indication that Marc-Andre Fleury (the backup since Game 5 of the first round) will step in. Vokoun won two of the three regular-season meetings vs. the Bruins.

Despite not getting a goal from a defenseman for the first time in seven games, the performance of the Bruins’ defensive unit was exceptional in Game 1. The blueline corps, already boasting depth, was bolstered by the return of veteran Andrew Ference, who logged 17:27 after missing seven games with a foot injury.

DID YOU KNOW?

Only one team, the 1944-45 Detroit Red Wings, have lost Games 1 & 2 at home in a NHL semifinal or conference final, and gone on to win the series. The Wings’ opponent that postseason was the Boston Bruins.

WHO ON EARTH IS … TUUKKA RASK?

Mention Bruins trade acquisitions from Toronto, and most people will think of the first-round draft picks that became Tyler Seguin (2010) and Dougie Hamilton (2011), in exchange for Phil Kessel. Even more valuable during the Bruins’ 2013 playoff run, however, has been #1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, who was acquired from Leafs Nation in 2006 for fellow goalie Andrew Raycroft. This postseason, Rask is 9-4, with a 2.06 GAA, .933 save % and his first-ever playoff shutout in the Eastern Conference Final opener.

Rask served as the Bruins’ backup to Tim Thomas in 2011, and got his “Day with the Cup” in his hometown of Savonlinna, Finland, a town best known regionally for its abundance of lakes and annual summer opera festival. The 26-year-old netminder assumed the starting gig in 2012 when Thomas decided to take a leave of absence. During the lockout, he went to the Czech Republic and suited up for eventual Extraliga champions HC Plzeň, making it a possibility that he plays for two champions in one season.

In his off-day press conference yesterday, Bruins coach Claude Julien used the words “stable” and “normal” to describe Rask, as opposed to Thomas the “battler.” Judging by the meaning of his last name in the official languages of his home country, the 6’3”, 169-lb. goalie can be characterized in other ways. Rask means “quick” in Swedish, and raskas means “heavy” in Finnish. He has done some heavy lifting this postseason.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Chicago 4, Los Angeles 2 (Blackhawks lead series, 2-0)

The Blackhawks jumped out to a 4-0 lead on goals by Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus, and cruised to a 4-2 win over the Kings in Game 2 to take a two-games-to-none series lead. Defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick was pulled for only the second time in 47 career postseason appearances after giving up all four goals in the first 29:20 of the game. Quick had gone an NHL-record 34 straight playoff games (since April 25, 2011) without allowing more than three goals before tonight. On the other side of the ice, Corey Crawford made 29 saves to become this postseason’s first 10-game winner.

The Kings’ leading scorer, Mike Richards (10 points), was scratched after pregame warmups with an upper-body injury sustained late in Game 1 on a hit by the Blackhawks’ Dave Bolland. Richards was replaced by rookie Tyler Toffoli, who contributed with a goal and an assist in the loss.

The series moves to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Tuesday evening, on NBCSN. The Kings are a perfect 7-0 at Staples Center this postseason, outscoring their opponents, 18-8.

Player Team

Games

Last goal

Rob Scuderi Penguins/Kings

68

2009 ECQF, Game 3 (April 19, 2009) w/PIT
Shawn Thornton Bruins

55

2009 ECQF, Game 3 (April 20, 2009)
Michal Rozsival Rangers/Coyotes/Blackhawks

45

2008 ECQF, Game 5 (April 18, 2008) w/NYR
Niklas Hjalmarsson Blackhawks

44

2010 WCQF, Game 5 (April 24, 2010)
Mark Eaton Penguins

33

2009 ECSF, Game 6 (May 11, 2009)
Jarret Stoll Kings

24

2012 WCQF, Game 5 (April 22, 2012)
Matt Cooke Penguins

23

2010 ECSF, Game 2 (May 2, 2010)
Viktor Stalberg Blackhawks

22

2011 WCQF, Game 2 (April 15, 2011)

LINKS

  • Matt Cooke faces the music for his hit on Adam McQuaid [CBC]
  • Angry birds crash in series opener [Postmedia News]
  • Penguins need to control emotions, faceoffs [Globe and Mail]
  • Corey Crawford adds new role in Game 2 win [CSN Chicago]

Bruins’ David Backes takes skate to face, returns

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BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins forward David Backes rushed himself off the ice Tuesday night after taking a skate blade to the face late in the first period but returned at the start of the second and finished the game.

Backes pushed Oliver Ekman-Larsson near the side of the net and the Arizona defenseman went to the ice, kicking up his left skate on the way down. It caught Backes in the face, and he went down before skating on his own quickly to the bench and out the tunnel.

Backes returned and won the faceoff to start the second period. He did not speak to reporters during the open locker room period but told The Boston Globe as he left the building he had a cut on the side of his nose that required a few stitches and some ointment.

“It’s always scary when your teammate takes a skate to the face, or really anywhere,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after scoring twice and adding an assist in the 4-3 victory. “He’s a little prettier now and no worse for wear.”

Backes required 18 stitches to close a cut on his leg after a game against Tampa Bay in March.

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

Which teams are likely to make moves before Holiday Freeze?

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We’re exactly one week away from the NHL’s holiday roster freeze. Teams won’t be able to make a move between Dec. 19 at 11:59 pm ET and Dec. 28 at 12:01 am ET, which means there could be some fireworks between now and the 19th. So, which teams are most likely to make a move before next week? Let’s take a look.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers have already fired a general manager, so you’d have to think that the next step is to acquire some help that will improve their roster immediately. It’s been a disappointing year in Philly. After making the playoffs last season, they now find themselves one point away from the basement of the Eastern Conference. Sure, they could use some help between the pipes (no kidding), but they could also look to acquire a steady defenseman to compliment some of their younger players on the blue line. Their 12-13-3 record has them five points behind the Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Minnesota Wild: Prior to last night’s huge 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Wild had been floundering. Does one win change that? Probably not. Charlie Coyle‘s name has come up in trade rumors a lot lately, and you’d have to wonder if he’d be the one to go if GM Paul Fenton wanted to shake up his roster. Minnesota is still close enough to the playoffs that a big move could propel them back into a top three spot in the division or a wild card spot. Fenton still hasn’t made a major trade since taking over, so this could be his time to shine.

Carolina Hurricanes: Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is already sick of seeing his team not make it to the playoffs. They clearly have a need up front. The ‘Canes have to find a way to add some scoring help (Jeff Skinner would look great in a Hurricanes jersey right now). The good thing about Carolina, is that they have an abundance of talent on defense, which means they could sacrifice some of that to get a scoring forward. The Hurricanes are two points behind the Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Metro.

Boston Bruins: Despite the fact that they’ve been hit hard by the injury bug this season, the Bruins have found a way to stay in a playoff spot. Getting healthy would help, but the quickest fix might just be for GM Don Sweeney to make a trade before Christmas. Some depth scoring would certainly help. The Bruins are probably the team from this list that’s in the best shape, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to stay quiet on the trade front.

St. Louis Blues: Doug Armstrong has to do something to get his team back on track, or it could end up costing him his job. The Blues made some significant trades this off-season, but that hasn’t translated into victories. St. Louis could use help all over their roster. Their goaltending hasn’t been good enough, their defense has been in shambles all year and their top scorers haven’t been performing. This might be a do-or-die situation for Armstrong.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers missed the playoffs by just one point last season, which means they have to make the postseason this year. Unfortunately for them, Roberto Luongo has been banged up, again, in 2018-19. Could they be in the market for a goalie? It’s clear that they can’t just keep rolling with James Reimer if they want to play games deep into April. And relying on Luongo to stay healthy is a risky proposition.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Jim Rutherford has already made a couple of moves (he acquired Tanner Pearson from the Kings and Marcus Pettersson from the Ducks), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to pull the trigger on a trade again. Even though they’ve been playing better as of late, the Pens still find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture right now. Maybe they just wait it out, but a move is never out of the question for Rutherford.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Murray close to returning to Penguins’ net

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Hockey at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Another injury to Matt Murray once again complicated matters in the Penguins’ net. But as they did last season, the duty to help keep things afloat rested on the goalie pads of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith.

Since Murray exited the lineup with a nagging lower-body injury that he tried to play through, it’s been DeSmith taking the No. 1 reins and helping the Penguins earn points in eight of his nine starts. A .920 even strength save percentage has also helped them stay in the Eastern Conference playoff mix when things were looking down just a short while ago.

Complicating matters regarding Murray’s return has been the lack of practice time. With games just about every other day, the Penguins don’t have more than one full day off until the Christmas break, a period where no practices are allowed. Factor in travel days as well and it’s been tough to get him regular work.

“Logistically it makes it a little bit more of a challenge because ideally we’d like to get these guys into a team setting before we put them back into game scenarios,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan after Monday’s morning skate on Long Island. “In this instance, based on the realities of our schedule, that’s going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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

Murray participated in a full practice Tuesday at United Center as the Penguins prepared for Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks. He’s been skating for a week and did not rule himself out of starting in Chicago, citing a good amount of progression in his recovery.

“The thing I was dealing with was lingering and getting worse and worse, but still not enough to come out,” he said. “Eventually it got bad enough where you just need some time to rest it. I’m not going to use it as an excuse. I was sore, but it was nothing to come out of play. I was playing with it for a few weeks and it was fine. I just tweaked it one day. It didn’t hinder many parts of my game. It’s a specific place. Just giving it time to heal is the biggest thing.”

The fact that Murray has missed so much time to fully heal and not continue to play through injury is encouraging to Sullivan, who is confident the 24-year-old netminder’s season will only improve now.

“Sometimes when you have the opportunity to get away from it a little bit and get a fresh start, I think from a mental standpoint it can be refreshing for a player,” said Sullivan. “Physically for Matt, he’s going to be in a much better position to be at his best.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Ference rips Oilers; Barkov’s incredible penalty differential

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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.

• Even though he’s 33 years old, Alex Ovechkin remains as productive as he’s ever been. This ESPN story came out before he scored three goals during Tuesday’s win over Detroit. (ESPN)

• Former Oilers captain Andrew Ference ripped some of the players on his old team partying and not taking their jobs seriously. (Edmonton Journal)

• Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon might be relatively new to the league, but he’s got some interesting ideas regarding his team and the NHL. (Toronto Star)

• After going through waivers earlier this season, Scott Darling has another chance to prove himself with the ‘Canes. (News & Observer)

• Golden Knights fans shouldn’t be worried about the amount of hockey Marc-Andre Fleury is playing right now. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Not only has Aleksander Barkov not taken a penalty all season, he also leads the league in penalties drawn. (TSN)

• Legendary play-by-play voice Bob Cole is retiring after this season. His final game will be a classic matchup between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. (Sportsnet)

• Here’s a list of 27 players that will have no-movement clauses heading into the 2021 Expansion Draft. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Buffalo Bills defensive back Tre White can do it all!

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.