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Loss to Jets will ‘kind of ruin the break’ for Blackhawks

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CHICAGO (AP) The Winnipeg Jets were just OK for most of the first part of the season. Except for their games against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Against the Blackhawks, they were perfect.

Andrew Copp and Bryan Little scored in a 32-second span in the third period, and Winnipeg continued its dominance against Chicago with a 5-3 victory on Thursday on the final night before the NHL All-Star break.

“For some reason, we elevate our game when we play this team and we always give our best,” Little said. “The big thing for us is having that confidence and having that energy and just will to win against other teams. For some reason, we just have these guys’ numbers.”

Winnipeg (23-25-4) improved to 4-0 against Chicago (30-16-5), outscoring the Blackhawks 13-4. It had dropped four in a row against Chicago coming into the season.

“These are huge points,” said Connor Hellebuyck, who made 38 saves in his first appearance since Jan. 13. “It doesn’t matter what team we’re playing, we need to continue to grow our team and continue to get points and think these two are going to spring us post All-Star break.”

Little, Copp, rookie Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist, helping the Jets to their third win in their last nine games.

The Blackhawks had a 3-2 lead before Copp tipped Josh Morrissey‘s shot past Scott Darling with 4:03 left. Little then blasted a shot by Darling for his 13th of the season, silencing the crowd of 21,746.

Scheifele added an empty-netter at 17:57 for his 22nd goal, moving the center into a tie with Laine for the team lead.

“I thought we had good control of the game,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “They were getting chances, but we were playing well. It was just two sets of two quick goals. It totally changed the game.”

Keith, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero scored for the Blackhawks, who allowed four goals in the third period of a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Darling finished with 28 stops.

Winnipeg also scored two goals in a 42-second span in the first, continuing a disturbing trend for Chicago. The Blackhawks allowed two in 46 seconds against Vancouver on Sunday, and then surrendered a pair of goals in 30 seconds against the Lightning.

“It’s hard to accept these two. Especially this one today,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It’s going to kind of ruin the break a little bit. It’s going to take a little while to swallow the way we’ve lost this one.”

Winnipeg jumped in front in the first when Little made a great pass across the ice to Laine, who drove a one-timer by Darling for a power-play goal at 6:16. Laine returned Tuesday after missing eight games with a concussion.

Jacob Trouba then had a big slap shot go off the right skate of Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell and past Darling, with Shawn Matthias getting his stick on the puck just before it crossed the line. It was Matthias’ seventh of the season.

“There were plays that could have been defended against for sure tonight,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We always talk about important shifts. That’s the first shift after a goal, a key shift in games.”

The Blackhawks, who controlled much of the early action, then got one back after Nic Petan was whistled for hooking at 13:02. Just 5 seconds into the ensuing power play, Keith drove a slap shot by Hellebuyck from the left point with Chicago center Artem Anisimov providing a perfect screen in front.

Schmaltz got the tying goal 4 minutes into the second. While Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart repeatedly checked Chicago center Marcus Kruger in the back while the two were on the ice, Schmaltz picked up the loose puck, skated in and beat Hellebuyck on the short side for his third of the season.

NOTES: Kruger played in his first game since Dec. 30. He was activated from injured reserve on Tuesday after being sidelined by a hand injury. … Blackhawks C Dennis Rasmussen, who is battling an illness, skated Thursday morning, but was scratched. … Hjalmarsson played in his 600th NHL game. … Chicago visits Winnipeg on Feb. 10.

UP NEXT

Jets: Continue a four-game road trip Tuesday night against St. Louis.

Blackhawks: Begin a six-game road trip at San Jose on Tuesday night.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

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.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

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.