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Jets vs Wild: PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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A rivalry that needed a playoff meeting to really cement its status will finally add that chapter when the puck drops between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

The Jets and Wild have been divisional rivals for a few years now and the bad blood has grown during that time, but this will be the first time both teams meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — a chance for the hatred to grow.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The series will feature a team heavy with playoff experience and another with a bunch of excited players who’ve seen limited time in the postseason.

The Wild boast a roster with a combined 748 playoffs games, that compares to the Jets’ 265. Several of Winnipeg’s roster, including 44-goal man Patrik Laine, 32-goal rookie forward Kyle Connor and 44-game winner Connor Hellebuyck, will make their playoff debut on Friday. So while the Jets are favorites to take the series in the end, it may take a period or two for half the team to settle into a new style of hockey.

Winnipeg enters the postseason relatively healthy, although they’ll be missing Toby Enstrom (ankle) and Dmitry Kulikov (back) on the blue line to start the playoffs (with Kulikov much further away from returning than Enstrom). The addition of Paul Stastny at the trade deadline has been instrumental for the Jets, who have a centre that has figured out how to play with Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.

The Wild, meanwhile, won’t have Ryan Suter for the entirety of their playoff run after the defenseman needed surgery to fix a fractured ankle. Suter averaged 26:47 of ice time per game during the regular season, second only to Drew Doughty‘s 26:50. Simply put, it’s a big hole to fill against one of the league’s hottest offensive teams.

The Jets took the season series 3-1-0, beating the Wild twice in October in one-goal wins before pounding them 7-2 in November. In their final meeting back in January, the Wild picked up a 4-1 decision.

There are several storylines attached to this series, so let’s dive right in.

SCHEDULE

FORWARDS

Jets: Winnipeg’s bread and butter. The Jets finished second to the Tampa Bay Lightning in goals-for with 273 and boasted a lineup with a 44-goal scorer in Laine, a 31-goal scorer in Connor and 29 markers from Ehlers. Blake Wheeler tied for the NHL-lead with 68 assists in a career-year. And the Jets found secondary scoring throughout, with eight of their 12 forwards in double-digits in goal-scoring. As you’d expect, a team that put up as much offense as the Jets would also look good in the analytics department. And they do. Winnipeg finished 10th in terms of shot share at 51.5 percent and fourth in goals-for percentage at 54.6 percent.

Wild: Minnesota is no slouch in the goal-scoring department. Eric Staal turned back the clock this season and scored 42 times and Jason Zucker tallied 33 times. The Wild finished 11th in goal scoring and averaged over three goals per game, but lacked when it came to shot share, finishing 29th in the league with 47.2 percent. They were 12th in goals-for percentage, however, at 52.2 percent. Zach Parise has been a force since the beginning of March.

Advantage: Jets, but this is closer than one might think given one team hs a guy named Laine.

DEFENSE

Jets: The Jets are missing Enstrom and Kulikov to start and will depend on Joe Morrow (a trade deadline acquisition) and Ben Chiarot to keep up their solid play in relief. The top pairing of Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey will be tasked with shutting down the Wild’s offense. Despite significant injuries to the aforementioned Kulikov, Enstrom and Trouba throughout the season, the Jets still managed to fifth least goals-against in the league.

Wild: We talked about Suter in the introduction and his absence will be felt, but the pending return of Jared Spurgeon who missed 12 games to close out the regular season, is a welcome addition and should soften the blow, even if only slightly. The Wild finished 11th in fewest goals-against this season and have an offensive weapon with Matt Dumba, who recorded 50 points. That said, Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler are in tough if Spurgeon isn’t ready to go.

Advantage: Give it to the Jets as they’re not missing a top-pairing defensemen. It’s close, but Suter’s skates are impossible to fill.

GOALTENDING

Jets: The Jets signed Steve Mason in the offseason in hopes he’d be the teams No. 1. But 82 games later and it was Hellebuyck who had taken the No. 1 role and never gave it back in a Vezina-worthy campaign where he posted a .924 save percentage while setting a new franchise-high with 44 wins. Hellebuyck had six shutouts on the year and became the winningest American born goaltender and tied a league record with 30 wins at home.

Wild: Dubnyk posted 35 wins in 59 starts and put up a .918 save percentage and has 21 games of playoff experience to his name. Dubnyk had his struggles at times this seasons, but was effective nonetheless, especially at home where he only lost six games in regulation.

Side note: Hellebuyck and Dubnyk share the same trainer, Adam Francilia, at NET 360 in Kelowna, British Columbia. Both trained together in the summer and are good friends. But Dubnyk said this week that their friendship will go out the door for this series. 

Advantage: Hellebuyck, at least on paper. Dubnyk has the benefit of playoff experience while Hellebuyck has the luxury of home-ice advantage. Give it to the sophomore, but this is close.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jets: They call him a cheat code on the power play, a near-exact replica of Alex Ovechkin with all the same lethality from Ovi’s office. Laine led the league with 20 power play goals to help the Jets to the fifth-best power play in the NHL at 23.4 percent. Winnipeg’s much-improved penalty kill, meanwhile, saw them finish ninth with an 81.8 percent success rate.

Wild: The Wild do not have have a cheat code, but Staal chipped in with 11 power play goals this season. That said, Minnesota’s power play ranked 18th in terms of its success rate at 20.4 percent. On the penalty kill, the Wild only trail by half a percent, or as near as makes no difference.

Advantage: Jets. Laine tips the scales here with both penalty kills virtual identical.

X-FACTORS

Jets: Hellebuyck. He’s played the most minutes out of any other goaltender in the NHL this season yet was as steady as they come. He’s brushed aside questions of fatigue and got some rest down the stretch. Hellebuyck has been calm, cool and collected in the lead up to Wednesday’s opener. He lacks playoff experience, but if he plays the way he did this season, it shouldn’t matter.

Wild: Spurgeon’s health. He softens the blow in the wake of Suter’s season-ending injury and provides the Wild with another scoring threat on the blue line. The Jets own arguably the best offense in the league and Minnesota is going to need all the help it can get trying to contain it.

PREDICTION

Jets in six games. The loss of Suter can’t be understated, nor can the skill of the Winnipeg Jets.

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

The Buzzer: Bruins blow big lead; Troubling Crosby report

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Uh oh

The Athletic’s Rob Rossi reports (sub required) that Sidney Crosby is considering undergoing surgery for a sports hernia, among other treatment options.

Rossi reports that Crosby recently aggravated the injury, but it was something that had been bothering throughout 2019-20. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ host of injuries explained why Crosby didn’t undergo a procedure sooner.

If Crosby undergoes such a surgery, Rossi explains that the typical recovery window is four-to-six weeks, although Crosby’s been told it may only sideline him for a month. There are other possibilities to try to avoid surgery, as Rossi outlines, although delaying the inevitable could lead to aggravating the issue again.

Personally, I’d bite the bullet and have Crosby go under the knife now, rather than risking losing him during an even more important time of the year. We’ll see how it goes, whether Crosby opts for surgery or tries alternate options. It doesn’t seem like the rosiest update overall, though.

Three Stars

1. Andrew Werner, Colorado Avalanche

This post goes into greater detail, but in short, Werner made his NHL debut after Pavel Francouz was injured seconds into Tuesday’s game against the Jets. Not only did the 22-year-old Werner win for Colorado, he also stopped all 40 of Winnipeg’s shots on goal.

Technically, Werner won’t get a shutout, as Francouz started the contest and played for about one minute. It was a functional shutout in every other way, though — Werner even stopped all eight of Patrik Laine‘s shots on goal — so he nabs the top star of Tuesday.

2. Nathan MacKinnonalso of the Colorado Avalanche

… Unless you think his teammate is more deserving.

With Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog still on the shelf, MacKinnon showed that he can still generate high-level offense, as he factored into all four Avalanche goals (2G, 2A).

It’s been a little all-or-nothing for MacKinnon lately. Along with Tuesday’s four points, he also generated a four-point game (1G, 3A) on Nov. 7. Yet, in three of his five most recent games, MacKinnon was held pointless. Eight points in five games still rocks, mind you, but maybe that feast-or-famine pattern shows where MacKinnon might miss his partners in crime.

Either way, it’s been a superstar-status-affirming start to 2019-20, as MacKinnon has 11 goals and 26 points in 18 games.

3. Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers

The Panthers missed out on a Mike Hoffman power-play opportunity when the lights went out temporarily in Boston, and to make matters worse, were behind 4-0 during the third period. Instead of folding, Florida scored four goals during that third period, then beat the Bruins 5-4 via a shootout.

Yandle played a big role in that rally (1G, 2A). The high-scoring defenseman collected primary assists on two Panthers goals, and also scored the goal that sent the game to overtime.

There were other players who generated three points on Tuesday, including Yandle’s teammate, Jonathan Huberdeau. The importance of Yandle’s goal, or primary nature of Yandle’s assists, made his night stand out, though. (Huberdeau’s assists were secondary, and Tanner Pearson‘s goal was an empty-netter, as two examples. Oh, and Huberdeau is now tied for first in Panthers history with 249 assists, alongside Stephen Weiss.)

Highlight of the Night

Brendan Lemieux‘s tremendous pass + Kaapo Kakko‘s great move to finish things off for a goal already received plenty of attention, but sorry, it’s the clip of the night.

Factoids

  • Tuesday marked just the third time in Bruins history where an opponent tied the game after Boston carried a four-goal lead into the third period, via Mike Biergard of the NHL. The Bruins lost 7-6 in OT to the Maple Leafs in 1989, and won 5-4 against the Kings in 1981.
  • From the Panthers’ perspective:

  • Erik Karlsson was another player who authored a three-point game, generating three assists as San Jose beat Edmonton. That’s his 37th three-point game, the most of any defenseman since Karlsson entered the league in 2019-20, via NHL PR.
  • One more from NHL PR: Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar joins Larry Murphy (Kings, 1980-81) as the only two rookie defensemen to generate at least one point in 14 of their first 18 regular season games.

Scores

FLA 5 – BOS 4 (SO)
MTL 3 – CBJ 2 (SO)
NYR 3 – PIT 2 (OT)
ARI 3 – STL 2 (SO)
COL 4 – WPG 0
VAN 5 – NSH 3
DET 4 – ANA 3 (OT)
LAK 3 – MIN 1
SJS 6 – EDM 3

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Oilers were not happy with Hertl’s hit on McDavid

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Even in late 2019, it’s a little bit odd to see Brandon Manning stand up for Connor McDavid. You know, after that.

The two have been Edmonton Oilers teammates for a while now, and Manning did just that on Tuesday, dropping the gloves with Barclay Goodrow of the San Jose Sharks after Tomas Hertl delivered a controversial neutral zone hit on McDavid.

You can watch Hertl’s hit, McDavid’s reaction, and the ensuing fight in the video above this post’s headline.

The early signs are that McDavid avoided an injury (at least one significant enough to make him miss immediate action), as he finished the game. McDavid logged four third-period shifts after that incident in the second period, so that’s a decent sign that the Oilers my have avoided the bullet of a lower-body injury.

Then again, he seemingly left in a hurry after the Sharks beat the Oilers 6-3, so we’ll see.

What do you think of Hertl’s hit, though? For what it’s worth, Hertl received a minor penalty for interference on the play.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Avalanche stumble upon new hero after another startling injury

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The Colorado Avalanche’s list of injuries was already pretty ridiculous, particularly for mid-November, and things got worse on Tuesday. Even so, they found a way to beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-0.

Less than a minute into the game, Jets star Mark Scheifele fell into Avs goalie Pavel Francouz, who was already taking over for an injured Philipp Grubauer. It was a hard collision, as you can see from the video above. Scheifele received a justifiable interference penalty for the exchange, and was seen apologizing.

Francouz would not return to the contest, and it’s unknown if he’ll miss additional time. If you want an indication of how much injuries are piling up even just in Colorado’s net, realize that the Avs had to call upon a fabled emergency goalie. In this case, it was Byron Spriggs.

The Avalanche would never need Byron Spriggs.

Nope, instead, Adam Werner came in cold for his first NHL start — and managed an outstanding shutout in everything but its name.

(Technically, Werner didn’t play the full contest, so he’ll have to accept that it’s a shutout only in our hearts and minds, not to mention between the Jets’ expletives.)

Werner didn’t just get propped up in a 4-0 win; he made a resounding 40 saves for that basically-it’s-a-shutout.

The Avalanche did an OK job protecting Werner from the toughest of opportunities — via Natural Stat Trick, Winnipeg’s expected goals was 2.41, with nine high-danger chances — but 40 shots on goal are 40 shots on goal. Patrik Laine fired eight SOG alone.

Now, it’s not fair to call Werner an unbeatable unknown.

The 22-year-old Swede was at least drafted, as the Avalanche selected Werner in the fifth round (131st overall) in 2016. While his AHL stats haven’t been anything to write home about, there are indications here and there that he might be more than a guy who stumbled upon a lucky night.

But … he also might be a guy who stumbled upon a lucky night. Either way, it was one great out-of-nowhere performance, and it’s easy to see why he looked so stunned after the win.

(Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Remarkable stuff, and beyond this coming out party for Adam Werner and Adam Werner Google searches, it was another reminder that Nathan MacKinnon is ridiculously explosive. Despite the Avs missing Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog (among others), the speedy center was involved in all four of Colorado’s tallies, scoring two goals and two assists.

Maybe that’s the formula for the 10-5-2 Avalanche, at least while they’re riddled with injuries: “MacKinnon being MacKinnon plus some random hero popping up out of the blue/fifth round of 2016.”

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Rangers beat Penguins in OT thanks to Kakko’s big night

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Kaapo Kakko looked dominant, at times, against men before he was drafted, including versus some NHL talent during the 2019 IIHF World Championship. The feeling was that he could make an immediate and successful jump from being the second pick of the 2019 NHL Draft to becoming an instant impact player for the New York Rangers, possibly outshining top pick Jack Hughes for the Devils.

A little more than a month into his career, it’s been up-and-down for Kakko, but we might just look at Tuesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins as a breakthrough moment.

Rangers start strong

Kakko took advantage of a bodacious Brendan Lemieux pass to score the first goal of Tuesday’s game, then ended up collecting the game-winner in overtime as the Rangers beat the Penguins 3-2 (OT). You could call it a big night not just for Kakko, but the Rangers’ youth in general, as Adam Fox set up Kakko’s OT game-winner, and also scored the Rangers’ second goal off of a great feed by Artemi Panarin.

Here’s that OT-winner for your viewing pleasure:

The Rangers dominated the first period, ending in 2-0, and credit to Matt Murray for keeping it from being any worse. Natural Stat Trick’s period-by-period graph provides another way of showing how dramatic the bad start was for Pittsburgh:

Penguins roll with the punches, and break a slump

The point’s been made that the Penguins have had a knack for rallying lately, and they did again on Tuesday — just not for the win.

Pittsburgh scored two goals in the second period to tie things up. Maybe the biggest sigh of relief came on the second tally, and not just because it made the game 2-2 at the time. After going 0-for-28 in their last power-play opportunities and failing to score on the man advantage for almost a month, Jared McCann finally ended that drought.

That second-period effort was enough for the Penguins to secure a standings point despite falling behind 2-0 early on, but Fox and Kakko combined for the game-winner.

Kakko is now at six goals and eight points over his first 16 NHL games, while this also marks his first point streak (he scored a goal against the Panthers on Sunday). With that goal and assist, Fox generated his first multi-point game, but the defenseman has already been a quick study (insert Harvard joke), as this pushes his own point streak to five games (two goals, four assists for six points during that span). Fox also has eight points in 16 games this season.

Recent play of both teams

The Penguins will get a dose of the top two picks of the 2019 NHL Draft this week, as their next game is against Hughes and the Devils on Friday. After that, the Penguins play five of their next six games at home from Nov. 16-27, so maybe they’ll get some confidence in breaking that PP drought and at least getting a point with Sidney Crosby on the shelf for an unclear duration of time. Pittsburgh’s record sank to 10-6-2 for 22 points.

The Rangers, meanwhile, continue to quietly build up steam. They’ve gone 4-0-1 in their last five games, five of their last seven (5-1-1) to improve to 8-6-2 overall.

If young players like Kakko and Fox keep improving, the Rangers might just manage more hot stretches down the road in 2019-20.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.