Bruins give Donato a shot; Marchand, DeBrusk game-time decisions

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When it comes to NHL coaches giving rookies/young players the call during the playoffs, sometimes you settle for “better late than never.”

Ryan Donato probably deserved more opportunities earlier during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, whether that meant attempting to finish off the Toronto Maple Leafs a little more efficiently or, now, possibly supplementing the Boston Bruins’ depth against the formidable Tampa Bay Lightning. The fresh-out-of-Harvard forward didn’t deny some frustration with all the healthy scratches after word surfaced that he’ll suit up for the Bruins in Game 4 tonight.

(That facial hair might count as a rookie mistake.)

Donato, 22, has only appeared in one postseason game so far, receiving 9:24 in ice time during Game 2 against the Maple Leafs on April 14. That’s a long time to sit, especially when you consider that the Ivy Leaguer passed his regular-season tests with flying colors (nine points in 12 games).

It’s not clear who Donato will line up with, and this isn’t down to playoff gamesmanship alone.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Both Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk are considered game-time decisions after missing a recent practice. The good news is that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that he believes they’ll play, but you never know in the playoffs; Patrice Bergeron‘s late scratch during the first round is an example of how things can go south after players get a chance to warm up.

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa speculates that, under normal circumstances, Donato would replace struggling fellow young forward Danton Heinen. Marchand and DeBrusk being coin flips for Game 4 complicates such things.

During his regular season appearances, Donato’s most common even-strength linemate was David Krejci (by quite a margin, via Natural Stat Trick). Donato also saw time with Heinen and his Olympic teammate Brian Gionta.

Here’s one look at what the Bruins lineup might look like if Marchand and Heinen can both play:

It would certainly make some sense to keep Donato with Krejci, while DeBrusk might be able to jumpstart a struggling Riley Nash. Ideally, this alignment or a similar one would set up Donato & Co. to supplement that deadly top line, which could be especially important if Marchand isn’t all there (especially if Bergeron isn’t operating at full capacity, either).

“He steps off the bus and starts shooting”

In the video above this post’s headline, both Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones campaigned for Donato to be added to the lineup even before the decision was made.

They both make salient points, yet Jones’ comment about shooting is especially noteworthy considering how this series is going.

As Joe Haggerty notes in this NBC Sports Boston piece, the Lightning have generated a 104-73 shots on goal edge against the Bruins so far during this series. That would be a disturbing mismatch for just about any team, but it’s especially startling for a Bruins team that was a possession behemoth for much of the regular season.

Despite being limited to just 9:24 in ice time during his lone postseason appearance, Donato fired three shots on goal. While he enjoyed the sort of cushy offensive zone starts you’d expect from a young player during the regular season, Donato did his part in generating promising possession stats during the regular season.

There’s a lot to like in adding Donato back into the lineup, even if Cassidy eases him in and doesn’t quite give him the minutes to really soar.

***

With the Lightning up 2-1 in the series, there’s a lot on the line for the Bruins in Game 4 tonight. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. ET; you can watch the action on NBCSN and stream it via this link.

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.

Fleury’s save of the year candidate extends Maple Leafs’ misery

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If we are being honest, simply calling this a save of the year candidate might be underselling it.

This might actually already be the save of the year because it is really difficult to imagine what it would take to top this.

With the Vegas Golden Knights hanging on to a one-goal lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the third period, Marc-Andre Fleury did this to Nic Petan, who thought he was going to tie the game with the entire net staring him right in the face.

I mean … come on.

That is just completely ridiculous.

After the initial shot from Ilya Mikheyev hit the cross-bar behind Fleury, it bounced to a wide open Petan who attempted to backhand the shot into the yawning net and, well, you saw the replay.

What the hell are you supposed to do about that as a shooter? Nothing. There is nothing you can do. You did everything right, you did exactly what you needed to do, and the universe still punched you in the face.

The Golden Knights added an empty-net goal to go on to a 4-2 win, extending the Maple Leafs’ current losing streak to six games. They have won just two games in regulation in their past 16 (and only five games total during that stretch) and are 9-10-4 on the season. That record is currently one of the worst in the NHL for a team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Kucherov injured as Lightning get shut down by Blues: 3 takeaways

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It has been an odd stretch as of late for the St. Louis Blues.

Even though they entered Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning riding a three-game losing streak, they still collected points in two of them (overtime losses) and were on a 9-2-2 run since Oct. 20.

The majority of those games (seven of them to be exact) extended beyond regulation and were decided in overtime or a shootout. It is a risky way to keep trying to win games and at some point they were going to need to show they could win a game in 60 minutes.

Mission accomplished on Tuesday as they completely shut down the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the league’s most dangerous offensive teams, in a 3-1 win.

Here are three things that stood out about the Blues’ win.

1. This was championship level defense from the Blues. Even with Tampa Bay’s slow start this is still one of the most talented rosters in the league both on paper and on the ice. Shutting them down is never easy. They have started to find their way in recent games and fill the back of the net the way they did a year ago, scoring 29 goals in their previous six games entering Tuesday, but all of that disappeared in St. Louis. The Blues limited the Lightning to just 18 shots on goal and, for the most part, did a great job insulating Jordan Binnington against their forwards. On the rare occasion that Tampa Bay did get something through, the Blues’ Stanley Cup winning goal was up to the challenge.

With Vladimir Tarasenko out of the lineup for most of the season the Blues are going to have a hard time generating offense and are going to need to win games like this.

They showed they could do it last year, and Tuesday was a great example of how they still have it against the league’s best.

2. The game-winning goal from Oskar Sundqvist was a thing of beauty. The Blues did not know if they were going to have Sundqvist for this game after he had a disciplinary hearing for charging Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson over the weekend.

Instead of a suspension, Sundqvist was able to skate away with only a fine.

That was fortunate for the Blues because he ended up scoring the game-winning goal with a perfect snipe that was set up by an incredible behind-the-back pass by Robert Thomas.

3. Nikita Kucherov exited with an injury after a big hit. Perhaps the most important news for the Lightning out of this game wasn’t the result itself, but the status of superstar winger Nikita Kucherov.

The league’s reigning MVP and scoring champion exited the game later in the second period after he was crushed by Blues forward Brayden Schenn.

He did not return to the game.

Kucherov has not been as dominant offensively as he was a year ago when he finished with 128 points, but he had been starting to turn it on lately and carried a four-game point streak into Tuesday (recording seven points in those four games).

The only update coach Jon Cooper had after the game is that Kucherov’s absence was not related concussion protocol.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders point streak reaches 15 games thanks to another crazy comeback

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PITTSBURGH — At this point you have to stop trying to figure out the New York Islanders and this incredible run they are on.

Are they most talented roster on paper? No they are not. Do they play an exciting brand of hockey? Not really. Does their success defy almost analytical evidence we think we know about why teams win and lose? You bet it does. And do you know what? None of it matters. They just keep collecting points. They just keep winning.

They are just good.

Thanks to a late third period rally on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, they were able to erase a two-goal deficit with six minutes to play in regulation to earn a 5-4 overtime win, extending their current point streak to 15 games (14-0-1).

Along with that streak they also have an .816 points percentage that is tops in the entire league.

Last year their success left the non-believers (like me) perplexed for all of the reasons mentioned above, always waiting for the inevitable regression to hit (even into this season!). But sometimes you just have to take the loss (like everyone else currently is against the Islanders), admit you’re wrong, and stop trying to make sense of it.

The impressive thing about Tuesday’s comeback is they managed to score five goals on a night where their best and most dangerous offensive player — Mathew Barzal — was completely held off the scoresheet.

The big line was the the trio of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Derick Brassard.

When that trio was on the ice during 5-on-5 play they controlled possession against the Penguins and held a 2-0 margin on the scoreboard, before also being on the ice for the game-tying goal (in a 6-on-5 situation) in the final two minutes.

Once the game reached overtime Nelson and Beauvillier teamed up for the winner in the 3-on-3.

This come-from-behind win comes after the Islanders erased a three-goal deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday to pick up a 4-3 win.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday that he felt the effort was better on Saturday than it was in Pittsburgh and that the team just needs to keep focus on getting better every game, no matter how many games their point streak reaches.

Trotz was asked if the streak brings any added motivation each night, a suggestion he quickly dismissed while trying to claim the team wouldn’t even be aware of it if they weren’t being asked about it every day.

“Not really,” said Trotz when asked about the motivation factor. “The funny thing is the only ones that are talking about are the media. Honestly, and this is with all true honesty, we wouldn’t even know. Our team would have no clue if we won 10 in a row, or five in a row, we would just know we haven’t lost in a while. That has been our mentality, but the media keeps bringing it up so we are starting to understand the numbers now but the mentality has been just get better for the next game.”

Their only loss since Oct. 11 was a 4-3 overtime loss at home (after leading 3-0 in the third period) to the same Penguins team they rallied against on Tuesday.

They will have a chance to continue the streak on Thursday when they face the Penguins again.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Oilers take on Sharks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Last Tuesday, the Sharks beat the Oilers 6-3 in San Jose. The Sharks had six different goal scorers. These teams will play four times this season, with the final two matchups coming in Edmonton on February 6 and March 27. San Jose enters this game on a six-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the NHL.

Martin Jones has started every game during the winning streak. Although the statistics have not significantly improved (he’s allowed three-plus goals four times during the streak), he has been a key factor in the team’s No. 1 ranked penalty kill, and has come up with big saves when needed

Edmonton began the season winning its first five games, but since then, the team has lost more games than it has won (8-6-3), never winning or losing more than two in a row. On Saturday, the Oilers led Dallas 4-2 entering the third, but lost 5-4 in overtime.

Leon Draisaitl (43 points) and Connor McDavid (40) are the only two players in the NHL who have reached the 40-point plateau so far. The last time two teammates finished 1-2 in the NHL scoring race was Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. The last time it happened in a full season was 1995-96 with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr of the Penguins.

[COVERAGE OF OILERS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks
WHERE: SAP Center
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Oilers-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

OILERS
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsJames Neal
Joakim NygardGaetan HaasAlex Chiasson
Markus GranlundRiley SheahanJosh Archibald

Darnell NurseEthan Bear
Oscar KlefbomCaleb Jones
Kris RussellMatt Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

SHARKS
Evander KaneLogan CoutureKevin Labanc
Timo MeierTomas HertlBarclay Goodrow
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonPatrick Marleau
Lukas RadilDylan GambrellMelker Karlsson

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Brenden DillonMario Ferraro

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Randy Hahn, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Bret Hedican will call the Oilers-Sharks contest from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.