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Blues win ninth in a row as Avalanche keep fading

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At the start of December the Colorado Avalanche were off to one of the best starts in the NHL with a 15-6-5 record and looking like a sure-fire playoff team thanks to one of the best lines in the league.

They had their flaws, yes, but they had enough top-end talent playing at an incredibly high level and seemed to have given themselves plenty of cushion to allow for any sort of regression that might follow in the coming months.

On Dec. 1, they were 14 points ahead of what looked to be a bitterly disappointing St. Louis Blues team in the Western Conference standings. That Blues team, meanwhile, looked like its season was already over before it really even had a chance to start, was going through a change behind the bench, and rumors were swirling that major changes to the roster could be coming if things did not turn around.

Two-and-a-half months later, everything has changed for both teams and we saw it all playing out on Saturday afternoon when the two teams met in Denver.

It was there that Blues won their ninth game in a row with a 3-0 victory that improved their lead over the Avalanche in the standings to eight points. That means the two teams have experienced a 22-point swing in less than three months.

That is an absolutely shocking flip in that amount of time.

The big change for the Blues has been the fact that their goaltending has completely turned around with the arrival of Jordan Binnington who is now 11-1-1 with a .931 save percentage in his first 13 starts. On Saturday, Jake Allen — who had been a mess earlier this season — recorded his second shutout of the season to give the Blues back-to-back shutouts.

They’re also getting the type of performance they expected out of Vladimir Tarasenko.

After what was one of the worst starts of his career, Tarasenko extended his current point streak to 11 games on Saturday with his fourth consecutive multi-point game.

Since Jan. 1 he has 26 points (including 14 goals) in 19 games.

As for the Avalanche, well, their problems are plentiful.

They still don’t have enough scoring depth beyond their top players, and now they can’t keep anything out of their own net. The defense isn’t anything special, but the goaltending has been a massive disappointment. Put those two things together and they have now given up at least four goals in eight of their past 10 games, while neither goalie (Semyon Varlamov or big offseason acquisition Philipp Grubauer) has done anything to solidify the position.

They have lost nine out of their past 10 games and 24 out of their past 32 since Dec. 1.

As if that is not bad enough, their upcoming schedule is brutal with games against Vegas, Winnipeg, a white-hot Chicago team, and Nashville over their next four.

In short, this could continue to get worse for the Avalanche before it gets better.

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.

Schwartz stuns Jets, completing Blues’ comeback in dying seconds

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These two teams finished with nearly identical records in the regular season, so it seems appropriate that almost every game in this series has been decided by a razor thin margin. This one was no different, though it had an extra element to it as the Blues surged to a 3-2 comeback win over Winnipeg in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.

The Blues found themselves chasing almost immediately. Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry scored just 12 seconds into the game, exciting the hometown crowd, which started a “you look nervous” chant at Blues rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. Only the netminder wasn’t rattled.

Binnington held firm and while he did surrender a second goal, this time to Kevin Hayes, later in the period, he kept the Blues in this game early. A lot of credit also has to go to the Blues for their killing of a double minor to Robert Thomas midway through the first, preventing this game from getting away from them.

All the same, the Jets maintained their 2-0 lead for most of the contest. It wasn’t until 1:29 of the third period that the Blues finally got on the board thanks to a power-play goal by Ryan O'Reilly. He fired the puck in front of the net off a rebound, ending what had been until that point a shutout bid for Connor Hellebuyck.

Even after that, the period wasn’t all Blues. Winnipeg actually led in shots in the final frame 9-8, but the Blues continued to find ways to capitalize. Their comeback wasn’t without intrigue either. Brayden Schenn‘s game-tying goal needed to be reviewed because the net was dislodged at the same time the puck went in. Ultimately it was ruled as a good goal because Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien pushed St. Louis’ Oskar Sundqvist into the net, which is what dislodged it.

The comeback was completed with just 15 seconds to spare on a goal by Jaden Schwartz.

With that, the home team has lost every game in this series and four of the five contests have been decided by just one goal. Even with how close this series has been, this contest had a different tone to it thanks to the dramatic comeback. It will be a tough pill for the Jets to swallow, but they have to bounce right back to avoid elimination in Game 6.

Blues-Jets Game 6 from Enterprise Center will be Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Capitals think Foegele hit was dirty, Oshie expected to miss playoff time

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Warren Foegele gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead 17 seconds into what would be a slim 2-1 win in Game 4, but that’s not why the Washington Capitals imply that he shouldn’t suit up for Carolina in Game 5.

Instead, the Capitals are unhappy with Foegele’s hit with about five minutes remaining in the third period. While Foegele received a two-minute boarding major for his check on T.J. Oshie, plenty of Capitals believe that Foegele went over the line in a way that should prompt a harsher punishment.

You can judge the hit and fallout for yourself in the video above this post’s headline.

For one thing, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden called it a dangerous hit, and hinted that Oshie might be out for a while. The Department of Player Safety factors injuries into the supplementary discipline decision-making process (for better or worse), so Oshie being injured could play into this potential situation. Oshie certainly looked to be in serious distress after that awkward fall into the boards.

Reirden said Oshie won’t “play anytime soon.”

You can see from the hit video that Alex Ovechkin was incensed by Foegele’s hit. While Reirden’s most interesting comment seems to focus on supplementary discipline (again, indirectly), Ovechkin’s most interesting beef seems to be about the in-game penalty being a mere two-minute minor.

“It’s a dirty play,” Ovechkin said, via Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post. “It has to be not two minutes. It has to be a different call.”

See/hear more from Ovechkin and Reirden here:

For his part, Foegele explained that he was trying to lift Oshie’s stick and “give him a little nudge,” and that he wasn’t trying to “hurt him or anything,” according to Khurshudyan.

Rod Brind’Amour certainly didn’t seem to think it was too bad of a hit:

The Capitals didn’t provide an official update regarding how much time Oshie might mix, and it’s possible that more information will surface in the next few days. Of course, with this Round 1 series headed for a minimum of six games after Carolina tied things up 2-2, it also could be a while before we really know how long Oshie might be out, as teams are more secretive than spy agencies with injury information during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Injuries have factored into this Round 1 series so far, although the bad news has mostly been on Carolina’s side. Most memorably, head coach Rod Brind’Amour was unhappy with Alex Ovechkin after a one-sided fight with Andrei Svechnikov left Svechnikov with a concussion.

We’ll see what happens regarding Foegele and Oshie, but if there were any concerns about these two teams drumming up the playoff disdain many love to see in hockey, then you can probably put those worries to bed. With that in mind, some advice: you probably shouldn’t drop the gloves with Alex Ovechkin.

The Capitals and Hurricanes will break this 2-2 series tie in Game 5 at Capital One Arena on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (livestream)

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.

Hurricanes tie playoff series vs. Capitals with Game 4 win

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The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t content to merely compete in their first postseason since 2009; they want to win.

After hanging but falling short in Games 1 and 2 in Washington, the Hurricanes “returned serve” against the Capitals during the two games in Carolina, including Thursday’s 2-1 win in Game 4. The series now shifts back to Washington tied 2-2.

This was a far tighter contest than Carolina’s 5-0 win from Game 3. The Hurricanes earned an edge in possession stats, but not a huge one, while Washington produced a 31-24 shots on goal edge. With Carolina protecting its slim lead, some of that edge might be exaggerated, so you can basically chalk this one up as plain-old close.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Hurricanes probably didn’t love holding their breath at times, but now they know that they can defeat the defending champion Capitals in both tight (Game 4) and lopsided (Game 3) affairs.

Warren Foegele had ups and downs, among others. He scored the 1-0 goal just 17 seconds in, but also took what could have been a lethal penalty. He was given a two-minute boarding minor for a questionable hit on T.J. Oshie with just a bit more than five minutes remaining in regulation. Was a two-minute minor a just call, or should this have drawn a major? Considering playoff officiating, it’s tough to imagine a harsher punishment in such a key situation … but maybe more will come from the Department of Player Safety?

[MORE: Ovechkin, Capitals react to that hit, Oshie could miss time.]

Alex Ovechkin scored his customary power-play goal for what would be Washington’s only tally of the game, but the threat of a tied game was definitely there in Game 4. The Hurricanes were able to limit Washington’s chances, although Petr Mrazek had to come up big with a point-blank save against Evgeny Kuznetsov to secure the win.

Pierre McGuire called this “The Mrazek Miracle.”

Goaltending was a question for Carolina heading into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Mrazek’s been heating up lately (after finishing the regular season on a pretty torrid pace, too).

Injuries are piling up for the Hurricanes, yet they’re showing that they very much belong in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and now they’ve turned this into, essentially, a “best-of-three” series with the defending champs.

The Capitals and Hurricanes will break this 2-2 series tie in Game 5 at Capital One Arena on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (livestream)

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.

Playoff injuries continue to pile up for Hurricanes

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As the Carolina Hurricanes hope to make it a long and successful Round 1 series against the Washington Capitals, and a deep run during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs in general, they’re not just facing talented opponents. They’re also facing “themselves,” and not just in a mental sense — they have to overcome the limitations on their own bodies.

Injuries are one of the top hurdles you have to overcome alongside bad bounces and hot goalies.

The good news for Carolina so far in Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) is that the Hurricanes went up 1-0 with a Warren Foegele goal just 17 seconds into the contest.

The bad news is that while that good trend of a hot streak continued, a negative trend of injuries also persists. Carolina already came into Game 4 without Andrei Svechnikov because of that ill-fated fight against Alex Ovechkin, and they were also missing beefy forward Micheal Ferland thanks to an upper-body injury.

It’s unclear if Jordan Martinook will end up missing significantly time, but he needed help off the ice after an awkward bump into the boards. Martinook briefly returned toward the end of the first period, yet was not seen on the Hurricanes bench to begin the second, and the team eventually announced that he would not return for Game 4.

(You can see that unfortunate bump in the video above this post’s headline.)

Martinook isn’t a huge loss on his own, but when you consider that part of Carolina’s strength is depth and scoring by committee, the ice packs are really piling up. Consider that:

  • Martinook scored a career-high 15 goals and tied a career-high with 25 points this season, and had an assist coming into Game 4.
  • Ferland finished fourth in team scoring with 40 points, including 17 goals, and may have hit 20+ if he wasn’t limited to 71 games played.
  • Svechnikov’s been a fantastic rookie who’s flourished as he’s gained Rod Brind’Amour’s favor as the season went along. Svechnikov generated 20 goals and 37 points during the regular season, and had two goals and one assist for three points in his first three playoff games.

Those are three players who bring different abilities to the table, from grinding to having the sort of sniping skills that can break a tight postseason skirmish open – and the Hurricanes have to hope that most, if not all, of them can return to the lineup as they hope to push this Round 1 match longer.

The Hurricanes ended up winning Game 4 by a score of 2-1, tying the Round 1 series 2-2. Read more about that game here.

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.