Lightning look to bounce back from Game 1 collapse

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The Tampa Bay Lightning faced little adversity in the regular season on the way to a record-tying 62 wins and the most points in a season in 23 years.

That all changed as fast as the Lightning squandered a three-goal lead before losing 4-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of their first-round series Wednesday night. Now a team that lost consecutive games just twice all season must rebound in Game 2 at home on Friday night (7 p.m. EDT, CNBC) or be in danger of a quick playoff exit following their spectacular run.

Coach Jon Cooper acknowledges that blowing the big lead has put ”pressure” on his team heading into Game 2.

”I actually thought our biggest foe last night was us,” Cooper said Thursday. ”Columbus had no quit in them and good on them. Our biggest obstacle was us. We’ll just see how our response is tomorrow. If we’re going to go on past history, we’ve usually responded pretty well.”

The Blue Jackets were the sixth NHL team to come back from being down at least three goals to beat a No. 1 seed in a postseason game.

A comeback seemed farfetched when they fell behind 3-0 in the first period. But Columbus rallied when Nick Foligno scored on a breakaway in the second period following an errant pass by Ryan McDonagh. The Blue Jackets then scored three times in the third, tying it on a short-handed goal by Josh Anderson and getting the go-ahead goal on the power play from Seth Jones with 5:55 remaining.

Building on that won’t be easy against a star-studded team featuring scoring champion Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

”Who knows what happens in the series,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. ”I’m not worried about our team, how they handle things. Do we succeed? I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball. But I’m very comfortable that they can handle a lot different things. Momentum swings in the series and stuff that happens.”

Penguins at Islanders, New York leads 1-0 (7:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN)

Making their 13th straight appearance in the playoffs, with three championships and two other deep runs, the Pittsburgh Penguins know they can’t get discouraged with a tough series-opening loss.

Pittsburgh trailed three times in regulation and tied the score each time before falling 4-3 in overtime against the New York Islanders in Game 1 of their first-round series.

”The guys have been here before,” the Penguins’ Justin Schultz said. ”We know it’s a long series. You can’t hang your head on each play. You got to move on and worry about the next shift.”

Star center Sidney Crosby, who was held off the score sheet in the opener, wasn’t surprised by the close game.

”These games are going to be close, they’re going to be tight the entire series,” he said.

The Penguins also knew how tough the Islanders play after splitting four meetings in the regular season. New York’s stingy defense earned the Jennings Trophy by allowing the fewest goals in the league this season.

Blues at Jets, St. Louis leads 1-0 (9:30 p.m. EDT, CNBC)

Holding on to leads was a problem all season for Winnipeg so maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise it happened again in the playoff opener for the Jets.

Winnipeg led 1-0 after two periods in Game 1 against the Blues before losing 2-1. The Jets were tied with Florida for the most losses in the regular season when leading after two periods with nine.

”We’ve had a couple of those where they score the winning goal in the last two minutes,” forward Patrik Laine said. ”So it’s always tough, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”

Golden Knights at Sharks, San Jose leads 1-0 (10:30 p.m. NBCSN)

San Jose’s big offseason move paid off in the opener of the playoff rematch against Vegas.

Star defenseman Erik Karlsson showed why both the Sharks and Golden Knights coveted him so much when Ottawa put him on the trading block, recording two assists and playing more than 26 minutes in San Jose’s 5-2 victory on Wednesday night.

It was just Karlsson’s second game back after missing 17 games with a groin injury.

”I think he’ll get better and better which is good for us,” coach Peter DeBoer said. ”He’s got another level he can get to. He makes a huge difference for us, in our defensive and offensive game.”

Vegas struggled to generate much of anything, putting just 10 shots on goal in the first two periods before applying more pressure in the third when it was too late to help.

Getting off to a faster start in Game 2 will be key for the Golden Knights, who had scored in the opening five minutes in eight of 14 previous meetings against San Jose.

”We didn’t have our support guys coming through the middle,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. ”I thought we were turning over more pucks than we should of instead getting deep and keeping it simple. … We shot ourselves in the foot.”

AP Sports Writer Vin A. Cherwoo in Uniondale, New York, and AP freelancer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report

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

It’s New York Rangers Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

2018-19
32-36-8, 78 points (7th in the Metropolitan Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Artemi Panarin
Jacob Trouba
Kaapo Kakko
Adam Fox
Greg McKegg

OUT: 
Neal Pionk
Kevin Hayes
Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey
Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan Spooner
Fredrik Claesson
Connor Brickley

RE-SIGNED:
Pavel Buchnevich

2018-19 Summary

It was understood going into this past season in the Big Apple that by the end of it, the New York Rangers would be on the outside looking in.

A sell-off during the end of the 2017-18 season pointed to a re-build that would likely take a couple of seasons to fully mature.

And thus, the on-ice product for the Rangers was much less about winning games as it was about putting some of their young guns in positions to grow.

Alexandar Georgiev, for instance, was given 30 starts between the pipes as the Rangers let Henrik Lundqvist‘s heir-apparent get well-acquainted with the No. 1 spot he will one day own.

He showed well on a poor team, with the 23-year-old posting a respectable .914 save percentage.

Others, too, were given a chance to develop. The likes of Pavel Buchnevich, 24, Tony DeAngelo, 23, Filip Chytil, 19, and Lias Andersson, 20, saw significant action.

Everything was following the simple stream that is a slow rebuilding process. Well, at least until June.

In June, the Rangers found out they’d be picking second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft after moving up four spots from the six-best odds at the draft lottery. Welcome, Kaapo Kakko.

They’d acquire the rights to Jacob Trouba (and eventually sign the blue line stalwart to a seven-year deal.)

And then July 1 came and Artemi Panarin was handed $81 million over the next seven years.

The rebuild that was rolling along at a typical methodical pace suddenly slammed into sixth gear. The Rangers now added a bona fide superstar forward, a potential superstar forward and a top-pairing defenseman to the mix.

General manager Jeff Gorton wasn’t messing around, announcing his intentions to the rest of the league with his wallet open wide.

So now, the Rangers have smashed the fast-forward button. There’s no talk anymore about another growing season. Instead, the narrative has shifted to a team that could compete for a playoff spot at minimum, especially if Lundqvist can bounce back and retain his crown as ‘King’ in one final hurrah in his storied career.

The Rangers have kept pace with the New Jersey Devils and their own aggressive summer. The Metro is quite the division — perhaps the best in hockey — and the Rangers should be right back in the mix in 2019-20.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

PHT Morning Skate: Aho reveals offer-sheet decision; Ristolainen to Red Wings?

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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.

Sebastian Aho reveals why he signed an offer sheet from the Canadiens. (Sportsnet)

• NHL farm system rankings: Best, worst prospect pipelines for 2019-20, from 1 to 31. (The Sporting News)

• Should the Red Wings trade for Rasmus Ristolainen? (The Hockey Writers)

Matthew Tkachuk‘s agent says they gave the Flames a fair offer back in June. (Sportsnet)

• Overlooked teams in fantasy for 2019-20. (NHL.com)

• The All-Decade Team for all 31 NHL teams. (ESPN)

• Breaking down the format for a potential 2021 World Cup of Hockey. (Sportsnet)

T.J. Oshie is healthy and ready to take another run at the Stanley Cup. (NHL.com)

• When adding staffers, NHL Seattle must navigate complex minefield with those currently under contract elsewhere. (Seattle Times)

• Once healthy, Shea Weber’s value to the Canadiens remained high. (Eyes on the Prize)

• Who are the biggest Penguin killers in the NHL today? (Pensburgh)

• NHL “nowhere near a resolution” on allowing players to compete at 2022 Winter Olympics. (Inside the Games)

• NHL teams as dog breeds: The complete list of hockey dogs. (FanSided)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

NHL Free agent roundup: Islanders re-sign two RFAs; Nichushkin joins Avalanche

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It didn’t involve any of the big names that are still unsigned, but there was some movement on the NHL’s restricted free agent front on Monday afternoon thanks to the New York Islanders, while the Colorado Avalanche took a gamble on an intriguing unrestricted free agent.

Let’s take a look at the signings.

Islanders re-sign Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle

The Islanders reached deals with two of their remaining RFAs when they announced new deals for forwards Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle.

Dal Colle’s contract is a two-year deal, while Ho-Sang gets a one-year deal that will probably be a make-or-break season for him with the Islanders.

Anthony Beauvillier remains the Islanders’ only unsigned RFA at this point in the offseason.

Ho-Sang is the intriguing one here because he has such enormous potential but has not yet put everything together in the NHL or earned the trust of the organization. If he manages to do all of that he could be a huge X-factor for the Islanders this season.

He has 24 points in 53 career games at the NHL level.

The 23-year-old Dal Colle appeared in 28 games for the Islanders this past season, scoring three goals to go with four assists.

Avalanche get Nichushkin

After spending two years in the KHL, Valeri Nichushkin returned to the NHL for the 2018-19 season and signed a two-year, $5.9 million contract with the Dallas Stars.

It proved to be a disappointing and uneventful deal for both sides. He failed to score a goal in 57 games while recording just 10 total assists. His contract was bought out by the Stars following the season, making him an unrestricted free agent.

On Monday, he signed a one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche with the hopes that he can bounce back.

Nichushkin’s 2018-19 season was one of the most bizarre seasons in league history as he became the first player to ever play at least 50 games in a season while scoring zero goals and recording zero penalty minutes.

After a promising rookie season back in 2013-14, Nichushkin’s development offensively has completely stalled, resulting in just nine goals and 31 assists in 144 NHL games. He is a fine defensive forward but has not shown any ability to make much of an impact with the puck.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Barzal is Islanders’ game-changer

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

The New York Islanders have their share of questions entering the 2019-20 season but there is one thing they can be sure of — they have one of the game’s most exciting young players and a franchise cornerstone in Mathew Barzal.

Even though his point totals may have regressed in year two, the 22-year-old Barzal was the Islanders’ most dynamic and impactful player during the 2018-19 season and is on a trajectory that should take him to stardom in the NHL.

He has an incredible mix of speed, vision, and playmaking ability that makes him perfect for the modern game and a force to be reckoned with when he has the puck on his stick.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

He has already become one of the best and most productive playmakers in the league and could be on the verge of taking his production to an entirely new level based on what he has already done.

Two comparisons to consider for Barzal entering this season.

1.  Over the past two seasons (his first two in the league) he is one of just 11 forwards (minimum 100 games played) that has averaged at least 0.65 assists per game, 0.89 points per game, and posted a 52 percent Corsi rating. The others on that list are are Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Brad Marchand, Nikita Kucherov, Steve Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikko Rantanen, Artemi Panarin, and Mitch Marner.

Excellent company to be in, especially when you consider just how young he is and is just now entering his age 22 season.

2. It’s the latter point (his age) that is the key. Barzal is one of just 11 active forwards to average at least 0.89 points through their age 21 season in the NHL, a list that includes Crosby, Stamkos, Marner, Connor McDavid, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nicklas Backstrom, Auston Matthews, and Alex Ovechkin.

Marner, Matthews, and Barzal are all the same age, but the other eight combined to score at a 100-point pace in their age 22 season.

The biggest difference between Barzal and most of the players on that list is that he is not quite the goal-scorer that some of them are and is more known for his ability to drive play and set up his teammates, so a lot of his point production will be tied to what the players around him are able to do once he gets them the puck. He can definitely help put them in better positions to score, but it is still up to them to finish the play. It is also possible he could develop into more of a goal-scorer if he takes on more of a shoot-first mentality. He has never been a low-percentage shooter, and while passing and playmaking is his greatest strength offensively, he could probably put himself in a position to average more than two shots per game. Especially if he does not have elite talent around him at the given time.

No matter what direction he takes, Barzal is the Islanders’ best player and the one player that can swing a game in their favor.

His rapid development into a top-line player is one of the reasons the Islanders were able to overcome the free agent departure of John Tavares without completely falling apart. They already had a star on the roster ready to fill that No. 1 role, and his best days are still ahead of him.

This is the hardest type of player to acquire in a rebuild, and it usually takes a top draft pick to get one.

The Islanders were fortunate enough to be able to get one in the middle of the first-round and have the piece they need to build around.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.