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The Playoff Buzzer: Blue Jackets turn Lightning into ‘five alarm fire’

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  • The Columbus Blue Jackets take a stunning 2-0 lead and the Tampa Bay Lightning might be without Nikita Kucherov in Game 3.
  • The New York Islanders are in total control after frustrating the Pittsburgh Penguins again.
  • A surprising offensive star makes a big impact for the St. Louis Blues as they take a 2-0 series lead.
  • The San Jose Sharks power play and goaltending holds them back on Friday.

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 1 (CBJ leads series 2-0)

A year ago the Columbus Blue Jackets opened Round 1 by taking the first two games on the road against a division champion and a Stanley Cup contender. They ended up losing the series. They get a chance to make up for that this year by putting themselves in the exact same position after dismantling the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night, taking a 2-0 series lead. After the game Lightning coach Jon Cooper called the situation a “five alarm fire,” which doesn’t exactly sound encouraging. We will see how — and if — they put it out. Making matters worse: Nikita Kucherov, the MVP front-runner from the regular season, is likely to be suspended for Game 3 after an ugly boarding incident late in the game.

New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (NYI leads series 2-0)

The Islanders have the Penguins on the ropes and looking completely frustrated after two games. The Islanders are controlling the play and making things look easy at times while the Penguins can’t seem to get out of their own way when trying to exit the defensive zone. The series now shifts to Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon and the Penguins need a complete 180 turnaround from just about everybody on their roster to get back in this series.

St. Louis Blues 4, Winnipeg Jets 3 (StL leads series 2-0)

When you start a series on the road you start off hoping to take at least one of the first to so you can steal home-ice advantage. When you win the first two, well, that just puts you at a huge advantage and the St. Louis Blues are there right now after their 4-3 win on Friday night. Oskar Sundqvist scored two goals and Ryan O'Reilly scored the game-winner early in the third period.

Vegas Golden Knights 5, San Jose Sharks 3 (Series tied 1-1)

The San Jose Sharks had some problems on Friday night. Among them, the fact Martin Jones could not get out of the first period and they gave up five goals on 23 shots, and also a terrible power play performance that saw them go 1-for-8 while giving up two shorthanded goals. There is your difference in the game and why the series is going back to Vegas tied 1-1.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. Games like this are what the Blue Jackets had in mind when they traded for Matt Duchene. He was incredible on Friday night, scoring his first career playoff goal and finishing with four total points in the Blue Jackets’ win that now has them half way to their first postseason series win in franchise history.

2. Oskar Sundqvist, St. Louis Blues. Before this season Sundqvist had scored just two goals in 72 NHL games. He matched that total on Friday night alone in the Blues’ 4-3 win and is now up to 16 goals in 76 games, including playoffs, this season. Everything is clicking for the Blues right now as they continue to play great defense and get balanced offense from all over their lineup.

3. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. For the second game in a row Eberle was an impact player for the Islanders, tallying his second goal of the series (this one the game-winner) and finishing with two points for an Islanders team that has looked even better than it did during the regular season. 

Highlight Of The Night

Eberle’s game-winning goal was a heck of a finish.

Factoids of the Night

  • This seems almost impossible to believe, but it is true: The Columbus Blue Jackets’ win on Friday night was the first time in the history of the franchise they have won a playoff game by more than one goal. This team is almost 20 years old! [Aaron Portzline]
  • Marc-Andre Fleury is one win away from tying Mike Vernon for seventh on the NHL’s all-time postseason wins list. [NHL PR]
  • This is the first time since 1983 the New York Islanders have had a 2-0 series lead. [NHL PR]

Saturday’s schedule

Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals, Game 2 (WSH leads 1-0), 3 p.m. ET, NBC (Live Stream)
Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators, Game 2 (DAL leads 1-0), 6 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, Game 2 (TOR leads 1-0), 8 p.m. ET, NBC (Live Stream)
Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames, Game 2 (CGY leads 1-0), 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)

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.

Where Avs are at after re-signing J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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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.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

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