Experienced McElhinney answers the call for Hurricanes in Game 2

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Jaccob Slavin just wanted to have a small chat with Curtis McElhinney as the pair left the ice following the end of the second period, but his attempt was denied by a completely locked-in goaltender.

“No idea,” McElhinney said smiling when asked about Slavin’s conversation starter following the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2-1 Game 2 victory over the New York Islanders. “Unless he’s calling for a puck that’s the only thing I’m looking for. Other than that I’m not out there to have conversation.”

McElhinney’s focus was on display as he finished with 17 saves and three thank-yous to deliver to his posts that bailed him out in the third period as the Hurricanes clung to a 2-1 lead.

While the Hurricanes weren’t used to this situation having not had to pull a goalie through their first 90 games, McElhinney’s career as a veteran backup made him fully prepared to come in on a moment’s notice.

“I’ve been doing it for a number of years now,” he said afterward. “It’s a tough position to get into at any point. It took me a little while to learn it, but I feel pretty good at it now.”

McElhinney’s attention had to be sharp before he entered Game 2. Due to the set up at Barclays Center, there is no room on the bench for the visiting backup goalie, who has to sit and watch from the tunnel (much like at Nassau Coliseum). The 35-year-old had been disconnected from his teammates during Game 1 and Game 2 before he was called up, and had to rely on intermissions to pick up any intelligence once back in the dressing room.

But when the call went out for his services, that’s when the adrenaline started flowing.

“[T]he heart rate just goes through the roof when you get into the game right away when you’re thrust into it like that tonight,” he said.

McElhinney, who was drafted in 2002, when teammate Andrei Svechnikov was two years old, couldn’t help but laugh when told he made history Sunday afternoon. He’s now the first goaltender in NHL history to make his first three career playoff appearances with three different teams. His postseason debut — which he played with a broken finger — came back in 2009 while with the Calgary Flames against the Chicago Blackhawks. As a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, he entered Game 2 against the Boston Bruins in mop-up duty of a 7-3 loss. “Obviously, that never goes well,” he noted.

The way McElhinney’s career has played out, it’s no surprise that his teammates and head coach are used to his ability to avoid being swallowed up by the moment. After having lost yet another player to injury when Trevor van Riemsdyk was forced from Game 2 early in the first period, the Hurricanes had to watch as Mrazek left the ice. This wasn’t a typical situation where the backup coming in has less in-season experience than the starter. Carolina had a pretty balanced workload for their goaltenders during the regular season, with Mrazek playing 40 games to McElhinney’s 33, and it’s been a near 50-50 split since the beginning of February.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“He’s been huge. Both our goalies have been huge,” said Warren Foegele, who scored Carolina’s first goal 17 seconds into the third period. “It’s not easy coming off the bench there and not having faced a shot for 30 minutes or so and come up big with some stellar saves. Curtis is a battler, and he’s shown that throughout the year that he’s capable of making big saves, and so is Petr. We’ve been real fortunate to have two great goalies and tonight you could see why.”

An October waiver claim, McElhinney, who is the Hurricanes’ 2019 Masterton Trophy nominee, is on his seventh NHL team after making his debut during the 2007-08 season. His 33 games played this season was the most in his career — one that’s seen him mainly serve as a backup. Anyone on the Carolina roster will tell you how big a role he’s played in their success this season, along with Mrazek. That’s why there was no panic when the injury occurred and the vet was summoned. 

McElhinney replaced Mrazek with the Hurricanes trailing 1-0. Two quick goals to open the third period changed the game, and suddenly Carolina went from being offensively focused to trying to withstand the Islanders’ desperate attempts to tie it up.

Coming into the game when he did helped McElhinney because he fed off his teammates’ energy as they pursued their opening goal. That balance continued as he shut out the Islanders, who were attempting to send the series to Raleigh evened up for Game 3 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN)

“That’s playoff hockey in general,” McElhinney said. “You certainly don’t want to go in there when the guys are kind of shut down and it’s a 5-0 game. Tonight was a fun one to be a part of.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Bolts need Vasilevskiy; Isles should be buyers

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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.

• The Flyers are rallying behind Oskar Lindblom after his Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• The Bolts need Andrei Vasilevskiy to play like he’s one of the best in the world again. (Tampa Times)

• Coaches have been getting fired for reasons both known and unknown. (Los Angeles Times)

• The Blackhawks keep finding ways to hit new lows this season. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Jim Benning was looking to trade Sven Baertschi, but he was forced to put him on waivers. (Vancouver Sun)

• A London Knights physiotherapist helped save Tucker Tynan’s life. (CTV News)

Tom Wilson has become a new-age power forward. (Sportsnet)

• Four players from the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association will play in the ECHL All-Star classic. (The Ice Garden)

• If good teams don’t go on long losing streaks, what does that mean for the Edmonton Oilers? (Edmonton Journal)

• Referee Tim Peel is likely done for the season after suffering a broken leg. (RMNB)

• Islanders GM Lou Lamorielllo should dip into the rental market this season. (GothamSN)

• Alexis Lafreniere is hoping to become the next future first overall pick to turn in an incredible performance at the World Juniors. (Featurd)

• It’s still too early to say that Jack Eichel is among the greatest players. (Rotoworld)

• It’s time for the Anaheim Ducks to rebuild. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Former Lightning head coach Steve Ludzik needs a liver transplant. (Tampa Times)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Kane’s hat trick; Staal’s milestone night

Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates with Jonathan Toews
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Three Stars

1) Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Kane surpassed Sidney Crosby for the scoring lead this decade with 16 days left in the 2010s. Since Jan. 1, 2010, Kane has 791 points (311G, 480A), while Crosby has 788 points (296G, 492A). No. 88 recorded his sixth NHL hat trick in Chicago’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota. The Blackhawks have a long way to go if they want to have a realistic shot at the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but a victory against a surging division rival is a good place to start.

2) Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

On a football Sunday, the Jets scored a touchdown in their 7-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Scheifele played a huge part with his three-point performance featuring a goal and two assists as he extended his individual point streak to six games. Neal Pionk added three assists, including two power-play helpers. The top four teams in the Western Conference (Blues, Avalanche, Jets, Stars) currently reside in the Central Division and playoff positioning will be crucial as each team eyes a lengthy postseason run.

3) Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Staal became the 89th player in NHL history to have 1,000 career points when he tallied a power-play goal against Chicago Sunday. After a dreadful 4-9 start to the season, the Wild have climbed up the standings with a 12-4-5 record in their past 21 games. The alternate captain leads Minnesota with 26 points, including four goals in the previous three games.

Other notable performances from Sunday:

  • Anze Kopitar’s two-goal performance in the Kings’ 4-2 victory against the Red Wings helped him surpass the iconic Wayne Gretzky for fourth place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Kopitar picked up his 918th and 919th point in his 1038th game.
  • Blake Wheeler finished with three points, including a goal and an assist during a four-goal barrage spanning 4:17.

Highlights of the Night

Staal etched his name in the NHL record books with this one-time blast

William Karlsson won an important foot race before Reilly Smith slid a cross-ice pass over to Jonathan Marchessault

Factoids

  • A total of 33 goals were scored across four contests Sunday for an average of 8.25 per game [NHL PR].
  • The Jets scored four goals in a span of five minutes or less for the fourth time in franchise history [NHL PR].
  • The Jets’ four goals in a span of 4:17 are their second-fastest scored in a game in franchise history, behind the mark of 3:50 set on Nov. 18, 2017 [NHL PR].
  • Canucks’ Bo Horvat has won an NHL-high 414 faceoffs this season [Sportsnet Stats].

NHL Scores

Winnipeg Jets 7, Philadelphia Flyers 3

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Minnesota Wild 3

Los Angeles Kings 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

Vegas Golden Knights 6, Vancouver Canucks 3

Sabres demote under-performing center Mittelstadt to minors

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres have assigned under-performing second-year center Casey Mittelstadt to the minors.

The demotion to Rochester of the AHL was made Sunday, coming a day following a 3-2 overtime loss at the New York Islanders in which Mittelstadt was a healthy scratch for the third time in four games.

The 21-year-old has four goals and five assists in 31 games this season, and limited to just a goal and an assist in his past 21. Buffalo selected the play-making center with the eighth pick in the 2017 draft following his senior year in high school.

He then signed with Buffalo and jumped directly to the NHL in making his Sabres debut immediately following his freshman college season at Minnesota.

Mittelstadt has failed to play up to early projections of developing into Buffalo’s second-line center. He has 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points in 114 career NHL games.

Players hope U.S.-Canada rivalry game helps spawn pro league

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The United States women’s hockey team beat Canada 4-1 on Saturday night, with players hoping the first in a series of five games between the international rivals will help kindle the public’s interest in both their sport and their fight off the ice for better professional opportunities.

Canada’s Victoria Bach and the Megan Keller of the U.S. traded power-play goals in the first period, before Amanda Kessel put the U.S. on top for good with a player advantage in the second. Abbe Roque’s backhand in the period gave the US a 3-1 lead and Alex Carpenter beat Genevieve Lacasse for the final goal 1:15 seconds later.

More than 7,000 fans showed up for the international competition, which comes after more than 200 members of what has since become the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association announced in May they would not play professionally in North America during the 2019-2020 season.

“I think it’s important for people to watch us play and see the level of talent and entertainment that’s out there,” Kessel said. “It’s getting that understanding that we need to help get us a place to play year-round so that people can see us more than five times a year.”

The women are seeking a professional league that provides a living wage, health insurance, infrastructure and support for training. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League shut down in the spring after 12 years of operation, leaving only the five-team National Women’s Hockey League, where most players make less than $10,000 a season.

“The product is there,” Kessel said. “The people to watch it are there. We just need a structure set in place.”

Sarah Nurse, a forward for Team Canada, whose cousin Kia Nurse plays for New York in the WNBA, said players are hoping to get support from the NHL, which has, so far, expressed little interest in investing in a women’s league.

“We can look at (the WNBA) and see that women’s sports have value and they have a place in this world,” said Nurse, who made $2,000 last season playing in the CWHL. “That is definitely a model that we look to.”

The rivalry series was created after the Four Nations Cup in Sweden was canceled when top Swedish players pulled out of national team events due to concerns over their salary and working conditions.

Without a viable pro league, players who are out of college have been training on their own at random rinks across North America in between gatherings of the national teams or training sessions and exhibitions sponsored by the players association.

Canada won two of those over the US in Pittsburgh last month.

But the lack of consistent competition can stunt the players’ development, especially when it comes to be being prepared for world and Olympic competitions, the players said.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Nurse said. “Games are when we truly get better and test out our skills, so it’s unfortunate that we don’t have more games to play.”

Cayla Barnes, who plays defense for the U.S. team and Boston College, said she and the other college players on the national teams understand what is going on and appreciate what the older players are doing.

“They are putting so much on the line for the younger generations,” she said. “Not just for us college kids who are coming up, but for U-8, U-10 girls who are coming up so they have opportunities later on. So I think all of us who are younger are trying to support them in whatever way we can.”

Hundreds of girls wearing their youth hockey jerseys attended the game, chanting “U-S-A” as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“I want to be like them, like in the Olympics when I get older,” said 14-year-old Leila Espirito Santo, of Glastonbury “I started playing when I was in fourth grade and I wasn’t the best, but watching them play made me want to be better. It showed me I could do it.”

The teams will meet again on Tuesday in Moncton, New Brunswick. Other games part of the 2019-20 Rivalry Series are slated for Feb. 3 and Feb. 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Feb. 8 in Anaheim, California.