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.

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“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.

Looking back at the Blackhawks’ Scott Foster game

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take an occasional look back at some notable “this day in hockey history” moments. Today, Scott Foster gets to play a game for the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Before there was David Ayres with the Carolina Hurricanes, there was Scott Foster with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It was two years ago Sunday that Foster, an accountant by day, was forced into action as the emergency goalie against the Winnipeg Jets.

He stopped all seven shots he faced in 14 minutes of ice-time to help the Blackhawks hold on for a 6-2 win. You can see the highlights of his performance in the video above.

At the time of Foster’s appearance the entire thing was pretty unheard of because the NHL hadn’t really seen an appearance like this — a non-professional player forced into a game — in the modern era.

It all happened because of a series of goaltending injuries that left the Blackhawks shorthanded at the position. Chicago signed Foster to an amateur tryout contract the night before the game due to injuries to Corey Crawford and Anton Forsberg. He was supposed to serve as the backup to rookie Collin Delia as he made his NHL debut. Everything was going as planned until Delia was also injured early in the the third period, forcing Foster into the game.

His performance earned him No. 1 star honors for the game.

Because the Blackhawks were already comfortably ahead when he entered the game he did not get credit for the win. It was probably the biggest highlight of the season for the Blackhawks as they missed the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

At the time Foster’s appearance and performance was mostly celebrated and treated as the feel-good story that it was.

But when Ayres had to enter a game for the Hurricanes this season — and ended up being the winning goalie against the Toronto Maple Leafs — there was a very vocal minority that thought it was an embarrassment for the league and that, maybe, the emergency goalie protocol needed to be changed. It was eventually decided that no change needed to be made. Even with two instances in the past couple of years it is still a very rare occurrence that needs a very specific set of circumstances to actually happen.

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.

Olympic hockey on NBC: 2018 women’s gold medal game

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Hockey Week in America continues Sunday with the unforgettable Olympic women’s gold medal game in 2018.

NBC will present the women’s gold medal game at the 2018 Olympics between Team USA and Canada, won by the Americans in a 3-2 shootout in PyeongChang. With the victory, the women’s ice hockey team claimed its second ever Olympic gold medal and ended the Canadians streak of four straight gold medals.

Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko and Pierre McGuire called the gold medal game in PyeongChang.

You can catch a replay of the 2018 women’s Olympics gold medal game Sunday on NBC at 1 p.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SUNDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Maple Leafs vs. Bruins (Game 7, Round 1, 2013 playoffs) – 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN
• Golden Knights vs. Sharks (Game 7, Round 1, 2019 playoffs) – 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN
• Kings vs. Blackhawks (Game 7, Western Conference Final, 2014 playoffs) – 12 a.m. ET on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

Capitals vs. Penguins on NBCSN: Kuznetsov’s overtime series clincher

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Hockey Week in America continues Saturday with memorable playoff performances in the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry.

In 2018, the Capitals and Penguins met in Round 2 for the third straight postseason. Pittsburgh won the previous two series en route to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. But this time Washington would have its revenge. Evgeny Kuznetsov would score in overtime of Game 6 to help the Capitals advance as they went on to win their first championship in franchise history.

You can catch Game 6 of the 2018 Penguins vs. Capitals playoff game Saturday night on NBCSN beginning at 12:30 a.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SATURDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2018 playoffs) – 12:30 a.m. on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

Capitals vs. Penguins on NBCSN: Bonino Bonino Bonino!

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Hockey Week in America continues Saturday with memorable playoff performances in the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry.

The Capitals needed a win to force Game 7 in Round 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Facing the Penguins yet again, the clawed back from a 3-1 third period deficit to force overtime. It was there, however, that Pittsburgh once again topped their Metro Division rivals. This time it was Nick Bonino breaking their hearts to put the Penguins on a path to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup title.

You can catch Game 6 of the 2016 Penguins vs. Capitals playoff game Saturday on NBCSN beginning at 10 p.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SATURDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2016 playoffs) – 10 p.m. on NBCSN
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2018 playoffs) – 12:30 a.m. on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

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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.