Stanley Cup Buzzer: O’Reilly makes difference for Blues

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  • The Bruins were hanging in there, managing a 2-2 tie through the first 40 minutes of Game 4, even though the Blues were carrying much of the play. Ryan O'Reilly had a big night, however, scoring two goals (including the game-winner) as St. Louis dug deep to tie the series 2-2.

St. Louis Blues 4, Boston Bruins 2 (Series tied 2-2; Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday [stream here])

While Zdeno Chara‘s mouth injury was more about an extremely painful and unlucky bounce as anything else, Chara’s far from the only player who probably feels worse for wear after Game 4. This was a physical contest, with the Blues finding a way to assert themselves with an aggressive, swarming forecheck. Overall, St. Louis was credited with 44 hits. Yet, for all the attention paid to brawn, don’t forget finesse. The Blues’ top players came up bigger than the Bruins’ first line on Monday, and that played a big role in sending this series back to Boston as a best-of-three.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Ryan O’Reilly

ROR scored the opening goal of Game 4 just 43 seconds in, then generated the game-winner by jumping on a rebound in the third period.

After going without a point in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, O’Reilly now has a three-game point streak going, as he had an assist in each of Game 2 and 3 before generating those crucial two goals in Game 4. O’Reilly provided a dogged effort overall, firing five SOG as he factored into the Blues’ high-effort win.

The St. Louis crowd was loud all night, but it didn’t hurt that O’Reilly ranked among those who gave fans plenty to cheer about.

2. Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo’s two assists were primary ones, and you didn’t have to squint hard to catch his contributions.

First, Pietrangelo made a nice move to gain a little extra time and space (not to mention get the Bruins at least a bit more off balance) to create a rebound for Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goal. Then, on Pietrangelo’s second assist, he fired a hard shot that Tuukka Rask couldn’t handle too well, with O’Reilly firing home the loose puck for the game-winner.

Pietrangelo finished Game 4 with five SOG, a +3 rating, and a robust 29:37 TOI. This continues to be a star-affirming playoff push for Pietrangelo.

3. Brayden Schenn

Rask absolutely deserves some consideration for three star status, although as strong as he was in Game 4, he’d also likely wonder if he could have avoided allowing such fat rebounds on the two goals Pietrangelo assisted on.

Schenn deserves some credit for his all-around play, and to me, takes a slight advantage. (Third star goes to the winner?)

Schenn scored a goal and an assist in Game 4, which should leave Wayne Gretzky happy. Schenn did more than just score, too, as he went 12-6 on faceoffs and delivered five hits. When the Blues’ top scorers are hot, St. Louis is very tough to beat, and that was certainly the case on Monday.

Factoids

  • This was the Blues’ first-ever home win in a Stanley Cup Final.
  • Jordan Binnington now has 14 wins (one behind the record for a rookie goalie), and improved to 7-2 after losses. Sportsnet notes the larger trend of Binnington bouncing back, which extends to the regular season.
  • Brandon Carlo is one of just four players to score their first playoff goal as a shorthanded tally in a Stanley Cup Final. This is mentioned mainly because one of the other players was named Bucko McDonald, who did so in 1936. Also on the list were Serge Savard (1968) and Bob Turner (1962) … but only one on the list was named Bucko.
  • Tarasenko scored his 11th goal of this run, moving him up some historic ranks as far as Blues snipers go.
  • St. Louis Blues history shares an odd one: the Blues are 4-0 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when they’ve allowed a shorthanded goal.
  • Sportsnet also notes that Patrice Bergeron now is at 103 career playoff points, breaking a tie with Phil Esposito for second all-time in Bruins history. Ray Bourque is far ahead for first place with a whopping 161 points.

MORE ON GAME 4

How to watch Game 5

Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (stream 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.

Oilers keep on rolling with win over Flyers

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Talent has never been the question in Edmonton, it was always a matter of systems and execution.

Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock each saw glimpses in recent years, but Dave Tippett might have unlocked the secret formula for the Oilers to have long-lasting success.

With six wins in the team’s first seven games, including a 6-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey, Edmonton is starting to believe that it has what it takes to become a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Jakub Voracek had two goals and an assist for Philadelphia while Carter Hart was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in his first start near his hometown Sherwood Park, Alberta, as the Flyers concluded a three-game road trip through Western Canada where they went 0-2-1. Oskar Lindblom also scored.

Connor McDavid led the way offensively with five points (one goal and four assists), while Leon Draisaitl added two goals of his own as the Oilers bounced back after their first loss of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week. Mikko Koskinen stopped 49 shots and picked up his third victory of the season.

The Oilers recorded four consecutive goals, including three in the second that broke the game wide open. McDavid or Draisaitl’s ability to break a game open has rarely been an issue, but slowing down the opposition has been problematic. But through seven games this season, the team has allowed only 17 goals thanks to improved goaltending and more importantly, better team defense.

Last season the Oilers allowed 271 goals, good for seventh worst throughout the NHL. It’s the sole reason Tippett was brought in, to limit the damage in their own end of the ice, and allow their superstars to flourish offensively without ignoring their defensive responsibility.

Tippett has opted to play McDavid and Draisaitl together for most of the season, which has always been a delicate situation. Should a coach load up to form a powerful top line, or spread the wealth throughout the lineup so a high-end player is on the ice for the majority of the game?

The Avalanche have had great success keeping Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the ice as a pairing almost exclusively and the Oilers have been trending in that direction.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal provide options in the middle of the lineup but neither have the top-end talent equivalent to McDavid and Draisaitl.

However, if the Oilers are able to have a prolific first line, combined with strong structure throughout the neutral zone and in front of their goaltender, they will quickly become an elite team that could be a force to be reckoned with.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

McKenzie on Penguins injuries, Avs contracts … spider bites?

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When Alex Galchenyuk was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he likely breathed deep as he readied for a new coach, team, city, and system for the second straight season. Maybe there’s some fear about looking like a pale imitation of Phil Kessel, the other major part of that trade.

But did he factor in arachnophobia?

During a Wednesday appearance on NBCSN during the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche, Bob McKenzie reported that Galchenyuk has been dealing with what could be a groin injury (or otherwise a soft tissue issue), which many surmised. What people didn’t realize is that Galchenyuk took a detour on his road to recovery because of a spider bite.

McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk had a significant allergic reaction to the bite, which seems a lot less fun than being able to climb on walls, swing on webs, and sense danger before it’s coming. (Theory: Brad Marchand may have “spider sense.” Although we’d probably need to brand it differently. “Pest-pathy?”)

Anyway, McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk is back on that road to recovery, although his precise window of recovery is unclear.

Via McKenzie, Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust are essentially week-to-week still, as their windows seem to be two or three weeks. McKenzie reports that Evgeni Malkin‘s injury remains fuzzier.

Speaking of fuzziness, it sounds like the Colorado Avalanche are keeping things opaque when it comes to players on expiring contracts. So, we might need to wait-and-see with Andre Burakovsky and Nikita Zadorov.

That’s … understandable, especially with Burakovsky, who’s still making early impressions. Colorado might be wise to pick and choose with this stuff in the future, though. Could the Avalanche have signed Mikko Rantanen for less than a $9.25M AAV if they were more proactive? We can only speculate …

But hey, at least no one got bit by a spider.

*shudders*

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Penguins remain hot with win vs. Avalanche

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Brandon Tanev notched a shorthanded goal in overtime to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel also scored as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight victory. Matt Murray added 26 saves.

Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon found the back of the net for the Avalanche but their six-game point streak to open the season came to an end.

Crosby continues to dazzle

The Penguins captain has clearly moved on from a disappointing playoff run last year, which ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. Instead, Crosby is off to a tremendous start, recording points in each of Pittsburgh’s seven games and leading the club on the ice to a 5-2-0 record.

Crosby netted a highlight-reel backhander to tie the game late in the first period and then assisted on a Jake Guentzel tally in the second.

The superstar center craftily tipped the puck around Erik Johnson, played the puck with his glove, and then somehow had the wherewithal to outlast goaltender Philipp Grubauer until an opening appeared for him to slide a backhander into the net.

Early in the second period, Crosby intercepted a pass at the blueline, then set up Guentzel to help the Penguins grab a 2-1 lead.

While several notable players remain sidelined, Crosby will be expected to lead the Penguins on the ice, and continue to improve the players around him. Pittsburgh will need Crosby to play at the top of his game until reinforcements return over the next few weeks.

Avalanche upcoming free agents

After the Mikko Rantanen contract issue this past summer, the Avalanche have several pending RFA’s for next summer.

Colorado is expected to be a legit Stanley Cup Contender with a great mix of dynamic playmakers, infusion of youth and seasoned veterans capable of leading the way during turbulent stretches.

However, Bob McKenzie offered that general manager Joe Sakic wants to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks.

Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov headline the pending RFA class and all presumably have a role to fill moving forward.

Is Lafferty here to stay?

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug early and have been forced to rely on their organizational depth to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.

During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Penguins have always been able to call up a role player to fill a specific need. Is Sam Lafferty the next player to seamlessly fit in?

Lafferty was close to making the team out of training camp according to Bob McKenzie, but fell victim to the numbers game of a roster. However, injuries to five impact forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Jared McCann — created a roster spot for him to slide in.

“We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year. But I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And that’s great for him, and that’s great for us.”

The 24-year-old originally from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, Lafferty has taken advantage of the opportunity recording five points over the previous three games.

“He’s earned his playing time. He’s just playing terrific hockey,” Sullivan said. “He made a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty-killer. I think he really understands his role and is taking pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence.”

The Penguins have done an excellent job in sliding players into appropriate roles, and Lafferty is just the latest example. Does the kid have what it takes to stick around for a full season and continue to make a difference? We will find out as the season goes on.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Blue Jackets’ Milano scores ridiculous between-the-legs goal vs. Stars

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Sidney Crosby scored a wonderful highlight reel goal despite hard-working defense, yet he has some competition for Wednesday’s best one-man effort.

Sonny Milano hasn’t always been able to justify being selected 16th overall in 2014 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but there have been flashes of brilliance when he’s avoided landed in John Tortorella’s doghouse. The 23-year-old authored his best NHL effort so far against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, beating Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz, and Ben Bishop, making a great move and then finishing his chance with the sort of between-the-legs move you’d see in a shootout.

You’re just not supposed to be able to that at full speed in NHL action, particularly against quality players and Bishop, who finished second in Vezina voting in 2018-19.

That goal ended up standing as the game-winner as Columbus beat Dallas 3-2 on Wednesday, too.

So, which goal do you prefer: Milano’s (above this post’s headline) or Crosby’s from the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 OT win against the Colorado Avalanche?

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.