NHL Playoff Buzzer: MacKinnon mania, double OT, more from Wednesday

NHL Playoff Buzzer: MacKinnon mania, double OT, more from Wednesday
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  • So, OT in every Bruins – Capitals playoff game so far wasn’t enough for you? “Fine,” the Bruins and Capitals said, “We’ll do DOUBLE OT in Game 3.”
  • Despite receiving seven power-play opportunities, the Predators couldn’t score a single goal against the Hurricanes in Game 2. Ouch.
  • The Jets and Oilers kicked off their series with a close Game 1 that didn’t look close. (You’ll see if you scroll a bit.)
  • Game 2 of Avalanche – Blues, though? Not too close, then scandalous and close. Then empty-netters.
  • Get ready for four more NHL playoff games on Thursday.
  • Game 3: Bruins 3, Capitals 2 [2 OT] (BOS leads series 2-1)

    Apparently it can’t ever be easy between the Bruins and Capitals. A single OT wasn’t enough in Game 3, as Craig Smith scored a double OT goal to give the Bruins a 2-1 series lead over the Capitals. Each team went 1-for-5 on the power play in a game that got testy, and as this series continues to be excruciatingly tight.

    Game 2: Hurricanes 3, Predators 0 (CAR leads series 2-0)

    Simply put, a pathetic performance from the Predators’ power play. They failed to score a single goal on seven power-play opportunities, while the Hurricanes went 1-for-3 on theirs. Honestly, Sebastian Aho arguably produced more chances during Predators power plays. It was that bad. Considering that letdown on special teams, the Predators were fortunate to be in most of Game 2 vs. the Hurricanes, but they couldn’t get the job done. They need to find some answers as that series shifts to Nashville.

    Game 1: Jets 4, Oilers 1 (WIN 1-0)

    Now, you might see that 4-1 score and question how Game 1 was close between the Jets and Oilers. Ah, young grasshopper, the answer is: empty-netters. The Jets piled two of them on to inflate the score. Credit Winnipeg for giving the dangerous Edmonton attack little time to add drama, but this was mostly a narrow win. That said, a shorthanded Jets team bottling Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (zero points apiece) is impressive no matter how you slice it.

    Game 2: Avalanche 6, Blues 3 (COL leads 2-0)

    If you turned off Game 2 of Avalanche – Blues after Colorado went up 3-0, then you missed quite a bit. St. Louis chipped away at that lead, making things interesting on a major power play opportunity after Nazem Kadri was ejected for a bad hit on Justin Faulk. Colorado limited the damage of that five-minute opportunity to a goal, but it was then 3-2. Then the two teams traded goals, the Avalanche added two empty-netters, and won. Things escalated to the point where it’s fair to wonder how the rest of that First Round series might go. But it seems clear that Nazem Kadri won’t play in Blues – Avalanche Game 3, and might sit even more games with another playoff suspension.

    [NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]

    Three Stars for NHL playoff action on Wednesday

    1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

    It’s too early to etch Nathan MacKinnon’s name on the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy. Yet, if the Avalanche can justify their status as favorites and win their first Stanley Cup since the Joe Sakic – Peter Forsberg – Patrick Roy days, then MacKinnon might have some hardware to add.

    In Game 1, MacKinnon generated three points. He was even deadlier in Game 2, scoring four points vs. the Blues (MacKinnon had a hat trick and an assist).

    There are times when the Avalanche seem capable of scoring at will, and there were stretches where they seemed to slow down ever so slightly in Game 2 vs. the Blues. It kind of makes you wonder what Colorado’s capable of against an opponent truly equipped to trade chances.

    It’s unclear if the Blues have any real answer for MacKinnon. To be fair, who does?

    2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

    Maybe the Oilers would respond: the answer for Nathan MacKinnon is even more offense from Connor McDavid?

    Well, in Game 1 of Jets – Oilers, that wasn’t the case. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl couldn’t collect a single point, and Connor Hellebuyck played a prominent role in making it that way. For those who groan at “Connor vs. Connor,” well … that was kind of a story here.

    The Jets were able to sneak past the Oilers in Game 1 thanks largely to Hellebuyck and his 32 saves. No doubt, Winnipeg as a whole deserves credit for at least limiting the damage McDavid and Draisaitl could create.

    Doing that night-in, and night-out won’t be easy. It might not even be possible. But now the Jets merely need to win three of their next six games to advance beyond this First Round series. Most would bet that, if they do that, Hellebuyck would play a featured role.

    That said, it’s difficult to say if Hellebuyck + the Jets had a better night than …

    3. Alex Nedeljkovic and the Carolina Hurricanes penalty kill

    For the first time in his NHL career, Alex Nedeljkovic generated a playoff shutout. He earned it, too, making 32 saves to get that shutout.

    That said, it’s important to give the Hurricanes credit as a team — especially on the penalty kill. The Hurricanes scored a goal on one of three power plays, while the Predators received seven power-play opportunities in Game 2.

    It was a joint effort: the Hurricanes kept the Predators from getting many dangerous chances in Game 2, and Nedeljkovic did the rest.

    Aho scored two goals on the night, but one was an empty-netter, so he falls short of being one of Wednesday’s three stars from playoff action.

    [NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Stats of the night for Wednesday in the NHL

    • Alex Nedeljkovic became the second rookie Hurricanes goalie to collect a playoff hat trick.
    • This marked Nathan MacKinnon’s first playoff hat trick, but he’s generated 3+ points in playoff games on nine occasions. Sportsnet stats notes that MacKinnon’s nine leaves him second since 2014, behind only Nikita Kucherov (12). Not too shabby, being that this was MacKinnon’s 42 playoff game during that span (and for his career).

    2021 NHL Draft Lottery set; some 2021 NHL Awards official

    • Check out the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery odds (Buffalo Sabres have the best chance at the top pick).
    • With the 2020-21 regular season officially over, the Art Ross goes to Connor McDavid, while Auston Matthews won the Maurice Richard Trophy. As obvious as that is, this post provides some interesting context regarding their accomplishments.

    THURSDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

    Game 3: Panthers at Lightning (TB leads 2-0), 6:30 p.m. ET – CNBC (livestream)
    Game 3: Penguins at Islanders (Series tied 1-1), 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
    Game 1: Canadiens at Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
    Game 3: Golden Knights at Wild (Series tied 1-1), 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)

    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.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.