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Hall, Kopitar, MacKinnon are 2018 Hart Trophy finalists

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Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Hart Trophy, given to “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”

The award, voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, will be handed out on June 20 at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas.

Hall and MacKinnon are also up for the Ted Lindsay Award, which is given to the “most outstanding player in the regular season” and voted on by members of the NHL Players’ Association.

The Hart Trophy race was an intriguing one this season and narrowing it down to a final three is certainly a tough task. Other than Hall, Kopitar and MacKinnon, you could have made cases for Claude Giroux, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, and maybe even a few more depending on your definition of “value” to ones team.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Taylor Hall: The Devils forward finished seventh in goals (39) and sixth in points (93) while helping lead the team to a 27-point improvement and back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years. How valuable was Hall to his team? He finished 41 points ahead of teammate Nico Hischier. Among his season highlights included a streak that saw him record a point in 26 consecutive appearances, as well as a 19-game point streak. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Brian Boyle said earlier this month. “It just seems like you’re on the bench and thinking to yourself, ‘We need a play here,’ and he seems to make it every time.”

The Case for Anze Kopitar: Already a Selke Trophy finalist, the Kings forward had an incredible bounce-back season in 2017-18 with career highs in goals (35), assists (57) and points (92). In reaching the 90-point mark, Kopitar became the team’s first player to hit that total since Wayne Gretzky in 1993-94. Like Hall, Kopitar was a big offensive force for LA, finishing 31 points ahead of his next-closest teammate, Dustin Brown, who ended the year with 61 points.

The Case for Nathan MacKinnon: A career season ends with MVP consideration for MacKinnon, who led the Avs with 39 goals and 97 points as they posted a 47-point improvement that ended with a postseason return. Only McDavid (1.32) had a better points per game average than the 22-year-old forward (1.31), who recorded 13 three-point games this season.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Ted Lindsay Award

Jack Adams Award

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
King Clancy Trophy
Calder Trophy

Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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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.

Boyle, Luongo, Staal are 2018 Masterton Trophy Finalists

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Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils, Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes have been named finalists for the 2017-18 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The award, which is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association is given to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

PHWA chapters in each NHL market nominate a player for the award each year and the top three vote-getters are then designated as finalists.

The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Brian Boyle’s story – via the NHL:

Before Boyle set foot on the ice as a New Jersey Devil, he faced his biggest test. At the start of training camp the 33-year-old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of bone marrow cancer. He worked his way back into the lineup by Nov. 1 and notched 10 goals over his first 25 games, including a memorable goal on the Devils’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Prudential Center, a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Nov. 24. Boyle missed just three games after his season debut and represented the Devils at the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay. While handling his own illness, his family and his career, Boyle has approached every day with the same optimistic attitude and perseverance that has inspired and lifted the Devils’ locker room.

Roberto Luongo’s story – via the NHL:

Luongo, 39, overcame hand and groin injuries during the season and backstopped the Panthers’ drive for an Eastern Conference Playoff berth. Sidelined by injury since early December, the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts and appearances returned on Feb. 17 to help the Panthers defeat Calgary 6-3 and ignite a Florida rally in the East’s Wild Card race. In a 13-game span, Luongo went 9-3-1 with a 2.44 GAA and .928 SV%. On Feb. 22, Luongo delivered a heartfelt, unscripted speech to the crowd at BB&T Center prior to Florida’s game against Washington. The 12-year resident of nearby Parkland, Fla., addressed the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting during the Panthers’ pregame ceremony to honor the victims.

Jordan Staal’s story – via the NHL: 

Showing leadership and strength amidst a family tragedy, Staal was a key component of the Hurricanes throughout the season. In late February, Staal and his wife, Heather, announced their daughter, Hannah, was delivered stillborn due to a terminal birth defect previously diagnosed by doctors. Staal, who had assumed a bigger leadership role with the young Hurricanes by being named co-captain before the season, missed just three games following the tragedy. He registered 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 79 games, the second-highest goal and point totals in his six seasons with Carolina. The 29-year-old skated in his 800th NHL game on Dec. 27 against Montreal and scored his 200th goal on Jan. 12 against Washington.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Calder Trophy (Sunday)
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy


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

Devils facing ‘big challenge’ trying to clinch playoff spot vs. Maple Leafs

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NEWARK — The New Jersey Devils saw all of your preseason predictions placing them in last place (*raises hand*). That helped fuel this season’s mantra — New Jersey Devils vs. Everybody — that they continue to carry into Game 81 — a game where they can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While you’d think the “Us Against the World” mentality would have subsided a bit as the Devils played their way into the Eastern Conference playoff picture and Taylor Hall played his way into the MVP conversation, but it’s business as usual as they look to extend their season beyond this weekend.

“It hasn’t changed. It’s just keep doing the same thing,” head coach John Hynes said after Thursday’s morning skate. “It’s not about that. We have to make sure that we’re ready to play a game tonight and get to our identity and really test ourselves against a real good team.”

[NHL Playoff Push: East field could be set; Predators eyeing Presidents’ Trophy]

As the Devils began to exceed expectations, the tenseness of the playoff race saw them slip up in January where they went 3-6-2 as the calendar turned to 2018. The team had a talk, and the overriding message to the players was to start having fun and not allow the pressure to get to them.

“It just seemed to be from the start of training camp we we’re all in on what we had to do,” said Hall. “Last year was a bit of an eye opener for all of us here at the organization, not just the players, but the coaching staff. We all kind of took a step back and figured out what we had to do better.”

Things began to change in the middle of February, as did Hall’s season, which went from strong to Hart Trophy-worthy.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The 26-year-old Hall has never played postseason hockey, and following years of disappointment in Edmonton, Thursday night that can all change.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s what we wanted at the start of the season,” said Hall. “Coming into the season, if you were to tell me that Game 81 we’d be playing in a clinching game, I would have taken that in a heartbeat. It’s really exciting for our group, for our organization and for our fanbase. It’s been a fun ride so far this year and the improvements that we’ve made as a team, and you’re seeing individuals improve over the course of a year as well, it’s really exciting for our franchise.”

From Hall to the rookie campaigns of Will Butcher and Nico Hischier to Keith Kinkaid saving the season after Cory Schneider’s injury to Brian Boyle’s come back from an early-season cancer diagnosis, there are many different stories to pick from the 2017-18 Devils season. Now, for the first time since they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, they’re on the verge of being back in the playoffs, a place they feel they deserve to be.

“We’ve worked hard. We’ve earned our spot so far,” said Boyle. “But nothing’s done yet. We’ve got a really good team that’s coming in here and we have a big challenge tonight.”

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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.

The Buzzer: Panthers keep rolling, Devils end Preds’ win streak

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Player(s) of the Night

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: Entering play on Saturday the St. Louis Blues had won just one of their past 10 games and managed to score just 14 goals during that stretch. That included three shutouts and two other games where they scored just a single goal. They put all of that behind them on Saturday afternoon by absolutely crushing the Los Angeles Kings, 7-2, to help keep their playoff hopes alive. It was a big game for Schwartz as he finished with a goal and two assists.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto extended its home winning streak to a franchise record 10 games on Saturday night with a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Frederik Andersen made 38 saves in the win while Nazem Kadri helped drive the offense with a pair of goals.

David Krejci, Boston Bruins: No Patrice Bergeron? No Charlie McAvoy? No big deal for the Boston Bruins. They won their sixth game in a row on Saturday afternoon and continued to put up huge offensive numbers without two of their best players. Krejci had a huge game for the Bruins on Saturday with two goals in the 7-4 win.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: Thanks to their 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings losing to the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche were able to move back into a playoff position for the time being in the Western Conference. As usual, MacKinnon played a big part in the win by assisting on a pair of goals, giving him 49 assists and 81 total points on the season. He has only played in 60 games. That moves into fourth in the NHL in scoring. His 1.35 points per game average is tops in the NHL and would be a 110-point pace over 82 games.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: The Edmonton Oilers are not going anywhere this season but they still have a chance to get Connor McDavid the scoring title. He added three more points on Saturday night (two goals, an assist) in the Oilers’ 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. That gives the Oilers three consecutive wins, while McDavid has pretty much single handedly delivered each of the past two. After scoring the lone goal in regulation earlier in the week and then getting the game-winning goal in the shootout against the New York Islanders, he had a hand in three of the four goals on Saturday night including scoring the first two. He is now third in the NHL scoring race with 84 points, four behind Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov.

Panthers win again

The Florida Panthers’ late season surge continued on Saturday night with a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Rangers. Vincent Trocheck scored the winner in the shootout to help lift Florida to its 15th win in the past 19 games. The Panthers are also now on an eight-game point streak to help pull them to within two points of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with still three games in hand on the second Wild Card team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It also helped them keep pace with the New Jersey Devils.

Speaking of which…

Devils put an end to Predators’ winning streak

The Devils are entering a brutal stretch of games here and it started on Saturday night with a trip to Nashville to take on a Predators team that entered the night having won 10 games in a row.

After allowing a late game-tying goal to Ryan Johansen to send the game to overtime, the Devils were able to come away with two huge points in the standings and put an end to the Predators’ winning streak. Brian Boyle scored the game-winning goal in the shootout after an exciting overtime period that saw Jusse Saros and Keith Kinkaid put on a goaltending clinic. Along with the shootout winner Boyle also scored a goal during regulation.

The most bizarre part of the overtime period though was probably when the Predators were given a power play with a minute to play in the extra period and came out with a power play unit that consisted of three defenseman (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis) and one forward (Ryan Johansen).

The Predators did not score on the man advantage, sending the game to the shootout where the Devils were able to come away with the win.

Highlight of the Night

Nicklas Backstrom does not score a lot of goals with his slap shot but he scored a big one for the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon when he absolutely wired this shot by San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones. What a shot.

That would be the only goal the Capitals would need in a 2-0 win to move back into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Factoid of the Night

Another milestone for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights thanks to their 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon. What a season. What a story.

Scores

Vegas Golden Knights 2, Buffalo Sabres 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Winnipeg Jets 1

Colorado Avalanche 5, Arizona Coyotes 2

St. Louis Blues 7, Los Angeles Kings 2

Washington Capitals 2, San Jose Sharks 0

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

Florida Panthers 4, New York Rangers 3

New Jersey Devils 3, Nashville Predators 2

Edmonton Oilers 4, Minnesota Wild 1

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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.

Fantasy impact of 2018 NHL Trade Deadline: East

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The 2018 NHL trade deadline provided some serious fireworks, even though Erik Karlsson and Max Pacioretty didn’t move.

Over the next two days, PHT will assess the deadline from a fantasy standpoint. Today, we begin with the East. Look out for the West edition on Friday.

***

Boston Bruins: Rick Nash is looking good so far, continuing to fire a high volume of shots (10 SOG in his first two Bruins games, one resulting in a sweet goal). At the moment, he’s skating with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, not too extreme a drop-off from Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello in New York.

Buffalo Sabres: Sheesh, with Evander Kane traded and Jack Eichel injured, who’s going to score for Buffalo? Ryan O'Reilly and Jason Pominville?

At least the Sabres have no choice but to turtle ahead of two pending free agent goalies in Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson. I wouldn’t expect many W’s, but maybe they’ll have high-save nights for those spot starting goalies? (Yes, I agree with your “Meh.”)

Carolina Hurricanes: *cricket chirps*

Columbus Blue Jackets: Thomas Vanek gets a golden opportunity to prove he’s still worth something, or at least able to cosplay as 2016-17 Sam Gagner, what with his spot on the Blue Jackets’ top power-play unit.

Detroit Red Wings: Seems like Tyler Bertuzzi will be the biggest winner of the Tomas Tatar trade, as Tatar’s most common linemates were Dylan Larkin (by a large margin) and Andreas Athanasiou.

While his injury might make the point moot, Mike Green staying with the Red Wings might not be such a bad thing for his fantasy value. On a contender, Green would probably see fewer minutes, and be more of a specialist. In Detroit, he seems more likely to get those specialist PP minutes while also receiving something closer to a featured role overall.

Florida Panthers: Frank Vatrano could be interesting in an elevated role, once healthy … but not exactly a busy trade deadline for the Cats. Then again, with all the turbulence lately, it’s almost certainly wisest to aim for some stability.

Although Max Pacioretty would have been a lot of fun, if that ever was going to happen without Vincent Trocheck going the other way …

Montreal Canadiens: Patches might have benefited from a breath of fresh air. Even so, Habs fans get to let out a sigh of relief that Marc Bergevin didn’t bungle another trade.

New Jersey Devils: Via Left Wing Lock, Patrick Maroon might begin on the Devils’ fourth line with Brian Boyle and Blake Coleman. I’d imagine that’s to allow Maroon to get accustomed to a new team?

Michael Grabner‘s currently on a third line with Travis Zajac and Stefan Noesen. There’s no doubt that Ray Shero’s latest slew of trades were made to improve depth, but I’d imagine the Devils would probably like to see those two forwards eventually solidify the top nine, with one of them ideally on the first or second line.

Maroon owners might already be nostalgic for the Connor McDavid days.

New York Islanders: *Cricket takes out a billboard that says “chirp”*

New York Rangers: Ryan Spooner hearts NY. So far in two games, the underrated former-Bruin has five assists, including three from last night. Vladislav Namestnikov looked great in his Rangers debut, too, scoring a goal and an assist.

Both forwards are in contract years and should get nice opportunities on a team in transition, so they are both nice deeper league options.

Ottawa Senators: Life might be weird for Erik Karlsson after not getting moved, but he’ll probably pile up points just the same. Exhibit A:

Sure, there were scenarios in which Karlsson would generate better numbers on a contender. He’d be less likely to deal with teammates going through the motions and might simply have better players to set up.

Still, there’s always an adjustment in going to a new team, especially for a star. So it’s not all great or all bad for Karlsson owners.

Philadelphia Flyers: Tough to gripe too much with staying the course when this team is positioned so strongly, even after ignoring calls for change after a 10-game losing streak. News flash: Ron Hextall is pretty good at this GM’ing thing.

Pittsburgh Penguins: It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Penguins experiment with different alignments regarding Derick Brassard, especially when you consider how comfortable they are moving wingers around Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

You wonder if Mike Sullivan might also experiment with Brassard on one of the top two lines, even if it’s just to take a look. That would be the ideal scenario for fantasy, as playing on the third line could be a slight issue for Brassard, although those worries are mitigated by Phil Kessel currently joining him (and, hey, Conor Sheary isn’t chopped liver either).

Tampa Bay Lightning: We may need to wait a bit for returns on the big trade. Both Ryan McDonagh and Nikita Kucherov are injured. The Bolts lost to the lowly Sabres last night, and maybe worse, they were noticeably out-shot.

The dream scenario for J.T. Miller owners is that he’d eventually just slide into Namestnikov’s usual role as “Good Player Who Looks Great next to Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.” Right now it’s just sort of a mess, although Tyler Johnson isn’t the worst consolation prize.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Much like the Bolts with Kucherov, things are a little funky in Toronto with Auston Matthews out.

Tomas Plekanec‘s a decent pick up, yet he’s not really expected to light scoreboards on fire. That said, depending upon linemates, he could get a boost. We’ll see, but I wouldn’t scramble to add him in typical leagues, either.

I mean, unless you need to win the coveted turtlenecks category.

Washington Capitals: Rumors have it that the Capitals at least dipped their toes in the water re: Erik Karlsson and Ryan McDonagh. Instead, they’re not making a splash after doing so during many recent deadlines.

That’s probably most heartening to John Carlson, who won’t even need to fend off an aging Mike Green as he continues to pile up numbers in a contract year. He already has 50 points this season.

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.