PHT Morning Skate: Kings introduce McLellan; another level for Zuccarello

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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.

•  Here’s today’s NBC Sports Stanley Cup Playoff update for April 18

• The Todd McLellan hire is an important one for Rob Blake, as the Los Angeles Kings GM knows he needs to get this right. [LA Times]

• Here are all 31 nominees for the 2019 King Clancy Trophy, awarded to “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” [NHL]

Justin Williams is putting a lot of friendships on hold as his Carolina Hurricanes look to top his old pals with the Washington Capitals. [NHL.com]

• The Winnipeg Jets are looking like the 2017-18 version just in time. [Sportsnet]

• Another level for Mats Zuccarello to reach? Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery thinks so. [Dallas Morning News]

• A better Calgary Flames performance in Game 4 still wasn’t enough. [Calgary Sun]

• Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen on how he felt the morning after sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning: “A little relief. “Tired. Happy. All those things.” [Toronto Sun]

David Savard has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• “Lightning becomes the disappointment all others will be measured against” [Tampa Bay Times]

• On Brad Marchand and turning a new leaf on the ice. [ESPN]

• Depth and resilience helped the New York Islanders eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins. [SNY]

Phil Kessel on his future in Pittsburgh: “That’s a tough question to start. I don’t know at this point. We’ll see how it goes this summer.” [Post-Gazette]

• What’s next for the Penguins in regards to roster turnover this off-season? [Pensburgh]

• Ralph Krueger on his future now that he’s no longer chairman of Premier League club Southampton: “At the moment, it’s rather difficult to imagine getting back into day-to-day business immediately and taking over a team.” [Swiss Hockey News]

• Former NHLer Brent Sopel talks about his battle with dyslexia and his travels with the Stanley Cup. [Grandstand Central]

• Some names to ponder as the Buffalo Sabres seek a replacement for Phil Housley. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Fun look at some very weird hockey cards from the 1990s. [Puck Junk]

• Finally, in the latest episode of “Off the Ice with Kathryn Tappen,” Blue Jackets star Cam Atkinson reflects on his upbringing, and later reminisces with one of his brothers over a game of pool:

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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 Playoff Buzzer: Stone, Stastny combine for perfect 10; Connor helps inspire Jets rout

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  • Islanders neuter Crosby again, seize 3-0 series lead against struggling Penguins
  • Columbus has Tampa Bay by the throat after another convincing win to take 3-0 series lead
  • Winnipeg turns on the jets, scores six in statement win to claw back into series vs. St. Louis
  • Vegas dominates Martin Jones once again to take 2-1 series lead

New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (NYI leads series 3-0)

The Penguins have no answers and the Islanders know it, and they now have a foot in the second round because of that knowledge. New York allowed the Penguins to lead the game for 28 seconds before Jordan Eberle tied the game. From there, the Islanders led 62 seconds later and never looked back. Sidney Crosby doesn’t have a point in the series, which is all you need to know about how Barry Trotz has enabled his players to neutralize one of the best in the game.

Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1 (CBJ leads series 3-0)

There would be no overtime posts this time around. No overtime losses, either. Instead, the Blue Jackets put their foot on the throats of the Tampa Bay Lightning and one game away from pulling off what might be the greatest upset in the Stanley Cup Playoffs history. Cam Atkinson scored and added and assist while Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30 in the win. The Lightning didn’t have Nikita Kucherov due to suspension and Victor Hedman was a late scratch because of an injury. It probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Winnipeg Jets 6, St. Louis Blues 3 (STL leads series 2-1)

Winnipeg came into St. Louis reeling after two losses at home but knowing they were right there with the Blues, despite the losses. And when the Jets finally solved Binnington in the second period, the Red Sea parted and the unbeatable rookie sensation appeared as a mere mortal for Jets shooters who took advantage. The Jets still have a big hill to climb here, but if they’ve entered Binnington’s head, they might reverse their fortunes.

Vegas Golden Knights 6, San Jose Sharks 3 (VGK leads series 2-1)

They chased Martin Jones in Game 2 and then followed that up with dropping six more goals behind him in Game 3. Vegas’s line of Mark Stone, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty combined for 12 points, with Stone and Stastny each producing five-point nights. Will San Jose make a change in net for Game 4? And what lies ahead for Joe Thornton after a terrible head shot on Tomas Nosek?

Three Stars

1. Mark Stone and Paul Stastny, Vegas Golden Knights

Too tough to separate the two. Stone had the hat trick along with two assists for a five-point night. Stastny had two goals and a trio of assists.

The Sharks just had no answer for the madness, and Martin Jones was back to playing his regular-season-style of hockey, which is to say he allows a lot of goals. Unless San Jose can stop this line and find a save, they’re done for.

2. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets needed a few of their players to start producing, and none more so, perhaps, than Connor. The 30-plus goal man hadn’t contributed much through the first two games of the series against St. Louis but erupted for two markers after getting a bump to the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. The line took off, combining for four points. Patrik Laine kept scoring, and Kevin Hayes also found a big goal for the Jets.

3. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets

Coming off a four-point night in Game 2, Duchene kept up the good work, scoring 1:44 into the second period to help the Blue Jackets take the lead. Duchene was a force in the faceoff circle, too, going 9-for-11. That’s two goals and five points for Duchene, acquired at the trade deadline by the Jackets, in three games now. Columbus owns a 3-0 series lead on Tampa Bay.

Highlight of the night

Mark Stone, hat trick hero.

Lowlight of the night

This bone-headed play from Joe Thornton:

Factoids of the night

  • Vegas keeps making history, this time for scoring quickly. (NHL PR)
  • Patrik Laine is the first player in Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history to score in the first three games of a playoff year. (NHL PR)
  • What Columbus is doing is to keep the Lightning from scoring is unreal. (NHL PR)
  • Lightning are just the fifth team with the best regular-season record to lose first three in the playoffs. (Sportsnet Stats)

Monday’s schedule

Game 3: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (Series tied 1-1), 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 3: Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals (WSH leads 2-0), 7 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Game 3: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators (Series tied 1-1), 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 3: Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames (Series tied 1-1), 10 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)


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

Shocker: Blue Jackets blow out Lightning 5-1 to take 2-0 series lead

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The Columbus Blue Jackets needed to pull off a stunning comeback to capture Game 1. Going up 2-0 in the series against Tampa Bay was a far cleaner affair as the Blue Jackets cruised to a 5-1 victory Friday night.

After winning a record-tying 62 games in the regular season, Tampa Bay came into this game with something to prove, but the Lightning didn’t play like a team that just got a rude wake-up call. Instead, Columbus carried its momentum from Game 1.

Cam Atkinson managed to squeak one through Andrei Vasilevskiy just 5:05 minutes into the game. Rather than answer back, Ondrej Palat took a hooking call at 11:40 of the first that led to Zach Werenski almost immediately scoring on a rocket.

Trying to spark his team, Lightning forward Brayden Point fought with Werenski. It certainly wasn’t a likely matchup, but it didn’t end up being a turning point in the game.

Matt Duchene scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period to put the Blue Jackets up 3-0. Werenski got an assist on that marker to earn the Gordie Howe hat trick. Mikhail Sergachev gave Tampa Bay a sign of life 5:00 into the third when he made it 3-1 and soon after that, Nick Foligno took a tripping penalty to give the Lightning the man advantage.

Tampa Bay had the best power play in the league during the regular season, but the Blue Jackets managed an impressive kill to drain whatever momentum the Lightning had built. From there it was just adding insult to injury as Riley Nash and Artemi Panarin each scored to turn what was already looking like a decisive win into a blowout.

The Blue Jackets spent the final 4:26 minutes on the power play because of Nikita Kucherov‘s boarding major. We’ll have to see if the league feels that one warrants further discipline.

“This is a five-alarm fire. We are facing adversity. Sometimes that’s good to face adversity,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the game, per Pierre LeBrun.

What you’ll be hearing a lot about now is the fact that Columbus also started its Round 1 series against the Capitals with back-to-back wins in Washington last year. Of course, the Capitals won the next four games and went on to win the Stanley Cup. For Lightning fans, that’s a reason to remain hopeful. For the Blue Jackets, it’s a reminder that nothing has been decided yet.

Lightning-Blue Jackets Game 3 from Nationwide Arena will be Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Lightning vs. Blue Jackets: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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Sometimes you can’t help but think that we’re all just writing off the Columbus Blue Jackets without one puck being dropped in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But then you give your head a smack, recompose yourself and realize that (insert deity here) might struggle against the behemoth that the Tampa Lightning have become.

Tampa is simply that good, and the reason why the secondary race (other than making the playoffs) was to finish in the first wildcard and avoid the unstoppable force in the first round. Sure, there might be that immovable object later down the line for Tampa, but Columbus certainly isn’t it. And that’s a bit of a shame given everything Jarmo Kekalainen did to improve his team (despite giving up nearly a full draft and a couple of nice farm pieces).

You see, John Tortorella can exclaim it from the top of Mount Everest that his team is up for the challenge. One, he has to. Two, well, he has to. But even then it’s a stretch.

There are levels to this, and Tampa is one that’s two or three floors above Columbus.

I mean, we’re talking about the far-and-away best offense in the NHL this year. We’re talking about a team with top point producer, a team with three guys with 40-plus goals, and a goalie that eats shooters for breakfast and snacks on the league’s best snipers.

Columbus needed to mortgage their future and take on massive risk by not trading pending unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky at the trade deadline.

Tampa didn’t set an alarm that day.

Oh, and Tampa won 62 games, tying for the most ever in an NHL season. They never lost more than two in a row all season, and that only happened twice itself. There might not be a taller order in sports at the moment than the one that lies before Columbus.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

SCHEDULE
Wednesday, April 10, 7 p.m.: Columbus @ Tampa Bay | USA, SN360, TVAS
Friday, April 12, 7 p.m.: Columbus @ Tampa Bay | CNBC, SN360, TVAS
Sunday, April 14, 7 p.m.: Tampa Bay @ Columbus | NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
Tuesday, April 16, 7 p.m.: Tampa Bay @ Columbus | CNBC, SN360, TVAS
*Friday, April 19, TBD: Columbus @Tampa Bay | TBD
*Sunday, April 21, TBD: Tampa Bay @ Columbus | TBD
*Tuesday, April 23, TBD: Columbus @ Tampa Bay | TBD

FORWARDS

BLUE JACKETS: It seems almost unfair to compare the two.

The Blue Jackets accounted for 256 goals this season, 12th most in the NHL if you’re a glass-half-full type of person. Cam Atkinson had a lot to do with it as he tucked 41 himself. Artemi Panarin had 28, and Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson each bagging 27 each. Oliver Bjorkstrand was fifth on the team and rounded out the 20-plus goal men with 23.

Columbus will continue to ride their top two lines (Panarin-Duchene-Atkinson and Dzingel-Dubois-Anderson) for consistent scoring, and they’ll likely have to produce even better to beat Columbus, and a lot of it may need to come five-on-five. Columbus had the 28th-ranked power play, which surprisingly isn’t the worst among playoff teams — it was better than both the New York Islanders and Nashville Predators.

LIGHTNING: Nikita. Kucherov. Say it with me now… Seriously though, Kucherov did things this season and no one had done in the salary cap era. Perhaps he felt snubbed that he didn’t get the Hart last season, and boy did he come with a vengeance. Kucherov scored 128 points to establish a new career mark, besting his previous total by 28 points in two more games played. He beat Connor McDavid by 12 points in the Art Ross race.

And we’ve only talked about one player so far

The Lightning had three players with 40-plus goals, with Kucherov and Brayden Point each scoring 41 and Steven Stamkos leading the pack with 45. Ten of their 12 forward had double-digit goals, with seven having more than 18 apiece. They led the league with 319 goals-for, 30 more than anyone else (and the only team to eclipse 300). They led the with a 12.2 percent shooting percentage. They led the league with a power play that ran at 28 percent. They just led the league. In everything that matters. It’s a brilliant offense.

ADVANTAGE: LIGHTNING. I mean, if there’s one series that this is most clear in, it’s this one. It’s the Lightning by miles upon miles. The best scorer, the best offense and the best power play. It almost seems unfair and barring something divine, the Lightning aren’t going to be held at bay.

DEFENSE

BLUE JACKETS: Seth Jones and Zach Werenski will be leaned upon heavily as they shoulder a massive task in trying to shut down Tampa. The pair are a formidable shutdown duo, for sure, but the depth starts to fall off after that.

Jones plays nearly 26 minutes a night, with Werenski at nearly 23. From there, every other defenseman on the team is under 20 minutes aside from the injured Ryan Murray.

Not having Murray stings. He’s missed the past 24 games with an upper-body injury and won’t be available for Game 1, at least. Murray had 29 points in 56 games prior to getting injured, so they’ll be missing some production back there, too.

LIGHTNING: Victor Hedman practiced on Monday and it appears he might be ready to play in Game 1 after suffering an injury on March 30, forcing him to miss the last week of action.

Hedman’s presence is crucial. His size, ability to play monster minutes and in all situations is a big key to this juggernaut of a team. But Tampa is deep, no doubt. They finished eighth in fewest goals-against and can also rely on some offensive production from their back end. If there’s a weakness, it might be in the third pairing of Mikhail Sergachev and Jan Rutta.

ADVANTAGE: LIGHTNING. They have better depth and better scoring from the back end, both things that are paramount in the playoffs.

GOALTENDING

BLUE JACKETS: This is where the series could be decided.

If Sergei Bobrovsky and play out of his mind, Columbus has a snowball’s chance in hell, which is an improvement. If struggles, shut off the lights and head home. It’s over.

Bob’s season one of the worst of his career, statistically, with a .913 save percentage — a number that was made to look respectable as he closed out the season with multiple shutouts. Those numbers just won’t cut it against an offense of Tampa’s ilk.

LIGHTNING: Vasilevskiy is in a league of his own.

Like it or not, Vasilevskiy is probably winning the Vezina this year and he’s simply an elite goaltender who got a lot more rest down the stretch than he did last year. That means a more fresh Vasilevskiy. A more sharp Vasilevskiy. A quicker Vasilevskiy. That’s a goalie that’s tough to beat.

ADVANTAGE: LIGHTNING. Vasilevskiy brings it every night and hardly has a bad day at the office. He’s comfortable taking a lot of shots and he’s not going to be facing down a great power play. And Bobrovsky is hit or miss these days. And even if he hits, can he really deal with everything the Lightning will throw at him?

ONE BIG QUESTION FOR EACH TEAM

Can the Blue Jackets outgun the Lightning?

That’s really what it will come down to here. The Blue Jackets need to take advantage of every single opportunity they’re afforded and then play defense (tight gap, high pressure) like they’ve never done before.

Can they keep the status quo?

Basically, if the regular season Lightning shows up, this one is over before it begins. The Lightning need to remain the same team in the playoffs. They have a lot of pressure on them. They’ve earned it, given their season, and now need to respond to it.

PREDICTION

LIGHTNING IN 5. It’s possible the Blue Jackets catch the Lightning daydreaming. Tampa is just too good though.

MORE PREVIEWS:
• Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
 Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Blues
Islanders vs. Penguins
Predators vs. Stars
Capitals vs Hurricanes


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

Push for the Playoffs: Blues looking to leap over Predators

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

So here we are. There’s only a handful of days left in the season, and the Central Division picture isn’t any clearer than it was a week ago. The St. Louis Blues have an opportunity to make it even more cloudy, as they’ll get to play their game in hand on the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators tonight.

If the Blues beat the Chicago Blackhawks in any fashion, they’ll tie the Jets and Predators with 96 points, but they’d jump ahead of Nashville because they’d own the tie-breaker (if the Blues win in a shootout, they’d be tied in points and ROW but the Blues have more head-to-head points).

Since their 2-0 loss in Ottawa on Mar. 14, St. Louis has been on a roll. They’ve taken down playoff teams like Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Vegas, and Colorado. And, overall, they’ve rattled off seven wins in their last nine contests (7-1-1). Their only regulation loss came against the Rangers in New York.

So, as we mentioned before, a Blues victory tonight would bring all all three of the top Central Division teams at 96 points. The Jets have the most ROW, the Blues would be second and the Predators would be third. After tonight, here’s how each team’s schedule would look:

Jets: Thursday at Colorado, Saturday at Arizona
Blues: Thursday vs. Philadelphia, Saturday vs. Vancouver
Predators: Thursday vs. Vancouver, Saturday vs. Chicago

This division is still very much up for grabs.

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Blues at Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN, live stream)
Flames at Ducks, 10:30 p.m. ET

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — Clinched
Capitals — Clinched
Islanders —  Clinched
Maple Leafs — Clinched
Penguins — 98.9 percent
Hurricanes — 86.4 percent
Blue Jackets — 72.3 percent
Canadiens — 42.4 percent
Flyers — Eliminated
Panthers — Eliminated
Sabres — Eliminated
Rangers — Eliminated
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Flames — Clinched
Jets — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Predators — Clinched
Blues — Clinched
Golden Knights — Clinched
Stars — Clinched
Avalanche — 97.7 percent
Coyotes — 2.3 percent
Wild — Eliminated
Blackhawks — Eliminated
Oilers — Eliminated
Canucks — Eliminated
Ducks — Eliminated
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Devils — 11.5 percent
Sabres — 9.5 percent
Red Wings — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Ducks — 6.5 percent
Oilers – 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Flyers — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 2 percent
Coyotes — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 125 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 115 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 105 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 102 points
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins — 100 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 51 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 47 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 47 goals
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning — 43 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 41 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 41 goals
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 41 goals

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.