Cam Ward

Hurricanes have knack for making most of rare playoff runs

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In that magical run to the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup victory, the Washington Capitals finally broke a cycle of fantastic regular seasons followed by heartbreaking finishes. Finally, the Capitals made good, in part because they consistently gave themselves a chance by winning division titles, if not the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Carolina Hurricanes introduce some really fun contrasts to the Capitals, including being the analytics darling while Washington often transcends those numbers.

But an even more tantalizing narrative is a “David vs. Goliath”-type underdog story, as the Hurricanes haven’t tasted the postseason since 2008-09.

(For some perspective: the Capitals have only missed the playoffs once [in 2013-14] since 2007-08.)

Give the Hurricanes this much, though: they have an uncanny knack for making the most of their rare playoff runs. It’s something to think about as the series begins with Game 1 in Washington on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET (USA; live stream).

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

This is just Carolina’s sixth playoff appearance since moving from Hartford and becoming the Hurricanes in 1997-98, yet they conjured some magic in their last three appearances. Consider those three stretches, from oldest to newest:

  • In 2001-02, the Hurricanes made it to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final, falling 4-1 to the Detroit Red Wings. With 91 points during the regular season, Carolina beat out the Capitals for the Southeast Division title, but the team nonetheless felt decidedly scrappy. Current coach Rod Brind’Amour was an alternate captain.
  • After that run, the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs for two straight seasons, before the 2004-05 season was canceled because of a lockout. The Hurricanes then won the Stanley Cup during the zany 2005-06 season. Many remember this as a weak team for a champion, but some forget that they finished the season with 112 points, the second-highest total in the East that season. Eric Staal topped all scorers with a breakthrough 100-point season, Brind’Amour was the captain and two-way beast, and Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe.
  • The Hurricanes then missed the playoffs for two straight seasons before returning to the postseason in 2008-09, their last appearance until the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Carolina won two playoff rounds before being swept by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. Brind’Amour was … still captain.

So, in the Hurricanes’ last three playoff runs, they’ve won nine playoff series, and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions both times they failed to win it all. That’s pretty good bang for your buck, huh?

It’s also worth noting that Brind’Amour has been involved in those three runs, which … *arches eyebrow*

None of this is to say that the Hurricanes will go deep during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as they’re considerable, justifiable underdogs against the defending champions in Round 1, just to begin. Still, it’s remarkable how this franchise has made the most of these appearances in the past.

Hurricanes – Capitals Game 1 from Capital One Arena will be Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network. You can stream it here.

For more on these two teams, check out the series preview. Get a rundown of Thursday’s full slate of Game 1 action with The Wraparound.

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.

Blackhawks’ Crawford exits game with groin injury

Associated Press
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Corey Crawford‘s season appears as if it will end the same way it started: on the shelf.

The Blackhawks’ No. 1 stopped all nine shots he faced in 25:46 before giving way to Cam Ward in the second period. The injury itself seemed to happen with just over four minutes left in the first period.

Crawford slid across his crease to stop a shot before appearing to be in some discomfort. He was able to get back to his feet, although he didn’t look right. He finished the period and played a further 5:46 before he had to leave.

Here’s that play:

Crawford’s season has been one to forget.

He missed the first five games of the current campaign, a carry-over after he missed the entire second half of the 2017-18 season with a concussion. A second concussion in December forced Crawford to miss over two months of action before he returned at the end of February, where he went on the play 16 of the past 17 games for the Blackhawks.

In all, he made 39 appearances this season.

The Blackhawks finished up their season against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. They were eliminated from playoff contention earlier this week after a remarkable turnaround.


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

Blackhawks outlast Blues in shootout win

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The chances of the St. Louis Blues going from last place in the National Hockey League just after the New Year began to finish first in the Central Division at regular season’s end took a bit of a hit on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The Blues dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Chicago Blackhawks, who were punted from playoff contention a night earlier.

Wednesday’s game on NBCSN was St. Louis’ game-in-hand on the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets. A win would have put them level on 96 points with their two of Central rivals, but they only managed one point to put them on 95 with two games remaining. Essentially, they will need Winnipeg and Nashville to each drop their two remaining games and find wins in their own two remaining to steal the division crown.

Both Nashville and Winnipeg are in action on Thursday.

Jonathan Toews was the start of the show, opening the scoring in the first period off a slick feed from Patrick Kane for his 35th. The goal gave Toews a new career high, surpassing the total of 34 he set 10 years ago.

Toews then scored the only goal of the shootout to give Chicago the win.

Some figured Toews fell off last year after his worst statistical season outside of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. Instead, the 30-year-old has set a new career high in goals and points and has matched a career mark in assists, needing just one more for the career-high hat trick.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

St. Louis was a stubborn bunch in this game. They trailed 3-1 in the third period thanks to Kane’s 42nd but watched as David Perron brought the game to 3-2 and then Tyler Bozak scored with 38.9 seconds showing on the game clock to force overtime.

Cam Ward got the start for the Blackhawks in what could be his final in the NHL. There’s a thought out there that the 35-year-old could hang ’em up after his 699th NHL appearance.

The start was Ward’s first in a month, with an injury keeping him out of action for a good chunk of that. Still, the veteran backstop turned aside 37 shots in win No. 333 in his 14-year NHL career.

The Blues went with Jake Allen, who made 35 saves. St. Louis plays the second half of a back to back against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, and it’s expected that rookie wonder Jordan Binnington will get the call there.

St. Louis still needs to make sure they get another point, regardless of where they finish, just in case the Dallas Stars win out. Dallas (91 points) could move into third place in the division if everything went right for them and everything went wrong for the Blues.

A final note: Kane set a new career-high in points with 107, eclipsing the 106 that won him the Art Ross in 2015-16.


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

Svechnikov making huge impact for Hurricanes

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For the better part of the past decade there have always been two things consistently holding the Carolina Hurricanes back.

The obvious one that always got the most attention was the fact they could never get their goaltending situation quite right.

Cam Ward never recaptured the magic he had during his rookie season Stanley Cup run, and there always seemed to be a revolving door of potential replacements that just could not fill that role.

The other big factor, one that always seemed to get overlooked in an endless barrage of “why can’t this team ever find a goalie,” was the fact that for all of their dominance as a puck possession team on the shot chart, they never really had any forwards that were great finishers. Jeff Skinner was really good for a few years, but he was always the only one and he could never do it all on his own.

The emergence of Sebastian Aho as a bonafide star, as well as the in-season trade for Nino Niederreiter, have helped address that issue in the short-term. But there is another player on the roster that might make an even bigger impact in that area in the future, and he is starting to make his presence felt as the Hurricanes enter the stretch run of the regular season and look to secure their first playoff berth since the 2008-09 season.

That player: No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov.

When the Hurricanes picked Svechnikov at the top of the 2018 draft there was obviously a great deal of hope that he could become a superstar player for the organization, and maybe the type of elite goal-scorer every contending team needs to win.

His performance as a rookie should give Hurricanes fans — and the team itself — a lot of hope that he can blossom into that type of player.

Perhaps sooner rather than later.

He is not going to win the Calder Trophy because Vancouver Canucks phenom Elias Pettersson seems to already have that award locked up (while goalies Jordan Binnington and Carter Hart are making pretty strong runs of their own), but we should not overlook just how good his rookie season has been. Because it has been outstanding, and probably better than you realize.

His overtime goal on Sunday night, lifting the Hurricanes to another come-from-behind win where they turned what looked to be a frustrating loss into an improbable victory, was his 20th of the season, a mark that is good enough for third on the team behind only Aho and team captain Justin Williams.

That alone is impressive for a rookie, but also consider the fact that he is still only 18 years old.

Hitting the 20-goal mark at this stage of his development puts him in some pretty exclusive company.

First, he is just the 22nd player to ever score at least 20 goals in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

Eleven of those previous instances took place between 1980 and 1993 when goal-scoring in the NHL was at its peak. He is one of just eight players to do it since 1994, a list that includes only Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Steven Stamkos and Patrik Laine.

Not impressive enough?

Consider that his shooting percentage of 11.6 is the second lowest of any of the previous 18-year-olds to top the 20-goal mark, which should really be seen as a positive sign for the future as it indicates that he isn’t really benefitting from a strong run of good luck, or that any of this early success is a fluke. He is generating more than 2.30 shots per game, which is the fourth most of any rookie in the NHL this season regardless of age even though he is only averaging around 14 minutes of ice-time per game.

When you take his ice-time into account his ability to generate shots and chances (and goals) looks even better.

Of the 150 forwards that have played at least 900 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, Svechnikov ranks 33rd in total shot attempts per 60 minutes, and 22nd in shots on goal per 60 minutes. The biggest part of scoring goals is actually putting yourself in a position to take shots and having the ability to get them on net. At 18, he is already showing that he has the ability to do that at a top-line level. 

Over Carolina’s past seven games, he has five goals, including Sunday’s game-winner and two in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche where he had a hand in every goal the Hurricanes scored (he scored two of them himself).

The Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams for three months now and have an exciting young core of players in place.

Out of their top-12 scorers this season, only four of them (Justin Williams at 37, Michael Ferland, Nino Niederreiter, and Jordan Martinook all at 26) are over the age of 25.

Six of them are age 24 or younger, including the 21-year-old Aho and still 18-year-old Svechnikov.

Together, those two are looking they could be one of the league’s most exciting duos for years to come and be the foundation of a team that might finally put hockey in Carolina back on the NHL’s map.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings host Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 11 games (9-2-0), including seven straight wins from Jan. 20 – Feb. 10, to climb right back into the playoff race. On the morning of January 20, exactly one month ago, the Blackhawks had 41 points and were dead last in the NHL. Now, as of Tuesday morning, they have 59 points, and are just one point behind the Minnesota Wild, who currently owns the second wild card in the Western Conference.

Patrick Kane is having arguably the best year of his career, and should the Blackhawks rally to make the playoffs, he could perhaps win his second career Hart Trophy. He’s currently on a season-best 18-game point streak (40 points: 14 goals, 26 assists), and is averaging 1.53 points/game, which would be the best of his 12-year career. He has an assist in 17 straight games… only two players in NHL history have posted a longer assist streak than Kane – Wayne Gretzky (23 games – 1990-91) & Adam Oates (18 games – 1992-93).

The NHL Trade Deadline is less than a week away and Detroit has a few key players that are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season: Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, Niklas Kronwall, Nick Jensen, Luke Witkowski and Jimmy Howard.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland has been weighing whether he should try to sign some of the pending free agents or trade them – with a focus on Howard, Nyquist and Jensen specifically. Holland said he’d like to sign all three to extensions – and all three players have expressed a desire to stay – but a deal must work for both sides.

“I need to weigh which of them we consider re-signing because they can help us in ’19-20 and then we maybe need to do something to add to that in the summer of ’19 because if you just trade all those players away your team is worse,” he said. “So now you got to make moves to get back to where you’re at and even beyond and that’s hard to do in the summer.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings
Where: Little Caesars Arena
When: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Drake CaggiulaJonathan Toews – Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeDominik Kahun
Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDylan Sikura
Chris KunitzMarcus KrugerJohn Hayden

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy
Slater KoekkoekGustav Forsling

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

RED WINGS
Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha
Thomas Vanek – Frans Nielsen – Gustav Nyquist
Andreas AthanasiouLuke GlendeningChristoffer Ehn
Darren HelmJacob De La RoseJustin Abdelkader

Niklas Kronwall – Mike Green
Danny DeKeyser – Nick Jensen
Trevor DaleyFilip Hronek

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

MORE: Jonathan Toews is back

For the first time in his career, Mike Tirico will call play-by-play for an NHL game on Wednesday when the Red Wings host the Blackhawks. He’ll be joined in the booth by Eddie Olczyk and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Brian Boucher. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.