Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


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

Which team is most likely to come back from 2-1 deficit?

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We’re midway through the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and although the Vegas Golden Knights have already punched their ticket to the second round, there are still other spots that are up for grabs.

The Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild are on the brink of elimination. That’s not to say that they can’t overcome their current deficits, but they have a steep hill to climb. So let’s look at the teams that are down 2-1 in their respective series.

The Devils, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Capitals and Avalanche are all in that predicament. Every one of those teams, except Philadelphia, came away with a huge Game 3 victory, so there’s a sense of optimism surrounding those clubs. They aren’t in an ideal spot, but they aren’t dead either.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Who has the best chance of coming back to win the series? Let’s rank them from least likely to most likely.

• New Jersey Devils

Taylor Hall was sensational in New Jersey’s Game 3 victory, as he recorded a goal and two primary assists. Hall has played at least 20 minutes in each of the first three games of the series. He’s a matchup problem for any of Tampa’s skaters, but getting Brayden Point on the ice against him is clearly the preference for head coach Jon Cooper. But will Devils bench boss John Hynes be able to get the desired matchups when the series shifts back to Tampa? Hall will produce no matter what, but there’s no denying that winning on the road and winning at home are two different things, especially for a team with quite a few youngsters.

The wild card in all of this is Cory Schneider, who picked up his first win of 2018 in Game 3. Schneider looked as confident as he’s looked in quite some time, so stealing a game or two would go a long way in helping New Jersey come back. Again, that might be a lot to ask from a guy that lost his starting job to Keith Kinkaid for a few weeks.

“Still a lot of work to go. One win is a starting points, so we have to make sure we come back with the same intensity (Wednesday) night,” Schneider said, per NJ.com. “But yeah, 2-1 and 3-0 are a big difference. It was an important game for us to win just to get into the series and make it a series. Hopefully we can continue to make it more difficult as it goes on here.”

It’ll also be interesting to see how the bad blood at the end of Game 3 affects this series. Can the Devils use Mikhail Sergachev‘s hit on Blake Coleman as motivation? Does the rough stuff help Tampa Bay focus on getting back to business? There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered heading into Game 4.

• Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have been overwhelmed by the Penguins in two of the first three games, but here they are trailing to just one game heading into Game 4. Discipline has been a big problem for them through three contests. Even in the game that they won, they still took silly penalties, but managed to kill them off. If that doesn’t change, this series will be over faster than you can say “Philly cheese steak with no onions and extra cheese whiz”.

As if the 2-1 deficit to the Penguins wasn’t enough, it now looks like they might be without Sean Couturier, who was injured during a collision in practice with Radko Gudas. Missing him for any amount of time would be a huge loss for the Flyers.

Whether Couturier plays or not, Philadelphia will need more from Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek.

“There’s a lot of guys in here that can pick up slack, guys that are itching to get more time too,” Flyers goalie Brian Elliott said, per NHL.com. “If he’s not available, if he is available, I think our guys are ready for that.”

The Flyers proved that they could beat the Penguins, now they just have to show that they can do it three more times.

• Colorado Avalanche

The Avs have surprisingly dominated the opening period of each of these first three games. Unfortunately for them, they only have one win to show for it, but they can pull positives from the fact that they weren’t skated out of the building on the road against the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Nathan MacKinnon and Hall are in similar situations, meaning that they’ll have to shoulder most of the offensive burden, but the Avs forward definitely has more help up front. Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog can also be difference-makers for Colorado.

You have to wonder how injuries have affected this series. How much do things change if Colorado has a healthy Erik Johnson, Samuel Girard and Semyon Varlamov. Missing Varlamov seems to be the biggest loss, as Jonathan Bernier has had his share of tough moments in the series. Is he capable of stealing a game in Nashville? That’s what it’s going to take for Colorado to move on to the second round.

Nothing is impossible, but it seems like the Avs are a year away from taking the next step. Overcoming this 2-1 deficit would be a huge surprise.

• Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are an interesting case. They played a relatively strong home game in Game 3, as they managed to keep the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak off the scoresheet. The thing is, they haven’t looked too good on Boston ice, where the desired matchups are a lot harder to come by. Deadline acquisition Tomas Plekanec along with Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey did what they had to do to keep that line in check in Game 3. Can they do it again? Even at home, that’s not a sure thing.

Boston’s first line had their share of opportunities, especially when the Bruins were pressing in the third period. You just get the feeling like the Leafs will have to do an impeccable job defensively and they’ll have to pray that the opposing trio doesn’t bury one, or two, or three.

Goalie Frederik Andersen is also an interesting case. He’s let in some bad goals during this series, including in Game 3, but he’s also managed to come up with some impressive saves at times. The Leafs are going to need a little more consistency from their number one netminder, or this thing could get away from them in a hurry.

And, of course, Toronto has to hope that Auston Matthews‘ game-winning goal in Game 3 will help give him the spark he needs to continue producing regularly. Monday’s goal was his first point of the playoffs.

“People find it hard to believe, but it’s easy to lose your confidence very quickly at playoff time,” head coach Mike Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “I think we’re in a great spot to get it back, and I really felt it helped Freddie (Monday) night, it helped Auston (Monday) night. A lot of guys are feeling better about themselves.”

•Washington Capitals

This is arguably the most interesting one of the lot. Sure, they’re the most likely team to come back from a 2-1 deficit, but they could easily be down 3-0 if Lars Eller doesn’t get that lucky bounce in double overtime on Tuesday night.

The Capitals have all the firepower they need to make a deep run, they just haven’t ever been able to do it. As the Caps have found out, the Blue Jackets are no joke, so they’ll have to be at their best to advance to the second round. Bowing out in the first round would probably bring about more changes in Washington, so they’ve got to come through if they want to stick together going forward.

Braden Holtby made some big saves during Game 3, but he also let in an incredibly weak goal to Pierre-Luc Dubois to tie the game at one in the second period. Holtby has been off for most of the year, but if there was ever a time for him to emerge as a hero, it’s right now.

“It puts us right back in the series,” Holtby said, per NHL.com. “I thought we held our composure really well in the overtimes. We didn’t cheat. We stuck to our systems and got a gritty goal to win it. It’s a good sign.”

Of the five teams trailing 2-1, there’s no denying that the Capitals are the most talented team. On the flip side, they also have the most playoff baggage of all the teams, too. It’ll be interesting to see if they can overcome these mental hurdles, but that lucky bounce in OT may have saved their season.

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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.

The Buzzer: Maple Leafs, Devils, Avalanche record important wins; Ducks embarrassed

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Monday’s results

Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 2 (Bruins lead series 2-1): Patrick Marleau scored a pair and Frederik Andersen made 40 saves in a must-win for the Maple Leafs. Boston had dominated both outings at TD Garden, with the Leafs giving up 12 goals over both games and forcing Mike Babcock to pull Anderson in the first period in Game 2 after allowing four goals on seven shots. Andersen was back between the pipes on Monday, and although he allowed two gifts early on, he settled in to aid in the win. Auston Matthews scored his first of the series and David Pastrnak was held pointless after his six-point outing on Saturday. In fact, the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak failed to record a point after putting up a whopping 20 over Games 1 and 2.

Devils 5, Lightning 2 (Lightning lead series 2-1): Speaking of teams needing a win and better goaltending… The Devils found themselves down 2-0 after allowing five goals in each of Game 1 and Game 2 in Florida. John Hynes elected to make a switch in net after Devils playoff starter Keith Kinkaid was yanked after 33 minutes in Game 2. Cory Schneider stopped 34-of-36 en route to his first win in 2018. Taylor Hall had a goal and two assists in the game.

Avalanche 5, Predators 3 (Predators lead series 2-1):  Take a team that plays very well at home and a player who scores a lot of his points at home and you get a Colorado Avalanche win thanks to two goals by Nathan MacKinnon on Monday. The Avs scored three times in the first period. MacKinnon’s second of the game early in the second period stood as the game-winner.

Sharks 8, Ducks 1 (Sharks lead series 3-0): The Anaheim Ducks need a miracle after Monday’s embarrassment. After losing both games at home to the San Jose Sharks, the Ducks put up a stinker in Monday’s loss. John Gibson didn’t get any help and then he was pulled after allowing five on 24 shots. The Ducks looked disinterested after a while and the Sharks feasted as a result. Joonas Donskoi had a goal and two assists to lead the way. Martin Jones was stellar when called upon, stopping 45 of 46.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three stars

Patrick Marleau, Maple Leafs: Toronto needed someone to step up and it came through their elder statesman in Marleau, who notched a pair as the Maple Leafs rode to victory to help stave off a 3-0 deficit.

Taylor Hall, Devils: Hall scored unassisted to tie the game in 1-1 in the first period and then was the primary assist on Will Butcher‘s game-tying goal in the second and Stefan Noesen‘s eventual game-winner later in the period. A solid outing from the Hart Trophy candidate.

Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche: There’s a strong case to be made here for Martin Jones, who set a franchise record for a playoff game with 45 saves, but MacKinnon’s two goals propelled the Avs to a much-needed victory after coming into Monday’s action down 2-0 in their first-round series against the Predators. MacKinnon and the Avs have been money at Pepsi Center this season and that held true in their win on Monday. Sorry, Martin.

Highlights of the Night

First and foremost, this:

Them moves:

Eric Fehr scored. Yes, your eyes don’t deceive you:

Nice feed, nice goal:

Factoids of the Night

Old-man Marleau turning back the clock:

Also, old-man Chara:

Look who made the trip!

Tuesday’s schedule

Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) – Blue Jackets lead 2-0
Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC) – Jets lead 2-1
Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) – Golden Knights lead 3-0


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

Cory Schneider posts first win in 2018 as Devils claw back into series

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After allowing 10 goals in the first two games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New Jersey Devils needed another look between the pipes.

Enter an old friend.

Cory Schneider‘s season can best be summed up as forgettable.

His less than stellar 2016-17 campaign tagged along into the current season and Schneider eventually lost his starting role to Keith Kinkaid. Schneider missed the whole month of February due to a groin injury and before Monday, hadn’t won a start since Dec. 27, 2017, a span of 12 starts without a W.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

But after Keith Kinkaid was pulled 33 minutes into a 5-3 defeat on Saturday, Schneider settled in and stopped all 10 shots he faced in relief. With the Devils needing a spark after falling down 2-0 in the series as it was shifting back to Jersey, Schneider was given his chance to assume to the reigns he previously held.

Some timely extra saves were helpful — Schneider made 34 of them — as the Devils tightened up defensively in 5-2 win to pull themselves back into the series, which sits at 2-1 in favor of the Lightning.

Taylor Hall helped out on offense, scoring his second of the playoffs and adding two assists in the win.

The Devils also got a boost with the return of Marcus Johansson, who missed 37 games with a concussion after an elbow from Brad Marchand.


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 turn back to Cory Schneider to salvage series vs. Lightning

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The New Jersey Devils are facing the prospect of falling behind 3-0 in the opening round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night. In an attempt to shake what’s ailed them through two games, head coach John Hynes is making changes for Game 3 (CNBC, 7:30 p.m ET, stream here).

Most notably, Cory Schneider will get the start after watching Game 1 and coming in relief of Keith Kinkaid during Game 2 on Saturday afternoon’s 5-3 loss. Marcus Johansson, who was skating on a line with Pavel Zacha and Patrick Maroon during Monday’s morning skate, will also return to the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion on Jan. 23.

“We believe we have two very good goaltenders,” Hynes said. “Keith had played extremely well, and we’re not taking Keith out really because he was bad, we have two guys that we feel can both help us win and it’s an opportunity to get Cory back in the net. He came in and played pretty well the other night, which was good to see, so we’ll give him an opportunity here at home.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Schneider had a subpar regular season that saw him miss over a month with a groin injury and struggle mightily when he returned. Kinkaid was given the opportunity to start and snatched the No. 1 job away, helping get the Devils to the playoffs. Monday night’s start will only Schneider’s sixth since March 1, but he feels the 24 minutes he played in Game 2 was good for him heading into tonight.

“It helps. It always helps,” Schneider said. “Just getting out on the ice, that was a great opportunity for me to go in, make some saves and show that I’m feeling good about myself. It doesnt mean much if you come out and don’t play well. Hopefully I can parlay that into a good start tonight.”

Tampa has 10 goals from six different players through two games, so why that will be a problem for Schneider and the Devils, they also have to figure out how to capitalize on their chances having out-shot the Lightning 54-47 at even strength so far.

Meanwhile, in other goalie matters, Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz has made up his mind on who will start Game 3 Tuesday in Columbus, but he hasn’t informed his players yet. All signs point to Braden Holtby getting the call yet again after Philipp Grubauer allowed eight goals on 41 shots as the Blue Jackets hold a 2-0 series lead.

More: What can Devils do to slow down Lightning offense?

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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.