PHT Morning Skate: Frozen Four bracket; Vezina candidates

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.

• Devils defenseman Damon Severson lost a game of rock, paper, scissors to a fan and it cost him a stick. (NHL.com)

• The Calgary Inferno beat the Montreal Canadiennes in the Clarkson Cup final. (Sportsnet)

• Which goalies are in the mix for the Vezina Trophy this season? (The Hockey News)

• St. Cloud State, Massachusetts, Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth are the no. 1 seeds heading into the Frozen Four tournament. (The Score)

• The Ottawa Senators want to hire a president of hockey operations to help turn their team around. (CBC)

• Avalanche top prospect Cale Makar helped turn around the UMass hockey program. Here’s how he did it. (ESPN)

• Let’s imagine an NHL with environmentally friendly arenas. (Grand Stand Central)

Michael Grabner was able to overcome a nasty eye injury. He’s now helping the Coyotes make a push for a playoff spot. (AZ Central)

• A father who lost his son in the Humboldt bus crash admitted that he felt sorry for the man that caused the accident. “I feel horribly for Mr Sidhu, I really do. I feel horribly for everyone involved in this. So have I forgiven him? Yeah, what other option do I have? I don’t think I have another option in order to maintain my own sanity.” (BBC.com)

• It’s going to take quite some time for the Rangers to rebuild their struggling blue line. (Blue Seat Blogs)

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Dahlin’s impact; Are Pens looking for goalie?

7 Comments
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.

Rasmus Dahlin has really helped the Sabres fix their issues at five-on-five so far this season. (Buffalo News)

• The Islanders television broadcast has three female analysts on it. Hopefully this is the start of a new trend. (ESPN)

• TSN’s Travis Yost graded every team’s bottom two lines. It’s not surprising to see that the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the deeper teams in the league. (TSN.ca)

Brayden Point continues to quietly be the Tampa Bay Lightning’s MVP this season. (Tampa Bay Times)

• The Hockey News looks back at what went wrong for Scott Darling in Carolina. (The Hockey News)

• The Boston Bruins retired Rick Middleton’s number 16 prior to Thursday’s game against the New York Islanders. (NHL.com)

• Referee Dan O’Halloran hit the 1400-game mark on Thursday night. In this write up, O’Halloran explains why he wears number 13. (Scouting the Refs)

• Earlier this week, a report surfaced about the St. Louis Blues being interested in Detroit’s Jimmy Howard. But could the Penguins also be in the hunt for the veteran? (Pensburgh)

• Where does the Avalanche’s top line rank in terms of overall production from three linemates over the last few years? (Mile High Hockey)

• After getting off to a sluggish start, it sure looks like the Vegas Golden Knights are back. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Devils defenseman Damon Severson doesn’t get a whole lot of national love, but he’s developed into a key piece for New Jersey. (All About the Jersey)

• Whether Sergei Bobrovsky signs an extension in Columbus or not, Blue Jackets fans should enjoy him while they have him. (The Cannon)

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: Taylor Hall does it all for Devils, Maple Leafs rout Kings

Getty
6 Comments

Three Stars

1. Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils. The reigning league MVP played like it on Tuesday night as he contributed to all four goals in the Devils’ 4-2 win over the slumping Pittsburgh Penguins. Hall scored the game-winning goal 8:07 into the third period and then put the game away with an empty-net goal later in the period. Along with his two goals he also had the primary assist on the Devils’ first two goals, setting up Travis Zajac and Damon Severson. Hall is now up to 18 points in 16 games this season.

2. Tom Kuhnhackl, New York Islanders. We have to give some attention to Kuhnhackl here because this is the type of game he just does not have. He not only scored one of the weirdest goals of the season (watch it here) when he somehow slipped the puck behind Jakob Markstrom while falling to the ice and looking in the wrong direction, but then he went and added another goal later in the game to help the Islanders pick up a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. With his two goals on Tuesday night he now has three goals on the season in only seven games. Keep in mind he only scored two goals in 69 games a year ago, and only four in 57 games the year before that, and only five in 42 games the year before that.

3. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs. This was not even a contest. The Maple Leafs completely rolled over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday by a 5-1 margin in a game that was not anywhere near as close as the final score. John Tavares was the star of the night for the Maple Leafs with three points and seven total shot attempts (including four on goal). He is now up to 22 points in 18 games this season. The Maple Leafs, even without Auston Matthews and William Nylander, are very good. The Los Angeles Kings are struggling.

Other notable performances from Tuesday night

— Thanks to a three-point night from Mike Green the Detroit Red Wings were 6-1 winners over the Arizona Coyotes and have now won seven of their past eight games. Who saw that happening?

Tom Wilson returned to the lineup sooner than expected and had a crazy night. He scored a goal and got called for a penalty on the same play, got into a fight, and was a plus-two on the night. He was an assist shy of the Gordie Howe hat trick. The Capitals rolled to a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Max Domi‘s 10th goal of the season (more than he scored in each of the past two seasons) was not enough for the Montreal Canadiens as they dropped a 6-2 decision to the Edmonton Oilers. The duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl was the difference for the Oilers as they each had three points on the night.

Jeff Skinner has been exactly what the Buffalo Sabres needed. He scored another goal in their big 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

Highlights of the Night

Just because it is worth one more look.

Joe Thornton hits the 400-goal mark with the game-winning goal against the Nashville Predators.

Factoids

It was not just a big night for Joe Thornton in San Jose. Erik Karlsson is still searching for his first goal of the season but he did reach a personal milestone of his own on Tuesday night.

The Florida Panthers are on a roll thanks in large part to Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov.

Mathew Barzal is one of the league’s best players and an exceptional playmaker.

Scores
New Jersey Devils 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 2
New York Islanders 5, Vancouver Canucks 2
Florida Panthers 2, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Buffalo Sabres 2, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Detroit Red Wings 6, Arizona Coyotes 1
Washington Capitals 5, Minnesota Wild 2
Edmonton Oilers 6, Montreal Canadiens 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Los Angeles Kings 1
San Jose Sharks 5, Nashville Predators 4

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: The Dundon Effect; Laine eager for Finland show

1 Comment

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.

• Laine is eager to play hockey in front of his country with games later this week vs.the Florida Panthers in Finland. (Winnipeg Sun)

• The Tom Dundon Effect has transformed Carolina in less than a year. (Forbes)

Robin Lehner looks like his old self again, which is to say he looks good. (FanSided)

• It is, and will always be, the greatest hockey game ever made. (NHL.com)

• Here is a look at all the last place teams in the Eastern Conference. (Medium)

• Is it time for a line-change overhaul in Vegas? (SinBin Vegas)

• Hockey goal differential by period and a look at the Hurricanes first 10 games. (Section 328)

• The Philadelphia Flyers continue to carry baggage from yesteryears. (FanSided)

Lawson Crouse‘s hybrid-style game has endeared himself to the Arizona Coyotes. (AZ Central)

Elias Lindholm is fitting in quite well with the Calgary Flames. (Sportsnet)

• Soccer? Ping Pong? Nah. Damon Severson plays baseball pre-game. (NJ.com)

• The Chicago Blackhawks have risen from the dead in the Central Division. Here are 10 thoughts on that. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Man, Boston has one hell of a top line. But how do the Bruins get more secondary scoring? (Bruins Daily)

• With the Red Wings struggling mightily, Arby’s has lowered the requirements to one of its game-day promotions. (ESPN)

• Are the Ottawa Senators lucky? (Silver Seven)

• Here are more words on William Nylander — this time on the benefits of signing a bridge deal. (Maple Leafs Nation)

• This is not a record: Jonathan Quick is day-to-day. (LA Kings Insider)

• Penguins to hold a collection Tuesday for the victims of last week’s synagogue shooting. (Pittsburgh Penguins)

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

Lightning vs. Devils: PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

NBC
1 Comment

The Tampa Bay Lightning locked up a playoff spot before April even began, and the only real drama they faced boiled down to whether or not they’d win their division. The New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, scratched and clawed their way to their last game of the season.

Maybe that lack of urgency and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s fatigue conspired to make the Bolts’ finish to 2017-18 a little less than inspiring? Tampa Bay went 5-4-1 in its last 10 games, as just one example, with Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov losing significant ground in their respective trophy races.

The Lightning still finished atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, going 54-23-5 for 113 standings points. The Devils finished one point ahead of the Florida Panthers for the East’s final wild card, generating 97 standings points on a 44-29-9 record.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Even with a less-than-spectacular finish to the season, the Lightning are heavy favorites. Tampa Bay ranks among the biggest favorites of any team in the first round on account of its strengths and the Devils’ perceived weaknesses.

Beyond the momentum angle, the Devils might pin their hopes on sweeping the season series against the Lightning. They won once in a shootout and twice in regulation. Maybe New Jersey matches up well with Tampa Bay?

Let’s break this series down.

SCHEDULE

FORWARDS

Lightning: It’s easy to look at the Lightning as just the one-two punch of a successfully returning Steven Stamkos (27 goals, 86 points) and Kucherov, who hit the 100-point mark for the first time in his wildly underrated career. The frightening part is that it’s not even just about them, nor J.T. Miller in Vladislav Namestnikov‘s old spot.

This series might clue in casual hockey fans that Brayden Point is a rising star. He scored 32 goals and 66 points this season, doing so in sometimes spectacular ways:

Yanni Gourde would also receive way more Calder Trophy buzz in a normal season, as he scored 25 goals and 64 points. The Lightning also have some other nice forwards, including Tyler Johnson (21 goals, 50 points), Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat. It should be noted that, while Palat only scored 35 points, he was limited to 56 games.

The biggest injury question revolves around Stamkos, who missed some late-season games. Will he be 100 percent either by Game 1 or merely sometime in this series?

Devils: It’s well-publicized but true: the drop off from Taylor Hall (93 points) to the second-best Devils scorer (Nico Hischier, 52 points) is drastic.

Hall deservedly gets Hart Trophy buzz, and he’s the single player who could will the Devils to upset victories against the Bolts in his first-ever visit to the postseason.

It’s unfair to say that he’s the only weapon for New Jersey. Despite being limited to 62 games, Kyle Palmieri continues to be an under-the-radar gem, scoring 24 goals and 44 points. Patrick Maroon has been a boon via the trade deadline, collecting 13 points in 17 games with the Devils. Michael Grabner‘s been quiet, but his speed and skill could be useful in a short series, especially with the motivation of a contract year hanging over his head.

AdvantageLightning. Few teams possess the arsenal that Tampa Bay boasts.

DEFENSEMEN

Lightning: Victor Hedman may very well win the Norris Trophy this season. You can argue until your face turns blue over who deserves that nod, but he certainly earned the right to be in the discussion, generating 63 points in 77 games while playing great defense.

Mikhail Sergachev might be a work in progress, yet his offense is already formidable, as the rookie collected 40 points this season despite modest ice time (15:21 minutes per game). They can enjoy the best of both worlds as they protect him and then deploy him for scoring situations.

Ryan McDonagh is still adjusting to Tampa Bay. This is the time they got him for, as he could be a key piece in matchups. He’s joined by other former Rangers Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi, though the Lightning probably want to limit Girardi’s exposure (even after a relatively decent season).

Devils: New Jersey still looks weak on defense on paper, but credit the Devils with adding some talent in that area.

Sami Vatanen is developing into a workhorse for the Devils, averaging 22:44 per game while scoring 28 points in 57 games. Will Butcher has a ways to go in his own end, but he already generated 44 points in his first NHL season.

Damon Severson, Andy Greene, and John Moore are among those blueliners who can prove that they’re worth more of a look with a strong playoffs.

Advantage: Lightning, by a significant margin.

GOALIES

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy may still be a Vezina finalist, and it’s easy to see why with a 44-17-3 record, .920 save percentage, and eight shutouts. He’s also proven himself in postseason play before, generating that same .920 save percentage in 12 career playoff appearances.

His recent play is the elephant in the room, as he admitted himself to fatigue late in 2017-18. Consider that he generated a brilliant .931 save percentage in 41 games before the All-Star break, only to slide to a bad-backup-level .902 save percentage in 24 games after the break.

Louis Domingue hasn’t really inspired any confidence as his backup.

Devils: With Cory Schneider seemingly at a career crisis, the Devils turned to Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid proved unexpectedly sturdy for New Jersey, producing a four-game winning streak to help them lock down that playoff spot, and also generating a .913 save percentage over 41 appearances.

AdvantageLightning, even though Vasilevskiy’s energy comes into question.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Lightning: The Bolts’ power play ranks among the NHL’s deadliest, boasting a 23.9-percent success rate on 66 power-play goals and just three shorthanded goals allowed. Their penalty kill struggled, however, with a PK% of just 76.1 percent, fourth-worst in the NHL (64 PPGA, nine shorthanded goals for).

Devils: New Jersey connected on 21.4 percent of its power plays, good for 54 PPG and six SHGA. They excelled on the PK, tying for seventh in the NHL by killing 81.8 percent of their penalties (47 power-play goals allowed, 12 shorthanded goals scored).

Advantage: Devils, as they mix a very nice power play with one of the better PK units, especially when you consider how dangerous they are with 12 shorthanded goals. That said, the Lightning’s power play is so dominant, it might make that balance irrelevant.

X-FACTORS

Lightning: Is Vasilevskiy going to be anywhere close to his best self or his tank truly empty? This Lightning team is balanced and dangerous at the top, but bad goaltending can submarine even the strongest teams.

Devils: Taylor Hall in his first playoff series. It’s a great story, and there’s a solid chance that he’ll be the best player on the ice. Could he be such a force that he tilts this series in New Jersey’s favor?

PREDICTION

Lightning in five games. The Bolts possess the top-heavy talent to nullify Taylor Hall, and even if they lose that battle, they’re likely to dominate from a depth perspective. Vasilevskiy also gives them an advantage in net … at least on paper.

If you’re a Devils fan grumbling right now, consider this: New Jersey seems to thrive on defying the odds. Why not do it in the first round, too?

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.