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.

Lightning limp into Game 4 without Hedman, Stralman

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are facing a potential sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC; Live stream), and they’re going to have to find a way to win without Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.

Head coach Jon Cooper announced that Hedman and Stralman are out, while Alex Killorn is a game-time decision. Of course, the biggest lineup note is that Nikita Kucherov is back in the mix after sitting out Game 3 thanks to his one-game suspension, but these are big absences on the defensive side.

Via The Athletic’s Joe Smith, the Lightning will continue to roll with:

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnJan Rutta

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In a detailed, fantastic piece for The Athletic (sub required), Alison Lukan detailed how the Blue Jackets’ forecheck (by way of a 1-2-2 setup) has been giving the Lightning fits so far in this Round 1 series.

“(We are) trying to find ways to limit their opportunities through their speed and their skill,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “That’s making sure we play disciplined and stay above the puck. When you go, it’s about not getting beat up the ice, and if (a Lightning player) moves the puck and your partner goes, you have to make sure you get back and get ahead of that guy and reload for him.”

Earlier in Round 1, much was made about Hedman being on the ice for some glaring Blue Jackets goals, particularly a David Savard goal that was key in Columbus’ Game 1 comeback. It was tough to shake the impression that injury issues limited Hedman’s mobility, and the big Swede missing big games only strengthens that possibility.

Yet, as much as Hedman’s missed on the defensive side, his absence really hurts the Lightning’s ability to break Columbus’ system with crisp, clean passes (and also the ability to skate the puck up the ice, when that makes sense).

The Hedman loss stings, as you’d frankly expect when a team is missing a Norris-level defenseman. It also might push someone useful like Sergachev a little out of their (or Cooper’s) comfort zone.

On the bright side, Lukan points out that Kucherov isn’t just a great weapon for Tampa Bay in the offensive zone, but is also one of the Lightning’s best players when it comes to the transition game.

Heading into Game 4, the Lightning played into typical cliches by talking about taking things “one period at a time,” and there might be some wisdom within the well-worn words. More than anything else, the Lightning could really benefit from starting Tuesday’s contest with a lead, preferably an early one. If Columbus is chasing a score, the Blue Jackets might be a little bit more willing to “cheat” or get too aggressive, potentially opening up lanes and other opportunities for the Lightning to really get rolling.

Still, between the Blue Jackets’ commitment to clogging things up, officials generally putting away their whistles when it comes to obstruction, and Sergei Bobrovsky‘s bank-account-fattening brilliance, Columbus is unlikely to make this easy on the Lightning. Not having Hedman, Stralman, and possibly Killorn only makes the mountain taller.

The Lightning hope to avoid being swept by Columbus Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET on CNBC (Live stream)

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.

Bolts need Hedman to be better in Game 2

When Victor Hedman missed the final four games of the regular season, there was some doubt as to whether or not he’d be ready for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the end, he ended up being available on Wednesday but it was a rough introduction to the postseason for the defending Norris Trophy winner.

Sitting four games because of a concussion had a negative effect on him. It was obvious that he was going to have to shake some rust. In his return, he logged just over 25 minutes of ice time and he finished with a minus-1 rating, two shots on goal, two hits and two blocked shots.

The advanced stats don’t make this picture any prettier, either. Hedman played 18:55 at even-strength. He had a CF% of 41.94, which was the second-worst percentage for a Tampa defenseman in the game. He was exposed on David Savard‘s third-period tally, as the Blue Jackets defender put a great move on Hedman before scoring. You’d have to think that he wouldn’t have looked as bad if he was totally comfortable on the ice.

“I’m disappointed with myself, especially that second goal,” Hedman told The Athletic after Game 1. “I’ve got to make a better play. They got momentum out of it. I expect myself to be a lot better Friday.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

He was also on the ice for the Josh Anderson shorthanded goal that ended up tying the game, 3-3. Hedman defended the initial odd-man rush relatively well, but he was caught reaching on Anderson, who showed great patience on the play.

Hedman isn’t the only star on the roster that needs to be better. Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos will have to find a way to contribute offensively if the Lightning are going to get back in this series tonight. But the focus will likely be on the big Swedish defender.

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 Playoff Buzzer: Hero Heiskanen; Game 1 upsets (VIDEO)

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  • After falling behind 3-0, the Blue Jackets stunned the historically dominant Lightning in Game 1.
  • The Penguins forced Game 1 into overtime, but Josh Bailey and the Islanders wouldn’t be denied in front of raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum.
  • Patrik Laine might have improved his confidence with a nice goal, but the Blues stayed hot in take a 1-0 series lead against the Jets.
  • After Vegas dominated last year’s Game 1, the Sharks returned the favor this time around in a nasty game that had nasty implications for Joe Pavelski‘s face.
  • Miro Heiskanen scores as the Stars beat the Predators in Nashville.

Blue Jackets 4, Lightning 3 (Columbus leads series 1-0)

Tampa Bay seemed like they were in business as usual mode during a 3-0 first period, possibly making Sergei Bobrovsky degrade into dreaded “Playoff Bob.” Bobrovsky didn’t allow another goal, however, as Columbus absolutely stunned the Lightning with four unanswered goals. Shocking, indeed.

Islanders 4, Penguins 3 [OT] (New York leads series 1-0)

Some would call it an upset. Some Islanders fans might be upset about that since their team had home-ice advantage. No Islanders fans should be upset about this spirited win. Pittsburgh possessed the puck, especially as the game went along, but the precious win goes to the plucky Islanders.

Blues 2, Jets 1 (St. Louis leads series 1-0)

St. Louis finished the season on the rise, while Winnipeg was struggling mightily, yet the Jets soared off to an early lead. Jordan Binnington and the Blues ultimately won after scoring two third-period goals and keeping Winnipeg’s high-powered offense in check.

Stars 3, Predators 2 (Dallas leads series 1-0)

Coming into this game, it was worthy to note that both OK-to-paltry offenses included three defensemen in their top six scorers. They followed that script, as five of the six goals were scored by blueliners, with Miro Heiskanen leading the way with two of those tallies. Mats Zuccarello may not have played much for Dallas during the regular season, but he scored the game-winner. Also following the script was a Nashville power play that couldn’t get the job done. (UPDATE: The NHL has taken away Heiskanen’s second goal and awarded it to Alex Radulov.)

Sharks 5, Golden Knights 3 (San Jose leads series 1-0)

Speaking of scripts, San Jose flipped it, going from big Game 1 losers against Vegas last year to lopsided winners this year. The score got closer down the stretch, but the Sharks got the better of the Golden Knights during a testy, hard-hitting affair. This series could end up having everything – great scoring, dynamic defensemen, and brawning battles – as long as Vegas can keep it competitive.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Miro Heiskanen

Um, how is this guy just 19 years old? OK, he looks that way literally speaking, but he plays like a veteran.

After an impressive 12-goal, 33-point season as a rookie, Heiskanen scored two goals to help Dallas win Game 1 in Nashville. The Predators’ defense is one of the most-hyped in the NHL, and with good reason (including Wednesday, as P.K. Subban and Roman Josi provided the goals), but Heiskanen ranks as a big reason why the Stars aren’t as far behind on defense as many might realize.

2. Jordan Eberle

Plenty of Islanders were “under water” possession-wise against the Penguins in their Game 1 win, so Eberle’s game was already solid in that he was one of the few who won the shot share battle against Pittsburgh.

But if that’s too boring for you, Eberle scored the Islanders’ first goal of the game, and he also managed an assist while firing five shots on goal overall. That’s a far cry from the zero goals he managed during the Oilers’ playoff run that likely prompted his trade to the Islanders.

3. Brent Burns

There were some other strong performances on Wednesday, including Josh Anderson (an assist, plus a shorthanded goal) and Jordan Binnington (24 out of 25 saves), but Burns loomed large over Game 1, and not just because he was the person who deflected a puck off of Joe Pavelski’s face for the Sharks’ first goal (counting as an assist for Burns).

Burns scored a goal, and alongside Erik Karlsson, he reminded us prognosticators that the Sharks don’t just have an edge on defense over the Golden Knights in the form of two former Norris winners, they also have an edge over everyone else.

And you could consider this something of a collective Sharks award, if that helps. Erik Karlsson also had two assists, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Evander Kane got to two points by way of scoring a goal and an assist apiece.

Highlights of the Night

Josh Bailey’s OT winner came after he shot in a rebound following an exceptional effort from exceptional Islanders forward Mathew Barzal:

Might as well throw in Blue Jackets – Lightning, too. The David Savard goal is probably the most mind-blowing, particularly since he deked around Victor Hedman to make it happen.

Factoid of the Night

The Lightning didn’t lose a game where they had a three-goal lead all season, and they never blew a three-goal lead in a playoff game in franchise history until the Blue Jackets’ rally.

Thursday’s schedule
Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, Game 1, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (live stream)
Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals, Game 1, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA (live stream)
Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames, Game 1, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN (live stream)

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.

Blue Jackets shock Lightning with stunning Game 1 comeback

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After the first period of Game 1, it seemed like the Blue Jackets would be lucky just to protect their dignity. Instead, they’ll leave Amalie Arena with an absolutely shocking 1-0 series lead against the mighty, historically-great Tampa Bay Lightning after Columbus won 4-3.

Tampa Bay took a commanding 3-0 lead during the opening frame, and considering some posts hit and jittery moments for Sergei Bobrovsky, the margin could have been even larger. This contest provided the first goal and fight of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it seemed like Bobrovsky might be the first goalie replacement.

Instead, Bobrovsky helped the Blue Jackets pull off the first borderline-unthinkable upset of this young postseason.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Blue Jackets bounced back slightly during the second period, but they only managed to cut the Lightning’s lead to 3-1 going into the third. For a while, it seemed like the Lightning would cruise through this one.

Then things started to get strange. All due respect to a solid-enough defenseman in David Savard, but few would imagine him to pull off these moves and this goal, particularly in totally faking out Norris-winner Victor Hedman:

That goal gave the Blue Jackets some daylight for the first time in quite a while, but it seemed like a rally would be cut short by a stick that created a cut. Cedric Paquette was bloodied by Brandon Dubinsky‘s stick, prompting a four-minute minor. Perfect opportunity for easily the best power play in the NHL this season, right?

Uh, about that …

To start the metaphorical bleeding for the Bolts, Josh Anderson showed tremendous patience on a shorthanded breakaway, eventually waiting long enough for Steven Stamkos to slightly bump his own goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and scored a stunning 3-3 goal.

Alex Killorn then committed a high-sticking penalty himself, short-circuiting the remainder of the Lightning’s power play, and opening the door for an abbreviated Columbus power play. Despite not having a ton of time, Artemi Panarin found Seth Jones, who scored a tremendous power-play goal. It was then 4-3 for Columbus with less than six minutes remaining, and Tampa Bay failed to shake off the shock of this comeback.

The Blue Jackets fought for their playoff lives during this stretch, making people wonder if management made a huge mistake in going all-in at the trade deadline. It wasn’t always pretty, but Columbus hung in there, and now they lead an absolute Goliath of a team 1-0 in this Round 1 series.

Blue Jackets-Lightning Game 2 from Amalie Arena will be Friday night at 7 p.m. ET on CNBC

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.