Mark Giordano

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Burns, Giordano, Hedman are 2019 Norris Trophy finalists

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NHL awards season rolls on with Sunday’s announcement of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy, which is handed out annually to the defense player that demonstrates the greatest all-around ability at the position throughout the entire season.

The three finalists for the award this year are Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames, Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Hedman and Burns have won the award the past two seasons, while Giordano is a finalist for the first time in his career. He has finished in the top-10 of the voting three times. Before this season sixth was the highest he ever finished.

The Norris Trophy is named after former Detroit Red Wings owner James E. Norris and has been handed out annually since the 1952-53 season. Red Kelly was the first player to win it, while Bobby Orr won it an NHL record eight times during his career.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The case for Giordano: Probably the favorite to win the award for much of the season due to his dominance at both ends of the rink. The 35-year-old Giordano had a career year in Calgary that saw him play a shutdown defensive game on the top pairing for the best regular season team in the Western Conference, while also finishing with a career-best 74 points in 78 games. Among defenders that logged at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time, Giordano finished in the top-five in shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and goal differential (all via Natural Stat Trick). He is trying to become the first Flames defender to ever win the award.

The case for Burns: Simply the best and most productive blueliner in the NHL this season offensively. Burns appeared in all 82 games for the fifth year in a row, logged more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game and finished with 83 total points. He not only finished as the top-scoring blue-liner in the NHL this season, he was the only defender to average more than a point-per-game and just the fourth to do so since 1995-96 (minimum 70 games played), joining a list that includes only Erik Karlsson, Mike Green, and Nicklas Lidstrom. He won the award during the 2015-16 season and is trying to become just the 14th player to win it multiple times.

The case for Hedman: The reigning Norris Trophy winner, Hedman was limited to just 70 games this season due to injury but still finds himself in the top-three of the voting due to his consistently brilliant play. When he was on the ice, he was once again the driving force for one of the league’s best teams, helping the Lightning tie the NHL record for most regular season wins. Hedman played more than 22 minutes per night and scored 12 goals, making it the sixth year in a row he scored at least 10 goals in a season. He is trying to become the first defender since Nicklas Lidstrom to win the Norris Trophy in back-to-back seasons. This is his third consecutive year as a finalist for the award.

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.

The Wraparound: Goaltending hasn’t been an issue for Flames

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Even though the Calgary Flames finished right at the top of the Western Conference standings, many hockey fans doubted whether or not they were a serious Stanley Cup contender. The reason for the doubt was pretty obvious, too. No one seemed to believe in either of their goaltenders.

Mike Smith and David Rittich both had difficult stretches at various times throughout the season. In the end, the Flames decided to roll with Smith in the postseason. The 37-year-old finished the campaign with 23-16-2 record, a 2.72 goals-against-average and a .898 save percentage in 42 games.

The belief heading into the series was that if Calgary’s best players could score enough, they could compensate for the shaky goaltending. After all, the Flames had five players surpass the 70-point mark during the regular season. Johnny Gaudreau (99), Sean Monahan (82), Elias Lindholm (78), Matthew Tkachuk (77) and Mark Giordano (74) so offensive production wasn’t a worry.

But after four games against the Colorado Avalanche, the Flames now find themselves on the brink of elimination, and it’s not for the reason we all thought. They have to find a way to stay alive in Game 5 (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, live stream)

Smith hasn’t been the issue at all. He’s actually been really good between the pipes throughout the entire series and if anything, he’s kept them in games. It’s their high-end offensive guys that have let them down. Gaudreau has one assist through four games and Monahan has a goal and a helper. That’s it.

Over the last two games, Smith has stopped 99 of 108 shots the Avalanche have fired his way. The fact that he’s faced that much rubber over the last two games is insane. Yes, that’s a lot of goals to give up over two games, but the team in front of him checked out in Game 3 and they blew a 2-0 lead in Game 4.

“It’s nothing personal,” Smith said after Game 4, per the team website. “It’s about the team winning. I’m just one little cog.

“It’s nice to have personal success, obviously, but when you don’t get the results it doesn’t matter. You need to do more.”

The Flames are in must-win mode. We’ve already seen one no. 1 seed go down, so it wouldn’t be too shocking to see the top team in the West go down, too.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 5: Maple Leafs at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET (series tied 2-2): It’s been a fierce battle between the top line of both teams. John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron have gone head-to-head a lot. In Game 3, the Leafs trio got the better of that matchup, but in Game 4 the Bruins’ top players took their game to another level. Who comes out on top tonight? (NBCSN, Live stream)

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

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.

Flames can’t keep putting Avs on power play

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To the naked eye, the Colorado Avalanche power play hasn’t been too special through three games against the Calgary Flames. After all, they’re only clicking at 12.5 percent. But keeping that power play off the ice might be the difference between the Flames advancing to the second round or going home early.

Anyone who follows hockey has to agree that the Flames are a deeper squad from top-to-bottom than the Avs. There’s no denying that. Calgary had five different players surpass the 70-point mark in 2018-19 including a defenseman, Mark Giordano. The Avalanche have the high-end talent to match, but their depth players simply aren’t as good.

By giving the Avs power play opportunities, the Flames are essentially preventing their best players from attacking, while giving Avs stars like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen easy offensive ice time. That’s why Flames head coach Bill Peters has to figure out a way to make sure his team is disciplined and focused throughout Game 4 and beyond.

Let’s look back at Game 3. In all, they took 11 penalties (some were Game Misconducts that were tacked on when the game was out of reach). Calgary fell behind the eight-ball when they gave up a full two-minute five-on-three power play. Oscar Fantenberg took a hooking penalty on MacKinnon while Matthew Tkachuk took a too many men on the ice penalty at the same time.

After Mike Smith made a few good stops, MacKinnon eventually found the back of the net to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. Garnet Hathaway then went to the box for holding Nikita Zadorov, and the Avs forward scored his second power-play tally of the night. That was it. The Flames were done at that point.

“That’s obviously not even close to where we can be,” said Giordano, per the Calgary Sun. “We have to regroup here and stick together as a team but we know our compete level, No. 1, has to go way up. We have to be smarter with our decisions with the puck, our pinches, everything …

“Across the board, there wasn’t much good, honestly, throughout the night. We made that team look and feel good all night.”

Stopping MacKinnon at even-strength is already difficult enough. Giving him added time and space in the offensive zone is a mistake and they can’t keep doing it. The top team in the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning, have already been bounced from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the best team in the West wants to avoid a similar fate, they’ll have to get back to playing to their strengths.

“Everyone has to give a little bit more. Everybody. Me included,” Smith said after Game 3. “We all have to give a little bit more. It’s hard to win this time of year, it’s hard. Everyone needs to play a little bit outside their comfort zone to do what it takes to win.”

Putting the odds in your favor by staying out of the box would definitely help.

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.

Avalanche absolutely crush Flames in Game 3

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Are we sure that the top teams and bottom seeds of each conferences didn’t switch bodies before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

The Colorado Avalanche now have a 2-1 series lead against the Calgary Flames, which isn’t as extreme as the Blue Jackets’ 3-0 edge on the shocked Lightning. Still, if you only watched the Avs and Flames in Colorado’s lopsided 6-2 win, you’d be convinced that the Avalanche are the dominant force.

While Flames goalie Mike Smith saw some of his playoff magic wear off hear, it’s not as if this was an even contest where Smith simply let his team down, which is how people imagined many Calgary losses would play out entering the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Instead, the Avalanche just bombarded the Flames, basically all night long.

Nathan MacKinnon carried over the adrenaline rush from scoring Game 2’s thrilling overtime-winner, scoring two goals and one assist, all in the first period in helping Colorado build an early 3-0 lead. His assist came on a memorable first-ever playoff goal for Cale Makar, who made a sensational debut.

The Avs rarely relented. Again, it’s fair to ask if the Flames should turn from Smith to David Rittich for Game 4, but they’d be kidding themselves if they thought that a goalie swap would heal all of the things that ail them. After all, it’s not Smith’s fault that Colorado generated a gaudy 56-29 shots on goal advantage, including a 16-9 third period where you’d expect Calgary to make better gains during “garbage time.”

The Avalanche kept the Flames on their heels with speed and skill, but also all-out effort. Gabriel Landeskog is just one of the Colorado players who helped Philipp Grubauer keep more pucks out of the net.

While MacKinnon and the Avs’ other biggest stars delivered in a thunderous way, the Flames’ biggest names are landing with a thud.

Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Mark Giordano all went pointless during Game 3. Gaudreau’s been limited to just an assist through his first three games during this Round 1 series.

The Flames boast the sort of depth that Gaudreau’s line doesn’t have to dominate, particularly when Tkachuk is clicking when “The 3M Line” is together. Yet, so far, the Avalanche’s top players are absolutely dominating this series, and Colorado’s depth players are getting it done. It’s one thing for Mikko Rantanen to get two points; it’s another when Ian Cole and Matt Nieto also enjoy two-point nights.

With Colorado boasting home-ice advantage in an unusual high-altitude environment, the Flames must push through the burning in their lungs to get back into this one. In approaching Game 4, they have a lot of questions to answer, and probably need to take a long, sobering look in the mirror.

Avalanche – Flames Game 4 takes place at the Pepsi Center at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday (NBCSN; livestream)

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.

Rejuvenated Avs add Makar for Game 3 vs. Flames

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Things looked bleak for the Colorado Avalanche late Saturday night. Down a game to the Calgary Flames in the series and a goal in Game 2 with time running out, their fortunes turned quickly — and in many ways.

J.T. Compher tied the game with 2:39 left in regulation, Nathan MacKinnon won it in overtime and then Colorado got more great news: Its top prospect is signed and ready to play perhaps as soon as Game 3 on Monday night.

While it has been a busy weekend for the Avalanche, their new defenseman has had a whirlwind 36 hours. Cale Makar won the Hobey Baker Award as the best college hockey player, played in the NCAA title game with the University of Massachusetts — a 3-0 loss to the University of Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday evening — and signed a three-year entry level contract with Colorado.

The Avalanche, coming off the 3-2 win in Calgary on Saturday night, announced the signing Sunday morning and said the 20-year-old will join the team immediately.

“Cale obviously had a tremendous season, winning the Hobey Baker and getting his team to the Frozen Four,” Colorado general manager Joe Sakic said in a release. “He is a game-changing type of player who made a lasting impact on the UMass hockey program. We are excited to have him join our team.”

Head coach Jared Bednar would not say for sure that Makar would play in Game 3, calling it a “possibility.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I just want to make sure he’s in, rested, prepared, focused on what we’re doing here,” Bednar said.

Adding another layer to the narrative is that Makar is from Calgary, meaning his first NHL game would be against his hometown team.

The Avalanche think Makar is a generational talent, and he’ll get a chance to show it against the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Flames finished the regular season with 107 points, 17 more than Colorado, but are in a dogfight after missing an opportunity to take a 2-0 series lead on Saturday night.

“We have to be better,” Calgary defenseman and captain Mark Giordano said after the game. “We have to be a lot harder to play against, and we know that. We had moments tonight, but we have to put a full 60 (minutes) together.”

The Avalanche beat Flames goaltender Mike Smith just once in the first 117 minutes of the series before Compher tied it. In overtime, after a great save by Philipp Grubauer on one end, MacKinnon’s wrister beat Smith high to send Colorado home even and confident.

“We feel good. We feel going back to Pepsi Center that we can hopefully win two games,” MacKinnon said after the game. “Saying that, we have to take care of Game 3, but we feel good as a group.”

Colorado should expect a Calgary team ready to atone for blowing a third-period lead. The Flames felt they didn’t bring enough urgency to Game 2 and promise to show it Monday night.

“They seemed hungrier than us. Seemed like they wanted it more than us, and we’re definitely going to learn from that,” Calgary forward Sam Bennett said after Saturday’s loss. “We can’t sit back. Into Game 3, we’ve got to play with that urgency that they played with and I think we definitely learned a lesson tonight.”