Markus Nutivaara

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Hedman absence compounds Lightning problems

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets and without their leading scorer, will now have to contend with the absence of their best defenseman, too.

Victor Hedman, the NHL’s reigning Norris winner, did not take the pre-game warmup ahead of a pivotal Game 3 on Sunday night in Ohio.

The news leaves the Lightning without this year’s likely Hart winner, out due to suspension for a bone-headed hit on Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara, and Hedman, who leads the Lightning in ice-time through the first two games.

Tampa, who matched an NHL record with 62 wins in the regular season, need a win to turn this series around. Head coach Jon Cooper called his team’s situation a “five-alarm fire” after an ugly 5-1 loss in Game 2.

The Lightning have no points from Kucherov, Steven Stamkos or Brayden Point, all who scored at least 40 goals and had at least 90 points during the regular season.


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

Kucherov handed one-game ban for boarding, misses Game 3

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Already reeling from being down 2-0 in a series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have to deal with their “five-alarm fire” without their best man equipped to douse the flames.

Nikita Kucherov, the NHL’s leading point producer during the regular season, is banned from Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round series on Sunday.

Kucherov lost his cool late in a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jackets on Friday, slashing Blue Jackets’ Markus Nutivaara and then, when he was on his knees in a vulnerable spot, drilling him into the half boards.

Kucherov was given two for tripping, a five-minute major for boarding and assessed a game misconduct on the play.

The league moved swiftly on this one after announcing the hearing late Friday.

George Parros, head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, said while the hit isn’t excessively violent in nature, there are a number of other factors that play into it meriting supplemental discipline.

“Kucherov is control of this play at all times,” Parros said in the department’s suspension video. “This is not a play where Nutivaara falls to the ice suddenly or unexpectedly in a way that leaves Kucherov little time to react.”

Parros said the reason Nutivaara was on the ice in the first place was because of the trip Kucherov put on him prior to the hit, leaving the Blue Jackets defenseman in a defenseless position.

“Kucherov takes advantage of this situation to deliver a dangerous hit on a player in an exposed, defenseless position,” Parros said.

And above all this, Parros said that the department believes the incident falls under Article 18.2 of the NHL’s collective bargain agreement when it comes to “message send,” where an incident occurs late in the game, with a lopsided score and/or from prior events in the game.

“While we understand that frustration often occurs at the end of a game, dangerous or retaliatory plays delivered in the final minutes of a playoff game will be viewed in context and punished accordingly,” Parros said.

The Lightning are already in big trouble. They’ve been outplayed badly over the first two games and none of their big names — and there are a lot of them — are producing anything. They badly needed Kucherov to show up in Game 3 after having now points in the first two games.

It’s dire in Tampa, given the lack of point production.
• Nikita Kucherov – 0 points
Steven Stamkos – 0 points
Brayden Point – 0 points

Each of those guys had 40 or more goals this season and at least 90 points.

Three sides of the milk carton are already taken up, and you could easily fill up the fourth with others on the team. Hell, you might need multiple milk cartons just to address all those who are MIA.

With Victor Hedman’s status in question, the Lightning could be running with without last year’s Norris winner and this year’s likely Hart recipient.

Still, they are hopeful.


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’s Kucherov ejected for boarding; has hearing Saturday

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(UPDATE: Kucherov has been suspended for Game 3.)

After a dream regular season for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov the first two games of the playoffs have been a complete nightmare.

Not only is his team facing a 2-0 series deficit after blowing a three-goal lead in Game 1 and then getting completely dominated in Game 2, but the latter ended with him getting ejected and earning 17 total penalty minutes.

It could also lead to him missing Game 3 of the series as the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has already announced Kucherov will have a hearing on Saturday.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The entire sequence began with Kucherov slashing Columbus’ Markus Nutivaara. After Nutivaara fell to the ice and was in a defenseless position against the boards, Kucherov skated up to him and drilled him into the boards. That resulted in a two-minute minor for tripping, a five-minute major for boarding, and a game misconduct.

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

Given that the DoPS has already scheduled a hearing it seems likely that a suspension is on the horizon, and if Kucherov has to miss a game the Lightning are really going to be in a hole heading into Game 3 in Columbus on Sunday.

Related: Blue Jackets blowout Lightning to take 2-0 series lead

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.

Penguins’ Murray offers up two candidates for save of the year

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There’s nothing a goalie can do that is more spectacular than a desperation paddle save.

The odds of saving a shot with a few inches of composite material are very low, so when they happen, they’re something to marvel at.

It was Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray‘s paddle on Saturday night in a pivotal game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

And my, oh my, was it a save to behold in the first period.

Poor Boone Jenner. He did everything you’re supposed to do to score the goal.

And so did Markus Nutivaara. But he, too, was robbed by a filthy save in the second frame.

The game has been full of highlight-reel saves from Murray, who if not for him, the Penguins would be getting blown out.

Here’s another ridiculous save.


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

WATCH LIVE: Blue Jackets visit Penguins on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Thursday night’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This game is the start of a home-and-home that will wrap up the season series between Columbus and Pittsburgh. The Penguins have won both meetings so far, including their game last week in Columbus. Overall, the Pens have won seven in a row in the regular season vs. the Blue Jackets.

This home-and-home series figures to have massive implications on the playoff race. Entering this game, just two points separate third in the Metro from being outside of the playoffs entirely.

Columbus picked up a much-needed two points on Tuesday with their 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey. The Jackets had been 1-3-0 since the trade deadline, so the win was a tangible measure of progress to keep them right in the playoff mix. However, the reaction in the locker room afterwards was hardly celebratory. The Jackets played very poorly, mustering only 18 shots on goal (a season-low) against a Devils team that had nearly half of its regular lineup out due to injury.

Pittsburgh also went past regulation on Tuesday, defeating Florida 3-2 in OT, thanks to Jake Guentzel’s second goal of the game. He now has 33 goals this season. Sidney Crosby had three points to surpass the 1,200-point threshold.

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

What: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Thursday, March 7, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blue Jackets-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUE JACKETS
Artemi PanarinPierre-Luc DuboisJosh Anderson
Nick FolignoMatt DucheneCam Atkinson
Ryan DzingelAlex WennbergOliver Bjorkstrand
Brandon DubinskyBoone JennerRiley Nash

Zach WerenskiSeth Jones
Markus NutivaaraDavid Savard
Scott HarringtonAdam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Joonas Korpisalo

PENGUINS
Jared McCann – Sidney Crosby – Jake Guentzel
Zach Aston-ReeseEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Dominik SimonNick BjugstadPatric Hornqvist
Teddy BluegerMatt CullenGarrett Wilson

Brian Dumoulin – Zach Trotman
Jack JohnsonJustin Schultz
Marcus PetterssonErik Gudbranson

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

John Forslund (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Pittsburgh. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Mike Johnson.