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Foligno, Lehner, Thornton are 2019 Masterton Trophy finalists

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On Friday, the NHL and the Professional Hockey Writers Association announced the three finalists for the 2019 Masterton Trophy, which is awarded “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders, and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks have been voted the three finalists after the PHWA’s local chapters submitted nominations at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters getting the trip to Las Vegas in June..

The trophy was presented by the NHL Writers’ Association in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, a player with the Minnesota North Stars who exhibited to a high degree the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey and who died on Jan. 15, 1968.

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]

Nick Foligno’s story: Foligno helped Columbus earn a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third consecutive year by scoring 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 73 games, while simultaneously attending to health issues affecting two of his three young children. The Blue Jackets captain, 31, is skating in his seventh season with Columbus and ranks third on the club’s all-time goals (125) and assists (162) lists.

“I feel like we’ve become a stronger family and that’s how I’m always going to look at it. I think it’s made me a better person, a better player and a better leader, hopefully, for this team,” Foligno told the Columbus Dispatch. “I’m going to take it all in stride, but my family is my most important thing in my life and (the Blue Jackets are) my second family.”

Robin Lehner’s story: Lehner (25-13-5 record, 2.13 goals against average, .930 save percentage, six shutouts) and teammate Thomas Greiss won the 2018-19 William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders on the team allowing the fewest regular-season goals, helping the Islanders post their highest regular-season points total (103) since 1983-84. His best NHL season on the ice came on the heels of revealing addiction and mental health issues in a self-penned article for The Athletic during training camp.

“I am not sharing this story to make people think differently of Robin Lehner as a professional goalie,” Lehner wrote. “I want to help make a difference and help others the way I have been helped. I want people to know that there is hope in desperation, there is healing in facing an ugly past and there is no shame in involving others in your battle.”

Joe Thornton’s story: Thornton, 39, overcame major injuries from the prior two seasons, suffering a torn ACL and MCL in both his left knee (2017) and right knee (2018). His rehabilitation work, detailed in the San Jose Mercury News, served as an inspiration to his teammates and coaches. The leader among active NHL players in career assists and points (413 goals, 1,065 assists, 1,478 points in 1,566 games), Thornton concluded his 21st NHL campaign with 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 73 games, helping the Sharks qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons.

Thornton scored his 400th career goal on Nov. 13 and passed a pair of NHL legends on April 4, leapfrogging Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564) into 12th place on the all-time games list and Steve Yzerman (1,063) into eighth place on the all-time assists list.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

MORE 2019 NHL AWARD FINALISTS:
Selke Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy

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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.

Shocker: Blue Jackets blow out Lightning 5-1 to take 2-0 series lead

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The Columbus Blue Jackets needed to pull off a stunning comeback to capture Game 1. Going up 2-0 in the series against Tampa Bay was a far cleaner affair as the Blue Jackets cruised to a 5-1 victory Friday night.

After winning a record-tying 62 games in the regular season, Tampa Bay came into this game with something to prove, but the Lightning didn’t play like a team that just got a rude wake-up call. Instead, Columbus carried its momentum from Game 1.

Cam Atkinson managed to squeak one through Andrei Vasilevskiy just 5:05 minutes into the game. Rather than answer back, Ondrej Palat took a hooking call at 11:40 of the first that led to Zach Werenski almost immediately scoring on a rocket.

Trying to spark his team, Lightning forward Brayden Point fought with Werenski. It certainly wasn’t a likely matchup, but it didn’t end up being a turning point in the game.

Matt Duchene scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period to put the Blue Jackets up 3-0. Werenski got an assist on that marker to earn the Gordie Howe hat trick. Mikhail Sergachev gave Tampa Bay a sign of life 5:00 into the third when he made it 3-1 and soon after that, Nick Foligno took a tripping penalty to give the Lightning the man advantage.

Tampa Bay had the best power play in the league during the regular season, but the Blue Jackets managed an impressive kill to drain whatever momentum the Lightning had built. From there it was just adding insult to injury as Riley Nash and Artemi Panarin each scored to turn what was already looking like a decisive win into a blowout.

The Blue Jackets spent the final 4:26 minutes on the power play because of Nikita Kucherov‘s boarding major. We’ll have to see if the league feels that one warrants further discipline.

“This is a five-alarm fire. We are facing adversity. Sometimes that’s good to face adversity,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the game, per Pierre LeBrun.

What you’ll be hearing a lot about now is the fact that Columbus also started its Round 1 series against the Capitals with back-to-back wins in Washington last year. Of course, the Capitals won the next four games and went on to win the Stanley Cup. For Lightning fans, that’s a reason to remain hopeful. For the Blue Jackets, it’s a reminder that nothing has been decided yet.

Lightning-Blue Jackets Game 3 from Nationwide Arena will be Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets look to lock down postseason berth

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

This is it.

There’s only one playoff spot left and it looks like the Columbus Blue Jackets are going to bring it home. All they have to do is win tonight at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. Even if they fail to do so, a win in Ottawa tomorrow night will also get the job done.

The Blue Jackets got a lot of help from their division rival, the Washington Capitals, last night, after the Caps took down the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1.

So the Habs and Jackets are tied for the final Wild Card spot in the East, but Montreal has just one game left and Columbus leads them in ROW by three victories. It would basically take an epic collapse for them not to get into the playoffs this year.

They’ll be looking for a bounce-back performance after dropping a 6-2 decision to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night.

“This is playoff hockey,” captain Nick Foligno said after the loss to Boston, per NHL.com. “This is what wins it this time of the year. The team that does it better than the other is going to win. They didn’t do anything special defensewise. They just checked better, which led to offense. We’ve been doing it that way the past five games here, so I’m not going to dwell on this one.”

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen was clearly the most aggressive GM at the trade deadline. He added Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzlingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid to his roster, and although it didn’t seem to be working out for the team at first, they’ve a way to put it all together.

Whether or not those moves will help them win their first playoff round in franchise history is a different story. But for now, all they have to worry about is claiming that last playoff spot.

It’s probably a good idea for them to get the job done tonight, because a do-or-die game against the Ottawa Senators will bring a ton of pressure for a few reasons. Yes, the Sens are the worst team in the league, but that team will want to spoil the party for former teammates Duchene and Dzingel. Also, Anthony Duclair, who was 19 goals by the way, was called out by John Tortorella before he was shipped off to Ottawa. You think he wants to ruin the fun for Columbus? No doubt about it. There’s no reason to think the Blue Jackets can’t beat the Senators in a one-off, but why risk it? The Jackets need to take care of business tonight so that they can rest players in the second half of a back-to-back situation.

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Blue Jackets at Rangers, 7 p.m. ET
Stars at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
The Blue Jackets will clinch a playoff spot…

• If they defeat the New York Rangers in any fashion

The Stars will clinch the first wild card from the Western Conference and the Avalanche will clinch the second wild card from the Western Conference…
• If Dallas earns at least one point against the Chicago Blackhawks.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — Clinched
Capitals — Clinched
Islanders —  Clinched
Maple Leafs — Clinched
Penguins — Clinched
Hurricanes — Clinched
Blue Jackets — 88.1 percent
Canadiens — 11.9 percent
Flyers — Eliminated
Panthers — Eliminated
Sabres — Eliminated
Rangers — Eliminated
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Jets — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Predators — Clinched
Blues — Clinched
Golden Knights — Clinched
Stars — Clinched
Avalanche — Clinched
Coyotes — Eliminated
Wild — Eliminated
Blackhawks — Eliminated
Oilers — Eliminated
Canucks — Eliminated
Ducks — Eliminated
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Devils — 11.5 percent
Sabres — 9.5 percent
Red Wings — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Oilers — 6.5 percent
Ducks– 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Flyers — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Blackhawks — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 2 percent
Coyotes — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 126 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 116 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 107 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 104 points
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins — 100 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 51 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 49 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 47 goals
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning — 44 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 42 goals

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.

Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets’ Bobrovsky surging at the right time

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been bouncing between a wild card spot and an early start to their summer recently, but Thursday’s win over the Montreal Canadiens has put them back in the playoff picture with five games to play (and a game in-hand on the Habs, who are also at 90 points). Saturday’s date with the Nashville Predators is the start of a weekend back-to-back set that will see them then fly to Buffalo for a Sunday meeting with the Sabres.

After an up-and-down season, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been surging of late, helping the Blue Jackets to wins in seven of his last nine starts. “[U]nless something really crazy happens,” per head coach John Tortorella, he’ll get the nod tonight against Pekka Rinne.

How good has Bob been during the most important portion of the Blue Jackets’ season? Since March 5, Bobrovsky has posted a .953 even strength save percentage, which has only been bested by Ben Bishop and Philipp Grubauer among netminders with at least four appearances in that timeframe.

“I don’t want to analyze (too much),” Bobrovsky said this week after blanking the New York Islanders, setting a career high in shutouts (8) in the process. “I just want to let it go. I don’t want to stop and think. Just enjoy this time, enjoy this environment. And have fun with it.”

The Blue Jackets are in that nervy spot where they can still grab one of the Metropolitan Division’s final two seeds, take a wild card spot, or just completely miss the playoffs. Every game has huge ramifications attached and they also need to do a little scoreboard watching while taking care of their own business. Fortunately, Bobrovsky has been locked in and putting in a strong finish to season that’s personally been an up and down one.

“He’s just so confident in his game right now,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “We want that to continue. We’re doing our best in front of him and he’s obviously there to bail us out right now. It’s been a good marriage. We need that to continue down the stretch.”

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Flyers at Hurricanes, 1:30 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Jets, 7 p.m. ET
Blues at Devils, 7 p.m.  ET
Sabres at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Golden Knights at Sharks, 9 p.m. ET
Stars at Canucks, 10 p.m. ET
Blackhawks at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins

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

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
• The Maple Leafs will clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point at Ottawa OR if the Canadiens lose in any fashion.

• The Islanders will clinch a playoff berth if they win in any fashion vs. Buffalo; OR if they get one point against vs. Buffalo AND the Canadiens lose in any fashion; OR if the Canadiens lose in regulation.

• The Flames (idle) will clinch the Pacific Division title if the Sharks lose in regulation.

• The Flames (idle) will clinch the top seed in the Western Conference if the Jose Sharks lose in regulation AND the Jets lose in any fashion.

• The Stars will clinch a playoff berth if they win in any fashion at Vancouver.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — Clinched
Capitals — Clinched
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Islanders — 100 percent
Penguins — 99.7 percent
Hurricanes — 93.2 percent
Blue Jackets — 80.2 percent
Canadiens — 31 percent
Flyers — Out
Panthers — Eliminated
Sabres — Eliminated
Rangers — Eliminated
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Jets — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Predators — Clinched
Blues — Clinched
Golden Knights — Clinched
Stars — 99.6 percent
Avalanche — 80.8 percent
Coyotes — 12.8 percent
Wild — 5.5 percent
Blackhawks — 1.1 percent
Oilers — 0.2 percent
Canucks — Eliminated
Ducks — Eliminated
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Devils — 11.5 percent
Red Wings — 9.5 percent
Sabres — 8.5 percent
Ducks — 7.5 percent
Rangers — 6.5 percent
Canucks — 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Panthers — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Coyotes — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 121 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 114 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 104 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 101 points
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins — 97 points
Nathan MacKinnon — 95 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 49 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 47 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 45 goals
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals

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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.

Crawford, Grabner, Lehner among 2019 Masterton Trophy nominees

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The 31 nominees for the 2019 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy have been announced. The award, which is given to the players “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey,” will be handed out at the NHL awards show in June in Las Vegas.

The 31 nominees are selected by each Professional Hockey Writers Association chapter.

Anaheim Ducks: Patrick Eaves
Arizona Coyotes: Michael Grabner
Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara
Buffalo Sabres: Jason Pominville
Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano
Carolina Hurricanes: Curtis McElhinney
Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford
Colorado Avalanche: Carl Soderberg
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno
Dallas Stars: Taylor Fedun
Detroit Red Wings: Niklas Kronwall
Edmonton Oilers: Andrej Sekera
Florida Panthers: Derek MacKenzie
Los Angeles Kings: Jack Campbell
Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter
Montreal Canadiens: Andrew Shaw
Nashville Predators: Rocco Grimaldi
New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider
New York Islanders: Robin Lehner
New York Rangers: Brendan Smith
Ottawa Senators: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Philadelphia Flyers: Brian Elliott
Pittsburgh Penguins: Matt Cullen
St. Louis Blues: Jay Bouwmeester
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Callahan
Toronto Maple Leafs: Tyler Ennis
Vancouver Canucks: Jacob Markstrom
Vegas Golden Knights: Ryan Carpenter
Washington Capitals: Brooks Orpik
Winnipeg Jets: Dmitry Kulikov

Brian Boyle, then of the New Jersey Devils, won the award last season after his battle with chronic myeloid leukemia.

All very good choices, and it’ll be tough to narrow it down to three finalists. You have to believe Lehner will be one of the three considering his season and what he’s overcome. After that? Crawford, Grabner, Foligno, and Campbell could also find themselves heading to Las Vegas in late June.

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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.