Jets prepared for Western Conference showdown vs. Golden Knights

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Patrik Laine hasn’t forgotten how the Western Conference Final turned out. After the Winnipeg Jets topped the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1, 4-2, the NHL’s newest expansion team didn’t lose again in the series en route to a place in the Stanley Cup Final.

So when the Golden Knights visit the Jets Tuesday night at MTS Centre, some revenge will be on the minds of Laine and his teammates.

“Obviously, they kicked our ass in the playoffs,” Laine said Monday. “We want to win [Tuesday] and get the two points.”

The two points will be huge for either team as the Jets, who have played the fewest games (45) among the top three teams in the Central Division, look to extend their division lead, and the Golden Knights try to remain red-hot and chip away at the Calgary Flames’ lead in the Pacific Division.

Both teams have a pair of tests this week after the conference final rematch Tuesday. Vegas heads home to welcome a Pittsburgh Penguins team on Saturday that’s playing very well. Winnipeg hops on a plane to visit the Nashville Predators on Thursday.

“The games will bring their own intensity,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “Against the teams that aren’t right now in the playoff picture, our record is spectacular. So we haven’t taken anybody lightly. The challenges for us these next two games aren’t that. It would be playing well against good teams when you’re in the middle of a pretty good grinder missing some guys (Tyler Myers, Dustin Byfuglien, Nikolaj Ehlers). Not excuses.”

Tuesday’s matchup will also be the first time Paul Stastny sees his old pals since leaving in free agency during the summer. After an October injury kept him sidelined for two months, the 33-year-old forward has resumed compliling the points and has 13 in 18 games this season.

Stastny’s return has certainly helped Vegas in their second year to maintain the successful results they experienced in 2017-18. A slow start to the season has turned into a two-month run that’s seen them take 43 out of a possible 56 points over their last 28 games (20-5-3).

Maybe another rematch in mid-May is in the cards?

“Now they look as powerful, if not more, than they did at any point last year. They’re a year further into their program,” Maurice said. “They still have that real veteran team. They don’t have a lot of kids in that lineup. And they’re deep. They’ll go four lines all night long.”

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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.

Vegas Golden Knights keep hot streak going

When you’re winning, it’s easy to laugh off Ryan Reaves‘ empty-net attempt putting your team down a man late in a game.

The Vegas Golden Knights finished Sunday in that state, as they won their sixth consecutive game by holding off the New Jersey Devils 3-2. Max Pacioretty generating two game-winning goals in a row makes that even sweeter.

This is about more than a six-game surge for Vegas, too.

With a 7-0-2 record in their last nine contests, they’ve extended an impressive point streak. Their overall record improves to 26-15-4 for 56 points. About the closest thing to bad news is that, while they have the same number as points as the West and Pacific-leading Flames, Calgary’s really the leader considering their two games in hand.

That’s a pretty small concern when you remember that there were very real worries about the Golden Knights following last season’s Cinderella run by missing the playoffs in their second campaign.

The lowest point of the season may have come against those Flames, as Vegas slipped to 9-12-1 after a 7-2 drubbing on Nov. 19. Such struggles inspired PHT to ponder serious goaltending slumps and generally lousy luck.

Maybe that 7-2 loss lit a fire under the Golden Knights.

Vegas rattled off a five-game winning streak after that embarrassing defeat, including a 2-0 win against Calgary on Nov. 23. They’re now 17-3-3 in their last 23 games; their 37 points since Nov. 21 tie the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most in the NHL during that span (though the world-beating Bolts got to 37 points in two fewer games).

Can they keep it up?

On one hand, the Golden Knights have some reason to believe that they can keep things going.

They’ve been able to get some nice balanced scoring. Alex Tuch continues to look like an impressive scorer, showing promise with Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. Even with Jonathan Marchessault suffering from ice-cold shooting luck, it seems like his trio with Reilly Smith and William Karlsson remain legit. Nate Schmidt‘s return from a suspension sure seems like a big deal for Vegas.

Vegas is also often impressive from a possession standpoint, with its speed and aggressiveness putting opponents on their heels.

But there remain some red flags, as noted earlier this season.

The Golden Knights continue to put a lot of pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury. “MAF” has really impressed lately, yet having the 34-year-old (who’s had some history of injury issues) play 20 of the last 23 games smells like a recipe for disaster.

As of this writing, Fleury is the only goalie who’s logged 2,000 minutes in 2018-19, with John Gibson (25) and Jacob Markstrom (28) trailing close behind. Fleury’s 38 games played tops all goalies.

Malcolm Subban won Sunday’s game against the Devils, holding strong as New Jersey fought to try to tie that contest. Maybe that performance will help him gain Gerard Gallant’s trust?

If not, that gamble could really go wrong for Vegas.

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Overall, it’s heartening to see the Golden Knights make a profound argument that they’re not just some fluke, and they’re simply fun to watch. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs would be more fun with this speedy team and its silly pre-game antics.

The hotter Vegas stays, the better the odds are that they will stay in the playoffs.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: Vegas keeps their train back to the top rolling

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Three stars

1. Brandon Pirri, Vegas Golden Knights

It’s not often we get to pick three stars from one game. But that’s all there was to glean from on a very light night on the NHL schedule.

Pirri is a name you won’t likely see here on most nights, but you might if he keeps this pace up.

Pirri had another goal on Sunday night in a 5-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes, bringing his total to five in six games since he was called up from the American Hockey League. Pirri also had an assist and now has seven points in those six games.

Pirri played just two games last season in the NHL but had three goals in those games. He just might stick around this time.

2. Paul Stastny, Vegas Golden Knights

Stastny missed a lot of action because of injury earlier in the year, but his return has come as advertised when the Golden Knights signed him as a free agent in the offseason.

Stastny had a goal and an assist to bring his totals to five goals and nine points in 12 games so far.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

Sorry, Arizona. When you lose 5-1, you get shutout of the three stars.

Fleury, to his credit, deserves to be on here on after making 29 saves, including seven of eight on six Coyote power plays.

‘Flower’ is now 6-0-3 in his past nine decisions and is a big reason why Vegas is now tied for first place in the Pacific Divison on 50 points with the Calgary Flames.

Vegas is back.

Highlights of the night

Pirri’s goal:

Some slick passing here:

We’d be remiss not to go back to the World Junior Hockey Championships for one of these.

Every seen this before?

Factoids

Scores

Golden Knights 5, Coyotes 1


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

The Buzzer: Barzal’s hat trick, Crosby’s on a roll, Blackwood’s shutout

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Three Stars

1. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders. No John Tavares for the New York Islanders? No problem on Saturday night. Mathew Barzal was the big star in their 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs with a natural hat trick in the Islanders’ first game against their former captain.

2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pittsburgh Penguins power play was a perfect 4-for-4 on Saturday night in a 6-1 rout over the St. Louis Blues. At the center of that was Sidney Crosby who opened the scoring with a power play goal in the first minute on his way to another three-point game. It is his third consecutive multi-point game (a stretch that has seen him record eight points) and he now has 13 points in his past eight games, including three multi-point games.

3. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils. Goaltending has been a big issue for the New Jersey Devils this season, but 22-year-old rookie MacKenzie Blackwood has given them a nice lift in recent weeks with a .939 save percentage in his first four appearances. That number only went up on Saturday with a 37-save shutout, the first of his career, in a 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Other notable performances from Saturday

— The Vancouver Canucks young stud forwards continued to shine in their 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames as Brock Boeser scored his 14th goal of the season and Elias Pettersson scored his 19th.

— The Florida Panthers scored two goals in the final six minutes to pick up a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Jonathan Huberdeau set up the game-tying goal and scored the game-winning goal.

Patrick Kane scored two goals for the Chicago Blackhawks, including the game-winner in overtime, to lift his team to a win over the Colorado Avalanche.

— The Dallas Stars were big winners a day after their CEO ripped the their two best players.

— Big night for Washington Capitals defender Tyler Lewington as he scored his first NHL goal, recorded an assist, and got into a fight. Yes, he had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

Malcolm Subban stopped 30 shots to help lift the Vegas Golden Knights to another win over the Los Angeles Kings. William Karlsson scored his 14th goal of the season and Paul Stastny had two assists for a Golden Knights team that is making a serious push for the top spot in the Pacific Division.

— Without Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and David Backes the Boston Bruins were able to pick up a 3-2 overtime win in Buffalo. Marchand and McAvoy were injured while Backes was serving the first game of his three-game suspension.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid scored what may have been the most beautiful, yet pointless goal you will see this season. This came with less than 10 seconds to play in a game the Oilers would lose to the San Jose Sharks by a 7-4 margin. Look at him just tip the puck into the net, mid-air, as Martin Jones was going to catch it.

Mathew Barzal was obviously the big star of the night for the New York Islanders, but the goal of the night for the Islanders belonged to Valtteri Fippula for splitting through the Toronto Maple Leafs’ defense.

Alexander Edler helped the Vancouver Canucks top the Calgary Flames in overtime.

Factoids

The St. Louis Blues gave up six goals at home on Saturday night. This is something that has happened a lot lately.

Injuries are really taking their toll on the Nashville Predators right now.

Mika Zibanejad had a huge night for the New York Rangers in their win over the Nashville Predators.

Of course Nikita Kucherov had yet another multi-point game.

Nice rally for the Arizona Coyotes against the Anaheim Ducks.

Scores
New Jersey Devils 2, Carolina Hurricanes 0
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Los Angeles Kings 1
San Jose Sharks 7, Edmonton Oilers 4
Minnesota Wild 3, Winnipeg Jets 1
Boston Bruins 3, Buffalo Sabres 2 (OT)
New York Islanders 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 0
Washington Capitals 3, Ottawa Senators 2
Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Montreal Canadiens 5
Florida Panthers 2, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, St. Louis Blues 1
New York Rangers 4, Nashville Predators 3
Dallas Stars 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Chicago Blackhawks 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 5, Anaheim Ducks 4 (OT)
Vancouver Canucks 3, Calgary Flames 2 (OT)

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.

The Buzzer: Kucherov takes over scoring lead; Khudobin stops 49 shots

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. With his second consecutive four-point game in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s wild 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, Nikita Kucherov officially took over the lead in the NHL’s scoring race with 61 points so far on the season. He not only has at least four points in his past two games, but he is also on a run of four consecutive multi-point games. Over his past 20 games he has at least a point in 19 of them, at least two points in 13 of them, and at least three points in seven of them. He is on a roll.

2. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars. Anton Khudobin played one of the best games of his NHL career on Thursday night when he stopped all 49 shots he faced in a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators.

3. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames snapped a three-game losing streak on Thursday night with a big win over the top team in the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets. Leading the way, as he always does, was Johnny Gaudreau with a three-goal night. He continues to be on pace for career highs across the board offensively.

Other notable performances on Thursday

Phil Kessel scored two goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Paul Stastny had two points for the Golden Knights, including an assist on Brandon Pirri‘s game-winning goal, in their 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Ryan O'Reilly scored against his former team, the Buffalo Sabres, in the St. Louis Blues’ 4-1 win.

Highlights of the Night

It came in a losing effort but Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux scored one of the best goals of the year against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

John Gibson has been the best goalie in hockey this season, and this is one of the best saves you will see.

The Columbus Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to five games thanks to Pierre-Luc Dubois‘ overtime goal against the New York Rangers.

Factoids

Elias Petterson just keeps on rolling for the Vancouver Canucks.

Patrick Kane‘s hat trick for the Chicago Blackhawks took him to the 20-goal mark for the season.

Brent Burns played in his 1,000th NHL game on Thursday night.

 

Scores

New Jersey Devils 5, Boston Bruins 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, New York Rangers 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Detroit Red Wings 2

Washington Capitals 3, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Philadelphia Flyers 5 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 4, Buffalo Sabres 1

Dallas Stars 2, Nashville Predators 0

Calgary Flames 4, Winnipeg Jets 1

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Minnesota Wild 2

Vancouver Canucks 4, Edmonton Oilers 2

Vegas Golden Knights 2, Colorado Avalanche 1

Los Angeles Kings 2, Arizona Coyotes 1

San Jose Sharks 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

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.