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Which team is most likely to come back from 2-1 deficit?

We’re midway through the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and although the Vegas Golden Knights have already punched their ticket to the second round, there are still other spots that are up for grabs.

The Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild are on the brink of elimination. That’s not to say that they can’t overcome their current deficits, but they have a steep hill to climb. So let’s look at the teams that are down 2-1 in their respective series.

The Devils, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Capitals and Avalanche are all in that predicament. Every one of those teams, except Philadelphia, came away with a huge Game 3 victory, so there’s a sense of optimism surrounding those clubs. They aren’t in an ideal spot, but they aren’t dead either.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Who has the best chance of coming back to win the series? Let’s rank them from least likely to most likely.

• New Jersey Devils

Taylor Hall was sensational in New Jersey’s Game 3 victory, as he recorded a goal and two primary assists. Hall has played at least 20 minutes in each of the first three games of the series. He’s a matchup problem for any of Tampa’s skaters, but getting Brayden Point on the ice against him is clearly the preference for head coach Jon Cooper. But will Devils bench boss John Hynes be able to get the desired matchups when the series shifts back to Tampa? Hall will produce no matter what, but there’s no denying that winning on the road and winning at home are two different things, especially for a team with quite a few youngsters.

The wild card in all of this is Cory Schneider, who picked up his first win of 2018 in Game 3. Schneider looked as confident as he’s looked in quite some time, so stealing a game or two would go a long way in helping New Jersey come back. Again, that might be a lot to ask from a guy that lost his starting job to Keith Kinkaid for a few weeks.

“Still a lot of work to go. One win is a starting points, so we have to make sure we come back with the same intensity (Wednesday) night,” Schneider said, per NJ.com. “But yeah, 2-1 and 3-0 are a big difference. It was an important game for us to win just to get into the series and make it a series. Hopefully we can continue to make it more difficult as it goes on here.”

It’ll also be interesting to see how the bad blood at the end of Game 3 affects this series. Can the Devils use Mikhail Sergachev‘s hit on Blake Coleman as motivation? Does the rough stuff help Tampa Bay focus on getting back to business? There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered heading into Game 4.

• Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have been overwhelmed by the Penguins in two of the first three games, but here they are trailing to just one game heading into Game 4. Discipline has been a big problem for them through three contests. Even in the game that they won, they still took silly penalties, but managed to kill them off. If that doesn’t change, this series will be over faster than you can say “Philly cheese steak with no onions and extra cheese whiz”.

As if the 2-1 deficit to the Penguins wasn’t enough, it now looks like they might be without Sean Couturier, who was injured during a collision in practice with Radko Gudas. Missing him for any amount of time would be a huge loss for the Flyers.

Whether Couturier plays or not, Philadelphia will need more from Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek.

“There’s a lot of guys in here that can pick up slack, guys that are itching to get more time too,” Flyers goalie Brian Elliott said, per NHL.com. “If he’s not available, if he is available, I think our guys are ready for that.”

The Flyers proved that they could beat the Penguins, now they just have to show that they can do it three more times.

• Colorado Avalanche

The Avs have surprisingly dominated the opening period of each of these first three games. Unfortunately for them, they only have one win to show for it, but they can pull positives from the fact that they weren’t skated out of the building on the road against the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Nathan MacKinnon and Hall are in similar situations, meaning that they’ll have to shoulder most of the offensive burden, but the Avs forward definitely has more help up front. Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog can also be difference-makers for Colorado.

You have to wonder how injuries have affected this series. How much do things change if Colorado has a healthy Erik Johnson, Samuel Girard and Semyon Varlamov. Missing Varlamov seems to be the biggest loss, as Jonathan Bernier has had his share of tough moments in the series. Is he capable of stealing a game in Nashville? That’s what it’s going to take for Colorado to move on to the second round.

Nothing is impossible, but it seems like the Avs are a year away from taking the next step. Overcoming this 2-1 deficit would be a huge surprise.

• Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are an interesting case. They played a relatively strong home game in Game 3, as they managed to keep the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak off the scoresheet. The thing is, they haven’t looked too good on Boston ice, where the desired matchups are a lot harder to come by. Deadline acquisition Tomas Plekanec along with Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey did what they had to do to keep that line in check in Game 3. Can they do it again? Even at home, that’s not a sure thing.

Boston’s first line had their share of opportunities, especially when the Bruins were pressing in the third period. You just get the feeling like the Leafs will have to do an impeccable job defensively and they’ll have to pray that the opposing trio doesn’t bury one, or two, or three.

Goalie Frederik Andersen is also an interesting case. He’s let in some bad goals during this series, including in Game 3, but he’s also managed to come up with some impressive saves at times. The Leafs are going to need a little more consistency from their number one netminder, or this thing could get away from them in a hurry.

And, of course, Toronto has to hope that Auston Matthews‘ game-winning goal in Game 3 will help give him the spark he needs to continue producing regularly. Monday’s goal was his first point of the playoffs.

“People find it hard to believe, but it’s easy to lose your confidence very quickly at playoff time,” head coach Mike Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “I think we’re in a great spot to get it back, and I really felt it helped Freddie (Monday) night, it helped Auston (Monday) night. A lot of guys are feeling better about themselves.”

•Washington Capitals

This is arguably the most interesting one of the lot. Sure, they’re the most likely team to come back from a 2-1 deficit, but they could easily be down 3-0 if Lars Eller doesn’t get that lucky bounce in double overtime on Tuesday night.

The Capitals have all the firepower they need to make a deep run, they just haven’t ever been able to do it. As the Caps have found out, the Blue Jackets are no joke, so they’ll have to be at their best to advance to the second round. Bowing out in the first round would probably bring about more changes in Washington, so they’ve got to come through if they want to stick together going forward.

Braden Holtby made some big saves during Game 3, but he also let in an incredibly weak goal to Pierre-Luc Dubois to tie the game at one in the second period. Holtby has been off for most of the year, but if there was ever a time for him to emerge as a hero, it’s right now.

“It puts us right back in the series,” Holtby said, per NHL.com. “I thought we held our composure really well in the overtimes. We didn’t cheat. We stuck to our systems and got a gritty goal to win it. It’s a good sign.”

Of the five teams trailing 2-1, there’s no denying that the Capitals are the most talented team. On the flip side, they also have the most playoff baggage of all the teams, too. It’ll be interesting to see if they can overcome these mental hurdles, but that lucky bounce in OT may have saved their season.

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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.

Leafs blank Bruins’ top line, cut series deficit to 2-1

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Well, we’ve got ourselves a series.

The Toronto Maple Leafs managed to get themselves on the board in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-2 victory over the Boston Bruins.

The biggest question coming into the game was how the Leafs were going to shut down the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Now that they were at home, they managed to get the matchup they wanted against that dynamic trio. Head coach Mike Babcock tried to get Tomas Plekanec‘s line out against them with Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey on defense.

Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak got their scoring chances and shot attempts, but they didn’t get on the board in Game 3. The line combined to go minus-7 on the evening. Still, all three players finished the game with a CF% of 50 percent or more.

Meanwhile, Plekanec’s CF% was below 40 percent. That’s not great, but you have to expect that Boston’s top line will get their looks. If you’re matching up against them, you just have to pray that they don’t convert, and that’s exactly what happened in Game 3.

James van Riemsdyk opened the scoring in the first period, after the Leafs got a controversial power play opportunity when Riley Nash was given a penalty for putting the puck over the glass (it deflected before going out of play, but the officials missed it).

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Adam McQuaid tied the game at one early in the second frame when he beat Frederik Andersen with a shot from the point. Andersen made a number of key saves in this game, but there’s no doubt that he’s going to want to have this one back.

Even though he gave up at least one questionable goal in this one, the Maple Leafs netminder did what he had to do to keep his team ahead down the stretch. When it was all said and done, he turned aside 40 of 42 shots in Game 3, including this spectacular one on David Pastrnak late in the game.

Patrick Marleau restored Toronto’s one-goal lead just 55 seconds later. Again though, Zdeno Chara scored this goal from a ridiculous angle:

But before the end of the frame, Auston Matthews found the back of the net for the first time in the series, and he was pretty fired up about it.

His goal proved to be the game-winner.

Marleau’s second tally of the game extended Toronto’s lead to 4-2 in the third.

These two teams will get an extra day between this game and the next season, as the Leafs will host Game 4 on Thursday night.

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.

NHL GM Meetings Wrap Up: Goalie interference review recommendation; salary cap expected to rise

The NHL’s general manager’s wrapped up three days of meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. and came away with a recommendation for the league’s Board of Governors and the NHL/NHLPA Competition Committee.

As we wrote yesterday, the GMs want all decisions on coach’s challenges for goaltender interference centralized and the final say to come from the Situation Room in Toronto where a retired referee part of the NHL Officiating Management Team will be included in the process.

“At their annual March meeting, that concluded today, the general managers overwhelmingly voted to adopt this change to bring an added level of consistency to goaltender interference rulings and add the input of experienced former on-ice officials to the review process,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “While, since the adoption of the coach’s challenge, there have been relatively few controversial calls on goaltender interference – perhaps half a dozen of approximately 170 challenges this season – the objective is to be as close to perfect as possible. However, goaltender interference ultimately is a judgment call.

“The video review process was designed to enable our referees to determine, upon viewing video replays, whether to overturn their original calls. In the vast majority of cases, their final decision has concurred with the Situation Room’s view.

“The recommended change is intended to help resolve the rare cases in which the Situation Room and the referees might have different opinions of a particular play and is intended to produce more predictability for our players and coaches.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The core of the issue here is still the interpretation of what goaltender interference is. Sure, there’s a standard in place in the rulebook, but clearly that’s become a subjective issue depending on who’s officiating that night’s game. According to Bettman, that retired referee in the Situation Room won’t be the same one every night, meaning different eyes will see different things.

The definition of the call is still what many are seeking. How many NHL head coaches have publicly said they don’t know how goaltender interference is defined these days? Phil Housley, Mike Sullivan and Mike Babcock, for starters.

Should the BOG and the Competition Committee approve the recommendation, it will be enacted by the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month.

According to the NHL, through Tuesday night’s games there have been 172 coach’s challenges for goalie interference (152 have been initiated by head coaches) with 120 calls being upheld and 52 overturned.

UPDATE: The NHLPA reviewed the recommended changes with the Competition Committee and has given its approval.

Per a release from the NHLPA on Wednesday:

The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has reviewed the NHL General Managers Recommended Change to Rule 78.7 (ii) Governing Coach’s Challenges for Goaltender Interference with our Competition Committee Members – Michael Cammalleri (Edmonton Oilers), Ron Hainsey (Toronto Maple Leafs), Kevin Shattenkirk (New York Rangers), Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils), and Daniel Winnik (Minnesota Wild) – along with many other Players in our Membership.  Based on those discussions, the NHLPA has decided to approve the proposed change.  The rule change will now require further approval by the NHL’s Board of Governors.

“First and foremost, the players want consistency in the application of the rule, and therefore support this proposed change in order to help accomplish that goal,” NHLPA Special Assistant to the Executive Director Mathieu Schneider said in a release late Wednesday.

Offside review change fails to garner support

For the second straight year, the GMs failed to support any decision to revise offside reviews. According to Colin Campbell, head of the NHL’s hockey operations department, there were only 10 GMs were supported a change, with a two-thirds vote needed to move it to the governors and competition committee.

Head hits down, boarding up

George Parros, head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, told the GMs that hits to the head have declined but hits from behind are increasing.

“Particularly with boarding, we do see a lot of younger players these days that turn their backs to the play at the last second, whether they’ve grown up that way not expecting to get hit, whatever it may be,” Parros said. “Those are the tough ones to determine where the fault lies. If a player can essentially get out of the way before making contact before he’s done seeing the numbers, we take that into consideration.”

Seattle gets same rules as Vegas

As has been said for months by the league, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly reiterated that should Seattle be granted an NHL franchise they will have the same expansion draft rules as the Vegas Golden Knights did a year ago. For $650 millon, you certainly would hope so.

Salary cap still expected to rise

The projections of next season’s salary cap ceiling remain on point with the range to land between $78 and $82 million. The current salary cap ceiling is $75 million, with an expected increase of at least $3 million for the 2018-19 NHL season. If the Players’ Associations uses its inflator, the ceiling could increase to $82 million.

Miscellaneous

What do you think about the idea of a period beginning with face-off in the offensive zone should a penalty carry over? The GMs apparently had no appetite for such a change. Nor did they see any need to do something about fights that begin after legal hits.

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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.

Here is the latest goalie interference call that has everyone angry (Video)

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In what seems to be almost a nightly occurrence, there was another goaltender interference call on Saturday night that left almost everyone that watched it completely confused.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0 in the second period, defenseman Brian Dumoulin appeared to get the Penguins on the board after making a power move to the front of the net and beating Frederik Andersen for what appeared to be a rather pretty goal.

The only problem for Dumoulin and the Penguins is that not only was the goal immediately disallowed on a goalie interference call, Dumoulin was actually given a two-minute minor penalty for goalie interference.

You can see the play in the video above.

Dumoulin does make contact with Andersen as he drives to the net, but a lot of it seems to be the result of him being pushed from behind by Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey.

Because there was a penalty called on the play the Penguins were not able to challenge the play.

Toronto went on to immediately score on the ensuing power play to take what could have been a 3-1 game and turn it into a 4-0 game. That two-goal swing would prove to be a big deal later in the game when the Penguins scored a pair of late third period goals to cut the deficit to 4-2 before giving up an empty net goal.

Based on the reactions there was plenty of disagreement with the call.

After the game Penguins coach Mike Sullivan echoed what a lot of other people around the NHL have said throughout this entire goalie interference ordeal by making the nobody knows what it is argument.

“It’s obviously a huge issue in the league,” said Sullivan. “It’s been discussed all year long. It seems every week there is something that this issue gets raised. It’s a challenge that the league has to try to iron out. I know it is being discussed, and everybody is going to try to do their best to clarify the language, clarify the criteria, whatever it may be because right now I don’t think anyone really knows what is goalie interference and what isn’t.”

Earlier this week the Toronto Maple Leafs were on the other end of a controversial goaltending interference ruling that resulted in coach Mike Babcock sounding off on the rule and demanding that the issue get fixed before the playoffs.

That came after Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot went on a profanity laced tirade over the situation following a loss one month ago.

Saturday’s incident came on the same day that Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that Colin Campbell, the man in charge of the NHL’s hockey operations department, is going to deliver the message to teams that the type of criticism the rule is facing is not okay.

As long as there seems to be this much confusion it does not seem that the criticism is going to go away.

Especially if it starts to impact playoff games.

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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.

Ryan O’Reilly gets an accidental assist from the ref (video)

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Through two periods in Buffalo on Monday night the Sabres have doubled up the Toronto Maple Leafs on the scoreboard.

Just two minutes after Zemgus Girgensons scored to reclaim the lead for the Sabres, Ryan O'Reilly scored his 19th of the season.

Technically it goes in the books as an unassisted goal but that is only because the referee can not get credit for the helper.

Take a look at the flukey play in the video above.

It all started behind the Toronto net when defenseman Ron Hainsey tried to send the puck around the boards only to have it hit the referee, bounce into the slot, and find a wide open O’Reilly for him to rip a shot past Frederik Andersen for the goal.

Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.

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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.