PHT Morning Skate: How Reaves became a playoff hero; Which non-playoff teams can make 2019 postseason?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The fact that the Vegas Golden Knights are in the Stanley Cup Final is good for all hockey fans and it’s a great story. (Vice Sports)

• No American team has sold for merchandise than the Golden Knights. Stores couldn’t keep the Western Conference Champion hats and t-shirts on the shelves. (Vegas Review-Journal)

• Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was furious that Caps forward Tom Wilson refused to fight Jamie Oleksiak after Wilson broke Zach Aston-Reese‘s jaw with a hit. “When Jamie challenged Wilson, he couldn’t run quick enough to get away from him.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Ryan Reaves has had to adjust his game to stick around in the NHL. Things haven’t always worked out for him, but he eventually became a hero for the Golden Knights in the third round. (ESPN)

• If the Golden Knights were to win the Stanley Cup, Vegas casinos would lose a ton of money. (MLive.com)

• Hockey Graphs looks at whether or not the NHL has become more competitive by analyzing advanced statistics between 2007-08 and 2017-18. (Hockey Graphs)

• The St. Louis Blues’ home rink will have a new name going into next season. For the next 15 years, the arena will be named “Enterprise Center”. (NHL.com/Blues)

• Down Goes Brown looks at which non-playoff teams could make it to the postseason next year and which ones could even get to the conference final. (Sportsnet)

• Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis has one year remaining on his current deal. What will his next contract look like? Based on some comparables, expect him to earn at least $5.5 million. (On the Forecheck)

• A young boy who suffered serious injuries in a school bus crash received an incredible gift from the New York Rangers that included a stick signed by Henrik Lundqvist. (NBC New York)

• The IIHF has voted to allow both the men’s and women’s Chinese hockey teams to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (China.org)

• Have you ever dreamed of being an NHL scout? Well, take a look at what scouts look for when assessing potential talent. (The Hockey News)

• Anaheim’s farm team, the San Diego Gulls, have signed head coach Dallas Eakins to a multi-year contract extension. (San Diego Gulls)

• Despite struggling at the end of the season, Devan Dubnyk had another solid year for the Minnesota Wild in 2017-18. (Hockey Wilderness)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Capitals and Lightning.

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.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson handed stiff three-game suspension

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He may have gotten away with it during Tuesday’s game, but Tom Wilson didn’t escape the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Wednesday.

The Washington Capitals forward was handed a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese.

Wilson wasn’t penalized on the play. Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw and a concussion stemming from the collision in the second period.

Wilson will be eligible to return to the Capitals lineup for Game 7 of the series, if it makes it there. The Capitals currently lead the Penguins 2-1 after a 4-3 win on Tuesday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

DOPS head George Parros said Wilson elevated his left shoulder into the hit, causing Aston-Reese’s head to become the main point of contact.

Parros determined that the hit was avoidable and that Aston-Reese made no sudden move to result in the headshot. He also noted that Wilson could have made a full-body hit, but instead changes course, extends up onto the toes of his skate.

“The onus is on the player to ensure this upward motion does not pick the head in a way that makes it the main point of contact,” Parros said.

Wilson falls into the repeat offender category as stipulated in the CBA.

Wilson escaped unscathed in Game 2 after catching defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the head.

Wilson is the second player to be suspended for three games after Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was given the same suspension for the same offense in the first round.

Wilson was last suspended for an illegal check on Blues forward Sammy Blais during the preseason. The incident cost the Capitals forward the first four games of the regular season. Earlier in the preseason, Wilson also sat for two games for interfering with Blues forward Robert Thomas.


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

Wilson to have hearing for illegal check to head on Aston-Reese

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Another day, another appointment with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for Capitals forward Tom Wilson.

This time, Wilson will have a hearing for an illegal check to the head he dished out on Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 on Tuesday night. You can check out the play by clicking the video at the top of the page.

After the game, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Aston-Reese suffered a concussion and a broken jaw that will require surgery.

“We lose a guy to a broken jaw that’s going to require surgery and a concussion because of another high hit to the head,” Sullivan said. “At some point we would hope that the league might do something.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Wilson made waves in Game 2, after he caught defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the head, but the NHL decided that the hit on the Pens blue liner wasn’t worthy of a suspension.

The 24-year-old always seems to walk a fine line when he hits the ice, but it’s not uncommon for him to go overboard. Wilson was last suspended for an illegal check on Blues forward Sammy Blais during the preseason. The incident cost the Capitals forward the first four games of the regular season. Earlier in the preseason, Wilson also sat for two games for interfering with Blues forward Robert Thomas.

As you’d expect, he’ll be considered a repeat offender.

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.

The Buzzer: Passing tests with flying colors

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Tuesday’s playoff games

Jets 7, Predators 4 (Jets lead series 2-1)

At first, it looked like Nashville was going to spoil Winnipeg’s street party, silencing the home crowd by taking a 3-0 lead through the first period. By digging themselves such a hole, the Jets justified the hype that comes with sporting a deadly arsenal of offensive weapons. They absolutely took over the second period, and while Filip Forsberg made it 4-4 in the third, Winnipeg would not be denied. For even more on that game, click here.

Capitals 4, Penguins 3 (Capitals lead series 2-1)

After a slow first period, the scoring and hostility skyrocketed. Tom Wilson‘s hit on Zach Aston-Reese stole headlines while Alex Ovechkin grabbed a series lead for Washington with a goal very late in the final frame. Both teams built and lost leads in this one, each goalie had moments of triumph and goals they’d like to forget, but the Capitals stood tall in the end.

Three Stars

1. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets: OK, one of his goals was an empty-netter, so maybe you can quibble with Wheeler being the first star. Still, his other goal was the game-winner, and his assist was a primary one. It’s the peripheral stats that make the standout of Tuesday.

Wheeler had been threatening to score during much of Winnipeg’s rally, firing eight shots on goal in total during Game 3. He also delivered two hits and had a +1 rating. These are the types of performances that can make an underrated player like Wheeler become … properly rated?

2. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin gets the glory as the guy who scored the game-winning goal for the Caps, but Backstrom is the player who set up that decisive tally. Overall, the Selke-quality Swede generated three assists.

It’s been quite the run so far for Backstrom. He has nine assists in as many playoff games while also generating three goals, giving him 12 points.

3. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets: Winnipeg has plenty of potential three stars candidates. Byfuglien makes the cut because of his Byfuglien-sized efforts. He scored two goals and one assist, tormenting the Predators even beyond showing off his dance moves.

Byfuglien did a little of everything in Game 3. He fired four shots on goal, three hits, two blocked shots, and a +3 rating over 27:12 TOI. It’s not easy to stand out on a strong defense corps in Winnipeg, yet Byfuglien does just that.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Factoids

  • Tuesday was tough on goalies, with all four being well under a .900 save percentage. It’s not a great sign when Connor Hellebuyck‘s .867 mark leads the pack. That said, it wasn’t all on them. While each goalie probably wanted at least one goal back, all of them made some big stops as well. Honestly, when strong teams go toe to toe, sometimes netminders will see their numbers suffer.
  • Mark Scheifele might not sneak under casual fans’ radars much longer.

  • Your latest reminder that Alex Ovechkin is clutch.

Wednesday’s games

Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins, Game 3, 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, Game 4, 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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.

Penguins coach on Wilson hit: ‘At some point we hope the league might do something’

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PITTSBURGH — Forget that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have been two of the best teams in the NHL over the past decade. Forget that they possess the two greatest players of this generation — heck, they are two of the greatest players in the history of the sport — in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Forget that the former scored his eighth goal of the playoffs on Tuesday, and that the latter continued what has been to this point a marvelous and dominant postseason performance with his eighth goal of the playoffs to complete a third period comeback and lift the Capitals to a 4-3 win, giving them a 2-1 lead in the series against their long-time nemesis.

This series, no matter who wins it or loses it, is no longer about any of that. It is no longer about the two superstars. It is no longer about Pittsburgh’s quest for a three-peat, or the Capitals’ quest to break through the second-round glass ceiling.

This series is, at least for now, the Tom Wilson series.

For the second time in as many games, and for the third time in these playoffs, another player had to leave a game with an injury — this one a significant injury — as a result of yet another controversial hit from the Capitals’ forward.

This time the unlucky recipient was Penguins rookie forward Zach Aston-Reese — joining Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg in the first round, and Brian Dumoulin, Aston-Reese’s teammate, in this round  — as he was crushed in front of the Capitals’ bench. He remained on the ice for several moments before finally bringing himself to his feet and slowly skating to the locker room. Just as there was on Sunday when Brian Dumoulin had to exit the game, there was no penalty called on the play.

All four officials had a lengthy discussion after the play.

Paul Devorski, the NHL’s on-site supervisor, spoke to a pool reporter after the game to explain what was going on there.

“When we have a big hit like that, and there’s a lot of stuff going on on the ice, our guys come together,” said Devorski. “Obviously both referees didn’t put their arm up, so obviously they didn’t think there was a penalty. So now they bring in the linesmen, who if they think it’s a major penalty, they’ll tell the referees. So they all got together and they said, ‘You know what, we’ve got a good, clean check here.”

Devorski’s brother, Greg Devorski, was one of the linesman in the game. Ryan Gibbons was the other. The referees were Kevin Pollock and Francois St. Laurent.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

After the game an obviously irritated Mike Sullivan revealed the extent of Aston-Reese’s injury, perhaps in an effort to grab the attention of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. After all, the result of the hit often times seems to play a role in what punishment is handed out.

“Well, we just have to stay focussed,” said Sullivan, when asked how the team has to try and maintain its composure in the wake of that play.

“We lose a guy to a broken jaw that is going to require surgery and a concussion because of another high hit to the head. At some point we would hope that the league might do something. But as far as we’re concerned, all we can control is what is within our power and that is our focus on the game. That is where our focus will be.”

Sullivan really didn’t need to call attention to any of it, though.

Not only does the league review everything, but the head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, former long-time enforcer George Parros, was in attendance in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. He had a front row seat for all of it. What he and his staff decide to do in the wake of this one will be anybody’s guess, though recent history probably gives us a good indication of where they might go.

Just as was the case with the Wennberg hit in the first-round, and just as their was with the Dumoulin hit on Sunday, and just as there has been with pretty much every controversial, borderline hit that Wilson has delivered in his career, there is again enough gray area here — or unclear views on replay, or anything else that seems to happen when these hits get delivered — to leave everything open to debate.

Mike Sullivan simply called it a high hit.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz also weighed in, not only on the hit, but Wilson in general.

“Tom is obviously a big body, he is tremendously strong and he hits hard,” said Trotz. “My first look at the hit, both guys are bracing for it, it is shoulder to shoulder and he just blew through him. There are very passionate fan bases, we have a passionate fan base. Pitt does, too. You can’t be neutral. That’s why there is a neutral party that looks at it. We just say all along whatever the league decides, we are good with it. To me it was a hard hockey hit. If you want my opinion that is what I saw. It was shoulder to shoulder.”

When Trotz was asked a follow-up that included the update on Aston-Reese’s status, he declined further comment and said he didn’t care about what Sullivan said.

“I already said what I am going to say about the hit, I don’t think I need to comment anymore, and I really don’t care what Sully said,” said Trotz. “I’m not on their medical team, so I couldn’t tell you. All I can say is I saw the hit, both guys braced for it, shoulder on shoulder, and I don’t know the extent of their player so I don’t think I should comment on it.”

[Related: Wilson enrages Penguins with another controversial hit]

The Penguins were also not happy that Wilson was seen laughing on the bench after the play.

“I get the physical game. I get the physical play. I’ve been on the wrong side of it,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. “At the end of the day I respect what kind of game he plays. But you don’t laugh at somebody getting hurt. You don’t do that.”

Justin Schultz called it “disrespectful.”

The Capitals did not make Wilson available to the media after the game.

Now we play the waiting game on Wednesday to see if Wilson is summoned for a disciplinary hearing.

Given that he was actually penalized during the game for the Wennberg hit and still did not receive a suspension, and did not have a hearing for the Dumoulin hit, it would be awfully hard to believe the league would draw the line here on this.

That means Wilson will probably be back on the ice for Game 4 on Thursday where he will no doubt end up being the center of attention, whether it be before the game when both sides are asked about him or his play, or something he does during the game.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby might score some more goals.

Might even be a great game with another fantastic finish.

But make no mistake, this is now the Tom Wilson series.

UPDATE: Wilson will have a DoPS hearing on Wednesday.

Related: On Tom Wilson, player safety, and avoiding suspensions

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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.