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Penguins get Carl Hagelin back for Game 4 against Capitals

Getting Evgeni Malkin back wasn’t enough for the Pittsburgh Penguins to win Game 3. Maybe the return of speedy winger Carl Hagelin can help tip the scales as Pittsburgh aims to tie its series in Game 4 against the Washington Capitals?

Hagelin, 29, has been sidelined since Game 6 (April 22) of the series against the Philadelphia Flyers, as a big hit by Claude Giroux forced him to miss the remainder of that contest and then the first three games versus the Caps.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

It’s unclear how much this might stick, but so far, it looks like Hagelin will skate with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist.

Hagelin is playing Game 4 with a protective mask, but as nasty as this series is getting, the Capitals are unlikely to be able to give Hagelin the Joel Embiid treatment.

After scoring 10 goals and 31 points during the regular season, Hagelin generated three points through his first six games of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check out Game 4 on NBCSN right now; here’s the livestream link.

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.

Hurricanes’ Dudley laid foundation for Jets success

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Considering that Winnipeg lost the first iteration of the Jets and then waited a long time for that elusive playoff win – not just series victory, just a playoff win – this current run is a heartwarming success story.

Still, it always felt a little gross how things ended with the Atlanta Thrashers. To be more specific, it seemed really harsh that Rick Dudley received one measly season as GM, and the same went for Craig Ramsay as head coach.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Now, sure, the 2010-11 Atlanta Thrashers did fall short of the postseason, as all but one of the Thrashers teams did. And while it required a lot of patience, Dudley’s replacement Kevin Cheveldayoff marinated a mouth-watering crock pot of talent. Still, Dudley deserves a lot of credit for some truly remarkable work in what was essentially just one season, and perhaps he’ll help the Carolina Hurricanes make some aggressive strides forward now that he’s part of that front office.

Poaching former Blackhawks

It’s not surprising that Dudley decided to trade for former Chicago Blackhawks during quite the start to his GM campaign from late June to early July 2010. After all, he was in the Blackhawks organization not that long before moving on to Atlanta, and that team had just won its first Stanley Cup.

The difference is that the Thrashers landed more than just “guys who won championships.” We’ve seen plenty of examples in sports of rings misguiding teams (the Raiders paying a ransom for Larry Brown after he won a Super Bowl ranks as a personal favorite), but in the case of the players Dudley targeted, they were instead supporting cast members who could handle marquee roles.

To start, the Thrashers landed Dustin Byfuglien in a, well, Byfuglien-sized trade. While Chicago received picks and a lot of players were involved, that was a big win for Dudley’s side. (To be fair, Chicago was trading from a position of weakness with the first big cap crunch really hurting their depth.)

Not long after, Dudley made another big trade with the Blackhawks, landing future Jets captain Andrew Ladd for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a second-rounder that would become Adam Clendening.

Not just poaching Blackhawks

People joke about the Boston Bruins trading away Tyler Seguin and others in questionable deals, yet Blake Wheeler‘s name doesn’t come up very often. Maybe because it’s tough for some to realize that he was actually with Boston and even enjoyed a 21-goal season.

Anyway, Dudley concocted maybe his best trade in February 2011, acquiring Wheeler and Mark Stuart from the Bruins for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik.

It says a lot about Dudley’s work that, even considering the brilliant talent on hand in Winnipeg thanks to Cheveldayoff, Byfuglien and Wheeler were arguably the biggest heroes from last night’s big Game 3 win.

As an additional point, it’s worth noting that the Ramsay/Dudley regime pushed to best utilize Byfuglien as a defenseman, too.

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Now, of course, it’s been quite a while since Dudley conducted those moves. He’s bounced the round the league as an assistant GM for some time, and it’s tough to gauge a) if he had much of a hand in Montreal’s blunders (how did he feel about trading P.K. Subban?) and b) how much power he’ll wield in Carolina, anyway.

For all we know, Dudley could steer the Hurricanes in the wrong direction. Maybe he’d zig toward bigger, outdated players while the league is zagging in the direction of speed and skill? Perhaps the Jets were still wiser to part ways with Dudley rather than keeping him around after relocating?

Those are all fair questions.

If nothing else, Jets fans should salute Dudley’s work. After all, Dudley accomplished more in one year than some GMs manage during fairer, longer reigns.

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.

Joe Thornton return among Sharks’ possibilities for Game 4

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When asked about the San Jose Sharks’ lineup for Game 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights, Peter DeBoer repeatedly deflected questions, hammering the phrase “game-time decisions” in each instance.

That hasn’t stopped people from speculating about who might be in or out of the mix.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The most interesting name popping up is Joe Thornton. The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz notes that Thornton said that he’s probably not ready for Game 4, yet Kurz believes there’s some possibility for a pleasant surprise once those game-time decisions are in.

Kurz isn’t the only reporter who’s showing some optimism about a possible return for “Jumbo Joe” tonight. The Mercury News’ Paul Gackle goes as far as to label Thornton as “likely to play.”

Thornton’s already gone through some of the vague-if-positive steps of recovery, even warming up with the Sharks recently. If nothing else, it seems like the 38-year-old has a shot at playing sometime during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Really, it would be a shame if he did not. That’s especially true if the pending UFA doesn’t re-sign with the Sharks, as that would make for an unceremonious end to his decade-plus with the team.

Thornton underwent surgery in late January, and even at his previous “bringing the game to his own speed,” it was reasonable to wonder how he’d fare against the lightning-fast, aggressive Golden Knights. That would be an even more valid question if Thornton plays at less than 100 percent.

Even a hobbled Thornton could make a big difference, whether he skates with Evander Kane and Joe Pavelski on a top-heavy first line or gets eased into the mix as a third-line center.

The Sharks’ official Twitter feed acknowledged the uncertainty at hand while pointing to another tweak to monitor: it looks like Joakim Ryan will replace veteran defenseman Paul Martin tonight. Do note that DeBoer wouldn’t give a concrete answer on that subject, either, though:

If that swap stands, Ryan will be making his first-career appearance in an NHL postseason game. The 24-year-old played in 62 games for the Sharks during his rookie season, averaging 16:45 TOI and scoring 12 points. His possession stats are fairly promising, all things considered.

It’s actually remarkable that Paul Martin has been able to stay in the lineup for this long considering how often he was a healthy scratch (or demoted to the AHL) during the regular season. Let’s just say that this is a mere sample of the less-than-positive reviews of his recent work:

After the Golden Knights throttled the Sharks 7-0 in Game 1, the two teams have traded overtime victories. Game 4 will go a long way in determining if this could be a long, fascinating series or if Vegas might continue to dominate in ways that still seem shocking.

You’d have to think that even a less-than-optimal Thornton would give the Sharks a serious boost, but we’ll have to see how the game-time decisions play out.

Game 4 takes place on NBCSN tonight with puck drop slated for 10 p.m. ET. This is the livestream link.

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.

Will Bruins close depth gap against Lightning?

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With a four-point night, Brayden Point experienced a “redemption game” in helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win Game 2 and tie their series 1-1. He might have also put the Boston Bruins’ depth disadvantage under the spotlight during that 4-2 win for the Bolts.

You almost don’t need to look at the box score to guess which Bruins generated offense in that losing effort. Brad Marchand was involved in both goals (two assists), Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak collected one assist apiece, and two key defensemen (Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug) supplied the goals.

The thing is, there are occasions where the Bruins’ absurdly dangerous top trio can drag them to the finish line. The Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak combination is simply that explosive.

The Lightning stand as one of the few teams that could conceivably trade blows with that top-heavy setup, at least on paper, as J.T. Miller, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov boast the talent and versatility to stick with just about anyone.

Maybe the Bergeron line translates to a couple wins in this series, but a playoff run almost always demands production from supporting cast members, not just stars. That’s where things get interesting in Game 3 (and beyond).

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Here are a few players the Bruins want more from:

On one hand, Krejci has a point per game during this run (nine points in nine games). Game 2 ended a three-game point streak for Krejci, who collected five points, including three assists in that Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.

Still, his all-around play draws some criticism. That dichotomy was best illustrated during that Game 7 win, as Krejci was productive, but NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty still had issue with some of the smaller details:

  • Still, in the grand scheme of things, Krejci has been productive. You could say the same for Jake DeBrusk, who scored that sensational goal in Game 7 and has eight points during his maiden voyage in the postseason.
  • Stop if you’ve heard this before, but Rick Nash is getting his chances, yet he’s not burying them as much as his team would like.

Game 1 was a refreshing exception, as Nash scored two goals in that win. It’s also heartening that, for all of his career postseason struggles, Nash has had some success against the Lightning. During the 2014-15 postseason, Nash generated seven points for the Rangers during their seven-game series against Tampa Bay.

Those are the positive notes. They don’t change that Nash only has four points in nine playoff games so far, with half of his production coming during a 6-2 win in Game 1. While there’s certainly some benefit to the puck going in the right direction when he’s on the ice (including 29 shots on goal in nine contests), the Bruins acquired him in hopes of buttressing their high-end scoring with depth support.

  • The other “Ri-Nash” has been pretty much nonexistent. After generating 41 points during the regular season and looking comfortable between Marchand and Pastrnak during spells when Bergeron was injured, Riley Nash hasn’t gotten a lot done in the playoffs.

Through seven games, Riley Nash has zero goals and one assist. He’s gone five consecutive games without even registering a shot on goal. Not ideal for an intriguing player who’s set to become a UFA.

Now, Riley Nash might not be healthy, so some of this might be out of his hands. If he’s hobbled, the Bruins either need to consider giving him a breather or perhaps giving him more help as far as linemates go. Hey, that Ryan Donato guy isn’t busy, is he?

  • Danton Heinen has been another disappointment when you consider his strong regular season (47 points in 77 games). Heinen only has one goal and zero assists through eight playoff games, generating a meager shot on goal per contest.

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Tuukka Rask absorbs some critiques here and there when the Bruins have stumbled during the postseason, and his work will obviously make a big impact on Boston’s fortunes.

Still, while the Bruins’ biggest names can take them very far, this impressive team could be that much scarier if they gain more frequent contributions down the lineup. Krejci, DeBrusk, and (Rick) Nash are periodically giving the B’s a nice boost, but this team could use a little more from their bottom six forwards.

The Lightning might just force the issue during this series.

Game 3 airs on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET tonight. Here’s the livestream link.

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: 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.