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Surging Avalanche look to keep hold of playoff spot

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

No Gabriel Landeskog. No Mikko Rantanen. And, apparently, no problem for the Colorado Avalanche.

It seems kind of crazy that the Avalanche have strung together four straight wins and put themselves into the second wildcard in the Western Conference without two of the leading scorers. But it’s true.

Already without Landeskog because of an upper-body injury, the Avalanche compiled three Ws and then found a fourth on Saturday against the Blackhawks without Rantanen, who missed his first game of the season with his own UBI after a crushing hit earlier in the week. That’s a combined 64 goals and 157 points removed from the lineup and yet in the first game of a home-and-home, back-to-back mini-series with Chicago, the Avalanche produced a 4-2 courtesy of four different goal scorers.

Talk about stepping up at the right time.

The Avalanche have allowed just four goals across their current winning stretch thanks to Philipp Grubauer‘s play, which includes a .970 save percentage and a shutout in that span. And they’ve found scoring from the likes of Colin Wilson, who’s on a three-game point streak and Tyson Barrie, who has four goals in his past four games.

A win Saturday will keep Colorado in the playoff spot they’ve been chasing for a while now. The Arizona Coyotes, hot on their heels, are also in action on Sunday.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Two points, then, will be vital, especially when you look at what lies ahead.

The Avs will host the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday and then Arizona comes to town for what could be a pivotal game for both teams. Colorado then closes the regular season with games against St. Louis, Edmonton, Winnipeg and San Jose.

It’s a tough slog.

With the way this turtle derby has gone in the Western Conference, a loss along the line probably won’t sting that much. But there’s certainly an opportunity for a team like Colorado, who’ve found another gear, to take control of their own destiny.

Chicago, meanwhile, needs a win and then needs more wins and then needs all the help in the world if they want to qualify.

March started off so well for the Blackhawks after a five-game winning streak, but when you follow that up with three straight losses, it erases most of the good work. Chicago is six points back and a win would make things interesting, for sure.

A loss, however, likely ensures they’ll miss the playoffs for the second straight season. It’s kind of a shame, too. On Jan. 20, the Blackhawks were dead last in the NHL with 41 points. It would have been quite a story, after firing Joel Quenneville, to see them emerge from the rubble.

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.


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

Flyers, Blackhawks, Sabres, Lightning to Europe in ’19-20

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Jakub Voracek was psyched at the mere suggestion the Philadelphia Flyers might play an NHL game in his native Czech Republic.

”I’m not going to lie to you, it would be great,” Voracek said with a smile. ”Obviously to play an NHL game in your home country, it’d be awesome.”

Voracek will get that chance next season when the Flyers open the regular season against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague on Oct. 4. The NHL on Thursday announced that matchup and two games between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning in Stockholm in November as part of its now-annual Global Series.

It’s the third consecutive year the NHL is staging regular-season games in Europe and eighth overall. This will be Philadelphia’s first appearance as part of the series.

The games in Stockholm on Nov. 8-9 should feature a handful of Swedes, including Sabres 2018 top pick Rasmus Dahlin and 2018 Lightning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman.

”Yes!” was how Dahlin described his first reaction to learning the news.

”I was so happy. I wanted to have it, but I wasn’t expecting it in my second year,” the 18-year-old following a 4-2 loss to Toronto.

”It’s great for me, but I also think it’s going to be amazing for my family and friends, too, to be able to see a live NHL game,” Dahlin said. ”And me playing there, a lot of them will never have a chance to see me play hockey.”

Dahlin noted it could also be a homecoming for several teammates in a Sabres organization stocked with Swedish-born players. Goalie Linus Ullmark and Johan Larsson are from Sweden, as are minor-league prospects and Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Asplund and Lawrence Pilut. Forward Alexander Nylander was born in Canada, but has represented Sweden on the international stage.

”It’s so fun to share it with other Swedes,” Dahlin said. ”It’s probably the best thing that could happen.”

The Sabres opened the 2011-12 season playing Anaheim at Helsinki, Finland, and then Los Angeles at Berlin, Germany.

This season, the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers opened the regular season in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets played twice in Helsinki.

Like the Devils and Oilers, the Blackhawks and Flyers will finish training camp in Europe and play an exhibition game against a local team. The Blackhawks will go to Germany and face Eisbaren Berlin on Sept. 29, and the Flyers will go to Switzerland and face HC Lausanne on Sept. 30.

The NHL is also expected to have more exhibition games in China, but that matchup has not yet been announced.

Joel Quenneville looking to offseason before deciding on NHL return

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Speaking for the first time since he was fired in November by the Chicago Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville said that while there’s an “appetite” to get back behind an NHL bench, he’s “in no hurry right now.”

Quenneville spoke to WGN TV’s Dan Roan during a Blackhawks alumni charity event on Sunday. The former head coach, who was replaced by Jeremy Colliton after a 6-6-3 start, said he wasn’t too surprised by the decision and appreciated his decade in Chicago.

“I think in our business there’s not too many surprises anymore,” said Quenneville, who led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups during his tenure. “I was privileged to be in Chicago for 10 years. It’s part of the business, I understand all that. I know when I exited other places, the bitterness and the animosity was at a different level. And here the memories are so special and so good, and the people here are so special to me and our family that it was tough… I never [had the opportunity to] thank the fans since I left, but I’ve got nothing but appreciation and [I] admire all they’ve done and supported our team and our experience here in Chicago.”

The Blackhawks have gone 26-24-6 under Colliton and still cling to hopes of grabbing one of the two Western Conference wild card spots. As of Monday, they sit five points out with 11 games to go.

Quenneville said he doesn’t find himself watching his old team as much anymore, but has enjoyed their turnaround.

“I try to not watch as much Blackhawks as I used to, but I watch most of the games,” he said. “It’s been a great race and it’s going to be fun to see how it all plays out.”

Since Quenneville’s firing, five NHL head coaching jobs have opened up. He was rumored to be the one to replace Dave Hakstol in Philadelphia, but that never materialized. Still under contract to the Blackhawks through the end of next season with a $6M salary, once the offseason arrives and head coaching jobs open up, he’ll ponder his future.

“We’re in no hurry right now,” he said. “We’ll see how things transpire in the offseason. I think we’ll have to think about it and we’ll see.”

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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.

Blackhawks survive late Leafs assault to win fourth straight

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Score five straight goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs and hold on for dear life.

It’s a plan that the Chicago Blackhawks executed to perfection (planned or otherwise) on Wednesday night in a ___ win against their Original Six foes. And my goodness did they ever have to hold on.

Chicago came out with the determination of a team needing two points to keep their playoff dreams going. They scored four times in the first period — chasing Frederik Andersen after he allowed four on 14 shots — and added a fifth later in the second period, appearing to seal it with less than half a game to go.

The Leafs have been struggling since beating the Calgary Flames 6-2. And it’s unraveled now, after getting made to look like the JV squad against the Tampa Bay Lightning and then decimated once again against the Blackhawks.

A 5-0 deficit seemed like the next chapter in their recent story, but Andreas Johnsson‘s goal with 1:33 left in the second period seemed to give the Leafs some life.

The Leafs owned the third period, with Chicago looking content to sit back and wait for the final buzzer. It didn’t help Chicago’s cause that Corey Crawford, who was solid through the first two periods, didn’t emerge for the third after falling ill with the flu. Collin Delia had to come in cold and the game became very interesting.

Auston Matthews and Co. went to work in the third. Matthews grabbed his 32nd of the season at 7:57 of the period followed by Morgan Rielly‘s 19th three minutes later to make it 5-3. With the net empty and 1:31 to go, John Tavares clawed the Leafs back to 5-4, banging in a shot from a bad angle past Delia to set a new career high with his 39th.

Toronto fired 30 pucks on goal in final frame, with Delia getting a game’s worth of shots sent his way in a 20-minute span of complete chaos.

The final 90 seconds, particularly, were epic and well worth the watch.

When the dust settled after the final whistle, the Blackhawks moved four points back of the idle Arizona Coyotes for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. ‘

The odds aren’t great, but all Chicago can do is keep winning and let the chips fall where they may.


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

Wednesday Night Hockey: Will Leafs get out of first round this year?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The biggest question surrounding the Maple Leafs this year is not whether or not they’ll make the playoffs, it’s more about them getting out of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Because of the current playoff format in the NHL, we have a pretty good idea that the Leafs will take on the Boston Bruins in the first round. That’s a pretty terrible “reward” for the team with the third-most amount of points in the Eastern Conference right now. Of course, there’s still a chance that the Leafs could make up four-point gap between themselves and the Bruins. That would allow them to get home-ice advantage in the first round, which would go a long way in helping their odds of winning the series.

Last season, the Leafs and Bruins squared off in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins had home-ice advantage in that series and they eventually won it in seven games. In 2017, the Leafs dropped their first-round series to the Washington Capitals in six games. Between 2014 and 2016, Toronto didn’t even get a sniff of the postseason.

If we look back at 2013, they lost a first-round matchup to the Bruins in seven games. As you probably remember, Game 7 was played at TD Garden in Boston.

The last time they got out of the first round was back in 2003-04, when Pat Quinn was their head coach. And as we all know, they haven’t wont a Stanley Cup since 1967.

Even the biggest Leafs hater has to admit that this team has the talent on their roster to do damage in the playoffs. If healthy, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and the rest of the team have the offensive firepower to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league. There’s still some question marks surrounding their defense, but Morgan Reilly and Jake Muzzin are solid pieces on the back end.

The most interesting battle between the Bruins and Leafs would come between the pipes. Can Frederik Andersen outlast Tuukka Rask in a seven-game series? Andersen has shown that he’s more than capable of stealing games for the Leafs when they aren’t at their best. Can he do it on the biggest stage? We’ll find out in just a few weeks.

So what happens if the Leafs don’t get out of the first round? Is their sweeping changes? Is Mike Babcock on the hot seat? We’ll worry about that if they fail, again, in April, but you’d have to think that everyone in place will get a little more time to finish building the team.

On the flip side, how can any team that lost in the first round last year add John Tavares and not make any further than they did the previous season?

It should be a very interesting spring in Toronto.

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Jeremy Roenick (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’analyst) will have the call from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

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.