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Islanders’ Boychuk personifies commitment, blocks shot with face

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The New York Islanders are fighting for a playoff spot and Johnny Boychuk appears ready to put his face on the line to make the promised land come April.

With the score 0-0 late in the first period in Saturday’s matinee between the Isles and the New York Rangers, Boychuk used his cheek to block what appeared to be a sure goal off the stick of Rangers forward Chris Kreider.

Here’s what commitment looks like:

The Isles ended up losing the game 2-1. They are still in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, level with the Buffalo Sabres in the second spot on 52 points. The Sabres play later on Saturday.

The Montreal Canadiens, meanwhile, sit one point adrift of both the Isles and the Sabres. The Canadiens also play on Saturday night.

The Isles may have not won the battle on Saturday, but the war for a playoff spot is still to be had. That’s the kind of block that fans will love, especially in early January.


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

Matthews’ spectacular OT winner gives Maple Leafs fifth straight win

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Auston Matthews has a flair for the dramatic, doesn’t he?

We’ll talk about his first goal of the game — his 14th in 14 games this season — in a bit, but it was his overtime winner that was especially special as the Toronto Maple Leafs saw off the Buffalo Sabres in a 4-3 win on NBCSN on Tuesday.

We’ve gotten used to Matthews scoring timely goals, and his snapping wrist shot off a quick two drag from the top of the left circle that went bar down past Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark with 2.7 seconds left in overtime is right up there with his best.

Just watch it happen:

Make that 15 goals in 14 games for Matthews and five goals and two assists in three games since missing 14 games with a shoulder injury. The only limit that there seems to be with Matthews and his goal and point totals this season rest in his health.

Matthews already scored a highlight reel goal earlier in the game, grabbing a puck out of the air, gently nestling down onto his stick and then wrapping it around the Sabres’ goal and into the back of the net.

Cheat codes, I say. Cheat codes.

Whatever the sorcery is, it’s helped the Maple Leafs to a five-game winning streak — three points back of the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning (who etched out a 6-5 win on Tuesday to push their own win streak to four games).

For the Sabres, it’s their fourth straight loss and a continuation of a lesson that, in hockey, everything is finite.

A week ago, the Sabres won their 10th straight game much to the surprise of literally everyone in the hockey world. Skip ahead seven days and the Sabres are now reeling in four successive defeats.

You could have made the case prior to the game that Toronto had the upper hand coming in. Buffalo lost their third straight game on Monday in a tight 2-1 decision against the Nashville Predators.

But Buffalo performed admirably in the game and deserved the point they got.

Jack Eichel, known to have his own flair for the dramatic, single-handedly pull the Sabres into the lead in the third period after entering the frame down 2-1.

The Sabres peppered Fredrik Anderen at times, putting up 41 shots in the game.

Linus Ullmark had to be special at the other end of the ice, too, but there was no stopping some of the shots he faced — Matthews overtime winner being one of them — and this play right out of NHL 19 being another.

What Tuesday’s game confirmed is that a seven-game series between both of these clubs would be quite the treat for the hockey world.


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

Penguins’ Murray out ‘longer-term’ with lower-body injury

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Matt Murray is down for the count once again.

The Pittsburgh Penguins placed their starting goalie on injured reserve on Thursday, and it appears he could miss a lengthy period of time with a lower-body injury.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters that Murray will be sidelined “longer-term.” No official timeline was provided.

According to Sullivan, Murray has been dealing with the injury for the past couple of weeks, which could account for his poor run of form.

Murray was pulled on Saturday after giving up three goals on 10 shots to the Ottawa Senators.

He owns a 4-5-1 record with an abysmal .877 save percentage and a 4.08 goals-against average.

“This was not something that we expected,” Sullivan said.

The Penguins have recalled Tristan Jarry on an emergency basis. He will back up Casey DeSmith going forward.

Murray already missed time earlier this season with his third concussion in the past four years (and second in an eight-month span), so the silver lining here is that it wasn’t his fourth.

Murray has dealt with numerous injuries since becoming the starter in Pittsburgh in 2016-17.

A broken hand, a litany of lower-body injuries and his concussions have all limited him at one point or another, so this latest ailment just adds to the pile of frustration for Murray, the team and Pens fans.

Even with his struggles, Murray’s absence is an obvious blow for the struggling Penguins.

DeSmith will be called upon to shoulder much of the load. He has played well at times in relief, with a 4-3-3 record and a .924 save percentage.

Pittsburgh is 2-6-2 in their past 10 games.


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

Auston Matthews expected to miss a month with shoulder injury

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Here we go again.

A hard hit, a grimacing Auston Matthews and a lengthy spell without one of the best players in the game.

For the second time inside a calendar year, a bone-crushing hit from an opponent will see the Toronto Maple Leafs superstar miss an extended period of time with a shoulder injury. The Maple Leafs announced on Monday that Matthews, the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals and 16 points, will miss a minimum of four weeks.

Matthews was walloped by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba on Saturday night. The clean hit sent Matthews immediately to Toronto’s bench and shortly after that, right down the tunnel. He was not seen again on the ice and is now on injured reserve.

“It’s frustrating,” Matthews told reporters in Toronto on Monday. “There’s not much you can do. It sucks. It’s part of the game. I’m going to work as hard as I can to get back as soon as possible and feeling back to myself.”

Matthews said the injury is similar to the injury suffered to his right shoulder last season, only this time it’s happened to his left shoulder. He said he doesn’t need surgery.

The first shoulder injury cost him four weeks and 10 missed games.

Back in February, Matthews was caught between a rock and a hard place when two New York Islanders converged on him. The sandwiching hit knocked him out of the game that night as well.

The Leafs play 15 times over the next four weeks, so the impact of Matthews’ latest ailment is well-pronounced.

He’s been one of the best players in the NHL to start the season and a big reason why the Leafs have marched out to an 8-3-0 record.

The silver lining? Toronto faired reasonably well without Matthews during that 10-game chunk last season, going 5-3-2. And that was when they didn’t have the refuge of John Tavares in the lineup.

Every single Maple Leafs player will tell you that you don’t replace a talent like Matthews, and that is 100 percent accurate.

You manage.

The Leafs looked better equipped this time to do so this time around. You only have to look at Saturday’s game after Matthews was hit for some proof. Down 2-0 to the Jets, Toronto engineered a third-period comeback with three unanswered goals to take the game 3-2.

That said, Toronto’s depth is about to get tested.

The other worry here is Matthews’ proneness to injuries over the past two seasons. He played the full 82-game schedule during his rookie year but was limited to 62 games last season.

Injuries now to both shoulders, his back and a concussion have sidelined Matthews inside the past year. The Leafs were 11-7-2 during those times without the 21-year-old.

His, shoulders, specifically, have been a source of concern dating back before he entered the NHL.

And what becomes of the William Nylander talks now? Perhaps a little more leverage for the Swede?

Nylander still remains unsigned by the club, who could now use his scoring prowess. It’s unlikely the Leafs cave to his demands, but it has to be a little more appealing given the current circumstances.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

Crosby continues goal-scoring resurgence with another backhand beauty

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Halloween is fast approaching and Sidney Crosby is reminding the NHL that he’s still the wizard.

Crosby’s latest sorcery? His backhand shot.

The victims? The Edmonton Oilers and now the Calgary Flames. Crosby is casting spells on Alberta and there’s not a darn thing they can do about it.

The proof? Here’s Flames forward Sam Bennett. He’s draped himself all over Crosby, presumably to try and stop any sort of shenanigans. Crosby, unfazed, decides to score anyway as he forces his backhand shot (which appeared to be a one-handed effort) past Mike Smith.

It’s sort of unfair.

Crosby’s latest goal — his third of the season and third in his past two games after a slow start — comes after making particularly nasty work of Oilers forward Ryan Strome on Monday.

You can only feel bad for Strome here. There wasn’t a thing he could have done as Crosby did Crosby and scored an incredible backhand goal to steal back the best-player-in-the-league title.

Crosby’s slow start had people wondering if, finally, the man would start to slow down. It seems now that he was just lying in wait.


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