Associated Press

It’s time to push the panic button in Columbus

13 Comments

Or maybe it’s time to push it a second time. Or hammer it. Yes, maybe that.

After a tough loss to the Calgary Flames, a visit to see the woeful Edmonton Oilers was where the bleeding should have stopped for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It should have.

Instead, the gash only grew on Thursday night.

The Blue Jackets loaded a ball into that noisy cannon of theirs, lit the fuse and found out it was a dud in a 4-1 loss against the Edmonton Oilers, a game Columbus managed just 20 shots against a team that’s given up the sixth most goals this year.

Columbus opened the scoring in the game in the second period and held Edmonton’s forwards to just four shots through two periods. They allowed just 10 shots total through 40. And then the third came and the wheels fell off and the shots kept coming and the Oilers scored three unanswered send Columbus to their second consecutive defeat.

What’s worse, their poor outing allowed the Montreal Canadiens, who were on the right side of a 4-0 decision against the New York Islanders, to leapfrog them into the final wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Matt Duchene said he felt his teammates have become paralyzed by the pressure.

John Tortorella said, “I just don’t think we understand the level that we have to play at right now.”

The hockey world agreed with both assessments.

A team that desperately needs to string together multiple wins, the Blue Jackets have taken two points just four times in their past 10 games. Montreal hasn’t been much better with five wins in the same span, but those extra two points are looking might big right now.

Columbus sold the farm and next year’s crop to pick up Duchene and others at the trade deadline. They now stand to lose a playoff spot, and that might be the least of their concerns if names like Bobrovsky, Panarin, Duchene and Dzingel go bye-bye after the season ends.

There are no games in hand for Columbus. Both they and the Canadiens each have eight games remaining. The Blue Jackets need to square away their issues and figure out who to win.

They still hold their own playoff fate in their hands, with a meeting next week against the Canadiens likely the decider on who makes it and who doesn’t. But their next test awaits in Vancouver on Sunday, a game they can ill-afford to look past.


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

Lightning clinch Presidents’ Trophy for first time in franchise history

Associated Press
9 Comments

No was ever going to catch the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was just the mathematics that needed to be satisfied before they could be handed their first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history.

And with nine games remaining — a good three weeks — left in the regular season, the Lightning became just the second team since the trophy began being awarded in 1985-86 to do it as quickly as they did in a 4-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday. The 73 games it took the Lightning has only been bested by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings, who clinched the trophy in 71.

It should be noted that no team has won the Presidents’ Trophy and gone on to win the Stanley Cup since the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks. Tampa’s biggest task still lays ahead of them as they look to exorcise their playoff demons.

There are still 18 points up for grabs, too, meaning that the Lightning, who are on 116 points after winning their fifth straight on Monday, can theoretically get to 134, which would set a new NHL record for most in a season (the Montreal Canadiens posted 132 in 1976-77). And before we write that off, realize that this Lightning team is something special and winning nine straight isn’t out of the realm of possibility. They could go 8-0-1 and still end with 133 points.

Furthermore, they’re six wins back of those 1995-96 Red Wings for most wins in a season with 62.

Tampa has matched or set all sorts of records this season, and their players have, too.

A week after Vincent Lecavalier’s points record was taken from him by Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos notched goal No. 384 in Monday’s win to pass Lecavalier for most in Lightning history.


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

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Penguins on NBCSN

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s time to put up for shut up for the Philadelphia Flyers, who only need wins and a lot of help from those around them down the stretch here.

Complicating matters is the potential absence of Claude Giroux from the game. Flyers coach Scott Gordon said Sunday that Giroux is battling an illness. Philly has lost two in a row, including a 7-6 heartbreaker against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday when they coughed up a 5-2 second-period lead. The Flyers had been rolling prior to that, winning six of their past eight.

They’re now eight points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is 6-2-0 in their past eight games but enter Sunday coming off a 5-1 loss against the St. Louis Blues 24 hours earlier, a defeat that ended their three-game winning streak.

The Penguins are sitting in the third spot in the Metropolitan, two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and four points back of the Washington Capitals for first place.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Sunday, March 17, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Flyers-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude Giroux — Nolan PatrickTravis Konecny
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
James van RiemsdykScott LaughtonMichael Raffl
Phil Varone — Corban Knight — Ryan Hartman
Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbeherePhilippe Myers
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

PENGUINS
Jared McCannSidney CrosbyJake Guentzel
Teddy BluegerEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Dominik SimonNick BjugstadPatric Hornqvist
Joseph Blandisi – Matt CullenGarrett Wilson

Jack JohnsonJustin Schultz
Brian Dumoulin – Zach Trotman
Marcus PetterssonErik Gudbranson

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


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

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers in desperation mode vs. Penguins

Getty Images
2 Comments

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Philadelphia’s odds of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs hang by the thinnest of threads. Back-to-back regulation losses will do that to a team.

After beating Ottawa 3-2 on Monday, the Flyers put up a dud in a 5-2 loss against the Washington Capitals on Thursday and then choked — hard — the following night in a 7-6 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a game where they led 5-2 in the second period before five unanswered goals unraveled them and perhaps their season.

“We’re going to have to move on and be ready to go for Sunday,” Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk, who had a hat trick in the Toronto game, said. “It gets to the point where you only have so many bullets left in the chamber. We have to have a pretty good run the rest of the way to put ourselves in a position.”

The Flyers made things interesting when they scored with the net empty and just over a minute left.

“We weren’t mature enough to keep our game where it needed to be and play better with the puck to not give them opportunities to come back,” Gudas said following the game. “That’s what came back to bite us.”

Claude Giroux will be featured on Star Sunday for the Flyers.

The Flyers captain had a hat trick of assists in Friday’s loss and has 76 points in 71 games this season. Giroux is having another fine year, and has six multi-point games in his past 10. He’s doing his job for the Flyers

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Penguins had their three-game winning streak halted by the impressive St. Louis Blues on Saturday as Jordan Binnington made 40 saves in a 5-1 win for the latter.

These things happen when your top line puts up a goose egg. The trio of Jared McCann, Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel combined for no points and a minus-nine rating in the game after having 14 points combined during their three-game heater. Their power-play was 0-for-4 after clipping along at 46 percent during the streak and Matt Murray was yanked after giving up four goals on 13 shots. The team allowed five goals total in their previous three games.

It wasn’t for lack of trying from the Pens. They put up 41 shots in an effort to solve ‘Winnington’. The Pens are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and sit two points up on the Carolina Hurricanes for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Crosby will be the Pens’ featured player for Star Sunday.

Despite being held off the scoresheet on Saturday, he has 35 points in 24 games since the All-Star Break.

Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


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’ season on life-support after collapse against Leafs

Associated Press
6 Comments

It appears that Philadelphia’s plan to tank the first half the of the season only to rise up for an attempted epic comeback into a playoff spot has all but failed.

Mathematically, the Flyers aren’t dead in the water, but soul-sucking losses like the one they endured on Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs sting so much more at this time of the year.

The Flyers held a 5-2 lead midway through the second period in Toronto when the wheels began to fall off, followed by the transmission right before the engine blew to pieces. The Maple Leafs scored five unanswered to take a 7-5 lead and then held on as James van Riemsdyk‘s hat-trick goal gave the Flyers some time to find an equalizer late. It would never come.

That’s a tough pill to swallow, evidenced by how hard the Flyers choked in this game. Scoring six goals should be an automatic win. Of course, allowing seven should be an automatic loss.

The Flyers sit seven points back of the Carolina Hurricanes (who lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They began the night there, but with 11 games remaining instead of 12 now, the chances to make up seven points in the span are incredibly slim (like two percent slim). And their schedule isn’t a walk in the park, with dates with the Penguins, Capitals, Islanders and Maple Leafs coming up in the near future.

Toronto, meanwhile, pulled themselves to within two points of the Boston Bruins for second place in the Atlantic. The teams are destined to play each other in the first round at this point, but the battle for home-ice advantage is heating up down the stretch here.

Toronto nearly came back from a 5-0 deficit to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, so they had some practice before they went down in this one. Goaltending continues to be an issue for the Leafs, but on some nights, they can outscore all their problems.


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