The Playoff Buzzer: Hero Heiskanen; Game 1 upsets (VIDEO)

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  • After falling behind 3-0, the Blue Jackets stunned the historically dominant Lightning in Game 1.
  • The Penguins forced Game 1 into overtime, but Josh Bailey and the Islanders wouldn’t be denied in front of raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum.
  • Patrik Laine might have improved his confidence with a nice goal, but the Blues stayed hot in take a 1-0 series lead against the Jets.
  • After Vegas dominated last year’s Game 1, the Sharks returned the favor this time around in a nasty game that had nasty implications for Joe Pavelski‘s face.
  • Miro Heiskanen scores as the Stars beat the Predators in Nashville.

Blue Jackets 4, Lightning 3 (Columbus leads series 1-0)

Tampa Bay seemed like they were in business as usual mode during a 3-0 first period, possibly making Sergei Bobrovsky degrade into dreaded “Playoff Bob.” Bobrovsky didn’t allow another goal, however, as Columbus absolutely stunned the Lightning with four unanswered goals. Shocking, indeed.

Islanders 4, Penguins 3 [OT] (New York leads series 1-0)

Some would call it an upset. Some Islanders fans might be upset about that since their team had home-ice advantage. No Islanders fans should be upset about this spirited win. Pittsburgh possessed the puck, especially as the game went along, but the precious win goes to the plucky Islanders.

Blues 2, Jets 1 (St. Louis leads series 1-0)

St. Louis finished the season on the rise, while Winnipeg was struggling mightily, yet the Jets soared off to an early lead. Jordan Binnington and the Blues ultimately won after scoring two third-period goals and keeping Winnipeg’s high-powered offense in check.

Stars 3, Predators 2 (Dallas leads series 1-0)

Coming into this game, it was worthy to note that both OK-to-paltry offenses included three defensemen in their top six scorers. They followed that script, as five of the six goals were scored by blueliners, with Miro Heiskanen leading the way with two of those tallies. Mats Zuccarello may not have played much for Dallas during the regular season, but he scored the game-winner. Also following the script was a Nashville power play that couldn’t get the job done. (UPDATE: The NHL has taken away Heiskanen’s second goal and awarded it to Alex Radulov.)

Sharks 5, Golden Knights 3 (San Jose leads series 1-0)

Speaking of scripts, San Jose flipped it, going from big Game 1 losers against Vegas last year to lopsided winners this year. The score got closer down the stretch, but the Sharks got the better of the Golden Knights during a testy, hard-hitting affair. This series could end up having everything – great scoring, dynamic defensemen, and brawning battles – as long as Vegas can keep it competitive.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Miro Heiskanen

Um, how is this guy just 19 years old? OK, he looks that way literally speaking, but he plays like a veteran.

After an impressive 12-goal, 33-point season as a rookie, Heiskanen scored two goals to help Dallas win Game 1 in Nashville. The Predators’ defense is one of the most-hyped in the NHL, and with good reason (including Wednesday, as P.K. Subban and Roman Josi provided the goals), but Heiskanen ranks as a big reason why the Stars aren’t as far behind on defense as many might realize.

2. Jordan Eberle

Plenty of Islanders were “under water” possession-wise against the Penguins in their Game 1 win, so Eberle’s game was already solid in that he was one of the few who won the shot share battle against Pittsburgh.

But if that’s too boring for you, Eberle scored the Islanders’ first goal of the game, and he also managed an assist while firing five shots on goal overall. That’s a far cry from the zero goals he managed during the Oilers’ playoff run that likely prompted his trade to the Islanders.

3. Brent Burns

There were some other strong performances on Wednesday, including Josh Anderson (an assist, plus a shorthanded goal) and Jordan Binnington (24 out of 25 saves), but Burns loomed large over Game 1, and not just because he was the person who deflected a puck off of Joe Pavelski’s face for the Sharks’ first goal (counting as an assist for Burns).

Burns scored a goal, and alongside Erik Karlsson, he reminded us prognosticators that the Sharks don’t just have an edge on defense over the Golden Knights in the form of two former Norris winners, they also have an edge over everyone else.

And you could consider this something of a collective Sharks award, if that helps. Erik Karlsson also had two assists, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Evander Kane got to two points by way of scoring a goal and an assist apiece.

Highlights of the Night

Josh Bailey’s OT winner came after he shot in a rebound following an exceptional effort from exceptional Islanders forward Mathew Barzal:

Might as well throw in Blue Jackets – Lightning, too. The David Savard goal is probably the most mind-blowing, particularly since he deked around Victor Hedman to make it happen.

Factoid of the Night

The Lightning didn’t lose a game where they had a three-goal lead all season, and they never blew a three-goal lead in a playoff game in franchise history until the Blue Jackets’ rally.

Thursday’s schedule
Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, Game 1, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (live stream)
Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals, Game 1, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA (live stream)
Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames, Game 1, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN (live stream)

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.

This time, Sharks dominate Golden Knights in Game 1

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The Sharks were overwhelmed against the Golden Knights last year, losing 7-0. The score wasn’t as lopsided in Game 1 of their Round 1 series to start the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but this time San Jose was the dominant team.

The duo of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson lived up to its billing on Wednesday, helping the Sharks beat Vegas 5-2, giving San Jose a 1-0 series lead. Burns generated a goal and an assist, while Karlsson collected two helpers. All of their three assists were of the primary variety. Evander Kane and Marc-Edouard Vlasic also chipped in two points apiece with one goal and one assist each.

At times, the game was almost as nasty as the dental repairs Joe Pavelski will require after the 1-0 goal went in off of his chin.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves jabbed at each other with their sticks late in the game, and there were some “pleasantries” after the final whistle. The two teams combined for 56 penalty minutes, and Game 1 included a span where the teams went 3-on-3. You … don’t usually see that happen, beyond the 3-on-3 overtime format of the regular season.

Last year’s series got nasty at times, and it seems like even though there are some key changes to both rosters, the disdain remains. This could be a physical, very unfriendly series. For a team that’s still as young as the Golden Knights, it sure seems like they’re building an intense rivalry with San Jose.

After Pavelski’s off-the-face goal made it 1-0 through 20 minutes, the Sharks really swam away with the game in the second period, increasing their lead to 4-1.

Mark Stone scored both of Vegas’ goals, including the 4-2 tally that made things more interesting for a spell in the third period. Beleaguered Sharks goalie Martin Jones was able to stop a Reilly Smith breakaway attempt, and then the Sharks scored the 5-2 empty-netter to end any last grasp at an unlikely Golden Knights rally.

This still seems like a series that could appeal to just about every type of hockey fan, but the Golden Knights need to find answers to make it more competitive after this lopsided Game 1. In other words, they might want to take a page from the Sharks, although Vegas hopes with the same outcome as last year, of the Golden Knights ultimately winning the series.

Golden Knights – Sharks Game 2 from The SAP Center will be Friday night at 10:30 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.

Karlsson, Panarin, Bobrovsky can close strong and cash in

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Many NHL teams have plenty to play for down the final stretch of the regular season, trying to get in the playoffs or to improve their positioning, before 16 teams compete for the Stanley Cup.

Some players have a lot at stake, too.

Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are a few of the potential free agents in the league with a chance to close strong and cash in by re-signing with their teams or on the open market.

The top trio of stars and some other standouts with a lot to gain financially when the season is finished, if not sooner:

KARLSSON

The San Jose Sharks acquired the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman from Ottawa before the season started, hoping they would have him for more than a year. To keep Karlsson off the market as an unrestricted free agent, San Jose may have to at least match the eight-year, $88 million deal the Los Angeles Kings gave defenseman Drew Doughty to stay last summer.

PANARIN

Dynamic scorers like the Russian winger rarely are available in free agency and a team that wants to spend a lot of money over many years may be able to land an 80-point scorer. Panarin has already said he wants to see if there are better options in the summer than staying with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are simply hoping he helps them win at least a postseason series for the first time.

BOBROVSKY

Big-time goaltenders, like the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, usually stay with their teams and off the market. Like his teammate and fellow countryman, the 30-year-old Bobrovsky will probably want to make the most of his opportunity to make as much money as he can with his next deal while being at or near the prime or his career.

Matt Duchene

It was a good time for the center, and his bank account, to have one of the best years of his career. He’s averaging more than a point per game this season, starting with Ottawa, before being dealt to Columbus . If Panarin and Bobrovsky appear to be leaving in free agency after the season, the Blue Jackets may give the 28-year-old Duchene a lot to stay before the market opens.

Jeff Skinner

The center has a shot to surpass the 63 points he has reached twice before the team he plays for, the Buffalo Sabres, are relegated to watching the postseason for an eighth straight season. The Sabres want to re-sign Skinner, but he might be willing to take a seven-year deal – instead of the eight he can get to stay – and join a Stanley Cup contender.

Jake Gardiner

He has been out for nearly a month with a back injury, but barring it lingering into the playoffs to cast doubt on his long-term health, one of the best defensemen available will be paid well to stay in Toronto or to go play for another team.

Wayne Simmonds

The winger has not produced much offensively with Nashville, which acquired him from Philadelphia, and yet he will have a chance to make a lasting impression when it matters most in the playoffs. Simmonds has a rare combination of scoring ability, toughness and durability.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

There is an excellent group of players eligible to be restricted free agents, including: forwards Mikko Rantanen, William Karlsson, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho and Matthew Tkachuk along with defensemen Jacob Trouba and Zach Werenski. Teams, though, rarely extend offer sheets to other franchise’s restricted free agents as Philadelphia did in 2012 with a $110 million, 14-year deal for Shea Weber, only to have the Predators match it.

Sharks being ‘extra cautious’ with Karlsson’s groin injury

A groin injury limited San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson to just 14 minutes and 10 minutes in each of his last two games. That situation has forced the team to ensure he’s healthy enough for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month.

“It’s a version of the same injury,” DeBoer said on Sunday after Karlsson underwent tests on the injury. “I don’t anticipate it being long term. No surgery, nothing like that. But we’re going to be obviously extra cautious and make sure.”

Karlsson, who has missed 14 games this season, sat out Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, a month after missing nine games after tweaking his groin. He returned for four games only to aggravate the injury, miss time, return, then re-aggravated it again.

The Sharks can afford to give Karlsson time to heal up as they are comfortably in a playoff spot in the Western Conference. There’s still plenty to play for, however, as they sit three points behind the Calgary Flames for both the Pacific Division and conference lead with 16 games to play.

In 52 games this season Karlsson has three goals and 45 points. Some time away while the Sharks continue playing well will bode well for both the team and one of their top blue liners as the first round approaches.

“No surgery,” said DeBoer. “It’s going to get better. It’s just time, so that’s good news.”

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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.

Flames, Sharks meet as battle for Pacific heats up

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Thursday night’s game between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks offers plenty of intrigue. They are the top two teams in the Pacific Division, and they are also the two highest scoring teams in the Western Conference. And after their most recent meeting on December 31 – an 8-5 Flames win – the scoreboard might not be the only place we see fireworks this evening.

In the final 41 seconds of that game, the two teams combined for 66 penalty minutes, including a match penalty for Sam Bennett after he concussed Sharks defenseman Radim Simek with a questionable hit. There was no supplemental discipline for the play, which the Sharks called “gutless” and “predatory” afterwards, so one wonders whether there will be any retribution sought by the Sharks on Bennett.

Close watch should also be kept on Evander Kane and Matthew Tkachuk, who each picked up 10-minute misconducts in a brawl just prior to the Bennett hit. There are fewer Kanes and Tkachuks in today’s NHL – both in terms of their style on the ice and their unfiltered remarks off the ice – which makes the build up to this game even more interesting. However, neither would fully take the bait when asked about things carrying over from December:

“I know what you’re asking, I know what you’re trying to get me to say. We’ll see,” Kane said via The Mercury News. “It’s something that, hopefully, everybody in this room remembers because it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a skill guy, a big guy, a tough guy or a small guy, it’s on each and every person in this room to stick up for one another. We’ll see.”

Said Tkachuk: “I’m don’t think I’m going to be the guy who’s going to give you what you want on that quote. Those games are fun to play in. I love those games. Our whole team’s thriving in those games this year. We have guys that can play that style, too. (Kane) is a good player. They’re a really good team. It’s going to be a great game.”

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was much more definitive in downplaying the revenge factor, telling reporters yesterday, “We know where everybody is in the standings, so that’s first and foremost. This isn’t about settling scores. This is about trying to close the gap on these guys in the division. There’s going to be a lot of emotion. It’s going to be physical. That stuff takes care of itself.”

He is right about the importance of this game in the standings. Since that New Year’s Eve meeting, the Flames have not lost to a Western Conference opponent, and they now have an opportunity to create a six-point cushion over the Sharks. Considering these teams play only once more during the regular season – and not until March 31 – this may be San Jose’s best opportunity to chip away at that deficit.

It would be an even bigger boost for the Sharks considering they will be without Erik Karlsson (lower body) for a sixth straight game, however he could return on the team’s current road trip. It should be noted that in the middle of this absence, Karlsson did participate in the NHL All-Star Game.

Regardless of the outcome tonight though, it is safe to say these are two of the most complete teams in the conference. Bill Peters is a Jack Adams candidate in his first year behind the bench for the Flames, and fellow former Hurricane Elias Lindholm has joined with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau to form one of the most potent lines in hockey. The Sharks are dangerous up and down their lineup, with a pair of Norris Trophy caliber defensemen, as well as five different forwards with 19+ goals – the most such players in the league.

San Jose and Calgary have not faced each other in the playoffs since 2008, but if they keep up their play from the first four months of the season, this could wind up being a high-scoring, hard-hitting, and headline-grabbing second round Stanley Cup playoff matchup.