The Buzzer: Spectacular debut to end season; Many records broken

15 Comments

(UPDATE: Here’s the full Round 1 schedule with dates and TV info.)

Round 1 matchups are set

The Predators winning the Central Division was the biggest tournament-altering moment of the last night of the regular season. You can now see all eight series matchups here, with additional information.

Those who didn’t make it …

Get to cross their fingers and hope that their team wins the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery. Get the lowdown in this post.

Kucherov, Lightning hit 128

In a remarkable moment of symmetry, both the Lightning and Nikita Kucherov will end 2018-19 with 128 points. On the way, the Bolts tied the NHL record with 62 wins. This post is basically the factoids on those specific accomplishments, and they’re really something.

Three Stars

1. Ryan Poehling

For Poehling, this wasn’t just the last game of the season, it was also his first NHL game. So what did he do? He celebrated it with a hat trick and a shootout-winner, that’s how. Yes, it is indeed worth a post of its own.

In what was one of the other highlights of the night, legendary announcer Bob Cole ended his broadcasting career while Poehling began his in a memorable way:

2. Robin Lehner

Lehner put a bow on a remarkable regular season, making 29 saves for his sixth shutout of 2018-19. He did so in just 46 games played (43 of those being starts), going 25-13-5 with a tremendous .930 save percentage.

With Thomas Greiss being almost as good in 2018-19, it’s unlikely that Lehner built up the volume of games (and to some voters, most importantly wins) to be a serious Vezina threat. Nights like these should stand as a reminder of just how special his season has been.

Then again, Lehner and Greiss combined to win the William Jennings Trophy for the lowest GAA, so they get fitting recognition as a tandem.

Now, the question is: can he back it up during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs? For all of the Penguins’ flaws, they have a knack for making even the hottest goalies look cold.

3. Oliver Bjorkstrand

If the Blue Jackets hope to upset the mighty Lightning, they’ll probably need more than just a strong series from Artemi Panarin and for Sergei Bobrovsky to finally overcome the ghosts of playoffs past.

Someone like Bjorkstrand pitching in would really help. He’s been absolutely on fire during the last 10 games, firing in an impressive nine goals and two assists for 11 points. Bjorkstrand managed all of his assists in one game: Saturday’s 6-2 thumping of the Senators, where the winger also scored a goal.

Bjorkstrand’s shown signs of being a dangerous player in the past, including at lower levels than the NHL. He could be an X-factor in the first round … if Columbus manages to keep things close, at least.

Highlight of the Night

Scratch that, let’s call this what it is:

One more Gritty video

Gritty vs. goalies? The Flyers are embracing their history, right?

Factoids

Scores
TBL 6 – BOS 3
STL 3 – VAN 2 (SO)
MTL 6 – TOR 5 (SO)
CBJ 6 – OTT 2
BUF 7 – DET 1
NJD 4 – FLA 3 (OT)
CAR 4 – PHI 3
NYR 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
NYI 3 – WSH 0
NSH 5 – CHI 2
DAL 3 – MIN 0
EDM 3 – CGY 1
WPG 4 – ARI 2
LAK 5 – VGK 2
SJS 5 – COL 2

For the third consecutive postseason, NBC Sports’ coverage of Stanley Cup Playoff first-round games on NBCUniversal cable networks (NBCSN, USA Network and CNBC), as well as NHL Network, will air side-by-side and will be available for streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app in local markets alongside regional sports network game telecasts. (Local blackouts apply in Las Vegas and Pittsburgh in the first round).

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.

McDavid, Marchand, Gritty top 2019 NHLPA Player Poll

2 Comments

The annual NHLPA Player Poll has been released and there are very few surprises from the results. Over 500 players took part in the 20-question poll answering questions ranging from best forward to best shot to biggest trash talker to best mascot to best hair. The poll was conducted during the Players’ Association’s annual team meetings, which took place between late September 2018 and early January 2019.

You won’t be shocked to read that the players are big fans of both Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. The Edmonton Oilers captain was voted “Best Forward” (63.6 percent), “Most Difficult to Play Against” (30.9 percent), and “Player You Would Select to Start a Franchise With” (60 percent). The Pittsburgh Penguins captain was the runner up in all three of those categories.

Reigning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman was named “Best Defenseman” (31.7 percent) and Carey Price was given the title of “Best Goalie” (29.9 percent).

In some off-beat categories, Brad Marchand was a double winner. The Boston Bruins pest was voted “Biggest Trash Talker” (21.3 percent) and “Worst Trash Talker” (12.5 percent) by his peers.

Marchand was honored by his victories:

Gritty, as you’d expect, was voted “Best Mascot” (69.4 percent), Hilary Knight (27.6 percent) topped Marie-Philip Poulin (24.1 percent) as the “Best Current Female Player,” and Erik Karlsson (18.4 percent) was given the honor of “Best Hair,” beating out long-time champion Henrik Lundqvist (6.6 percent).

Check out the NHLPA site to see who the players believe is most underrated, who would make the best general manager after retirement, the funniest player, NHL arena with the best ice, and more.

————

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.

Gritty’s grand entrance highlights Stadium Series pregame

7 Comments

PHILADELPHIA — Right after some current and retired Philadelphia sports stars and legends — Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Clarke, Boban Marjanović — were introduced to the Lincoln Financial Field crowd, the real star of the city took center stage.

All week long, Gritty had been teasing some sort of big stunt before Saturday’s Stadium Series game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Sure enough, just before the players entered the field, there was Gritty standing on top of the stadium wearing an lit up LED suit. Braving the elements, Gritty then jumped off and flew via zipline to the field as the teams began to walk out.

We knew Gritty was comical, but we didn’t know it had a bit of daredevil inside.

While the crowd went nuts, Gritty’s grand entrance didn’t sit too well with one NHL mascot.

Gritty’s mainstream popularity is big enough that some serious mascot-on-mascot chirping might become a regular thing. We’re all for it.

————

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.

Scott Hartnell on transitioning to media, his outdoor game experience, Gritty (PHT Q&A)

2 Comments

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Retirement has been good for Scott Hartnell. The 17-year NHL veteran announced his retirement in October and has been using the time away from the game to spend it with his family. He certainly doesn’t miss the traveling or the grind of an 82-game season, but definitely misses being around his teammates on a daily basis.

“But when you know, you know,” Hartnell told Pro Hockey Talk this week about retiring. “It was time for me to walk away from the game. I’ve just really, really enjoyed my time away.”

Following a few on-air stints in the off-season, Hartnell joined NHL Network this week as a studio analyst and will debut during this weekend’s coverage of the Stadium Series game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins from Lincoln Financial Field.

While still playing, Hartnell said he would run into on-air personalities who told him he would be great on TV. Since then, trying TV out was in the back of his mind and he’s eager for the opportunity.

“Right now, it’s just kind of me getting my feet wet here with NHL Network and looking to do more shows, get more involved and feel more comfortable,” he said.

We spoke with Hartnell this week about the balance of being a former player and using criticism in his new role, his outdoor game experience, Carter Hart, and, of course, his new pal Gritty.

Enjoy.

Q. As you were nearing the end of your playing days, did you start thinking about what you wanted to do post-hockey?

HARTNELL: “Yeah, I remember somebody asked me after my first year ‘What are you after hockey? It’s not going to last forever.’ I was like, oh, I’m going to play until my mid-30s, and chances were that wasn’t going to be the case. Fast forward 17 years and that was the case. Reality is I’ve got a good support system around me, still have talk to my agent, still have some good friends that are still playing and some friends that retired. You just kind of lean on all of those people and your friendships over the years. Obviously things work out and you kind of go in the direction where some things are interesting for you.”

Q. How do you think you’ll be able to balance your relationships in the game and sometimes having to be critical of friends, ex-teammates and teams you played for?

HARTNELL: “I don’t think I want to be one of those guys where you just absolutely bury a guy for not taking a hit to make the play, where if I was a teammate I probably would have said something. I don’t want to be that guy on TV; you kind of ruin some friendships along the way. There’s a fine line where I think you can constructively criticize and to get your point across without hurting anybody’s feelings.”

Q. How did you view the role of the media as a player?

HARTNELL: “I’m not going to lie, some days it’s more annoying than other days. Some days you’ve got to face the music when there’s a bad play or a bad turnover. Some days are fun, like when you’ve got a hat trick or scored a big goal or made a play that made a difference in the game. It all depends day-to-day. When you’re losing hockey games the media sucks. When you’re winning hockey games it’s let them come in early, right? There’s so many different scenarios.

“To be on the other side of a microphone, thinking of questions, asking questions, it’s very different, very uncomfortable right now.”

Q. You were able to play in two outdoor games with the Flyers in your career, one at home, one away. From your experience, would you say that being the home team is a little tougher going into it compared to the road team where it’s like a business trip with fewer distractions of family and people hitting you up for tickets?

HARTNELL: “Yes and no. Obviously you have some friends that are asking for tickets, you don’t want to say no. The one I played on the road [2010 Winter Classic in Boston], I had some family come in for that. It was standard. You want to take care of the tickets a couple days before the game so you’re not thinking of who I have to leave passes for and those kind of things. That was my kind of rule. If you ask the day of the game, I won’t even answer my phone. 

“It’s fun when it’s a big rivalry like with Pittsburgh. Flyers have made a great push, it’s at the Linc. It’s going to be a wonderful atmosphere.”

Q. Having played in Philadelphia, knowing the history of the franchise, are you amazed at how Carter Hart has come in, especially when he was called up, and helped lead a turnaround?

HARTNELL: “It’s exciting. I think fans were getting sick and tired of the losing, the uncompetitive play. One kid and obviously a couple of changes behind the bench and in the front office, it’s totally turned the mentality of the team. Talking to guys, the room is fun to be in now. Those first few games when Hart was in net, you felt like they were playing better defense, they were stepping into shots, they were not trying to get out of the way of a shot. It’s really fun to see that fire back in the dressing room and that correlates to the ice.”

Q. Finally, what was it like to spend a day with Gritty?

HARTNELL: “That guy is my best friend. He’s awesome. He’s quite the personality. I didn’t think it would go over as well. I was thinking, ‘Oh, boy, can’t wait to see this one fail.’ It’s been hilarious. The personality of him is great, how he’s up there skating with kids and running them over. I’m a big fan and enjoy him.”

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

————

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.

2019 NHL All-Star Skills: Winners, funny moments, Gritty

3 Comments

With six often-challenging events, inspired moments, and lightning-fast Kendall Coyne, the 2019 NHL All-Star SKills brought a wonderful mix of the expected and unexpected.

In the video above, you can take a look at:

Of course, with an event like this, it’s not just about the winners, losers, near-misses, and near-injuries. (Wipe some sweat off your brow for Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars fans.)

Mascots would try their hands (Paws? Hooves? Tentacles?) at various events, which of course meant that there was Gritty. There’s even an “accidental” nod to Gritty falling over … at least it seemed not-so-accidental:

(Hopefully giving Gritty all this attention doesn’t ruffle any fea–let’s move on.)

Click here for a thread of flossing. Dare I say it, but Jon Cooper’s better at it than Roman Josi, right?

Auston Matthews giving a nod to current Maple Leaf and former Shark Patrick Marleau was one of the biggest crowd-pleasing moments.

Brent Burns‘ son showed some shot-blocking prowess.

Take your pick of heartwarming moments with kiddos, honestly.

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, but this is basically what the NHL version would look like, right?

You can see it in the full highlight package, but how about we watch that Coyne lap one more time?

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.