Mario Lemieux

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My Favorite Goal: Lemieux’s end-to-end masterpiece; Hextall scores again

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, we have two selections from our NHL on NBC analysts. First, Patrick Sharp’s choice is one of the NHL’s most famous goals.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins holding a 2-1 lead in the second period of Game 2 of the 1991 Stanley Cup Final, Mario Lemieux took a pass from Phil Bourque and proceeded to make mince meat out of the Minnesota North Stars. Shawn Chambers, Neil Wilkinson and Jon Casey had no chance at defending “Le Manifique.”

The Penguins would go on the win the game 4-1 and the series in six games to take home their first Stanley Cup title.

Our second choice is from Keith Jones, who picked a goal that made NHL playoff history.

A year and a half after Ron Hextall became the first goaltender to actually shoot and score a goal, he became the first to do it in the playoffs against the Washington Capitals. The Philadelphia Flyers netminder had always wanted to score in a game and was going to take advantage of every opportunity that was presented.

While Billy Smith was the first goalie to be credited with a goal, no NHL netminder had shot the puck down the ice at an empty net and scored until Hextall first accomplished the feat in Dec. 1987 against the Boston Bruins. He was the first to do it twice.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada

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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.

The Buzzer: More astounding numbers from McDavid, Draisaitl, Pastrnak

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Three Stars from three games

1. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Sunday night was quite the night for players putting up the sort of numbers you’d expect halfway through the 2019-20 season, not reaching such totals by the first night of December.

First up: the duo of Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.

The two scored two points apiece, with Draisaitl scoring two goals and McDavid providing two assists. With that, McDavid (51 points) and Draisaitl (50) became the first players to hit the 50+ point mark this season. Draisaitl scored the Oilers’ second and third goals of a 3-2 win against the Canucks, both on the power play (so, in case it escaped you, Draisaitl nabbed the GWG).

Draisaitl now has five game-winners so far this season, which would also translate into a lofty half-season total, and really not a bad mark over 82 games, either, for that matter. In fact, five GWGs matches Draisaitl’s career-high.

2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

It was David Pastrnak, not Rask, who best fits into the storyline of reaching the sort of numbers you’d expect from a league leader at the halfway mark. Pastrnak’s swaggery goal marked his 25th goal of 2019-20, which is pretty absurd since he’s only played 27 games.

[MORE: Can anyone catch Pastrnak for the Maurice Richard?]

When you zoom in and focus on Sunday’s specific stories, Rask played a big role in the Bruins winning their seventh straight game, thus handing the Canadiens a painful eighth consecutive loss.

Rask made 28 out of 29 saves against the Canadiens, only allowing a Joel Armia goal off of an odd bounce about two minutes into the game. The veteran goalie is now on a personal six-game winning streak, and he’s putting together some of the best work of his impressive career with a sparkling .933 save percentage in 2019-20.

3. Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild

Through the first eight games of the season, Fiala only had a single assist.

Maybe Fiala just needed to work his way through horror movie season, because he’s been lights-out since November, generating 13 points in his last 14 games.

Sunday marked one of the speedy sniper’s better performances during that span. Fiala scored a goal, grabbed a primary assist, and nabbed a shootout tally as Minnesota narrowly beat Dallas. Fiala was busy overall, with a robust eight shots on goal.

Highlight of the Night

Again, ouch, harsh. The celebration from Pastrnak really dug the knife deeper:

Factoids

  • If you want to be sentimental and give Mikko Koivu the third star after he scored a goal and the shootout-winner during his 1,000th NHL game, that’s fair. Also, Koivu probably deserves to have a Selke on his resume, so maybe a nudge toward the third star is in order?

(The Wild note that Koivu hit point 700. By using my unparalleled math abilities, I estimate that Koivu’s scored points in 70 percent of his NHL regular-season games.)

  • McDavid and Draisaitl tower over contemporaries, so you have to roll things back and channel Wayne Gretzky to keep them humble at 50 points before everyone else. Gretzky hit 50 before anyone else for seven straight seasons, according to NHL PR. There’s a lot of Gretzky, Gretzky + Mario Lemieux, and some Jaromir Jagr/Peter Forsberg sprinkled into the various milestones McDavid and/or Draisaitl have managed.
  • Speaking of Lemieux, Pastrnak is the first player to hit 25+ goals by Dec. 1 since Mario did it in 1992-93, according to NHL PR. Pastrnak is one of 11 players to manage this feat … and yes, Gretzky is also on that list. Sportsnet specifies in games played rather than by a date: Pastrnak’s 25 goals in 27 games is the best start since Jaromir Jagr in 1996-97.
  • Also via Sportsnet: this eight-game losing streak is the third-worst in Canadiens’ history, and their worst since losing nine in a row 1940. The worst mark was 12 in a row, set in 1926.

Scores

MIN 3 – DAL 2 (SO)
BOS 3 – MTL 1
EDM 3 – VAN 2

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.

The Buzzer: Avs keep winning thanks to MacKinnon

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Three Stars

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

It’s hard to imagine there being all that many hot takes sizzling out there about MacKinnon not being able to dominate on his own, but if they existed, they’ve gone ice cold as the speedster continues to score with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog on the shelf. (Among others.)

The Blackhawks had little hope of slow MacKinnon down – literally and figuratively – as he scored one goal and three assists, with two of those helpers being of the primary variety.

J.T. Compher had a strong game as well with a goal and two assists, while Pavel Francouz made 34 out of 36 saves.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

The Predators have an elite defense, but at times, that label is more about how much they can drive offense (and serve as a net-positive) more than it is about always locking teams down, at least now that we’re firmly in the Peter Laviolette era.

With that in mind, Rinne, in particular, has been crucial to Nashville’s success. So, when he struggles (18 goals allowed in his last four games heading into Friday, with only one full game during that time), it’s a Rinne-sized worry.

Maybe Friday can serve as a confidence-booster? He made 31 saves to shut out a tough Hurricanes team, hitting some significant milestones in the process. Consider these some early factoids: Rinne became the 22nd goalie to reach 350 career wins, and this marked his 58th shutout, tying him for 19th in NHL history.

3. Gustav Nyquist, Columbus Blue Jackets

For all the CBJ lost during the offseason, they made a reasonable pickup by adding Nyquist’s skill and smarts to their mix.

After a respectable-but-unspectacular October, Nyquist scored 12 of his 18 points during 13 November games. Friday was the highlight, as Nyquist generated a hat trick as the Blue Jackets beat the Penguins. Considering how much John Tortorella seems to dislike the Pens, that’s a triply delicious accomplishment.

The only thing that keeps Nyquist from advancing up this list is that one of his three goals was an empty-netter.

Highlights of the Night

David Pastrnak‘s fantastic overtime setup can be seen in the overall highlights of the Bruins’ OT win against the Rangers:

To spread the wealth a little bit, enjoy Brenden Dillon setting up Noah Gregor for one heck of a first NHL goal. This is like a … well, luckier version of Erik Karlsson‘s memorable setup for Mike Hoffman from a few years back.

Factoids

  • NHL PR notes that Henrik Lundqvist is the only goalie with more shutouts (63) than Pekka Rinne (58) since Rinne came into the league in 2005-06.
  • David Pastrnak scored 12+ goals for the second consecutive month. Via NHL PR: only three other players have managed that during the first two months of a season: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mike Bossy.
  • Maybe don’t sit on a lead against the Capitals? Washington already has five wins in games where they trailed by multiple goals in 2019-20, the most of any team, according to NHL PR. Alex Ovechkin scored his 255th career power-play goal, tying Teemu Selanne for third-most in NHL history. Brett Hull is second all-time with 265 PPG, while Dave Andreychuk has the record with 274. Feels like a healthy Ovechkin could blow those totals out of the water, right?
  • Sportsnet stats with another interesting Ovechkin nugget:

Scores

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

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.

The Buzzer: Islanders, others make Saturday strong for streaks

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Happy streaks continue, sad ones end

The Sharks beat the Islanders 2-1 in overtime, ending the Isles’ latest winning streak at five. You may notice that it took OT to make that happen, though, so the Islanders’ franchise-record point streak grows to 17 games (15-0-2).

Dallas isn’t all that far behind the Islanders, as the Stars have won six games in a row, and are now 13-1-1 in their past 15 games.

Two six-game losing streaks ended on Saturday, as the Flames should thank David Rittich, while the Predators won but must cross their fingers about Viktor Arvidsson‘s health.

Three Stars

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

It’s difficult to pick between Bergeron (four assists) and his teammate Torey Krug (overtime game-winning goal, two assists). Feel free to swap them in your mind if that suits your taste, but either way, Boston’s biggest names continue to propel them to wins.

Bergeron hasn’t been as spectacular as Brad Marchand (1G, 1A on Saturday) and David Pastrnak (no points) this season, but he’s still playing well, as this outburst gives him 24 points in 21 games. The 34-year-old also has a four-game point/assist streak going, with seven during that span.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combined for another dominant performance, as they’re wont to do.

McDavid scored two goals, while Draisaitl piled up three assists, all primary. That extra point gives Draisaitl (47) the season points lead over McDavid (46), and also gets Draisaitl the mention as the second star instead of 97. McDavid will probably work through this setback.

3. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars

There seems to be a theme running. At some point, the Islanders have to cool off a bit, right? McDavid + Draisaitl and the Bruins’ top line can’t dominate every game, can they?

We’re at the point where the Stars duo of Khudobin and Ben Bishop are inspiring similar questions (and serving as parallels to the Isles’ goalies), as they just keep getting it done. Dallas needed all of Khudobin’s 38 saves through regulation and overtime to win in a shootout where Khudobin turned aside both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Robin Lehner deserves a mention, as stopped 40 out of 41 shots but didn’t get the W. Lehner’s essentially playing like an amazing MLB ace who is getting basically zero run support most nights with the Blackhawks.

Highlight of the Night

This is a dazzling bit of wizardry from the Rangers, who managed to storm back from an 0-4 deficit to beat the Canadiens 6-5 in regulation:

Ewww

If you’re anxious about an upcoming dentist visit, don’t hit play. Or if you’re squeamish, really. Keith Yandle is a hockey player, thus he returned …

Factoids

  • Sportsnet points out that Draisaitl and McDavid are the first teammates with at least 45 points each in their team’s first 25 games since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr managed the feat for the Penguins in 1995-96. The full list of pairings to pull that off is quite small.
  • Josh Morrissey and Nathan Beaulieu were injured during the Jets’ game, and so was the night’s starter, Laurent Brossoit. Winnipeg still managed a win.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy set a Lightning franchise record with his 132nd win. That face doesn’t necessarily say “Wow, that’s not a very impressive franchise record,” but its nondescript nature is even more amusing if you imagine in that way.

  • NHL PR notes that the Rangers’ comeback win from down four goals ranks as the fifth such comeback win already this season, which already ties the league’s single-season record. Feel free to make jokes about how a four-goal lead has replaced a two-goal lead as the “worst lead in hockey.”

(You actually really don’t have to.)

Scores

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

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.

NHL on NBCSN: History of top-two picks facing off for first time

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are always going to be compared. Not only because they were the top two picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, but because they are now going to be the centerpieces on each side of one of the league’s fiercest rivalries between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

They will meet head-to-head for the first time on Thursday night when Hughes and the Devils host Kakko and the Rangers at Prudential Center in Newark.

With that in mind let’s take a little trip in the time machine and recall some of the more notable first-ever meetings between top-two picks in the same draft class.

2016-17: Patrik Laine (Winnipeg Jets) vs. Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Date: October 19, 2016
Result: 
The No. 2 overall pick (Laine) ended up stealing the show in this game as the Jets overcame a 4-0 deficit to beat Matthews and the Maple Leafs in overtime thanks almost entirely to the play of Laine. He was outstanding on the night, scoring three goals — including the overtime winner — and giving Jets fans one of their first glimpses of his ability to take over a game and dominate it. Both teams have become contenders in the years since, but only Laine and the Jets have gone on any kind of a playoff run to get close to a championship to this point.

2015-16: Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) vs. Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres)

Date: March 1, 2016.
Result: The Sabres spent the entire 2014-15 season losing hockey games — to the delight of their fans and front office — in a quest to finish with the league’s worst record to put them in a position to secure one of the top two picks in the draft where McDavid and Eichel would be waiting. The ultimate prize was McDavid, and the one that the entire season-long tankfest was inspired by. But instead of going to Buffalo, the league’s worst team over the previous two years, the Oilers snuck in to win their fourth draft lottery in six years to steal McDavid away from Buffalo. Eichel turned out to be a fine consolation prize, but in their first head-to-head meeting McDavid single-handedly drove the Oilers to a win by scoring both goals in a 2-1 overtime win. Neither team has found much sustained success in the years since, but both are off to great starts this season. 

2009-10: John Tavares (New York Islanders) vs. Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning

Date: Dec. 5, 2009
Result: This was an intriguing one because you could start a debate on what type of player you would rather build your team around — a star No. 1 center or a No. 1 defender. The Islanders ended up going with the center (Tavares) leaving the Lightning with the defender (Hedman) at No. 2. In their first meeting it was Hedman that got the better of it, playing 22 minutes and recording an assist in a 4-0 Lightning win. Tavares was a great player for the Islanders, but the team managed just one postseason series win before he left in free agency to return home to Toronto. Hedman is one of the best defenders in the league and remains a focal point of a Stanley Cup contender for a Lightning team that has been one of the league’s best over the past five years.

2006-07: Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) vs. Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Date: Dec. 11, 2006
Result: The top two picks in the 2004 NHL draft had to wait two years to face off due to an NHL lockout and Malkin not immediately making the jump to the NHL. When they finally met it was a hectic game with Malkin and the Penguins overcoming a 4-0 deficit to beat the Capitals, 5-4. Malkin scored the game-winning goal and added an assist, while Ovechkin had two helpers. The Penguins-Capitals rivalry always focussed on Crosby and Ovechkin, but the Malkin-Ovechkin dynamic was almost even more interesting because they were the top two picks in the same draft (with both teams rebuilding the year before trying to position themselves for Ovechkin), were from the same country, and for a while seemed to have a genuine dislike for one another.

[MORE: Hughes, Kakko unfazed ahead of first Devils-Rangers game]

1997-98: Joe Thornton (Boston Bruins) vs. Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks)

Date: October 11, 1997
Result: 
The intrigue here wasn’t necessarily what happened in this game (Marleau had one assist in a run-of-the-mill Sharks win), but what happened years later when Thornton and Marleau ended up becoming teammates in San Jose. The Bruins traded Thornton to the Sharks in the middle of the 2005-06 season, uniting him with Marleau where the two of them would be the focal point of the franchise more than a decade (they were reunited again earlier this season when Marleau returned to San Jose as a free agent).

1993-94: Alexandre Daigle (Ottawa Senators) vs. Chris Pronger (Hartford Whalers)

Date: Nov. 10, 1993
Result: The Senators were so bad at the end of their inaugural season 1992-93 season that they were accused of intentionally losing games in order to secure the top pick in an effort to select Daigle, ultimately helping to lead to the creation of the draft lottery. The Senators ended up picking Daigle No. 1 overall and hindsight would not be kind to this pick. Not only because Daigle was a bust, but because the player selected immediately after him (Pronger) went on to become one of the all-time greats on defense and one of the most impactful players in league history. In their first matchup Daigle actually got the better of it, scoring a goal (already his seventh in his first 13 games!) in a 4-3 win over Pronger and the Whalers.

1984-85: Pittsburgh Penguins (Mario Lemieux) vs. New Jersey Devils (Kirk Muller)

Date: Oct. 24, 1984
Result: The Penguins and Devils were two historically bad teams during the 1983-84 season and there was a huge prize waiting for the worst of the two in the 1984 draft — Mario Lemieux. The Penguins succeeded in being just a little bit worse and selected Lemieux. It was a franchise-altering moment that ended up saving the team for the first time. Muller and the Devils ended up winning the first game and it was one of the few times during Lemieux’s rookie season that he was held off the scoresheet.

Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live on Thursday with analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones. Kenny Albert, Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.