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The Buzzer: Henrique back in Jersey, McAvoy channels Howe

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Players of the Night:

Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks: Henrique had a goal — a beauty of a goal — and an assist in his return to New Jersey, just three weeks after being dealt there. His Ducks didn’t get the last laugh though. The Devils had a solid third-period comeback to win 5-3.

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins: Who doesn’t like a Gordie Howe hat trick? McAvoy certainly liked his tonight. He scored the game-winner, assisted on two goals and fought Pierre-Luc Dubois to cap off the feat.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: Quick stopped 36-of-37 to end the Philadelphia Flyers six-game winning streak and ended the Kings’ three-game losing streak. The Kings have been very good this season and Quick has been front and center in that.

Highlights of the Night:

For this one, we start by going back to New Jersey and we go back to Henrique’s sensational goal against his former club.

Jesper Bratt scored this cheeky yet wicked wrist shot for the Devils tonight:

Brian Elliott didn’t have much luck against the Kings tonight, but he produced quite the glove save:

Factoid of the Night:

MISC: 

Scores:

Kings 4, Flyers 1

Devils 5, Ducks 3

Bruins 7, Blue Jackets 2

Avalanche 4, Penguins 2

Oilers 5, Sharks 3


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

Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray and their lasting friendship formed in Pittsburgh

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The text was short and sweet, but it was the start of a friendship that continues today despite a difference in uniforms.

Matt Murray had just won the 2014-15 “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as AHL rookie of the year when his phone buzzed. It was a text from Marc-Andre Fleury, who was coming off of his 10th NHL season. It was a simple message congratulating him on a great season that ended with “see you in training camp.”

The two didn’t realize that a little more than a year from that moment they would be helping the Pittsburgh Penguins to the first of two Stanley Cups — two championships that both would play an integral part in as the franchise slowly experienced a changing of the guard in goal.

***

On Thursday afternoon Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan made it official. Murray would return from a lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since Nov. 27 to start against the Vegas Golden Knights. It was a piece of news that completed the intrigue into the first meeting between the two teams this season. Earlier this week, Fleury played his first game in over two months after dealing with a concussion. It was a warm-up game for the real main event — a game against his old club and the chance to stare down at the other end of the rink and see his former mentee between the pipes.

“It’s exciting for me. He was definitely my mentor, the biggest mentor I’ve had in my pro career,” Murray said on Wednesday. “I wish I had more time to study under him and more time to be around him, but unfortunately we’re on different sides now.”

***

The writing was on the wall at the start of the 2016-17 NHL season. With Murray’s emergence during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and an expansion draft looming in June 2017, it was clear that Fleury’s time in Pittsburgh was coming to an end. And while other general managers may have tried to swing a deal in order to get something in return for the player, Jim Rutherford, a former goaltender himself, knew how vital it was for the team to have a two-headed monster. He saw how important it was during the run the previous spring, and with the Penguins going for back-to-back championships it wasn’t going to happen without two trustworthy goaltenders that Sullivan could call upon.

Fleury sticking around through the end of last season proved vital as he grabbed the starter’s reins again after Murray got hurt before their first playoff game. As he did the the previous postseason, Murray regained the No. 1 job and led the Penguins to a second straight Cup.

All of that doesn’t happen if Murray isn’t sharing the net with a veteran like Fleury, and learning as much on the ice as he was off of it.

“He’s been unbelievable. I don’t know where I would be without Fleury’s mentorship, his advice,” Murray told me after the 2016 Cup Final. “There was a couple of times where I was struggling throughout the playoffs and even during the season, and I think that’s normal for a rookie. This is my first time in the league and first time going through this.

“Of course I had some ups and some downs. He was there all the way through to help me through the downs. I’ll remember our friendship forever.”

While some may have a wanted to paint an icy rivalry between the two, it was never like that for them. They wanted to help each other, which in turn would benefit the team. When it was crystal clear Fleury’s days in Pittsburgh were numbered, it was about supporting the young goaltender to handle the rigors of being a full-time No. 1.

When a lower-body injury took out Murray before their first game against Columbus in Round 1 last spring, the final love-in for Fleury began. He helped the Penguins dispatch the Blue Jackets in five games and once again knock out the Washington Capitals in seven games. After Pittsburgh dropped two of the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators, Sullivan turned back to a healthy Murray, who would start their final 10 games, which ended with another championship.

Fleury may not have finished the job last June in Nashville, but he was a big reason why they were there in the first place, and a huge reason why Murray, the one in net when the clock hit 0:00 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 6, was prepared for the moment.

The celebration in Nashville was one of the final times Murray and Fleury were together. Everyone knew it was Fleury’s last ride and the emotions poured out from his teammates. And when Fleury did his final Cup raise as a Penguin, he gave it a kiss and turned to seek out Murray. He would find him and after exchanging words, he handed off the trophy to his crease mate.

That decision will stay with Murray forever.

“It means everything to me, honestly,” Murray said after Fleury’s Cup pass. “The fact that he handed me the Cup there that was one of the most special moments in my life, for sure.”

***

Ask Fleury what was special about his time sharing a crease with Murray and he’ll tell you “winning.” After a dinner with former teammates Wednesday night, they’ll be opponents on Thursday inside T-Mobile Arena. There will be some fun trash talk during the game from both the Penguins and the goaltender himself, who’s known to dish it out pretty good. Then the two teams will go their separate ways until Feb. 6 when Vegas travels to Pittsburgh for the first time. That’s when there will be an outpouring of love from the city where he grew up as a professional and began raising a family.

And barring any unforseen circumstances, one of Fleury’s biggest fans will be on the other side of the ice once again and memories of their time winning back-to-back championships will resurface.

“That’s what it’s all about. Being able to share it with a good young goaltender who’s going to have a good future,” Fleury said. “I was fortunate to share that with him.”

————

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: Milestones, shutouts and NHL firsts

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Players of the Night:

Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings: 

Gaborik scored twice and helped propel a four-goal third period for the Kings, who came back from a 2-1 deficit after 40 minutes to win 5-2 against the visiting Minnesota Wild. Gaborik’s second goal of the night was his 400th of his NHL career. It came against the team he achieved his highest scoring prowess with.

Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings: 

Nyquist scored twice and added a helper as the Red Wings toppled the Western Conference-best Winnipeg Jets at Little Caesars Arena. Nyquist’s first-period marker held up as the game-winner in a big game for the Red Wings, who responded after getting shellacked 10-1 by the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks:

Markstrom made 30 saves in a 3-0 win for the Canucks against the Carolina Hurricanes. His shutout was the first of his NHL career.

Highlights of the Night:

Boo Nieves, the owner of one of the coolest nicknames in the league, scored his first NHL goal on a slick wrist shot in the first period of a 4-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

John Gibson committed this theft tonight. The victim failed to press charges:

Shea Weber did his best Clayton Kershaw impression to score against the St. Louis Blues:

Factoids of the Night:

Gaborik had a pretty good night:

And Nikita Kucherov put himself in some pretty elite company, both in Tampa Bay Lightning history, as well as NHL history in general:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Blue Jackets 1

Rangers 4, Penguins 3

Blues 4, Canadiens 3

Red Wings 5, Jets 1

Lightning 6, Islanders 2

Predators 5, Stars 2

Sabres 4, Avalanche 2

Canucks 3, Hurricanes 0

Golden Knights 4, Ducks 3 (SO)

Kings 5, Wild 2


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

Pittsburgh Penguins are rolling

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The Pittsburgh Penguins sure look like a team that has won back to back Stanley Cups these days.

And there’s no shortage of reasons why.

Scoring has come in abundance during their current four-game winning streak, their longest of the season after taking down the hapless Buffalo Sabres 5-1 on Saturday. The Pens have lit the lamp no less than four times in each of those four games, scoring 19 during that span.

Some of their resurgence stems from Sidney Crosby returning to Sidney Crosby form.

Crosby has been lights out, sporting a six-game point streak (including a five-game goal-scoring streak) with six goals and seven assists. Crosby had struggled prior to his recent outburst, with just one goal and five assists in his previous 14 games before embarking on the heater.

Stick with scoring, another one of Pittsburgh’s keys to success during their winning streak has been scoring first.

The Penguins are now 13-2-2 when scoring first, as opposed to 2-8-1 when their opponent finds twine before they do. Furthermore, Pittsburgh has yet to lose in regulation when leading after 20 minutes, going 9-0-1 this season.

And perhaps most importantly, the fall off in the crease with Matt Murray out of the lineup with a lower-body injury has been non-existent.

Tristan Jarry has been a godsend to a team that looked to be in trouble when Murray exited a game earlier this week.

But Jarry recorded a shutout on Friday night against the Sabres and then allowed just one goal on 32 shots on Saturday against that same Buffalo team.

Jarry and Co. have a much stiffer schedule on the horizon, with dates against the high-flying New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs over the next week.

But they’re far from looking ill-equipped, even with Murray out for the next couple of weeks.


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

Matt Murray’s injury could intensify Ian Cole trade rumours

Murray injured in Voracek collision
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Trade rumors involving Ian Cole may start to pick up even more steam after the Pittsburgh Penguins announced Matt Murray is week-to-week with a lower-body injury on Tuesday.

Murray, 23, was injured in Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers when Jakub Voracek collided with Murray, sending the two-time Stanley Cup winner’s leg awkwardly into the post.

The injury is a big blow to the Penguins, who are sitting in the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Not only have they been struggling with consistency this season, they now have two goalies on their roster with a combined five games of NHL experience.

Tristan Jarry, 22, is slated to be Murray’s replacement for the time being. He’s appeared in four games, all this season, and owns a 2-0-2 record. He’s played well, but questions of his long-term viability at this point are unanswered. The Penguins recalled Casey DeSmith, 26, on Tuesday, who allowed three goals on 15 shots in 42 minutes in his NHL debut earlier this year.

Cole, meanwhile, has been a healthy scratch for the past four games. He’s not too happy about it, of course.

But Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was quick to shoot down the speculation revolving around his 28-year-old defenseman on Tuesday.

Sullivan’s comments are likely a smokescreen, however, as the Penguins have reportedly allowed Cole’s agent to speak with other teams about a trade.

What becomes of Ian Cole, and what the return might be, will play out over the coming weeks, if not days.

And there are more pressing concerns.

As Matt Larkin of The Hockey News points out, Murray has been injured five times now in the past 19 months, including three ailments considered to be serious and causing him to miss significant time.

If a trade involving Cole can’t garner a veteran goaltender in return, perhaps the Penguins can re-claim an old friend, assuming Antti Niemi hits the waiver wire again with the return to health of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.


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