Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


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

The Buzzer: Maple Leafs, Devils, Avalanche record important wins; Ducks embarrassed

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Monday’s results

Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 2 (Bruins lead series 2-1): Patrick Marleau scored a pair and Frederik Andersen made 40 saves in a must-win for the Maple Leafs. Boston had dominated both outings at TD Garden, with the Leafs giving up 12 goals over both games and forcing Mike Babcock to pull Anderson in the first period in Game 2 after allowing four goals on seven shots. Andersen was back between the pipes on Monday, and although he allowed two gifts early on, he settled in to aid in the win. Auston Matthews scored his first of the series and David Pastrnak was held pointless after his six-point outing on Saturday. In fact, the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak failed to record a point after putting up a whopping 20 over Games 1 and 2.

Devils 5, Lightning 2 (Lightning lead series 2-1): Speaking of teams needing a win and better goaltending… The Devils found themselves down 2-0 after allowing five goals in each of Game 1 and Game 2 in Florida. John Hynes elected to make a switch in net after Devils playoff starter Keith Kinkaid was yanked after 33 minutes in Game 2. Cory Schneider stopped 34-of-36 en route to his first win in 2018. Taylor Hall had a goal and two assists in the game.

Avalanche 5, Predators 3 (Predators lead series 2-1):  Take a team that plays very well at home and a player who scores a lot of his points at home and you get a Colorado Avalanche win thanks to two goals by Nathan MacKinnon on Monday. The Avs scored three times in the first period. MacKinnon’s second of the game early in the second period stood as the game-winner.

Sharks 8, Ducks 1 (Sharks lead series 3-0): The Anaheim Ducks need a miracle after Monday’s embarrassment. After losing both games at home to the San Jose Sharks, the Ducks put up a stinker in Monday’s loss. John Gibson didn’t get any help and then he was pulled after allowing five on 24 shots. The Ducks looked disinterested after a while and the Sharks feasted as a result. Joonas Donskoi had a goal and two assists to lead the way. Martin Jones was stellar when called upon, stopping 45 of 46.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three stars

Patrick Marleau, Maple Leafs: Toronto needed someone to step up and it came through their elder statesman in Marleau, who notched a pair as the Maple Leafs rode to victory to help stave off a 3-0 deficit.

Taylor Hall, Devils: Hall scored unassisted to tie the game in 1-1 in the first period and then was the primary assist on Will Butcher‘s game-tying goal in the second and Stefan Noesen‘s eventual game-winner later in the period. A solid outing from the Hart Trophy candidate.

Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche: There’s a strong case to be made here for Martin Jones, who set a franchise record for a playoff game with 45 saves, but MacKinnon’s two goals propelled the Avs to a much-needed victory after coming into Monday’s action down 2-0 in their first-round series against the Predators. MacKinnon and the Avs have been money at Pepsi Center this season and that held true in their win on Monday. Sorry, Martin.

Highlights of the Night

First and foremost, this:

Them moves:

Eric Fehr scored. Yes, your eyes don’t deceive you:

Nice feed, nice goal:

Factoids of the Night

Old-man Marleau turning back the clock:

Also, old-man Chara:

Look who made the trip!

Tuesday’s schedule

Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) – Blue Jackets lead 2-0
Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC) – Jets lead 2-1
Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) – Golden Knights lead 3-0


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

Cory Schneider posts first win in 2018 as Devils claw back into series

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After allowing 10 goals in the first two games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New Jersey Devils needed another look between the pipes.

Enter an old friend.

Cory Schneider‘s season can best be summed up as forgettable.

His less than stellar 2016-17 campaign tagged along into the current season and Schneider eventually lost his starting role to Keith Kinkaid. Schneider missed the whole month of February due to a groin injury and before Monday, hadn’t won a start since Dec. 27, 2017, a span of 12 starts without a W.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

But after Keith Kinkaid was pulled 33 minutes into a 5-3 defeat on Saturday, Schneider settled in and stopped all 10 shots he faced in relief. With the Devils needing a spark after falling down 2-0 in the series as it was shifting back to Jersey, Schneider was given his chance to assume to the reigns he previously held.

Some timely extra saves were helpful — Schneider made 34 of them — as the Devils tightened up defensively in 5-2 win to pull themselves back into the series, which sits at 2-1 in favor of the Lightning.

Taylor Hall helped out on offense, scoring his second of the playoffs and adding two assists in the win.

The Devils also got a boost with the return of Marcus Johansson, who missed 37 games with a concussion after an elbow from Brad Marchand.


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

Taylor Hall’s shorthanded winner puts Devils on verge of playoffs

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The score was tied 1-1 and the Montreal Canadiens had themselves a 5-on-3 power play late in the third period vs. the New Jersey Devils Sunday night. That’s the kind of good fortune you want to have when trying to win a game, right?

Well, the Habs failed to score as the first power play expired, which let loose Taylor Hall from the penalty box. Adding to Montreal’s troubles was that Jeff Petry‘s one-timer from up top was blocked by Travis Zajac, who then proceeded to send an unmarked Hall in on Carey Price for a game-changing opportunity.

Oh, what a Hart Trophy conversation we’ll be having over the next few weeks…

A huge, huge win for the Devils as they moved one step closer to clinching a playoff spot. With three games to go in their regular season, New Jersey sits in the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot with 93 points, seven points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who have five games remaining.

The Devils’ magic number now sits at four. So, yeah, you can put that “x” next to their name in the standings because it’s only a matter of time before it’s written in pen.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The win, by the way, was the eighth time this season the Devils have taken two points after entering the third period trailing.

The Devils, who own a top-10 penalty kill, now lead the NHL in shorthanded goals for with 12. That goal was also Hall’s first shorty of his 527-game NHL career. He now has six goals and 13 points during an eight-game point streak.

New Jersey could punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a victory Tuesday against the New York Rangers.

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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

Taylor Hall’s remarkable point streak ends at 26 games

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As the old saying goes, Hall good things must come to an end.

(I’ll see myself out).

Taylor Hall‘s very long point streak was stopped at 26 games in the New Jersey Devils 3-2 loss against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

Hall had 18 goals and 38 points during the run, which began on Jan. 2. There wasn’t a game he played in so far in 2018 that he didn’t factor on the scoresheet.

Hall missed three games late in that month with a hand injury, but it despite the hiccup, the former Edmonton Oilers star never seemed to be deterred.

Hall recorded 11 multi-point games during the streak and put up some historic numbers along the way.

According to NHL.com’s Rob Vollman, Hall’s streak was approaching the same stratosphere as Wayne Gretzky:

Gretzky had at least one point in the Edmonton Oilers’ first 51 games of the 1983-84 season. And though Hall’s personal streak is a little more than halfway to Gretzky’s streak, once scoring levels are factored in, it’s nearly as impressive.

Hall has been just as large a part of New Jersey’s offense during his streak as Gretzky was for Edmonton during his. Hall has either scored or assisted on 50.7 percent (38 of 75) of New Jersey’s goals during his streak, 0.5 percent less than Gretzky’s 51.2 percent (153 of 299).

Vollman gives a great historical look at Hall’s streak and is well worth the read.

Vollman also pointed out that Hall’s streak was the longest in the NHL since Patrick Kane achieved a streak spanning the same number of games during the 2015-16 season.

The carnage is over, for now. But the streak has put Hall’s name in the running for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, and deservedly so.

Of course, we’d be remiss not to ponder what Peter Chiarelli is thinking right now.

There’s probably a feeling of relief. The constant reminder of Hall’s brilliance over the past two months must be excruciating.

And there’s probably still that excruciating pain given how dismal the Oilers have been this season.

Either way, Hall is well for Taylor Hall.

(OK, OK. I’m done.)

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