Wayne Gretzky

Stanley Cup Buzzer: O’Reilly makes difference for Blues

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  • The Bruins were hanging in there, managing a 2-2 tie through the first 40 minutes of Game 4, even though the Blues were carrying much of the play. Ryan O'Reilly had a big night, however, scoring two goals (including the game-winner) as St. Louis dug deep to tie the series 2-2.

St. Louis Blues 4, Boston Bruins 2 (Series tied 2-2; Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday [stream here])

While Zdeno Chara‘s mouth injury was more about an extremely painful and unlucky bounce as anything else, Chara’s far from the only player who probably feels worse for wear after Game 4. This was a physical contest, with the Blues finding a way to assert themselves with an aggressive, swarming forecheck. Overall, St. Louis was credited with 44 hits. Yet, for all the attention paid to brawn, don’t forget finesse. The Blues’ top players came up bigger than the Bruins’ first line on Monday, and that played a big role in sending this series back to Boston as a best-of-three.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Ryan O’Reilly

ROR scored the opening goal of Game 4 just 43 seconds in, then generated the game-winner by jumping on a rebound in the third period.

After going without a point in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, O’Reilly now has a three-game point streak going, as he had an assist in each of Game 2 and 3 before generating those crucial two goals in Game 4. O’Reilly provided a dogged effort overall, firing five SOG as he factored into the Blues’ high-effort win.

The St. Louis crowd was loud all night, but it didn’t hurt that O’Reilly ranked among those who gave fans plenty to cheer about.

2. Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo’s two assists were primary ones, and you didn’t have to squint hard to catch his contributions.

First, Pietrangelo made a nice move to gain a little extra time and space (not to mention get the Bruins at least a bit more off balance) to create a rebound for Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goal. Then, on Pietrangelo’s second assist, he fired a hard shot that Tuukka Rask couldn’t handle too well, with O’Reilly firing home the loose puck for the game-winner.

Pietrangelo finished Game 4 with five SOG, a +3 rating, and a robust 29:37 TOI. This continues to be a star-affirming playoff push for Pietrangelo.

3. Brayden Schenn

Rask absolutely deserves some consideration for three star status, although as strong as he was in Game 4, he’d also likely wonder if he could have avoided allowing such fat rebounds on the two goals Pietrangelo assisted on.

Schenn deserves some credit for his all-around play, and to me, takes a slight advantage. (Third star goes to the winner?)

Schenn scored a goal and an assist in Game 4, which should leave Wayne Gretzky happy. Schenn did more than just score, too, as he went 12-6 on faceoffs and delivered five hits. When the Blues’ top scorers are hot, St. Louis is very tough to beat, and that was certainly the case on Monday.

Factoids

  • This was the Blues’ first-ever home win in a Stanley Cup Final.
  • Jordan Binnington now has 14 wins (one behind the record for a rookie goalie), and improved to 7-2 after losses. Sportsnet notes the larger trend of Binnington bouncing back, which extends to the regular season.
  • Brandon Carlo is one of just four players to score their first playoff goal as a shorthanded tally in a Stanley Cup Final. This is mentioned mainly because one of the other players was named Bucko McDonald, who did so in 1936. Also on the list were Serge Savard (1968) and Bob Turner (1962) … but only one on the list was named Bucko.
  • Tarasenko scored his 11th goal of this run, moving him up some historic ranks as far as Blues snipers go.
  • St. Louis Blues history shares an odd one: the Blues are 4-0 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when they’ve allowed a shorthanded goal.
  • Sportsnet also notes that Patrice Bergeron now is at 103 career playoff points, breaking a tie with Phil Esposito for second all-time in Bruins history. Ray Bourque is far ahead for first place with a whopping 161 points.

MORE ON GAME 4

How to watch Game 5

Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (stream here).

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.

Wayne Gretzky talks Blues, Bruins, players to watch

Wayne Gretzky held court with the NHL Live crew during the first intermission of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (airing on NBC; stream here) on Monday, touching on plenty of hockey topics.

  • Gretzky touched on his brief time with the St. Louis Blues, and mentioned that he believes Brett Hull saved the Blues franchise.
  • There’s some fun banter about Gretzky’s “office” behind the net, and how cramped that office could be when he played at The Boston Garden.
  • “The Great One” discusses some of his favorite players to watch, from Mitch Marner to David Pastrnak, along with especially obvious choices like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
  • Interestingly, Gretzky discusses his recent podcasting ways, which can be seen in these shots from Getty Images, which are vaguely funny for reasons that are tough to place.
via Getty Images
via Getty Images

Anyone else planning on subscribing to “The Great One on 1” podcast?

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.

Where Kucherov hitting 115 points fits in recent NHL history

Nikita Kucherov isn’t merely content to shred defenses and poor, helpless opposing goalies. He’s like a hot knife going through butter when it comes to the best seasons in recent NHL history, too.

With an impressive two-goal, two-assist night in the Lightning’s 5-4 win against the Red Wings on Thursday, Kucherov now has a blistering 115 points this season. Kucherov has done so in just 71 games, so if he maintains his current (about 1.6197 points-per-game) pace and plays all 82 games, he’d finish either with 132 or 133 in 2018-19.

Just look at this nonsense, as Kucherov unlocked the “destroy the Gatorade achievement” for one of his goals:

Even if Kucherov stopped here, he’d be in some absolutely elite company.

The last player to reach at least 115 points was Sidney Crosby, who managed 120 back in 2006-07. A year before that, Joe Thornton (125) outdueled Jaromir Jagr (123) in a remarkable race for the Art Ross/Hart Trophy in 2005-06.

But, again, if Kucherov stopped at 115, he’d have put together one of the best runs since the calendar hit 2000. Here’s a short list of the best seasons since 2000-01:

1. Joe Thornton, 125 in 2005-06
2. Jaromir Jagr, 123 in 2005-06
3. Jagr, 121 in 2000-01
4. Sidney Crosby, 120 in 2006-07
5. Joe Sakic, 118 in 2000-01
6. Kucherov, 115 in 2018-19
7. Thornton, 114 in 2006-07

Remarkable.

If Kucherov came in around 132 or 133 points as he’s projected, he’d top Jagr’s 127 points from 1998-99. You have to reach back to Mario Lemieux’s 161 points in 1995-96 to see a better total than that projected 132-133 points, and players have only hit 130+ on nine occasions (eight players, with Lemieux doing it twice) since 1992-93.

Kucherov’s 115 points ties with Eric Lindros’ 115 points from 1995-96 as the 25th-best total since 1992-93 already.

This is truly jaw-dropping stuff, and it increasingly feels like Kucherov might only be stopped by injuries, or maybe a decision to give him a breather before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His points break down as 35 goals and 80 assists, so he’s just two helpers away from being a point-per-game player based on assists alone. That’s the sort of stuff we expected from Gretzky.

With all due respect to Connor McDavid, the other player to hit 100 points already (again), it’s tough to imagine any other player threatening Kucherov’s grasp on a much-deserved MVP trophy this season. Interestingly, Kucherov’s hit this mark with substantial ice time (19:42 TOI average), but not nearly being asked to carry the same burden as other potential finalists in McDavid (23:01) and Patrick Kane (22:26).

It’s a truly special season, one where Kucherov’s built on already-strong work to hit another level. At 25, it’s not outrageous to picture him approaching this level again, although he’s setting the bar incredibly high.

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: Hats off to Ehlers; King of the Hill

via Winnipeg Jets Twitter
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Three Stars

1. Nikolaj Ehlers

Patrik Laine hit a milestone on Thursday, collecting his 100th career goal. Laine added another later on, pushing his league-leading total to 21 for the season, yet he wouldn’t even be in the Jets’ top three against Chicago.

Then again, that thought explains why Winnipeg is so scary: this team is about a lot more than Laine.

Ehlers, for example, stole Laine’s gimmick for a night by collecting a hat trick. Coming off of two straight 60+ point seasons, NHL opponents should tremble at the thought that the 22-year-old might just be coming into his own, from refining his game to becoming more confident.

This top star nod comes with some bonus fun. The coolest part: Ehlers collected a hat trick soon after shaving a design into the side of his head for Hockey Fights Cancer.

The other awesome part: his face after generating that hat trick.

2. Mark Scheifele/Blake Wheeler

Only three players collected three points on Thursday: Ehlers, Scheifele, and Wheeler. In the cases of Ehlers’ linemates, each got their points via three assists.

That trio sent a lot of pucks on net, even when they weren’t beating Corey Crawford. Scheifele fired six shots on goal, Ehlers had five, and Wheeler provided three.

Jets coach Paul Maurice enjoys plenty of decent options as far as the top line goes, including loading up with Laine alongside Wheeler and Scheifele (or Ehlers). Nights like these make you wonder if they should just stick with Ehlers – Scheifele – Wheelers long-term, though.

3. Adin Hill

Craig Anderson collected the other shutout of the night, stopping 27 shots. Hill finished with a 29-save shutout, and did it against a pretty tough (if banged-up) opponent in the Nashville Predators.

Hill suited up for just his fifth NHL start and seventh appearance overall. Interestingly, he’s been quite effective while being used very sparingly in 2018-19. He’s stopped all 35 shots he’s faced with the Arizona Coyotes in 2018-19, seeing a 20-minute appearance and a 15:57 showing in his other two games this season.

Looking at Hill’s stats at lower levels and during his other, rare NHL looks, it’s tough to imagine him keeping this up. Maybe that’s the true tiebreaker against Anderson, then: Hill might not be here again.

(Stranger things have happened, though. Right, Andrew Hammond?)

Highlights of the Night

In most cases, if a highlight gets its own post or is featured in a post, it may merely get linked. (For example: Nikita Kucherov‘s nice goal lives here.) Elias Pettersson‘s great effort and no-look pass is so good, though, that it’s foolish to risk you missing it. So here it is, again:

Matt Duchene is red-hot, and so is this puck movement:

Factoids

This post details that Patrik Laine became the fourth-youngest player in NHL history to reach 100 goals. He’s been especially fantastic during the month of November, too, as this nugget shows:

Matt Duchene’s month might be even better, somehow.

Ken Hitchcock coming up with the revolutionary strategy of “playing Connor McDavid more” helps the Oilers’ cause, but Mikko Koskinen delivering strong goaltending might be Edmonton’s most important development since all of those times they struck draft lottery gold.

Scores

BOS 2 – NYI 1 (SO)
CBJ 4 – MIN 2
OTT 3 – NYR 0
TBL 5 – BUF 4
ARI 3 – NSH 0
WPG 6 – CHI 5
EDM 3 – LAK 2
VGK 4 – VAN 3

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Patrik Laine’s five-goal night wins fan $1 million prize

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Patrik Laine‘s virtuoso five-goal performance inspired a wide array of reactions, at least once people got beyond the general awe.

Some used this as an opportunity to criticize those who doubted Laine, particularly his ability to score at even-strength. Pondering the historical relevance was only natural, and it ended up being logical considering how often Laine matched or approached the work of Wayne Gretzky. Others wonder if this was a true sign that Laine would take the Maurice Richard torch from Alex Ovechkin.

There was likely one person even happier about Laine scoring five goals than Laine himself during Winnipeg’s 8-4 win against the St. Louis Blues.

No, this isn’t about sheer, naive fandom.

Instead, it’s about Laine making money not just for himself, but for a lucky person in Winnipeg. Canadian supermarket chain Safeway runs a “Score & Win” promotion, and a lucky fan, Christopher Haley, hit a $1 million prize thanks to a Jets player scoring five goals.

The fine print details that the winner is slated to receive $50K every year for 20 years.

“Hopefully I made someone pretty happy,” said Laine, who was aware of what his five-goal night did for one lucky fan.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that the promotion yielded that big win for a lucky shopper/fan/shopper-fan. In October 2017, a fan won $100K when Logan Couture generated a hat trick, becoming the first person to land a big cash prize.

As you can see from this winners list, most people seem to win $25 gift cards, which are nothing to sneeze at, but certainly aren’t life-changing.

All things considered, this Winnipeg resident has little excuse but to become Laine’s biggest fan beyond blood relatives … and probably a bigger fan that at least some in the Laine clan.

At minimum, some of that winning money should probably go toward a Laine jersey, right?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.