Oilers squander opportunity to gain ground in wildcard race

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When trying to make the playoffs, losing to a team that’s a loss away from elimination (and lost in embarrassing fashion the night before) is not the post-season recipe.

The Edmonton Oilers could have (and should have) climbed to within four points of the final wildcard in the Western Conference on Wednesday Night Hockey. Instead, they allowed the lowly New Jersey Devils (who would have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with a loss) to walk over them in a 6-3 win on NBCSN

The Oilers trailed early, scored twice to take a 2-1 lead, and then proceeded to give up four unanswered.

Mikko Koskinen, who was given many dollars to stop pucks at this pivotal time of the year, was woeful, allowing four goals on 18 shots before he was yanked in favor of Anthony Stolarz.

NBCSN’s Ray Ferraro had the perfect four words for the goal that ended Koskinen’s night:

Despite the disaster on Tuesday, the Devils regrouped and found a way to snap their ugly seven-game losing streak.

The team needed a couple of their youngsters to show up — they make up something like half their team at the moment given all the injuries — and John Quenneville, who scored his first of the season, and Kevin Rooney, answered the call, both tallying for the Devils. Blake Coleman drove the final nail into the coffin when he scored to make it 6-3 shorthanded.

Cory Schneider stood tall, stopping 36 shots for his fifth win of the season.

There was one positive for the Oilers: Connor McDavid hit the 100-point mark for the third straight season.

Here’s the century-mark point:


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

Blackhawks survive late Leafs assault to win fourth straight

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Score five straight goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs and hold on for dear life.

It’s a plan that the Chicago Blackhawks executed to perfection (planned or otherwise) on Wednesday night in a ___ win against their Original Six foes. And my goodness did they ever have to hold on.

Chicago came out with the determination of a team needing two points to keep their playoff dreams going. They scored four times in the first period — chasing Frederik Andersen after he allowed four on 14 shots — and added a fifth later in the second period, appearing to seal it with less than half a game to go.

The Leafs have been struggling since beating the Calgary Flames 6-2. And it’s unraveled now, after getting made to look like the JV squad against the Tampa Bay Lightning and then decimated once again against the Blackhawks.

A 5-0 deficit seemed like the next chapter in their recent story, but Andreas Johnsson‘s goal with 1:33 left in the second period seemed to give the Leafs some life.

The Leafs owned the third period, with Chicago looking content to sit back and wait for the final buzzer. It didn’t help Chicago’s cause that Corey Crawford, who was solid through the first two periods, didn’t emerge for the third after falling ill with the flu. Collin Delia had to come in cold and the game became very interesting.

Auston Matthews and Co. went to work in the third. Matthews grabbed his 32nd of the season at 7:57 of the period followed by Morgan Rielly‘s 19th three minutes later to make it 5-3. With the net empty and 1:31 to go, John Tavares clawed the Leafs back to 5-4, banging in a shot from a bad angle past Delia to set a new career high with his 39th.

Toronto fired 30 pucks on goal in final frame, with Delia getting a game’s worth of shots sent his way in a 20-minute span of complete chaos.

The final 90 seconds, particularly, were epic and well worth the watch.

When the dust settled after the final whistle, the Blackhawks moved four points back of the idle Arizona Coyotes for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. ‘

The odds aren’t great, but all Chicago can do is keep winning and let the chips fall where they may.


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

WATCH LIVE: Devils – Oilers on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Edmonton Oilers can get within four points of a playoff spot with a win tonight.

That seems crazy, but then again, nothing has been normal about the race to the final one or two wildcard spots in the Western Conference this season. The Oilers have been flying recently, winning seven of their past 10 games.

A big part of their recent success has been the play of Leon Draisaitl, who has put together a 14-game point streak, scoring 10 goals and adding 13 helpers during that time.

The Devils, meanwhile, could be put out of their misery with a loss.

New Jersey will be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose in any form tonight. If that was to occur, it would be their eighth straight ‘L’, a season-long for them. The Devils blew a 3-1 lead on Tuesday, eventually losing 9-4 after giving up six straight goals in the third period. Yikes.

PHT’s Joey Alfieri took a deeper look at the Devils’ woes earlier today.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: New Jersey Devils at Edmonton Oilers
Where: Rogers Place
When: Wednesday, March 13, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Devils-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

DEVILS

Blake ColemanTravis ZajacKyle Palmieri

Kenny AgostinoKevin RooneyDrew Stafford

Eric Tangradi — Michael McLeod — Joey Anderson

Stefan Noesen — Blake Pietila — Nick Lappin

Andy GreeneDamon Severson

Will ButcherConnor Carrick

Egor Yakovlev — Steven Santini

Starting goalie: Cory Schneider

OILERS

Leon Draisaitl — Connor McDavidZack Kassian

Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsSam Gagner

Tobias RiederColby CaveAlex Chiasson

Milan LucicKyle BrodziakJosh Currie

Oscar KlefbomAdam Larsson

Darnell NurseKris Russell

Andrej SekeraMatt Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

2018 Olympic gold medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield will serve as an analyst for NBC Sports’ Devils-Oilers Wednesday Night Hockey telecast. Coyne Schofield made her broadcasting debut as an analyst on Wednesday Night Hockey in January and has also served as a studio analyst for NHL Network.

Coyne Schofield will join Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) for the call of Devils-Oilers from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


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

Wednesday Night Hockey: Will Leafs get out of first round this year?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The biggest question surrounding the Maple Leafs this year is not whether or not they’ll make the playoffs, it’s more about them getting out of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Because of the current playoff format in the NHL, we have a pretty good idea that the Leafs will take on the Boston Bruins in the first round. That’s a pretty terrible “reward” for the team with the third-most amount of points in the Eastern Conference right now. Of course, there’s still a chance that the Leafs could make up four-point gap between themselves and the Bruins. That would allow them to get home-ice advantage in the first round, which would go a long way in helping their odds of winning the series.

Last season, the Leafs and Bruins squared off in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins had home-ice advantage in that series and they eventually won it in seven games. In 2017, the Leafs dropped their first-round series to the Washington Capitals in six games. Between 2014 and 2016, Toronto didn’t even get a sniff of the postseason.

If we look back at 2013, they lost a first-round matchup to the Bruins in seven games. As you probably remember, Game 7 was played at TD Garden in Boston.

The last time they got out of the first round was back in 2003-04, when Pat Quinn was their head coach. And as we all know, they haven’t wont a Stanley Cup since 1967.

Even the biggest Leafs hater has to admit that this team has the talent on their roster to do damage in the playoffs. If healthy, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and the rest of the team have the offensive firepower to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league. There’s still some question marks surrounding their defense, but Morgan Reilly and Jake Muzzin are solid pieces on the back end.

The most interesting battle between the Bruins and Leafs would come between the pipes. Can Frederik Andersen outlast Tuukka Rask in a seven-game series? Andersen has shown that he’s more than capable of stealing games for the Leafs when they aren’t at their best. Can he do it on the biggest stage? We’ll find out in just a few weeks.

So what happens if the Leafs don’t get out of the first round? Is their sweeping changes? Is Mike Babcock on the hot seat? We’ll worry about that if they fail, again, in April, but you’d have to think that everyone in place will get a little more time to finish building the team.

On the flip side, how can any team that lost in the first round last year add John Tavares and not make any further than they did the previous season?

It should be a very interesting spring in Toronto.

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Jeremy Roenick (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’analyst) will have the call from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Wednesday Night Hockey: What went wrong for Devils this season?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Devils shocked the hockey world last season when they finished in the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. No one saw it coming. In the end, they fizzled out in the first round, but the 2017-18 campaign was filled with positives for this young Devils squad.

Fast forward one season, and things are very different. They’re nowhere near a playoff spot with just under a month to go and they’ve been out of the race for a while already. They sold players like Brian Boyle, Keith Kinkaid and Marcus Johansson at the trade deadline for draft picks, which showed they were focused more on the future than the present.

But why did things fall apart this year? Was last year just a blip on the radar?

Let’s take a look.

The biggest difference between this year and last, is Taylor Hall. The 27-year-old was named league MVP last year, as he accumulated 93 points in just 76 games. Unfortunately for Hall and the Devils, he just couldn’t stay healthy this year (he’s been out since Dec. 23 with a knee injury). When he played, he remained as productive as ever, scoring 37 points in 33 games. But there’s no way the Devils could compete for anything without Hall in the lineup. That’s the case for a lot of the borderline playoff teams in the NHL. No Hall=No playoffs. It’ll continue to be that way going forward, too.

Will Butcher was another one of the unexpected positives for the Devils last season. The 24-year-old had a terrific rookie season with five goals and 44 points in  81 games. This year, those numbers have come way down, as he has four goals and 26 points in 68 contests. Many of his key advanced stats have dipped, too. His CF% has gone from 53.14 to 49.72 percent, while his FF% dropped from 53.89 to 50.74 percent. That’s not completely unexpected when you consider how everyone on the team’s play has fallen.

Keeping the puck out of their own net has been a major issue, too. When Cory Schneider was injured or struggling in 2017-18, Kinkaid was there to pick up the slack. The veteran had a respectable 2.77 goals-against-average and a .913 save percentage in 41 outings. Before being traded to Columbus last month, he had a 3.36 GAA and a 891 save percentage in the same amount of games. That’s a significant difference.

As for Schneider, injuries and overall inconsistency have held him back over the last couple of seasons. If the Devils are going to make a run at a playoff spot next year, they’ll need him to be a lot better than he’s been lately. He and Hall could be the biggest keys to turning this thing around.

2018 Olympic gold medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield will serve as an analyst for NBC Sports’ Devils-Oilers Wednesday Night Hockey telecast. Coyne Schofield made her broadcasting debut as an analyst on Wednesday Night Hockey in January and has also served as a studio analyst for NHL Network.

Coyne Schofield will join Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) for the call of Devils-Oilers from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.