Saturday, April 18, 2015

Crosby finds scoring touch for Penguins in Game 2

NEW YORK -- In typical Sidney Crosby fashion, he downplayed his game-changing two-goal effort Saturday. The thing is, this was hardly a typical performance for the Pittsburgh Penguins' captain, at least when you judge it against his recent past in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Crosby ended his scoring slump in the playoffs with two goals in the Penguins 4-3 win against the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Madison Square Garden.

He had scored one goal in his previous 19 playoff games; he had two in a span of 4:39 late in the second period Saturday.

"It's nice to score," Crosby said after helping the Penguins even the best-of-7 series at 1-1. "I mean, you want to contribute and there are so many details in the playoffs, but when you're able to score it definitely feels good."

Crosby's teammates were not in the downplaying mood, not when it comes to their captain and leader breaking out in a big way in the most important game of the season to date.

"He was fantastic," defenseman Ian Cole said. "He is without a doubt one of the best players in the world and he certainly showed that."

After struggling to find a rhythm in Game 1 because he was on the bench for most of the first period, a result of Pittsburgh's four penalties, Crosby was fast and definitely noticeable early in Game 2.

His chances started to come in the second period, and he cashed in for the first time at 14:07, when he gained inside position on Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh by simply skating past him, then found the rebound of Patric Hornqvist's shot and popped it into the net to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

Crosby scored again at 18:46; this time, he reached out his stick to redirect Chris Kunitz's tape-to-tape cross-ice pass past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and into the net go give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead at the second intermission.

Sidney Crosby

Center - PIT

GOALS: 2 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 2

SOG: 4 | +/-: 1

In addition to contributing on the scoresheet, Crosby also played a role in the Penguins going 6-for-7 on the penalty kill. He played 49 seconds on the PK. He played 15 seconds on the PK in Game 1.

"Hopefully it's huge for him and for us, obviously," center Brandon Sutter said. "That's a big couple goals for us. For us going into the third with a lead was huge. I think he made a couple nice plays and he was really dominant, especially down low, holding onto the puck. That's where he's so good and we need that from him going forward."

Crosby is always under pressure to score, but particularly of late his playoff drought has been noticeable and led to some ugly end-of-the-season moments for the Penguins.

He was shut out in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final by the Boston Bruins, and the Penguins lost in four games. They scored only two goals in the series.

Crosby scored one goal in 13 playoff games last season, but had no points in the last three games -- and the Penguins lost them all to the Rangers, who rallied from a 3-1 deficit to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

It was later revealed that he was dealing with a wrist injury.

Crosby, who isn't dealing with any known injury now, was again blanked in Game 1, and quite unspectacular with only one shot on goal and three shot attempts despite winning 15 of 20 faceoffs.

He didn't let himself get shutout again Saturday because he found his rhythm early, played fast, grinded, and got to the net for two goals, doubling his production from his previous 19 playoff games.

It's no surprise that the Penguins won.

"It's not surprising," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "I always see every day how hard he works in practice and in the games, and definitely it's big for him to get two goals. That was huge for us."


Rangers plagued by power-play problems

NEW YORK -- There will come a point when the New York Rangers will need to make the Pittsburgh Penguins pay the price for taking careless penalties in their Eastern Conference First Round series.

The Rangers' power play had plenty of opportunities to deliver a knockout blow against the Penguins in Game 2 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday but instead failed miserably in a 4-3 loss. The best-of-7 series, now tied 1-1, shifts to Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG, ROOT).

The Rangers managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities in Game 2 and are 2-for-12 in the series. Quite simply, their power play needs to be better.

"We have a group of guys that have frustrated themselves [on the power play] and we just have to go out and get some good mojo going and find a way to pop a couple in and relax a little bit on it," center Derek Stepan said. "We've got a lot of guys who are gripping the stick and there's no need for that, especially now.

"We need to get some positive energy on it, zip it around, and make some plays."

The one time the Rangers did have success in Game 2 was while Blake Comeau served a slashing penalty early in the third period. New York's seven-shot barrage ultimately produced Derick Brassard's second goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Forward Mats Zuccarello, who assisted on Brassard's goal 3:16 into the final period that made it 3-2, was asked what worked so well on that particular power play, which gave the team and full house at Madison Square Garden an emotional boost.

"I don't know," Zuccarello said, matter-of-factly. "We'll look at it and figure something out; we'll see."

New York's power play has been an enigma this season. A team-record 53 regular-season victories masked the problems on the power play, which finished tied for 21st in the League at 16.8 percent.

New York finished the regular season by going 2-for-17 (11.8 percent) on the power play in its last five games. The Rangers are 2-for-12 (16.7 percent) in their first two playoff games.

"I think we have to look at ourselves first and we have to get the job done," forward Rick Nash said. "If we aren't getting the job done [at even strength], we have to get a huge momentum off the power play and the individuals that are on that [power play] have to be a lot better."

Nash said the Rangers might be guilty of passing too much when shots are there for the taking during power plays.

"It didn't seem like we were getting enough looks, enough shots there in the shot lanes," Nash said. "We weren't working to get through the shot lanes and get the shots on net."

In Game 2, the Rangers did generate 13 shots on goal during their seven power-play chances, which totaled 13:32 of time with the extra man. They have 20 shots on goal on 12 power plays in the series.

"We could have really taken the game over there with the power-play opportunities," captain Ryan McDonagh said.

There's no question the Rangers have the personnel and speed up front and along the blue line to make life miserable for any opponent that persists in taking penalties. But through two games, the Penguins have succeeded in making the Presidents' Trophy winners virtually powerless.

"Our penalty kill did a great job," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It's not that easy to have that many in a game, especially a playoff game. I thought all the killers did a great job."

In particular, penalty-killers Brandon Sutter and Maxim Lapierre played key roles in frustrating the Rangers, who were 17-1-1 when outscoring the opposition on special teams in 2014-15.

"Obviously, 1-for-7 isn't good enough [on the power play]," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "They scored two, we only got one. We were better in the third, I thought, but they ended up making us pay."

Despite the success on the penalty kill, Penguins coach Mike Johnston believes his team needs to control their emotions for the remainder of the series.

"We've got to look at the game and figure out how we're getting ourselves in penalty trouble," Johnston said. "Is it because we're not moving our feet? Do we get a stick in there? We've got to break that, for sure. You just can't give a team that many power plays. Even though we took seven penalties and they took four, that doesn't matter. What matters is you give them early momentum and that's something we've done in both games."


Smith-Pelly up to speed, contributing for Canadiens

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Devante Smith-Pelly insists he is not worried about making Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin look good for the trade that brought him from the Anaheim Ducks for forward Jiri Sekac.

Sekac had become a popular player in Montreal but wasn't able to carve out a consistent role under coach Michel Therrien. The Ducks felt they needed his speed up front, perhaps to play alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line, and the Canadiens wanted the size and physical game Smith-Pelly brings.

Devante Smith-Pelly

Right Wing - MTL

GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1

SOG: 7 | +/-: 0

It was a trade of promising 22-year-old forwards born four days apart that appeared to have no losers, except many in Montreal criticized it anyway, especially after Smith-Pelly was scratched by Therrien for games on March 28 and 30.

But Smith-Pelly has provided everything Bergevin hoped for in the first two games of the Canadiens' Eastern Conference First Round series against the Ottawa Senators.

He hasn't scored, but his physical play and net-front presence on the power play has played a big role in the Canadiens jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series heading into Game 3 in Ottawa on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports).

The trade's not being too heavily criticized in Montreal anymore.

"I'm not too worried about what the other guy's doing and how he's doing," Smith-Pelly said after an optional practice Saturday. "I just want to play well and help the team out. I'm not too worried about if people think it was a good trade or not."

In spite of that, Smith-Pelly couldn't help but notice a certain lineup decision made by coach Bruce Boudreau when he sat down to watch the Ducks open their Western Conference First Round series against the Winnipeg Jets with a 4-2 win Thursday.

Sekac was a healthy scratch.

"Yeah, I noticed that," he said. "I have some friends on that team. So I saw that."

The adjustment Smith-Pelly had to make coming from the Ducks to the Canadiens was a significant one, and he struggled at first. He said the biggest difference was how much more he had to skate in Montreal, saying that playing 18 minutes with the Canadiens was much more taxing than playing the same amount with the Ducks.

Smith-Pelly played on the right wing of Canadiens leading scorer Max Pacioretty and center David Desharnais on Friday at even strength and on the power play and showed no signs of lagging behind the play, something that was a common sight when he joined the team.

"It's just the speed. Everything is built on speed," Smith-Pelly said. "If you watch an Anaheim game, especially in the playoffs, it's just grind it out, dump it in, there's not many odd-man rushes. You don't really have to skate that much. You've got big guys, Getzlaf, Perry, [Ryan] Kesler, who just take their time going up the ice. They can slow it down. You come here and you're playing with a guy like David who's fast, and [Pacioretty] who can fly. It's just a totally different game, so that took me a little bit [of time]."

Therrien publicly questioned Smith-Pelly's conditioning when he arrived, and he credits the player for rectifying the situation with extra time in the gym. He had wanted to try Smith-Pelly on the right side of Pacioretty and Desharnais to close the regular season, but the first game they played together against the Florida Panthers on April 5, Pacioretty was injured on his third shift and did not return to the lineup until Game 2.

The combination looked promising in its debut, and Therrien is not criticizing Smith-Pelly's conditioning anymore.

"He's doing a pretty good job right now," Therrien said. "I like his pace, I like the fact that he creates a lot of space on the ice for Desharnais and Pacioretty. He's going hard to the net, and he's a tough guy to play against. You know when he puts the puck behind a defenseman, you know he's going to go there, and he's going to go hard."

Smith-Pelly had six shots on goal in Game 2 and was credited with three hits, giving him nine in the series, and he played 5:04 on the power play.

"A guy like him is so valuable because he's taking away the goalie's eyes, he's taking away sticks in front of the net," said Pacioretty, who scored a power-play goal in Game 2. "Even if he's battling with someone in front of the net, it takes their defenseman away from a guy that might be open for a shot. At the same time, him battling in front of the net and being that big, he's able to find loose pucks."

Smith-Pelly was clear that he has no ill will toward the Ducks, but said he feels he was not judged fairly in Anaheim this season. He said it was the first time in his life he had to play on his opposite wing and it was a difficult adjustment to make. Playing pucks along the wall or moves he made to go to the net were different when he was on the left side of the ice.

"I'm not really sure exactly what happened, I was playing out of position a lot of the year," he said. "If you maybe have a bad game and you're playing out of position, I think it's kind of hard to criticize somebody. If somebody's playing center and they don't play center and they don't have a good game, I don't know how you criticize him."

Smith-Pelly is not being criticized much as he becomes an important player for the Canadiens, one who has seemingly grabbed a top-six role for good on a team with aspirations to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the playoffs last season, Smith-Pelly scored five goals in 12 games for the Ducks, a performance Bergevin cited as a major reason he wanted to bring him to Montreal.

Whether Smith-Pelly is worried about it or not, he is making his general manager look very good so far.

Experienced Blackhawks might turn to rookie goalie

NASHVILLE -- Much has been written about the Chicago Blackhawks having a lot of Stanley Cup Playoff experience, and now they'll depend on it.

Rather than focusing on a 6-2 loss to the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Friday, the Blackhawks will head home satisfied with splitting the first two games of their Western Conference First Round series.

Chicago was outplayed for most of Game 2, was outshot by a total of 89-68 in the two games and might have a goalie controversy on its hands.

Still, the Blackhawks know they've been in worse spots.

"You come on the road [and] you're going in looking for a split," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You win the first one and you get a little greedy, and today it didn't happen. So, we'll go back and get excited about playing at home. It's one game, and we should be angry and find some positive out of the game, knowing that we've got to be better across the board."

After talking about getting off to a better start than Game 1 and pledging to play better in front of goalie Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks did neither. Kris Versteeg took a penalty 1:31 into the game, the Predators scored on the ensuing power play -- Colin Wilson's third goal of the series -- and everything Chicago had planned was nixed.

Once again, the Blackhawks had to fight from behind and chase the lead. The same thing happened in Game 1. In the series opener, they didn't panic and used their wealth of playoff experience to climb back from a 3-0 deficit and win 4-3 in double overtime.

The Blackhawks will dip into that experience once more heading into Game 3 at United Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).

It was only a year ago when Chicago trailed the St. Louis Blues 2-0 before winning that first-round series in six games. The Blackhawks then battled back from a 3-1 deficit against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final before losing in overtime of Game 7.

Veteran center Brad Richards was playing for the New York Rangers then, but he took notice.

"This team last year was down 2-0 and 3-1 in series, and won one and took the other one to seven [games]," Richards said. "So, 1-1 going home against a good hockey team … we'll work off of that."

They might have to work with a goalie other than Corey Crawford, who has allowed nine goals on 47 shots in the first two games. After giving up three goals and getting pulled after the first period in Game 1, Crawford let in all six against Nashville in Game 2, including three in a 2:19 span in the third period

Asked afterward if there's a chance backup goalie Scott Darling might get the start in Game 3, Quenneville didn't commit to either goalie.

Darling, a 26-year-old rookie, relieved Crawford in the first game and saved all 42 shots he faced.

"We'll see. We'll see," Quenneville said. "Talk about it as we go along here tonight and tomorrow, and we'll go with who gives us our best chance."

Not all of the goals can be blamed on Crawford. The Blackhawks, who vowed to play better in front of him than they did in Game 1, again put him in some tough spots with loose play Friday. They coughed up the puck too much in the third, creating some odd-man rushes for the Predators that turned into insurance goals.

The puck-possession statistics in the first two games favor Chicago, which has a 52.6 shot attempts percentage (SAT%) despite being outshot by 21. Part of the problem is chasing the lead; the Blackhawks' only lead in the two games was after defenseman Duncan Keith scored 7:49 into the second overtime of Game 1.

"We'll look at it and try to figure that out," Richards said. "Definitely they were a desperate team, and when you're chasing the game, it's a lot harder to get shots when everybody's clogging up in front of the net and blocking shots. We've got to get a lead. We haven't had a lead yet in the series. Get a lead and make them open up and chase us."

Meanwhile, it's time to lean on that experience factor.

"Experience helps a lot to stay calm and not try to do too much, just work our systems," forward Bryan Bickell said. "They've worked all year, to where we got to where we are now. So, believe in those, and if we do the right things, we'll find the back of the net."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Goaltender Matchup: Inside Lundqvist vs. Fleury

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. decided to break down the highest profile matchup in the Eastern Conference First Round: Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Much like many goaltending coaches will do before a playoff series, correspondent Kevin Woodley, the managing editor of InGoal Magazine, charted every goal scored against each goalie in this matchup this season with the help of a program from Double Blue Sport Analytics. The graphics showing where goals went in and shots were taken from on the ice are nice, but the real value is tracking and analyzing the types of plays that led to them, and whether they reveal strengths, weaknesses and tendencies that can be targeted.

Henrik Lundqvist , New York Rangers


Lundqvist's style is often simply described as deep, but inside-out might be more accurate for a goalie who starts from the goal line and works his way out only when needed, staying patient and up on his skates longer than any other goaltender in the NHL.

It leaves Lundqvist making more saves at the back of his crease, but he will attack plays when needed and has started coming out past the top of the blue ice early on breakaway chances before retreating. His staple remains that deeper positioning, allowing him to beat lateral plays with quick, short movements and giving him more time to read shots and tips and make reactive saves.

When he's on: Lundqvist patiently waits out shooters and reads the play on his skates as it develops on the outside, then constantly makes small readjustments from his knees closer to the net.

When he's off: He gives up more clean-shot goals, understandable given his depth, so if Lundqvist isn't battling for sightlines to make those late reactive saves, he can look passive instead of patient.


Off the hip, not top corner: Lundqvist often forgoes the butterfly for a more old-school half-butterfly on high glove-side shots, keeping his left leg up and dropping to his right knee. It's an incredible reactionary ability but it does cause him to open up his left side at the hips and shoulders as he effectively pulls up and away from these shots. So as tempting as it is to perfectly pick the top corner, shots off the hip can be as effective. Lundqvist's deeper style may keep him in position almost all the time with quick, short adjustments, but it can leave him flat on shots off the wing because he doesn't rotate as much, and any time a goaltender isn't square to the shooter it increases the chances of a puck finding a hole and squeezing through. That helps explain why more goals went in mid-net glove side (24) than high glove (16) and mid-blocker (26) compared to high blocker (five).

Sharp-angle alterations: Lundqvist used to rely almost exclusively on VH (vertical-horizontal) to cover his posts on sharp-angle attacks. This technique, when he stacks the lead pad vertically up against the post and leaves the back pad horizontally along the ice, cost him a handful of leaky goals last season and left dangerous rebounds in front right through the playoffs. This season, he played more of these attacks with an overlap technique, squaring on the shooter with his lead skate outside the post to prevent a gap on the short-side post. It led to fewer leaky goals from dead angles but inherently delays his ability to get across the crease on a backdoor pass.

Stretch him out: Deeper positioning lets Lundqvist beat passes on his skates with quick, short movements, but he can get sprawled out on moves across the middle of the ice or lateral passes in tight, leaving plenty of space if a shooter can hold on wide enough and elevate the puck. The same applies to breakaways, with more chance of success if you can add a lateral element and force him to stretch out.

Low-high: A lion's share of the 15 goals Lundqvist gave up on low-high plays were early this season and the result of some horrendous defending and open looks from close range. As for beating Lundqvist along the ice, the total was down slightly from 20 percent five-hole goals last season to 16 percent (17 goals) this year. Playing so deep means extending the pads on low saves, which is going to open holes. It also means low shots through traffic aren't a bad idea.

Marc-Andre Fleury , Pittsburgh Penguins


Fleury has become a different goaltender over the past two playoffs, making significant positional and style alterations since his second straight postseason disappointment in 2013. Often overaggressive during past playoff failures, he now plays a more contained game inside the edges of his crease. He added reverse-VH to his post-integration options, making it easier to stay inside his posts rather than getting caught outside and leaving himself susceptible to bank shots.

Compounding those problems was Fleury's tendency to get more aggressive the worse things got, chasing the puck rather than his next save position, leaving himself even more distance to recover in less time and often looking frantic. Some goalies retreat to their goal line when things go poorly. Others try to get as close to the puck as they can in the hopes it has a better chance of hitting them. Fleury always seemed to fall into the latter camp, but after two years with goalie coach Mike Bales, Fleury defaults to his new, more conservative positional staples, rather than chasing the play.

When he's on: At his best, Fleury uses his natural athleticism to react from his skates, waiting out shooters from his new, more neutral positioning and letting his hands take care of the top corners.

When he's off: Fleury tends to react from his knees, dropping and collapsing his hands to his side in more of a blocking butterfly before reacting out with his hands, often too late.


Top corners: Whereas Lundqvist can be more exposed on shots off the hips, Fleury's tendency to default to his knees and lock his arms at times leaves him more vulnerable on the perimeter. Again, it isn't how he plays all the time, but when Fleury does drop and block instead of reacting with his hands, he is exposed even more by his new, more conservative positioning and the extra space he gives up. This trend is reflected in the goal chart, with a lot more goals on the edges and not nearly as many going through him, including the five-hole.

Clean shots off the rush: That upper-net exposure was prevalent among the 24 clean shot goals (16 percent) Fleury gave up this season, most of which came off the rush. That's lower than Lundqvist's clean shot totals (17.3 percent), but the expectation is he is more exposed on clean looks by his deep positioning.

Rebounds: That same default to a blocking butterfly can result in more rebounds against Fleury, as does a tendency to kick more pucks out with his pads rather than steering them into corners with his stick, or, like Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and a handful of other goalies, actually reaching down to catch low shots. The result was 36 of the 146 goals (25 percent) Fleury gave up this season came after a rebound, a trend that continued with the early goal in Game 1 against the Rangers on Thursday after a rebound into the slot.

Elevate off passes: Fleury's incredible lateral speed from his knees means he almost always gives himself a chance to get a pad on shots after lateral passes or quick rebounds to the side. But he does tend to come off the puck and make those pushes without rotating down through his hips first, which leaves his upper body behind and his pushes flat across rather than back to the post, limiting his ability to build early vertical coverage on top of those pads.

Islanders pay price for sitting back in Game 2

WASHINGTON — The New York Islanders had a two-goal lead in the second period Friday and a chance to return home with a commanding lead in their Eastern Conference First Round series.

Several Islanders said it was at this point, after Kyle Okposo put them in front 3-1, that things went awry. Though the Washington Capitals were down on the scoreboard, they had dominated the puck to that point and continued to do so, eventually taking control of Game 2 in a 4-3 victory at Verizon Center and evening the best-of-7 series at 1-1.

"We had a 3-1 lead, so there is an opportunity but only half the game is done," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "There’s 60 minutes, and we just weren’t as aggressive. There are ups and downs and you’ve got to overcome challenges and adversity. We would have loved to take this one as well. That was our mindset, and obviously after we took the lead, but now we’ve got to bounce back at home."

The Islanders led 1-0 after the first period, but Washington had 31 shot attempts to New York’s 13. The Capitals were struggling to get them on net; the Islanders blocked 15 shots in the first 18 minutes of the game and Jaroslav Halak had to make five first-period saves.

Often a team in Washington’s situation is unable to continue that torrid pace, but the Capitals kept coming in the second period and started to find shooting lanes. They had 32 shot attempts in the second period but trailed 3-2 after 40 minutes.

The Capitals finished the game with 82 attempts, including 78 at even strength. The Islanders blocked 12 shots in the final 42 minutes and eventually couldn’t hold the lead.

"We just sat back," New York defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "They got a nice rebound shot, scored a goal [to make it 3-2]. They caught the momentum, scored on a power play and just kept going. It was unfortunate, but we’re going back home and it is 1-1."

The Islanders sorely missed top-four defenseman Travis Hamonic, who's usually matched against the opposition's top line but hasn't played in this series because of an undisclosed injury. New York won the opener without Hamonic but missed his physical presence in Game 2.

The Capitals didn’t have any power plays in the first two periods but did score twice when a New York player was playing without a stick. Each time the Capitals were able to set up to make it look like a power play, and they converted. Normally possessing the puck will lead to the other team taking penalties, but in this case, as Washington coach Barry Trotz pointed out, at least it led to broken sticks from players trying to block shots.

When the Islanders were able to spend some time in the Capitals zone, Okposo stood out with some strong play along the boards. Tavares was able to protect the puck at one point and find Ryan Strome for an impressive goal.

But too often the puck was at the other end of the ice. Even after the Capitals took a 4-3 lead, they were able to cycle the puck in the Islanders end and bleed the clock late in the third period on multiple long shifts.

"When you take shots and converge on loose pucks, that’s what you do," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the Capitals' offensive barrage. "That’s been the strength of our team, and for whatever reason tonight, we had chances to shoot the puck and didn’t.

"We didn’t deserve it. [Fourteen] shots after two periods isn’t going to get it done, whether or not we had the lead. We’ve got to get pucks on net, we’ve got to make their [defensemen] turn and we’ve got to make their goalie work."

Farrish: Penguins should put Crosby, Malkin together

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers , has enlisted the help of Dave Farrish to break down the action. Farrish will be checking in throughout the series.

Farrish was an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs . He won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He also coached 1,027 games in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Farrish, a former defenseman, played 430 games over seven seasons in the NHL.

The Pittsburgh Penguins need a jolt of offense if they're going to get even with the New York Rangers in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series on Saturday.

Former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish thinks the Penguins will have a better chance of getting it by putting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line to start Game 2 at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA).

"I would do that to start the game just to create that offensive opportunity right off the bat, maybe put [the Rangers] on their heels," Farrish said. "You saw after the Rangers scored their first goal [in Game 1] they took over a lot of the dominance of the game and it comes from a confidence level after having scored a goal."

Farrish thinks going with the elite combination of Crosby and Malkin three or four times per period, particularly on a shift before an approaching television timeout, will give the Penguins a better chance to get out of their offensive slump.

The Penguins have scored 26 goals in their past 16 games. They were defeated 2-1 by the Rangers in Game 1 on Thursday. Crosby has one goal in his previous 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Malkin has no goals in his past 11 games.

"From a coaching point of view you can find those situations when you know there is a timeout coming or after the Rangers ice the puck, and after that you can get back to your regular structure," Farrish said. "I would look for them to probably be doing something like that."

Farrish said forward Chris Kunitz should be the third player on a line with Malkin and Crosby. Farrish coached Kunitz in Anaheim.

"He was the guy that we used to put on any line that wasn't going because he seemed to generate that energy and offensive opportunities because of his speed and tenacity and ability to go to the net," Farrish said. "That's kind of the downside with putting [Daniel] Winnik up there. I love Winnik as a compete guy and he does have some offensive capabilities, but I always felt Kunitz was a better fit with Crosby. You can throw Malkin with them three or four shifts a period. That's part of the coaching chess match too. The opposition doesn't know when that's coming out, so if you throw them out there together you can put the Rangers on their heels too."

Even with Crosby and Malkin together on a line, Farrish said the Penguins won't be able to generate sustained pressure unless they get their defensemen involved. If they don't, their forecheckers will be outnumbered, retrieving pucks will be difficult and their chances of generating turnovers that lead to Grade A scoring chances will be limited.

The problem is that the Penguins don't have defenseman Kris Letang to join the rush, lead it from the back end or be the fourth man in on the forecheck because he is out with a concussion. Christian Ehrhoff, who also has the ability to get involved offensively, is day-to-day with a concussion and missed Game 1.

Pittsburgh's defense in Game 1 featured Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin, each of whom spent the majority of the season in the American Hockey League. Paul Martin has the ability to join the rush, but he is being tasked with playing significant minutes against the Rangers' top forwards.

"You have to get the defense involved and obviously without Letang and some of the other guys they're missing there it's tough for them to do that," Farrish said. "You're going to have to really rely on [Crosby and Malkin] for at least a goal a game minimum, but without Letang in the lineup it really is a drain on them because they can't generate the offense with the quick breakouts and even the stuff through the neutral zone. They're kind of handcuffed."

That said, Farrish still thinks the Penguins proved to themselves in Game 1 that if they stay out of the penalty box they can compete with the Rangers.

The Penguins gave New York four power plays in the first period, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh cashed in to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead before the first intermission. Pittsburgh scored the only goal after that and the shots on goal were 20-20 in the final 35 minutes.

"The Rangers have three lines that can score, and even their fourth line can get some opportunities; after the two lines with Pittsburgh it gets pretty lean there," Farrish said. "Over time, based on 5-on-5, certainly New York has a definite edge there. The Penguins showed they can compete with them [Thursday] night, but over a seven-game series it's going to be difficult."


Devils' Schneider done playing but excited to watch

NEW YORK -- The New Jersey Devils and goaltender Cory Schneider failed to qualify for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that hasn't stopped Schneider from paying attention to what's going on across the NHL.

Schneider set a personal best and was fourth in the League with 69 games in 2014-15, but he's still excited to watch hockey.

"I find the first to be the most interesting round," Schneider said. "Everyone sort of has the optimism that they're going to go far and everyone comes out a million miles an hour. So some of the physicality and the pace of the game is pretty incredible, especially the early games, when you might catch a team off and win a game or two and then that changes the series.

"I've tuned into a couple so far and I'm flipping through it to see what the scores are or who is playing well. Generally it tends to dissipate as it goes further, and maybe towards the end pick back up when it gets narrowed down a little bit."

Schneider said he's been paying attention to the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens because of the bad blood between the teams. He said he's been watching the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators in their Western Conference First Round series; he considered them two of the best teams the Devils played this season.

"One of the fun things about this year is that every series is kind of up in the air," Schneider said. "They're all pretty evenly matched teams, and you look and you say, 'Who is going to win this one?'

"You can definitely see scenarios where either team wins it."

Schneider said he doesn't follow the play or pay specific attention to goalies when watching playoff hockey, but did highlight the accomplishments of the Senators' Andrew Hammond, who started his NHL career 20-1-2.

"It's incredible what he did down the stretch there," Schneider said. "I think any goalie in the League will tell you that it's admirable and unbelievable what he was able to do for that team. Part of me is interested to see if he can carry it over into the playoffs.

"From everything you saw, everyone was sort of waiting for him to fall off there at the end of the season, and he never did. Obviously they're down a game in the series, but he hasn't lost very much, so he doesn't really know what that's like. You expect him to bounce back and make it a great series."

Hammond is one of seven goalies to make his first Stanley Cup Playoff start. Including the Blackhawks' Scott Darling, eight goalies have seen their first playoff action this postseason.

"It's definitely different," said Schneider, who has played 10 postseason games, all with the Vancouver Canucks. "That first game in that first series especially is where everything kind of comes to a head. Once you sort of get through that and settle down a little bit I think it doesn't become easier -- it becomes harder, for sure -- but you kind of get into a bit of a rhythm and you're not thinking as much.

"A lot of the guys who played for the first time did a great job in that first game. But it's funny; every single game almost becomes a story of its own, and you have to learn to put that one behind you and move onto the next one."

Though Schneider said he has no rooting interest in the postseason, he does have some players he keeps an eye on, including fellow Boston College alumni.

"I'll probably follow the guys that I'm friendlier with closer," Schneider said. "I'm good friends with Brian Boyle, so to see him score a shorthanded goal (for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Detroit Red Wings) I thought was pretty cool.

"At the same time, when you're playing against each other, when you're watching games, you really don't root for anybody anymore. You have your team and your teammates who you root for and the other 29 you don't like. You hate some more than others but you're pretty much indifferent towards the rest of them."


Predators 'D' add new dimension to offensive attack

When Peter Laviolette was hired to be the new coach of the Nashville Predators, one of the things general manager David Poile charged him with was improving the offense.

The Predators had a distinct defensive identity under former coach Barry Trotz, and are still a team built from the net out. With goaltender Pekka Rinne and a defensive corps that features Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis, Nashville has plenty of talent from the blue line down.

What Laviolette has done is taken those assets and re-appropriated them. The Predators defensemen combined to score 193 points this season, up from the 171 they scored last season. Laviolette has used the same ingredients but changed the recipe, and the results for the Predators have been nearly half a goal more averaged at even-strength per game (2.52, up from 2.25), the highest-scoring even-strength blue line in the League, and a team that no longer has to keep a game low-scoring for it to win.

The defensemen will need to continue to contribute when the Predators play the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 of their Western Conference First Round series on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports).

"I think we're all excited to help out offensively and to push the puck ahead," defenseman Mattias Ekholm told the Predators website during training camp. "A lot of us on defense are more offensively-inclined guys, so we'll fit right in to a more offensive role. If we can help push the puck through the neutral zone and toward the goal then that's going to free up our forwards."

Ekholm, like Jones, was one of four Predators defenseman to set a career high in points this season.

"This is only my second training camp, so it's been pretty easy for me to see the difference between the coaching [styles]," Jones said in September. "With guys like Weber, Josi and the others who have the skill to put the puck in the net, I think being able to help the offense as a defensemen is a good thing."

Nashville's defensemen have taken to this new system, and have gotten much better at making a defensive play and then activating up ice. On this goal against the Minnesota Wild, Josi breaks up a play in his own end, before finishing one at the other.

Josi gets his stick in the passing lane, and forces a turnover. He also identifies three Wild skaters up ice, and pushes the puck into an area where he can retrieve it and catalyze a rush.

Nashville carries the puck across the red line 4-on-2. Josi has his head up and processes the spacing, understanding that he can pull up and become the trailer. With forward Matt Cullen driving the center lane hard, space should be created for Josi to get open.

Cullen does two things by driving to the net: He carries a Wild skater with him and he creates traffic in front of goaltender Devan Dubnyk. By maintaining his wide position, forward Calle Jarnkrok gives linemate Viktor Stalberg enough space to find Josi. And from there, Josi does the rest.

It isn't only about the goals the Nashville defensemen are scoring. Laviolette has created more neutral zone structure, implementing schemes that feature them and allow them to move the puck up to the forwards quickly, like on this Filip Forsberg goal against the St. Louis Blues.

Each step of this play is choreographed. Weber skates the puck back into his own zone and the gears begin to turn. He sends the puck cross-ice to Josi and, by doing so, forces the Blues to skate toward the other side. Meanwhile, Forsberg is beginning his course near the benches.

Josi accepts Weber's pass and immediately turns his attention back to the other side of the ice. With St. Louis moving left-to-right, a two-line pass would be difficult to execute, but Forsberg is acting as a decoy, skating directly through the path of Josi's pass, disguising it.

Now forward James Neal has the puck, and Nashville has drawn defenseman Jay Bouwmeester up ice, creating space for Neal to lay a pass into. Forsberg, in the middle of his route, has enough speed to skate past forward Paul Stastny and into a high-quality scoring chance.

These were pieces that, for the most part, were always at the Predators disposal. Jones has progressed in his second NHL season, and Poile acquired defensemen Cody Franson prior to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. With defensemen that play with this skill set in Laviolette's newly installed system, Nashville has a different dynamic, the likes of which has made it a much better offensive team.


Chabot: Sticking to game plan paid off for Ducks

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets , has enlisted the help of Frederic Chabot to break down the action. Chabot will be checking in throughout the series.

Chabot was the goaltending coach for the Edmonton Oilers from 2009 to 2014. He played in the NHL for five seasons, spending time with the Montreal Canadiens , the Philadelphia Flyers , and the Los Angeles Kings .

The Winnipeg Jets took the lead into the third period against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series Thursday, but the Ducks were able to regain their composure and score three times in the third period to win 4-2.

Frederic Chabot said each team came out playing fast and physical, as expected, and the Ducks did a better job of getting back to their game plan when it mattered.

"They looked out of sync the last 15 minutes of the first and the first five minutes of the second, but slowly they went back to their game," Chabot said. "They made better decisions with the puck, got it deep and made sure they had traffic on net. They supported each other better."

Anaheim scored first on Thursday, taking a 1-0 lead at the 1:57 mark, and Winnipeg tied the game 49 seconds later.

"It was a quick 1-1 game," Chabot said. "From that point, Winnipeg took over, creating turnovers with their forecheck and their physical game."

The Jets found success in getting pucks deep and using their size to create turnovers. When the game was played at 5-on-5, it was very much even. But the Ducks got two third-period goals from forward Corey Perry, and one from Ryan Getzlaf, who Winnipeg had a hard time stopping.

"Both teams have very big forwards that can score that have skills. Getzlaf and Perry have been doing it for years, and they were very efficient last night," Chabot said. "The best way for Winnipeg to counteract Perry and Getzlaf is to make sure they don't turn the puck over and they get pucks deep and they spend more time in Anaheim's zone.

"If you give too much zone time to Perry and Getzlaf, they'll get something sooner or later."

With that kind of size up front, and with the style each team plays, there was plenty of traffic in front of Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen and Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Three of Anaheim's four goals were scored near the blue paint, and so was one of Winnipeg's. On the other two goals, each goalie had to deal with a screening forward.

"The workload for the goalie is heavy. Last night they didn't get tons of shots but there was a lot of traffic, so rebound chances were there and there were a lot of screen shots," Chabot said. "The goalies had to work really hard to do their jobs."

Pavelec, playing in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game, made 29 saves on 33 shots. But Chabot said the box score won't tell the whole story.

"Maybe statistically it didn't show how well he played; I thought he was pretty good," Chabot said. "He wasn't called upon a lot early in the game, but in the second half he made some big saves and kept the game close."

With Winnipeg protecting a one-goal lead in the third, the Jets committed two penalties. Anaheim tied the game on a Perry power-play goal before taking the lead with 6:39 remaining.

"[The Jets] have to get some positives out of the first half of the game when they played really well," said Chabot. "They must find a way to keep their momentum and be more disciplined, not just with penalties, but with their system. Five-on-five it was pretty even, but [Anaheim's] special teams, the PK early and the PP late, were the difference."


Lightning-Red Wings series familiar to AHL followers

From behind the lens of the American Hockey League, the Eastern Conference First Round matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings is more than just two divisional rivals going head-to-head: it’s an opportunity to revisit some recent history.

When the Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Syracuse Crunch to win the AHL's Calder Cup championship in 2013, it also marked a graduation for many players in the series to the NHL. Two years later, their parent clubs are doing battle with many of the same faces hitting the ice in pursuit of another Cup.

Of the players on Detroit's playoff roster, 10 have their names engraved on the Calder Cup as members of the 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins: forwards Joakim Andersson, Landon Ferraro, Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Teemu Pulkkinen, and Riley Sheahan, defenseman Danny DeKeyser, and goalie Petr Mrazek.

Tatar won the Jack Butterfield Trophy as most valuable player of the Calder Cup Playoffs that spring, with his League-leading 16 goals and team-best 21 points. This season, the 23-year-old winger led Detroit with 29 goals and finished third with 56 points while skating in all 82 games.

Mrazek, 23, played all 24 of Grand Rapids' games during the 2013 postseason, going 15-9 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.31 goals-against average with four shutouts. This year, his 16-9-2 record and .918 save percentage earned him the start in Game 1 at Tampa Bay.

After starring with the Griffins for two seasons, Nyquist, 25, has been one of the Red Wings’ top offensive producers over the past two years, finishing fourth in team scoring in 2014-15. And Pulkkinen, 23, has had a breakthrough season in 2014-15, leading all AHL skaters with 34 goals for the Griffins while also appearing in 31 games for the Red Wings.

AHL success doesn't always equal NHL success, a fact that has been proven time and time again. But for the core group that has traveled together from Grand Rapids to Detroit, the quick, sustainable success isn’t all that surprising to some.

"You never know when guys move up levels how quickly their transition is going to be, but I certainly felt that a number of those players were going to go up and do well," said Griffins coach Jeff Blashill, who led Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup in his first season with the team. "It was just going to be to what degree and how quickly. They’re talented guys who expect success, and it doesn’t surprise me that they’re having that.

"To watch guys go up to Detroit and have a lot of success is a great thing to see. We have a lot of really good people on that team that have worked extremely hard to position themselves to have success in the NHL, and it’s great to see them help Detroit gain that 24th consecutive playoff berth."

Despite losing in the Calder Cup Finals in 2013, the Crunch, too, are prevalent on this year's Lightning roster. Seven members of Syracuse's playoff run from two years ago – forwards, J.T. Brown, Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette, Ondrej Palat, and defensemen Andrej Sustr and Mark Barberio – are on Tampa Bay's roster.

Dating back to their time with the Crunch, Palat and Johnson have skated together for parts of three seasons, and make up the Lightning’s "Triplets" line with fellow Syracuse grad Nikita Kucherov. Palat led the AHL in playoff scoring in 2013 with seven goals and 26 points in 18 games, while Johnson, the regular-season AHL MVP that year, was right behind him with 10 goals and 21 points in 18 games.

Though the Lightning have a number of heavy hitters and game-changers on their roster, it's the Crunch alumni, fittingly, that Syracuse coach Rob Zettler sees making a splash.

"When you blend in that kind of work ethic with high talent, then you really have something,” said Zettler, who was Jon Cooper’s assistant in Syracuse before Cooper was promoted to Tampa. "Both [Palat and Johnson] carry that with them, and they carry a lot of passion for the game. There's a lot of love for the game of hockey between those two."

Though Palat and Mrazek were the stars for their respective teams during that 2013 run, Zettler and Blashill each had zero hesitation when naming heart-and-soul players that might miss the score sheet but played an integral role in their team’s success.

"[Luke Glendening] was somebody who started in Toledo (ECHL) that year and earned his way onto our team and then earned his way into a big role with us," Blashill said. "A lot of nights he was matched up with Tyler Johnson and trying to shut Tyler down, and we all know that’s a real tough task. Luke did it great, and I’m assuming he’ll spend some time this year doing the same thing.

"He's one of those guys that's a little unheralded. He’s not all over the score sheet but he's a big-time winner, and he's done it at every level."

For the Crunch, it was Brown.

"He had a huge impact on the series for us. He's a real valuable player,” Zettler said. "He played on our checking line throughout the playoffs with Mike Angelidis and J.T. Wyman and played against each team's top line and did an outstanding job for us. He scored some key goals along the way, too."

With Detroit winning Game 1 3-2, the series is already taking on a decidedly familiar feel. Crunch graduates Nikita Nesterov (goal) and Alex Killorn (assist) each got on the scoresheet for the Lightning, Glendening scored the winning goal shorthanded on a backhand shot early in the third period, and Mrazek's 44 saves earned him First Star honors in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game.

"[Mrazek's] a guy who I always thought, one of his greatest strengths is that he doesn’t get nervous," Blashill said. "In high-pressure situations, he was always able to stay calm and really execute. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was able to do that again."

Both Syracuse and Grand Rapids have clinched berths to the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, and await their first-round opponents at the conclusion of the AHL regular season on Sunday. To keep up with all things Calder Cup Playoffs, follow @TheAHL on Twitter or visit

NHL Draft Lottery to determine first shot at McDavid

There's a significant jackpot awaiting the winner of the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

The team winning the lottery will be able to choose between two players projected to be generational talents eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft: Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University freshman Jack Eichel. The draft will be held at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., June 26-27.

McDavid, who had 44 goals and 120 points in 47 regular-season games this season, is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the draft. Eichel, winner of the 2015 Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player, is ranked No. 2.

"Every year the ranking order for the NHL draft has the favored candidates and often there are two, three or four names in the mix for consideration to go first overall," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "But for 2015 it is far more exciting when looking at the two frontrunners because both Eichel and McDavid are remarkable young hockey players. A big part of what makes them remarkable is the consistency and results in their level of play.

"Both continually raised the bar on themselves and met and often exceeded expectations. And for NHL scouts, it has been a treat to watch these two in action."

The 2015 NHL Draft Lottery, a weighted system used to determine the order of selection in the first round for the 14 teams not qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs or for teams having acquired the first-round position of a non-playoff team, will be held in Toronto prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round series between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden.

"Drafts are always exciting for the NHL clubs who are building for the future and for the prospects and their families as it caps off an important milestone year, but this year I get the sense there is a lot of excitement for the draft lottery due to the new lottery process," Marr said. "For many the suspense of the draft order being determined will be similar to the suspense traditionally felt when the first overall pick on draft day is announced."

Balls numbered 1 to 14 will be put into a lottery machine that selects four balls to provide a four-number combination. That will be matched to a chart containing all possible four-number combinations that have been assigned to each of the 14 teams on the basis of their percentage chance to win the lottery.

The Buffalo Sabres, who finished with the fewest points in the regular season, have a 20.0 percent chance of winning the lottery. If they don't win the No. 1 pick, they are guaranteed No. 2, because the rules dictate no team can move back more than one spot.

The Arizona Coyotes (13.5 percent), Edmonton Oilers (11.5 percent), Toronto Maple Leafs (9.5 percent) and Carolina Hurricanes (8.5 percent) round out the five teams with the best odds of winning the No. 1 pick.

"This year it will seem like the first selection of the draft will be known at the time the draft order is announced," Marr said. "The draft is always exciting because you never really know who will be the next selection announced."

Erie forward Connor McDavid is ranked No. 1 among Central Scouting's final draft rankings for the 2015 Draft. (Photo: Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The last time the Sabres held the No. 1 pick in the draft was in 1987 when they chose center Pierre Turgeon. He was a premier blue-chip prospect who had 69 goals and 154 points in 58 games with the Granby Bisons of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 1986-87.

He made an immediate impact, with 14 goals and 42 points in 76 games as a rookie in 1987-88 to help the Sabres qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in three seasons.

The Sabres, who this season missed qualifying for the playoffs a fourth straight year, are hoping for similar results if they win the No. 1 pick this year.

The NHL announced changes to the draft lottery format in August. The changes included adjusting the odds of winning the first selection. The 10 highest-finishing non-playoff qualifying teams received higher (better) draft lottery odds than they had previously. The four lowest-finishing teams received lower (worse) odds.

The Florida Panthers won the draft lottery in 2014 and selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who had 12 goals and 39 points in 81 games and is a potential Calder Trophy finalist as NHL rookie of the year.


2014-15 fantasy hockey award selections

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Penguins know they must be more disciplined

NEW YORK -- The Pittsburgh Penguins know if they're going to have any chance of defeating the Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers in their Eastern Conference First Round series, they're going to have to refrain from taking unnecessary penalties.

The Penguins looked eager to hand Game 1 of this best-of-7 series to the Rangers on a silver platter in the first period, when they took four minor penalties and played shorthanded for 6:43. As a result, an already injury-depleted defense corps was forced to constantly contain one of the NHL's fastest units, captain Sidney Crosby saw 3:42 of ice time, and the Penguins fell behind 2-0 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

"I can't remember a single [penalty] off the top of my head, but they're able to generate a lot of momentum out of those," Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "We have half our team sitting on the bench for far too long and can't get into a rhythm, and the other half is out there killing, playing very difficult minutes. It tires you out, and that gets a team out of their rhythm; we can't do that."

The Penguins did battle back with strong second and third periods, but it wasn't enough to overcome the barrage and tough minutes they had to bear in the first. The Rangers outshot the Penguins 38-25 in a 2-1 victory.

Game 2 is Saturday at the Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Because of injuries to defensemen Kris Letang (concussion), Christian Ehrhoff (concussion) and Derrick Pouliot (upper body), the Penguins had Taylor Chorney and rookie Brian Dumoulin each making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut in the series opener.

It was a lot of ask of Chorney, who has played 68 regular-season games over six NHL seasons, and Dumoulin, who played in his 15th NHL game, but each played well.

"They did a good job in an incredibly difficult situation; to come in having not played a ton of NHL hockey," Lovejoy said.

Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi left the game for a little more than six minutes when he required seven stitches to close a gash on the bridge of his nose after being clipped by the stick of Rangers center Kevin Hayes on a follow-through of a shot early in the third period.

Scuderi felt the early penalties played a huge part in Pittsburgh's demise.

"I think you kind of have to look at it that way," he said. "It's the postseason. Maybe during the [regular] season you could kind of look those over because you have another game in a couple of days. But in the postseason every little play matters, and we gave up a lot of momentum in the first period."

The Rangers went 1-for-5 with the man-advantage; captain Ryan McDonagh scored in the first period. If not for the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 36 saves, the deficit might have been worse.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston pointed to a few areas that hurt the Penguins in the first.

"The momentum [off the first goal 28 seconds into the game], the crowd, the surge and those penalties," Johnston said. "[The Rangers] earned it. It took a lot of momentum away from our team, and our key players couldn't get on the ice, so certainly that was a key factor in the start of the game for sure."

Pittsburgh was the most penalized team in the NHL during the regular season, totaling 1,123 penalty minutes. Its 13.7 minutes per game included 349 minors, the second-highest total in the League, and an NHL-leading 18 misconducts.

The Penguins, who had the third-best penalty kill (84.8 percent) during the regular season, limited the Rangers to seven shots on their five power-play opportunities.

"Yes, we did a good job on the penalty kill, but we weren't able to get going, and our players are playing against the other's top line for a long time," Lovejoy said. "So half our team is tired, and the other half is out of sort. We can't be taking those penalties. We have to be better disciplined and come out ready to play."

Crosby played 19:11 on 22 shifts, took one shot on goal, attempted two others and was minus-1.

"We just have to learn from this; I think they did exactly what we expected, but with that there's always little things that you can adjust," Crosby said. "You become much more aware after Game 1, so our start and being tentative has to be better. We were definitely guilty of doing both."


Flames rookie Bennett impressive in playoff debut

VANCOUVER -- Rookie center Sam Bennett impressed Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley with his play Wednesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Vancouver Canucks. He had already impressed Hartley with his character.

Bennett, in his second NHL game, was one of Calgary's best players in the 2-1 victory at Rogers Arena. When asked after practice Thursday about Bennett's performance, Hartley referenced the 18-year-old center's inability to do a single pull-up at the NHL Draft Combine last May. Though it was seen as an indictment of Bennett's fitness and commitment at the time, Hartley now views it as a sign of his character.

"There was many reports the kid was not a good worker and couldn't do pull-ups," he said. "When your shoulder is broken in pieces but you won't tell no one because you are a competitor and you want to be there, that speaks volumes about his character."

Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is Friday in Vancouver (10 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Bennett, taken with the fourth pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, did the same thing at training camp, keeping quiet about the shoulder injury that had plagued him for months because he wanted to make the Flames.

"He wanted to make our team, so bad pain is not a problem," Hartley said. "Once we got him checked by our team doctors and the specialist, there was no way that he could keep going without surgery. That's the kind of player we need in this organization if we are going to make great strides forward. Yes, you need talent, you need speed, but you need character, and this kid is full of dynamite."

Bennett finally had surgery on his shoulder in early October and missed most of the regular season. He was sent back to his junior team, the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, and showed he had lost none of his skill by scoring 11 goals and finishing with 24 points in 11 games. He had three assists in the Frontenacs' loss in the first round of the OHL playoffs before joining the Flames.

The Flames dressed Bennett for their regular-season finale, in which he had an assist, and kept him in the lineup for the opener of their series against the Canucks.

Bennett created several early chances in Game 1 by beating defenders and taking the puck to the net. He also set the screen on defenseman Kris Russell's game-winning goal with 29.6 seconds left in the third period.

Hartley wasn't surprised Bennett played well in his playoff debut.

"Fearless is part of his personality," Hartley said.

Bennett wasn't surprised he was able to jump right in.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself," Bennett said. "I wasn't afraid to make mistakes in the offensive zone. I'm a guy who's going to take the puck to the net and I'm not going to shy away from anyone. I definitely didn't try to change anything in my game and I just did my thing [Wednesday].

That included avoiding a case of the rookie jitters.

"Definitely it's a lot different in the playoffs in the NHL," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's just another game and I've been playing my whole life, so I felt pretty good."

Islanders young players benefit from patient approach

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- During the first half of the 2013-14 season, Ryan Strome had to watch and wait for his NHL dream to come true.

Every other player selected in the top 10 of the 2011 NHL Draft had reached the League. The New York Islanders preached patience and sent Strome, the No. 5 pick, to Bridgeport, Conn., for further development in the American Hockey League.

No player's path to the NHL and success at the highest level is ever the same. Strome may have had to wait a little longer than some of his peers, but he's now a top-line forward for a 101-point team and a key contributor for a franchise clearly on the rise.

"It feels like my road was a little longer," Strome said. "I just wanted to do the right thing and they wanted to do the right thing for me. It was frustrating at times, watching the other guys play in the NHL, but all in all it is about the big picture and our team is in the playoffs my first full year. I think things have worked out pretty well.

"I took a little bit of time to develop. I don't think I was quite ready. It was frustrating to see at the time, but looking back at it, it was probably the best thing."

The Islanders have been trying to build a Stanley Cup-contending roster around franchise center John Tavares, and they've remained committed to drafting and developing players even in the face of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs every year but one since 2007.

General manager Garth Snow, sensing the puzzle was almost complete, struck this summer with a flurry of moves, adding goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin, and most importantly defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk on the same day just before the season began. Those moves helped make the Islanders a deeper team, and Snow will almost certainly earn strong consideration for GM of the Year because of them.

The work by Snow and his staff on draft day should also be a strong part of his resume. Yes, Halak, Leddy and Boychuk have been a big part of New York's success, but homegrown forwards Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee have all become quality regulars this season and a big part of why the Islanders are as deep up front as any team in the Eastern Conference.

"I think they've done a nice job developing quite a few guys and it is starting to pay dividends," Nelson said. "It is nice to have a few other young guys around to go through this at the same time. It is nice to see those guys chip in and be big parts of the team and the team winning. It is a credit to everyone involved in the process.

"Maybe it didn't happen overnight or as fast as some people might have wanted, but I think it has worked out."

Strome and Nelson had combined for one postseason game before helping the Islanders defeat the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference First Round series Wednesday at Verizon Center.

Nelson scored the first goal of the series and secured the victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute. Strome scored the first of three straight by the Islanders, a strike he had something of a premonition about.

As the story goes, which was confirmed by both Tavares and Strome, the 21-year-old told his linemate and captain he was going to score before they lined up for a faceoff Tavares won cleanly. Strome collected the puck and rifled a shot into the net.

"I don't even remember what I said. I just told him I was going to score," Strome said. "He looked at me and I knew it was in and he was just sort of laughing. We had a good laugh. I guess when you call 100 of them and you get one it feels good."

Tavares was ready to be an NHL star from the moment he put on an Islanders jersey, but the Islanders had to be more patient with others. Josh Bailey and Nino Niederreiter also came up early, and each went through the pains of trying to develop at the NHL level.

The Islanders have taken a more measured approach since then, and players like Strome, Nelson and Lee have benefited. They are trying to do the same with a collection of elite prospects still percolating in the system like defensemen Ryan Pulock and Griffin Reinhart, and forward Michael Del Colle.

New York had seven forwards reach 40 points this season, and Strome, Nelson and Lee were among them. When Kyle Okposo and Grabovski missed a chunk of the season, those three helped absorb the blow of those losses.

Strome has even graduated to the top line next to Tavares and Kulemin.

"I think [Strome] has such a great feel for the game, he thinks the game so well, just knows where to be and he makes plays," Tavares said. "He finds the open man, he finds open space and he's done a good job transitioning from being a natural center to the wing.

"He's using his body a lot more. You can see his game has really evolved over the season. There's no surprise he's going to be a very good player for us not only in this series, but hopefully for a long time."

Tavares and Strome live near each other in the offseason and share a skating coach. Strome said they get into some pickup games together, but otherwise he enjoys doing non-hockey things as much as anything in the summer.

It's a bond the Islanders could reap benefits from for years to come.

"It makes it great when you can to talk with each other," Strome said. "He's a big role model for one but also one of my better friends. It makes it easier for me. Obviously he's a top-five player in the League, and it is so great to get to play with him. I feel lucky every day. I just try to match his work ethic and hopefully pucks keep going in."

Flames never let adversity slow their path to playoffs

It took seven months and 83 games, but the Calgary Flames have gone from expected to compete for Connor McDavid to stealing home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Expected to be among the candidates for the first pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, the Flames instead earned a berth in the playoffs for the first time in six years. And in winning 2-1 against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Wednesday, have stolen home-ice advantage in the Western Conference First Round series.

Game 2 of the series will be Friday (10 p.m. ET; CBC, CNBC, TVA Sports).

Assistant general manager Craig Conroy said Calgary's resurgence comes as a result of forging a new identity.

"I think it's just an overall thing. It's the philosophy, what we wanted to do," said Conroy, who was one of Calgary's top centers the last time the Flames were in the playoffs, when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the first round in 2009.

"We said, 'Hey, we might not want to make the playoffs but we're going to try and win every game.' Our goal is to make the playoffs. We're not going to give anyone an excuse.

"It started when [president of hockey operations] Brian Burke was here. No excuses. If we give excuses now it's hard to take those excuses away. [Coach Bob Hartley's] message at the beginning of the year, we are going to make the playoffs. It starts with the coaching staff. The players bought in right away. We want to build an identity."

Hartley credited the creation of that identity coming from the core group, which includes captain Mark Giordano and alternate captains Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler.

"Leadership, our leaders in the room," said Hartley. "They created a standard that mediocre is not OK. If you're not part of our guys and don't believe in the way that we're working, you'll have a hard time being part of the pack. We've created this."

The Flames finished 27th in the League standings last season, so few pegged the Flames as a playoff team this season.

They started 17-9-2 but few believed Calgary's play was sustainable and would fall off in time. When an eight-game losing streak (0-7-1) hit in December, the Flames were expected to tumble out of the playoff picture. But they rebounded with four straight wins to stay in the race.

When Giordano was lost to a season-ending injury Feb. 25, then the Flames were supposed to stumble; instead they finished the season 12-6-3 without their captain.

"You go out there on our rink and you see that 'Never Quit' slogan and that's been our team," said forward Brandon Bollig, who with Hudler are the only two Flames skaters to have hoisted the Stanley Cup in their careers.

"How many third-period comebacks have we had? For a while there I'm not sure we ended up leading … the League in third-period goals [actually tied for first with 99]. That’s a mindset we had here, and like I said, we never gave up until the final buzzer.

"There were so many comebacks that we had and we wouldn't be standing here talking if we didn't have that attitude and we gave up when we were down a couple goals. It's gigantic in the postseason, as I've found out, and I think that will be another big part of our success."

In addition to tying for the NHL lead in third-period goals, their 13 wins when trailing after one period was the most in the League, and their 10 wins when trailing after two periods was third.

Fittingly the Flames beat the Canucks in Game 1 because of a third-period comeback. The Flames trailed 1-0 after two periods but scored twice in the third, capped by the game-winner by Kris Russell with 29.6 seconds remaining in regulation, to take a 1-0 series lead.

The dramatics became, and continue to encompass, Calgary's identity.

"Many times this group has shown us a willingness to compete and a willingness to never say die," Hartley said. "We have the boxer's attitude. I talk about the boxer's attitude a lot with our players. You go down, you get back up and you keep going.

"We've done this and it takes a will to do this. We have that will, there's no doubt in my mind. I love my team, I love my players, and I'm having lots of fun and I want to enjoy this ride."

Lightning GM Yzerman not excited to face Red Wings

BRANDON, Fla. -- General manager Steve Yzerman is pleased to have the Tampa Bay Lightning back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season.

However, the 2009 Hall of Fame inductee isn't so excited the opponent for their Eastern Conference First Round series, which begins at Amalie Arena on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, FS-D, FS-F), is the Detroit Red Wings.

Yzerman scored 762 goals and had 1,178 assists in 1,710 regular-season and playoff games in his 23 seasons in Detroit, where he won the Stanley Cup three times as a player and once as a member of the front office before departing for Tampa Bay in 2010.

"I'd prefer to play other teams, but obviously I have tremendous respect for the [Detroit] organization from the top to the bottom," Yzerman said. "They've been one of the elite franchises in professional sports for a long time and continue to be and will continue to be beyond this year. So I have great admiration for them."

Now five seasons into his tenure, the Lightning are Yzerman's team. He inherited a superstar in the prime of his career, Steven Stamkos, and has surrounded him with a young group of players, including Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman and Jonathan Drouin, that is dynamic and plays an exciting, up-tempo brand of hockey similar to the style Yzerman enjoyed with the Red Wings.

He also has secured goaltending depth. In April 2013, Tampa Bay traded for Ben Bishop, whose 40 wins this season set a Lightning record, and at the 2012 NHL Draft, it used a first-round pick (No. 19) to select Andrei Vasilevskiy, a 20-year-old rookie widely considered the top goalie prospect in the League.

Yzerman proved that he wasn't afraid to make an unpopular decision when he traded captain and fan favorite Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline.

Last summer, Yzerman added veterans Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle, who went to the Cup Final with the New York Rangers last season and provide leadership on and off the ice.

The way Yzerman has constructed the Lightning is a clear nod to the lessons he learned during his time in Detroit.

"I learned a lot as a player in the organization from all the coaches, like Scotty [Bowman] and Mike Babcock, and of course Ken Holland," Yzerman said. "It's greatly influenced how I perform in my job and the decisions I make and how I go about them and the vision I have for the organization and the way we play hockey."

Yzerman's vision has gotten the Lightning into the playoffs three times, including a trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010-11, his first season. His goals are clearly shaped by the Red Wings' success, which includes 24 consecutive postseason appearances.

Yzerman's eyes light up when he talks about bringing a second Stanley Cup championship to Tampa Bay.

"We have lofty goals and high expectations," Yzerman said. "There are a lot of things we're hoping to accomplish here, and we haven't come close to those yet. I think we're on the right track, but we haven't accomplished the things that I've set out for us to accomplish and the goals that [team owner] Jeff Vinik has set for this organization."

The Lightning ascended to the NHL's upper echelon this season, winning 50 games for the first time ever and scoring a League-high 259 goals.

However, after being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round last spring, Tampa Bay must prove it can win in the playoffs.

Yzerman hopes the Lightning learned something from that disappointing postseason experience and take the lesson with them as they make final preparations for their best-of-7 series against the Red Wings.

"We want to elevate our play to the intensity that the playoffs demand," Yzerman said. "Over the season, the team has responded well to adversity. We battled injuries all year, and the young players that came in gained good experience with the opportunity. The game is very demanding this time of year. We only played four games last year, but I think the experience from that will be valuable."

Yzerman is fully committed to winning a championship in Tampa Bay right now, but part of him wishes he didn't have to go through his friends to get there.

"Honestly I have a relationship with the organization my entire professional life and have many friends in the offices there," Yzerman said. "I have an affinity for them. I was there for a long time, and we accomplished a lot while I was there, and I'm proud of what we accomplished."