Best and worst series of Round One

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1-sharksfan.jpgThere’s a fine line between what makes a great series and what makes a forgettable series in the NHL Playoffs. Not every seven game series is going to be exciting and incredible to watch just like how every sweep or five game series won’t always be a huge stinker to witness. What will this year’s playoffs hold for us as far as excitement and stinkers? I’ve got two of each to give you a heads up on. Our playoff picks from earlier today in the West and East will help prepare you for this.

Best Series to watch

Chicago vs. Nashville is one series in the Western Conference to keep a close eye on because these two already have some divisional dislike going on. Nashville doesn’t allow anyone to just boss them around and they’re a team that does not get cheated out of any game. Their effort is consistent night in and night out. Chicago, of course, is highly talented and has a lot of offense to spread around and their defense plays as tough as any other in the league. What adds a little gasoline to this match up is having a couple of playoff inexperienced goaltenders to the mix. Antti Niemi and Pekka Rinne are the future of Finland goaltending and they’re getting their first dose of high pressure action now in the first round of the playoffs. No sweat, right guys? How each of these guys handles the stress of the NHL Playoffs will determine how this series goes (the health of Patrick Hornqvist is also a big deal to Nashville) but I envision this series as a cutthroat, blue-collar-oriented one with all the extreme physicality the playoffs are capable of providing.

Washington vs. Montreal is a series in the East that, while it may not be long on games, will be long on potential entertainment value. Yes, you’ve got the scoring trio of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington going out and running their offensive circus. Mix in an acrobatic goalie who was able to steal some thunder in the Olympics in Jaroslav Halak and a team in Montreal that can provide some scoring punch with Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Sergei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot going against a potential weak link in Jose Theodore and you’ve got yourself some potential firewagon hockey. The catch here is that the Canadiens aren’t big fans of offense this year (217 goals, t-25th in the NHL) but managed to split their season series at 2-2 with the Caps. All things are possible with Jose Theodore, something Montreal fans know all too well.

Worst series to watch

New Jersey vs. Philadelphia sticks out to me as uninspiring for a few reasons and none of them have to do with the old Internet meme of “The Devils are boring.” Shocking, I know. While I think that Philadelphia will play with enough pride to stick around in this series, the Devils are going to be the methodical killer here and slowly drain the life out of Philadelphia. A back-breaking goal here , resisting giving into Dan Carcillo’s attempts to goad the Devils out of their discipline there, Brian Boucher realizing who he is and ultimately giving into the Devils. A reason to hope for excitement here: Jeff Carter blows up offensively for the Flyers now that he’s returned to the line up. Also, Ilya Kovalchuk flexes his talents all over the ice with some highlight reel stuff. I’m not going to hold my breath here, especially since I see this series going six games in uninspiring fashion.

San Jose vs. Colorado also shapes up to be a bad series for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don’t see how a seemingly tired Colorado team is going to be able to hang tough with a Sharks team that has to be ready for the playoffs after all these years. Secondly, if things do go south for the Sharks… Is watching a team unravel in the playoffs again worth seeing happen? I know for Colorado fans and Sharks haters it would be, but at some point it becomes hockey’s version of a snuff film set on repeat. When is enough, enough?

Is there drama in an eight seed taking out a #1? Sure there is, because it’s wholly unfathomable that it happens and when it does it’s shocking. I guess what I’m saying is is that while the Sharks were the originator of the stunning upset in 1994 (beating Detroit), they’ve become the punchline to the joke and if they were to fail again it’d be like watching a top comedian rip himself off to stay famous.

PHT Morning Skate: Vegas might have best line in hockey; 3 things NHL should take from Olympics

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The rivalry between Canada’s women’s team and the United States women’s team doesn’t have the same bite it did a few years ago. (NBC Olympics)

• American twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson have been playing like they have something to prove. (The Ice Garden)

• Former NHL goalie Jonas Hiller won’t play for team Switzerland anymore. (Swiss Hockey News)

• There’s a group of Kenyan hockey players that want to take part in future Olympic Games. (ESPN)

• The NHL can grow in popularity if they sample three things from the Olympics. (Vice Sports)

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

• Trade rumors can weigh on a player as the trade deadline approaches. Just ask Tyler Johnson how that feels. (Tampa Times)

• The Rangers will go through a hard time over the next little while, but it could all be worth it in the end. (NY Post)

• Don’t expect the Golden Knights to make big moves before Monday’s trade deadline. (Knights on Ice)

• Speaking of Vegas, they might have the best line in hockey. (TSN.ca)

• Winnipeg has had a hard time trading for players with no-move clauses, but that’s nothing to be offended by. (Jets Nation)

• Even though they won’t make the playoffs this year, the Panthers certainly have a bright future ahead. (Fan Rag Sports)

• As bad as things are for the Montreal Canadiens, they’ll probably get a whole lot worse. (Rabid Habs)

• The San Jose Sharks acquired veteran forward Eric Fehr from the Maple Leafs. (NHL.com/Sharks)

• Is Blues forward Patrik Berglund still a useful player? (Blues Rants)

• The World’s Longest Hockey Game raised over $1.2 million for cancer research this year. (Edmonton Journal)

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.

The Buzzer: Mac attack, Barrie impressive

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

  • Click here for details regarding a clutch night from Jakub Voracek, who played a huge role with two goals (including the OT game-winner) and an assist for the Flyers in beating the Habs.
  • Frederik Andersen was stellar for the Maple Leafs, pitching a 40-save shutout against the Florida Panthers. Toronto only won 1-0, so they needed every save from their franchise goalie. Andersen tends to face a lot of shots on goal, and he’s put out some stellar performances in the process:

  • Two Avalanche players take the cake for players of the night, overall.

Nathan MacKinnon didn’t return to action, technically, on Tuesday. This was actually his second game back.

That said, it felt like Mac was truly back here, scoring the overtime game-winner and collecting three assists to help Colorado scrap its way to an OT win against the Canucks. With this output, MacKinnon has set a new career-high for points, and he has plenty of time to add to his already impressive point total of 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists).

Tyson Barrie was outstanding in his own right, arguably more impressive than MacKinnon. Quite ridiculously, the Avalanche scored all five of its goals on the power play, and Barrie collected a point in all five. He scored a goal and generated four assists, with three of those helpers being primary assists.

Injuries make Barrie’s fantastic work in 2017-18 slip under the radar a bit. With these five points in mind, Barrie now has 36 points in just 45 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to almost 66 points.

Highlight of the Night: Another fantastic Nikita Kucherov goal.

Kucherov already has 32 goals and 78 points this season. He edges Taylor Hall, whose fantastic coast-to-coast goal was good enough for a post, but couldn’t quite get it done for the Devils, who fell to Columbus in regulation.

Factoids

You have to love the neat-and-tidiness of Anze Kopitar scoring his 800th point in his 900th regular-season game:

Where do you think Alex Ovechkin will end up once he hangs up his skates, hopefully a long time from now?

So far, pretty good for Dion Phaneuf in Los Angeles:

Scores

Maple Leafs 1, Panthers 0
Blue Jackets 2, Devils 1
Flyers 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Predators 3, Red Wings 2
Sharks 3, Blues 2
Kings 4, Jets 3
Bruins 3, Oilers 2
Avalanche 5, Canucks 4 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S. men’s Olympic medal dreams fade in shootout

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The U.S. men’s Olympic team will look back at missed opportunities as they recall going without a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

They rode nice play from some NCAA talent and KHL goalie Ryan Zapolski on their way to the quarterfinals, but that’s where the ride will end, as the Czech Republic prevailed 3-2 via a shootout. Petr Koukal was the only player from either team to score during that shootout, even with Troy Terry generating enough T.J. Oshie comparisons to get some encouragement from Oshie himself:

The shootout wasn’t the only area where the U.S. might experience some regrets. Both teams weren’t exactly potent on the power play, with the United States going 0-for-5 while the Czech Republic went 0-for-4. Still, the U.S. enjoyed a man advantage that spilled over from the end of regulation and into overtime, yet they barely created any chances.

From the coaching staff to players, there might be some lost sleep regarding that special teams work.

With this loss, the chase for a medal is over for the United States. Tuesday’s missed opportunities will sting, but many take some good things out of this team’s scrappy run to the quarterfinal round. There are rumors that the likes of Brian Gionta might see some NHL interest after the tournament, too.

The Czech Republic advances to face the winner between the OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia) and Norway.

It’s not all lost for USA Hockey, by the way. The women’s team advanced to the gold-medal round after beating Finland 5-0.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers keep finding ways to win

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

A wave of injuries may eventually capsize the Philadelphia Flyers, but not yet.

With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined – not to mention bad news for power forward Wayne Simmonds – the Flyers are likely to be tested down the stretch. It’s key, then, to grind out wins while they can, and they managed a tough one tonight.

In this specific case, it came down to getting goals from a sniper who’s become far more of a playmaker this season. Jakub Voracek sent the game into overtime and then scored the game-winner in a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Those two tallies pushed him to 13 on the season, a rare bit of puck luck this season for a player who brought a 6.4 shooting percentage into tonight’s action.

Voracek also grabbed an assist, beefing up his league-leading total to 55. The Czech winger’s dynamic performance helped the Flyers win their third game in a row, extending a point streak that covers most of their February games (7-0-2 in their last nine contests).

Taylor Hall‘s fantastic goal was all the Devils could muster in their game tonight, falling in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With those decisions in mind, Philly is firmly planted at third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 standings points. They’re even in the running for a round of home-ice advantage, if they can catch the just-as-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Heck, they even gained on the Metro’s top team, as the Capitals fell to the Lightning 4-2 tonight:

1. Capitals: 75 points in 60 games played (31 ROW)
2. Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
3. Flyers: 72 points in 60 GP (30 ROW)
4. Devils: 70 points in 60 GP (27 ROW)
5. Blue Jackets: 65 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
6. Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
7. Islanders: 64 points in 61 GP (26 ROW)
8. Rangers: 59 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)

If nothing else, the Flyers are separating from the wild-card pack, as they have a nice edge over the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Islanders.

Such strong play could empower GM Ron Hextall to add some firepower. Such moves could help ease the loss of Simmonds, and ideally give Philly solid depth when everyone is closer to full strength.

They’ve already taken that step by adding goalie insurance in Petr Mrazek, who should be as hungry as the team he’s joined. It’s truly remarkable how far this team has come since a 10-game losing streak that ended on Dec. 2. No doubt about it, players like Voracek have played a big role in this strong work:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.