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.

Hedman still isn’t ready to return for ‘desperation mode’ Lightning

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 23: Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning holds his arm against the Washington Capitals during the second period at Verizon Center on December 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Whatever “illness” is bothering Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman must be pretty bad, as he’ll miss his third straight game as the Bolts visit the Sharks in San Jose tonight.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the team (which he considers in “desperation mode”) will evaluate Hedman on a game-by-game basis. Hey, for a squad dealing with as many injuries as Tampa Bay has been this season, it’s probably refreshing to say “game-by-game” instead of “day-to-day.”

To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’ve begun a potentially harrowing road stretch reasonably well, especially considering Hedman’s absence. Let’s look at it as a whole:

Monday: 2-1 win at Kings
Tuesday: 2-1 OT loss at Ducks
Tonight: at Sharks
Saturday: at Coyotes
Tuesday, Jan. 24: at Blackhawks
Thursday, Jan. 26: at Panthers
Tuesday: Jan. 31: begin four-game homestand vs. Bruins

That’s a pretty challenging way to head into March, especially without one of the best defensemen in the NHL. The Bolts have to hope he gets over this sickness (or unspecified injury?) soon enough.

NHL explains new All-Star Skills Competition event

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13:  Fans arrive for the game between the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues at the Staples Center on January 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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We wrote yesterday about the NHL’s plans to replace the “Breakaway Challenge” at the All-Star Skills Competition with something called the “Four Line Challenge.”

Today, the league explained how the new event will work:

This event involves four shooters from each team. Each shooter will shoot from one of four shooting positions; near blue line, center line, far blue line and far goal line.

The first shooter from each team takes two shots from the near blue line in an attempt to score goals in either the upper left or upper right corner of the net. Successful shots score one point for their team.

The second shooter from each team takes two shots from center ice in an attempt to score goals in one of the four corners of the net. Successful shots in the lower corners score one point and successful shots in the upper corners score three points for their team.

The third shooter from each team takes two shots from the far blue line in an attempt to score a goal in one of the four corners of the net or the five hole. Successful shots in the lower corners or five hole score one point and successful shots in the upper corners score five points for their team.

The fourth shooter from each team takes two shots from the far goal line in an attempt to score a goal in the five hole. Successful shots score 10 points for their team. Captains can substitute the fourth shooter with a goalie. A successful shot by a goalie is awarded 20 points for their team.

In addition, the first All-Star to score two goals in the five hole from the far goal line will win the new 2017 Honda CRV.

Sounds like fun.

Or at the very least, worth a try.

The skills competition will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Each all-star will compete in at least one of the six contests: the skills challenge relay, the four-line challenge, accuracy shooting, fastest skater, hardest shot, and the shootout.

Minor-league team involved in rollover bus crash

COLUMBUS, GA - MARCH 13:  Shannon Szabados #40 of the Columbus Cottonmouths watches the action from the bench at Columbus Civic Center on March 13, 2014 in Columbus, Georgia. The Pensacola Ice Flyers defeated the Columbus Cottonmouths 5-0. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Cottonmouths, a Georgia-based team in the Southern Professional Hockey League, was involved in a rollover crash on Thursday afternoon while traveling to an away game in Peoria.

Per the Peoria Journal-Star, the charter bus carrying the team crashed on Interstate 74 and all 24 passengers — players, coaching and traveling staff — were transported to hospital.

More:

Two had to be extricated from the vehicle and were transported immediately to the hospital, while the others followed later in another bus. Morton Fire Chief Joe Kelley said his firefighters had to cut out holes in the top of the bus to remove the two. The rest were able to get out on their own.

Twenty-three of the bus’s occupants were taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Three were considered trauma patients and listed in serious condition, though OSF media relations coordinator Shelli Dankoff described their injuries as non-life threatening. The remaining 20 patients were not seriously injured. Some had already been treated at release shortly after 3 p.m. and were waiting for transport to their hotel.

The Cottonmouths have since followed up with a release, confirming all players have been accounted for and that there are no life-threatening injures to players, staff or personnel.

Pre-game reading: About that time Donald Trump considered buying the Panthers

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie discusses Paul Maurice’s status in Winnipeg. Is the Jets’ head coach on the hot seat?

— Did you know that Donald Trump once considered buying the Florida Panthers? He never did buy them, of course, but the Miami Herald’s George Richards recalls the time, “around 2000,” when Trump kicked the tires on the hockey club. The Panthers, oddly enough, are now owned by Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Army, Vinnie Viola. (Miami Herald)

— From The Journal Star newspaper in Peoria, Illinois: “A charter bus carrying the Columbus Cottonmouths team was in a rollover crash on Interstate 74 on Thursday afternoon as the Southern Professional Hockey League team was on its way into Peoria for a weekend series against the Peoria Rivermen.” Fortunately, there don’t appear to be any serious injuries — just some “bumps and bruises,” according to the team’s co-owner, Bart Rogers. However, two people were reportedly taken to the hospital in an ambulance. (Journal Star)

— The Washington Post spoke to Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer about the new streamlined pants that all NHL goalies must start wearing by Feb. 4. While Holtby isn’t too concerned about the changes, Grubauer had this to say: “I understand you want to get the game more exciting for the fans, but there’s a fine line between making the gear smaller and also keeping the goalies protected. If too many guys get hurt with those, it’s not a good thing. … What do you want to take away next? Goalies without sticks? Without skates?” PHT prediction: They’ll let goalies keep their skates on.  (Washington Post)

— An encouraging update from Bryan Bickell, who was diagnosed with MS in November. The Hurricanes forward has been taking a drug called Tysabri, and the results have been good. “I’m feeling a lot better. I’ve been on the ice a couple times. … Different people react differently to different drugs and I’ve been reacting good and we’ll see how it goes.” (NHL.com)

— The Nashville Predators picked up “another teammate” on Friday, but they’re still not sure if “Mario” will last the season as their good-luck charm. (The Tennessean)

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Enjoy the games!