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.

‘It was frustrating for me,’ says Tarasenko after struggling offensively versus Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko has opened up about his play in the Western Conference Final versus the San Jose Sharks, who held the talented forward off the score sheet in five of six games.

It wasn’t until the third period of Game 6 that Tarasenko finally broke his slump, scoring twice as St. Louis tried one last desperation comeback attempt. It didn’t work. The Blues were eliminated and the Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Final.

“They played really tight and they backchecked so hard,” said Tarasenko, as per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s just experience. It was frustrating for me. I wish I could do better. I’m supposed to do better.”

After a 40-goal regular season, the 24-year-old Tarasenko’s point production through the first two rounds — versus Chicago and Dallas — was solid, with 13 points in 14 games.

But the Sharks kept him in check.

His lack of production became a key focal point as the third-round series carried on. Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock, who signed a one-year extension to stay in St. Louis, admitted Tarasenko was “learning hard lessons” against the Sharks and that he had to fight through the tight checking in order to produce offensively.

As the series continued, Hitchcock added that Tarasenko just needed to play within the system, and that getting away from that is perhaps a “natural tendency” for young players pressing to make things happen in crucial situations.

There had been talk about a rift between Tarasenko and Hitchcock, especially after video replays showed the two in a brief but heated exchange at the bench during the first round. Of course, the coach later downplayed it.

As the Blues’ playoff run ended, there was speculation about why, exactly, Tarasenko didn’t address the media on the same day the rest of his teammates did.

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Frederickson:

More importantly, Tarasenko’s no comment closed the book on his season without addressing the elephant in the dressing room.

There is growing speculation of friction between Tarasenko and the Blues. Is there a rift between the star and his club?

If I’m a member of that front office, I sure would have liked a player under contract until 2023 to squash such a story on Saturday.

On the subject of any perceived issues between the Blues organization and Tarasenko, both parties responded:

 

 

The Russians say they’re in ‘negotiations’ with the NHL to get Voynov into the World Cup

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Yesterday in Pittsburgh, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear that Slava Voynov was still suspended and, because of that, would not be allowed to play in the upcoming World Cup.

Bettman also said that the Russian Ice Hockey Federation had been told as much.

However, it seems the Russians — who last week added Voynov to their World Cup roster — still haven’t given up on trying to get the 26-year-old defensemen into the tournament.

From Russian News Agency TASS:

“The Russian Ice Hockey Federation is holding negotiations with the organizers of the World Cup – the NHL – concerning the issue of national team’s defender Vyacheslav Voynov,” the RHF’s press service told TASS on Tuesday adding that besides the Russian and US sides the negotiations also involve Rene Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

“The Russian Ice Hockey Federation hopes that the organizers of the international competition will make a positive decision on the issue and the defender will be allowed to be included in the roster of the Russian national team,” the RHF added.

Known in the United States as Slava Voynov he played in the past for NHL’s Los Angeles Kings before the North American Hockey League suspended him over domestic violence charges and the player returned last autumn back home, where he is currently playing for the national team and KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg club.

Time will tell if the Russians can convince the NHL to change its stance. They could sure use Voynov, given the relative weakness of their defense. But Bettman did not sound yesterday like he was open to a negotiation.

The Russians, for the record, have maintained that it’s not the NHL’s decision to make.

So perhaps that’s the big question here — who has the final say on the matter? Officially, the World Cup “is a joint effort of the NHLPA and the NHL, in cooperation with the International Ice Hockey Federation.”

It’s just not entirely clear how that bit of boilerplate applies to the Voynov situation.

Report: Bruins’ Khokhlachev to sign in KHL

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Alexander Khokhlachev’s time with the Boston Bruins is up, according to a report out of Russia that has the 22-year-old forward signing with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.

The deal reportedly won’t be announced until after June 30; Khokhlachev is under contract with the B’s until then. But the fact he’s apparently decided to depart for the KHL should come as no surprise.

A second-round draft pick in 2011, Khokhlachev has spent the last three seasons piling up points in the AHL; however, he’s only appeared in nine NHL games.

Earlier this month, his agent told CBS Boston, “Alexander did not really get a chance for all the years that he signed a deal, for four years, the deals he signed with Boston, didn’t really get a chance to play in the National Hockey League, so he won’t stay in the organization.”

SKA acquired Khokhlachev’s KHL rights last summer.

Related: Khokhlachev just wants a chance

Jackets not expected to sign Quebec league prospect Pelletier

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Julien Pelletier meets his team after being drafted #107 by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Julien Pelletier, the QMJHL Sherbrooke forward taken in the fourth round of the ’14 draft, is unlikely to receive an entry-level contract from the Blue Jackets, per the Columbus Dispatch.

The move would mean Pelletier could re-enter this year’s draft. The Blue Jackets have until Wednesday to decide if they want to sign him, or trade his rights to another team.

Taken five spots ahead of Viktor Arvidsson — who’s become a nice young player for Nashville — Pelletier had a solid season in Sherbrooke, finishing second on the team in goals (with 27).

This year, he was in training camp with the Jackets but sent home early.

Per the Dispatch, the Jackets are also unlikely to sign another ’14 draftee — Olivier Leblanc, who was taken in the seventh round.