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2011 Eastern Conference playoffs: First round series matchups

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The NHL’s schedule release show airs on Sunday, but thanks to Saturday’s games, we at least know which East teams will face off in the four first round series.

This post features quick recaps to explain how Saturday’s games determined the different matchups and some quick thoughts to whet your appetite for some great-looking series. If you’re left wanting more, don’t worry; there will be much more preview fun to be had during the next few days.

1. Washington Capitals vs. 8. New York Rangers

Saturday’s games: The Capitals lost a 1-0 game against the Florida Panthers, but their fate as the No.1 seed was already sealed. Meanwhile, the Rangers beat up on the Devils and celebrated a surprising flop by the Carolina Hurricanes to take the final spot. New York’s playoff fate has been decided on the last game of their season for two straight years, but the 2010-11 edition came out on top.

Quick thoughts: The Rangers are a serious thorn in the side of the Capitals. They pounded Washington in a game that was immortalized by HBO’s cameras and won the season series too. New York also pushed Washington to a seven-game series two years ago, so this might not be a cakewalk for the Caps.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7. Buffalo Sabres

Saturday’s games: The Flyers continued their dominance against the New York Islanders to (barely) earn the second seed in the East while the Sabres gave themselves a chance to win the sixth seed by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Quick thoughts: How much do you believe in momentum? How about quality depth vs. elite goaltending? Your feelings about both questions will likely determine if you like the staggering,but notably deep Flyers or the streaking, top-heavy Sabres to win this series.

3. Boston Bruins vs. 6. Montreal Canadiens

Saturday’s games: The Bruins clinched the Northeast Division quite a while ago, but kept themselves in position to steal a second seed by winning against the Senators. The Habs managed to retain the sixth seed thanks to a 4-1 victory versus Toronto.

Quick thoughts: Anyone who’s been eye-balling the standings for the last few months can attest to the fact that this was a likely series (much like the four/five match). Even with that being said, this one still seems too good to be true. It’s not just the next chapter in one of the most storied — if imbalanced — rivalries in all of hockey; it’s also a grudge match between teams who genuinely dislike each other for much more immediate reasons. The only obviously negative thing about this series is that we’ll probably have to watch replays of Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty approximately 3,000 times.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning

Today’s games: The Penguins were hoping the Islanders would win to give them a chance to steal the Atlantic Division (and second seed) from the Flyers, but it was not to be. The Lightning didn’t really have anything to play for in their game against the Hurricanes — beyond the delicious flavor of spite — but they still made a statement by pummeling the playoff-needy team.

Quick thoughts: The Penguins would be wise to keep Sidney Crosby on the shelf, even if a Steven Stamkos vs. Crosby showdown would be tantalizing for the NHL.

Instead, this is a tough series to gauge, as both teams have gone through spurts in which their shootout wins made their point totals a bit deceptive. It’s tough to imagine Pittsburgh being able to keep up with Tampa Bay’s offense, so this might come down to how much better Marc-Andre Fleury can be than Dwayne Roloson.

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Honestly, there’s really not a dud of a series in any of these matches. If you’re not getting excited yet, then your status as a hockey fan must be questioned.

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

“They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.

Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

The puck shot by Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel crosses the goal line as St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) attempt the stop during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. The Stars won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
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The Dallas Stars only beat the St. Louis Blues by one goal (2-1) in Game 1, but the feeling is that the score was deceptively close.

Blame it on fatigue from that epic series against the Chicago Blackhawks or not; the Blues looked out of rhythm and out of breath against the hard-charging Stars.

At least they’re not in denial about that, though.

“We’re not going to beat anybody giving up 40 shots on goal,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after their Game 1 loss on Friday. “We’re not going to beat anybody giving up the scoring chances we did today.”

Hitchcock added “we’ve got to find the energy to play our game, and we’ve got to find it quickly in the next 48 hours.”

Allowing 40 shots on goal might not be that common for the Blues, yet they leaned heavily on Brian Elliott against the Blackhawks in that series.

Just look at the SOG comparison in that series and in Game 1 vs. Dallas:

Game 1: Blues – 18 SOG, Blackhawks – 35
Game 2: Blues – 31, Blackhawks – 29
Game 3: Blues – 36, Blackhawks – 46
Game 4: Blues – 20, Blackhawks – 42
Game 5: Blues – 46, Blackhawks – 35
Game 6: Blues – 28, Blachawks – 36
Game 7: Blues – 26, Blackhawks – 33

Game 1: Blues – 32, Stars – 42

Such shot comparisons make you wonder if Game 1 provided evidence of a rest advantage or if this might just be the state of affairs for the Blues (at least against two electric offenses).

One area to watch is the transition game. The Stars seemed to tear through the neutral zone while the Blues sometimes struggled to get things going.

“They’re a team that wants to play real fast up the ice and through the neutral zone,” Jay Bouwmeester said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Yeah, we didn’t do a very good job of slowing them down. A lot of their chances were off the rush. That’s what you want to take away from them.”

File that under “easier said than done.”

Gather your lucky charms, 2016 NHL Draft Lottery is tonight

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Honestly, it’s tough to blame people for making Edmonton Oilers jokes in regards to the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery.

Really it’s only human nature to drop one-liners about the perennial cellar-dweller that (seemingly) always lands the No. 1 pick.

Will it happen again this time around? We’ll find out soon enough, more precisely sometime around 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

As you can see, the Oilers do not have the best odds to land the top pick … but they’re close:

A reminder: this time around the lottery will determine the top three picks. The NHL discusses that tweak and other changes here:

For the first time, the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery will assign the top three slots in the first round of the NHL Draft – a change from prior years, when the Draft Lottery was used to determine the winner of the first overall selection exclusively.

Want the full lowdown on the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery? PHT has you covered here.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Saturday. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

NY Islanders at Tampa Bay (3:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Pittsburgh at Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will also be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Some reading to get you pumped up:

– The Penguins are keeping chatty Marc-Andre Fleury from speaking to the media (reportedly).

Tom Wilson received a fine, not a suspension, for that knee-to-knee hit.

T.J. Oshie was the difference-maker for Washington in Game 1.

– Don’t expect Steven Stamkos to face red-hot John Tavares anytime soon (or at all, maybe).

Read about the Isles’ Game 1 win.