Antti Niemi, Dustin Brown

PHT Predicts: Sharks vs. Kings — Who do you have?

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It’s an all-California battle in the playoffs (that reminds me of a website) and while both teams aren’t exactly cutthroat rivals (that hate is reserved for Anaheim) they still find ways to play some intense games. Dealing with each other in the playoffs amps things up to a new level. For San Jose, they’re still shaking off that “playoff choker” tag and their new blood is helping to do that. Logan Couture joins last season’s playoff hero Joe Pavelski to team up with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley.

The Kings have to make due without superstar Anze Kopitar but they might get back scorer Justin Williams in time for the playoffs. Guys like Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown are going to need to be huge to keep up with the high-powered Sharks. With Antti Niemi going up against Jon Quick, there should be some goaltending style on display.

As for how we see things going in this series, Kings and Sharks don’t play too well together.

James says:
The Kings flopped their way to the seventh seed while the Sharks have been crushing every team in their path (at least so it seems). The fact that they have a goalie with championship jewelry on his finger rather than playoff baggage in his head bodes well. The idea that they might have some secondary scoring beyond perennial scapegoat Joe Thornton is even better. The Kings have the kind of defense that could frustrate San Jose, but much like Pittsburgh in the East, I just don’t think Los Angeles hast the juice for much more than a win or two.

It’s the Sharks in 5 with a series that includes Dan Boyle out Doughty-ing Drew Doughty.

Matt says:
This series could get ugly fast. For a team that would go through goal droughts throughout the regular season, the last thing they could overcome is to lose their one, elite forward. Without Anze Kopitar (and Justin Williams), the margin for error is far too thin for the Kings. It’s a shame that they’d lose their one irreplaceable player only a couple weeks before the playoffs. Without him, the margin for error is just too small. Sharks in 5 (and it might not go that long).

Joe says:
It’s a huge bummer that Anze Kopitar isn’t playing for Los Angeles. With him, the Kings would at least have someone the equal of Patrick Marleau or Joe Thornton out there to match up against them. Instead, the Kings are terribly weak up the middle and the roll the Sharks have been on the entire second half of the season should continue into the playoffs. Anyone talking about the Sharks being playoff chokers this round will find themselves without something to talk about during this round. Sharks in 6.

We’re not pro-regicide here, we just think that if you threw a king into a tank with a shark, the results should be as expected. Disagree with us? Feel free to vote in the poll and let us know what you think.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

Video: Brouwer was big for Blues

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Troy Brouwer made quite an impression in his first year with the St. Louis Blues. After being acquired from the Capitals for T.J. Oshie, the 30-year-old scored 18 goals and 39 points in 82 games during the 2015-16 season. His eight goals and 13 points during the playoffs weren’t too shabby either.

Brouwer took on more of a signficant role in the postseason. His points-per-game increased, his ice time increased and he was more productive on the man-advantage (3 goals in 20 games). While the Blues were fighting for their playoff lives in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Final, Brouwer contributed three goals.

Now, the Blues will have to find a way to keep him around. His playoff success likely means that he’ll be expecting a substantial raise between now and the end of the league year on July 1st. Brouwer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on that day.

Brouwer came with a cap hit of $3.66 million and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number climb higher, especially if he hits the open market.

The Blues also need to work out deals with other pending free agents like captain David Backes and Jaden Schwartz (RFA). There isn’t a ton of money left under the cap in St. Louis, which means that GM Doug Armstrong will have to get creative this summer.

One of the things Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock liked about Brouwer was the way he seemed to fit in right away.

“He was on the team for a month,” Hitchcock explained earlier this week, per the Vancouver Sun. “I think my meetings were a little bit too long.  He told me it would be best if I kept them a little briefer.  So I knew he had a bite on the team right away. It didn’t take him long to get comfortable with us, which is great.”  

How much will comfort count for in the off-season negotiations between club and player? We’ll find out soon enough.

PHT Morning Skate: Jim Craig doesn’t regret selling ‘Miracle on Ice’ memorabilia

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–These parents named their baby girl after Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. (ABC News)

–The  hockey card that helped inspire a Tragically Hip song. (Puck Junk)

–The fan who promised to get a tattoo of Gary Bettman if LA and Chicago were eliminated in the first round kept his word. (Bardown)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues. (Top)

–Jim Craig doesn’t regret auctioning off most of his “Miracle on Ice” memorabilia. (Yahoo)

–A Q & A with former Quebec Nordiques forward Peter Stastny. (ESPN)

–Former Flyers coach Craig Berube breaks down Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (NHL)

Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”