Guy Boucher

Let it begin: 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs get under way tonight with five games

It’s time.

The playoffs begin tonight and to make sure that your excitement levels are at their absolute highest, five series drop the puck tonight with Game 1 of the first round.

Versus will have up to three games to bring you on the air tonight starting off with Detroit-Phoenix from Joe Louis Arena in Detroit before joining the Capitals and Rangers in progress upon its completion. Then late tonight it’s Chicago and Vancouver from Rogers Arena in Vancouver to cap off the night at 10 p.m. ET. Here’s the rundown of tonight’s action. All times are Eastern.

Tampa Bay @ Pittsburgh – 7 p.m.

No Sidney Crosby in the lineup as expected as he continues his rehab, but Pittsburgh kicks off the playoffs with their own most important player in goal in Marc-Andre Fleury. Can the Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma win the chess match against Tampa Bay and coach Guy Boucher in what they hope turns into a low scoring affair? The Pens will need wingers James Neal and Alex Kovalev to step up their games and help Jordan Staal from having to carry the full load.

Tampa Bay will look to their stars to step up in a big way, in particular Steve Stamkos whose torrid goal pace early in the season slowed down dramatically as the year rolled along. Now would be a great time to snap out of it. The real question for Tampa Bay is which version of Dwayne Roloson do they get? Do they get the guy who inspired the Lightning’s surge and stabilized them in goal or the guy who’s prone to fits of poor play. The Penguins surely won’t make it easy on him.

Phoenix @ Detroit – 7 p.m. (Versus)

One of the playoffs more intriguing match-ups is a rematch of last year’s first round. Detroit goes into Game 1 without Henrik Zetterberg out with a knee injury and without Mike Modano who is a healthy scratch. They’ll likely get Niklas Kronwall back in on defense and they’ll need that physicality against the Coyotes. Goals should be at a premium for Detroit with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal for Phoenix but they’ll be down a defenseman as Derek Morris is out with an upper body injury. Either David Schlemko or Oliver Ekman-Larsson will take his spot.

If there’s a game Phoenix would want to seize control of it’s this one. The Wings are more susceptible without Zetterberg and depending on how much longer he’s out, the Coyotes would be wise to win the games he’s not playing in because Detroit is that much better with him.

NY Rangers @ Washington – 7:30 p.m.  (Versus – Joined in progress)

The Capitals will be hoping to put the memories of last year’s first round failure fully behind them now and doing that against a Rangers team that has no quit in them and an all-world goalie to back them up will make that task difficult. The Caps dedication to defense should at least look nice against the Rangers as New York has a hard enough time scoring goals as it is. Alexander Ovechkin will get to bring his high scoring playoff tendencies to the forefront tonight all while Michal Neuvirth gets the call in goal for Game 1. The Rangers will be bringing some magic of their own starting Mats Zuccarello over Sean Avery as well as Matt Gilroy over Steve Eminger. Opting for offensive ability over defensive toughness and annoyance? We’ll see how long that lasts in this series.

Chicago @ Vancouver – 10 p.m. (Versus)

A series that starts off and makes it well worth the time to stay up late and check it out as there’s enough intrigue here to put a novelist to shame. Vancouver is the top team in the playoffs while Chicago took the back door into the postseason. Add that to Chicago having owned Vancouver the last two years in the playoffs and the pressure being immense on Roberto Luongo and the rest of the Canucks to win it all and it’s almost too much to handle.


How the Canucks handle things tonight and whether or not they allow Chicago to dictate the pace and their presence on the ice will be watched closely. There’s no reason for Vancouver to be timid in this game and while they’ll have to handle those first ten minutes while Chicago looks to start twisting the psychological knife early the Canucks will have to hold strong if they want to prove us right and win the Stanley Cup this year.

Nashville @ Anaheim – 10:30 p.m.

We like this series to be the nastiest one of the first round and with the kind of snarl both teams play with it’s not a surprise. While the Ducks have the advantage in the offensive department with Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne doing their thing, the Predators have a distinct advantage in goal with Pekka Rinne going up against (most likely) Dan Ellis. The underrated feature of this series is the comparison of top defensemen. Anaheim rolls with offensive studs like Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky while Nashville has crushers like Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. For a series that’s not getting a lot of attention, there’s more than enough star power here to keep your eyes locked on to it. Look for both teams to come out explosive tonight in Anaheim.

An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.

NHL, NHLPA launch program to ‘help players reach their full potential on and off the ice’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bill Daly and Mathieu Schneider present Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada with the World Cup of Hockey Championship trophy after his teams win over Team Europe during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Team Canada defeated Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The NHL and NHLPA have launched a program designed to help players plan their post-hockey careers long before they hang up their skates.

The Core Development Program will give players avenues to further their education, network and find out what jobs they may be suited for, such as finance and broadcasting. League and NHL Players Association officials say the program announced Thursday targets young players, not just those in the twilight of their careers.

“The sooner they can start focusing on the longer term, the better off they’ll generally be – as much in their careers as after their careers,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said by phone.

This new endeavor is independent of the NHL Alumni’s Break Away program that focuses on player transitions once they retire. Most professional leagues have a similar process, but the NHL and NHLPA believe their program for current players is unique.

The voluntary program was spawned from player feedback. Several retired players have said they wished something like this existed.

Former player Mathieu Schneider, now the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director, hopes the program benefits players on the ice, too.

“There have been studies done that show that players that are prepared for life after sports, after their careers, actually perform better during their careers,” Schneider said. “Maybe it alleviates the anxiety or the some of the pressure that might come normally. I think generally guys just have that awareness that, yes, it is an important part of the development of pro athletes.”

Some players have taken their own initiative in establishing non-hockey interests during their playing days, such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara getting his real estate license. Longtime forward Jeff Halpern, now an assistant coach for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch, said examples such as Chara are the best ways to sell this program to current players.

“I think it’s great because a lot of guys, I think, are just scared of what happens after they’re done playing,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who’s currently studying for his real estate exam. “Even for a guy that has a college degree, I’m kind of nervous for when that day might come.”

Dumba to be healthy scratch for Wild, is ‘trying to do too much’

Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba (55) dumps the puck behind Los Angeles Kings left wing Dwight King (74) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Matt Dumba turned 22 in July, so he’s still pretty young for an NHL defenseman. But for a seventh overall draft pick, the Minnesota Wild might’ve expected him to be making more of an impact by now.

Alas, Dumba will be a healthy scratch tonight at home against Toronto. He’ll be replaced by AHL call-up Mike Reilly.

“Dumba is going to be a really good player,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “He is right now. He’s trying to do too much. We just want him to calm it down.”

The 2012 draft was notable for the eight defensemen that were taken with the first 10 picks. Four years later, some of them have panned out, like Morgan Rielly (fifth overall) and Hampus Lindholm (sixth). Some of them haven’t, like Griffin Reinhart (fourth). But for most of them, it remains to be seen what they’ll ultimately become. Dumba is in that boat, along with Ryan Murray (second), Derrick Pouliot (eighth), Jacob Trouba (ninth), and Slater Koekkoek (10th). Even Reinhart may figure it out, though it doesn’t look good right now.

Dumba signed a two-year, $5.1 contract extension over the summer. It was the kind of deal that highly touted young players sign when they still have something to prove, which Dumba clearly does.