Four games have three potential first round clinchers on tap for a busy Saturday

It’s as big and busy of a Saturday as you’ll find in the playoffs as four games will dominate your afternoon and evening across the NHL playoff landscape and there’s the possibility we’ll see three teams lock up spots in the second round of the postseason today. Oh yeah and we’ve also got the Bruins and Canadiens looking to beat the tar out of each other again. If your groove in the couch hasn’t been carved out yet, it will be after today. All times are Eastern

Tampa Bay @ Pittsburgh – 12 noon (Versus)Pittsburgh leads series 3-1

A little afternoon delight for the Penguins as they’ll look to wrap things up with the Lightning and after seeing James Neal get the game winner in Game 4, they’ll be hoping to see him continue filling the net. As for Tampa Bay, we’re still waiting on Steve Stamkos to show up in this series. Through four games, Stamkos has just one assist. Meanwhile, Martin St. Louis has been carrying the team on his back in hopes of getting through the first round. He needs some help though and he’ll need some tougher goaltending out of Dwayne Roloson. Roloson’s been OK, but the three goals he allowed in Game 4 were all very stoppable shots. If he’s not big today, the Lightning will be pondering what could’ve been at the end of the day.

NY Rangers @ Washington – 3 p.m. (NBC)Washington leads series 3-1

The Caps will be looking to take a sort of zen approach heading into Game 5 as they look to close out the Rangers. They keep saying they’re not thinking about last year’s first round loss to Montreal, but you know in the back of their heads they realize they had the Canadiens in this spot last season and failed to close them out. For the Rangers, they’re hoping that Henrik Lundqvist can do his part to evoke the spirit of Jaroslav Halak while the rest of his teammates figure out a way to score goals and play smart defense to hold a lead.

Montreal @ Boston – 7 p.m. (Versus)Series tied 2-2

Is it really home ice advantage for the Bruins in this game or should the Habs have any kind of comfort level playing in front of a hostile crowd in Boston? We’ll see how much their tough Game 4 overtime loss affects them mentally as they were able to score first on the B’s in that game and managed to blow a 3-1 lead before losing in OT. Montreal is hard-headed enough to know they just have to stick to what they do well to frustrate Boston but they should fear the Bruins getting reinvigorated with confidence after sweeping the Canadiens in Montreal. For now, Montreal hopes that this “road team winning” trend continues and they can get a shot at finishing things at home.

Los Angeles @ San Jose – 10:30 p.m. (Versus)San Jose leads series 3-1

The Kings are hoping they can find a stroke of luck and some better defense and goaltending to put some fear into the Sharks. Scott Parse will rejoin the Kings lineup in Game 5 to give them someone a bit more helpful than either Oscar Moller or Kevin Westgarth. No, Dustin Penner won’t hit the press box although you’d have to think coach Terry Murray would be tempted to do so. The Sharks are hoping that they can again twist the knife on the Kings and put them down for good.

San Jose’s getting tremendous production out of Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe in this series and considering those guys play on what’s essentially their third line, that doesn’t bode well for the Kings prospects on the road tonight. Jon Quick will hope to evoke some of that magic he had in Game 2 to fire up his team to get back into this series.

Gibson skates, could start as Ducks face elimination in Nashville

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John Gibson, who exited Game 5 of the Anaheim-Nashville series with a lower-body injury, could be back in the Ducks’ goal tonight for Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

Gibson participated in today’s morning skate, and was the first goalie to exit. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief on Saturday and allowed two goals on 18 shots, stayed out for extra work.

“When they skate, usually that leads you to believe that there is a great opportunity for him to play,” head coach Randy Carlyle said at Monday’s media availability. “But I haven’t talked to [Gibson]. We’ll wait until he is off the ice and has a conversation with the training staff.

“And then we’ll make a decision based off that.”

Gibson has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Ducks this postseason. His numbers (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage) are somewhat pedestrian, but he’s been a calm, steadying influence for his team.

Bernier has also been good for the Ducks this year, though his playoff body of work is limited. Game 5 was just his third appearance of the postseason, and he’s never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before.

Report: Thornton knee injury mostly MCL, not ACL damage

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A fairly significant development regarding the health of veteran Sharks forward Joe Thornton, from NBC Sports California:

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL.

As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17.

Thornton, who turns 38 in July, suffered the tears on Apr. 2 against Vancouver. He sat out the final three games of the regular season and the first two of the playoffs before returning in Game 3 of the Oilers series. Playing through the pain, Thornton registered two points over four games while averaging just under 19 minutes per night.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” head coach Peter DeBoer said following the series. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

That gutsy performance further endeared Thornton to the Bay Area faithful, and he was pretty beloved to begin with. It also clearly made an impact on his head coach.

Those are just two of the many facets that promise to make up a compelling summer.

Thornton just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M cap hit. He’s played exclusively on three-year contracts since coming to San Jose more than a decade ago, and TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp is looking for another.

From Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s perspective, he’ll have to factor in Thornton’s recovery and long-term health outlook to any potential extension. Wilson also has a timing issue at play, as it would behoove the Sharks to sign Thornton after June’s expansion draft, so they don’t have to protect him.

Finally, there’s the added factor of Thornton’s longtime running mate in San Jose, Patrick Marleau, also needing a new contract.

Thornton’s situation does appear the more complex one. Some will argue his down ’16-17 campaign — one in which he only scored seven goals and 50 points — was a sign of father time catching up.

Others will counter it was the byproduct of a brutally long ’15-16, one in which Thornton went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (and had 21 points in 24 games, it should be noted), then had a short summer before joining Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey.

Karlsson, Brassard and Ceci all good to go in Game 6 for Senators

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Trailing by five goals entering the third period on Sunday evening, Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher decided he was going to shorten his bench and protect some of his most important players from further injury. So defensemen Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci, as well as forward Derick Brassard, were given the entire third period off (after the game Karlsson said he could have played if needed).

On Monday, Boucher confirmed that all three players will be ready to go for Tuesday’s Game 6 with the Senators facing elimination in the Eastern Conference Final.

Karlsson was playing through a fractured foot earlier this postseason and appeared to be shaken up late in the second period on Sunday when he awkwardly fell to the ice during a tie up along the boards. Brassard was shaken up following a hit coming through the neutral zone from Penguins forward Chris Kunitz.

Boucher also added that defenseman Mark Borowiecki, who has not played since Game 2 of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, is “possible” to play on Tuesday while forward Alex Burrows is not as likely to play.

Before Game 5 Boucher said that Borowiecki was getting close to a return but was not quite ready yet on Sunday. He talked about what he could potentially bring to the lineup when he does get back.

“I mean, he’s the number one hitter in the League. He’s a heat-seeking missile, that’s what he is,” Boucher said. “So, you know, it usually puts the opponents on their heels. It’s better for the tough players to get some ice around him. He’s one of those guys that creates fear in the opponent. That’s what he did all year. I mean, we’re missing it, but at the same time we’re getting something else from other players.”

Sunday’s game, a 7-0 loss, was easily the Senators’ worst one of the postseason and on Monday Boucher seemed to attribute it to his team getting too excited and getting away from its game.

“We have to play to our strengths,” said Boucher on Monday. “Last game we tried to play run and gun with the best offensive team and we got slapped.”

Following the game on Sunday Boucher was asked if that type of game can leave a mark, a question that Boucher dismissed by citing the Senators’ blowout win over Pittsburgh in Game 3 and his team’s ability to rebound from tough losses earlier this postseason.

“Did it leave a mark on Pittsburgh when we did that to them at home? They won the next game,” said Boucher on Sunday. “In the playoffs, just like the season, your ability to rebound from a great game or a really bad game is necessary. We’ve done it all year. We’ve done it in the playoffs. After the fourth game against the Rangers, we were supposedly done, so, rebound, get ready for the next one.”

Game 6 is Tuesday night in Ottawa at 8 p.m. ET.

 

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

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Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.