PHT Predicts: Second round of Eastern Conference playoffs

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The second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs kicks off tomorrow night with the top seeded Capitals looking to make the Eastern final for the first time since 1998. Tampa Bay is hoping to make their first return to the East final since 2004.  The Capitals have been off since Saturday so they’ll be well rested. Will there be rust or will they play the role of the machine that never breaks? The Caps are hoping for the latter.

Boston and Philadelphia get to renew hostilities after last year’s incredible second round match-up that saw the Flyers comeback from being down 3-0 in the series to win in seven games. That series win helped them get motivated to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup final. The Bruins are hoping to enact revenge for that colossal failure and keep their Cup hopes alive.

How do we see things shaking out? Well…

1. Washington Capitals vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning

James says:

The Capitals won the season series (4-1-1), but Dwayne Roloson played extremely well (two shutouts in four games) against Washington once he arrived in Tampa Bay. The star power on both sides is downright dazzling, with Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom squaring off against Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne. I cannot help but feel like the Bolts are a work in progress, though.

Both teams showed me something in their first round series, but the Capitals have the Scent of Destiny.

Pick: Washington in five.

Joe says:

It’d be wrong to jump off the Caps wagon considering we picked them to go to the Stanley Cup final, but the fact is they really impressed me with how they handled the Rangers in the first round. What Tampa Bay did to Pittsburgh was impressive on its own right and I wonder if they’ll be able to keep their offensive stars rolling against the Caps’ defense. I’m suspecting no, they won’t.

Pick: Capitals in six

Disagree with us on our take and think the Lightning are going to surprise the Caps? Let us know in our poll.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 3. Boston Bruins

James says:

Did the Bruins really shake that big-game monkey off their backs in that Game 7 win against the Canadiens? They showed impressive resolve in winning in overtime, but shot themselves in the foot repeatedly while blowing 2-0 and 3-2 leads in their own barn. On the other end, the Flyers overcame a 3-1 first period deficit to win Game 6 and then absolutely crushed the Sabres in Game 7. Tim Thomas is a tempting trump card, but Philadelphia is radiating confidence and boast enviable offensive depth. The improving health of Chris Pronger even makes Brian Boucher less of a worry than many would expect. It’s still an awfully interesting series, but I’ll opt for the Flyers’ showy swagger over the Bruins’ slumped shoulders.

Pick: Philadelphia in six.

Joe says:

These teams are eerily similar. They’re both tough, they’re both physical, they both have hulking defensemen, they both have pests that can score big goals. One area where they are different is in goal. Tim Thomas is all world while the three-headed monster the Flyers roll with is virtually interchangeable. How the Flyers defense plays is far more important to their success. With a healthy Pronger out there leading the way and the Bruins offense being as iffy as it has been all year, this series is destined to run long. The Flyers “fixed” their power play in the final game thanks to Ryan Miller going soft. The Bruins are resilient as anything but I’ve changed my mind on them thanks to how bad their power play is.

Pick: Philadelphia in seven

Think James and I are off our rockers and think Boston rolls on to the East final? Vote in the poll and set us straight.

The Buzzer: Mac attack, Barrie impressive

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Players of the Night:

  • Click here for details regarding a clutch night from Jakub Voracek, who played a huge role with two goals (including the OT game-winner) and an assist for the Flyers in beating the Habs.
  • Frederik Andersen was stellar for the Maple Leafs, pitching a 40-save shutout against the Florida Panthers. Toronto only won 1-0, so they needed every save from their franchise goalie. Andersen tends to face a lot of shots on goal, and he’s put out some stellar performances in the process:

  • Two Avalanche players take the cake for players of the night, overall.

Nathan MacKinnon didn’t return to action, technically, on Tuesday. This was actually his second game back.

That said, it felt like Mac was truly back here, scoring the overtime game-winner and collecting three assists to help Colorado scrap its way to an OT win against the Canucks. With this output, MacKinnon has set a new career-high for points, and he has plenty of time to add to his already impressive point total of 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists).

Tyson Barrie was outstanding in his own right, arguably more impressive than MacKinnon. Quite ridiculously, the Avalanche scored all five of its goals on the power play, and Barrie collected a point in all five. He scored a goal and generated four assists, with three of those helpers being primary assists.

Injuries make Barrie’s fantastic work in 2017-18 slip under the radar a bit. With these five points in mind, Barrie now has 36 points in just 45 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to almost 66 points.

Highlight of the Night: Another fantastic Nikita Kucherov goal.

Kucherov already has 32 goals and 78 points this season. He edges Taylor Hall, whose fantastic coast-to-coast goal was good enough for a post, but couldn’t quite get it done for the Devils, who fell to Columbus in regulation.

Factoids

You have to love the neat-and-tidiness of Anze Kopitar scoring his 800th point in his 900th regular-season game:

Where do you think Alex Ovechkin will end up once he hangs up his skates, hopefully a long time from now?

So far, pretty good for Dion Phaneuf in Los Angeles:

Scores

Maple Leafs 1, Panthers 0
Blue Jackets 2, Devils 1
Flyers 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Predators 3, Red Wings 2
Sharks 3, Blues 2
Kings 4, Jets 3
Bruins 3, Oilers 2
Avalanche 5, Canucks 4 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S. men’s Olympic medal dreams fade in shootout

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The U.S. men’s Olympic team will look back at missed opportunities as they recall going without a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

They rode nice play from some NCAA talent and KHL goalie Ryan Zapolski on their way to the quarterfinals, but that’s where the ride will end, as the Czech Republic prevailed 3-2 via a shootout. Petr Koukal was the only player from either team to score during that shootout, even with Troy Terry generating enough T.J. Oshie comparisons to get some encouragement from Oshie himself:

The shootout wasn’t the only area where the U.S. might experience some regrets. Both teams weren’t exactly potent on the power play, with the United States going 0-for-5 while the Czech Republic went 0-for-4. Still, the U.S. enjoyed a man advantage that spilled over from the end of regulation and into overtime, yet they barely created any chances.

From the coaching staff to players, there might be some lost sleep regarding that special teams work.

With this loss, the chase for a medal is over for the United States. Tuesday’s missed opportunities will sting, but many take some good things out of this team’s scrappy run to the quarterfinal round. There are rumors that the likes of Brian Gionta might see some NHL interest after the tournament, too.

The Czech Republic advances to face the winner between the OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia) and Norway.

It’s not all lost for USA Hockey, by the way. The women’s team advanced to the gold-medal round after beating Finland 5-0.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers keep finding ways to win

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A wave of injuries may eventually capsize the Philadelphia Flyers, but not yet.

With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined – not to mention bad news for power forward Wayne Simmonds – the Flyers are likely to be tested down the stretch. It’s key, then, to grind out wins while they can, and they managed a tough one tonight.

In this specific case, it came down to getting goals from a sniper who’s become far more of a playmaker this season. Jakub Voracek sent the game into overtime and then scored the game-winner in a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Those two tallies pushed him to 13 on the season, a rare bit of puck luck this season for a player who brought a 6.4 shooting percentage into tonight’s action.

Voracek also grabbed an assist, beefing up his league-leading total to 55. The Czech winger’s dynamic performance helped the Flyers win their third game in a row, extending a point streak that covers most of their February games (7-0-2 in their last nine contests).

Taylor Hall‘s fantastic goal was all the Devils could muster in their game tonight, falling in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With those decisions in mind, Philly is firmly planted at third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 standings points. They’re even in the running for a round of home-ice advantage, if they can catch the just-as-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Heck, they even gained on the Metro’s top team, as the Capitals fell to the Lightning 4-2 tonight:

1. Capitals: 75 points in 60 games played (31 ROW)
2. Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
3. Flyers: 72 points in 60 GP (30 ROW)
4. Devils: 70 points in 60 GP (27 ROW)
5. Blue Jackets: 65 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
6. Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
7. Islanders: 64 points in 61 GP (26 ROW)
8. Rangers: 59 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)

If nothing else, the Flyers are separating from the wild-card pack, as they have a nice edge over the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Islanders.

Such strong play could empower GM Ron Hextall to add some firepower. Such moves could help ease the loss of Simmonds, and ideally give Philly solid depth when everyone is closer to full strength.

They’ve already taken that step by adding goalie insurance in Petr Mrazek, who should be as hungry as the team he’s joined. It’s truly remarkable how far this team has come since a 10-game losing streak that ended on Dec. 2. No doubt about it, players like Voracek have played a big role in this strong work:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Taylor Hall’s splendid coast-to-coast goal

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You’re not supposed to be able to do this. Not against NHL defensemen, and certainly not against a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey Devils star Taylor Hall continues to impose his will with dynamic play, beefing up his Hart Trophy resume as he keeps adding games to his point streak. On Tuesday, he extended it to a whopping 19 games.

Hall did it in style, grabbing the puck near his own red line, then traveling the length of the ice before beating “Bob” on his short side:

That’s the 25th goal of 2017-18 for Hall, who now has 63 points (possibly and counting) in 55 regular-season games.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.