Chris Higgins Maxim Lapierre

Roberto Luongo and Vancouver shut out Nashville, take Game 1

After such an entertaining and impressive set of first round games in the NHL playoffs, the bar was set high for tonight’s second round opener between Nashville and Vancvouer. What the game lacked in excitement, it was made up for in intense play and laying the groundwork for what could turn out to be a nasty series.

Vancouver got 20 saves from Roberto Luongo and a goal from Chris Higgins in the second period to seal a Game 1 victory over the Predators 1-0. The shutout for Luongo was his second of the playoffs as he also shutout Chicago in Game 1 of the first round. The entirety of the game felt like it was two prize fighters circling each other and trying to see what the other was going to do.

Ultimately the Canucks got the one break in the game they needed as Pekka Rinne was more than on top of his game for Nashville. Rinne’s only mistake came in the second period as Chris Higgins was able to roof a shot past him as he was sprawled out on the ice.

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The Finnish netminder stopped 29 shots for the Predators to make sure they could hang around in the game and hopefully get a break with a bounce or with a power play. They were able to get a break late in the second period when Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard was called for clipping on what appeared to be a fantastic hip check on Preds forward Jordin Tootoo.

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Vancouver was able to kill off the penalty there but Ballard wasn’t done in throwing the Predators a life line as he would be booked for tripping late in the third period. Once again, however, the Canucks stood tall on the penalty kill and prevented the potential equalizer.

For Vancouver, this start was eerily similar to Game 1 they had against Chicago in the opening round. They didn’t do much offensively thanks to the great play of Rinne and they got a shutout from Luongo in the process. The difference being that Nashville didn’t generate some of the scary chances and post shots that the Blackhawks did in the previous series.

We counted on this series being a tight one and low scoring and Game 1 tonight might prove to be the warning shot that it’ll be just like that. That said, Nashville has a lot to improve upon for Game 2. They need a better effort, they need to push the play more, and they need to make Vancouver very uncomfortable. Tonight, they didn’t put Vancouver on the edge at all.

Here are the highlights from tonight’s game.

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Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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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.”