No lineup changes expected in Boston-Philadelphia; American-born players to watch

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The Philadelphia Flyers are hoping for some big changes in tonight’s Game 2 match against the Boston Bruins, but those alterations must come from improved execution rather than fresh faces. Joe Haggerty reports that both teams are expected to feature the same lineups as Game 1 (yes, that includes Brian Boucher as the Flyers’ starter).

Boston @ Philadelphia (Versus)- 7:30 p.m. ET; Bruins lead series 1-0

Along with paying special attention to Lauren Hart (and Kate Smith) singing “God Bless America” tonight, especially patriotic fans might be curious to follow American-born players tonight. As you can see from this list, there aren’t a bunch of players from the United States, but many of them will play a prominent role in Game 2. (Birthplace information via the two teams’ official Web sites.)

Notable American Flyers (who are expected to play)

James van Riemsdyk (winger) – Middletown, New Jersey.
Matt Carle (defenseman) – Anchorage, Alaska.
Boucher (goalie) – Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

Notable American Bruins (who are expected to play)

Tim Thomas (goalie) – Flint, Michigan.

Again, this is a quality-over-quantity list. Both starting goalies are American, JVR is in the middle of a breakthrough playoff campaign and Carle’s had his struggles in the playoffs (his -7 rating indicates things haven’t always gone well), yet he’s still an important Philly defenseman who has been averaging 22 minutes per game in the playoffs. Obviously, all eyes were going to be on Boucher anyway, but now some fans might find more of a reason to root for him.

Thomas is the only prominent American on a Canadian-heavy Bruins roster. Boston might not have a ton of Americans on their roster, but Thomas is one of the best goalies in the NHL. He backed up Ryan Miller in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but if those games took place this year, he probably would have been the No. 1 guy.

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The natural question is: how are players reacting to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death? While Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference is Canadian, he’s made a connection with many fans in the Boston area and had perhaps the most interesting reaction to the news. Here’s what he told Joe Haggerty.

Obviously most of the Bruins players are Canadian-born and prefaced any statements with that little bit of info, but many guys like Andrew Ference have planted roots in the Boston area – and have become friends with many B’s fans actively serving their country and joining in the hunt for bin Laden over the last 10 years.

Ference said his mind was on those people Monday morning, and on others who wouldn’t be at rest until justice was served with the terrorist leader that set the 9/11 tragedy in motion.

“I texted my friend Lucas right away and said ‘did you guys get him’ because they’ve all been watching Bruins games over there,” said Ference, referencing a US Army Ranger he’s befriended from Massachusetts. “We’ve been keeping tabs with them, and I know he’d been out for a couple of days because he told me they were going to ‘go out hunting for bad guys.’

“I texted him right away. He was excited because he said there were a lot of sleepless nights searching for [Bin Laden]. I’m really proud of those guys, you know? I didn’t feel it myself, but knowing them and how they put their butts on the line for us. To get a victory like that is pretty cool.”

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.