Zdeno Chara, Martin St. Louis

PHT Predicts the Eastern Conference finals

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With the start of the conference finals tonight, the waiting and anticipation is over with and the talk and analyzing of the teams and players before they hit the ice  can end. There is just one more piece of business to attend to here though: The predictions.

With the way these two teams are set up we could be in for a classic, yet potentially defensive-minded, series. You’ve got the two best goalies statistically remaining in the playoffs in Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson, a crushing defense from Boston highlighted by Zdeno Chara, and a skilled offense from Tampa Bay featuring the likes of Martin St. Louis, Steve Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier.

With all that said, it’s time for us to put up or shut up.

James says:

The striking thing about this series is that both teams followed such similar paths to this destination. Each squad faced two-game deficits in the first round (Boston was down 2-0, Tampa Bay fought back from 3-1) against scrappy but over-matched teams then proceeded to sweep talented but messy squads in Round 2. Both teams can bore you to tears with their conservative defensive systems yet heighten your senses with their elderly goalies, whether it be 41-year-old wonder Dwayne Roloson or 37-year-old highlight reel Tim Thomas.

The prospect of the Bruins dealing with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier without the benefit of Patrice Bergeron’s criminally underrated two-way game is a bit stomach-churning. Then again, the Tampa Bay offense hasn’t seen the likes of Zdeno Chara in the playoffs yet, either. Boston doesn’t have the high-end firepower of the Washington Capitals, but they sport what could be a troubling (if diluted) mixture of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ doggedness and the Capitals’ finishing ability. (At least when you consider the Lightning defense, an area of serious – if unexploited – concern.)

The Lightning haven been considerably more productive on special teams, but the Bruins are an absolute bear in 5-on-5 situations. During the regular season, the Bruins scored the third most goals in the East while allowing the fewest, producing a conference-best +51 goal differential to Tampa Bay’s +7. When in doubt, those big picture numbers help me split hairs, especially since Boston took the teams’ season series 3-1 (outscoring them 15-8).

I could very well see the Bolts winning this series, but I cannot shake the feeling that they are this year’s answer to the 2010 Montreal Canadiens while the Bruins are – humorously enough – this year’s 2010 Philadelphia Flyers. My guess is that the forces of puck luck will be stomped out by the big, bad bearers of reality in this series.

Boston wins it in 6.

Joe says:

This series has the high potential to be a defensive stand-off with coaches Claude Julien and Guy Boucher both stressing the finer points of tough strategy. That could mean we end up getting bored to death by how these teams decide to go at it though. That wouldn’t be too fun. Thankfully both of these teams know how to push the pace of the game when needed. For Tampa Bay that means taking advantage of the power play and making opponents pay for reckless play. For Boston, it means hemming the other team into their own end and pounding away with both shots and the body to open up space.

Tampa Bay is loaded with character guys who are melding together into something like Voltron that when they’re all together working as a unit they’re nearly unbeatable. Boston, however, is the robotic beast they didn’t want to run into. Boston’s playing too tough and Tim Thomas will be the difference maker in this series.

I like Boston here and in cardiac fashion.

Bruins in 7.

Rangers lose Raanta, but get Zibanejad back from broken leg

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Detroit Red Wings and is joined by Chris Kreider #20 at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Busy little Monday for the Rangers.

First, the club announced forward Marek Hrivik cleared waivers and was sent to AHL Hartford — paving the way for Mika Zibanejad to return from his broken leg — then announced goalie Antti Raanta would miss the next 7-10 days with the lower-body injury suffered against Montreal over the weekend.

Plenty to unpack here.

Let’s begin with Zibanejad, acquired this offseason in the Derick Brassard trade. The 23-year-old suffered his broken leg back on Nov. 20 and has missed the last 26 games as a result — so, needless to say, New York is glad to have him back. He’d been producing very well at the time of his injury, with five goals and 15 points in his first 19 games as a Blueshirt.

But for all the excitement about his return, enthusiasm has to be dampened a bit by the Raanta injury.

Arguably the best backup in the NHL this season, Raanta’s gone 10-4-0 with a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s done a terrific job of spelling Henrik Lundqvist when called upon, and even had a brief stint of starts in late December before King Henrik resumed No. 1 duties.

With Raanta sidelined until the All-Star break, the Rangers have recalled Magnus Hellberg from the AHL.

Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line doing the business in Carolina

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Brock McGinn #23 of the Carolina Hurricanes awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Bill Peters has found something in the Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Brock McGinn trio.

The line, formed just a short while ago, erupted for 10 points in Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Isles. McGinn went on to capture third star of the week honors and, together, the unit has been a major reason Carolina’s knocking on the door of a playoff spot.

“They’re doing it playing against everybody’s best at home,” Peters said of the Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line, per the New York Daily News. “They’re taking on tough matchups each and every shift and more often than not, they win it.”

Given that Staal, the club’s top defensive center, anchors the line, Peters often uses it against the opposition’s top group. So full credit has to go to Lindholm and McGinn, especially given their relative inexperience — both are just 22 years old and, coming into this season, McGinn had all of 21 games of NHL experience.

He’s a pretty good story, to say the least. The youngest of the McGinn brothers — Jamie currently plays for Arizona, Tye is with the Lightning organization — Brock was the 47th overall pick in 2012, and has steadily progressed from a good scorer in junior, to a good scorer at the AHL level, to a good scorer at the NHL level.

McGinn now has 12 points in 27 games with the ‘Canes this season.

“Our scouts stepped up and took [McGinn] in the second round. He’s a little under-sized and he’s maybe not the fastest guy, but he’s got a lot of hockey player in him,” Peters explained, per the ‘Canes website. “He’s a very courageous kid, a very intelligent player, a lot of old school in him. He’s starting to play with way more pace now, which is a huge credit to him.”

As mentioned above, the ‘Canes are in a great spot right now. They head into today’s action just one point back of Philly for the final wild card spot in the East, but with three games in hand.

Carolina could vault the Flyers with a result against Columbus on Tuesday. It would be another big step in trying to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

More good times in Washington, as Backstrom named first star of the week

Nicklas Backstrom
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The Caps have won nine in a row and catapulted to top spot in the NHL with 63 points, one ahead of second-place Columbus.

Suffice to say, folks are feelin’ fine in D.C.

Those good vibes continued on Monday, as center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

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Backstrom led the League in assists and points with 3-7—10 in four contests as the Capitals won all four games to extend their overall winning streak to nine contests and propel Washington to the top of the NHL standings (29-9-5, 63 points).

Backstrom registered multiple points in all four games starting with one goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 9. On Jan. 11, he recorded one goal and three assists in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by one goal and one assist in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 13. Backstrom finished the week by notching two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 15.

In his 10th season, all with the Capitals, the 29-year-old Galve, Sweden native leads the Capitals and is tied for 10th in League scoring with 42 points (12-30—42 in 43 GP).

Backstrom, of course, wasn’t the only big story in Washington last week. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit that mark.

The only negative thing coming out of D.C. is that John Carlson, who leads all Caps d-men in scoring, is out for today’s game versus Pittsburgh. Carlson’s absence will be brief, though, as head coach Barry Trotz expects him back in the lineup later this week.

Panthers recall McIlrath from AHL — but will they play him?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Ryan Reaves #75 of the St. Louis Blues and Dylan McIlrath #42 of the New York Rangers fight during the first period at Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers have recalled defenseman Dylan McIlrath from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

The question now is whether they’ll play him.

McIlrath has only appeared in four games for the Panthers since getting traded by the Rangers in November — and in three of those games, he logged less than 10 minutes of ice time.

On his conditioning assignment, the 24-year-old played six games for the Springfield Thunderbirds, scoring once with an assist and 13 PIM.

It seems unlikely that the Panthers would make any changes to their lineup after knocking off Columbus, 4-3, on Saturday. They start a four-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary.

McIlrath’s chances of playing may be limited due to the fact he’s a right shot and the Panthers’ back end already has three healthy right shots in Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, and Mark Pysyk.

Ekblad, Demers, and Pysyk have each played all 45 games this season. The leading candidate to be scratched is probably Jakub Kindl, a left shot.

So barring an injury, McIlrath may have to sit and wait some more. The Panthers have won four of their last six, and they’re not in a position to mess with success.

Alex Petrovic (ankle) is Florida’s only injured defenseman. Also a right shot, he could be ready to return in early February.