Skinner looks to follow-up Calder Trophy season with a playoff berth

Talk about the charmed-life. Jeff Skinner has been living the dream from the moment he was selected 7th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes last June. Some would tell you it started before that when he was piling up the goals in Kitchener for his junior club. After all, it’s hard to argue with 50 goals in only 64 games. But from the moment that he scored the game-winning shootout goal in his second ever NHL game – in Europe no less – it looked like the 2010-11 season was going to be one of those years for Skinner. Nine months later he had an all-star appearance, a 30-goal season, and a Calder Trophy under his belt. Some guys would be satisfied with that kind of season.

So how would a guy like Skinner follow-up his fantastic freshman season without falling into the pitfall of the sophomore slump? How about a chance to experience playoff hockey? Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News Observer caught up with Skinner at the team’s informal workouts at RBC Center:

“As for expectations this season, Skinner isn’t setting any numbers for himself. You won’t hear him talking about trying to score, say, 40 goals. That, he said, might only sidetrack from what he really wants to do: make it to the playoffs and experience that for the first time.

“‘Obviously we missed by one (victory) last year,” [Skinner] said. ‘That’s not a good feeling and I think everyone will use that as motivation. We’ll come back and hopefully be in the mix this year.’”

For the record, an answer that reflects team goals over individual goals is going to go a long way towards endearing himself towards fans (like he needs any help in that department). But still, the Carolina Hurricanes (and Dallas Stars) have had the entire season to think about how things could have been different if they pulled out a win in their final games of the season. Even though the Canes would have faced the daunting task of facing the Capitals in the first-round, youngsters like Skinner, Jaime McBain, and Brandon Sutter could have used the experience as a step in the maturation process. Everyone agrees that NHL players take it to another level when the playoffs start—there’s no substitute for young players than to get a taste of the playoff intensity for themselves.

This season, most experts expect the Hurricanes to finish in the middle of the pack in both the Southeast Division, as well as the Eastern Conference. Teams like the Maple Leafs, Devils, and Jets will all be in the same boat—trying to get back into the playoffs after missing out in April last season. Of that group, only the Hurricanes had a playoff spot within their grasp before watching it slip away against the Lightning in the final game of the season. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Only the Hurricanes have that extreme disappointment that will help fuel the fire this season.

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.