Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara

PHT staff predicts the Stanley Cup finals and award winners

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It’s time once again for all of us here at PHT to put our butts on the line. To put our money where our mouths are. To come up with another cliché for things.

That’s right, it’s our Stanley Cup predictions. We’ll give you who we think is making the finals and who’s going to take it all. As a bonus, we’ll even tell you who we think will take home the NHL’s biggest awards. As we’re expecting, you’ll make sure to remember all of these predictions by the end of the year and hold them over our heads when we’re wrong. Of course, if we turn out to be right, we’re going to gloat. A lot.

Without further ado, here’s our thoughts on the Stanley Cup finalists and winner. If you think we got it wrong, go ahead and comment here or vote in our poll. And make sure to check out previews for all 30 teams here.

Joe Yerdon says:

Stanley Cup finalists: Los Angeles Kings vs. Washington Capitals

Stanley Cup champions: Washington Capitals

Yeah, I know what you’re saying. “But Joe, you picked the Capitals to make the finals last year. When are you ever going to learn.” To that I say, “Hey… Shut up.” Much like a kid that can’t keep from touching a hot stove, the Capitals offseason addition of Tomas Vokoun as well as their blue collar additions of Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward along with Roman Hamrlik makes me believe they’ve got it figured out. Put me firmly on the Kings’ bandwagon this year as well. They would’ve been heavily in the mix last year if not for Anze Kopitar getting hurt, but such is life. The Kings are for real but the Capitals are ready to get over all the humps to win it all this year.

James O’Brien says:

Stanley Cup finalists: Los Angeles Kings vs. Washington Capitals

Stanley Cup champions: Washington Capitals

I picked the Sharks to win the Pacific, but the Kings sport the West’s best makeup for the playoffs – two impressive goalies, two first line-caliber centers and perhaps the best defense in the NHL (their fragile group of wingers needs to stay healthy, though). They’re a tough matchup for any West team, but Washington will have just enough of everything to steal the Cup away. The Capitals have a more potent offensive attack, a versatile defense and one of the best goalies in the world. It’s now or never for a significant chunk of this Capitals team – coach Bruce Boudreau included – and I’m leaning toward “Now.”

Matt Reitz says:

Stanley Cup Finalists: Vancouver Canucks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Stanley Cup champions: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Canucks were far and away the best team in the West last season. Most of the team returns intact with even more motivation.

The Pens lost the best player on the planet AND a former Hart winner, yet still were able to transform themselves into a defensive team and earn the 4th seed. Crosby and Malkin rejoin and already strong team–no teams’ offseason moves can compare.

source: Getty ImagesAs for our award predictions, here goes nothing.

Joe Yerdon says:

Hart Trophy:  Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
Art Ross Trophy:  Henrik Sedin, Canucks
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Steve Stamkos, Lightning
Vezina Trophy:  Tomas Vokoun, Capitals
Norris Trophy:  Zdeno Chara, Bruins
Calder Trophy:  Adam Larsson, Devils

James O’Brien says:

Hart Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Art Ross Trophy:  Henrik Sedin, Canucks
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
source: APVezina Trophy:  Pekka Rinne, Predators
Norris Trophy:  Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
Calder Trophy:  Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

Matt Reitz says:

Hart Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Art Ross Trophy:  Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Vezina Trophy:  Ryan Miller, Sabres
Norris Trophy:  Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
Calder Trophy:  Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

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.