Apparently Phil Kessel is the Maple Leafs’ big problem

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After seeing the Maple Leafs lose on home ice to the Islanders and hearing fans calling for Brian Burke to be fired during the game, you know that things are ugly in Toronto. After coming apart at the seams in the second half, the fans are out for blood after another playoff-free season.

As these situations tend to go, the best player takes most of the heat and Phil Kessel is not exempt from scrutiny. Jeff Blair of The Globe And Mail hammers on Kessel for not being a bigger figure with the media and seizing the spotlight.

He has no goaltender, his leading scorer is a milquetoast, Tom Thumb guy who shrinks even further in front of the cameras and nobody knows for certain whether his team captain has credibility in the dressing room.

Just a reminder here, Kessel has 36 goals and 40 assists on a team that’s now destined for the NHL draft lottery. That kind of production on a bad team should give you leeway to be Silent Bob if you want to be.

Meanwhile, Mike Brophy of Sportsnet wonders aloud if now is the time for the Leafs to trade Kessel.

Never mind what anybody tells you about Kessel having developed greater attention to his defensive play this season; that simply is not the case. He is still a floater who, more often than not comes back slowly looking for the first opportunity to make a quick pivot and head back up ice. In terms of work ethic, he will never be mistaken for Sidney Crosby.

Considering the lack of offensive weapons on the Leafs roster, asking Kessel to be yet another backchecking wizard seems counterproductive. This debate is eerily reminiscent of how Kessel and Claude Julien fell on hard times in Boston and that’s what helped spin Kessel into this quagmire of nonsense in Toronto.

Instead of worrying about what’s wrong with Phil Kessel, the Leafs should worry about how to surround him with better players to win games.

Lundqvist snubs Sens with 21 saves in first (Video)

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You know how goalies claim they prefer to be busy rather than risking rust in seldom seeing shots? If that’s true, Henrik Lundqvist was really, really happy in the first period.

The Ottawa Senators generated chance after chance in a busy opening frame of Game 1, generating a 21-12 shot differential against the New York Rangers. The game remains 0-0 in large part because Lundqvist has carried over his momentum from the Montreal Canadiens series so far.

As you can see from the video above, Lundqvist made some absolutely fantastic saves, especially in somehow stopping Mark Stone.

In a duller game, 21 shots on goal could a team’s entire output.

That’s impressive stuff from what appears to be a “vintage” Lundqvist. We’ll see how much more the Rangers lean on him as this one goes along.

Oh, and here’s a GIF of the best stop of the bunch, because seriously.

Kunitz is in for Penguins vs. Capitals in Game 1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins get a familiar face back in the lineup, as Chris Kunitz is good to go against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

The 37-year-old has been sidelined since March 31, ending his regular season with just an assist in his final nine games. His last goal came on Feb. 16.

So, in other words … he’s not quite as big of a deal for this series as he had been in the past.

He’ll draw into a solid fourth line with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl, while Carter Rowney will be a healthy scratch. Check out the Penguins’ line combos heading into Thursday’s showdown:

Foligno, Getzlaf, Giordano vie for Messier Leadership Award

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award: Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) and Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames).

In case you’re curious about the process, the league explains how it works (and how the buck stops with Messier):

Mark Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel as well as NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates for the award. However, the selection of the three finalists and ultimate winner is Messier’s alone. 

So, yes, it might come down to steeliness/60.

Anyway, the most fun part of this award is that Getzlaf and Giordano just engaged in a first-round series, with Getzlaf’s hit on Giordano (see above) being one of the standout moments.

Perhaps Giordano will at least get the best of Getzlaf in this one?

WATCH LIVE: Game 1 for Penguins – Capitals, Rangers – Senators

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It’s really happening.

For all the griping about having the Penguins and Capitals meet in the second round (again), it’s easy to forget the bright side: upsets didn’t dislodge this juicy matchup from taking place.

The West’s duo of Game 1 matchups kicked into gear last night, and now the East provides that battle between Sidney Crosby‘s squad and Alex Ovechkin‘s loaded team. Don’t sleep on Rangers – Senators, either, though; there should be plenty of intrigue in seeing superhuman Swedes Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson try to one-up each other.

Here’s what you need to know to follow the action:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)