Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks

PHT’s Pressing Questions: Will Toronto finally make the playoffs?

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Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.

When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.

It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.

All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So yeah, long time.

Long time.

For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.

Which brings us to the question at hand:

Will the futility end this season?

If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.

Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.

His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.

That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.

The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.

Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.

“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.

“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”

As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.

James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.

Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.

To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.

The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.

He’s just one of a number of Leafs that need to improve from disappointing 2011-12 campaigns (others, to name a few: Tim Connolly, Cody Franson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles.)

But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.

“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.

“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”

Related

For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.

Oshie’s hat trick lets Caps just barely squeak by Penguins in OT

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What a start.

This series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might be headlined by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but as many have said in the lead-up to tonight’s opener, there is so much more to this second round matchup than that. Washington’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 tonight could be offered up as Exhibit A.

This game had everything except big offensive showings from Crosby and Ovechkin. They had their moments, but in the end combined for just one assist.

What we got instead was a hat trick by T.J. Oshie that was completed with a game-winning goal that made it past the line by such a narrow margin that it warranted a video review:

This game also featured a sequence of three goals in 90 seconds and yet also some great saves by goaltenders Braden Holtby and Matt Murray. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a controversial hit by Tom Wilson that might lead to a suspension.

There was even some odd stuff. Like how Jay Beagle got a stick stuck in his equipment.

Twice:

If this game sets the tone for the rest of the series, then we should be in for a closely contested, highlight filled affair.

NOTES:

Nick Bonino had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin and Ben Lovejoy accounted for the Penguins’ other markers.

— Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky scored the game’s opening goal. It was his first marker of the 2016 playoffs.

— Washington outshot Pittsburgh 15-9 in the first period, but Pittsburgh ended up with a 45-35 edge.

— This is the first time in the 2016 playoffs that Braden Holtby has allowed more than two goals. He surrendered just five goals in six games to Philadelphia.

— Matt Murray suffered his first career postseason loss after winning three straight contests against the New York Rangers.

Video: Wilson delivers late, knee-on-knee hit to Sheary

Wilson hit
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Tom Wilson has already found himself in a controversy for delivering a late, knee-on-knee hit to Penguins forward Conor Sheary in the third period of Game 1 Thursday night.

You can see that incident below:

Wilson spent two minutes in the sin bin earlier in the contest for crosschecking Evgeni Malkin, but there was no penalty on this play.

Fortunately Conor Sheary was able to stay in the game. The question now is if Wilson’s actions will lead to him being suspended prior to Game 2.

This isn’t Wilson’s first brush with controversy. He delivered a big hit to Brayden Schenn in 2013, but Wilson wasn’t suspended for that incident. Lubomir Visnovsky’s final campaign was cut short due to a check by Wilson that angered the New York Islanders. More recently, Nikita Zadorov was concussed by a crushing blow from the Capitals forward.

In 231 career regular season games, Wilson has 50 points and 486 penalty minutes.

Related: Wilson says ‘I’ve never been a dirty hitter’ after teams voice complaints

Video: Penguins, Caps combine for three goals in 90 seconds

Oshie goal
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For the first 30 minutes of Game 1 between Pittsburgh and Washington it looked like goaltenders Matt Murray and Braden Holtby might outshine these star-studded offenses. Then the floodgates opened up, if only for a moment.

Washington already had a 1-0 lead going into the second frame courtesy of Andre Burakovsky‘s first marker of the 2016 playoffs, but Ben Lovejoy and Evgeni Malkin scored back-to-back goals within the span of 57 seconds midway through the second period to tilt the scale in Pittsburgh’s favor. That lead didn’t last for long though as Capitals forward T.J. Oshie got a breakaway opportunity and took full advantage of it.

In total, there were three goals scored in the span of just 90 seconds and you can see all of them below:

After that sequence, the 2-2 tie held for the remainder of the frame. However, Oshie was able to reassert Washington’s edge just 3:23 minutes into the third period.

Video: Beagle gets stick stuck in visor

Beagle
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Through 40 minutes of action in Game 1 of the second round series between Pittsburgh and Washington and we’ve already seen some big moments, along with a pretty unusual one.

Beagle ended up with a stick lodged into his visor towards the end of the second frame. He tried to get it out himself, but ended up having to go to the bench for assistance. You can see that below: