NHL on NBCSN: Preds look to end scoring woes vs Stars

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NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Nashville Predators host the Dallas Stars at the Bridgestone Arena at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Nashville Predators typically don’t have one or two big-name skilled forwards leading the way, but they’ve generated deceptively good offensive numbers in past years courtesy of a balanced attack.

That hasn’t been the case this season. You could argue that they’re still getting goals from a lot of different players, but not at an adequate pace.

Nashville is the only team in the NHL to be averaging less than two goals per game and they’ve been shutout in each of its last two contests. The Dallas Stars can’t relate to those kinds of problems.

Dallas’ top two lines are filled with significant offensive threats, but none has been more dangerous lately than 23-year-old Jamie Benn. He’s one of the league’s hottest players with six goals and 12 points in his last nine games.

For the Stars the big x-factor is their goaltending — which is exactly what the Predators should want to hear right now.

Number one goalie Kari Lehtonen is questionable with a groin injury, so 29-year-old netminder Cristopher Nilstorp will probably start in just his fifth NHL game, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika.

Nilstorp kicked out 31 of 32 San Jose Sharks shots to earn his first career victory on Saturday, but he surrendered four goals in each of his previous two contests.

Only two points separate these two squads as they fight for ground in the NHL playoff race. The battle for the fourth to eighth seeds in the Western Conference figures to be particularly close this season, so the points Nashville and Dallas are fighting for tonight could prove to be critical.

Probable goaltenders: DAL – Nilstorp (1-3-0, 2.60 GAA, .913 SV%) | NSH – Pekka Rinne (7-5-4, 1.77 GAA, .931 SV%)

Top scorers: DAL – Benn and Jaromir Jagr both have 13 points, but Benn has only played in 13 games to Jagr’s 17. | NSH – Colin Wilson (5-9-14, 19 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Dallas – Forwards: Ray Whitney (foot) Defensemen: Aaron Rome (foot), Trevor Daley (neck) Goaltenders: Lehtonen (groin)
Nashville – Forwards: Paul Gaustad (upper body) Defensemen: Hal Gill (lower body)

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.