PHT staff picks: Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup?

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As introduced in our first-round predictions, the PHT staff is comprised of myself (Mike Halford), Jason Brough, Joe Yerdon, James O’Brien, Ryan Dadoun and Cam Tucker.

You may recognize us from such articles as “Sidney Crosby’s hourly health update” and “yes, another Bryzgalov post!”

Today, we’re here to give you our Stanley Cup champion picks for the 2013 playoffs.

But there’s a wrinkle! Rather than use the comments section to insult our picks/manhood, we challenge you, the PHT reader, to submit your Stanley Cup champion pick too.

Those that get it right will receive a cookie (Note: legal issues might prevent us from actually giving you the cookie. It’ll probably be more like a symbolic biscuit.)

Anyway, here we go…

Jason Brough: Pittsburgh Penguins

I have to preface my selection with this: I count eight, maybe even nine, teams that wouldn’t shock me if they won the Cup. So when I say the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to win the Stanley Cup, I am fully prepared to be wrong. Just as wrong as I was last year when I picked the Pens and they got embarrassed by the Flyers in the first round. My theory is Sid and company will take something from that experience and apply it to this year’s effort. It’s not a particularly unique theory, but whatever, I’ll probably be wrong anyway.

Preseason pick: Boston Bruins

Joe Yerdon: Los Angeles Kings

I’m taking the Kings over the Rangers in the finals. It’s a reverse of what I picked in the preseason. I think both teams are trending up going into the playoffs. Yes, Chicago and Pittsburgh are beastly, but no one is unbeatable. Picking the teams with the best starting goalies in the playoffs makes me feel a little better about going out on this limb.

Preseason pick: New York Rangers

James O’Brien: Los Angeles Kings

The hottest team in the NHL is in the West, but it’s not the Chicago Blackhawks. The Los Angeles Kings possess a little bit of everything: two capable goalies, plenty of versatile forwards and an appealing set of defensemen. They’ve also possessed the puck more often than anyone else lately. Look for the defending champs to top one of the East’s deepest, most versatile teams in the Bruins to complete the repeat.

Preseason pick: New York Rangers

Ryan Dadoun: New York Rangers

When we did our preseason predictions, I took the New York Rangers and I’m stubbornly sticking with it. They’ve had problems, but so did the Los Angeles Kings in 2011-12. The Rangers bolstered their top-nine forwards at the deadline while simultaneously making their team more physical. They still have potential playoff heroes in Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, and most importantly Henrik Lundqvist. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve been hot lately.

Preseason pick: New York Rangers

Cam Tucker: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins just have too much depth. And look out for when Sidney Crosby makes his return from a broken jaw. He was by far the best player in the NHL this season until his injury, and it won’t take him long to return to that form once he comes back to the lineup. Look for Marc-Andre Fleury to exercise the demons that haunted him in last year’s first-round loss to Philadelphia.

Preseason pick: N/A

Mike Halford: Chicago Blackhawks

What the ‘Hawks accomplished this season is remarkable. They won 75 percent of their games. They finished with a plus-53 goal differential. They only lost seven times in regulation. Their longest losing streak was two games. Sure, sure, but that’s all regular-season stuff, you say — except that the ‘Hawks head into this postseason built largely around the core of the 2010 Cup-winning side. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson all have a wealth of postseason experience, and you could argue the team’s one weak spot — goaltending — is better now than it ever has been during the Joel Quenneville era. Now all they have to do is avoid the Presidents’ Trophy curse…

Preseason pick: St. Louis Blues

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.