Five Q’s: Penguins-Islanders series preview


1. When will Sidney Crosby return?

This question will linger over this series until No. 87 is on the lineup card.

Crosby has been out of action since Mar. 30 — when he suffered a broken jaw against the Islanders, ironically enough — and the dynamic of this matchup depends largely on his availability.

Why? Crosby’s scoring exploits against the Isles, mostly.

In 41 career games, Sid the Kid’s racked up 75 points against New York — the most he’s scored against any NHL club.

He also has a history of making big returns against the Isles. In Nov. 2011, he triumphantly returned from a concussion by scoring four points (2G, 2A) in a 5-0 whitewashing — his first game back after a 10-month layoff.

Update: Crosby has officially been ruled out for Game 1.

2. Is it Tavares’ time?

The second major subplot in this series will be the playoff debut of John Tavares, the 22-year-old phenom that led the Isles in scoring this year and has garnered serious Hart Trophy consideration.

This has been the most successful campaign of Tavares’ four-year career. He dominated the Swiss League during the lockout and was a point-a-game player in Team Canada’s Spengler Cup win.

When NHL play resumed, he continued that point-per-game clip and finished as the league’s third-leading goalscorer (28), pushing the Isles to their first playoff appearance since 2007.

All that said, this is Tavares’ first postseason. It’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to the increased physical play and (presumably) being shadowed for the entirety of the series.

3. Can Iginla and Morrow be difference-makers?

Pens GM Ray Shero was the undisputed power broker at April’s trade deadline, bringing in a quartet of veterans: Jussi Jokinen, Douglas Murray, Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla.

It’s the latter two that will draw the most attention.

Morrow, 34, and Iginla, 35, are both looking for their first Stanley Cups, but will be counted on to play different roles than they did in Dallas and Calgary, respectively.

They used to be captains and front-line players. Now, they’re being asked to provide veteran experience and compliment a forward group featuring young stars like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

That’s not to say there aren’t big expectations.

Iginla has 49 points in 54 career playoff games and led the Flames to the 2004 Cup final, scoring 13 times.

Morrow’s last playoff run saw him notch 15 points in 18 games as he led the Stars to the Western Conference finals.

4. Will Fleury bounce back?

There are two Marc-Andre Fleurys.

The first is the acrobatic, flair-for-the-dramatic guy that backstopped the Pens to the 2009 Stanley Cup.

The other is the shaky, erratic guy that finished last postseason with a 4.63 GAA and .834 save percentage.

If Pittsburgh has any hopes of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Mug, the first Fleury will need to show up.

The 28-year-old acknowledged as much in speaking with NHL.com.

“That [’09 Cup] was a lot more fun than last year, that’s for sure,” he explained. “But you just learn from it. You learn from what happened in the past and try to use it to improve and be ready for these playoffs coming up.”

5. Can the Isles steal one (or more) on the road?

The top-seeded Penguins have home ice advantage, which might suit New York just fine.

The Isles have been road warriors this year, posting a 14-6-4 record away from Nassau — the third best road mark in the Eastern Conference.

The No. 8 seed knows that in order to capture this series, it’ll need to win at least one game at Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins are a stellar 18-6-0 this year.

It’s a challenge head coach Jack Capuano recognizes, and is ready to take on.

“[Pittsburgh] is ranked where they are for a reason. They’ve got some of the best players in the world,” Capuano told CBS New York. “But your ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup.

“If you’re going to get to the Stanley Cup you’ve got to beat the best teams.”

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

Video: Pastrnak scores 10 seconds into game vs. Rangers

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After getting blown out on Tuesday night and having to go with a rookie goalie making his first career start in New York on Wednesday, the Boston Bruins really needed a strong start against the Rangers.

That is exactly what they got when David Pastrnak gave them an early lead just 10 seconds into the game when he capitalized on a Nick Holden giveaway.

The play all started right off the opening faceoff when Holden gave the puck away to Zdeno Chara in the neutral zone. Chara quickly moved it along to Marchand who drew both Rangers defenders leaving Pastrnak wide open for a one-on-one chance against Henrik Lundqvist.

The result: Pastrnak’s fifth goal of the season and an early 1-0 lead.

Ducks, Lindholm don’t seem to be budging on contract

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Hampus Lindholm is one of the two restricted free agents still without a contract (Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba being the other) and his absence is having a pretty big impact on the Anaheim Ducks early in the season because they clearly miss his presence on the blue line.

On Wednesday, Bob McKenzie appeared on NBCSN with Liam McHugh  and offered an update on the situation.

McKenzie reports that at this point the two sides have not really closed the gap in their current talks, with the Ducks trying to get Lindholm signed to a slighter smaller contract than the six-year, $32.4 million deal Buffalo recently gave to defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

Lindholm wants a slightly larger average annual salary because he would be giving up an additional year of unrestricted free agency than Ristolainen did.

According to McKenzie, the two sides are about $250,000 apart when it comes to yearly salary.

The 22-year-old Lindholm has 23 goals and 69 assists in 236 games over his first three seasons in the league, including 10 goals and 28 points a year ago.

In terms of salary the two sides obviously aren’t that far apart, and as McKenzie mentioned with the lines of communication still remaining open it only takes one phone call to change everything. Even with that, it still seems like it’s going to be a tough deal to complete given how long this has gone on and how close to the league’s salary cap the Ducks currently are.

That is going to be a problem for a Ducks team that has won only two of its first seven games and needs its best defenseman back on the ice.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Rangers

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 27:  Ryan Spooner #51 of the Boston Bruins scores a goal against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during the third period at TD Garden on November 27, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Rangers 4-3.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Original Six rivals face off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night when the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins.

The Rangers come into the game having won two in a row and three out of their past four, while the Bruins were blown out just 24 hours earlier at home against the Minnesota Wild.

Making matters worse for the Bruins is the fact they are also dealing with some major injury issues  having lost their top two goalies (Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin) to injury. That means they will be giving rookie Zane McIntyre his first NHL start after Malcolm Subban was benched on Tuesday.

The Bruins will also be without veteran forward David Backes.

You can catch tonight’s game (8 p.m. ET) on NBCSN or with our NHL Extra live stream.


More links to get you ready for tonight’s game

Bruins need a rookie goalie to step up

Backes undergoes elbow procedure

Rakell back skating in Anaheim, but no timetable for return

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 21, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Ducks 5-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The contract’s signed, the visa issues are sorted and he’s already taken a morning skate.

Now, all Rickard Rakell needs to do is get clearance.

Rakell, who 12 days ago signed a six-year, $22.8 million extension, was back on the ice this morning ahead of Anaheim’s game against the visiting Nashville Predators this evening.

The 23-year-old’s return was hung up by a variety of issues. First, there was the obvious one — he had no contract — and once that was signed, Rakell was in limbo awaiting his visa.

And he’s still not in the clear.

Rakell is dealing with the ramifications from offseason abdominal surgery — a procedure related to an earlier appendectomy, that kept him out of the World Cup of Hockey — and is unclear as to when he can make his season debut.

“I’m just anxious to get back and at least try,” he said, per NHL.com.

Prior to rejoining the Ducks, Rakell had been working out and skating in his native Sweden, though none of his activity included contact. That will be the next step in his progression.

Following a lengthy road trip to start the year, the Ducks are now locked into the state of California for quite some time. Tonight’s home tilt is followed by another Friday against the Jackets, followed by a “road” game in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

From there, the team plays three more times at Honda: Nov. 2 against the Penguins, Nov. 4 against the Coyotes, and No. 6 against the Flames.

So, there’s a pretty good chance Rakell’s debut will come at home.