PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 30: Jarome Iginla #12 of the Pittsburgh Penguins moves the puck up ice in front of Keith Aucoin #10 of the New York Islanders on March 30, 2013 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Playoffs Tonight: Loaded Penguins take on Islanders

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Last night we had two games go into overtime and a third was tied through 40 minutes. Is that the start of a trend of tight games?

There are three more Game 1s tonight and they can all be viewed on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Game 1: The Boston Bruins host the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET, CNBC)

The Toronto Maple Leafs have finally ended their seven-season playoffs drought, but what will they do now that they’ve made it? Boston did finish the season with six games in nine days and had a 2-5-2 record in their last nine contests, so perhaps the Leafs can capitalize on those woes and take the series opener.

The big x-factor in this series is Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel. Typically Kessel is their biggest offensive threat, but he has just nine points and a minus-22 rating in 22 career contests against Boston. The Maple Leafs will have a hard time beating Boston if Kessel doesn’t hold his own against his former employers.

It’s also worth noting that Boston had a 3-1-0 record against Toronto in the regular season and were a perfect 6-0-0 versus the Maple Leafs in 2011-12.

Game 1: The Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

The Pittsburgh Penguins might not get Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) back for tonight’s contest, but that still leaves them with forwards James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, and Jarome Iginla. On top of that, they have Chris Kunitz, who might not be a household name, but still had an impressive 22 goals and 52 points in 48 games this season.

So its safe to say that the Pittsburgh Penguins can score goals, but will they be able to stop them? Their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012 was light on defense or goaltending and the Penguins ultimately lost in six matches despite scoring 26 goals. They need to play a more balanced game this time around.

This will also be New York Islanders forward John Tavares’ playoff debut. The 22-year-old has helped the Islanders turn their franchise around and could cause headaches for the Penguins in this series.

The Vancouver Canucks host the San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

There are lots of veterans on both teams that have been to the playoffs many times before and still haven’t won the Stanley Cup. 32-year-old twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin recently acknowledged that they’re running out of chances and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton, 33, is in the same boat.

The fact that both teams have an aging core also means that as franchises they’re in serious jeopardy of letting their respective windows of opportunity slip away. Every series will be hard fought, but these are two teams that might play with an added level of desperation.

Beyond that, the big source of intrigue heading into this game is the status of Vancouver Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider, who is day-to-day with a “body” injury. If he’s unavailable, Roberto Luongo will be asked to bounce back from his 7-2 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

Sabres extend Larsson: one year, $950,000

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Johan Larsson #22 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up before the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed forward Johan Larsson to a one-year contract.

Larsson was eligible to become a restricted free agent once his contract expired this summer. The Swedish-born player is coming off a season in which he set career bests with 10 goals, 17 points and 74 games. He also finished tied with rookie center Jack Eichel in scoring five game-winning goals.

Overall, he has 16 goals and 21 assists in 142 games for the Sabres.

Buffalo acquired Larsson in a trade that sent former Sabres captain Jason Pominville to Minnesota in April 2013. The Wild selected Larsson in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Contractual details, per the Buffalo News:

Burke: Once a team picks first overall, no more drafting first overall (for a few years at least)

Calgary Flames' President of Hockey Operations & acting GM, Brian Burke speaks to the media as team members show up for NHL hockey season-end activities in Calgary, Alberta, on Monday, April 14, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Larry MacDougal)
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Brian Burke isn’t trying to pick on the Edmonton Oilers — no really, he isn’t — but Calgary’s president of hockey ops doesn’t believe any team should get to draft first overall as much as his northern rivals have done the past few years.

“If you’re a team that picks first overall, you shouldn’t be allowed to pick first overall for some specified period … three years or five years, whatever … or even the top two teams, pick in the top two,” Burke told the Flames’ website.

“You could still pick four or five, still get a good player, but you can’t get rewarded for continued failure, or continued luck.”

The Oilers, of course, picked first overall in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. And after yet another dismal season in 2015-16, they have a 13.5 percent of winning’s tomorrow’s lottery and getting the same privilege again

“Everyone thinks when you talk about the draft having flaws, that you’re picking on Edmonton,” said Burke.

“There are a lot of teams that have followed this path and have repeated high, high picks for a number of years. Chicago did it. Florida’s done it. Buffalo’s done it. You can argue we did it in Toronto, certainly by not any effort of ours. We were just not successful in the lottery. This is not an indictment of any one team and it’s not an indictment of the system.

“This is saying, ‘Okay, if 30 reasonable people got into a room and said, how do we best award amateur talent in the draft without having abuses,’ I’m not sure this is the system we’d come up with. That’s all I’m saying.”

And many would agree with Burke.

In fact, many would go a lot further, suggesting the entire system should be rethought.

But the question will remain, what’s a better system? The current one incentivizes losing, and so some teams tank. They may not use the word “tanking,” but they’re sure not trying to win. Not in the short term.

Now, is it a good look for the NHL when teams are built to be bad and we see fans openly rooting for losses? No, it’s not a good look.

But would it be preferable for each team to have the same odds of drafting first overall. Even the Stanley Cup champion?

Imagine for a moment a system that didn’t take the standings into account. You just know there’d be some poor franchise that was chronically unlucky, year after year after year. And you just know there’d be some ultra-lucky franchise, too.

The fact is, as long as the NHL wants to maintain its competitive balance — and remember, there’s nothing the NHL is prouder of than its precious parity — losing teams will be rewarded in the draft.

Burke is fine with that.

All he’s saying is the current system could use a few tweaks.

And if the Oilers win the lottery tomorrow, you can bet there’ll be some.

After firing Boudreau, Ducks GM unloads on core players

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When the Ducks were struggling this season, GM Bob Murray took some not-so-thinly veiled shots at the team’s core players.

And after the club’s disappointing first-round playoff exit to Nashville, he was at it again.

The juicy stuff, from today’s presser following the Bruce Boudreau dismissal.

(Video here):

“Let’s face it: I’d like to know where they heck they were in Games 1 and 2. The players are going to have to answer that the next four or five days. Where were they? They showed up in Game 7, but where was the passion, the controlled emotion? Where the heck was that? They’re going to have to be held accountable, too.

“There’s definite concerns in that area, and I think the core has to be held responsible, and they have to be better. Maybe I haven’t been hard enough on them in the last few years, but they’re going to hear some different words this time.”

Murray then shared a few of those “different words” with the assembled media.

If you’re looking for one of the core guys Murray may be referring to, consider Corey Perry.

Having just wrapped the third of an eight-year, $69 million deal with a $8.625M cap hit (that’s a long-term contract, right?), Perry failed to score over the seven-game series against the Preds, and had a team-worst minus-7 rating.

Say what you will about the merits of plus-minus, but minus-7  is minus-7. It’s not good. Hard to see how it could be viewed positively.

Of course, there’s no doubt other core guys are in Murray’s crosshairs. But it’s not just about core guys making big money and failint to produce in crunch time. It’s also about core guys making big money, failing in crunch time and not going anywhere.

Because that affects the futures of the players around them.

Some of Murray’s anger — justifiably — comes with the long-terms deals he’s got on the books, and how they’ll likely hamstring the Ducks this summer. He’s already on record saying this will be an “interesting” offseasonHampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Rickard Rakell and Frederik Andersen are all RFAs, and it’s quite conceivable one or two won’t be with back in Anaheim for the start of training camp.

Had the Ducks made a legit playoff run, it would’ve taken the sting away from (potentially) losing players.

But now?

Consider what Murray said about retaining Rakell, who finished fourth on the team in scoring.

“In keeping certain people, other people may have to go,” he explained, per the Associated Press. “That’s what you get forced into. A couple of big contracts get signed, and you end up following because that’s what you get pushed into, and that’s what they expect.

“We are all guilty of that.”

Blues, Capitals to play exhibition game in Kansas City

Pedestrians walk past the Sprint Center, Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. The city was preparing for the third round of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the arena after the region received 6-10 inches of snow overnight. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Kansas City is going to host another NHL exhibition game.

The St. Louis Blues announced today that they’ll take on the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 at Sprint Center. Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Ovechkin will be there, at least according to the press release.

The Blues last played in K.C. a couple of years ago when they took on the Stars in exhibition play. In 2011, a sellout crowd watched the Penguins and Kings at Sprint Center.

A market once considered a candidate for expansion or relocation — particularly after Sprint Center opened in 2007 — the NHL-to-Kansas City buzz has since died down. Last year, there was no interest from Kansas City when the league called for expansion applications.

Sensing an opportunity to make their team a favorite of all Missourians, not just the ones in St. Louis, the Blues have said they’d like to cultivate their fan base across the state in Kansas City.