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.

Flames ink first-rounder Juuso Valimaki to rookie contract

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The Calgary Flames signed Finnish defenseman Jusso Valimaki to a three-year, entry-level contract on Friday.

Valimaki, 18, was the 16th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. He was selected in that spot after a nice year with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, scoring 61 points in 60 regular-season games and then added an assist in four playoff contests. He also played for the Tri-City Americans in 2015-16, putting up 32 points in 56 games.

Apparently he’s capable of at least one nifty shootout move, too:

People are pondering how Valimaki may fit into the Flames at the end of a three-year window Johnny Gaudreau recently cited. That seems a little far-reaching, although this nugget makes you wonder if Calgary might want to drag a little extra value out of his rookie deal:

Interesting. Either way, the Flames locked up a future piece, whether he can make an NHL impact sooner or later.

Red Wings sign Tomas Tatar: four years, $21.2M

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It turns out that Tomas Tatar‘s days are numbered with the Detroit Red Wings by almost 1,500.*

After a salary arbitration hearing and concerns that he might leave after a single season, “Band-Aid” sort of deal, a wide variety of reporters state that the two sides instead agreed to a four-year deal with a $5.3 million cap hit, which would total $21.2 million.

Those figures come from MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, the Detroit News’ Ted Kulfan, FanRag’s Craig Morgan, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. The Red Wings confirmed that it was four years, but didn’t mention the financial details in their release.

Here’s the reported yearly breakdown (cue ominous music for that lockout-protection drop in 2020-21), via Morgan:

Again, this feels like a change in viewpoint, as even just yesterday it was reasonable to wonder if Tatar would only stick around for 2017-18. Now, it is possible that Tatar might get traded at some point, but a four-year deal is a bit surprising. The forward himself speculated that a one-year deal would be it.

This contract makes Tatar, 26, the Red Wings’ second-most expensive forward from a cap perspective, trailing only Henrik Zetteberg’s $6.083 million.

Even with this deal out of the way, Red Wings GM Ken Holland still has some work to do, including re-signing speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou. And the situation is tight.

* – Four times 365 is 1,460. Get it?

Wingels fractures foot, but should be ready for Blackhawks camp

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The good news is that Tommy Wingels is expected to be ready for Chicago Blackhawks training camp. The bad news is that he’ll be limited in his training regimen … although that very regimen caused him issues in the first place.

Dr. Michael Terry, the Blackhawks’ team doctor, released the following update regarding Wingels:

“Tommy Wingels sustained a left foot fracture during his off-season training. We anticipate a full recovery in six to eight weeks and in time for training camp. We do not anticipate any long-term issues.”

It’s unclear what caused the specific injury. Dropped weight? Unlucky fall? Perhaps a stress fracture? Without knowing the exact issue, it’s tempting to picture various painful scenarios.

(Probably because we’re in the dog days of the hockey summer, too.)

Wingels, 29, is on a one-year deal with Chicago, carrying a $750K salary and cap hit. He last played for the Ottawa Senators, though Blackhawks fans are most likely to remember him from his lengthy stay with the San Jose Sharks.

Six-to-eight weeks seems like it wouldn’t give a ton of room for error, so we’ll see if he’ll actually be ready for training camp.

Dahlin headlines Sweden’s roster for World Junior Summer Showcase

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Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, potentially the NHL’s first overall draft pick in 2018, will suit up for Sweden at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan.

Dahlin, who doesn’t turn 18 until April, has wowed scouts with his skating and puck-moving ability. At the 2017 World Juniors, he participated as a 16-year-old, garnering tantalizing reviews in the process.

Top-10 picks in the 2017 draft, Elias Pettersson (5th, Vancouver Canucks) and Lias Andersson (7th, New York Rangers), will also be in Plymouth representing Sweden.

Click here for Sweden’s and Finland’s Summer Showcase rosters. The tournament runs from July 29 – Aug. 5 and also features players from the United States and Canada.

Among the draft-eligible Finns to watch is 17-year-old forward Jesse Ylonen, who could be a late first-rounder in 2018.

Related: USA Hockey invites 42 players to World Junior Summer Showcase